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The Part About the Crimes

I am halfway through a second reading of 2666 and recently made it to the section which inspired me to read the book again: The Part About the Crimes.

It feels strange to write that I enjoy this section (and I do, immensely), because it is a frantic account of a series of murders of young women in the city of Santa Teresa, the main setting of the novel. It is the longest of five ‘parts’ in the book, and unlike any of the other four which focus on single or small group of characters. The Part About the Crimes reads as a stream of conscious police report.

The girl’s body turned up in a vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores. She was dressed in a white long-sleeved T-shirt and a yellow knee-length skirt, a size too big. Some children playing in the lot found her and told their parents. One of the mothers called the police, who showed up half an hour later. The lot was bordered by Calle Peláez and Calle Hermanos Chacón and it ended in a ditch behind which rose the walls of an abandoned dairy in ruins. There was no one around, which at first made the policemen think it was a joke. Nevertheless, they pulled up on Calle Peláez and one of them made his way into the lot. Soon he came across two women with their heads covered, kneeling in the weeds, praying. Seen from a distance, the women looked old, but they weren’t. Before them lay the body.1

It goes on like this. Hundreds of pages. Interspersed are stories of one or two cops trying to do honest work, a vigilante from America looking for a murdered American woman, and remarkable monologues by a local mystic (a ‘seer’ of those invisible to society at large), as she is interviewed on a popular talk show. The pace and relentlessness of the narration, the depictions of corruption and selfishness, paint a picture of institutional and moral decay sitting upon deep rooted cultural misogyny.

It is breathtaking.


  1. Bolaño, Roberto. 2666 (p. 353). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 

Still at home

The kids are now back at school during the day but I remain working from home, and I am left with a strange echo of the pre-COVID era. In that other life I would work from home one day a week and it was my professional highlight of the week every time. After seeing my children onto the bus, I would practically skip back home to bask in the luxury of wearing sweat pants and working with my laptop on the couch. But these two days have felt empty in the house and I’ve experienced waves of unease, as though I am forgetting something important.

J continues to work from home as well, and the two of us eat lunch together and marvel at the silence in the house and realize how much we miss spending all day trapped with our children. This past year has brought so much grief and stress and sadness, but it has been special to have spent a year seeing everything our children experienced with their friends, in their school, and with each other. It has not been this way since they were infants. It is a rare thing the experience of this COVID year, and I now realize that a lot of my anxiety about school re-opening was sadness for losing this time with my children.

Being a parent is strange in unexpected ways. Constantly.

Re-opening the school

Our elementary schools opened today. Instead of the hybrid, two-days a week model that had been planned for and discussed (at length) for the last year, this was full-time five-days-a-week open for real. My feelings have been mixed. I have a lot of anger about the way in which the switch to a full-time reopening was discussed (not at all) and announced (without warning) and the slap-dash manner in which all manner of details and decisions were then subsequently made. Those children unwilling or unable to go back to in-person learning have been regulated to a shadow ‘distance-learning’ district-within-a-district: different teachers with different students from different schools and with a different principal. The racial make up of the students who are returning to in-person learning (e.g., 90% of white parents are sending their kids back, while 65% of black parents are doing the same) belies the claims “reopen for equity” trumpeted by the (white) parents who have been publicly campaigning to open the schools. Much about this process is callous and cruel and I don’t like it.

The experience today was surreal; kids were back at school. The school building had kids outside! We formed long lines—separated by grade—to check-in and confirm our health screening forms had been properly submitted for the day. We took our children to meet their teachers in person for the first time, and then we left them at school for the day.

When my kids came back they were full of smiles and talking fast, updating me with the details of their day. It felt joyful to see them happy and full of this energy that has been lacking this past awful year. And the day was a success, the re-opening was fine. I don’t know what will happen if/when COVID start circulating amongst the student population. That remains a worry.

Massage

During my massage today I thought about how rare it is for me to enjoy concentrated attention from someone else. The physical sensations of the massage were wonderful and restorative, but the luxury of the experience was from not having to worry about anything other than my own sensations. It was a warm cocoon in which I was the bright center of the universe for ninety minutes. And it was the enjoyment of that experience which I am holding on to now, hours later. It feels like that was what I paid for.

We had out seder tonight. Though each year it gets easier, I feel an outsider the entire time. It’s not my story, but it is of those I love and live with. And it’s fine and a ritual, and each year the kids have more attention span and bargaining for the afikomen gets more fun, but I always experience a degree of feeling like an interloper, or someone peeping through a window. What my kids are experiencing now—the annual seder meal as part of their lived experience—I never had, and don’t have that memory to compare with the present like I do with Thanksgiving or Christmas or Halloween.

