Muted Video Feed Fugue
No need to look at me while I write, she thinks—and what’s this mass of entropy floating next to me? It seems most people go off-camera for the writing bits, then so shall I, she said to the muted cohort. In that instant of muting her video feed, the jingle for Sears Junior Bazaar hit her consciousness:
Jesus! I haven’t thought of Sears since … what 1999? Much less Sears Junior Bazaar, I’d have to go back to childhood—the late 1980’s for that! The air thick with popcorn and candy—intense—when you walked into that Sears on Coral Way. The candy shop was situated at the center of the first floor as you walked in through any of the doors—unless you walked in through the Auto Department annex—then you were assaulted by the smell of industrial rubber used for the tires on display near the washers and dryers. Walking into that Sears on the Miami-Coral Gables line was something altogether different than walking into any other suburban South Florida Sears store—it was a synesthetic experience: smells, sounds and the promise of something novel.
What brings that to mind, 20 years later in Boston while interfacing with folks across the country in my pandemic sanitized living room? This ain’t no Proustian fugue—is it?
Or is it the virus-driven imperative of meeting other writers via Zoom? What about the curious desire of not wanting to be the object of someone else’s gaze through these pixillated distances? Is it the nebulous sack of entropy that constantly accompanies me at the peripheries of objective focus—it’s always there with me, but just beyond my ability to manipulate it in any manner.
Just what the hell was I doing on this date in 1999? I’d know instantly if I cracked the storage closet by the entryway and went into the top Rubbermaid bin, but that’s too facile; and anyway, I’m supposed to be writing in the virtual company of 25 strangers, not rummaging through my closets. But who would know in the world of muted video feeds—and we’re on audio mute all the time. Imagine the glossolalia, the cross-distortion babble, the static ambient noise—the off-camera whispers, the squelched farts, the crunching if we weren’t muted. Better this. I guess.
I guess around this time in August of 1999 I was getting ready to go back for sophomore year at Tulane … Jeez, I hated those two years in New Orleans: total disinterest in—let’s see, what was that progression in two short years—journalism, political science, communications, history. That must be some sort of record-tying feat—four majors in four semesters. If it wouldn’t have for the two years at the radio station, and the film department screenings at Loyola University next door, I might have just wandered off and hiked the Appalachian Trail for years on end—oh wait, I did that anyway. In ’99 I was at the height of my Sonic Youth intoxication. I saw them four times on the A Thousand Leaves tour. Typical me to drive both 700 and 900 miles to see them in DC and New York a week apart—and I’d already seen them in New Orleans and Miami. Every journal I had for a decade was festooned with Sonic Youth stickers—until, like every other bastard geezer, Thurston left Kim for a younger woman. Fuckers, all!
Wo! I’m supposed to be free writing with a purpose here, not getting caught up in an endless pre-millennium eddy … and time always runs … short—and out!
Come to think of it—as most of us writer types jump-cut to black—what keeps pulling at me to return to 1999? It happened to be the year my father disappeared from my life. Last sighting. Last words. Just before I went back to New Orleans for the Fall semester I saw him briefly—his invite, my birthday—at Señor Frogs in the Grove. The last time I ever heard from him was that desultory letter just before that Christmas, setting up the meeting he never showed for, just before Y2K. He was getting progressively worse: drugs, erratic behavior, offering me to drop acid with me just before my high school graduation—and what everybody thought was the topper was his bringing a young woman, only six months older than I was, and presenting her as his new wife. Some of the guys in my graduating class asked me if I could hook them up. Fuckers, all!
Just before my high school graduation he reappeared, after a year and a half absence, and revealed he’d never been more than 10 miles away from me in that time. It begged the question, why no call? But I was so pleased that he wasn’t dead—murdered, I thought, given some of the people he was hanging around with.
I see it as if a dialogue box—a cloud floating over his head reading: I’m back, Maria. Party Time!—appeared. He expected what? An invitation to the Free Kitten show? Well, dear father, I’m 40 and single—with a purpose—and haven’t seen or heard of you for twenty years. I thought you were long-gone-dead-earth-meal, or an ash molecule wafting its way south to Patagonia. Thanks for the creeped-out letter-screed about the medical-industrial complex conspiracy; about the cabal running the world; how Iridology changed your life and can change mine; and how you heal people by laying hands and shooting a laser from your third eye. You’re a stranger to me, as alien as Erich Honecker was to me in 1989—and you saw how well things worked out for him!
You stood me up on the day before New Year’s—before the world was to fall apart crushed and darkened by Y2K. I didn’t exactly expect Party Time! Woo Hoo (… and I feel pins and needles) — but I didn’t expect you not to show. To leave me expectant, wanting a still small token, at Señor Frogs. What’s the use in trying to rationalize this? Why do I find myself here again in a mindless moment?
It’s so vivid, and it haunts me, that last time I saw you: that dayglo green grass seemingly irradiated by the sun unleashed from its cloud cover. You were on a Santeria trip insisting your poor-man’s version of Madame Sosostris (did you ever get around to reading Eliot, I wonder) read my future—with her histrionic staring into my eyes and death grip on my upturned hand—it was laughable, but I kept a straight face more out of shock than sobriety. How sober were you, I wonder. Your reassuring nod, when she brought over the frozen cow’s heart and passed it all over my body to cleanse my aura, did nothing to assuage my anxiety and only proved how far I’d go to spend a couple of hours with you. Hoping. Wishing.
But now time’s up again … and now I’m back, as we writerly types listen, then ensconce ourselves behind our black boxes—long live black-box-video-feed-mute! But I’m dropped back into this boxful-o-reverie. Actually, this feels like a tale told by an idiot signifying over-caffeination and over-tiredness.
What did you mean by this game, long dead-dad, of the trailing twenty-year-old missive? How you have burrowed like a trojan horse and reappeared like a recrudescent virus. You were always a fucker(!) and you shall always be. And what the hell am I doing ensnared in this sepia-toned vortex?
If things had happened differently… what?
Would I listen to Up With People instead of the Butthole Surfers?
Would Elizabeth Gilbert be my touchstone instead of Kathy Acker and William Burroughs?
And instead of Eraserhead would my favorite film be Runaway Bride?
I don’t know. I don’t what, or where else, I’d be if those weren’t some of the most obtrusive memories that impinge on my consciousness in the darkness of the video feed mute.
“Hug me, mother of noise.
Find me a hiding place.
I am afraid of my voice.
I do not like my face.”
— Anne Stevenson / “Television”