March 9th, 2020 - I can’t say that I’m too worried about this virus that everyone’s talking about. In a strange way, it feels like a winter storm, causing people to do things slightly different and connect about a common problem. I didn’t make a run on hand sanitizer, but Misty did. She bought three or four bottles from Food Lion almost immediately. She also bought some dried beans and rice just in case things went down. A couple years ago she bought two giant blue water containers for some impending disaster. The amount of old vegetables in her parents’ house, purchased by her father for Y2K, might be some indication of where this paranoia comes from. The only proactive thing I’ve done, is to wash my hands with more regularity. It’s not that I never washed my hands before, but there were definite trips I skipped. Washing too much can give you those dry hands, which is much worse than the two percent chance of dying from this current epidemic.
March 20th, 2020 – This whole thing felt like it was something over there, mostly over there in China. From China it went to Italy in a big way. Cruise ships seemed to be hell holes where the virus started to breed. Pretty soon, like within a week of first hearing about it, it started to feel like a reality we all were going to deal with. I wasn’t reading all the information and I wasn’t starting to panic. Misty started to panic, at least a little bit. These types of disasters are perfect for her anxiety. I don’t worry as much because I know Misty will do most of the worrying for me.
The worrying that took hold first, manifested in the hoarding of toilet paper. As I write this, it seems like a ridiculous proposition. Why would you hoard toilet paper for a virus that doesn’t attack that region? The hoarding of hand sanitizer and soap makes a lot more sense than toilet paper. Nonetheless, Misty immediately ordered a lot of extra toilet paper from Amazon, right as the first wave crested. She also bought Clorox wipes and a giant jar of hand sanitizer along with some smaller ones we can carry around in our pockets.
Things really started to ramp up on Sunday night, the night that was supposed to end our spring break. The few coworkers I talk with were wondering what was going to happen with classes. The official word was one more week of spring break and then online classes after that. All faculty were given the Monday off as administration talked about what to do. The emails went out from the important people on campus, and I sat back wondering what fresh hell would await.
That Monday, no one emailed me. It felt like an ominous snow day. I felt like I should be having fun, but the world was being hit with that word “quarantine.” I stayed at the house all day monitoring the email and watching movies. People online were posting pictures of empty store shelves. Close friends were starting to worry about whether they were going to have jobs once all of this was over. A few folks posted conspiracies. A couple solid memes were about how the government was using quarantines to give us vaccines. Not sure what the vaccines were? Lots of people were freaking out but there wasn’t a lot of consistent information. The only thing people knew was to not gather in groups of more than 500 people, then more than 100 people, and then 50, and then finally 10. Also, we should wash our hands a lot and not touch our faces.
On Tuesday I started to feel the anxiety wash over me. It wasn’t strong, but it was there. When so many people are focusing on just one thing, and that thing is happening to the whole world, it takes on an intensity that little else does. The whole world was saying “pay attention” and people were. This sort of thing doesn’t happen, I can’t remember the last time such an occurrence required a response from the whole world. Boarders all around the world started to shut down, our idiot president was making direct and somewhat clear statements…the world was falling apart.
I still needed to go to the grocery store during all of this. I went to the Food Lion worried about what I was going to find. I thought people would be yelling at one another or walking around in hazmat suits. I thought blood would be pouring from the sky, instead I found a crowded grocery store with no toilet paper. No one was in hazmat suits, no one looked too worried, only a few of the cashiers had gloves on. The veggies were well stocked as well as the beer aisle, the thing I really came for. I bought a small cart full of shit I really didn’t need after Misty’s consistent hoarding of frozen items. I bought 24 Miller Lite’s, a six pack of Dos XX’s, a six of Napoleon Complex, and a six of some random IPA I hadn’t seen before. These 42 beers mix nicely with the ten or fifteen I already had in the mini fridge downstairs. I put my groceries away and then made dinner for the two of us, Philly chicken cheesesteaks.
Tuesday nights are for neighborhood meetings. In past weeks, since Jason had night classes, it’s just been me and Kasper. Normally we talk in front of his house to pass the time, talk about plans for our yards, and wait for Nicole to call him to bed. This time, since no one was at school or at work, the whole crew came out. The “movie neighbor” Scott R. (Misty and I use this nickname to differentiate him from the other Scott neighbor) set up his projector in front of Jason and Maurisa’s house and we live streamed the Dropkick Murphy’s St. Patrick’s Day show. Kasper sang along to the lyrics that he knew, and the mouthed the ones he didn’t. A few neighbors came by to say hello while they were on their walks. James and Karly were out walking the dog and Kris and Jamie stopped in to get a package I made for him. Burns and Alexis dropped a snack for Misty. People were out and moving, having some fun, but not too much. As soon as the live streamed ended, the screen was packed up and taken back to the “movie neighbor’s” house. Kasper announced he was high (like he always does) and then he went back to his house. The Tuesday night meeting was officially over.
As a side note, I now know where all of Kasper’s ammunition is located. Before we started the live stream, he showed me how to use his AR-15. He demonstrated how to load it in his living room. “Red is dead” is what stood out the most. “There’s magazines located all around the living room, there’s also some by my bedside. If shit goes down just go and get it and point at whatever you want to stop. There’s also a shotgun in the dining room, 12 gauge.” Kasper wasn’t joking when he was giving me this information, there was no smirk on his face…this was serious. I don’t know what he thinks is going to happen, or if he thinks anything is going to happen, but he’s going to be prepared for it.
March 23rd, 2020 - I must overhaul my classes, but I’m not getting anywhere with that. I’ve sent updates to all my students and answered their questions (especially my bosses ones) but that’s about it. It all must be together by next Monday. If I set down and mess with things, it’ll only take me a few hours to get a structure for the remaining six weeks. I think the word on the street is “leniency,” which I’m going to translate to, “easy.” Well, easy for them and easy for me, mostly in the grading department. I imagine most of my time will be spent answering emails and giving extra time on assignments. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine…they’ll do fine.
I cut the bushes last week so I could easily see out of them. This is one of the ways that I’ve prepared for my inevitable quarantine. Right now, like at this exact moment, I’m sitting at my kitchen table looking out into my front yard, and at the neighbor’s houses. I can see the people walking their dogs down the street. I can see the coming and goings of everyone who walk down this particular stretch of Kenwood Street. I like being this nosey. I like having my perch. In my mind, I feel like I’m one of those old women you see in movies set in NYC. You know the ones that lean into their window frame, looking down on the street? If only some neighborhood kids would come by and play stickball, then I’d be in business. As much as I love my view and this small spot in the world, it’s going to get old very soon. If you’re reading this, I’m sitting in this exact position as the plague rages on the outside.
It's Friday and I don’t know what’s going on. At some point I went to the liquor store even though I rarely drink liquor. It felt like one of those things you should do. I bought a nice bottle of bourbon and a decent bottle of vodka for Misty. If things get shitty at least we have that. I also bought a bunch of beer. I mowed one day, and even asked if I could help trim the briars at the neighbors adjoining yard. Thankfully, she said yes. I’ve got a plan. When I said something to Kasper about the two of us working in his yard he said, “If you want to do anything in my yard when I’m not there, feel free.” I’ll start on his yard as soon as I finish with the other neighbors’ yard. I put word out there that I’m willing to mow yards for people who can’t, you know, the old and dying. Maybe I’ll get a paper route to bring in a little extra money.
While we were out, I delivered a lot of premade packages to folks, mostly paper supplies to people who wanted to make things. I tossed some buttons in there. Mike and Sarah got the brunt of our random deliveries. We had art supplies for the kids, biscuits, buttons, a seven inch for Mike, and sidewalk chalk.
March 24th, 2020 - Right before the plague hit, Misty and I had a little cold, or at least that’s what we thought it was. It was nothing too strong, nothing to even worry about going to the doctor for. I don’t think I even took anything for it. The end of that cold and the start of the plague was a little ominous. Thinking back to winter, both of us thought that we had it sometime in February. We both had colds around that time. I’ve noticed this is a pattern with most folks I talk with. Something small, something right before all of this happened, makes us assume we’ve already had it. Just yesterday, I hung out with the neighbors in the front yard and all four of us felt this way. Nothing to back up our claims, just wishful paranoia mixed with a lack of information.
On Friday I started to work on the neighbor’s weeds. I thought it would take at least a week before I got bored to start doing it but, no. I’d whack on her bush a little while and then work on a project. In just a few hours I made pretty good headway. Of course, the section nearest my yard was the first to go and it was the densest. I have cuts all up and down my left hand and a nice gash in my leg. When I finished for the day, I settled into my chair to listen to the new Vanderslice record and enjoy what I’d done. From around the corner I saw the neighbor poke her head out. I think she was looking at her shingle delivery. She acknowledged that I was sitting there but never turned her head to look at the four or five feet of missing garbage in her yard. More than anything, I wanted her to tell me that what I was doing was acceptable. I didn’t want to cut down a lot of shit and then her be mad about it. Two days later I did some more work and then asked her if it was fine. She was fine with it. I’ll continue.
Once I put up the making supplies, I set up the grill for Misty and me. I feel like this is going to be a weekly tradition for the two of us, or at least I hope it is. It technically gets us out of the house and it’s technically an activity. The week before we had some steaks, so this time we put on burgers and corn. After dinner, I moved things around for people to come and social distance together. I initially thought it was just going to be Eddie and myself, but Jon ended up showing, as well as James and Karly. Jeff was there too. We all set somewhat far apart from one another, not nearly far enough apart for Misty, who kept going around and wiping down surfaces. The rains hit and most folks ran away. Eddie, Jon, and I watched YouTube videos in my garage and drank beers. Eddie, since he works at NPR and has spent his last week going over every detail of shit show, vented for most of the evening.
The next day I was a little hungover. Basically, I spent my whole Saturday on the couch in front of the TV. Not only did I watch the whole seven-part series Tiger King, about the idiotic community of large cat owners, but I watched two movies. While you’re in the middle of such a binge you feel like you’re really doing something, accomplishing a goal. When you finish, and you walk away from the screen you realize that your eyes are almost paralyzed from overuse.
March 25th, 2020 - It’s the first day of the rest of my semester. I’m technically at work but instead of being in my office, I’m sitting in my dining room. The dining room bench isn’t as comfortable as my work chair. Misty is sitting on the couch working on her classes and we’re listening to records. I’ve updated all my course with new due dates and responsibilities. I got rid of extra assignments and focused a lot of time on finishing up the research paper. The end of this semester is going to feel like a monotonous chore to a lot of students but at least we can get through it.
I’ve noticed that during the plague I seem more connected with folks. I have two or three conversations going at once online. I walk around in the backyard and end up talking with neighbors. In the past week I’ve seen Tim more than I have in the past two months. He’s always riding his bike around either by himself in his disgustingly tight outfit, or walking the neighborhood with his son, Jamie. Periodically I catch Karly and James walking Yodel around the circle. It’s funny how being bored with “social distancing” has caused people to talk more with one another?
