The Pandemic Diary: May 13

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.

Follow this Category for all entries.

 

May 13: I got this ad from Southwest Airlines today:

 

I normally mock ads, but there’s something to this one that resonates. No, not the $49 one-way fares (though that is a good deal), but the “freedom to hope, to plan, to dream” part.

The thing about our current state — at least if we’re taking it seriously and aren’t storming the mall because it happened to open on Tuesday — is that we have no plans right now. No travel this summer. No parties or cookouts over Memorial Day Weekend. Not tickets to the ballgame next weekend. We have nothing to really look forward to. It’s just a complete of-the-moment existence.

Some of us can do of-the-moment pretty well. Most of us can’t. We need something to propel our lives forward, and a big part of that propelling is the anticipation of future events and experiences. Whether you believe the old sayings on the matter or the modern social science which backs it up, the state of anticipating and desiring something is often as good if not better than the actual doing of things. I’ve had some good vacations and bad ones. Some good dinners out and some bad ones. I have gone to some good parties and some bad ones. But I’ve looked forward to almost every single one of them and got a great deal of joy out of the planning for them and the anticipation of them.

But now we have basically nothing. While the anxiety about our health and the health of our loved ones and the material hardships of lockdown and all of its attendant economic strife has been front and center for us every day since mid-March, this becalmed time has taken a toll of its own.

Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion. As idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.

 

On Tuesday Carlo asked me if he could get a bunch of craft supplies for a project for school. Popsicle sticks, modeling clay, construction paper, cardboard tubes, yarn. Stuff like that. I asked him which one of his teachers is expecting parents to go out and buy them things in this environment. It was his bio-med class — a combo biology/anatomy class that I wish they offered me when I was a 9th grader — but it turns out it’s an optional thing. More of an activity they suggested for kids who are bored than an actual assignment. He’s apparently modeling the human respiratory system and urinary tract. I think. Carlo is always somewhat vague about such things. Either way, I decided that if he has an impulse to do anything that is not playing video games and re-watching MCU movies for the fourth time it was worth encouraging so I told him I’d see what I could do.

Even though I work on the Internet I’m not the most naturally online person. My brain still thinks in a pretty analog, meatspace fashion a lot of the time. I tend to call places for appointments rather than go to their websites. I was still writing out shopping lists and people’s phone numbers on pieces of paper until embarrassingly recently. It’s not about stubborn defiance of technology in my case. I embrace technology when I remember it exists. It’s just that the process of discovering or remembering that there are 21st century (or even late 20th century) solutions for any given problem I have is a never-ending one for me. My brain is just stuck in 1979 in more ways than I usually care to admit.

In light of that, my first thought was “well, ‘thanks’ to our governor the stores opened today so I suppose I can grab my mask, go to one, get in, get out, and be done with it.” This morning, assuming Carlo and I had a shopping trip in our future, I went to the Michael’s website to see what time the store opened:

Oh yeah. 1979-brained Craig forgot that everyone is doing the whole delivery/curbside pickup thing now. I guess since I haven’t used that for grocery stores — the time slots for those fill up so far in advance that it outstrips my meal-planning skills — and since I haven’t done any other sort of shopping I didn’t consider it in other contexts.

This was a boon for me especially, in that I hate craft stores. I hate crafts, actually. Always have. I don’t have the skills or the imagination for most crafty things. I was always filled with at least some bit of dread when the kids were smaller and had to do crafts for school that required a lot of hands-on parental help. A lot of that dread revolved around simply going to the store itself. I can never find things in those kinds of places. I even have a hard time imagining that a lot of the stuff in those places exist. “Styrofoam cones in assorted sizes? What are the odds that such a thing even– oh, there’s a whole shelf of them.”

Rather than stumble around aimlessly through the displays of plastic, decorative ivy and the aisles full of rustic, unfinished birdhouses waiting to be bedazzled, I did five or six quick searches for the stuff Carlo needed, clicked “curbside” and was finished before I was done with my first cup of coffee. The email saying that my order was ready popped in before 10am. I made the quick drive there and the nice lady from Michael’s brought it out to me in a plastic bag and I was home with it in no time.

