Journal of the Plague Year 2020: We’re Handling This Like Men

siamese cat
My cat, Lyndon Johnson, isn’t certain that the presidential election will be held on November 3. That’s not his job. He’s not making any promises he can’t keep.

It’s not easy to keep your guard up here in Baja Arizona.

Don’t get me wrong. Viewed objectively, the increase in confirmed cases is alarming. Human beings are an unstable blend of wishful thinking and optimism, though, so we’re pretty good at watching positive test results go from 70 to 13,169 and thinking, Yeah, that sounds about right. No one I know is sick. My hair’s getting shaggy. I’m bored, and I really miss the potato tacos and hugs at Turmerico. Maybe I’ll finally break down and get some takeout.

Except — tedious fact — turns out someone I know is sick, because they just had a confirmed case in one of the labs I work in.

Here’s how efficient the rumor mill is: I was texting with an analyst who’s looking at data from a project of mine. In the middle of our conversation, she heard from a coworker who was getting thrown out of a lab early. Someone tested positive, so they shut down for deep cleaning. Just before leaving work, he texted a lead who admitted it was one of his people.

Everyone who came in contact with the positive case will get an email telling them to self-quarantine for 14 days. Until then, we’ll all be doing the mental exercise where we think, OK, I haven’t been in there for three weeks. But my boss is down there all the time, and my Lead Engineer sits there. And you think, Oh, dear, I hope Matt and Kirk and Joel and Casey and Mihai and Scott are all OK.

I’ve said this before: I’m really impressed with how my company has handled the pandemic. They’ve ordered everyone to stay home whenever possible, and divided the rest of us into shifts. They’re providing masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and disinfectants, along with clear instructions about when and how to use them. They’re handing out socially distanced lunch onsite, and requiring a Consent-to-Go review for company travel. My little 5-axis lab is probably one of the safest places in Tucson.

And yet, here we are.

One of the biggest changes for me has been the idea that you should take illness and infection seriously. I’ve had a lot of chronic illness in my life — migraines, asthma, narcolepsy — and my response has been macho insistence that I’m fine, and that sick days are for pussies. One of the fundamental premises of flight test engineering is that if one guy gets the sniffles, you’re all going down. You’re locked in a tiny, windowless room with foot-thick steel doors for hours at a time. You take a sick day when you’re so irritable you’re afraid you’ll take a swing at someone, not because you have a cough. Not going to work when I’m sick will be a big change.

And, until recently, I had an admirable immune system. I could do 108 push-ups, and a one-armed pull-up. If you want to know what happened, it’s narrated in these pages in the last several episodes of The Magnificent Five. After coldly telling Sextus, “I’m never ill,” Inglorion contracts gaol fever and pneumonia. He collapses physically, suffers public humiliation, and is forced to grow up and stop relying on brute strength.

Why does Inglorion drive himself nearly to death? For the same reasons I have. Because he feels responsible for the people around him. Because he’s short and fine-boned and racially other, and has something to prove. Because Sir Noix, Lord Carlyon and others will cheerfully use any conscientious idealist who falls into their hands. Because he’s always done it, and he doesn’t know how else to act. In a few weeks, I’ll start publishing The Duke of the Underdark, where Inglorion slowly figures out other ways to lead.

Reader, I write this stuff as I learn it.

In these times of trouble, I rely on my daily dose of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. I collect links to post for y’all, but really it’s not necessary. Just hie yourself over to YouTube and search his name and today’s date. It’s a treat for everyone who needs a leader who’s not afraid to say that this state isn’t going anywhere until the numbers come down and everyone shows a little damn respect by wearing a mask.

I also highly recommend British comedian Ricky Gervaise, who speaks for artists everywhere by complaining:

I don’t want to be an adult! I want people to run the country correctly so that I can fuck around. I want to be the one who’s told off for stuff! I don’t want to be the teacher. I want to be the kid in the back of the class. But the world’s in danger, and no one’s in charge, so we all have to be sensible. It really annoys me.

And then there’s this exordium from Trevor Noah, which is best taken out of context:

Yo! Goat! Get into the plastic! We handling this like men!

Enough said.

Confirmed coronavirus infections in Arizona: 13,169

Currently hospitalized: 808

Deaths: 651

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