March 26th, 2020 - The first day of “class” went well. I answered about ten emails and received another fifteen or twenty from random officials around campus. In midafternoon Moodle when down which meant everyone abruptly quit for the day. I was already upstairs when this happened, more than finished with my day. I quit after the English faculty had a meeting with our boss at one o’clock. It was a video conference meeting and my internet connection wasn’t working properly. It kept cutting in and out. The meeting started with a question, “what can we do for students who do not have internet or even a computer?” Keep in mind that all our classes are now online. To make things worse, the obvious answer of “go to the computer lab” doesn’t work since no one can be on campus. I think I let out a little laugh. There was no good answer to this. People said things in response, but it was mostly air coming out of their mouths. One guy started talking about research papers while the other said something about them mailing their responses. After the hour-long meeting, the tone was clear, “If they were going to pass, make sure they pass.”
Basically, my job is to sit in my dining room from around eight am until lunch and answer emails. Periodically I’ll have to grade things but not too much until next week. This week is mostly for the students to get use to our new format. I’ve had a few questions from one of my more difficult students this morning. The class is expected to use their online streaming services to find a foreign movie and then write about it. I tell them that they can use any service they already have available. Instead of just giving them one, I’m trying to do something as difficult as search for the answer. His last question was, “So do I just search for foreign movie in Netflix?” My response was a terse, “that’s it.”
March 27th, 2020 - Misty seems more than happy with this arrangement, at least in the morning. For three mornings in a row she’s gotten up and the first thing out of her mouth was, “How was your commute?” She was as proud of saying this on the third day as she was on the first. The first day it was witty, the second it was a little funny, and the third it was too much. I imagine this statement, or at least one like it, will greet me for the rest of our time “working together.” Oh yeah that’s right, she seems to think that we work together now. At least I like this new employee.
One of the best things about being at home is that I can play records all morning long. Although I have a lot of records, I don’t always get to play them. Normally it’s in the summer when I’m home by myself that I’ll listen record after record. Much like our morning commute conversations, Misty is looking forward to this tradition. When I put the first record on Monday, she announced, “No free jazz.” It’s been a pretty chill mix so far, nothing too odd, stuff that’s somewhat soothing. She did think Angel Olsen was Sharon Van Etten and didn’t seem to believe me when I corrected her. I gave her hints on who it was. She googled “like Sharon Van Etten” and came up with Olsen. As soon as I can find her request in my pile of painfully disorganized records, I’ll play it for her.
The whole block is out of work, mostly. Well…actually, Nicole is on her last day today. Courtney leaves for long swaths of the day, where she goes, I have no idea. Thankfully, she’s got a group of guys putting on a new roof for her. I like that I can go upstairs, look out my window, and see men on my eye level. Yesterday, they had on very bright colored t-shirts. I guess you could call them green…like highlighter green. Daryl is going into work too. He comes in and out so much it’s hard to keep track of him. He goes to Whole Foods a lot. The new neighbors have been putting in a lot of time in the yard. Flowers are popping up everywhere and I even heard about the laying of some concrete. “It’s uneven” Nathan said. Periodically I notice him wondering around in the front yard in his robe that he uses a braided belt to keep synched, those rubber shoes on his feet. Kasper often roams around in the yard now that he’s officially working from home. “I had 30 conference calls today” he told me as we had a six-foot apart meeting in front of his house. Now that he’s smoking again, he’s visible on the street every few hours. On Sunday I heard him and Nicole playing music loudly in the back yard. For a while they were singing along to a Michael Bolton song as loud as they could.
Around hour two in the office, Misty, and I both heard the garbage truck pull up in front of our house. My eyes darted directly to it through the dining room windows. A second later I looked over and saw Misty looking through the living room window. It was the excitement we look for in a day, or at least the excitement we look for now. When our eyes met, she let out a joyous expression and said, “garbage truck!”
My second visit to the grocery store since the plague hit was a little different. I parked and looked around at the people going inside. Like last week, you could get as many fruits and vegetables as you wanted. The meat aisle was a little thin. Most of the good flavored almonds were out as well. Although the conversation has focused on the amount of toilet paper and soap, I found both. I even picked up a couple bars of soap and some hand soap. I forgot to get the goddamned lightbulbs! The only sign that things were different was the cashiers, people that are dealing daily with folks in proximity. The lady that checked me out had gloves on and put my receipt into my bag saying, “It’s new policy.” I’ve heard people have been assholes to these people, so I was overly kind. Somehow, I ended up spending almost one hundred dollars and all I went in for was the lightbulbs that I didn’t end up getting. I got six more beers just in case. I bought a lot of peanuts.
Misty has been concerned with the amount of toilet paper I’ve been using. She says that I’m using too much. When I’m at work I get to use government paper and that’s for the bigger shits, the morning shits. At home I normally only shit when I have a random movement in the evening or on the weekends. Now that I’m at home all the time and can mosey in there any time the mood strikes and make it happen. Misty stocked up, we have at least 24 rolls waiting but she’s thinking ahead. It’s not like I can conserve in moments like these. It’s not like I can skip a movement.
March 30th, 2020 - Right as the plague started, I began making stupid little videos that I’d send to friends and family. It was something to make and I thought it was fun for people to watch. I could send something stupid and make people smile a little bit. The first five or six were silent, me spinning in a random room in the house. From there they’ve gotten a little more elaborate. Now I’m writing “songs” to go along with the moving images. Basically, I’m making choreographed music videos with my cellphone. When I send them, I get a few random comments, but I know people are watching them and getting a chuckle out of them.
I walked around the parameter of the house trying to figure out what activity I could work on next. While I was looking at the big windows out front, I noticed how unevenly I had trimmed the bushes. Some of the main arteries in the bushes had been stripped of their leaves but long sticks remained. The further I backed up towards the street, the less terrible they looked. No one’s said anything to me about them, not that I’ve had a lot of interaction in the past couple of weeks. Misty wouldn’t have noticed if a dump truck were parked in the front yard. I trim bushes like my father. Every couple of years he’d go in the front yard and brutalize the bushes. They’d start big and bushy like bushes are supposed to be and end up as a couple twigs sticking up from the ground. It would take months before they’d once again resemble a bush. It always annoyed me when he did this.
March 31st, 2020 - When I went to the store, I picked up some ice cream. It wasn’t one of our usual flavors, but it looked great. It was Reece’s cups with Reece’s pieces. I saw it and immediately thought, “Oh, I have to get that one. Misty will love it.” That night, as it has become my duty, I scooped us out some. When I dug into it, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t taste like much to me. I couldn’t even discern the cups from the pieces. Normally this information would only tell me to avoid the flavor next time. During what all of this is, it told me that I obviously had the plague. How could something so seemingly perfect, not be amazing. I begrudgingly said this to Misty, and she thought the same, which meant I thought she had it to. My plague worries were over when we tried a different brand of simple chocolate and it was perfect.
Speaking of Misty’s paranoia, it’s strong. Most things she’s doing are reasonable. She’s wiping things down and having the delivery guys (there’s a lot) to leave our groceries on the porch. However, the mildest of ailments are treated as life threatening. I had a stomachache thing, and I could tell that she was reading from a webpage as she asked me questions about it. Then she asked me more questions a few minutes later, then more. Every time she asked, I got more and more annoyed. I let her know that continuing to ask me the same questions would end up with us in a fight, so she halted, somewhat. Unfortunately, I had a routine headache later in the day, so she took my temperature. My allergies acted up after being out in the yard so asked me about that over and over. This is how she’s occupying most of her time that isn’t spent working or searching for digital spiders on her game boy.
The everyday tension has gotten exponentially stronger. I feel more like I’m trapped than I did last week. I sat outside in a chair and watched the neighbor wash his car. The two of us didn’t really talk to one another, he worked, and I watched. It wasn’t much to see but it was probably the most memorable thing I did that day. He borrowed the pressure washer from the neighbor across the street. When I got up to leave, he yelled out, “Hey wait, come hang out.” I guess he was bored too.
My hygiene is taking a hit. I realized that last week I might have missed a shower more than once. I only shave right before our online meetings on Monday and at this point, like right now, I haven’t had shoes with laces on in more than two days. Putting on a shirt with buttons doesn’t seem right. I barely have enough clothes to cover the usual two loads I do every Sunday. Good thing dirt and stink doesn’t make clothing bulkier.
April 6th, 2020 - Kasper has been having routine fires in his backyard. Sometimes he lets me know he’s going to have one and sometimes I smell the wood from my bathroom and crane my neck to see smoke. On Wednesday, he alerted me that one was going to happen. Looking for an excuse to dive into some of the nice whiskey I had just bought, I made it a plan to go over. Misty didn’t like this plan and we argued at the door for at least ten minutes. While I was there, she sent me consistent texts about how it was a stupid idea. I responded with pictures of how far away I was from everyone. Including me, only three people were hanging out. I was so far away that the sweatshirt I was wearing didn’t even smell like smoke. While I was hanging out, Tim dropped over some strange promotion he got from New Belgium Brewery, some juicy item in a plastic container. Tim’s on one of his “month off” from drinking things, so I became the lucky recipient. The beer was fine.
April 7th, 2020 - On Friday, instead of spending a lot of time working in the vines, I decided to spend most of my time making things. Mostly I’ve been working with spray-paint. I love making the board books, but I think they all look the same…they’re fun so I keep going with it. I need a new angle with them. Right now, I have eight or ten of them ready to go and another eight or ten, a couple days away from being completed. Since I can’t really go to the post office right now, I guess I’ll wait to send them out in one giant blast. Some folks might end up with three or four of these.
I painted a bunch of blank postcards to put collages on in between working on the books. The cards are the first step in how I make all my collages. I can easily churn out forty or fifty of these in a warm afternoon. I’ve also been painting a bunch of frames that I’m going to put random shit in. I’m saving up for a large delivery in a couple of weeks, a bunch of stupid, framed stuff. Doing these also help to cut down on the number of frames I have in my garage, which will give me a reason to buy more at the thrift store.
Misty spent a good portion of the day working on an Office trivia game for our friend group. It was a great idea, especially for the many folks that were super into the show. I think we had ten people to play. I came in second. I was happy that I got all the quotes from one round, all ten. Misty didn’t show me the quotes beforehand, but we have seen the show many times together. We’ve probably seen each episode at least 20-30 times. We might even share some favorites. Once the game was over other folks piled into the conference call just to say hello. When Dave started playing his sax almost everyone left the chat. It was difficult to keep a conversation going. I think only me, and Dave and Jon were left at the very end. When Dave’s connection went out, I said goodbye to Jon and signed off.
I quickly switched to trying to talk with mail-art folks. The first call I made was to Mike in Iowa. The two of us talked for thirty or forty minutes on FaceTime, mainly about our mutual interest in mail-art. After this call I went “live” on Facebook just to see if anyone random would call and say hello. I then talked to Rob in Chicago about hardcore in Winston-Salem. I talked to Julie J.P, in Texas. Doing this has been a fun way to say hello to folks and to waste the evenings away. Unfortunately, by the time I talked with the last person, things had gotten a little fuzzy. I don’t know what they thought of the calls, but I can only imagine that I was a little scatterbrain. If they were looking for great commentary on the big questions in life, they weren’t going to get it from me at one o’clock in the morning.
