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.
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May 15: A writer from Florida published a story in The Independent in which she admits that she and her wife violated quarantine orders and lied to authorities in order to do it. She casts themselves as the heroes of the story. She characterizes her wife not being allowed past a necessary quarantine checkpoint for an hour as “police brutality.” She put he actual name on the story too.
I feel like she’s going to have a bad day on social media.
I’m not a very good neighbor.
I’m not a bad neighbor. I don’t make noise or create problems or get into arguments or let my yard go to hell or anything. I’m just not super sociable with neighbors.
I was the first person to move into this subdivision back when it was being built in early 2005. I’ve lived here longer than every last person in it. Yet I really don’t know too many of my neighbors. I made a few “hey, how are you” acquaintances when my kids were young and I’d be out on the playground all the time. I used to work with someone who lives here and I’ll talk to them if I see them or, more often, talk to them on social media. For the most part, though, I’m on a “maybe nod, maybe don’t” basis with a few people. The vast majority are total strangers to me.
I’m not surly or unpleasant with anyone. I’m just not very neighborly for some reason. I’ve never lent garden tools or borrowed a cup of sugar. I’ve not invited people over for cookouts or been asked to participate in joint garage sales. I just generally keep to myself. Not consciously, really. Not like some sort of hermit my neighbors would talk about in uneasy tones later if I became infamous for some reason. I don’t have anything against the people in this neighborhood. It’s just my default stance toward my environment. I was like that in my last neighborhood and in apartment buildings too.
When I first moved into the neighborhood I had a house right near the playground on the central green. I sold that in late 2014 — the old place just seemed too big and too full of ghosts — and moved into a duplex two blocks over. When you live in a duplex you have at least some reason to interact with the person who shares your wall, even if you’re not super social.
When I moved into the duplex there was another family on the other side of it for a short time that I only talked to twice. Once was when the wife and the teenage boys were out of town and the man of the house decided to celebrate his weekend of freedom by getting drunk and listening to some really loud Dad Rock on a Saturday night. I knocked on the door and he apologized before I could even say anything, retreated back into the house and turned his music down. The second time was when when a wind storm blew the umbrella from their patio set over the fence onto my back patio, breaking one of our chairs. That engagement lasted as long as it took for the guy to write me a check and apologize. They moved away a few weeks later.
For the past three years a young family has lived there. A husband, Alex, a wife, Yvonne, and a young girl whose name escapes me because, again, I am a bad neighbor. I’ve had a bit more interaction with Alex and Yvonne than I’ve normally had with my neighbors.
Some of it have been those typical noise issues. Alex plays bass in a band and sometimes practices without headphones and that can be a bit much. He also has a pretty tricked-out video game system in the den that’s on the other side of the wall from our front entryway and when he’s destroying monsters or zombies or aliens or whatever they are it can get a bit loud. It’s not that big of an issue, really. We’ve had to say something to him maybe two or three times in the past three years and he’s super accommodating when it happens. It’s just part of sharing a wall.
Another time Alex knocked on my door. He remembered from when we first met that I have a law degree. He had a legal question about a really crappy situation he was in that was totally not his fault but which was concerning him greatly. I talked him through it and it apparently got resolved pretty quickly. During this time he and Yvonne came into my house once. We talked in my living room and they saw all of the baseball stuff on my walls and on the shelves. Alex is from Puerto Rico and Yvonne is from the Dominican Republic and both of them lived in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium before moving here, so they have always been around a lot more baseball than exists in central Ohio. That led to one of the longer conversations we’ve ever had.
At the time I thought that maybe the baseball connection could form the basis of a closer friendship than I’m used to having with a neighbor, but it’s never really happened. I’m still me for all that entails and the most I can really do is to wave when we all happen to be outside at the same time. Alex is impossibly friendly so every time we’re both walking to our cars or something it’s a smile, a wave and a verbal “hello!” Kind of off the charts for me, but hey, baby steps.
