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Larry, My FBI Guy

At the beginning of class, I don my headphones, get my notebook ready, and click on the link. The link brings me to a little virtual room into which students begin aspirating with a vroom. It sounds like the magical characters in Harry Potter zooming into the ether to another location.

“Hi guys!” I say, too chipper, trying to remove the little gap of reality that sits between us all, namely the fact that we are all at home and we won’t be leaving, let alone seeing each other, for a long time. On the bright side, I think we are all wearing pajamas. After I say hello to everyone I say, “Oh, don’t forget to say hello to…”

“Hi Larry!” the group says.

Larry is our FBI guy. Well he’s my FBI guy. We are certain that he sits in on classes and listens to us discuss the unreal past, the probable future, and the unbelievably, uncannily fucked up unreal present. So, if Larry wants to sit in, why not.

Some of my students seem to be better than others. Some are quite demoralized about being cooped up in their homes for so long. Others seem fine, these are the ones usually at their family homes in the country somewhere and who, though surely a bit depressed and thrown off, have seen this as an opportunity to sit on the lawn and not do things.

When a demoralized one speaks, I just know it. There’s a voice now, a Corona voice. It has a mildly desperate plea in it that is shucking its subtly. Some might come out and say “I am not doing well.” But even if they didn’t, I’d know the Corona voice. I know because I have it. I hear it in myself when I chat with a friend or my family at home. It’s a creaky and small voice in the back of my throat that says, “Fuck man, this thing better end or I’m going to go to the zoo covered in chum and grabbing a wolf by his genitals.” I let the demoralized ones speak about being demoralized. “It’s OK,” I say, “this is only temporary.” But they can tell I’m just as demoralized as they are. They no doubt hear my Corona voice. We sort of have an unspoken support group. The Demoralized.

And who can blame them?

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Into the Miniature Mouth of Madness

The world becomes Coronafied. People have it terribly bad out there and I am fortunate to be able to be locked away in a flat in Prague 6 with only occasional trips to a grocery store or a walk around the park. Still, while I get it that I have it much better than many others, I have certainly begun to descend into a mouth of miniature madness.

I have not worn pants in a month. Not even looked at them. I wonder on occasion how they’ll fit when I go to put them back on in late-May and have thus resolved to start a diet in late April. Maybe early May. Mid-May at the latest.

Going out means wiping things down, boiling a mask, hand sanitizing in a routine my hands haven’t seen since I was twelve, and dropping my clothes into a hamper at the door before I walk like a surgeon about to enter surgery until I can turn on my sink with my elbow. Therefore outside doesn’t occur that often. I spend an awful lot of time, though, staring through the window at the reckless maniacs below.

My people skills are depleting. Not only people skills, but what to do to go outside skills. A mailman rang the buzzer yesterday and I had to check three times that I was wearing pants. (spoiler alert: I wasn’t). I’m sure it’ll get better before June. In any event, I don’t think anyone else will forget to wear pants either.

I have full on conversations with my cat, who is becoming a real dick. She knows every step of my day, so the mystery is gone from our relationship and we both know it. It’s sad. We schedule the day with two meals. Breakfast-ish and dinner-ish. There’s something in between that sort of resembles lunch, but it’s not so much food as the time when I begin to wonder if it’s OK to start drinking. It usually is.

While I drink more days during the week now I find that I am rarely intoxicated. I mean, I can push through if I need to (heroically, I must add), but it usually doesn’t happen. I hope that ability comes back too. I have accepted a writing job for a series of coursebooks that are devouring all of my time. I am up at 6 am writing and at some point in the day I stop when my back hurts too much. So while people talk about Corona free time I squint and try to remember what it was like.

I guess this is going to be talked about one day. Everyone will have a “what were you doing during Corona” story. These will probably grow and become little myths. One day Max Brooks will write an oral history of it and I will read it. As long as there are zombies in it. The thing is, I don’t know if I’ll really remember what I spent the Corona time doing. I’ll remember work and not being outside and rather staring out the window at the Prague weather getting nicer. I’ll remember a ton of work and talking to my cat and the big day every week when we go out for groceries and then the twenty minutes after we get back when we clean ourselves and all of our things.

But I really hope I can get drunk after this whole thing.

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I am the actor who has played soldiers dying in various representations of World War II assaults in six different movies and television shows. Ask me Anything!

How many beaches have you died on?

Three. Due to camera magic (as we call it, well as I call it) I died on Omaha Beach twice in Saving Private Ryan. Once I was blown in two and the other time I just fell down in the water. The third time was in The Pacific when I died on Peleliu. 

Which beach was your favorite to die on?

While I got to hold hands with Tom Hanks on Omaha Beach, Peleliu was a lot warmer and the hoagie tray was much better. Also I got to chat with that kid from Jurassic Park in between takes.

What movie makes you laugh no matter how often you see it?

Saving Private Ryan. Because of the times we had. You spend a lot of time laughing with guys while you’re laying in the sand and being gritty.

What’s the hardest thing you ever worked on?

