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The Virus: Week Fourteen

Continued from The Virus: Week Thirteen

The next day was June 4, not long after a maskless Trump had used tear gas and the National Guard to clear peaceful mask-wearing protestors out of the way so he could briefly hold a Bible in the air. Bigger and heftier walls have now gone up around the White House and the adjacent zones. Almost nobody in the Bible photo-op entourage wore a mask. Meanwhile in New York City, after days of beating peaceful protestors and suspending habeas corpus, they finally celebrated a day with no new COVID-related deaths. The street protests have even made their way into the local suburbs; lines of people are protesting in the hot California sun, all of them wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus. They are protesting everywhere and Congress can’t get an anti-lynching bill passed. After another long day of seeing footage of black suffering and police brutality, I saw a clip of a man in Buffalo who looked an awful lot like my dementia-addled father-in-law. Over and over and over again they show this frail 75-year-old man approach a mob of cops, and then you see the cops shove him so hard that he reels backwards and smashes his skull on the concrete step, and you can see the slow open-mouthed impassivity of the cop as he shakes his meaty head and walks on by. That familiar sickening feeling washes over me again. The old man is motionless, and as the wall of cops rushes at a small band of masked people protesting against police brutality, the gang of cops steps past the immobilized man. The blood is already pouring out of the fallen man’s ear. His cell phone slowly falls from his unmoving hand. I turn away from the looping video but I can still see in my mind’s eye the old man flailing and falling and cracking his head, flailing and falling and flattened, I see it on TV and on my phone and in my mind over and over again.

But the next day my friend E. is telling me about the huge billboard he saw in Hawaiian Gardens informing the world that Chuck E. Cheese is NOW OFFERING CURBSIDE DELIVERY, and I start laughing thinking about what this means, and I can’t stop thinking about it, and I laugh and laugh so hard that I start crying, but it’s just so goddamned funny that it’s impossible to stop. It’s been exactly three months since the two young people at the sushi place made fun of that lady for buying all that water, and this is the hardest I’ve laughed.

Then it was Saturday. All around the globe the protests have been growing and spreading for twelve nights; nearly everyone protesting is wearing a virus-mask, but none of the hordes of cops wear them. There are now approximately 1.7 miles of solid fencing that have gone up around the White House and the adjacent grounds.

The next day was June 7. My father-in-law is not doing well. He keeps falling down. And the father of our friend in Texas has died, and they tell the family that because of precautions in this age of the virus, only ten people will be allowed at his graveside.

The following day a new report comes out that indicates that the precautions many of us have taken the past three months may have reduced the number of virus cases by hundreds of millions. But as with so many other battles, it’s hard to point to counterfactuals. It is difficult to make some people care about something that was prevented from happening, it is as hard as showing them what the actions we take now might do to address the many other plagues out there that aren’t being talked about, since it is hard enough to get people to care about the plague on their doorstep.

The next day was a Monday. There was a person walking the rounds inside of a local park, getting their morning exercise. I am rereading Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, a book about an obscure town’s incomprehensible slide into uprising, chaos, and transformation, a book filled with uprooted trees and burning buildings and a creeping dread. “COVID can’t live about 73 degrees,” the walker in the park says into their phone. “No! It can’t live!” The walker seems delighted that summer is now here, since this must mean the virus will soon be a thing of the past. A second walker walks by and tells the person on the other end of the line that they are giving up their lease when it expires, because now, “with all this,” they can just do some form of their old business from home. Today is the day of the final funeral for George Floyd; the assembled mourners wear suits and dresses and masks. The virus is already resurging in states that “opened up” weeks ago: Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee. After months of all of us hearing that asymptoamtic people could be spreaders, the WHO now says that’s actually very rare, a reversal that greatly confuses people further; and then they walk back that claim and “clarify” it, confusing the populace who listens to the WHO rather than the snake-oil claims of the President even more. It is now being said that the virus is chiefly airborne, and rather than continue to obsess about disinfecting surfaces or asymptomatically spreading it to our loved ones, we should be worried most of all about what’s floating in the air. But in the meantime as we sort all of this out, we’re in the midst of a recession that has been underway since February, and we’re now getting into our third week of global protests against police brutality, and the police keep brutalizing the protestors protesting police brutality. 

On Wednesday, June 10, they tell us that the number of cases is spiking in at least 21 states. There is a story about detained migrants being forced to clean virus-infected an ICE facility, cleaning up feces without gloves or masks; the story flits across a few screens and is quickly forgotten or ignored. In a mask bearing his brother’s face, George Floyd’s brother Philonise sits down to speak about police brutality before the House Judiciary Committee. He sits down and takes his mask off, then he puts the mask back on; he takes his glasses off, he reaches for the hand sanitizer, he sanitizes his hands. He puts his glasses back on. And then he begs someone in power to do something about all of this. He begs them to do something to stop this ancient pain. I notice that the Republican senator isn’t wearing a mask. I’m making BLM signs and FILM THE POLICE signs for our local protests. It’s 99 degrees, and the heat and the fumes from the paint are making me violently ill. I go back inside to try to cool off and I read that the Navajo nation has lost more people to the virus than have been lost in thirteen states combined. As my wife is leaving work at the end of another long and grueling day, her car is struck by a young girl tearing through the parking lot in her Camaro, and then when the girl leaps out of her car and gets in my wife’s face, trying to blame the accident on someone other than herself, the only thing my wife is really worried about is the fact that this girl is blaming someone else for her own mistakes, and that she is getting very close and invading personal space, and that she is yelling, and that she is not wearing a mask.

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