As I write this, it’s March 14. The world has just entered the scary phase of the COVID-19 crisis. Over 125,000 people worldwide have been diagnosed with it. Over 4,000 worldwide have died from it. In the United States, nearly 40 people have died, and most people expect many more. Institutions are closing down. On grocery shelves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper are virtually unobtainable. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes.
My 89-year-old mother has begun to isolate herself. She smoked for 40 years and has lung disease, so she’s in an even higher risk category than other 89-year-olds. Not only that, but she lives in Diamond Bar, where 80% of the population is Chinese, many of them Chinese nationals who travel back and forth from China.
Mom rarely goes out. She shops for groceries only at 7 am, when the aisles are empty. She uses hand sanitizer when she touches anything–the shopping cart, cans of food, the change she gets back, anything. She doesn’t shake hands with anybody. She doesn’t look at anybody. She just returns to her house and shuts herself in. She has a gate in her front yard that she keeps locked. Nobody can even knock on her door. Safely in her big old house, she has most everything she needs–television, a kitchen, a home office, everything. She and her little Shih Tzu dog Phoebe are a population of two.
Two days ago, however, Mom realized that she needed to go to the pharmacy soon for refills. She didn’t want to do it herself, though, so she called me.
“Can you pick up my meds?” she said.
“Sure,” I said.
“And shop for my groceries?”
I am so healthy and exercise so much that I’m a pretty low risk.
“I’ll call you with a list, and then you can bring it to me without having contact with me,” Mom said. “Call me from your cell phone when you’re outside and I’ll open the garage door. You leave the grocery bags in the garage and go. When you’re gone, I’ll pick it up and sanitize the bag and all the things in it.”
Everybody has to be careful in these Kafkaesque days. We are afraid of shadows because shadows are attacking us.
I’ve been visiting Las Vegas this past week. I’ve been staying with friends, an eightysomething mother and a fiftysomething daughter, who aren’t paranoid about things. They have a huge house with lots of rooms. They do take precautions, but they don’t get crazy about it. I offered to cancel my stay with them, but they wouldn’t hear of it.
“You’re fine,” they said.
I camped out in a lovely bedroom they made up for me. I spent the week working here on my computer, but had only one all-important in-person meeting. When I walked into his house, we didn’t shake hands. We talked from a distance of six feet. We met for three hours, excitedly talking about our exciting ideas for business, and then I left without shaking his hand. Once back in my car, I slathered my hands with sanitizer.
The next day, I was driving to the park to take a walk. As I cruised along Pecos Avenue, I thought, “As long as I don’t touch anything, I’m okay.” Cars were all around me, and people inside, but I wasn’t touching them. I was happy.
I arrived at lovely Sunset Park and started exercising. I walked around the lake, past geese, ducks, and even people, and I thought, “I haven’t touched anything yet.” People walked past me, but not within six feet of me. Our eyes met, but we didn’t touch. Then I walked away from the lake and into the desert trails, talking to a friend in Seattle on my phone through earbuds while passing desert shrubbery, jackrabbits, and the occasional human organism, and I thought, “I haven’t touched anything yet.”
I didn’t touch anything for a full hour and eight minutes! Then I got into my car and didn’t touch anything that other people had touched, just the door handle and the steering wheel, and drove back to my friends’ house. I walked inside and had dinner with my friends. They suggested I go to a Vegas show, take advantage of discount tickets and low crowds, and I thought, “Nawwww.”
At dinner, they talked about one of their friends. He is a divorced father. He had a business trip planned for this week, but the event got cancelled. He decided to use the airline tickets, anyway, to visit his daughter. He hopped onto the plane and traveled all the way across the country. When he arrived, his ex-wife said no, you can’t see your daughter.
“You’re a disease risk to her,” she said. “You’ve just been on a plane!”
It’s been a bitter divorce.
After dinner, I got onto my computer, which nobody else had touched, and started working, because I always need to work. Every so often, I got onto Facebook and socialized with people, saying hello, how are you, isn’t this weird, without touching them or being around them.
Later today, I will get into my car and drive the five hours back to Los Angeles without touching anything that anybody else had touched. And if by chance I do, I have lots of hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol. I will listen to Beck and Tito Puente and Sam Smith on my Bluetooth speaker and speed back home. But there’s one nightmare scenario that I’ve thought about. God forbid this tragedy comes to pass. Please God, oh please, I beseech you, don’t make it so that I have to go into a public bathroom.