A Vietnam flick I did called We Were Soldiers starring a little known gent called Mr. Mel Gibson. I played a Vietnamese soldier (I’m shortish). Napalm deaths are a bitch. Lots of flailing.  

Do you prefer dying on a beach or inland?

Great question! There are benefits to both, of course. The beach assault takes took twelve days, which means I was wet for and my underwear was full of sand for twelve days. To be honest, I would go more for an inland assault. In Band of Brothers, my character jumped into Normandy and had a few lines before he tripped a bouncing betty and got part of his face blown off. One of my fellow walking dead was a “hanger” which is what we call the paratroopers who died in the jump and were hanging there. That was the money shot, but those guys had it tough. Dangling around, genitals all bound up and cinched up, I mean, they were brought cakes all day, but not drinks so they didn’t have to pee.   

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Backwards TV

After counting on my fingers and toes, counting backwards, and consulting my computer’s desktop calendar, I have deduced (rather brilliantly) that it’s Sunday. Almost immediately I forget it, as it doesn’t mean a lot these days. We aren’t going to work and we don’t have a television that we use to watch television, but rather movies and series online or on DVD.

Truth be told, I have not been a “television watcher” for many years and I mean that literally and not in the uber-obnoxious way that some do. (I don’t even own a television.) But rather for fifteen years I have mostly watched things online. I can easily binge a sitcom if I am in need of a screen-time comfort zone. And I have a log of comfort shows and movies – Seinfeld, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Shaun of the Dead (though not recently). I can’t remember what it’s like to need to adhere to a TV schedule.

But I remember liking it. There was always something great about good TV nights. Seinfeld was on Thursdays along with Friends, The Single Guy, and the unmovable ER. And plus there’s always something brilliant about stumbling across a show rather than putting in a DVD of it. It’s like getting an extra rush of excitement. And I do think it’s why we love flipping through the channels so much. We are like primal hunters, with a remote in one hand and a box of Cheese Nips in the other, looking for the mother lode of TV that promises to be just around the corner. The first few minutes of Jaws. A replay of the Eagles Superbowl game. The very tipoff of a 10 hour M*A*S*H marathon. An episode of Columbo from the 70s. The non-remote holders might shout “For God’s sake, just stop here!” but we say “Nae! There’s something better yonder!” and beat our chests to clean our sweaters of Cheese Nips. Or something like that.

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The Corona Hours

Here in the Czech Republic, we’ve been under self-isolation rules for about 20 days. For some that’s not a big deal, for some it’s a nightmare. For me, well, I spend a pretty good amount of time trying to figure out how I feel and washing my hands.

I try to structure my days more or less in line with my normal life. I get up early, make coffee, and fend off the advances of my cat who has spent the night locked out of the bedroom and is thus recovering from the trauma of not being able to get her rectum as close to my face as possible. Pretty normal.

Things can be normal still when I sit at Mission Control (my desk), check my MITs list (most important tasks), and get started with my morning of work. When I am working on coursebook materials, an article, or fiction, I can mostly escape into those places and leave the stresses of the world behind, whether it’s a Corona World or not. I also find that when I am in the kitchen cooking and watching a show or listening to a podcast then I am also able to block out current stresses.

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The Corona Diaries

Mar 11: Day 1 of work from home. Made list today. 2 online courses. 3 novellas to tweak. Finish novel. By the time this all blows over in April, I’ll be one productive SOB.  

Mar 12: Pretty productive today. No online courses, but cleaned bathroom & organized T shirts from oldest to youngest and then again from lightest to darkest. Went to store, no evidence of panic buying, lots of available TP, milk, eggs. Interesting to note that pizza pastry and hotdogs are completely sold out. Gotta love Czech priorities. These are my apocalypse people.

Mar 13: Need a better schedule. Getting up around 7:30 but not getting to work until 9ish. Morning mostly spent drinking coffee & looking through kitchen window and watching people sneeze.

Mar 14: Having a friend for dinner, have sanitized and wiped down everything. Will decide about sanitizing friend when she gets here. Never realized how much I touch my face.

Mar 16: First day of actual quarantine. OK, know it’s not “quarantine” but who the f cares about semantics at this point? Not supposed to go anywhere at all, but if we do, we need a mask. I feel like I’ve been training for this for a decade. Need to stay alert in case something bad happens. I really need to stop touching my face so much.

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The Corona List

“A nice set. That’s what she said.” – M.D Joyce

This morning I awoke, made coffee and then sat down to work. It’s there that I saw my note in my notebook:

Monday  

  • Brush teeth
  • Wash hands and face
  • Take walk & visit nature
  • Finish and send article
  • Pitch two more
  • No Seinfeld

“Oh yeah.”

I brushed my teeth and washed my hands. Then I took a walk from my east windows to my west windows. At the west windows I watered my plants. Nature visited.

The Czech government has put us under a “full quarantine,” which, as I suspected, has its caveats. The Czechs – bless them – would never let us go without visits to the shop, visits to nature, and they would never keep us completely isolated from beer. But we have to work from home.

