The Coronacles of Blarneya, Part I

2020 was to be the year of plenty. For me, I was planning for better health, a tolerable job, and a decent and steady place to live. I hoped to create a stronger body, smarter mind, better relationships and improved community. Instead, I’m like everyone else — suffering and struggling through absurd days that seemed unimaginable two months ago (outside of the movies). Wearing masks, cowering in our houses, staying away from people, anxious about what’s next: that is how it is now. Life in the time of COVID-19 can be described by the lesser known, more derogatory use of the word for an Irish town with a famous castle and stone. Parts of me come from somewhere over there in Eire. Point is, it’s a bunch of blarney..

Despite trying not to, we constantly consume the mostly bad news, like massive unemployment and poverty raising their ugly two-faced head to bite more people every day. Most of all, there’s the very palpable and justifiable fear of painful death that might be lurking in the shadows, possibly coming for people we care about and even ourselves. Over 2.6 million people have become infected and 183,000 have died, all in less than a sporting season. All this from a tiny microscopic virus that’s invisible to the naked eye. We know this is happening and try as we might to look away, we have yet to fully comprehend and make sense of it. Every day, Dorothy Parker’s question is worth asking: “What fresh hell is this?” There is no manual, but at least there is blogging to try to come to terms with it.

A handpainted sign seen on a walk in my hood.

We each do whatever one needs to make it through the day. For some, that’s being in a hospital trying to save lives (or be saved). For others, it’s taking care of kids, elderly, disabled, the mentally ill, prisoners. For still more, it’s staying home working — or not working. If you’re lucky, you have time and energy for chores, cooking, projects, reading, books, movies, tv shows, naps, the internet — or perhaps doing very little, at times nothing. We’re approaching a month of Sheltering in Place orders in Austin. I am in the mostly at home and unemployed camp, for now. And home has to change very soon, so my job is finding a new place to live… during a god damn pandemic.

My days are no different from many people: full of a certain ennui, bewilderment, and restlessness. There’s a range of thoughts and emotions from apathy to anxiety. It’s human to have feelings. None of us are immune to coronavirus, nor have we experienced something like this before. Even SARS, Ebola and the like were mostly containable; COVID-19 does not want to go gently into that dark night. A vaccine is a year or more away.

But knowing that it’s a shared experience doesn’t make it any easier, for me at least. There are more questions than answers, we can’t trust our president to tell the truth, and other so-called leaders are playing politics with people’s lives, too. Long after the virus is contained, if it ever fully is remains to be seen, there will be an aftermath. And I don’t mean the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie by that name. Also, I wasn’t good at doing math before, so someone else will have to crunch the numbers. Get it, after math? Weak attempt at humor is still humor. Humor me.

Don't like the food I eat 
the cans are running out
same food for years and years
I hate the food I eat
when the world is running down
you make the best of what's still around.

--The Police, 1980

I weighed myself for the first time in a while, and found I have lost 10 pounds. That was great news, though I hadn’t been trying, and I have a lot farther to go. I attribute a lot of that to not being able to go buy junk food. But also sometimes I’m just not hungry. Maybe more sleep is helping curb my enthusiasm for food. Or with more time spent lying around, I’m burning less energy, so I’m eating fewer calories. Could be I’m not in the mood. Whatever the reason, I’m down two belt notches, to the lowest one. I had told this to my friend and he brought and verified it on his scale.

I shared this with my doctor, who called for a three-month appointment. It should have been in the office but is done by phone, due to due to the coronavirus, unless you’re having a real problem. Fortunately, I seem to be alright physically, beyond the usual aches, pains and chronic fatigue. Daily biking and lack of sleep are surely involved. We talked a while, and I felt reassured that today at least, I’m doing relatively well. Underneath her somehow calming accent and efficient answers to my questions, which she handled quickly to get to the next patient, I felt from her a genuine concern. It was nice. Whether it was real or imagined, I don’t know. But I feel gratitude for it anyway. Follow up appointments were made, and I refilled a prescription for a rescue inhaler. Just in case I get IT.

Shadow the cat, oblivious to crisis

There are different ways to deal with stress, some healthier than others. For me as a fathlete, exercise is the main one. Bicycling, yoga, and walking. Recently on one of my daily walks, I saw a semi-stray cat who it turns out is called Shadow. He’s a bit of a wild boy about the neighborhood. He’ll come when I call and enjoys the attention, and the feeling’s mutual. The streets were largely vacant, as usual. The occasional passerby greets me, or ignores me. What passes for rush hour now was quiet and mostly over, and a breeze carried the warmth from the setting sun across the grass, foliage and treetops of the placid streets.

