I was actually working on a thing about our Mexican vacation when it seemed like a distant memory. Current reality seems like an hallucination. A bad cough fever dream.
In Mexico when I first read about the novel coronavirus they named Covid-19, the Chinese Communist Party was trying to cover it up, which only made the stories coming out of Wuhan the more salacious compared with Uigar concentration camps. You could tell it was going to be a big deal if the CCP feared what would happen if word got around.
This while Roxanne and I lived the Life of Riley on the beach along the Pacific in tropical Mexico, far away from our home in the frozen desolation of Minnesota winter. We couldn’t have been more decadent bourgeois in our own way, epicurian, leisure seekers disposing of our disposable income for a respite escape from crippling cold. It’s been a venal entitlement of ours for about twenty years. Or just a guilty pleasure. We justify it to ourselves as the result of hard work at our professional careers and saving money for our Golden Years, providing we would have some. Funds to enable us to travel in our retirement as long as we stayed healthy enough to go places.
We’re home now with noplace to go. We are lucky. Some of that Charmed Life I’ve been telling about. We have a good home to default to. It’s paid for, as they say. We’ve kept up the property. Thus you might say proves wise planning and virtuous habits, and I’d thank you for thinking that, but only we know from experience together forty seven years how fortunate we are that most choices and decisions we made were good enough to keep us and our family on the up and up most of the time. It looks romantic in hindsight, and that’s fine. Roxanne and I find ourselves in the curious place where you say this is what it was ultimately about from the beginning when your hearts raced and you could see something in their eyes that said, trust me, we can grow old together. So here we are. Not a bad place we’ve got here. That’s what I say, we are lucky.
Instead of a balcony facing the Pacific surf I have a wooden porch overlooking a city avenue. At the hour of madrugada, the dawn, I sat in the chair on the seventh floor balcony facing the sea and nearby hillsides, reading about a Chinese region cracking down on its population to mobilize its public health care to contain an epidemic of a virus no one is immune to. No one. Inevitably every human on the planet can catch it. It’s a matter of time. Satellite photos showed Chinese work crews in Hubei province constructing hospitals. This wasn’t the usual Belt and Road. The World Health Organization was in on this. The undertones of the news prepared the world to brace, brace, brace. Already Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan got hip to the trend. In Mexico nobody went around wearing surgical masks, people still hugged hola and adios. Abrazos. We spent Valentine’s Day in Ixtapa. It could have been Utopia. We dined al fresco at Shorty’s where the host gave out red roses and the assistant maitre d sang in a trio who serenaded half the plaza beneath lines and lines strung of colored paper cutout doilies, los adornos.
I drank a few margaritas last winter down in Mexico. Especially Dia de San Valentin. Shorty’s mixed ’em good. The plaza was jumping. Festive. A lot of Canadians from Alberta and Saskatchewan, a few from Quebec. And Mexicans. Mexicans on dates. This is after all a Mexican riviera. Romantic couples from Jalisco, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Not so many Americans beyond present company, not unusual considering the Trump administration’s attitude towards tourism to Mexico, and towards Mexico in general. We take on a kind of ex-pat role and blend into the funny international scene. I can cherish the memory since I wasn’t too drunk to savor the walk back to our hotel and take in the palm trees under the moonlight.
When we flew home several days later, nobody on our flight wore a mask. Nobody greeted us at US Customs wearing masks. Or rubber gloves. It was no secret by then there was a coronavirus out there headed our way. It seemed like we were protected by the Pacific Ocean.
Around the first of March we visited my brother Sean and his family in Florida, flying in and out via Orlando and driving a Mustang convertible up and down the coastal highways between Cocoa Beach and Melbourne over a long weekend, which we had booked back in December. It was a cheap flight, leaving late and arriving later at night — if not a red eye then the pink eye. Somewhat because of the late hour the Orlando airport was quiet but there was also a wary stillness among the people in the terminal. This was Orlando, a great crossroads of the world because of Walt Disney, where thousands of children mingled their indiscriminate Mickey microbes every hour. With my brother we visited the beaches. The pier at Cocoa. If a viral plague was coming, this was where it was going to come.
Our pink eye flight home was not full, perhaps the first flight with empty seats I’ve been on since just after 9/11. No one on board wore a face mask. I’d picked up a cough in Melbourne, just another cold and a sniffle, which I tried to keep to myself, feeling suspect to my fellow passengers but confident I did them no harm. Today I’d probably be tossed off the plane as an abundance of caution.
