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Plague diaries, Day 152

Wednesday night. Today was my 34th birthday. I broke a very long-running annual tradition – so old that I don’t even recall when I started it. Each year, I go to Denny’s and get their free birthday Grand Slam meal. The coffee isn’t included, of course, but it’s still a hell of a deal. (Followed, of course, by a big tip.) I’ve done this for many, many years… Alas, with this pesky once-in-a-century pandemic, going to a diner is not really a good idea. I’ll raincheck myself and grab that Grand Slam (though no longer free) when I eventually get the vaccine. Another thing to look forward to, eh.

On the upside, I had my first birthday celebration in over decade, I believe. (I’m not big on parties.) Had a nice socially distanced meal with xgf: she baked a cute cake, prepared a pizza, made a wholesome birthday card, and then we played the same old video game we’ve been chipping away at this whole time. Her birthday is in a few days, so I’ve already got something neat for her: there’ll be a backyard party (just as socially distant) for myself and her two closest friends. These two tiny back-to-back birthday parties will likely be the social highlight of my year, not counting the work conference in Nashville back in January.

On the Trump-loving side of my family (in New York, of all places), my step-nephew (in his 20s and fully Americanized) decided to go to Miami to party it up. He’s going with his friend’s family: the family claims they all had covid in April and tested positive for antibodies. They believe it makes them immune. My step-nephew has no antibodies, but he might have an irrational belief in his immortality, like all young people do. My sister (his step-mom) has some health issues, so things would not go well if she got exposed to the virus…

There’s just so much we still don’t know. Either it really is possible to get reinfected just months after recovering, or there’s no good way to truly determine when someone is fully recovered. (Both possibilities are equally terrifying.) Or perhaps all the divergent – and ever-diverging – strains of the virus are sufficiently different that the antibodies of one strain might not work on the others. We just don’t know, and it’s really rather infuriating, intellectually speaking.

In covid news – future historians really won’t believe most of our pandemic stories. Florida’s Marion County sheriff Billy Woods has banned masks for his 900 employees and visitors. He claims he thought of that for two weeks, decided that there’s just as much “evidence” against masks as there is for them, and made an executive decision, while allowing a handful of exceptions. (Mostly when deputies respond to at-risk groups.) The sheriff is the epitome of the “Florida man” trope. Somewhere, at least a few lawyers are already cruising for clients who would sue him for exposing them to the virus. (Unless, of course, some national legislation forbids such lawsuits, which would be interesting to observe from very far away.) My best bad guess is that the sheriff is looking to launch his political career with this insane stunt.

In every zombie movie ever made, the most irrationally acting person is still far more rational than some of the authority figures we see around us. There’s some interesting commentary from the creators of the 2011 Contagion movie: they claim the things happening right now never would have been added to the film, especially the part about the erratically behaving president. Back then, they couldn’t have possibly predicted that a real-life president would tell Americans to inject bleach. Heh.

Speaking of… Another Florida man and his son got caught in Colombia after their fake miracle cure (just bleach, basically) killed seven people in the US. The profiteer used to refer to himself as an archbishop of a cult-sounding little church. That part, at least, isn’t stranger than fiction: in World War Z (the book, not the terrible movie) there was profiteer selling placebo anti-zombie pills during the early stages of the worldwide outbreak.

I’m more than a little worried about the rogue sheriff’s county. The greatest manager I’ve ever had lives there now, in the city of Ocala. Florida is a covid hotbed at this point, and things are likely to get even worse, especially with such militant stupidity among its elected officials.

The annual Perseid meteor shower was tonight and last night. Xgf and I stepped outside when it got dark, but there was too much light pollution. We each made a wish on a passing satellite instead. Here is hoping…

Plague diaries, Day 151

Tuesday night. Time doesn’t fly so much as it slurs. This is incredibly corny, but I’ve devised a way to mix things up a little, if only to keep things from blurring together, with one workday being virtually indistinguishable from the one before it, or the one after:

• Sundae Sunday
• Margarita Monday
• Taco Tuesday
• Waffle Wednesday
• Thirsty Thursday
• French Friday
• Salmon Saturday

And before you ask, French Friday will probably involve overdosing on French lessons, not on French fries, though who knows. This also means I’ll have to learn how to make waffles and margaritas, but that’s a challenge I’m more than willing to face. Let’s see if this works.

