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Quarantine Day #14

Worldwide cases top 850,000, deaths near 42,000.

Today our governor extends the closure of non-essential businesses until May 4th. Trump caves and admits that the States will lose 100,000 to 240,000 people in the next few weeks, according to models (everything is according to models—we’re all in uncharted swamp).

Two days ago at the grocery store they erected four-by-four pieces of plastic to screen the high schoolers manning each cash register from the questionable breath of the valley’s shoppers. Reusable bags from home now forbidden.

States in a bidding war for respirators. Nurses wearing single-use face masks for a week straight. Doctors threatened with termination for complaining to the media about equipment shortages. New York City buying 14 refrigerated trucks to store bodies. Homeless folks relocated to parking lots and sports stadiums.

Countries are slamming borders shut. Citizens stranded in far-flung bunkers across the globe. The CDC considers telling Americans to wear masks outside. A church in Florida congregates in defiance, its pastor saying, “Because we are raising up revivalists, not pansies.”

Your political party determines your level of COVID-19 panic. We scoff at each other over a growing mound of the dead.

I’m in a long, desperately slow slog, sucking me away from comedy and buoyant mental health. I slouch on my couch and tap on my laptop for ten hours straight, churning out copy and clicking between a dozen windows. Agnes naps beside me or ducks into the bedroom for peace. I suspect that was her daily routine, when daddy went to the office. At 5:30 each night I feel mentally dead and physically hungry. I chat with dudes. I watch porn. I flirt, then rebuff. I talk dirty, I turn cold. I ask several times a day if a fuck is worth death? Or is that dramatic? I shrug and click to another headline about the end of the world.

An unofficial survey of friends confirms high levels of quarantine masturbation. Hackers are breaking into Zoom accounts and interrupting the workdays of corporate slaves with hardcore porn. Kmart is selling many more shirts than pants these days. Gotta look good from the waist up—home office apparel is the new business casual.

Yesterday the building next door set up construction equipment outside my window. Today they shredded asphalt. I’m taking this in stride, surprisingly., though check with me next week.

I’m stuck in a mess I can’t really write about, which is frustrating the fuck out of me, as writing is how I endure the unendurable. I’m in close confines—metaphorically—with a vocal Trump supporter and I must remain, for very good reasons, nonvocal in response. But having that so close to me, while I watch the soulless, moronic trainwreck “steer” the country into mass death and ruin, is beyond rough. It’s crippling me. I want to flee but—like the entire world— I’m handcuffed in place.

Worse, I can see a path for him to reelection, and that makes me want to give up completely on my countrymen. Moving to Canada was a clichéd response. And in light of global pandemics, no longer an option.

It’s hard to find hope.

But my anger and despair is only making one man suffer. It isn’t making the Trump supporter suffer, or the president suffer. Fox News anchorpeople still sit in blithe ignorance of my bitterness, probably sexting their news directors during commercial breaks for Depends undergarments.

In tough times I still revert to fantasy. I picture a universal ledger of suffering, locked in some dim basement, and in my delusions its caretaker flips to the right page, catches this oversight, and corrects the mistake.

But there’s only one man to blame for my own happiness. And waiting for life to revert to the hard-fought form I built and defended is futile. I’m lucky. I have a home, no annoying quarantine roommates, and a paycheck (for now). I’m in perfect health. There are people in the world who love me. I still think human connection is the thing. I would like to avoid subtracting from the world’s happiness during one of the strangest times in its history.

What’s coming? Fuck if I know. Tonight, as I sat with the chihuahua by the pond across the street, I watched two boys fishing from the dock. They cast and reeled and cast again, their faces wrapped in scarves, calling to each other from where they stood, six feet apart.

Quarantine Day #8

Worldwide cases top 415,000. U.S. cases at 50,000, with 685 deaths, climbing fast, especially in NYC, where Governor Cuomo (who’s emerged as the nation’s new “Daddy’s Home,” in the vacuum left by our trainwreck leadership) now pleading for respirators from the federal government, along with enough hospital beds for the estimated 140,000 cases expected to hit the city at the rapidly-approaching apex.

