The Pandemic Diary: May 17

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 17: My friend Amanda tweeted this a couple of weeks ago:

A Los Angeles Times reporter saw that, reached out to her and wrote a big article that was in today’s paper about the revival of the barter economy in which Amanda, her sister-in-law, and bunch of other people around L.A. are featured. The upshot:

In California and across the country, an ancient ethos of community codependence is quietly being revived, as people return to a world where the marketplace is the neighborhood and where bartering and borrowing — or just giving things away — is always preferable to paying. Dissuaded from venturing out and into stores by the coronavirus threat, Angelenos have discovered that toilet paper is never too far afield, private gardens can feed entire families, and certain neighbors have killer spice racks.

This sort of feels like one of those stories in which a smallish thing is somewhat overplayed as a larger trend, but that’s a media criticism point, not a point about the substance, which is interesting. Either way, as a guy who has spent the past two days talking about how he doesn’t know his neighbors and how he doesn’t feel like he fits in with his community I suppose it’s natural that I’d be drawn to it, either out of incomprehension or fascination, depending on my mood.

 

I got a lot of feedback in response to those neighbor/community posts from Saturday and Sunday, all of it positive. Many people told me that they could identify with the dynamic in which one doesn’t feel connected to their surroundings or the stuff about that strange middle ground in between conformity and rebellion I talked about. As I’ve said a few times, I started this diary for myself, but it makes me feel good to know that people are reading it and, at least sometimes, the stuff I’m on about is relatable.

I’m also thankful for readers, many of whom have shot me notes of encouragement or some advice. One recurring theme over the past couple of days has been, “y’know Craig, you sound like you could use a change of scenery.” That’s certainly well-taken. I still have a couple of years until my kids go away to college, but Allison and I are in the process of at least beginning to think broadly about where might be next.

I won’t still be writing this diary three years from now when Carlo leaves the nest, but if you see me on this website asking about the barter economy in, say, Lexington, Kentucky, Tryon, North Carolina, or — if my ship comes in — someplace in California, you’ll know that the scenery is about to be changed.

 

Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was on one of the Sunday shows today. He was asked about Trump’s highly-touted “Warp Speed” initiative which is designed to quickly develop a vaccine.

Azar said Warp Speed is needed because traditional vaccine development is too slow:

What happened is these drug companies and vaccine makers said it’s all going to take this amount of time because they’re using their traditional approaches.

So Trump’s going to do it faster. But look, making this omelette is going to require us to break some eggs:

The president said that’s not acceptable. We’re going to scale up commercial manufacturing and produce hundreds of millions of doses at risk. They may not pan out, they may not prove to be safe and effective but we’ll have it so we can begin administration right away.

Where do I line up to get injected with the potentially unsafe and ineffective vaccine the president is gonna give to us?

Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll will pass 90,000 today.

 

Or so we think.

Georgia was one of the first states to begin reopening everything. I’ve been waiting to see what happened with that. I haven’t been following their data closely, but I had seen a few people sharing potentially positive results. Was there really good news in Georgia?

No. There was rank deception. The officially-released bar chart of infection rates was made to look as though COVID-19 cases were going down by putting the dates out of order on the chart. The May 5 infection report  was followed by the April 25 report and then back to another out-of-order date. Georgia is calling it a “mistake” — one of several high-profile mistakes they’ve made lately — but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they are intentionally cooking the books to make it appear as if the pandemic is on the downswing.

There is already strong reason to believe that COVID-19 statistics are undercounting infections and deaths. There is likewise reason to believe that key COVID-19 data has been massaged or outright manipulated in order to tell a story that our leaders want to be true. That everything is OK and that they’re handling things fine. As we go forward into the era of reopening they will no doubt continue to do the same thing. The incentives to do so are manifest.

These re-openings, you’ll recall, were characterized by leaders as “a gamble” they were taking. It just so happens that those doing the gambling are also the house, and the house is going to do whatever is within its power to tilt the odds in its favor. Legitimate or otherwise.

 

We’re starting to see things like this:

 

I don’t know. I’m not very good at predicting the future, but I’m pretty sure people are just going to grab that handle with their hands. If we’ve learned anything in the past two months it’s that altering people’s habits is too big an ask. If a bunch of these arm-lever things start showing up there will, absolutely, be a reactionary movement about “real door knobs” and videos of angry people defiantly using their hands on these levers as an expression of “freedom.”

That aside, I sort of think this and a lot of other things people are going to be proposing in the next few months are going to look like stuff you’d seen from the 1939 World’s Fair. Flying cars and push-button everything. At the very least I expect we’ll see a whole lot of “fighting the last war” technology.

We’re pretty good at fighting the last war. We’re really bad at listening to people who have a bit more insight into the future. There were plenty of them telling us to prepare for what’s happening now and we ignored them. We will, in contrast, listen to a lot of people who have hindsight. It’s just how society’s collective brain works, unfortunately.

Still, I’d rather spend the next three months looking at ideas like this and thinking about them than listening to people denying the need to do anything. Even if there are 20 dud ideas for every one that makes sense.

 

I shaved the top of my head today. The bald bit that gets tiny little hairs growing on it. I don’t normally deal with that myself as they grow so sparsely and slowly that the stylist usually just deals with them quickly when I’m getting the side bits trimmed, but that’s not happening so I took the old Mach 3 over it. It’s probably the third time I’ve done it since this all started. Obviously not a big operation.

It made me think about the people I’ve seen with real hair recently, be it out and about or online. Some people’s dos are getting out of control. It’s fun to try to guess who is bugged about it (those trying to force 2x hair into 1x styles) and who doesn’t really care (those just letting it go wild). I’m curious to see who sticks with their untamed looks and who rushes back to their early March looks the moment it becomes safe to go get a trim.

I don’t know if we’ll end up with doors without handles but I feel like, now that salons and barber shops are starting to open again, hair styles are about to take a big turn back toward very neat and very clean as a matter of compensation.

But again: I’m not very good at predicting the future. Just a guess.

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.