The Block comes in contact with a lot of talented writers, individuals with the gift of the pen. We rarely see those writers get a platform where they can do more than be witty pop culture analyst or metronomes for adjusting cultural norms. Today, and every Friday in the month of July, we are going to give writers a platform to display their talents in whatever way they see fit. Whether it is a short story, poem, or essay, it’s their world, The Block their stage. Be sure to let us know what you think about the writers work. Today we feature none other than our very own BREWRITES. If you haven’t checked out her site, do so….AS SOON AS YOU FINISH READING THIS……
Arthur woke up ten minutes before his first of three alarms went off in the morning. This was normal. He didn’t need to check, but he knew his watch #1 would read 5:50 am. He checked anyway. The indiglo green hand of the Timex silently ticking back at him. The room pitch black. Seemingly silent save for the click of about twenty different time pieces around the room. The bedside clock is digital. The other bedside clock is an old school double bell alarm clock. The Timex tick is barely audible. The cuckoo clock perched dead center above the headboard is well…a cuckoo clock. A menagerie of other wristwatches, grandfather clocks, and wall clocks tick, but the sound is a solid blanket of white noise. Either tuned out by Arthur or so deafening loud it’s driving him crazy. Either. Or. Probably a mixture of both. He can’t quite figure it out. But today he’s leaning towards the silence. And he lays there in it until the first alarm rings. The second will be at 615. By then he would have brushed his teeth and emerged from the shower. The third alarm, at 630 signals time to be done grooming and dressed, after which he will eat breakfast. Cheerios. The monotonous breakfast of the insane.
He noticed long ago that either due to an improvement in the processes or some unaccounted force, things were getting done sooner. He still brushed his teeth for 90 seconds. He still washed every body part twice with antibacterial soap. Yet he found himself sitting on the toilet for 4 minutes and 12 seconds waiting for the 630 alarm. For about a year. It was a small change at first. An extra 45 seconds at first. Barely perceivable to others. Then it graduated to a full 100 seconds. When it reached the two-minute mark of “free time” he considered changing the alarm process, but that would bump every other process up two minutes. Very doable, but that would leave no room for error. Arthur considered staying in the shower an extra few minutes. Maybe to buy some conditioner and let it sit on his hair for three minutes, like he once saw on a television program during his hour of TV time. But that seemed like a waste of water, plus it would add to the grooming process and extra time was not affordable. So he sat.
If asked, Arthur would lie and say he wasn’t sure where his obsession with time keeping came from. Obsession was a lite way of putting it. The litany of tasks he kept time of continued to grow through his childhood. His teenage years were almost unbearable, even for him. Trying to move ones bowels in a 4 minute time period was not always possible. The pressure he put on himself (literally and figuratively) resulted in numerous breakdowns. Do you know how much time passing out removes from a daily schedule? It was maddening.
But with some help (and meds) he worked out a schedule that revolved around fifteen-minute intervals that proved to be most efficient. Dr. Phil (purely a coincidence) was proud of this accomplishment (as if she actually did something) and even thought Arthur should include a thirty minute block of “free time”.
Thirty minutes of free time? How could someone even come up with an asinine concept such as “free time”. It was hard enough that Dr. Phil subjected him to two thirty-minute intervals of socialization time a day. He soon learned that television programs are blocked into thirty-minute (actually 22 minutes, plus commercials) or one-hour (47 minutes) segments. This could give the appearance of “socialization” but actually he was just counting the time characters spent either in ridiculous conversations or in the same four rooms. Dr. Phil explained these were “situational comedies” but rarely did Arthur find them humorous. He was more interested in the educational programs. But sometimes those prosed a problem because they were either on at inopportune times or ran for a solid hour, and there was no way he could be bothered to sit in the rec room for a solid hour.
After breakfast (630-645) and Internet time (645-715), it was time for Arthur’s morning run. Although he wasn’t athletically inclined, it never stopped his scheduled 30 minutes (715-745). This left 15 minutes to redo the showering and grooming process.
Reading at the facility’s library from 8-9am was probably the highlight of every day. It was always quiet. The morning librarian would barely pay attention to Arthur seeing as how nobody else was really interested in the library unless there was group time there. And that was never in the mornings.
