Day 22

To nobody’s surprise, our state’s stay-at-home order has been extended to May 1. On Friday, the national Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory to wear a mouth and nose covering (not a medical mask) when outside the home and social distancing guidelines can be difficult to follow.

We’ve been asked to prepare for some bad news the coming week. We crossed the ten thousand death threshold over the weekend, and since this virus is spreading geometrically, the count a week from today could be unprecedented. And when we do get to next week, our state still wouldn’t have reached its peak number of cases; I believe that delaying the surge is good, but the anticipation is nerve-wracking.

I’ve stopped paying attention to anything said by The Fraud. This emergency has brought out every one of his bad qualities. The best he could do now is step aside and let medical professionals and state governors take over, but his ego would never allow that. It’s going to get worse, indeed.

***

I felt like doing something to help, so I’m starting a new job tomorrow.

I’ve written previously about my appreciation for grocery stores, and how their continued operation has been crucial. As expected, demand for curbside pickup has skyrocketed the past few weeks, so much that if you want to schedule a pickup now, you need to pick a time at least three days in the future. Looking to expand this service, grocery stores are hiring.

So last week, I filled out an application. Couldn’t help laughing when I got a call the next day asking for my qualifications (well my doctorate will sure come in handy). Filled out the paperwork online over the weekend, and went to new hire orientation this morning. At eight tomorrow morning, I’m going to be doing… I really don’t know what. But if I can make a difference in people’s lives as we deal with this crisis, it’ll be worthwhile.

On a side note, this new job will be my first position in a union. Not happy about losing a good portion of my first paycheck for due payment, but curious to see in what others being a union man will be different.

Among the documentation I received during orientation was a letter I was advised to keep in my car. Should the state prohibit non-essential travel — there haven’t been any whispers of such a declaration, but a lot has happened the last two months I never thought would occur in this land — I am to show this letter to the police should I get pulled over. “Critical Industry Employee Authorization to Travel Regardless of the Time of Day;” that I have such a document in my possession is a terrible marvel.

***

This is America, and we’re wearing masks outside the home.

This is America, and our largest city is storing corpses in coolers.

This is America, and I’ve been issued a letter of protection should a travel lockdown be declared.

This is America, and a lot of experiences we take for granted — going to a movie or sporting event, having friends over for dinner, seeing our doctor in person — are gone.

This is America, and we don’t know when we’ll start feeling normal again.

A Little Extra Work

I usually have my riding mower serviced each spring, but non-essential work just has to wait for the current crisis to abide. Fortunately I already have the equipment needed for an oil change and other routine maintenance, so that means a little extra work for me this weekend.

The Next Call

The finch glided down to my office window. It bounced on the sill until its beak pointed at the cradled phone on the other side of the glass, then came still.

PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

I was seven hours into my thirteen-hour shift as ER supervisor. COVID-19 has everyone stretched out more than usual.

Watching the motionless bird perched before the phone, I imagined it was expecting a call. “You take the next one,” I whispered. I slowly reached for the iPhone on my desk and snapped a picture of its vigil.

My assistant then walked into the room, and the bird flapped away.

 

Not So Bad, No Matter How Weird

Just submitted my first short story of 2020. Lot more work to do to reach my goals for the year, but getting the initial story completed feels inspirational. This story was a draft I’d developed three years ago, and decided to revise at the end of February. The literary journal I targeted for this story’s initial submission had a deadline of midnight tonight, and I made it with eighteen minutes to spare. A complete revision in a month; not so bad.

It feels weird pursuing literary ambitions during a time of international crisis, but then again, writing professionally has never felt quite felt “normal.”

Fabula Argentea

We’re a quarter through the year, and so far I’ve made my commitment to review one literary journal or genre magazine a week. It’s been said that having routines helps one get through difficult times, so I’ll probably keep writing these reviews for a while.

Fabula Argentea is an online magazine published three times a year since 2012.

