Archive for April, 2020

Plague diaries, Day 48

Thursday evening. We chanced another trip to Walmart today: xgf came for the ride this time and stayed in the car. I needed to pick up a new microphone for my work laptop, and she didn’t like the sheets (too polyester-y, not cotton-y), ergo the second trip in a week.

It’s only been three days, but things already changed there: Walmart set up a metal fence barrier to keep the line into the store from spilling out into the parking lot. They also had little printouts reminding people that they were hiring. (10,000 openings, thought they didn’t specify if that was in Canada or worldwide.) This time, it took 30 minutes to get into the store. On the upside, they finally opened up more than two checkout lines, so there was no need to wait for the cashier this time around. (If there’s no Walmart where – or when – you’re from, it’s a running joke that they have dozens of checkout lines, but only a few would be staffed at any given time.)

I have this gnawing suspicion that things will get even weirder as the pandemic continues.

Oh well. There were no microphones in stock – presumably, all the other folks working from home (or trying to start their own podcasts, maybe?) bought them all. On the upside, they had eggs in stock, and we’ll be sleeping on freshly laundered, brand new, 100% cotton king-sized sheets, so at least xgf’s standard of living will go up a bit. The other bit of weirdness is that their grapefruit juice is still out of stock. It looks like a fundamental piece of the supply chain somewhere got broken. Are factories processing only orange juice now? Are there not enough workers in one specific region that supplies all the grapefruits? Mysteries never cease.

Off to bed – big day tomorrow. Leaving y’all with a picture of my brand new quarantine shopping setup.

Cumulative deaths in the US: 63,832; in Canada: 3,310. New words in the novel: none.


Plague diaries, Day 47

Wednesday night. Back to the old routine of celebrating Wednesday noon as the tipping point that gets me closer to the weekend. Heh.

Hard cider followed by surprise red wine with dinner (rice, sauce, ground beef, cheese, spinach), with one of our many (so very, very many) popping-rocks-infused chocolate Easter bunnies results in quite a dizzy mood. …still can’t help feeling guilty about low-key enjoying life as thousands die.

Over 60,000 dead in the US now. Early projections hadn’t expected that to happen till August. The US GDP contracted by almost 5% in Q1, yet Dow had a damn good day. I’m curious to see how Amazon’s earnings will do tomorrow. There’s a lot riding on that…

New Zealand might be the first major country to become covid-free. They played their cards right, and now they can reopen. South Australia is starting to look good too, with no new confirmed cases. Meanwhile, in the US, pundits try to argue that people over 75 are expendable, and they discover more and more nursing homes hiding dozens of bodies. Florida’s coroners have been told not to report covid-related deaths. The true death toll won’t be known till much later, when they compare the true death toll with the baseline expectation based on 2019.

Xgf is still brainstorming different living arrangements after our AirBnB ends on 5/24. She won’t end up homeless, but the surefire options she currently has are pretty bad: moving into her friend’s empty basement apartment (she doesn’t do well by herself), moving back in with her parents (that wouldn’t end well), or moving back with her 6-10 roommates, who had the cops called on them three times so far. I’ve offered my help with moving heavy things and renting a Uhaul, but there’s only so much I can do to help her move on with her life…

Stay safe, strange survivors.

Plague diaries, Day 46

Tuesday night. A bit more energy this time around. Niagara Falls is the last chapter of our self-imposed exile: we’ve gone from the tiny town of Deep River to a bigger resort town of Mont-Tremblant, and now here we are, in a sizable city with its own Walmart, hospitals, etc.

Xgf and I took a walk around the neighbourhood after I finished my work today. Every single business (except Mr.Sub and LCBO) are shut down. A few were boarded over. There’s still enough car traffic in the distance every few minutes to break the illusion of the post-apocalyptic world, but it’s pretty damn close. Very few pedestrians.

As we walked, we came to the Canadian side of the Niagara River, and saw the bridge leading to the US side. The river is wide and its banks are rough and steep, so there was no question of crossing over to see how they’re doing there, eh. So odd to see almost identical buildings and steeples just a few hundred meters away, knowing that they belong to an entirely different country.

…I’m not sorry I left. I’m sorry I had to.

