The Nearness of You

This isn't turning into the party hangout I hoped.

How are you doing? How is it going today? Are you getting enough sleep? What’s happening?

Here are some things that I know are going on with some people: all across the country, people are fostering animals that were in shelters. Some shelters are getting 10 times as many requests to give a home to animals as there are animals to house. A college friend who is a teacher and uses 3-D printing a lot is making face shields for hospital staff, a distillery that was just starting to open up its bar and sales shifted production and is now providing free hand sanitizer in addition to vodka, and is also selling gallons of hand sanitizer (we bought some, and it was the only sanitizer I had come across in two months), a nurse practitioner friend has been using a separate bathroom from her son and husband for weeks and has plans to stay in a hotel if she gets sick, a photographer friend raised over $5,000 for #GetusPPE by taking photos of folks on their front steps, a fashion designer is making hundreds of cloth face masks, more than 90,000 retired and active health care workers signed up online to volunteer in NYC, including 25,000 from outside New York.

I have been staying up until 1 a.m. watching a show about soldier witches.

I’m not doing this because I am desperate to watch this show about witches, witches who do a lot of their fighting through vocalizing (which is interesting theoretically but the show is really struggling with the idea of depicting varieties of female swagger); I am doing this at 1 a.m. because no one else in my home is awake at that time.

Not my son, with whom I am delighted to read long books. We start sitting next to each other on the couch, and with each word he doesn’t so much invade as become my personal space. He sits on my knees and then my stomach and then, basically, on my chest, like an olde tymes demon, but cute. I have been a human climbing structure lo these last 10 years, but his new thing is “nose-bending” in which he squashes his nose flat against my face. Any exposed part of my face.

Also not awake is my daughter, who has memorized all of “Hamilton.” All day she sings or raps it. All day while doing anything. She lip syncs it at dinner because there is a no humming, singing, or chanting rule. She has asked me a lot of questions about whores and bitches. Bless you, Lin Manuel Miranda, for making such a yadda yadda praise praise educational history-making etc. sensation. This one has really gotten stuck in the machinery:

But I have changed the lyrics to, “I have the honor to be your unbeeaaarable soundtrack.”

Also asleep at 1 a.m. is my husband, who spends six hours a day guiding our first grader through 75 online portals and yesterday did an hour of home gym in the kitchen, and today coaxed him out of the chair where he was curled up in a ball crying because he had to watch a dubbed video of a young woman singing about poetry in your pocket. I can hear the thumping of home P.E. and the wailing of Youtube poetry classes from our bedroom, where I am supposed to work for eight hours a day at a child’s desk.

So everyone is asleep when I am awake, except Pancake, our hamster. She gnaws at her cage. She gnaws through the twist ties and pipe cleaners we have used to secure the spring-loaded doors of her cage. She has escaped five times. I would like Pancake to live free and in the wild, but apparently hamsters can only withstand a 10-degree temperature range (65-75 degrees F) and have no natural resistance to the parasites around here, so if we let her go it’s a bit like just releasing her onto a food-free glacier covered with poisonous tacks. If you wonder whether monkeys at keyboards can eventually write Shakespeare’s plays, I don’t know what to tell you, but I can assure that one hamster will, in the space of four months, create Danish death metal with just her teeth and two Kaytee hamster cages with tube attachments. It is so loud. It is so loud that I mistook it for someone knocking at the front door, not just once but four times last night. It is so loud that I thought a rack in the stove had somehow fallen down. It is so loud that we have her in an area away from the bedrooms but near the tv where I watch the witches late at night. Late at night is Pancake time. That is when she thrives.

We have this cage plus another one, with three tubes and a tower. It is not enough, by any means, for Pancake.

Also post-midnight is nacho time. Nacho time for me. Sometimes, it is the idea of nachos that you may have right now, like official tortilla-chips-with-normal-shit-on-them nachos. But often it is Saltines with cold shredded mozzarella and one jalapeño, or the crumbs from the bottom of a bag of salt and vinegar chips, arranged in a pile (a silicone basting brush helps with this), with pub cheese dropped very carefully on top so that you don’t disperse too much of the salty dust. Sometimes it’s just hot cheese eaten with chopsticks. Sometimes it’s several olives, if I have them, while I approximate a crunch sound by knocking on a hard surface or tapping my foot over the crumbs on our kitchen floor. My one and only New Year’s Resolution, for two years running, was “Put a stop to the night nachos. You don’t even want them!” (I do want them.)

My children did not inherit my taste for salt, and only want sugar. The 10-year-old has made chocolate cupcakes three times in two weeks. We ran out of confectioners sugar, which the frosting recipe called for, so she processed granulated sugar and this happened:

This looks sideways but will play upright if you click play.

It’s sugar wind! It’s the mists of Mordor, except Sauron is no longer in charge because he has been replaced by Tio Choko.

