Essential Services

AlchoholweedjpgGun

When our state came up with their plan to shut things down, it was interesting to see what businesses were deemed essential, and thus allowed to remain open. Some were no-brainers (grocery stores) and others were head-scratchers (golf courses).

It was also interesting so see how these services adapted. Most of the local grocery stores in my area opened early and reserved the 6:00 – 7:30am time slot for customers who were over sixty and/or immunocompromised. Shortly thereafter they placed directional arrows on the floors and the aisles in an attempt to direct traffic a certain way. Most hospitals I know of, including ours, pretty much cancelled all elective procedures, and treated only true emergencies and COVID patients. Telemedicine ruled the day as far as seeing a doctor was concerned, and no dentist offices were opened.

As the novelty of this wore off, it became clear to me what industries and services were more essential than others.  This discovery was not based on scientific analysis or anything like that, but instead was based on my observations of places I have been, and whether they were filled with or had lines of people waiting to get into the establishment.

Other than grocery stores, although the traffic in these buildings aren’t nearly what they were in the beginning due to the proliferation of business that buy and deliver your groceries, the three most essential services I’ve witnessed are gun stores, package stores and the medical marijuana dispensaries.

I don’t own a gun and have no desire to, however during my travels at the beginning of the shut down I was driving along a street in a busy commercial area and noticed a long line of people meandering from the front door into the parking lot. It was the first time I had seen anything like it, and I was naturally curious. Glancing at the name of the business I saw it was a place that sold guns and ammo, and immediately thought, “Uh oh”. I haven’t been by there or any other store of that nature since, but it made an impression.

The smaller package stores I’ve driven by always seem to have a handful of people waiting in line to get inside. The larger one I frequent doesn’t require people to wait in line, or have one person at a time enter the building, but masks are a requirement (they ask you to leave otherwise) and they have those same directional arrows on the floor that the grocers do.

The dispensary had by far the longest line of folks waiting to get in. The first time I experienced this, I figured it was the day of the week (Saturday) and the time of the day (10 in the morning). Since I’m not the most patient guy in the world, I decided the next time I went it would be early on a week day. Anyone purchasing items from the place is required to pre-order and specify a time and date of pick-up, which allows them to have everything prepared ahead of time and get folks in an out of the building ASAP. So the day I selected wound up being early on a Friday morning, about an hour after they opened, and it also happened to be a grey, dreary, drizzly day. So I naturally figured I would be in and out in a heartbeat.

Boy, was I wrong. There were fifteen people already waiting at the door when I arrived, and that line almost doubled in size shortly after I arrived. We were all standing six feet apart, on a dreary, damp and overall nasty day waiting to score our supplies. It took twenty minutes for me to actually enter the building, and five minutes to obtain and pay for the goods. There were no more than three customers in the building at any one time. I haven’t been there in six weeks but will need to make a trip soon. It will be interesting to see if the experience will be different or more of the same.

Guns, booze and weed. What a great combination! Not sure if this means anything, but I have to shake my head at the implications. If I was the cynical sort, I’d conclude that people need to self-medicate to escape reality/boredom, and they also are ready, willing and able to blow anyone away who threatens them.

It makes sense when you consider there are two distinct camps who view the pandemic in a totally different light, that the forces of hate and fear are becoming untethered, that we are more politically polarized than ever, and that stories about excessive police force with tragic consequences are sadly becoming commonplace.

Who could blame anyone who wants to get blasted to escape the madness? Hopefully these same folks have the good sense to keep the guns under lock and key and out of reach while they are escaping.

God help us if they don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

My Shrinking World

World

I’ve been working exclusively from home for over a month. It doesn’t feel that long, but in other ways it feels like it has been forever.

I’m fortunate to work for a very forward thinking healthcare system. A few years ago our department leadership saw the day when we would run out of office space, and also the need to be flexible in terms of where people work to make itself an attractive place for college grads entering the work force. Thus emerged the Alternate Work Arrangement initiative, which was the catalyst to getting folks wired so they could work from home. It certainly has served us well when the virus hit and we had to transition a lot of people from the office to their homes.

While I was never an advocate for or desired working home full time, I did dip my toe into the water by working home one day a week. I enjoyed not having the daily commute where the round trip took between an hour and a half to two hours. I also enjoyed rolling out of bed, making some coffee, and working in my sweats. I didn’t have to get up as early to get to the office at my desired time, and finished the work day at home a lot earlier too.

