Social Distance, Perchance to Dream

In light of COVID-19 related social distancing practices, I woke this morning from a dream about normal social interaction. To be fair, it wasn’t truly plain and simple, there were still some hallmarks of the dream-state, but the settings were mostly normal. And believe me when I say, the following is not externally embellished.

2020-03-26 10.42.55

It started with me swinging by my parents’ house after work, just to visit and chat. Then, I guess some door-to-door sales guy was outside to sell them a GutterGuard. Dad blamed me for this, not in an angry way, but in a, “you have to learn from the consequences of your actions” way. Dad had it in his mind that I had somehow signed up for this consultation, that an appointment was made by me being careless with my email address or phone number online. So I had to go talk to the sales guy.

Since my day job is sales-adjacent, I decided to be polite and let the guy give his whole pitch, even though we had no intention of buying anything from him. Wait – – no, before I went out, Dad, still wanting me to endure the interaction with a salesperson as some sort of penance, also directed me to “at least find out how much it would cost,” as he was aware of the quality reputation of the product in question and thought it may prove a beneficial upgrade to the house.

So I go out on the porch to talk to the guy, and he has somehow set up a whole trade show booth presentation about his products outside the door. To be clear, he didn’t have an actual trade show tent, he just had full displays and samples and stuff hanging from a sort of collapsible frame set up on my parents’ front porch, so not totally magical and absurd, but ever so slightly beyond the limits of reality, or at least what could be realistically expected – there was no, “hi, let me get my stuff out of my car and set up for this meeting,” it was just, he was there, and his stuff was set up. I also had that dream-state awareness, that there was a colleague of his nearby doing the same thing with another potential customer, but like, not at their front door, more like ten feet away in our yard, but it didn’t feel inappropriate, just like, “yes, people are selling things, they are doing their jobs.”

So the guy is addressing me as if I am the homeowner, and I’m not, and I know I’m not, and I’m not doing or saying anything to lead him to believe I am, but I am also, not stating that I’m not, because I’m going to let him make his assumptions and keep that detail in my pocket in case I need to use it as an out later. And he goes through his spiel and asks me questions that I’m supposed to nod and say, “yeah, that sounds right” to, and I do. And he doesn’t bring up price, and in the back of my head, I’m just thinking, I wonder how much this costs. And in my head, I’m also coaching myself that when we do get to the question of price to get a direct answer on all the costs, product, installation, labor, fees, warranty, etc., because I have to have all the details for Dad.

And I’m checking the time, because I want to be respectful and let this guy do his whole bit, because I know it’s his process, but there’s also a vague awareness that there is something to do or somewhere to be later, or maybe I have decided I don’t want to waste any more of my time or his. And I’m not letting him continue because he’s new and needs the practice, I mean he is young, but I don’t think he’s new-new, because he is confident and appears knowledgeable. Maybe he’s new to this product, but he has definitely sold before, like he’s not afraid of whether or not he’s going to make the sale, he’s just doing his pitch like he always does, because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it works enough that the job is worth it to him.

But eventually it gets to be too much. I’m tired of pretending to listen, and I just want an estimate, because we know it’s a good product, and we know we would benefit from it, but we don’t really need it, so we just want to see if it feels worth it to us. So I jump in and press him on how much is this all going to cost. He then proceeds to go through the different levels of product, like apparently there’s a deluxe and premium and different materials,  and now I’m getting agitated because it’s probably been twenty minutes or so and it’s just a GutterGuard! It does one thing! How are there so many different options to a product that either keeps leaves and debris out of your gutters while letting the water flow through or doesn’t? Like really? Why in the world is your product not one thing? At this point I’m not sure how the guy responds or if he does or if I walk away, the scene just sort of dissolves.

That evening we’re at a bar or restaurant, but it’s a music venue with a stage. Like you walk in and there’s a sort of a small vestibule but there’s one or two cafe tables in that area before you walk into the main room. The small entryway-with-tables (where I am seated with a half-finished darkish amber beer, everyone else hasn’t arrived yet) has a little bit of late evening sun filtering through, the rest of the space is lit primarily blue. Through just a doorway it opens up and to your right it a full bar, a c-shaped rectangle. This is the “back” of the room. Up front (left walking in the door way) just past what could be a dance floor save for some tables is the stage, a low rectangular platform no more than twelve inches of elevation. A house kit and mic stand set up. There is a band playing later tonight, but they have not loaded in yet. The venue itself is not any real place I have been but the dimensions are somewhere in between the Firebird before it closed, and the Gramophone before it renovated, and the vibe is somewhere between the Dark room when there’s nothing going on, and the Emerald room at the Monocle, right before the doors open.