Last night, I drove out to Walmart for fresh food and some nice-to-have things like art supplies. (We never did order them on Amazon.) There was a long line to get in, with duct tape on the ground keeping people six feet apart. That was unsettling. Aside from Black Friday, there are never any lines to get inside the single most consumerist-oriented store in North America. It’d be a gross exaggeration to say that I felt like I was back in the USSR, but it was definitely highly unsettling. About half the people in the store wore masks, mostly homemade. (I wrapped a scarf around my face, for what it’s worth.) The other half were behaving as if it was the pre-virus times. An ornery man in his 50s kept filibustering at a poor pharmacist about everyone being a bunch of cowards.

It was strange to see that meat was still in stock (though their printed signs were very apologetic due to some of it being from the US), and ditto for frozen pizza, but all the eggs were sold out. This is probably just a coincidence, but this is the fourth grocery store in a row where I haven’t seen any grapefruit juice. (Plenty of OJ, though.) Oddly enough, they still had lots of leftover Easter candy. I bought an armful of chocolate bunnies (can’t beat the 50-cent deal!), only to discover later that night that they were filled with popping rocks, which don’t go very well with red wine over a conciliatory dinner. (Xgf was pretty amused, though, and force-fed me the rest of her half.)

Xgf is far more empathetic than I’ll ever be – far more so than almost anybody, really – and she’s not taking the breakup well… Even though she was the one who had proposed ending the relationship, she’s still thinking of various ways we could reconcile the differences. She and I are better now, and we never stopped being on the same team, but it’s just so damn strange to spend four weeks together following a breakup. She’s a bit less anxious about the future (now that we won’t be moving in together…) after brainstorming her options: rent a room in a small Ontario town near her parents; rent a rural house with a few friends; move in with her parents.

There are 12 apartments in this 1956 building. One of our neighbours may be infected. Xgf heard them coughing hard while I was out shopping. My symptoms have stopped, but her cough is getting more frequent, though still light…

The University of Toronto has just sent an email promising to find workarounds for their educational credential assessment (ECA) process, the vital part of the permanent residency (PR) application. We’ll see. Meanwhile, the last (and trickiest) part is getting my FBI background check. In the pre-virus days (a whopping two months ago), it would’ve been a matter of ordering the FD-258 card on Amazon (or printing one out from FBI’s site), getting the fingerprints taken by the local police department or some enterprising local company, and sending it off to the FBI. Nowadays, FD-258 is a non-essential product that won’t ship fast (I had to order it from the US; it’ll get here eventually), it’s almost impossible to find a copy shop that’s still open, all the local companies are on hiatus, and the police won’t fingerprint you unless you do something bad and get booked and processed in jail. (Which would, unfortunately, keep me from passing the background check. Heh.)

World news: in addition to the covid pandemic, there’s a new epidemic in Russia – female doctors are dropping out of windows after displeasing The Powers That Be. The first one fell out of a window while on a conference call where she dared to criticize the government. The second one fell out of a window after allegedly infecting the staff at the cosmonaut training center. The first one lived; the second one didn’t. They’re extending their lockdown through the middle of May. I doubt anything can end their entrenched tyranny at this point. Several US states are opening up in defiance of every expert’s advice. More states are joining their own regional pacts while the federal government flounders. (Colorado and Nevada are part of the Western States Pact. Putin must be laughing so very, very hard right now… His 2016 investment will keep paying off for him for many years to come – assuming he doesn’t suddenly kick the bucket like Kim Jong Un allegedly did.

I’m adding some pictures (taken today and yesterday) to spice things up and help whomever is bored enough to read this in the future get a better idea of what things were like.

Cumulative death toll in the US: 59,061; in Canada: 2,983. New words in the novel: 244. (Hey, better than nothing after a five-day gap.)

Stay healthy, fellow hermits.


Plague diaries, Day 45

Monday night. First day back at work. I forgot how exhilarating the mix of black coffee and ginkgo biloba can be. I stayed off the stuff for 23 days (must conserve the precious pills!) but ye gods, it feels amazing.

Unfortunately, I also forgot how exhausted you can get after waking up at 7am and staying up till midnight. More later.


