Well, it was bound to happen eventually: We have a COVID case in the building. I thought it would be the flight attendant, but surprise! no, it's the young woman who just gave birth.
I shouldn't say we have a "COVID case". What we have is someone who tested positive for COVID. She's still not showing any symptoms, so there's still the possibility of a false positive. My chances of having been exposed are slight, but they exist: Saturday, in the course of coming and going, I passed within a few feet of her and we chatted briefly. And there are other vectors as well: Her daughter plays with my porch neighbours, who I occasionally share food and tools with.
In a sense, I'm, if not glad, a little...reassured? I was concerned that we'd all gotten lax in our habits over the summer--completely understandably, of course. It's hard to maintain vigilance when nothing much happens. It's unnatural to be around others and not interact with them--especially a child, who can't really comprehend illness, let alone something as abstract as a pandemic. This is a wake-up call, and hopefully it came before anyone else got infected.
Like everyone else, I'm just so weary of this regimen. This afternoon, before I got the news, I try to think forward to how I would spend my evening, realised it would be the same way I spend almost every evening, and I had to think of something else before the ennui started pressing down on me. I wish I could just skip ahead to January. The nerve-wracking election season (with prolonged postelection uncertainty and chaos, possibly featuring armed insurrection) would be over, the transition would be underway, and a vaccine would most likely be in sight--three or four months away, perhaps, rather than half a year. As a bonus, I'd skip a number of death anniversaries in the bargain and the disaffection of holidays without family and friends.
But short of a coma, that's not an option allowed anyone. The price of being alive is having to live every day. I know I'll get through it--and that there will be little rewards and joys along the way---but I just don't care to, that's all.
With exquisite timing, the weather turned just after Labour Day. It had threatened to do so earlier--in fact, I'd turned off the AC Sunday in anticipation of not needing it again until next year and was forced to relent that very afternoon. But it's been consistently under 20°C since yesterday evening and that's where it will stay for at least a couple days. We'll probably get some glorious fall weather pretty soon, but right now it is grey and rainy and I'm loving it.
This is what I've been waiting for for weeks, where it actually feels like a reward to stay in and not a punishment. I'm wearing flannel pyjama pants and drinking tea and basically indulging in all the Fall Things again. One of those things is reading. My official Spoopy Book for Fall this year is something called White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi; don't know anything about the book or the author except that I was intrigued to see what a British Nigerian's take take on the classic haunted house in the English countryside novel might be.
So far I'm still wondering. A hundred pages in and it feels like she's not done assembling the pieces for her plot. She's rather thoroughly introduced her main characters--including the house, which actually has dialogue (or rather, monologue, as it addresses the reader directly). Amusingly, she's just introduced a character with a Nigerian given name who seems like a cringeworthy cliché (she cooks for the family and practices juju) but I trust her to have some interesting twist in store.
COVID seems to be affecting my ability to concentrate, given my seeming inability to finish anything. I've already chronicled how Un nos ola leuad took me simply ages, despite being an excellent work, and the same thing is happening with El amor en los tiempos de cólera. I stalled out for a while about the same time as the juvenile romance did but then García Márquez surprised me by shifting the focus to a successful middle-aged marriage, which is much more my style. I've just crested the two-thirds mark and hopefully gathered enough momentum to finish it off before the end of the year.
Its latest competition is something called Sarmada by Syrian author Fadi Azzam. I think I may actually have ordered this because I was intrigued by a novel being told from a Druze viewpoint. Still very early days but I find his prose very readable so far. It will be a joy compared to the novel I just finished, Erhöhte Blauanteil by someone named Bruno Steiger (who's so obscure this novel wasn't even in Goodreads until I added it). A mere 126 pages, it nonetheless took me weeks to finish because there's no plot to speak of, just a Mary Sue Swiss-German author of obscure novels going on endlessly about Peter Handke (who I haven't read and don't plan to) and avoiding work. I can't even tell you why I decided to finish it, to be honest. I guess I just kept thinking there had to be something more to it than there was.
