Times Like These

Things to do during quarantine while you're waiting for the bennies to drop


Tim Siragusa. Tintype by Harrison Henry Martin

 

 

“It may be Lord our voice is suited now

only for irony, onslaught,

and the minor hierarchies of rage.”

Christian Wiman, “Assembly”

The Nebraska Department of Labor says, “Hello, we have received your inquiry. There are currently 47 users ahead of you. Your expected wait time is 957 minutes. Please remain on our site. We look forward to assisting you.”

 Today’s affirmation: “I am healthy, happy and radiant.”

 Hollywood, 1966. A handsome blonde priest in tortoiseshell glasses sits on the edge of a desk. A total Father What-A-Waste. Everyone calls him Bud. Before he speaks an unseen voice says, “And clear.”

 Aimless driving around the city. The new owner built a deck onto the back of my folks’ old house. They’re asking a grand a month for a space in that gentrified wino hotel on Cuming Street. Who lives in these cute new spots in Little Italy? Who can afford to?

 Sam Harris is teaching me meditation through an app. Sam says, “Bring your attention to the field of appearances. When I snap my fingers, turn it to the observer. Who is doing the observing? Is anyone there?”

 Pandora Premium: cancelled. Ditto Audible. Amazon Prime is next.

 Alcoholic (noun): a person you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.

Matt comes by to borrow a kettlebell. Since the gyms closed he just runs and jumps rope, plays Monster House with his kid. Plays Monster House when it’s just him, no kid. Even though he’s laid off, he still carries his pocket knife clipped to the pocket of his jeans like all industry guys do. We talk in the driveway, bump elbows instead of hug. He keeps pulling down the front of his shirt. He’s getting soft around his waist.

 

Another thing that’s gone: No church bells from up the block. Still, the civil defense sirens went off last week.

 “I am a magnet for money.”

 There are five users ahead of you. Wait time is 70 minutes. Please remain on our site.

 Watching old episodes of Insight, an anthology series that used to play on Sunday mornings. Starring character actors, most croaked now, faces I recognize from Mannix and Columbo and Star Trek who act out these morality plays in a half hour format. Imagine Black Mirror or The Good Place on a budget.

 “I give myself the care and attention I deserve.”

 No drinking before 4:30 is the house rule. Except if it’s the weekend. Or if everyone’s home. Real talk: make it 4:15, 4:20. At least until after the cat gets fed.

 Checking the bank app hourly to see if the bennies dropped yet.

 “I choose the future with my actions today.” Wait time is 1261 minutes. Please remain on our Site.

 Taking photos of John for his dating apps. It’s appalling that people are still hooking up for one, and for two that the apps just don’t shut themselves down. For three, am I the only one not getting any?

 Humblebrag: Since John’s been posing for me women have accused him of catfishing them, of being a bot, of faking it. He’s a handsome guy, but still. It takes talent to find the right sidewalk, to use a bare wall at twilight as a lightbox. To find the right choker or suede jacket for him to wear. Tell him how to pose his arms; where to point his jaw, his gaze. Every hookup with a lonely suburban gal is a point of pride for me. Can I put that on my resume?

 John’s big idea today is to pose in an animal outfit. Just to eff with the algorithms and see who bites.

 Thirst Trap (noun): a sexy photo posted online in order to attract attention.

 Images of John in a frog costume, an old worn out mascot suit really. Playing guitar, painting his name (“Fhillip”) in pastel colors. Riding a bike. Pointing at a painting of a frog. Holding handmade signs: FREE HUGS. KISS ME AND I TURN INTO A PRINCE.

Fhillip the Frog

 Will women go for this?

 Furry (slang): a fan of media which features anthropomorphic animals- that is, animals who walk, talk and do otherwise human things.

 Fursona (noun): a furry character someone makes up for himself.

 Riffing Wittgenstein: If a frog could speak I would not understand him.

 The Paulist Fathers produced Insight from 1960 to 1990 to tell “stories of spiritual conflict in the 20th Century,” as Joseph Campanella announces in the intro. They filmed quick, on any lot that would let them. There’s the stoop from Sesame Street, Archie Bunker’s kitchen. One take affairs, with a three camera setup. Bud kept in the flubbed lines, the improvs, the boom mics and in one episode even the cameras. I suspect the actors wore their own clothes, smoked their own cigarettes. Everyone smokes, everyone drinks.

 “Today I choose to create magic, not excuses.”

 Walking around Hot Shops capturing images on my new iPhone. Which I now cannot afford. The block is mostly deserted, like before the stadium and the hotels went up. Just me, homeless guys, and construction workers renovating warehouses to the east and north. Workers turning these old boxes into mixed use spaces. Who is going to live here? Who can afford to buy the food they will serve in whatever new pub or bistro that moves in?

