Michael Campbell

Story Time.

Routine Maintenance

by | Dec 17, 2009 | Uncategorized

It’s freezing in the room. I get out of my warm bed; the dog stays behind. He used to jump up whenever I budged, following my every step as if I had bacon for feet. By now he has figured out I’m just going to the bathroom and that I’ll be back to get dressed. He knows there’s no point in following me until I venture downstairs, where he’ll hover on the chance that I might drop a crumb of toast.

I have become routine. He and my cats know everything I’m going to do. As I shuffle barefoot into the kitchen, my cat Spekky is already there, waiting. She knows she’ll be fed a moist pâté of ground fish out of a can within the next three minutes. She begins to meow at 1 minute 30 seconds just to go along, but it doesn’t change anything. The dog stands by wistfully, knowing the cat bowl is off limits. But what touches the floor is legally his.

They weave between my clumsy feet with the agility of egrets picking food from a hippo’s mouth. Their choreography requires that they know exactly where I’m going to move next. They do.

People say days go by faster as you get older. I know one person who is certain that time literally is going faster, and although he says it with scientific authority, his theory still smells as if freshly pulled out of his ass.

It’s more likely that as we get older we become more routine. It gets harder to distinguish one day from the next. When you’re a kid, every day is unique. Your brain is an empty pan. As you age you start developing preferences, then favorites, and soon your patterns start to cement. I can barely read a newspaper if I don’t start with the front page.

The last remarkable day you remember may have been months ago. “Why, it seems like 4th of July was just last week!” When days are identical, time condenses them into one.

I just had lunch with a friend, and he was off to get a new tattoo.

“Of what?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

He’s not new to this.  He already looks like an ad for the tattoo parlor.

“You’re getting a tattoo that will last your whole life, and you haven’t made up your mind yet?”

“I had some space to fill.”

As tattoos go, I am a blank slate. I can’t commit to anything for fear I’ll change my mind about it later. Even the classic “Mama” is chancy—she could turn on me any day. Maybe she was just being nice because I was little and she felt sorry for me, and now she’s just waiting until I’m old enough to hear what a pain in the ass I was.

“Each tattoo reminds me where my life was at the time I got it,” he explains. “It’s not the design itself that’s important, but the memories it stirs up.” He is a walking scrapbook of unconnected imagery: a wagon wheel, an eagle, a sheriff’s badge. I don’t ask.

To shake up my life I try to do something unique every day. Maybe I’ll get a tattoo when I’m 90 and there’s not enough time left to change my mind about it.

I cringe when people get engaged on Christmas, or have birthdays on New Year’s Eve. I know I’d forget one event or the other. When I plan a celebratory occasion like an engagement or wedding, I’ll look at the calendar and pick the longest stretch of time between two existing holidays, and stick the new event right in the middle. My goal: when I’m 90 years old, every day will be a unique holiday, and time will stand still.

I usually write a story for this blog every Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. Whoa, baby—look at me shake it up.


  1. michaelbcampbell

    Addendum: I wanted a photo of Phooey staring wistfully at Spek. I held this essay until the next feeding, because I knew I'd get my shot. I did. So in the predictability club, I'm in good company.

  2. Patty

    You wild animal you. Thanks for sharing your talents at The Listening Room! You're an amazing talent!

  3. Taylor

    Is Phooey a Shih Tzu?
    Great shot!


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