Trump still hasn’t enacted the Defense Production Act. States and cities are now begging him on live television for help. He’s now, in defiance of all health experts, talking about “opening the economy” again before Easter. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to hate someone more than I hate him. It’s made worse by being a helpless hate.

The fact that we live in a country divided has always worried me, but it’s begun to feel personally dangerous. If, for example, hypothetically speaking, your boss was a vocal Trump supporter, and Trump gave the all clear to reopen for business, would that boss, in defiance of every public health official on the planet, require you to come back to the office? Would you go? At what point do you go to war?

I’ll try to take comfort in the state of Massachusetts, and a governor who more or less has the smarts to prevent that boss from doing so.

Without gym, fresh air, AA meetings or sex, my moods shift wildly throughout the days. With the future looking like the edge of a cliff, where do set your faith? Smooth Operator got me crying last night as I again inched down the thorny imagined path of lost job and homelessness. “I have your back,” he told me. I don’t actually believe that I’ll lose my home (job loss may be likely), but the fact that I cried at his reassurance tells me that under my usually calm veneer is a roiling pot of panic.

Every day I shove that pot onto the back burner to clear my head and get shit done. But it boils up sometimes, like when my bonehead GP wanted me to come in for a consultation and labwork for a routine prescription he could phone in. Requiring me to come into a healthcare setting for a non-urgent task right now just seems pointlessly cruel, especially for a doctor. I went around him and got what I needed from some random online clinic, fuming as I clicked away on the trackpad.

Drove to the drugstore through traffic that was light for rush hour but not apocalyptically empty. The pharmacy had set a card table in front of the counter to give the techs extra distance. I swiped and pressed the keys of a credit card machine like it was a nuclear device. They had tape marks on the floor throughout the store, which looked to be about six feet apart, probably a guide for keeping distance from fellow shoppers. I thought about confirming this hypothesis with the store manager on the way out, but we’re at a point now where you have to factor in the risk of a mundane human interaction (do you have the virus? do I?), so instead I slipped out in silence and sanitized my hands before they touched the steering wheel. Hit the grocery store on the way home, with its Soviet-level shelves, another radioactive credit card machine and the bag boys asking me to stuff my own bags. The woman behind me in line crowded me, and I tried to inch away, keeping mental track of every surface I touched, willing my hands away from my face. I moved like a new, clumsy character. Navigating it all felt like playing the tutorial level of some role playing game on PS4, learning the alien ropes of a treacherous new world.

Came home to news that playwright Terrence McNally, who wrote Love! Valour! Compassion! had died from COVID-19 complications. He’d survived the AIDS epidemic, COPD and lung disease, but passed away at a hospital in Sarasota, where I’d gone to college. He left behind a husband.

As my bud Tiny Dancer put it, “Why couldn’t it have been Ivanka instead?”

Quarantine Day #5

Today’s headlines: 75 Million Americans Told to Stay Home; U.S. Cases Top 18K; NYC becomes nation’s epicenter in one week; Coronavirus recession looms, its course “unrecognizable.”

Trump’s embrace of unproven drugs defies science; U.S. intelligence warned Trump in January and February as he dismissed coronavirus threat.

Smooth Operator tells me over FaceTime that Trump is really through this time. “I feel like we’ve had this discussion every other month over the past three and a half years,” I replied. “There are never any consequences.”

I mean, in a rational world, yes, he’d be done. And there will come a day when even his supporters will realize that he is the shittiest shit stain to have ever “run” a country, and he’ll have to hope that he’s got a well-fortified bunker on some island he bought with his father’s money. But this week? A poll finds that the majority of Americans approve of his handling of the crisis.

Sometimes it’s too painful to hope.

In the meantime, people I know are already losing their jobs, and news reports come from all over the country about severe medical supply shortages weeks before the infections are predicted to peak.

Got pretty grumpy the other night, picturing losing my job and then my home. Feels like I only just pulled myself back from the brink of total poverty and desperation. My head goes to the worst places because in the past five years I’ve seen some of the worst places that a single white dude with one marketable skill can see. I throw that in there to acknowledge my privilege. I know many, many folks have it worse. Funny how that doesn’t always relieve one’s panic.

