Writing Switch: Vignettes from a world reopening | AspenTimes.com
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Writing Switch: Vignettes from a world reopening

Ben Welch & Sean Beckwith
Writing Switch

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle; we have tasted the forbidden fruits of the limes and celery and olives in our bloody marys and are back out on the streets carousing once again. Ben and Sean have ripped off their masks, put their pants on and took their cutie vaccinated patooties to the Lone Star State and New York City, respectively, to mingle among the huddled masses. The following is some of what they found, along with a nagging existential quandary over whether anything was ever worth it.

Just Guggenheim it

SB: Not all artwork is created equal. And by that, I mean not all artwork is created with the same intent. Children paint and draw for fun, as was evidenced by the quarantine with children exhibit at the Guggenheim. It was far and away my favorite part of the trip, my first to the iconic art museum.



It was just fun. You could see it in the art. Colors and pink tigers all over. The rest of the experience was exactly why I take issue with a lot of contemporary art. It’s just too self-serious for me. One exhibit was just straps piled up or nailed on a wall. When you can mistake art for trash, we call that “Derelicte” from “Zoolander,” an active parody of snooty fashion types.

Another exhibit was an attempt to take historical newspapers and edit them so they’re objective. I tried to read the plaque, but a museum attendant stepped in front of it mid paragraph. The end result was front pages bereft of everything but the name of the newspaper and some photos (sans captions).



I get it, news isn’t always objective, but making a blanket statement that all news outlets can’t be objective isn’t helping. A lot of them (like The Aspen Times) strive to be as fair as possible.

Contemporary art isn’t for me, but I’m not going to say it all blows or has no value. That may be how I felt after 45 minutes (it was supposed to take an hour and a half but I didn’t stop to stare) of the Guggenheim, but that’s unfair to people who are professional artists. Of course they take it seriously, it’s their job.

Afraid New World

BW: To begin, and to clear my conscience, I have something to mumble. Something I say even less frequently than “I love you,” which is never because I am not capable of that particular emotion. And that is: I’m sorry. I am sorry for all the bitching and whining I’ve done for the past year and a half as I’ve bemoaned lockdowns, the mask I’ve worn for only a couple minutes per month, and forced interaction with people I hate (everyone). What is it, exactly, that I thought I missed? Spending $57 three days each week on a couple whiskey-cokes, a burger, and every cover back-to-back of “House of the Rising Sun” that the jukebox offers? (Alt-J’s is my favorite.)

Remember Day 5, the “go outside and you may die” part? I was truly in my prime. If there was anything an entire childhood of home school prepares you for, it’s that if you don’t gotta leave home, don’t. Everything I need is right here: my candles, my voodoo dolls and my hundreds of tiny pentagram chalk drawings I scribbled on the walls (just like when I was a kid!).

Anyway, there I stood, just seconds into my return nightlife excursion, when a dozen 20-somethings (I’m 30 OK I can’t pinpoint these youngins’ ages) in pink polos and khaki Stockton shorts stride in. (The last time I tried to wear Stockton shorts in public the librarian kept saying “SHH! … and sir please tuck that back in!”) It’s my first night in Austin, Texas (I moved here for the summer because Aspen decided we might as well send one m-t–f—-r back and ruin their town) and I’m on Rainey Street at a bar made out of shipping containers, meeting my Craigslist landlord, Cam. He’s already so hammered that I’m helping him walk to the bathroom, like dude, I’ve drank more than you and I’ve also been driving all day, get a hold of yourself.

I’m calling bullshit on the deluge of “OMG I participated in society without a mask and am beside myself with joy” stories we’ll be inundated with any day now (sorry, Sean, if your vignette is one of these. … We don’t always collude on these columns beforehand). Sure, I miss moonwalking my way to dance-off victory after dance-off victory, but the lights still come on at 1:55 and you suddenly realize the only people on the floor are you and a bunch of Swedish guys and we’re instantly back in 2011.

Maybe it’s because I don’t really have any friends, but the novelty of walking into a bar maskless and then just sitting by myself has gotten old pretty quickly. My other option is to hang out with Cam, whose favorite activity is “getting into trouble,” which means having one beer at Lustre Pearl, then having one beer at Craft Pride, then having one beer at Unbarlievable, etc., working our way up and down the strip while nervously inventing an alibi to give his girlfriend when she asks where we were (“Uh, I’d really prefer to be left out of this, man.”). After about two weeks of forced reintegration, I’ve drifted right back into my mid-pandemic routine: work all day from home, guffaw at Gordon Ramsay videos until 5 a.m. and then wake up with just enough time to swing by the booze shop and grocery store before my shift starts.

