The First Day of Quarantine Was Amazing…Now What?
Short story by Moss Brixton
My roommate and I eye each other with squints, like the guys in movies who have mustaches and one of them pulls out his pistol a fraction of a split second before the other and poof, one is dead before the other stomps off to the nearest bar/brothel/horse.
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But today there’s no gun, just a sky blue plastic spray bottle filled with isopropyl alcohol I pulled out from the cabinet underneath the bathroom sink.
It’s March 16, 2020, day one of Corona Confinement, where we are relegated to stay at home for 21 days so an infectious disease can starve to death before it kills us. Three weeks of comically frequent hand washing, stomach-churning overload of homemade kitchari, and the utterly deafening sound of relatively nothing. For some of us who can’t work until this is over (I’m a massage therapist), it’s liable to be like vacation in prison.
And let me tell you: so far it is bliss.
I’m in my backyard in the sunshine, lying in a hammock and reading a book. The book is about introverts, the power of being quiet in a world that can’t stop talking. Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, what great company. As a quiet massage therapist, I’m feeling better by the minute.
I run inside and eat a bowl of cereal. Then another bowl, then one more, until I single handedly empty an entire box of Nature Valley Heritage Flakes. I’m starting to understand the hoarders in the supermarkets.
The public attitude about this lockdown has been polarized.
“We are all gonna die!!!”
“No! Everyone’s overreacting! Meet me at this renegade party tonight and let’s share a bottle of Maker’s Mark and some chilaquiles.”
I’m tending towards the middle, washing my hands a lot then spending more time in the sun than a lizard.
An hour and a half at the hammock was hurting my neck. So I go over to a bench and read for another hour.
It’s hot. It must be 80 degrees! I take my clothes off and read about life-changing innovation of fellow introvert Steve Wozniak. He’s the guy who invented the personal computer.
Steve’s Wozniak’s ingenius drive to create a small, accessible computer for the masses was born in a garage in Menlo Park on a rainy night in the 1970s. And me, I’m here in my backyard in Oakland. Naked.
Steve’s net worth today is $100 million. I can barely comprehend the scope of that, since I may or may not be freshly out of a job. And by job I mean career.
I tune these troubling thoughts out. I’m on vacation, damnit.
On the other side of my fence, which has two inches of space between every vertical panel, making it semi-transparent, is my neighbor. She’s inches away and supposedly gardening, but I’ve been in her backyard before and I know that there are absolutely no plants near this section of the fence. I know she’s sneaking a peak.
I look at my phone to make sure it’s really 80 degrees. Turns out it’s 53. Shit, do I have a fever?
I get my mind off it by staining one forgotten, un-stained fence panel on the far end of the fence. It’s something I’ve been putting off for a year and a half even though it only takes five minutes. I even get high off the paint fumes. Another win. Until the fumes seem to trigger a mini cough.
Shit. Was that really a cough, or a tickle? Am I being paranoid?
The can is open and the brush is wet, so I might as well keep staining things. The wooden chair in the corner, it’s officially now stained. The wooden mask my roommate brought back from Africa, also stained. I even stain things made of plastic. I’m not sure wood stain works on plastic, and maybe the rain will wash most of it off. But then I bet it’ll have a humble, rustic look to it. I think the Japanese call that Wabi Sabi, a term I learned just last week. Yet another win.
There is so much to do! With all the cans of wood stain, unread books on my shelves, empty journals, and bags of raw rice and split yellow mung beans, three weeks are going to fly by. I don’t even need a backyard! This lockdown could be six weeks long and I’d be fine.
It’s about 20 minutes before I’ve avoided going stir crazy by packing food and a pen and notebook on my bike and am wheeling it out to the street. When I get out my front door, I know what I’ll see: people in gas masks, sirens, biohazard signs. Or at least a post-apocalyptic void of any human activity save for maybe a few people hanging out of windows with bloodshot eyes and drool coming out of their mouths like leaky faucets.
I step out of my front door. It looks like a Saturday in June.
Kids frolic with tricycles. Adults frolic with bicycles. Kites frolic with the wind. It’s like a parade.
Before I judge or question the integrity of our community, I notice everyone is keeping a distance from everyone else. Smart and happy, the best of both worlds (if utterly surreal).
I bike down my street, feeling the virus-free wind rustle my hair, and I giggle.
I pass an old man walking. He’s 12 feet from me.
