Pandemic Diary: #NamingTheLost

Two days after my father, William Robert (Bob) Aldrich died of COVID-19 (May 10) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, I was a participant in an online video meeting. Just before it was my turn to speak, something caught my eye: a cardinal, small but rich red in color, alighted on the Rose of Sharon bush beside my window.

Not many birds choose to visit this bush; it is crowded with thin branches and it is smack against the side of the house here. Also, the flowers are not in bloom yet; when they are, the bees will comprise approximately ninety-eight percent of the bush’s visitors rather than birds: through the day, the sound of bumblebee collisions with the window next to the Rose of Sharon punctuates my day.

The red of the cardinal caught my eye, because red always does, and birds are somewhat rare on that exact spot and cardinals rarer still (this was the first time). I mentioned it as I spoke, mostly to make a joke about the fact that the previous speaker’s cat had leapt into her camera frame. (Her cat had chased this bird to me, was the quip. I’m a dad joke waiting to become a father.) Someone all but said that the cardinal was my dad; I do not remember if the thought was that a bird’s visit is spiritual or a cardinal’s visit is.

Red cardinals are the males of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); my dad was male, of course, but his hair was red when his hair had color. Red so noteworthy that his nickname in his hometown was “Red.” My friend had no way to know this.

I do not believe in a spiritual world, but sometimes it can almost seem (even to me) that the spirit world wants my attention. I do believe in a spiritual life in that I believe the only point to life is love; perhaps that is not “spiritual,” perhaps it is.
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Pandemic Diary 28: Focus, People, Focus

Whatever the opposite of a laser is, that is my unfocused brain in quarantine some days.

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Anecdotal evidence is evidence only of an anecdote, so I report this not with statistical accuracy but only as something noticed: there has been an uptick in the number of posts on my social media feeds of individuals who describe themselves as “TIs” or “targeted individuals.”

“Targeted individuals” labor under the belief that each one is the focus of intense electromagnetic energy pulses sent to torment them; now, these individuals indeed appear to be tormented, to judge from what they write and how they write it (ALL CAPS and no punctuation), so it is no surprise that they need something on which to blame their depression and suffering.

I am one of those readers who always takes a moment to report these accounts to the Twitter or Facebook offices as “someone in danger of self-harm.” As a more-than-casual consumer of content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I have my own sense of how often I encounter posts from self-proclaimed targeted individuals: about twice a year. There have been more than that number this month alone.

Is this an effect of quarantine? Our national and global economies are in a free-fall brought on by a mandatory lock down (in many communities) made necessary by a fast-moving virus that mostly kills the infirm and elderly but also kills the young, middle-aged, and healthy (in New York City, more than twenty-five percent of the dead were younger than sixty-four and the greatest number dead of COVID-19 with no underlying condition are those between forty-five and sixty-four; not young but still employable); which ended almost all in-person commercial activity; which led to businesses shut down and employees furloughed or laid off.
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Pandemic Diary 16: A Bigger Picture

Rage is the most short-sighted emotion, but it is the one I have witnessed in my quarantined self more and more lately.

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Information provides something of a relief. Not the numbers, not the information about particulars—there are so many numbers right now, from the numbers of sick and the lists of the newly departed, both of which only do one thing: increase at a pace which itself shifts day-by-day, up and down, and that changing pace is its own number in which one can lose time in unproductive obsession—no, the one bit of information, the one number everyone wants to learn is: How many more tomorrows will resemble this collection of slow and anxious todays? We have had so many todays in a row, after all.

In much of the world, the long today of quarantine will last into May. Ireland’s government announced an extension of its nationwide coronavirus shutdown until May 5 last week. New York State announced its PAUSE extension until May 15 this morning.

There is some comfort in the thought that one knows how many more days this will continue.
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Pandemic Diary 15: A Rainy Day

Quarantine considerations: Outdoors or in?

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A 1964 article in Nature with the euphonious title, “Nature of argillaceous odour,” gave the world the euphonious-sounding word, “petrichor.” In the article, two chemical researchers attempted to scientifically break down what it is we smell when we smell the world after a rain shower and to give the phenomenon a name.