CORONAVIRUS obviously changed society in myriad ways the tedium of which I do not need to list here, but I do contemplate on how a “COVID made me do it” mentality is going to disrupt the future.

We’ve spent the past 18 months reflecting on how we’ve taken everything for granted, yet at the first opportunity, we’ll double down on our self-indulgent habits to make up for lost time — except now we have a built-in mechanism to excuse poor behavior for the rest of our lives as waste and greed accelerates humanity’s rabid urge to implode upon itself.

The juice is loose

SB: One of the first responses to COVID-19 by states and cities was to shut down nonessential businesses. Liquor stores and dispensaries were so overrun that the move was quickly reversed. Now, it has almost swung too far the other way.

I read an article recently about how more and more places that never sold alcohol are starting to (i.e. salons, grocery stores, movie theaters). I’m just going to begin assuming every business serves booze now and start ordering drinks everywhere I go.

“Yeah, can I get a McDouble, fries and a spiked McFlurry with a bourbon floater?”

“Hey, I’m looking for a power drill and three shots of Jameson.”

To-go booze is ideally consumed once you get home, not in between bar hops or at Whole Foods. I’ve always heard stories about how big of a shit show New Orleans is because of its open-container laws, and now I agree completely.

Maybe it’s the 48-hour hangover I endured, but my god, being able to drink everywhere may not be entirely necessary.

RIP “New normal”

SB: My least favorite of all the pandemic terms can be out to pasture. Hell, I’ll shoot it myself. People saying things like, “It will never feel normal again” clearly haven’t spent time in airports or big cities yet.

New York still does contact tracing and temperature taking to get into restaurants/bars, but if I passed all of those after sweating out Coors Light (and overheating in general) for a day or two, I should try to pass the LSAT for my next trick.

The only time I was denied service was at DIA because my license is taped together. I surpassed my bars visits during COVID in the first 12 hours of my trip. We went to a comedy club and you could hear the sound of real laughs, not muffled giggles. The cab driver who took me to the airport did the whole, “Have you been vaccinated? If so, you can take off your mask” thing. It was fine until he asked me why all the news is fake and told me he’s not picking up Black people anymore because he once got stiffed by one.

My buddy puked in the middle of the World Trade Center memorial (not in the pools, just on the ground, and he wasn’t drunk, just debilitatingly hungover) and no one fled like when you’d cough under your mask in the grocery store. To be fair, New Yorkers don’t really seemed phased by much, but vomiting in public most likely wouldn’t have been treated with the patented keep-it-moving attitude New York is so known for even two months ago.

The dead of night

BW: Austin is like Aspen in some fashion: housing market bubble, overinflated self-importance and like, art galleries and stuff. The differences are, though, mostly annoying ones. For example, I haven’t seen stars in forever. The light pollution essentially removes the semblance of “dark” as I remember it, and every night an ominous layer of stratus clouds blanket the city.

I was sitting on my balcony early the other morning trying to catch a glimpse of the super blood moon eclipse (why do these astronomical events always sound like a “Twilight” novel?) but to no avail. As I tried to console myself by picturing what the phenomenon might look like from the top of Independence Pass, I was startled by an animal bounding down the road. It was trotting with intent, not like a meandering lost dog, and as it ran its paws were pointed forward, like a huge, mangy fox. It passed under a street light, revealing dark, matted fur and shimmering eyes. I’m not even trying to be funny; I think I saw a chupacabra or a Tasmanian devil. I ran downstairs with the intent on following it (me = smart) but was surprised when I turned the corner into the living room to find Cam slumped over in the chair next to the door that my shoes were sitting under. I guess I won’t be chasing any legendary beasts tonight after all, but I did later have run-ins with other wildlife, such as an otter-like creature crawling around the sewer, enough mosquito bites to make it look like I have leprosy, and the grackles. The f—ing grackles. Their song sounds like a squirrel biting into a powerline and getting electrocuted. Sometimes they’ll even attack people. They are my spirit animal and I want one as a pet.

“I think I pissed off Veronica for good,” Cam told me a few days later. Of course the random couple I’m staying with break off their 10-year relationship during the brief stint I’m present, why wouldn’t they? I probably should’ve expressed sympathy or something other than “uh, what’s going to happen to me?” like a kid whose parents are getting divorced.

“I have to leave but let me know if she throws all my stuff on the lawn. I’m going to grab my TV and set fire to the Christmas tree,” he said. I was wondering why that was still up. I assumed it was because he was too lazy to throw it out, not that he’s using it as a nuclear option. “Will you give me a hand?”

“With the first half of that, sure,” I respond. “And then get TF outta my house.“


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