I pass another kid on a tricycle. His mom smiles at me from 9 feet away.
A guy plays basketball by himself. 20 feet.
After a few perfect minutes, I get to the main boulevard.
Traffic in the Bay Area has gotten straight up crazy in the last five years. Rush hour lasts from about 1pm until 8:00 at night, and the streets are generally clogged with cars, angry drivers, horns, pumping fists and nasty expletives in any one of 13 languages. But not today: it looks like we’ve gone back in time to where the streets were languid and “internet” meant the thing a tennis ball might get stuck in.
That is until a black Ford F150 roars by me like a bat out of low-octane hell. The driver seems to delight in pummeling down the road past a helpless cyclist, leaving me to drown in exhaust fumes and sound-induced shock.
The tables turn when he’s stopped at a yield sign ahead, waiting for an old couple to cross. I take this opportunity to cross as well, but with the speed of a banana slug. The old couple were hares compared to my tortoise-like pace, and I look up at the driver.
“What the hell?!” he yells out his window.
Starting to move even slower — it’s almost as if I’m a absolutely frozen in time — I reply:
“When you put your truck into third gear a minute ago then mashed the gas pedal right next to me, that sucked worse than a Lynard Skynard reunion show.”
His fists clench and his eyes double in size.
I fix my gaze on him. My smile is as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s, and my eyes look like Al Pacino’s in that one scene in the Devil’s Advocate.
“Now things suck for you, because you’re going to have to wait for me to cross this motherfucking street. And let me tell you, I have ALLLLLL the time in the world, hoss.”
Actually that never happened. I’m daydreaming. That’s how the mind works when you’re on forced virus-vacation but your mind is clear because you’re perfectly healthy.
Right then I sneeze violently. Shit, am I going to die?
That was the most intimate interaction I’ve had with a human being all day, and it was all in my head! I’m really missing my beloved profession and all the clients I’m usually in skin-to-skin contact with for hours on end. Recently, handshakes were replaced by elbow bumps. And now, here I am supposedly having a great time, but relegated to six or more feet from any other human being.
Six-foot distancing doesn’t apply to my memories with clients. The distance in a massage context generally hovers around zero inches. If anything, I feel energetic distances from clients – people like the clipped-toned software engineers who are really going out on a limb by being touched by another human (far energetic distance) to warm-hearted, dance-loving enthusiasts of life who engage openly (close distance).
The pot-smoking paralegal who gets a massage, high as a kite, every other Monday, her litigious flesh eventually melting into my hands like warm taffy: energetic distance of maybe five feet.
The humble, hard-working bartender and drag queen who wants to zone out and forget about his life, making zero conversation before, during and after each session — and tips me in all $1 bills: 20 feet.
The real estate developer I worked on who smelled bad and kept bragging about theme parks he’d bulldozed to make way for corporate office parks: a hundred yards or more.
The recent divorcee who got a 120-minute massage twice a month and started dating me: roughly negative seven inches.
As I reminisce, I approach the Bay. Other than this sleepy marina, there’s nothing out here but a dim sum restaurant with an enormous parking lot. The rent here must be astronomical because it’s directly next to the water with billion-dollar views across the Bay. And it’s completely empty.
I get off my bike.
I scamper down some giant rocks to the water’s edge.
I put down a fat pillow I brought with me, and I sit down.
This is more comfortable than my hammock, and I get the billion dollar view for free.
I scan my surroundings. The Bay Bridge is far off to my left, with a light smattering of cars bumbling across towards the San Francisco skyline, wherein things may or may not be as surreal as they are here.
To the right of the City, a misty Pacific backdrop frames the art deco masterpiece built in 1937 to connect San Francisco with Marin. Skyscrapers and towering redwood trees, the constant bumping of elbows (sorry, had to do it) between man and nature.
In 2005, bird flu.
Below the bridge is Alcatraz, the world’s most famed maximum security prison, which makes me chuckle.
Above Alcatraz, a swarm of pigeons.
I start laughing hard.
The laugh turns into a dry cough.
I knew it. I am fucked.
MOSS BRIXTON’S BOOK, PUSH PULL, IS NEAR THE PRESSES. It will make zero mention of viruses, but inundate with much detail about love and lust and heartbreak in the life of a free-wheeling massage therapist. GET ON THE LIST @ www.mossbrixton.com