My parents arrive, and they may or may not be joined by someone else, but I feel like there is a fourth person, maybe my brother, maybe a friend of mine, possibly Logan Johnson. I grab my beer as we all wander in through the doorway to a low, round table on the opposite side, near the bar. There’s a bit of a time shift here, we may or may not order food, but eventually it is time for karaoke here. There are no visible screens, people just go on stage and seem to know the songs, but there is a songbook and song slips you give to the bar. At some point someone one stage is doing an odd cut from Falsettos. My awareness of what it is begins around “My name is Mendel.” When the karaoke performer gets to “His name is Mendel…” I start to sing along with the “Ahhs” and then I become aware of other voices singing, too. It is the long rectangular table directly in front of the stage seated with eight or ten late high school or early college age theatre kids. They wind up going back and forth with the various parts in the song, until eventually they are on stage in a line, doing some sort of dance with every thing. It may be “be alright for the rest of your life,” but I’m not confident at that point. They complete the song and file off through a doorway that probably leads to the kitchen. They return to their table.

The space goes quiet again. It’s not very full and there are not a lot of people doing karaoke. The band is going to arrive soon, so karaoke is almost over, last chance for anyone who wants to sing. I decide I’ll go ahead and do my typical “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, so I grab the songbook. At some point Mom and Dad and possible other person have to go, so bye, thanks, see you later. I’m looking at the artist heading in the book and searching for the song underneath it, because there is a song code you have to write down on your slip, not just the name of the song. When my eyes shit from looking at the songbook to looking at the slip of paper, I forget the code and have to Look back at the songbook, but now I have to find the artist heading and song again. This goes on for a few repetitions, meanwhile other patrons are leaving. By the time I manage to fill out the slip, the only people in the bar are myself and the staff. I decide I don’t want to sing to an empty room.

I wake up.

Winter Weekend Travelogue: Pt 2, Saturday Evening thru Sunday

SATURDAY AFTERNOON/EVENING

Seated on a bench in a sunny corner of Washington Square Park. In Chicago, every park is a dog park.

Mikey is a – something smallish, medium. Maybe a chihuahua mix? I don’t know, he is decidedly too large from my experience to be a chihuahua, but his head carries a similar silhouette.

Anyway, Mikey has an old, dirty tennis ball – old and dirty to the extent that there is no certainty that it was ever green. Mikey fetches the ball, but proceeds to carry it around in his mouth. He does not show it off, he does not request it to be thrown again, he just trots around, socializing, holding the tennis ball.

Mikey does not play with his ball. Mikey possesses his ball.

I’m eating dinner at the Improv before the show. A passing stranger stops to compliment my watch. I thank them. They continue to stand in front of my table. I ask them if they are here to see a show. We tell each other which show we are going to see. We are attending different performances.

If I had more energy, I might invite them to sit and join me for a moment. We could talk more about men’s fashion accessories. But I hiked nearly six miles today in addition to ice skating. I just want to eat a burger and see a show. Maybe in the future I will travel with the express purpose of initiating extended, meaningful interactions with strangers.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your dinner.”
“Nice chatting, enjoy your show.”

I arrive at my friend’s place where I am staying the night. He warns me the radiator in the living room (where I will be sleeping) has something up with it and gets a bit noisy. I assure him I am a heavy sleeper. A few intermittently knocking pipes won’t be a bother.

I eventually find that this is not simply a noisy radiator. No, this is a heat exchange central relay station. This is a steam pipe trunk distribution venue. It is not only loud, but persistent. It gurgles and rattles and whines and churns for several minutes at a time.

The radiator, possibly possessed

SUNDAY

My hosts confirm that they, too, slept poorly.

We walk to breakfast at a place they haven’t tried yet. We purchase the last tacos before they sell out. We then go elsewhere to get some pastries as well, because three of us split four tacos.

I get on a train. My destination is more food.

“THIS IS SHERIDAN”

“I hear 7-11 is hiring some places.”
“I don’t know.”
“They’re starting at 14 an hour.”
“Oh?”
“I mean, I’m a manager at gamestop, but I mean – it’s like, I got the position, but I’m not getting paid manager wages, you know?”
“Yeah.”

“ADDISON IS NEXT”

I grab lunch with an old friend and catch up on where life has taken us all these years.