I've been meaning to do a writeup on how I spent the past weekend since--if my attempts to recall how I spent my birthday last year are any guide--I won't remember otherwise. Everything happened more-or-less as I outlined in my previous post: I lazed around on Saturday and managed to miss every single attempt to call and wish me a happy day but one. I think my family were holding off in order not to interrupt a nap and then from about 4 p.m. until midnight, I was basically continually socialising.
It was a lovely lovely day to be out in JB's back four. We spent a languid couple hours on the deck listening to the wind in the trees and the sounds of our own voices while sipping sparkling wine and eating zesty orange-banana cupcakes. The weather predicted thunderstorms, but apparently the line broke and they went to the south and the north. As the first drops fell, Big Red and I hustled into a car driven by JB's husband, who brought us back to my place, but they never amounted to anything more. To my surprise, I found the whole porch decked out in blue and yellow streamers and suddenly Clint's impatience as I delayed my departure made sense.
I brought out the Missouri cheeses my brother had sent me and the cocktails paid for by a pal and distributed them among the five of us. Dr Balzac's Other Gay Friend came by and we got an appetiser of thin slices of grilled zucchini and salty ham rolled into roulades accompanied by leipäjuusto. For the main course, our chef had pureed the avocados he'd asked me for the day before and frozen them into squares, which he plated and covered with succotash before laying perfectly cooked fillets of crispy-fried sockeye salmon (which I'd also given him) on top. The succotash was what really impressed me: I was like, "You peeled favas for me?" "Don't expect us to do it again!" shot back Dr Balzac.
I bummed bourbon off of them to make cocktails with the Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro for me and Big Red. He was one of the last to leave, well after Clint had gone to bed, leaving just me, Dr B, and the OGF. I'd preempted a contentious political discussion by beginning a game of Categories shortly before my sister called and I picked up just as she and her kids were leaving a raucous rendition of Happy Birthday on my answering machine. Then came the OGF's stunning fresh fruit tart, which I insisted on Instagramming.
The odd thing to me in retrospect is how a few small tweaks--inviting a new person, going somewhere else for a bit--made the whole experience feel fresh. I've been hanging out with these folks on that porch on the regular for weeks now, and yet it all felt special. I really couldn't have asked for anything more than that.
*glances at calendar* Oh, I guess I'm due for my annual whiny post about my upcoming birthday?
It's not going to be what I hoped, of course. I really wanted to go all-out for my 50th. I wasn't sure exactly how, but I did consider a destination celebration. Even after the lockdown started, I didn't give up on the notion of an exorbitant restaurant meal. After all, Alinea was doing takeout!
But that was before a quarter of our workforce was furloughed, resulting in the permanent loss of many employees, including my two direct reports. We just learned that, even though the Library has worked out a way to bring back all but two of the remaining furloughs, they're going to face an uphill battle making their case to the University. Moreover, the Administrations jst warned that more cuts might be coming (because, after all, NOTHING HAS FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED despite all the magical thinking I'm seeing around me). So even if my job were secure (which it isn't at this point), it would feel deeply irresponsible to be dropping hundreds on any kind of self-indulgence.
I keep telling everyone our COVID birthdays don't count and we'll get do-overs. I really hope that's true. So far I haven't lost any close friends in the pandemic, just friends and relatives of friends, which is plenty bad already. I feel like I'm living in a charmed field of unreality and it's got to give way at some point. (And if the past year has been any guide, the hit is quite likely to come out of an unexpected quarter.)
So I'll be taking some modest risks: JB is having me Big Red over for cupcakes in his big breezy yard and then afterwards we'll come back here and drink the cocktails friends gifted me with with <lj user=clintswan> on the back porch while our neighbours cook up some of the fish I got from another more mysterious benefactor. For once, I'll finally be home when my family calls! And I will count my blessings--which are still multitudinous--and try not to dwell on all the absences. After all, those are only going to get worse with time.
When I first met Chest Rockwell (I believe the year was 1995 or 1996), we had both just recently joined the Great Lakes Bears. I'd only recently learned they existe and he'd only recently relocated here from the Northeast. The organisation had been growing explosively and their annual event, Bear Pride, was starting to become the tail that wagged the dog. The officers realised that the bylaws--written for a smaller and looser organisation--had become outdated and asked for volunteers to form a committee to revise them.
