Last Sunday, before Monday’s lockdown, was a busy one at the bar. I was surprised, figuring people would prefer to stay away and not tempt fate. Instead, it was a sort of End of the World Party vibe. Everyone recognized that it would be a while till we could meet this way again and made the most of it.
John came in with a woman I didn’t know. He’s a bartender and musician. He always seemed resigned and apathetic, but not this night. He was positively giddy. I saw the guy smile more times within a couple hours than the previous twenty-plus years. He’d found love and was looking forward to hunkering down for some serious alone time. “I can’t imagine a better way for the world to end,” he said.
Monday, I took a bike ride downtown. I bought a ticket for The Hunt and watched it in an empty theater. I asked the concessions girl if they’d be open Tuesday and she seemed confident they would be. I thanked her for being there. The Hunt was good choice for a last movie to see in public (all theaters were ordered shuttered Tuesday.) It’s about another version of an apocalyptic future, but close enough to our current situation not to feel outlandish. It’s not a great movie and has a simplistic kumbaya-type message, which feels like a cop-out, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. The empty auditorium certainly added to the experience.
I noticed online that Marc Fischer had started a new project called Quaranzine—a two page zine printed on his Risograph, dedicated to art made during the virus lockdown—and sent him an old thing about working for Lifeline in Boston twenty-five years ago. He printed it the next day. I think he’s up to eight or nine issues now. Check back at Public Collectors for new ones. I was happy to’ve been part of it.
I spent most of the week packing for a move scheduled for early May. I enjoyed the trips to the trash with bags of things I no longer want to keep. Otherwise, the week wasn’t especially unusual. I spend most of my time alone, so if this situation goes on for months it will likely impact me less than many others. I have a show scheduled for August which will be a goodbye to this apartment, in which I’ve lived the past five-plus years. I made an ink painting of the shelf in my bathroom and will continue making pictures here until I leave. It will soon look very different with no books on the shelves or art on the walls.
One thing I did miss was Mute Duo’s record-release. I wrote about working on the art and design of the album a couple months ago here. Now you can get your very own copy. This was one of the better design jobs I’ve ever gotten.
On Wednesday it occurred to me to check on people I knew, so I sent a “How you holding up?” text message to most of my address book. I got about eighty responses back and it took me an hour and a half to get back to everyone. Using T-9 with no ability to cut-and-paste meant I had to retype more or less the same message almost a hundred times. It was absurd but heartening to be inundated that way. If nothing else, virus life has vastly improved my acquaintances’ phone etiquette.
On Thursday, after finishing an illustration of Babi Yar for a forthcoming essay by an ex-Marine living in Kiev, I ran out of a couple gouache colors. Thankfully, Artist & Craftsman in the West Loop was still open. So I took a bus and train there. I was the only passenger on the bus for three or four stops.
After picking up my paints I wandered back toward Roosevelt to catch the train back home. I successfully fought off the urge to go into Five Guys for a cheeseburger; they were still doing carry-outs. I went into Trader Joe’s instead. Unlike Cermak—the grocery store by my house—Trader Joe’s was picked half clean. There was a more panicked air here. I was taking it all in when I saw Mark. I knew he worked at a Trader Joe’s but didn’t know it was this one. He squinted my way before recognizing me. Mark was one of the people I’d texted Wednesday. We spent a few minutes shooting the shit. He told me he’s working long hours and not getting to play music with others much. He also said the CTA felt cleaner and safer than he ever remembered it. I was glad to see him, though I hope next time he’s back playing his guitar.
Friday evening I spent over an hour having a rambling Skype conversation with Jesse for his new podcast. I’d hoped we could do the talk in person, but Jesse preferred to do it remotely. I disabled the Skype camera because video calls always make me thing of kidnapping or beheading clips—a glitchy, echoey image of a head or torso looking trapped in a room somewhere. Jesse’s still figuring out the technology, but I was happy to be his first English language guest. It’ll go smoother next time.
Sunday, I biked to Pilsen and took a walk with Wendy. I hadn’t been to her new apartment, so she gave me a quick tour. Her nephew, Avi, had made a friend across the street. She’d given him a walkie-talkie and they spend hours on it. I saw the little girl waving from a window as they talked. Wendy’s daughter, Sophie, was behind a closed door, working on her art. Chuck was in the kitchen working a jigsaw puzzle. Everyone here coping their own way.
We walked to the grocery store because Wendy needed chorizo to make soup. Then the Jumping Bean for a to-go coffee. We agreed how absurd the toilet paper hoarding seemed. How many asses to these people each have to wipe? Also about enjoying the slowness and quiet of this situation. Perhaps people will come back from quarantine with a greater capacity to deal with silence, solitude, and scarcity. Maybe we’ll finally start lowering our standard of living in this country to one that’s more in line with reality and reason, rather than the pie-in-the-sky fantasies encouraged by the stock market, etc.
I’ve always hated the term viral as used to describe something popular on the internet. Something people actually aspire to. Maybe a real virus will make people reconsider how the word is used. It’s been encouraging to see that even our great Marshal Cheeto is unable to lie or bully the facts of the situation away. That it took a plague for that happen shows how far in the hole we’ve fallen. I’ll be curious to see what is left when/if we crawl out of it.
—As proof that there are people who can see into the future, here’s a Joseph Brodsky poem from 1970 I stumbled on this week called “Don’t Leave The Room” (in Russian, then in English. There’s a lot lost in translation, unfortunately)
Don’t leave the room, don’t make the mistake and run. If you smoke Shipkas, why do you need Suns? Things are silly out there, especially the happy clucks. Just go to the john, and come right back.
Oh, don’t leave the room, don’t ring for a car. Because space consists of a corridor And ends with a counter. And should a floozy slip in, Flashing her teeth, make her scram without stripping.
Don’t leave the room, feign that you’ve caught a chill. What could be more fun than four walls and a chair? Why leave this place only to come back late in The evening same as you were, moreover, mutilated?
Oh, don’t leave the room. Dance the bossa nova In shoes but no socks, a coat over your naked bod. The hallway reeks of ski wax and cabbage. You wrote a lot of letters: one more would be too much.
Don’t leave the room. Oh, just let the room imagine What you look like. And generally, incognito Ergo sum, as form was told in anger by substance. Don’t leave the room! Methinks out there it ain’t France.
Don’t be a fool! Don’t be like the others. Don’t leave the room! I.e., let the furniture have its druthers, Blend in with the wallpaper. Lock up and let the armoire Keep chronos, cosmos, eros, race, and virus from getting in the door.
—Guilherme Coutinho is my big musical discovery the past few weeks. I’ve listened to this, this, and this more than anything else pre-virus and intra-virus. What are you listening to?