Notes on the general state of the neighborhood, the family, and the masses in the time of the virus.
It’s troubling (or comforting) that here in Seattle, the public is looking more and more like old Schultzy, while the Governor is creeping closer to his inner Hogan. My faith is in all the wrong places for a refreshing change.
1277 estimated positive cases (up 107 from yesterday)
94 estimated deaths (up 7 from yesterday)
The language has changed from “confirmed” cases and deaths, to “estimated.” That’s a significant shift, but it’s only because:
“Cases reported today are an approximation. Case numbers draw from a Washington State Department of Health database that is in the process of being updated. We expect to have an official count tomorrow.”
Imagine if all this was going down in, say, November of 1999, with Y2K looming on the horizon. The panic! The toilet paper hoarding that would have happened! A plague and IT issues? That’s a different kind of virus altogether. But I shouldn’t joke – people will take it too seriously and rumors will circulate. Like here in West Seattle, where the combination of our bridge closure and restrictions on non-essential nouns already started the spread of the particularly, predictably paranoid rumor that the “essential” personnel would have to carry some kind of ID or badge on them to prove their worth while driving on the alternate bridge with a Subaru riding extra low from a heavy load of bootlegged kombucha and toilet paper.
In the important tradition of good rumors lacking details, this one was unclear on who would issue those badges ((no doubt THE GOVERNMENT (or Amazon, for the truly skilled conspiracy theorists)). In any case, it’s garbage, but garbage fueled by absurd realities and the dependable absurdity of people. In this case, it appears that as soon as the governor said “essential workers,” employers started taking it on themselves to create and issue passes of various kinds.
“Federal Response Directive.” Sounds like some regional manager at Safeway caught a serious case of the “I’m Importants.” But that’s not the only one. Many commenters reported being issued some kind of pass, despite the fact that the Washington Dept of Commerce has flatly said that no, there will be no requirement whatsoever for anyone to show any kind of ID/pass/badge/token/ticket/trinket/talisman (hold my beer).
Yesterday – and by extension this post – was the dullest day of the apocalypse so far. I stayed in, nursing my back. It’s much better today, thanks. I schooled the boy, waxed the floor, made a big pot of food that’ll last 4 or 5 days, and baked another loaf of soda bread. It’s so good my wife eats it, and that’s saying something, friends.
I’m having it for breakfast right now. Cold, with a butter blanket laid across it, chased by fresh coffee. Good morning!
Your “Homeless in Coronafornia update for today:
Umm…I dont know. I think everyone is dead. It’s quite empty. And I need a dang room. So I’m out panhandling bc my mobile apartment and driver have vanished with my belongings. Clear as a bell this morning though…
He likes to find his silver linings. It’s probably an odd time for panhandling. People feeling extra compassionate during a hard time, while wanting even less than usual to get anywhere near a homeless person, besides so many fewer people being out to begin with. I get dizzy thinking about all the problems people have in this world. Problems that I know too little about. Coronavirus will fade away. Poverty, addiction, mental illness – they’re not going anywhere.
After a couple of days with a low “new death” count, we’re up 12.
To recap, in case you missed my bonus post this morning: West Seattle is cut off! It’s just another thing that seems horrifying up front, but will wind up being not very interesting in the end. It’s of a piece with the whole “the world will be a different place when this is over” trope. I’m hearing that more and more, and I just don’t know why anyone believes it. Different how? We’re going to go back to work and school, and in 6 months we’ll barely remember the Coronavirus. There will likely be businesses that don’t survive this, and life will be different for those people, but this is not going to shift us into some new global existence of…of what, exactly? Nobody seems to have gotten that far yet. That’s because all of the fun is in the prophecy – the fulfillment always just feels like December 26th (unless that’s your birthday).
We all love to feel important, and because we have a hard time getting that feeling from our everyday lives – from the mundane and decent moments – we imagine doomsday scenarios and great changes. We manufacture tragedy where it doesn’t exist, farming it like oysters in the brackish waters of our boredom and banality. Nothing’s more dull than stagnation, so we want to believe that something different’s coming to stir us up. It isn’t, though, and that’s the best part. We’re too good at civilization. The plague can’t ruin us with toilet paper and sanitizer shortages, and it isn’t going to forever change our way of life as we come out the back end of it (in a couple weeks or months or whatever). We’re too resilient and our systems are too redundant, and we’re just too big. You can’t turn an aircraft carrier in a phone booth.
