White Americans: Wow, Black Lives Matter. I can’t believe all you’ve been through. How can we help?
Black Americans: Wow, that’s great, you can march with us, you can donate to #BLM and charities that help with legal fees and bail money, and you can make a habit of supporting Black businesses.
White Americans: Great. What else?
Black Americans: Well, you could amplify Black voices and also petition to local government representatives on behalf of Black people who have died at the hands of police.
White Americans: Happy to do that. And we will also post teary eyed videos about how we regret racism and we will get in fights with strangers on Facebook!
Black Americans: Uhhh if you want to
White Americans: Yes, we will seek out people on Facebook who we don’t know well and unfriend them if they don’t support #BLM!
Black Americans: Well, you can talk with your friends and family about systematic racism, that would be great
White Americans: Not enough! We will track down people we don’t know who are posting about all lives matter on Facebook and we will try to get them fired from their jobs! We will call other white women Karen, the worst thing you can call a person!
I hope this personalized form letter finds you safe/healthy/as well as can be expected/up to your earholes in homemade bread/making a killing selling black market hand sanitizer.
This week, I made a few PPE masks at home and wanted to send you one/two/several for you and your spouse/child/pet/roommate/(N/A), I hope that sweet/little/handsome _______ is also doing well.
I want you to know that I love you, and I know that you love me back/wish I didn’t/probably know who I am.
Remember, this is all temporary and one day we’ll look back at this time and laugh ruefully/sexily/hysterically. It’s all just a fad, like dabbing or Linsanity or Snuggie parties, or when we had to put those old-timey moustaches on everything.
Keep safe, my brave friend/family member/other, and I will see you on the other side, and we will clasp hands warmly and connect through our hyperbaric chambers/rubber gloves/VR realities.
I was not surprised at the line all the way around the Trader Joe’s, but the store wasn’t even open yet. Was I there too early, or too late? No time to think about it. I found my slot and lined up.
I stood behind a man in a tie-dyed shirt that has a heavy-duty mask on, the kind with two plastic puck-shaped filters on the front, the metal band across the back of his head glinting dully in the sun. Soon, another guy arrived and took the spot behind me. He had on a t-shirt that said SPACE FORCE. After a few moments, people lined up behind him. It was 8:15. We had forty-five minutes to go.
The more people lined up, the better I felt about my spot in line. I was in the perfect spot. The people in front of me were suckers. They weren’t going to get into the store any earlier than I was. The people behind me were assholes. They had no commitment and if the store ran out of Joe-Joe’s before they got in, so be it. I had no pity for them.
I saw one woman ask another if that was really the line, then sigh heavily and trudge past us all in shame. My heart swelled with pride. I was achieving, just by being there. That’s right, look at my spot. This is my spot, and it’s delineated by two spray painted lines. I wondered if we’ll need them long enough to touch them up, or whether a year from now, they’ll fade into the tarmac, as the urgency and panic of this time fades in our minds.
Time passed. I did squats, trying to impress the guy in the Space Force t-shirt. He gave no indication of being impressed. I listened to a podcast, checked my phone, sniffed the air. It was heavy with the smell of eucalyptus bouquets and hand sanitizer. It was almost time.
What Happened Next
I heard her approach before I realized what was happening. She stood near the space between Corner Woman and Man After Corner for a moment, testing her chances. Looking down the line of people waiting in the sun, she stepped into Corner Spot, which wasn’t really a spot at all. HEY yelled Big Filters. THIS IS A LINE. She turned away from him, shielding her face in the sun. Masks make anonymity and boldness.
She carried herself like masked Casanova at an orgy- she could have anyone she wanted and none would be the wiser. She’d just blend into the crowd, with her shitty yellow floral top and her shitty curly hair. The woman in front of the corner turned to see what was going on, but she didn’t really care. It was, she thought to herself, no skin off her dick.
But it wasn’t over. Man After Corner tried a gentler approach, explaining to her at a distance that she had broken the rules, the only thing keeping us all from dying in the streets. Again, she turned away, raising her shoulder to him. The line moved forward again, faster. They were letting us all in. We had to make a mob decision, and we had to do it immediately. A woman not too far behind me threw the first stone. It connected to yellow shirt’s head solidly. A moment passed, but only a moment.
One Moment Later
A hail of rocks, keys, shopping baskets rained down upon her from all directions. She screamed, trying to protect her head with her hands, but she couldn’t dodge everything. It only lasted a few seconds. She made a dash back to her car, her yellow shirt spotted with blood among the flowers. We heard the opening, then the closing of the door of a Honda Accord. The line erupted in glee, but also it was time to be anointed with hand sanitizer and to enter the Trader Joe’s. My Joe-Joe’s would never again taste as sweet as they did this day.
My wife and I disagree on almost everything these days- what to have for dinner, where we should park the car, what movie to watch. It seems I couldn’t have picked a less compatible partner, and the constant conflict is making my life hell. What should we do?- Canton, OH
Dear Conflict in Canton;
You’ve reached a crossroads that tests many marriages, but you can move past it. First, check in with your wife that there’s no larger issue at work. If there isn’t, have a talk about why you chose to be together and good memories you have together. Try to be considerate of each other’s feelings, and remind each other why you make a good pair. Learn to compromise.
It looked like my stuffed jackalope just moved a little. That’s funny. Must be the light in here.
Good luck! Let me take a look at this thing and see if I can think of any more good advice.
Dear Marriage Advice From A Taxidermist;
I hope it’s ok that I’m writing for marriage advice, I’m not yet married but I’m worried about tying the knot with my longtime boyfriend, Simon. We love each other and I want to commit, but we’re both men and I guess my upbringing says that men making a life together is wrong, can I shake it off and have a good marriage? – Temecula, CA
Dear Twosome in Temecula;
That sounds really nice, what you’ve got going on. As far as internalized negative feelings about gay marriage, that’s a little out of my depth, but I’d encourage you to talk to a therapist you feel comfortable with about how to move past these feelings before taking the plunge. You owe it to yourself and your partner to go into this with… well the jackalope is moving again. It’s wriggling. Maybe it has termites or something? It looks…terrible. Just terrible.
Good luck and Mazel Tov!
My husband always seems to pay more attention to other women than he does to me. He’s not flirting, he just always seems to have his antennae up when there’s another lady around, you know? It hurts my feelings, but I haven’t said anything because I don’t want to look like a shrew. What do you think? – Shreveport, LA
Dear Shrew in Shreveport;
Sorry, of course not. You’re not being a shrew. I’m just distracted, I also have a stuffed shrew in my office, he’s a cute little thing, the size of a kumquat, and he’s moving, too. He’s nailed to his mount, but it looks like he’s writhing and turning around as best he can. It’s really awful. Ummm, you know, after you’re with someone for a while, you can begin to appreciate other people, it doesn’t necessarily mean bad things for your marriage, just that maybe things are a little stale, I’d try, I don’t know, have you changed your hair or something? The shrew is now crawling towards me, pulling its little fanciful forest scene with it. Why is something so tiny so bone-chilling? OK, change up your look. New lipstick. See if that helps.
I can’t help but notice that you think some of your stuffed specimens are moving around. Shouldn’t you be worrying about that, and not this column? – Cuyahoga, OH
Dear Curious in Cuyahoga;
I think you’re right, I mean, at first I thought my mind was playing tricks on me and I was trying to distract myself from the task at hand, but with every passing minute I am more and more convinced that these things are moving. I mean, this is impossible. They can’t come back to life. There’s nothing to come back to life, these things are skins arranged on molds. You know, their insides are basically foam wig stands shaped like animals. I can hear them stirring, moving towards me, their bases scraping against the wooden floor. I really don’t know what to do and I’m not sure why I’m writing this down. Just trying to leave a record for whomever finds me, perhaps.
Don’t you think this is maybe all a hallucination, or a dream? I mean, what are you even doing? Why would anyone ask you for marriage advice? You have no counselling or therapy background of any kind. You’re not even married, right? Didn’t your wife die in a hunting “accident”?- Siskiyou, CA
Dear Suspicious in Siskiyou;
You bring up some really good points. I wish you had asked me a question I could help you with, but now that you bring up my departed wife, I can smell her perfume. There hasn’t been another woman in my life since her passing, because I don’t know how I would explain to another woman that she is also stuffed in my trophy room. It was a massive labor of love to remember a truly lovely woman I cared very much for, but who just didn’t know when to shut up, like that poor sonofabitch’s wife in Canton, sounds like. Friend, something just tapped me on the shoulder and I can’t tell you how much I don’t want to turn around.
Well, hey, to determine what’s good, we first have to define it, right?
Good can mean morally good: that is, what a society decides is moral. Right now, in this moment – on a Tuesday in March- it is good to sit inside by yourself, and bad to go outside in large groups. Usually, the opposite is true. It’s good to help others and bad to hoard toilet paper.
We think that being a good person is to be of service to others, and to do what is moral, which we pretend is a constant and not something we made up.
500 years ago, it was good to follow church doctrine and bad to question it, as Martin Luther found out. It was also good to give virgin brides away to strange monarchs, but which someone would probably ask about today.
1000 years ago, it was good to burn heretics at the stake, and it was good to be strong. The whole world was amassing armies and conquering land. China invented paper printed money, which is what power is based on now.
A second meaning of good is the aesthetic meaning. This can either mean something that you personally enjoy, or something of superior quality. The first meaning is subjective, and the second is a societal construct, but we confuse them with each other, and also with the moral meaning of good.
To say that something is aesthetically good is to say that based on my background, life experiences, and context, I value it. My peers, who might have similar background and life experiences, may also value it, which makes me value it more.
In The Last Man On Earth and in the Good Place, characters value objects that nobody else appreciates. Phil’s hoard of art in his mansion, or Eleanor’s excitement over a bedpan made famous in a wrestling match: they now have to explain to the people around them what makes these things good, which means they’re not.
The second meaning of aesthetically good is that something is well-made, as in: is the new Avengers movie any good? Well, does it have a bunch of characters in shiny outfits and a scary CGI monster? Is Robert Downey Jr. snarky in it? Does Thor not understand something about Earth despite living here kind of a long time and we all laugh at him, even though he’s handsome? Do the Avengers splinter off and fight and get mad at each other but then they come together and fight the CGI monster and they’re friends in the end? Is there a rock song in it that was expensive to get, but which is played a little too loudly during a very exciting scene? Well, then, that’s what we expect, and it’s good.
When you say an Avengers movie is bad- what were your expectations? Did you hope that a character would arrive at a universal truth about human suffering, and that the actor portraying that character would get an important award? That’s not the yardstick we measure Avengers movies by.
In performance, to be good is to conform to the current fashion- a hundred years ago, a good singer would sing in a high, reedy voice, and now we like a wide tone and someone who does a lot of vocal switches, which we used to call yodeling. Good acting in Shakespeare’s time was planting your feet at shoulder width and yelling your lines as loudly as you could.
Sometimes we get confused about the two meanings of “good” in art. This is the thought that because you did not personally enjoy something, it’s not good- but in the surfer relativism of The Big Lebowski, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. Your thoughts on a thing does not really affect its value. If people ever really understand that, Twitter will wither and die.
What’s Good In Fine Art?
Most art needs context of some sort to be judged- Jackson Pollock paintings are considered good because they were the first really well-known abstract paintings, and because he died only a few years after his best work was made. The value of the paintings his widow was selling to MOMA shot up because, as she pointed out, there wouldn’t be any more, and that sale created the market for modern art in America, and his peers got rich. If we showed the paintings to an alien or a Maori tribesman, they probably would not consider them good, because they don’t look like anything in particular, but sort of look like lots of things, and why are you putting colors on a fabric square anyway?
The last episode of the Good Place finds every character trying to achieve their definition of good: Tahani believes that being able to do everything beautifully is good. Chidi thinks understanding everything is good. Eleanor determines that being good is helping others. Jason achieves his definition of good the earliest, as he gets the perfect score in Madden playing as the Jaguars, but reaches yet another level of perfection years later, through achieving inner peace and oneness with nature.
I’m a middle-class white woman raised in the South with both religion and MTV, so things I think are good are:
The musty smell of clothing in vintage shops, and the smell of old bookshops.
The moment in a song where the drums lock into syncopation with the guitar, and it sounds like a little machine ticking along.
Black clothing and things that are shiny, because my visual aesthetic was made by 80’s postpunk music videos and has never developed after that.
Cookies n’ cream milkshakes.
Petting a dog who has just dried off from a bath and is very soft, and he’s still unhappy that he got the bath, but being petted afterwards makes it worth the bath, sort of.
They’re not universal, except maybe the dog one, but to me, they’re good.