Opinion: Coming home during a pandemic

After a self-imposed banishment that lasted a bit more than a year, I’m moving back to my adopted hometown. The past week has been filled with days of packing boxes full of things that I didn’t know I had and am pretty sure that I don’t need. That’s part of the “moving experience.”

I don’t know what possessed me to move away, perhaps it was a transient case of insanity that convinced me to sell the house that I designed for myself in Madera and take up residence on the finger of a man-made lake in Modesto. I heard the call of cultural events, shopping malls, and many restaurants, but they were all a hectic 20-minute drive through city streets that seem to attract the most deranged drivers.

Just about every intersection in my part of town is a roundabout (or traffic circle). You know, one of those things where other drivers close their eyes and hope that they don’t crash into anyone. And exiting on the correct street is always an iffy proposition.

I left Madera during “normal times,” which meant not particularly good, but not too bad, either. I am returning during the time of plague. You know, the world was okay until we decided to raid Area 51. But, if I have to be somewhere during a pandemic, I’m glad that I’ll be here.

A unique year

This has been a unique year. Because it is a Leap Year, February had 29 days. But, then March had about 70 days, April was twice as long, and May lasted nearly a dozen lunar cycles. If June were a decade, then July was half a century. And August — well — the jury is still out. So far, the best thing about 2020 has been “Cats,” the movie.

Everyone keeps saying that 2020 will get worse, and then it does. I mean, if this year were a drink, it would be a colonoscopy prep. And, like every disaster movie, it began when the government ignored the warning of its scientists. This horror film should have been titled something extremely ominous. Think: The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling. “You are about to enter … ‘The Mother of All Nightmares.’”

It’s nearly impossible to understand the chain of events that have taken us to this point. For example, try explaining to your children how a guy eating bat soup in China caused a world-wide shortage of toilet paper. And, while we’re on the subject, if you had to stockpile 432 rolls of toilet paper for a six-month lockdown, you probably needed to see a physician long before COVID-19. Word on the street is that the state Attorney General is opening an investigation into the spread of the virus. The principal suspect is Charmin.

Sheltering in place

The year has been marked by the first quarantine in most people’s memory. Initially, we thought: Staying home with the family for a few months, what could go wrong? On the first weekend without sports, one gentleman reported that he found a lovely woman sitting beside him on the couch. “Apparently,” he said, “she’s my wife. She seems nice.”

The quarantine has been especially dreadful because we really can’t go anywhere. Europe won’t let us visit. Mexico is building a wall. Airlines are offering huge discounts, not charging for baggage, serving meals, showing movies, and allowing extra leg room. And, I’ve lost count of the number of brochures that I’ve received from cruise ships. But who wants to be in a petri dish, whether it’s flying or floating?

Grocery shopping has become a real-life version of PAC-MAN: Avoid everyone, grab the Clorox, and take the fastest aisle out. But, on the positive side, people now understand why nurses should get paid more than football players. And, we ordinary non-essential human beings can actually save the entire human race by spending every day at home doing absolutely nothing.

For some people, after every DIY project has failed, the day is divided into coffee hours and alcohol hours. However, on Day One of the lockdown, an old friend — let’s call him “Monte” told me, “I’m going to meditate and do weight training.” On day 135, he mumbled, “Just pour the ice cream into the pasta.”

Most other people sit and stare blankly at reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond” on TV. But some people, just like health-care workers, have been extremely busy. Check on your conspiracy-theory friends; they haven’t had a day off in months. And, give a shout out to store clerks, maintenance workers, and garbage collectors. They’ve been told that they’re essential personnel. However, their paychecks remind them that they’re not.

It will be great to be home in Madera, if the painters finish next week, the carpet gets installed the following week, and I don‘t go stir-crazy before the moving van arrives.

• • •

Thanks to all the anonymous donors who posted their witty remarks about the quarantine on the Internet. Jim Glynn is a retired professor of sociology. He may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.

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