The governor also laid out some “enhanced strategies” yesterday. I see now that there’s a slogan attached to it: “Stay home, stay healthy.” Fine by me. It may actually be a misdemeanor now to be within 6 feet of someone. I don’t see much chance of that being enforced with anything more than a shout. Inslee has avoided calling directly for a shelter-in-place, which I think is a pretty savvy move. The public has been calling for it and predicting it (so that later they can say they were right) for a while now. It’s been an unavoidable term in an unavoidable conversation, and the Governor won’t be sucked in by the sheepish momentum. Possibly it also leaves room for escalation. After all, what if you order a shelter-in-place and things get worse? Where do you go from there, Martial Law? He’s at least buffered and slowed the lockdown process with an additional step this way, and perhaps has significantly (smartly, invisibly) staid the hand of public panic by avoiding the language of school shootings and severe weather.
Or maybe it’s just politics, distinguishing himself from the New Yorks and Californias, hoping that in the end he can look at his voters and say that he was right. It’s his own low-risk bet on future validation. He’ll be able to stand there and say that he successfully fought the plague without resorting to the draconian measures of the other states, all the while doing essentially the same thing they did, only using different words.
Either way, I say “Good job, Jay.”
There is a line now at Trader Joe’s. They’re doing the one person out, one person in thing, with a max capacity of 20 shoppers. I came down the stairs from the parking garage yesterday, saw that the line was 7 or 8 people deep, and decided not to wait. I like Trader Joe’s. It is easy to ignore their shortcomings, given the low prices and some of the goodies that are unique to their stores. But I’m not waiting in line for it, six feet away from the next person.
I went back to my usual store, closer to home anyway, and found myself with an unexpected sweet tooth. Bought two kinds of cookies, a tub of ice cream, and even a package of ladyfingers for some reason I can’t explain (except that I turned towards the shelf and there they were). They are not very good. Clearly Tiramisu is the best thing that ever happened to them. Toilet paper was still out, as was the yeast. I’ve been looking for yeast since this thing started, and in the meantime managed to forget my lack by making soda bread. Yeastless and delicious, with a little rosemary to make it classy.
I’ll make another loaf today, as well as a large vat of chicken and noodles, which is the only thing I can think of that qualifies as a family recipe for us. My grandma used to make it when she visited, especially during Christmas and Thanksgiving. My mom made it when grandma wasn’t around (and after she died, of course), and I’ve been making it ever since I moved away from home, such a long time ago. Everyone loves it.
So, as we’ve already explored, things are very serious. There’s hard lessons to be learned! Life as we know it will be forever changed! Well, I took a walk the other day with a friend who recently found out his 8 year-old son is dying of a rare condition, and they caught it too late. They could still have years to go, but most of them won’t be good. It was a walk in a park that made us part of the unperson population, being too cavalier about social distancing, and apparently putting everyone at risk with our irresponsible behavior. Risk. My friend and his family are a thousand tragic steps beyond risk. They are living with something far more sinister and damning: certainty. He would joyfully replace that certainty with the welcome possibilities of mere risk, rather than knowing so plainly the hell that is coming. So he is understandably unmoved by the moralizing masses in the comments of the Governor’s twitter feed. Tell him, and the rest of his family, that going to the park is dangerous and irresponsible. That the world’s going to be different when this is over. For them, yes, very. But not because of quarantines, closed bridges, or government decrees. Not because we “came together as a community” and “supported local businesses” while we looked at the suddenly clean air of our cities and “finally learned a hard lesson about climate change” (yes, people are saying this). Nope, all the people in a situation like my friend, who are plagued by reality, are just trying to find the importance in the mundane and decent moments of the life they have left, before it changes for real, forever.
Your “Homeless in Coronafornia” update:
Goot morning from ground zero Anyone know of a place to pee inside?
That’s a concern of an unbridgeable kind. I’m usually less troubled by his troubles than I should be. It’s comments like those that remind me not to go around manufacturing tragedy where it doesn’t exist.
The city of Seattle – mainlanders, as we here on the peninsula of West Seattle will be referring to them soon enough – has seen fit to shut down the West Seattle Bridge. The usual alternative, known colloquially as “the low bridge” (poetic as hell, I know), will be restricted to transit, first responders, and freight. The low bridge also happens to be a draw bridge, adding hilariously to the complications. This means a significant southward detour for 80,000 residents, via and onto roads that are laughably unequipped for heavy traffic volume. But Governor Inslee simultaneously issued a state-wide “please stay home, and stuff” order, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Right? Right. He didn’t use the mot du jour, shelter-in-place, but that’s because it’s been said so many billions of times over the past week that it’s literally impossible to say anymore. We’re just fresh out. Instead he issued a – and I’m quoting here – “stay at home order to fight this virus.”