Probably the last airplane ride for a while. Our summer plans included a family rendezvous for a week at a VRBO rental cabin in the Colorado Rockies near the Rocky Mountain National Park around Estes Park in June. We canceled our reservation the other day. Hadn’t booked flights in and out of Denver yet. I was looking forward to comparing 12,000 foot peaks in the Rockies with the ones in the Swiss Alps.
Home now about a month, half of which has been under a shelter in place order from our state governor, I’m reminded of all the places I cannot go. Places I just went, like Mexico and Greece, and places I haven’t been, like Portugal. No sense visiting Washington DC if the National Gallery and all the Mall monument museums are closed. Grand Canyon is closed. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is closed.
It’s supposed to be temporary but the scary part is the sense that it really isn’t temporary at all but permanent. It’s a free country and we can think whatever we want, and yet I feel guilty and cynical for observing trends in the shadows that portend changes that aren’t necessarily going to go away.
Things are going away that won’t come back.
It’s the Christian season of Lent, six weeks of penance and sacrifice. Passover comes in a few days. Ramadan occurs later this month. These are three faiths I know about whose liturgies coincide with this pandemic. Soothsayers in New Orleans fault Mardi Gras for the severe outbreak in Louisiana. Donald Trump, the American president, predicted the pandemic would all blow over by Easter Sunday, a miracle, and the world would all go back to automatic hum.
Penance aside, the sacrifice is most evident. Everybody pays dues. The ones who get sick and the ones who die. The loved ones left behind in the wrecked economy. The traumatized first responders and front line health care givers. Workers not working. Society not socializing. It’s hard not to imagine even the rich taking a haircut.
Once slickly produced late night topical talk and variety shows have all regressed to the standard of Wayne’s World. Without Garth.
If I didn’t see it coming when I read reports about Wuhan when we were in Mexico, when we came home from Florida and found St Paul, the proto-Irishest city west of Chicago, canceled the St Patrick’s Day parade. What has happened the past four weeks has fallen into place so chronologically and statistically it’s a cultural and historical perfect storm when the eventual meets the inevitable.
In this world we all mingle our microbes within our shared biosphere all the time. Modern science has tamed some of the most vicious infections and aided the human race in surviving newer and creepier diseases, as research goes on right now to find a cure and vaccine to prevent the novel coronavirus now creeping across the planet. Even in America, perhaps once the most sanitary nation on earth, germs find their way among its cleanest citizens. Franklin D Roosevelt caught polio.
Donald Trump, the American president, initially blew off the novel coronavirus as just another flu bug that would blow over in the fresh air of spring. Now he says he was just trying to be optimistic and to not incite panic. Initially he characterized serious questions about the pandemic sweeping the United States as a media hoax to benefit the Democrats, the opposition party who were at the time enjoying a long campaign of about a dozen candidates to run against him this November. The president said he wasn’t worried as he hosted visiting heads of state like Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil — Trump always likes to rag about his political opposition while hosting foreign dignitaries — and he told the press pool around the helicopter pad he had everything under control. He said if the doctors were in charge they would shut down the whole world. Even as he blathered through the scripted statistics and beautiful people who he wanted to thank from papers he seemed to be proofreading for the first time — emphasizing certain sentences with repetition as if to say, good to know — it was clear from his tone and demeanor he didn’t have a clue what was going on. He resisted closing down. He didn’t believe the numbers. The science didn’t make sense to him. If it was all just a flu bug then it should pass through the population, take its toll and fade away. In his mind there were already a lot of people dying every day, from cancer and diabetes and old age and car crashes, pneumonia and the flu, so what’s a few more just to get through the crisis and move on?
It got his attention when the stock market crashed, though he couldn’t believe it was happening. Not on his watch. Governors and mayors were taking charge of states and cities to issue policy directives of behavior. Minnesota’s governor Tim Walz assembled his team of commissioners and mobilized the state to prioritize health concerns first to identify the afflicted, treat the sick and prevent the transmission of the infection. Advisories went from don’t go to work sick to don’t go to work at all in a whir of mere days. The Mall of America closed until further notice. Governor Walz suspended school. The universities and colleges went online only. Then the governor himself found out he was exposed to the virus and went into quarantine, so he’s governing by video from home — governing by Wayne’s World.