April 10th, 2020 - My Tuesday grocery store run was tense this time. This time there was a guy outside wiping down carts. He often walks up and down Hawthorne Street. I feel like he’s one of those guys from a 1940’s movie that floats from place to place, just above being homeless. Inside it looked the same, no paper products, but tons of beer and tons of vegetables. Like the week before, I went with a short shopping list but ended up spending over one hundred dollars on a lot of nothing. I bought 36 beers, which was up from last week, which was up from the week before. In addition to the large plastic walls in front of the register, there was plastic wrap on the payment keypad. Not sure who’s idea this was, especially considering that there’s no way it’s helpful in preventing anything. The germs are just on the damn plastic. In addition to the guy wiping down carts, two young girls were wiping down surfaces around the check-out lines.
The customers, the biggest worry in any Food Lion shopping spree, were calm. Unfortunately, I got behind a guy who didn’t know how to work his government benefits card. I could see the flag from six feet away. For every minute he took, and there were around ten of them, I had worse and worse thoughts enter my head and this guy was an easy target. He had one of those dead or dying noses, you know the type…the ones that are much darker on the end than anywhere else. Burnt leather with wrinkles. He probably was drunk. In my head, I thought about him going to the shed where he lives and him noticing that the tip of his nose had fallen off. I could see him picking it up, fumbling around with it, and then eating it.
Out of nowhere came his companion, a man of odd proportions. He might have been five feet tall, but his arms were longer than they should have been. I’m not sure what the appropriate words to describe him are. He spoke with an obvious impediment. As a couple, they were magnificently fascinating if not completely infuriating. As the dead nosed guy was finishing his order, a lone tomato lay on the belt. Instead of dead nose paying for it, the odd proportions guy whipped out his card and paid for it, adding another four minutes to the transaction.
Instead of going directly home, I drove around the neighborhood for a few minutes, a lot of minutes. I had the windows down and was listening to music. Thinking back about these short moments where everything feels completely normal, you wonder why things are in a lockdown in the first place. I feel the same way when I’m enjoying the backyard, looking at the trees and listening to the birds.
April 15th, 2020 - The weekends are really starting to run together. On Friday I had my usual meeting with the work friends though messenger. That lasted a long time, long enough that I felt like I needed to end the call and get some real work done. Erik said, “You ain’t got shit to do” For the next two hours I mowed my yard and the neighbor’s yard, pushing my drinking time back a couple of hours. Kasper and I started cutting down things in his yard. I cut down saplings while he mowed over stumps. He’ll mow over anything. We even tried burning some of his stumps out with the fire that was still smoldering in his main fire pit. It was too windy for me to spray-paint things, but not enough for him to burn things.
Not wanting to work in his yard for the rest of the afternoon I found my way to my comfy chairs, opened a beer, and then started up some music. I had four or five beers before Misty brought down our grill items for the evening. She stuffed jalapenos in chicken and wrapped them with bacon. These were giant breasts by the way, chemically fattened for sure. Of course, there was corn, you’ve got to have corn. On Friday it dropped below 70 degrees, so Misty made her way inside quickly. Although she was only outside for a couple hours, she somehow made her way through three tall vodka drinks, causing a handover that lasted for the better part of the next two days. She was drunk enough to go to Kasper’s backyard fire and touch things. She talked to people and rubbed a dog. She kept saying in that drunk Misty voice, “It’s just so nice to talk with people again.” Around nine o’clock I started making calls to people.
Most of my Saturday was spent working on things in the yard. I had to stop adding extra board books to my tables because I have too many of them, like way too many. I have ten or fifteen in a pile upstairs and another ten on my table I’m actively working on. Without a clear timeframe to get to mail these out, I’m not sure what to do with them. Someone online suggest I sale them, to which I replied, “How do I do that?” They didn’t give me any useful follow up information. I can’t give away the things I created, much less sell them to people with no context of why they should want this thing. When I get enough of them, I’ll randomly mail them to people, and they can figure out what to do with them.
I also worked on something based on the phrase, “There is No Todd.” I don’t know what this means other than being a cheap pun poorly timed to the Easter holiday. The phrase popped in my head and I laughed, so I made something out of it. I’ve tried to give these away, with a nice painted frame, but nothing. I’ll get rid of them. The only thing I thought was interesting from the days work, came from a stencil I tapped together to make the Todd signs. Basically, I just pushed the stencil down on a couple boards and then pulled up, a method I’ve employed many times before with varying degrees of luck. It gave a density to the composition that I didn’t think was there before. Doing things in this way, starting with one idea, and then ending up somewhere else, is the best way to make things. Sometimes you need to make a thing for no reason just so you can make something else by mistake. Listless direction makes for interesting creations.
I put up my crayons and started drinking. Normally it’s hard for me to disengage and just be, but the mix of boredom and intense repetition has allowed me to just sit. I can just sit, now…sometimes. I don’t always have to be doing something. Often, I feel like I need to be doing something or I’m wasting away my day. I want to be productive. Watching movies is being productive to me because I feel like I’m learning something, most of the time, about the world. I sat and stared into the nothingness for at least an hour while listening to the new Nnamdi record the somewhat new Thundercat record. Those two records work nicely as bookends to one another. When I switched to the third record, I noticed the delivery guy had brought us our food. I sat inside with Misty to eat for a little bit and then went back outside for the rest of the night, first hanging out by the fire, and then taking calls. I talked with four or five people before calling it a night.
When I start making calls I’ve been drinking for a few hours. When I stop making calls, I realize I’ve been drinking for even more hours on top of that. The next morning, I must tax my brain on not only what I talked about the night before. I was a little worried about this until I realized that most people were drinking when I was. Jonathan in New England proudly held up his PBR while we were talking. One of the people I talked with, told me through a piece of mail, how she had forgotten most of our conversation. She said she hung up and “made a piece of mail art” she “forgot doing” the very next morning. Everyone’s in the same boat I guess, well…not Matt and Ryane who I talked with for thirty minutes last weekend, they’re always sober.
April 22nd, 2020 - The neighbor two doors down have been moving out of her house for a couple of weeks. She’ll not be there for a couple of days and then will randomly appear walking around with a vacuum cleaner. Last Thursday I noticed she was moving things as a giant truck with one of those pods behind it pulled it up. No one opened the pod. Everything she was taking out of the house was going into some trucks parked out front. I assumed that she was moving out as the new people were moving in, like passing each other in the hall. I shared this information with Misty who thought I was crazy. She couldn’t believe the plausibility of this scenario, even as I saw guys standing in front of the pod, seemingly waiting. Throughout the rest of the day, we came back to this one difference in opinion.
Right as I started to finish up my outside work, I noticed a guy and a small child wondering through the bushes. It was an awkward distance to say anything to him since there’s a yard in between us. I could have yelled “hello” to him but that would have also been odd. Instead I stayed in my spot and waited for him to breach the subject. I kind of eyed him and his kid as I put paint on things. When the ventured into my next-door neighbor’s yard and they looked directly at me, I said “hello.” For a few minutes I walked them around showing them the creek as well as where the fox used to live. I told them about the neighbors and talked about what I was doing during the plague. He seemed nice enough, but I didn’t get the vibe that we would be friends. The most interesting thing to come out of our meeting was about his first day moving in. He broke his arm. “I tripped over the curb in front the house and shattered it,” he said, pointing at his giant cast. The new guy mumbled something about getting a delivery and started moving back towards his house. His kid, a five-year-old in red, shiny pajamas, screamed, and then ran away.
April 24th, 2020 - For two weeks I didn’t leave the immediate area. I’m not counting Kasper’s front yard or backyard, or my other next-door neighbors’ backyard. The furthest I went was across the street. Two weeks in the house.
It was imperative that I needed to get out of the house. I figured that going back to my usual Tuesday grocery store runs was necessary. I tried to stretch my time. I first drove around the neighborhood for a bit, going around to the Waughtown Goodwill to drop some stuff off. They had big boxes out to collect the items. The thrift stores, once they come back, are going to be wonderful. So much stuff that folks have held onto for too long will get dumped all at once. I got gas for the lawnmower and then dropped it off at the house. Before going to the grocery store, I drove around the neighborhood again. I didn’t notice anything all that odd, just a lot of people walking around with masks on. A few folks put positive notes on signs in their windows, some stuffed animals, and a few yard signs of encouragement. You drive around and you feel like people are going along with their lives like they always have.
I sat in my car for a few minutes before I went inside, just gauging the feel of what was going on. Most of the older folks seemed to be wearing masks, while the younger ones not so much. Inside a guy was wiping down the carts as you pulled them out. No one inside seemed panicked, and no one was absurdly dressed like those in BuzzFeed articles. No toilet paper, no paper towels, but also, no problem. Misty has been spot-on at finding both online. We have enough toilet paper to last us until July, and enough paper towels (something we never used much of before the plague) until August. She’s not hoarding, just periodically purchasing. Like my past grocery store visits, I went in with one thing on my list, beer. Like my past grocery store visits, I ended up with a bill well over one hundred dollars. I don’t know what other than beer, I ended up buying. On the beer front, I should be pretty good for the weekend. I bought another 18 of shit, six Dos X’s, and six Wicked Weed Pernicious. This goes with the eight or so shitty beers that I had left over from last weekend. If things get dire, I have some terrible ones in my fridge and if the neighbor likes me mowing her yard in the next couple of days, I might have another twelve pack. I bought cheese and bread in addition to beer, the main staples of my diet for the past month and a half. I feel fatter because of the plague, mainly because of lack of movement and not so much a change in diet.
Leaving the house gave me an initial high, one my neighbor commented on at our late afternoon meeting. This high quickly dissipated to nervous energy later in the afternoon. I think going out made me realize how moving through the city, even doing boring chores, gives you a sense of community and purpose. Directly after dinner I was restless and fidgety. My mind wasn’t tired, and neither was my body. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept getting up and going to visit Kasper and his small “party” in the backyard. Worrying about the amount of people milling around (seven total) made me nervous. I’d stay for a little while and then walk back to my house. Not being with folks made me a little sadder, not being able to leave…even sadder. I had some ice cream and watched Seinfeld; things calmed slightly.
Scott R. “the movie neighbor,” came and stood by the fire a few days ago. After not seeing him for almost a month, he’s started to appear anytime we make a little bit of noise in the backyard. He never stays long. This past time he started talking about toilet paper. He went to a lower rung grocery store and ended up buying three different, four roll packs. For five minutes he rated the three types, giving them each a grade in relation to one another. I was enamored with his project and especially his thoroughness. He was genuinely looking for the best of the bunch. “I think I’m going to throw away the two worst” he said. Seeing an opening, the other two folks chimed in with their own toilet paper stories. Everyone has a brand, everyone seemed to have a backup. While I have my preferred paper, I don’t think I would be so interested in doing a wipe-test to see which reigned supreme.
April 29th, 2020 - Currently, the big debate related to all of this is how quickly states are wanting to re-open. I can understand the want to get people back to work, but I can also understand wanting to keep people safe. If you reopen too early and more people get sick because of it, doesn’t that defeat the purpose? I guess some must die so others can make money. I guess this is just the main tenants of capitalism, even if it puts the rest of us at risk. These are the same people that are injecting bleach in accordance with the idiotic man in charge. The way out isn’t clear. Cases are going up as the leash is lessoning. If the “don’t leave” thing expires on May 7th, what does that mean? If nothing is open but I can leave the house, where do I go? What license does this give to idiots wanting to go back to normal? I honestly can’t see the basic fabric of things getting anywhere close to normal until mid-summer.
