blood on the sidewalk

God, what a surreal afternoon walk.

I wrote just a few weeks ago,

“A few months ago, when my Mum was visiting and had a bad fall, I could literally put my arms around her to help lift her to her feet. Knowing that I would not be able to put my arms around her or any other loved ones who fell ill with this virus is the intolerable prospect.”

I didn’t even think about the possibility—or problematic nature—of having to help a stranger to their feet during a pandemic. But then I saw her, this afternoon, a stranger sitting on the sidewalk outside my doorstep, as if she was waiting for me to get back from my walk. But she wasn’t sitting by choice, she had fallen, she was in complete shock, I must have arrived seconds after she fell because at first I didn’t see the blood, but then it started to soak through her mask. She spit the blood filling her mouth onto the sidewalk. When she took off her mask the whole lower half of her face was covered in blood like she was a vampire who’d just had a really good meal, and she must have seen the look on my face because she said, “I look pretty bad, eh?”

“There’s a lot of blood,” I said, cautiously, “but I think it’s your lip and I think lips bleed a lot, I don’t think it necessarily means it’s a really bad cut.”

She was maybe in her seventies. She didn’t have a phone with her, she didn’t want me to call 911 or drive her to urgent care and she couldn’t remember her roommate’s phone number. I asked if she thought she could get up and she said yes, but, even in her shock, she was adamant she didn’t want me to touch her. So I didn’t. I just picked up her broken glasses and she agreed to let me walk her to her apartment, a couple of blocks away.

“I’m Joy, by the way,” she said. I introduced myself and she apologized for interrupting my walk.

She walked fast. I had to tell her to slow down because she didn’t want me to walk close to her but I was worried she would fall again.

“Don’t get too close to me, we should be social distancing,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “it’s just my instinct.”

“It’s good I have the mask on,” she said, as we walked, “so I don’t scare people.”

Her roommate was home. I stood on the doorstep while Joy washed her face. She came back and showed me that it seemed to be just her lip that was cut through.

“But you could have a concussion,” I said. “I know, my Mum fell last year. You need to keep an eye on her,” I told her roommate.

Joy was grateful for my concern but insisted that I go, assuring me that her roommate or one of her neighbors could drive her if she needed to go to the urgent care. Afterwards I thought I should have left my phone number.

I walked home in a daze. Her blood is still on the sidewalk outside my front door.

Update: I left her a note on her doorstep this morning asking her to let me know that she was OK; she did, thankfully, go the Urgent Care last night where they did a CAT scan; she also got four stitches in her lip. She’s now back home resting.

 

blood on the sidewalk

portrait of a lady who is uncomfortable in several different ways

For some reason, ever since quarantine started, I have found myself bombarded with ads for bras. Is it because Big Lingerie knows I’m not wearing a bra most of the time these days, and is determined to convince me that wearing a bra is an essential part of being “Safer at Home”?* As if my breasts just … quietly resting there, as they do, might somehow constitute a domestic hazard without being appropriate restrained? As if breasts, too, should be “sheltering in place,” which is to say, that they require a “shelter,” to keep them “in place”? Or (I’m warming to my theme now), perhaps the idea is that breasts should be quarantined from each other; the bra industry’s raison d’être, after all, is its tireless pursuit of the mission to “lift and separate.”**

One of the ads that presented itself, unbidden, into my line of sight, was accompanied by this image, which has haunted me ever since I first laid eyes on it.

pensive lady in bra

I first spotted the image (and I know the timing precisely because I took a screenshot of it), just an hour or so before my boyfriend broke up with me, a week ago. In retrospect, I wonder, did Big Lingerie know he was going to break up with me? Was this ad subliminally saying “Sarah, we know you’re a bespectacled lady who loves coffee and a messy updo, and we also know you’re going to be very sad very soon, so may we recommend you purchase this bra? It’s an ideal garment for those times when you want to stare vacantly into space, feeling wistful but also well-supported”?

There are so many aspects of this image that trouble me. I’ll itemize them here, in no particular order. She is looking in the direction of the window, but the window’s blinds are drawn, which means she is either staring at the shuttered window; or else, she has deliberately assumed a spot by the window in order to stare at a spot on the wall next to it. Either way, these are the behaviors of an addled mind.

The type of radiator she’s resting her forearm on, I know from experience, is quite uncomfortable to lean on. It must be digging into the bones in her arm in a quite unpleasant way. Perhaps her arm is very tired, or atrophied, or she needs a spot to rest her coffee cup. But her cup seems to be empty. (Is that some kind of metaphor? Her cup runneth under?) I think she should just put the cup down.