It had been several weeks since I’ve seen Alex or Yvonne. The cold weather kept us off our patios and the shutdowns kept us all from coming and going as much as we usually do. If I was a better neighbor I probably would’ve made a point to knock on their door and ask if they were doing alright, but I’ve heard the bass and the subwoofer on the video game system enough times to know they’re still here. I’d probably worry more if I didn’t hear it.
Late this morning I walked out to my car. When I did, Alex was just walking out of his house too. As usual, he smiled at me when we noticed each other. I smiled back. Then he waved. I waved back. Then, in his fairly thick Puerto Rican accent he called out, almost joyously . . .
“Hello, Craig! How is your pandemic going?”
It was both the most hilarious and most neighborly thing I’ve heard in a very long time.
I was leaving my house to go pick up some sweets. There is a fantastic gluten free bakery/cafe in Columbus called Bake Me Happy. Everything they do is fantastic, from the high-end pastries and cakes to their extensive line of retro-sweets, which includes their artisanal, celiac disease-friendly take on Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Pop Tarts and everything in between. They made our wedding cake three years ago too:
Bake Me Happy had closed early in the pandemic and we were scared to death that they were simply throwing in the towel. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. They opened up again recently, taking carry out orders. Eager to patronize them — and eager to eat their wonderful stuff — this morning Allison put in an order and I drove downtown to pick up our hot chocolate brookie, blueberry mini-bundt cake, sprinkle sandwich cookie, a pound of their coffee blend, and a six-pack of a local brewery’s hard seltzer. Claws? No, Paws.
Back in my car, I drove up High Street to loop back to the freeway. Just north of Thurman Avenue I passed a German restaurant/biergarten called Valter’s. That restaurant was in the news a couple of weeks ago when its owner, a man named Valter Veliu, threatened to open for dine-in service in defiance of the state’s shutdown orders. He ended up backing off, but enlisted other restaurant owners and reached out to the press and politicians and became one of the louder voices agitating for the end of the state’s public health orders. Voices which, as I talked about yesterday, ended up pressuring our governor to simply give up and open up the state in defiance of all good public health practices.
Today was the first day restaurants and bars with patios could open for outdoor service, at least as long as adequate social distancing was practiced. As I drove by Valter’s, I looked at the patio that fronts Stewart Street. It was jam-packed with people. There was absolutely no way on Earth anything approaching proper social distancing was being practiced.
This evening I learned that Valter’s was not the only place packing ’em in:
Here’s a video of the bar that reopened today. No care in the world and these are the same people who will be shopping in the stores that everyone shops at. No ones safe at this point. pic.twitter.com/YQwF0kvJVO
— Erick Bellomy (@erickbellomy) May 15, 2020
It was 70 degrees tonight and people have been cooped up in their houses for two months. The minute you allow folks in that situation to go out to a patio on a Friday night and toss back beers, they’re gonna do it, even if it’s stupid. In light of that, on some level at least, I don’t blame them. I sort of understand. As my friend David Perry said today, you can’t social distance indefinitely. It’s not economically feasible or psychologically feasible. People just won’t do it and at some point something was gonna give.
I blame the decision makers who either didn’t anticipate that this would happen or didn’t care.
I blame our leaders who failed to prepare for this pandemic when they were warned of it in February.
I blame our leaders who failed to act promptly to shut things down and encourage smart practices in March.
I blame our leaders who failed to roll out a massive, collective effort to produce personal protective equipment and to develop large-scale testing capacity and contact tracing in March and April.
I blame our leaders who caved in the face of nihilistic, reactionary political agitation — much of it encouraged by President Trump himself — to end shutdowns, to discourage the use of masks, and to discourage social distancing in May.
I blame our leaders who pretended that this wasn’t going to happen and who will do nothing to enforce the meager anti-pandemic protections that remain.
People are going to die because of this. People are going to die because our leaders failed to protect us. Because, in some cases, our leaders openly invited and encouraged reckless behavior.
(Featured Image: David Pinkerton, via Wikimedia Commons)