a journal of the plague year, part the second

“…as long as I’m willing to live my own values, focus on the moment and shut the world out, it’s a life I can live with. The question, obviously, is how long that life is sustainable under the circumstances.”

-25 feb 2020


My pandemic began in earnest on March 5, 2020, when the doctor advised me that if I had any kind of infection, I would have to cancel the epidural spinal injection for my shoulder pain scheduled for the 13th. Without any hesitation, I collected my laptop and told my boss I would be working from home for the duration.

I’m still here.

Good thing I stuck with the plan, too, because elective procedures were cancelled on the following Monday the 16th when the Bay Area went full shelter-in-place. I haven’t had a pint in a pub, or an indoor restaurant meal, or a ride on public transit since. We did have a cheeky getaway to Santa Barbara to sit on a hotel room balcony for a couple days and dine alfresco during the September lull, in a drive fraught with care for bathroom stops and drink replenishment, but that’s been the extent of our travel. No Disneyland. No Nashville. No international trip on the books for the foreseeable future. Tahoe, cancelled. Two sets of Yosemite reservations, cancelled. March Madness and the Olympics and the entire minor league and college baseball seasons, cancelled.

My life has become a weird sort of cosplay of the kind of retirement I envisioned being able to have: a remote job, done from home at maybe 60% effort, rising later than I used to and wearing the same comfy AG flannel or work shirt over a slubby T every day and never wearing socks except to leave the house. My 48th year has been measured out in peanut butter & honey sandwiches, pitchers of iced tea and an ever changing assortment of background YouTube video, from mallwave collages to old U-Verse Showcase clips to walking through London to lo-fi big band music under rain effects. I went through a phase of buying every hat I’d ever wanted. I purchased three phones – two of them iPhones – in ten months. I eventually gave in and bought a Woodrow dulcimer and have played it more than I have all other instruments combined for a quarter-century.

It hasn’t been all bad. In fact, in most ways it hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve been spared the hassle of commuting, the indignity of having to schlep into a job that doesn’t seem to know it employs me, doing work that garners precious little attention and zero respect – but when you can walk out at will for a haircut or a Double Gulp or a bagel sandwich and not miss anything, who cares? I have used maybe three days of actual non-holiday PTO since this whole thing began, and as a result I have accumulated enough leave to actually go on vacation when the After is finally here, whatever that looks like.

And to be honest, it looks like Disneyland and London. Places we’ve been plenty, but places we love, and places with something new to explore – whether it’s Avengers Campus California at DCA or Ted Lasso territory in Richmond and the walk from Borough to Shoreditch. As much as it would be exciting to explore something new, there is a certain appeal to reconnecting with the missed known, to the things we’ve most mourned being parted from. I want to walk with my sweetie hand in hand up Main Street USA. I want to sit around a firepit with friends with a bucket of longnecks on ice and a bottle of bourbon. I want to sit upstairs on a train and watch the world passing by out the window. I want to step out of Paddington Station at the end of the Heathrow Express and into a black cab, with the breeze blowing through my linen blazer and my Rancourts comfy on the cobblestones. 

I get why people want this to be over. I want it to be over. But it’s not over, and until people are willing to do what is necessary, it won’t be over. And that’s what America feels like in 2021: a huge group project where only a handful of people are actually doing their part of the assignment. And as long as that’s the case, it feels safer and saner to hang string lights on the office shelves, put Watched Walker or Nemo’s Dreamscapes full-screen on the iMac, pour a pint of local stout or even just plain warm decaf black coffee with a little stevia in it, and focus on the moment and shut out the world.

I guess it turns out that life is sustainable for at least a year, maybe longer, if that’s what it takes.

first impressions

…the truly ironic thing is that the only thing it really needs that it doesn’t have, at this point, is WhatsApp. Just because managing a group chat is so much easier without SMS, and for better or worse, WhatsApp – not Signal, not iMessage, not Facebook Messenger, certainly not any Google product – has become the de factouniversal mobile messaging solution. Cross-platform, international, and it would be nice – but not utterly essential, thanks to the cunning use of Google Voice in a pinch. And then there’s Instagram…but then that’s opening the door to everything else too. The ironic thing is that Facebook owns both WhatsApp and Instagram, has largely left them alone, has managed not to screw them up – but it’s Facebook that has a built-in icon on the 3310, not its superior subsidiaries.

