Saturday, March 14, 2020

Journal of the Plague Months: Vol 1, No. 1

As the coronavirus winds up to deliver its haymaker blow, I’m probably going to limit the number of crowded preview screenings I attend.

Some of those advance screenings already have been postponed, others may proceed as scheduled, but I’ve decided that it might be advisable for me not to put myself in a position in which I might contract a potentially fatal disease to write about, say, the latest Vin Diesel movie, Mr. Diesel not being an actor whose earlier cultural contributions are deeply pressed into my book of movie memories.

Yeah, it’s a long sentence but what else do you have to do in these days of social distancing and dread.

Look, I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Diesel. I think you get the point; there’s a limit to what should be risked to see a movie — any movie, really.

Now, I should point out that I’m in what’s being referred to as “the high-risk group.” I’ll be turning 77 soon. Shocked? How do you think I feel about becoming part of the population that the media refers to as “elderly?” Seems like only yesterday I was applying for Medicare.

This designation applies even though I don’t live in a nursing home or an assisted living facility and, in times that are less contagious, do not restrict myself from ordinary activities such as driving and gingerly turning pages in whatever book I happen to be reading. Mostly, I walk without falling over.

My customary regimen, by the way, does not include rigorous exercise, foods labeled “organic,” gluten-free products or total avoidance of processed sugar.

I don’t know where or when a random encounter might occur, but if you happen to see me on the street, please wave from a respectful distance of six feet. It may annoy others but any conversation we have will have to be carried out at high volumes, but such is the nature of the moment in which we live.

Besides, there’s a bright side. Think of the water we’ll conserve. How bad do you have to smell before someone can pick up your scent at six feet? Why shower every morning?

As we work our way through this crisis, I’ll do some movie reviewing. I’ll expand my reach occasionally to write about television and I’ll continue to issue reports from the depressed zone, by which I mean my psyche.

What? You’re not depressed about all this?

This is weekend one of stimulation deprivation. How do you think you’ll feel when, after two months, you've been unable to watch an NBA or NHL game or drink overpriced coffee at whatever outlet you frequent or watch a baseball game or sit comfortably in a sold-out theater or jog headlong into some leisurely walker in your favorite park?

When will you start yearning for the days when you could wait on a line at a grocery store without wondering about the person in front and behind you? When will you stop kicking yourself for not being prescient enough to invest in companies that make hand sanitizer?

For those of us in the “elderly” population, an extra degree of fear has arisen, the grim specter of becoming the victim of a Sophie’s Choice moment.

I’ve read news stories about how doctors in Italy are being forced to make life and death decisions about who gets treatment and who doesn't and that such a situation could arise on our increasingly walled-off shores.

I imagine myself lying on a pallet (are those someone else's bloodstains?) in some vast field house that has been dedicated to housing the gravely ill. I’ve been deposited there by burly volunteers in hazmat suits.

A 34-year-old doctor, still in the middle of his medical residency, approaches. He quickly surveys what remains of my gasping body before scanning the person next to me.

“Background,” he says dryly, as one of the men in a hazmat suit shuffles papers.

"Well, this gentleman on the right (that’s the other guy) is a 46-year-old who works for a high-tech company, belongs to a volunteer fire department, regularly donates blood, and, by the way, is the father of 13-year-old high-achieving twins, one of whom just won a national science contest."

“And this one?” he asks, barely looking up from his phone.

“He spent most of his adult life writing about movies at a newspaper that no longer exists and now writes on-line. If he drinks, he’s partial to vodka, Polish preferably. He’s part of the cohort we call the elderly or, as we in the triage trade like to say, the "expendables."

He points at me and intones, “Non respirator.”

He uses Latin to send me to my doom because it fits his status as a newly empowered master of life and death, this aforementioned 34-year-old who’s still doing his residency.

So what’s the decisive factor here? Overall health prior to contracting the virus? An assessment of social utility? Friends in high places? Or is it age?

If it’s age, two of our presidential candidates and the current president seriously should start thinking about what happens if someone rules that they should shuffle off their mortal coils. So should Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman, names I only include because I usually write about movies.

Sorry, Mery Streep, you're a septuagenarian, too.

OK, so you’re not in your 70s. Your immune system runs like that Tesla you're thinking about buying. You go to the gym. You’re so damn healthy you don't even get a flu shot. But, listen, you’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that the age scale will become lower and lower as the demand for treatment exceeds the resources necessary to deliver it.

The virus could get you, too, my young friends.

So, yes, be depressed. Be forlorn. Be as bored as you want about not be able to leave the house.

Where to turn? If you’re looking for something that captures the current mood, you might want to watch that half mordant, half sincere moment in David Lynch’s Eraserhead when the Lady in the Radiator sings, “In heaven everything is fine.”

Too weird?

Well, tell these are not weird times.

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