notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games

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A Few Points Shy of the High Score
Saturday, December 11, 2004  
Been waking up every night around 4:30 a.m. That's when the heat kicks on in my apartment in Queens. (I've only been here for about four weeks, so I'm still not accustomed to the sounds of the building.) The pipes make this series of spooky pings, which sounds like a ballpeen hammer being softly tapped against a submarine's hull.

So I'm lying there in the dark this morning, covers screwed up around me, sweating out last night's beer and listening to the pipes, when I remember a summer job I had when I was 14 years old installing insulation in a cavernous seafood restaurant called Pier 31. My father, weary of finding my brother and me lying around the house watching Gilligan's Island when he came home from work every afternoon, decided that we needed to go to work, to earn money. So he found us the job--under the table, of course--installing the insulation.

The insulation was the pink kind that looked like cotton candy. The kind that was advertised on TV with the Pink Panther.

Dad dropped us off there in the mornings. No one supervised us, so most of the day Sean and I played grab-ass, chasing each other around the old restaurant. We poked through the trash piles out back, looking for moldly bottles of pickles, then smashing them with rocks. We made lists of the arcade games that we were going to advise the new owners to install in his restaurant. Zaxon. Galaga. Missile Command. We were sure that these arcade games would make the restaurant successful once it reopened.

At the end of the day, afraid that Dad would return to pick us up and see how little we'd actually accompished, we'd hustle for an hour or two, quickly stuffing the Pink Panther insulation into the rafters, teetering on ladders and working the staple gun, while hornets buzzed us.

We had masks to wear to protect our lungs--they looked like coffee filters with red rubber bands attached--but what I was thinking about at 4:30 this morning, what I was wondering, was whether or not we ever bothered to wear the masks.

I'm pretty sure we didn't.

We huffed that stuff in the summer heat for a month straight.

"Goddammit," I thought, "why didn't we wear the goddamn masks? How could we have been so goddamn stupid?"

Lying there in the dark this morning, remembering this, I felt afraid--afraid that because of an indiscretion one summer, I'd shortened my life by X amount of years. I could practically feel the particles of bright pink fiberglass still burning in my lungs...

During the daylight, as I sit here and drink my coffee, this all seems pretty silly now, but at 4:30 in the morning, I'm about as vulnerable as I ever am. It's always during these vulnerable moments that my mind turns on me, that it drags something like this memory to the surface, and tries its damndest to scare the living hell out of me.

10:59 AM

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