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    Ann Rostow: La Peste

    By Ann Rostow–

    La Peste

    It took me awhile to take the coronavirus seriously. Mel and I were scheduled to fly to the East Coast to visit some grandchildren in late March until their parents basically banned us from coming. We were still going out for drinks and such until recently. But, of course, we were washing our hands. We’re not crazy!

    Now, we’ve been chastened into quiet, homebound solitude. But I was interested to read that a large subset of our boomer generation has been reluctant to retreat into social distancing. Another subset of twenty-somethings is still intent on carrying on, while a vast middle generation is yelling at both sides of the age divide. The young set feels invulnerable, while the boomers feel as if they’ve already dealt with mass panic, starting when we all ducked and covered to avoid nuclear war back in grade school. Oh, we don’t scare easily. 

    The boomers didn’t go through a world war, but our parents did. We didn’t live through the depression, but our grandparents did. They survived famine, rationing, combat, bombing, and the very real fear that Nazi Germany would take over western Europe for the rest of their lives. No wonder some of us feel as if we don’t have the right to panic. That said, this is all very different now, isn’t it? 

    Speaking of bombing, I just read The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson’s account of the first year of Churchill’s stint as Prime Minister from mid-1940 to mid-1941. Talk about crisis; London was bombed continually, thousands died, and the specter of a Nazi invasion seemed certain. Children were sent to the countryside or to foreign shores. Supplies were limited. People slept in shelters and still went to work. They still went to the nightclubs. It made me feel better. 

    Astonishingly, Churchill worked until the early hours of the morning, often corralling his advisors to join him. He drank loads of champagne and brandy, smoked huge cigars constantly and took two baths a day, often dictating memos and directives from the tub. Whatever works, I guess. In the end, Britain was saved, not just by Churchill and certainly not by the isolationists in the United States, but by Hitler’s fatal decision to split his forces by attacking Russia. 

    I just reread this and it does occur to me that when I have to summon up the worst days of the blitz in order to put this pandemic into context, things are not great. Well, we’re all in it together. The denizens of Nextdoor have put aside their obsessions with coyotes and suspicious teenagers and are offering to buy groceries and do errands. My faith in humanity remains strong.

    No News Is Good News

    It’s hard to summon up our passion for GLBT legal and political news when we are inundated with existential global warnings. But that is still our mandate! The Supreme Court has ground to a halt, although I’m guessing the clerks can still write antigay opinions from home. The dreaded Title VII decisions are expected any day now, decisions that could set us back years or more in our fight for GLBT civil rights. 

    But make no mistake, the most important development in our community life centers on the election of Joe Biden (I presume) and a Democratic takeover over the U.S. Senate. We cannot survive another four years of Trump and another four years of far-right judicial appointments. I am in awe of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but her survival as an active member of the Supreme Court through early 2025 seems slim. Meanwhile, Justice Breyer is 81, not exactly a spring chicken himself. On the conservative side, no retirements seem likely. Even Thomas is only 71. We are already at 5–4. If we go to 6–3 or 7–2, God help us. 

    That said, what exactly happened to the 2020 election? We haven’t heard much about it lately, have we? November suddenly seems very far away indeed. 

    Do We Care?

    With effort, I can find GLBT news stories. There’s a nice federal Title VII decision out of Alaska, where a transgender woman who works for the state had been denied insurance coverage for transition surgery. The judge awarding us a victory in this case, Russel Holland, is 83 years old and was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan back in 1984. This gives me hope. 

    I also saw a story in the Washington Post about two South Korean women who traveled to New York to get married last year and returned home to face negative backlash on social media. What can I say? Who cares? We’re in a pandemic! 

    Oh, an Irish track star came out of the closet, and for some reason I am seeing headlines about how gay men are more likely to have older brothers, which frankly, we already knew.

    The Small Screen

    Mel and I like to binge under normal circumstances, and now find ourselves victims of a) having binged all the good stuff already, and b) having no patience for second-rate programming. We delve into this or that for twenty minutes or so, only to exchange a glance.

    “Are you into this?”

    “Watch whatever you want.” 

    Back we go to MSNBC until one of us breaks in with the announcement that she can’t stand it anymore. After a brief analysis, the other one offers up a new binge possibility. 

    “How about ‘alcoholic former police detective from Malmo solves cold cases with the help of a deaf private eye?’ It has good reviews.” 

    “Go for it.”

    Twenty minutes later we repeat the whole sequence. 

    We have been trying to expand beyond British or Scandinavian crime series, to no avail. Now, I read that Netflix has a show about a gay guy from Oklahoma who raised tigers, called Tiger King.

    According to PinkNews: “The docuseries tracks Joe Exotic as the wheels slowly start to come off of both his business and personal life—culminating in the accidental death of one of his husbands, and his eventual imprisonment for attempting to have Carole Baskin of animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue murdered.”

    Hmmm. Frankly, this is not our kettle of fish, but we may be running out of material. And our tastes, usually in perfect synch, have diverged at times. I can’t be bothered with The L Word, because I haven’t followed it. Mel is hooked. I’m following shows she has rejected, including This is Us, (too smarmy for her) and Below Deck, Sailing Ship, (bores her).  

    Finally, we are bereft by the lack of sports on TV. No March Madness just as our beloved Jayhawks were poised to take it all. Really? The French Open postponed or cancelled. Golf gone on the eve of the Masters. The other day we watched a rerun of the 2008 NCAA hoops championship, which Kansas won after hitting a last second three-pointer to put the game into overtime. It was something, but it just reminded us of all we have lost. Sob.

    Social Distance

    So, what are you doing during this forced isolation? When not struggling over our limited entertainment options, we have been reading, making stuff to eat, and, of course, mixing cocktails. Thankfully, liquor stores are still considered essential businesses, and I can even get booze delivered. It’s common knowledge that “airport rules apply” to social distancing, ergo we can day drink. Strangely, we have not been taking advantage of this new freedom, I think because we would both be dead drunk by noon if we indulged beyond our natural instincts.

    Last week I made a list of about 30 drawers and cabinets to tackle, but have only managed the two easiest ones. Mel has planted a bunch of vegetables, mowed the grass, and cleaned the car. We are refinancing our house to take advantage of the lower mortgage rates. We got our taxes done and got credits for our cancelled trip. We have tickets to London on May 6 that seem to be still operable, but that now seems like a doubtful prospect. Our daughter’s family lives in Scotland, which is locked down, but who knows what April will bring? 

    Mel and I wander aimlessly around our neighborhood from time to time. We do laundry, wash our hands for no reason, video chat, play online poker, and lounge about. I have made salmon. She has made cod. I have made a porterhouse steak. She has made the “U.S. Senate Bean Soup” out of some beans in a big soup mug that my cousin gave us well over a year ago and that we kept for decorative purposes until recently. 

    Our favorite quarantine cocktail these days involves a shot of gin, two shots of grapefruit juice, and a splash of Campari. Shake and pour over ice with a lemon or orange wedge. The shot of gin should be larger than the shots of grapefruit juice. A good cocktail in my view is stronger than one-third alcohol, but not as strong as one-half alcohol. So yes, roughly four tenths booze if it comes down to specifics. We start around four. 

    Mainly, I suppose we thank heavens that we are stuck in this together, that we remain healthy, and that while our retirement funds are melting away, we are not going broke at the moment. Our friends and family are hanging in there and we have far more to be grateful for than we have to complain about. 

    We are lucky.

    Published on March 26, 2020