There’s a beast that lives in our refrigerator. I guess something rotted in there, but the smell lingers well after I went through and tossed out all the salad that had liquified. Somehow the smell even moved into the freezer, which I thought was immune to such things. It’s bad enough that when Misty gets something out of the refrigerator and brings it into the living room, I can smell it. She wiped it down but it’s still there. On second and third inspection I can’t see what the problem could be, everything that can go bad has been checked and rechecked. I guess it’s just something we live with now.
What follows is probably one of my favorite lines in an essay in a long time. Here is the line. “In the middle of Bojangles at the age of six, I began to question how I could have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
May 13th, 2020 - Misty has this one shirt she wears whenever she’s on camera. Anytime she clicks on Zoom, it comes out. Keep in the mind the pants stay the same, but the shirt changes. While this one shirt is lovely, a pattern thing with quite a few colors, I wasn’t sure why it was the one. I went in her room to inspect. I imagined it would be the shirt at the top of one of the many piles, and it was. It was on top of the shelf pile, not to be confused with the floor pile, or the dresser pile.
As I often do, I was aimlessly looking out my front window and into the street. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the familiar faces that come up and down the street during the day. A woman with a black lab takes that poor bastard on a run at least two or three times a day. I spotted a woman that I haven’t seen before, squatting behind her tall dog. Instead of letting the animal shit onto the ground and then her pick it up, she held a bag under the dog’s asshole to catch the droppings, as it was happening. Not the most hygienic system. I’m not sure such a creature could aim so well, causing potential problems with arrant feces. The woman was a pro, obviously someone who had done this before.
The chipmunks are out. While they’re cute, they’re like overly confident day time rats. On each corner of the house I’ve noticed these little stripped guys finding a home through a myriad of holes. Instead of like the mouse infestation we had last year, these guys stay on the outer edges, not coming inside to run around in the insulation. Still, they’re an unwanted creature that uses my heat and electricity which means they’re subject to chipping in. None of them chip in. They’re not a problem, but I worry that they could be. On Saturday, right as I was coming out of my house, I noticed one of the neighborhood cats, holding one in its mouth. I cheered at the cat. The cat thought I was asking to share, so he moved off to the corner of the yard to eat it. He stared at me as he worked through his meal.
The first day after the spring semester ended, I was strangely anxious. Instead of the usual feeling of relief because of the semester was over and I was now in charge of my time, it was replaced by questions like “what else?” The past two months have pretty much been mine. I’ve been on house arrest with weekly visits to the grocery store and four or five hours of work a day, but the rest of that time was mine. I went through the first day a little dazed, uneasy, and worried that I was going to get very bored, very quickly. Thoughts of “getting out” started invading my head. I wondered when I could get to the thrift stores again (they re-opening) and when I can finally take that stack of mail in the back of my car. The phrase “one week” keeps popping up, it’s been popping up for over a month. Whenever we think about having a small gathering, going to a small gathering, or doing anything normal we say, “one week.” One week must become a reality at some point, even though I’m not ready to deal with Misty’s anxiety to make that happen. No matter what, I’ll have to be the one to take that plunge and then tell her repeatedly that I’m not dying whenever I get home.
I’m not starting the summer off with a bunch of movies, I just can’t. Looking back at my spring list I was a little impressed and ashamed. I watched more movies during that four-month period than I ever have. Although I didn’t do the math, I’m pretty sure I watched on average, a movie a day for four months. I’m a little burnt out on movies. I’m in no rush to get back on that hobbyhorse, so instead I’m going to watch a bunch of TV shows. I started with Hollywood (fine) then I’m going to a couple shorter comedies, then to Ozark, and then by the end of the week I should get that 14-hour documentary about women in film. I guess this last thing will bridge the gap between TV and movies. As soon as I saw that it was announced I was fascinated and knew I was going to watch it…who knows where? I thought it was going to stream through Criterion, but it hasn’t appeared, or on any of the lesser streaming services. When Eddie posted pictures of the copy he got for Alex, I quickly bought a copy. It’s a three-disc Blu-ray set but it’s only $25.00. So yeah, that’s what I’m excited about watching in the next week.
May 21st, 2020 - With no work obligations like the previous week, I started listening to music and drinking beer. This time, I thought it would be perfect to work through Led Zeppelin’s catalog and make comments about it. I have no idea why this was the goal for the day other than it sounded like fun. I’d done similar things over the past few weeks, but none of those responses garnered as much attention as saying that Led Zeppelin weren’t perfect. One guy was fired up about their appropriation, a former student and someone who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he really is, commented about how I was a hipster for doing the project, a few others remarked about how it was only “my opinion,” (no shit) and many seemed genuinely amazed that you could say something terrible about the band. I didn’t think this response was possible, I really didn’t. As I worked through most of the first four or five records (I skipped around as needed) I commented on things that I thought were working, and things that I didn’t. Page is not a perfect guitar player, especially not on the those first two records, often terrible. My audience thought comments like these were tantamount to shitting in their grandmothers’ mouth. On the third record and especially into the fourth one, you can see them hitting their stride as a band and I wrote this. I don’t have to listen to them for another twenty years.
Later that night, and against Misty’s wishes, Tim and Eddie came to hang out. I set up the TV outside and turned on some music videos, the easiest way to get music people talking. You let those videos run and music people don’t shut the fuck up. Misty was most worried about Tim’s cough from earlier in the week. Not that she had seen Tim earlier in the week, she’d just heard about the cough from his wife through text messaging. Before anyone came over, she designated where everyone was supposed to sit. No one seemed bothered, I think everyone was just happy to see each other. The videos moved to an Alice in Chains episode of Headbanger’s Ball where they were with Riki Rachtman at Action Park in New Jersey. I think the episode was from 1994. Before 12am, Eddie floated away, to be shortly followed by Tim. Not wanting to go inside just yet, I stayed outside watching John Coltrane live videos while texting random people I thought might be up. No one was up, but they were up before me the next morning when their responses to my weird texts showed up.
Only a few hours after going to be, Misty woke me up. I couldn’t make out what she was saying exactly, but I remember her mentioning something about “light.” I went back to sleep. She moved around the house to see if she could identify the source of the light. The next morning, she checked the Ardmore page to see that someone posted about people going through cars and looking for change. She checked our video cameras and saw a cop chasing someone through our backyard. It was perfectly framed. If it had been a few hours earlier, the thief would have had to dodge Eddie sitting in the middle of the yard watching Alice in Chains on my yard TV. No one went through our cars. The next-door neighbor noticed that her door was slightly open the next morning. It could have been that one bad choice that alerted the cops and then drove him through our yard.
May 25th, 2020 - Last Thursday was my most public day in two months. I started by going to the liquor store to get a new bottle and something for Misty. All the suggestions I got from Wainer only produced one bottle that he thought was great for the price. I didn’t go with the Jefferson this time; I went with the Elijah Craig 1792. Whiskey Wednesday’s can now get back on track. Two very young people came in and basically narrated their movement around the store. They must have just turned 21. They moved around the aisles and pointed at things they’d had before. The young woman said, “I’ve been coming by this store for twenty years.” It was a big day for them.
When I put my two bottles in the car, I was feeling a slight high. It felt good to be around people even if those were liquor store people. I took this energy; I took this high and went directly to the post office to send off things I’ve had in my car for two months. The main entry was closed, causing you to enter from the side. There were arrows on the floor. There weren’t a lot of people in the store, no one in front of me. A lady, who had just retired from the post office hung around talking with the two clerks. The two clerks are the definition of cranky, or mild assholes. I got the one guy who I’ve dealt with since the post office near my house was open. He doesn’t pay attention, and often you must correct him as you go. The good thing is, he always airs on the cheaper side, so I prefer him to the lady beside of him who is cranky and expensive. The sweet lady wasn’t there. He accosted me for pushing the packages too quickly to him. I moved the makeshift plastic screen in front of him when I presented the packages, and this was a problem. Since it had been two months, I had a lot of stuff to send out. Except for two packages, I had no idea what was inside any of them. It took fifteen silent minutes for him to meter everything in my three giant piles. While he works, he often looks directly over your shoulder and onto the street. He never makes small talk and he moves at a slow to medium pace. He’s a career post office man for sure. I bought some extra stamps and got out of there for a little less than sixty dollars.
In between my store runs, I dropped off a couple packages I’d advertised on the Ardmore page that I’ve been sitting on for a couple of weeks. I’ve been cleaning out my upstairs supplies and decided to share with the community. One of the packages was for an acquaintance, someone I’ve seen around town, but I don’t know. We connected through the Ardmore page. This is normally how that goes, only people from the “tribe” are the ones that want these random drop offs, people I vaguely know, or at least ones I can learn about from their tattoos. This makes sense, although I’ve never really thought about it before, who else would want a box of weird paper that a stranger is going to drop off at your door? Half of the time I post about this service, no one responds. I pulled up to her house on Green Street, and she was outside smoking. I’ve seen her face many times before, but I’ve never had a conversation with her. I yelled out the window “delivery” as I pulled up to the house. When I got to her sidewalk she said, “Is this one of those famous Jon Foster deliveries?” Somehow, she seems to know my full name and that I’m kind of known for doing stuff like this, it was slightly odd. I handed her item, said “you’re welcome” and went back to my car. In my rearview mirror I could see her smiling as she inspected the garbage I stuck all over the box. An hour later, she sent me a picture of her child in the box, smiling.
My last stop on my whirlwind tour, was one I’d been eyeing for a while. I really wanted to go to Stella and pick up something different. As much as I love Pernicious, I wanted to try something new. Their rules were clearly posted on the front door, only one person at a time, and you can’t get your own beer out of the cooler. No comment on these rules, they are their own and they’re responsible. Freedom isn’t grabbing your own beer, that’s having someone else get it for you. I bought something per his suggestion and augmented it with a four pack of Oberon, a different flavor in my yard drinking palate. It was quick and easy, too quick in fact. Normally I go up and down the cooler for at least fifteen minutes before deciding what I want. This time, because I felt rushed, I went with the first thing he suggested, something rather expensive. I get home, bring in my groceries, and then the “wipe down process is initiated. Misty wipes down everything I’ve bought before it can be put away. I then take the beer to the downstairs fridge, move in some waters, and I’m ready for the weekend.
May 27th, 2020 - I heard about the Bulls documentary (really, the Jordan documentary) right as it was airing. Burns was the first person I knew to suggest the series. The list of “to watch” is too long in the 21st century. I’ll never get to everything and I’ll always feel behind. When things weren’t available all the time, at least I had an excuse of why I couldn’t see them. Now I have anxiety about what I haven’t watched, instead of enjoying what’s right in front of me. Either way, I went through the ten-part series in less than a week. Burns had it streaming through his illegal streaming application…thing. It was a perfectly enjoyable series, amazing even. Misty got into it and required that I must watch it when she was in the room, and that rarely, if ever, happens.
When I was a kid, in the mid-90’s, I watched a lot of professional basketball and my favorite team was the Bulls. My favorite player was Jordan. As the documentary cycled through the championships I remember watching at the time, I could call out the players’ names and minor controversies. I yelled “asshole” when John Starks appeared. When Jordan retired the second time, I didn’t watch basketball anymore, like not at all. This was also the time when I got my driver’s license and spent most of my free time driving to shows. I haven’t followed a basketball team since. Michael Jordan meant a lot to me at that time, and he still kind of does now. I was emotional more than a few times watching the arc of his professional life.
