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I went downtown today, for a pail of air.
I didn’t have to. There was something I wanted to do at the bank, but that was a pretense — I wanted to go downtown.
Worrying about contagion at the office wasn’t a problem, since it’s emptied out. The newspaper is being produced remotely. This is no small feat, and I can tell you that the hated MSM in the instance of my paper is performing an invaluable service. We have the largest newsroom in the state, with the most resources to cover the story, and we are giving it away online. It’s really quite something to walk through a deserted newsroom and know that there will still be a paper on the stoop in the morning.
Got what I needed from my desk, did two pumps from the big Purell dispenser, went to the skyscraper lobby. Perhaps a dozen people in the vast lobby, having lunch, chatting; the pizza take-out was open. Hurrah! Normalcy. Went through the skyways, grateful now for the automatic doors, to the building across the street. It has a food court. All closed but the hot dog place. I could see the owner sitting in the back, and thought: lucky for him, hot dogs don’t spoil.
He stood up when I approached, and smiled; years ago he expressed admiration when I called one of the condiments “sport peppers,” and said it was rare when people called ‘em by their right name. I’d already had lunch, but I bought some gift certificates, said I’d see him when this all blew over. Investment in the future! A double-sawbuck of Chicago-style dogs.
On to the IDS center atrium. Four skyways empty into a vast enclosed piazza. Utterly vacant except for a security guard in a mask, and one lone young kid manning a doughnut stand. The sign advertised HAPPY HOUR specials. Happy hour was over. I juked right to the escalators, because I wanted to be outside.
You can breathe a little more . . . deeply outside.
Walked towards the river. Passed a hamburger stand that had a sign on the window limiting the number of people who could be in at one time. Saw a lady standing at the counter waiting, and envied her; they have good hamburgers. At 5th I went back up in the skyways, because they have the best perspective to take pictures of a new skyscraper going up, and I have been documenting it since they broke ground. Not going to stop that now. In a niche in the skyway a homeless woman was curled, sleeping. She looked dead. It’s a very expensive condo, and in the cold times the street people come up here to smoke. The hallways reek. Security never seemed to do anything about it, and I have come to associate the hallways of this part of the skyway system with silence and cigarettes.
I took my pictures. Burly men in orange vests are still at work, raising the tower. It made me think of Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building. Well, they rented out, eventually.
When I got back to my car I felt as if I should accomplish something more, so I went to the grocery store for yeast. Daughter wants to bake, and exchange student is coming Saturday. They can bond over baking.
No yeast. Try another: no yeast. Try another: huzzah, yeast! In abundance! While I chastised myself for hitting three stores — Oh, I’ve done it this time — I also chastised myself for being silly, and then rechastized myself for minimizing things —
Except who knows. Yes yes experts know. But who knows.
What matters is that I sanitized, used the wipes, kept my distance, and got to experience the full surreal moment of walking around an utterly normal grocery store with Madonna blaring on the overhead speakers while people shopped wearing plastic gloves. You can’t blame her for being a material girl, given we are living in a material world.
When I left I saw an old woman walking across the parking lot to the store. She was probably in her 80s. She had purpose and determination, but she was moving slowly. She wore a blue face mask. This store has people who help the aged shopper, so she’d come to the right place. I wondered what she’d come for. I imagined her home an hour later, taking out the tins of cat food, unscrolling the lid of some Fancy Feast, and enjoying the sight of her cat having a meal.
She’d have a phone, the old kind that made a clatter, sitting on an old wooden table she got from her mother, with a lace doily and framed desaturated pictures of the grandkids from long-ago vacations. She would be heartened when it rang and the distant children asked how she was doing. They’d be alarmed she’d gone out. Don’t you know? And she would be adamant about her reasons. I wore a mask. Don’t worry. Honest to goodness, I’m not an fool.
She would have some soup and a Lorna Doone and fall asleep in her chair watching the news, the BREAKING chyrons reflected in her glasses. And when she woke in the morning she would be glad she didn’t have to go out, because she went out yesterday. She feels fine.
When the nice young man who brings the Wheels on Meals comes by she asks him to leave it outside the door. He understands completely.
“See you tomorrow,” he says. That would be Friday, and that means fish. She’s not crazy about the fish. It’s mushy by the time they deliver it. But Sweetie loves to lick the plate.Published in