Tending to the garden from 9-9:30 with Mrs. Tennenbaum was such a contrast to the gardening time. Dr. Phil thought it would be great if Arthur left his comfort zone and partned with someone else at the facility. Mrs. Tennenbaum used garden time as physical therapy. She was a suicide attempt, which basically meant FAILURE to Arthur, and apparently keeping tomatoes alive was supposed to help her see the value of life. At least that’s what Arthur heard when Dr. Phil was explaining this ridiculous mashup of companionship. Whatever. It was a way to spend thirty minutes. The first few weeks Arthur wanted to give Mrs. Tennenbaum tips on how she could have finished the job she started with 20 Xanax. He couldn’t care less about pruning tips or knowing when okra was ready to be picked. Who even ate okra?! Then she insisted on personal talk. She had children. Her husband had left her for a younger woman, which prompted her attempted suicide (read: failure, pitiful cry for help). But he began to imagine it like he was a character in one of those sitcoms. And it was bearable. Like Friends. But maybe A Guy and Old Lady Sit in a Garden and Talk About Old Lady’s Life for Thirty Minutes. And it wouldn’t have commercials.
He didn’t even have to check his watch anymore to know when the time was up. Mrs. Tennenbaum had learned that he was punctual and was very respectful of stopping her stories at 9:27. Which gave them time to put away gardening tools and say their goodbyes. He appreciated this fact about her and maybe thought it was good she didn’t kill herself.
Dr. Phil delegated 9:30-10am as “free time” but Arthur used this time to go back to his room and make notes on the days tasks so far. Dr. Phil encouraged writing about feelings. How it felt if he were to be late for something. This prompted laughter for 3 minutes and 22 seconds. Probably the longest he had ever laughed at anything. Ever. Dr. Phil seemed put off but she should have known what to expect after such a ridiculous idea. She was one of those doctors who really thought they could help people. She seemed to be a little old to feel that way, Arthur thought, but maybe she would grow out of it. He hated her for a while when she made him take off some watches. He always wore 7. Three on his left and four on the right. He was left-handed so that one needed to be lighter to accommodate for writing, eating, etc. She suggested he go down to a two/three combo and forceably removed the watches from his arms. He spent the next week worrying that all the watches would simultaneously stop and he would have no back ups. He was constantly sitting on his hands for fear his arms would fly up in the air because they were so light. He hated her. He changed his schedule so there would be 30 minutes a day to write how much he hated her at that point. But after thirty days he grew accustomed to the feeling of lighter arms. Dr. Phil seemed please at her “success”.
Arthur walked from the garden area to the therapy rooms for his 50-minute session with Dr. Phil. She once told him that in the regular world psychiatrists needed ten minutes between patients for paperwork or other mundane tasks.
He walked into her office without knocking and took his place on her patient chair. Despite his protest, she insisted on wasting time with pleasantries every session. “How was your day?” “How is the garden growing?” But this morning she presented a small box to Arthur.
“Happy 23rd birthday,” she exclaimed.
Arthur accepted the gift. “There’s no point in celebrating the anniversary of another minute gone by.”
Dr. Phil looked slighted by his comment, so he amended it by adding “but this seems like it would be nice.” A lie. She knew it but smiled anyway.
In all honesty Arthur forgot that it was his birthday. Well he didn’t forget as much as he chose not to celebrate it. Nothing to celebrate anyway. At times he considered that maybe his family in the regular world were celebrating him. But they never called or came to visit so that was a far fetched dream. His mom paid the bills for this posh “mental care facility”. They didn’t have padded walls. Each occupant had a room that was almost nice enough to look like an apartment. But was constantly monitored through a video and intercom system. Rich people with mental breakdowns were everywhere. Every once in a while they were host to a celebrity that would catch a lot of attention but Arthur wouldn’t know who they were anyway. He figured his mother was embarrassed and that’s why she never came out. He wondered what lie she came up with when her country club friends would ask where her middle child was and why he never came home for the holidays. “He’s vacationing in the Swiss Alps this Christmas,” she would say. And they would nod in agreement because that was rich mom code for “in a nut house because I can’t stand his issue with clocks.”
“Arthur, are you crying,” Dr. Phil asked, breaking his concentration.
He chose not to answer her while she droned on and on about what good progress he had been making and maybe soon someone would be visiting since it was his birthday. And she talked this way for 45 more minutes while Arthur sat and silently cried on her couch. Reassuring passages from various holy scriptures. Words of encouragement. Pats on the back. Offers of glasses of water.
Finally, at 1050, she look at the clock and said “time’s up.”
Arthur suddenly found this hilarious and couldn’t contain his laughter. Dr. Phil was taken aback and just stared at him, which was even funnier to him. She escorted him out of her office and sat in her desk in wonderment as she heard him laughing all the way down the hallway into his room.