At the Rose
The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, circa 2010. A more or less conventional exhibit displayed in a single large room. Except that the floor of the room is made from a special glass-like material. It cracks and shatters when you walk upon it. Even if it has already shattered, it shatters still more when you put your weight on it again.
And so, from the center of the room, you are helpless not to contribute to the piece, and to contribute via decomposition. Art is supposed to create order and meaning out of the natural world, but with every step you add to the ambient entropy.
The experience could be said to foreshadow COVID, insofar as the only way not to take apart the natural order of things was to stay home, not to show up.
But for me the unraveling arrived long before peak pandemic did.
A black woman executive, zaftig and bespectacled, would smile at me, in recognition, at the cafeteria coffee station in One Post Office Square. When I held the elevator door for her, she would say brightly "Thank you young man!", but by "young man" of course she meant "old man," and it demoralized me.
Gone now. Not only she but all of the context in which she appeared -- cafeteria, Dominican cashiers, picture windows looking down on the lobby below.
What big deal? Zoom calls and passwords, endless passwords that must not be repeated. A new embroidery in place of the old.
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