Monday, May 25, 2020

Guest Post: The Ulysses S. Grant Of Lockdown

This guest post is by my former co-blogger at Commonwealth and Commonwealth, Felix Kent.

The first time I ever made waffles was in the beginning of what California calls shelter-in-place. It was the very beginning and my work hadn't yet figured out how we could telework, so I was officially off the hook, although I couldn’t stop checking email and trying to return voicemails, normally tasks that I avoid. But also I was staying up as late as I wanted and one mid-morning still in my pajamas and with that weird milky morning smell still around me I for the first time used the waffle attachment for the Cuisinart griddle I bought my husband for his birthday a few years ago. I made the batter at Martha Stewart's direction in a big white porcelain bowl. At first the waffles didn’t cook at all, but then I figured out the knobs were improperly calibrated, and I deduced the right temperature, and the waffles rose into fluffy piles, and they were good with blackberry jam, at least as good as an Eggo.

The whole thing had that feeling I only normally get when I go to my mother's house for Christmas, which I haven't done in years and years, a kind of relinquishment of moving forward. It was great, I loved it. I took more baths than I took showers. Once a week I had to go into the office and the lack of cars on the road would make me cry, would remind me that people were dying, but then I would come home and I would read in a way that it felt like I hadn’t read since I was a kid on summer vacation, a total abandon, a loss of self. It was so messed up. Last summer something went wrong in my back and for months and months the nerve that goes down my right leg had been shrieking in pain anytime I stood up and I had been kind of desperate to be at home and then all of a sudden the world closed down and I was home all the time and I loved it.

I had this English teacher in junior high who was one of those well-known great teachers except that I hated her and I don’t think she liked me very much, but at one point in the class she asked us how to treat other people well and I, believing myself both smart and good, raised my hand and said that we should think about what we would want in their situation and she whirled around and looked at me and said, no, people are different from each other. And no other teacher that I’ve had has ever told me anything as useful as that. I joked a lot during the beginning of the pandemic about how this was my Winston-Churchill-in-World-War-II moment, my Ulysses-S.-Grant-plucked-from-his-hardware-store. I was made for this historical moment. I like staying at home; I like not seeing people. A decade ago I flew all the way across country to a friend’s wedding and the night before the wedding this group of friends I hadn’t seen in years -- some of my closest friends -- tried to lure me out of my hotel room until finally the one of them that was closest to me said, are you kidding? The hotel room is her favorite thing. And he was right and I went to sleep and I felt a little bad about it but not really.

It was a cozy apocalypse; my bedsheets were clean and I wore my comfortable stretchy clothes around the house and the CalTrans signs on the freeway told me not to go anywhere and mostly I didn't. And I didn’t know an apocalypse could be cozy in that way, but the other thing I didn’t know, even though I should have known, even though that terrible John Cusack movie tried to tell me, is that the apocalypse would be nicer to people with more money.

The apocalypse was cozy for me. Because I had a job where I didn’t have to go in and because I had a house that is comfortable and because I had a car and because I was still getting paid. This was not the human condition; this was my condition. It was messed up. The internet in my home was super-fast; I bought expensive maple syrup to put on the waffles. Probably I was doing the most useful thing I could do at that particular moment. I could have been just as characterologically well-equipped to stay home and if I were poorer my historical moment for greatness would have passed me by. It wouldn’t have been less unfair if I had hated sheltering in place, but maybe it would have been better in another way. I don't know.

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