This is how it starts. Courtesy photo.

This morning I found myself out of prescription meds so I had to go to my Ralphs pharmacy for refills. For the first time in half a month I ventured out into terrible, terrible freedom. A post-apocalypse Long Beach. Cars, apparently, have been taken away by our beloved alien overlords. Only a few scant surviving Mad Max vehicles remain on the road, ostensibly piloted by essential workers and people who need to visit their pharmacy.

With the number of reported cases of coronavirus soaring exponentially, the virus itself is palpable in the outside world. You can practically see it crawling all over things you need to touch. My car’s door handle, for instance, has a thick layer of COVID-19 on it. Ditto with the steering wheel. Inside the store, people are inhaling it and exhaling it. Your flimsy masks and incessant hand-washing are useless against it. Or, anyhow, that’s how it feels.

I grabbed my fairly impressive array of pills, and was advised by a store security guard at a perilous distance of 5 feet, 7 inches, to stay well. I nodded at the guy whose job it is to spray Lysol on every cart returned to the store, got back in my car and sped home. Didn’t even put the seat belt on because there were no vehicles around to hit me, ran into the house and scrubbed my hands with aviation-grade muriatic acid while singing Jethro Tull’s entire 43-minute and 46-second opus “Thick as a Brick,” before sitting down at the computer keyboard, which I haven’t disinfected for some reason, though I have been hitting it a lot and I think I can safely assume I’ve squashed whatever viruses have landed on it.

Over the past couple of weeks, I (and every other tipster on the subject of coping with isolation) have been urging people to develop a new skill. For me, it’s math. Why don’t I learn a little math. Most journalists became journalists in college as a way to evade a lot of math courses. The only thing I’ve mastered in the subject is how to spell “arithmetic,” because an editor once told me the mnemonic “A Rat In The House Might Eat The Ice Cream.” Ever since, if you doubt my spelling of “arithmetic,” you will wind up embarrassing yourself.

My initial foray into math in isolation was to study exponential math, since that’s relevant to these times, when everyone’s throwing the word around to explain coronavirus’s rapid spread.

I watched what was probably to most people an easy-to-understand YouTube video, but I fell behind quickly and instead just went with Dr. Britta Jewell, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London, who explained it a bit in an interview in the New York Times earlier this month—back a few days before I began self-quarantining—telling the story of two rabbits and their continuing sexual high jinks:

“Two rabbits breed four rabbits and four rabbits breed eight rabbits and eight rabbits breed 16 rabbits, and if they’re breeding every six or seven days, very soon you have a lot of rabbits,” explained Jewell. Elaborating for those of us who don’t panic over the idea of there being a few hundred scattered rabbits, she continued. “If you start with two rabbits and the number doubles every week, you’ve got about 1,000 rabbits after 10 weeks. That doesn’t seem so bad. But another 10 weeks later? You’ve got a million.”

Understood. In other words, pretty soon the chances are you’re going to end up with a rabbit, or someone close to you is going to wind up with a rabbit. And that’s where we are now in the pandemic. It’s raining rabbits. And, with no cure or vaccine there’s not much we can do to stop this bunny orgy except remain safe at home and watch them through our picture window as they bounce harmlessly on the lawn.

That  advice shouldn’t be misinterpreted to mean go to the beach with your friends and enjoy this beautiful day. Or that you should go to the park and skate with your friends, or play a little three-on-three basketball. It means stay at home. It’s how you take care of yourself, but equally important, it’s how you take care of everyone else in your family, neighborhood, community, city, nation and the planet. Because, if my studies of exponential math have taught me anything, it’s that you’re an important variable, and a major part of the equation.


Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.