The bookstore in the mall was still open.  I ventured in to stock up for all the anticipated down time.  They were organizing a table display of “Plague Literature.” I grabbed a copy of the Albert Camus classic, “The Plague,” about how such massive events can leave us isolated and alienated from one another.  I’m sure others picked up Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain,” or reread Poe’s great and chilling short story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”  Others have been rewatching the movies, “Contagion” and “Outbreak.”  Just in case you aren’t already scared enough.

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 The pet store was open.  Because the cardinals and sparrows and chickadees at our feeders haven’t gotten the word about “social distancing” and “self-quarantining,” I stopped in to pick up birdseed.  There were the usual number of customers in the store.  I was chatting with one of the staffers. Somebody coughed near us.  I immediately fled to the next aisle.

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 Strange.  Surreal.  Eerie.  Just plain weird.  I struggle for the right adjective to describe this period.  I am in the “population most at risk,” i.e. older than 70; I even chuckle grimly at memes about ‘boomer-buster” diseases.  I have seen a lot but never anything like this.  All our comfortable routines – social gatherings, outings, shopping – all obliterated by COVID-19.  The sense that things will never be the same, even when this is over.  I am thankful whenever I get to venture out for groceries for a little forced socialization.  Early on, it was impossible to maintain “social-distancing” at the grocery store with everybody stocking up.  I had a nice conversation with a gent in the line next to mine, how this went beyond even 9-11 in fear and uncertainty, but he understood the necessity to our health system of trying to “flatten the curve.”  “Stay healthy,” he said as he moved up to the cashier.  That’s the greeting we all sign off with now.

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 March 17 was the day the bars were closed.  Interesting timing, first time in years I didn’t get in to have a Guinness on St. Paddy’s Day.  Instead of thrilling upsets in March Madness, we were watching the race against the virus, hoping Dr. Fauci or some anonymous lab researcher would be able to vanquish this powerhouse.

 This puts a different slant on the popular phrase “going viral,” doesn’t it?  Let me start my own rumor: This is all a plot by Amazon to force all commerce online. (I must make clear, I am being facetious. Personally, I hope the brick-and-mortar stores can make it through and that my favorite wait staffers and bartenders will return.)

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 The irony was not lost on me, that after decades of being scolded for being too sedentary, now suddenly we were heroic for becoming couch potatoes.  Yeah, stock up not just on toilet paper, but on chips and beer, too!

With a lot more time to read, I read the obituaries daily, hoping not to find friends’ names there, hoping also they won’t find mine.

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 We should all publicly thank those who have kept working in this challenging time – certainly the front-line health care workers, grocery workers, nursing home assistants, day care providers, police and fire personnel, utility workers, HVAC workers and plumbers and electricians, hardware store workers, truckers, postal workers, delivery drivers, the media who keep us informed – I know I’ve missed some, but THANK YOU.

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As you probably realize, we submit these pieces well in advance of publication, so much might have changed since I put this together.  I do know that great rite of spring, the baseball opener, has not occurred.  The virus has pretty much stolen spring, extending our already long winter hibernation.  April was setting up to truly be, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “the cruelest month,” with contagion, distancing and pure stir-craziness.  For perspective, I recalled Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter,” a true story of a winter that began with a mid-October blizzard in 1880; the winter would last seven months, with supply lines, mostly by train in that era, cut off for food and fuel.  Christmas wasn’t celebrated in 1881 until May.   We also remember all the deprivation Americans endured during World War II.  I keep looking for a bright side to our current plight.  If you drive around, gas prices have plunged to historic lows – just not many places to go other than sightseeing rides in the country.  Maybe we're saving energy: With planes not flying and cruise ships docked, the planet could get a breather from carbon emissions.  But a bigger hope: Could this time of national sacrifice help bring back some national cohesion from our highly polarized politics?

 In the meantime, stay healthy.

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