Day 15 of quarantine, and I’ve snapped. I thought that, as a rabid introvert, this would be great, but I’m barely keeping it together.
Part of it is physical. It’s a seven-minute walk at top speed to get to the office from the Metro in the morning, and Order Processing is an active, demanding job, and over the course of two days, all of that is gone. Walks around the cemetery aren’t filling in the gap.
Mostly it’s time. What am I supposed to do with all of it? I thought I’d write more with tons of it, but I’m actually writing less. When I worked, I wrote for an hour first thing in the mornings, on the trains when I found a seat, and in the hour between jobs. I still write for an hour in the morning, but that’s it. The rest of my time I spend trying unsuccessfully to think of things to write and watching TV. When time isn’t precious, I tend to waste more of it.
This is going to go on for a while, so what I need is some way to apply the pressure that I’m used to, or just to use the time productively, or to accept and forgive myself if I’m not productive. These are strange times.
Lately, I’ve been watching movies starring my early 2000s celebrity crush. Most of her movies are not very good, and I’ve always known they were not very good, so I’d never waste precious minutes on them when I only had a few hours of free time a week. But now that I’ve got all the free time in the world, and my inspiration for my novel is coming at me like it’s trapped in molasses, so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m remembering why I crushed on her in the first place, so if I’m going to look at the bright side of coronavirus, here it is.
Here’s an update, in case you were curious. Starting this weekend, Metro put in place further service cuts, making it thirty minutes between each train, all trains. It takes me two trains to get to my night job, so I could be looking at, conceivably, hour of waiting in train stations plus the forty minutes it takes me to get there when the trains are running normally, one way. On a bad day, I could spend up to three hours and twenty minutes commuting to and from a five-hour shift.
Between this and my utter lack of confidence in the CEO’s plan to keep us uninfected, I sent a detailed email to all of my managers plus the regional manager explaining why I wouldn’t be coming in until the crisis passes (including said lack of confidence in the CEO’s plan). I got a very kind and understanding email in return from one of the managers, who promised to keep my updated on what was going on.
I don’t like doing that. Calling in sick to an understaffed retail job seriously screws over anybody who didn’t or couldn’t call in sick, which is why I’d been forcing myself to go when even when I was at serious risk. But this thing with the Metro is the last straw. The government doesn’t want us to go out for inessential reasons, and it’s making it harder and harder to do that. The Container Store isn’t particularly essential in the first place, and I felt in my gut that, the longer I worked there, it was only a matter of when I became infected, not if.
So now I have a weekend again, after months upon months of not having one, and I can’t do anything with it except wonder what my cats just broke and try to convince Nicole that what she has is allergies, not the coronavirus.
I don’t like to speak ill of my employers in such a public forum, but I’m at my wit’s end here. As you know, I work part-time at night and on Saturdays. My store, as we learned in a recent note to all employees from the CEO, is going to remain open. That means the time during the week that my day job has quarantined me in my own home is kind of pointless since I have to go out every weekend into the plague pit.
Why? Why is it so important to keep the store open? The Metro is instructing people to only get on the train in the case of vital business. Is this really vital? How is it possible to maintain social distancing when you’re checking someone out at a cash register? What kind of person would risk getting infected and spreading it to get a countertop makeup organizer? I’ll tell you what kind of person—someone who doesn’t take proper precautions and is more likely to have the disease than someone who can wait to get their box of expensive hangers.
The motto for my store is “Employees First,” but at the moment, that’s not feeling particularly sincere.
I wasn’t taking this COVID-19 thing seriously for a long time. Conflicting reports kind of gathered together to make for an unconvincing disaster. Americans have a tendency to buy out all the toilet paper at the drop of a hat, and I had no reason to think that this was any different. I’m a (kind of) healthy person, and I have a really solid immune system. I don’t often get sick, and if I do, it’s for maybe a day.
And then something changed, and I’m not sure what. Maybe it was my day job going all telework. Maybe it was hearing about how much damage this disease was causing to the survivors. This isn’t just the flu (for which I vaccinate every fall).
But even then, what got me to start diligently washing my hands and stop going to coffee shops and stores (when I don’t have to go) was Nicole’s fear of it. We’re both gallows humor people, and we make constant jokes about dying from coronavirus, but in the jokes there is serious concern. So basically, I’m not worried about getting COVID-19, but I’m terrified of giving it to Nicole.
When this is all over, we’re going to take stock of what we did right and wrong, and I want to go to sleep knowing I did everything right. And when this is all over, it’s going to be tough to get used to wearing pants again.
My current novel is a Young Adult novel. That means I have to get into the head of a social outcast in high school, and that’s fun, I guess.
Here’s the problem: thirty years later, the stakes aren’t as high. If I woke up in high school tomorrow with forty-four years behind me, and some pretty girls in the hallway started whispering to each other while keeping their eyes on me, I’d just say whatever and keep walking. I wouldn’t even be able to work up the energy to make a jerk-off motion with my hand.
But back when I only had fourteen years behind me, the ground would tremble, fissures would open in the floor, and skeletal hands would grab me and drag me into eternal suffering. My life would be OVER.
And let’s not underestimate the amount of influence the contamination of going through puberty affects the point of view.
So, yeah, I’ve got a great story to tell, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to properly communicate the URGENCY of the experience.
The following is a dramatic interpretation of an actual email conversation.
ME: And that’s my problem.
IT: Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on?
ME: Yes, I have.
IT: Okay, but have you tried turning it off and then turning it back on again?
ME: That is literally the first thing I tried.
IT: Most software glitches can be solved by turning it off and then turning it back on again.
ME: That’s why I tried it first.
IT: Have you tried this thing I may have mentioned in passing once maybe a month ago?
ME: Okay, I’m trying it now, but I can’t seem to get it to do that thing.
IT: It will work if you do that thing.
ME: Look, I will send you screenshots. It is impossible for me to do that thing. See?
IT: Yep, this is complete unrelated to that thing. I don’t know why you’re doing that thing at all. Try this other thing I’ve never told you about before.
ME: It worked. Thank you.
IT: You should have started with that.