I have a handful of memories but I can’t quite figure out the dates of when they happened, or they don’t really fit into a broader theme of one of the other diaries. So I have put them here. This is the last diary entry I have planned so if anything else interesting happens I guess I’ll let you all know.
My last memory of the spring is a friend crying hysterically when the university ruled that if you left Massachusetts you had to quarantine for two weeks when you returned. She felt very strongly that the pandemic shouldn’t mean that her daughter would be unable to see her grandparents (who live outside Massachusetts, apparently) until the pandemic passed “in a month or two”.
If I live to be a thousand years old, I will remember the unbridled, hand-clapping, wide-grinning glee of the people on the TV and among some of my friends when the coronavirus reached Iran. I must have seen a thousand photos of that mass grave outside Tehran over the course of a week during the spring. Over and over I heard things along the lines of “When the people of Iran see how badly the pandemic is handled there, they will rise up and overthrow the regime, this is the end of the ‘Islamic Republic’ of Iran”. A few months later, all those same people swore the mass grave on Hart Island in New York was “that’s different”. The newspaper articles that come out every few months of so many bodies piling up at hospitals in the U.S. that they have to be dumped in repurposed refrigerated tractor trailers – “mobile morgues” that used to haul vegetables –“that’s different”. When the City of LA had to suspend air quality regulations recently to allow crematoria to catch up with the backlog of dead bodies – “that’s different”. And that’s the beauty of this era of social media – you don’t get to see these things just once, you get to see them over and over again, from dozens and dozens of people, on the national scene and in your own life, constantly, every day.
In the parking lot of the liquor store in the rain on a Monday night putting a case of beer into my truck looking down and seeing a forgotten face mask branded with the logo of a local sports bar lying in a puddle and feeling an intense sadness.
In the spring the call went out and all the little old ladies started crocheting masks, and all the high schools and universities started 3D printing face shields, and all the woodworkers scrounged their shops for disposable gloves to drop off at the hospitals. Huge amounts of material were produced and everyone was so happy at this great and uplifting story. Or someone gets sick in a local office and their coworkers donate their vacation time to her so that she won’t get fired if she doesn’t get well fast enough. Or the local grammar school takes up a collection to donate pizzas to nurses that are working triple shifts and don’t have time to make a chow run. Uplifting three-minute stories on the nightly news in between sports and the weather and we watch them and everyone feels real good about the world. I guess that people are doing these things is great; but if you start thinking why people would be put in such a position that doing such things is necessary horror will just creep into your heart and not leave. It’s like those heartwarming local news stories that come out like clockwork about some kid starting a lemonade stand to help pay for his mother’s chemotherapy bills and everyone is smiling and saying awwwww, isn’t that adorable, how nice, and I want to join them but if I open my mouth to say anything I’ll just start screaming and never stop. None of the good uplifting stories about the pandemic are actually good uplifting stories they are prime exhibits that we live in a failed state and a garbage society.
The joy of the average American at the coronavirus reaching Iran, of course, pales in comparison to the unrivalled bliss of early December, when it had only broken out in China. “It may look like a modernizing country, but the yellow hordes of Chinese are no more than disgusting barbarians – they eat bats! Their filthy way of life is solely to blame for the pandemic!” Of course I’m paraphrasing but I don’t think you’ll have to look far outside this diary to find plenty of this viewpoint. Oddly enough, over the summer Denmark had to cull its commercial mink herds because Coronavirus was being transmitted from animals to people over there and I somehow don’t recall hearing anyone talk about the filthy unsanitary Danish way of life and the threat their barbarism poses to the world order. That’s different! And mask wearing, isolation, contact tracing, are these measures that have been known to be effective disease mitigation strategies since the days of the black death in Europe? Of course not, they’re Maoist social controls, grave evidence of the cruel government’s enslavement of its people, they’re the start of another Cultural Revolution. That a bunch of countries – Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland – have used these techniques to limit the pandemic, well, that’s something entirely different! Doesn’t count! As far as I can tell (and to be fair, what do I know?) the Chinese government coverup of the virus amounts to their waiting a week or two before notifying the World Health Organization. But when you think about it – once the cat was out of the bag for good, what did we do for the next two months in the U.S.? Tell jokes about “ah so Bing Bong likee eatee bat” and the “Kung Flu” and sit around laughing. Even if the Chinese government had done everything perfectly correct, if they had diagnosed the pandemic on day one with zero coverup or confusion, you’d have to be the biggest chump in the world to think the story of 2020 in the U.S. would have played out any differently.
