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Friday night, and I’m trying to learn to laugh. Everything can be viewed as either a tragedy or a comedy. Just a matter of perspective, since none of us can really affect large-scale events. So instead of growing more horrified by the headlines, maybe I can try to find humour in them instead.

The US Independence Day is tomorrow, though everyone’s three-day weekend began today. It’s unclear if that was a deliberate insult or not, but Sonora (a Mexican state) picked this date to close its border with Arizona. American tourists (and their money, and their viral loads) are no longer welcome. It’ll be downright hilarious if Trump’s 2016 campaign promise comes true, if we really do end up with a border wall and if Mexico pays for it – but to keep Americans out, and not the other way around.

Also, a private jet filled with rich Americans was turned around in Italy. Their non-US friends were welcome to go through customs, but they chose to fly back to Colorado with their yankee compadres. Also also, a couple of days ago Toronto’s mayor straight-up said that he doesn’t want his city to get as sick as the US. In normal times, that would’ve been a diplomatic incident. These days, everyone just sort of shrugged and admitted that yes, he does have a point.

There’s some good news from the Oxford vaccine trial. It appears to provide three times more antibodies than found in recovered patients. It’s still far too early to celebrate, and even if it passes all the human trials, it’ll take a while to produce almost 8 billion doses – but still, this might be it. And just in time: at work, they’ve reneged on the October promise. They’re trying to corral us back from WFH. The plan is to have myself and my colleagues start by showing up just one day a week, working on site just a little. That’s as absurd as being “a little pregnant.” I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking on which days the virus is off the clock. There’ll be an interesting discussion with the new management about why precisely I’d much rather stay home. (I’m not the only one appalled by that decision.)

I likely wouldn’t die if I catch covid, and I probably wouldn’t develop lifelong complications (though who knows), but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I got infected at work and passed it on to xgf and her compromised immune system…

Amidst the flood of disturbing headlines, there was a funny one: 7-Eleven is stopping their annual Free Slurpee Day which happens on – you guessed it – July 11th. It usually generates small crowds, so this is a wise choice. My best friend and I used to hit up every 7-Eleven in the neighborhood back when we were hungry college students: it was more symbolic than filling or nutritious, but hey – free food is free food. Here’s hoping there’ll be a delicious raincheck to come when all of this blows over. (Also, kudos to 7-Eleven for showing more responsibility than the US government.

My whittling kit and cut-proof gloves arrived today. Now I just need to find some wood branches and hope they’re from a pliable tree. (With my luck, it’ll be hickory.) Such simple tools, yet so much potential. This may end up becoming a perfect hobby, what with the free supplies and non-existent entry barrier. Easy to learn but hard to master, I bet, but hey, gotta do something even marginally productive with all this free time, eh.

Thursday night. I know I keep saying the world is getting stranger, but come on… Now there’s a video of an osprey holding a shark as it flies over Myrtle Beach, SC. 2020 will never cease to surprise us, and we’re only halfway through!

My online game got to the part where there’s a widespread pandemic, with corrupt politicians being somehow involved. Fortunately, I managed to skip that mission. Things get pretty meta when you need an escape outlet from an escape outlet…

Herman Cain, who was once a frontrunner in the 2012 Republican primary, has been diagnosed with covid and hospitalized. He’s 74, which puts him into the high-risk group. He also mocked the pandemic by taking pictures (maskless, of course) at a crowded Trump rally. I hope he recovers and learns from it. If not… Every death is tragic, but some are less tragic than others. Meanwhile, the governor of Texas has made masks mandatory outdoors, which marks a sharp departure from his previous line of thinking, if you can call it that. It’s quite refreshing to see one’s quest to piss off absolutely everyone around him. Awe-inspiring, really.

More people at work have transferred away, leaving us severely understaffed and overworked. My vacation can’t come soon enough. Incidentally, that wood-cutting thing I was thinking of is called whittling. I spent $50 CAD on some basic supplies (as well as top-notch cut-proof gloves), and they should arrive tomorrow. I’ll just add it to my French lessons and pandemic-chronicling as another fun activity to do while avoiding others.