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Apocalyptic Travel Tips

Introduction

The aim of this report is to outline your travel options during the end of civilization. The recommended tips and ideas comes from the U.S Bureau of Happiness, Relaxation, and Dining.

Current Situation

Since the beginning of time, the world has been slowing moving towards its end. Then Trump got elected and Alan Rickman died and that end seemed a hell of a lot more imminent than it was before. At this point, a plague is eking its way across the world and American leadership doesn’t believe in medical expertise and science as much as it does Donald Trump and an invisible man who lives in the sky. No, not Muhammed. No, not Anansi. No, not Odin. No, not Ratovantany. No, not Shiva. No, no, no, not any of the Sun Gods. No. Not Mahakala, Cautantowwit, Coyote,  Batara Kala, Zamba, or Mr. Rogers. The other god. Yes, the one with the cherubs and the beard.

To summarize: there’s a good chance humanity is fucked.

Places to Go

The end of humanity means big deals in the field of travel and leisure. People are scared to fly, so this is a good chance to cash in on some very cheap flights. The U.S. Bureau of HRD suggests getting around to places while pilots and airlines are still willing to go there. Pretty soon, Italy might be on lockdown, so there is a strong push towards taking in sights in Rome, Naples, and Venice. By the time the lockdown is overturned Venice might be for scuba diving only. If you go, get a slice of pizza at a place called Jerzy’s near the Spanish Steps.

We suggest bringing four gallons of hand sanitizer and 400,000 wipes.   

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Outbreak

Burke: “Hey, can you find some hand sanitizer?”

Me: “Hand sanitizer? Yeah, sure, I think so.”

It was Thursday. I was on the metro, heading to a recording session for an ESL magazine. I jotted it on my list and went back to reading.

Shop List

Rice                 Beans              Lentils             Peas (green and chick)

Tuna                Frozen meat    Pasta             TP                   

Soap                Hand wipes     Hand sanitizer

I looked up at nobody and said aloud to nobody: “I’m not worried.”

And I wasn’t. But I was.

Earlier that day a buddy called and mentioned that his wife (who was vacationing in the mountains) had heard from other Czechs vacationing in the mountains that there was something of a mild, not so much panic, but let’s call it a panic to get emergency supplies at the supermarket. This, of course, was in response to the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus.

In general, the notion of dried goods and canned food around is a comforting one. If there were a snow storm warning or even the threat of pattering rain I might make sure I didn’t have to leave the house. So I took this recommendation in stride and made my list.

Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, news and information has been all over the place. Website news sources are certainly using dramatic terminology – urgent, outbreak, dramatic, panic. Donald Trump, employing his trademark brand of cool collected leadership in a time of worry, said ten sentences about Coronavirus, each contradicting the last and all of it together sounding like a person who not only was mentally unfit to be president, but not mentally equipped to be handing out cheese samples at a supermarket. Fortunately, by the end of the day, he had put his Number Two in charge, a guy whose name he hasn’t said out loud four times in three years and who also believes that science is a liberal hoax and that a man with a beard who lives in the sky created the world 6,000 years ago. So, you know, I felt safe. To cover his bases, Trump also intimated that the Coronavirus was the Democrats’ “new hoax.”   

While I do think the epidemic is being blown up sensationally, I also think it’s good practice to be careful, to err on the side of caution, and listen to the experts. They say to stay at least a meter or so away from possibly infected people (i.e. those sneezing or coughing or whose eyes are bleeding) and to consistently wash your hands. Also, avoid hand contact with your eyes. This one is tough. I love a good eye rub, and plus, once you make a body part off-scratching-limits it becomes forbidden fruit. I was done for.

I blinked a few times, rubbed my eye with the back of my sleeve and mapped out my day. I figured a quick stop to the mall supermarket and the drugstore across the mall hallway would be a jiff.

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So You’ve been Called to a Meeting

It happens to all of us. Your day is going swimmingly, you don’t loathe your job, things are humming along, and then you make the mistake of opening an email. And there it is, right there in an email: meeting.

No other word in the white-ish collar-ish world induces such dread as the word meeting. At the very very least, you now have to meet another person in person. And we all know that’s not where it ends.

Oh, the horror.   

But what now?

OK, first of all, come to terms with the fact that you need to go to the meeting. Calling out only means conspicuously drawing attention to yourself and probably being forced to a one on one recap, which is the equivalent of fibbing to stay home from school and getting stuck going to the doctor’s office.

More Meetings

Sometimes a meeting gives birth to a bunch of other meetings. There’s the meeting to prepare for the original meeting, an informal meeting to go over the talking points of the primary meeting as well as the minutes of the first prep meeting. Meetings are like murders in the bible – they beget another.

Meetings: An Overview

Every meeting in the history of workers aggregated near a water cooler has been negative. Every. Single. One. No meeting has ever been held to distribute cupcakes and spontaneously tell employees how great and appreciated they are.

Additionally, meetings are notorious for the off the cuff doling out of pain in the ass tasks, the willy nilly blaming of things, and the asking of questions that virtually nobody wants to answer. For these reasons, I suggest sitting as far from the head of the meeting as possible.

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