Bars. Restaurants. Clubs. Concerts. Sports. Casinos. Movie theaters. Plays. Museums. Malls. Gyms. Closed. These all around me, aspects of my own community. This isn’t just Disneyland and the Eiffel Tower. This isn’t giving up the Rocky Mountains for Lent.
Feckless Trump didn’t want to shut anything down. He said America wasn’t built to be shut down. See his point. He’s in the hotel and resort business. He’s going to see a hit this tourist season. Remember he said amid the ramp up to save New York he wanted to see everything reopened on Easter Sunday, which will be 12 April. His advisors have since convinced him that even with all the measures being taken a couple hundred thousand Americans might die, but because of the measures being taken to flatten out the spike of the statistical curve the peak of the national infection might not be reached until 4 July.
Just this week he’s admitted it’s going to be bad. Very bad. He still can’t honestly answer direct questions about the federal government’s role in the public health emergency. Congress has appropriated trillions of dollars to finance the effort to mitigate the spread of the disease and treat the economic trauma. It’s possibly the most socialistic legislation since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Trump signed it, passed as it was by lawmakers from his own party. He has been granted emergency powers he wields arbitrarily, capriciously or not at all. He postures as if bullying General Motors, Medtronic and 3M to produce medical supplies under the Defense Production Act will discipline corporations to do things they are already doing, responding to demand and ramping up production, so he can take credit. Yet he will not endorse a national distancing policy. 38 states, comprising 92% of the national population, have issued stay at home orders. The outlying states, sparsely populated, fail to concede a need to impose stringent confinement to their citizens. Trump concedes that his public health advisors urge a national standard of social distancing including stay-at-home confinement, but he chooses to defer to the governors of each state to decide how to respond. He doesn’t want to be seen as committing government overreach as he reverses government regulations of automobile emissions to benefit the fossil fuel industries at the cost of greater air pollution this same week. He doesn’t want to be accused of interfering with liberty and freedom of choice. His public health advisors asked him to advocate people wear face masks in public, so he half heartedly passed along the advice at a daily briefing and added he won’t be wearing one.
Trump is still playing to the doubters and deniers, offering pouty dog whistle body language to pander to his audience tuned in to see him rant defiance against the oppressive liberal state and its godless science. I’m surprise somebody hasn’t invoked the Supreme Court to sue against unconstitutional deprivation of the First Amendment guaranty of the right to peaceably assemble (in keeping with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms). What next, suspension of habeas corpus?
For pure visuals Trump has cast a stage presence of advisors to stand with him. You may observe they’re standing closer together than recommended space taped off on the floors of supermarkets, but think again, these are the president’s chosen chief pandemic advisors within the White House so these people have been sharing microbes the whole time and it’s way too late to fend off community spread among this cohort. If these people end up sheltering in place that place of residence will be the White House. If the contaminants are numerous enough they might have to put affected people up at the Trump Hotel, at the old post office a block away. It would be a blast to see such people quarantined like twelve angry jurors under more or less one roof for at least 14 days, only you know it won’t happen because they are all invulnerable, especially Mike Pence, vice president and head of the anti panic pandemic task force, whose job it is to always take one for the team.
Two outstanding personalities who have come forth on stage with the president are of course Dr Anthony Fauci the top infectious disease expert and Dr Deborah Birx, US ambassador at large to global health diplomacy. They reinforce each others credibility in interpreting the science of their extrapolations in language meant to be honest about what the virus will do if left to spread from person to person in everyday life. They don’t seem to mind contradicting the president’s laissez faire regard for the disease projections. They’re earned popular credence. They are proven public servants who are public leaders. Their guidance of the president has at least thus far persuaded him not to act hastily to obstruct social justice with fancy shortcuts back to fine times and prosperity even at the grave risk of inflicting infection upon the poor and imminent death to people seventy or eighty years old and anybody else who is already more or less sick.
Dr Fauci says we don’t pick the time line. The virus picks the time line. “If it looks like you’re overreacting,” he said, “you’re probably doing the right thing.”
If it seems like Malthus might get a fresh chance to prove his point. At least twenty percent of the American workforce has been furloughed. Food shelf charities are seeing soaring demand. Farmers are looking at their land and estimating how much help they will need to plant and grow and bring in the crops, how much credit they can handle. Migration restrictions are keeping migrant workers away. This might be one of those events that eventually trims the population within its range of being able to feed itself. Thus far the grocery chain of supply assures us food will not be scarce.
