“I’ve got some groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days…”David Byrne/Talking Heads/Life During Wartime
I gave myself a haircut a couple of weeks ago. I believe this was the first time after 66 years of living (Birthday on Wednesday if you are asking) that I have attempted such a feat in personal grooming. Yes, I have done some manscaping for which I was encouraged by a sudden parallel enthusiasm for landscaping prior to my kids’ sale of the marital home. The house was going to be this month’s blog topic but the ongoing ‘panic-demic’ is chewing up all the space in my head for the usual downbeat whimsy so I will stick to the current events.
One of the great casualties of this plague is my bi-monthly trip to a hipster ‘fade’ dealership where Melissa gives me a quick once over with a number ‘2’ attachment in all of about five minutes plus a healing scalp massage. She gives me the illusion of a styling appointment and for that I am thankful. And I’m ever more appreciative of her skills and sinkside manner after my version of the Texas Edge Trimmer Massacre.
In actual fact it was a three-person job, started by my daughter who, after a few passes at it, recoiled in disgust at her own handiwork. I looked like I was attacked by a rabid lemur, resembling one of those poor schmuck extras in nuclear holocaust films staggering around near death with mere patches of radioactive follicles floating around their poisoned pate. Then her boyfriend took a swipe at it, literally, and the result was an improvement although the random cowlicks ringing my head gave me a kind of an Alfalfa-meets-that-guy-who-used-to-sing-for-Prodigy look. The sub-referencing is a little thick here I know. The third stab was my own which was pretty much, “Let’s take this down to the scalp and wait for Melissa to return. Whenever that is.”
It could be a long wait and that is the overriding ennui of the day. It’s not that we’ve been shut in for six plus weeks now. It’s the probability that this could go on for another two months. In Toronto. Apparently I can get something done to my hair in Atlanta. Or two years given the new abnormal. Who knows? And when we emerge from our bunkers in the tatters of that one pair of sweatpants we couldn’t bother to change, staggered from the glare of the sun like McQueen when he came out of ‘the hole’ on Devil’s Island in the vastly underrated original Papillon, what kind of world will greet us? I don’t know but it won’t be fun. At least not for the average family with kids, a mortgage and former careers. We are not talking about the celebrities and rich brats on Instagram and TikTok, dancing around 4,000 square foot living spaces to wildly inappropriate hip hop lyrics when mouthed by 15 year-old girls. Yeah.
I’m talking about us, the oldsters as Bobby Lefsetz calls the Boomers. Each of us knows at least one person who has been struck by the Coronavirus. Worse, my friend, the great humorist Bill Scheft, has known four that have succumbed to it. So it’s real. Maybe not quite as real as the fear mongering media would have you believe. In Canada we have shut down the entire nation for a percentage of population death rate far less than the US. How many of those have been amongst the elderly over the age of 80? With pre-existing risk factors? Why are the estimates in the U.S. for deaths plunging from 200K to something like 60K? This is in a country of 300 million plus people. What the hell is going on in Michigan? I empathize with everyone who has been touched but at the same time I am inundated with life-or-death cautionary missives from my daughter. Encounters with neighbors, friends, and worse, strangers have gone sideways. The strangers, understandably, are the worst, because in their minds you are essentially a wayward Zombie (Not the Time Of The Season variety) looking to use any clean human specimen as a Covid-19 flavored chew toy. That is, of course, if you dare step outside and risk being hassled by the cops for sitting on a parkette bench for thirty seven seconds so your pet can relieve itself.
The quality of what’s left of our freedoms on the other side of this is what worries me. You’d have to be a fool not to understand what happened to our lives after 9/11. Especially in the United States, my place of birth and my country of preference to Canada which, under the current situation, is revealing itself as an amateur operation with no plan other than to barricade people in their homes in places like New Brunswick which is suffering from single digit fatalities, low single digit I might add. Our testing sucks and the government, led by a Prime Minister who never had to work a day in his life and has no understanding of a living wage, is pretty much bankrupting itself for future generations. Even with the handouts, so many businesses were living hand to mouth that I can’t see a lot of them coming back, specifically the restaurant trade. But you can read the papers for the daily business eulogies.