Have you ever had a beloved person sit right on top of you, sit cheek-to-cheek, in fact, and loudly eat a soft cupcake? It shouldn’t be noisy; that shouldn’t be possible. And yet it is possible, and when you are going to be ONLY in each other’s company for a long time, is that the time to point out unpleasant eating habits/noises, or is it the time to gently forbear? According to my own childhood, it is the time to mercilessly attack and shame the person until they are afraid to do anything, ever. According to my adulthood… it… is… is it? The time to say nothing except “Hey, remember, we always eat with our mouths closed,” and then hours later talk, but only in a general sense, about the importance of eating quietly? OMFG.

Also, have you ever bought pounds of Easter-themed candy, hidden it, forgotten about it, and then found it on the eve of Easter and stuffed it into the baskets of the small people who are sharing a limited space with you for the foreseeable future? Have you done that at 7 a.m. and then set those fuckers LOOSE? Do elementary school nurses give out bath salts and eight balls right before they do lice checks? Do bouncy house tenders hand out thorn bushes to the preschoolers in line? Do world leaders encourage people to gather, ungloved, mask-free, with children in tow and no physical distancing, by the thousands at state capitals during a pandemic where infectious spittle can live on dangerously for 72 hours on any surface except maybe copper?

Well, the latter, sure. That happens, with the support of a network of conservative-funded nonprofits like FreedomWorks, which offers guidelines for how to create disease hotspots by appearing in person at governors’ mansions for what my friend calls Flu Klux Klan rallies.

This is what a protest in Ohio looked like:

On the left is Melissa Ackison, who is running for a state senate seat in Ohio, described herself as enraged, and brought her 10-year-old son to the protest.

This, my friends, is too close. These people look like they are being chased by zombies and want to get into a safe place. But in fact they are the zombies and they are bringing the heat. By heat I mean fevers. All I see are orifices and surfaces for the ball of crown-y disease to get into so it can burrow and destroy. I am wondering how many of these people will need to be intubated. Being intubated = not liberty. Liberty goes with life and the pursuit of happiness. Who is happy in an ICU? Who, when their lungs turn glassy and their other major organs are damaged by the Coronavirus, is easy-breezy? I read an account by a respiratory therapist in Louisiana about what exactly happens when he puts patients on ventilators. It is not my story to tell, but one detail, that of a red froth gathering around the mouth, I cannot shake.

I have two tips: One, if you need buttermilk for some reason and don’t have any but have milk and a lemon, lemon juice, or vinegar, you can add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for 10 minutes. It will get chunky and silty and help you make pancakes. Two: It’s useful to know that while we are all anxious and hemmed in, most people are not the people pictured above, and those people are being encouraged (if not incited, at a time when we are all on the goddamn verge) and bankrolled by a network of flush-with-cash conservative groups. According to the Associated Press:

“Polls show the protesters’ views are not widely held. An AP-NORC survey earlier this month found large majorities of Americans support a long list of government restrictions, including closing schools, limiting gatherings and shuttering bars and restaurants. Three-quarters of Americans backed requiring people to stay in their homes. And majorities of both Democrats and Republicans gave high marks for the state and city governments.”

*If you are not familiar with bath salts:

I am kind of wondering if the Ohio political hopeful howling above is on bath salts. How sexy or super-friendly she feels is anyone’s guess. One former bath salt addict described the experience of being on the drug this way: “You feel like you’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and you actually do not feel any pain.” Interestingly, Ackison said she had “’no fear whatsoever’ of contracting the virus,” and dismissed it “as hype.” Is Ackison on bath salts? No. Maybe? No, I guess not. (But maybe?) It’s not in the FreedomWorks guidelines. At least not the ones I read. I bet if you subscribe to their newsletter, you get all the paranoid sex-panic hallucinatory extra-secret advice.

What should we do? Along with hand-washing and wearing masks and keeping physical distance and trying to lend a metaphorical hand and getting lost in all the digital availabilities, it seems like people are figuring out what to do on their own and/or inventing things while perhaps standing in a gravy of wear and tear on unmopped floors. My godmother posted a photo of a pan that she had cleared of nachos and an empty beer glass by noon one day. I feel like I have nothing more to ask of a godmother than that. Also, I am looking forward to the day when we all emerge from our homes looking like members of Foghat and Colin Kaepernick or just have buzz cuts and don’t understand the concept of “hard clothes.” If you want to get a little bit annoyed, because we are in the shit right now and you don’t need anyone to tell you what to do, imagine it’s 1974 and you just had a Sanka and a ham sandwich while playing “A Hole to Hide In” in your prison of a bedroom but then your friend calls and is like “I got us tickets to see Foghat!” and while you’re waiting for your friend to pick you up in an AMC Pacer full of Virginia Slims you tee up “Step Outside Take a Ride” because that’s what you’re (eventually) gonna do.


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