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In the time of the virus

It’s spooky outside in the time of the virus. It’s so quiet that you can hear voices from far away, carried on the wind. I heard what sounded like children crying or playing or both in the street. I stepped out on my balcony. I couldn’t hear the children. But a skinny man with pale, pale skin and no shirt, black shorts and a wide-brim black hat ran by my house under the streetlamp, and I clearly heard him say, “Yes, by a magical, or rudimentary lunar strike” into his phone. He noticed I was listening, picked up speed and loped off into the darkness. I could see the light of his cell phone bouncing with each stride as it grew smaller and smaller.

I went to the bathroom and washed my hands. I wash my hands like Pilate now, like lady MacBeth, trusting that the soap is removing the awful thing I can’t see. I let them drip dry, because I don’t want to touch anything to dry them off. Towels could be teeming with the coronavirus, along with God knows what all else.

Sleep, 3:45 a.m. sometime in the virus times

I’d like to go back to sleep, but I can’t.

We are stressed. All of us. We live now as if we were in a battle. Our senses are on full alert. But there is no one to fight. So we go into our cave and play dead. We sleep so that we’ll have rested senses if the battle ever comes. I wish it would, and I hope it never does.

Shopping

I’m spending $14 a month and a tip to keep from having to wade through the grocery store in search of what food remains on the shelves that I am able to eat. There’s a delivery service that shops for you, brings it to you and leaves it on your porch. It costs too much, of course. Everything does.

I’m diabetic. Sugar messes me up like a bad ex-wife you still love. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally soothe myself with a few heaping handfuls of cookies every now and then. But the risk of excruciating death by slow asphyxiation has made my almond, coconut and chocolate chip favorites at the Winn-Dixie a lot less tempting.

Back in the 1980s, I was married, and did no swimming in the AIDS pool. But I’m sure, had I not been, the risk of AIDS wouldn’t have kept me from having unsafe sex with sketchy partners, and I doubt this little bastard of a virus won’t completely separate me from brownies, cakes, cookies and pie as I wander the remainder of life’s road, however short it may be. And yeah, I’ll probably tie a T-shirt around my nose and mouth and walk over to Winn-Dixie to get it.

I’m a geezer, so let me share the rest of my afflictions with you.

I also have atrial fibrillation, a nagging electrical malfunction that makes my heart beat like a fucked clock when I’m stressed. I’m stressed a lot lately, but they make pills for that.

Like all other American males over 60, I’m overweight. Not as much as I used to be, but enough to give coronavirus an unfair advantage.

The virus could kill me four different ways or engage all my co-morbidities at once and just stomp the shit out of me.

coronavirus

Rest easy and thank you, John Prine, the best that ever was

That’s what I looked like when I was in high school. I look different now, but when I heard we lost Mr. Prine, I felt like that kid again.

I went to a record store and found John Prine’s first album when I was 15, a couple of days after hearing a redheaded girl singing “Hello in There” at a party where a lot of underage drinking was going on. Some guy played the piano, she had a great voice, and can still hear the way she delivered the killer line, “We lost Davy in the Korean War. I still don’t know for. Don’t matter anymore.” As if she was 50 years old instead of 15. I gasped at the sudden clarity and hard truth of it – a common reaction to John Prine lyrics, I would learn.

That song made a lot of us kids realize there was an old person inside, biding their time, just waiting to come out. Mine is writing this now, with my burning eyes.

I have that girl – wherever she is and whatever her name was – to thank for inclining my trajectory toward my lifelong mentor. I have John to thank for saving my life and sanity time and again in the years before diagnosed atypical depression and Prozac, when I was just another moody kid who thought about the Big Issues too much, with no perspective to draw any meaningful conclusions. That job fell to John, who explained the human condition for me and the other moody kids who grew up into slightly less moody, better medicated old men and women, waiting for someone to say “Hello in there. Hello.”

I am certain that I have a better understanding and more forgiveness in me than I would have had I not gone to that long-ago party. And I am certain I wouldn’t be suffering such a strong sense of loss at the death of a man I never got closer to than an orchestra seat while he played his guitar onstage, his right arm circling, fingers flying, picking out just the right notes from the distinctive, instinctive, three or four chords that rang through quiet bars and theaters where he performed.

I would not be as funny. I appropriated his humor, a hard thing not to do when you listened to his tunes the way I did: repeatedly, with headphones on, ignoring all else. I wouldn’t write as well. I studied his lyrics to try to learn how to hook words together to make them say more than they were designed to.

John’s been gone a little more than a week, now, taken by the God damned coronavirus. I haven’t been listening to any of his tunes yet, because I’m already self-quarantined against the foul pestilence alone in the apartment. I’m trying to keep busy, and I know listening to all those old songs would make me wind up on the floor watching the shadows cross the ceiling.

But I have been singing the words I can’t forget as they popped into my head. I whisper them softly, like a monk saying his rosary. Call me a John Prine Christian who trusts completely without any pretense of knowing it all, without faith or even full belief. Just trusting the Word of John, my own beloved apostle, taking comfort in the knowledge that he’s drinking vodka and ginger ale and still smoking on that cigarette that’s nine miles long.