I wasn’t really sure how things were going to play out, but I remember at this point telling my girlfriend that I was going to work from home, even though I really had no idea what that meant at the time. She had a full-time day job doing medical billing as well as a side gig running trivia nights in local bars; we talked for a long time about whether she should keep doing the trivia gig or not. On the 15th the State announced a two-week closure of restaurants to go into effect on the 17th; on the 16th every bar had voluntarily cancelled their trivia nights except one. We were both relieved when she emailed her boss and said she wouldn’t be going to that one place that was staying open. The next day, the 17th, was St. Patrick’s day. We made corned beef and cabbage and the restaurant ban went into effect.
On the morning of the 18th, I went to Home Depot first, then to the Asian supermarket at Mill St. Plaza, and finally I stopped by the Shaw’s on Gold Star Boulevard on the way home. At the Home Depot I bought some pieces of wood and some wall paint. At the time I thought that we were going to have a total lockdown just like my friend in China had experienced: two months of total isolation and then life back to normal. I thought that surely, we as a nation would make short-term sacrifices for the long term good. It’s not as though this was the first pandemic in history; it was well understood, even back in March, that isolation was the only effective strategy. That’s been understood since the days of the Bubonic Plague! Well. With apologies to Shakespeare, for someone whom the vile blows and buffets of the world have so incensed, I sure can be a naïve donkey sometimes.
Anyway, I figured that repainting my bathroom and making a wooden radiator cover would be more than enough hobby-type stuff to fill the few months of isolation that I was expecting. I remember also buying a box of disposable latex gloves (for the painting) and seeing a powerfully-built young man wearing a respirator mask. I could probably pick him out of a lineup even today. He was the only masked person in the entire store, and I think he may have been the first masked person I saw out and about. I thought about buying a box of dust masks decided against it. I would have been shocked to learn that for half a year after that day, you couldn’t buy a dust mask anywhere at any price! I also thought about buying a freezer, but that seemed like quite an overreaction since the pandemic would be over before the summer. Less than a week later freezers became scarcer than hen’s teeth.
A friend reminded me of this, but even I had forgotten how for the first months of the pandemic, everyone was convinced it only spread by touching contaminated surfaces. Handwashing and not touching your face became almost a recurring joke. “Ah, I never noticed how often I touch my eyes, haha!”
Anyway, after thinking about it on the drive between the home Depot and the grocery store, I wore a pair of my new disposable gloves into the supermarket. The Asian Supermarket (the store’s name is literally “Asian Supermarket”) was completely empty except for the workers, who were bundled up and wearing masks, gloves, and face shields. Cleaning materials at every checkout, the whole nine yards, and not a soul in the place except them and me. I like to think one of them smiled faintly when she saw I was wearing gloves, but that was probably my imagination. I also very distinctly remember getting teased when I told friends and family that I’d gone to the Asian Supermarket – “I hope you didn’t get any bats!” and that sort of thing. I didn’t. I did get a frozen whole duck to be a nice treat to celebrate with when things got back to normal. I still have it.
I went through the Wendy’s drive through before going to the Shaw’s and ate a burger sitting in my pickup truck in the parking lot. I remember being very nervous – I was worried that I’d be able to catch it from touching the wrapper or the bag. The official line at the time was that the Coronavirus was no worse than a bad cold, but as I said before, if that was true, why would China lockdown their economy? And anyway, a bad cold doesn’t sound like fun times to me. At the Shaw’s, it was business as usual, except that there wasn’t a drop of hand sanitizer or toilet paper in the place. At any rate, I started the pandemic with a pretty well-stocked pantry, and my girlfriend got authorization to work from home on the following day.
What’s weird is that as I write this, I feel conflicted. My memory of this shopping trip on the 18th was that I was stocking up well before anyone else, before all the stories of hoarding and the massive shortages of almost every product. (Except, of course, toilet paper hoarding, which seems to have started long before the Coronavirus was even identified). But my shopping trip was the day after the restaurant ban came into effect – obviously, I was slower than at least the local government, right? After writing this, I asked my friends and they pointed out that a) The restaurant ban was originally going to only be for a week or two, and b) There were no other measures announced at the time. We weren’t even being told to wear masks or stay six feet apart from other people yet. So in terms of the restaurant ban it seems like I was late to get prepared for the ‘lockdown’, such as it was, but in reality, I was well ahead of anyone else I know.
On the night of the 19th I had too much to drink and purchased $100 gift cards to a couple of local restaurants, to try and support them while they were closed. I still have them, and I don’t think I’ll be using them any time soon. The note that I included when I bought them read “OBT folks, trying to help you get through these crummy times! Looking forward to using this in person in a few months!” (OBT is the Oak Barrel Tavern; I bought one to The Fix with a similar message.) I was going to buy one to the microbrewery up the street, but they had something like a $9 delivery fee for ordering gift cards online. You can mail a bowling ball to North Korea first class for less than $9. I’m still really salty about that and haven’t patronized them since.
I should mention in this entry that I’m the Treasurer of the Worcester Monthly Meeting of Friends (or, if you prefer, the local Quaker Church). Around late March I remember a virtual meeting where we discussed whether or not we’d close the Meetinghouse for Sunday Worship. Considering that the average age of our members and attenders is something like 120 – we have one Friend that can remember meeting President Hoover as a child, and another that can remember meeting King Tut - we decided it would be best to close. If I recall correctly, we were ahead of the general closure order by the Governor, and although we briefly re-opened for outdoor worship during the summer, we’re still holding Meetings via Zoom as of February 2021. The outdoor worship was not well attended and for my part, I attended one Meeting for Worship on Zoom before deciding that it was extremely, extremely not something I was interested in doing.
At this time I remember in particular one woman who was dead set against closing the Meetinghouse at all; for weeks afterwards she was sending emails reminding people of the importance of prayer and that if anyone was interested, she’d come to their house and worship in person with them. I don’t think anyone took her up on the offer, and the memory of it makes me feel a little nauseous.
On May 3rd, I made the following social media post, which I think eloquently summarizes the state of my personal life in the fall: “wake up check the death statistics swear off drinking shower eight hours of zoom meetings check the death statistics eat dinner putter around the house check the death statistics shower again drink twelve beers go to sleep.” A bit exaggerated, to be fair, but still – the early months of the pandemic were a constant barrage of death statistics without any punctuation.