They’re going to be assessing the bridge due to cracks that they’ve openly admitted to having known about for several years. It’ll be closed as long as it takes for the assessment, and remain closed as long as it takes for repairs. Or, as the SDOT director said in a garish flourish of education-proud degree speak, “until further notice.” The bottom line is that as far as West Seattle is concerned, this here quarantine can go on as long as it wants. We’re going nowhere, and we have everything we need right here anyway. Heck, there’s times I’ve gone weeks without leaving this peninsula, and that’s when we don’t have a plague to celebrate. So roll on, quarantine. Carry on, stay-at-home order. And claim your victims, Coronavirus. We’ll gladly hole up here “until further notice.”
But be advised, mainlanders, one day you’re going to want to come back across that bridge yourselves, to enjoy the beauty of Alki Beach and Lincoln Park, our attendance at which has drawn your ire for a solid week now. You’ll want to take in the best views in the city while hoping to bump into Eddie Vedder. You’ll want to stroll through the Junction, shop at the last Easy Street Records, grab a cone from Husky Deli, and watch the sun go down over the Olympics from Three Tree Point. And we are going to refuse. You will march pathetically through the rubble, over our glorious bridge that you say is barely holding itself together, waving your white flag (check with the Seattle City Council, they have extras from that time they were on Sawant’s side about the head tax), and begging us to let you surrender. We will respond as succinctly as sir Anthony up there, by simply telling you to “Go to Hell.”
White Center will happily (and quite easily, you’d know if you ever deigned to go there) hold our Southern border. That town has resisted white people’s best efforts at gentrification since before Richard Hugo called it home, and it’s residents will be finished with you before their pho gets cold.
The care center in Kirkland where this whole thing kicked off for us has leveled off in terms of body count. For the first couple of weeks, nearly all of the new fatalities came from that one place, but it’s been a few days since the last one. Hopefully the worst is over for them. It must be frightening to be there, elderly and not wanting this to be the way your number is delivered. I can’t imagine. I suppose some are ready, and some are not, just like always.
Quarantine weekend was (dare I be so droll?) nice. I hesitate to over-sentimentalize things, but it would be shallow of me to ignore the fact that we have good neighbors. I don’t want to say “community” because I think that word is somewhat weaponized – a virtue grenade lobbed from dubious moral high ground. “I love this community,” “the strength of our community is…” etc. It’s nice, but I think a little vapid, and generally meant to cast a wider net than the waters being fished really call for. Neighbors, on the other hand, yes. And we have good ones. To ride the cliché of looking for the good in all this strangeness, our neighbor-cluster has been a very bright spot. We gather nightly (the weather’s turning, though, so watch out) in camp chairs, with drinks ranging from scotch to coffee to last night’s appearance of a Bloody Mary. The talk is good and fun, with nobody harping on political/governmental issues, no opinion-slinging about whether we’re over- or under-reacting to this whole thing (as a community, haha). Just the usual jokes about social distancing and the obligatory prediction of the coming lockdown. It seems to be a foregone conclusion in the minds of most that Seattle ‘s shelter-in-place order is just a Governor’s presser away (that’s a very short article that uses the term “shelter-in-place” six (6!) times) I don’t know. I don’t care. Speculation wears me down faster than a belt sander, so I just refuse to do it (with the exception of maintaining my very general prediction that this’ll be over sooner than we think. But that’s saying very little, and committing to less). Outside of our 5:00 happy hour at the end of the dead-end road, we (the neighbors) see plenty of each other out in the yards now that we’re all home. No soccer games or swim meets, no piano recitals, no fund raisers. Just everybody, here. The gardens are being refreshed, the daffodils are being complimented, the decks are being washed, and indeed (don’t get off the cliché wagon yet, Andy) the sounds of the kids playing their ridiculous and fluid-ruled games are ever present.
