Continued from The Collected Virus: Weeks 1-10
The next day was May 14. The FDA says that the Abbott COVID-19 test that Trump keeps promoting is faulty. On TV the ousted director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is testifying that we are in deep shit, and tells the world that we are about to face the darkest winter in modern history. There are scattered reports of children coming down with a coronavirus-related illness that presents in a way similar to Kawasaki syndrome; nobody knows what it is yet but there are kids dying from it; and they say maybe you can transmit the virus to your dog; and they say now that even after you get the virus you can get infected with the virus again. Andrea Circle Bear dies from the virus in a prison in Texas, where they have “reopened” the economy and reported more virus cases than ever before. In death Andrea Circle Bear joins Tiffany Mofield, who begged to be let out of the locked shower just before she died. Neither woman could escape. The virus seems to love prisons almost as much as America does. The next day men in expensive jets fly over our cities to honor the frontline workers. One day after that I am frantically trying to learn how to teach without using a classroom this year. On the way home from visiting my father-in-law we watch this year’s graduates #GraduateTogether on my iPhone. We see the valedictorian speaking to her peers remotely; she’s from Santa Ana, just down the road. When they pay tribute to their teachers we are just driving past our campus, which I haven’t seen in months. All of the graduates are celebrating, all of them are facing this crisis with stoic calm, even with joy. I start welling up again when I think of the hole this virus is gouging into their future lives. Obama is speaking to them, he is speaking about the future and about hope and about this crisis, but it is as if he is a ghost from a distant past. The next day Trump claims he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine, which does not safeguard anyone from the virus, but which he keeps selling to the public anyway. The following day I am looking at images of the mass graves for the poor and anonymous dead in Brazil. One day after that I keep thinking it’s Tuesday. Singapore just sentenced a man to death by hanging via Zoom call in order for all parties involved to stay healthy and safe; and numerous states with Republican governors are actively fudging or bungling virus testing data; and a hurricane is bearing down on India and Bangladesh. My left foot hurts from too much walking, which is my only escape from the house. My right shoulder has hurt for two months because of the awkward positions of my fitful sleep. My left hand and wrist and elbow and the entire left side of my neck and skull ache and throb from too much typing, which is now the entirety of my job: typing and typing and typing and typing; reading and commenting and critiquing and grading and assessing and replying and typing. My big toe got smashed when I tried to grab too many hand sanitizers at Target (limit four). My knuckles are dry and cracked and bloody. My gut is expanding because I don’t go anywhere or do anything, I just sit and work and sit and watch and sit and scroll and sit and work some more. My head and my chest and my back and every part of my body is sore and tired and tense, two months of sitting and waiting and working and keeping the sorrow and the misery at bay another hour and another day. Those of us who know know that all of what’s going on will keep going on for a very long time. The day after that was May 20. Indivisible protestors are holding a national day of mourning; they are carrying enormous lumps that look like occupied body bags and dumping them in front of the White House. In Michigan, where men with guns threaten lawmakers and Trump threatens to withhold federal funds if the governor doesn’t make it harder for people to vote, two dams have burst, and the floodwaters are rising.