I joined because I thought it would be a good way to meet folks. I imagine he thought the same thing. I don't recall who else was on it except that ubiquitous Bob Singer, who I recall functioning as committee chair (whether officially or otherwise). We met maybe a half-dozen times at Reza's in the evenings to hash out the document, which was approved with minimal discussion.
I liked Chest from the start. He was only a year or two younger than me and already seemed more confident. We had a lot of interests in common, not least among them daddy bears. Chasers were a small contingent in those days and it felt like most of the members were bears-seeking-bears, so it felt good to have an ally. I suppose we could've seen each other as competition instead, but that was so contrary to the Bear ethos that it never occurred to us. Those were the heydays of GLB and Bear Pride and we soon became "Bauchbrüder". He became someone I would seek out at every gathering. We developed a greeting ritual consisting of running at each other dramatically and falling into furious feigned snogging. We traded intelligence about the Bears we had had or wanted to have or who we wished wanted to have us.
And this was how I came to glimpse the first hints of the bitterness that would later consume him. I remember the disastrous Bear Pride of '99, the first of three at the Mistake on the Lake. Monshu had just broken up with his boyfriend--three short months after dumping me to reconcile with him--and I was furious. I went to the Welcome Party, only to find his ex there, so I sought out Chest. But he was equally upset, ranting about being ignored by the older daddies whose attentions we were unsuccessfully angling for, who he venomously called "paedophiles". (Like me, he was rapidly closing in on 30.)
Shortly after that, our paths began to diverge. Monshu and I got back together and decided to close our relationship. His ex requested that I keep my distance from the Great Lakes Bears--never mind that I'd joined it years earlier, I had Monshu now, so what did I need it for? I didn't need the aggro (and I did have Monshu), so I stayed away. (There were also rumours that Chest's boyfriend had spread gossip about me, hoping to break them up so he could sleep with Monshu's ex, but I never knew whether or not to give those any credence.) The death of a popular president of the organisation robbed it off some of its soul and Bear Pride crested, its attendance dropping annually until it ceasing to exist entirely a few years back. Chest had a partner and they moved out of Rogers Park to a cheaper apartment that no one wanted to go visit.
A few years later, LiveJournal became a new haven for Bears. I'd joined it in ordered to see locked posts from a RPG pal but soon stumbled across acquaintances from the GLB and began reconstructing something of my social circle online. Chest was soon part of it and began sharing his work woes with us. He'd graduated from law school with crushing debt and the need to pay it down in order to keep from losing his licence led him to work for some dodgy firms. I began to see much less of his carefree side and more of unease and resentment.
This reached an apotheosis on a disastrous trip to the southwest. Their car broke down in the desert and he went to LJ to beg for help, but none was forthcoming. In response, he soured not just on his acquaintances in the vicinity but all of beardom. It became an event that he regularly referred back to during his frequent rants about the lack of community in our community.
Our friendship didn't survive the transition to Facebook. He posted screeds, I attempted to engage, he got annoyed and eventually unfriended and then blocked me. I didn't take it personally because he wasn't the only one and he was still cordial on the very rare occasions when we still saw each other. At HiBearNation, we even greeted each other in our old flamboyant style. But when I ran into him this spring at C2E2, just before the pandemic nuked all social intercourse in Chicago, he was distant, chatting briefly for form's sake but not intending to rekindle anything. I, buddied with an exciting new friend, shrugged it off and moved on.
So he was just about the last person I expected to hear about this past Saturday when I went over to friends' apartment for a socially-distant chat. He'd come to their attention in just about the worse way possible: by retweeting white supremacists. I wish I could say I felt more shocked, but it seemed like a logical endpoint for his trajectory. He'd always felt entitled to more professional success than he achieved, so there must be some explanation for his failure to achieve it that put the blame on others.
I feel sorry for his remaining friends. Reportedly, some were sticking with him and trying to talk him back off the ledge. (My friends didn't stick around to see how this turned out and don't hold out much hope; one didn't seem to think he was long for this world.) I wonder if what pushed him there was more bad news at home, since his husband's health problems were another frequent theme in his litany of complaints. It's a sad ending to a relationship I once really treasured, but some things just can't be helped.