Later: U.S. surges cases surge past 21,000. NYC and LA docs told not to test patients unless doing so would alter their treatment (to save the insufficient supply of tests)….”Containment battle is lost, prepare now for onslaught…”

A smart, local bud calmed me down a bit over the phone, reminding me that, if one were to suffer through a worldwide pandemic in the U.S., Massachusetts is one of the best states for social safety nets, and I’d be ok with unemployment and wouldn’t get kicked out of my apartment.

Day #6

Global cases doubled in the last week to over 310,000, death total now stands at 13,000. Hawaii will quarantine any new arrivals for 14 days. It Italy, 793 people died in a single day.

After five days inside, I steeled myself for a grocery run Friday. I brought hand sanitizer (the two-thirds bottle I’d “borrowed” from work, as there is none to be found elsewhere) and leather driving gloves—less for virus protection than as a reminder to NOT TOUCH MY FUCKING FACE. The strangest part of the trip was how busy my town looked. The only sign of crisis: half-stripped shelves at the store.

Shelves once full of frozen vegetables, cheese, pasta, rice, soup, meat, cereal, coffee (luckily my neighbors haven’t discovered the best coffee the store carries, so that was left for me, while they stocked up on shitty Starbucks), bananas, toilet paper, dishwasher pods, and so on. Somehow I got what I wanted, navigated the checkout line with debit card, gloves, a chip/swiper that took five minutes to process my transaction, and a gloveless cashier who looked to be about 16 years old. I stopped at the second, smaller store on the way home. Better stocked, with smartly set limits like two boxes of pasta each visit, to curtail panicked greed.

Drove home, put my groceries away with my gloves, then peeled them off, shed my clothes, and took a shower. I used to be cavalier when it came to hand hygiene during flu season, never really adjusting my behavior. Now it’s different. I keep picturing myself, alone and sick on my couch, fighting for breath, every respirator in the valley taken.

Expecting new restrictions soon, I took Agnes for a hike yesterday to the top of Mount Tom (a short peak only five minutes from my place). There’s a very narrow crevice near the top that required me to carry the chihuahua in one hand and use various rock and tree handholds to scale to the top. Every time I touched something, I thought about its risk for transmission. Stupid? Panicky? I dunno—the basic science isn’t yet understood. It was good to get out, up to a sweet view of the valley, and sit in the sun with my dog while we still can, before stay-in-place orders come down from the governor.

But dozens of others—no doubt equally full of cabin fever—had the same idea, and as morning shifted into afternoon, I began to pass them all on the trail. Sometimes groups of six or ten or more. Each time you pass someone, you think, do they have it?

There’s something here, some obvious parallels and stark contrasts, with the AIDS epidemic, which I mostly experienced second-hand in my early twenties, sheltered at a Sarasota college campus of 600 students, reading about ACT-Up in the library. Difference being, gay men were dying by the thousands in the middle of an unaffected general population, who never gave a shit until a famous basketball star caught it. It’s too soon, I don’t have any perspective, to make any connections. Just to note that this time, it’s coming for straight folks, too.

On the mountain I passed families, college buddies talking about the apartments they’d rent on the Upper West Side, fellow dog walkers, trail runners, bickering couples, and a young man, drenched in cologne, delirious with excitement over glimpsing an eagle, coasting on the wind currents along the edge of the cliff. “Yeah, bro!” He yelled at me, “that’s one from the pocket list!”

Me, holding my breath just a second or two as I passed each of them, wishing I’d picked an even more distant hike, socially-speaking.

Quarantine Day #2

Joked this morning on Instagram that I only felt 8% crazy so far, but ten hours later my toes are poking at the edge of the abyss again. As I feared, our clients are now demanding that my boss freeze their marketing contracts with her due to the shitstorm kicking up across the planet, sending everyone scurrying inside for cover and slamming their wallets shut.