Alternatively, perhaps she is leaning on the radiator for warmth, but supposing that she is cold raises a whole host of other problems, as should be obvious. I can honestly say that this particular combination of clothing–bra with open cardigan–is not one I would have–or ever have–chosen. She’s probably going to get sweaty under the arms and will have to wash that cardigan now. And it looks like something you can’t machine wash (possibly you can machine wash it cold and then lay it flat to dry). And then, in the meantime, her sternum must be feeling quite chilly. I really want to reach over and wrap the cardigan around her, not out of prudishness, you understand, out of concern. 

While I’m on the sternum, I’ll just say that it’s really bothering me the way that pendant around her neck is swept to the side. If I were her, I would feel that, and it would bother me. I have an inverted sternum so this happens to me quite often with necklaces, but her sternum looks perfectly normal and she looks as though she’s just been sitting there still as a statue for hours, so it’s quite a mystery how it got so off-kilter.

Moving up, although her face is uncannily expressionless, like that of a mannequin, I can’t help but wince on her behalf at the discomforts she is stoically enduring: her lips have evidently been viciously stung by murder hornets, while her oversized glasses frames are slipping down the bridge of her nose and onto her protruding cheekbones. It’s a really annoying feeling when your glasses slip down your nose. She must be really resisting the urge to push them back up.

I’ll get to the bra itself in a minute, but I’ll just add that there are all these other background details that are just … off. The way that curtain is kind of caught on the back of her chair. That diagonal line that’s kind of sticking into her head; is she doing that thing where she’s put her hair up with a pencil or a chopstick? No, it looks too big, I think it’s part of something in the background, but I don’t know what. Then there’s that–pen? Very long nail? Smallish knitting needle?–on the window sill. Maybe it’s just a small sharp implement she’s keeping to hand in case it all becomes too much and she needs to stab herself in the heart–and maybe that’s why her cardigan is undone, so she can stab herself without staining it–it’s all beginning to make sense!***

I do understand that in all photo shoots, the model is always placed and composed by the art director or photographer; what’s jarring about this photo is that this intervention feels so conspicuous. You can just imagine the photographer standing back, squinting, and then leaning in to fold the left sleep of her cardigan half way down her arm.

Obviously, the bra is meant to be the focal point of the whole picture, and this may be the part of the image that actually bothers me most of all. Because it looks terrible–like, the seaming is really uneven, the fabric is bunching in some places and gaping in others. That is, the bra looks so ill-fitting that as I, this ad’s target audience, sit here, looking out of the window wistfully, I remain convinced that my lack of a bra is really no lack at all.

All right, that’s all, there was no real point to this post, I just needed to get that off my chest.

(Sorry).

 

Notes

*Our mayor chose to use the phrase “safer at home” in place of “shelter in place” for reasons that I understand but which also feel misguided. To my ear, there is something strangely disquieting about the phrase “safer at home.” For a start, “shelter in place” is an imperative and a complete sentence while “safer at home” is a sentence fragment, which itself creates uncertainty. “Safer at home” is also, conspicuously, a modification of a more reassuring phrase, “safe at home.”  The comparative adjective exposes the tentativeness of what the city’s slogan is willing to declare: no one is asserting that that you will be safe at home, only that you will be safer.

** Random question: what is up with Midge being a bra designer in Vertigo? Do you remember this exchange?

				SCOTTIE
		What's this do-hickey here?

	He turns the brassiere over with his stick

				MIDGE
		It's a brassiere. You know about 
		those things. You're a big boy, now.

				SCOTTIE
		I've never run across one like that.

				MIDGE
		It's brand new. Revolutionary uplift.  
		No shoulder straps, no back straps, 
		but does everything a brassiere should 
		do. It works on the principle of the 
		cantilever bridge.

				SCOTTIE
			(Impressed)
		Uh-huh!

				MIDGE
		An aircraft engineer down the 
		peninsula designed it. He worked it 
		out in his spare time.

				SCOTTIE
		What a pleasant hobby.

Midge being a bra designer clearly adds to all of the other ways in which the movie is about the production, performance, and consumption of femininity as a spectacle; but I don’t know what else to say about it.

***My friend Natalie says this is just part of the window sill but I still have my doubts.

Crashing in the dark

I just returned home from watching phosphorescent waves breaking on the shore in the dark.

crashing in the dark

It was so light and magical and my heart was so heavy.

