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:


  • 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


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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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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Talk to Me, Like

One of the more interesting aspects of visiting a place is negotiating the language in the place where you visit. This is true even when speaking of my native tongue. A week in Limerick for work seemed the perfect opportunity to listen to the Irish use of the English language. And so I had a pet project.

Perhaps a lucky coincidence was a layover in Germany and Storm Ciara, which gave me an opportunity to counterpoint the flowery exposition of the Irish against the pragmatic and direct (read: cruel) nature of German. The first voice we heard was our German pilot. Engineers are the most pragmatic beings on Earth and once you make that engineer German it hits a level of pragmatism and precision void of all humanity or capacity to feel. 

Pragmatic German Pilot

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, you might have noticed that most of the flights within Western Europe have been cancelled, but our flight to Dublin has not been. This is due to the fact that there is no rain there, but there is a lot of high winds. We are going to give it a try. The good news is that we have plenty of fuel, so if we can’t land we can simply turn around and come back to Munich. OK? Good. So, now I instruct you to sit back and relax and we shall be on our way.”

My feelings about this broadcast are varied, but can mostly be labelled under the headings of anger, confusion, and horror. Unless he or she is speaking about the hopes of making up lost time or avoiding turbulence, one never likes to hear the word try come from a pilot’s mouth. This is especially true when the verb + noun to be attempted is land an airplane and the action / punishment resulting in the hypothetically failed future attempt is death in a fiery crash (with lots of fuel to burn) or returning to Munich after a 5 hour tour of northwestern Europe from 42,000 feet.

Additionally, this pilot and I have vastly different understandings of what entails ‘good news’ and what sort of things purvey ‘relaxation’.    

Spoiler alert: we made it. You may not want a German pilot to ease your worries, but you definitely want one landing an Airbus A320 in a rainstorm in Dublin.

What cheer we had at landing safely was properly spanked out of us by a long line at passport control. By the time we got outside to find our bus to Limerick the rain and sleet was coming down hard. Furthermore, we were late and therefore unsure about whether we’d be able to get on the later bus. The following was a conversation that warmed our cockles.

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Back to Éire

I’ve always been drawn to Ireland. I think this is because as a kid I was a firm believer in Brownies and Leprechauns. And by “as” a kid I mean “since” I was a kid. It has always seemed a mystical place to me. And while I am very aware of the fact that Ireland is far more than a land of light or spooky folktales and that the monsters and the horrors in Ireland have at times been very real, something about it has always drawn me. My favorite places are all over the place.

On my first trip to Ireland, back in the last few months on the last century, a perfect storm of weekend activities meant that instead of going to Galway, I went instead to Doolin. Doolin, a town of about 150 people, is right down the road from the Cliffs of Moher, and is home to two pubs known for traditional Irish music. I got a room in the Rainbow Hostel – the same one I’d stay in with two friend about 8 years later.

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Plant Eater

Plant Eater

It’s great to have friends who are moving. I mean, it’s sad, no doubt, but there is nothing like the dissipating resolve of a person standing in a room of their belongings and the knowledge that they have to pack them into boxes and bring them somewhere else. This is the way you end up with things. Lots of things. It’s even better when that friend is leaving on an airplane, so there’s no way they can bring everything.

It’s in this way that I have recently ended up with a yoga mat, a popcorn maker, lots of honey, a Pilates ball, a knife block, a set of pots, a rug, a cast iron pan, and a plant stand and several plants.

All of these things are useful and I have already used most of them. But the rug, the plant stand, and the plants have brought the most joy. They bring a cozy atmosphere to the flat that simply wasn’t there before. It has also given my cat a full circle of activity.

She climbs the plant stand

She eats the plants

She pukes onto the rug

It’s the circle of life.

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As a language professional (sounds like I talk dirty to you for cash) I like being up on all of the current lingo trends and fads. The world of language is fascinating and always changing. There’s a way grammar books say we talk and then there’s the way we actually talk.

Most native speakers know that you technically shouldn’t say “I’m done working” or “I’m good” in response to “How are you?” They know that you shouldn’t say “literally” when you’re intensifying, but rather when you are speaking literally. But the thing is, this is how people actually speak.

If you can’t accept these things, you reveal yourself to be stubbornly behind the linguistic times. And this is nothing to be proud of, and you would do well to keep in mind that your generation is no better linguistically than this one. Your generation – greatest, boomer, X, Y, or Z – all gleefully broke language rules of yore and the ways you broke them became everyday language. So don’t be so judgmental.  

That being said, some of it bugs me like an ulcer on my tongue. For example, I hate a mix up between your and you’re or worse between they’re, their, and there. I find it to be a case where technology helps us cut linguistic corners and in the process renders many of us thumb-scrolling troglodytes.

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Testy Time

Do you have a pen?

Testing time at the university is a fascinating week. In the first place, as a teacher, you get to meet a whole new group of students you never knew. On each register there are names that are nothing more than curios, a couple of eastern or central European words whose attendance blocks are unsullied by a pen marking them present. During testing week these people climb out of the woodwork to introduce themselves and to offer explanations as to why they haven’t seen you in three months. Almost always there has been a visa problem, an illness, a dead relative. All of which, naturally, somehow denies them use of their fingers and the email on the phone they have attached to their hands 23 hours a day.

In the midst of this, you have to then administer the test. Now, one would think that when you are walking into a written examination you might have on your person a pen. However, you would be terribly incorrect in this assumption. I have searched my inner slouch to figure out why a student would walk into a (and this is a key word) written test without a pen. I have come up with the three possible answers. One, their dedication to English is such that they were going to tear open a finger and write in blood. Two, they were hoping that not having a pen would result in an automatic pass. Three, they are missing a chromosome.

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