Roxanne and I went outside the other day and took a walk along the Mississippi River. Our governor’s stay at home guidelines allow for essential trips and going outside to get exercise is considered essential as long as safe distancing is practiced in public places such as parks. Minneapolis has a lot of public parks. A lot of people were out that day enjoying the parks on both banks of the river, and it was not overcrowded, just strange and awkward with everybody avoiding each other by ten or more feet.
We crossed the river via the Stone Arch Bridge, a sturdy old stony span created in the 19th Century to convey the Great Northern Railroad trains of James J Hill. Today it’s no longer in service to the railroad but serves as a scenic trail connecting parks on both sides of the river. Upriver you can see St Anthony Falls. On the banks below the falls and on the other side of the bridge stand rows of sturdy buildings that were the flour mills that fed the world a hundred years ago. Pillsbury. Gold Medal. The Washburn A Mill actually exploded from flour dust in 1878 and the ruins from that disaster still lay open to show the mill as it was after they cleaned up the scene, they never rebuilt, it’s a museum now. Other mills have become repurposed as lofts, condos and apartments. The falls is gushing this day, April Fools Day, the roaring churning surf at the base of the falls rocking big waves under the bridge and on down the chaotic current looking for St Paul. These fierce currents powered those flour mills that fed the world. Today there are sluices and spillways apart from the falls which turn turbines that generate electricity. It is beside these falls they say this city was founded.
In Madrid Roxanne and I visited the Thyssen-Bornemisza art museum a few years ago and came upon a gallery of American landscapes by the likes of Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, where we found a painting of St Anthony Falls by Henry Lewis. It was a romantic panoramic view of an unspoiled Mississippi complete with an indigenous people on the bluff above the bank looking upstream, a few settlers in the background, no sign of downtown to come. No bridges. No mills. It was a kick to see a painting of my home town in the mid-19th Century hanging in the permanent collection of a museum in Spain.
That was the year Prince died and everybody we ran into in Barcelona wanted to know why. Walking the stone arch bridge with Roxanne on a sunny spring day is our stay-at-home version of moseying La Rambla, complete with our own Old Town at hand, without the crowds and without the awesome exotica of being a pedestrian in Barcelona. Our mill city once fed the world. Who would know?
Prince sang sometimes it snows in April. It did again the day before yesterday, but not so much as needed a shovel, at least not here in my city. This is the time of year you begin to see neighbors you may not have seen since Halloween. This spring it seems triple with everybody seizing any opportunity to venture outdoors, putz in the garden, ride a bike, walk the dog or push the baby around the block in a stroller. We nod and some wave, say hello, how’s it going. All from a distance. There is a condition referred to as Minnesota Nice, a half passive aggressive politeness mixed with a suspicious but genuine concern for the feelings of others. Social distancing against Covid-19 allows us a buffer to guard our personal intimacy knowing we can reach out only so far in our friendliness and be assured no one will overreach back and invade your privacy.
We’re all in this together is the current mantra. However belated, it’s a welcome thought to ponder seriously. Not a saying to be made trite. Not a phrase to be turned into cant. It might seem self-evident, but it bears repeating now and then when we ponder the ramifications and our own personal responsibility. We are all in this together. Surely there are those of us who consider their own fate singular, whether by existential loneliness or determination to be exceptional to the common fate of the community. It’s not so much they don’t care what happens to other people it’s more they don’t see what other people have to do with it if everybody has an equal chance of not catching the disease.
There is a dystopian satire movie by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam called Brazil which casts Robert De Niro in a bit part as a wanted terrorist named Harry Tuttle who is a building engineer guerilla outlaw who fixes people’s plumbing and HVAC in high density apartments in defiance of authoritarian urban repair regulations. His motto: We’re all in this together. In our current Covid-19 scenario, Harry Tuttle in his hoodie coveralls would be a guy surreptitiously customizing ventilators.