The next day was Thursday, May 21. At this stage, three months in, I usually wake up by 2am each morning and often can’t get back to sleep. Any hand sanitizer you can find anywhere just smells like alcohol. Our friend J. calls us in tears to tell us about the end of his marriage, which cracked under the pressure of the pandemic and the quarantine. I feel bad for him, but it takes energy to feel bad about everything all the time, and I am pretty much tired all the time now. I feel like I can’t even breathe correctly half the time. The next day was Friday, May 22, the last day of a semester that began in a different universe, under a different sun. All of my students share what it’s been like to read a novel about a power-mad megalomaniac pushing the crew of his ship to their collective annihilation while they (the students) have been quarantined at home, or whatever serves in its place, for those who are homeless. It is not uncommon now to see discarded gloves and masks in parking lots and in the streets. When I am not thinking of bigger things I am thinking about that TV show that had to animate a portion of its episode because the crew couldn’t assemble to finish it in person under quarantine; but more often I think about the guy they profiled in the LA Times who drive 600 miles for a haircut. On Saturday, May 23, you could hear a steady stream of car horns blaring joyfully in the distance, part of some indeterminate ritual of distanced celebration. Trump went golfing. The day after that it was Sunday again. The weeks just fly by now, time keeps barreling forward but without any kind of progress. On the front page of the New York Times they print a wall of names, the names of the dead, but in two different counties we cannot find even one location that sells the physical newspaper anymore. Trump is still attacking his opponents and spouting lies and playing golf. The freeway signs read YOUR ACTIONS SAVES LIVES STOP COVID-19, and I make a mental note of the grammar error, which no one seems in any hurry to fix. A local gym has gone out of business; a local Pizza Hut has gone out of business; a local miniature golf course has gone out of business. The very next day was Memorial Day, Monday, May 25. Trump golfed and then placed a ceremonial wreath. The latest studies indicate that the Europe travel ban he imposed in March “triggered chaos and a a surge of travelers” from the center of the outbreak. At JOANN Fabrics, one of the few business anywhere to get crucial mask-making supplies, a diminutive sign informs us that SEWERS ARE NEEDED to make masks for local health care workers, and at first I read the word as “sewers” and not “sewers,” and wonder what underground channels of cloacal filth have to do with anything. Down the street at Michael’s they’re selling ten-packs of masks. Due to safety concerns, the World Health Organization has suspended the trials of the drug Trump keeps promoting. A person at the store tells their friend that they were down by the harbor earlier, and every restaurant down there is open for business. On a nearby TV screen I saw an ad for Space Force, and at first I thought it was an ad for the TV show of that name, but upon further scrutiny it appeared to be an advertisement for the Space Force that Trump keeps promoting when he’s not promoting drugs. Then it was Tuesday, May 26, 2020. It was the first day in months that was noticeable smoggy, and I was home alone again as I always am now, and I had just finished submitting grades and was watching a mourning dove preening on the nearby fence in the morning sun when I saw online that the officially recognized death toll from the virus in the United States had passed 100,000 souls (the TV wouldn’t tell us that until tomorrow), and every story on TV and online was about the number of infections and deaths from the virus rising while those same areas are “reopening,” and in disgust I turned away from the coverage of the virus, which shows no signs of stopping, and then as I was trying to think about something other than the virus for the first time in three months, a video pops into view of a group of cops surrounding a black man on a street somewhere in Minneapolis, and one of the cops has his knee deep into the neck of the prostrate man, and you can see that the man is begging for his life, you can see that the police aren’t listening to his pleas, and I can’t stop staring at the cop’s body language, I can’t stop seeing him pinning the man down like a wolf on a deer carcass, all I can look at is the cop’s hand, hidden comfortably inside his front pocket, tucked into the pocket just above the head of the man he is in the process of murdering, and all I can see about the other cop nearby is that his hands are also in his pockets, as if part of a secret policeman’s compact, and I think that hands in pockets have always been a gesture I associate with calmness, comfort, even boredom, all cops’ hands are in their respective pockets as the man’s neck is being slowly crushed under the weight of the cop’s knee, and I don’t know his name yet but I think again about Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but only because they are the most recent ones, mostly I am watching it and thinking again of Eric Garner, and then I am thinking that the next printing of Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN will look just a little different from the last one, and then I am sick to my stomach again, and my main thought on that day is that this is just going to keep going on and on, and this man, whose name is George Floyd, will vanish from public consciousness as all the others do, just as soon as Trump tweets again or the new numbers of the virus-dead are updated across the land. His terrible fate was going to be too common and too unremarkable for most people in this country to keep thinking about for very long. But by the next day, the uprisings had already begun.
