Forty-seven minutes of sleep, no want, nor access to breakfast, three-day old underwear, five-day old socks, one week’s worth of worrying, and it all made perfect sense to him because worry made for insomnia and dread of public places made for dirty clothes and empty refrigerators.
It was June fifth, the day of his daughter’s school play, and within the hour he’d be shipping out for the chrome heart of suburbia on a bus. Quinn grew up in the suburbs but moved downtown in his early twenties, so he and his homeland had become profoundly estranged. In fact, the very thought of having to leave the walls of his inner-city apartment for the conspicuous byways of his past had snarled his stomach into an acidic knot.
While screenshotting the suggested travel itinerary, he whispered to himself that he needed to get sunglasses, because taking public transit with nothing to hide behind was, in a word, impossible, therefore, he finished brushing his teeth without toothpaste, grabbed his backpack, put his hat on, rumbled down the stairwell of his fourth-floor walk-up, stepped out the door into a dreary day, and with his head down, headed for the corner store.
A smother of clouds let loose with cold drizzle as his germaphobia demanded he open the door of the store with his hand tucked into his shirt cuff, all the while whispering to himself: sunglasses, extra dark, on the rack near the back corner, the cheapest pair but they have to be wraparounds, extra dark, he repeated, after a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure nobody was listening.
Up at the checkout counter the female cashier smiled blithely while commenting on the miserable weather, which put a reflexive grimace on his face as he wondered if she was mocking him for not realizing that wearing sunglasses in the context of the miserable weather would draw unwanted attention, and this, in turn, made him want to tell her that he did realize it, and that the thought of it was making him want to stay inside, safely removed from the strain of doing what he had promised to do, and this, sadly, brings us to his Inner Alamo.
The doomed fort inside his head was built with the calcified stones of failure, or rather, perceived failure, and he says the first of these stones was laid so long ago he doesn’t remember the exact circumstances that precipitated it, but thinks it had something to do with his lack of athleticism as a kid. In recent years, however, construction of the fort had been ramped up, and it reached completion about a year before the events of this book, when his then-girlfriend took a job out west, leaving him alone with his final stone.
There were times when his Inner Alamo would function according to plan, which is to say that it fostered a sense of resilience. But more often than not it made him feel trapped, even doomed, and this perverse bit of historical accuracy gave rise to a persecution complex that he tried to offset by wishing himself free. It was an absurd habit for a grown man to develop, but there he was wishing himself free at the sight of milkweed seeds floating by on the breeze. And if he passed a fountain with coins in his pocket, he wished himself free. And every birthday and every New Year’s Eve he wished himself free.
While it’s true that Quinn was a sad sack, a shrinking violet, a refugee of reality, he was also terrified of living a completely delusional existence inside a psychological vacuum created by a lack of contact with the world, and ultimately, and of course, ironically, it was this fear that afforded him his exit strategy. You see, he knew that wishes were only granted to those who polished their lamps. In other words, he understood genie protocol as being the willingness to show up every day and do the necessary principal work, which he differentiated from menial work. Unfortunately, he had convinced himself, during this grim period of his life, that he did not have his own lamp to polish, he did not have his own principal work, and this misguided notion threatened to push him over the edge, upon losing his last point of contact with the outside world: his menial job.