I’ve finished my quarantine project.
On the outside, the structure is towering. It takes up half my garage. Its antenna rises into the sun.
I’m loading batteries into the external port, praying the damn thing won’t explode.
I’ve worked on this thing so long I’ve forgotten who I am. It is my Tower of Babel: beyond reason and rational thought, constructed of materials that emerge from nowhere. To be truthful, I’m not entirely sure what it is myself. If you asked me to explain it, I couldn’t tell you.
You know Michelangelo? (The artist, not the Ninja Turtle.) Michelangelo once said that when he made sculptures, they were “already complete within the marble block” and that he just had to “chisel away the superfluous material.” With that, he would “set them free.”
And, though I can’t see what kind of sculpture this is at all, I’ve freed… something.
Inserting the last battery, I flip the power switch and step back. With a slight rumble, the structure powers up. Lights flicker on, and a low technological hum pervades the room.
I’ve followed the advice of Michelangelo, and here I am staring down a metal box that looks like the Technodrome. Cowabunga, dude.
With slight trepidation, I open the hatch. As I’d feared, this structure is ten times as big inside as it is out. It’s a frightening, if slightly clichéd, Lovecraftian nightmare scenario. (Or, like… House of Leaves? You get the idea.) It is much, much too big inside to be the size it was outside. I attempt to step back outside to confirm this architectural inconsistency, but the hatch has sealed tight behind me. I can’t back out now.
I walk to the control desk. It’s quite simple, really: just one big red button. With no other options, I press it.
The structure rattles. The mechanical hum becomes a roar. The lights in the cabin flicker out. Time bends. The seams of the universe stretch into nothingness. Two realities press together, and the barrier becomes liminal. Without a second thought, I dive across –
– into another time, another universe entirely…
Tonight, I’m going to see the house show of my life.
The weather is clear and mild, and the sun hangs lazily in the sky, making its way down under the horizon. I make my way through the streets of Old North Columbus, last year’s leaves crunching underfoot. I shiver as a cold wind blows through my but I’m happy as can be. I’m on my way to the Corner for my first house show of the spring.
I can already hear an excited chatter from the porch. The cherries from lit cigarettes poke out from the shadows of the old house. Various types of smoke intermingle, settling a light but nonetheless noticeable cloud around the night’s events. It looks and feels vaguely unreal.
I greet my friends excitedly. Big Cig gives me a big bear hug and an ice-cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. I introduced myself to Big Lo – the touring act, from Pensacola, whose stop in Columbus he’ll later call “unbelievably hazy” – and we discuss rare regional hip-hop and the idiosyncrasies of the Panhandle. My old pal Zach lights a Spirit and passes me one. I take a few puffs, staring down the street at more partygoers arriving. Tonight is going to be something special.
Suddenly – as if jumping through time – I’m onstage, setting up mics and testing levels. Of course, the party’s fashionably late arrivals are still filtering in, but it’s looking to be a very nice crowd. By the time I’ve finished my soundcheck, a rather large crowd has assembled in the living room. The projector is playing an old Star Trek – “Who Mourns for Adonais,” of course. It’s time for my set. And then…
Well, truth be told, much of my set is a blur. I have images, sure – flashes of moments that may or may not have happened. I remember being onstage, but I don’t quite remember what I play – or would play. I can see familiar faces, sure, but they seem to be drifting in and out of phase. I’m trying to focus, but it’s all disappearing…
Skumlordt is up next, growling into the microphone while his DJ, The Buzzrd, provides ad-libs. The drums for NORTHSIDE blast a hole in my brain through the PA system. The crowd bobs up and down in unison; the image flashes in my mind like a strobe. I’m dancing, but I’m also vaguely aware of something… off. Is this really how it would have happened? Is everyone drinking?
Now Senseless is playing, singing and rapping an unreleased tune from what will become his new album Goodale Park. (In our universe, it will end up being called Franklin Park; the reason for the change is unclear.) But it seems that he’s shrouded in mist, and just as quickly as he appeared, he vanishes right before my eyes.
I can see Big Lo onstage, mid-Slav-squat, dressed in an Adidas tracksuit identical to my own. He’s playing Tracksuits, a standout cut from his album The Illegalist. I see him from a low angle – I’m Slav-squatting myself, I realize. The room is obscured by smoke, fog, and the mists of time. “Sable for the wife / Mink for the mistress / St. Petersburg for Christmas,” intones Lo, with the wisdom of a hip-hop veteran. We can only nod our heads.
Finally, SXFXG closes the night with their heavy, demonic take on hip-hop. Blood-red makeup drips from their faces (actually, the more I look at it, the more it looks like real blood). Dismantle the System has the crowd going absolutely bananas. I jump up and down, but my movements feel sluggish, like I’m walking through water. I can’t help but be shaken by what I’m seeing – or what it seems like I’m seeing. If this is some kind of dream, why does it feel so real?
All of a sudden, I realize with a jolt:
This feels real because it is.
In my universe, the one I’d left behind, this show was cancelled like all the rest. But I’m not in my universe; that all changed when I hit that red button. I’m here, and it’s happening right in front of me. At least, I think so.
I try to remember Big Lo… and what songs he played that night… and my friends… and what they played… and what kind of beer I was drinking… and all of a sudden…
Another jolt, another realization.
Holy smokes. I’m still here. I never left. I’m still playing. Or watching. What? When?
This didn’t happen yesterday; this is happening now. Which is to say – it never happened. So I’m living a reality that never happened. And it’s not real… so… am I not real?
Blast it all – I’m split between two universes.
Now there are lights in the room. Not a party light – an otherworldly light, the kind I’m not sure others can see. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the light of unreality peaking through. This dream – is it a dream? – is rapidly disintegrating. The light fills the room. It’s heading towards me.
All of a sudden, the thought strikes me like a bolt of lightning. The strongest jolt yet.
The structure is not real.
Think about it. All this is some pseudo-reality mumbo jumbo, clearly a subconscious re-jumbling of various signifiers randomly assembled by neurons firing in my brain. The dream world – the world where I saw that show, with all my friends, where I’m seeing that show now – cannot exist. Because the machine that took me there is bigger inside than out. And that can’t be, and I’m here now, and so –
The structure doesn’t exist. It’s not real.
And… if the structure is not real… none of this is real.
The light is blinding…
I awake with a start.
I don’t know what that was.
I don’t know what time it is, or what day it is, or if any time has passed at all.
I am in my bed. Sunlight pours through my window.
I get dressed and head to the garage, just to check.
Everything is exactly as I left it.
The structure is still there. I give the outside a cursory check. Looks like I was wrong. It may not make sense, but it’s real.
The hatch is opened. The inside is cavernous. Peering inside, squinting, I can see the red button. It’s ready to take me somewhere else.
For some reason, I can’t remember anything before this moment. The months before quarantine, the shows I had planned, the ideas, even building the structure itself – it’s all burned from my brain. There is only the structure, and my journey through another world.
I don’t know how this happened, or what will happen, or what happened to lead me to this moment.
All I know, with increasing certainty, is that I must re-enter the structure. I must press the button, and go wherever it takes me.
I must use this machine to travel to each and every alternate-universe concert that was cancelled by the pandemic in our own. I must review each of these shows. I must document them, archive them, before they are lost to the wrong history.
And, of course, since these shows are in alternate universes – worlds not unlike our own, but with certain oddly specific similarities – I must be prepared for anything.
It turns out my quarantine project is far from finished.
And I must finish it – before it finishes me.
To be continued…