Notes from The Edge:
The Chronicles of my Social Distancing amid the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic
Monday, March 16th
awaken to my friend’s irate text and roughly 100 emails from students. I’d asked them to respond to an email from last week, acknowledging that they understand how their courses will proceed in on-line-only format and, surprisingly, almost everyone has complied before the end-of-the-week deadline.
I call my friend, who seems as fine as anyone right now, and he assures me it was just a primal scream of sorts, a venting. Before we hang up, we’re both convinced of the other’s sanity after shared remarks about squirrel potentially becoming our food source. We both claim to be deadeyes on our pellet guns, but I know he has more experience slaying tree rats. Fortunately for me, I live in town and the squirrels are fat and slow. Job for today: Google squirrel recipes.
The first day’s e-learning assignments for the kids come over the internet and the grumblings about their workload predictably begin. My own heap of work groans from my swollen messenger bag. At 9:00, I set about the task of setting up the first on-line modules for four courses. By noon, I have three of them done.
I have washed my hands so many times over the last few days I do not realize I’m doing it anymore. It’s become part of some autonomic system inside me.
Again, far too early into this whole ordeal in my estimation, the grumbling from the children continues. They’ve mostly finished their e-learning, and they’re itching to get away from the house. My faith in their ability to get through this waxes closer to disbelief. I concede, if only to end the constant barrage of requests and get back to my own work. My high school sophomore goes out and runs to the DePauw Nature Park in solitude, covers several of the trails, and then runs home, logging roughly 8 miles. My wife drops the two younger boys at the golf course. Save a handful of other brave duffers, who they avoid, they are the only players on the course on a brisk, windy afternoon. When I venture out two hours later to pick them up, they are blue with cold and scurry to the warmth of the car.
Upon returning home, CNN reports Canada is closing its borders to foreign travelers, with some exceptions for US citizens. I hope I’m not an exception. I want more leverage for a renegotiation of terms with Expedia and Air Canada over my cancelled flight. My wife licks her chops. It’s these administrative sort of dealings that are going to keep her going longer than the rest of us, the fuel of some sort of routine. Again, she is my superior. Who figured up this patriarchy thing? Ludicrous.
We try out my wife’s new video conferencing software with my parents as the guinea pigs. They look good and Mom’s surgery went off without a hitch, if that’s possible. They only let her in the hospital. Dad wasn’t even allowed out of the car. Still, I can’t shirk the iota of worry that still clings to me afterwards.
After we learn San Francisco, the second coolest major city in America behind Portland, Oregon, is on lockdown, I make a pledge to myself to give up on the news for a while, at least for the rest of the evening. We have burgers again (we’re probably going to have a lot of burgers when it’s all said and done). Fine by me. The few moments of solitude in the back yard don’t freak me out like they did three days ago. I envision myself plumping up on burgers before the weather breaks, an American version of Pat Roach’s character, Randy, on the Canadian gem Trailer Park Boys. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. I’ve put a lot of work into Keto.
I end the evening watching the premiere of Westworld, which is awesome. It’s strange how I’m reveling in a show about a dystopian future conflict between man and android, but then again, I was brought up on those. And I think it gives me comfort to watch a futuristic show, because it suggests a future at all. If all we have now is the unknown, soon, whichever way it goes, that future will be the now. And then we will know, because we’ll be there. And I look forward to shaking some hands.
Tuesday, March 17th
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s Saint Patrick’s Day, folks! No better excuse to day drink on a weekday was ever invented. I’ve been reveling in the holiday since I ran a bar in the south Chicago Loop for two years in the mid-90s. I can’t even begin to fathom the millions, maybe billions, of dollars restaurants, bars, and service workers will miss today with all of the mandated closings across the country.
The news spits a rumor that the United States and Canada may put more stringent border regulations in place, so the wife and I agree to hold off for the day on calling hotels and airlines back. Maybe we can get even more leverage if the border closes altogether for travelers.
But, where was I? Oh yeah, Saint Patrick’s Day! Keto be damned. Today is no day for Daytime. It’s for Guinness Stout. But, I have none.
My kids again want to hit the links by mid-afternoon, so we let them. I notice a lot more activity at the course. No lie, I get a bit queasy. My seventh grader’s friend and another kid roll up to the course at the same time we do. I remind my kids: play by themselves, don’t get near any old people. I also have reservations about the fact I left the house at all.
“Oh well, too late now,” is what I tell myself, so I head to Kroger for Guinness. There are a couple other items still needed at home, too. What sort of cosmic law always requires I never make it home from the store with everything? This trip’s pressing need is ketchup. You might be surprised how many things ketchup goes in, as well as on.
I head into the Kroger lot and it’s not exactly jumping. In the store, it seems to be much more subdued than it was last weekend, almost normal. Almost. There are still vast swaths of clear cut shelf space where toilet paper, sanitizer, bread, and other sundries once congregated. But there are also several workers stocking up on most other staples and it looks like Trump’s promise that the food supply chain will remain intact is holding up, for now. There are two six packs of Guinness Stout left. I take only one. Remember: leave some for others. I grab the ketchup, a couple other small things, and head to the self-check-out. Despite the experience being far less eerie than expected, I can’t wait to get out of there.