By the following day, just past the freeway sign warning us about the virus, you could, if you looked quickly, spot a diminutive black square fixed to the chain-link fence alongside the overpass on the 405. It said, in stark white letters, JUSTICE 4 G. FLOYD. The uprisings were already spreading from Minneapolis to Nashville to Los Angeles to New York City and beyond. On the news there could still be seen the occasional feel-good virus story; in one of them, a sharply dressed black kid hosted a prom for his equally well-dressed white babysitter, since the virus had already killed all the graduations and all the proms. There were now over 40 million unemployed people in this country, and George Floyd was just three days dead. Trump just called for the military to shoot the “thugs” rising up in the streets in righteous anger over this latest casualty of police brutality. Nearly every protestor could be seen wearing a mask to keep the virus at bay as they gathered in solidarity, and almost no cop anywhere was wearing a mask, even though the virus doesn’t care if you’re the one being beaten in the streets or if you’re the one doing the beating. “When the looting starts,” Trump quoted admiringly, “the shooting starts.” Twitter slapped its first violation notice on his tweet, which, they said, after years of Trump glorifying violence, “violated Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” That was Thursday. By the following day the uprisings had spread even further, and you could now see live TV footage of Omar Jimenez, a journalist, being arrested in Minneapolis without cause. People were already being beaten in the street, and peaceful protestors and journalists were being rounded up and hauled to jail. A police precinct office had just been torched; protestors were shot at in Louisville as they gathered in solidarity to the memory of Breonna Taylor, who’d been shot and killed by cops in her own home; no charges had been announced against the officer who killed George Floyd, that one with his hand in his pocket. It has been noted that cops have killed as many people during these last months of the virus as they did the same time last year when there was no global pandemic, a sign that there are at least a few things that even the virus cannot stop. Sometime later that hands-in-pocket cop was finally arrested. I don’t care about the virus anymore. All that is in my heart are the cries of George Floyd as he begged for breath and begged for his life, as he called out for his children, as he called out for his dead mama. The images are seared into our brains but it’s those words that are an absolute knife to the heart. NYPD precincts are overrun, their vehicles engulfed in flames. The very next night we get a frantic late-night call from my sister-in-law: Dad says he can’t breathe; he can’t breathe. She rushes him to the hospital, and after a night of struggle, he is eventually able to breathe again, and return home to those he loves. They’re calling out the National Guard to help quell the uprisings; journalists are being arrested and beaten, their eyes are being shot out. By the following night, we are in the sixth night of the uprisings, and the protestors are growing in number, and nearly all of them are still wearing their masks to limit exposing their comrades to the virus; their faces are covered but their voices keep growing louder and more insistent that this way of doing things must come to an end. Against the darkness of the night we watch the guardhouse just in front of the White House burn. Just one day later Trump is threatening to dispatch military troops to squash the gathering masses asserting their rights to free speech and free assembly. He is railing against the protestors and their demands from the Rose Garden as the protests erupt a few yards away. When we go to the store to get more mask-making supplies, there are two men standing around examining the Fourth of July merchandise, and both of them have their required masks dangling beneath their chins, and I listen to them jabbering and watch an elderly woman walk past them, and I see them see her and keep on jabbering, and so I confront them. I tell them that the masks are supposed to cover their faces, in case they weren’t sure three months into the pandemic how a mask works. One of the men meekly pulls his mask up over his nose but the other begins to mouth off about it, but I won’t be deterred, and I publicly and loudly shame him into shutting his mouth and doing the absolute minimum a person trying not to infect other people with the virus can do. After that the two men continue to consider which patriotic decor they’re planning to buy for their office cubicles. By the next day there are people in masks out in the streets and public spaces around the entire globe, all of them risking their lives and their safety to be heard: SAY HER NAME, SAY HIS NAME, BLM, BLACK LIVES MATTER, BLACK LIVES MATTER, DEFUND THE POLICE, FUCK THA POLICE, SILENCE = VIOLENCE, JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD, JUSTICE 4 BREONNA TAYLOR, JUSTICE FOR GEORGE GLOYD BREONNA TAYLOR AHMAUD ARBERY, TRAYVON MARTIN TAMIR RICE SANDRA BLAND FREDDIE GRAY, DEFUND THE POLICE, ABOLISH THE POLICE, ABOLISH THE POLICE, REST IN POWER. The next day was June 3, another Wednesday. The Wednesdays come so quickly now. My car won’t start. Walking up the road from the auto shop, I wait at a socially-distanced table outside of a small sandwich shop. The person working there is wearing a grey LETTERS TO CLEO shirt, and through the newly installed plastic sheets she apologizes in advance for coughing, “given the state of things.” We can’t figure out why the car wouldn’t start, but then it starts again and I head home. At the corner of a town where you’d usually only see a few anti-choice protestors now and then holding up STOP ABORTION signs or Scripture quotes next to pictures of glowing babies, I saw a group of protestors shouting and waving signs: “BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER!” All of the people on the corner are young, high school age or college age, and all of them are wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus. When I get home the news is saying that the autopsy revealed that George Floyd had contracted the virus in April, but had (rather obviously, they state) survived. The virus that’s ravaging so many communities of color right now, the virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people so far, couldn’t kill him; but a much older and deadlier plague surely did.
