Confinement

This morning when I woke up, just after looking out my bedroom window and seeing the snow coat a centimeter of solid ice like poisonous frosting, I told myself, Self, today’s the day. Not aloud, but mentally. I told the snow, too. I said, Today, I will run faster, stretch my arms further. I promised myself I’d stop living my life governed by the hands of the clock, dancing through my life in timed movements coordinated with the time of day.

Two months ago, I tipped a pizza delivery man well. Handsomely, even. It was 12:19 a.m., and I handed him two bills, a ten and a five, for a medium order of breadsticks that came out to $10.66 after taxes and delivery charge. The first snowflakes of the season were landing on the dead leaves of autumn and melting. I’d planned on handing the delivery man a twenty-dollar bill and asking for seven dollars back, which I calculated to be a good 21 cents more than a 20% tip. 20% is the standard for a decent tip. But when the time came and the pizza delivery man called me on my cellular phone to alert me to his arrival, I opened my wallet and found a surprise. Let me rephrase that. I opened my wallet and what I didn’t find caused me to be surprised. The surprise being that I had no twenty-dollar bills. I only had a ten, a five, and two ones. I had a strange feeling floating about in my stomach. Fluttering? Floating? Fluttering. And I walked to the door. I opened it and smiled despite the snow. The man smiled back. He had curly hair, slender frameless glasses, and a smoker’s cough. I will relate to you the dialogue that followed in present tense to assist you in feeling more “in-the-moment,” as some would have it.

“Well, hello.”

“Uh. Hi,” he replies. “Looks like I’ve got a--uhh. Order of breadsticks for you.”

An order of breadsticks?”

“Huh?”

“You have a twelve-inch order of breadsticks for me,” I say to him. I inhale and exhale once through my nostrils and add: “For ten dollars and sixty-six cents.”

“Right. Ten sixty-six.”

“May I make sure that my whole order is here?”

“Uhh. Sure. Whatever you say, chief.” I feel the top of my head to make sure I am not wearing a headdress. I grab the delivery box from him and check inside. It’s all there. After setting the box down, I notice him looking—no, glancing—at his watch. I glance at it, too, but my glance is longer than his, which may classify it as a “look.” Rest assured that it is not a “gaze.” That would be weird. His watch has a blue face and glow-in-the-dark minute and hour hands. My guess is that the brand is Fossil, bought at a department store for around sixty-five dollars. I had one similar to it, before I hit it against a wall one day, after which a crack formed and ruined the perfect glass surface. Well, I didn’t quite hit it against a wall per se as much as I merely happened to be walking down a hallway, and I moved sharply to the side to maintain my foot of personal space as someone approached me. My wrist, and, therefore, my wristwatch hit a wall.

“Heyy. You gonna pay for this today, mister?” Today. He shoots a look at me. A look that could be described no better than with the adjective, “inquisitive.”

“Ah, yes. Here you are, sir.” I open my wallet and hand him a ten and a five, well over the 20% standard tip. What happens next surprises even me.

“Thanks. You have a nice night.”

He turns away, and I feel as if something is missing.

“You may keep the change,” I say.

He turns back to me. “Oh. Yeah. Thanks.” And walks to his station wagon.

Strange, I think to myself. Strange, indeed. Usually pizza delivery men ask me if I need any change back. This time he seemed to expect my fifteen dollars. Most customers don’t tip four dollars and thirty-four cents, do they? Perhaps the custom has changed.

Today I rose from my bed and I yawned and I promised myself, acutely aware of what it would be like to walk to class on the snow-packed sidewalks. It would be unsteady, wobbly walking. I yawned again, stretched, made my bed, and spoke aloud: Today’s the day. Moments before, I had promised mentally, but it is my firm belief that when one says something, it is instantly more real than when he thinks it. And then I realized something else: when one writes his spoken words, the words achieve not only reality, but permanence. Assuming my residence will not become victim to a fire or flash flood. And that no one steals my writing. That’s why I keep my notes in a safe, “under lock and key,” as some would have it. My private notes.

One month ago, I ate dinner in front of the television while others outside made snowmen and snow angels. I would rather confine myself in a chair than be confined in ice by nature. I lifted my soup spoon out of my bowl, blew on the soup exactly three times before every spoonful, until the soup was half empty, and, therefore, no longer hot. It’s just as I would have done if I were seated at the dinner table. It is my firm belief that it’s best not to make too many changes at once.

The program I watched was called Hangin' with Mr. Cooper. According to one reliable source, “Hangin' with Mr. Cooper was a television sitcom that aired on ABC from 1992 to 1997, starring Mark Curry and Holly Robinson. The show took place in Oakland, California.” The show was interesting, to say the least. A real treat. The primarily African-American cast brought such life to the episode’s simple plot: “Mark and Vanessa go to extremes in their search for a lost lottery ticket.” The very idea of a grown man living with two grown women in a platonic friendship fascinated me. That they could reside together without any inappropriate urges. And Geneva, when she screams—she absolutely screeches—“WE RICH!” when Mr. Cooper wins the lottery. What drama. What lust for life. They don’t have to worry about snow in Oakland.

