Once in the snack bar at the Labor Department I saw a lady touch several crullers before deciding which one she wanted. I told her that she shouldn’t touch pastries that she wasn’t going to buy. Naturally she became indignant, while I lost my appetite.
Now we endanger one another with unsanitary habits less blatant.
If the COVID-19 deniers, or covidiots (to adopt a new coinage) only harmed themselves, we could chalk them up as Darwin Award contestants and let nature take its course. Alas, they are but a few degrees of separation from the rest of us, in a society full of people with whom we have to plead just to wash their hands.
Stir-crazy from social distancing, I think of friends in Africa suffering greater isolation. A gay refugee named Desire has emailed me from Khartoum, where he is held by Sudanese police who apprehended him on his journey from Kenya to Egypt, which he somehow decided was a welcoming place. I wonder at his bravery and resourcefulness in trekking 1200 miles from Nairobi to Khartoum.
The image of Huck and Jim on a raft comes to mind, only in this case it would be the Nile and not the Mississippi. I imagine lighting out for the territory myself. But where would that be? West Potomac Park? The National Arboretum? The banks of the Anacostia?
I do not light out for the territory. The farthest I go, other than to the grocery and the pharmacy, is two flights up to the roof deck, where I get sun and fresh air. I talk pleasantly to a blackbird that lands on the white fence and squawks at me. I do not take it as an omen; it is just a blackbird. If I had grapes, I would offer it one.
Few of us other than molecular biologists anticipated this virus. Jelani Cobb, writer for The New Yorker and journalism professor at Columbia, tweeted on March 19, “Just how much of other people’s saliva were we inhaling before?” I replied, “Now there’s a sentence I bet you never expected to write.”
I submit these commentaries electronically, with no micro droplets of spittle involved. We are used to receiving payments by ACH transfer. For all our filthy spraying and pawing, we do a lot of sterilizing and over-packaging. We devise ever new ways of avoiding direct interaction. At the same time, most of us cannot bear being isolated like people in The Matrix or the severely immunodeficient child raised in a bubble.
As Gov. Cuomo said, we don’t know how long this will take. It depends on what we do. Nor do we know how many people we will lose. I think of Stella (real name Tom) from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington in an ICU at Washington Hospital Center in 1986, telling an elaborate joke for which he periodically removed his oxygen mask. He also told us of a nurse apologizing that she needed to give him a suppository, and he laughed and told her, “Honey, go right ahead,” that it wasn’t exactly an untrafficked country lane.
Thus we who are old enough recall vanished friends as we balk at a second plague, like my father being asked to reenlist for the Korean War after surviving a German POW camp. He was able to decline. We merely hunker down with provisions. Food delivery services must be ramping up. My coffee shop group and Saturday breakfast club have gone on hiatus just as spring arrives and outdoor seating beckons.
Lest I bewail these deprivations, I remember Desire in Khartoum, and the other LGBT refugees languishing in Kenya. They are people without a country in a hostile land. UNHCR has suspended refugee resettlement flights due to the coronavirus. I text my displaced friends via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which briefly alleviates their isolation.
My iPhone needs recharging, and my empty can of Arizona Iced Tea skitters across the table in the breeze. I pick it up and think of Trayvon Martin, who carried a similar drink on that terrible night in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, and I count my blessings as I wipe the doorknob and head back downstairs.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.