My friend Jonathan told me today that it is a good thing when someone you love who wants to end things with you becomes remote because it allows them to become an object whom you can more easily relinquish. And I told him that that sounded very sensible, and that I wished it were true for me. Alas, in my experience, it is so disorienting when someone with whom I have forged our own, intimate way of communicating adopts the generic language of forsakers everywhere—“I need some time for me”; “I’m just not getting my needs met”—that what I feel is not disdain but rather, incredulity: “what did I do to make them speak this way?”

I was asking this question yesterday, I’m asking it today, I’ll be asking it tomorrow, and the answer will continue to elude me.

You know what’s less elusive? How to keep a wave upon the sand, as the children discovered tonight, stamping into the wet sand, and squealing with delight as the ground flared up for just a moment, under their feet.

On the Zoom: Scenes from Third-Grade Distant Learning

All names and identifying details have been changed.

 

1. WEDNESDAY APRIL 23, 2020, 9:07 AM. LANGUAGE ARTS.

TEACHER

OK, is everyone ready to go over Yertle the Turtle? Ella, why is your hand up?

ELLA

It was my Mom’s birthday yesterday.

TEACHER

Uh-huh.

(pause)

Are you saying that is why you didn’t read Yertle the Turtle? Or are you just telling us it was your Mom’s birthday?

ELLA

I’m just telling you.

***

2. WEDNESDAY APRIL 23, 2020, 11:03 AM. LANGUAGE ARTS, CONT.

TEACHER

All right, well I think I can see everyone now so we’re ready to get back to our reading JACKSON, PUT THE BALLOON DOWN. OK, can you all turn to page 3—JACKSON, THE BALLOON HAS TO BE COMPLETELY PUT AWAY. THIS IS NOT TIME FOR BALLOONS.

***

3. WEDNESDAY APRIL 23, 2020, 1:37 PM. MUSIC.

Over the sound of approximately thirty recorders being blown in an arbitrary fashion, a teacher’s voice can faintly be heard.

TEACHER

Oh, there, I just needed to turn on mute. Children, I am so sorry, but I don’t think we are going to be able to have our music class. I don’t know where Mr. D. is … you know, I think I forgot to email him the Zoom invitation. (sigh)

TEACHER (CONT’D)

All right, I’m going to turn off mute and turn on the chat for 10 minutes.

For a few seconds there is a cacophony of recorders, squeals, and chattering. Amid the din you can make out a couple of voices piping up “some people are saying ‘shut up’ in the chat.”

TEACHER

(wearily) OK I’m going to have to turn off chat because some of you are not using it appropriately … I shouldn’t have to tell you that. This is school. Telling people to “shut up” is not how we talk in school. Remember the Golden Rule. If you don’t want people to tell you to shut up then don’t tell them to shut up. (pause) I know it’s not all of you, it’s just a few of you but now no-one gets to chat.

(pause)

TEACHER (CONT’D)

Keiko sweetie, I can see you’re writing in Chinese and that’s so so wonderful but I can’t understand what you’re saying.

***

4. THURSDAY APRIL 24, 2020, 9:09 AM. SCIENCE.

TEACHER

Good morning everyone. (sound of dog barking.) Someone’s not muted. (pause) Good morning class, I’m sorry not to see you in person but it’s good to see you on the Zoom. I see some of you have been using the chat. Let’s see. My God there’s 99 messages.

(Teacher begins scrolling through the messages.)

HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hi Ella

Who said that

早

my sister woke up at 8.38 this morning.

my hamster died.

Hoos hamster?

生活


(Teacher interjects while scrolling.)

Micah honey, I’m so sorry about your hamster.

(Micah replies inaudibly)

TEACHER (CONT’D)

No honey, I don’t think it’s anything you did, I think it was just too young to be away from its mother.

(Teacher continues scrolling through the Zoom chat window)

this is so boring.

Fucky jucky

I am the saddest person

(Teacher interjects while scrolling)

Ella sweetie, are you feeling sad about Micah’s hamster or is there another reason why you say you’re the saddest person?

(Ella replies inaudibly.)

TEACHER (CONT’D)

OK honey.

(Teacher continues scrolling through Zoom chat window)

No I am

I like music

My guinea pig died four months ago.

My dog is alive!

I am not sad

STOP BUZZING LIKE EXHAUSTED BEES

My sister’s fish died last week.

My mom had a lot of pets and they all died!

Jaden cussed in the chat.

TEACHER

OK, I think I’ve read all the messages now so let’s look at Chapter 7 of Force and Matter. Oliver, is your hand raised?

OLIVER

My mom, or my grandma, I don’t remember, she had a dog, a cat, a bird, a turtle, AND THEY ALL DIED.

