Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: is everyone Zooming without me?; Hello, Dolly! is a love story about a woman and her favorite restaurant; Little Shop of Horrors and changing our own endings; in Chicago everyone is going live from home.
Oh my God, y’all, two of my neighbors just walked into our apartment building courtyard and I almost lost my mind. The building is a C-shape and it has a grassy gathering area in the middle of the C on the second floor. Our apartment looks out on to the courtyard and it gets direct sun pretty much all day. The sun makes it kind of unbearable for much of the year, but good Lord what I wouldn’t give to be out there right now, trying to read a book and finding myself drenched in sweat after literally five minutes of sitting. As an added bonus, the courtyard is on the same floor as a medical practice, so sometimes as I am slowly melting, my nurse practitioner walks by and I get to shout symptoms at her. I really miss being able to let my hypochondria live out loud. But all of that is on pause right now, of course, because I don’t leave my apartment, my NP is busy, and the courtyard is closed. Which is why it was such a shock to see two building residents come strolling out in front of God and everyone (everyone being me specifically) and sit around like they were in a flashback.
I was on a Zoom call at the time and I had to mute myself and then also mute my face because it surely looked like I was witnessing a murder. And in a way I was: the murder of decorum. The building hasn’t locked the courtyard because the people in the medical practice still sometimes use it to cross, but they’ve put signs up and emailed us that the common areas, including the courtyard and the gym, are closed until further notice. When I got that gym cancellation I was especially sad because now I had no place to pretend I was going to go to, knowing full well I would not go at all. It just doesn’t hit the same when you say “I really should go to the study and watch a trainer on Instagram Live.” I mean, I still do it and then I sit in the study, eating a muffin and watching my favorite show I like to call “Someone Else Sweats.” But still.
The people in the courtyard only sat there for maybe 10 minutes but I called the police anyway. Truth be told, I actually think it would be fine for the courtyard to be open. It’s not enclosed and it’s big enough for multiple residents to practice social distancing at the same time. I understand the building’s rationale, but I just don’t agree. (This is also how I respond when they tell me that rent is due.) There was something a little freeing in seeing these people just going out for a breath of fresh air, standing way too close to the edge for my liking, and then going back inside. But I don’t stare out my window, getting way too involved in other people’s business for freedom. My goodness.
As you’re probably aware, I’ve worked from home for a number of years, so I’m quite used to devoting a lot of my energy to minding other people’s business. I thought that with my building newly full of self-isolating people, the nosiness industry would really take off. But apparently none of my neighbors like to perform their entire lives within view of their windows. The apartments are fairly long, so you usually have to be right on the sill to register. This is why I have taken to performing large pantomime ballets of all my daily actions and then posting signs in the windows with captions. The nosiness industry works both ways. This isn’t about capitalistic hoarding of neighborly observations. I’m a nosiness socialist. Everybody can have a little bit of nosey. As a treat.
Alas, most people don’t seem to see it the same way I do. A building full of people who keep to themselves seems to be doubling down on that impulse. And I find myself having to turn my energies to searching the backgrounds of people Zooms for entertainment or occasionally being totally enthralled by someone’s roommate walking by during a call. As much as our current situation is terrible, I’ve really delighted in the way arbitrary rules about at-home professionalism are starting to erode. No shade to you if you have an office space and wear a tie on Zooms or what-have-you, but I really love the energy of people who are like “welp, these are my walls and no, I’m not taking any of my weird art down, and yes you can hear my dog barking; that’s what dogs do. The other sound you hear is the person who lives with me who is on their own call right now; when we got this place we didn’t realize it would turn into a co-working space for multiple companies. Also, I’m going to eat on this meeting. You’ll survive.” Maybe your company culture isn’t like this, but I am an agent of chaos and I encourage you to introduce this culture to your company. What are they going to do, come to your house and knock the Pirate Booty out of your hands? Absolutely not. We’re all just trying to live, trying to stay off the ledge, trying to get a breath of fresh air because freedom feels so close, even though the signs are very stern.
