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The Virus: Week Fifteen

Continued from The Virus: Week Fourteen

The next day was June 11, the fifteenth Thursday. Caravans of brightly decorated cars are cruising around the city, trailing streamers and well-secured bundles of balloons: CONGRATS PAYTON!! the windows of the cars say. DIABLOS MVHS Class of 2020! Graduating seniors can be seen in parking lots, robed in red and gold, holding bunches of red and black balloons. Proud parents are honking their car horns. Confetti, homemade banners, stickers, rolling celebrations. CONGRATULATIONS SCOTTY US NAVY, one car says, two tight rows of miniature US and US Navy flags atop its roof, its grill littered with red and black balloons. Atop another SUV you can see an enormous car-sized mortarboard, bright and shining gold. In the parking lots there are immense, colorful, and joyful preparations for a rolling socially distanced graduation: no speeches, no orderly rows, no unproblematic hugs. The line of cars waiting for their turn for the applause and the photo op snakes down and around the block. CONGRATS KK!! one reads; and for just one second my mind thinks I see three K’s written proudly in white, but there are only the two initials.

The night after that is the night the cops will shoot Rayshard Brooks in the back. In the middle of this pandemic, the Trump administration finally made it possible to allow physicians, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, and other health service providers to refuse services to trans people. Large-operation meatpacking plants have been knowingly allowing their workers to die from the virus, and have instead used their political power to halt any efforts to make the workers’ workplaces safer. Rayshard’s life was disposable; trans lives are disposable; workers’ lives are disposable. For the fourth time, I cut my own hair.

The next day it’s Rayshard Brooks’ final moments of life that we’re all morosely watching, the last moments of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many others already being pushed aside to make room for fresh unwanted spectacles of unbearable Black death. Trump goes to West Point and delivers a desultory speech to the socially distanced graduates, all of whom marched to the fields in their finest uniforms, all of them wearing masks. Multiple Black men in California have been found hanged, but hardly anyone is talking about it. When you look around town it almost seems like people are already acting like the virus is over, or that wearing masks will be enough to be rid of it all soon. It has been exactly one hundred days since they were making fun of that woman for buying all the water they had in the grocery store. It seems like much more time has passed.

The day after that my wife is still suffering from all of the headaches, nostril and throat pain, and dehydration that comes from wearing a mask all day every day on the job. Wearing one for even one hour I could begin to feel my gums drying and puckering. I no longer hide my open disgust and disdain for shoppers who refuse to wear masks even though the signage tells us to wear them, but so far I’ve only confronted someone once. But I can see myself gearing up to do it again, knowing that it probably won’t go well.

The day after that it’s clear my ancient computer is finally toast. In the past one hundred days I’ve needed a new radiator, a new garage door and garage door opener, a new motor for the air conditioner, a new computer, and more. Every mechanical and technological thing seems to be breaking down at once. I can’t complete my required training to be able to teach fully online because of the virus in the fall, so I go to the nearest mall, where I haven’t been in probably five of six months. Only half the stores in the mall have reopened; there are also more than a few stores that seem to have been emptied out and disappeared forever in the intervening period of closure. This was the “nice” mall, but suddenly it looks much more like the derelict mall ten minutes away. Two-thirds of the tables and chairs in the food court have been removed; half of the food establishments are closed. Less than half of the people roaming around the declining mall are wearing masks, as the number of virus cases surges throughout the state. I saw one person wearing a face shield, the clear outlier here. Signs posted everywhere notify shoppers of the many new and complicated regulations, and wherever there are no instructional signs, other signs rapturously tell us that we are WELCOME BACK! For the first time in the past hundred days I feel hemmed in, nearly trapped; and for first time in my life a “Security Specialist” in a black polo shirt and khakis points a thermometer at my head. I wanted to ask him what my temperature was, but before I could he just turned away approvingly, and I was allowed into the nearly empty store. 

Just a day later, the word is that the virus is surging again in Beijing after weeks of nearly vanishing. They are closing all the schools again. The virus seems to have traversed the globe and understood that there is nothing at all to prevent if from circling around and around again, that the barriers we threw up to keep it out were easily smashed, and that it’s not even close to being done with us. Here in America the cases soar higher in staggeringly steep trajectories: Florida just reported its highest number of new cases ever; so did Tennessee. In nearby Arizona the number of cases is absolutely skyrocketing. There is a huge new spike in Texas, and everywhere else that they pushed so hard to reopen just a few short weeks ago. Stores that sell sporting goods have no sporting goods to sell: their bicycle racks are emptied; there are no elliptical machines to buy, no stair climbers or stationary bikes, no yoga mats, no weight sets, nothing to keep people fit and firm from inside their own homes. Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old man that Trump suggested was some kind of dark antifa operative, has a fractured skull, and he cannot walk. Cops everywhere lament how poorly they’re being treated; they get on TV and declaim, they hold back the tears as they express their feelings of degradation for being so ill-treated and so unloved by the communities who give them hundreds of millions of dollars to kill people.

By the next day, June 17, there is a distinct feeling, around town, around the state, and around the country, that many people are already reaching a kind of saturation point with the quarantining and the social-distancing and the mask-wearing and the closed business and everything else. In high school there was something called “senioritis”; students getting closer and closer to graduation just started to care less and less about doing the work, since the end was so close and they already knew they were going to graduate anyway, so the efforts just didn’t seem worth troubling ourselves over. But this is the first such instance of a form of that kind of thinking that I’ve witnessed on a national level, and among putative adults. People are starting to act like it’s over not because it’s over but because more than anything, they want it to be over. The key difference here is that it’s much harder to flunk high school in those last months than it is to contract and spread a deadly virus ravaging thousands and thousands of people’s lives. The main reason that people will continue to die from this virus is not because there is no vaccine yet, or because we didn’t know it was out there, and perhaps already here inside with us; the main reason we’re keeping it alive and helping to spread it farther and faster is because of our disinvestment in any of the necessary infrastructures or systems or programs for combating it all, and because of the colossal failures of leadership that huge portions of this decimated country still celebrate or excuse, and also, perhaps most persistently, because of the deep and abiding sense of invulnerability and entitlement that so many Americans possess. People are acting as if the virus is over because too many of us have grown used to the privileged ways of life that have (so far at least) let us trample over anything that comes between us and our desires.

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