Here in Minnesota our governor has spoken plainly and articulately about the Covid-19 pandemic since his very first press conference. He doesn’t use weasel words. He has an ace public health commissioner named Malcolm who has been on the ball the whole while it was coming, and she’s been marshaling medical resources trying to keep ahead of the curve of afflicted patients despite being behind virus testing due to the national shortage of test kits. The governor says he’s relying on the latest computer models predicting the infection rates. He is relying on sage advice from scientific experts and sound advice from economists and sociologists. Educators. He speaks daily, at least for several minutes. When he speaks he crams a lot of detail into his spiel but he makes it clearly understood. He reluctantly closed schools yet ordered all teachers to formulate online lesson plans to teach all the kids at home. He provided that kids on the school meals programs would still somehow get their meals. He reluctantly sent most of the state’s workforce home to either work from home via wi-fi or be laid off from work in non-essential endeavors. Hospitality workers were laid off en masse. The governor issued what he calls peacetime emergency proclamations. At least through future dates in April everybody in Minnesota is supposed to stay home, with certain exceptions.
I have mentioned getting fresh air and exercise and grocery shopping. This allows for a small measure of crowding tolerated with masks, hand sanitizer and looking the other way when you breathe. Other exceptions of course include health care personnel, especially in infectious diseases, and grocery store workers. Pharmacies. Target. Ace Hardware. Liquor and tobacco. Takeaway food but no on site dining. No bars, pubs or clubs. No hair salons. Yes to the post office and the banks. No to showrooms. No jury trials for the time being; arraignments and bail hearings done by video. No movies, concerts and trade fairs. No meetings or rallies. Yes to child care centers. Yes to carpenters, electricians, plumbers and building engineers like Harry Tuttle.
And to the immense credit to the spirit of the community I am proud to belong, everybody it seems is falling all over each other to engender benefits for known people who for sure would lose livelihood in the economic shakeaway. Restaurant workers are seeing a lot of donations coming out of the woodwork — probably not nearly enough to compensate for the loss of work shifts and tips but it’s nice to feel valued. The musician community has arisen and awoke itself to sustain its creativity and people’s desire to hear music. And amid the fresh wounds of coronavirus are the scorched and scarred who were already down and out, living hand to mouth, always at wits end, homeless, maybe addicted, who haven’t gone away suddenly. Just as there are still cancer patients, and heart patients, diabetes, kidney failures and victims of bacterial infections, accident trauma, pneumonia and other viruses besides Covid-19 who require care. Charities are going overdrive — turbo overdrive — to compensate for scarcer survival resources at the micro level.
At the macro level you hear about endowments funded by rich people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff Bezos and Mike Bloomberg, entertainers like P!nk and Lady Gaga to advance humanitarian efforts. You never hear Donald Trump donating to charity. And it’s not because he’s modest and gives in secret — his left hand knows exactly what his right hand is doing. When his tax returns are revealed you will see no philanthropy. Supposedly a few years ago he claimed to run a charity that endowed the Wounded Warrior foundation but that was revealed to be a hoax.
Like his bogus for profit school he invented to teach the Art of the Deal.
Trump’s laissez faire corruption of leadership through this world pandemic exposes the very American polarization that being all in it together is supposed to fix. He’s not really buying the Birx and Fauci program and you can see he’s just holding out for that miracle cure that will vindicate him and prove all the smart people wrong. He would really like to embarrass Nancy Pelosi, John Kelly, CNN, Fauci, Birx and all the governors like Minnesota’s Tim Walz for attempting to sabotage his administration by wrecking the world economy with panic over a stupid microbe — an overrated germ.
This is the stuff of Third World countries, after all. It must vex and baffle this president that thus far all of the commotion and the infection of this disease worldwide has been spread among the rich world. Plagues like these in his mind are supposed to be borne by the poor and fester in the shit hole countries, not sweep through sophisticated, glamorous civilizations. It can be shown that Covid-19 is initially a very middle class disease. It originated in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei province, an industrial working class city of around 11 million. It can be argued that Covid-19 is a jet set disease, spread by the traveling public of various elite personas — sales reps, diplomats, scholars, executives, entertainers, tourists, politicians, financiers to name a few — with the means and good reasons to fly (and sail) all over the place on this planet. This admits China as a member if the rich world, by the way, and how its social system recoils now to maintain order and treat its share of the disease puts pressure on liberal democracies to control the infection without allowing it to spread via civil liberties, including riots. It’s become legend how China uses the power of party surveillance to ensure social control — talk about a deep state — and its strict restrictions of the population enhanced by digital appliances and monitoring the media through smart phones in real time. This is not Third World, and this is not Chairman Mao’s China — or maybe it is, it’s just not 1949 anymore. It’s no wonder Covid-19 got from Hubei to Minnesota, and no wonder, if it’s as infectious as the doctors say, it skipped across Europe like those Australian wildfires — Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Belgium, France and now England, which isn’t even part of Europe anymore — the prime minister, whom I call Boris the Spider after a children’s song by the Who, is now in hospital from Covid-19, intensive care. This is a pandemic introduced straightaway into the modern global world by its own means, a virus transmitted by the sharing of air among people innocently going about their usual interactions and presto, Bob’s your uncle, it’s practically illegal to get too friendly, humans are being done in by human nature to be social.