Okay, I’m trying maintain and build social connections while also trying to stave off video conferencing burnout. I feel like I have to perform on a lot of calls, which doesn’t feel the same as just being with other people. So, I’m wondering about online games or games that can be played over Zoom or Hangout. I’m working on a scavenger hunt that might be fun to play in individual homes. If it works out, I’ll post it. Do you have games you played (either board games, online games, or games that just require a group) over Zoom/Hangout/Facetime and enjoyed? If so, let me know in the comments.
This week on ELLE.com, I continued the Remote Rewind series, this time focusing on watching movie musicals in self-isolation, which turned out really well! But first social (distancing) anxiety!
Should I organize a Zoom happy hour?
Literally do whatever you want. Organize a virtual event, make up capricious rules, set a dress code, mute everyone and sing the entirety of Cats. We're under digital Marshall law (that's the thing where you act like it's Black Friday at Marshall's). One of the things I am finding most successful is randomly sending celebrities the Zoom access codes for online events. I know they're not busy. Just sitting in their mansions, learning the words to "Imagine". They'll welcome the distraction. So, if you've been wishing you could stare into a video screen and chat with Little Richard, now is your chance.
Yes, Hello, Dolly! is ostensibly about a meddling matchmaker rearranging an interconnected web of couples to help everyone, herself included, find love. But the truth is the 1969 musical and the hit stage show on which it is based are solely driven by one woman's single-minded pursuit of a stuffed chicken dinner at her favorite restaurant. This I understand, particularly recently as I sit at home and scroll through old Instagram posts from beloved local eateries, gently singing "World Take Me Back." (It's a song cut from the musical but then reinstated when Ethel Merman joined the Broadway show. My quarantine is thorough, completist, and esoteric!)
There's something so cathartic, also, about a musical theater song. In the olden days (two weeks ago), one of my favorite activities was going to bars that had show tunes nights: events where a VJ plays scenes from musicals, Disney movies, and the Tonys to a crowded dance floor. Just 300 people staring at a screen, performing their own personal renditions of "The Gospel Truth" from Hercules. This is, honestly, the height of living, and it's the first thing I'm going to do when all this is over. You haven't lived until you've been at a show tunes night when the Catherine Zeta-Jones-led version of the song "Cell Block Tango" comes on. Everybody in the place chaotically chooses a different track to perform before simultaneously deciding they’re actually Catherine's Velma during the climax. Stomping, high-kicking, shaking our chic bobs; truly, we're all Velma Kelly after two White Claws.
One of the fascinating things about The Wiz is that it is a strange, delightful hybrid: a super-soul fantasy and a pointed gloss on '70s black life in reality. To wit, Dorothy and crew famously Ease on Down the Yellow Brick Road, but they only do so after every cab they approach turns on its "Off-Duty" sign and refuses to pick them up. Social commentary is woven into the fabric of The Wiz; Dorothy is going through a magical crisis, yes, but she's also facing down systemic injustice. With Evilene's signature song, the gospel-tinged "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News," the thesis is right there in the title, so I won't belabor an explanation or too heavily underline how closely it echos the ethos of a certain national leader. It's all sitting on the surface of the film.
If you want to get technical about it, there are arguably three openings to Little Shop: the newly-ominous prologue, the title song, and minutes later, "Downtown." I've always liked this about Little Shop, firstly because Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's songs are so great. Secondly, because by starting and then starting and then starting a third time, the viewer gets introduced to multiple ways of experiencing the film. On the outside, it's a campy horror story. But then the Doo-Wop girls show up as a Greek chorus and frame the film as a musical morality tale. And finally, in "Downtown," we meet the down-on-their-luck central characters who are pining for a way out in the grand tradition of musical theater heroines and heroes since the beginning of time, which we date to the birth of Ethel Merman. Little Shop doesn't limit itself to one stylistic lane, but rather inhabits all three to varying degrees at once. It's like a musical theater turducken: a Broadway show inside of a Greek tragedy inside of Roger Corman's original B-movie shocker.
Random Thing on the Internet
If you’ve read Here for It, you know that an opera on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood had a profound effect on me. If you haven’t seen the opera in question, “Windstorm in Bubbleland”, you should definitely watch it. It’s incredible!
I’m a nosiness socialist,