TEACHER

That’s a lot of pets and that’s the sad thing about pets, they don’t live as long as people and it is very sad when they die. OK, I don’t see any more hands raised so let’s get back to … I mean (laughs grimly), not get back to, let’s start Chapter 7 of Force and Matter.

pooh balloon

nereid gazing

I started working on this drawing of a Nereid sarcophagus months ago; but it’s only since quarantine began that I’ve been working on it steadily, and decided to add watercolor.

nereid watercolor

I don’t remember how I became interested in the iconography of Nereids but … somehow I did, and I found this particular image, of a sarcophagus in the Louvre, particularly haunting.

1600px-Roma,_sarcofago_detto_la_tomba_delle_nereidi,_collez._capitolina,_150_dc_ca._01
Sarcophagus of Nereids tomb ; circa 150 AC ; Capitole collection ; Seized by Napoleon army 1798 (Louvre, MA 539)

What compels me is the relationship between the Nereid and the Triton (aquatic centaur) that I’ve centered in my watercolor. The scene overall is so kinetic, chaotic—waves cresting, babies, horse, goat, dolphins and more all precariously entangled. And then, at the eye of the storm, there’s that still gaze between the Nereid and the Triton, as if they have each suddenly recognized each other in a crowd.

Their posture—the implied galloping motion of the Triton’s legs, the twist of the Nereid’s torso—suggests that this glance is fleeting, as if some witch waved her wand and turned all to stone in the split second before the Triton galloped on, the Nereid turned away, and the moment passed. And so that glancing gaze is preserved even as time’s passage is visible in the eroded marble that bleeds into the shadows thrown by the carving’s relief.

a taxonomy of masquers

It feels like we should all be making eye contact with strangers more now that people’s mouths are covered with masks, preventing them from smiling or saying hello. But I think the opposite is true; when I go for walks, I note that in general people are withholding their gaze as well as their smiles and greetings, as if eye contact too could prove perilous.

One thing I enjoy about walking around in a masked world is observing the different masked personae I see people adopting. Around here, I’d say that (appropriately for California), I see a lot of people sporting bandanas with an air of vintage roguishness; that is to say, in a style evocative of nineteenth-century train robbers or other maverick outlaw types.

Another prominent style has a completely opposed vibe: those wearing surgical or N95 respirator style masks have a clinical look.

There are also a surprising number of people sporting what I think of as the “Arctic explorer” look, which is particularly peculiar-looking in the springtime in Los Angeles (it’s sunny and in the 70s here). These masquers usually have their collar turned up and a scarf bundled around their faces.

I’d characterize my own masked persona as slightly disheveled boho (the disheveled part is mostly because my hair (which is longer, I think, than it’s ever been in my adult life) is always getting tangled up in my mask ties. My look also has a whiff of ’70s-heiress-taken-hostage-develops-Stockholm-syndrome-robs-bank.

Here’s a fuller list of masked personae, if you’re looking for a style to make your own:

  • Arctic explorer
  • bandit
  • belly dancer
  • bride
  • dancer of seven veils
  • Darth Vader
  • deep sea diver
  • executioner
  • fencer
  • gladiator
  • harlequin
  • hostage
  • highwayman/woman
  • knight
  • niqābīah
  • phantom of the opera
  • plague doctor
  • seventeenth-century French prisoner, possibly royal
  • surgeon
  • superhero or supervillain
  • train-robber
  • Venetian masquerader
  • World War II evacuee

And if you need some visual inspiration for how to pull off glamorous masquery, behold the following nunnish, Orientalist, and robberish variations:

fair nun unmasked
Henry Robert Morland, The Fair Nun Unmasked
Arabian Nights 1942
Maria Montez as Sherazade in a still from The Arabian Nights, dir. John Rawlins (1942)

Bandidas_(movie_poster)

Ooh, and here’s another, which Christian Siriano tweeted. I especially like this one because it looks like the mannequin has bubbles all over her face:

pearl mask

In fact, it’s quite difficult to distinguish Siriano’s design from a house of Kareem original, made long before masks were in vogue:

 

bubblehead2

 

making eyes

Sarah Jane sent me this lovely little article about a minor genre of painting I’d never heard of before: eye portraits.

I don’t know if it is a coincidence or not that this article was published about the same time that we all started wearing masks in pubic, but it’s certainly striking how masks frame the eyes in a way that that is evocative of these uncanny miniatures.

18th c elliptical eye

masked-lady1935-17-14-ov copyMaybe it’s time to start making eyes again.

warm eye