[I just read the Sunday Washington Post and was stunned by the horrible coronavirus news from northern Italy—where Kay-Kay and I lived for three years with our kids back in the ’90s. It’s heartbreaking. As I write this, we in America don’t know how things are going to break here. Many others smarter than me are writing about that. Please read them first. Although this is a Deadly Serious Matter, I’m a blogger who (struggles mightily) to write Funny Stuff with maybe a serious point hidden inside. I’ll keep doing that—and perhaps produce a few smiles during these Very Anxious Times. Thanks.]
It’s still early days for the Coronavirus Pandemic, American Edition, and we’re all standing at a precipice, peering over the edge. Problem is, right now we can’t tell whether it’s some yawning bottomless pit from an old Vincent Price movie or just one of those annoying street curbs that’s a little too high and makes you swear when you step down farther than you expected.
As I said, early days. And for lack of anything better to write about, here are journal entries from my first full week in Semi-Self-Righteous Quarantine.
Sunday, 15 March
I’ve been teaching two sections of an upperclass course at nearby Thomas Couper University, named for the first barber in America. Go Shavers!** The President of TCU agonized very publicly over whether to close the campus—whereas the students were all, “Second Spring Break! Bonus!!!” On Friday, he finally shuts everything down until 10 April, just ahead of the governor ordering him to do so. I spend all day yesterday and most of today Moving My Course Online. Which is now received academic jargon for, “Throw some digital mud against the virtual wall and see what sticks. Then give everybody an A-. And we’re not paying for your Zoom account.” I should add that I’m most definitely Not An IT Guy. So there’s that.
Monday, 16 March
Other than not driving to campus, I notice my work day hasn’t changed much. I should note here that our household income derives from four streams.
1) The pittance paid to me for teaching at Thomas Couper U. (Go Shavers!)
2) Royalties from my novels, which are also a pittance, but they’re a Self-Actualized Pittance.
3) My lawyer work as counsel to a single company located in Alabama, which unsurprisingly produces the Majority of My Income.
4) My Air Force pension. Which I earn by waking up and breathing each day.
With my Courses Moved Online, I can perform 100% of my work from the spare bedroom. I imperiously refer to this as My Home Office, like I have a mahogany conference table and one of those massaging executive chairs in there. I’ve been working mostly from home for years, so I’ve got this. Assuming internet connectivity.
[Helpful Hints for New Work-From-Homers: Visualize your moving from breakfast to your workspace as your “commute.” Give yourself a work “schedule.” Shower, shave, and change into Big People Clothes for the day; do not work in pajamas because it blurs too many boundaries. On the other hand, you are allowed to video teleconference without pants, just for fun. Assuming you’re sitting down.]
Tuesday, 17 March
Wow, St. Patrick’s Day in the Time of Coronavirus. Kay-Kay is baking soda bread and the corned beef and cabbage is on simmer. [Fun Fact: the IRISH Irish don’t eat corned beef. Never heard of the stuff. They eat cabbage and bacon.]
There’s an old Irish joke I’ve long hated that goes like this:
Q: What’s 2 miles long, has 10,000 arms and 10,000 legs, and has an IQ of 47?
A: The St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
However, over the recent “St. Patrick’s Day weekend,” very many of my fellow Irish-Americans and their wannabe-Irish friends did their darnedest to prove this correct. In NYC, Chicago, Baltimore, DC—anywhere Irish immigrants congregated and bred over the years—these green-clad knuckleheads packed the pubs to hold pints of Guinness, thereby rendering it impossible to cough into their elbows without wasting beer, and generally infecting each other with both nostalgia and coronavirus.
Well, this was the last straw for the Governor of Illinois, among others, who shut down all Chicago’s bars after this River Dunce routine. Also, the Taoiseach of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, closed all the pubs of Dublin for similar acts of Pan-Celtic Stupidity. See above, the previously offensive/now descriptive Irish joke.
Wednesday, 18 March
I have a quick on-line class session this morning with both of my sections, just to check the Connectivity and Functionality and Other Important-Sounding Words I Don’t Fully Understand. We’re required to use something called Collaborate Ultra that’s built into our course pages on Blackboard. This is the standard web-based course application used by most colleges in the USA.
I’ve used Blackboard for video conferencing before—but never, mind you, with Collaborate Ultra. I once teleconferenced four lectures from a business trip while I was teaching at a Famous Jesuit Institution. That was 13 years ago, using what was probably then called Collaborate Meh. I did my jerky-video lectures from a hotel room in Jakarta 12 time zones away, necessitating getting up at 3:00 AM. I remember having to interrupt my seminar sessions for dawn prayer call, since my room faced a minaret with Really Big Speakers.
This morning, half my students hadn’t enabled their video, so I start polling each one and asking them to turn it on. There was a lot of hesitation. It was morning, so I’m assuming some had Very Serious Bed Head. Or they were naked.
Later, I send a blast email to all my students advising that everyone come to class well groomed and fully clothed.
Also, the President of TCU sends out another long and agonizing email. For those stalwart enough to read all the way to the bottom, he announces campus is closed through the end of the academic year. This surprises absolutely no one, except those who’ve already retreated to their survivalist bunker and have bad internet connectivity.
Meanwhile, Kay-Kay reads nine Berenstain Bears books to our grandson, Goober, over FaceTime. That’s right. Nine.
Thursday, 19 March
Wow, it’s really only been six days?
Friday, 20 March
Having never thought much about them in my entire Life Before Coronavirus, I discover how much I hate crisis-hoarders. It isn’t like COVID-19 is accompanied by a plague of mutant beetles that exclusively eat two-ply cellulose products. What is all the hysteria over toilet paper, for crying out loud?
It’s two hours later. I’m standing in the bathroom holding the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper I just used up. I sigh wistfully.
As I exit the downstair’s bathroom, Kay-Kay is coming down from an upstairs bathroom. She’s also holding a cardboard tube from a spent roll of toilet paper.
Panic ensues. We both breathe slowly into brown paper bags, then inventory our toilet paper.
Saturday, 21 March
In a show of community solidarity during these troubling times, PBS re-released for free streaming Ken Burns’s 1994 epic documentary, Baseball. Having missed it the first time around, we watch the first installment—which is two hours long. The documentary has nine installments—“innings,” because Ken is clever that way—and therefore runs 18 hours.
We watch two hours of crinkly old photos with oddly arranged Irish tunes in the background whenever the long-dead narrator isn’t narrating. Although I mostly marvel over the youthfulness of Bob Costas’s skin pores in his many super-closeups, the show is strangely compelling. I learn the Boston Red Sox once caused a fan riot that burned down their stadium and 170 adjoining houses. Having once lived in Boston, this makes perfect sense to me.
Before going to bed, I glance at Twitter. I just went over 10,000 followers—proof that everyone really is that bored.
Sunday, 22 March
Wash. Rinse. Repeat…
Stay (mostly) home and stay (very) safe everyone.
**Author’s Note: For new readers—or highly credulous returning readers—I use pseudonyms for everybody (except me) and every place (except my current home) in my blogs. Generally, this is to protect me from lawsuits, disinheritance, and/or grievous bodily harm. So this is a totally bogus university name. But strangely, not THAT far from reality. Hmmm…