Day 32: Monday

April 28, 2020

One day, this will be over. Right?


And I’m going to want to know how these days went. As in, what were we doing, and when? How did we get through them?

With that in mind — for whatever it’s worth, to future me and current you, here is how I spent Monday.

Rolled out of bed around 6:30 a.m. and caught up on the life contained in my iPhone — overnight emails, top news on the New York Times app, birthdays on Facebook.

By 7:15 a.m., Georgie (the dog) and I were out the door. Because we did a no-incline walk to the park, and I didn’t talk to anyone, either in person or on the phone, I didn’t need much oxygen and could virtuously wear my mask the entire way. It’s light pink with darker pink dots and didn’t clash with my black outfit. I bought it for $16 from the guy up the street who used to make a living selling Crossfit straps to exercisers around the globe. Now Nicko sells masks to neighbors. I also have one in sky-blue with Day-of-the-Dead grinning skulls on it, and another one with Superwoman cartoons set against a royal blue background. He sells them out of his garage. I can browse, make choices. This is deeply satisfying.

While we walked, I listened to this story from the New York Times, about a restaurateur who had to close her place, Prune, in the East Village, due to the pandemic. I was in tears by the time I got home, not because I was so sad, but because I was so grateful that someone so artistic and true lives in this world.

I had to be at my computer by 8 a.m. because that’s when I log into Zoom and say hi to my friend, Deborah. She’s in Silverlake. We catch up for about five minutes, then hit mute and write for the next two hours. During that time, I live in 2010, in a world of people I control. Best two hours of the day, no contest.

Time for a workout. I used to go to the Bar Method studio on Sawtelle, near La Grange, twice a week. Then I got sick, just as we went on lockdown, and I could barely make it around the block, much less lift weights. Now I’m working my way back up.

Afterward, I showered and changed and straightened up the house, and headed out to look for dishwasher detergent for my 81-year-old mother, whose finicky dishwasher only tolerates powdered soap. But this is one of those items that simply cannot be had in late April, 2020 in Los Angeles. I hit Ralph’s and Staples and Rite-Aid on National. I looped through Vons and CVS on Sepulveda. All that stood on the shelves, between vast expanses of empty white, were packets of Powerballs, little rounded cubes of gel and detergent sealed in plastic. Has our obsession with plastic really come to this, that we must seal detergent in it rather than figuring out how to measure it ourselves? Can no one approximate a tablespoon’s worth just by eyeing it?

Of course, I wasn’t merely entering and leaving stores. I wore an N-95 mask. When I got back to the car, I wiped down my hands with hand sanitizer, then pulled a generic-brand, Clorox-type wipe from a blue plastic tube (just like the guy said in “The Graduate,” the future [much to our detriment] is in plastic) and wiped down my purse straps, my glasses, anything else on my person that I inadvertently touched in the stores.

After the last stop, I ripped open a packet of M&Ms caramels I’d purchased at CVS, and practically poured half of it into my mouth. This is the only possible reaction to visiting five stores in one hour in April 2020.

Came home. My middle and youngest children were ordering poke on Postmates, out of their own funds. If I ordered for me, I’d have to pay for it, and that didn’t appeal. So I made scrambled eggs with tomato, basil and orange bell pepper for lunch. Pink sea salt. Yes, it was good.

I’m in between work assignments, so since nothing was screaming at me, I started to balance our checkbook on Quicken. But soon came 3 o’clock and the Puppy Party down the street. My neighbor brought an 8-week-old puppy home over the weekend, a few weeks after her elderly dog died. My mom, who has hardly seen anyone except her live-in boyfriend since the lockdown began, loves dogs. So she drove in from Westwood and my daughter and I walked over from two houses away and we all stood in my friend’s front yard and cooed at the puppy from six feet apart. In case you were wondering, I sported the Superwoman mask. The puppy’s name is Ziggy and the world is new to her. She had to be scooped up when she mistook pebbles for food.

I had picked up some gel detergent at CVS, in the hopes it would work for my mom, but she’d since read online that it would ruin her dishwasher. We gave it to the neighbor instead, and I called our nearby Whole Foods. They had powdered detergent, not in a box like my mom and I like it, but sealed in plastic pods. “You could just cut the pods open if you wanted,” the manager pointed out. Ahh, we said. Right. We decided we’d drive over there in separate cars. I’d go in and get it for her while she waited outside.

But first, she needed a mask other than her N-95, which she’s come to detest because of its bulk and awkward fit. So we walked up the street to Nicko. Out of all the masks he had — at least three dozen varieties, maybe more — she picked the same one as my daughter did, light blue with white piping. Genetics.

We went to Whole Foods and I stood in a ten minute line and the entire time, no one talked to anyone else. We are all angry at no one, tense about everything.

They had the detergent in the plastic pods. Hallelujah. I also picked up two tubs of Bananas Foster ice cream with caramel swirls, one for me and one for my mother. Because I don’t leave stores these days without some form of caramel in my bag.

Waved Mom goodbye. Came home, finished up the blog post I’d started the day before, and posted it. Got on a Zoom call with three girlfriends who live right around me but who I now only see on screens once a week. I found out two of the three of them may be furloughed or laid off entirely at the end of June. What do you say to that? There’s no adequate response. The other two of us don’t have that problem — because we’re both freelance.