Plague diaries, Day 44

Sunday night. Thus endeth the vacation: after 424 miles and eight hours of driving, we’ve made it from rural Quebec to Niagara Falls (the Canadian site, naturally). The AirBnB condo looks like an Instagram photoshoot setting that escaped from 2015, but it’ll do. About half the condos in this three-story building seem to be AirBnB suites. We’re on the top floor, which cuts down the exposure to neighbours.

The drive was mostly uneventful. Xgf and I are still cool and chill and civil, and work fine together as an apocalyptic team. There was just one roadblock when we left Mont-Tremblant, but the two cops were fine when we explained we’d spent a whole month self-isolating by ourselves. As we crossed the bridge from Quebec to Ottawa, we saw that the lane heading into Quebec was completely blocked: there were five or six police cars, sirens all around, and an awful lot of cops (or gendarmes?) collecting overtime by hanging out. I wonder if Quebec has completely blocked all the incoming traffic. That’d make it twice as odd that they let us leave without any trouble. Huh.

It’ll be odd to go back to the work mode in just eight or so hours… Lots of email to catch up on. Video conferences. Phone calls. Back to the old routine.

I look forward to exploring Niagara Falls. If I’m right, the casinos and all the tourist traps are shut down, and the streets will be empty. This is our third AirBnB: Deep River was as rural as rural gets; Mont Tremblant was a tourist trap with an actual little town just a few miles away; Niagara Falls is an actual city. If the streets are empty, and if the stores are closed – and maybe even boarded up – it’ll make for some bizarre zombie movie vibes as we walk around.

The virus news is more of the same old, same old. The most interesting development is that Kim Jong Un appears to be dead: either a botched heart surgery or the virus got to him as well. Nobody knows for sure, but he missed an awful lot of important events, and now it looks like his sister will take over.

Off to bed now… Cumulative deaths as of right now in the US: 55,512; in Canada, 2,687. No new words for the novel.

Plague diaries, Day 43

Saturday evening. All good things… If you’ve paid any attention to what I wrote before, you already know the relationship had its ups and downs. As of today, we’ve officially broken up… Because of the lockdown, we had far more time to discuss our life goals and plans for the far future. There were a few major incompatibilities: she wanted kids, and I didn’t; I wanted to retire early (lean FIRE), and she didn’t. I suppose the main consolation is that by discussing all of this over the course of 43 days, we prevented the loss of months or years if we discovered these major roadblocks later on.

So it goes.

It’ll be odd to be not-really-together as we leave for Niagara Falls tomorrow, for another four-week AirBnB. It’ll be even odder to drive through at least two checkpoints as we leave this little town of Mont-Tremblant, the quarantined locality of the Laurentians, and drive across Ontario on our seven-hour journey. There is, of course, the option of dropping off xgf at her Toronto house and its floating population of 6-10 roommates, but I’m not a monster: the whole point of this odyssey was to keep her safe, and that place is statistically highly likely to be infected. (Her roommates don’t adhere to any distancing/lockdown/quarantine rules.)

Mont-Tremblant was an odd little town. Cute views, confusing mountain-hill things (too short for the former, too high for the latter), and a blatantly fake tourist village with an actual village and an actual town hidden just a few kilometers away. We saw a family of five deer cross the main road a few weeks ago. A few days ago, a fairly small deer walked through the condo complex. (We named him Travis.) This has also been the nicest place I’ve personally ever stayed in, even if I did get a heatstroke from staying in the giant bathtub a bit too long. (In my defense, I thought hot water was good for you.)

…it’s been pretty emotional. Xgf is incredibly empathetic, so this is hitting her hard. I’m more of a robot-human hybrid, so I’ve been compartmentalizing this in tiny little drawers of my mind, since I deal with stress my own way. The next four weeks will be strange.

The world news is just about what you’d expect it to be: weird and getting weirder yet. One thing I hadn’t seen coming is the increase in Beyond Meat’s stock price. (BYND) Granted, at $108.78 it’s still more than 50% down from the 52-week high of $239.71 in July, but it’s also almost doubled from the recent low of $57.99 on March 16th. Fascinating. Ontario has admitted that it’s not tallying the deaths from retirement homes accurately – or on time. (Sure, guys, blame the database.) Trump tried to walk back the Lysol injection comments by saying he was just being sarcastic. (Suuuure.) Meanwhile, dozens of people (at least dozens) in the US ended up seeking medical help after drinking household cleaners. Brazil’s hospitals are getting overwhelmed. Over 20,000 dead in the UK. (Scary, considering their population is only 1/5 of the US.) The virus is spreading in Florida…

Cumulative death toll in the US: 54,030; in Canada, 2,569. New words in the novel: none.