Honestly, this is all driven by the Irish experience. What apps did I legit needin Ireland? Maps, certainly, but that’s fair enough when you’re in a new town every night. WhatsApp to communicate with the traveling party. Instagram for people back in America to see how things were going. And really, that was about it. Almost no place took Apple Pay. There was precious little to be gained by checking email or RSS, it was just as easy to walk out and stick up your arm for a cab as to use any sort of ride-hailing app, and while using Swarm to check in was handy to create a record of where I’d been, it was a little superfluous with the pictures being tagged.

The moral of this story is simple: if you’re not really going anywhere and not socializing, then what is the point in having a device on you that’s just going to steamroll you with all the stuff you’re trying to get away from? 

-oct 25, 2017

Well, they only went and did it. The Nokia 6300 4G patches most of the holes in the 3310 3G. LTE, for more future-proofing three years on. An actual app framework that includes Google Maps and WhatsApp clients. The ability to tether a device or use the phone as a WiFi hotspot. The principal drawbacks are a camera reduced to VGA, not even 2MP, barely suitable for snapping a QR code – and of course the fact that the Highway 101 Axis of Evil is one of the things you’re trying to get away from.

But it’s not utterly without use. There’s a very good Wikipedia app, for one thing, and a more serviceable media player. You might even use it for lo-fi relaxation videos on YouTube, and since it’s based on KaiOS with its roots in Firefox, it kicks the shit out of the proxy browser solution that was largely unchanged in the past dozen years when the 3310 landed. If you were dropped in Ireland with this one – assuming the LTE bands cover Europe, which is doubtful – you might not post on Insta, but you could navigate the streets and the group chat equally well.

But this isn’t a phone for going abroad. This is a phone for use as a wireless hotspot on the train to Santa Barbara – assuming I can make it work reliably. Between the eccentricities of an MVNO and the virtually nonexistent documentation on the device itself, it’s been hard to sustain a connection more than a couple of minutes. There might be some experimentation with that throughout the week, but on the face of it, you might as well order temp service on the eSIM in the iPhone and call it square – or better yet, in my case, maybe just try to work on the iPhone full stop.

Because the iPhone really is my whole life right now, the only device with all the email accounts, all the calendars, all the Slack instances and chat apps and the like. Not a single byte of code on it from Google, Facebook, or Amazon, either, and it’s my device free and clear. And I’m even blogging on it right now. There’s no doubt this would be the travel phone abroad, when abroad is real again.

I guess the Nokia is an artifact of another life, same as ever: the dream phone from the autumn of 2006. Something to call Zachary’s from to order the pizza as Marshawn Lynch gives way to Justin Forsett running over PAC-10 foes, something to carry up to O’Neill’s or down to O’Flaherty’s as the quest for a new pub begins, something to check LiveJournal on in a pinch, something for the era when there were things to do in the wider world besides get groceries and collect takeout.

Maybe I’m just trying to will that world back out of the black hole.


“There is another point when things slipped in a starker way: November 8, 2016, when everyone in America realized they were living in the South. The perversity of realizing that the worst parts of where you’re from — the racism, the galling inequality, the fictionalized victimhood, an illusion of power, the reliance on a bankrupt concept of loyalty disguised as faith, the disgust for learning and fatal aversion to uncomfortable truths, the willingness to protect a deranged sense of identity at the cost of what might literally be the entire world — were all there, everywhere, all along.

-Spencer Hall, 1 Sept 2017


We lost, 57-43. We had the 57, and we lost. Because the Enemy – that amorphous blob of racism and Objectivism and silver-drinking conspiracy thinking that wandered from the Democrats to the Republicans throughout the 50s and 60s and then metastasized to take over the party for the last 25 years – the Enemy has figured out how to win without the most votes. Whether it’s employing the arcane system of the Electoral College or optimizing itself to prevail with acreage rather than voters in the Senate or taking advantage of a media in thrall to the idea that there are two equal sides of identical veracity, volume and significance for every issue – the country is now rigged for a sane and sensible majority to always be at the mercy of lunatics.

Not even winning the White House and control of the Congress is enough to overcome it. All we have now is containment and hoping it might turn on itself and burn out. But make no mistake: this is what the Republican Party is now. This is the Trump QOP. If you stay, you are complicit. There’s no going back from this. To remain now is to say that all of this – the insanity, the denial of majority rule, the use of violence to derail the electoral process – all of this is all right.

It isn’t. And we have to devote every day to making those who believe it pay for the error of their ways.