Vivian got to celebrate her 13th birthday in Japan. Evan was really looking forward to celebrating somewhere fun. But that was in the Before Times. On his big day a few of Evan’s friends called in on Zoom after school. Family sent him texts and emails and cards and Auntie Beth sent a gift. And later that evening, his Grandma and cousins and aunts visited and we sang happy birthday outside, standing sufficiently far from other familial units, and we ate ice cream cake.
Poor Evan knows that we live in more complicated times now. But also simpler times. We stay at home. About 3 million people have been diagnosed or tested with CoVid. Two hundred thousand humans have died. A third of all diagnosed infections and a quarter of deaths worldwide so far are in this country.
But Evan is lucky. His life hasn’t changed very much from when we were traveling. A couple of hours of school in the morning followed by Jo’s three C’s in the afternoon – create, connect, and contribute. His contribute is to load and unload the dishwasher. We tried to get him to wash dishes or use a broom but he succeeded in doing everything badly – perhaps his strategy to get the easy foolproof jobs. For connect, he and a friend Zoom each other and after a few moments of what pass as niceties for 10-year old boys, they settle into playing video games together. Evan’s create has been fun to watch. He goes to the Inktober website and finds a word from their 2019 list and sends it out in a group chat to his grandma, aunt, and a few of us. And during the day we send in photos of sketches of whatever that word inspires us to draw. We’ve been doing this for about a month, and it’s been fun. Most of Evan’s sketches are from the universe of Minecraft, but hey, a boy needs to get his inspiration from somewhere. I’m enjoyed sketching too. Here’s my entry for “ripe”, and homage to the $120,000 banana taped to the wall at Art Basel last year.
Jo got Evan a hoverboard for his birthday. He had tried his cousin Cade’s a couple of times, and apparently when you are ten that is all it takes to learn. The first time he came down the hill on the driveway he was tentative. But now we joke that he is going to forget how to walk. He uses the hoverboard to get everywhere and balances like an expert. I tried and stayed on it for one femtosecond before I violently succumbed to gravity.
Evan – you will remember 2020. But I hope, along with the gloom that will tint the memories of this year after it is long past, I hope you remember some of the fun stuff. Staying in bed and reading till 9am. Zipping around the house on your hoverboard. Inktober sketches. The mask your grandma made for you. The first three months of traveling. Zooming video games with Luke. Walks with your family. Donuts from Sweeties. Wildflowers.
We’re home. Sort of. The White Wooden House is rented out till mid-July. So we are out near Canyon Lake about an hour and a half away. Carol moved last year and the house was sitting there empty. So we drove there from Bergstrom Airport and unpacked and settled down. Nicolle had bought us some milk and eggs. We’d done a hurried round of groceries on our way to the house. And there was enough toilet paper by chance to last us for a month. Never before, since humans started collecting in groups, have so many of us just stopped. A small strand of RNA embedded in a glob of fat has outsmarted us all in about 100 days.
At this point I’m going to stop, stare at the screen like Dora, and ask “Are you OK”? I won’t get a reply, but no worries, I’ll smile and hope that you and your loved ones are safe. But seriously, call if you’d like to chat. Turns out I’m not busy now. Or later.
After a week of being shut in I left and went to socially and emotionally distance myself by camping and hiking. I was supposed to go to Big Bend NP but they closed down overnight stays rather suddenly as did all of Brewster and Presidio counties. So instead I meandered my way through three different state parks – Enchanted Rock, Cap Rock Canyon, and Palo Duro Canyon. Spring in Texas is a beautiful time to be outdoors.
Upon my return I found that as expected the little bit of RNA was wrecking havoc. It turns out that some people were easier to outsmart than others. Unable to hold even one full thought in his head for a few seconds, our stable genius contradicts himself and bullies his way through the crisis which is crying for leadership. In a month we’ve gone from disregarding it to becoming the global epicenter for the disease. One indicator of how badly countries are doing is to compare the number dead – the Covid shithole countries. While we are busy winning that distinction, we bought up eight months’ supply of toilet paper in four weeks and shut down abortion, but kept gun stores and churches open. Boy, I miss traveling abroad.