Back to 9/11 and Homeland Security and the Patriot Act and the horrible feeling that you are always on the radar, like a lesser Jason Bourne. Several years ago my Senior Vice President In Charge Of Anger Management and I were on a road trip through Montreal and on to New York. There was the now usual surly attitude at immigration but what stuck with me was that an hour down the interstate there was a Homeland Security checkpoint just sitting in the middle of the highway. No state troopers, just guys with guns and armor checking each passing car. It was intimidating and a little frightening given the fact that there has not been a terrorist act on American soil since 9/11 outside of some very sketchy associations to some mass shootings and bomb scares which now, looking back, could be pinned closer to the ‘Incel’ phenomenon. The body armor is a little much especially when you encounter some power-tripping TSA personnel who do their best to ruin an already shitty flight experience for the mere fact that you are in an airport in 2020 with three ounces of Head & Shoulders. But that’s for another screed.
I remember my former wife telling me she was driving in Miami with a friend in a Mercedes when an unmarked sedan pulled up beside them. There was a Homeland Security officer in the car who, in a threatening tone, announced, “I’m phoning in your plates.” What did Bowie sing all those years ago, “This is not America…”? No it’s not.
It’s hard to think back twenty years, prior to 9/11. It’s hard to say what your reaction would have been prior to 9/11 if you watched an old woman at the airport being violated by the TSA with absolutely no consideration for human dignity, as if she was a criminal. What would you have thought if some car had just flagged you down while you were on vacation? Or if every cop you saw looked like they were ready to do battle with Robocop? Do you remember the carnage at the G7 conference in Toronto those years ago? When temporary surveillance cameras became permanent? What would you have thought if 9/11 hadn’t happened?
Fear and loathing. This is what is in store, at least for the foreseeable future. Personally, I have projected that perhaps I can return to a relatively normalized Miami Beach next December for a spell. Rather be locked down there than here. This is my Not Quite Dead Man Balking stance. Heroic. Not counting on it but I’m more hopeful with that then the odds of eating in a local restaurant with some comfort. Or having the guys over to watch any kind of sporting event. Not that there’s going to be any. Forget going to any kind of public event this year. The people behind the Toronto International Film Festival want to have a festival in September. Watching shitty obscure foreign films on TV is no festival. Suffering through them in a theatre with others after lining up for an hour in the heat/rain is a festival.
Given the quality of cinema in general (see my last post), given that up until a month ago, going to the movies was more of a muscle reflex then the product of a discerning palate, would you really risk two mediocre hours on some armrest/cupholder thing that hasn’t been properly cleaned since Can’t Stop The Music was in theatres? Would you trust the disinfecting to some punkass student who just wiped down the snack counter after shaking it off in the staff washroom? Yeah, BYOB. Bring Your Own Bronner’s from now on.
Okay, these are physical and recreational considerations. Just like the gym, a long coffee at Starbucks and a late lunch somewhere. Shit we used to take for granted. No more and perhaps there are activities that might be done for longer. How about bowling? Bowling shoes? Balls will have to be dipped in Lysol every time they go down the gutter? That didn’t sound right. Not sure my poor autistic brother will play Skeeball ever again. However, I think there are lanes open in Atlanta.
Forgetting our own varying degrees of financial stability, whatever the rest of the year holds and beyond, frivolity is no longer part of the vocabulary. We have been reconditioned to a constant state of unease. As I said above public encounters are full of paranoia. Everyone has the “cooties” or has been in contact with someone with said condition. Flaunt the rules and you will be reminded of the third cousin of your brother’s sister-in-law who bought it. At the tender age of 93. Have you been to a grocery store lately? A good case for fasting.
And it’s not us, it’s our Gen Y/Z children who are the most cowed. These are the people who have bubble wrapped their own kids from any kind of confrontation with reality so they are prepared for this. Life for them, in the future, as it has been, will be one giant airport bathroom toilet seat. I’m afraid the paper shield dispenser isn’t going to cut it any more. People will be traveling with their own seat. I shit you not. That didn’t come out quite right either. Nor that.
