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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Deadline comes to visit

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

-Douglas Adams

In almost every apartment building I’ve lived in in New York, there’s been a mirrored counter in the lobby. People who lived in the building would put things on this counter that they didn’t want anymore, but thought other people in building might like to have. Books are the most common. It’s a nice, friendly way of swapping reading material while uncluttering our apartments.

But when I walked past the other day, there was something different. It was a box of creatures. I had a look inside, and much to my amazement, I saw someone I knew in that box.

I stopped and said, “Wait. I know you. You’re Deadline!”

Yes, my old friend Deadline was in there! So I immediately plucked him up and brought him up to my apartment.

Deadline, engaged in one of his favorite activities: screaming into the phone

This is Deadline. I know him well. Everyone who has ever written a book, turned in a paper, had a presentation to give, or had a test knows Deadline. He is easily recognizable: the grasping hands, the extra set of gut pincers, the pronged tail to spear your heart, the gaping, toothy mouth, the red eyes that bespeak total sleeplessness.

Deadline, because he knows me, was very cordial. We go way back, Deadline and I. We sat down and talked about some of the good times. Like that Psych midterm I had in college. I had stupidly thought the Psychology class would be easy, so I cheerfully signed up for the most notorious professor and the most advanced level permitted for the core requirement class. I liked to do that, because I was . . . well, I’ll allow you to fill in whatever term you think is appropriate for that kind of person.

Once in the class, I discovered that the reason this professor’s classes were so “good” is that people had actual psychological breakdowns in them, so you could study them up close, in real time. The professor had been the president of two major universities until he got bored and went back to his first love—watching students snap. The class so freaked us out that we spent most of the semester sleepless, always trying to stay ahead of the reading (impossible, largely because he never exactly told us what to read, just generally hinted that it should be everything and all the time) and trying to guess what material he would test us on that week (he tested us every week, and never told us on what, because where was the fun in that?). The midterm deadline had us catatonic with fear, and we tried and tried to be ready. But Deadline was there, digging in his claws, climbing through our windows, lingering just behind our shoulders.

The night before the midterm, my trustworthy study partner lost it and began giggling. He picked me up and started running through the building with me, shouting Psych questions all the way. When he got to the lobby of our building, he started spinning me around, slipping and sliding on the hardwood floor. And then, at the height of his madness . . .

He dropped me. On my head.

By accident, of course.

I don’t know if any of you have ever gotten a big cut on your head. I found out that night that they tend to bleed a lot. My blood was all over the lobby floor. There was a banging pain in the back of my head that kind of felt like a tiny construction crew was building a deck back there. But aside from a sudden shock of blackness, I wasn’t knocked out. And even though my head hurt like crazy, we were only four hours away from the midterm. There was no time to go to Health Services. Deadline always insists that he come first.

A guy from my building who was some kind of paramedic or premed or something came down, along with my then-boyfriend, and his roommate, and some other people who were up and wanted to see who was bleeding in the lobby. The premed guy helped get the bleeding under control. He washed off the cut, put pressure on it for a half an hour or more, wrapped it up in gauze, and taped it down. A baseball cap was positioned over this big mess to try to hide it and hold it all in place. I was sent off to the midterm with a stern warning not to move that gauze, because I would start bleeding all over again, and to get to the health center the minute the test was over.

The test was, of course, mostly on the material we were scheduled to review in those last two hours that I spent getting my head wrapped up—just a handful of weird equations that we didn’t think the professor would ask about, and therefore kept on the low-priority list. We also figured that those were the kinds of things we were best served sticking in our heads the moment before we went in the door.

I didn’t even try the “my head is bleeding” excuse. It just seemed pointless.

Deadline loves that story because there is blood in it. We laughed. Then Deadline told me that he had returned. I knew he was coming. Things always get interesting when Deadline is around. He’s not actually due for a few weeks, but a book Deadline is a long period usually, like a multi-week festival.

So now he’s here, and he’s told me that he wants to play a role in my blog. So you will undoubtedly be hearing more about Deadline in the next few weeks. Feel free to write to him at my e-mail address and say hi. He’s a chatty guy if you give him half a chance.