I remember, every month from the very start of the Pandemic, the University President saying how proud she is to have kept our “family” together. The first time this slogan was brought out was a day after all the food-service workers at the university were furloughed. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people made unemployed – but because they were employed through a subcontractor and not directly by the university, they’re not a part of our family. That’s different, doesn’t count.
I remember a quote from a book I read as a young man: “It was like we were at a grand ball, and every once in a while, they’d come in and drag someone away and shoot them, but everyone kept dancing”. I can’t remember the context – maybe it was the Holocaust or the Khmer Rouge or something. But that quote keeps coming back to me over and over and over again during the Pandemic. Recently the governor announced restrictions on indoor dining – groups could now be a maximum of six people. I had just assumed the maximum allowance was two or four or something; it turns out that it was previously a maximum of ten people. The idea that I haven’t sat on a barstool in almost a year despite that literally being the only joy I can get out of life and meanwhile two thirds of a rugby team is hanging out eating burgers together every night had a real, real negative affect on not just my mental health but my opinion of this fine society we’ve built ourselves here.
We got a bunch of snow last night and my Facebook is clogged with announcements from local restaurants that didn't close for the pandemic that they’re closing for the day and I feel like ants are crawling on my brain. I know that’s not a fair comparison. I know that the restaurants have little choice because as a society we decided that a whole year and counting at 25% capacity with only token attempts at support is a better strategy than two months at 0% capacity and then back to normal. But there’s a couple places little birdies tell me don’t really take anything other than making a profit serious and that have closed down four or five times for “deep cleaning” after a worker tests positive and a couple places that got fined real bad for ignoring even basic safe practices and I swear to god I won’t ever eat in any of those places again for as long as I live. The couple of places in town that stuck to take-out solely even when indoor seating was allowed again because they want to protect the community even if they don’t make as much money? They’ve got a friend for life.
In early 2020 my three month overseas trip was cancelled. I’d tried to learn a bit of the alphabet and language of the country I was supposed to go to. I kept it up with limited success until April and then shelved the project. I recently decided to try again, but seeing the little book I got and my little stack of notes on the kitchen table makes me deeply, deeply uneasy. It’s like my brain sees a tableau that it associates with January 2020 and starts to panic.
There’s not a whole lot of silver lining to the pandemic and anyone who tells you they know of one is either lying or doesn’t read the same newspapers that I do but one positive thing I can say is that, as a Quaker, I didn’t attend a single Meeting for Worship during the entire election season and I bet if I had there would have been some real unbearable shared ministry about the election so at least I was spared that!
It was sometime in October – I was watching “the Good Place” on Netflix and there’s a scene in a really crowded art gallery, and no one is wearing masks, and I had to shut it off and go walk around the back yard for a while because it was making me anxious.
In November I finished reading the travel memoirs of Fuschia Dunlop, a woman who lived in China in the 90s and early 2000s and there was a couple of pages where she's indignantly describing the terrible oppression of having to wear a mask and do contact tracing during the SARS epidemic. I don’t even remember it, but apparently I posted on social media, in reference to this, “I bet I could punch a hole through a refrigerator door I'm so angry.”
On April 12 I posted “Last year for Easter I braised lamb shanks in an entire bottle of wine and that seems like such an insane luxury now, how is it possible that I ever lived like that?”
I’m not sure if it’s of interest to anyone, but I was able to find the first thing explicitly related to social media about the Coronavirus, on March 12: “Everyone is saying China's political system has responded poorly to coronavirus. Time to take a big sip of hot coffee and find out what the USA did when HIV was first identified.” I know, I know, I know – all together now – THAT’S DIFFERENT.