I suppose I was overdue for a COVID-19 scare. A couple months ago, I felt a bit overheated and broke out the thermometer, but my temperature was actually below average. Since then the weather has warmed up and my allergies have blossomed but without becoming acute enough to require medication.
I've also been exposing myself a bit more than I was before. It started the weekend before Father's Day with the barbecue. I was a little antsy for the next two weeks but showed no symptoms and relaxed a bit. Then <lj user=clintswan> arrived last Thursday to live with me, which was fine, except he brought along a friend I didn't know, which made me a bit nervous. Sure, he'd been isolating himself in rural Washington, but then he did just complete a cross-country trip through several hotspots. I was particularly dismayed after I learned from his Facebook that he'd made a sidetrip on the way to visit his relatives and the pictures he posted didn't seem to indicate much social distancing.
I'd hope to have the upstairs bathroom fully function so we wouldn't have to share facilities but didn't manage it. Despite being a sizable apartment, it's a pretty cozy arrangement. I did my best to maintain some separation without being too obvious about it, but it's so hard to navigate being a good host in the age of Coronavirus. Am I supposed to use tongs to hand someone a glass of water or Chlorox every doorknob every time? No, I just washed my hands a lot and tried not to fret.
He left on Monday and my new roomie and I started to negotiate a routine. He's been having more trouble sleeping than me, so when I woke up suddenly from a weird erotic dream around 3:30 a.m. last night, I figured I could count on him being awake, too. My heart was pounding and refused to slow down. My stomach was upset, but I figured that was due to to snacking too much during trivia. However, when I got up to pee, I noticed dizziness, aches, and fatigue. As I crawled back into bed, I thought, "Well, here we are. You'd better get your affairs in order."
I did my best to remain calm and went upstairs for the thermometer. The reading was normal (still a bit below 98°F). I thought about how, the first time I became seriously dehydrated, I mistook the symptoms for a summer flu. So I drank some water before heading back downstairs. But I still texted <lj user=clintswan> and asked him to bring me his pulse oximeter.
He showed up almost immediately with his comforting voice and reassuring presence. My reading was completely healthy: 98%. I thanked him and went upstairs for more water. It took me more than an hour to fall back to sleep, but when I did, I stayed out until nearly 9:30. I wasn't feeling 100% but my symptoms were no longer out of line with what I'd expect from mild summer allergies, disturbed sleep, and too many chips before bedtime.
While it wasn't a pleasant experience at all, the overall effect was to calm my nerves somewhat. Whatever I have to deal with in the coming months, I won't be going through it alone. That is a huge, huge deal.
Today on a Zoom call with several colleagues, one of them referred to the situation as "post-pandemic" and I quickly jumped it to remind him that we are still "mid-pandemic" and that meeting face-to-face was simply not in the cards for the foreseeable.
Maybe someone should have reminded me of this yesterday before I went out to the parking pad to day drink with the neighbours. I did my best to keep my distance, but I doubt that's very effective when everyone is serving themselves from the same vessels. We had wipes and sanitiser (including the coveted Malört variant) and used them liberally, but at some point is occurred to me that dishes on the central table were collecting everyone's airborne droplets anyway. One of the organisers kept touting the fact that all of the households present had been self-isolating since the start of the pandemic and was entirely asymptomatic. And though that's reassuring, it's far from a guarantee.
So it was a calculated risk, an attempt to balance self-preservation with everyone's natural need for some human contact. Two of us, if we hadn't've been there, would've likely attended the Drag Queen March for Black Lives Matter in Boystown. That also would've been a calculated risk, slightly increasing the risk of transmission (the demos here have been quite good about enforcing distance and mask use) in the name of promoting social justice.
There was a social justice aspect to our get-together, too. The idea was proposed by Big Mike, who lives across the alley, and was originally supposed to include a book exchange. The book he brought was titled Black rage, so that gives some idea of his perspective. The death of George Floyd affected him very personally. A couple weeks ago, he was hollering off his balcony in the middle of the night until the cops came. I slept through it; one of my immediate neighbours went out to keep and eye on the situation. When he called out to ask how Big Mike was doing, he replied, "I'M HURTING, MAN!"
