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I suggest we call this period . . . The Duration.
The Before Times are still close enough so they don’t seem like a dream, passed down by the elders telling tales over the fire. I mean, I remember walking into the hardware store to look for a part. The most normal thing a man can do on a Saturday. It was cold outside; there was popcorn in the back, and no one thought anything of opening the door and helping themselves to a bag. We used a scoop, because we weren’t savages. You chatted with the clerk, petted the store dog, picked up the pen to sign the POS terminal, pushed your way out of the store with your hand on the door, which had a big hammer as a doorknob. You didn’t give a second thought to how many people had touched it.
Why should you?
In three, four years there will be people who have become accustomed again to pushing the hammer without worrying, much. There will be kids who were taught to push the door with their feet, but it’ll seem like old folk superstition to them. There will be popcorn, and there’ll be a dog.
I think what surprises me, and gives me a bit of faith in myself, is the way I’ve reacted to the sudden imposition of the New Ways without losing my sh*t, if I may be frank. I have found my inner Stoic, and discovered was siting around chatting with my inner Fatalist. Both recognized me when I showed up: Yo. About time.
I absolutely hate the way the world outside my house and car feels like a land of lava and sulfur. But I accept it. Part of this has to do with my suspicion that it is not a land of lava and sulfur, but it is prudent to regard it as such. On Friday I ventured out, which I hate to do because I feel as if it resets the calendar to 0. If it takes 14 days to show symptoms, and I’m good today, well, when last did I go out into the miasma? Never mind: reset the hands to five minutes to self-destruct.
The objective: beer.
I don’t drink beer. I love it, but you know, carbs. Wife enjoys a beer when she gets home from work. Daughter is allowed a light Heineken in these harrowing times. I have been stocking up over the last month, buying a bit more outside the anticipated rate of depletion, but something happened that is truly indicative of the exigencies of the Duration. Calculation: Governor calls a press conference, does not announce a lockdown. Conclusion: This was done to surface the possibility of a lockdown among the speculating class. Elsewhere, statewide lockdowns are occurring. Strenuous force must be brought to bend the curve. Ergo, the lockdown having been established as a possible norm for the Duration, it will soon become a probable norm.
Hence the objective: beer. Because you don’t know if one will be allowed to go to the liquor store.
Side note: I am at the kitchen table right now, and have poured myself a ration of whiskey. I usually snatch a napkin to use as a coaster, for no good reason; the table is stone. But paper products are rationed items now – not because they’re over and done, but because the means to secure them is onerous and the trip not always fruitful. For the first time my hand went to the napkin rack, and I stopped: no. A napkin abjured is a napkin secured. I also found myself making my pot of coffee with fewer grounds, without ever having decided to do so. Something about the Duration stays your hand, instinctively.
Anyway. The liquor store. You’re amused and heartened by the signs in the parking lot: the store has already put an online / phone order system into place, and not only carved our four parking spots for this delivery system, but hung professionally-designed and printed signs that guide you to your spot. There are workers in jackets with portable card readers.
An entirely new modality of getting you hooch arose in a matter of days.
I go inside. I try not to breathe much. Three checkout lanes; everyone is automatically observing distance. I get what I need and no more, and note the signs that say NO CASH.
Because cash involves touching.
This speaks to a vast electronic money system that keeps commerce going, and will continue to do so. Water, money, gas, light: we’re going to hold these things together. The trash was picked up this morning, the most normal thing in the world – except after I’d put the carts away, I imagined how many handles the trashcan had grasped, and I disinfected before I did anything else.
The lady who checked me out at the liquor store was probably 70, and bounteously cheerful. She was the embodiment of Church Basement Ladies, that merry auxiliary you could count upon to brew the coffee and put out the cookies.
When I got back in my car Birch the dog was anxious, but relieved to see me. I stowed the beer and turned on the ignition, and the car nagged me to connect my phone to the global interconnected information system. FINE. I backed up –
. . . and crunch, hit a car that was also backing up. Ah damn. New car, too. Got out, checked the damage, expecting crumples. Just a white streak on the rear quarter panel. Rubbed right off. Well this day was turning out to be a win-win all around.
Went home and joined an online Slack channel for work: Happy Hour! All the reporters in our section got online and chatted. The boss had a glass of white, and showed off her tulips. The hard-core true reporter-type guy had a bourbon. We shared kudos all around for getting the paper out; I gave an account of my trip to the deserted office. It was good to see them all. The mood was merry. This was the new way of things, for the Duration.
Napped, fitfully, then woke to await the pizza delivery. Sat on the big marble slab on the living room radiator with Daughter and dog, the place that’s warm in cold times. Talked about past trials. When the pizza came it was handed off like a nuclear fuel rod: no contact.
Disinfect before you open the box. It’s what you do and you don’t mind and don’t even check yourself.
It was an excellent pizza.
I did the second podcast of the day, same as every Friday. I poured a bourbon at 10 PM, same as every Friday. I’m about to watch some TV and have some popcorn and ice cream, same as any Friday. The absence of a coaster-napkin seems a small thing.
But: I just used the last microwave popcorn bag in the cupboard. I know I have three boxes in the stores, but I make a note: next expedition, buy bulk.
One of the things I look forward to resuming: Not even giving a passing thought to the popcorn stocks. Except I don’t think I ever will. I was keen to note when we were getting low before, but now I think, well, the expectations of immediate, frictionless replenishment have been proven unreliable. Act accordingly.
To put it in context: I’m not concerned there won’t be microwave popcorn. I’m concerned there won’t be my favorite kind. An important distinction, and a heartening one.
During WW2 things were unavailable . . . for The Duration. Men who had been drafted and left their desks were gone . . . for The Duration. It was understood what this meant. It was defined, but undefined. It was however long it took.
Right now we have everything we need, and I am grateful. The most important things, aside from the material needs, are perspective, focus, patience, and hope. And the greater of these, as the saying goes, is whiskey.
No – that’s not right. Ah heck. It’s late. You know what I mean. I’m good.
Also, the calendar reset to zero again. The Stoic and the Fatalist nod: it does so every day. You just never knew it.Published in