Off the call. Back to the kitchen. Made one of my favorite recipes, Greek chicken soup with lemon, using up leftover rice and chicken, and called everyone in to eat. That’s when I remembered that when two of my three children decide to order lunch out, they should ALWAYS check with their missing sibling to see if he wants some too, even if he’s out on his bike, and it seems like it might be dangerous for him to pick up the phone. Otherwise, guaranteed, there will be a fight at the dinner table.

But everyone eventually made up. My husband had them all laughing by the time I left for yet another Zoom call, this one with a different group of friends who also live nearby, whom I now also see regularly on my computer screen. We shared our favorite quarantine books and TV shows. One woman, though, was quiet. Finally, I asked her if she had any recommendations. Turns out she wraps up her day by watching Trump’s coronavirus briefings. Weeks in, and they still boggle her mind. Sometimes she throws in Governor Cuomo for variety. This would be my personal recipe for insanity, but to each her own.

Here’s how I wrapped up my day: scrolling through the NYT app, reading about how home schooling is driving parents bonkers, how ‘quarantine fatigue’ has people heading outdoors, and how Trump is now back at his coronavirus podium after a weekend away. Then I curled up in bed to finish a marvelous novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, and lights out just before 11 p.m.

If you’ve read this far — thanks! And a question: what about you? How are you spending these days?

Day 16: Groceries

April 10, 2020

I’m doing fine, standing in line outside Trader Joe’s, until the woman in front of me coughs.

It’s not a rattling, Grand Canyon type of cough, like the ones that burst out of my daughter’s mouth after dinner these days (she’s recovering from something — bronchitis? COVID-19? It’s anyone’s guess). But it’s also not an airy thing. There’s some mucus in there. There’s some force.

The woman doesn’t blanche. She doesn’t cast an apologetic look around or slink back to her car or smack her own face with her own hand so hard she draws blood. No. She just turns to her boyfriend, and keeps on talking.

About a week and a half post what-very-well-could-have-been-the-coronavirus, I take a long suck on the cough drop in my mouth, and wonder if I heard it wrong.

Meanwhile, they’re giggling. She leans on him, squeezing his arm. They’re both wearing surgical masks, those flimsy contraptions of blue and white paper that gape open on the sides. I think about the news reports of aerosol contagion, how the virus can windsurf the air for up to three hours after someone expels it from her mouth.

She’s more than six feet away from me. More like eight, or ten. But then the line moves, and now I’m standing where they were.

You’ve had this thing, I tell myself. You are the Invincible Woman. But the test was negative. And my husband didn’t want me to do this shopping trip at all. “Let me go,” said my physician spouse, whose career has largely depended on taking test results at face value.

But he’s had plenty of quality face time with the coronavirus these past few weeks, both in suspected and confirmed form. After three weeks of venturing no further from home than I can walk (with the exception of an emergency trip to the vet), I thought it was time to suit up and deal with the grocery store.

Now I stand here, trying not to think about her cough. Usually I would scroll through my phone to pass the time. But it’s drizzling and the screen sparkles with pricks of water. My next impulse is to talk. But the line is silent. This confuses me. If we’re all in masks — we are — and we’re at least six feet away from each other — we are — is conversation with a stranger dangerous? What harm could talking actually do?

It’s like we’re all mad at each other, for something no one did on purpose, and everyone’s trying their very best to avoid.

The line inches forward. The woman coughs again.

I did not imagine it. I did not exaggerate it. It is the same damn hacking noise as before. This time, she follows it up by dancing a little jig for her lover. Literally, she executes a two-step, right there on the sidewalk in front of CVS.

No one yells. There’s zero momentum for any kind of attack, or even protest. So I stare at her, wondering. Is she post-infection or pre-? Could someone who’s spent the last two weeks hovering near or lying on her bed cough with such insouciance in public? Then she must be pre-illness. But isn’t she just the tiniest bit worried?

Or maybe — this occurs to me now — she’s calling it allergies and believes she poses no threat to anyone.

Okay, believe that. But look, you have a boyfriend. Would it be too much to ask to send him to the market for you, so the rest of us don’t have to listen to your cough ring in our ears the rest of the day?

Another five minutes, and I’m in the store. Patti — a Trader Joe’s clerk with whom I’ve spent hours over the years lingering in aisles, trading stories of her kids and mine — smiles behind a black mask and hands me a cart she’s cleaned off herself with alcohol wipes. The store itself is quieter and emptier than usual, but otherwise the same. There are my pomegranate seeds. Here is the chicken I’ll cook tonight for Shabbat. There is the pancake bread I’ll return to buy after Passover. The line outside was so strange, so disconcerting and nerve-wracking. But this I know. I’m fine again.

And yet, when I finally get to the checkout line, and stand on the fluorescent orange tape that says, “PLEASE WAIT HERE UNTIL READY TO PAY (CUSTOMER #1),” and the checker takes my full cart away from me, I see my hand is vibrating. So is my shoulder. And my knees. But there’s no earthquake. It’s only me, so stressed by a trip to Trader Joe’s that I’m shaking.

Later, finally home, I sit in my front seat in the driveway, looking for some reason I can no longer remember at the stories on the New York Times app. I start reading one about looming disruptions to the global supply chain (for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I will not link it here, and I advise you not to go looking it up).

I picture a future in which the virus recedes, but now it’s not only toilet paper I can’t find at the store, but food itself.

This is no way to think. Not when there’s frozen berries warming in the trunk. I take the coughing woman and the empty aisles and all the masks and the orange floor tape and the supply chain article, slide them all into a box, shut it tight, turn the key in the lock, and throw it with all my might into the far reaches of my mind.

Then I start to unload the car.