There’s no need to read any of this. We’re all going through the same thing, all reading the same stuff on the internet. I can’t offer any fresh insights on American life in the time of Covid-19. I’m just writing here because I’ve finished the new season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the last murder mystery I had on the Kindle (The Perfect Couple, three stars).
So. Pandemic, huh? As it happens, I also recently finished a book about a pandemic (Severance) and I really didn’t expect to see the book’s premise played out in real life — or for another few years at least.
But now it’s happening everywhere and we must all deal with it as best we can. Here in Jacksonville, we’ve spent the last 10 days hunkered down, washing our hands like the Macbeths (stole that line from a New Yorker piece) and exploring the wonders of grocery delivery. The last time I went to a store in person was to pick up a prescription at WalMart. I didn’t really have a cold, but I did cough into my elbow a few times just to encourage other shoppers to give way.
WalMarts are not known for their cheery ambience in the best of times, but last week seemed particularly bleak. Maybe a little poignant too: all the aisles full of cheap consumer crap, bikes and clothes and toaster ovens, and nobody’s looking at any of it because they’re busy claiming the remaining stock of disinfectants and canned beans and toilet paper, enough to last through a crisis of unknown duration. And maybe a little extra.
Just like that, the world has changed. Just like that, we don’t covet the stuff we used to, and we are panic-buying all the mundane stuff we took for granted.
Americans are not used to this. A crisis is not supposed to last very long. We’re good at dealing with fires and floods, earthquakes and shrieking storms. We sift through the rubble and vow to rebuild and restock and move on. It usually seems a safe bet that the sun will come out tomorrow.
This is different. Not so much a natural cataclysm yet, but a growing shadow at sunset, getting longer with each report on the number of infections and deaths. That shadow was by the curb at noon and now it’s halfway up the side of the house next door. And for some reason the birds have quit singing.
OK, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. Sorry. You may apply for a refund in the gift shop.
I would be a little more upbeat about all this if I believed the experience might somehow make us better. That’s what hard times are supposed to do, right? Unify the nation in common purpose? Clarify what’s important? That was the case after Pearl Harbor; it was briefly the case after 9/11. But of course then we did not have a president who demands divisiveness, who never saw a problem he couldn’t blame on others and then exploit to his own advantage.
It’s particularly soul-killing to hear him now, talking about letting the virus run its course. He’s ready to roll the dice on losing a couple million oldsters in exchange for a rebound in the Dow before Election Day. That’s his bet. He likes the odds. In a nod to his “evangelical” base, he is careful to mention that it would be very great to see all the churches full at Easter time.
Of course! Mr. Two Corinthians believes that if you like to worship God, think how great it would be to meet Him in person. If you’re old and at-risk, Il Douche is happy to jump you right to the front of the line.
It’s outrageous, just as everything he says and does. And of course his Fox News sycophants are already rubbing their chins and nodding. Makes sense, boss! In a twisted way, maybe it does. But it’s like saying combat units should leave their wounded on the battlefield. Costs a lot to care for them and they can’t fight anymore anyway. So fuck ’em.
But enough of Trump. Seriously: Enough already. He can’t “reopen” America any more than he could shut it down. No matter what he blathers on about in the weeks to come, we should all probably ignore him and keep our own counsel, and keep our distance, and try to get through this. Not by hoarding or sharing stupid rumors or shaming those who don’t seem to be taking it seriously enough, but by doing the best we can. Maybe leave some staples for the next person? Maybe take this a one day at a time?
My daily routine hasn’t changed a great deal. Social distancing comes naturally to some of us. The three things I do every day without fail is make the bed, clean the litter box and walk three or four miles. After that it’s reading, light yard work, a bit of Amazon Prime or Netflix, and then about 17 hours of checking my phone or iPad for new things to feel sick about.
Of those activities, the walk is the most rewarding. I usually listen to podcasts, but lately I prefer to just stride along in silence. Jacksonville is quiet now. Too quiet, as they say in the movies. I have been seeing a few more walkers lately, folks now jobless because of the virus, folks suffering a bit of cabin fever. But walkers are still rare and the people I do see often veer to the other side of the street. Nobody’s very inclined to chat. Part of that may be the solitary vibe I give off like cartoon stink waves, but I think everybody else is just being careful too. We’re not afraid to die, of course. But we’re kind of afraid of dying, like, next week.
There’s a rose arbor in Confederate Park, less than a mile from my house. It’s maybe 50 yards long, covered over with fragrant blossoms this time of year. I always walk through it, unless I see some solitary person shouting and they don’t appear to be using a bluetooth headset.
On this day there was an older guy seated on a bench about halfway through. Homeless, I supposed, since there was a battered rolling suitcase at his feet. He was talking but not shouting so I decided to risk it, mentally rehearsing my usual response to panhandlers.
He was reading from a battered Bible. He didn’t look up, didn’t make eye contact. He was just reading Scripture in a clear voice to an audience of one. Something from the gospel of Luke, I thought, but I’m no expert. I felt ashamed as I passed. How quickly I judge people. How perverse it is that the only ones I feel like helping are the ones who don’t ask.
This too shall pass. We may not all get to the other side, but we can decide to ignore the hatred and stupidity.