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.

You see, this is perfect timing. Burke suggested a couple of weeks ago that we watch The Walking Dead. This is a rewatch for me, as I dove into the show a few years ago, and going back through the first six seasons has been enormously fun. Like going back and seeing old friends and watching them die in horrendously unique and agonizing ways.

A side effect of watching The Walking Dead is a consistent conversation about the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan. What do we do if…?

Not to give up too much, can’t trust anyone, but we will…would avoid the rush from Prague as the Czechs desperately tried to get to their cottages. As long as we could avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time (trapped on a metro or being an EMT before people know what’s going on) then we could make it. One of the big killers in the first period will be the traffic and the possibility of being overrun while trapped in a car. It’s a horrifying thought. We’ll…’d stock up on food and supplies and whatever we can get that would serve as a weapon, fill all containers (tub, sinks, jars, bottles, pots, and glasses) with water and barricade the doors. Then we’d hang out and see how long our Netflix lasted and the TV after that. Then we’d read and play Trivial Pursuit. Don’t do anything stupid, be supplied, and be at home. We should be OK. It sounded so simple. It sounded so reasonable.  

The recording was done in a small studio with porous microphones and the eggshell foam lining the walls for acoustics. I did my first recording with a woman who had been there for a few hours. She looked tired and I tried to notice if any blood was seeping from her eyes. She seemed clear. Then she slunk out.

“Can you get a little closer to the microphone?”

I swallowed. “I suppose I could.” I had never felt more British in my life. I squirmed closer. I worked for an hour, the room was warm, the parasites and virus molecules zoomed between my mouth and the microphone, the vastly soft, minutely moist microphone. I noted to myself that if I survived this thing, I would develop a condom for microphones.  

I made myself convinced that this was how it happened for me. This was my wrong place, wrong time for the Corona apocalypse. There was an initial outbreak of people who had eye-fondling tics and those who shared microphones. Usually, I can safely say I am not on a high-risk category, but in this case I was patient X34. In the TV series about the Coronavirus, I would be in the background. And I would not be moving.

I left the studio and drank in the air. Everything seemed normal, but that’s how it all starts, doesn’t it? Everything seems normal and then you’re being nibbled on by your elderly neighbor. Bam. Done.

The store wasn’t overly packed, but there was no pasta, and the guy stocking it was taking a “the world’s not about to end” approach to it. If the eye thing didn’t get me or the microphone didn’t get me, it would be this lazy stock boy. I bought two bags of rice, beans, peas and lentils. I bought so much tuna I looked as though I owned a cat farm. The shelves for handwipes and hand sanitizer were notably empty.

As were they at the drugstore across the hall.

I went home with more urgency than I want to admit here and felt worlds better once I was pajamaed and looking through my window with binoculars at the unluckies who had to be outside near all those damn people with their damn eye-things and all those damn microphones. When Burke got home later we ran around the neighborhood to find hand sanitizer and were told with practiced phraseology that they were sold out. We finally stumbled upon a few bottles at the local supermarket. We bought some and we went home.

“Should we go to the pub?” I asked.

“I don’t know, do you really want to?” Burke said.

I imagined all those mouths on all those beer mugs, a cursory rinse and then my mouth on them all. That definitely seemed like a wrong place, wrong time scenario to me. If it wasn’t the eye-thing, the microphones, or the lazy stock boy, it would be the beer mugs.

“Maybe not. Let’s just go home and look at our supplies.”

“Can we watch The Walking Dead?”

“I think we have to.”

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