As the rich world acts to contain and treat its populations and share mitigation of its economic risks, the poorer world waits in suspense whether or if Covid-19 will affect its people in the percentages that burns through richer nations. Even within societies where the virus has been introduced through the middle class, it remains to be seen how the germs spread laterally, up or down. It would be sad if the poor suffered a greater proportion of infection and death due to rich malfeasance. Sadder still would be the stories from emerging nations like India, Brazil and those of sub-Saharan Africa if this coronavirus, not so novel anymore, wipes through dense slums and villages. And then refugee camps.
I worry about our friends in Mexico, which thus far appear on the Covid-19 maps to be feeling little incidence. There is a theory that this virus might be like influenza and not spread as infectiously in hotter climates. It’s mostly feared it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches the disease. It’s already a world altering event. When we first heard of the novel coronavirus we were on vacation in a place far away removed from the apparent panic in Wuhan, China. Today we can’t book a flight from here to Zihuatanejo even if we can get hotel reservations.
Roxanne and I muse whether we’ll be allowed to go to Mexico next winter even if the infection curve flattens and there is no surge in cases there. We are over sixty years old, categorized in a vulnerable bracket, and may remain restricted for our own good long after much of the population has recovered and gone back to its usual ways. We may not see the light of day (figuratively) until the vaccine comes out. That could be years. Or until after we eventually contract the virus and survive hopefully immune. That too could be years.
What we miss most already is our family. The families of our daughter and son both live in Minneapolis, nearby, but that does little good when we can’t visit indoors or hug our granddaughters. Vincent and Amelie’s 18 month old Neko is the baby, and it’s unnatural to not be able to snuggle the baby, only mug for the camera for Zoom and Facetime and watch her on the screen for any changes, signs of growth, new mannerisms, more hair, a fresh word. It’s like getting paid back for abandoning her to run off to Mexico for five weeks and expecting to get by with Facetime — grandparents playing Wayne’s World.
Four to eight years ago this is how we kept up with Michel and Sid and Clara and Tess while they lived in Switzerland, Sunday noon Central time here, seven in the evening Swiss time, using Skype when we weren’t actually going over there to visit them and to mosey around Europe. They only came home at Christmas. Between visits were lonesome gaps Skype could barely fill. When they all came home again and repatriated to a few neighborhoods away my heart soared like an eagle. To be close to my daughter and her daughters seems to me to be what Bruce Springsteen is singing about in Beautiful Reward.
To revert again to phone calls, texts and screen time among my loved ones and favorite people who are only a few miles of street blocks away only underscores how lonely it would be if these technologies did not exist. Would we send cards and drawings through the mail? We still can, I suppose. As it is, Clara and Tess, 15 and 12, each have smart phones and can speak up for themselves. To me they are the spokespersons of their generation. I miss having dinner with them at least once a week and driving them to gymnastics practice sometimes twice a week. They seem to be adapting well to wi-fi home school and being home bound together, the latter a product of sharing a room when they lived in Switzerland. The last time we had dinner at their house, before the rumors of school closings came true, Tess the sixth grader confided that kids were referring to Covid-19 as the Boomer Killer. (Sorry, Grampa, no offense.) Now when we visit Michel and Sid’s house we keep at least ten feet apart from them on lawn chairs. Michel is super diligent about observing social distance and hygiene. She is a nurse at an occupational medicine clinic, keeps up with the latest of what’s known about the virus and worries about her mother and me getting sick, us being of the vulnerable category as Tess pointed out. When they visit our house they congregate on our front steps like Christmas carolers and we talk across the porch from the front door. Michel is more concerned they could infect Roxanne and me than of us infecting them. She makes no exceptions, especially with Baby Neko whom she ruefully insisted we stop babysitting her as long as she still attended day care — it makes full sense the kid may pick up any kind of germs in the toddler room and thus reset our quarantine back to day zero every time we cared for her. It’s too bad we practically have to relate to each other like holograms from now on.