Plague diaries, Day 42

Friday evening. Just enjoying one of the last quiet days before we have to drive to a new AirBnB seven hours away. Not looking at the news, though a friend texted me about Trump’s brilliant idea of chugging/injecting Lysol to cure the virus. I wonder how many of his die-hard fanatics will do just that.

Cumulative deaths: unknown. New words in the novel: none. New symptoms: none.

Plague diaries, Day 41

Thursday night. We might be infected.

Gf’s 22-hour hospital adventure in rural Quebec happened a week ago. One of the hospital employees had a bad cough. Today, she and I woke up feeling slightly worse for the wear. She has a bit of a cough. I have mild chest pain when breathing, talking, or laughing. The cough might be due to the dust in this condo. (We never vacuumed because there were no vacuum bags.) The chest pain might be due to something random, maybe. Possibly. Hopefully.

A week-long incubation period fits right in with most people’s observations. It’s possible that this is a nothing-burger and we’re just too worried. It’s possible that this is serious. We’ll wait and see how the symptoms develop. We don’t have a working thermometer, and there are no oximeters for sale online – at least none that are reliable. (Products with just a single fake review are easy to spot.) Gf’s Apple Watch allegedly has the oximeter functionality, but it’s not a supported feature.

Gf and I are committed to slowly working things out. Her therapist has thawed from the “dump him” position and recommended a good book on the attachment theory. That should make for some interesting reading.

As an experiment, I’m avoiding all the news for 48 hours to see if the underlying anxiety levels will go down or remain the same. Death counts in the US and Canada: unknown. New word in my novel: just 282.

Plague diaries, Day 40

Wednesday evening. The work project that I’d spent most of my vacation checking up on has been rescheduled for some later, indefinite date. Now I’ll get to enjoy my three days of vacation in peace. Heh.

Another fight with gf. I’m the immature and less self-aware one in this relationship: said a dumb thing, then kept saying dumber things and digging a deeper hole for myself. Her therapist told her to dump me. Her I-Ching told her to be like a wanderer. Her Tarot told her it’s about emotional depth and maturity.

I can’t tell if this is all because we’ve spent 40 days locked together, with no other people and no time apart – to the point where we’re both getting on each other’s nerves, and time apart (or just physically leaving for work) would help. Or maybe it’s that there are legitimate incompatibilities that we would’ve found months or years down the road, and this 40-day-long lockdown is helping us discover those permanent structural faults ahead of schedule, saving us both time, though not nerves.

I know that outside these windows, the world is getting progressively worse. Thousands are dying every day. Millions may starve as bottlenecked supply chains start to collapse. The world will never be the same. I’m aware of all that, and of how damn petty and insignificant it is to complain about work delays or personal relationships in a time like this. Compared to the giant global tragedies, these personal little tragedies and disappointments are nothing – but they still feel huge to those of us who experience them. History is made of individuals. This pandemic’s chronicle is made up of over seven billion voices and countless stories, no matter how mundane.

Cumulative US death total: 47,861. In Canada, 2,081. My novel: zero new words, obviously.

Plague diaries, Day 39

Tuesday evening. Just another quiet day – we’re both taking it easy, doing our own thing. Gf had a big fight with a close friend, and after that, and the hospital visit, and our discussions about the future, she needs time to process it all.

Oil crashed. Hard. I may have lost some money. I may have started to reevaluate what I do with my money and why incessant saving isn’t the most fulfilling strategy.

The world is still offline. Someone, somewhere, has started the first human vaccine trials. If it succeeds, that will be the beginning of the end. If it doesn’t, and once the impact of the unemployment surge and the bad future-looking guidance gets priced in, that’ll be just the beginning – at least for the world economy. Canada may start seeing beef price increases (if not shortages) after some major processing plants reduced their output. That’s one way for us all to switch to vegetarianism, I suppose.

Cumulative death toll in the US: 45,139; in Canada, 1,892. My novel: 958 new words.