Columns

Codger’s column: In solitary


Codger thought he’d have no problem surviving, even thriving, in solitary confinement.

A fat boy, he grew up at a social distance. His best sport was swimming underwater. He worked like a mushroom in his basement. He thought he didn’t need other people, an amusing conceit from someone who has never lived alone. So he had no qualms about sheltering in place. He would just go to ground, hit the mattresses, disappear down the hidey hole.

Then there was Crone. She actually likes people. And Cur II. He has never respected personal space. But Codger could get past their agreeable eccentricities. During what would be, he thought, a brief hiatus from normal life, he could be alone without being lonely, get some extra words written, clean the basement, organize the photos, ramp up his physical therapy exercises, make Coronaviral Time work for him. Not a bad self-help slogan, he thought. T-shirts?

What Codger didn’t plan on was time to think. Really think. His past crises hadn’t included stop-time, long breaks for contemplation.

Codger understood — the media never let him forget — that as an elderly senior oldster he was particularly vulnerable to catching COVID-19, becoming very sick and even dying. That made him sad — and careful – but it didn’t scare him. What he didn’t understand, until he had time to really think, was that this disruption, this terrible tragedy could continue for a long time. In fact, for an ancient like him, it could last forever.
That scared him.

It meant there would be a different, hostile world for his children and grandchildren. Along with the ongoing slower plague of climate change. And it made him angry. It pushed him down into the pit of despair and blame.

There were easy, tempting targets. China let the pandemic happen and sent it over. President Trump disregarded urgent reports to prepare, then offered weak and inconsistent leadership. By lying and blustering and blaming on his daily TV show, “The Apprentice-in-Chief,” he made people even more anxious and confused. He seemed to be more interested in ratings and profits than infection and lives.

To be fair, it wasn’t as if Trump had been in solitary confinement. He was supported and encouraged by a rabble of power brokers, sycophants, billionaire pirates, corrupted clergymen and incompetent family members.

Codger found it impossible not to watch them on TV, mesmerized by hissing snakes, by one’s own house on fire. It was infuriating to see people demonstrating to “liberate” their states from laws designed to check the spread of the virus. Trump encouraged them. As Codger slipped deeper into the pit, he clawed for people who were closer to blame.

He settled on those he had disparaged here before the pandemic, people who didn’t pick up after their dogs, who walked on the wrong side of the road, who tailgated on New York Avenue, who called neighbors Nazis for wanting laws enforced, and, more recently, people who came late to wearing masks in stores.

Luckily, he was wearing his excellent Susan Friedman Schrott mask and no one heard him. This is absurd, he thought, and not a good use of all of his new spare time. He decided to keep such thoughts between himself and Cur II, not dump them on Crone or his family on Houseparty or his friends on FaceTime.

They were all on overload, going stir crazy, the younger the worser. And they had good reason. There was a Thermo King mobile morgue parked across the street from the city apartment of Codger’s son, Crunch, and his family. Every member of his daughter Cat’s family was online for school or work.

Codger needed to climb out of his hole before he was buried alive. Some friends had totally stopped consuming news, creating a bubble of books and TV series. Crone made herself a witness, consuming all news, curating the most important for Facebook and email distribution. And she offered Codger the wisdom and empathy he needed: perhaps some of those “liberators” didn’t personally know a sick or older, vulnerable person and were unable to empathize or fully understand the problem beyond their own desperation to break out.

Codger got that. When golf resumed on Goat Hill, even though he was unhappy to lose a nearby dog park, he understood the need to start opening the stress valves, a little twist at a time before people just started blowing up.

He is still in the process of climbing out of the pit, trying to figure out what to do beyond merely surviving. There are mornings in glorious Sylvester Manor with Cur II when survival seems enough. There are nights in the baleful glow of the TV when it clearly isn’t.

We have to do better. We have to disinfect America.