We enter a bookstore. Not even the greatest imagination could describe the aisles of shelves here as anything remotely resembling ADA compliance. There are shelves to the ceiling, stacks behind stacks, extending to the floor and window bays and behind the counter. In fact, I’m not even convinced there is a counter. There is only a chair in an alcove carved out of further stacks of books, up on which the proprietor of the shop sits.

A patron inquires about the availability of a certain item. The proprietor hops up from his throne and leads them directly to it in spite of what some may regard as clutter and disarray. This is his kingdom, these are his subjects, he knows their every coming and going.

Eighty-five to ninety percent of the selection is nonfiction. I purchase “The Best American Short Stories 1993.”

I tell you the truth

I have it in my mind to find a bar with a view, to relax and write. My feet are still fatigued from yesterday. I am aware of a cocktail lounge on an upper floor of the Hancock building, but research shows it as closing soon. The next nearest option, according to research, is the J. Parker, atop the Hotel Lincoln. It stands a meager twelve stories, but the rooftop is semi-open air, and placed across the street from Lincoln Park and the lake.

I enter the lobby.

“Are you here for the [indiscernible] event?”
“No, just looking for the rooftop bar.”
“That’s the event, this way.”

I am ushered past some stanchions where another host checks my ID and points me toward the elevator. Exiting the elevator past yet another host who shouts over the DJ’s beats, “You can purchase tickets for any of the drink stations at the bar.”

I have unwittingly found myself in the middle of a ski lodge themed costume party. Sunday Shenanigans at the Silverback Slopes. Matching the intensity of the music is the neon array of swishy jumpsuits, puffer vests, and go-fast jackets. All the attitude of Aspen, minus the actual skis. I order a drink and remove myself to the interior bar.

If not for fatigue, I may have jumped in and made some new friends, but instead I find the quietest corner and sit. And breathe. And relax. And listen. And write.

I could capture some of these conversations, but I’m sure you can well enough imagine.

To the train. To the station. To pass, perchance to sleep. To home, and to-morrow.

Winter Weekend Travelogue: Pt 1, Saturday

Maggie Daley Park in Chicago has this thing called the Skating Ribbon. It is an outdoor winding path circuit with elevation change, surfaced for ice skating in the winter. It captured my imagination the first time I heard about it, and a couple weeks ago I pulled the trigger on a train ticket to go check it out.

Sunrise, Illinois

Entering Chicago, the train passes a dry storage area for boats right off the canal. One very small cabin cruiser is moored in the water, ready for use. The larger yachts are winterized.

One boat has the name, “The Flying Wasp.”

Think before you speak. Think before you act. Think before you name anything, “The Flying Wasp.”

I pass a print ad in a window. An attractive couple smiles directly to camera. The prominent copy reads, “Flats Always.” Unfortunately this is not a much-desired promise from a purveyor of chicken wings. It is an advertisement for loft apartment living.

Overheard while skating: “It’s too slippery.”

There is a pop up booth with Blachawks branding. Passers-by try their skills by shooting a puck at a board with a few small holes cut out. The board is illustrated with the image of a hockey goalie. Successfully launch the puck through a hole and win a prize. Participants are able to earn a Blackhawks branded pop socket, or a bobblehead figurine fashioned after a member of the team.

A father wins a bobblehead doll. His full-sentence speaking toddler (I have no frame of reference for estimating the age of children) wants to open and play with the new toy now. The father advises his child that the figure is packed rather securely, and if he removes it now he may be unable to return it to the packaging, thus leaving the newly acquired toy at greater risk of breaking prior to bringing it home.

The child is devastated. The father continues to calmly administer reason.

Mother arrives. The child explains the situation. Mother instructs father to, “Just open it, it’s fine, it was free, it’s not a big deal.”

Father complies. The child is mollified.

We are waiting a half-hour for the ice to be resurfaced.

Some minutes later, the child announces a readiness to depart.

There is a screen playing hockey-related videos.

Correction: there is a screen playing one hockey-related video on a loop.

It is a short documentary film about Kendall Coyne, and her achievements, and being the first woman to compete in the NHL All-Stars Skills Competition. The film is good, but it is short enough that I have heard the full narrative enough times to be annoyed by the repetition.

I’m wandering around somewhat aimlessly and find myself on Michigan Avenue. I remove myself by a block to an adjacent street.

I am watching a video on a loop. This one is inside the Museum of Contemporary Art. It is captivating, colorful, unsettling, disorienting, fascinating, and eighteen minutes in length. I willfully watch it again.

