by Matthew Vollmer
“Routine” is a French word derived from “route” or “path,” denoting a usual course of action
Wake. Navigate through dark to bathroom, avoiding areas of floor known to creak. Lower self onto toilet, careful not to ram forehead into waist-high crown molding on opposite wall. Pee. Skip handwashing. Return to bed. Turn over phone, whose screen stayed lit all night due to the app running a white noise program used to drown out silence and the occasional passing car. Search for time. 4:30. Too early to get up. Still, wonder what happened during the last seven hours since you’ve been here in the guest bedroom, after you started snoring during an episode of Westworld, and your wife, who wants you to get one of those contraptions your dad wears for his sleep apnea, asked if you wouldn’t mind, just for this night, sleeping there. Wonder if you have sleep apnea. Don’t look up “sleep apnea.” Press thumb against home button of phone. “Try again” appears on screen. Press thumb against home button again. Screen says, “Try again.” Press other thumb against home button. No dice. Wonder what point of having “Touch ID” is if phone refuses to identify either thumbprint. Enter passcode. Tap Facebook app icon. Scroll past articles about how President deserves impeachment and how the Speaker of the House, appearing on a late night comedy show, said that the inquiry into the President’s call to the Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent was very sad but necessary. Scroll past an article about the President’s Twitter habit, where he has knowingly or unknowingly re-tweeted shoutouts from Russian trolls and white supremacists. Scroll past an article that claims President will be first in history to be impeached for “being too successful.” Exit Facebook. Wonder if Amazon is still on fire. Refuse to Google. Tap blue square with white envelope. Read emails from Contemporary Fiction students who want to know where they can find next daily prompt so they can post a response to the discussion thread on course website. Remember having created prompt night before, assume you hit “save” but not “save & publish.” Check. There’s a link to “Glaser, Day 1.” It’s unpublished. Tap “Save & Publish.” Write back three students to explain. Check ESPN, cheer UNC win over Long Beach State, Duke loss to Kansas. Watch replay of Kansas kid draining jumper, leaving 1.8 seconds on clock, just enough time for Duke player to launch final prayer slash air ball. Tap square with camera inside. Scroll past image of a hand of assistant prof from school of visual arts holding a glass of rosé in front of a window on the 123rd floor of a building in Dubai, past post from simpsonfamilyquotes that features Homer Simpson saying, “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand,” past shot of a high school friend’s kid who shaved Vanilla Ice lines into the side of his head, past shot of graveyard in Galveston Texas, taken by a friend you met the summer of ’96 when you drove to Yellowstone to bus tables at the Old Faithful Inn. Hear floor creak: wife’s up. Check time. Little after five. Turn phone off, so as to pretend you haven’t yet woken. Predict that, because guest bedroom also doubles as wife’s office, wife will open door to guest bedroom to retrieve computer. Wife opens door to guest bedroom. Moan, a little. Wife whispers apology, says she’s just getting computer. On way out, she pauses to give your back a conciliatory pat. Turn phone back on after she closes door, watch overdub of somebody making fun of an old woman who stars in infomercials about making “dump cakes.” Read description of conditions of detained immigrants—sick children sleep beneath Mylar blankets in crowded rooms whose lights never go out, in camps where there are no hot meals—and a response from the Vice President who claims that yes, he is concerned about the number of illegals crossing our borders, and at the camp he visited, he witnessed children in good spirits, watching TV and having snacks. Remind yourself that you should try to finish an essay you started weeks ago about the universe being a simulation. Type “universe is simulation” into search engine. Read article from Scientific American about Neal Degrasse Tyson, who thinks concept is possible. Find hoodie and pants and socks from day before. Put on. Slide-walk on wood floors to dining room. Open laptop. Open streaming music service on phone. Tap on library, bring up playlist titled “Your Daily Mix.” Listen to “Burning” by Whitest Boy Alive. Add “Burning” by Whitest Boy Alive to playlist titled “fall19.” Read The Monkey Handler by Rachel B. Glaser. Underline the following: “She felt fat in her spacesuit, but she’d only have to wear it for launching and landing. It was stupid to feel fat. She was on a spaceship for Christsake!” Put book down after every other page, reminding yourself of various sites you meant to check—the weather, the popular music review site, paper of record, etc.