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Life in the Time of Coronavirus

My starting assumption today is the only people reading this column are the ones who aren’t out buying up all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer that’s still available. Nor are any of you those folks who are endlessly posting on social media that this is either the end of the world or a complete global conspiracy to bring down Donald Trump.

Let’s start with noticing that removing three letters in the middle of “pandemic” gets you “panic.” Not much to get from one to the other. Granted that the excised syllable is “dem” and begs for a political comment, I’ll just leave it that, on average, the Democrats demonstrated more concern earlier on than the Republicans did, which is completely meaningless in dealing with the problem we now face.

“Existential” is a word that’s been getting a lot of play the last few years, usually referring to Trump and often followed by the word “threat.” Now we’re hearing “existential threat” applied to the coronavirus, although I think it’s time to ditch the nebulous adjective in favor of something more literal. “Extant threat” sounds so much less, I don’t know, existential.

But keeping with “existential” for my purposes, we need only replace the “ist” with “pon” to get “exponential”—a word that might require some remedial algebra lessons for those who missed it or weren’t paying attention in high school. One need only glance at a graph of COVID-19 cases in Italy over the last month to be reminded what exponential means. Or cases in the United States, for that matter.

Sometimes, folks do things to make themselves feel better or more in control than they actually are. Buying toilet paper is one example. Chuckling about such naivete is understandable, but it’s fine by me if it helps get someone through the night.

Years ago, I was advised by a therapist to say out loud anything I really needed to remember, as testing had shown that I’m a very verbal person (quelle surprise). Daily affirmations, even of the Stuart Smalley variety, probably work on that same principle. But repeatedly telling oneself what is demonstrably not true is counter- productive at best and delusional at worst.

Anxiety about what is happening is real, and what we are experiencing has public health, economic, and political implications to it. As is so often the case, those with the most physical risk to getting seriously ill or dying from the virus must depend on the younger, healthier folks to prevent spreading it as much as is possible. Those most vulnerable to the economic effects will no doubt, and as usual, be those hourly workers without paid leave and minimal, if any, health insurance.

As far the politics, well, what’s the chance that the American people will come together and hold our national leaders accountable for how well or how poorly we weather this storm? You tell me.

I just checked to make sure we’ve got plenty of toilet paper. Honestly, I don’t know what that has to do with any of this. But Karl did stock up on one of those nice, soft brands after he had bought some of that stuff that feels like those brown, pulpy paper towels that were always stocked in school bathrooms after I told him we couldn’t put that sandpaper in the powder room that our lady friends use.

So we’ve got enough soft toilet paper for now and scratchy stuff if need be. And if starts to look like it’s going to get that bad, I’m going to hide a few rolls of the good stuff and only take it out when I need it. Just don’t tell Karl.

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