The distancing especially frustrates Roxanne, the best grandma ever. Everyone wishes Roxanne was their grandma.
This era will generate a golden age of home entertainment. The home entertainment industry can’t help but flourish. And along for the ride will be online education, virtual school, and from here on learning will never be the same. The worldwide web was seemingly created for a time like this, enabling people far and wide to participate in a webwide world far and wide, to be all in this together, safe at home.
So lucky to be confined with Roxanne my mate beyond compare. Being stuck with each other’s company is an intended consequence of a flawed human romantic design conceived decades ago when we were young and in love. The flaws aren’t worth mentioning here except that they were minor enough to increase the odds of our success in making our love grow and last through time as if we were always meant to be. She’s still the best kisser I’ve ever known. Two admonitions generally attributed to Chinese proverbs suggest themselves these days. One usually taken as a backstroke curse goes, May you live in interesting times. I’d say our lifetime qualifies. The other says, Be careful what you wish for. Yes, be careful because it might come true. If our wish, simply put, was to stick together, be each other’s friend for life and enjoy each other’s company into our advanced age, then the algorithm is solved.
Two pools of microbes have become one.
She and I have practiced our intimacy and cared for, looked after one another as if some day it could come to this, stranded together on a desert island disc. Even before our love nest was completely empty the two of us took vacations without the kids. I’ve never been to Europe without Roxanne. Of all the places we’ve been together, staying home offers a concise context for the world we have seen and which we now observe tantalizing us with memories. We can reminisce about our travelogues without the real pressure of catching trains and planes. We may remember different details but share the panoramic view. The wide angle scream. Lemons bigger than NFL footballs at the market at the train station at Pompeii, the lemonade stand. The glockenspiel on the rooftop balcony of town hall above the Marienplatz in Munich. Gaudi’s Parc Guell atop the hills over Barcelona. Omaha Beach, Normandy. Monet’s house and garden at Giverny. Bernini’s marble and bronze statuary of the Ecstasy of St Teresa in a dinky little neighborhood church in Rome not far from the bus and train Termini. And any one of about eight visits to the Catedral de Notre Dame de Paris, the churchiest church ever, inside and out, stained glass and flying buttresses, arches and gargoyles — all before the heartbreaking fire — we can always say straight faced it’s lucky we got to go in there so many times we could almost consecrate the impressions. It could be our wedding church, or at least our marriage church.
Lucky we are to be together where life’s road has brought us to be. Roxanne likes to use the term mosey. Some amble, others stroll, more others ramble or wander, but Rox and I mosey. It’s said the term descends from Spanish, vamos, we go, through its anglo pronunciation vamoose, and the expression vamanos, commonly translated as let’s went. Life’s trail has brought us to where we went.
At home sheltering in place we cook and eat, do laundry and clean house. We read, watch TV, nap, listen to music, text, talk and mosey. All the basics. The writer writes. Roxanne has taken up sewing home made face masks from a pattern she found on the internet that’s accompanied by a You Tube video. She made one for me and I will wear it when we go to the store just to show solidarity as somebody who doesn’t know if I’m carrying Covid-19 but just in case I am, I’m acting as if containing my microbes from the public. And it’s a catchy mask. We have drawn up our will and medical directives, and power of attorney — not suddenly, mind you, but have had this all in place for several years just in case…
Another two things: no more ship cruises, and no way we’re ever moving into a senior care assisted living facility.
What I despise about this pandemic is its reliance on metrics in body counts. As of yesterday there are 1.4 million confirmed cases worldwide and 70,000 deaths. I concede there is no other way to quantify the impact of the disease without such numbers. Maybe its the fatalism these numbers represent, the surging inescapable infliction I resent and the challenge they pose to my last vestige of denial. It’s hard to maintain serenity and accept for the most part that the existence and spread of Covid-19 is something I cannot change, it is what it is. I can recognize my small individual part — wash hands, maintain social distance, stay home — and think of it like the flight attendant says in that safety procedure spiel about the unlikely loss of cabin pressure when the air masks drop down from the ceiling of the plane, be sure to secure your own mask before trying to help others. Pondering what it all means presents existential intellectual dilemmas. The virus is a parasite needing a host to survive and procreate, it cannot live long and survive on its own. Like every living being, you wonder if it’s using every trick at its disposal to pass on its genes. It may not be intelligent, but intelligence isn’t necessary to exploit instinct. Or even political gain. Ideological control. The numbers are wrong, not inflated for shock value but sadly under reported. For one thing, without mass testing the true number of cases cannot be verified. Only when this thing is over will we get a comprehensive study of what’s happening now. The stats are bad enough as it is. Rumors persist (without expelled American journalists to verify) that China is suppressing its Covid-19 numbers to keep off a reputation to the world it is the sick man of Asia. The repressive regime of Iran cannot be trusted for accuracy. India may not have the means to tabulate, much less mitigate and treat its infected. Fragile governments of countries not considered open societies may try to hide the numbers from the world and its own citizens the way Stalin tried to conceal famine deaths in the old Soviet Union. Even in America Donald Trump refused to repatriate the sick from aboard a cruise liner docked in Washington state because he didn’t want them included in his numbers.
