I didn’t sleep well last night.
(Really strange dreams.)
It began like any normal night.
We had dinner, watched a little family TV, got the kids off to bed, and then climbed in ourselves.
Normally, we catch something on the Food Network, or an episode “House Hunters International” before turning in, and last night was no exception.
(Today being Thursday, as usual.)
I did a work Zoom before dinner, which amps me up, so that might’ve had something to do with it, or it could have been the offensive grub we saw on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
We just added it to the pre-bed rotation, as that Guy Fieri has the kind of charm that creeps up on you, like a joint you think is milder than it actually is.
But what I saw last night shook me. (As a cultural critic, currently trapped in a cynical worldview of America.)
At an Alabama-style BBQ joint in Colorado Springs, (a notoriously conservative part of a now-purple State,) Guy watched the chef prepare a sandwich symbolic of so much that’s wrong here in the US.
First, slow-smoked-pulled-pork with BBQ sauce, and really, that’s typically a winning way to get going.
But then, he added some grilled kielbasa on top, (greasy, Polish pork sausage,) followed by a few slabs of bacon.
Three forms of artery-clogging pig, one on top of the other.
Then, they finished the monster with mayo-filled pimento cheese, creamy cole slaw, (gross!) and some fried-onion-strings.
These days, they say one hot dog takes 36 minutes off your life-span, so I joked to Jessie this aberration-of-a-sandwich must deprive each eater of a good 5 hours of existence.
It’s about as “Red State America” as it gets, and the world wonders why we have such high obesity rates?
Then again, the dreams might have been sparked by a confrontation I had with an anti-masker, in the bathroom of the mid-mountain lodge at Taos Ski Valley earlier in the day.
To be clear, New Mexico has had an indoor mask law for most of the pandemic, with only a slight gap after last Spring’s false hope.
(It was quickly re-instated when Delta showed up.)
It is literally the law.
TSV has “Mask Up” signs clearly posted, and I even saw a vaccine requirement to eat in the on-mountain restaurant where I stopped in to pee. (A first, in my experience here in NM.)
As I was washing my hands, post-pee, (TMI?) a short, early 60-something Baby Boomer strolled in, maskless, and got ready to do his business at the urinal. (Again, TMI?)
I pointed at my mask, gave him the stink eye, and said, “There’s a mask mandate here in New Mexico, and also at Taos Ski Valley.”
(I stopped trying to act like the mask police months ago, but it was just him and me, alone in a basement restroom, and he had that cocky, ant-vaxx look in his eye.)
“It’s a hoax,” he yelled at me.
“Don’t be an asshole,” I replied.
Then I thought about it for a minute, amped up my mad-dog-look, pivoted in my ski boots, and walked out.
But what I really wanted to say was:
“You don’t think the law applies to you, and you don’t mind giving me Omicron, should you have it.
You’re literally telling me you don’t care if I live or die, and you think laws are for suckers.
But you assume I’ll obey the law, and not kick the living shit out of you. Which I can easily do.
Why is that?
Why is it OK for you to ignore the law, because you’re above it, but we both know if I elbowed you in the face, and broke your nose, you’d go crying to the cops like the little bitch that you are?”
(End imaginary quote.)
I wanted so badly to say that, and even more, I really wanted to beat his ass.
But I didn’t.
Because right now, this country is bifurcated, with one side feeling constrained by the bonds that hold society together, while the other taunts, trolls, baits, and bothers.
It’s a seriously messed up situation.
So halfway through the night, I dreamed of my mother-in-law, who’s been non-communicative, due to her advanced Alzheimer’s, since last summer.
Hearing her voice, as she spoke to me, healthy again in my subconscious, was more than I could bear.
It was like being visited by a ghost.
(Does that make me Scrooge?)
So I woke myself up, at 3:30am, then tossed and turned for an hour.
Honestly, it’s only some very strong coffee allowing me to write at the moment.
But here we are.
These are strange times for American democracy, and for the stability of the global geo-political order.
(As Russia prepares to invade Ukraine, with Tucker Carlson cheering them on.)
As a guy who named his book “Extinction Party,” I can’t say I’m surprised.
But I am horrified, and saddened.
With two young children, I want so badly for the world to right itself, so they can grow up and have long, healthy lives.
(I wonder, though.)
And yes, my musings today are partly inspired by a photo-book, as usual.
Just last week, I ended the review by stating I hadn’t seen much work yet, made during the pandemic, that was more than obvious.
Sure enough, as this column often takes on patterns I never anticipated, I reached into the stack today and grabbed a self-published, Blurb book that arrived in March 2021.
(It takes so long to get to the books these days, but does give us the benefit of hindsight.)
I opened up the cardboard, having no idea what was inside, and was treated to “Keep Going New York!!”, by Stefan Falke, a German-born photographer based in NYC.
And yes, it was made in the city, during the pandemic, over the course of #2020.
The text, by Claudia Steinberg, tells us Stefan roamed the outer boroughs, not just Manhattan, and shot at mid-day, as the bright sunshine helped run off his blues, and intensified the colors he sought to shoot.
So we see very bright murals, (in many cases,) often with lone figures in front.
(As the text also informs, he prefers to have at least one person in the frame, and stands waiting for them, rather than just shooting empty cultural landscapes.)
Hopefully, we’ll never again see the city this empty during the day.
It’s not right, though over the course of the book, there are other images that show at least some form of collective human congregation.
Do you remember when they drew circles in parks, so people stayed in their own pod?
I’d forgotten that already.
Some of these are properly dynamite, like the image of the Black gentleman wearing a cool hat, in the foreground, shot with shallow depth of field, set against the top of the Empire State Building.
Or the woman dragging an office chair through an empty Times Square.
But it’s the overall sense of having captured a place in time, (and a shocking time at that,) which forced me to write about this book.
So yes, that’s two #2020, pandemic photo books in two weeks.
(Not my intention, as I said.)
And in this one, there are several images that show people mis-wearing masks, or fully maskless, in the company of those who are masked up.
We can thank DJT for politicizing such a hyper-important public health issue, though you may have noticed I try not to mention him anymore.
But he’s looming out there.
(You know it, and I know it.)
Stay tuned, and see you next week.
If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.