Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: I just dropped in to see what condition my cognition was in.
This morning, while playing a video of a song during David’s online church service, my attention wandered and I started looking out the window. This is, of course, quite dangerous as one of my jobs during service is to advance the slides with the lyrics. A lapse in attention can result in textual chaos going out over the airwaves and into the homes of David’s congregants and I don’t want that at all. But every once in a while I become a version of the me I used to be—someone whose imagination is always sparked by music, particularly church music, and while everyone else is singing and following the logical progression of lyrics, I start zooming around the universe with my mind.
Of course this morning’s service was literally Zooming around the universe but my mind was making a relatively shorter trip, namely a couple of apartments down. I looked out the window into the courtyard of our apartment building and my eyes fell, as they often do, on the window of the apartment perpendicular to us, the one with the cat tree and the Peloton that have both sat empty for months (MONTHS) since the apartment’s resident abruptly left a few weeks into quarquar. I have mentioned this before in the newsletter and I tweet about it a lot (some would say too much!) but I am obsessed with this dormant Peloton. I don’t know this neighbor and I have not seen the actual resident enough to even give you a solid description. I’m like Trump describing his cognition test on Fox News. “The person who lives in that apartment is… a person? Man? Woman? Camera?… TV?” Prior to “All of This” I would see the two cats frequently lazing on the various levels of the cat tree and sometimes on the Peloton. Because I often sit by the window to work, I would frequently catch the cats’ movement out of the corner of my eye and it would pull my attention. The cats were just minding their business and so I’d quickly nod and then go back to doing what I was doing. The cats never nodded back.
The presence of the Peloton, as I recall, didn’t even make that big an impression until I realized that I hadn’t seen the cats for a while and that the shades hadn’t moved at all. The little frame of the window that used to have very little visual interest to me beyond the momentary distraction of a flicking tail suddenly became my obsession. Once I became convinced that the neighbor had left with their cats, two thoughts took hold: 1) “why didn’t they lower their shades before they left? Everything is going to be sun bleached! They face the west! This is chaotic!” and 2) “why didn’t this stranger offer to let me use the Peloton while they were going to be away?” This second thought started out as one of those jokes that I just made to make myself giggle but, like most comedic premises, mutated to being an unreasonable idea that I am deeply committed to. All of my strongest beliefs started out as bits.
I would stare out the window multiple times a day, zeroing in on the Peloton and becoming outraged that I wasn’t invited to make use of a stranger’s multi-thousand dollar fitness apparatus. I started to think through the logic—would it have been easier if they left me a key to treat the apartment as my workout studio or should they have dragged the bike around the corner and deposited it in my walk-in closet? What kind of life did they have where they could just let this very expensive purchase hang out in the blazing sunlight? My thoughts around this became, honestly, ridiculous. I started to think of it as “our” Peloton. I considered emailing building management about getting access to it. I felt like this was the only thing standing between me and physical fitness. I would have become Wilson Cruz-level hot in quarquar but I need to rappel across the courtyard to reach my dang PelPel and REI is back ordered on carabiners.
As the months have dragged on, I’ve also become obsessed with figuring out what my neighbor’s plan is. Is this person, man, woman, camera, TV just paying rent to store a Peloton? Are they staying at their parents’ beach house? Did they get cast on Drag Race? Literally anything is possible. I lamented that when we finally move next month I would lose access to my most ardently loved and most deeply boring soap opera Peloton Window. Which is why it was such a shock when I looked over this morning to find one of the SHADES HAD BEEN LOWERED.
THE PERSON MAN WOMAN CAMERA TV IS BACK! I did not see any a) cats or b) exercising, but a shade does not lower itself! I was immediately reminded of some movie (or perhaps a “real thing” that actually “happened”) where a spy sent a signal by lowering the shade and though I could not remember any specifics about the situation I immediately identified. I was the spy! Or the spy handler? Or a nosey neighbor?! Or a camera TV? Unclear. I all know is that there has been a huge development and it’s symbolized by the smallest of possible gestures and I am honestly beside myself.
This plot twist couldn’t come at a more opportune time, narratively speaking, as I just discovered this week that the ceiling in our new basement is too low for a Peloton. This is, honestly, tragic news. I had stared at this forsaken bike for so long, like a kid who lives across from an abandoned amusement park, that I decided that my primary objective in life was to grow up and make enough money so that I could open up an amusement park of my own where I could ride the ferris wheel all day and all night if I wanted to. But in this case, the ferris wheel is a bike with wifi and growing up and making money is applying for 0% financing and testing David’s patience.
But all that is dashed because this hobbit house won’t let me be great! Would I have actually used the bike? The tension bands and one (1) free weight I bought at the beginning of quarquar have their doubts. Maybe I don’t really want a Peloton afterall. Maybe what I want is for my new neighbor to buy one, put it next to their window, and then raise the shade.
Why have I created this test? The answer is simple: money. And in addition to money: patriotism. And by patriotism, I mean, tax breaks and no-bid contracts. I love this country and I love this country's cognitive ability and it is my honor and my duty to deliver this improved test that is literally unbeatable. No one can pass it and that means no one can be president and then we will finally know peace.
From the vault…
David and I got engaged five years ago tomorrow by climbing a mountain (OUT OF CHARACTER) and I wrote about it, briefly, for the New York Times a few years back. (Scroll all the way down to find my section.) I’ve always like this illustration of us even though I definitely think that it looks like David is getting engaged to Donald Glover.
Stores have started putting out Halloween stuff and I am NOT HERE FOR IT. Too early! Go take a lap! I don’t want to hear about October 31 in July. On the other hand, my next book is coming out October 20, which is completely different and much sooner and demands to be talked about constantly! Booklist loved Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters calling it “A bouyant and zesty portrait… perfect for the vivacious, unconventional, tireless, and essential Waters.” Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review! And you, specifically you, are going to love it! Pre-orders it today; it’s never too early!
Random Thing on the Internet
This gospel song is one of the most surprising (and wildly effective) musical cues in the extraordinary series I May Destroy You. I’ve been listening to it on repeat all week. I am very fascinated by 90s-era gospel, particularly gospel albums that were recorded live. There’s a grittiness and a raw authenticity to a lot of these recordings that blend so well with the technical skill and the blazing talent. And then you layer all the religious/concert-going fervor on top of it! One of my future goals it to put together a creative project about one of these successful church choirs of the 80s or 90s. I used to think it was a novel but now I’m thinking about a cable drama ensemble show. Picture it: church drama, the various stories of Black life at different economic levels in the 90s (hello conversations about respectability politics that look very different now!), MUSICAL NUMBERS, and religion (which to my mind is always a delightful mix of mystery, magic, and storytelling). It will run for 10 years. Please have Hollywood give me a call about this.
All of my strongest beliefs started out as bits,