On Death and Dying, and One Extremely Long Text Exchange

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An impromptu text messaging parlor game played between askanyone and a friend has become a painfully timely, suddenly personal commentary on fame and death

Much has been made of the rickety nature of celebrity culture in this moment, the mascot of which has become Gal Gadot’s fauxspirational “Imagine” video, aka the pop equivalent of Trump’s CEO-laden address to a shaken nation. This is the kind of thing that deserves to be filleted so long as we have the energy.

The rules are clear: Civilians get to telegraph whatever nonsense makes us feel better in the face of disaster because we already have a citizen’s arrest-style system in place for peer-to-peer self-promotion. Famous rich people have had their right to this indulgence revoked. Maybe that’s not fair. They too are experiencing a sense of dread that must feel very real to them. But the smart ones are staying quiet. Or at least avoiding wide shots of the lawn.

The text exchange slips through all that. It provides Jack and me with a customary hit of frivolity while being recused from the celebrity conversation. Even though it isabout famous people, we offer no commentary. Their driver’s licenses are more salacious. We don’t care what they do. During this horrible time that none of us can yet name , celebrities are closer to being faceless statistics than they’ve ever been. To some, this clearly smacks of demotion. Perhaps it is.

In two decades of New York life, I have personally witnessed a citywide mind meld only three times. These are days when every disparate pair of eyes has the same set of thoughts behind them. The first was after 9/11, the second was after Obama won, and the third was after Hillary lost. Giddy or devastated, each instance was a rare phenomenon. This is the fourth. And what I wouldn’t give for a little ignorance about what my neighbors are thinking. We are all grasping for familiarity, for context.

As I scroll through the text exchange, I am reminded of a line from a dark short story called “River of Names” by Dorothy Allison: “We were so many we were without number and, like tadpoles, if there was one less from time to time, who counted?” Who counted? Our game may be glib, but we are counting. Governments may minimize the statistics but we are counting. We are staring at the smooth marble of a massive family headstone, meeting our reflection in the blank space.


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