"You used to scare the shit out of me," a reporter at the Paragraph Factory said, as we reminisced about old days.
Scary? Me? I'd like to think I'm more soft than scary. But it's not the first time someone has reminded me of ... how to put it? ... the dark matter in my personal universe. I've been told I can be intense. Perhaps it's the fact that I can outstare anyone, even cats and people without eyelids. I once locked eyes with a guy who killed five people and after a couple minutes of fierce competition he blinked and let his gaze slip to one side.
"Damn," he wrote me later. "You got the dead eyes down, brother." And then he drew a smiley face to let me know it was all good. I took it as a tremendous compliment and thanked the universe that he was locked up for life.
Intensity has burned inside me for as long as I can remember. As a kid in L.A. it was all about being the biggest brainiac. As a professional, I had to be the best reporter and writer. It didn't matter if I needed to trample someone to get there. The way I figured it, life was war and being ruthless in battle was the only way to win. I won. A lot. And I looked down and laughed at the losers.
"But you've changed," the once-scared reporter told me, and here I had to agree. The arrogance is still there in some ways, of course. I can run circles around every other reporter, no problem. My upstairs candlepower is only a flicker of what it used to be, but it's still a pretty big flame, and it burns hot. My memory may be shot but I've forgotten more than what many people will ever know. So, yeah, I'm still that sumbitch.
What I'm not is heartless. I used to be, and knowing that makes me wince. Maybe the stroke did a little much-needed rewiring in my brain. Maybe I needed to fall from certain graces to learn humility. Whatever the case, I am different from the man who once scared the shit out of reporters. Look into my eyes, past the unblinking intensity, past the dark matter. There: see that shimmer? It's a heart. Tiny and black and in shards too minuscule to mend, but it beats. Finally, it beats.