Jenny Holzer, 1980-82, enamel on metal

The exhibit I spend the most time with is a series of surrealist installations. I am reminded of the works of bill wurtz. I am reminded of his song lyric, “I’m looking around this museum for paintings I relate to, even though most of them were painted by somebody else.”

There are machines in nature that do things we do not understand. These machines do things.

The museum cafe offers a self-service water spigot with two different cup styles available: small plastic disposables, and glass vessels with a height less than the measure of its diameter. Think an oversized ramekin for proportions. I select the plastic. Everyone else selects glass.

In the cafe sits a patron going full Warhol: blonde, swoopy mop and a black turtleneck. Despite the outfit, his manner is not brooding and pretentious. Rather, the conversation with his lunch companion appears spirited and effervescent. He excuses himself to use the restroom.

Reunion Travelogue 4: Return

When my brother picked me up from the airport a week ago it felt like we picked up a conversation we had been in the middle of however many months ago we last saw each other. When he dropped me off today the conversation on the ride to the airport was more of the same from the week. Nothing retrospective, nothing conclusive, no ceremony. I think that’s the correct way to interact with the world. Everything is positional. See you later.

Inspiration happens during those moments in between. Like when finishing an early morning beer at the airport bar, listening to an unfamiliar song on the speakers, thinking: why am not in a rock band?

While in California I went to world-class escape rooms in San Fransisco. Tomorrow I am going to Six Flags St. Louis. Roller coaster enthusiasts and escape room enthusiasts across the country look down on STL’s available selection in both categories. Do we have a prestige issue?

The adage, “Dont worry about what other people think about you,” cuts in some weird directions. Don’t be surprised when what you say affects how someone sees you.

I got a window seat this time. I want to know what all these reservoirs are. I want to know what all these rivers are. Whitewater rafting is manufactured adventure.

I successfully identified KC from the air because the Royals and Chiefs are parking lot roommates.

The flight attendant offered me a second coffee. I said I was fine, but she said she was trying to get rid of the tray. After unsuccessfully offering to the final row before me, I offered to consume the last cup. Good deed for the day.

What a stupid phrase. I did my good deed for the day. Let’s compete to see who can do the most good deeds in a day.

All Art Was Once New Art

(Note: I thought I’d avoid excessive parentheticals by placing extraneous commentary in footnotes, but that has only served to increase the amount of footnotes, and not decrease the parentheticals. But I suppose that’s my voice.)


Before it converted to a public service organization to identify and label bad drivers, 99.1 FM in St. Louis was the classical* music station. And on the breaks, the DJ repeated this wonderful catchphrase: “all music was once new music.” The point being that the pieces they broadcast were, at one time, contemporary to the culture and had never been heard before. And it’s no false equivalency to say that those composers were the pop stars of their time. If you don’t believe me, take a quick look at the life of Franz Liszt.

That mantra stuck with me, because when I first heard it, it immediately shifted my perspective. Before, I had a chronocentric relationship to any piece of media created prior to my cultural awareness. I may not have been able to articulate it, but all my life, if I encountered a piece of art, music, film, etc., I always viewed it as if it had always existed – as a time capsule and representation of the era. To my mind, classical music has always been hundreds of years old, Shakespeare’s works have always been a complete compendium known to all, and a portrait of the dead, historical, Charles I has always been a part of the eternal collection at the Saint Louis Art Museum. When you enter the world, everything is as it is, and has always been that way.

But the history of art is two-in-onefold: a search for human connection, and a response to all art before it (in that same search for human connection)**. When and how and why any media was created is equally as important*** as the perspective the individual experience an audience brings to the piece. So the point of the mantra, “all music was once new music,” is an implied petition that the audience ought to marry the original cultural context with the contemporary perspective – looking back to fully experience, evaluate, and value said music (or any other given media). “But Bradley,” you† say, “do you really expect me to research the social, political, and economic factors surrounding the creation of any piece of art I view?” By no means! While it certainly adds value to the experience, it is not necessary to the consumption of said media.