When the reality of what was coming was irrefutable, I was glad to have been set up for a remote location and have taken to it like a duck to water. The only downside was that my world began to shrink considerably. But I have to admit,  I enjoyed spreading my stuff out on the kitchen table, and enjoyed the casualness of working from home. I still do.

However, the recent flood forced me to reorganize the work place at home because my mother in law is living in the big open area that includes the living room, where she sleeps, and the kitchen. I removed a table and the rolling office chair that went with it from downstairs, deposited it into a  corner of my bedroom,  and parked my laptop upon it.

Every morning now, I literally crawl out of bed, throw on some sweats, brush my teeth, shuffle over to the kitchen to make my coffee, then head back to the bedroom to pull the table and chair away from the corner and get to work. This takes all of maybe seven minutes.

It’s a more comfortable set-up, and the view, which you can see from the picture that leads this post, is much nicer than anything I can look at from the office back at the mother ship, but my shrinking world has become even smaller. Other than occasionally going to the bathroom and kitchen, I am there from about 5:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon. I enjoy the new house and my new work space, but sometimes it feels like a glorified prison.

The psychology behind self-isolation is a weird thing. It’s a necessary evil, but we are more alone than ever. I don’t know about you, but being alone with my thoughts isn’t always a good thing, especially now. How can you not wonder where this will all lead, and what things will look like on the other side? When this all started, I firmly believed, and still do, that someone who is near and dear would perish from it, and there was a good possibility who this person was would turn out to be a complete surprise. So far, I know one person who I believe has the virus (not tested but has symptoms and is self-quarantined). Thankfully, he seems to be doing well. I have not been near him since that time. A good friend of ours who is a nurse was exposed at work due to a colossal management fuck-up that from the way she describes it is negligent at best and borderline criminal at worst. K and I worry about her.

It is hard not to feel alone even when I venture to the store. Social distancing requires us to give everyone a wide berth, so if I see someone I don’t know heading in my direction I turn the other way. And when I see someone I do know, I make sure I’m at least ten feet away from them. How can anyone feel connected to anything under those circumstances? When I do go to the store, it’s at 6AM on Saturday mornings, when practically nobody is there, so even these chance meetings are infrequent.

Most of the news is bad, so I have sworn off watching news programming of any kind, getting my information via the print media instead, which only creates a different kind of isolation. Because of the MS and how it affects my walking, I can’t go for an easy outside stroll, or visit state parks, the beaches or nature preserves. I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the plight of many with MS who have had lived like this for a long time because their disabilities make it hard to do otherwise.

I can’t explain why this came as a surprise, but isolation is also boring as hell, so I’m trying to cope in a variety of ways. Other than pouring myself into my work more than usual, I am also working out a lot more. I try to get outside at least once a day to breathe real air. The good stuff on Netflix, Amazon and all those services is really limited, even thought there is tons of stuff to see. I’ve refused to watch dramas because there is too much drama in real life as it is, and there are no sports. So I’ve reverted to watching a lot of documentaries.

I’m also drinking more. Not a lot mind you, and certainly nothing to be concerned about, but where before that was something that was reserved for weekends, a can of beer or glass or wine has become an every night kind of thing, along with the MMJ. On weekends I’ll indulge and have a vodka (or whiskey) and seltzer (or two). And there have been nights where I have made sure I was numb to anything and everything.

Whatever has been preying on my mind never seems as terrible with a buzz-on. It also helps me stop thinking about shit I don’t want to think about, at least most of the time. It is hard to think about happy things when the world around you is turning into shit, so this becomes an emotional crutch.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this, so I can’t help but wonder if there going to be a lot more people with substance abuse issues compared to before this started.

Life has become routine and predictable: Get up, work, work out, have dinner, clean up, take a shower, have something to drink and toke/eat, watch television, then get up the next day and do the same exact thing. Just like the subject of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” I sometimes feel like a happy idiot, struggling for the legal tender.

On weekends, add house cleaning, whatever outside stuff that needs to be done, and a trip to the store, but those diversions don’t change the fact that we have become solitary, secluded beings out of necessity, and it isn’t fun.

Each day and week that goes by deepens the feeling of my detachment from the world. At least I have a spouse that I adore and can hang with, but that doesn’t prevent the feeling of separation from everything I know from building and deepening every day and week this continues. I can’t imagine how this will feel in another month or two.

All we can fall back on is that we are doing the right thing. The short-term sacrifice will help hasten the spread of this thing and save lives in the process (unless the Federal Government continues to downplay the severity of this), so how can anyone bitch about that?

Still, I sometimes feel like the incredible shrinking man, whose only connection to the world outside of my family unit are the words on texts or the voices on the phone. It’s a poor substitute for the real thing, but it’s better then nothing.