One of the folks I follow on Twitter bought himself an entry-level DLSR camera with a fancy zoom (a Nikon D3500) and posted some astonishing pictures he took right off the bat. That made me think of the old Nikon D5100 I bought seven years ago and mostly used to snap pretentious pictures on an occasional vacation. (Though there was that one time, during my year in rural Texas, that I got so bored that I learned to take artsy self-portraits by hooking it up to a flat-screen TV… Fun times. That also led to me crashing an art show in Seattle as a featured artist.) I’d have to make sure it still works first, but then… A cursory search on Amazon shows there are some fine 300mm auto-focus lenses that cost only ~$200-$300 CAD. Considering how much I save by not going out, this miiiight be worth it.

And yeah, I know, this comes after my earlier writing about an art kit I never even opened (in my defense, I’m a completionist, and I never did find the ink the book recommended), or the wood-carving kit I got before I realized how hard it is to find suitable wood. All of this may very well be just lockdown-boredom-induced glorified shopping therapy, but hey, what else is there to do that’s not self-destructive? (The latter is the reason I wisely decided not to start a home bar, even though I have this lovely book of cocktail recipes.)

Oh well.

In covid news, Russia has decided to troll the entire world by registering the first-ever covid vaccine. In the true spirit of the cold war (which never really ended, did it?), they named the vaccine “Sputnik V.” The craziest part about this is that the vaccine still hasn’t passed a stage-3 trial. Unless I’m very wrong, they tested it on fewer than 100 people. That’s one hell of a gamble. If it works, Russia will get major kudos, respect, glory, etc, etc. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be a) yet another hit to their reputation, b) possibly dangerous if there are undiscovered side effects, and c) definitely dangerous if it doesn’t actually provide any protection against covid and instills a false sense of security. It looks like Russia aims to vaccinate as many of their own as it can, as fast as it can, so we’ll find out soon enough.

Inspired by that news, hotel and cruise stocks had a pretty good day today. Ye olde portfolio recovered a bit, and I imagine it’ll do more than just that as actual news about actual vaccines comes out.

In non-covid news, Joe Biden has picked Kamala Harris to be his VP. Good for her, eh.

And now, off to finish binge-watching the recent season of Better Call Saul and dream of shiny lenses…

Plague diaries, Day 150

Monday evening, and one hell of an anniversary. It’s been 150 days since xgf (né gf) and I decided to run away from Toronto, launching our own pandemic adventure (which went on for 72 days as we bounced between AirBnBs), and kicking off this blog. Thirty-three more days, and this blog will be half a year old. What a strange way to mark the passage of time.

I still haven’t fully unpacked from my big vacation roadtrip: I gave it a good college try and redistributed the prettiest rocks around my room, on my closet shelves, and in the bathroom. (Start the day by looking at something ancient and beautiful!) Between this, my antique camera collection, a small trunk filled with beautiful foreign coins (a passing obsession a while back), and a collection of visual art, my place looks more eccentric than ever. Assuming I don’t lose it all in a fire or a robbery, I wonder how strange my dwelling will look when I’m, say, 70. Heh.

Absent any particular kind of progress in my life, I’ve decided to double down on DuoLingo’s French lessons: pushing through them as much as I can until I make too many errors (the paid version has no limitations; the free one does), as opposed to just launching it for one mini-lesson per day. I’ve passed a threshold of sorts a few days ago when I realized I could read French jokes. (I still had to double-check it on Google Translate, but yep, I’d gotten it right.) I still can’t quite grasp the intricacies of pronunciation, but I’m definitely making progress. I guess this self-imposed lockdown is good for something after all. (And I really can’t recommend DuoLingo highly enough. I wish it’d been around when I was much younger.)

