Monday, May 18, 2020

In a Time of Virus: Everything Out of a Can

People went crazy the last few weeks.

I don't really know how else to interpret the furious wrath of church ladies in JC Penny tops screaming about wearing life-saving facemasks.  People told their lives depend on distance and patience rushed to state capitols with rifles to stand elbow to elbow with strangers, their faces bared to cameras and virus particles, screaming hysterically about their right to...  expose themselves and others to illness and death, I guess.

It's now been going on long enough that we're getting reports of these people catching COVID-19, the occasional ironic/ cautionary tale of people's last facebook posts rants about the "hoax" of the virus before the person winds up dead.  70-odd people who went to an "open" rally in Wisconsin are believed to have contracted the virus at the event.  And today I saw something about a church in California that held Mother's Day services exposed over 180 people.

The science is middle-school simple, the basis of shared cultural language.  We know what "viral" means in terms of an item on the internet making its way to the screens of Good Morning America, but in two short decades the source of that term has been lost on countless millions.   They want the disease, I think.  Want it in their lungs to just get it over with.  Show they can curvive, that this was all for nothing - The waiting is the hardest part.

Conversations you see pass by online fail the most basic logic.  "I don't see anyone with the disease, the numbers are low".  Yes.  We were told that they would be low if we sheltered in place, because then you cannot get the disease.  You cannot see people if you are at home.  If the people you know are doing the right things, they, too, will not get the disease.

You can get how people fell into animism.  Any explanation requiring magic and a leap of logic that gives the listener a solitary answer and someone to blame is fair game.  5G towers lowering our immune systems (would be hilarious if the effects were not so insane).  Bill Gates is doing this for... reasons?  To really push Office 365, I guess?  The QAnon maniacs have, of course, neatly shuffled this into their storyline and pushed deepfakes and possibly clones as part of what's *really* happening.

But what's really happening is cold and slow and still.  We have to stay away from each other.  We have to find routines we ascribe to monks or the Swiss Family Robinson.  We have to live solitary lives knowing others are out there, and we do not know when it will end.

This week, that seems to have sunk in with some people I know.  The existential issue of confinement with those you love can only handle so much baking and trying new recipes and Instagram-able moments before the routine becomes a forced march.  And, of course, when you have children, you're now working around the clock.  No more school, events, etc... to keep the kids distracted and now asking for and needing parents.  And nowhere for parents to hide.

I'm not making fun.  I can't imagine.  No one is looking for me, and I can feel the push and pull of certain demands.

The State Government of Texas, which seemed to have its head around this thing at the ouset, has given way to the usual voices shouting about business and revenue.  The history books are writing themselves about the mistake leaders are currently making about re-opening too early.  Simple paragraphs of text students and scholars will one day consume won't really capture how long two months have felt to so many, either at home wondering who these people are they live with, or watching their fortunes slip away.

Between the desperation to return to normalcy (despite the advice and concerns of near anyone with an expert and informed opinion) and the undeniable economic devastation, the desire to tell people they can cautiously return to bars and restaurants, get their hair cut, etc...  should be no real surprise.  But somehow I remain shocked with each new and poorly thought-out plan to "re-open, safely" each business promises.  Usually businesses that rely on the same demographic that's hanging out at Barton Springs together in order to staff up and operate.

There's something to be said for the economy and what this has exposed.  The stock market tumbled, and is now beginning to recover.  Unemployment was at 14.7% at the end of April - the highest since the Depression, and people are still getting rich.  The divide between the 1% and the rest of everyone else is laid bare, but the true believers hang on to the illusion of what the Dow Jones does for them, personally.  It's a faith and a religion, and you do not tear that down overnight just because all evidence points to the insanity of believing in numbers rising and falling because of guts and hunches.

All I know is my neighbor two doors down got laid off on Friday.

In the midst of all this, folks have decided they're all the next Food Channel star or some such, and my social media is full of photos of people working hard at making fancy foods, engaging in baking, etc...

We aren't doing any of that.

I'm still working as much or more than usual, and it's just the two of us.  We've been cooking at home and haven't been out since the first weekend in March, so our meals have been mostly observably low-fi.  Neither of us wants to make a mess of the kitchen with lots of bowls and ingredients, necessitating significant clean-up.

In the Before Times we were doing good with fresh ingredients and lots of recently acquired produce.  Now, I'm eating canned corn and beans.  I'm cooking frozen hamburgers on the stove top.

Look, I've said it before, but in some ways, this life?  Just me and Jamie locked in a house?  We've been doing this for years.  It's been just the two of us dealing with semi-extraordinary health issues for 20 years of marriage and years of dating before.  It's not that you don't want or appreciate the fine foods, but is that where you want to expend your energy today?  Or do you want to open a can of Bush's baked beans and grill a chicken breast again?  Get the dishes done in 20 minutes. Move on.  We can appreciate the finer foods on the other side or when we plan ahead and that's the activity of the day.

Thursday, actually, Jamie spent her day making piroshkis, a favorite McBride family food (it's a meat pie sort of thing).  And that became her whole day.  It was worth it.  But we can't do that every day, or even every week.

There's still the cleaning and Zoom'ing and checking in here and there.  There's walking the dog and planning the next grocery list and run.

And, again, we don't have kids.  I have no idea how you people are doing it.

And I keep thinking about the families in The Blitz and how they did this endlessly, but the certainty that the buzz of planes and shriek of air raid sirens would be followed with explosions, that even if you made it to the Underground, you might come back up to find your house simply gone.  I think about the tire drives and Victory Gardens of WWII, and mothers sending sons and daughters off to serve.  And this is nothing.  And somehow we're making it so hard.