We will all be changed when this is over. Only time will tell if that is for the better or worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shit Happens

flood

Where do I even start?

For the past month, we’ve been preparing and gathering items together like bears gearing up for hibernation. The idea was to get enough food and supplies in the house to last several weeks so that when the worst of the virus surge hit, we’d be all snug and cozy in our safe place, with no need to go anywhere. During that time, our internal environment was pristine as no outsider has stepped foot into our house. The way we choreographed this was working to perfection. Then we had the flood.

Last Saturday was a nice spring day, warm but breezy. Showers were forecast for most of this week, so the idea was to seed the areas of our new lawn that had bare spots or were torn up the one time the driveway was plowed. K spread the seed, and I covered the areas with straw, then watered the areas so the wind wouldn’t blow the stuff all over the place. This kind of work is hard for me because I have to keep contorting my body to stay in a position on a surface that is not level, and is very lumpy and bumpy, so my balance stays centered and I won’t fall. By the time I got to the last section that needed the straw, a section directly outside the entrance to the downstairs apartment, my body was protesting. All I wanted was to finish the task ASAP, so I spread the straw, hooked the hose up to the outside valve, then grabbed the hose to water everything down.

As I was watering, I noticed the water pressure wasn’t the same as the last time we used that hose last fall, but didn’t think twice about it because I wanted to be done. The task took about ten minutes, then I shut off the hose, rolled it back in place, put everything else back in the garage, and dragged my carcass inside. After changing, I grabbed a beer, sat in my favorite chair, and got ready to relax for the rest of the day, which began by helping clean the house. I was spent, but content in knowing that I can still be useful, and was looking forward to enjoying the rest of the day now that everything on the to-do list was done. Some time later, the phone rang.

It was my mother-in-law, who said, in so many words, that she just stepped in a large pool of water and that it was all over the place. My initial thought was, “are you kidding me?” The second was an understanding of why the water pressure coming out of the hose was compromised, and all I could think of was “Oh Shit!”

K and I rushed downstairs, and entered the apartment through the basement. As we looked to our right up the hallway, we could see that water covered half of the hallway, and it was deep enough in some places, maybe a quarter to half inch, that you could float a kids toy on it. Instinct took over, and we shut off the water going to that valve, grabbed the large wet/dry vacuum we purchased during the construction process, grabbed every towel and rag that we could find, and started getting the water off the floor. By the time we were done, I had to empty the vacuum container twice. It was filled to capacity once, and was half-filled when we were finished. It’s a good thing that the water leading to the valve was on for just an hour, maybe less, otherwise it would have been much worse.

One entire bedroom floor, the one next to the outside valve, was covered and so was the bedroom closet. The water drained from the pipe and down to the floor, left the room and slowly meandered to the lowest point on the floor before we shut it off, which took it outside that bedroom, into the entrance of the second bedroom, down the hallway, and into the opening of the television nook. It was under beds, sofas, and tables. The entire process took maybe an hour as adrenaline took over.

Afterwards, when the job was completed, the realization of what just occurred set in, and I was livid, sad, discouraged, depressed……you name it, I was feeling it. I mean this is a brand new house! We’ve only been living here for six months. How can this possibly happen? If things aren’t bad enough with the virus, and the fact that it has depressed the real estate market so much that I fear it might take until next year to sell the old place, now we have to deal with this?

After calling our insurance company (thankfully there were no issues there), we had a mitigation team downstairs in less than two days. After using their moisture meters to isolate which walls got the worst of it and where all the moisture was, they cut out a two foot section of sheetrock in the affected areas starting from the floor going up, removed the insulation, then removed maybe a third of the brand new hardwood floor, which was necessary because some areas had started to buckle, and we needed to remove any residual water that may lay beneath it so we wouldn’t have to worry about mold growing.

Once the team was done, they left a handful industrial sized dehumidifiers on for three days. Then the plumber came. Long story short, the valve for the outside water that caused the issue is on the north side of the house. Even though we removed all the hoses and shut off the water going to that valve before winter, and even though it was not a cold, frigid winter, water apparently remained in the valve, froze, expanded and ruptured the pipe leading to it when we turned the water on. Chalk this up to fact that they don’t make parts like they used to, even if was made of copper. We know what to do to prevent this from happening in the future, but at this point who cares?

