“I remember meeting you five or so years ago, and I was thinking to myself: man, this guy really needs to take a shower and clean himself up,” my friend told me the other day.
We were meeting in his office for the first time in about two years. “You look really clean,” he said. Which I thought was sort of funny. “What does that even mean?” I said. Then he said the above.
I laughed but said, “Uh oh, I feel kind of embarrassed now.”
“Seriously,” he said, “you were sort of gross.”
But he was right. I did need a shower then.
This was around the time I was posting ads on Facebook pretending to be psychic so that I could meet girls.
Things were spiraling out of control, and I didn’t know how to stop. I was spinning in the drain. The toilet had already been flushed. It was too late to save me.
And so I died.
One time, I had been drinking by myself so badly in a bar that after I threw up in the bathroom, I tried to make it to my hotel.
I couldn’t remember what hotel I was in, so I was stumbling around 50th and Lexington in the rain. I fell down in the middle of the street at 1:00 a.m., fell asleep, and cars were swerving around me.
People were rushing past me, and finally one guy kicked me and said, “Move!”
I eventually found my hotel. I woke up an hour or so later with one half of my body in the room and one half in the lobby. There was vomit everywhere.
I was still sick, so I got up and ran to the bathroom, but there was a spray of vomit coming out of my mouth that only partly ended up in the bathroom, in the sink, in the toilet, on the floor, and then later on the bed.
I had an important meeting the next day at 8:00 a.m. I got in by 9:00 a.m. and claimed I had a stomach flu. I couldn’t focus because everything was still spinning, so I finally left and said I didn’t want to “infect” anyone.
I started checking into hotels for weeks at a time and not leaving them. I had a job (the place where I had sold my last company), but I stopped showing up.
Finally, the CEO asked me, “Everyone is noticing you’re not showing up. What is going on?”
I told him I had to finish a book. Which was true. I had gotten a $100,000 advance for a book from Penguin, and I was late on turning it in. I finally wrote the entire book in six days and handed it in. It sold 399 copies.
I actually was proud of it. I had made a crossword puzzle in the middle of the book. Right now, that is the only thing I remember about it.
My business partner, Dan, who nobody ever saw because I suspect he’s agoraphobic and never likes to leave his basement, had to fake being me.
He would write my financial articles and participate on phone calls where I was supposed to participate.
Eventually, everything exploded, and I moved into the Chelsea Hotel, which is where I lived before I had been married. “Welcome back!” Robert, the bellhop, said to me after he hadn’t seen me in almost ten years.
Believe it or not, during this time, I actually raised money for a small hedge fund. I have to admit, I’m lucky. I’m not afraid to jinx it by saying it. But I used to squander my luck a lot.
The fund lasted about two months. Then the guy asked for his money back when I didn’t return his phone calls for several weeks in a row.
“If you want to be in this business, you have to be able to return calls,” he said. “I don’t care about the money; I care about communication.”
Which was a valuable lesson I never forgot. That investor and I are still friends and now regularly do business together.
I would lie in the Chelsea Hotel all day and watch the sun come up, stay up, and then go down. Sometimes, for lunch, I would go to this gourmet hot dog store and get a bunch of hot dogs and then go back to my room. I gained at least thirty pounds.
I didn’t have any friends, but I’d wander around 29th street where I used to hang out when I was ten years old and was only interested in comic books and Space:1999, and I remembered my grandparents loving me.
No worries then. No complexity. No, “if this…then that” or if “this” then “ugh.”
I started writing down ideas to be a standup comic, and sometimes, late at night, I would go watch comics at open mics in the basements of smelly bars.
Some of the comics were funny, but 100% of them apologized at some point in their act for not being so funny.
Note to self: Never apologize in the middle of disappointing someone. Just do your best. Then people will know that you’re the guy who shows up.
I would walk around the city late. All the young people outside, beginning their exciting moments of saying, “I live in New York City!”
I had done that also, almost twenty years earlier. Where every block seemed to have a tragedy or a comedy being played out in front of me. Where every person I spoke to was crazy and an adventure. Every corner had a rabbit hole, and I tripped through almost all of them.
The city itself has a magic spell on it, and it’s easy to fall into its delirious hallucination.
Everyday back then, I would run into him, and her, and the other him, and the other her, and we were a TEAM and were all fated to be together and love each other and conquer the world together with our tiny army put together by a little bit of luck, glue, and stark insane ambition.
Lying in my hotel room twenty years later, I didn’t have glue.
I know I write about a lot of negative stuff. Sometimes people write to me and say, “I had to take a break from you. Sometimes you are depressing.”
But then the magic came back. I’m a kid with a new water rocket to launch. With new chalk to draw on the street. With a closet filled with toys and fun. My only thought: how to play Play PLAY!
My ideas now are my closet of toys. Everyday, I open it and see what spills out. Practice everyday coming up with ideas. Because nothing beats the sense of curiosity and exploration of being a kid.
In fact, money often blocks the sense of awe that infinite uncertainty delivers.
Ideas weave into dreams, turn into Today. Only play and question marks and exploration and WOW!
I wrote down ideas every day for months. All day. Every time my mind wanted to worry, I took out my pad and wrote down more ideas. I still do this.
And then I did shower. Ooomph! I scrubbed every corner of my life. I DID clean up.
I cleaned up for good.
James Altucher has built and sold several companies, and failed at dozens more. He’s written ten books, and Choose Yourself is the book to RULE THEM ALL. He’s an investor in twenty different companies. He writes every day. He doesn’t have enough friends. Still interested in knowing him? Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
*Image courtesy of stevendepolo.January 8, 2014