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I went downtown today … WHY ARE YOU GOING OUT, THIS MEANS DEATH
No. No, it doesn’t. I know, I know, flatten the curve, but I am very careful. Believe me, I don’t like it, but downtown is deserted. Except where it’s not! The pharmacy is open, and there are people who are still working, or who live downtown, queued up to buy something. Cigarettes. Fungus cream. Bandaids. You still get paper cuts in a pandemic.
There are fewer aimless people wandering the margins of downtown than usual. There are Terribly Fit Young Professionals jogging or walking dogs. It will seem even more surreal in a few weeks when it’s warm and the trees start to green up. Right now, it’s like someone hit pause on a movie, then left the house, then left the country.
You see someone up in the skyways and relax: signs of life. You see a construction project that appears idled, and sag — ah, no, there are men up on the scaffold, working. Ah: a fellow on a cherry-picker is working on a municipal pole. Ah: a guy in an orange vest is painting the street to indicate where they’ll cut for some utility work.
All the people whose job consists, more or less, of typing – they’re gone. The men who put things together and keep the system running are here. They do not seem particularly concerned, but you can only imagine what plots flit through their minds.
Now I think, it’s not a movie, paused — it’s an engine, stilled.
It’ll sputter when you try to turn it over again, but it’ll catch.
Provided you don’t wait too long. I’m not a pessimist but I’m not an idiot, either. There’s a huge new rehab of the city’s oldest surviving department store building. It would bring back a beloved old name, restore the structure and give it a new life as an office space with a big open food court. It was due to open soon, but now you can’t help imagine the structure as a giant chrysalis that will birth a stillborn butterfly. The towers under construction continue to rise, but will they be occupied?
The Empire State Building was known colloquially as the Empty State Building for years after it opened. Likewise Chrysler, Cities Services, other late-boom towers. But the hard days passed.
My bank was closed. They had consolidated to a new location, and I went there. I put on the mask. I felt a bit embarrassed, because it freaks out other people. Sorry, but if I’m going to be out and about, it’s masks and it’s gloves. You like these gloves? My wife had a box. I sorted them out in the morning to see how many we had, and thought: mask-wise and glove-wise, we’re good.
A month ago I would not have liked to think I was counting masks and gloves or keeping a keen eye on the TP consumption, but month-ago-me has been sent to his Borg alcove to hibernate. New me considers going to early-morning Senior Hour at the grocery store to see if there’s flour. Technically, I count. All of a sudden “senior” means over 60 and I am in the club by a whisker and hell yeah, let me in, I need flour. Me, who spat on every AARP mailing before I ripped it up and threw it away.
The bank people were nice and unmasked and normal. Everything was normal. They could not do what I wanted to do. Dang. Masked up and left and went to the office, and here again we have procedures:
Use arm to push through revolving doors. Don’t touch escalator rails. Masked knuckle to push elevator button. Swipe card, go up, swipe card for access, then disinfect —
Hold on. I remember. There’s lots of Purell here. There’s gallons of it.
In the Before Times prior to the evacuation, there were bottles of Purell everywhere. Some people rolled their eyes: a bit much doncha think. I watched as the level in the big bottles remained constant from day to day, until the evac order came down. I went to the break area where I knew there was a big bottle, and sure enough: 7/8ths full. An unimaginable quantity.
Do I take it home?
Because that would be wrong. At some point we’re going to return to the building, and the bug will still be around. People will need this.
But there’s no guarantee someone else won’t remember it’s here, and come for it.
I could take it home, guard it, and bring it back. Using a little, if I had to.
I realize I would feel horrible taking it. Not that someone would see. I would see. Hate to think I’m the kind of guy who would do it and convince himself this was altruistic resource management on behalf of everyone else.
But it wouldn’t hurt to refill the bottles I have in my pocket.
As I leave I get a text from my sister in Fargo, wondering how we are. We’re fine. You? My nephew is not home yet, but is still at college, and working at the golf range, sanitizing clubs and balls. This seems insane but somehow comforting.
I hear a knock on the window of the lobby, and look up – it’s one of the paper’s employees. He gives me a thumbs-up. I give him the same, and think: so I’m recognizable wearing the mask. Not something you ever think about.
I take off the mask when I’m in the car, because the car is Safe. I really don’t think the mask was necessary. But I have to return tomorrow to do some notary work, and that means outside, and that means a mask. At least I’ve topped off the Purell! Coffee and flour stocks diminished a bit, TP holding steady, did away with the wine that needed drinking. Dinner is great; Daughter and Rotaria make banana bread. But I’m kicking myself because I have to go out tomorrow before the lockdown, and jeez: my wife and I knew we had to get this thing notarized, but you let it slide, there’s other stuff to do, it sits there, and then you’re dialing UPS and asking the necessary questions about the notary’s hours and how many people they have on hand, because for some stupid reason, you can’t just have one witness. A will and testament needs two.Published in