“Dispatch from a Pandemic: New York City” by robert(a) Marshall

marshall art
robert(a) Marshall

Breaking News

May 2020:

Roy from Siegfried and Roy has died. When does a cultural reference become too sam.coronaearthspecific? I never know. Michael Halkias, the owner of the Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn has also died; if you lived in New York at the turn of the last century, you surely know who he was. Or who he was on TV. He’d stand, in the wedding hall’s commercials, alongside his wife, at the foot of great white staircase, and declare—in a cotton-mouthed voice: We make your dreams come true. Some of us used to joke about it, the ad, the voice—perhaps he had a speech impediment. Or just an accent. The president’s valet has tested positive. We hope that he spat in the soup. Or coughed in it. It’s May, and a polar vortex is on its way. My friend was talking to her brother on Skype when a mouse—somehow—I’m not clear on the details—scurried up her jeans. I always wonder how women think about their brothers; I mean how it’s different than how they think about their sisters. We experience what’s done and spoken depending on who’s doing and who’s speaking. Prove that I lie. I’m interested in underlying conditions. The Justice Department dropped the charges against Michael Flynn. I can no longer remember what exactly Flynn—the president’s national security advisor—did. Something with Russia and a phone call. In a crisis you can get away with anything. I, too, am taking advantage of the quarantine, mostly by cooking. Many of my friends have, the last few days, been posting pictures of eggs. Perhaps there’s a joke that everyone else gets. Or maybe the egg posts aren’t a joke. Someone with whom, years ago, I had a complex relationship died. He was in the art world, he had power, many loved him. Or said they did. I thought for a while we were friends. Just a very short while. I don’t know what to do with my feelings about his death. Probably nothing. I used to think you could do something with your feelings. Now there are just too many. It’s been twenty years since I saw him. Time doesn’t matter: when I was twelve, I decided this. My conviction that time was an illusion arising from words was intimate with my quest to be a girl. They’re trying to kill the Post Office. This is so there won’t be an election. Democracy used to be a sort of underlying condition. You didn’t have to worry much about it.  It’s easier to post about Roy—from Siegfried and Roy—they had, in Vegas, a show with white tigers—or were they lions?—than it is to post about the deaths of friends—or were they acquaintances?—I haven’t seen in twenty years. With real people it’s all so complex; of course Roy was real, but he was TV real. One day one of the tigers attacked him—the tigers were really real—now that I think about it, they had both lions and tigers. Roy didn’t see it coming. He’d been born in Germany during the war. The second world one. Last month—or was it this month?—everyone was watching a documentary about a gay man and tigers; no mention was made of Roy; those with no sense of history are doomed to repeat it, whatever it is. I’m not alone in feeling that people in books and on TV are sometimes more real to me than people I know. I know that the phenomenon of celebrities, as well as characters in movies and books, seeming more real than those in “real” life has been a thing for at least a hundred years. Musil writes about it in The Man Without Qualities. The murderer Moosbrugger becomes, in TMWQ, a sort of media celebrity, and is more alive in the consciousness of some of Musil’s characters than the people they know. At least that’s how I remember the novel, the second volume of which is entitled Pseudo Reality Prevails. The action takes place just before the First World War. And, although this isn’t often remarked on in criticism, the Spanish Flu. I just saw Little Richard died. One time the art world friend—or acquaintance—who I mentioned above, the one who just died, made fun of me, in public, or I thought he did. It’s impossible to keep track of things. Death is a thing. Wave after wave. Last night I had an overwhelming craving for avocado and crab meat salad; I wanted to think I was pregnant. I read that estrogen protects against the virus. I read that Pepcid protects against the virus. I read that African Swine Flu … oh no, that was the other virus. The old virus.  Perhaps the estrogen would also help my hair grow. People are starting to look unkempt. I don’t like to wish people dead—I’m a wuss—but Stephen Miller: another matter. Shanda for the goyim. The Gem Spa closing isn’t an equivalent disaster to the post office and democracy closing, but, in the moment, all these things come so fast and feel the same.

–May 8, 2020


robert(a) marshall
Robert(a) Marshall’s biography of Carlos Castaneda, American Trickster, is due out from University of California Press in 2022. Their novel, A Separate Reality, was published by Carroll & Graf in 2006. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in N + 1, Salon, Evergreen Review, The Kenyon Review Online, The Barcelona Review, The Michigan Quarterly, and numerous other publications. They are the recipient of the Hazel Rowley Prize from BIO, the Biographers International Organization. Their paintings, drawings, and photographs have been exhibited widely in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. When COVID permits, an exhibition of their visual work will be taking place at Participant Inc. in New York City.