Headline: Confirmed U,S. Cases Doubled in Two Days

By the end of the day she’d made a couple of “adjustments” to our staffing, moving one PTer to contractor status, and a FT writer to PT. So far I’m untouched, but it’s hard to imagine that things won’t get way, way worse. For weeks now I’ve wondered to myself, like, if I were a boss, and I had one dude who was the best writer on the team but a bit of a quietly rebellious loner who divulged nothing about his personal life at work, and I had another writer, the fastest on the team, who was a personal friend that kissed my ass several times a day, at minimum five days a week (sometimes seven on Facebook), whom would I pick to stay?

Hard to make that call, from where I sit in quarantine, listening to my neighbor through the thin walls actively not practicing social distancing with family members visiting from a few towns away.

(I just got back from a short dog walk, hands freshly sanitized. I try to act like my hands would burn the skin from my face if I touched it. I still touch it.)

One of our more “important” clients is in the middle of their own COVID-19-related PR crisis, and I was asked to churn out a blog on the topic that would normally take me two and a half hours to write, but I kicked it out in one, with writing so good that she jumped on the instant messaging app to tell me that it brought tears to her eyes. Did that save my ass? For now? For a bit?

What kind of social posts to create for clients when nobody wants to leave their fucking house? Amazon will survive and prosper, as always. By the time I die we’ll all be citizens of Amazon.

Every state and city’s calling their own shots. Smooth Operator, still stuck in that Chicago hotel, says the mayor’s on the verge of imposing a stay-in-place citywide restriction. (Later: the entire state of California has now done so.)

Weird, too, that I can chat with dudes online in Australia, South Africa, Italy, and Argentina, and we all ask each other the same question: how you holding up?

How often does the whole world run and hide from the same, single enemy? And again—what the fuck will this all look like in two weeks?

A shred of light in the morning news—China, where the virus first hit, is reporting no new infections. But trusting 100% in China’s honesty is, well, a risky bet. (A smart friend reminds me its best not to trust any number out there completely. He also reminds me about basic science. As in, even that is not known about this virus. In other words, the odds are stacked against us.) The Washington Post took a pic of Trump’s State of the Nation script, where he’d crossed out “corona” and in its place scrawled “Chinese.”

Other bits of data in the swirling river: men are more likely to die than women. Young people in the states get it, too, and sometimes die. Italy’s deaths passed China’s. Canada closing its border. State Department urging no more travel abroad. Republicans—no doubt terrified at their political future—passing a trillion dollar stimulus package but I can’t help think that $1k or $2k will only last each of us so long. Bailouts for the airline industry. Trump insisting, guys, I knew this was gonna be real bad. Petulant teenagers partying on Florida beaches. The Times reporting on multiple missed warnings in the past three years at the federal level about our vulnerability to a pandemic with no cure.

Stories of celebrities getting tested more quickly and more often than us poor schmucks. The wealthy hightailing it to their second homes on Martha’s Vineyard and upstate New York and the locals there pissed as hell because, let’s face it, who’s gonna get the last respirator in the town clinic? California estimating that half its residents will get infected within 60 days.

I navigate doors without my hands and step out into the dusk. After 12 hours inside, the air feels alien. Or I feel alien. Like I’m a newborn animal on spindly legs. The parking lot is full but quiet. Another dog walker at the distant edge. Two boys throwing rocks in the creek behind the mill building. The air smells like skunk. As for which direction to go, I let the dog decide.

Quarantine Day #1

Actually it’s day three, but who the hell starts a plague diary then? This will be rougher than my usual verbiage. Nature, beast, etcetera.

How often do you come face to face with a time when nobody really knows what the world will look like in two weeks? Usually it has a predictable rhythm and form. A song you heard in your mother’s womb. Now we adapt. Improvise. We’re a jazz band making the walls hum in a dark basement club mismanaged by blind Republicans.

Spent the day at home, remotely connected to my PC at the agency, churning out a bunch of words for a bunch of clients in several industries. Every business now needs messaging.

Due to the crisis. Precautionary measures. Closing early. Closing today. Team working from home. Wash your hands. Maintain six feet of distance. Out of prudent concern. Sanitize. Hopefully temporary. Will keep you updated.

And spotty government messaging growing darker every day. Could last weeks. Months. Two years. Life as we know it. Stay in place. Stay inside. Hospital crisis. Respirator shortage. Market collapse.