 EBT: electronic benefits transfer, the current method of distributing food stamp benefits or general welfare benefits. Also known as Eat Better Tonight.

 Filed my unemployment for the sixth week. Still no bennies, despite what the Governor said this week about the state having given out sixteen mil since this thing started.

 My corona cash just landed. I celebrate with a South African chenin blanc and an Oregon pinot Gris.

 “There are 70 users ahead of you. Your wait time is 1361 minutes. Please remain on our site.”

“Today I choose to focus only on what I can control.”

 Insight is a master class in acting. The actors are present, alive even behind all that pancake.They made union scale and many donated their earnings back to the Paulists. Bud introduces the episodes, riffing on the theme of the show. Martin Sheen is in a bunch playing Adam, God, a clown. There’s Ellen Burstyn, with her old name before she changed it. Rue McClanaghan in a Dolly Parton wig.

 Question of the day: Read Dune, yes or no? Dave says never. Danny says skip it. A librarian friend texts: Felt like a textbook. A rocker friend: Read it!

 Coof (slang): to cough while infected with a suspected deadly respiratory disease.

 Watching rescue cat videos. Monster House walk throughs. Ten minute no hands ab blasts.

 A handsome photographer comes over to take my picture for a magazine article about local restaurant workers. Due to quarantine all the portraits will be in front of subjects’ homes. The editor sent an email saying to be ready at 4:30 Tuesday. Looks like I’ll miss happy hour. Today is the first time I’ve worn jeans, a belt and a shirt with buttons since I got laid off six weeks ago. I put on the sandalwood & vanilla moisturizer John gave me, expensive stuff I keep watering down, trying to make stretch.

 We go to the side porch and the photographer, who twenty years ago posed me in an alley in the middle of the night, asks me to stand in the hosta patch. My roommates will be angry, but this guy is hot hot hot so I do what he says. Later we chat in the driveway, at a safe distance. Real talk: I’m the gabby one while my secret crush nods, gives not so subtle glances at his van.

In my head Sam Harris asks, “Can you find the one who is talking? Can you shut that idiot up?”

 Teri says she can always tell restaurant people because they overshare, even when sober, just like theater people do. Real, funny, horrifying stories about outstanding warrants, dirty hookups, drug habits, suicide attempts. Stories to test the mettle of the listener, to see who’s in the tribe or out.

 60 users in the queue. Wait time is 1372 minutes.

 A van load of teen idols, my grade school crushes. Grant Goodeve announcing his suicide plan over Thanksgiving. Vince Van Patten hitting on a virgin at a sleepover. Jeff Bridges repairing TV’s, his brother Beau debating joining the army or running away to Canada.

 North on 50th, then east on Dodge. Across the bridge into CB and down Broadway. Too bad they closed the Sal Army stores.

 In my studio there’s no magic. These materials might be useful in someone else’s hands. Gray film over everything. Ralph Macchio buys speed from the captain of the ski squad. I need a Drink.

 Finger nails: not Howard Hughes level yet. But I did slice myself with my own nails today. This is me getting rid of a bad habit, the one where I chew my nails when I’m stalled in traffic. Had to buy an emery board even. And yesterday a bottle of Sally Hansen matte finish top coat. Judge Reinhold gets a leetle bit racist after he’s cut from the basketball team. Mark Hamill begs his dad not to kill himself.

 Youtubers I am in parasocial relationships with: Adriene, Kassandra, Tim, Sean, Thomas.  We’re a fit bunch. At least I’m not watching slo mo college wrestling vids like some people in this house.

 Driving around looking for sexy lawn boys. Take mental notes on which neighborhoods have the best ones. The holy grail is one in sweatpants, no underwear, shirtless. Figure out the schedule for maintenance and plan my circuit around which house they will be at on which day. Give them names, nicknames, back stories.

 The field of appearances contracts. Spending up to 20 hours a day in my room, on a rolled up blanket, meditating, reading, stretching and watching videos.

 Michael Crichton wrote a couple episodes. White and Black characters drop the n-bomb. A teen idol in skin tight hiphuggers, buttons outside the fly, asks his dad for permission to smoke weed. Then tells Dad he’s been doing it for a year already. This was 1972.

 The Live Chat icon is gone.

 In 1969 Father Bud asked, “Isn’t there something in you that makes you vastly superior to any machine? If there is, what is it and how do you activate it?”

 Wiman, again: Faith in language is faith enough in times like these.


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