Last week I met a friend for a walk. This is Alki beach. It’s been in the news lately, an example of the people’s refusal to take the plague seriously. This beach (and all of Seattle’s more popular park and public spaces) has been very, very crowded since the social distancing mandates, school closures, and working from home began. But guys, the weather has been amazing:
The beach smelled like weed and Thursday. In other words, unremarkable. It was more crowded than the picture shows, and the crowding has increased daily since then. My opinions are meaningless, but it is the opinion of the general public (the part that is generally not going to the beach, anyway) that this is very irresponsible and dangerous. So that is what all of the talk is about now – the crowded parks and what our community of armchair epidemiologists have learned from the internet about how a virus spreads in the open air. I begrudge them nothing, neither the beachgoers (I was there myself!) nor the ersatz experts. Everything that everyone is doing and saying today is not a concern for the present, but a bet on the future, seeding the narrative in the hopes that when the end of this thing arrives, their opinions will be awash in the glow of righteous hindsight, that soothing balm that only comes by chance, and yet whose truth is always claimed by the accidental victors. An opinion made today is nothing but a desire to say “see, I was right” tomorrow. And it’s a safe bet, because when we lose we are not expected to say “see, I was wrong.”
The short version is simply that, after a weekend hiatus here at the PVPD, not much has changed. We’re all still healthy and haven’t tried to kill each other yet. I threw my back out moving a giant stone birdbath thing – broke one shovel that I had comically praised for its longevity not 30 minutes prior, and eventually used a floor jack to make the bigger moves. I have enough time on my hands to try a handful of different strange pain remedies, none of which are nearly as effective as ibuprofen and a little careful stretching (he said, in the absence of any prescription narcotics). CBD oil I think is the biggest sham going these days, but that doesn’t stop me from using it. This morning I picked up the boy’s new homework packet for the week, and dropped off the old one, feeling very much like we accomplished a great deal and had a successful week of homeschooling.
Your “Homeless in Coronafornia” update for today:
We are fine, just waiting on our checks… There was a resonating collective sigh of relief when the government pulled that out. It’s like getting paid for a snowday
I’m not sure “the government” has quite put that one together yet. I may be wrong, but he shouldn’t get ahead of himself. Maybe.
I wanted to start things a little differently this morning, by writing (or at least starting on) a poem. Something touching on all this madness. But the only things that come to mind are snarky or dark, and that’s too cheap for poetry. I’ll have to keep trying – to steer the eyes and ears and thoughts towards the beauty that settles humbly in the murk and muck.
Walking at Lincoln Park last night was a good way to lean in that direction.
The sky was clear and bright, and the sun was out. There’s a strange perfection to weather sometimes, such that my layering of a sweatshirt under a wool coat wasn’t too warm, but I would have been comfortable in my shirtsleeves (if I may use archaic language in an appeal to much older readers and bibliophiles). For some reason “shirtsleeves” brings Tolstoy to mind, but it sounds too English, so I’m probably thinking more of Dickens. It’s an odd word that seems to refer to some kind of a reverse vest. There were more people out than would normally have been at 6:30 on a weekday evening, even with such wonderful weather.
That’s a view looking mostly North, from near the Fauntleroy Ferry dock that sits at the South end of the park. Those are the Olympic mountains in the distance. We live across the street from there, East by a block or so, and can walk down to the spot where that picture was taken in about 5 minutes. I’ve done it a hundred times, and still I take pictures like I’ve never been there before. It’s too right:
Local statutes mandate that all citizens stockpile not toilet paper, but photos of the ferry on its journey to/from Vashon Island or Southworth, never centered, with an implication of sunset. Driftwood is not required in the composition, but the Stasi like to see it, so…
As you walk back from the North end of the Park the view shifts to this:
If you look closely, you can see Fibonacci on a stand-up paddleboard, saying “see?”
I don’t know if this section of the Puget Sound has a particular name. Elliott Bay is part of the same water, but it’s North of West Seattle, and Lincoln Park is on the Southwest part of that. From here we look West to the aforementioned Vashon Island and Southworth, but also the much smaller Blake Island, where I have never yet been. We get Orcas and submarines and Gray whales and aircraft carriers through these waters, and now at least one of Washington’s representatives in Congress is asking for a US Navy hospital ship to sail through here and drop anchor in Elliott Bay. The hospital ships are not equipped for infectious diseases, but can be used to house and treat trauma patients, freeing up space in the local hospitals for Coronavirus cases.
Oh yeah, Coronavirus. I almost forgot there was a plague on. Not that we needed one in order to realize that no matter what you’re doing, there’s always someone there to tell you it’s wrong.