I do have a few questions. How did Jordan, and the rest of the team, smoke so many cigars and still be able to play? How did Dennis Rodman date Madonna and Carmen Electra? How could anyone deal with the pressure that MJ had pressed on him? Why can’t MJ get better players for the Hornets? Why didn’t his kids appear in the documentary more, instead of in the last episode? How does Steve Kerr still look like a child? Was Horace Grant really the snitch? How does someone like Horace Grant, look so different without his goggles? (I loved using Horace Grant in NBA Jam). Why did anyone think those long, baggy suits looked good in the 90’s? Why did the series end with a Pearl Jam song?
In stark contrast, I started the Women in Film 14-part documentary series right at the same time. As soon as I got my copy, I started watching it. It’s…fine. The thesis statement basically absolves the creators of having to make any real decisions. “These are the not the best movies” they say at the start of every episode. It’s kind of boring and meandering series. Katheryn Bigelow’s movies are highlighted way too much, even Point Break appears every couple of episodes. Every now and then there’s a random Russian director I’ve never heard of (the point) or something about Agnes Varda (one of my heroes) that shows the brilliance of these moviemakers. The problem with a documentary that’s 14 hours long about female directors, is that there aren’t a lot of great movies to choose from, thus the initial thesis statement. If you’re not given the opportunity, funds, or time to become great, you don’t always make great. Because of denying women the right to make movies, we end up with few great movies by women. I’m not sure how the structure of the series could better highlight these artists? Many of the great movies they mention aren’t even available to watch, which I imagine is part of the point. Wanda gets a lot of love. I’m currently on episode five. I’ll finish it for sure, but I’m not burning through it like I thought I would.
Misty said she wanted to start Ozark. It’s a show I’ve been hearing about for a while, but not one I wanted to start until I finished up other shows. Getting through streaming TV shows is like a task, like clearing all the boards in each world of Mario Brothers. I wish I could jump around from this show to that one, but I only like two or three going at a time, or it feels wrong. I finish one season and then I can move to a new show, or a new season of an old one. It also helped that Eddie was pushing Ozark, he normally knows what I’ll like. If Gerald suggests something, I’ll go with that one as well, Eddie and Gerald, those are reliable purveyors of good taste.
Anyway, Misty and I watched the first season in three days. We liked the show. It’s one of those dark dramas that appear every couple of years that I burn through, hear about periodically, and never think about again…let alone, watch again. It’s like Breaking Bad. I thoroughly enjoyed when it was running, I’m even enjoying Better Call Saul, but I’ll never will watch a minute of those shows again. I like dipping into those worlds and then coming out of them quickly. I was the same way with The Sopranos, The Wire, Justified, Sons of Anarchy (not that these are on the same plane as one another) and a whole host of other shows hour long dramas. Compare this with Veep which I have seen each episode’s dozens of times, or Curb, or The Simpson’s, or 30 Rock, or The Office, or the mother of them all, Seinfeld. I’ll come back to these thirty-minute comedies for the rest of my life and never get tired of them.
May 28th, 2020 - Burns texted me on Sunday night, asking me if I could officiate his wedding in five days. It was a quick turnaround. The wedding was supposed to be the week before, but it was postponed for obvious reasons. He said they were doing it just for family members. Because he asked and because I’ve never officiated a wedding before, I said yes. Over the next couple of days my life was filled with anxiety because of Misty’s incessant worries. Every single day she asked if I “was going to stay six feet away from everyone” and multiple times over the day. In between doing this, she’d weep a little bit about it. Every day the same questions, every day the same bullshit responses. I had a text ready saying I couldn’t do it that I was prepared to send to Burns if I couldn’t take her worrying anymore, it was already typed…just waiting.
It got worse when they dropped by on Friday to tell me what I was supposed to do. Because of the rain, the date got pushed back until Saturday and because of the rain, I had been pushed into the garage. They showed up right before dinner, which is the peak of my drunkenness. After dinner I switch to less potent beers. When they came into the garage, I knew it was going to be whole thing with Misty. I hoped they would say what they had to and would leave before she noticed they were there. She did not. She heard us talking and came down just to enforce the six-foot rule, spending most of her time in the rain under her umbrella so she could do this. She was nervous the whole time.
After talking with the two of them, the only thing I knew I needed to do, was be there before six and marry them. They didn’t bring what they wanted, exactly. They gave us an idea of what they wanted me to say, but nothing concrete. I told them I’d put something together.
After they left, Misty started freaking out. “They were too close” she kept saying. As I joke, I told her to “blow the germs out with the box fan in the corner of the garage.” Much to my surprise, she did that. She wiped down the areas where both had stood for ten or fifteen minutes. We settled back into our spots watching streaming videos. A few minutes would go by and she’d bring it up again, and again, and again. She never stopped talking about it. I couldn’t listen to it anymore and told her to go upstairs and thankfully she did. And there it was, our second argument of the whole quarantine. I had another beer and watched a few more videos before going upstairs to eat dinner. I ate and told her what she wanted to hear and slinked back downstairs as quickly as I could.
The next day, their official wedding day, Misty, and I parceled together what I needed to say. Misty and I had to text both of them (Burns was working) to make sure we were doing what they wanted. I’m sure it was an annoyance for Alexis to have to answer our questions, but they didn’t leave us much choice. We had a draft that worked for Alexis at about two o’clock, just four hours before they were supposed to get married.
Misty came along with me. It was just family and Misty and me. 15 people were there. It was set up in Burns and Alexis’ backyard. Thankfully, they let Misty come along or she would have been texting me every few seconds, scream crying periodically on calls, and ramping up my anxiety when I had a job to do. The two of us got there thirty minutes before things were supposed to start. Only Alexis’ mom and sister were there. Her mom asked me questions about my credentials as a person who (I don’t know the words here) marries people. Burns said, “He did it online…he just clicked a few boxes, right” as he looked in my direction. A few minutes later Burns’ mom showed up and asked similar questions. “I did it online, just clicked a few boxes” I told her.
I think I did ok for my first job at marrying people. It helped that it was a laidback affair in the bride and groom’s backyard. We didn’t write stage directions on the piece of paper for me to read. I didn’t tell people when to sit down, and I wasn’t clear on the directions about when to exchange the rings. During the ceremony, the only person I focused on was Misty, who was way in the back. A couple times I caught her giving me hand signals to slide away from the bridge and groom. The whole wedding took five minutes. The pictures took twenty minutes. Alexis’ dad took pictures and then immediately went to the grill where he made food for everyone. Misty made us eat before we came to wedding just in case. She also made us sit far away from everyone who were talking to one another and laughing. This meant that everyone who came by asked us if we had eaten and if we wanted to sit with them. It was a little awkward. Thankfully, Misty let me drink a few of the beers from the cooler (the first time Burns had ever bought me a beer) but she wiped the whole can with a Clorox wipe before handing it over. All three of my beers tasted like lemons. The last one was the worst. Around the whole top of the beer can, a long bead of cleaner was hiding. I tipped the beer and all the cleaner went right down my throat. I burped disinfectant for the rest of the night. Misty let us stay longer than I thought. Once the threat of rain popped up, we were out of there.
The idea was to let the families filter out, and then the friends would filter in. Misty and I went back to the house to wait for the call. I had two beers and finally had to text him to see what was going on. “Come back over” he wrote. Misty and I sat in the chairs we brought earlier, of course after they were sprayed down a meticulously placed in the yard, well away from everyone. Eddie showed up, as well as Charlie and Mary. We all left when the newlyweds started melting into their couching, yawning.
June 4th, 2020 - Misty put up a small bird feeder on our bathroom window. It sticks to the window by suction cups. To reinforce the feeder, she attached tooth floss around it. It’s been stuck to the window for at least three or four months. The birds have finally found it. It’s nice to sit and take a shit and watch a red bird eat through a clear feeder. While I normally watch nature moving through the yard as I move waste through my system, this was just a little closer…soothing even. Hopefully, their wings won’t break the window but until then, I’m going to enjoy the show.
The hummingbird feeder in the front yard hasn’t had any visitors, or at least not any that I’ve noticed. The red juice is slightly lower than it initially was, but that could have more to do with hot days than little birds. When I’m cooking dinner or cleaning up after dinner, I wonder whether I’ve put the feeder to close to the ground. Normally you see those things five or six feet in the air. Maybe they’re picky bastards, not happy with the quality of juice we have here at the house? Maybe I’m so fucking bored that I’m attempting to get into the mind of an animal the size of a large bee?
June 12th, 2020 - The power is out. The power being out is never good, especially on days where I already have things planned out. I was almost finished with my morning writing when it went out. After “fun typing” I was going upstairs to work on some mail art stuff. Doing that requires air conditioning. I was then going to have lunch, take a shower, and then start a very long French movie since Misty wasn’t going to be here for the rest of the afternoon. None of that is going to happen now. Instead I’m drawing and then I’m going to go to thrift stores to piss away a portion of the afternoon before the power returns at 1:30 pm, or so Duke Power says. I might get some gas for my lawnmower. I might go and pick up the pictures I sent into Walgreen’s a few days ago. All the shit I was going to do tomorrow is slowly shifting up a day. If the cheese in the fridge is fine, I think I’ll be able to weather this mild annoyance.
Sitting here at the dining room table in the relative quiet, I can hear all the conversations going on in the street. I was listening to one and popped my head outside to see if the neighbor was out there. He wasn’t, instead it was the new neighbors across the street…the ones like three houses down talking to each other. While I was trying to listen to their conversation, something hit me…I’ve never seen Daryl get a food delivery. I’ve never seen someone delivering a pizza there, which makes sense considering his size, but come on, not once?
The discussion around the plague are bad enough, so much information, so much fear, so much bullshit, but the conversations about the protests / riots are so much worse. Plague conversations aren’t shit compared to the ones about race. The worst part is we know how to handle a disease much better than we know how to handle our national shame. Everyday people are posting things about what they’re doing, what should be done, and what others have done wrong. They’re trying, I guess. Reposting makes you feel like you’re in charge of fixing a problem. “Online conversations” and online one-upmanship aren’t fun. No one wins…everyone loses, nothing is accomplished. People messing up things in the street seem to be accomplishing something, so I’ll periodically look at those people and then sit quietly.
Misty told me, “all during quarantine, you’ve been farting less.” She’s right. I’m not sure what’s going on but my time being stuck mostly in one place, has done wonders for my flatulence. I can’t imagine there’s a clear scientific explanation for this.
June 26th, 2020 - After almost three months of sitting in the house, it was obvious that Misty and I needed to get out for a little bit. The need to get out and our three-year wedding anniversary coincided. Misty decided on a cabin in the woods right by Boone. A cabin makes sense for a plague, not a lot of people around, isolation…close to civilization. The one she ended up getting was a lot more than what two of us needed. We could have easily put another six people in the house. It was a relatively new place with two stories and a jacuzzi on the first. When we got there Misty immediately started to spray things and wipe things down, including the groceries we picked up curbside in Boone ten minutes earlier.
