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I promised myself that I would stay positive for the next few days. After lugging home two bags of groceries, locking the door, spraying down the butter, the boxed pasta and three of those little bricks of Café Bustelo because they never have the medium ones anymore and heaven FORBID they get the tubs back in stock . . . anyway, after spraying everything down with disinfectant and generic paper towels because who the hell ever has VIVA anymore, I put everything away. Except the Nutter Butter. I stand looking into my bloated refrigerator and I am grateful. Some have nothing, and I have a safe space to call my home. But I’ve also come to a realization, sadly, that I have been living like a hermit since March and that is certainly not positive, especially when I consider how damn good at it I’ve become.
Growing my beard for the part was fun – and in the Tarot, the Hermit is indeed a very positive card of self-searching and self-reflection. So that, in and of itself, isn’t negative, but the fact that I just bought enough food to last me weeks-on-end, for fear that the streets of my city and my nation might explode into a battlefield, I realize that I still need to get better at this positivity thing. So far, I’ve succeeded in keeping my sobriety; I’ve dealt with no real income, no true physical human contact or purpose, for what seems an exhaustively long time. I now pray that I can deal with the next few days as well; as with us all, I will try. As I attempt to tear open the Nutter Butter packaging, I begin wrestling with the noisy plastic wrapper that’s refusing to budge, I turn and angrily grab a nearby knife as if, what? As if the bag is going to attack me? I’m being ridiculous. This is ridiculous. Right?
I take some deep breaths and go into the living room. I’m sitting in the dark with candles lit, biting furiously into the Nutter Butters and pouring through a twelve-pack of lemon seltzer, which sadly reeks of disinfectant. I’m also listening to some “manifest miracles” ambient mix that’s supposed to be calming me, and I’m trying to write this article.
As I sit in this pool of pre-election fear and tremulousness, my breathing becomes unsteady. I need another distraction. Anything else is fear. The Edgar Allan Poe streaming show I had just created for Halloween was a great way to take my mind off things, but perhaps too much of Poe had crept into my brain, and with this, his darkness.
I freeze in yet another sobering pause of anxious curiosity. This must have been what it felt like the night before Prohibition began; people knew it was coming. I begin to question the notion. Were Americans huddled in their crowded micro-dwellings suffocating in mounds of whiskey, gin and fear? In the dark with candles lit?
Well they certainly weren’t listening to this ambient mix, that’s for sure, but they probably had been preparing for the dry spell for some time.
We too have been anxiously awaiting this moment in our history for far too long. Now it’s here. Suddenly the “Prohibition Era” thought goes out the window because, at least from what you see in movies, that era – the era of the Noir – looked like it might have been sort of fun, in a seedy, dirty, sepia-toned kind of way. Except for the machine guns. They had machine guns!
Suddenly, the Prohibition analogy is back in full force. It’s happened here before. People have always lived in some kind of fear here in America; blacks and immigrants, gays and transgender people have been afraid long before this new totalitarian dread came creeping into our government – and what’s positive about that? Nothing. As we all stand on the precipice of the dark ages, with the power to stop it from careening over the edge, I’m out of answers. I voted. It’s all in the cards.
I’ve come, however, to the conclusion that the only way I am going to get through the next few days is to continue to play the hermit and summon the one thing that I know is within me; I’m going to trust what’s left of my grey matter and reconnect to the time back before the technology tricked us and hooked us all. If I try hard enough, I can remember the amazing feeling of that long-dormant disconnect.
I am going to step away from the addiction and the fear, turn off my phone and my computer, I’m going to watch the sun set and I’m going to create something. Anything. It will serve as the final thing I create before the last of the warmth completely drains away from the old normal, into an era as yet uncharted. Considering all that this country’s citizens (over half) have endured during the past four years – the bullying, cheating and lying, the intimidation, the racism, the cages and the threats, amid a pandemic which has canceled travel, joy, life and happiness on our burning planet – we all deserve a round of applause, we deserve a pat on the back and we deserve a better President.
If I hear shouting in the streets, from the timbre and energy of the sounds below my fire escape I will know instantly which new era has begun.
Dan Ruth is an award-winning playwright and actor, former Hell’s Kitchen bartender, and the creative force behind the critically acclaimed “A Life Behind Bars.” @danruthbkny