Chicago ills, indeed.

An old photo of an imposing long-gone building caught my eye while scrolling some site the other day. I look closer whenever Chicago is mentioned. It was the caption that stopped me cold: The Chicago Home for the Friendless. What could that be? I looked it up and it turned out to be a social services organization for women and children. They ran orphanages and the like from the mid-19th well into the 20th century. Then I stopped reading because this wasn’t what I imagined when I read the caption under the old photo.

I looked at the photo of the building and saw empty corridors. Many rooms uninhabited. The few residents rarely meeting, spending their days in silence, alone. I pictured my own room in there, maybe on one of the upper floors so I could have a good view out the window.

What passes for friendship these days is largely mediated. This last year’s plague has exacerbated our reliance on connection through screens and other technology rather than face to face. I’ve avoided it more than most. I’m deeply disturbed by the video-talk services. Using them I feel further removed from the person on the other end than if I was just thinking about them.

I quit social media six years ago but it’s impossible to avoid all contact with it no matter how hard I try. My ears burn when someone mentions me like anyone else’s do.

The other day I delivered a dog portrait to Beverly. I’d assumed the woman who ordered the portrait knew somebody from my time in that neighborhood but it turned out she heard my name on Instagram. She said Marc Maron mentioned me. I raced home and opened an Instagram account so I could see what she was talking about.

About twelve minutes into the video Maron picks up my music book, calls me some kind of genius, and puts it in a small pile of things to bring home. Then he talks about the painting I’d sent him months ago. Says he needs to get it framed. It’s of his old garage where he used to record his podcast. I’ve been a faithful listener for years. Maron is sort of the Johnny Carson of today. His interviews have been constant companions. They introduce me to people I’ve never heard of and give new insight to ones I know.

I scrolled through Maron’s Instagram timeline and found where he’d posted the painting. There were thousands of likes and many many comments. I read all of them. Then I searched for other people I knew had Instagram accounts. I started feeling that old itchiness. I logged off, then logged back on minutes later. I was dazed. Unable to concentrate on my work. I deleted the account and gradually came down off the false high. The video was jarring. But then I wrote an email to thank him, got no response, and things are back to normal.

You can’t expect friendship from the faces on the screen. I’m fine with that. I have this amazing view out the window of my haunted house and that’s all I need.

p.s. I made seven pictures for this interesting project. They pair an artist and writer and give each two hours a day over seven days to produce something. We made this awhile ago, sometime in the summer, I think. It was a unique challenge to come up with a quick response under strict time constraints with little forethought aside from each previous page.