I first realized we as a culture were in for a lo-fi content boom in March, when late-night talk-show hosts retreated to their homes and interviewed celebrities via Zoom, or some equivalent. Big stars with earbuds, poorly lit in their kitchens, their kids in the background, with no edits to spice up the visuals. It was chaotic and oddly intimate.
Sports fandom is and has always been a lesson in elective and inconsequent suffering. I rue that the fans of tomorrow suffer in virtual isolation, and not in geographic and familial clusters. Further, their losses are losses of the one. There used to be a fine balance of gloating of competitors and commiseration of comrades. Now there is only the joyless gloat of someone who won money.
There is a frantic client who has sold his home in the Hudson Valley, and now needs to find a new place farther out in the Catskills. Everything he likes is spoken for before he can see it. I’m lining him up a day of househunting, as well as connecting him with brokers in other parts of the country so he can see properties there, too. Perhaps it’s quieter elsewhere. If he can travel, that is. One buyer is arriving to look at houses this weekend. She’s made an offer on a property she’s never seen. She wants to be sure it is still there for her to look at when she arrives.
I now believe I wasn’t actually in my home for long enough stretches to feel the lingering presences of those who came before. But now, having spent so many days, nights, and weeks within and around these walls – much more concentrated time and enforced stillness than ever before – I sense them. This new pandemic-induced version of myself has much more in common with my forebears than the old me. Of course they did not stay up all hours watching movies via cable television in what was once the dining room. No, they probably slept at sunset and awoke as dawn lit up these same bay windows. Even so, we lately share significantly more common ground.
Going postal once meant something we all thought was deeply sinister. We’d made it through the summer of ‘77, with blackouts, heat and riots, and the Son of Sam. The latter was a postal worker who heard voices and killed people. Around the same time others working in the U.S.P.S. had rages. Some suggested it had to do with aspects of the boring jobs at hand.
One of my most radical acts occurred on the spur. I was at home in the Cemetery House in Westkill. There was a massive evening downpour. I was all alone and decided to head out into the deluge without a stitch on. I ran around the gravestones, protected from view by tall pines. I rolled in the wild thyme.
My mother believed in appearances and respectability, neither of which are cheap. Her degree from Stephens College was in fashion, and her passion was home and garden. Yet she too made without, and still does, long, long after she could have afforded some indulgences and niceties. I have long thought their asceticism was of generational issue, echoes of the Depression — as was my father’s terror of the stock market and any form of risk, really.
“Go back where you came from” is a remarkably stupid thing to say to anyone here, as practically every single one of us came from somewhere else. Unlike people in Italy or in England or Spain, you cannot trace your ancestors back to this land very far, unless your people were native. Your relatives moved here from somewhere else. So did mine. And many people were brought here against their will, enslaved and used as free labor. But this is their children and grandchildren’s country now, too.
In the late Eighties, the band in which I played bass, the Fleshtones, led a sellout crowd from the Elysee Montmartre into the Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris. Band and crowd chanted the refrain to a song, again and again, amid honking horns and confused pedestrians. I climbed with my bass into a tree in the median as hundreds gathered below, hollering, singing, chanting in French-accented rock’n’roll English. An unforgettable night was actually just beginning. I was 22.
I had a brother and several friends who died of addiction. I’ve had schizophrenic acquaintances. I’ve known people who took their lives after years asking for diagnoses for physical ailments the system hasn’t recognized, such as chronic Lyme disease. As a reporter, I’ve tried to cover incidents where young men jumped head-first off land-locked bridges and older women drove into centuries-old trees. You don’t publish such things unless they draw community response, a wail of hurt.