We keep ourselves amused by doing what we did for the past eight months – not much. Except that we are doing that in one place. The four of us hang out and annoy the fuck out of each other. The kids study a bit. Jo and I spend some time outside working. There are dead trees and weeds and malfunctioning garden machinery and run-away vines and swimming pool plumbing leaks and clogged gutters that will keep us fully occupied for months, especially at our skill levels. We go to grocery stores in the neighboring small towns for supplies and water and wine. We take Carol her groceries and chat with her from 2 m away. Carol sewed us masks to keep us legal in Texas. Jo keeps Jeff in the gravy by ordering a steady stream of matter from Amazon. We bought Evan a bike from the Target in town and fixed up three other bikes from the garage that hadn’t been operated in years. So we can go on family bike rides. But we’re on a hill with steep drop-offs in all directions so no one bikes too far because we are lazy. Like everybody else we bake. Jo borrowed her cousin Brian’s banana bread recipe and is killing it. Vivian has baked baguettes, macrons (which involved making meringue without an electric mixer), and blueberry biscuits. We’ve never eaten at home so much ever before. We are being forced to try new recipes along with the usual fare. We watched the first season of the Mandalorian and the Hunger Games trilogy+1 and the Maze Runner trilogy and Jo and Vivian are working their way through the cinematic remakes of the world of Jane Austen. We visit with Nicolle’s family from a distance when we drop off groceries for Carol. The other day we went to Sweet Berry Farms to pick strawberries at the same time that Tim and Karen and Ava and Z drove up from Austin and we sat away from each other on a glorious spring afternoon and ate picnic snacks and chatted. The children and Jo and I are engaging in the zoom / Facetime habit with friends near and far. This evening for instance, there’s some concern about the potential shortage of bandwidth because Vivian, Jo, and Evan have video calls all scheduled at approximately the same time. Thankfully, the kids aren’t drinking too heavily during their zoom get-togethers.
In other words, we are well and are comfortably sheltering in place.
Those that are lucky are working long hours from home while sitting their kids in front of their devices so they can “go” to school. Others are dealing with loss of income and worries about their shuttered businesses, big and small.
Then there are the people who are essential – while we sit at home and pick weeds and movies, the essentials are out there on the front line. They are building offices and homes that may never be filled and upgrading our internet connections and bagging our groceries and picking our lettuce and slaughtering our pork and serving in the military and police and saving our sick friends and families. Many of them are undocumented. It is estimated that over 60,000 DACA workers on the medical front lines are saving our Covid asses while filing their paperwork to not get deported. Half of farm workers are immigrants or undocumented workers with no medical insurance and won’t be getting any of the $1,200 checks with His Toddlerness’s signature.
Then there are people living in slums like Dharavi in Mumbai and Mathare in Kenya – imagine almost the entire population of Austin crammed into two square kilometers. With limited access to water to wash their hands and no way to socially distance themselves and no jobs to go to, what must they make of WHO and government safety guidelines?
Then there are the migrant labor who have no place to rest. Their jobs disappeared when the economy closed. They have no money. Transportation networks are shut down so they can’t get back to their villages and homes and families. They are walking across the countries but towns and villages along the way are shunning them because visitors, whether from Wuhan or New York, are more likely to bring the virus with them.
And strangely, for the first time, we are realizing that our well being depends on all these people being well. So cheer up and find a good movie on Disney Plus.
ps. this is my first post from a computer since I left my travel chromebook on the flight from Cape Town to Frankfurt back in September 2019, back when we hugged strangers and ate at restaurants. I’ve finally been reunited with my trusty MacBook. Feels very strange to type on a key board and look at a computer screen after tapping away with my thumbs and squinting at my iPhone 7 for so long.