What they say about themselves: “Fabula Argentea (FA for short) is Latin for “silver story” and the name is pronounced FAH-boo-la ar-GEN-tee-ah (where the “g” is hard as in “grape”)… Our goal is to bring its readers the best writing we can find. Period. We accept a wide variety of material: genre, literary, humor, the grit of life, happy endings, sad endings, and perhaps the occasional spicy story… The most important aspect of anything we publish is good writing and a great story to accompany it… We encourage all authors to reach deep inside themselves to come up with pieces that will impress us, pieces that will have readers telling friends about, that will stay with us and not be easily forgotten. Think outside the box. Break some rules and do it up right.”

Issue reviewed: Issue 29, January 2020

Genre: Speculative fiction, with a decided comic tone to most but not all stories

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget: “Well Regulated,” by Matt McHugh. A wealthy young technology entrepreneur appears before a Senate committee and demonstrates a device that threatens to disrupt America’s fascination with guns. A story that leaves you wondering who the bad guys really are.

Clapperboard Rating: Three KLAKs. The characters in the stories are always up to something.

Profanometer: Dammit. The language was actually a bit toned down from what I expected.

Day 15

This is the start of the second week of our state’s “stay at home” order. It’s scheduled to end a week from today, but I’ll be surprised if that date stays in place. Our department of health is expecting the number of new coronavirus infections won’t peak until early May; if our health care system is preparing to treat up to 10,000 new cases per day (yes, ten thousand new cases each day), we’re not getting back to life as we knew it any time soon. June, maybe; July, I hope. But we’re not leaving our homes in April, and won’t be going very far in May.

***

It’s remarkable to me that about 90% of my life hasn’t been affected by this disaster. Much of that continuity has to do with timing; if this happened 10 years ago, when my wife and I were working in offices full-time and our kids were in middle school, my guess is that percentage would be considerably lower, perhaps by half.

Last week I wrote about how our grocery stores continue to operate with minimal disruptions. Same goes for pharmacies and gas stations. We’ve even been able to order carry-out and delivery from restaurants a couple of times. But the biggest reason why life doesn’t seem that different has to be our utilities. Heat, water, electricity — there have not been any disruption in those essential services. And while internet access and mobile communications aren’t daily necessities, I would be extremely stressed if I couldn’t work from home, didn’t have immediate access to the latest information on this crisis, wasn’t able to communicate with family and friends.

I miss going to the library every day. I miss working with students and fellow tutors at the Writing Center. I miss going to the gym. I miss going out to dinner with my wife, and relaxing with her over a good meal that we don’t have to prepare or clean up from. I miss driving; I went to the post office today to mail a package that couldn’t get picked up from my door, and it was the first time I had driven in two weeks. And I really miss fencing, not only for the thrill of competition but for the companionship.

But these are petty inconveniences. I am far more thankful for the blessings in my life than upset at losing that 10% which isn’t there now.

***

The world will be much different once this is over. I won’t be foolish enough to make predictions, but the impact of this crisis will be too devastating for us to resume our pre-COVID-19 lives.

We’re going to look at our healthcare system, and not be happy it lacked the resources to deal with the pandemic.

We’re going to look at the funds allocated to support our economy, and ask where the hell all that money came from.

We’re going to look at how we got by without so many of our routine conveniences and entertainment, and wonder how much of that we really missed.

We’re going to look at all we had to do by ourselves, and some of us will decide self-sufficiency suits us well enough to keep going with it.

I don’t know how we’ll be different a year from now, or two to five years even. But I do know we won’t be the same.

All This from a Picture of a Typewriter

I enjoy Friday Fictioneers enough to give the occasional shout-out to entries that impressed me:

  1. This contest doesn’t feature a lot of historical fiction, but thanks to event coordinator Rochelle Wisoff-Fields I learned an interesting fact today
  2. Poetry is similarly not common during FF, but Andrea LeDew offers a memorable word
  3. Sandra Cook crafts a scene that’s atmospheric and suspenseful
  4. The experience of using a manual typewriter is captured by Susan A Eames
  5. The best entries make you want to read more, and Lynn Love does the job
  6. Miranda Lewis uses the prompt to give advice to writers looking back on the age when these devices were in common use
  7. The antique machine leads to a mystical yet realistic experience courtesy of msjadeli
  8. Learning how to use these old machines could be stressful, an experience oneta hayes expresses well
  9. Some of the most powerful images from this week’s challenge came from Redcat‘s offering
  10. A clever story from nelkumi contains only sounds

Half-way through compiling this list, I noticed all my selections were from female bloggers. I decided to stay with that theme until the end. You’ll get your turn next time, gents!

