“The number of people here [New York City] who think they are alone, sing alone, and eat and talk alone in the streets in mind-boggling. And yet they don’t add up. Quite the reverse. The subtract from each other and their resemblance to one another is uncertain.
… It is the saddest sight in the world. Sadder than destitution, sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public.” — Jean Baudrillard, America (trans. Chris Turner, 1991)
Nearly a year ago, I carried America by Jean Baudrillard around the Bay Area and all the way down to the most American of places, Los Angeles.
I wanted to capture Baudrillard’s idea that eating alone was the saddest sight in the world.
And of course nothing and everything can change in a year.
Contemporary America is at an epic and fevered hyperpitch with an advancing crisis of reality. What is refracted is what will be. Our ascetic online lives more fake than ever. Asepsis is an arousing and obsessive state in this quarantine simulacrum. Hygiene a cult. The habitual repetition of survival, an amplified fascination of being alive, its own seduction.
But one day soon—in the scheme of weeks or as quick as when you notice your neighborhood trees blaring their blooms—restaurants will open for sit-down meals and I will prove Baudrillard wrong.
Listen—this is a faint station
left alive in the vast universe.
I was left here to tell you a message
designed for your instruction or comfort,
but now that my world is gone I crave
expression pure as all the space
around me: I want to tell what is. …
— William Stafford, TUNED IN LATE ONE NIGHT, first stanza
We were told to get extra, but not hoard.
All professional sports, including NASCAR,
and all mass entertainment cancelled.
Church and work shifts to virtual platforms.
Even the Pro Football Hall of Fame
shuts down for “at least two weeks.”
Tourists won’t hear the bronze busts
speak in stiff-lipped whispers.
Witness begins to require recalibration.
An Italian doctor corrected the British talk show host –
bomb metaphors are inadequate for this pandemic.
A bomb implies “one moment in time and space.”
The doctor begged viewers to grasp spacetime physics
as Florida’s spring break beaches swell.
I scrolled and
for good news
Freeway traffic flows in east/west lanes
like ants on a crumb score.
I’m waking up later each day,
blending home and work
into a double-stitched seam.
It is the first day of spring.
I beg you to prepare for the future you want.
Yet nothing has really happened
Place has even more significance
than we can consciously hold
now cracking open at its weakest points –
where we are isolated and approximate distance.
News moves relative to a wide margin of incompetence
and displays itself as curved lines.
I bless the bus drivers keeping their ghost routes.
New leaves spread wider each passing day.
I am hyperaware of my phantom wants:
a balcony and family. A dopamine loop fueled
by anticipation. The future now a fermata.
walking through high waisted
grass sprouted hills
our faces slack with hustle
we laughed like stuffed animal heads
over stories about how snow has energy
shedding syllables as we hurried along
this resistance against recursive nature
(we walk upright for a reason)
not remembering how much our bodies work for us
only sensing how much we fight against it
knowing drama and karma can feel differently
bent backwards until fragile as blue
we maintain stillness
despite insincere throats
affecting the slant of our inner lives
these threads connecting codes
native realizations that community
now definitely includes you
The rhythm of an endless human-centered conversation.
To feel the space between our next collective breath.
The sky split in half with the trail of an early flight.
Orange morning light, a long exhale, and the sound
of pencil on paper filling a page. I appreciate
clouds temporary status and apply that truth
to my own temporary life.
I want to find a way to open
from the inside,
safely and slowly,
with pleasure and wonder.
Put your weapons down.
The sky is the same as yesterday: blue and uninterrupted.