In February, 1944, Lt. Ed Charles was a Navigator in the 336th Squadron, 95th Bomb Group out of Horham, England. One night he was sleeping in the barracks when the door flew open and the C.Q. (Charge of Quarters) went probing through the darkness with a flashlight. “Is there an empty bunk in there? We have a new arrival and he needs a place to sleep.” Ed told the CQ the bunk next to his was vacant. He sat up. He offered to help the new guy unpack his gear and get squared away.
I let the dogs out late the other night and looked up in the sky to see a train of satellites — forty, fifty, sixty of them — racing through the stars. It is a testament to effective quarantine — and a purpose-built informational firewall — that I didn’t know what I was seeing, and so had one of those increasingly rare moments in life where everything was startlingly new, and fresh, and even exciting.
In response to wildly irresponsible remarks made by the artist David Hockney, who told the NY Post that smokers are immune to the coronavirus, the Figure 8 Ranch assembled our emergency response team for a counter-briefing. Here is an unclassified transcript of the briefing for widest dissemination…
The seasons have finally turned here in the Cascades, which mostly means a ton of work. Spring in the mountains is a cranky bitch, like the old flatbed Studebaker I drove when chasing cows on the Fish Creek Ranch out of Eureka, Nevada. It took a full can of starting fluid every morning to get that motor to run but she would eventually cough and snort and whine and then finally crank in a cloud of black and blue smoke.
I am now 72 hours into a self-imposed news blackout and the results have been marvelous. The decision to quarantine my mind, and spare it the slings and arrows of fear-based journalism and morale-sucking stupidity, was actually compelled by a mistake.
Shakespeare was right, of course. We come sliding into the world and, drawing our first breath in it, seem to somehow intuit life’s pre-eminent lesson: we are entitled to precisely nothing — not food, not water, not toilet paper, and certainly not surgical masks and ventilators. And so it is that in our first few moments in the arena we give a great angry cry in protest — until someone sticks a tit in our mouths.
It’s worth noting the possibility that a novel coronavirus, the result of some communist party jackass French-kissing a bat at a food court in Wuhan, China, will accomplish what Chairman Xi and Bernie never could have: turning America into a socialist paradise. That’s a story for the ages if there ever was one.
Enjoying the pandemic much? That’s a fair question because so far, from my little combat outpost where I sit and dream of a former life — when I thought I was Con Conagher — we seem to be collectively overdoing the doom. Don’t get me wrong, I take this virus very seriously, as I would any kind of worldwide illness, but there is a noticeable absence of optimism in the air.
“Why, believing as he did, that all human obduracy was susceptible to common sense, was he unable to turn back? Why was he determined to complete his journey even if it meant putting his life in danger? At what point had this prank, this joke, this piece of horseplay become serious?”
–John Cheever, The Swimmer
This morning, early, before I’d even had my first cup of tea, and in the wake of news that the stock market was caught in a death spiral — the worst day in its history and tanking on wholly unfounded global anxiety and media driven perfidy — I received an excellent text from my daughter. She wrote: “At an autopsy with detectives for a potential homicide.” Which was proof again that life in the twisting alleyways of Rome goes on, flame lit and gruesome, whether trading in the plaza has been suspended or not.
Now in our gloomy age of endless traffic congestion, retro-socialism, and retail pandemic terror — a dark night made even darker by the waxen heads at every evening news desk in the television universe — the average citizen has some critical choices to make. To wit: shall we live in terror of Covid-19? Shall we gnash our teeth and rend our garments and join the Brothers of the Cross, flagellating ourselves in the town plaza to free the world of colds and single use plastic bags, whipping our flesh to beat back the growing tide of human poop and hypodermic needles on the sidewalks, to end forever the horrors of red meat and chevy suburbans, of plastic straws and emerging hemorrhagic fevers?
Not so long ago I bottomed out. It was a hard stoppage. If you’ve ever been out on the desert, driving too fast on nominal roads, and suddenly high-centered your rig in the rocks, you’ll have some idea what this felt like. There were some nasty scraping sounds as my skid plate dragged over the rocks, followed by a solid “kathunk” and a jaw-jamming loss of forward movement. Things on the backseat ended up on the dashboard. My seatbelt locked up like a parachute harness and there might have been some whiplash. It was all quite unexpected because I was actually at a dinner party.