WILLIAM BRANGHAM’S COUCH AND OTHER COVID-19 QUESTIONS

 

Staying inside most of the time is what Ann and I have been doing for years. Ann practices law at home, I write at home. We cook, eat, watch movies, read, go to bed, and don’t go out much, just like always. But there are some unexpected variations in the Covid-19 version of our way.

Take my desk, for example. These days I store groceries under it. That’s one of the ways the Corona virus is novel. Space is limited in the condo, so I used to shop for groceries almost every day. We stocked up last month, and now we don’t go to the store but every two weeks. The stuff has to be stored somewhere

Ann’s work has dropped off, and she has regressed to her pre-lawyer, professional-cook/baker self – English muffins, sourdough rye to go with a gussied-up split pea soup, a delicious oats and quinoa loaf, vegan brownies, and more. Being confined in a thousand square feet with aromas and food like that is a sybaritic pleasure. I do kind of miss being allowed entry to the kitchen without having to fill out an application, but it’s a good trade.

The park where we’ve been accustomed to walk is a little crowded now, so we’re taking the road less traveled – sidewalks around the neighborhood. It’s more in keeping with who we are anyway. There are three ways from the condo into the neighborhood – all up steep hills. So, if the virus doesn’t kill us (the preferred outcome), we’ll emerge stronger.

I’ve always spent time every morning just looking out the window that’s by my desk. I do more of that now. I don’t feel the urge to get busy. Probably because without the daily grocery store run, I have more time. But I suppose this thing is making everyone more inclined to slow down and reflect. The view is to the west, so the light comes up from behind the building and makes its appearance obliquely on the big live oak there. It’s different everyday. So is the sky behind and around it. It’s a welcome reminder that there is more to life than the immediate.

When the seriousness of the pandemic became obvious, we were packing for the move to New York City. We postponed moving day, but the small space in which we live is now cluttered with taped-shut boxes of dishes, photos, and books. I try to see the stacks of boxes as art, like Andy Warhol’s soup cans. I happened to leave a handful of books out, and last evening after reading in detail every periodical on the coffee table – a first – I had a go at them. None of them were engaging. I had started Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis a week or two ago, but when I went back to it last night, I found him too windy. Same for his commentary on Psalms and something by St. Augustine and Dorothy L. Sayers’, The Man Born to Be King. My final attempt was The Mercy Papers, a short memoir by Robin Romm. I got thirteen pages in but couldn’t continue. I found her whiny and mean. If I liked that sort of thing, I’d watch the President’s press conferences.

Unfortunately, there are no mysteries and no engaging nonfiction among the books that I haven’t yet packed. I know, I know, it’s possible to read books online. Ann is doing that with Remembrance of Things Past. (I expect she’ll still be at it when the virus abates, given its 3200-page length and the distraction of running a 24/7 home bakery.) I’m against online “books.”  If it’s not on paper, it’s not a book, I say. I could buy new books, of course, and have them delivered, but I’m trying not to until I cull what we already have. We’ve come to a rite of passage that awaits all apartment dwellers; henceforth, every new book requires disposal of an old one. So, today I’m going to open one of the boxes I packed a few weeks back and see if I can find a good read. The boxes are labeled with the one word “BOOKS,” and that’s not very informative. But I’m going to be happy with whatever I find in the first one. It wouldn’t do to keep opening until the perfect choice appears.

While my situation is making reading challenging, I’m finding renewed interest in news and analysis programs on television. They tend to be redundant, but that doesn’t matter. The talking heads report from home, usually in front of their bookshelves. I strain unsuccessfully to read titles. I’d really like to know what Peter Baker reads. Kirstin Gillibrand had what appeared to be a devotional item behind her. Who is in the snapshots on Eugene Robinson’s shelves? William Brangham of PBS has a cat and a cocker spaniel on a sofa next to him. Better editors would zoom in on them. I wrote PBS a letter and asked the cat’s name and background. No answer yet.

Unlike millions of people, Ann and I are finding our way comfortably through these difficult times. Still, every day that I wake up not feeling sick, I’m relieved.