The first of three nights was chill, we watched TV and had a big spread that Misty had made. It was a charcuterie plate with the usual meats and cheeses…lots of cheeses. We at our meal in in the dining room which was surrounded by this giant window looking out onto the front yard. While eating my fourth kind of cheese, I imagined sitting in that spot watching it snow. If you craned your neck you could see a giant modern house just up the hill from us. The whole balcony was filled with windows, off to the side someone was letting in some fresh air.
The next morning, we sat on the deck and had our breakfast, trying to soak in a little bit of sunlight. For a few hours we drove around looking at stuff. I knew Misty’s anxiety wouldn’t allow her to get out and walk around, so we just drove. Technically we were somewhere which made the drive eventful. We weren’t sitting on our couch watching another episode of Seinfeld, we were out. The two of us did get out of the car to look at the mountains on a couple of those scenic overlooks. Misty got freaked out when I walked on a large rock on the side of a hill. Some jackass had spray painted some words on one of the big rocks just underneath where I was standing. I was quickly forced into the car when a lone woman on a hike came within twenty feet of the two of us.
The big idea was to find some place to eat, outside preferably. I knew this was going to be a problem. I knew that if we ate on a patio somewhere, the whole time she would ask me repeatedly, “Do you think this is safe?” One place seemed like a good spot, one we’ve been to many times before, but I nixed going there because I didn’t want to get in a fight that would be as much my fault, as hers. Instead we ate at Chick-Fil-A in Boone. The inside restaurant was closed but the drive-thru was on fire. It was annoying how long we waited for a subpar meal. The options for getting your food were plentiful. You could wait in the traditional line, order, and then pick it up a specific parking spot, or order online and then get it through the window. We did the latter and it took the better part of thirty minutes. I’m not patient. I hate lines. I kept having to tell myself to calm down and that what we were doing was an activity. We took our food back to the house to eat on the deck.
One of the joys of renting a place is being in a spot that’s better than your own. I didn’t think I understood this until I bought a house. Sometimes it’s just nice to act like you’ve stepped up a little. The cabin we were staying in was much nicer than anything we’d ever be able to afford. Our couches are much better than there’s but everything else…better. The beds were bigger, the showers more spacious, the locale more desirable, and most importantly, they had a hot tub. After food we went downstairs and fired that mother up. It was already filled and ready to go, almost to peak hotness. When I was a kid, I thought a pool would be great to have, but no, hot tub. We got in that thing and started to soak. The air was cold and raining slightly. The two of us moved around trying all the jets. When I’d start to calm and get into the motionless of my activity, I’d think about the deep wood, only ten feet from where we were soaking. More than once I thought about a scenario where a bear would peak out of the trees, walk up the three stairs, and maul us. I thought that if we pulled the cover over us, we’d be able to beat the attack. I didn’t tell Misty this or neither of us would have had a good time.
The next day was our anniversary and we did next to nothing. It rained all day. It was a cold rain too, cold enough for us to stay away from the hot tub. We made a frozen pizza for lunch and then ordered food for dinner. We watched five terrible comedies and sat on the couch. That’s all we did, and it was great, but since we did it at a new house, it felt like we were engaged in a real activity…this was vacation.
July 10th, 2020 - There is kind of a sadness starting to envelope my thoughts. Maybe not a sadness, maybe a general ennui…an all-encompassing boredom. More than once a day I’ll think of something I must do and then that thought will be followed by, “Well, I have another month to do it.” Sometimes it gets done and sometimes it languishes. Although I’ve been doing a lot of work upstairs on collages, I haven’t been as productive as I would like to be. Collages, movies, etc. and nothing else. I feel like I’m getting dumber. Every now and again I’ll take a few extra seconds to think of something I should have known instantly. I did this yesterday thinking of Laurie Metcalf’s name. It could be too much sleep, too much anxiety…who knows?
The one thing I have going for me is that I know I’ll have to go back to work at some point. Knowing that I’ll have to get up, get ready, and then drive thirty minutes away to sit at a desk for six hours, is comforting. It’s not that I love work all that much, I just like having something to do, something to make use of my time. I’ll still get the collages completed and the movies watched, it’ll just be surrounded by the work I get paid for. Having a month left starts a ticking clock for me, it brings in perspective what I must do and how much time I must do it in. With too much time nothing to gets done, with a set amount of time I know how to organize everything. This last month will be the most productive (I guess that’s important) by far.
Misty and I have started a new weekly tradition, going to parks. First off, I have never been in a Winston Salem park in my life. I often forget that parks exist, mostly because they’re outside. I’d just rather look at the tops of my trees and call it a day. No interest in them…don’t see the appeal. The first week Misty and I visited a park we got breakfast at Acadia, and then sat and ate our food in the car, in front of a park. We didn’t get out of the car. It also wasn’t that nice of a park; we were surrounded by high tension powerlines and I was pretty sure a homeless person was sleeping on a bench in front of us. A few days ago, we got breakfast at Camino and then went to the park that’s less than a mile away from our house. I’ve driven past the parameter of the thing for more than a decade on a semi regular basis, have never “experienced it.” This time we got out of the car, sitting in front of a field where two kids and what we think was their nanny was playing. It was nice. The grass was more plentiful than my own, so it was more of an ocular spectacular than what I’m used to. We finished our chocolate bread and coffees and then went back to the house.
July 27th, 2020 - Sitting at the house, in between movies, in between meals, in between making things, in between going out in the yard for a bit, I look at my phone. It’s a connection to what other dread is worrying my circle of digital people. Most of the posts follow the main headlines of the day. Most days I look at memes about masks or Trump all day long. It’s not an enjoyable experience to flip through the phone but I continue to do it. Lately I’ve tried to sus out folks and silence them. Mostly these are people from high school. This weekend someone I went to high school with posted how young people need structure, so they need to go back to school no matter what. I hid them. The next day I hid an anti-mask person who also wrote something about how vaccines don’t work. These types of comments were sandwiched between posts about eating healthy. These tend to be the right-wing leaning posts that somehow touch the left leaning ones in their paranoia. One person, a mail art person I hid because she thinks the whole thing is a hoax the whole world is in on. An acquaintance I “snoozed” for thirty days for their bullshit, I finally dumped. It’s just too much. Freedom of speech isn’t always a good thing.
I went through the bookstore and picked up my items, mostly random Japanese magazines. I buy them for my collages. They’ve had a lot of mid-1960’s Japanese crochet magazines lately. Think of how those ended up in Winston Salem North Carolina. Considering that most of them are less than a dollar, they’re perfect, and mostly less than at a thrift store. I checked out and went to the free bins outside. There were four bins. I went to the one on the far left. An old lady was on the far right one. A few seconds into digging and another old lady came up to look. When she moved over to me, I moved to the sidewalk to get out of her way. The first old lady started talking when she picked up a book with the word “democrat” in the title. Without being asked anything, she started lecturing about Nancy Pelosi, mostly the garden-variety right-wing nonsense that’s infected her aged mind. A couple minutes into this, she looked around and said out loud, “Well, I hope no one’s a democrat here.” No need to say anything, I simply gathered the few worth tearing up and moved along.
Misty and I went to have dinner with my parents last Wednesday. When we got there, right as we were told dinner would be read, my dad was working on his lawnmower in the backyard. As everyone is touching base and making small talk, he decides to mow a portion of the yard. The food was coming out and he was shooting grass within twenty feet of the incredible Mexican spread my mom had put out. My sister came outside and said out loud, “Is he mowing?” When my mom came outside, she had more choice words, “Why the hell is he doing that?” He stopped after a few minutes and joined the group. Nothing other than a nice meal to mention, mostly my mom and sister chastising him for not doing all his exercises, which he’s been avoiding. Because he hasn’t been doing what he needs to do, the “Knee isn’t any better than it was before.” They shouted at him and he shouted back, it all felt right. At the end of the discussion he announced, “It’s the last surgery for me, I’m not getting anything else.”
Two months ago, I started to see things pop up about that UNCW professor that was harassing students that weren’t white, straight, able bodied males. I didn’t remember the guy and I never had him. I also didn’t remember any controversy over professors when I was there, but he was there, he started in 1993. His tweets were beyond inappropriate. It wasn’t that he was conservative, but he was outwardly racist and directly mocking students. His posts were well documented in the local Wilmington newspaper, all of them idiotic and hateful. I signed the online petition to have him removed, not that I thought much would come to it. The pressure did work and UNCW decided to push him into retirement, giving him half a million dollars to just go away. Not ideal to reword such disgusting behavior with money, but at least he went away. Earlier this week the guy was found dead in his house. He ate his own bullet. Like an asshole, I clicked on the comments section in the newspaper to see “good” Christian soldiers defending his racist, misogynistic, and homophobic commentary. The most “impressive” comment came from someone saying he was defending religious freedom.
A friend on Facebook, who started at UNCW a few years before me, said that he wasn’t an asshole when she took his class. “He was open-minded” she wrote. I don’t know when or how this switch is flipped in someone’s mind? How do you go from being open-minded to mocking a Muslim lesbian, as you so called her? Why do you think this is professional behavior to put on social media? While I don’t know how you make this leap, I do know that his death works for both sides. The left sees a deplorable human silenced. The right gets to have a martyr.
July 28th, 2020 - I’m rolling right through movies on The Criterion Channel. I just finished up the Eric Rohmer collection while simultaneously working through the Western Noir collection. Rohmer got a little redundant in his “moral tales” which only seems to be when a man wants to fuck as many women as possible, the younger the better. The last movie in the collection, The Green Ray, puts women in the front of the story. It felt like it was tacked on to balance out the director’s shitty male focus. The Western Noir collection was pretty much what the title entails, dark westerns with a psychological focus. I’d seen a few of these in recent years so it took less time to get through them. The movies with Glenn Ford in them were my favorite, he just looks so unhappy that it almost invites speculation.
The most rewording of these collections is the Czech New Wave. I’ve gone through 14 of these (out of 26) and they’re often amazing. There’s a bounce and life to the movies. One second you have a comment on state oppression and the next people are making love on a sunny day. Obviously, communism was on their minds, but also joy. No overwhelming East European (at least not all the time) bleakness that American’s have been conditioned to believe was the only mode of existence. The darkness is there, it’s just strangely balanced by touches of human understanding and kindness. Sometimes that humanity comes in movies about the worst humanity has to offer, namely The Shop on Main Street, 1965. A few of these movies are just fun to watch, something I’m not used to when watching arthouse movies. Arthouse movies can only be sad.
The last one I’m going to dive into this summer, is the Ryuichi Sakamoto collection. I started with the documentary on the man from just a few years ago. It was about him in the moment, thinking through life and his art. It wasn’t a chronological movie where you get his career highlights, it was an artier movie showing his process. I then went back, starting with Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, then The Sheltering Sky, and then to the terrible Handmaid’s Tale from 1990. While I was listening for his music, it wasn’t’ always up front. I wondered if this was because of the reputation of film scores at that time…you know, not a lot of big names in the genre, (I guess) just people filling in the aural space? I honestly don’t listen to the scores that closely. I tend to focus on the action and the dialogue. I’m more inclined to fix my eyes on the composition and depth of a shot than the sound bringing it all together. Just thinking through things, it all might completely change as I work through the next five or six movies.