Bad news with xgf’s as well: the gal pal who offered her the free basement apartment may be coming back. The apartment is too small for two people, so it’s back to the drawing board – but for 39 days there, she had a place of her own…

There’s other worldwide news that I’m not including: the arrest of Epstein’s accomplice (who will almost certainly commit a mysterious suicide), more gun madness in the US, etc. With everything else combined, that does not make for a calm lockdown. Then again, it’s likely that my self-inflicted sleep deprivation is finally making itself known. The weekend is almost here – thing should get mildly better then…

It’s Wednesday night, and the world is somehow getting even stranger. This really is stranger than fiction: college students in Alabama are throwing covid parties with a twist. Unlike earlier parties reported around the world (daring the virus just for the fun of it), this time there’s money involved. They get one person diagnosed with covid, hang out with them, and put money in a pot. The first person to catch covid gets the money. I try not to pay attention to geographical stereotypes, but damn it, Alabama, don’t you already have enough PR problems?..

Today was Canada day. I didn’t go to celebrations last year because I was overworked and didn’t feel like going out. This time around, I’m overworked and have a legitimate reason not to go out. Heh.

Spent the whole day exploring the ESO’s fantasy world instead. I’ve discovered that my character’s horse can jump. I started cosplaying as a mad chef who steals snacks from bad guys’ camps, runs off on his kangaroo horse, and uses said snacks to make culinary masterpieces. Ye gods, that game is fun. (And free! As in cheese!)

…I was going to say that I’m not getting the cabin fever, but having somewhat objectively gone over the signs – yeah, I have the cabin fever. I said this before, but it’s so damn frustrating that there’s nothing any one of us can do to fight the pandemic. It’s like that fairy tale about the tar baby: the best thing you can do is stay where you are and not engage. There’s zero outside stimulation coming, no meetups to attend, and nothing new. (Aside from increasingly disturbing news headlines, that is.) My two-week vacation will begin on July 19th. Hopefully, an entire fortnight of hiking the Canadian wilderness will help reboot my brain. Meanwhile, though – woodcarving! Sounds like a great ultra-low-budget hobby that you can practice anywhere, make great presents, and engage in while watching Netflix and such. And hey, who needs all 10 fingers anyway, eh?

Back to explore the ESO fantasy world on my faithful kangaroo-horse hybrid steed…

It’s Tuesday night, and the US has become a banana republic with nuclear weapons. A top CDC official has admitted that the pandemic in the United States is out of control, and that it’s impossible to trace or contain all the new cases. That’s pretty phenomenal, considering other countries managed to make it work. Some, like Italy and Spain, got hit hard and took extraordinary measures to reduce the spread. Some, like China, quarantined giant cities and went so far as to weld people inside their apartments if they were caught sneaking out. There were democracies such as Vietnam, Singapore, and South Korea, that took a less extreme approach and ended up with far less casualties. (Vietnam in particular is an extreme success story: they’ve had zero deaths.)

It may not be obvious to most people here and now, but this is the beginning of the end for the American empire. (Or maybe even the middle of the end.) The pandemic plan that the Obama administration left behind wasn’t followed. Governors prioritized partisan politics over their oaths to serve to the people. The CDC is an especially tragic case: established right after World War II, their entire mission was to monitor the spread of disease, study and contain viral outbreaks, and prevent pandemics from happening. They have failed in the most spectacular manner imaginable. They run a tight ship, so it’s not yet clear why they decided to play politics and misinform the public during those vital first months. Perhaps it’s the rigid hierarchy they’re known for. Perhaps something else. In the years to come, there’ll be some books from the insiders, describing the events they witnessed yet took no action to stop.

Today is the last day of June. It’s hard to believe that 2020 is only halfway through. Tomorrow is Canada Day, a welcome holiday that’ll break the workweek into two. Thanks for having me, Canada. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 108

It’s Monday night, and I may have found my zen. That is, logging off from work at 5pm sharp and diving straight into the fantasy ESO world, where I fish (while leisurely reading the world news), craft different things, and acquire gold while going on an occasional adventure. That may or may not be an idealized version of what I want to do once I retire…

It’s interesting that most of the world seems to be done with covid, and it’s only China, Brazil, and the US that generate all the disturbing headlines. It’s been officially confirmed: when the EU reopens for international travel on July 1st, tourists from the US won’t be allowed to visit. Canadians are allowed to fly in, though. Kind of confirms that I made the right choice when I decided to move here, eh? (The cut in salary was incredibly painful, but hey, that’s the price of civilization.) China and Brazil are banned as well, and the list will be reviewed every two weeks.

Arizona has finally decided that they might as well try listening to scientists: they’ve shut down bars, gyms, and other public places. And just to think, this is only the first wave hitting them. We’ll all be in the same boat again later this year. (I doubt they will have learned…) Meanwhile, China is skipping the final step of the vaccine testing: they’ll test it out on their military instead. That is… troubling. If that works, they’ll have a strategic military advantage over everyone in the region. (Not to mention the control over the world’s only viable vaccine.) If that doesn’t work, they may end up permanently injuring their own military. That’s one hell of a gamble.

On the personal front… I’ve been texting on and off with a local friend. She got mildly flirtatious. Then she sent me a video of a covid-denier and said he made some good points. Oh well. At least this pandemic is making it easier to remove people with no critical thinking skills out of one’s dating pool. So it goes. I’m still trying to make the most of my one-man lockdown: today at work, I made a breakthrough and created a shiny useful Excel-based tool that had never existed before. Then I logged off at 5pm sharp (work-life harmony FTW) and celebrated by eating a freshly baked Hawaiian pizza on the sunlit backporch while sipping a coke and taking my French daily lessons from Duolingo. Life isn’t all bad.

Sunday night. I can’t express how beautiful and addicting this Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) game is. Ten years from now, it’ll probably seem primitive compared to the virtual reality haptic-feedback games. (As seen in Ready Player One.) Still, here and now, this is something remarkable. Beautiful graphics, lots of subtle humour, the freedom to do anything you want… I must say, having my character gallop around on an immortal hydrophobic horsie while crafting different gizmos is definitely giving me some ideas for the future.

And that’s how I spent pretty much this entire day. Healthy? Hell no. Helpful? Very much so. As escapism goes, this is pretty great. (And did I mention the game is free to play? Heh.)

Elsewhere in the world (well, pretty much just the US) – southern states are starting to obfuscate information: deleting ICU data, not updating the case numbers, etc. This is pointless, but I suppose if you’re stuck in the middle of a shitstorm, you lose your ability to think strategically. Your life becomes a series of tactical mini-shitstorms, and that’s something I can relate to based on my own prior work experience.

South Carolina is particularly bad: they plan to convert school gyms into overflow areas for 3,000 new ICU beds. If this isn’t madness, I don’t know what is.

…and now back to my pandemic-free fantasy world. Heh.

Saturday night. Spent most of the day keeping xgf company: I’m one of the three people in her social circle. Aside from my landlord family, she’s the only one in mine. In a normal world, we would’ve put far more distance between ourselves following the amicable break-up, but there’s nothing normal about this here world.

…I wonder if at some point in the future, we’ll just jokingly refer to 2020 as “that gap year” and pretend it never happened. Sort of like they did on the TV show Community: one of the middle seasons had remarkably bad writing, so henceforth they just referred to it as “the gas leak year.” Heh.