So we are back in construction mode. The walls are exposed, the floor is ripped up, and the place is unlivable. My mother-in-law has moved upstairs with us and will stay there until all the repairs have been completed, hopefully within the next three to four weeks. The pipe and outside faucet have been replaced, and the insulation guys have already come and done their thing. Then come the sheet-rockers, followed by the flooring folks, who have the hardest job of the bunch. Their task is to repair the concrete subfloor (it was gouged in a variety of places when they had to remove and in some cases chisel the planks off the floor), remove the glue then refit new tongue and groove flooring into the pieces that weren’t touched, and make it look like none of this ever happened. Then the walls get repainted before major cleaning commences.

The worst part of the whole thing is that we were all set up. We had our stuff, and our environment was secure. Now we have workman coming in and out of the place, and I am sure they are just as happy to be here as we are having them. We’ve lost control of the environment, and have to do the best we can as far as safety measures are concerned. At least we have the ability to clear the downstairs out and have the workman there by themselves, until they need to see K, that is. Remember, she was the general contractor as the house was being built, and knows where everything is. She’s also a bit of a germophobe, so you don’t have to guess very hard to figure out how thrilled she is with this.

I was ready to write and vent my spleen last Sunday, when this was all fresh, and was I was filled with despair and anguish, but decided not too because I’d sound like an unhinged crazy man. The rawness of the event has subsided, but the wounds are still fresh. I want to rail against fate, and ask things like why us? When are we going to catch a break? When is this dark cloud that feels like it has been hovering overhead going to leave?

But I don’t because life isn’t fair, and because I don’t want to tempt fate. The Gods are not kind or benevolent, and with our luck, they would sneer at us and say, “you think things are bad, let us give you something to really complain about,” and one of us comes down with the virus. I don’t want go there, so I grit my teeth and try to look on the bright side. We are all healthy, and as long as it stays that way and we emerge safe from this entire ordeal, we can cope with this, as badly as it sucks.

Intellectually, I know that day will come, and believe we will look back on this with a mixture of humor, awe and gratitude that we survived. But emotionally? It’s really hard to see the light at the end of that long, dark tunnel.

 

My Coronabeard

Beard

I have never been a beard guy. Facial hair yes, as I have worn either a mustache or mustache and goatee for more than half of my adult life. But a beard? It’s never been my style.

I grew one during the winter of my junior or senior year in college, primarily because I wanted to see what it would look like and, because I went to school in Maine, I thought it might keep my face warm during the winter semester.

It did keep the face warm, but I got rid of it after a couple of months for several reasons. The first was because it was much redder than my hair. Not carrot top red, but I didn’t like having my hair one color and my beard another. It wasn’t a good look.

The second reason is that my facial hair had the feel and texture of steel wool. If the color wasn’t bad enough, having a face that felt like it was encased in Brillo added to my lack of enthusiasm.

Lastly, I simply thought I looked my better without it, and as a hormonal college student, I avoided anything that might make me look less attractive to the coeds. So off it came, never to see the light of day again. That was close to forty years ago.

As you may remember from my last post, once I learned I would not be able to get my hair cut for the indefinite future, I vowed not to shave either, so the beard is back.  I figured, why not go for the hippie look? That was something I never had the balls to do as a teen because I was not the rebellious sort. I’m still not, but since I am working from home and we aren’t socializing, I’m curious to see how long both can get, and what that will look like.

The hair has a loooonnnnngggg way to go before I can say I have flowing locks because I had a short cut a few weeks ago. I also wonder how “flowing” the locks will actually become. As a person in his early sixties, my hair is much thinner than it used to be, my hairline has receded a LOT, and a bald spot has emerged on the back of my head. So how long can it actually get? Will it flow and look decent, or will it look like I stuck a wet finger in a live electrical socket? I guess time will tell.

The beard has been growing for a couple of weeks now, and it is no surprise that it is  mostly white. At least it blends better with my hair color now. And thankfully it is past the itching stage. For a couple of days it felt like I had ants crawling on my neck, and it was driving me a little cuckoo.

There’s no doubt the decision to grow the beard was an impulsive one, but there is a definite logic behind it.

While I would never consider myself a control freak, the element of control was the primary factor. Let’s face it. Our lives have been turned upside down and we are living in Bizzarro World. How long this lasts, and how much emotional and financial havoc it will wreak is unknown.  Hopefully, if we’re smart and take this seriously, we won’t succumb to the virus and will get past the worst of it reasonably soon. But since a quick and successful outcome depends in large part on everyone singing off the same sheet of music, which we know isn’t currently happening in The States, the truth is there is very little we can control about this situation.