After picking up the boys around 2:30, it’s time to throw Saint Patrick’s Day into as high a gear I can when stuck at home with four minors and the wife. I crack a Guinness, don my official Irish National Rugby team jersey and put the corned beef on to simmer. To say I love corned beef is to say a kleptomaniac loves to steal. It transcends love into a more subconscious needing. If cooked properly, and I do, hot corned beef can slide down the throat with minimal chewing, an orgy of protein, fat, and salt. I towel myself off, consciously wash my hands.
Though the symbolism is thick today, I do a good job of not letting the potential (inevitable?) cancellation of my trip to Ireland get me down. As my first antidote, I take a picture of my freshly poured Guinness, its thick head plugging the glass, and send it to the other guys set to go on the trip. Only one responds, but at least it’s a positive pingback.
My sister-in-law comes over and brings a platter of what I call the oyster of the Midwest: deviled eggs. I consume many. We spend the evening in what is becoming typical fashion: some board games, avoiding the news, and we cap it off watching the latest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As the evening closes, I consider it a win. There have been minimal depressive situations, probably from avoiding the news, and though cracks may be beginning to show, the kids are holding up pretty well. I’m getting great at faking it, too.
There have been minimal depressive situations, probably from avoiding the news, and though cracks may be beginning to show, the kids are holding up pretty well. I’m getting great at faking it, too.
Wednesday, March 18th
wake up feeling better than I probably deserve after my St. Patrick’s Day reveling. No headache, no lower GI distress, the usual markers of pretending to be cartoonishly Irish for 24 hours. A cold, hard rain is falling, and it will do so for most of the day.
The news comes down early today. Canada and the US have agreed to further restrict the border. No non-commercial crossings, no recreational travel. That’s us! My wife heads to her home office downstairs and sets about starting to renegotiate with the hotels and airlines. I can hear her on the phone below me, playing pathos, ethos, and logos like perfect scales on a fretboard. Boy, can she persuade. She ought to be teaching my course. By the end of the day she will have recovered the vast majority of what we stood to lose from our trip. Expedia (dicks) are the lone holdouts, but she’ll slay that beast, too, I imagine. If we learned anything beyond the biological and epidemiological recently, it’s don’t ever book through a third party travel site. Always call, or connect online with the hotel or airline directly. Trust me on this one. The false value of your rewards program be damned. You’ll thank me later.
It continues to rain, I continue to work and take hand-washing breaks. Last night, again while I slept, word came down from the golf course that it will close until April first. I would bet the ranch that that date gets extended. I wonder if they should have opened in the first place, but I was at least thankful for the physical outlet it gave the kids for a few days. We will certainly miss it. The club has been central to my adult life. I think my seventh grader knows his middle school golf season hangs in the balance of what happens over the next few weeks, and I’d bet that season never happens, along with every other sport scheduled this spring. In a few weeks, I’ll be watching a replay of last year’s Masters. Last year. We thought it was a son-of-a-bitch? How wrong were we?
If you can consider Greencastle City Hall high places, then I guess I have friends in high places. The local rumor mill, now fully digital, is suggesting there will be an upcoming announcement and the city will ask us all to officially shelter in place and not go out for anything other than emergencies, necessary work, and food. I fully support this idea. But, I have almost zero faith that all the locals will take it to heart. Let’s face it. It’s probably going to take ramped up police effort, maybe even the National Guard to enforce a true containment policy. For every level-headed citizen out there, there is a conspiracy theory-loving moron who won’t comply, negating the hard work and sacrifices of the rest of us. Such cases already dot the news from other places where these policies have gone into effect. I’ve even come up with a plan to help out the authorities: release all the non-violent marijuana “offenders” from jails and prisons, if they aren’t COVID-19 positive, and make room for locking up the idiots who insist on prolonging this nightmare.
I get quite a bit of work done today. Not enough to get my head above water, but close enough to see the surface. I close up my virtual shop and pick up The Overstory. Later this evening, I hit a major milestone, the halfway point in this huge, 500 plus page novel. When you’re an English instructor, you rarely have time to read anything other than student work, which can be depressing, but this week I’ve read more than I have since killing a whole issue of McSweeney’s in Santa Barbara over the holiday break. God, I wish I was back in that California sun now, in both time and space. I try to shuffle off that thought, but it sticks hard. I know this situation we’re all in is shitty. It’s nobody’s fault, despite what the President might suggest. Like the wildly fluctuating markets, Nature is making a correction.
Patrick Barcus holds an MFA from Butler University and teaches writing at Indiana State University. He’s the front-man for the local band, Saturday Shoes, and also happens to be one hell of a poet.
Featured Image Credit: Italiano: Guinness da Bar by Morabito92 (Own work), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons