We are alive, but we aren’t living

Tonight I’m going to get up in your face over this horseshit we’ve all been living through for the last three months. No real end in sight either, since the Press continues to stir up the fear.

Yesterday was the first day I hung out with people who weren’t my immediate family since March 13. Just sitting around people in the back yard, enjoying conversations, eating together. Petting dogs. It was wonderful.

It wasn’t this bullshit ZOOM meeting that just makes me want to put my fist through the screen either. A few days I sat in a restaurant by myself while the waitress in her facemask attempted to do her job in “these unprecedented times.”

Fuck you.

These times are totally precedented. I lived through this bullshit for three years when I was married. I’ve spent the last six recovering from it. My ex wife went completely bonkers about germs, being afraid to leave the house, eat a meal that (I) didn’t cook at home. Microwaving the mail. Bleaching everything. Wearing protective gear and gloves. ETC. I’ve lived through this bullshit, and I want to let the rest of you know that we all have a thing called an immune system. For the last 100,000 years, people have relied on this. Yes, we have died of the Black Death and Spanish Flu and all sorts of other plagues. This isn’t the Black Death. Wake the hell up. It still hasn’t killed as many people as the normal flu season. Though I appreciate keeping people safe, at this point, it’s just like me when I would strip down as soon as I got home to be decontaminated.

I knew it then, but I still participated. It’s all about control. And Fear.

These precautions really don’t do much.

They are killing a lot of us though. One of the best relationships of my life ended in these unprecedented times. Had COVID not sent everyone into a tailspin, I would probably still be with her. I wouldn’t have been spending the last three months feeling like my mind was deteriorating from the isolation. You see, there are some of us who live alone. Other than my son coming over every other week, I don’t have many opportunities to spend time with other people.

I don’t have close family nearby. I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t even have a job now where I see annoying co-workers everyday. I feel like a shut in. The most human interaction I get is visiting the kids at Dutch Bros. for a coffee every day. That’s $2.50 plus a tip that is keeping me somewhat sane every day.

Today, I went people watching in Fort Collins. I noticed something peculiar: The masks.

The primary function of the masks now is to look stylish. Many of them were wearing masks that matched their outfits. And I’m not talking about N95 masks either. These are just cloth masks that really don’t do shit. Other than match a nice off the shoulder dress or maybe a shirt or pair of shorts. The secondary function of the mask is to show people that you are supportive of keeping people safe from COVID-19. Even though even the CDC keeps changing their story on the use of masks. If you don’t wear a mask, you might as well shave your head into a mohawk and wear an Anarchy t-shirt and shout “FUCK THE QUEEN!” like punkers in the 1980s. You are THAT antisocial.

The third reason for wearing a mask is to you know, like, maybe flatten the curve and stuff. Because Black Lives Matter. Hashtag, I’m doing something to help. Hashtag. Masks are the new awareness ribbons of this generation. Disingeniune codswallop about a lot of people who usually don’t care getting to look like they do.

People were out on dates, basically breaking the rules for social distancing. Sure, they wear their masks. Until they meet at a table. And I guess a frosty glass of wine or a beer will give you immunity to the plague of the 21st Century as long as you are at your table, with a stranger, and your dress/pants match your mask. These are the people who just like anything else in their lives bend or break the rules and everything turns out just fine for them in the end. I couldn’t help but wonder if they hook up, do they keep the masks on or what?

“Flatten the curve.” You know, by completely ignoring millions of years of biological programming. Picking sides and politicizing a virus. it goes beyond that.

People are hard-wired for connection, and right now, the biggest virus I have seen sweeping the globe has been this fear storm that tells people that the lost, lonely, and isolated can be forgotten as long as everyone else gets to have a Brady Bunch moment on a Zoom meeting or we can continue to tell people that our immune systems can’t beat this thing. So, we can lose our jobs, lose connection with our support systems, start to slowly go crazy, drink a lot more, and feel unloved until we turn into dust and blow away.

Six weeks in, I had my first fist-bump with someone. Other than hugs from my son, it was the first human contact I had had. Three months later, I hugged my mom and dad. Two weeks after that, I ate dinner with some friends. Phone calls. ZOOM meetings. Shouting incoherently through cotton masks and plexiglass aren’t the same. Not even close.

We are alive, but we aren’t living. What kind of life is this anyway if we can’t get connection with others? Privilege is those people who break the rules and go about life out of force of habit because they can still be social with a few minor differences. A cute mask (that does nothing). A protest. Beer pong with friends. Walks out in crowded outdoors spaces and parks where people hardly visited before. But they wore a mask! Over their chin. Or put it on the table when they ate.

Time’s up.

Some of us are not doing so great because we don’t have the luxury others do of playing along with this horseshit. The elderly. The poor. Introverts. Isolated people. Marginalized people. People with mental illness such as anxiety or depression. People who have spent a lot of years trying to overcome OCD or germaphobia, hypochondria, etc. The curve will keep rising as people are tested more and more. That is basic math.

Some of us are dying inside, and not from a virus. From solitude.

I’m at the point where I have even stopped caring what happens next. I’ve always been on the outside looking in. I’m sure I’ll be several weeks behind everyone else who gets the memo that we can return to the “new normal.” And it will be just another way that I get to feel like I don’t belong at this party. Maybe those who survive that don’t require touch are just the next logical step in evolution? Human connection will become obsolete. After all, this just finishes what social media, dating apps, and wide-spread narcissism started already.

Remember when Meals on Wheels used to show those old people and shut-ins who were weeping because some college kid brought them a brown bagged sack lunch? That’s 90% of us now. If this all turns out to be a cruel hoax, I hope the people responsible are dismembered publicly for their crimes against humanity.

This whole thing is…weird

On a good day, I can happily say that I have brushed my teeth more than once, if at all. It’s not just me either. Just about anyone I talk to lately hits a point in the conversation where they just break out of character, pause, shake their head and say, “This whole fuckin’ thing is weird, man.”

Weird doesn’t begin to cut it. The whole planet is fighting depression whether you care to admit it or not.

This last week, I was not as productive as I should have been. I had assignments to write, which got stacked up to the end of the week. Three days, I blew off completely. I can’t even remember what I did. The rest of the week, I was writing. I got quite a bit of writing done too on the books. It felt good. One night I had a run where I wrote a thousand words before dinner and then almost two thousand more before I headed to bed at 2am. My brain was still writing, however, and I didn’t fall asleep until 4am. The sun was already beginning to come up.

My life is so weird these days with no set writing schedule. When my son is around, I tend to write better late at night after he has gone to bed. During the rest of the week, I kind of stick to those patterns too, but it drives me a little crazy to be filling up my day with chores. The heat is a little much already this summer. I have never slept well in the Summer in the Front Range. Sleep when the house is 80 degrees is an exercise in futility.

One of these days, when my son has grown up and left the nest, I’m going to go live in a cabin someplace in the mountains. As long as I have wifi, it is doable. Maybe I’ll get a dog or two. Spend days hiking in the shade of the forest, and evenings writing. It is a dream I have. About ten years off, but that will be here sooner than I probably would like.

Friday, I got all of my mandatory writing done. I had cancelled with friends to hang out so I could do it and at around 8:30pm I found myself suddenly free from my desk chair. I hopped in the car and drove to Old Town Ft. Collins. In the summer, this has been my favorite pastime since I was in my 20s. To hang out in Old Town and just watch people. A few weeks ago, I attempted this and was left feeling lost. There were only two places open. The rest were pretty much boarded up. Friday…well, that would be the part of the conversation where I pause and mention how weird everything is.

People were EVERYWHERE except inside bars and restaurants. It was just as crowded as any other night in Old Town only it was weird. About half the people were wearing masks, and of those who were wearing them, most of them just had them pulled down like cowboy neckerchiefs or sporting some kind of chin bra with the surgical masks. I watched people pull their masks down to smoke weed. Out in the streets, clusters of people were sitting close, hugging hellos, shaking hands. You could tell they were making a point of physical contact. Hive fives, fiddling with facemasks, taking a drag off a cigarette.

These are the cool kids who just do what they want anyway, and the idiots like me who stayed at home get to emerge long after to find that the table for the geeks like me isn’t anywhere near the lunchroom anymore. We are eating behind the gym in a mud puddle. In isolation, I was just doing what I was supposed to, I can say, but really, I never really fit in anyway. Writers are always on the outside looking in. It’s a chicken vs. egg thing at this point.

Inside the bars, only a few tables had people. The setup was almost solemn. The young women who normally got decked out all had the same oily skin from hours of wearing facemasks. Mostly everyone had put on some weight. The guys giving out the bro grabs looked like they had just been splattered by a mud puddle for the next ten minutes, as though they were purposefully ignoring the billions of viruses now crawling all over them.

It was almost refreshing to be amid this many people, even though only one person even spoke to me, and that was the guy asking if he could light his pipe at least ten feet away. Sure, pal, it’s your lungs. It’s not like there is a respiratory-based pandemic going on.

I could see what was happening though. People are hard-wired for connection, and for the last couple months we’ve been told this will kill us. Folks, it’s been killing us since the first people were around for various reasons. But it was like watching the early stages of herd immunity. In spite of Dr. Fauci and all the media induced panic, people were just doing what they do when they get over any wave of bullshit that infects communities. They were exposing themselves in small doses.

But I did see something else this reminded me of. In a weird way, it was like they were an old couple who had just been through some shit. Maybe someone had cheated, maybe they had lost a child, maybe they were just tired. Either way, everyone had gone out, and they had that same stunned look in their eyes. The one that says “If we do things the way we used to do them, things can go back to how they once were, right?”

No. They probably won’t.

It won’t ever be the same. Not like you once knew it anyway. The only way this changes is to start over, preferably with someone else. We’ve seen it before in our history a number of times. A year ago today, I went to the 1940s Ball and one of the things I always hear people say is “Wouldn’t it be great if people still got dressed up like this?” or “Man, I love this music! People actually had to learn how to dance too!”

But there’s a reason why we no longer get together and do the Lindy, why the Roaring Twenties are relugated to movies and books, and why no matter how hard we try to make bell-bottoms a thing, the era in which they were born is finished. All of those things came together and were unique to those times. They ended because something shook the world up. The 40s ended because millions of young men and women came home from war and understood now that you could vaporize a city with one bomb.

The 19-teens ended with the War to End All Wars and the Spanish Flu. Gone were the Gibson Girls, bowler hats, horsedrawn wagons, and along came radio and phonographs. And Nazis.

The Roaring 20s ended because everyone lost their jobs and wind storms destroyed much of the food. People starved to death on the California border because the locals there didn’t want anymore “goddamned Oakies” coming in. Read your Steinbeck if you don’t believe me.

History has not been kind to us. In the 1960s a man in his forties became President. He had a great head of hair, and more or less buried a tradition stretching back a few hundred years of men wearing hats. So when you see someone wearing a fedora and say, “That’s classy, how come men don’t wear fedoras anymore?” You can thank Jack Kennedy, who was likely assassinated by the mafia in Dallas in 1963.

Dresses diappeared when they were considered a part of the systematic oppression of women. Then pants as physically tight as you could get them became a symbol of liberation and equality somehow.

Each generation has its stop gap. The 90s (and the latter half of the 20th Century) died when hijackers crashed two 747s into the World Trade Center, and of course two other targets where people died, but nobody ever seems to mention.

We’ve been living in fear for the last 20 years. Fear of more than 2oz of liquids per container in our carry on luggage, pocket knives, nail clippers, “Sekrit Mooslim”Presidents, our Declining Moral Values (research the Roaring 20s to see what your great grandparents considered “morality”). Up until recently, the concerns were that gender lines were diappearing, draconian laws about smoking a flower, fixation on global temperature fluxuations, and that unvisited elephant in the room of “I really like my smartphone, so I’ll just ignore the fact that it is mass-produced by state-organized slave labor on the other side of the planet. Like OMG! SELFIEEEEEE!!!!”

With more information at their disposal, people are now dumber than ever. Maybe the reason we all stop and say, “This shit is just weird” is because it doesn’t make any sense for a large number of reasons.

But rather than address the whys of that, I will just say this. We just watched the end of an era. You can tell your grandkids you remember the summer that X stopped being a thing. In the next several months to a year, we will all know what didn’t make the cut. My guess is it will be large crowds of people. Especially since things like concerts, movies, and other venues are where people get together and start sharing ideas, whether it’s through music, standup comedy (Looking at you, Dave Chappell–thank you for 8:46), or even the formation of things like Republics.

It’s safe to say it isn’t fedora hats and watch chains. Cigarette girls and wars for noble causes. Those are not coming back. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be mumble rappers. Infectious narcissism. Or teeth whitening. I would suggest Defund the Media, but if you have been paying attention for the last twenty years, there is no such thing as the Media. It’s a bunch of private companies making stories that fit between ads for toothpaste, erectile dysfunction medicine, and car manufacturers. Gil Scott-Heron was right when he said, “The Revolution will not be televised.” The companies bought up all the air-time. What you are seeing now is a lot of shit the lowest scabs of journalism who are still around are producing to get your attention. We lost Journalism in around 2008. This is the best they can come up with now.