So it really felt like an invitation I couldn't refuse, even if, in the end, it was more about creating a sense of normalcy and community than getting into root causes and remedies. Not to minimise the importance of either: I think of what might've happened to Big Mike the other night if he hadn't built the kind of relationships that bring your neighbours out at 4 a.m. to check on you and it chills me.
I've been thinking all week about posting an entry here, which is to say I've been spending all week avoiding posting an entry here. There's a lot I want to talk about but the days go by so quickly and leave me with so little energy. Plus the background anxiety is manifesting as insomnia
Usually it's not too bad: Wake up at 4 a.m., take an hour to fall back asleep. But last night was awful. I woke up thinking it was 4 a.m. only to discover it was 2:20. Then I made the fatal mistake of checking FB, which was flooded with images of Minneapolis. It took me another hour of doing chores, reading, and stroking the cat to fall asleep again after that. I had disturbing dreams, woke up every hour, and finally crawled out of bed just before 11 a.m. feeling like I hadn't really slept at all.
I'd been planning a morning shopping trip--which probably fueled my anxiety--but that wasn't happening. I stumbled through half a day of work, did a little bit of gardening with the neighbours, who cooked me a hot dog. They're really helping me hold it together.
We were waiting for my father's funeral procession to start. It was a significant downtown street, but traffic was slow, so it must've been a Sunday morning or something. Spectators were beginning to line up over a three-block area and seeing how scattered they were I began to wonder if we shouldn't have compressed the route to a single block. I saw several coworkers in the crowd, including the Dean of the Library. I left to see what was holding things up.
I went into a building and crossed over an enclosed third-floor skybridge. Where the bridge met the building opposite there was a bank of windows with a view of road that fed into the city street. It snaked through the countryside between hills which hid chunks of it from view. Monshu was there standing on a stool or stepladder and looking out at the route, but there was no sign of the cortège.
My phone rang; it was my personal secretary. I thought she was calling to give me an ETA for the procession but she wanted to talk to me about work. I was a corporate lawyer and this was my office; as we spoke, I went into a conference room with a piece of pizza, squatting awkwardly so I could eat the pizza without getting any on the furnishings or on my shiny blue three-piece suit.
She seemed especially concerned about my relationship with two colleagues, younger folk with South Asian names that I outranked. "But do they love you?" she asked. I said that I'd often asked one of them to stay late--sometimes 15 hours or more--working on a deadline and I'd never heard a word of complaint.
Then I woke up.
Now I've got to write up my self-evaluation for my annual performance review. My two direct reports have already sent me theirs. Sadly this is not a dream; this is my actual life.
This site is called "Dreamwidth" after all, so time for some dreams.
A couple nights ago, I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I noticed there were some black letters visible against the white ceiling, as if it had been papered with newsprint before being painted and the paint was flaking off. Also, some chunks were missing, giving it a deeply pitted appearance. I look up at the ceiling every single night; how had I never noticed this before? I realised I must be dreaming it, so I woke up.
I was lying in bed staring at the wall. I heard someone in the bathroom opposite. I suspected it was my brother. I didn't want him to know I was awake so I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep, which was challenging because I wasn't lying down flat but had my body raised at an odd angle. I heard him move to the right side of the bed. I got curious about what he was doing there, so I finally opened my eyes, but there was a thin cotton sheet draped over me so I couldn't see anything, just a dark silhouette. He seemed to be surveying the stacks of books and papers there. I pulled off the sheet to get a better view, and it was my older brother and he wasn't looking at the books but standing in the corner in a relaxed posture wearing a windbreaker and staring out into the room. Since he's dead, I realised this had to be another dream, so I woke up.
I was lying in bed. I wanted to tell my younger brother, who was staying with me, about my dream. I was about to call out to him but I wasn't sure if he'd hear me from upstairs. As luck would have it, he came down to use the bathroom--which is to the left of the bed in the master bedroom, not opposite it. I called to get his attention and he heard me and came into the room. I started to tell him about my dream but he said he had to get back upstairs because his wife needed something. So I got out of the bed and began to look for something to put on my feet, but all my thongs torn. I noticed someone else in the room, maybe my older brother? That was odd, so I woke up.
I was lying in bed. I realised I was alone in the house and I had to get up, go to the home office, and do work.