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.
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.
The next day was June 18. At Target and Walmart and every sporting goods store, there are no bicycles, no weights, no dumbbells, no yoga mats, no elliptical machines, no stationary bikes, no mats to put under the stationary bikes, and employees are now wearing full-length face shields with the words FACE SHIELD written across the rim. Outside the Ralph’s where the woman bought all the water they had back in March, a worker outside is spraying down a line of sixty shopping carts with something that looks like what a pest control guy would spray if he found an infestation. The next day was Juneteenth, and if we wanted to go out now we were required by the state to wear a mask. The day after that, you could see signs everywhere around the city proclaiming NOW OPEN! WELCOME BACK! NOW OPEN! NOW OPEN! In Tulsa, at Trump’s first rally in months, taking place just across the street from where the Tulsa Massacre took place, almost none of the campers in line for the rally are wearing masks. Six of his own staffers have the virus, and when he comes out to speak, most of the seats in the arena are empty. He tells the crowd that he informed his staff to slow down the virus testing to keep the numbers low. The following day, his people say he was joking. The day after that, he goes on TV and says he was not joking. The day after that, Dr. Fauci says that he was never told to slow down the testing for the virus, which means he was joking, and it also means that there have been four versions of the virus story in four days. Meanwhile, our campus, which has been empty of teachers or students, has just shut down because someone there, an administrator or someone who works in facilities, has contracted the virus. By the next day they are saying that the number of cases of the virus is now growing in at least 29 states. The virus is not slowing. The US has just hit a new record for number of reported cases, and every day states are seeing the highest tallies they’ve ever seen. A sign has appeared outside the local pub where we had our last public meal four months ago. It announces in a bold blue and yellow that it too is OPEN FOR BUSINESS!
The day after that was June 25. Cases of the virus are skyrocketing in Arizona, where Trump just held an indoor rally with the governor, with hardly a mask in sight. The very next day, health officials in Texas (another state that reopened for political rather than public health reasons) are saying that the situation is becoming “catastrophic and unsustainable.” The day after that we are driving and walking and gathering in the thick of Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Gardena to get everything ready for the party celebrating my nephew’s sixth birthday, and every place on this sunny Saturday is absolutely packed with people. Cases of the virus have climbed 69% here in just the past two days, and my skin crawls each time I am approached by another human being in this sea of human beings. On the following day, after spending all day out and around so many other people, I wake up with absolutely crippling chest pain that won’t subside for several days. Just one day later it is announced that LA county beaches will be closed to the public for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Someone at the CDC speaking out about conditions in the United States right now now says that we have way too much of the virus to hope to stop it now. The day after that, South Carolina and many other states are also reporting their biggest one-day increases, and the World Health Organization says that the worst is yet to come. The European Union has just formalized its new reopening plans. They extend the ban on all American travelers; nobody from this country is allowed to visit their countries. And then the next day we woke up and it was somehow July. The governor just ordered a three-week closure of all bars, restaurants, zoos, theaters, museums, wineries, tasting rooms, and family entertainment centers. Anyone paying attention can feel that this is all beginning to get much worse all over again, but the things that were not in place in January or February or March or April or May or June are still not in place. The weather has warmed considerably since January. But the indifference, the ignorance, the laziness, the stupidity, the lack of leadership, the lack of a plan, the politicization, the misinformation, the disinformation, the selfishness, and the refusal to face the brute facts have not changed one bit.