It was a pleasant dinner, followed by an even pleasanter dishwashing session. Regularly dishwashing has always been of utmost importance to me, restoring dirty dishes to their previous state of cleanliness. And yet. And yet there’s something exquisite about the random clicking of silverware against plates in soapy dish water. Some inexplicable appeal of things out of order, things uncontrollable and unpredictable. There’s something freeing about it.

Today I took my daily shower. I removed my glasses and cleansed all of my body parts in order, from those I approximated to be cleanest to those I knew to be dirty. I mouthed the words, Today is the day. I whispered them to myself, listening carefully to every nuance of the words. I even wrote them on my transparent shower door by pressing my index finger into the film of water concentration and moving it around in shapes of letters. I thought about the words again. Does writing them on the shower door make them even more real than writing them on paper? I thought about how much harder it would be to write the letters into a big heap of snow with red ungloved fingers. I thought about my fingers getting stuck in an ice mound and my tongue freezing to a pole.

Two weeks ago, I got a new haircut. I could hardly believe it, myself. I walked right into the barbershop and smiled at the girl at the front counter. All this after stamping the mud and snow from my boots on the outside and inside welcome mats. She did not look up from her nails when I greeted her. Not even a glance. She was filing diligently, but all I could imagine was tiny shards of polish scattering from her nails like shattering ice.

I hesitated. I gulped. And then I did something crazy.

“The color of your fingernail polish brings out the blue of your eyes.” I felt my hands become cold and moist, and I shoved them into my back pockets, palm facing out. I always do that when I get nervous.

Then she looked up at me. And boy, did she look up. This was no small glance. She furrowed her brow and eyed me. That’s a good verb for it, “eyed.” She eyed me for a good, silent five seconds. I could only hear two sounds: (1) The ambient noise of hair stylists snipping wet hair; and (2) My heart beating wildly like a set of drums in a 1940s big band. I would be lying to you if I told you that I broke eye contact with her during that time.

“Ummm. How can I help you?”

“Well. Do you think you could guess why I’m here if I gave you three tries?” I was being sneaky. I pictured a television show editor pressing “Play” on the laugh track, as if this were Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. Poking that little, green, right-facing triangle that means “Go.”

“If you’re here for a haircut, you’re going to have to put your name on a waiting list. It’ll be about thirty minutes.”

I told her that would be fine, and I gave her my name. I gave her one nod and what I thought to be a friendly smile, and I sat down to read a magazine and listen to “Mike Moody’s 80s at 8.” That’s as far as I would go, and then I pictured the same editor pressing the red square for “Stop.”

Today, after my shower, I read the latest edition of Superman three times through, as is my tradition when my monthly issue arrives. It is my firm belief that subtle effects are better appreciated upon subsequent readings. It’s not unlike what I have heard about the audience of Shakespeare when watching Romeo and Juliet in its original performance. It is supposed by most scholars that most of the play’s viewers already knew the general plot before attending the performance.  What must have thrilled them was the characters’ clever and poetic monologues and dialogues, set in the same familiar story. Likewise, I can first learn the general plot in the first read, and “really dig in,” as some would have it, in following more careful readings.

And a detail that had been there all along caught my attention. Superman’s protagonist must balance two worlds: the heroic world of the title character, and the mundane world of Clark Kent. I would say that most people are like that: leading two lives, one heroic and one mundane, but I have concluded that most of them are opposite the Superman model. Superman is really Superman, and Clark Kent is the made-up alias. Conversely, most people pretend to be Supermen but are really Clark Kents. Amazing, I thought, how this inversion works—that Superman has to try harder not to be super than to be ordinary. He would have a harder time not knocking over a pile of snow; he contains, limits himself by his own will.

One week ago, I noticed the world’s turning for the first time. I closed my eyes and really felt it, the enormity of earth’s rotation. When an object gains enough mass it creates a magnetic and gravitational field around itself. In fact, it is theorized in Physics that everything in the universe has at least an infinitesimally small trace of gravitational attraction to everything else. In the entire cosmos. Take a moment to ponder that, if you will. There’s an attractive force—albeit a weak one—between you and some bag of fecal matter and toilet paper that Neil Armstrong shot off into the great beyond on his way back from the moon. Between you and a red dwarf a million light years away. I can still barely fathom it.

And there I was, stationary outside with snow at my ankles, planted firmly in the ground and yet spinning in space, desiring. Desiring only that something should spin around me. Desiring that I could send things spinning. That I could uproot myself from the snow and from its icy grip that anchors me in one spot. I woke up inside my home not knowing how I had come in from the cold. I still don’t know.

Today is the day, I thought. And it was. Mere minutes ago I ran—no, barreled—outside in snow boots and snowsuit and jetted toward a snow pile, a kamikaze attack. I leveled it with utter disregard for everything. I kicked snow everywhere—with my toe, my heel, the side of my foot, my knee. I punched snowmen—slugged them good—clawed off their soulless eyes—and obliterated snow angels. Rolling in them.

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