I’ve taken my phone back from Schrödinger; and Kafka’s no
longer holding my mail. I’d have continued to accept their
cooperation—I enjoy having them around—but ultimately, I suspect,
the stress would have gotten to me.
See, sometimes you’ve just got to face facts. (Though I’d
be the last to fault you for crossing your fingers while you
do so.) And, in this case, the facts were that my phone was
likely broken, and there was a certified letter, which likely
contained very bad news from some official agency or another,
waiting for me at the post office.
My cowardly instinct was to leave things in their acceptably
ambiguous state—phone untried, letter unopened—rather than
to force them into rude or disappointing actuality. The phone
repair guy had been to the house, this I knew. He may or may
not have been able to fix the problem without entering the
house, this he told me. He would have preferred that I remembered
the appointment I had made with him to allow him into the
apartment if need be—this I just inferred from his inflection
when he called me at the office. The point was, he had attempted
to effect some repair, but he wouldn’t know whether it had
worked until I tried to use the thing again.
When I returned home that night after the conversation—with
plans to check the phone, first thing—there was a slip in
the mailbox informing me that I was receiving my last notice
to retrieve a certified letter from the post office. I had
been stalling because my friends and coworkers assured me
that no one ever gets good news via certified mail.
Though I wanted to disregard it altogether, I figured refusing
to claim it was just going to piss them off more—and, obviously
enough, this vaguely menacing “them” already knew where I
And, anyway, I doubted that ignorance of the letter’s accusation—and
certainly, I thought, it had to be an accusation or rebuke
of some kind—would spare me. If anything, it would only further
damn me as a scofflaw.
very fact that you are unaware of what you are accused proves
your unquestionable guilt,” I imagined some gray figure thickly
uttering in an officious and probably Baltic accent. “The
fact that you stubbornly refuse to participate in your lawful
and appropriate chastisement is evidence of your antisocial
and disruptive tendencies.”
what am I being chastised for?”
your antisocial and disruptive tendencies, as evidenced by
your refusal to facilitate your punishment.”
And like that.
Fortunately, it was late enough that the post office was closed,
and I could chuck the notice aside and hope that somehow it
would transform overnight into a book of Pizza Hut coupons
or a free sample of a new hair conditioner, or some other
pleasantly innocuous mass mailing.
I dropped it in a small, shallow woven basket that contains
30 or so other slips of paper the importance of which I’ve
willfully forgotten, and turned to head to the kitchen. On
the way I blindly kicked the cordless phone’s base, sending
the handset spinning down the hallway.
It’s a simple thing, really, to check if a phone is working,
even for someone as mechanically disinclined as I. Maybe you
already know this, but the manufacturers have wisely rigged
the things up so when operable they emit this noise—a “tone,”
if you will—indicative of your line’s integrity. Just pick
up the handset and press it to your ear; with a cordless phone,
such as I have, you’ve got to go the extra step of pushing
a button of some sort, but in my experience they’re pretty
easy to find and usually labeled with a helpful word like
“on” or “talk” or something otherwise suggestive of the phone’s
My own phone had looped lazily to a stop and rested outside
the bathroom door, in the hallway just beyond the entrance
to the kitchen. Half-a-dozen steps, a quick stoop and the
jab of a button. That’s all it would have taken to answer
I don’t know, maybe I was still unnerved by the postal-service
summons and its implied insult—“You’re doing something wrong
again, something that others do easily, others who will never
have to sign on that shameful line”—but I really just didn’t
want to pick up the phone. I didn’t want to know if the phone
worked; I just wanted to assume the odds were about even,
and, well, to just have faith.
Even at that moment, I was reminded of Schrödinger’s Cat,
the hypothetical scenario—the riddle, really—devised by physicist
Erwin Schrödinger in 1927 to point to the conceptual insufficiency
of quantum mechanics to explain all physical phenomena. In
a nutshell, it describes a cat placed in a sealed and opaque
chamber; also in the chamber is a Geiger counter that contains
a radioactive particle that has an equal chance of decaying
over the course of an hour, and not decaying. The counter
is rigged with a triggering device that will, at the first
instance of decay, shatter a vial of hydrocyanic acid, thereby
killing the cat.
After an hour elapses, there is an equal chance of the cat
being alive and being dead; the indeterminacy can only be
resolved by direct observation. Until the chamber is opened
the cat is, statistically speaking, as dead as it is alive—like
I should probably develop some distracting hobby, something
physically demanding enough that I’m too tired to think like
this, but I don’t know if you can hike or box or caber toss
away an inclination to invest the most mundane situation with
undergraduate angst. It’d probably be worth a shot, though,
because I do tend to get worked up about nothing. I mean,
the letter was nothing to freak out about.
Oh, if you want to know what it was, just give me a call.