Distancing #9: Après


The last time I saw a friend was March 2. In my apartment now the curtains are still mismatched. I’ve still got most of the wine bottles I bought in February with the careless assumption that they would not last a season of parties and dinners. Sometimes we would drink out of real wine glasses and other times out of jars or red cups, and there would always be music, always the teasing and little stories, occasionally the petty remark which could be forgiven or laughed at in our little pocket of the night. At some point, someone might end up making fried cheese sandwiches, even though we’d already eaten dinner. If someone got too drunk, we’d tend to them and the next day assure them they were not embarrassing; they were loved.

These days, I take walks by Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park. I think about that last time I saw a friend, when we attended an awards ceremony and after-party. One thing I love about this friend is that he’s not the sort to worry about what it looks like to be the last one at a party. He wants to keep the evening and its charms as long as he can. Another song longer. Another thought to share. We stayed out as late as the bar allowed that night in March, not knowing we’d soon be ordered indoors, and when I think of it now I’m happy not to have chosen the sensible hours of sleep.

Nearly everyone who has come to my apartment when we were too broke to go out or too broke to stay out has been subjected to an album: Iggy Pop’s Après, released in 2012 on a small indie after it was rejected by his usual label. It’s my favorite of his career. When most people think of Iggy Pop, they think of The Stooges or the Lust for Life era, but Après is more wistful, softer and a little sad. It’s not bangers. It’s covers of French café music and Sinatra and Yoko Ono, Cole Porter. It invites swaying. The songs are mostly laments, but to me they’re also instances of the familiar made newly beautiful. The songs were never mine, and still somehow it seemed that putting them on as we sat around improvised spreads of red lentils or tea or canned beer held the glow of offering small gifts.

Since social distancing measures have been enacted, I wear headphones and step through fallen flower petals on the sidewalk as I hear Iggy sing, “Et si tu n’existais pas, dis-moi pour qui j’existerais?” A girl draws her coat closer to her body. A dog startles. Back inside, I am always ending emails, “When this is over.” I realize there is a noise. In my jacket pocket, I find my tangled headphones, still insisting sound.

“People stopping, staring,” Iggy sings. “I can’t see their faces, only the shadows of their eyes.”

— Tracy O’Neill
Brooklyn, day 61

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