In covid news: my old gang of do-gooders, the King County Explorer Search & Rescue, has cancelled their annual recruitment drive due to covid concerns. The training process is long and demanding: eight months spent learning orienteering and first aid skills in crowded classrooms, going on weekend-long hiking trips (cold and long and miserable, for the most part), learning to use a compass with 99% precision, etc… There really wasn’t any way for them to run this training for hundreds of people in a safe and socially distant manner, but still – that’ll be a huge loss to the organization. I miss going on rescue missions with them: there’s nothing quite like this in Toronto. (Mainly because there’s nowhere to hike.)

Folks online are making an awful lot of jokes about buying cheap, gently used motorcycles a few weeks after the Sturgis bike rally. Not the nicest kind of humour, but that’s probably exactly how things will play out. The Georgia school that suspended the student who shared a picture of a crowded hallway ended up with several covid cases. They’ve closed down the school for two days for disinfecting. I honestly can’t tell if they think the virus is a hoax or if they’re deliberately playing dumb: by now, everyone should know that the incubation period can be far longer than two days, and that all of this is just kabuki theater. I feel bad for the kids.

The New York Times has published a story about annoyed Canadians gently harassing American tourists who lie about their plans to visit Alaska. (Anecdotally, some of the harassment is not so gentle and results in vandalized vehicles.) RCMP (aka the Mounties) hasn’t done a whole lot in terms of enforcing, with only a handful of citations. That may change. The NYT story is the most high-profile reporting I’ve seen so far on the growing schism between my two adopted countries. I’m rooting for Canada on this one, eh.

And to wrap this up, here’s a cute pic of the French joke I mentioned earlier:

Plague diaries, Day 149

Sunday evening. Last night, we got out of the hospital shortly after I posted the blog, having spent about 4.5 hours there altogether. They didn’t find anything specific (big surprise there) and referred xgf to a specialist next week.

Afterwards, we drove to an A&W and got a veritable feast, since neither of us had eaten in 7-8 hours. Indoor dining is off-limits, of course, so we made do outside. It was strange to see multiple groups of people – mostly couples, sometimes groups – sitting on the curb and having quiet little meals. Everyone was well enough apart and enjoying the nice weather and the delicious food. It was very anachronistic – the same way you’d feel about 1950s-style drive-in theaters making a comeback without much fanfare.

This morning, I spent two hours of my precious life checking local stores to find a very specific charger for my phone. (The old one gave up the ghost at some point last night.) Ended up finding one at roughly 5,900% markup from the $0.50 I imagine it actually cost to make. Heh. This is something I hadn’t considered when prepping for the apocalypse: the planned obsolescence of everyday gadgets. Over the past month, I had to improvised surgery on my work laptop (the battery shorted out for some reason), followed by my gaming mouse that I use for work. It doesn’t work or sound quite the same now, but revenants rarely do. Most people I know don’t keep backups for their keyboards, mice, chargers, etc. At some point, things might get ugly.

In covid news: evidently, the town of Sturgis, SD, hosts a giant biker rally every August. This year, the expected attendance is 245,000 – and none of them are wearing masks. Considering that a) most of these wannabe bad dudes are actually small-business owners and average yuppies, and b) they’ve come from all over the country, then c) there’ll be quite a few deaths caused by this mega-cluster.

New Zealand has just celebrated 100 days without community transmission of covid. Vietnam is just a couple of days behind it. (An even more impressive achievement, in a way, considering Vietnam’s larger population and land borders.) Ontario has had six days in a row with fewer than 100 new cases per day. Toronto got 23 new cases. That’s a drop in a bucket, considering the city’s population and the way things had been earlier.

It’s so, so tempting to start going out again… During my CBD oil walkabout yesterday, I passed by a favourite pizza bar of mine: they make a mean thin-crust pizza, and their cherry cider is almost as good as some of the finest I enjoyed in Seattle. And yet… It’d be the height of hubris to get back to business as usual, only to catch the virus after all this time. But it’s so very, very, very tempting… Oh well. Still plenty of stuff to play and read and binge-watch in my comfy indoor cave.

Plague diaries, Day 148

Saturday evening. I’m at the hospital with xgf. This isn’t covid-related: her torn leg muscles is getting worse.