A bud whose husband works at the local hospital said they got the first two confirmed cases today. It’s in our valley now. Thought about informing my coworkers on our instant messaging app, a little bubble of doom popping up on their screens, the two dozen of us strewn across the local landscape, but management keeps insisting that we display positivity (and other delusions). So I refrained.

I figured they’d hear the news soon enough.

An Instagram bud texted me from Rome. “The doctors are having to choose,” he said, “who lives and who dies.”

I was solid, nearly cocky, in the real recent past. I was gonna ride this fucker out. Social isolation? No sweat.

Three days later, and endless hours of writing and researching and seeing how this thing is gonna shut down nearly every industry across the planet, indefinitely, my toes peek over the abyss. Will our clients flee? Will I keep my job? My apartment? Where would I go? What would I eat? Could I feed my dog? Will I get a check from the government? How long could it possibly last me? How have six thousand hours of post-apocalyptic television left me so unprepared?

Also, as I’m learning, when it comes to the other virus, undetectable doesn’t mean unconcerned. Not way down deep, where the facts can’t touch. Will cross that bridge if needed. For now, I’m good.

The pandemic has stripped some parts from my rickety flying contraption of mental health. Gym closed. AA meetings shunned. My shrink wants to Skype. I had a mild panic attack this morning, realizing I might go months without a tight fade from the barber. First world problem? Fuck no, dude. Life or death.

As a veteran introvert I can handle the seclusion better than most, maybe, but I know from experience that it can take a toll, how far you can burrow into your own brain when there’s nobody nearby to crack the window. Smooth Operator is trapped in a hotel in Chicago following the death of his dad. We FaceTime every day, more than once, usually. Keep cracking each other up to keep from cracking up.

Single, alone in my joint save for an 8-pound chihuahua, I can’t stop thinking about the thing I can’t have–casual fucking. What will we become, if we go months untouched? It can’t be done. I’m guessing dudes across the planet will slip out and brave death for the relief and oblivion found in a fuck. For the reminder that you’re worth touching.

Rocky terrain at the edge of a cliff. Best to stay in the day, breathe, and chat with the chihuahua.

I feel a bit better, writing shit down.

I saw a video today of two quarantined musicians in Barcelona, serenading the city below their balconies. Applause rang out from the surrounding windows. Beauty and human connection still possible, maybe, if we try hard enough. Can you hear this tune I’m singing?

Dude, No Longer Waiting (Publication News)

Very proud to share that The Normal School, a really amazing and innovative literary site, has published my true store, Just Waiting on a Dude today. It’s a somewhat different take on dating, sex, long distance relationships and friendship—the kinds of stuff that will hopefully outlive a global pandemic. It’s available to read totally for free.

I hope you’ll check it out and, if so moved, like or leave a comment.

I Blame Myself for My Reputation

“He’s so funny,” my coworker whispered as I walked away.

“Right?” said the other.

I hadn’t intended at that moment to be funny, and like most humor—a comic noise in reaction to something they’d said—it makes no sense out of context. Not worth repeating.

But aside from the pride I felt having earned that description, I noted something else. Her comment implied that my funniness was ongoing. That I was a reliably funny person.

This may not seem like much of anything. But it was another moment reminding me of how things had changed, how not so long ago I wasn’t funny, because nothing in my life seemed funny. How I couldn’t see anything beyond my own pain.

When I look back on those years I think about my buddy, Smooth Operator, who could make me laugh in spite of the mess of my life. Our long-distance texts or FaceTimes were my lifeblood. They got me through. And even though, at that point in our friendship, I had feelings that he didn’t return, I needed his humor and his friendship so badly that I endured the pain of an unrequited fool. I needed him, and his superpower of making me laugh till I cried as my life burned down around me.

And now, a year or two later, I’d been called funny. So funny.

I’d forgotten I was, could be, liked to be funny. That I could crack open the day for an inch of light. That I could make the day different, lighter, to people around me for a few seconds.

“Humor is tragedy plus time,” Mark Twain supposedly said. I’m so grateful for that time that I could cry.