Zooming into a photograph by Joshua A. Bickel for The Columbus Dispatch | Full image
April 17, 2020

Mouth

I can’t stop staring at this photograph. I zoom deeper into these faces bunched against the glass, as if I might find a reason for their anger. I study the woman’s mouth, teeth bared and jaw dropped, probably wrapped around a word like tyranny or freedom.

The aesthetics are the usual garbled protest logic: American flags, bullhorns, ballcaps with the name of our president, and a Guy Fawkes mask—a man who tried to blow up the King. The caption in The New York Times is deadly bland: “Protesters at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio,” by Joshua A. Bickel for The Columbus Dispatch. But it’s so much more than a local protest and you should spend time with the whole image. This is a portrait of the future, one that will be studied by historians in the year 3000 who want to understand the end of America.

These are people who don’t like being asked to stay home to protect the vulnerable.

Disinformation and agitprop are spreading like the coronavirus, infecting their hosts with rage. Imitation becomes a form of infection. Those mouths frozen in mid-holler have the same gestalt as our president’s face, all petulant lip and snarled teeth. It’s a mouth as familiar and All-American as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It’s a mouth that appears in my dreams.

Look at those people massed together, spit flying and breathing heavy in the midst of a pandemic. I hate to admit it, but a dark part of me is rooting for Darwinism. And that’s the problem. Because what kind of damage and pain has led these people to the doors of this building? Can it ever be unwound?

Meanwhile in New York City, a man shouts from a rooftop on First Avenue. “I’m gonna give you a treat tonight!” A bit of Vegas patter ricochets across the buildings and Sinatra begins to croon. “Come Fly with Me” reverberates through the shuttered streets, otherworldly and haunted. I stand in the rain wearing my bandana and I listen to the whole thing. After the song ends, I cheer along with strangers who whistle and shout unseen from their windows above me.


Frank Sinatra – Come Fly With Me (Live)

Live at the Sands | Capitol, 1957
Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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