Like all human crises throughout history, COVID-19 has its deniers. I don’t mean people who deny the Coronavirus is real, though I have no doubt those people are out there. The people I’m talking about are every bit as confident in their own twisted truth as the flat-Earthers or the Holocaust deniers, but they are a far greater threat to the safety and cohesion of society and to the future of human kind. They are the …
I really don’t understand this any more than I understand hoarding toilet paper. People are balking at hand sanitizer and denouncing it vehemently. It’s become a favorite piece in the big game of armchair-expert-in-a-crisis nonchalance. They can’t stop weighing in on its uselessness, and even go so far as to say it makes things worse. I could appeal to authority, say that my OB/GYN cousin uses it and makes her kids use it, and that my wife’s married friends – one an OB and the other a vascular surgeon – are using it and say it’s a good idea, but I know there will be doctors out there who say don’t bother with it, so the whole thing is a wash (haha). And I don’t care, anyway. I’m not carrying water for team hand sanitizer, I’m just trying not to get sick. But FWIW, I’m willing to bet they use it on the hospital ships.
It wouldn’t kill us to talk about the bright side a bit, right? The West Seattle Blog reports a positive note from the Southwest Precinct of the Seattle Police Department:
Emphasis Patrols have been modified, or canceled, due to the current lack of activity in most of the locations.
Crime is down. Homes are burgled far more often during the day than at night. Dare I say it’s another unintended consequence of the dual-income family model? I wonder how those home invasion numbers have changed as the domestic dynamic has evolved? There would be more factors to consider, of course, but still. For our purposes today, it’s enough to note that an awful lot of homes that are usually empty are now occupied full time, so the petty crooks don’t have as many soft targets. Chalk one up for the low-level quarantine!
I suppose there are a lot of unoccupied shops/stores of various types out there. A bunch of merchandise that isn’t being watched very carefully. Criminals might be feeling like there’s some opportunity for them. Maybe if this thing goes a little too long we’ll start seeing broken windows, but I would guess that most of the smaller businesses at least would be doing something to secure their merchandise off-site. I think I’ll take a walk through The Junction to see how things look. I know that bookstores are closing, but that’s no big opportunity for the thugs. The criminals are only literate in Hollywood.
Speaking of Hollywood, here’s your “Homeless in Coronafornia” update for today, courtesy of my brother:
Oh everyone is gone They all ran inside Its creepy Seriously though its quiet
Notes on the general state of the neighborhood, the family, and the masses in the time of the virus.
Disclaimer: I really had no idea I was going to go so long, or into so many things. I just wanted to start keeping track of the situation here during our (so far) low grade social quarantine. Things are odd enough out there that having an informal record of it might wind up looking like a good idea. It’s just that jumping into it a couple-few weeks late is requiring some backpedaling. And in any case, as I mention below, things only ramped up to Twilight Zone levels of alarm and theatrics in the last week or so.
The year is 2020, and for not much reason other than that, I’m calling it the Perfect Vision Plague (You know my feelings on naming things). Also, shortened to PVP, it carries the same acronym as Player vs. Player, which seems so fitting in a time of policing each other’s personal hygiene habits, that it’s like earning a new merit badge in the Cynicism Scouts.
Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting the following confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19 through 11:59 p.m. on 3/14/20
420 confirmed cases (up 32 from yesterday)
37 confirmed deaths (up 2 from yesterday)
We’ll just call last weekend, March 14 and 15, “day 1.” It was the first weekend since the news of the outbreak that we really knew where we stood in terms of daily routine. There was no more wondering which schools were going to close and which rogue private schools would hold out – allschools were now officially closed by government decree until at least April 27th. The admonition to stay home from work was strong enough that going to the office on Monday (today) would likely brand you a nonperson among some of your peers. In short, this was the first weekend in which we all officially had The Fear.
Back on Feb 29th, Governor Inslee issued the first proclamation of a particularly worrisome variety – the kind that sends people, evidently, into fits of involuntary toilet paper hoarding. This was the declaration of a state of emergency for Washington state. It’s probably the best marker for the start of the panic around here, the beginning of the journey into an unlikely blend of camaraderie and McCarthyism. Here’s the synopsis, from the Governor’s announcement of the early gravity of things here in Washington, where things, you know, virus-wise, are (or at least were, I can’t keep up) worse than anywhere else in the country:
The nation’s first case of COVID-19 was found in a Snohomish County man in January. He had traveled to Wuhan, China and has now recovered. On Feb. 28, the state Department of Health announced two additional cases – a King County woman who had recently traveled to South Korea, and a Snohomish County teenager with no travel history. Both are recovering at home and remain in home isolation.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And overall we were still fairly casual about things. Nothing had been shut down, and even though the toilet paper and hand sanitizer were already becoming unicorns, life was business as usual. The one place to find amplified histrionics and a deluge of virus-related reactionism was, oddly enough, the comment sections of every website. They were neatly stratified into two narrow categories (how strange, I know):
We have a flu season every year that kills tens of thousands! This one isn’t even that lethal. It’s stupid to get worked up over this when we don’t even bat an eye the rest of the time.