Perhaps the idea of control has always been a myth, and we were living under the illusion that we have some control over our lives and destiny, but that illusion is clearly shattered for the time being. We are adrift and, like a sailboat on the open seas in the middle of a hurricane, we are hanging on the best we can, trying not to get swept up in the maelstrom. Therefore anything we can control, no matter how minute, is a welcome respite in this out of control environment.

That is why I chose to grow the beard. It’s my choice. I can keep it if I want, get rid of it, trim it, change its shape, and essentially do anything with it that I please. Everything about the beard is 100% within my control. It is the only thing in my life I can say that about right now. Of course, if K can’t stand it I might have to reconsider, but that might be a different story for a different time.

The other reason for growing the beard and hair is that when this is finally over, their respective lengths and degree of unruliness will be a living testimony for how long we had to endure. Now that the United States leads the world in verified COVID 19 infections (and we’re just getting started), I suspect I’ll be growing both for a while. New York City is the epicenter of the virus, and guess what state not only borders New York and NYC, but has many residents that commute to the big apple for work?

You guessed it! Connecticut! The southwest corner of the state, the one across the border from NYC, is getting hammered, and the virus is sweeping from west to east, mostly along the coast but its tentacles are inching north as well. We have over 1,200 confirmed cases so far, and that number doubles every two or three days. I believe I read that our state is in the top five as far as the number of infections per capita, which only fuels the belief that it will be a while before the worst is over.

I just hope I don’t look like a geriatric Grizzly Adams when that day comes.

 

 

 

Adjusting To The New Reality

Yawn

Now that I have accepted and come to terms with our new reality, the visceral fear that emerged when it became clear what we are dealing with has subsided, and I’m adapting. My priorities are in order, what is important is clear, and we are ready for the long haul that awaits.

In some ways, I embrace the simplicity of our new daily existence, but I can already tell that the two things that will be the hardest to adjust to are the isolation and boredom that come with it.

Maybe that is why I am calling and texting more. It’s comforting to hear familiar voices and talk about how we are and what we are doing. but it still doesn’t compensate for the fact that our worlds have shrunk and the physical human interaction we crave will not return for quite some time.  Perhaps it will never be the same.

I was never one who thought they would enjoy working from home all of the time, and that has been proven true. Not that I’m not grateful that I can work from home, but I always thought I would feel disconnected from our team, and I was right. I enjoy what I do, and knew I enjoyed the people I work with, but never appreciated how much until now. I miss them.

Boredom is a different animal. I’m in the house for probably 95% of the day on average. I work from home, and only venture to public places when I absolutely need something, so it is easy to get cabin fever and a little stir crazy. There is little difference now between a week day and weekend, which is really bizarre. The rebel in me wants to throw caution to the wind, give the virus the big middle finger, and live my life as though nothing has changed. It’s a nice fantasy, but I’m not stupid.

Perhaps that is why I go outside every day for at least a little while, and why on sunny days I will get in the car and drive. It’s important to see the world and know how people are adjusting to the new normal. The one thing I learned this weekend is that while you don’t see people outside like you used to, the one place you can still find them is at the golf course.

Boredom is also the reason why after months of inactivity, I hit the exercise equipment on most days. I like to feel my heart pumping, the sweat on my forehead, and the ache of my muscles because it makes me feel alive, and is another way to take care of and fortify my body. The results are nice too. My upper body is a little tighter, I feel more fit and I have lost seven pounds to boot!

But other things have evolved. I’m writing more, which is never a bad thing, as another way of feeling connected. I’m evening toying with the idea of starting novel number two in earnest, but we will see how that goes.

I’m trying to follow world events more to stay informed, but am avoiding most national network news programs because I find it depressing. Learning through print media is less sensational and dramatic, and we could all use less drama in our lives right now.

I have also decided not to shave or cut my hair until this is over. The hair cutting decision was made for me, as all barber and hair salon establishments are considered non-essential and have closed in our state. So I figured, what the hell? Why not stop shaving too. I’m curious to see how long everything will grow, and if I can actually grow a ponytail (although I am sure K will ultimately have something to say about that). It will be interesting to see if I look like Grizzly Adams when everything is said and done. It’s a different way of documenting how long our lives were disrupted by this episode in our collective history.

The only downside to this that my beard is almost entirely white, and it is starting to itch like a mother. The white/grey doesn’t bother me because it has been that way for a while. Having said that, I suspect that we will see everybody’s natural hair color when this is over, not to mention different hair styles.

I’m hoping that I will come up with other quirky things like this to amuse myself and combat the boredom, and would love to know if any of you are doing something similar.

Hey, whatever gets you through the day.