On the one hand, Canada is far more efficient than the US: they’ve provided an X-ray and an ultrasound fast and free of charge. On the other hand, arrogant human nature is the same everywhere: the admitting doc disregarded the explanation and requested the ultrasound for an entirely different part of her leg. She did receive an appointment for a more comprehensive ultrasound later on, for what it’s worth.

So… Sitting. Waiting.

Odd day, this. Earlier, I got my wish of people-watching by walking up and down Toronto looking for non-existent dispensaries (you’ve failed me, Google!) before finally finding one that had the THC-free oil for xgf.

The phone battery is dying – just didn’t want to break the narrative by skipping even a single day. Here is hoping they’ll find what’s wrong. Here is hoping we’ll get out of here soon. Here is hoping…

Plague diaries, Day 147

Friday night, whoop whoop. It’s not that I’m getting cabin fever (there’s still too much to read and watch and play and binge), but I kind of want to just go to the center of the city and just walk around and look at other people, even while socially distancing and with everyone wearing masks and sunglasses. As I told my coworkers today, October is only seven weeks away. It’ll start getting colder again soon. This has probably been the strangest summer I’ve ever experienced. (The runner-up is the summer of 2013, when I was 16 and moved to the US. It was so strange.) This summer, I want at least one memory of meaninglessly meandering in the sunlight… Toronto’s winters are mean.

Things at work remain hectic, but still manageable. Chit-chatting with coworkers using our internal messenger. It’ll never cease to amaze me how much people are bored by Excel – or maybe they just really hate it that much? Over the years, I taught myself some basic functions, then figured out how other people’s Excel tools work, and then started making my own, ever more complex and full of features. Anyone can do what I do if they just spend one weekend watching youtube videos and practicing on their laptop, and yet no one ever does. Fascinating, really. But hey – job security. Can’t complain, eh?

Tonight’s culinary adventure: fried pasta with egg. Boil some pasta, then throw it on a frying pan, pour a few eggs in, mix it up, fry thoroughly, add some spices for taste – and voila! A crispy delicious meal filled with carbs and a bit of protein. Nom nom.

In covid news: in the US, the Republican-controlled senate still hasn’t passed the new covid relief package. All the protections from the previous package have run out, and millions of Americans can get evicted if their landlords choose to pursue that option. Even if 1% of them do that, that’ll result in tens of thousands of people being forced onto the street…

The official covid death toll in the US has crossed 160,000. The actual, unofficial death toll is much higher, but we won’t know it till later. Some estimates say the death toll will reach 300,000 by December. Then again, earlier estimates had predicted that by August, we’d be done with the pandemic, and only 60,000 would have died. So much for that. There are also 5,000,000 confirmed covid cases in the US. Considering how many people were asymptomatic or just never went to get tested (especially given the logistical nightmare of obtaining a test), the real number is likely much higher. This is what exponential growth looks like. …I don’t want to imagine how much worse things will get.

And to end this on a mildly lighter note, if you’re into dark humour: the US government has issued a travel advisory for New Zealand because it has 23 active covid cases. Not 23 million, not 23 thousand, but just 23, all of whom are in quarantine. Folks online are having a field day with that – this really is stranger than fiction.

Good night, y’all. Try to make the best of one of the last summer weekends.

Plague diaries, Day 146

Thursday night. To quote the early 21st century bard known only as Rihanna, “work work work work work work.”

Apparently, an adjacent boss recently described me as “a ball of energy.” Heh. I’d be more impressed if that actually translates into something real.

I’m staying in touch with my relatives through a text group chat: apparently, my little nephew in New York has developed a maple syrup addiction. He went so far as to record a little video asking me to send him some from Canada. How could I possibly say no to that?

Xgf said that yesterday she braved the long taxi journey to three different appointments to get her torn leg muscle looked at. She got an X-Ray the same day (go Canada!) and an appointment for an ultrasound in the near future. (Still not too bad, Canada!)

In DuoLingo adventures, the French word for “the weekend” is “le week-end.” Heh.