My hair is longer than it ever has been. I needed a cut when the plague hit back in March, so I really need one at the end of July. I kind of hate it…sometimes I like it. It’s gone long enough that I think of it like a science experiment more than anything. I’m just going to let it go right before I head back to school. I might get Misty to do a little photo shoot with me just to provide evidence that it existed. Too often I must sweep it to the side when it gets in my eyes. When I must wear my mask in stores, I feel like I have a full mask on. It makes me sweat. If I touch it then I worry I’ve infected myself. In other words, it’s too long but I’m going to put up with it for a couple more weeks.
August 6th, 2020 - Misty and I wanted to go to the beach, but we knew we had to pick a place she’d be comfortable with. Without her being comfortable, there was no reason for us to go. She did all the work finding a place on the Outer Banks, and not in the Wilmington area, where we normally go. Choosing the Outer Banks was simple, less people…deserted in parts. The hotel she chose was in Duck. The hotel had a strict way of dealing with the plague. You called them when you arrived, and they brought the room key out to you. The rooms we’re left vacant for at least a day after cleaning…and other things, I wasn’t privy to all the precautions. For these precautions she paid a lot more than she normally would for just a three-day visit. Considering all the nothing that’s gone on this summer and the nothing we plan to have in the next few months. Overpaying for a vacation that might be our last for a very long time, made sense.
I’ve been to the Outer Banks only a handful of times and never in the summer. It’s a place that I know exists but not one I ever think about. My trips there have been enjoyable but relatively short. Stamped into my mind, a drive to the beach should take three and a half hours and no more. The extra hour and a half feels like forever, almost a deal breaker. Being in the house doing next to nothing for the past few months made that extra drive enjoyable. I liked seeing the surroundings, going further away from the house with every mile. I could have easily driven to New York if that were where we were staying, upstate included.
The hotel was nice, not the nice that the price tag suggested. It was a resort, which means you can charge things to your room…I guess that’s the difference. Within a few minutes of putting our stuff in the room, we walked around, checked out the large pool and the one just for people twenty-one and over. I was super excited about the little bar in between the pools. Tables were set around making it feel like a real bar. As we breezed through, I imagined having drinks there, imagining that nothing had changed. Unfortunately, the place closed at five o’clock in the afternoon (what the fuck) and we never actually got to hang out there. I think Misty made a little creative scheduling on the one day we could have gone, just so we’d miss it. We never made it to the adult pool either.
That first night we got takeout from their on-site restaurant. As a precaution, the restaurant didn’t deliver to your room. Nothing like a completely acceptable meal for over one hundred dollars that we had to go and pick up. After dinner we sat on the deck looking onto the sound. Directly in front of us was a pool and tennis court. From our balcony we got to see the last rays of the day as the sun went down. Further off in the distance we could see smaller islands floating in the ocean. It’s best not to think about where in the world you are when sitting on those narrow strips of land. You shouldn’t be there. You shouldn’t be able to look at a map on your phone and be surrounded by blue. If we craned our necks through the parking lot, and through the buildings, you could see the ocean. That night we laid in our king-sized bed watching Office reruns, with commercials.
On the first full day, we ventured north, up the road to check out the few available things to look at. When you’re trying to stay away from folks and be on vacation, finding safe and acceptable things to do can be rough. We drove to where the road ended and then quickly came back, no concerted effort to get on the beach and look at those long-haired horses. Plenty of sightseeing trucks were going to look at the horses but we weren’t. I’ve seen a horse. The lighthouse was nice. Directly in front of it the lighthouse keepers had piled benches to keep people from going in. It was effective if not aesthetically pleasing. Then we walked around a pond and over a bridge that looked like it should have been in Asia. Plenty of people were fishing along the banks, most of the families were far apart from one another. That night, we had trouble discerning where exactly some of the lights on the deck were coming from Ten minutes in, we learned it wasn’t the lighthouse miles away, but instead it was the TV we left on behind us.
Misty made reservations at a nice restaurant that had outside seating. We got there the second they opened. Initially, our seats were far enough from everyone that it felt like we were in our own backyard. Halfway through the meal people came and sat about five feet away from us. Misty was obviously nervous about this and asked for the check when the waitress brought our food. On any other beach trip our meal would have been the jewel of the weekend. We had all sorts of fishes; I had a couple beers and we were only a few feet away from the sound. When the people sat beside of us, Misty completely stopped talking. The two of us were back in the condo within ten minutes of finishing our meal.
The resort had umbrellas and chairs set out for the guests to use. Since you’re in the middle of nowhere, no one is vying for chairs. Being in the middle of nowhere means there’s no one walking by to bother you, but also no one to look at. Everyone directly in front of us were staying at the same place. The closest group of people to us might have been twenty feet away. Mostly we sat on the beach and looked at the water. I only went into the water to use the outdoor toilet. I would have gone in further but the first time I was knee deep I saw a lot of jellyfish. They were small and deep red. Others must have seen the same warning since no one was splashing about. We ended our evening at the all-ages pool where a couple young kids were loudly getting to know each other.
Not wanting to get home quickly, we drove south looking at all the large houses floating on sand. Some of them are ridiculously large, stupid large. Who stays in them? Who can afford to stay in them? It’s one thing building a house and putting so much money into it, but building a house fully expecting it to be continually flooded or possibly knocked down, must be nerve racking. I worry about limbs falling on my house, not the least it being completely underwater. That must be the thing about having money, you have it. The small winding roads with joggers and asshole bike riders, gave way to what could be considered a highway on that strip of land. That highway led us to a bagel place with an odd assortment of self-published American themed books sitting around. Without wanting to backtrack, we started heading west through ten miles of nothing but alligator country. Occasionally, the swampy nothing gave way to a house. As I drove listening to podcasts, I kept thinking about all the gator encounters these people must have. Do they build fences to keep their children from being dragged into the mire? Watery land and long bridges gave way to thick pine trees, 64 to 40, and then we were home.
August 14th 2020 - Thrift stores aren’t doing well during the plague. The Habitat for Humanity in Mocksville is the latest victim. I guess they lost their lease on a shitty building right off of the small downtown. No worries, they’ve already found another location and are opening in a month or two. I’m glad they’re back up, that place is a constant treat for almost free and even free, treasures. That free section, brilliant. I’ve pulled out all sorts of broken things, random parts I can use from their spacious free room. I can only hope they have a free section at the new location. Oh yeah, Reconsidered Goods in Greensboro is moving as well, and thankfully they already have a new location ready to go. They’re stocking the new place now.
For one of my last days of freedom (I’m not really bemoaning this) I spent a whole day going around doing things, mostly fun things. My first stop was at the Mission off of Trade. I pulled into the tiny parking lot behind someone who was passionate about our idiot president. Two people were in the car, a man and a woman in their 60’s. The man was almost at the stores front door when I got out of my car, the woman back at least twenty yards. All the sudden the woman fell and rolled over on her ankle. I ran up to her but was leery of touching her because of the plague. Strangely, their stickers made me even more cautious. I assumed their allegiance would have caused many poor decisions on their behalf. I could see them yelling about tyranny or freedom or Steve Jobs’ mission to put evil fireflies in every American’s stomach. Instead of helping her up, I ran to get “Wayne” who was already looking at the glassware. I told him the person he was with had fallen outside, and when I did this, he seemed almost uninterested. He slowly made his way to the door. Five minutes later I saw him walking around the store, five minutes after that, I saw the old lady in the truck…they didn’t even leave. The stickers confirmed a lot.
There is a new store by Compare Foods called Piñata. It’s a store without an identity. The place has everything from dashikis to used yard equipment to dried Mexican chilies to children’s wallets with Chinese characters on them. It’s kind of wonderful. I felt like I was at a “store” at a flea market, you know one of those places that has new stuff that doesn’t look exactly right? It’s a place where the “Sharpie’s” are all misspelled. Pinata has “Shapie” brand markers. If the stock changes over, it’s going to be added to my bi-weekly bullshit shopping runs. My greatest find was packs of transparent colored tape…you don’t find that. Although faint in color, it’s still there…somewhat.
Ryane asked me if I would make a painting for her new house. I said “yes” because I always do, especially for friends. I let her know that I’m not good at painting and rarely make something I like. She didn’t seem to be bothered by this at all. One night, when Misty and I were sitting out in the yard, she dropped off the largest canvas I had ever worked with. The size made me a little nervous, so I decided to practice on a much smaller scale. The first round didn’t work out so well, the second ok, and the last produced a few things I thought were nice and decorative, but not great. What I made was something you could put on the wall and ignore…never think about it. It was just color, background noise. I quickly gave the test work away, one to my mother who put it on her mantle and one to Valerie P. who grabbed it from my front porch. Enjoying the process, I kept going, making even smaller works in the same vein on things I had laying around. I took those and put them in 5x7 frames, and then dropped them off at one of those “little libraries” in West Salem. No idea if anyone will want them, but if not, they could reuse the frames. This weekend I hope to get started on her huge canvas using the exact same technique.
August 18th, 2020 - Last Thursday I came into work for the first time since March. The vibe was obviously a little off. When I walked into my office clump, the administrative assistant had a giant plastic wall around her. In two places, I could see circular cut outs in the protective shield. Walking by, I felt like I was going to buy cigarettes at an inner-city Detroit gas station. Like usual, I walked right past her…no pleasantries at all with her. No small talk, no bullshitting, not even eye contact. Some might consider all these things to be a negative, I consider them to be the strength of our non-relationship.
The rest of that first day was hectic. My goal was to try and finish up my three classes in one day, which shouldn’t have been a problem considering they were the exact same class. All I had to do was set up one class and then import it two more times. This turned out to be a problem since I hadn’t done anything at all earlier in the week. The three people I routinely talk with at work, told me how they liked to do little things throughout the week, just an hour or two here and there. I did nothing before that first day! The first three hours was just me going through emails. Nothing out the ordinary, only the garbage you have to clean out the first few days. I had lunch at my desk, a sandwich from my new lunchbox Misty bought me. I can’t put things in the big refrigerator according to Misty, so I have to bring my own refrigeration unit.
After I forced down my lunch, I worked another hour until I hit a wall. I felt like an out of shape boxer at a match he hadn’t prepared for. Instead of getting anything done, I started to respond to asinine conversations online. If it had been any other day, I would have gone home, but since I had to stay until three o’clock for an official online meeting, I lingered. The meeting was led by the vice president who was conducting the meeting only a few doors down from me. I had the door shut so I could turn my radio up as loud as I wanted, when I realized, she might be able to hear me. When my next-door neighbor said she heard me laugh out loud, I cut down the music and tried to stay quiet.
The most important thing I had to figure out was what digital software I needed to use to teach my “synchronous” classes. The faculty were allowed to choose between three or four different platforms. I didn’t so much as go through the information presented, think through the pros and cons, and then pick the best one, as I just picked the most convenient one. Who wants to sit in long online meetings where someone who’s just opened the software for the first time, tells you about it? I picked Collaborate because it was already loaded into Moodle. The first time I used the software was fifteen minutes before my first class started. It worked out fine.
