In 1975 Joe Brainard published “I Remember,” a slim book of paragraph-long personal recollections, each beginning with the title phrase. A day shy of the six-month anniversary of California’s stay-at-home order, and with respects to Brainard, who died in 1994, I’m adapting the form today.
I remember routinely shaking hands and rarely worrying much where the other person’s hand had been. In retrospect, that was probably a mistake.
I remember how my friend John, and my friend Pat, would shake hands in conversation every few minutes, almost as punctuation. I feel for them.
I remember hugs. I rarely initiated them but, if the other person offered, I accepted. I feel for the world’s huggers — from a safe distance.
I remember city council meetings. Every week or two I would attend one somewhere, from La Verne to Fontana, and write about it. San Bernardino was going to be my next stop in March when everything shut down. You can’t tell me there’s not an entertaining column in the fussin’, feudin’ San Bernardino City Council. Well, one day.
I remember the rituals at council meetings: grabbing an agenda, saying hello to people, taking a seat, chuckling during public comment, chuckling during council comment, buttonholing people during and after. Virtual meetings aren’t the same.
I remember searching out new restaurants to try when I was out and about on assignments. Now I’m not out as much and most restaurants are takeout only. Almost all my food is obtained within five minutes of my home or office.
I remember meeting new people.
I remember meeting up with friends. Not all that often. Like Neil Diamond, I’m a solitary man. But it was always a possibility.
I remember interacting with people at the office. You could talk to co-workers, and joke, and eavesdrop. If someone went on a rant, you could catch a friend’s eye and share a smile.
I remember when stores and restaurants were open past 7 p.m.
I remember sitting inside coffeehouses with my laptop or a book, but also letting myself be easily distracted and looking up every time someone walked in.
I remember trying on clothes in stores. Half the pants I’ve bought during coronavirus I’ve had to return because they were too big or too small, even when the waist size was identical.
I remember thinking about the future — weeks or months ahead — and having a general idea what life might be like and what I might want to be doing, such as taking a trip. Give 2020 this, it’s been unpredictable. But the uncertainty is hard.
I remember sleeping through the night.
I remember vacations: choosing a destination, booking a flight and hotel, reading up on the city, making lists of things to do. And then not doing half of them, but doing other things.
I remember arranging a few trips around Major League Baseball home games. I’ve been to 9 ballparks out of 30, from L.A. to Philadelphia. Plenty more to see. But not this season.
I remember packing for vacations. I was getting better at it, with a smaller suitcase and with travel clothes that would wash and dry easily. I was looking forward to my next trip when I could try to get everything into a carry-on. Well, I’m still looking forward to that, actually. 2021?
I remember shaving every morning instead of every couple of days.
I remember threading my way through a crowd without thinking much about it. Now if I see someone coming toward me on the sidewalk I move over or cross the street.
I remember jotting events and appointments on my calendar, usually one or two per day. Now I have entire weeks without a single reminder note.
I remember feeling guilty for missing events, especially cultural ones, to which I’d been invited or to which I thought I “should” go in some enriching sense. In some ways this period of dormancy is a relief. There’s nothing to miss.
I remember movies in a theater: looking up the times, deciding whether to eat before or after, buying my ticket, finding a good seat.
I remember watching the ads in movie theaters. They were always too loud. And the trailers for upcoming movies, in which the editing got choppier and choppier until building to a climax, like an explosion or a musical crescendo. And, after four or five trailers for other movies, half the time I had forgotten what movie I was actually there to see.
I remember going to art museums and leaving with my senses alight.
I remember buying tickets for concerts. You would go to a website, see the ticket price, talk yourself into believing it was reasonable, and pick the best seat in your range. Only then would you see the real price, often $20 higher, after fees for intangibles like “facilities maintenance,” and have to talk yourself into believing this price, too, was reasonable. Or not.
I remember attending concerts. They usually started at 8 p.m., the time I usually wind down for the night, and involve standing for three hours. They would end at 11 p.m., the time I would usually be on my second dream. Maybe I don’t miss concerts that much.
I remember smiling with my mouth, not with my eyes. I will count the latter as a new skill I’ve acquired, though.
I remember ordering at restaurants or coffeehouses without needing to make myself understood through a face mask and a plastic barrier. We’re all doing our best to communicate, but from my end it may not be going that well. Frankly, I tend to mumble.
I remember going into a bookstore in Echo Park once, seeing Joe Brainard’s “I Remember” and thinking it was a neat idea but not really being in the mood to buy it. I also remember returning to that bookstore a few months later, explaining the idea — “every sentence begins ‘I remember’” — to the clerk and him instantly knowing the title and author.
I remember not buying the book that time either. But I wrote down the title and author for next time I see the book and feel in the mood.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, forgettably. Email [email protected], phone 909-483-9339, visit insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.