Journal of the Plague Year 2020: I Think You’ll Find That It’s Bugs

siamese cat
Lyndon Johnson considers whether his writer-owner is depraved enough to have named him Honey Doll.

It’s Independence Day. All of the firework shows in Tucson were cancelled because there are fires raging out of control in the Santa Catalina mountains, and we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Naturally, this means that all of my neighbors started shooting off fireworks around 10 a.m., and the various amateur shows will reach their climaxes sometime around midnight. Now, at 9 p.m., it sounds as if my home occupies a narrow slice of contested territory between German and Soviet troops in Stalingrad.

This bothers me less than it probably should. I was a professional pyrotechnician for a few years, so I understand the impulse to fill the air with burning chaff and the smell of gunpowder, and to set one’s own hair and clothing on fire while courting heat stroke. I have pictures of myself loading three- and four-inch rounds into tubes. I would post one or two here, but we were told by the guy who paid us in cash — thereby making us professionals — that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms would pull the license that allowed him to buy professional-grade fireworks if we posted any photos to social media. This seemed suspicious, but we very much wanted to shoot explosives out of tubes, so we played by what we were told were the rules.

After a few different holidays involving fireworks, I broke up with that boyfriend. I’d become a flight test engineer, and had come to realize that my full-time job was cooler than his hobby. There is no moral to that story, although it did supply elements of Inglorion’s unsatisfying reunion with Artemisia.

Aside from jotting these brief notes, I’ve spent the holiday reading a few years’ worth of Tim Dowling’s humor columns in The Guardian, which make me laugh so hard that the cat has been regarding me with a startled and offended air all day. He has more reason to resent me than he knows. Tim Dowling’s exchanges with his cat are like every conversation I’ve ever had with Lyndon. Dowling’s cat meows angrily. Dowling insists that the cat has food, and he will not feed it. The cat continues to screech, and Dowling feeds the cat.

Because I only have one pet — Dowling also has a dog, a tortoise, a wife and three children — Lyndon and I have a more nuanced relationship. For example, Lyndon sometimes rubs himself on my face, purring frantically, as if all of the allergens in his coat are about to expire, and must be applied directly to my eyes, nose and mouth so that my asthma will flare up, allowing me to worry briefly that I have finally managed to catch Covid-19.

Also, I never call my cat by his name, Lyndon B. Johnson. Instead, I use a rotating series of endearments, so that he won’t start to think any one of them is his name. If he were to fall into this error, he would think I’d named him Honey Doll, or Sweet Pea, or, most recently, Little Buddy. When Inglorion steals the cast-iron owl from the façade of the Owl’s Club, he calls it Buddy. Two months ago, presumably, he would have called it Honey Doll. At least, I think he would have. After all, he’s me, just better-looking, fictional, and an elf. None of these three things is a reason not to call a cast-iron owl Honey Doll or Sweet Pea.

I recently explained Lyndon’s uncanny nighttime behavior to my engineer friends while we were playing Dungeons and Dragons over Zoom. Michael, the Dungeon Master, said in a curt, authoritative tone, “He found a bug in the kitchen, that’s all. Cats are motivated entirely by bugs.”

“My massage therapist says that it’s because my house it built on a cemetery, and cats are sensitives,” I said primly.

“I think you’ll find that it’s bugs,” said Michael, who is not a sensitive.

Reader, Michael is right. I know that. These are the two poles of my life: the dreary truths conveyed by my coworkers, and the enchanting fictions of massage therapists.

I choose the fictions.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Arizona: 94,553

Current hospitalizations: 3,113

Deaths: 1,805

Recoveries: 10,903

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