May 24, 2007

The rut is the smoothest part of the road

My brother-in-law is a man of settled habits. Every morning no matter where he is, he gets up early and either makes coffee or goes out to get it. With the coffee, there must be a newspaper. Two newspapers, actually, The New York Times and whatever the local rag is. Once the coffee is made and the newspapers procured, he will find a comfortable chair and settle down to the sports pages. After an hour or so, he'll get up and bring my sister a cup of coffee in bed.

There's a whole coffee-making ritual too, but I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, that if you're an early riser, like me, and you take it in your head to make the coffee, you'd better be schooled in Bob's methods and ingredients--half decaffeinated beans, half regular--beforehand.

So ingrained is the coffee-drinking-and-newspaper-reading ritual that Bob still holds a grudge against a guy who disturbed his routine more than 20 years ago. Bob was just starting out in the wine business and was staying, along with another guy, at a friend's place in San Francisco. In the morning, Bob made the coffee and went out for the papers only to discover upon his return that some essential ingredient was missing. Perhaps the milk. Bob headed back to the store. When he got back, the friend was sitting in the comfy chair reading the sports pages. And the guy didn't even fold the paper back up properly!

Since my parents moved to Delaware, Bob's routine consists of making the coffee and going to the Acme to get the papers. Every time he goes to the Acme, however, there is a problem: The local paper isn't in yet, he's stuck behind an old man who buys $100 worth of groceries with pennies, or the cashier can't change a $20. There are at least three alternate venues within several feet of the Acme where Bob could buy a paper. And there are as many places around in the other direction should Bob take a right instead of a left when leaving my parents' place. But he goes to the Acme. It's what he does.

All of which is to say that I'm still developing my unemployed rut. When I worked it was fairly simple: Up at 5:30 to pour a pot of coffee down my gullet, read my email, surf the Web and gird my loins for the coming day at work. I needed at least an hour of quiet coffee drinking and loin girding before I could face the office. Now the coffee-drinking, web-surfing, email-reading time has expanded. And before you know it, I'll have spent an entire day with nothing to show for it but repeated viewings of the Rosie O'Donnell/Elizabeth Hasselback brouhaha.

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