On November 9th, 1987, a student at the University of Santa Barbara walks into Storke Plaza and draws a circle around his feet in chalk. The white cylinder snaps in two against the pavement due to the force with which he draws his circle. Without hesitation he continues with the bigger piece. Like writhing ends of a severed worm, both broken pieces function on their own. The circle is about five feet in diameter when finished, slightly smaller than his wingspan.
Storke Plaza is much larger.
He tells everyone passing that they cannot enter his circle. They should not even think about it. His extended arms make this demand as clear as his constant chatter. At first the sparse pedestrians do not seem to notice. One male pedestrian feels the need and privilege to pull his female companion closer. His fingers grip her outside hip. She turns her head.
“I am the Master of this Circle, not you!” he shouts, pointing.
From Storke Tower, the center of campus, a camcorder watches the scene from above. There are no zooms, no cuts, no tracks or dollies. Not a jib arm nor a rail. The camera stands alone.
“Hey you two!” he calls out to another couple walking arm in arm. His pointer finger suddenly looks autonomous, as if wriggling out of its socket. Plotting. “You better not enter this circle here.” He sounds mad. “This is my circle, understand?”
On November 3rd, 2016, Margalit texted me about the donuts. A week ago, or maybe two, the two of us made a film about a boy who is suddenly attacked by two gallons of white milk and glue. It fell from above the frame—in other words, from no one and nowhere. In the frame the boy was screaming in pure terror.
Now she wanted a bathtub full of donuts. I was her producer. I got to work.
People begin to linger in the square, about 10 now, watching him only from a distance.
“You better not even try to come into my circle!” he shouts. He stomps. He seems to be getting more desperate, his voice hoarse, though no one, not even the camera, can exactly read his tone. His arms are waving now like an infant mid-fit, fingers forming private governments. “Don’t you even dare!” he shouts.
A student about his age approaches with caution. There is no guarantee the Master of the Circle will stay inside his circle—only that you are not allowed to enter it. There is no telling what he might do.
A donut is a circle. Or rather, two circles, unless it is filled with cream.
According to Wikipedia, chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary carbonate rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. I like the word porous there. I’d like to rub it into my temples in a circular motion. Soothing. The chalk the student used that day was white, a common color for the mineral calcite. Donut cream is also white.
I emailed Voodoo Donuts, the most popular donut establishment in Portland, asking for One Free Bathtub of their product. They are known to donate, but for worthy causes. I produce films, I told them. I sent them the milk video. I did not think they would respond, but a day later, they emailed back enthusiastically. That was easy, I thought. Almost too easy, I thought. I figured they would only donate a dozen or so.
“Do you want all the leftovers?” the employee at the counter asked me. On Sundays Voodoo Donuts has the longest line in the city. Dozens of people watched me talking to her at the special side counter. “Sure,” I nodded.
After she lifted the seventh heavy bucket over the counter, I realized this is no joke. All their strange modern flavors crammed into the donation bucket—Oreo’s and Peanut Butter, Peach Fritters, Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch and even Maple Bacon. In line the other customers shoved and jostled, elbowing each other to ask the obvious: why does he get so many donuts? Why doesn’t he have to pay?
“Get away from my circle! I see you there. I see you all there eyeing my circle, wishing you could get inside!”
Three students stand right at the edge of the circle now. Their toes inch closer, approaching but not touching the line. “I see you there trying to get into my circle, I know you want to but oh boy you better not even touch that line!” the Master of the Circle screams, arms completely stretched, shaking at the fingertips. The shaking causes one of the three boys to wonder if the Master’s face—the scrunched eyebrows, the clenched teeth—is an omen. Is he going to cry? he wonders, pushing down the thought.
About twenty students form an outer circle around the inner three students who dare to toe the line. The three are all smiling now as the screams continue, two of them openly laughing. The twenty are not. They, if a verb must be applied, could be described as studying.
Important to note is the size of the Master versus the three standing around. Their collective weight: about 670 pounds. His: about 150.
You have no idea what a car smells like with three hundred free donuts in the trunk. All I can tell you is that it smells a hell of a lot better than a car with three hundred not-free donuts in the trunk. Glory be.
A donut or doughnut, according to Wikipedia, is a type of fried dough confectionery or dessert food. A powdered donut looks from a distance as if it has been covered in chalk. The Master of the Circle is a white man. The three who taunt him are as well.
