My sister finds an apartment and a roommate and moves out of my house the morning of the last Bengals game of the season. It takes maybe 30 minutes to ferry her boxes out of my office and up the driveway to a U-Haul and then another 45 to rebuild the box-fort against the wall of the living room in her new place. L.A. treats us to T-shirt weather for the occasion, and we get it all done in cheerful silence.
It's one more chance for me to pretend to be more selfless and heroic than I actually am. Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin, rescuing my sister by lifting heavy things. Spasiba, little snowflake. I think the pose is starting to wear out, though. I think we both feel it. This whole living situation was born of necessity and duress and now that the pressure's off, I think she and I need to not hang out for a while. Extended proximity isn't something my family's historically great at. We're cave-dwellers, hoarders of personal space, boundary aficionados, closers of bedroom doors. Or maybe that's just me, and I want to think everyone else in my family is that way so I can feel OK about being a misanthrope.
Erwin Schrödinger's in town, so we meet at Ye Rustic on Thursday night. The Bengals are playing the Eagles, and for some reason this historic contest of champions is being broadcast in prime time. Schrödinger and I are, respectively, the third and fourth people who show up to watch it unfold. We could have gone somewhere cooler and done something better, but I want him to see how I actually live, and while I'm not totally comfortable with what this says about me, this really is a pretty significant part of how I live these days — in the back of Ye Rustic with a notebook open, half-watching pro football and contemplating what I hope to gain by doing so. Besides, Schrödinger's taste in surroundings is even worse than mine, so he grasps the charms of the place immediately — the wood paneling, the aquarium-glow lighting, the on-point and prodigiously inked-up wait staff. "They look like retired Suicide Girls," he observes, which is totally true.
On Sunday my sister drives me to the bar so I can watch the Bengals play the Dallas Cowboys. "Well, I hope they win," she says. "But I also hope they lose, so you'll have something new to write about."
I don't say anything. She's just trying to be positive, and she's also the reason I'm not riding a bicycle. But in my head I curse her for hexing Cincinnati, who have won four games straight, who could pass the Steelers in the race for an AFC wild-card slot if they win this week, who are In the Hunt. I am now a person who thinks things like this. I am now a person who throws around the phrase "in the hunt," which is a stupid phrase and also maybe not grammatically correct. Why isn't it "on the hunt"? When in doubt on vexing usage questions, I'm with Ronnie Van Zant.
I have maybe lost perspective, a little bit. These are still the Cincinnati Bengals we're talking about. I have been warned and warned about investing my emotional capital here.
"WheelsUp ... Back to Cali on a business trip," the Cincinnati Bengals' Vontaze Burfict (born in Los Angeles in 1990) tells his 4,862 Twitter followers on Thursday. Between "WheelsUp" and "Back to Cali," he types three little Emoji airplanes, like a 15-year-old girl, but still: This is a pretty casually badass way to refer to a road game against the Chargers. There is, suddenly and improbably, something badass about the Bengals. They land in California having won three straight. Perhaps they walk through the San Diego airport in slow motion, wearing sunglasses, Battles Without Honor or Humanity looping in their heads, pulling rollie suitcases full of newfound purpose and confidence.
As for me, I head into Sunday badly in need of another win. It has rained for — this is a rough estimate — 97 days in a row. Hello, seasonal affective disorder, my old friend. Every day I listen to Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," and it does. Randy is a prophet. Randy understands me. My entire existence in Los Angeles has been trackable on the Randy Newman spectrum. First I was all *, and then I was all **. I walk around my house (which, like all houses in Los Angeles constructed before 1996, is made entirely of drafts and spiders) wearing a Lebowski sweater unironically and eating peanut butter out of the jar like a raccoon. Even though you automatically fail at the Internet the minute you read the comments on anything, I read the comments on last week's football column and passive-aggressively favorite the ones that question my qualifications as a writer and a husband and the veracity of my professed emotional investment in the ups and downs of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bye Week for the Bengals. With the NFL trade deadline approaching (look at me, I'm a sportswriter now), it's a time for stock-taking, for an honest look at how we got here and what we could be doing better.
So here's what happened: I went to Vegas at the end of September, and ever since I got back I haven't been quite right.
I promise not to dwell on this. I went to Vegas, and sat in a seminar room listening to creative people talk about creating comics and movies, about the how and why of Making Things, and instead of coming back fired up to Make Things myself, I came back convinced that it was too late for me, that I'd allowed part of me that could once have Made Things to atrophy and die. But the specifics aren't that important. It was a slump, and every slump has the same arc. I wrote nothing of consequence and tortured myself about it. I starved myself of human contact — with my wife, with my friends, with the guy the landlord pays to come around and frown at the grass — because How's it going? was a question I didn't want to answer. I kept whatever was wrong with me to myself, like the guy who waits until the end of the gunfight to reveal that he's been gut-shot the whole time.