That’s all.

NanoStudio 2

I have again spent time with NanoStudio 2 on my iPad this week, and it has been productive to change things up. I see this pattern in my creative work: a particular platform will interest me and I will create, but then it’s limitations and inherent friction become too much, and then it is time for a change. This time it has been Ableton 11 and MPE. My initial enthusiasm for both deteriorated into technical frustration and a feeling of being overwhelmed when sitting down at the computer. It is too much for me right now. Music production on the iPad, however, excels at providing quick access to making structured sounds—it is trivial to go from turning on the iPad to producing something recognizable as music. The novelty of using NanoStudio 2 again, combined with this iPad immediacy, is refreshing.

The iPad has its own limitations—there is a reason I cycle back and forth between it and Ableton on the desktop. But today, this week, I am reveling in the joy of creating without struggle.

Commute

I get off the train at Civic Center Station in San Francisco. A company that provides therapy via an app has bought all of the ad space in the station this month, and the campaign features pictures of Michael Phelps extolling the benefits he has received from therapy. In one ad, plastered on the station floor directly in front of the escalators, Mr. Phelps has been defaced with a rather well-drawn Captain-Morgan’s-style mustache.

The app charges $70 a week via an auto-renewing subscription. To cancel that subscription, you must give notice at least 24 hours in advance of the next billing cycle date or your subscription will be automatically renewed.

As I ascend to street level I see that it is raining, and I remember I did not check the app on my own phone that predicts the weather for the day. I do not have an umbrella.

The rain has chased the street-living and transient population of the Civic Center area underneath the roof covering the subway entrance, as well as the awning above the door to the CVS. There is a layer of cigarette smoke in the air that seems unaffected by the rain.

Until a few months ago, most of the people huddled here—-one of the few dry spots on public property-—would congregate on the other side of Market Street in UN Plaza. But shortly after the current mayor took office, a “Mobile Command” trailer for the SFPD was installed in the plaza by the large water fountain; the water fountain itself was fenced off. Now everyone hangs out here on this side of Market.

As I walk the few blocks to work, I see and hear the familiar things: music playing from portable Bluetooth speakers, people yelling (at each other and more generally), clumps of blankets that just betray that a person is underneath. It is a concentrated area of misery.

The two expanding centers of gentrification—Twitter to the South, Dropbox and financial firms to the North—have gradually limited the space in which this population is tolerated. The current boundaries are roughly between 8th and 5th streets. The Carl’s Junior in UN center plaza closed last year. I was told by a police officer it was the result of pressure from City Hall, claiming it was an open market for selling stolen goods. And maybe it was; I never went in. Carl's Junior has been replaced by large “For Lease” signs have been in the windows.

In the evening I make the walk in reverse. The rain stopped hours ago, and the streets are cleaner than usual, though syringes are still easy to see. The crowd around the entrance to the subway has expanded its circumference, now thoroughly blocking the sidewalk in addition to the subway entrance. I need to pick a route through that avoids bumping into anyone. There is only one drug deal occurring on the stairs to the platform. Behind me, on 7th street, two hotels have opened in the past year that charge upwards of $400 per night for a room. One advertises that it has a rooftop bar, the other has signs in the lobby window that the “rooftop bar is coming soon!”

On the train ride home most everyone is staring down at their phone, checking Twitter and Facebook.

I have started biking

I have started biking. I bought a bike and now I feel young, like some version of those mid-20's bike messengers (I rolled up my pant leg on the ride to and from the train today). Especially when I wear the clip-in shoes, I feel like a perfect machine that can go anywhere forever. It is wonderful.

My town is smaller now. The intuitive calculations of the distance between two points have been proved wrong. I now travel with the wind in my face and all around me, and I get where I am going before I am ready to be done riding. Mental route-planning is new again, because now what is the best way to get there and how good are those roads to bike on, and how fun are those roads to bike on? I have fallen on my bike a few times now, but I have not had an accident. I am afraid of distraction and human error and being hit by a car.

I have read the websites of local bike coalitions, and looked at pictures of bike infrastructure in Amsterdam. I must often stop myself from talking all the time about how nice it is to bike instead of drive.

I don't plan to buy lycra clothing, but I will not promise that I won't buy lycra clothing. I have typed "grand fondo" into internet search engines, and texted my dad to ask his thoughts about compact gear rings. I experience a small disappoint at spin class when the restistance of the fly wheel is not like the resistance of the road, and I look forward to the ride home afterwards.