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Po-Boy Views: COVID Purgastory or Suspended Animation

15:00 April 21, 2021
By: Phil LaMancusa

Am I mistaken or did I just lose a year (plus) of my life? It seems so. A year. Gone. What happened...? What happened was/is a worldwide epidemic that is innocently enough called a 'pandemic' (it's less tragic sounding on the mind, I think) that threw a monkey wrench, wet blanket, buzz buster of a lifestyle reality change at me and then kicked me to the curb and under a bus and I still am not allowed to hug any of my friends for commiseration, compassion, and/or consolation!

The rumor of our collective disruption began January 2020 and the hammer came down in March: "wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands; rinse and repeat." Folks are catching it and dying; this shyte is hella serious!

Mardi Gras 2020 was the last hurrah before the curtains started to close in like a fade to black B movie scene. No Jazz Fest (we had already purchased tickets for ALL the days). No French Quarter Fest or any of the other 'Fests' that happen around our area (Crawfish, Strawberry, Boudin, Satchmo, etc) that I may or may not have attended given my ability to freely choose. Any travel plans that we might have had hatching in our fun and fantasy musings got smothered at birth as the rest of the country, and the world, closed for business and pleasure; I admit that that only made my wanderlust more acute.

In the summer, our local city's free swimming pools began taking only on line reservations for attendance. The Stallings pool (Olympic size, outdoor venue) was limited to eight people at a time, down from an all-welcome affair; the Treme Center down to six. Museums, galleries, theaters, aquarium, zoo, and any other alternative activities shut down like a café with a rodent infestation. Restaurants were closing (some permanently), reopening, and shutting down again in an endless COVID-19 threat level tango. All around, people shopping like we're under attack; there were shortages of paper products, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and food products such as baking flour and yeast.

Our lives became upended as the unemployment rate skyrocketed. The gravy train rolled in and we caught a ride at six large a week, which we did our best to give away: our stimulus check went to a Latino church, we gave freely and even got mostly out of debt ourselves, we got the car fixed.

Debbie assures me that my shopping has not abated, but I don't concur; I haven't been to any places that pose a health risk, which, until very recently, have been corner markets, convenience stores (for lottery tickets), and any place where people who don't take precautions as they shop. You see, a lot of folks around here did not take the plague (that's what it is) seriously and it was suspect that we could venture anywhere with safety and security because of these ignoramuses that could very well be walking virus spreaders.

The weather didn't help either. We had heat, street flooding, power outages, hurricanes, and, this winter, we had freezing cold. We had a political landscape that mirrored our weather: ups and downs and downs and downs and, with it, my optimism and my faith dove for the covers and hid. We hunkered down as much as humanly possible while still trying to carry on in some type of normalcy. Shopping became, for the most part, a weekly affair, buying in quantity meals ahead and stocking up on essentials (critter food) just as the rest of the city did.

We watched the news incessantly. We watched the numbers go up. We lost a friend and a few acquaintances to the disease. We got tested as often as possible. We have morning coffee with The New York Times (delivered). Happy hour became potato chips and a cold beer in bed. We bake bread, cookies, prepare meals, and muse of things lost. Even our staff meetings for Where Y'at are on Zoom now.

We're damn near aliens to our friends and families, socially distanced, you might say. I catch up with my family through electronics (cell phone, social media); my grandkids are getting bigger and are getting virtual educations.

We ask each other: "What do you miss most?" "Where would you go eat?" "What trip would you take?" "Who would you hug?" Pick the first three that come to mind; GO!

I finally scored a job; Debbie is still looking. It's not been easy. Sure, the government is still willing to kick in, but we enjoy gainful employment, the interaction, the productivity, the work. I work with a dozen masked people. The other day, I realized that I don't know what any of them look like. I wouldn't recognize them on the street (unless they were masked).

New Orleans is a tactile city. We hug, bump, kiss, hustle, and show affection to each other and to people we just have met. We dance together and close. I'm wrapped in a social cocoon, unable to touch or be touched. Luckily, I have a house full of critters and a woman who loves me dearly. But it still feels like I lost a year (plus) of my life and, still, no one knows when our lives, as we knew them, will return or if this really is the new reality.

We collectively imagine our future to look like our past but I'm not sure that that's ever going to be possible. They talk about herd immunity. They talk of political harmony. They talk of environmental and social safety and nurturing. They talk as if this is the first year of the rest of our lives. They talk of shaking off the past and bravely pulling up our big boy pants after taking it in the shorts. They talk and talk and talk about striding boldly where no one has gone before. Me? I just don't know.

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