We are going to be living as they did in The Depression. Because we will have an actual Depression, just like you read in the history books before they were politically corrected to gloss over little things like, oh, the creation of the Federal Reserve, in favor of the story arc of pemmican. We’re talking boarded up storefronts, alcoholism, homelessness. The whole trifecta. A lot of Scott Joplin as your soundtrack. And I’m not even sure the concept of cash will survive this. You’ll sit at home in the aforementioned sweats, order some dreck in for dinner and watch the dreck on Netflix while your smartass TV watches you back. Orwell was, sadly, right. In Singapore right now, you have to present a clean bill of health on an app to get into work. Did you see Will Smith in I Am Legend? The sci-fi dystopian future is real. Especially in New York where social distancing is pretty much impossible. It’s a full contact city that is now a ghost town with a new Stones track as its anthem. And a city getting more uneasy about its prospects by the hour. There is no middle in New York. Either its open or its closed. Yeah, its over until there is a vaccine. Now there’s a prospective lineup to end all lineups. If you have never been there and of a certain age I am sorry for you. Watch Annie Hall or any of a number of Manhattan-centric movies from the 70s and 80s and understand what it might have been like. I was there in January and had a nice time. I’m good. And by dreck, reverting back for a second, I specifically mean dreck like the shockingly unfunny new Netflix standup special from Chris D’Elia. I am hopeful that Jerry’s new special this weekend has the chops. It has to. We need the laughs..
Days are indistinguishable from each other. The Sabbath has been eliminated. Worship in groups, now verboten, however ‘temporarily’, signals another blow to organized religion, planned or not. Are you going to return to church or synagogue with the same belief system? Are you going to handle the communal prayer books? How about the mosques? Is Purell kosher for Passover?
Inflation will be horrendous, paper money will be worthless. Hopefully you have a lot of gold bullion. Of course you do.
See it’s not the virus that’s the problem, it’s what it exposed in the capitalist system in its current state. Heretofore unspeakable levels of corporate debt with zero liquidity, gullible consumers sold on ridiculously mortgaged lifestyles. I think we should have got a hint of the economic armageddon when online ticket agents were allowing customers to finance their Super Bowl tickets before the recent game in Miami. Anybody who took out a loan to watch the last Super Bowl, JLo notwithstanding, and it just might have been the last Super Bowl, has to look like the biggest idiot on earth. But they are not alone.
No, what fools we have all been buying into lives few of us can afford. And lives that truly afford us little else than fleeting moments of the most shallow of pleasures. Fun is overrated.
And it’s not that we are going to sit at home forever. It’s just that when you are let out of solitary, you’ll find that freedom will only be of the mind.
This is where the good news starts to take shape, at least for the generation for whom I started this blog. We have nothing to spend our money on right now outside a decent pair of slippers online because these will be the footwear of choice for, again, the foreseeable future.
What we do have is time and the choice of how we want to spend it, especially those of us that don’t have a ton of it left. I’m still working so I have to parcel out the personal time. I read on the Fox News app that most people think 57 is the number that qualifies someone as “old” according to surveys. Yeesh. I’m 66 come Wednesday. My clock, if not me, is TikToking.
And as the day approaches, I know it will be a while until I take a ride down what’s left of Route 66. But I am thankful that I have already done that. I am thankful that I have seen thousands of live sporting events, concerts, plays, comedy shows etc so that if push came to shove I can live without it. Saw The Stones last summer in New York. Dayeinu as we say at seder. Maybe I’ll get to Rome one day. That would be nice. But I’m not going to sweat it if I don’t. There’s always La Dolce Vita on Blu-ray and a jar of Rao’s in the pantry. I’m afraid these aren’t the times to make plans.
And if we’re smart enough or self-aware enough we will live our days wisely. I’ve been at home trying to do a long overdue purge, both physically and psychologically. I’m looking at the old man In the mirror and learning to accept what has come before, breath in the now, and let the future play out as it does. Yes, I’ll work on that last great project but relish the work, not bank on any kind of result. I might get a salt water aquarium to fill the hours. This is the time to figure how to cook for yourself, to read important literary works you missed out on because you didn’t take English Lit, to write (this is so cathartic) even if it’s any early draft a charter of personal values that you can share with your kids as some kind of living will. My son and I have a new retro-fitted relationship and I am happy about it. Be bold. Hug someone soon. You can even hone some handy skills, like understanding rudimentary electrical circuitry. I also check up on old friends and take long walks with stops to press my face up to the window of the local Starbucks and weep. Pathetic as I am, I am hopeful that one day I can walk in, sit down with the boys and drop five bucks on a latte. Some habits are hard to break.
Finally, ask yourself that question that Pink Floyd asked all those years ago in Wish You Were Here, “Did you exchange/A walk on part in the war/ For a lead role in a cage?”