The traffic in Toronto is pretty much back to the pre-pandemic levels, or at least it sure feels like that. I’m seeing quite a few pedestrians wearing their masks around their chins, so they could talk/breathe easier. That’s not exactly how that works, but it’s the thought that counts, eh? Xgf is making me a bit nervous by not wearing her mask outside on her 40-minute daily walks… She generally walks laps around her local park, and claims she just holds her breath when others walk by. She’s right that the virus lasts way less outdoors than indoors, but that still won’t save her if someone coughs near her… I tried to explain. She shrugged it off. I hope her luck holds.

Interestingly, Arizona still hasn’t done anything about their reopening, even as their hospitals fill up. They’ll probably take some token action within five days, but still. Yeesh.

In personal news, the Elder Scrolls Online game I mentioned yesterday is remarkably addictive: I finished installing it around 10pm last night, and stayed up till 5am trying to do all the things. (Remember what I said about my addictive personality a few days ago?) I consider it a personal triumph that I never played World of Warcraft because I just know it would’ve gobbled up my 20s. (Not that I spent that decade particularly wisely, mind you.) The ESO game is a calculated risk: since there’s no way to escape into a parallel universe physically, a mental escape into a fantasy universe should work just as well.

Earlier today, I got my oximeter and digital thermometer. It’s interesting: when the pandemic started hitting the headlines in March, these gadgets were unavailable anywhere. Even now, you can’t find thermometers at Walmart. I’m not sure when exactly Amazon got them in stock again, but it must’ve been fairly recently. Despite having stockpiled lots of medical and camping supplies (most of which were from my time with Search&Rescue in the US, I was remarkably short on gadgets. The oximeter in particular will make a world of difference: there have been articles about doctors who realized they had to rush to the emergency room ASAP when they saw their blood oxygen drop to the mid-80s. Here is hoping that won’t happen, but if it does… That’d be a damn fine $50 investment, then.

Enjoy your weekend, fellow gap year misadventurers.

Plague diaries, Day 105

Friday night. I celebrated by going to Walmart and LCBO. It was interesting to see that this time, only 50% or so wore masks. I researched the cancer warning of my new face shield some more: it was referring to California’s overarching warning that working with dust or lead is bad for you. Since I don’t intend to do that, I’m safe. It felt oddly comfortable to wear a cloth mask with a filter, a pair of wraparound goggles, and a face shield. Got a few odd looks but not as many as I’d thought. As a bonus, I spotted a fellow shopper who purchased a similar face shield for herself.

I’m trying to pass the time with more indoorsy addictions… Having finished the Walking Dead show, I’ve switched to reading the source material on Comixology. Steam just launched their summer sale, so I’ve finally bought Elder Scrolls Online to continue exploring the Skyrim universe, only with better graphics this time around. Whatever it takes to keep my mind off the things happening in the real world.

The governors of Texas and Florida finally decided to do the absolute bare minimum required to stop the pandemic: they’ve shut down bars. That wasn’t based on altruism and them coming to their senses; that was most likely because their major cities have run out of ICU beds. Now those petty science-denying tyrants are in an interesting philosophical pickle. They wanted their states to reopen because they claimed the pandemic wasn’t that bad, and that they’re somehow sturdier, healthier, and luckier than all those New Yorkers. Now they’re shutting down again (if even a little bit) because the virus doesn’t care about their politics. In so doing, they’ve successfully pissed off everyone: those who follow medical guidelines and self-isolate, and those who think the pandemic is a hoax. Heh.

Arizona might be the next in line to shut down once more. Then again, it’s hard to underestimate the ineptitude of Arizona’s government. Close to home, Canada will withdraw its armed forces from Quebec: they’d been sent there a while back, as I wrote 69 days ago over yonder. While helping the elderly, they also discovered multiple cases of neglect, if not downright abuse. I worry that things will just slide back toward the baseline relatively soon.

The stock market crashed by almost 3% today. Looks like Wall Street hadn’t anticipated that the reopening would fail. So much for that efficient market, eh? Trump’s bragging rights are mostly centered on the stock market’s performance. Seems like some more strings will be pulled (or more misinformation released) to keep the market propped up. My money is on the cruise industry lobbyists getting a shout-out or some stimulus money to keep them afloat. (Terrible pun intended.)

