Dispatches | March 29, 2007

Toward the end of last week I became aware that I was having something that could only be called a bad week. It was tangibly bad. The badness was not an aura; it had weight. It was like a slunking creature following me and creating snickering disturbances behind me that fouled up everything I tried. Or like having a fat gargoyle on my shoulder. The word “gargoyle” comes from the French “gargouiller,” to gurgle, because gargoyles once functioned primarily as spouts on gutters. The gargoyle on my shoulder was gurgling and then drooling on everything I touched, sort of the reverse of the Midas touch — everything the associate editor touched turned to drool, including, I fear, some of my edits.

Even as I was doing things-basic stuff, like cooking dinner or typing or talking on the phone, I had a clear sense that I was doing it badly. I sent bad e-mails. I wore the wrong clothes. My metabolism seemed to shut down, and everything I ate made me want to throw up — it was good food, but it was bad for the moment, like eating a plate of cement. I drove badly. More than once my heart bounded up to my uvula when I just missed being hit. People honked and probably profaned me, but I couldn’t help it. It was bad driving beyond my control. Fortunately I have a little guardian angel that my daughter gave me clipped to my sun visor. That may be the only reason I survived.

I am not having that popular phrase I hate (because of its cute alliteration) a “pity party.” I am talking about a phenomenon that is worthy of analysis beyond the superficial. Something was off. I was “out of joint” and to some extent continue to be. Because of overwork? No, not really. Because of family trouble? Well, there’s always that, but I have not had a gargoyle gurgling and drooling on my shoes in past moments of domestic stress.

This next part is gross. We have six cats, and one or more of them — it almost has to be more — began spontaneously urinating on the fringe at one of edge of a rug in our hallway. Only one rug. Only one edge. Only the fringe. The fringe changed color (surprise!). I have tried to remedy the situation, but no cleaning product can undo the ruin caused by irritable cats peeing.

Why am I telling you about cats wrecking rugs? Because it suggests something about the bad week, the gargoyle and my touch-of-drool. The one thing that has affected my life recently — and yours — that has also affected the cats’ very different lives is the time change. Daylight savings time messes them up. For all their apparent freedom and spontaneity as pets without jobs or finances or any other real problems, they are animals governed by schedules. If we get up an hour earlier, they’re frantic. If they get fed an hour earlier, they go on the section of fringe.

I have begun to think my bad week is the compounded effect of many, many days of doing things an hour too early. One hour too early per day adds up. It puts you on the fringe. The time is, literally, “out of joint.” I won’t make any pronouncements about big ethical questions such as whether we should clone human beings, but I would like to argue for leaving the time alone.