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  LIFE AS A LOSER #2: MOMENT OF CLARITY.  
   
   
 

There is a certain unmistakable moment when, try as we might to overlook it, it becomes clear that things are careening perilously out of control. Often it's triggered by something seemingly innocuous, a harmless, amusing little anecdote to tell your friends back home. But its true weight hits later when you've retired to your rent-stabilized den for the evening and begin to wonder how, exactly, you became the guy who drinks wine out of a box every evening, who can't figure out how to stop the toilet from running all the time and whose major excitement each week revolves around hoping the new issue of Rolling Stone has some good cleavage shots.

My moment came on an otherwise nondescript Tuesday afternoon when I was making a guest appearance at my place of employment.

I saunter in on my day off one day to finish off a few mundane odds and ends salaried employees are quietly but firmly expected to dutifully tidy up. A few minutes pass. I meander and procrastinate - another wonderful American tradition - until a few co-workers behind me catch my attention.

"What's that smell?" "Jesus, it smells like cat piss in here all of a sudden."

At the age of 6, my mother carted me off to our small-town physician, in hysterics that her son appeared to lack the ability to detect odors. She had proven that her unwitting son wasn't duping her by rubbing various substances under his nose, including ammonia. The doctor, bearing more than a passing resemblance to that Dr. Hibberd guy on The Simpsons, told her that little Will had no ability to smell, likely never would and that there was no obvious cause for the deficiency - it was just there. Of course, it never bothered me any, though it's always amusing to see others tiptoe around the issue when faced with it, as if they were witnessing a marvelous sunset around a blind man. Look people, if you had never once smelled anything, would you miss it?

Nonetheless, there are occasions when this parking-spot-less handicap does have its disadvantages, like when you unknowingly walk into a corporate establishment wearing a coat mercilessly sprayed by your soon-to-be-neutered cat.

The co-workers' rumblings soon grew into a small gaggle of olfactory voyeurs desperately trying to discover the source of this foul aroma. If they had thought it through much (and of course they eventually did), it would have been an easily solvable mystery; I have a tendency to be an incessant yakker prone to mention my misgivings about my sexual prowess before you know me well enough to spell my last name. I also talk about my cat a lot. So of course my co-workers had heard all about the travails of my cat. It was only a matter of time before I was found out. I had to get out of there, and fast. Workplaces survive by administering labels, and few are worse than The Guy Who Smells Like Cat Urine. I quickly finished up my errands and donned the offending coat. A voice sprung up behind me:

"Will, listen, I wanted to ask you how the project was going."

Ack. It was indeed the head honcho, Mr. Big Shot, the guy everyone gets drunk around at the Christmas party. His contributions were felt sparingly around the office, but like all bigwigs, in spirit he was always there, hovering. He wanted to know how my boring corporate project was going. Just checking in, he said. Scrambling, I tossed him a brief overview and hoped he was satiated. He was, but not before mentioning, "Jeez, Will, do you smell that? Did a cat pee in here?" I might have been imagining things, but I'm certain a smattering of muffled giggles rose up around me.

That night, I amiably chuckled at the experience after taking that fucking coat to the dry cleaners. Then the magnitude of the moment hit, probably around the time I caught myself in my underwear laughing at a Caroline Rhea one-liner on Hollywood Squares.

The harsh reality hit like, well, I'll leave the lame comparisons to Dave Barry or a sports columnist. Not too many years before, I was a bushy-tailed young whippersnapper, a revved-up writer ready to take on the world. Now I am a nicotine-addled editor living in a shitty apartment with a defective toilet, munching on stale Doritos, sleeping on a scabies-infested couch, masturbating to glamour shots of Jewel, leaving pathetic messages on old girlfriends' machines, rewearing dirty pairs of socks, letting my toenails grow too long and, yes, smelling like cat urine. Whether I was more bothered by these truths or that I was just now realizing them was not immediately apparent. It was on that day that I realized that, all vehement hope to the contrary, I was indeed a loser. It's a difficult admission to make, but once you've done it, it's actually somewhat liberating. You can actually look back - and forward - at all the depressing, gut-wrenching evidence with something of a bemused sense of detachment.

And I'll need it. Because there's enough evidence to convict O.J., the Menendez brothers, Clinton and hell, Gandhi. It's a tough life being a loser, but it sure generates more than its fair share of stories - always nice for the profession. Just a shame that they're about me.

 

*BT*

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