—on laptop. Watch son shuffle through kitchen, sit at table, pour cereal into bowl, knock box over sideways onto table. Watch son flick phone screen as he eats waffle with peanut butter and sliced banana. Worry son spends too much time with phone, with screens in general. Wonder if he’s discovered porn, wonder what he’s seen that, if he knew you knew about it, would cause him shame. Remember that you recently had to explain, after son’s friend told a joke about a genealogist who studies the family tree, while a gynecologist studies the family bush, what word “bush” meant. Note time: 6:55. Figure dog wants out. Wait at top of stairs when wife says, “Wait,” as she places pill—tiny white circle of prednisone, which dog takes because dog has Addison’s Disease, just like President John F. Kennedy, which means that dog’s adrenal gland doesn’t produce any prednisone. Dog standing at bottom of stairs, eagerly wagging tail nub. Command dog to sit, give her bread folded over pill. Stuff plastic bag into coat pocket. Attach leash to dog collar. Walk across street, to grassy area near stop sign, at the corner of a lot owned by a ninety-three-year-old woman whose now-dead husband was responsible, seventy-five years ago, for planting what is now neighborhood’s largest tree, which he bought, as a sapling, at Sears Roebuck & Co. Command dog to “go pee pee.” Dog sniffs while taking approximately twenty-two rage-inducing steps before finding appropriate spot for urination. Wonder what particular signal she requires and why she can’t acquire it more quickly. Walk through neighborhood, past houses that resemble mini-McMansions or chubby craftsman houses that look like they could’ve tumbled out of a Pixar movie. Continue up hill leading to municipal golf course. Notice full moon, wonder if it’s still considered “super.” Probably not. Watch dog defecate. While holding breath, wear plastic bag like mitten to retrieve feces, tie bag handles in knot, toss into giant rectangular dumpster outside half-constructed house. Wonder if it’s legal to throw bags of dog feces into construction dumpsters, and if doing so complicates any recycling efforts once dumpster is delivered to wherever dumpster ends up going. Wonder what people did before plastic bags, was there more dog shit in general or what? Remember how, as kid, dog poo got flung into woods with a shovel. Wonder about fires in home state, the ones that are eating up mountains, parts of historic Trail of Tears, inching closer towards Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, the last tiny blip of virgin woods in the eastern United States, where four-hundred-year-old poplars are as big around as California Redwoods. Think about parents. Hope mom is doing okay, despite not being able to remember how to do even the most basic things, like refill the hummingbird feeder or write a check or use phone or boil potatoes or drive a car or go to the grocery store or remember how many grandkids she has (3) or what their names are. Hope Dad is doing okay, despite having to keep working when other dentists his age have retired, and then having to go to the grocery store after work and pick up ingredients for dinner and presumably cook and then clean up and put mom to bed before turning off all the lights and getting into bed himself. At top of golf course, run into couple you know walking their golden retrievers. Wonder why they’re moving so quickly away. Woman yells something about how their dogs don’t like other dogs, that one of them attacked another dog that came running up to him, and afterwards (her own dog) was covered in blood that wasn’t its own. Bid couple adieu. Take photo of moon over town. Post moon pic to Instagram. Return home, clean up kitchen, carefully pulling out top dishwasher rack as the stem connecting rack to tiny wheel inside slide arm is broken. On toilet, check Instagram for likes slash comments. Read article about President changing permanent address from Florida to New York, perhaps for tax purposes. Read another article about the importance of writing a state representative. Acknowledge that you will not write such a letter, not because you are lazy, and not because you don’t believe in writing letters, but because you are overwhelmed by a sense of futility, that writing letters to congress seems about as effective as companies who rely on robocalls to sell burial plots. Acknowledge that you are not a social justice warrior. Feel guilty about this, a little. Wonder if it’s because you were, as the band Fleet Foxes sings, “raised up believing you were somehow unique,” and that you were not of this world, and nothing you can really do will ever be enough to change it. Before you leave for work, chop ice in bottom of fridge, or rather the bottom of the freezer, which has a pullout drawer, and worry that you’ll have to call Curtis the repairman, who says “literally” a lot when he explains electrical and mechanical problems, to return a third time, because you don’t want your freezer literally leaking onto the wood floor, where boards have already literally started to warp. Stuff your computer and book and folder of handwritten pages of undergraduate work into a backpack designed for hikers, which makes it a bit awkward to carry, what with all the straps a hiker might snap together to make the carrying easier dangling off the sides of the pack, kiss wife goodbye, and begin to walk the mile and a half to your