SHUT IT ALL DOWN YESTERDAY.
Both categories were experts, backed by science (I type that word with a small ‘s’ and I feel like an atheist lower-casing ‘God.’ That’s the respect your savior gets from me!).
The notification/warning phase was followed by a very rapid sequence of mandated closures and prohibitions, such that by now the grocery stores are one of the few businesses still allowed to operate normally. Yesterday, March 15th, came the most recent order, and the one that says more than anything so far that we’re simply not gonna screw around here anymore:
And that’s where we stand today. The restaurants, bars, and gyms are closed – the gyms! – and most everything else. The aforementioned grocery stores, as well as pharmacies, remain open. Someone in the comments of the West Seattle Blog asked about the pot shops, and I immediately had visions of dirty college kids passing pipes around tapestry-laden rooms, coughing, sweating, and laughing. They’d be scrubbing the mouthpiece with sanitary wipes between hits, and finding out how hard it is to light the bowl when you’re holding the tube between your elbows. Social distancing requires the use of a 6ft. bong.
So how is humanity keeping itself busy? Well, in a move that surprised nobody, certain names for the virus became racist this week, according to the people who used those names last week (and if carving out time for character assasssination during a pandemic isn’t your clue that we might be a little too dependent on racism as a tool of socio-politcal exepdiency, then please, voluntarily and aggressively self-quarantine well after the “all-clear” is issued). I could make a list of things that are closed and canceled, but the links are pretty useful, and unless this crisis ends up deleting the internet, I think the info is safe (he said with a very “hold my beer” kind of feeling in his gut). Here’s the Governor’s coronavirus page, it appears pretty comprehensive and easy to follow, and it’ll have your state-level updates (until the capital is overrun by looters and Inslee is forced into the Olympia underground, eating rats cooked over fires of slow-burning hand sanitizer) (The Republicans will blame his liberal policies for the rats being there at all)(The Democrats will note, loudly, that there is a burn ban in effect)(The actual residents of Olympia will be going back out for sushi by then)
A thing or two about what I think when I take in this whole situation:
About people, about the great and general us:
I have conflicting feelings here, and I resist the urge to grab a very broad brush of cynicism, plunge it into a tub of mistrust, and start stroking away. All the hoarding makes a lot of us scoff – while of course wondering if we should be getting ours while we still can. And a lot of people are using this opportunity to exercise a (let’s face it, poorly suppressed at the best of times) proclivity for telling their neighbors how to live. There’s a feeling, a gestalt, of unease, uncertainty, and a kind of ineffable difference to human experience, as if we’re all walking around inside of our own doppelgangers, suddenly left-handed.
We do love a good tragedy, but only insofar as we can claim proximity to it. Involvement. I can think of a few things in my lifetime that are “where-were-you-when” events. Those turning points – moments of profound social, political, and cultural significance that people try to stamp by talking about what they were doing when it happened. There was the Berlin Wall coming down, The Space Shuttle Challenger exploding after takeoff, and 9/11. There might be more, but a longer list dilutes the significance. Almost none of us had any real proximity to those events, fewer still were actually involved at all, and yet all we want to do is link ourselves to them in any way we can, usually by talking at length about what we were doing when it happened. I’m honestly not sure what we hope to gain from that. God only knows if it’s a psychological impulse to appeal for even the thinnest sympathy wherever we can get it, or if it’s as simple as a desire to feel more important than we know very deeply that we are. Whatever it is, it has always felt particularly empty to me. Selfish, too, but I repeat myself.
And that’s why the toilet paper is gone.