Late the other afternoon a friend came by and joined me for another walk, with masks, staying apart. We talked about all kinds of things. Near the end of two miles, I suggested we name some things we might do differently when this is all over, or even sooner. Here are a few:

  • take better care of ourselves through diet and exercise
  • be nicer to strangers and say hi even if we’re feeling shy
  • write a will and advanced medical directives
  • have more fun with friends someday when we can, and now by video and chats, even if we hate that stuff
  • get HBO and Showtime because life’s too short without them
  • escape the poverty mindset and create abundance, but rationally
  • don’t settle for crappy jobs, crappy housing or crappy people in our lives
  • clean up our spaces and get rid of stuff we don’t need
Austin’s tame rush hour during the pandemic. Great for biking.

Surely, there are more important and better things to add to such lists, like save the planet, make masks for your neighbors, donate money if you have it, run an errand for an elder or cheer up a child. My friend is Indian but he’s no Gandhi (although he used to be a grocer of sorts, which is what that surname means). I’m nobody myself, just A Dude who bikes. Soon, I’ll be doing my part in a job. But for now, creating a COVID-19-induced navel gazing list is just a start. The personal is political. To quote Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from an Arnold movie, Terminator 2, “There’s no fate but what we make.” Well, that pesky virus is sure having something to say that’s making our fate a lot harder to make.

So after the walk and talk, I did a few things: I brought in the clothes, warm to the touch from hanging out in the late afternoon sun. Even unscented, I love the smell. Sometimes I put freshly dried clothes on my bed and lie under them, but not today. I searched feverishly for housing: I texted some friends, emailed others, and scoured websites for possible lodging and roommates. I read a little from a book I got on a walk from one of the Little Lending Library boxes: Snow Falling on Cedars, which was made into a movie. Despite the heat, I drank some hot chocolate to wake up. The regular rules don’t apply; I’m trying to break the monotony.

Then I hopped on my now slightly aging bike Sophie and pedaled a few miles to check out a possible place to live. I was in a good mood, feeling like maybe the pressure to find a place had been lifted. Before arriving, I recognized a bike rider stopped at a light and said hi. It was Tom, former head of Bike Austin, and now director of the Red Line Parkway Initiative. We chatted about his project to bring it to life. It will be 32 miles of trail alongside Austin’s (thus far) only rail line. He also said he’d help me look for a place to live. Even in horrifying times, getting out on my bicycle brings meaningful experiences and interactions, again and again.

A mural that says hope on 6th St.

Later in the ride, I called a friend from the job search world, who shares my bike’s name, though it’s spelled differently. I realized I was on her street but had never been to her place, despite several invitations. Before Coronavirus (B.C.), I often saw her at the community college computer lab (the largest in the world, I’m told, with over 600 of machines). We met in a parking lot and she spent a quarter of an hour sharing some of her sad stories, and I griped about a few of my own. She’s been pretty stressed, too, because jobs aren’t panning out, and she also can’t visit her mother. Afterward, she said she felt better, and I was glad to be able to help a bit. And be helped, too.

Before leaving the lot, I checked my email and had an exchange with the owner of the place to rent. It was going to be way above my budget. That brought me back down to earth. Back to the possibility that my rather staid lower-middle class existence might be interrupted by the global economic catastrophe. I worried I could find myself in substandard housing with five much younger roommates who liked to party every damn night. Seriously, it’s that bad out there. Yet, on another afternoon, another friend came by and joined me for another walk. There’s bad, there’s good. I get by with a little help from my friends, few and far between they may seem.

What’s the rent? $1,095. Goodbye.

With dark thoughts on my mind, after a relatively short 15-mile ride, I finally reached my temporary, future ex home, had some grub and watched some programs. I did my yoga and began this piece. Life seemed normal for a moment. But it wasn’t. I paused my yoga to read more news. I took a nap on the mat. Finished and finally got to bed at an unholy hour, exhausted at all levels, despite the low level of activity. Blame it all on corona.

It has taken me a while to finish this blog. And it’s not even finished. This is just one day. The virus and all its effects seems to have slowed down time. Tomorrow is another day. One day in the slow ticking of the clock. Life may be revving up again.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from "Summer Day," by Mary Oliver
Seen on a bike ride.

What will you do with this one day?

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6 thoughts on “The Coronacles of Blarneya, Part I

  1. Been there dude! I have no words, really, because I’m retired. What I wish more than anything is that we had leadership that inspired trust and confidence….sort of like FDR’s “The only thing se have to fear…” speech. And the nation believed him because he was articulate, not given to hyperbole, and most importantly, didn’t lie and make shit up every other hour of the day. I feel for you younger people, my kids, grandkids….this wasn’t what we believed in in the 60’s….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Government is what we let it be and apparently most Americans who voted with the electoral college system (and maybe some help from Russian tampering) approve of the president and his party even today. I don’t get it but expect it’ll continue. The other side can’t get their act together neither. Date,.locally, different. So it’s not necessarily the institution but the corruption of power. Maybe this pandemic will even things out, but I doubt it. I can say the social safety net isn’t working well for many, including me, and it sucks.


  2. It’s been a slow roll for me, but the idea? Was to really, really, really focus on slowing down my mind. Peace of mind, the thing I so often talk about but rarely come close to having. But I’m closer.

    We are doing our best. I like that.

    Liked by 1 person

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