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A Monday [Part 2]

by | May 4, 2020

Monday, May 4th, 12:59 pm—two weeks later:

Well, shit.

I come to under my desk, swaddled in a blanket and clutching a half-eaten loaf of bread to my chest. My phone intermittently emits a bright, chiming sound of ruthless good cheer that lets me know I’ve received a text. Closer examination reveals I have, in fact, received a lot of texts—all from my boss in communications, James Lippincott. He’s been, “just checking in on [my] blog progress,” for five days running; and he is, I’d just like to note, a paragon of good-natured forbearance.

Half-finished drafts of letters, crumpled and abandoned, litter the floor. Most are addressed to various ex-girlfriends, and contain protestations of undying devotion, wild accusations of treachery, and exhortations to really listen to the new Fiona Apple LP. (One outlier—addressed to “Dearest Mother and Papa”—soberly informs my parents of my decision to join the French Foreign Legion.) A copy of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther lays open beside me, its pages speckled in a manner suggesting either dried rain or dried tears. It seems to have been a rough couple weeks.[1]

1. Though the past two paragraphs are the product of some dramatic license on my part, I must admit they enjoy closer affiliation with the truth than I’d like.

I could have anticipated this. In the first month of quarantine, I observed a curious phenomenon: Exes, some of whom I never expected to hear from again, began reaching out to me. Invariably, they were ‘just checking in,’ and our conversations were uniformly cordial and lacking an apparent agenda.[2] It’d have been perplexing, if one thing hadn’t been so clear to me: This was a symptom.

2. Unless saying, “Man, things are crazy,” with a kind of spectatorial wonder counts as an agenda, of course.

COVID, I’d recently learned, presented with a host of secondary symptoms—things like anosmia and ambiguous toe-rashes—and this, I felt certain, was another: fits of romantic wistfulness. I was shaky on the biology. I didn’t understand, for example, how people uninfected by the virus could still be afflicted by a symptom of it. I felt confident about the etiology, though. I even felt, in observing my own behavior, I could make a modest contribution to the field of emotional epidemiology, if such a field existed. Finding myself reaching out to the exes who hadn’t reached out to me first—putatively because I was ‘just checking in,’ but actually because I wanted to know why they weren’t ‘just checking in,’—I thought: Eureka! This is how it happens! This is how things spread! I am of sociological interest! I felt like Mithridates, the Hellenistic-era king who regularly drank poison in an effort to develop immunity to the poison he was sure an assassin would slip him sooner or later. That Mithridates did not succeed in developing immunity, but did succeed in poisoning himself, seemed immaterial to me a couple weeks ago. Surely awareness of my actions would mitigate their effects!

Surely nothing. By my calculations, at some point around April 25th, I reached critical wist. From there on, I was capable only of staring off into the middle distance and murmuring, to no one in particular, “We were young, then. We thought our love could endure anything. Anything at all. How wrong we w—”

I could have anticipated this. I should have. It was a rookie mistake. I won’t make it again.

I stand up and, with a discomfited glance around my apartment, brush myself off. I’m just lucky it wasn’t worse. I only threatened to join the Foreign Legion this time. I’ll say it once more: Small mercies exist in even the most merciless times.

2:30 pm:

It’s time to blog.

Though I don’t listen to music while translating—it trips me up: My mastery of French isn’t such that I can listen to any language at all while reading French prose—I do when I write. Today, in a final begrudging concession to my wistful episode, I put on a record by a band beloved by all the 800-some people who’ve heard of them: Cincinnati, Ohio’s Ass Ponys.[3]

3. I don’t like the name any more than you do, OK?

The track I’m listening to now is called “Kung-Fu Reference,” and I suddenly realize that Scott Sanders, Antioch’s archivist, would love this song. Scott and I have passed innumerable hours sitting on the back steps of the Olive Kettering Library talking about bands from southwest Ohio—groups like the Breeders and Brainiac and, of course, our shared favorite, Guided by Voices.

“Kung Fu Reference” is scruffy, tuneful guitar rock about watching old movies—exactly the kind of thing Scott and I both love. I want to hop in the car and head over to the OKL and talk to Scott about it, and I nearly do. Then I realize all over again.

So instead, deprived of what I love most about Antioch, I sit down to write a blog post about the deprivation. Which, as I see it, is as good an advertisement for this place as any.


About Ben Z. ’20

Ben is a member of the class of 2020.

He’s studying literature.

He enjoys a good club sandwich, and once got a chicken elected to Comcil.