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The Nostalgia Hole: A Thousand Miles Deep and Falling

Quarantine: Day 85.

It has been two weeks and two days since they buried my grandfather. I drove home for the funeral despite my fears about, well, everything, passing signs on the highway telling me to limit travel and practice social distancing. The day after I got back from Scranton I got tested for COVID-19. A girl my age or younger standing on the far side of a plastic folding table in a Rite Aid parking lot told me to swab both my nostrils and that they’d have my results in two to seven days. Two days later I got that email: negative. I had gotten lucky.

I loved my grandfather, but even before all this he was not well. He took care of himself all his life, never smoked, never drank. An Army vet. A really, genuinely, funny guy with a million stories. Spent thirty-seven years as a policeman in his hometown of Olyphant, PA. He was Chief of police for almost half of them. Well preserved even into his sixties. He still got Parkinson’s, and so all the people who loved him, his wife, children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends got to watch as he spent the next few years just withering away. Eventually he couldn’t take care of himself, and then my grandmother couldn’t take care of him. So my parents had to put him in a nursing home. The best they could find.

Then COVID hit the nursing homes. They told me they thought he had it. A few hours later he was dead.

The funeral was the sort of grand display we’re all meant to be avoiding right now, but who was going to tell us to break it up? All the police were at the funeral. Forty cars from all the surrounding townships, plus a handful of fire engines, ambulances, and a police-adjacent motorcycle club. Chief Jim Foley got a grand pageant on his way out. He would have loved it. Thirty-seven years. He never fired his service weapon once.

I’ve been back for a week and change now. I’ve moved from a red county to a yellow one. In Pittsburgh you’d think nothing was even wrong. The summer weather has arrived and near everyone has ditched their masks unless they’re picking up food. Parties ring out from every porch, and this is prime porching weather. Maybe my job will even give me some hours sometime soon.

For now though I’m just inside, watching cartoons, gaming, drinking too much. Seemingly like everyone else who can afford it.

The Shining (1980) Credit: Warner Brothers, Stanley Kubrick, John Alcott

All Play and No Work Makes Jack a Dull Boy.

When things were really kicking off, my writing and editing partner Alex and I seemed to reach an unspoken agreement that nameless/aimless should go on hiatus for a bit. Pontificating about books, movies, or video games seemed so meaningless while everything was on fire. Though it seems like that’s all any of us have been doing. Catching up on things, clearing the backlog, then telling our friends what we thought. Finally embarking on that Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch. Seeing if Square Enix can catch lightning in a bottle twice with a remake of the beloved Final Fantasy 7. Finding out what all the fuss is about with Tiger King and The Last Dance. Reigniting the endless debate over whether The Star Wars sequel trilogy was any good. Just because the outside world is unavailable doesn’t mean the world itself is. The internet is your world now. Your horrible, horrible world churning and bubbling like a witch’s cauldron, always spitting out new content to make you miserable and entertained in equal measure. While I was home my Mother told me I was on my phone too much. She was right. But what else am I supposed to do?

The answer, like for everyone else, is to consume media. I’ve been expanding my catalog of film reviews on Letterboxd at a record setting pace. I finally started reading The Beastie Boys Book after I decided Infinite Jest was still too daunting. I watched Tiger King, despite needing to go for a walk every time I finished an episode because of what a shitty person seemingly everyone who owns a big cat is. I marathoned The Last Dance in two nights before my drive home, noting what a hagiography it was but enjoying it nonetheless. I’ve been on YouTube constantly, finding new memes to build obsessions over for a few days and then forget entirely. I am, to borrow my partner’s analogy, a pig in shit. I’m Hansel in the house made of candy, though after a while candy fries your taste buds and makes everything sour.

I’ve been gaming too. Though that’s a bit more complicated. Let me explain. I own way too many video games. Most people like me do. My problem, as I diagnose it, is twofold. I have the usual affliction of a PC gamer in that I end up spending too much money on Steam sales for games I won’t play out of fear of missing out on a bargain. The other is that I sink too much time into games you can functionally play forever. I have at least a half-dozen 70+ hour role playing games to complete that I haven’t gotten to because inevitably I’ll hit a point I don’t want to grind through and decide I’d rather go boot up Stellaris or Football Manager for the hundredth time instead. A funny thing happened yesterday though. My girlfriend got me some parts to upgrade my computer as a belated birthday gift. Some sorely-needed RAM and a new solid state drive to improve my boot-up time. Thanks to my own computer illiteracy and lax approach to backing things up I lost virtually all of my Football Manager 2019 save data. You’d expect me to be crushed, or enraged even. I sank 409 hours into that game over the past year. I loved it, even wrote an essay about it. Instead, once the initial shock wore off I felt liberated. Free. I had no obligation to go back anymore. I had escaped the Skinner Box. I’m terrible at finishing games but maybe this is my chance to get better. To actually play with my toys instead of letting them collect dust.