But we’re good, too. People are helping each other out in any way they can. It’s very hard at a time when physical distance is mandated. This has been instructive in revealing just how much, in spite of all the complaints about the way technology keeps us apart, we depend on close interaction. We pass things hand-to-hand, we hug, shake hands, pat shoulders and backs, pick things up for people when they drop them. We pass food around by hand, and I recall Morocco – eating all those meals with my host family and all my friends, tearing bread for each other, using it to scoop food from the large shared dish in the center of the table. I rarely touched a fork. They’re in the time of the virus, too, and they’ll be having to do things very differently now.
There are a lot of efforts underway to feed the high numbers of children who depend to varying degrees on school lunches. There are some very low-income people who need those meals and will struggle without them, and I hear that all Seattle Public Schools will have meals available for pickup for every SPS student who wants one. Also, the restaurants are closed for dine-in business, but they are turning themselves into full-service takeout vendors. And while this will seem a little too first-world for some people, restaurant availability diminishes the need for stockpiled food at home, while helping to maintain the extremely important sense of normalcy that keeps us all from turning on each other. This is good humanity. It’s why I get the feeling that we’re at a point when real catastrophe will be very hard to come by. We have ways to make things work, and people to do it. If things get really, apocalyptically bad, it won’t be because of a virus or a super-weapon or “the big one.” We are more than capable of helping each other through these things. If it really does go all the way pear-shaped on us, it will be because of us, panicking to the point of hijacking Amazon delivery drivers on the road and, yes, hoarding all the toilet paper.
But I see you cocking your head and making the very concerned face of a cable news celebrity politicizing a crisis and asking “Andy, how are things for you, personally, and that dear family of yours? With all this worry over your health, and also my need for your sage guidance, I cannot sustain a full 20 seconds of hand washing.”
Here’s a weekend recap:
We ate together a lot. It was great. I know people like to hold up the “eating together as a family” ideal as the gold standard in knowing the difference between the Cleavers and the Mansons, but that’s ridiculous. It is definitely very nice to eat together (when nobody is being moody or there’s nothing unsettling or contentious to talk about, and everyone likes what has been cooked, and nobody has anything at all to complain incessantly about) but we simply don’t get to do it very often. Two or three times a week at best. There’s too much work and soccer and piano and swimming and basketball, so we eat far fewer homecooked meals than most people falsely claim to have at their homes. And yet we’re a very good and strong family. Which is why, when we did get to eat together several times over the weekend, it went well.
We also had a baking competition, boys against girls, in which we each tried to make the best Cookie Monster cake. It was a spectacular way to forget all the viral anxiety. It also resulted in two delicious cakes that sanitation requirements forbade us to offer to the neighbors, so we’re enjoying a little dessert several times a day.
I went to the store a couple of times. I’m going to admit as confidently as I know how that I did buy toilet paper. We were down to one package (8 rolls?) at home, so I can credibly say that it was a good time to buy it anyway, but the decision was at least 40% panic. I mean, what if I was the one guy who was too stupid to do it? WHAT WOULD MY FAMILY THINK OF ME. I bought 12 rolls of the weird stuff that was left on the shelf at Target because nobody wanted it. 12 rolls is not a lot. It is not hoarding. I would buy 12 rolls at any normal trip to the store. But it is an odd feeling, purchasing the toilet paper that even hoarding food-stampers won’t touch, when everyone is watching you. “Holy crap, that guy’s desperate.”
Then I went to a different store and they had name brand, super-soft toilet paper on the shelf, so I bought an 8-pack. Now we’re hoarding, kids.
(My wife just came down to tell me that the county in California where her friend lives has made it a misdemeanor to leave your house. We haven’t verified this or looked at the details, and this seems drastic for even those Orwellian pea-brains in that state, so don’t hold me to it. A very quick and shallow google search yields nothing)
We walked in and around Lincoln Park three times over the weekend. Twice with the kids. They hate it and always grumble terrifically when we tell them that it must be done. Still, once we get out and moving they acquiesce to their captivity and have a nice enough time. My son is 9 years old and all it takes is a football or a surprise punch in the gut to make him forget that he’s angry. He’s like a dog that way – sometimes just opening the door to the outside world gets him running around out there with his nose in the air.
There were a lot of people at the park, which was nice to see. The weather was sunny but cold and windy. Usually that wind will keep people inside, but it was obvious that what we all really needed, even after just a few days of stress and worry, was to get the hell outside. Air, trees, water, the sounds of the ferries and seagulls, the stiff lashing of the wind on your cheeks – it’s a big reset button. It lightens you, physically, in both color and weight, wiping away a grimy darkness that had settled on you like coaldust while you shuffled around a shuttered house, scrubbing the skin from your hands with 90% alcohol concoctions.