The day after that, my wife tells me about the coworker of hers who still likes to go to the casino, and the other coworker who just got back from a houseboat trip to Lake Havasu with his friends. She comes home every day with chronic headaches and fatigue and bodily pain and worry and stress from wearing a mask indoors all day every day for four months, as her coworkers go to casinos or live it up at houseboat parties on Lake Havasu. Their reluctantly masked customers scream at them all day; in the lobby of the bank, the customers sculpt ornate arias about their perceived oppression. The governor has just issued another order requiring the wearing of masks in public. The day after that a White House official offers their new message about the virus. “The virus is with us,” the person says, “but we need to live with it.” And then it was Independence Day, and the signs hanging over the freeways told us that all the California beaches are closed due to the virus, which people have now been forced to acknowledge is airborne. The day after that I find a tiny caterpillar inside the onions I’d planted in our quarantine garden. There are fewer birds around than there were last month, but for weeks I have been watching solitary monarch butterflies float around the yard. Often they will float up against the windows as if trying to get inside, but the butterflies and I each have our own respective spaces, and the indoors is only for me now, or for people like me. Outside of a tea place two teens are waiting for their boba teas. She asks him what he’s been doing and he tells her he’s been so bored out of his mind that sometimes he’ll go to the gym multiple times a day, just to fight the boredom. She asks him if he’s worried about the virus and he tells her he took an antibody test, and so now he’s immune. She doesn’t say anything, but just keeps studying her phone. And then he acknowledges that they’re not sure if the test is reliable, and then he looks off at nothing in particular, and you can see the boredom bubbling up inside him again. It was exactly four months ago today when that person was buying all the cases of water at the grocery store in preparation for apocalypse, and I wonder where this person is and how she is doing, and how much of that water is still gathering dust in some corner of her home. On the following day we hear that ICE is saying it won’t allow students here in the United States on visas to stay here if their classes are not conducted in-person in fall. The president and his minions have started to insist more and more loudly that schools must reopen in the fall, even as more and more schools announce that they will not be reopening in the fall. The New York Times reports that Black and Latino people in the United States are three times as likely to contract the virus than their white neighbors, according to new data that the Times had to sue the CDC to obtain. In this context, “neighbors” seems like exactly the wrong word to describe what’s at the root of this crisis. By the following day, we are hearing about the growing likelihood of mass evictions, as the months of unemployment and the months without aid or leadership collide to drive untold numbers into homelessness. In the county where I live, and where we are still (for the moment) housed and employed, they are now saying that the hospitalization and ICU rates have reached record levels; the case growth rate here is 3.9%, a doubling time of 18 days; the hospitals here are already stretched; and they are starting to put up more “field hospitals,” a colloquial term for tents with beds. The day after that I step back from all of it and realize that I am no longer nervous or afraid or confused about any of this. With respect to this crisis and our catastrophic mishandling of it, I discover that there is room in my heart for only one feeling anymore, and that feeling is rage.