ASDF JKL;

PHOTO PROMPT © Jeff Arnold

”Jesus, it’s 1985,” Cal exclaimed. ”You’ve got the money for a PC or Mac. Even a Smith-Corona would be better than this relic!”

“What for?” Edie asked. “Speed?”

“Manual typewriters were designed to slow down typists,” explained Cal. “Typebar locations, the illogical keyboard, fingers hovering over ASDF, JKL;. The design keeps the machines from jamming, a problem computers don’t have. Five years from now, these beasts will be gone!”

“You’re missing the point,” Edie replied. “My typewriter’s inefficiency forces me to slow down and think more, and I like that. I don’t want to write faster; I want to write better.

The Dark

The latest in my ongoing series of journal and magazine reviews.

Founded in 2013, The Dark is a monthly online magazine.

What they say about themselves: The magazine doesn’t say a lot about itself, but the submission guidelines are significant — “Don’t be afraid to experiment or to deviate from the ordinary; be different—try us with fiction that may fall out of ‘regular’ categories. However, it is also important to understand that despite the name, The Dark is not a market for graphic, violent horror.”

Issue reviewed: Issue 57, February 2019

Genre: Horror and Dark Fantasy

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget: “Live Through This,” by Nadia Bulkin. When a high school student kills herself after being raped, her corpse appears in homes throughout her small town. A culture of violence and abuse comes back to haunt a community.

Clapperboard Rating: Four KLAKs. You always know something’s waiting for you in the next paragraph, and it always arrives.

Profanometer: Sunuvabitch. The language appropriately edgy for the material.

Day 10

In order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state, our governor issued a “stay at home” order effective at midnight on Monday. Non-essential businesses have been ordered to close. Grocery stores remain open and remarkably function as they did in “normal” times, with just a few noticeable changes (the butcher counter is closed, but with packaged material in abundance). When we come out of this, we need to throw a series of parades for the people who’ve kept us supplied.

***

Our family is actually pretty well situated for these times.

Being semi-retired, I’m not losing much income. I work as a writing tutor at a community college, and we’re operating as an email service for the rest of the semester. I’m also a technical writer who was already working from home; finished a project last week, and may have another starting soon. I typically do several site visits for my technical writing, and while those aren’t going to happen any time soon, I’ll find a way to compensate.

My wife’s career hasn’t been too badly affected either. She works part time as the music director for a local synagogue, which has shifted to online services during this time. It’s not an ideal environment, but the members appreciate the continued presence.

Both our sons are in college. Our elder is home this week for spring break, and while he says he’ll be able to study better by returning to his off-campus fraternity house we’re hoping he stays until the “stay at home” order expires a week from Monday. Our younger son lives off-campus at a university close to a major city; his state has also issued a “stay at home” order. He’s still planning to drive out here for Passover on April 8, but I’m not entirely confident that’s going to happen. Both boys are OK, and that’s what’s really important now.

Outside our immediate family, there are concerns. My wife’s parents are in their upper 70s and have generally poor health; contracting COVID-19 could very well be fatal to them. They’re currently in Hawaii, where the virus has so far not been as prevalent as it has been here on the mainland. They were scheduled to fly back in early April; that flight has been cancelled, without a rescheduled date. My brother is in his early 60s and generally healthy, but lives alone and is severely limited in his mobility; he’d likely survive the virus, but I’d rather not test that theory. Fortunately he lives in a rural area where the virus has not been found.

As far as we know, none of us have been exposed to COVID-19, or have had contact with anyone who has.

***

I’m going to stay away from political commentary in this journal. All I really want to do is record my immediate observations, in the hope they’ll be useful to someone else or to me at a future time, when I can wander away from home again.