A female student seems to know one of the three male students standing against the Circle. He is not the male who briefly wondered if the Master would cry and pushed down the thought. She places a firm hand on this other boy’s shoulder, pulling him back. “Why can’t we come into your circle?” she asks the Master.
I wonder if that girl was trained to see the world in the same way this story was. I am not that girl and will never be. In geometry, two or more objects are said to be concentric when they share the same center or axis. Concentric circles, in colloquial terms, comprise a target, the bull’s-eye being its center or axis.
“Why?! What do you mean ‘Why?’ You just can’t!” the Master responds. “You can’t enter my circle and I don’t even want you to think about entering my circle. Got it?!”
“But why?” she says softer.
“Because you can’t!”
“Can’t I?” the boy she holds asks as he reaches into the circle and pushes the Master’s chest, his fingers surprised to feel the hard bone of the Master’s chest. There is no muscle there, no fat. The Master almost loses his balance. He stomps his feet in a wild fit now and twists his body round and round screaming, “I said you couldn’t enter the circle! I said you couldn’t enter the circle!” His tone changes from infantile to an ominous sort of calm confidence. The students take note. “Ooo just try to enter my circle again! I dare you! Come on now! Really! Just TRY ME!” he threatens, his voice lifting for the words TRY ME into a high squeal, a pitch that would’ve sent the three boys into fits of laughter if the Master’s eyes hadn’t grown so eerily wide. Two of them suppress smiles. The word faggot pops into their minds for a moment, but they know not to speak.
The girl pulls the boy who breached the circle back with more force than she’d expected, as if feeding off the Master, almost throwing him to the ground. She is stronger than he is. They are both aware of this. I do not know her name and I am sure it would be hard for me to spot her on the street so many years later now, but I know what she is feeling in this moment because all 37 bodies in the frame are feeling the same feeling. Fear. Thirty-seven abdomens feel something stirring around the Circle. The soft tissue shivers for what is to come, their eyes watching. “Lay off him, ok? It’s not funny,” she screams, landing a heavy fist on the boy who breached the circle. He does not want to admit she is stronger than him and tries not to wince. The boy who breached the circle is not smiling anymore. The boy who pushed down the thought is not smiling and never wanted to be smiling. He wonders if he can leave without humiliation and knows he can’t.
“What if he’s—?” She froze there.
According to Wikipedia, a people is a plurality of persons considered as a whole, as is the case with an ethnic group or nation.
Sunday was the big bathtub shoot. On Monday I was already thrilled, smelling the sweet smell with every commute, every outing.
But on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, Donald J. _______ became the next __________ of the ________ States. I lied in bed as the map turned red and didn’t know what or who or where or when. In other words, donuts not funny anymore. Nothing funny anymore. Not donuts nothing anymore. Anymore donuts funny nothing. Funnymore donuts no not anything. Do. Nothing. Funny. Got it?! Understand?
I wanted to wear them like flotation devices. I wanted to arrange them in a circle (I did not want them to break) and sit in the middle. I wanted everyone to enter my circle, but I didn’t know what would happen if they did.
My car is a circle. My trunk, a circle within a circle. The buckets, another.
“Come on,” the boy who breached the Circle says to the girl.
“You come on,” she says.
Two friends have joined the other two boys and the outer circle of 37 now approaches 50. The camera does not fully encapsulate the crowd. In that sense, this story is a mystery.
Little pokes and touches have been peppered in with relative frequency since the Circle was first broken by the boy with the fingertips digging into his shoulder. The boys are all on a team now, stepping blatantly into the Circle when the Master is focused on another member of the squad.
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO COME INTO MY CIRCLE! I TOLD YOU TO STAY OUT!”
“This isn’t funny anymore,” she says to the team around the Circle, whose collective weight has surpassed the 1000-pound mark.
“You’re not funny anymore!” the Master screams at her.
“Me? What? I’m trying to help you.”
“You need to get away from my circle!” he screams at her.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!” she screams and quickly cups her mouth. Why did she say that?
“You’re what’s wrong with me. You’re not getting away from my circle. You can help by getting the hell away! Got it? This is my circle and you can’t enter!”
Wikipedia, according to Wikipedia, is a free online encyclopedia that, by default, allows its users to edit any article. The word, encyclopedia, according to Wikipedia, comes from the Greek enkyklios, which means “circular” or “recurrent,” and paideia, which means “education.” Together, the phrase insinuates the idea of “complete knowledge,” or a circle around all that is known.
What Wikipedia doesn’t know is how the Master has been trained to see the world. Only how he acts. What Wikipedia doesn’t know is how the girl, who does not see the world in the same way as this story, sees the world.