One suspects the efficacy of prevention measures in already supposedly locked down places such as prisons and refugee camps.
From my relatively cushy perspective there’s a longing to be in this together and infatuation with the isolation this affords. There’s a song by Mariachi El Bronx called Poverty’s King that goes: “Everyone wants to be alone, until they are alone.”
Then there’s Jesus Jones: “Right here right now, there’s no other place I want to be. Right here right now, watching the world wake up from history.”
These are interesting times and we hope we get what we wish for.
Shakira sings from La Tortura: “No pido que todos dias seran de sol, no pido que todos los viernes seran de fiesta.” I don’t ask that every day will be sunny. I don’t ask that every Friday will be a party.
As to Paul Simon: Julio, stay away from Rosie down by the school yard, she’s the Queen of Corona.
Rust never sleeps.
Good bye John Prine from the jungles of East St Paul. Saddle in the Rain.
Roxanne returned from a walk around the neighborhood saying today she couldn’t help but observe shabby looking houses. I asked if maybe its a reflection of a gloomy, cloudy day, early spring when there are no tree leaves and only a few sprouts amid the mulchy, muddy hedges and gardens. No, these were shabby houses, she said.
What are we going to do about it, I’m thinking. It’s one more thing to ponder from my Ivy Tower. Leonard Cohen once wrote, “They locked up a man who wanted to rule the world. The fools. They locked up the wrong man.” It’s come to this. Virtually sidelined from participating in a worldwide emergency because I’m a man of a certain age, there’s nothing left to do except indulge myself listening to bird calls out my window while pontificating from my castle. It seems a good time to volunteer my senior expertise, like the Small Business Administration used to employ volunteers to its Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE to mentor startup businesspersons, except that I would probably be unqualified to mentor or coach anybody right now and uncertified to engage as a consultant to any institutional entity working as I am from home, retired.
Like my friend Jim wrote me, I’ve got nothing to do today and I’m not leaving till I get it all done.
All my life I’ve trusted myself with spare time.
It’s Wednesday. Roxanne was reading a Jack Reacher novel on the couch and it’s around 2 pm, time for the governor’s update. He’s emerged from quarantine healthy, no longer broadcasting from his basement. The statewide stay at home order is extended to 4 May. The statistical models are showing that the social distancing works, the rate of the spread of the virus is slowing down but would spike up again if mitigations loosened. It’s too bad but this is what will be. Five more Minnesotans died today, bringing the total to 39. Nobody on the governor’s task force is gloating because the state has a very low Covid-19 infection rate per capita compared to sites elsewhere. They’re busy procuring ventilators, respirators, PPEs and hospital beds, maintaining a corps of responders and care professionals and searching for more tests and data as to who is sick and who is well. The official count is 1154 cases. The U of M and Mayo Clinic are working on tests, treatments, cures and vaccines. No one accepts congratulation until the the pandemic is put down. It behooves us — yes, the governor used the word behooves — to ready ourselves for the next wave, maybe as soon as October. Thus updated, Roxanne returned to Jack Reacher and I go on to ponder another school day without South High around the block not letting out classes at 3:15. Did I ever tell you about the time Vice President Joe Biden redirected his motorcade to South High to hang out at football practice and throw some Go Deep to the receivers…
Governor Walz, a plainspoken fast talker who packs information into what he says, named Tim, uses the word unprecedented to describe the emergency events and actions taken.
It could be an unintended pun, only to change the word to un-presidented.
My simple unsolicited advice to the world:
Wash your hands.
Keep a safe distance.
And never again elect Donald J Trump to public office.