This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.
Watching Anthony make his bed was almost hypnotic. I had a rough time looking away, mesmerized by my own bewilderment. Staring at the complex process, I couldn’t help but silently ask myself: What is wrong with this guy?
To say that Anthony is particular or fastidious is an affront to the English language. Neither description accurately describes the level of his neuroses when it comes to needing everything to be in its right place. His box and living area are obsessively organized, but nowhere are his anal-retentive proclivities more apparent than when he’s assembling his sleeping mat. It could almost be considered a thing of beauty, I think, if there wasn’t something so desperately sad about it.
He begins with a bare mat, with the thick plastic cover he has elected to keep on it, though many convicts illegally alter their mat by removing the cover and discreetly discarding it. The covers are uncomfortable, and in the heat of summer they manage to become both sticky and slick. Inspecting the mat carefully for imperfections, Anthony finally decides to flip the mat and then gives it a series of karate chops before kneading it rigorously, like he’s giving it a complicated and thorough massage.
Once he’s satisfied the mat is properly rubbed down, Anthony takes a blanket and crisply folds it so it is precisely centered on the top of the mat—a half inch clearance on all four sides. Then he does it again with another blanket. And again. All these blankets make a thicker sleeping surface, and provide a place to hide the extra blankets, which are considered contraband. Next, having manhandled the metal bed away from the wall, he drapes a sheet over his top bunk and lets it settle over the sides, like a dainty tablecloth.
What follows always reminds me of a bizarre solo session of duck-duck-goose. Anthony starts moving around the bed—tugging, smoothing, tapping, and pulling at the sheet. Round and round he goes. Then, he darts back in the opposite direction, all while trying to ensure that the sheet hangs just right, with the same amount of material hanging on each side and at each end. This process takes close to ten minutes, during which he’s constantly crouching down then standing on tiptoes, to make tiny nudges and corrections. When he finally gets it laid out to his own personal specifications, Anthony tucks the long sides of the sheet under the mat, but always ends up pulling them back out several times to start over and smooth out wrinkles before trying the process again. Eventually he gets all four sides tucked in and the sheet corners at the foot and head of the bed tied together, so the mat is fully ensconced and the sheet secured to it. Anthony caresses his handiwork like it’s a longed-for lover, smoothing any barely perceptible imperfections he might detect.
Anthony then takes three large bath towels and lays them one at a time over the immaculate sheet, carefully matching their edges so they’re perfectly aligned. This not only adds extra padding to the thin mat, but also keeps the sheets safe from any careless spills of food or drink. (A towel is easier to clean and to replace, but DOC policy allows for new bedding only once per year. In reality, it usually takes longer than that.)
Fluffing his pillow before slipping it into the pillowcase involves more karate-chopping. It’s quite the cardio workout. Once it’s in place on the bed, Anthony then piles two blankets and three towels, all precisely folded and properly perched atop the pillow, until the entire structure stands nearly three feet tall. All the while, there’s a constant smoothing and caressing going on, like Anthony can’t stop his hands from touching what he’s done. All told, Anthony’s bed-making process takes the better part of an hour—forty-five minutes on average.
Anthony never spent time in the military, so that can’t account for his particular and specific bed-making technique. If I ever needed a laugh, the next show was just around the corner because Anthony would strip his bed every single day and wash his sheets. I think he did it just to kill time and give his day some structure. Whatever the reason, seeing him relaxing on top of his freshly made bed with a satisfied grin made me feel a bit mischievous.
One day, walking into his cell, I struck up a conversation and casually rested my hand against the edge of his mat. After a brief pause, I managed to get a finger under one of the towels he was sitting on and nonchalantly curl the edge of one towel under itself. Still talking, I watched as Anthony became more and more uncomfortable until he couldn’t hold eye contact any longer. His gaze darted down to the offending bulge, his fingers quivered and his hands clenched spasmodically as he fought the urge to fix it.
Call me cruel, but I found his obvious turmoil hilarious. A dozen times his eyes roved back and forth, from me to the wrinkle, as he nodded distractedly at our conversation before surreptitiously sliding his hand from his lap and fingering the towel back into place, all while trying to make the motion seem natural. Inside, I giggled with delight.
Shortly after my harmless bit of torture, I ended our talk and pushed off the side of his mat as I left the cell, leaving my handprint disturbing the previously pristine sheet. When I got to the door, I turned and saw Anthony meticulously petting the offending portion of sheet to erase the evidence of my presence. I had to smile at the absurdity of him needing to have his things look just right.