Isolation, Chapter 3
The reporter placed the call right after he landed and simply asked if Josh had been the one who submitted the poem to the website “a few months ago.” To his amazement the young man on the other end of the phone said he had indeed submitted one of his, what he called, “not one of his best” poems to the site. The reporter’s heart jumped as he stood alone in the small airport lobby. Yes! he thought—his hunch paid off, and now came the tricky part. He had to see if he could get the interview. The long plane trip gave the reporter several hours to contemplate possible angles to construct the story. Of course not knowing if Josh would allow him an interview, not to mention the very distinct possibility Josh may not be the author of the country’s newest “favorite” poem brought angst to the tiring journalist. All those doubts disappeared with a single word over a public telephone in the lobby of the airport at Barrow, Alaska. Sure, the reporter thought, I can hang out here for a few hours, start my article, get a bite to eat, then become the most read reporter in the country in just 24 hours. Things were definitely looking up.
The time dragged as time usually does when anxiety overwhelms. The reporter, an observer of life in all its varieties, did what a person does when trying to kill time. Interestingly enough, the floor tiles—those whose entire surface area remained unobstructed by chairs, file cabinets, vending machines—totaled 513, of which 259 were black tiles, 247 white tiles, and seven off-orange tile squares located near a unplugged and unattended hot dog wagon in the room’s corner. In the one hour, 45 minute span, the reporter saw 10 people enter the building and eight people leave. Already tired of rehearsing the questions he planned on asking Josh, the reporter slipped into a light nap and for a reason, he dreamt of pineapples. A pleasant voice from a diminutive, grandmotherly ticket agent/elementary school librarian/church organist brought the reporter back to the frozen black of Alaska’s morning. The reporter thanked the woman, gathered his belongings, retrieved the rental car keys from the nice lady who just woke him up and opened the door into the dark.
Josh felt about as appetizing as the half-eaten bowl of oatmeal looked. For him, the two hours came all too quickly. With a half hour to spare, Josh arose and took a shower—no sense making this stranger’s visit unpleasant. He had just finished pulling the Norwegian sweater over his wet, thick, sandy-brown hair when a clear knock echoed through the small house. The reporter had arrived.
With towel in hand Josh made his way to the door, frantically trying to remove the remaining water from his hair. “Josh Hansen?” came the reporter’s voice through the door even before Josh reached it. “It’s Robert Feingold, the reporter from the New York Post—I called you earlier…” Josh opened the door just as the reporter continued…“about the poem…”
Both men looked at each other, each having an expectation of how the other would look and each being slightly disappointed their mental pictures turned out to be wrong. The reporter broke the silence. “Yes, do you have a minute for some questions?”
“Of course,” said Josh apologetically. “Please.” He opened the door wider and moved to allow the reporter to enter, but something in Josh’s body language communicated to the reporter that his visit represented some kind of threat to Josh. “Come in—it’s freezing out there,” Josh said.
“Is it always this cold?” the reporter asked as he entered the room, realizing immediately the question must sound moronic to someone living in Alaska. “Actually,” Josh said. “We’re in the middle of a heat wave, you know, global warming being what it is.” The attempt at humor had the desired affect.
“Yes, I see,” the reporter said with a smile, a cloud of uncomfortability existed between the two men. As the reporter entered the home the overwhelming number of books crammed into such a small space amazed him. It appeared that almost every possible space wherein a book could fit had a book in that space. “Here,” Josh said pointing to a chair strategically placed next to he fire. “Please sit down.”
For a man used to talking a mile a minute, the reporter found himself at a loss for words. He had made the long trip and was sitting in the home of the literary world’s biggest mystery. All the questions, that flowed only hours before were gone. Instinctively, the reporter reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small notepad and pen, inwardly thanking deity he had the foresight to write many of his thoughts down beforehand.
“Josh, can I call you Josh?” Again, the question sounded stupid as it left his mouth for he had already called him Josh several times—a nod from Josh signaled the acceptance of the informal address. “First, I want to thank you again for meeting with me. I can understand if you didn’t want to meet with me…”
“You can understand if I don’t…?” Josh interrupted, but paused before speaking again, as if his mind needed to figure out the statement he wanted and needed to say. “To be honest, sir. I have no idea why you’re even here,” Josh finally said. “You said it was because I submitted my poem to that website—something I forgot I had done almost the second I hit ‘SEND.’ But for the last few hours I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out how that poem would make a supposedly intelligent man get on a plane and travel halfway around the world in the dead of winter—to Alaska, of all places—just to talk to me. So forgive me, but I don’t think you do understand my reluctance to meet with you.”