I was running down Claremont Avenue yesterday when a man in a golf cart motored toward me with his knees peeking out from a loosely tied terry cloth robe. He nodded and raised a coffee cup as a toast.
A few seconds later, my running mate screamed at a sleepy-eyed neighbor who emerged from her front door: “Do you have any green enchilada sauce?”
The woman shook her head.
While trotting along Broadway, we passed a lady in a sports bra and spandex splayed out on a sidewalk listening to a mantra blaring from a cell phone. We didn’t even remark on it.
Police SUVs rolled up and down the streets, everywhere. A fire department rescue boat tugged a sign through the waters of Marine Stadium telling people to stay away.
The city on Saturday issued the newest in a litany of rules: No more funerals. The beach walking path is closed. Basketball hoops have been secured with bicycle locks, and skateparks are filled in with mulch.
A friend of mine described this current Age of Coronavirus as “fascinating.” I took umbrage with that adjective, leaning more toward “depressing.”
But if we can imagine for a second to be cultural anthropologists catapulted five years into the future, she’s right. This is fascinating.
The disasters we know—the Northridge earthquake, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks—are usually highly localized, and they throttle us in a way that is completely unexpected. We don’t see them coming.
Instead we’re watching this slow-moving cataclysm crawl toward us in real time: A massive hospital ship just docked at the Port of LA; Community Hospital, which closed because it sits on an active earthquake fault, is scrambling to fix elevators and buy basic supplies to reopen. Those pictures of overrun morgues in Italy and New York get scarier, and closer, each day that Dr. Barbara Ferrer delivers a somber update on the county’s death toll.
So we’re hunkering down in our homes, or blazing through eerily empty roads toward our essential jobs and, in the office, barking at anyone approaching too fast: SIX FEET!
As we inch toward the apex of this roller coaster, we are clamoring for control—and everyone is acting a little weird in the process.
“We have to start taking off our shoes,” my roommate declared the other night, bursting through the front door. “The virus sticks to our shoes.”
A case of toilet paper appeared in our office one day—coronavirus gold from a co-worker who moonlights at a big-box store. A few of us grabbed some rolls, and I tucked the remainder under a quarantined colleague’s desk: If no one finds it by Friday, I’m taking it all home.
We’re bartering with neighbors—on a positive note, getting to know them—and letting loose with societal norms: Go ahead, leave the house in a robe.
We’re indignant, we withdraw, we hoard, we believe conspiracy theories—and often, we get really creative and crafty. We’re worried less about scraggly cuticles; even making the bed seems silly.
Here’s the terrifying fact: No one knows the end of this story, nor when it will come, nor whether our efforts to “flatten the curve” will succeed.
The neutral anthropologist in me can, however, observe with certainty that fear, in all its strange manifestations, is a pandemic as potent and fascinating as the novel coronavirus.