The two authors coined the word, “petrichor,” which I have been mispronouncing in my head since I first encountered it in 2015, when an article on the Huffington Post started to make its social media rounds. It has a long “I,” so say it like this: “petra,” then “eye-core,” which is not how I hear it in my head, with a short “i.”
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Pandemic Diary 14: A Love of Books

My eight-year-old self enjoys his shelf of books in quarantine. He gets to choose each day between writing about reading or reading about writing.

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I’ve been told that I look like a kid in a candy store when we visit a book store. I suddenly appear to have multiple arms, like a Hindu deity, and my stride becomes a purposeful lurch.

There are two booksellers in my hometown of New Paltz, NY, plus our legendary record store offers a wall of books. When was the last time you visited a record store? Heck, it’s been a couple years since I have … and I reside in a community which has one.

An acquaintance, a rare book collector, was about to open a third bookshop here this spring, but the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine interfered. It is a difficult time to start a business other than a vape outlet or coffee shop anyway, even in a college town like ours, even in times when one can come into physical contact with customers, delivery boxes, cash. There will be better times.
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Pandemic Diary 12: Love and Light

Kindness is always available, of course, but snark, innuendo, and rumor are the only currencies in the economy of dread that quarantine offers us.

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An April shower lashes the northeast today; my window faces the southeast, so it feels like my desk is ringside at a boxing match. It is a day-long storm with an angry wind that is noisy even without tree branches or loose eaves to whistle through. After three weeks of quarantine, this can feel like a quarantine inside a quarantine, twenty-three hours of solitary confinement with sixty minutes alone added just for today.

Some days in quarantine, the repetition of minor tasks and details is relentless, and then the relentlessness is its own unforgiving detail. Days like today, with the gusty threat of a power—and internet—outage, which might on any other April 13 carry a “day off from school” relief, instead add foreboding to the limited palette of anxious dread.

Thus, the glimpses of light when they come are more brilliant and meaningful if one allows oneself to perceive them.
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Pandemic Diary 10: Poorly Orchestrated

Life in quarantine: The Golden Rule, but with more soap.

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At the grocery store today, the ratio of shoppers with face protection to naked faces was roughly fifty-fifty. No one in New York State government or Ulster County government has declared the coronavirus pandemic half-over, but half of the shoppers with whom I congregated acted like they think we are more than halfway through the disaster.

Even if we are in fact more than halfway through the disaster, which would equate to another three weeks of quarantine and face masks and the scrubbing of all surfaces, there are no exemptions from the rules. But because my fellow New Yorkers have ignored rules, which is something I usually celebrate about my fellow New Yorkers, our rejection of some of the more superfluous rules in life, well, today, April 10, New York State announced further restrictions on “social distancing”—that dumb phrase from which I wish I could be socially distant—no one can use golf courses from today until April 29.

Why is this? Because New York State did not declare golf courses “nonessential,” so too many individuals discovered the glories of golf in the last three weeks and started to congregate in large groups, crowd into the pro shops, and too many hands to count have touched flags, bunker rakes, and rental equipment.

The subject of the photo at top is my masked face while at the grocery store, and I apologize. My face was a cute one when I was a child, but whoa. The mask is an improvement.
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Pandemic Diary 6: Don’t Bother Me

The absence of contact in Quarantine Land is its most devious challenge. I do not live alone, so I have more day-to-day contact with a fellow human being than many of us, but the isolation is felt even when one shares a house with a housemate/landlord, as I do.

The isolation from others and isolation with one individual can create an attitude of what can only be referred to as a pathological co-dependency (well, for me, anyway): at different moments, the housemate/landlord (who in my case happens to be a sincere, genial, perpetually direct and honest individual) can take the form of authority figure, warden, and then be returned to his normal, genial self, all in a flash. Perhaps I take on those forms within his mind, as well. At least I am aware of the effect of isolation on me, and I only respond to the genial housemate and not the figment in my isolation imagination.

When I described this phenomenon to a friend and started to complain about it, I forgot that the friend to whom I was complaining lives alone, is new in town, and is in the same sudden isolation but is isolated alone. My description of my complaint sounded to him like a restaurant-goer with a complaint about a free dessert: “I thought you said something about a free cheesecake and this is strawberry cheesecake! Why, this is an outrage!”
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