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 21: It was reported today that the United States could’ve prevented roughly 700,000 infections and 36,000 deaths from COVID-19 if social distancing measures had been put in place even one week earlier. In the event, everything began shutting down on March 15. The study, from Columbia University, examined what would’ve happened if things began shutting down on March 8.
I assume that most people’s response to that will be “well, who knew how bad this would be on March 8?” No one was aware of that then, they’ll say. They’ll cite that wild Wednesday evening — March 11 — when in the space of a couple of hours the Utah Jazz game was cancelled because Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the world learned that Tom Hanks and his wife did too, and Sarah Palin showed up on an episode of “The Masked Singer” wearing a bear costume and singing “Baby’s Got Back” because the world wasn’t going insane enough as it was. March 11 was also the day that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and Trump banned travel to the United States from Europe.
In light of all of that, people will, I suspect, say “OK, we all became aware on March 11, we took a couple of days to get our wits about us, and we began shutting down on March 15. That’s not too bad!”
Except that’s not true. A report in The Atlantic was published on March 6 which revealed, even then, that we were totally botching the response to COVID-19 and that our leaders, while already beginning to panic about its economic fallout, were doing little if anything to combat the pandemic itself. People who knew and people who cared — scientists, doctors, epidemiologists and other public health experts — had been sounding the alarm for weeks and weeks at that point but the people in power refused to listen. At least until it hit a basketball player and Tom Hanks. I know all of this not because I went back and looked at old headlines or researched scientific journals it to see what was missed and when. I know this because I had already started keeping this diary by then and was writing about it in real time.
If an unremarkable Midwestern dad/baseball writer was aware of what was and wasn’t going on simply from reading the news at the time, our leaders certainly were aware by virtue of advanced, non-public reports (we know that was true too). Yet they did nothing and tens of thousands of people died who would not have otherwise as a result.
We live in a time when our leaders lie to us constantly. I didn’t start this diary in order to specifically combat the mendacity we’ve come to expect and accept these days, but it’s serving that purpose more and more lately. It’s having to because those who are supposed to hold the powerful to account for those lies — fellow leaders who have integrity and the press — have utterly failed at their task, either because they are feckless or because they are fearful.
I don’t know if anyone will ever read this diary again after I stop updating it daily. I don’t even know if I will. But I feel like it and other contemporaneous accounts from people who are not compromised in the way everyone who approaches power seems to be compromised will prove to be important one day.
When I’m feeling optimistic I imagine that common people writing about all of this might help our country break the fever and begin to acknowledge plan facts. When I’m feeling less optimistic I at least hope that historians might use personal accounts like these to understand how a once-great civilization descended into a dark age. When I’m feeling truly pessimistic, I feel like I’m pissing into the wind.
Allison got a haircut today, a week after the hair salons opened. Our stylist, Lauren, rents a private space with its own walls and a door and things in one of those shared salon facilities, so you’re not dealing with other people. Allison got to the parking lot, texted from the car that she was there and, when the last customer had left and the the space had been cleaned, Lauren texted back and told Allison she could come in. Lauren wore a mask. It’s optional for the customer, though depending on the hair and depending on the type of mask some adjustments and manipulation is inevitable. All in all, Allison said it felt OK, which is saying something because she’s pretty on top of safety and distancing measures and is pretty critical of people and places that fart around.
I have an appointment for a trim with Lauren next week and, based on today’s report I feel pretty good about it. I’m not sure how I’d feel about things if I was still going to the barber shop I used to go to where there might be people waiting in a common area with several customers sitting in chairs at a time.
I finally broke down and went to the garden center today to get things for the patio in back and the beds out front. I had resisted doing it earlier when most people begin to do their gardening. Even as recently as last weekend those places looked like a shit show. But the bare beds are sad and if I let them go much longer they’ll be filled with weeds, so I sucked it up today.
It wasn’t bad thanks to heavy rain — most of the place I go to is outside — so I had plenty of space to myself while I picked up my snapdragons, my impatiens, a few bags of dirt, and a couple of shrubs that I want to plant in a space where I can’t seem to get anything else to live. All in all I’m getting a month’s later start than usual on this. Not that it matters. I suck at gardening so it’ll all look like hell late this summer like it always does.
Today the governor announced that bowling alleys will soon open again.
As I wrote not long after starting this diary, bowling was something I had recently gotten back into when all of this hit. It was less for the actual bowling and more a means of getting me to leave the house and do things with other people, which is something I’ve not been very good about in recent years. I was reluctant to do it at first but I soon began to enjoy it. It was helping me access parts of myself that have been dormant for a long, long time and I rather liked it.
I’ll probably always associate bowling with the pandemic. That crazy March 11 was league night and the lanes always put ESPN up on the monitors with the sound off. I was watching a basketball game between turns. That news about the Jazz game getting cancelled broke into the coverage and I was trying to figure out what was going on after throwing each ball. Even if, as noted above, no one should’ve been blindsided by the fact of the pandemic as late as March 11, it definitely felt like a “where were you when it happened” evening.
Because of how much it had come to mean to me personally, the immediate absence of bowling was, oddly, one of the things that upset me the most in the first few days after everything began to shut down. Allison knew this, so when the news about the bowling alleys reopening came out today she texted and asked me if I felt like I’d go back any time soon.
I thought about it for a minute. I have my own ball and shoes so I don’t have to share those things, but even if leagues come back, all of that that scene entails seems a bit too close and familiar at the moment. There are high fives, shouting, and people sitting close to each other on the little couch-like banquettes around each set of lanes and food and open beer cans everywhere. My bowling alley is not one of those fancy retro ones — it’s an old school alley — and the clientele is older and a bit rough around the edges too, A lot of smokers and a lot of older smoker coughs fill the place up as you’re rolling and, based on demographics and the sorts of hats and t-shirts league members wear, I’m guessing that a lot of them fall into the “masks are tyranny” camp.
I can’t see how I could do it, really, at least not soon. If I do bowl again after the lanes re-open, it’ll be like it was before this past winter: bowling alone.