NYC Journal – Saturday 4.18.2020 – Life on the Outside
Did you mislead the doctor? Oversell our improvement? You feel fine, but why this nagging chest congestion? Not unpleasant, just a gentle trickle of mucus up your throat all day.
She said that starting when your sense of smell returns, you turn away from being contagious. And it’s been way more than seven days since that happened.
Seven days without symptoms, was what she said was needed, and then she honed in on the sense of smell, saying that that at that point even if you were still sloughing off the virus for a little while, it is probably coated in the antibodies you’re creating. Then she said of course there was not enough certainty to say anything with certainty and the very best thing would be if you could get a nose swab. But you feel better and better and your friend had to wait to get the test and then two weeks to get the results, and in weeks and weeks from now, you’ll either be all better or tragically dead. (“We thought he was getting better! He was getting better! Well, it’s tricky when you’re in charge of your own diagnosis and treatment. A certain percentage will screw it up.”)
It was the agreed upon time and you felt well and so you did it. It took a month, but you gathered up your cloth shopping bag, your vest and your scarf, and walked beneath a giant dome of gray curling clouds that covered the afternoon in an eerie blue-tinged light, making the orange bricks of the schoolhouse pop dramatically out — redder, brighter, more determined.
The grocery store is close by. Everyone has a mask on, except you only have a scarf. You don’t have a mask because you’ve been inside your apartment for a month. You don’t need a mask, because you’re already cured of the concern. Or so you suppose. Some of the masks look like perhaps black cloth and nothing more, but you don’t get nosy, and perhaps these ninja cowls are something more than cloth, perhaps much more.
The barrel chested stocker in his blue thick-cotton button-up uniform shirt is there like always, except now the bottom half of his face is covered by a mask. Blue surgicalish? Now you forget. And were the plastic gloves he wore clear, blue, or black? At least he’s still shorter than you. Why is everyone so tall and thin and looming now? What has happened? Did you get smaller in your captivity?
The tall thin (not slight, but not quite rangy) pale young man, all dressed in black even to his mask, sees you standing off patiently four feet (should be six!), eying the potatoes, and so he backs away, allowing you to enter the space. This kind of turn taking, space giving and taking, aisle opening all happens automatically. Social animals, easily adapting to this new way of coordinating space with glances and by reading the momentum of bodies.
Who was that short white guy with brown receding hair slicked back but poofing a little 1950sy up? He was dressed in a very dudish, bright, blue/purple/yellow/mauve pearl snap-button westernwear plaid shirt. With a black scarf. Everyone else had a mask. Why didn’t he? Where’s he been the last month?
In the store today, he danced side to side with snappy movements like a breakdancer. To Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”
Who was the short teakettle-shaped black lady who’s singing, through her white hospital mask, to Spandau Ballet’s “True” caused the dude to nick in recognition and agreement as he sailed past her? “This is the sound of my soul, this is the sound … ”
You can’t wear glasses with a big scarf over your nose. It fogs your glasses. You have to put them in your vest pocket and zip it up.
The girfriend with straight lines pulled down her mask to say something at her curvier girlfriend, who walked a pace ahead as they neared the aisle, and who lifted and bent her head to hear what the other forward-spoke. Is that allowed?
The young boy with his cherub cheeks fading (6 years old? 7? 8?) let his blue surgical mask hang down around his chin while he looked up at his fit-40s mother-type. Is that allowed?? They were off to one side, along an otherwise unoccupied wall far from the shopping and the motion. But still: is that allowed??
[Editor’s Note: Originally, these individuals were sketched a little more precisely. We removed even that touch of precision for the sake of anonymity. The author thinks he’s being funny in this “Is that allowed??” segment, and that a little slippage from mask-protocol is to be expected and, at least in minor cases like these, overlooked. But maybe people would be embarrassed to see themselves immortalized with their mask down in this setting. And we don’t want to give any impression of a state-run paper, where even the gossip column is really there for the sake of outing, disgracing and ultimately destroying all dissent.]
Not everyone was tall and thin and swaying in the breeze high above you, but many were. Not everyone was dressed all in black, but so many were!
This cashier is a sturdy young woman with several lines of tight braids running down her head. She’s protected by a plastic shield in front of the conveyor belt, and by a white clinic mask and black plastic gloves.
She says, “I’ll bag it for you!” The dude is not used to this kind of treatment, and starts bagging the smaller bag himself. On the way home perhaps it will dawn on him that she probably wanted him to not reach into her space to grab the tumbling produce.
At some point early in their relationship, he says to her, “I guess I’ll just have to buy a bag!” She says to him, “We’ll figure it out!” And, a little while later, after one of the most masterfully efficient packing jobs he’s like to ever witness, she presents him with a very heavy very solid canvas bag, and exclaims (smiling, no doubt, behind that mask) “See! No need for a bag!”
Did you get everything you wanted?
Forgot the salt. Five years on one salt container and it picks the pandemic to peter out! And then you forget to buy it at the grocery store! You’re not going back there tomorrow. Not for salt. Add salty condiments to whatever you need salt on.
No toilet paper still. No plasticware either. Or dishwashing soap. Low on cleaning supplies in general.
They had broccoli, but it looked a little dry and pale; you bought it anyway, since you were craving broccoli; it was pretty tasteless, but better than absolutely no broccoli. You got a definite sense of broccoli.
Only one natural peanut butter; and only a few jars of that! Take it! Take it! And settle for this strange muscat grape jelly. Could be good! Good to try new things. You’re one of many who now sit at home, replaying their day, regretting not taking the shelf up on the fig jams. No one ever thinks to buy fig jam, not even in a pandemic and it’s one of the few options available. But fig jam is a neat idea. Next time.
Fancy bread available still, though not the exact fancy bread you’d hoped for.
Menu: Steak marinated in Bragg(™) amino acid (tastes like soy sauce; you’d forgotten you had it, but the fridge is now showing its once hidden back-area) and fried in organic expeller-pressed canola oil; cooked carrots, potatoes, beets, and broccoli; and a small side salad.
A big steak.
You thought you might just eat half.
You ate every bit, including all lumps of gristle.
If you’d had the teeth for it, you would’ve probably crunched the bone.
But what have you learned from all this?
Author: Distant Dan
Editor: Jonathon Vonder Spoett
Producers: B. Willard / A. Whistletown
Copyright: AM Watson