I know a lot of stores had already put in easy-in, easy-out online shopping pickup counters in the past few years. The new Target near us has one with a dedicated entrance. It’s mostly to compete with Amazon, I imagine. But I wonder how much of this pandemic-inspired delivery/curbside world will continue to exist after everything fully reopens and people start to actually leave their houses. For easily overwhelmed, get-in-get-out shoppers like me it seems like a no-brainer. But as I was pulling away from Michael’s this morning I saw a couple of older women who struck me as black belt-level craft ladies, one with a husband in-tow, walking into the store.

They’d probably been itching to hit the decorative ivy/birdhouse section for months. Maybe their becalmed anticipation wasn’t for concerts or travel plans. Maybe it was for crafting. Maybe it was simply for being in the craft store itself.

 

Today, “in recognition of health care workers,” F-16 fighter jets from the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio National Guard and a KC-135 refueling plane from the National Guard’s 121st Air Refueling Wing flew over several hospitals here in Columbus. I’m sure those doctors, nurses, and everyone else working in those places felt super recognized. I’m sure they wouldn’t feel much more appreciated by, say, adequate protective equipment, better pay, and a government and public that would actually listen to sound medical advice so that they had fewer seriously sick and dying patients to treat.

But that’s not happening. Ohio went even further down the road toward opening the whole state up today, announcing that tattoo parlors, massage parlors and piercing salons can open up on Friday. As if there is some bit of medical science which has determined it’s safe to open those then as opposed to last week or next week. Nope, it’s Friday because . . . reasons.

Retail businesses like that craft store have already reopened. Bar and restaurant patios will open Friday. Dining rooms can reopen next Thursday. Gyms and daycare centers are about the only things still closed and I suspect it won’t be long before those reopen as well. By the time June rolls around the only thing you won’t be able to do legally in Ohio is have a quickie behind the William McKinley statue in front of the Statehouse. 

Despite all of that, the loony caucus of the Ohio Senate has introduced yet another bill aimed at limiting the power of the state health department. The Senators sponsoring the bill — Republicans, natch — say the bill would “immediately end the shutdown of the state” and would also “subject certain health orders from Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton to a vote from legislators.”

Why do this now, when everything is being opened up already? I suspect it’s so that the legislators can take credit for what Governor DeWine has already done. And, of course, DeWine has done what he has done — reversed course completely on his previously prudent approach — in an effort to head the looney caucus off in the first place. People talk about political strife at the Statehouse, but they all seem to be working together just fine.

Another reason for this bill: to prevent the state from enacting another set of shutdowns if and when all of this premature reopening leads to a deadly second wave of COVID-19 in the state, which I suspect it will. The only question will be whether, when it does, the state cooks the books in order to hide the number of sick and dead the second time around. Like Florida has done. And like the federal government is attempting to do. We’ve learned a lot in the past two months, but our politicians have mostly learned that there is little upside to doing the right thing. They won’t make the mistake of trying to do it twice.

 

I don’t really pay too close attention to Elon Musk. I know what he and his various enterprises are all about, but I don’t understand why he has a weird legion of tech-adjacent fanboys. I likewise don’t understand the media’s usually far-too-credulous coverage of him and his businesses. He’s a half-sane billionaire businessman with poor house training, the sort of which we have always had. His products are just fancier and shinier than, say, Richard Branson’s airline and Ted Turner’s TV stations.

Musk has been aggressively thumbing his nose at safety and common sense during the pandemic. Sort of a combination “I’m a billionaire and the rules don’t apply to me” thing and an “I’m Elon Musk and I’m basically a sociopath” thing. It’s gotten him a lot of coverage that I’m sure he likes and has launched a lot of Elon Musk-related discourse on social media that I’m sure he also likes.

Musk opened Tesla’s Fremont, California factory on Monday in defiance of orders from the county’s health department and explicitly dared local authorities to arrest him. It was all grandstanding, though. No one was going to arrest him. His company was working with the county on a site-specific safety plan as all of this was going on and the reopening of his factory was already in process. This morning the county announced that regular operations could begin on Monday. It was all optics to make him look like a rebel and, again, he got the kind of coverage for that that he probably wanted.

Musk must’ve known that that little bit of faux-badassery was going to expire soon, so last night he tweeted out a photo of an ice cream sundae in a martini glass, followed up with “life should be lived.” He was clearly trying to create the impression that he was fearlessly going out into public, unafraid of the dangers he believes have been overhyped by the timid and less-accomplished.

Except:

At least Ted Turner had the guts to follow through on most of his crazy impulses. He didn’t half-ass ’em like this. It’s sad, really.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.