The next day we’re watching videos on our phones of the bedlam at the newly reopened shops at Downtown Disney, There are mobs of people scrambling to grab every bit of Disney merchandise they can, including the new special edition virus masks, which sell out instantly and show up immediately on eBay. The day after that we hear that Mississippi hospitals no longer have room for Mississippi residents, and that Arizona has ordered refrigerator trucks to accommodate the dead bodies that are beginning to pile up there, and that there are 1675 cases of the virus just inside San Quentin prison, and that there are now more than 70,000 new cases of the virus being reported in the United States every day. The day after that, people are in a state of collective ecstasy because Trump wore a mask in public. He’s visiting a hospital filled with veterans of the armed forces, but makes no comment about the bounties Russia has put on their heads. His mask has a little presidential seal on it that makes it look more presidential. My 80-year-old father-in-law, who is also a veteran, keeps telling us that he really needs to get back to work at the shipyards, where he hasn’t worked in forty years. I tell him that all the shipyards are shut down right now because of the virus, so he doesn’t need to go into work for awhile, and can stop worrying about losing his job, something that has become a constant source of worry for him now that his memory is slowly being obliterated. I ask him what he knows about the virus and he says he doesn’t know much. His mother, who died many decades ago, is supposed to come visit him soon. In the early hours of the following morning I (who am not Jewish) have a dream: an enormous congregation of us have gone to temple, and there are other people outside, and all of us in temple play with them through a screen that has been erected to keep all of us safe on both sides, and then everyone in temple begins singing and chanting, and I close my eyes and I can feel our collective body rocking gently in unison, and suddenly as we slowly rock and sway as one body we are transported, we are huddled together on a tiny boat in exodus from some place to a safer place, but the gentle rocking of our bodies remains the same, the waves silently undulating beneath us. The day after that many of the largest school districts in the state announce that all K-12 schools will remain closed through the fall, and all instruction will take place exclusively online. Parents everywhere still have no idea how any of this is supposed to work. By the next day the White House has been expanding its campaign to smear and discredit Dr Fauci and the CDC, and the following day the White House tells hospitals around the country to supply their data directly to the White House rather than the CDC. It’s the middle of July, and we’re sitting with our phones out once more, watching video after video of angry white people in public spaces yelling and screaming and refusing to wear masks, flipping people off, calling them names, using slurs, shouting conspiracy theories, and getting into violent confrontations. By now we all just call them “Karens.”
The day after we watched all the Karens screaming at their fellow Americans about masks, one of my most diligent students, a health care worker, informs me that she had contracted the virus weeks ago while helping patients who had contracted the virus; and now, a day before the last writing assignment of the semester, her illness has taken a turn for the worse, and she says she does not have the strength to finish her last essay on The Iliad, an ancient poem starring many angry warring men, as well as Athena. The day after that my wife, who has been suffering chronic headaches and fevers and other ailments as an essential worker dealing with the public these past twenty weeks, describes the company’s plans to “fully reopen” next week, as cases are climbing in the state and around the country. The next morning we awoke to the news that John Lewis had died. The day after that I tried to just stay home and not think about any of these things for a few hours so that I could grade everyone’s papers on war, hubris, arrogance, violence, death, shared grief, and Athena. By this time the news had been starting to come out of Portland showing unidentified federal troops in glasses, masks, and camo hauling away protestors in unmarked cars. The day after that, one of the trending topics on Twitter was #NakedAthena, a woman wearing only a beanie and a protective mask who was standing in front of the lines of police clogging the streets of Portland as an act of peaceful protest. Elsewhere, a lifelong anti-feminist disguised as a delivery worker went to the house of a judge and killed her son and wounded her husband before killing himself. That same day I saw a mother with her two-year-old son in his stroller outside the nearby Starbucks. She was staring at her phone while her son looked at the window displays. “Mommy what’s the sign say? Mommy what’s the sign say? “Mommy what’s the sign say?” he asked; and she put her phone down and began to read aloud to him all of the detailed public health guidelines that Starbucks was employing to keep us safe. On the following day Trump restarted the thing he calls his “virus briefings,” and he was telling the American people in late July that his administration is in the process of developing a plan, and then he wished the alleged sex trafficker friend of his well in her upcoming criminal proceedings. My wife’s workplace has now returned to what the company refers to as “normal operations.” Just one day after this return to normal, the state that we live and work in became the state with more cases of the virus than any other state in the union, leaving New York in the dust. Meanwhile I am reading Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming and I stumble across the moment where the professor of mosses is talking about the nature of God and the universe and infinitude, and in the middle of his address he notes that there exists a component part of reality which is outside of reality, that in the Beginning of the Beginning there appeared God and that which is godly, and that, the professor says, is the only virus, ‘the only fatal and actual virus, the only virus that genuinely prods all of humanity into an incurable disease, from which really–but really and truly–we will never be able to free ourselves.’ I can only nod in agreement.