For three months, my Friday’s have been about the same, get a little work done in the morning, eat lunch, talk with coworkers, and then beers in the yard. I got to work early that morning, finished up my three classes, and then went to thrift stores in a torrential downpour. It was bad enough that I was second guessing my decision. “Should I really have done this?” I got home in time to start my lunch and begin the coworker chat. The four of us conversed right up until our big school meeting that started at three o’clock, the time I normally get started with High Tea.
Pretty much everyone who works at the school was on this second call. Everyone! At one point I saw the number of attendees well north of 300 people. My name was mentioned towards the start of the meeting which made me a little nervous. I was commended for my ten years of service, even though I’ve been working at DCCC for almost 15 years. Part time work doesn’t count towards the total. After hearing my name, I worried that my boss was able to see me. I thought she’d see that large “Cold Beer” flag I had behind me.
Andy M. was in town from Savannah Georgia, which meant all of our mutual friends wanted to hang out. I volunteered to host the Joe Bob Briggs movies in my backyard, something I know Andy and Eddie G. love. Eddie showed up first, followed by Burns, Andy, and Charlie together. I think they missed a few minutes of the first movie, which wasn’t anything to miss. Burns brought a whole table full of leftovers from where he works, Slappy’s Chicken.
The movies are terrible, mostly horror from the 1980’s. Joe Bob’s introduction to the first movie was somewhat cringe inducing, venturing on right wing nut-job territory. The pornstar sidekick didn’t help his case. No idea what that first movie was called, but I know it had Crystal Bernard from Wings in it, and I know Andy had seen it several times. The second movie was worse than the first one. No matter how hard the passengers tried, they couldn’t get out of a crashed airplane. I wanted the creature to kill them. The rains kicked up about an hour into the second feature and everyone scattered to their cars and uber rides. The sticky trash left on the table the next day was impressive. Slappy’s sauce stuck to a plastic plate doesn’t just come off with intense water pressure, you gotta’ work it.
August 19th, 2020 - I got into my 8am class very early, since I wasn’t exactly sure how things were going to go. Like I thought, it came together fine, no problems, or at least for me. Students immediately had questions about the new format. One of them emailed me asking if all our classes would start twenty minutes early. At least five people emailed asking where the link would be located. It was the usual sort of questions, but ones that were asked as I was interacting with the technology for the first time. Almost immediately, a pattern emerged in that first class, and it all had to do about physical attendance. I was clear in letting them know that they didn’t need to come if they didn’t feel comfortable being there. If anyone was paying attention to what I was saying, it was clear they never needed to show up for class. Not showing up makes the most sense for the health of everyone.
Out of my three sections, only one person showed up and that was in the first class. It was awkward talking to a screen and talking to a student who was looking at me talking to her on a screen. Overwhelmingly, students got the message that they didn’t need to be on campus. If they were on campus, they were showing they weren’t paying attention to their emails.
I was standing in front of one class when I saw a guy floating near me without a mask. He was the only person on the first day I saw like this. He had clearly had not read any of the strongly worded emails from administration about masks, or even seen the warning signs on the doors out front. Because he was floating near my next class, I assumed he was a current student. Faculty were told that every student who came to a physical class had to have a mask. We were also told that we were to bounce anyone who was avoiding this rule. When I dropped my things off, I assumed I was going to have a conversation with the eighteen-year-old. I prepared myself for the conversation, but he never came inside.
The other two sections went well enough. A lot more of the same, a lot of questions about physical attendance and especially about how to save a WORD document from Google Docs. I think people were comfortable with what was going on. Periodically, I had them share emoji’s that comes with the platform to see if they were listening to me. I didn’t see any problems (at least not on the first day) that I thought I’d have to reckon with throughout the semester.
One thing was different. In my last class of the day (I have three that go for one hour and forty-five minutes) I did a quick aside; you know like when you need to wake them up. Normally I talk nonsense just to get them laughing. Doing this brings them back to attention. I talked for a few seconds about nothing in particularly, and then directly asked them what they were watching while I talked to them. “What Netflix shows are you watching right now” I asked. I paused and they responded. Five different people gave me the names of the shows they were watching at that exact moment. Here’s is where the difference comes in. I didn’t get mad at this, I expected it. If I were in class and a student wasn’t paying attention to me, doing something as simple as looking at his phone, I could easily go into a nosedive of righteous anger. Not paying attention, but doing it right in front of me, ruins the day. Disinterested students can literally shape how I feel about a class or even a semester, by their indifference. I laughed out loud, when I read, they were watching TV while I talked to them. I left school anxiety free.
In the first day of classes where they were supposed to show up (today) I ended up getting a few students. In the 8am I had six people. In the 10am I had three people. In the 12:30 I had seven people. The last was so large, or at least I’m guessing, because they were all in high school. 11 is the most that can be in a class according to our administration. I can imagine the number of students attending face to face to slowly go down. My hope is to do my future lecturing from the relative safety of my office.
August 21st, 2020 - And now, observations about the first week of class.
Teaching with a mask isn’t great. It’s an odd experience. I never realized how loud I tend to lecture. I suck in cloth. I project! Because of my projection, I have to wait for the mask to push back out before I take another breath. It’s something to get used to, but something I don’t like. Almost as bad as having the mask on, is not being able to walk around the classroom. Getting up and walking around is how I kept people awake and I can’t do that anymore.
Misty has been more than intense about the rules for the plague. While I understand her motivation, the execution is often stifling. The two of us have developed a little pattern for dealing with small things, like food delivery and even groceries. She’s transferred some of that anxiety to me, which overall, and I can’t stress this enough, is a good thing. One place I didn’t think this anxiety would permeate is in the bathroom. I was taking a shit with my mask on thinking, “This is a terrible idea.” I slide it to the back of my head like a yarmulke to enjoy the rest of my time.
These masks are good for about a day, after that you’re just breathing in your own gross air. I realized this can be a problem when I ran out of the house without brushing my teeth. I realized, and quickly, that good dental hygiene is important during these times. There’s a lot more gum in my life, a longer period for swishing…all of it.
Here’s a problem I didn’t think about until the first day of class; how do I drink coffee in a classroom with a few students? I can’t just flip up my mask and take a sip, I need something safer. My solution was to walk into the hall, look around to see that no one was looking, and then take a sip. This brought up another problem…I didn’t get through a whole mug of coffee, so I was off for the rest of the day.
When I first started teaching, the most surreal issue I had to deal with, was having people I went to high school with as my students. None of them made it very far. I don’t think any of them passed my class. It was awkward and weird, and I hated it. That hasn’t happed in a while, but it’s been replaced by something different, the children of people I went to high school with. While I haven’t checked, the kid I’m thinking of has a unique name. I know a large swatch of his extended family. I could tell stories about both his parents, his grandmother, not that I ever will. Maybe he knows about the connection.
Sitting on the couch at night, I flip through my phone. I do this like everyone, and like everyone I feel guilty for doing it. I would just leave the phone in another room. I’d flip and learn about another college that was moving from face to face instruction to online instruction. UNC Chapel Hill was the first to go online only a week after the students moved in. State came next. App is monitoring clusters right now. My nephew, who goes to school at App, isn’t unpacking his things in the expectation that they would be told to leave in a hurry. On the second night I saw that a Davidson County middle school (the county I teach in) had half a dozen staff to test positive. I feel like everyone is waiting around for the wave to crash on their heads.
Weird new feeling…I came into work one day when I didn’t need to. The idea was to get into the swing of coming into work, and to get out of the house. I really wanted to be somewhere else doing something else. Although I wanted to be somewhere, I found it hard to make myself stay there. I was at work for five hours but that last hour was painful. I wanted to get up and walk out, be gone. The plague seems to have changed my reaction to sitting still, which hasn’t ever been good. I can’t sit still. It’s worse now.
In March, I had a couple containers of gum in my desk. Somehow the expiration date for the gum ran out. I didn’t know gum had an expiration date.
While I’m fine not seeing completely inactive and disengaged students, there’s a slight downside to this. I have to describe things repeatedly, answering the same questions four or five times. For the students that are playing attention, I imagine this is slightly comical. I must have said, and written, “you need to post seven times on the forum” one million times. After the class was over, I got emails asking, “How many times do we post on the forum?”
August 28th, 2020 - Fun little side note, I’m currently writing from the last class of the day. It’s a Wednesday. I’m currently looking at three students who decided to come to class. They don’t have to be here but they’re here. I imagine that the guy in front of me might come every single time until the end of the semester. The numbers are down from this time last week, when seven people showed up. My morning class had two people in it. The 10:00 am class had two people in it. People are getting the message that they don’t have to be here, but many of them don’t realize they have to turn in work to get a grade, at least not yet.
Of the three students that showed up today, only one of them was prepared. The other two showed up with only part of their assignment finished. I told both of them they were working from behind. One of the guys rolled his eyes and went back to his phone, and the other added another paragraph to his severely short essay. They can be doing nothing at a home just like they can be doing nothing here but doing nothing at school requires travel. The class is made up of high school students. In high school, a good portion of your grade is attached to whether you show up. In their minds being here is as good as doing work. With high school students, this is one of the main hurdles you have to get over it. It’s a lesson that takes them some time to understand. They start to understand when the zeroes start rolling in. After the zeroes are the emails from their parents. After the emails from their parents are the meetings with the parents, and after the meetings, the grades improve…sometimes. Sometimes, the whole process repeats.
I’ve got five minutes left. I have “fun-typed” all the way through this class (other than answering questions) since it started. I finished grading everything in the second class. The guy who likes to text, randomly pulled out a piece of paper from his wallet, unfolded it, looked at it for a while, and then put it back in his wallet. The piece of paper must have been cardstock or something similar because it made a thundering sound when he unfolded it.
Strangely, we’re up to 16 people digitally attending. I think some of them are having trouble with their internet connections. This last part has been the main issue I’ve had to deal so far, that and student having trouble saving files or posting files…files. Basic computer literacy has been on the slide the past couple of years.
A couple people didn’t do their work in the morning class but logged onto our online portion. I went through the list and asked those that didn’t do the work if they needed help with something. One guy did the whole log on and then leave thing. He never answered my question but logged off as soon I said goodbye to them. Another classes online discussion devolved into true crime podcast suggestions, which isn’t terrible way to spend class time, at least they were paying attention. In the other class, someone logged on at the start, asked a question, and forty-five minutes later asked her follow up. It was like she disappeared during the meat of the class but wanted me to know that she needed help.
Coming in late is a problem. They come in late missing the announcements portion of our class. Then, out of the blue, they’ll ask a question in the chat function I went over ten or fifteen minutes ago. Someone else might ask a follow up question to that first one, and there I am, stuck in stuff we should have moved from ten minutes ago. You’re always circling back in these classes. It’s hard to move forward when you have no idea where everyone is at that time. I’m happy I don’t have three-hour long classes, something that happens on classes that meet on Tuesday and Thursday. There is nothing English related (other than a graduate literature class) that I can talk about for three hours. Who needs to talk about topic sentences for three hours? Who can listen to someone talk about topic sentences for three hours? Isn’t digital education during a plague a blast?
Epilogue. I went through three quick drafts of what you read above. I started with 32,000 words that I quickly selected from a much larger pool. Over the next couple of drafts, I cut out over 10,000 boring words written during a boring time. I could have continued this project until it became a boring book considering that no end to this plague / quarantine life is in sight. Enjoy. September 18th, 2020.