office at the university. Take short cut through parking lot of what used to be the Christian Science Reading Room but was recently bought by an Associate Professor of Religion, who plans to turn it into a house for his family. Eyeball abandoned plastic comb—pink in color—on sidewalk, same one that’s been there for months. Follow gravel path through field where town’s middle school used to be before it was demolished and which just a month ago was effulgent with flowers and winged insects fluttering between cornflowers and clover. Observe killdeer darting across dead grass. Remind yourself to look up “STORMCRUZZER,” a word that is stenciled in red on the side of enormous king cab pickup truck that you pass every day after crossing field and which carries extra gas containers on its roof rack. Wonder what the graffiti tag “Rags”—which is scrawled on the backside of a building—means. Check on the little stream that flows through town, where you once found a dead iPod Nano and how the discarded device looked in the streambed like a square, polished stone. Walk past the Underground bar. Think about Two Hearteds and American Spirits and birthday cake shots. Cross Main. Shuffle through shredded ginkgo leaves, which are especially papery this year due to lack of rain. Pass the Moss Arts Center, a 50-million-dollar facility built by the university to prove it cares about the arts. Enter building that houses English and Communication departments. Stare inside janitor’s closet near elevator, at photos of couple taped to shelf in closet. Blink. Wonder about janitor’s life outside of building she cleans: weekend tubing on the New River, trips to Walmart, Netflix, ground beef and noodles for dinner. In office, boot up computer, check email, assign courses to faculty for next fall. Wonder who’s going to complain about what they did and didn’t get. Say hello to secretary in main office, lift a miniature candy bar from the dish on her desk she keeps stocked to lift everybody’s spirits and drop it into coat pocket for later. Go to departmental meeting, where chair apologizes on behalf of all administrators for new faculty activity report module and explains new university budget model. Teach Graduate Fiction Workshop, where students engage in long discussion of influence of video games on world building. In Contemporary Fiction class, ask students to catalog the preoccupations of Rachel B. Glaser, who none of the students knew before, and whose depiction of a character’s obsession with a video game strikes them as realistic. Walk home. Heat up leftover risotto with mushrooms and peas you made with the help of an app sponsored by the New York Times. Open the wrong end of the pepper container and dump a shitload of pepper into the cast iron skillet. Pop open a Two Hearted. Open an app that curates web content according to your particular interests, and read an article about CIA document confirming the reality of superhuman abilities, which include Chinese people moving small pieces of paper from test tube to test tube. Eat dinner with family, discussing the various merits of son’s soccer team, which this year is somehow filled with boys who appear never to have played the game before. Walk dog. Retrieve feces with plastic bag. Check email, skim message from friend you’ve never met in person who says, “We’re at a tipping point in the history of the country, because we all know, on a gut level, that if the impeachment proceedings go down the same road to soundbite oblivion as the Mueller Report did—an enormous buildup, all hopes pinned on a single person, then a weirdly quiet letdown and nearly somnambulist return to routine—we’re doomed, and that what comes after will be even worse, because these people will see that they can, indeed, get away with murder, and they will.” Re-read sentence five times. Get away with murder. They will. We’re doomed. Start to compose a reply about how you’re scared, too. Wonder how to say it. Tell yourself you’ll write her back later, when you have the words to say that you agree with the part of her message about how she consoles herself with the idea that even though we live in a scary world, smart people still exist. Notice Orion in sky. Whisper prayer to cosmos. Note silhouettes of jacketed horses on horse hill. Walk past houses where the same people sit in same positions every night watching same networks, screens bathing room in flickering light. Take shortcut through dark yard that isn’t yours, hoping not to be noticed. Reach home. Refill dog’s water bowl. Wrench phone away from son, hug him goodnight, say, as you always do, “See you in the morney-bye,” which is a phrase he made up and which both you and your wife exchange with him every night. Fall asleep again during Westworld, dreaming about forests on fire, until your wife shakes you awake to inform you that you were snoring. Deny having snored, hug her goodnight, and take the pillow you bought—the special one that’s supposed to keep your neck from getting a crick in it while you sleep—into the guest room, and before you fall back asleep, plug your phone into the jack by the bed, so that it will be recharged and ready when you reach for it when you wake.