Or maybe I’ll just take advantage of this opportunity to burn another 400 hours on Football Manager, this time modded to the gills. Can’t break your old saves if they don’t exist.

Welcome to the Hole.

Like a lot of people I don’t think I quite understood the terms of this lockdown. I treated it like a vacation that you panic shop for. Two, three weeks I figured. Maybe a month. I bought a fifteen pound bag of rice I still haven’t opened, along with some cans of beans and a case of bottled water, and of course; plenty of beer. For the first couple weeks I had fun just sitting around, after a while though; I got bored, then I started thinking.

I’m a writer. My dream is to support myself writing fiction. For five years I’ve worked on a novel and while it has come far, I’m always bitching that I need more time to write. So I started working on the novel. I wrote forty pages then cut thirty pages then started a new draft. It’s up to forty-seven pages now. It’s coming along nicely, but the grand sense of purpose I felt when I started it, that it would be my way to make this time meaningful, has disappeared. Now I just want to try and write about some other stuff in addition to the novel. Think about other stuff. Stuff like movies, video games, TV, books, whatever. Stuff I love and remember. Nostalgic stuff.

Our society is obsessed with nostalgia, we love to create imaginary depictions of times that never really existed or only existed in parts to free ourselves from the dislocation of our modern world. We boil down the past into consumable aesthetics because the present lacks weight and meaning. I thought that maybe with real meaningful things happening every day, the world in the midst of a no-exaggeration pandemic, maybe we’d all look towards the future again. Or better yet look inwards. Instead even mass death lacks weight and meaning, as thousands seem to have decided that none of this is happening. It seems as well that we’re more nostalgic than ever, which in hindsight is obvious. We’re more dislocated than ever, so why not look towards an imagined past?

I am no exception. Unlike my cowardly n/a co-founder, I have actually watched most of childhood after school favorite Code Lyoko over quarantine (it’s fine, it lacks the budget, edge, or both to fully realize its potential but it’s a fun monster of the week show for kids). I’ve also been going heavy on rewatches in movies. The Naked Gun still rules. So do Full Metal Jacket, The Hurt Locker, The Conversation, Drive, and The Matrix. Hell, I’m probably gonna be rewatching Band of Brothers soon. Even in games I’ve found myself dragged back into the past, playing games I always wanted to finish as a kid. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Killer7, Jet Set Radio, Star Wars: Republic Commando, Sonic Adventure 2, Tales of Symphonia and many more. I’m living the life I always dreamed I’d have at ten years old and I can’t wait for it to be over.

The Conversation (1974) Credit: Paramount Pictures, Francis Ford Coppola, Bill Butler, Haskell Wexler

At home, it was impossible to shake the nostalgia. Death has a way of making people reminisce, but all my parents and I seemed capable of talking about was when I was in little league, or all the other times we went hiking at the place we were currently hiking at, or something else from when I was a kid. Nostalgia may be the truest opiate of the masses, and who am I to deny the people their balm? Whether it’s the pain of grieving a loved one, losing your means of supporting your family, or the pain of facing the world, everyone’s hurting right now and no one capable of alleviating the pain seems to care. I can’t argue against escapism, even it might not be “healthy.” Being a ball of paranoia, depression, and rage isn’t healthy either.

My grandfather was a policeman, but he wanted to be a cartoonist. He got into Cooper Union for art, but his family couldn’t afford to send him. At present, I’m a furloughed cook at a wood-fire oven pizza parlor, but I want to be a writer. My family could afford to send me to college for it and did. So I’ll write about whatever I feel like and hopefully some of it will mean something. It’s all I can do, and I hope wherever Jim Foley ended up he has a big drawing table and all the time he needs to finally get his ideas down on paper. It’s the least he deserves.



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