In covid news, as more and more schools around the US are starting to reopen, there are some frankly horrifying pictures of crowded school hallways with hardly any kids wearing masks. One school district went so far as to threaten students that if they take pictures or post them online, “there’ll be consequences.” ACLU has gotten immediately involved – good for them. One school official said that enforcing mask compliance is hard because “it’s a personal choice.” Funny how they don’t have the same issue when it comes to enforcing arbitrary wardrobe rules for teenagers.

In British Columbia, retired Canadians have found a new hobby: tracking American boats that dock in BC instead of going north to Alaska. (That’s the only way they can make it past the border, thanks to the Alaska exception.) Some Americans are trying to fight back by disabling their transponders soon after crossing the border. I’m not a boat guy, but that sounds like a pretty big no-no.

The tensions between Canada and the US are getting worse: Trump has just announced that he’d restore the 10% tariff on Canadian imports. Trudeau has immediately replied that Canada will retaliate dollar for dollar, eh. (He might not have said “eh.”) Hard to say why this is happening right here and now: the cynic in me thinks it’s just another attempt by the White House to hijack the news cycle and make it about anything at all other than the pandemic. Ho hum. I wonder if at any point things will get bad enough that Canada will start giving out bounties for reporting illegal Americans. Heh. After all, 80% of Canadians want to keep the border closed, and that kind of solidarity is nothing short of remarkable. Ye gods, I’m so happy I’ve escaped to Canada before this whole mess began.

Plague diaries, Day 145

Wednesday evening. Things are getting hectic at work, but what else is new? As long as you keep your schedule clean, keep doing Excel magic, and – most importantly – don’t panic, all is well. (And yes, I do take my towel with me whenever I travel.)

Sliding right back into the old routine… Instead of spending most of the day hiking, it’s just a brief exposure to the sun in the backyard while I gobble up my dinner. (Today’s culinary adventure: cider and microwaved frozen burritos. Exciting, I know.) Learning a couple of new French words in DuoLingo, playing some more video games, yada yada yada.

It could be far worse, though: the gigantic explosion in Beirut, as well as its aftermath, is simply unimaginable. How on earth does one misplace 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate? Was it corruption? Incompetence? Both? Neither? I’ve read that the explosion was among the biggest non-nuclear blasts in human history. I’ve read that Lebanon’s economy is now destroyed. I’ve read many things, but I can’t even begin to understand what that must be like to go through so much strife, and stress, and violence, and the pandemic, and then have your capital city explode. This is a tragedy of such a scope that it’s impossible to fully grasp it. May it put our own petty struggles in perspective.

In covid news, it turns out a churchgoer in Ohio infected 91 others in one day. That is remarkable, an tragic, and was entirely avoidable. Dr.Fauci reports that his family has received death threats. Here is hoping none of those troglodytes actually follow up. And on a somewhat brighter note, Canada’s government has announced plans to invest a fortune into vaccine research, followed by distributing a vaccine (once a viable one exists) to Canadians.

Yay Canada. Yesterday, after I mentioned the latest update in my quest for Canada’s residence, I remembered something my AirBnB host in Palmer Rapids told me a week ago. A friend of his was about to go through the same PR application process I’ve described here in the past. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find any fingerprinting agencies that stayed open during the pandemic. Her work permit has expired, and now she’s in the legal limbo. I hope things work out for her… I mentioned that there was one place that stayed open (though with very strong anti-viral protocols) in Mississauga, a four-hour drive west of my host. He said his friend didn’t think to look that far out. Now she may have to leave, all for the price of a single day-long roadtrip. …raises a question, doesn’t it? How far would any of us be willing to go to fulfill our dreams? At what point do we stop looking, even though the solution may be just a bit farther away?

Plague diaries, Day 144

Tuesday night. Getting back into the groove of things with far too much ease, just like when I returned from the AirBnB odyssey on day 73-ish. Ho hum.

