Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 3: Two weeks ago Jason Hargrove, a bus driver from Detroit, made the news when he took a video while driving his bus, complaining about how a passenger had begun to cough, making no effort to cover her mouth. He was angry and exasperated at people not taking the risks of transmission seriously. His video was circulated pretty widely and was cited for the need for greater shutdowns of public spaces. Hargrove died from COVID-19 yesterday.
The Washington Post began running oral histories of COVID-19. The first ran last Saturday, but I just saw it today. It’s an account from an Indiana man named Tony Sizemore about the death of his girlfriend, Birdie Shelton. It’s not some Medium post drawn from a book of literary personal essays about grief. There is no flowery, reflective or contemplative prose. There is no intellectualizing of it all or attempts to draw life lessons out of it. There is no larger, newsy or editorial context. It’s a man’s contemporaneous account of what it’s like to have someone he loves go from healthy to sick to dead in the space of a few days. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s straightforward, immediate, factual, raw, and painful and it shook me to my core.
And then I had to get on with my day. As we all do.
It’s a jarring dynamic to go from reading about and thinking about the horrors of a pandemic to one’s mundane, mostly sheltered-in-place existence. From death and fear of future calamity to thinking about what to eat for breakfast or what show to binge next. There are always horrors in the world, of course, but most of us are pretty sheltered from them too. Soldiers die and people suffer half a world away. Crime and hardship happen in other parts of town. We’re all pretty much in a place now, however, where things could go from boring to horrifying in a New York minute and I doubt most of us are ready for that. Even if the horror of it isn’t visited upon us personally, I doubt most of us are ready to live in that uncertain state for an extended period of time. I simply don’t think most people are prepared to handle it. I’m not sure I am. Not that we have a choice.
As for the mundane: I made another trip to the grocery store this morning.
I was stopped while walking into the store with my reusable bags. Apparently Ohio banned them sometime in the past week but I had missed it. That’s probably a good idea. They’re washable, but no one really washes theirs. I know I don’t. If you say you do, hey, great, but I know you’re lying.
Either way, reusable bags are probably like a mass transit system for viruses. Like those extra long busses with the accordion thingie in the middle, traveling from your trunk to your shopping cart to the end of the belt at the checkout, back to your car and then on to your kitchen counter. I took my bags back to my car and went old school plastic.
The rest of the store was fairly normal by pandemic shopping standards. There was no toilet paper but they did have paper towel, Kleenex and — get this — Clorox Wipes, limit 1 per customer. I haven’t seen those in the wild since well before this all began. I picked up a box of them as two women were looking at the stack, awestruck. “Merry Christmas,” I said. “I don’t believe what I’m seeing,” one of the women said. Most everything else was in stock and there was no rationing of anything except for milk.
In the past week they had installed large plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers. Like the reusable bags thing, that also makes some sense. It puts one in mind of gas stations or convenience stores except, instead of armed robbers, these protect the cashiers from murderous novel viruses.
This grocery store has a separate liquor store (they have to be separate from the rest of the store in Ohio because we are a weird state when it comes to liquor). The liquor store also has a plastic barrier. Today it also had a cashier who, based on my smalltalk with her, is extremely happy that the state liquor commission has stopped advertising rare and hard-to-find bourbons it offers for special releases. It makes sense that they stopped doing that because every time they do one of those things about 200 middle aged white dudes line up to get their bottle of ultra-aged Colonel Kwik-e-Mart’s Kentucky bourbon or whatever and we really don’t need to have people congregating anywhere these days. There’s also this dynamic in which, I swear to God, they follow distributor trucks around to stores to make sure they’re in the place the moment something new or rare is stocked, and I’m sure that the truck drivers and store employees don’t appreciate these vultures.
I love bourbon — I really and truly love it — but I find that kind of thing rather silly. I’ve written at length about how super premium bourbons are more about status than quality, and the trend-chasing behavior you tend to see with these special releases is a product of that. It’s a self-delusion that, I strongly suspect, would make most of these people fail a blind taste test if I were to give them one. Give me my house jug of Evan Williams black label and one bottle of something slightly more refined at any given time and I’m happy.
The cashier was more succinct about it. “Those fancy bourbon guys are assholes,” she said.
She’s not wrong.
I spent most of the rest of the day working. I don’t know how I keep finding things to write about given that there’s no baseball happening, but I do. I like that I can still do it and, actually, I’ve been pretty proud of myself for finding stuff to say given the dearth of actual sports content to be found. But it’s a jarring dynamic to go from writing about some outfielder who says his leg is pretty healthy now thanks to the layoff to reading about doctors in New York choosing which of two patients who both need ventilators get one. It helps that I know people want and need the distraction and the illusion of normality and that I have a job that provides a little of that. Hell, I want and need the distraction and the illusion of normality and I’m glad I have a job that helps deliver that. So, like everyone else, I do my best to aside my anxieties about the world and do my job and leave all of the mental sorting for, well, this.
It was a gorgeous day today. Sunny and in the 60s. One of those early spring days where you start to notice the blossoms on the trees and that the grass is no longer dormant. I opened some windows after lunch and watched the cats jump in and out of them. There’s a rabbit living under the steps down to my back patio. He spends much of the day sunning himself in the still-empty flowerbed. He’s driving the cats absolutely bonkers and I love it. There would’ve been some daytime home openers today. If times were normal I would’ve had a game on the radio.
Allison knocked off work at 5:30 and we went for a long walk around our empty town. When we got back she tossed some shrimp with spaghetti squash, olive oil, white wine, parm and herbs and it was absolutely delicious. She’s reading a book now. I’m writing this next to an open window as the sun is going down. One of the cats is in the window looking for the rabbit, but he pops under the patio fence and out into the grass between the houses in the evening, making whatever rounds it is that rabbits make.
If I hold my head still enough and look at it with the right kind of eyes it almost feels like a normal spring evening.