Is this the strangest time to be alive or what? I’ve lived a while, but I can’t remember living through anything as strange as this. Some, including me, have called this the Great Isolation but perhaps a better term is the Great Compliance. The Governor has ordered us all to stay home so as not to spread COVID-19. We could be infectious without displaying any symptoms, and it is the better part of valor to isolate ourselves so that we do not overwhelm our health care system. However, whenever an elected official orders me to do something, I immediately look for ways to violate the order. Call it my innate American rebelliousness seasoned with a lifetime of living through French contrariness.
However, what the Governor asks of us is reasonable and even patriotic, so I have complied with his order. This means I have forgone my Monday afternoon movie times with Rinkel, the only other human I know who loves old movies as much as me. The Lovely Mrs. Matthews (TLMM) and I continue to have lunch together, but we miss the usual crowd at McDonalds. We hope Patricia is weathering the Great Compliance well.
I walked downtown yesterday in a futile attempt to meet TLMM coming home from one of her 4-mile rambles. Like ships passing in the night, she took one course, I took another. It was cold and I wore my winter jacket. I trailed a couple walking two enormous dogs through downtown. The man was pushing a baby stroller. They were looking at their phone the whole time. I gave the dogs a wide berth. Businesses had various signs posted to explain why they were closed. The “new” liquor store appeared to be open. In a crisis I suppose that counts as an “essential” business.
I walked on down to 47 seeing nothing of TLMM who by now was probably at home in her spot on the couch sipping hot tea. My lower back was hurting me, so I sat on the bench in front of the village offices and decided to wait for TLMM to appear. It was 2:11 when I sat down. Cars passed every two minutes or so. I wondered where folks were going in the Great Compliance. Four people waved at me. This made me happy. First because they didn’t throw anything at me. Second, because it suggested we are continuing to find ways to stay socially connected. When observing social distancing, a wave takes on added significance. We are glad to see you. We are glad you are well. We are glad to see someone out and about.
I stood for several minutes in front of Peithman’s law office and looked at the model trains in the window. It is really extraordinary. He has Pennsylvania Railroad passenger cars stopped on full display in the window. I have never seen model Pennsy cars in person. I am writing a story about folks riding the Broadway Limited and I stood there gazing at the cars and imagining my characters riding around Bill’s layout. It was a beautiful moment. Leave it to Bill Peithman to have the best model trains, to go along with the best classic books and throw the best parties in Mahomet. The sign on his office says, “Limited Practice.” It is hard to imagine Peithman limited by anything.
Most of the people I saw on my stroll downtown were walking dogs. Virus got to spread, dogs got to poop. Life has its way. We took our cat to the vet because he hurt his left front leg jumping out of the bathtub. Why the fool cat had to get in the bathtub in the first place is anybody’s guess. We went to pick him up after the vet wrapped his leg and found a sign that said only one of us could go in the office at a time. Guess who got to stand out in the cold waiting?
While I waited, I saw a woman pull her van into the handicapped spot. She opened the van door and wrestled a wheelchair onto the pavement as she sat in the driver’s seat. She set it up next to her and leveraged herself down into it. She closed both van doors and wheeled up the ramp to an entrance down the row from where I stood waiting. The door she went to appeared to be locked and I saw her reading a sign. I thought of all the trouble she had to go to just to find that the place she wanted to go was closed. My waiting outside seemed pitifully small potatoes compared to hers. We took the cat, stumping along like Chester in the old Gunsmoke series, home.
I indeed found TLMM already home when I returned. She greeted me with the latest updates on how the coronavirus was progressing through the population. Today she tells me the most affected parts of Italy have shown the first decreases in the number of cases reported. Hope may move behind a cloud for a while, but it never goes away completely. We will emerge from our isolation and seek to know if we have been changed for the better. I hope so.
There is always a hidden model train set to be found, waves to be exchanged, responsibilities to be met. Please be well.