Today brought some objectively good news about my immigration process: the company’s lawyers have finalized my PR application and sent it off. At some point between now and February 4th, I should receive an update – hopefully one that would declare me an official permanent resident of Canada, eh. That’s certainly good news, but I’m just so worn out by the process at this point… (Reminds me of working so very hard to get a permanent full-time job at an Amazon warehouse after being a temp for six months. That was 10 years ago. When I finally got the coveted blue badge, I just sat there, satisfied and tired, as full-time employees in the breakroom congratulated me. Heh.) I wonder – and not for the first time – how different the world will be when that particular achievement gets unlocked.

And once I get my PR, I’ll be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship just a couple of years down the road… I’ll be a proud Russian-American-Canadian in no time!

In covid news – and for once, not the American news, Australia’s state of Victoria has declared “state of disaster.” They’re entering a strict six-week curfew because of approximately 700 new covid cases. All in all, they had about 200 deaths. Granted, their population is about 1/13th of the US (25 million) but at this point, having 25×700 = 17,500 new cases per day would be a major win in the US. It’s impressive but also sad to see other, more functional countries take action while my former country is just shrugging this off. In another world, where I didn’t screw up my job interview, I would’ve secured my transfer to Australia in 2018. I would’ve lived through the massive forest fire of early 2020, followed by this six-week shutdown. That Aussie Grigory would’ve had an entirely different lived experience.

Back to the US, though: this interview between Trump and Jonathan Swan, an Australian journalist, really must be seen to be believed. If at some point in the distant future historians refuse to believe that Trump was a real person (or as bad as he was described), I hope the footage of this interview will survive. I hope the opposition party plays his “it is what it is” soundbite nonstop. He’s just… stupid. I don’t say that because I have different politics – I’m just calling it like it is. He’s irredeemably stupid in the same way that Carter was naive, and G.W.Bush was unprepared, and Obama was inexperienced. Just plain old stupid, arguing that the most important metric is the ratio of deaths to cases, even as more and more Americans get sick.

Someone online has joked that at some point, the White House will claim the US has the lowest ratio of covid deaths to acreage. While that’d technically be correct, it’d also be absolutely ridiculous – much like the way the Soviet Union used to brag that they produce more concrete per capita than any other country. So what, eh?

The US is in for a wild ride… Good luck, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 143

Monday evening. I’m not entirely sure how one is supposed to celebrate Civic Day, so I did my best impression of a civil Canadian just in case. (Eh.)

Back to the mundane routine: a few hours of work and catching up on my emails, a load of laundry, etc. One of the many benefits of my comfy and adventurous vacation is all the different ideas popping into my head: I might have found a new hobby. If I succeed at it, it’ll make my life a whole lot more interesting. Just to keep from jinxing myself, I’m not going to describe what exactly it is – suffice to say, it’s creative.

Folks online have come up with an interesting term for what I’ve been doing in regards to covid: doom-scrolling. There’s always this idea that staying informed is a virtue, that being curious about the world around you is a fine and admirable trait. With hundreds of thousands of death, there’s no shortage of doom-and-gloom stories, and scrolling through all of them, if only just headlines… Yeesh. And yet, I want to keep track of what’s going on, if only so I don’t lose the thread of continuity. (Can you imagine explaining the world around us to someone who just got out of a seven-month coma? Yeah, good luck with that.)

So, here’s just a minor covid update: a bigwig from the Federal Reserve, one Neel Kashkari, claims that without one more long shutdown (four weeks, or ideally six), the US economy doesn’t stand a chance. The math checks out: if everyone tried really hard and stayed inside (again) for a month or so, the virus would be severely hobbled, if not defeated outright. The alternative – stretching out the current misery – seems easier on the surface, but it’ll cost a lot more lives and money in the long run. (Or even just the medium run.)

Of course, doing that would require the full cooperation of all fifty states and, most importantly, the White House… If Trump loses the election, and if he steps down peacefully, then maybe, just maybe, the Biden administration pulls the trigger and enacts the second lockdown in February 2021, six months from now. (Hopefully, I’ll become a permanent resident of Canada by then.) It just doesn’t seem likely that something on that scale would happen in 2020. Then again, I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll gladly be wrong on this as well.

To end on a positive note, here’s a mildly out-of-focus picture of an amethyst I found on my vacation. (I’ve brought back hundreds of little treasures like this one!)