Greetings from a sawdust-covered basement, cleaner by the day.
Sidewalks in the neighborhood are filled with chalk drawings and messages like “stay safe, stay home.” Some of the art is the product of parental boredom and new free time, sure. But a lot is innocent, free of structure that comes with age. Honest. All told, the cautionary tales on sidewalks and driveways seem a grown use of a child’s medium, and unfair to children of age to understand that we’ve come to this.
But on nice days neighbors sit on their steps sipping wine or liquor and siblings play in the street because traffic is so sparse. Adults nod to each other. Understanding, yes. When someone approaches walking a dog or walking to walk, kids rush back to their porches to let them pass. It feels like a community.
Neighbors held a birthday party today. Families showed up with “happy birthday” signs, kept their distance outside. There was a sparkler on top of a 5-foot makeshift candle. After a couple minutes, everyone returned to their cars. No hugs, but you get the sense there will be on the other side of this.
I’m hopeful. In a month or two maybe things will ease up a little. I was made for social isolation, too. But the love shown on the other side of this will reflect the difficulty of the distance we’re now forced to keep.
I worry about what comes next. The things we’re accepting now - carrying documentation from our employers in case of traffic stop, the mass closing of public spaces, etc. - that worries me. How power deployed now might be used in the future.
It’s not a comment on the necessity of distancing, or any of the measures being taken now really. What we now accept should not pass without some note, though.
I do miss being out in the world. There was something about meeting people on the job, brought together by something. There to document but connect, too. Discovery each day. There’s no replicating it. I miss it.
Working from home gets me an extra three hours each day, thanks to the shortened commute. The adjustment has been odd. Day by day. Trying to sleep a little more. Walking at night. The distance from downtown has been good for me, to think. My days aren’t so frantic, and I’m more productive.
Saul Bellow - “Humboldt’s Gift”
“In the Twenties kids in Chicago hunted for treasure in the March thaw. Dirty snow hillocks formed along the curbs and when they melted, water ran braided and brilliant in the gutters and you could find marvelous loot - bottle tops, machine gears, Indian-head pennies. And last spring, almost an elderly fellow now, I found that I had left the sidealk and that I was following the curb and looking. For what? What was I doing? Supposed I found a dime? Suppose I found a fifty-cent piece? What then? I don’t know how the child’s soul had gotten back, but it was back. Everything was melting. Ice, discretion, maturity. What would Humboldt have said to this?”
“Cops have their own way of ringing a doorbell. They ring like brutes. Of course, we are entering an entirely new stage in the history of human consciousness. Policemen take psychology courses and have some feeling for the comedy of urban life.”
“At that time the entire world identified Chicago with blood - there were the stockyards and there were the gang wars.”
“It was the pre-Christmas season, dark December, and a brown air, more gas than air, crossed the lake from the great steel-and-oil complex of South Chicago, Hammond, and Gary, Indiana.”
“There were beautiful and moving things in Chicago, but culture was not one of them. What we had was a cultureless city pervaded nevertheless by Mind. Mind without culture was the name of the game, wasn’t it? How do you like that! It’s accurate. I had accepted this condition long ago.”
“Large parts of Chicago decay and fall down. Some are rebuilt, others just lie there.”
“We went to the lakeshore and listened to the foghorns. They bawled melancholy over the limp silk fresh lilac drowning water.”