Distancing #39: Hymie’s Basement


I am living in the land of death. I am living entirely inside my computer. The task force says this. The agency says that. The shutdown is making us all buy pianos. The fear is making us call our mothers. The CDC says pregnant women are more likely to end up on ventilators. Meatpacking plants are trying to develop robot butchers.

Nothing makes sense, but in a way that reveals that it never did. We were all just pretending. I have the same flash of feeling I did when dumped by a boy, forced into a realization that I’d been lying myself into happiness the whole time, that there were signs. Except now I’m married and trying to get pregnant which feels insane, as if I actually think the world needs more content. I am drowning in content. 

If another journalist says what we do now is more important than ever I’ll scream, N says on a Zoom where we can’t think of what to say because we no longer have shared experiences. So we talk about airborne particles and blood types, like two witches coming up with recipes, or like K and those pre-med girls I once rolled my eyes at in college, as if anyone could be dumb enough to be interested in what goes on inside the human body when all of history and romance and drama clearly exists just outside the skin. 

Except now I’m forced to think about the human body all the time. The lung is like a sponge. A microdroplet spews when talking. The egg moves through a tube and either attaches to a wall like a mushroom spore or floats, forever, like the ISS. Head to the pillow, I listen to my own pumping heart and wonder if the egg’s been breached, or reached the little wall, which I imagine as if it’s my duvet, a place to hide from the world. I listen to my blood pulse to a tune I might have first heard in 2005 or 2006. “The Pump,” with its charming churchy pseudoscience lyrics, sung by a man with a voice so nasal it’s easy to imagine it coming from high up in my own brain:

Your heart, the pump, a pop-up bubble
Sending the tiny blood men
To every little limb that loves me

The song’s about pregnancy, some kind of reversal of the ’90s abortion jams like “Brick” by Ben Folds Five: sung not by some morose boy regretting a dead baby, but by an ungendered partner toying with the idea of turning a lover’s “pills to sugar” and singing the threat sweetly. Deception as valentine. I can’t get it out of my head. Not even at my laptop, reading about the virus so I can package more content. The ACE2 receptor has been identified as having an important role in sending the tiny blood men. The lungs hold little bubbles of air, like a pop-up bubble. The arteries are sending the virus to every little place they can, even my toes, which turn blue for two weeks, then retreat.

I eat lobster on my brother’s deck and wonder if I shouldn’t send this to my editor. I don’t want to be fired for maybe someday probably never needing maternity leave. I don’t want to get cancelled for the hyperbolic statement that I live in a land of death when there’s Yemen. I don’t want J to read this and try to take credit for introducing me to the song the summer he dumped me and I listened to it, hearing myself into all the signs, deception as valentine. I don’t want people to mock more memoiristic self-pity from a white brunette who’s literally eating lobster. Mostly I know the world doesn’t need more content. But there’s some impulse I can’t stop, some song in me I can’t stop humming. 

What is that? My brother says. 

Hymie’s Basement. That song about the little blood men. 

Oh yeah. That’s good. 

Some content is good, I remember. 

Some content isn’t a packaged headline to be politicized and ignored. Some content isn’t made for a screen but by chance, the result of higher forces improperly aligning for just long enough to get recorded. I’m not sure if I’m thinking about the song or about the egg floating toward a duvet of blood. But I’ve learned to stop lying myself into hope that it’ll get there. The world doesn’t need more content. Inside of me there are tiny blood men. Whether I reproduce, whether this is my last taste of lobster, is up to them. 

— Adriane Quinlan
Brooklyn, day 118

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