Maybe what we could start over with is a better appreciation for our other humans, and not relying on media induced fear to sway our opinions anymore. Use that phone, that social media account, or your voice to ask hard questions, to tell your stories and be heard. Because, this whole thing is fuckin’ weird.

This is what social distancing looks like. June, 2020.

Crash and Burn

Tonight I tried to record a podcast. One of the most difficult things about this process has got to be the absurd concept that right now I’m sitting there talking to myself for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been trying to keep it to around 20 minutes, but seriously, the process is really goofy. At least when I’m writing something, I get to construct a narrative. I can go back, edit. I think in writing. I use pretty words. When you are just talking to yourself in a quiet room, you have a moment of “What the fuck am I doing?”

I have no idea. I don’t even really know where I want to go with this whole thing. It’s not like I have the resource of knowing a lot of interesting people to chat with either, well, not many who live around here anyway. So, for now, it’s me, boring the paint off the walls with my goddamned monotone voice. The voice that a friend of my used to call my “pediatrician voice.” She said it was soothing and very wise sounding. Really, I find it annoying. Boring. Fuck.

I attempted two recordings tonight. I was trying to talk about graduation, but with all the ums and uhs and getting lost in the weeds, I just couldn’t do it. I scrapped it tonight. Crash and burn. So, I’m going to write about what I was going to ramble on about in the same dulcet tones that I would be explaining to a seven year old why it is important that they don’t put their fingers in their mouth.

Friday was my last official day at the university. I have worked there for the last 18 years, but I was also a student there for four years and worked just down the hall from where I have been for the last 13 years. I didn’t get very far, did I? Tonight I took a walk around campus to reminisce about where I have spent the majority of my adult life. Other than a year in Aurora, selling Big Mouth Billy Bass fish and a year in Laramie Wyoming trying to not starve to death, I have been in this town. Other than a few months, I have worked at the University. Academia has been a significant part of my experience. Not only as a student, but later behind the scenes, seeing how the sausage is made.

I have a lot of memories of that place. From the day that I went to pick up a girl I was dating for her weekend furlough from Frontiers of Science to go to Renaissance Festival to last Thursday when I carried in the box containing my computer and some other office equipment for my unceremonious layoff. That day of seeing that young lady sitting underneath a dogwood tree behind Belford Hall in a summer dress was a kinder memory than people trying to pretend they were sorry to see you go from behind the protection of N95 masks, maintaining appropriate social distancing. I would take that day in June a hundred times over any second of last Thursday.

Graduation in the years between became a day you could scope our really cute shoes the graduating girls were wearing, and make bets with the other volunteers as to who was going to collapse from being drunk during the ceremony. It was also a day to say last goodbyes to some of the students who would pop into your life for that brief window. I wish them all well, but I doubt any of the hundreds of people I have met and known over the last 20+ years think of me ever. Most of them, I can barely remember their names.

The ceremony. Ceremonies are important. This is Graduation weekend for many students after all. In a way, I think graduation is a stupid thing. It’s a lot of sitting on bleachers or folding chairs, listening to Important People blather on. Sometimes a noted speaker will jabber about why they are important, and why this moment is so crucial to your development as a young person. But we need the ceremony.

Okay, so I lied. Writing this, I got inspired, so I wrote a graduation speech and recorded it as a podcast. Here’s the link. I’m still working out the kinks with the new computer, so the sound might be a little wonky. It’s a work in progress. But hey, I didn’t completely fail. I posted a podcast, which is one of the things I’ve been wanting to do this week.

I walked around campus thinking about a hundred different stories. The way people have touched my life, for better or for worse. I’m soured by the experience of working there and being unceremoniously laid off. The exit interview was a lot of “I don’t know the answer to that question, call so-and-so and she can tell you!” Thanks. That’s great.

I dropped off my shit and left on Thursday. I’ve been walking the campus grounds for exercise. It’s a safe place to walk. Lots of students out not obeying the shelter-in-place or whatever the hell it is these days. I see a lot of people on walks. Clusters of roommates and friends spending time together. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one without a tribe. I’m the only living boy in New York so to speak. They say no man is an island, but there are times I wonder if that is even true.

There are days that I think about the day that my son moves out, a grown man and ready to take on the world. I’ve often joked with him that I will pack up my things and move and not tell anyone where I have gone. I will start over. He has made me promise to tell him where I have gone, and I will. He wants his kids to know their grandfather and the kind of man that he is. Today, this man is tired. He’s had the metaphysical shit kicked out of him for the last couple months and he could use a little disappearing right now.

Today wasn’t a loss. It was a challenge, just like every other day from here on out.