I AWAKE IN THE MORNING. ON THE far wall, opposite the bed, my bookcase is gone. In its place is an electronic scoreboard, smaller than the ones now found in baseball parks but, other than that, precisely the same. I am so surprised, I roll out of bed to my right, instead of my left. The board lights up: This is the first time in 865 days that Richard Cohen has rolled out of bed to the right.
I am stunned. I glance at the board and then try to pretend it's not there. I pad into the kitchen, make some coffee and return to the bedroom with a cup -- but not the pot of coffee. This happens all the time, but as I start to return to the kitchen, the board lights up: Richard Cohen has forgotten to bring the coffeepot into the bedroom 11 of the last 13 days. I stare in disbelief and am about to enter the bathroom for a shower when the board flashes something else: This is a Northwest Washington record.
Who knew? I shower, rather proud of myself. Hardly awake, I have nevertheless started the day with a record. It's not a record for all of Washington, and certainly not one for the Washington metropolitan area, but it is a record. In fact, it's a record much like the ones now being flashed on the scoreboards in ballparks, statistics that were not available before computers and that have turned the hallowed hobby of keeping and remembering baseball statistics into a parody of itself, if not a perversion.
I reach for a white shirt while, out of the corner of my eye, watching the scoreboard: Richard Cohen has worn a white shirt on 3 of the last 6 working days. Probably true, I concede. I reach for a blue one instead: Richard Cohen has worn a blue shirt on 23 of the last 48 working days. True too. But most of my shirts are either blue or white. I reach for a nifty plaid: Richard Cohen has not worn a plaid shirt since Feb. 6, 1990 -- the longest he has gone without wearing a plaid shirt since 1987. I guess so.
At work, I discover that the bookcase in my office has also been replaced by a scoreboard. By now I am not surprised. I read the papers and then decide what to write. "I . . ." The scoreboard flashes: Richard Cohen has started a column with the word "I" for 43 days in a row. This is a record for newspaper columnists, excluding the columns Leon Trotsky did for Pravda following the Russian Revolution. It is also a personal best. No kidding, methinks.
And so the day goes. Almost everything I do is a record, a near-record, an indoor record, a variation of a club record, a modern record, a local record or my personal best. The truth is that I am not particularly proud of records that are my personal best. I see this category as something akin to grade inflation -- excessive praise for insignificant achievements. I pause to wonder if the Japanese have the category of personal best and, if they don't, whether this represents the difference between our two countries. At that very moment, the board lights again: Richard Cohen has taken a small thing and tried to make something momentous out of it. This, alas, is his personal best.
It is my luck, I decide, to have a scoreboard like myself: sarcastic. But in due course I begin to cherish the thing. It tells me, for instance, that I spent 3.4 hours just staring out the window that day -- no mere personal best, I am informed, but a 15th Street NW modern record. The 19th-century record was held by a customs bureau clerk named Franklin who, from 1888 to 1891, did nothing but look out the window. He was a political appointee.
I cannot tell you, nay I will not tell you, what the scoreboard says when I return after -- I am electronically informed -- my 12th visit to the men's room. I can only say that while this is a Washington metropolitan area record number of trips, it is nowhere near my personal best and does not approach the world's record held by a man in West Palm Beach, Fla. He's my father.
As the day progresses, my personal scoreboards do for me what those in ballparks do for ballplayers: They convince me of my own uniqueness and value to the organization. I hire an agent, a personal manager, a personal trainer and a spokesman. I have my spokesman talk to my personal trainer and explain why I'm going to miss my first training session. I become enamored of myself (okay, even more enamored) and find myself competing not against other columnists but myself. Can I start yet another column with the word "I"? Can I, perchance, use the word "perchance" just one more time? It will be a personal best.
My scoreboards tell me everything. They announce that I write better when the wind is out of the north. I type faster when the humidity is low. I am most thoughtful out of town, and I do best against right-wing columnists on talk shows, although not in August or in St. Louis when it's raining. During cold snaps, I write best on my Zenith portable computer, but once the temperature goes over 70, it's an IBM for me. These are things I sort of knew but couldn't, as it were, prove. Perchance . . . Richard Cohen has used "perchance" in 15 of his last 17 columns. This breaks the record held by John Maynard Keynes. I forget what I was going to say.
Returning home in the evening, I find that almost everything I do makes the scoreboard light up. Even in bed, every toss and turn is some sort of record -- personal, neighborhood, city, for my age, for my sex. Sleep will not come, and so I rise and write this column. Perchance you may not think much of it, but it is -- given the wind and my age -- a personal best.