Wednesday morning, referred to by some as 11/9, was quiet. In class I didn’t say anything but hugged my friend Naima with all the strength I could muster. Her arms shook around my shoulders. I tightened my grip and shook with her.
Laughing out loud at the Master’s shrill screams, two of the boys enter the circle from opposite sides, grabbing the Master’s four limbs. Their big fingers reach around his wrists and ankles like children holding chalk. They lift him high, his body flailing, his larynx tearing, and drop him to the ground. No one was ready for the way his head whipped back and clapped against the bricks. Even the old camera picked up a wicked echo. Everyone is still, many with hands over their mouths. He does not move for six full seconds and then began to flail again. His screams of pain and propriety come as relief to those who heard his skull slap against Storke Plaza.
“My Circle! Get! Get!” he shouts, the sharp edges of his voice slurred. “Circle is not yours!”
One of the new boys around the Circle rears back his leg and swings a Timberland boot into the Master’s ribs. The girl holding the boy who first breached the Circle hears a loud crack and then a horrible series of coughs. She expects blood but there is none. The other four boys look to the boy who breached the circle like a leader. He shakes off her hand and she turns her head to the crowd. After the coughing fit, the screaming Master’s tone shifts again. “Wait, just stop! Stop!!” he screams in an entirely different voice. It could be said that he “broke character” in this moment, though neither ever felt like a character to me. Each is too human to have been a character, if that makes any sense. That hint you get from time to time on prank videos or webcam rants that the whole thing is a hoax, an act—no, that feeling is absent watching the Master of the Circle as he begs for mercy.
Another boy lands the toe of his boot just above the eye, splitting the skin like a boxer. The blood seems to pop rather than run from the gash. The boy who wondered if the Master would cry suddenly vomits his breakfast onto three pairs of shoes and sprints away through the crowd before the boys can turn on him. Splattered bits hit the Master, who lies flat now, fingers spread and vulnerable. One boy thinks about stomping on them. Stomping and twisting.
The girl knows she cannot take all four of them at once, though she considered it. She knows that they could literally tear her limb from limb. They would do more than that. What she doesn’t know about is the camera in Storke Tower. The only person who knows about the camera is, of course, the Master of the Circle. It’s not funny anymore, he thinks. But was it ever?
Just try to enter my circle now. I dare you. See what happens when you try.
I sat in my room for hours looking at the walls, then at books, at pages, then at loose change and bills, then a computer screen. I looked at articles and videos and Facebook, but only when I dug deeper did I find something that made sense to me. I saw a low quality video at a high angle with small people fighting in concentric circles. It felt right. Or maybe true is a better word.
I wanted to make something that made sense like that. That’s what I needed to do: make a donut film that made sense.
I opened the legs of a tripod and centered it behind my dining room table. I positioned three clamp lights adjacent to each other at high angles on the pipe running along the ceiling’s edge. There would be a slight shadow under my nose. I could already see it.
I pressed record.
I dumped all seven buckets over the table, one at a time. The table, coincidentally, was a perfect circle. I’m not making that part up.
The donuts fell off the edge and out of frame in abundance. It was lovelier than lovely. They fell into nothing. Frosting and fruit loops and high fructose corn syrup spread across the wood, falling, falling.
I ate the first donut very fast. Peanut Butter and Chocolate frosting caked the corners of my mouth. Heavy, rich. Just the way I like it. The next was cream-filled. I could feel it caught in my mustache hairs and wondered if it looked silly in the frame. I ate the third, a Maple Bacon Bar. The fourth, Captain Crunch-covered. The fifth, Grape Dust and Lavender Sprinkles.
I felt a deep calm eating the sixth. It was a more subdued version of the feeling one gets when descending in a plane or rollercoaster. I ate another and began to slow down. My body listed its complaints on the inside of my torso. It knocked and whined. It feared. It didn’t understand. That was the point. I felt my body bulge and swirl down in distant places I hadn’t felt in a while.
Sugar clotted under my tongue and deep into my gums. My mustache and beard dripped bits and pieces from up to three or four donuts ago. My sight was dimming.
I thought of the film as I ate. The richness of the picture in the frame must have been the feeling of it, I thought, as opposed to the content. There was a violence and a luxury to it. Or no, maybe a nausea. I wasn’t sure. I ate another. And then another.
My stomach hurt immensely by the fourteenth donut. This was only a fraction of those covering the table. And I wouldn’t be done at the end of the table. I would be done when I was done.