Now let’s put a pin in all that and talk about FEAR. Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear can drive us to action or inaction, but when it comes to choosing what media to consume, whether it is the risk of time spent, or time and money spent, the direction fear drives us is typically toward inaction. I fear that this twenty-two minute documentary of YouTube may not be worth my time, so I will instead choose to watch several shorter informative or comedic videos from unknown sources, because I perceive them individually as lower risks. Fear makes us less likely to give a chance to something unproven. To bring this around to my primary artistic discipline, it has been said that going to the theater is a leap of faith. And nowhere is the leap further, or the need for faith greater than with new works.‡

Which brings me to the pivot: I am not arguing (though I do agree) that it is valuable to reconsider the classics with fresh and re-contextualized eyes. But rather to look at the inverse of the adage that catalyzed this conversation. All new art has the potential to become old art. If all art was once new art, how does new art become old art? Did the classics persist because they are good, or do we view them as good because they have persisted? And what about the pieces that have not persisted? Do they lose value because they take up less bandwidth in the public consciousness? You won’t hear Sopwith Camel on the oldies station, but does that diminish the fact that they got minor regional airplay in their time? And some college kid in the late 70’s was so impressed with their sound he called record stores all over the state and drove cities away to find a copy their album?

If it sounds like I’m making a postmodern argument that all media is inherently equal, well – yes and no. I don’t believe that the postmodernism is a viable philosophy to carry at one’s core. However, it is useful counter to other extreme views. It protects us from the trap of measuring everything down to the ultimate dismissal of the idea that something can have intrinsic value. And art, by the definition above, by nature has intrinsic value.

Everyone is participating in the search for human connection through the creation of media, and the consumption of said media. And the value of that media, or art, is not defined by how successful it is in a capitalist structure, but rather by how it creates and uncovers human connection. This is why art is a fundamental human right. We are all participants whether we think we are or not, so make the most of every interaction. You may wander into an independent art gallery, or hear a songwriter in a coffeeshop, or see a play you’ve never heard of – and maybe you will find something you didn’t have before. You may connect with a perspective you didn’t think you could connect with, you may learn about a fear or desire you didn’t know you had. Do not allow yourself to be driven by fear to the familiar. Your neighbor needs an audience. You need an audience. New art is vital to the human experience, so make be a part of it.


*I am aware of the distinct genres such as baroque and romantic that are often erroneously lumped in with it classical, but for simplicity of semantics I’m using the fallacious term as an umbrella to cover a few centuries of piano, chamber, and orchestral music. I know it’s wrong, but it’s common in the vernacular, and we’re not going to linger here too long, so write your own blog post if you have a problem with it.
**Okay, so this thesis is moot, and I’m not taking the time to fully develop and defend it now, but maybe I will at a later date. Even if it’s not entirely correct, it’s not entirely wrong.
***Once again, moot and fairly postmodern, but go with it.
†the strawperson
‡I first heard this in a curtain speech before a play at Tesseract Theatre Company, but I know they stole it from someone else, so I’m not really sure where the credit is due.

 

Reunion Travelogue 3: Mid-week

Camping at a coffeeshop. I’m on vacation, visiting family. This local grind ‘n’ brew is on the small town main drag, but it’s the middle of the week, and even if this was a destination it would be an off-peak season, but I don’t think they have tourists here.

Am I the only person with a social fantasy that a stranger will approach me, break the ice, and then ask me to tell them my life story?

So it’s quiet. So I work on personal projects. So I’m productive.

Prior travelogues felt more inspired. Does this mean I have traveled poorly?

Is there a market for flashnonfiction?

I traveled from home to see people. I saw people. Do we not see the people we live with?

Reunion Travelogue 2: In The Air & On The Ground

The Flight

I came prepared. I downloaded some podcasts, I have an actual book, and worst case scenario the flight offers wifi for $8.

However, I find myself waiting as long as I can before I decide to do something to pass the time.

It doesn’t feel appropriate to engage my diversions until I have had my ginger ale and pretzels. There is an order, a ritual. We push back, we take off, we climb and fail to identify anything on the ground by sight. Then snacks are served, and then the flight has begun.

It’s a strategic choice, too. The longer I can go sitting, doing nothing, the less time I have to occupy until we touch down, therefore making the flight feel quicker.

Part of me wishes we had to take turns rowing or something to make the plane go. Travel is active. Riding on a plane is not.

A woman on the opposite aisle ahead of me is playing an iPad slot machine game. She wins. A lot. She tires of that and plays a differently themed slot machine game on her iPad. She cycles through several different themed slot machine games. The flight is four hours long.

Flight attendants who wear watches: do they constantly re-set to local time or pick a zone and do the math?

I wanted to listen to the Falsoettos cast album, but I didn’t download it before leaving. It’s about time. I listen to Follies instead.

You don’t have to be a star to be a great actor, and you don’t have to be a great actor to be a star.

——–

On the Ground

Saturday evening was spent in conversation.

Sunday morning was spent in conversation. The rest of the day was fun and games and new strangers.

These strangers are friends with my family. I have conversations with them as if they are friends.