And so begins one more pandemic weekend… Just to keep things interesting, here’s a pic of yours truly sporting not one, not two, but three different types of PPE. Stay safe out there, folks.

Thursday night. Things are getting weird at work. A once-in-a-century pandemic isn’t the best time for a re-org. Not that there’s ever a good time for it, but this is just spectacularly bad timing. Learned a few things today… If my life were a TV show (and who is to say it isn’t?), there’d be a very angry letter-writing campaign to the show’s writers because some plot twists are simply too bizarre.

On the upside, my job is pretty safe, and the company’s lawyers are pretty damn close to submitting my PR application. Just a few more months till I become Canada’s newest permanent resident… Something to look forward to as the world continues its inexorable slide into madness.

Houston’s ICU beds are officially 100% full. Hospital CEOs are trying to sound upbeat, claiming the overflow will be taken care of with utmost safety and efficiency, but that’s neither reassuring nor believable. Only 198 ICU beds (12% of the total) are available in Arizona. It’s just a matter of days now before the same horrifying footage we saw in New York (forklifts with dead bodies, refrigerated morgue trucks on residential streets, etc) start showing up there as well. Texas governor Greg Abbott has paused the reopening plan, which is probably as close as any southern governor will come to admitting their mistake.

It’s morbid, but… If you kill one person, you’ll get to prison. Kill several people, and you’ll most likely spend the rest of your life behind bars. But if you ignore all empirical evidence and make mindboggingly stupid decisions that result in deaths of thousands, you’ll suffer zero consequences. Hell, you might even get reelected. And as if willful ignorance weren’t enough, now there are sheriffs around the US claiming they will not enforce mandatory mask mandates in their counties.

If you’re reading this in the future, I hope this conveys at least some of the overwhelming, ceaseless absurdity our world has become. There’s more and more news coming out every hour of every day – articles and videos that would’ve hijacked the public discourse for days before the pandemic. Now, however, it’s all just more of the same. Yet another video of a cop killing someone in cold blood and lying about it. More insane tweets from Trump. A 6-point earthquake in California. So-called “Karens” printing out misspelled cards claiming they don’t have to wear a mask because of undisclosed health reasons. This really is stranger than fiction, and more disturbing than any dystopian book you’ll ever hope to find.

Plague diaries, Day 103

Thursday night. As Toronto is starting to open back up, people are starting to take more risks. The landlords’ teenage son really wants his haircut… Another possible vector. My life would’ve been so much easier if I’d simply rented a small studio apartment when I moved to Canada. Then again, I would’ve missed out on lots of adventures along the way. (Moving right now is not advisable: Uhaul isn’t known for their standards of hygiene or for sterilizing things.

Alarming reports from Houston: 97% of the city’s ICU beds are full. Unless this is the peak of their outbreak (and it probably isn’t), they’ll have to resort to picking who gets the intensive care, just like their Italian counterparts did two months ago… Meanwhile, in West Palm Beach, Florida, angry morons at a town hall meeting claimed that mandatory masks are unconstitutional, and that doctors are guilty of crimes against humanity. It’s all fun and games until one of those mouth-breathers decides to administer their idea of justice.

Incidentally, I used to live in both Texas and Florida. Neither of these news stories surprises me… (I do miss Florida’s beaches, though. The beaches were nice.)

Cruise companies are taking a beating once again, dropping 5-10% every day. The CDC put a stop to cruises until September, even though bars and restaurants are allowed to open. It’ll be curious to see how many lobbyists the cruise industry will throw at this problem. And speaking of September: no one has any idea what will happen when the school year begins. Parents with young kids won’t be able to leave them at home, and kids in general aren’t big fans of sitting still and following instructions on their tablets. There’s no nationwide plan: it seems there are as many plans as there are school districts.

Decades from now, when those haven’t yet been born listen to our stories about 2020, they won’t believe us – and who can blame them?