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.
May 11: Ohio allowed offices to open last Monday. Allison’s office held off an extra week but it opened today. She went in for part of the day on Friday when no one else was really around to get herself situated. This morning I put her desk chair, which has been in our house since March, in the back of my car and drove it back to her office, following her to work. I dropped the chair off and came home to the first work day in a very long time in which she wasn’t around.
I’m uneasy about Ohio reopening like it is. I think the schedule was rushed and I think the government basically threw everything it had been saying about testing and science aside in order to not be the last state to the bottom as our country rushes headlong into, well, whatever it is we’re rushing into. Whether it’s a failure of the state or the federal government, we did not utilize the lockdown period the way it was supposed to be utilized and I’m having a hard time seeing what’s happened on a macro level that makes things all that much better now than it was two months ago.
The micro level makes me feel a little bit better. Everyone — at least everyone who isn’t an elected official — is aware of what we’re up against now. The high-profile protests and the whack jobs which make the news for disregarding personal safety notwithstanding, most people are being smart. They’re mostly wearing masks. They’re washing their hands. They’re keeping personal distance for the most part. Humans are imperfect and there will always be lapses, but they’re generally trying.
The specific micro-micro level of Allison’s office also gives me confidence. I know the people who run the place and who work there care. They have used the last several weeks to buy loads of hand sanitizer for everyone. They have had a series of meetings with all hands on deck during which in-office practices have been discussed with suggestions both taken and acted upon. Allison works up front and had concerns about people just walking in and, in response, they have made it clear that people are not just waltzing into the office. There are isolated drop and pickup bins for documents. That sort of thing. It’s about as much as you can do given that, if the rest of the state is opening, everyone pretty much has to follow along.
Still, I worry. I can’t put that worry into any specific form and say “x should be happening” or “y would be better.” I don’t have a better idea about how to proceed given that, on the whole, most of the country has decided that it’s not worth even trying. Once this ceased to be about unified effort and sacrifice, the purpose of closing the office was basically mooted and so here we are. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link.
And if the link proves too weak, Allison put this up on her desk to make sure she has some protection. Tell ’em, Wayne:
Allison’s job is not one that, over the long haul, can be done from home, but a whole lot of people who have been working from home since March are serving as proof-of-concept that way more of us can be doing it:
Facebook said last week that most of its employees will be allowed to work from home through the end of 2020. Google parent-company Alphabet plans to open offices for up to 15% of workers as early as June, but the majority of people who can work from home will continue to do so, perhaps through the end of the year.
Not all of those people will go back to full-time on-site work, I reckon. Not if the figures in that article are close to accurate. It says companies will realize $11K savings for each employee going to half-time work-from-home, and that’s real money that companies will do a lot to grab.
It’s also not just people at massive companies like Facebook and Google. Almost anyone in tech, professional services and other fields that aren’t forward-facing could probably do part time or even 3/4 time from home.
Before now the big roadblocks to telecommuting were (a) confidence in the efficacy of large-scale video conferencing and remote network integration; and (b) managerial distrust of a remote workforce. The infrastructure has proven reliable. Employees have had this chance to show that they aren’t going to slack off just because a supervisor can’t lean into their cubicle. Companies are learning what people with experience with work-from-home colleagues have long known: the people who were going to be unproductive at home are the same ones who were unproductive at the office.
I know I’m biased here. I’ve worked from home for a decade and I can’t imagine going back to an office environment, so part of this is me proselytizing. But I’ll grant that there are some downsides to it.
It’s important to have at least some connection to the office zeitgeist. The vibe and the “soft” moments that don’t always happen in formal meetings. Sometimes a hallway conversation is the most important thing that can happen all day. That kind of thing isn’t super important to my job because I work almost entirely independently by design, farting around on the Internet and spewing content into the void, but even I’ve missed that at times over the years.
Still, I think the benefits outweigh the problems. And I suspect that if we flash forward two or three years from now, a much larger percentage of office workers will be working from home than ever would’ve been the case without this pandemic.
Another first today: a dental appointment. Not a normal one — I really don’t think it’s a great idea to head in for a cleaning yet — but one with Carlo’s orthodontist.
When you have braces you have to do stuff to them periodically, and it’s been over two months since he was last in. With dental offices opening up here a week or so ago, his number came up so I took him in.
The setup was, like Allison’s office, as good as you could hope for. There were obviously far fewer kids in there than there usually are when Carlo had his appointment. We waited outside the door until someone told us to come in so there weren’t people in the waiting room. They took our temperatures and, before the appointment, gave us a medical questionnaire. Everyone there had masks and everyone who came in was required to wear one. How much of that is optics and how much of that is actually effective I don’t know. I’ve read so many conflicting things on it all in the past few weeks that it all blurs together now and I just find myself hoping that everyone is just being smart.
Carlo is near the end of his time in braces. His crooked teeth have been straightened, but as is the case with a lot of kids, he has been bad about wearing his rubber bands, so his cross-bite is still a mess. Before the pandemic each month’s visit consisted of a basic adjustment followed by a lot of lecturing about how he needs to wear his rubber bands more. Today, even though parents of older kids were told to wait out in the car if it all possible, I had to go in with him because, before the pandemic, they had gone so far as to schedule a formal “yell at dad to see if we can make one last, best effort to get the kid to wear his rubber bands” meeting.
I’m not gonna lie: that was one thing I was happy to have put off when all this hit. Mostly because I had no idea what I was going to say.
Carlo’s sister wouldn’t wear her rubber bands when she had braces. I, I will confess, didn’t wear my rubber bands when I had braces back in the 80s. I still have a little cross-bite as a result, but I’m fine. His sister does too and she’s fine. Carlo’s is probably worse than ours. While I (a) wish he would wear his rubber bands; and (b) do not want him to have issues with his bite when he’s older, the example his father and his older sister have set for him was never gonna make this turn out well. God made the Calcaterras stubborn. We’re often our own worst enemies. But He also made us keen observers of most situations and pretty good strategic thinkers. We generally want to do the right thing but on some level we tend to know what we can get away with. Carlo was never going to wear those rubber bands. I know it in my bones.
Today’s come-to-Jesus meeting about rubber bands did not go well for the nice woman conducting it. In addition to layers of knee-jerk multi-generational resistance to the mission at hand, Carlo and I both sat there giving off the unspoken but unmistakable vibe of “after all that the world has gone through, are you really going to lecture us on this?” That wasn’t conscious, and I’m only realizing that was what was happening in hindsight and I’m not proud of it. She’s trying to do their job. The whole orthodontic office is trying to do right by my son’s fucked-up cross-bite. We’re rude impediments to that.
But the kid gets his braces off next month and, frankly, we’re all pretty stoked about it.
My cat Rosie had a lot of digestive problems a couple of years ago and we ended up putting her on prescription food. It was super expensive but I got a slight discount on it if I bought it via auto-shipment on Chewy.com. I had an unopened bag when she died. Today we emailed Chewy to inquire about returning the bag because, really, that stuff is expensive:
They responded back:
I’ve held it together through most of the past two months. I’ve put my emotions into this Diary as much as possible and I have done everything I can to maintain an even keel. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t almost break down and cry over a goddamn customer service email about a cat with a damn “paw” pun it.
What a few months this has been.
(Featured Image: Seattle Municipal Archives)