We’re well into this new normal and things still seem weird. Food is being bought in bulk so we don’t have to venture out as much. Shows are being binged that we’ve already watched out of the comfort of the known and familiar. Books are being devoured like a child devours candy. Music is absorbed like life’s blood; both new(if you can find it) and old records are being revisited and re-evaluated. Our once meager Midwestern ranch-style home is more of a fortress of solitude now. It’s not just a place to rest, but a place to take cover from the invisible threat. We eat more together at the dining room table. It’s a small comfort, but one I’ve taken for granted for years now. The conversations and the laughter are salve on our psychic wounds. Well, my psychic wounds. The kids seem somewhat immune to the mental fatigue. Homework in your pajamas, eggs and toast at noon, practicing drums at 1 pm on a Tuesday, Nintendo Switch pretty much whenever the mood strikes sounds more like an extended vacation than quarantine from the first great pandemic of the 21st century.
I’m not immune.
I’m going to work and seeing the world changing. I’m gearing up every morning as if I was heading into a contaminated zone. Latex gloves, N95 mask, not allowing drivers into the building, and lathering in hand soap and hand sanitizer every 20 minutes or so. I’m hitting the grocery store and seeing the suburban zombies gathering their supplies for the week; painters masks, rubber gloves, and a squint in the eyes that says “What is happening?” Local stores are doing curbside pick ups; restaurants, comic book stores, and even breweries are bringing growlers right to your mini-van window so you can safely drown your dystopian worries in micro brew style.
I stopped at my mom and dad’s house yesterday. I haven’t seen them in three weeks. I dropped off foam masks for them to wear when they have to go to the store. Since mom won’t give me a list of stuff that I could pick up for her, I want to make sure they will at least protect themselves when they go out for their bread, milk, and Ben and Jerry’s. Their dog Max was thrilled to see me. It’s as if he was saying “Oh Thank God someone new! Please don’t leave!” As neurotic as he is, I’ve missed him as well.
This is now the fourth or fifth Friday in a series of many that have opened doors to new unknowns and old fears. When will it get better? When will it be long enough and we can start to step from our suburban virus shelters, shake hands, hug our parents, and not be afraid when a stranger coughs? When will a cough and a fever just be a cough and a fever, and not a possible death sentence? At what point is the virus going to stop roaring through communities and leave bodies and grief in its wake?
I’m still seeing groups of people gather and hang out. Do they know something I don’t? I was practicing social distancing on my porch Wednesday night grilling brats and dogs with a beer and could see across the neighborhood a gathering of families at a house. Probably 20 to 25 people, grilling and yelling while kids screamed in the backyard spraying each other with a hose on a trampoline. On any other random April afternoon it would’ve been a pleasant view of families having fun and kids being kids. But not this April. This April it looked like a righteous act of stupidity and irresponsibility. It looked like brazen defiance, bad parenting, and reckless neighbors putting themselves and their loved ones in danger. Amongst the yelling and yucking it up I heard them singing that famous refrain “Happy birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear ******, Happy Birthday to you“. Under my breath I said to myself “How many more?”
At this rate, not many more at all.
Anymore I so look forward to the weekend. For my wife and kids the last month has been one long weekend. For me, each week is like a game of Russian Roulette with one of those chambers filled with Covid-19. Once I reach Friday that metaphorical gun disappears and I can look foward to two days of disappearing in long walks, records, books, shows, and dinners at the table. I can forget about the fear for a bit. I can let my guard down and put the latex gloves and N95 mask to the side till Monday morning. This coming Monday morning we’ll be driving thru a tent and having our temps checked in our cars. That’s something to look forward to. Driving to Bare Hands Brewing on Saturday and having a growler brought to my car is something to look forward to as well.
One thing at a time. One thing at a time.