This has gone long. I’ll talk a bit about school and the kids tomorrow, as well as whatever else might come up in this ever developing situation. For the record, my early prediction for the Societal Freeze brought about by the Perfect Vison Plague is that here in the United States it will be over much sooner than we think. We will have overreacted in effective ways, and we will look back on this whole thing as a job well done.
Not the Italians, though. They’re gonna be pissed off for generations.
One of the more common themes of life as a human, at least as I look back over things, is not knowing what to do, think, feel, or say. All the more true in this time of the incipient plague. Like earthquakes, winning the lottery, and getting published, I’ve got that undeniable sense that it will most definitely “never happen to me.” (He said in an election year.) And as the man in the song says:
“the agony and the irony, they’re killing me.”
Whatever that digression was about…
I’m being a little cleaner, more sanitary (what a word) than before, but that doesn’t amount to much. I’m more worried than before, but again…
I do wish that we would go back to calling it a plague. I like what Merriam Webster gives me online; this introduction to misery and despair:
\ ˈplāg \
Definition of plague
(Entry 1 of 2)
1a : a disastrous evil or affliction : calamity
b : a destructively numerous influx or multiplication of a noxious animal : infestation a plague of locusts
2a : an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : pestilence
b : a virulent contagious febrile disease that is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) and that occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic forms
— called also black death
3a : a cause of irritation : nuisance
b : a sudden unwelcome outbreak a plague of burglaries
2b sounds suitably scientific, and that’s what we’re all after these days. That’s why we don’t call it a plague. We call it a what?
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
We call it an epidemic. Now that’s science-y! Our saviors can do something about that! Scientists: the people who settle disputes in an indisputable manner, who answer questions with unquestionable answers, and are never to be doubted (except when it comes to food and biological sex; then suddenly they’re a bunch of Keystone Khemists who have no business telling us anything). Test tubes, beakers, swabs, and acronyms! An epidemic doesn’t stand a chance.
But then 2b dons its plague doctor mask, and descends upon us with the “black death.”
Call it the black death instead of an epidemic and things seem pretty hopeless, don’t they? I mean, just add it to definition 1a up there: “Evil.” “Calamity.” We don’t have labs for evil and calamity, much less black death. We do have art, though:
And there’s literature, from Defoe to Camus, and a little work you may have heard of that’s called, in some circles, The Bible ((science has declared a hyperlink to be unnecessary in the case of The Bible (A little joke that I’m now recognizing has substantial depth to be explored, depending on your sleep and electrolyte levels this soon after DST clock changing)).
All of which is to say that I don’t know what I am saying, or what I want to say, or how to thnk or feel about it all. We have a germaphobe in the house already, so there hasn’t been much of an uptick in the previously sensible sanitation habits (though between me and the kids, our germaphobe hardly stands a chance). And I find myself reading King County Health reports very selectively, for the information that helps me to not be concerned – all the dying people are old, they all came from the same care center, etc. There’s not much of a reason to give it any thought at all, as long as I do it like that.
I barely remember the swine flu or the bird flu, which are much cooler names, BTW, than Coronavirus, but there’s probably something worth examining in a society’s tendencies when naming it’s disasters – do we shoot for sensationalism? Gravitas? Humo(u)r? (our ancestors would certainly have much to say about the humors in the time of a plague). I do know that we fancy ourselves a very intellectual culture and society here in the US, and “unseriousness” is frowned very seriously upon – he said, yet again, in an election year.
And I have to say, though I’m sure it’s just coming from the macabre child that will not release its hold on my soul, that I envy a society that called its affliction something so dour, dire, and distraught as “The Black Death.” That’s beautiful. Succinct. I don’t think we’d ever do that. I already note how unwilling people are to joke about this outbreak, and resistance to humor is another mark of a society that overvalues intellectualism amidst a dearth of it. Comedians are brilliant, and geniuses tell huge jokes. But mediocrity (and we are mediocre, on average – definitions and all that) – mediocrity poses and postures, and adopts a serious tone, because it adapts poorly to things that stray too far from the line it clings to. Mediocrity hides best when it moves least, and there’s nothing more stagnant than humorlessness.
I had no idea I was going to go there. But here I am, talking about fear and humorlessness in the time of plague, and in an election year, blah blah. Of course it’s somewhat overserious of me to draw that comparison at all, which fact brings swimming back to me what the man said in the song, and what I already laid out above: