Tag Archive: plague diaries


Plague diaries, Day 297

Monday night.

First business day of the year. The first day back at work went about as expected: putting out giant fires, catching up with everyone, slowly getting back into the groove. During yet another daily call, one of the coworkers joked that he never saw me in person even though he’d joined our location nine months ago. When I pointed out that I’ve been gone for 297 days, there was a collective groan, followed by “I’d go insane!” Heh. Silly extroverts. If this continues, then at some point I’ll become their patron saint, a disembodied voice that gives them financial advice and guidance. The legend of Grigory Lukin, eh.

My hair is getting longer. It’s almost halfway down my neck, and I can pull together a very short and sad ponytail.

When I was killing time on social media today, a fellow Canadian wrote that Alberta’s phase 3 vaccination (for everyone who is not essential and not in a high-risk group) would begin in October at the earliest. I couldn’t believe it, but that person provided this link and yep, sure enough, their phase 3 wouldn’t launch till October. That’s a lot later than the original Canada-wide graph I saw a month ago, the one that claimed that mass vaccination for everyone will start in April. I googled a bit and found something disturbing. According to the most recent communication from Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, phase 3 won’t launch until August. Phase 2 (essential workers and everyone in risk groups) will kick off in April.

This is… I try not to curse too much on this blog, and I won’t do so now, simply because that would require a whole lot of typing to adequately describe my thoughts on this topic. Bear in mind that that’s the most optimistic, best-case scenario they could come up with. Considering that those are the same geniuses that shut down the vaccination drive for several days over the holidays, I’m not quite filled with confidence. And even if they were on top of their game (they are not), then life and logistics would still get in the way, leading to unforeseen delays. I’m calling it now: under this new timeline, I most likely won’t get my first shot until late August/early September. If that’ll be a two-dose vaccine (as opposed to a single-dose that Johnson&Johnson is developing), then I won’t complete my vaccination until mid-September, if not later.

I’ve made a commitment to blog and chronicle this mess daily until it’s all over. (And to quote a movie, “When you break a promise to yourself, things can get a little dicey.”) Today is day 297. This will go well past 365 days. Past 500 days, even. Wild guesstimate: the last day of the Plague Diaries series, when I get my final shot, will be roughly day 540, give or take a dozen. If you round that up just a little, that won’t be just one year – that’ll be two stolen years of our lives. (And really, the winter months in Canada don’t really count as living.)

…that long podcast on the physics of time travel yesterday introduced me to the concept of eternalism. As opposed to Newtonian absolutism, eternalism assumes that no single moment is special, that your life doesn’t proceed from point A to point B but rather it is a series of snapshots, the sum total of all of you from beginning to the end. From the four-dimensional perspective, you can see the whole of your life, all the little trivialities and triumphs and disappointments. I’d originally encountered that concept in Kurt Vonnegut’s excellent book Slaughterhouse-Five. You may know it by its famous quote: “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

I wonder… Someday, after this blog series inevitably ends, if someone were to encounter it, and if that someone were stubborn enough to read the whole damn thing from start to finish, what would it feel like to flip through 19 months of my life in a matter of several days? Hey there, reader. I hope the future is awesome, though for all I know you’re probably battling bath salt zombies out there. I wish I could sneak a peak at the end of my own blog series, to see how everything plays out, when it ends, who makes it. If you were to print all 500-some blog posts and lay all of them out on the floor all around you, that right there would be as close to the concept of eternalism as one might get: 500-some fragments of life, 500-some days of the covid pandemic, arranged around you as if it really were that simple.

…I’m going to have to do some very serious thinking about all the different ways I’ll cope with this. The early retirement plan (hitherto scheduled for May or so) is probably going out of the window – even if I do pull it off, I’ll still be stuck in solitary misery, so might as well keep working remotely. Human contact: would recreational people-watching on the streets of Toronto suffice? (I know it probably will not.) Human interactions: yeah, no, that part will go away and I’ll definitely go full-on feral. Damn. Just… damn.

Just so this post isn’t a one-man pity party, here’s some covid news. The FDA is considering administering half-doses of the Moderna vaccine instead of the full dose. A whole lot of epidemiologists seem to think that might not be the best idea, if only because there were no stage 3 trials on half-doses. (As far as I can tell, all they have is stage 2 evidence.) That reeks of desperation, like a gambler going double or nothing. It might work and help twice as many people. It might fail, and give those people a false sense of security, which would lead them to go out, get sick, and spread4 the virus further. That’s not a great cost/benefit ratio they got there.

And elsewhere, in Indonesia, the vaccination order will be exactly the opposite of the western countries. Due to limited supplies, they’ll vaccinate young people and essential workers first, on the assumption that they’re more mobile and more likely to spread the virus if they don’t get their shots. That logic may seem brutal or counterintuitive to us, but you can see their logic, since the objective is to limit the spread of covid with limited supplies. I’m curious how it’ll work out for them.

And in Canada, a well-intentioned rule has backfired. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit was supposed to provide $500 CAD per week to the Canadians who couldn’t work due to covid. One peculiar side effect is that it’d give $1,000 to vacationers spending two weeks in quarantine after returning home. (Provided they couldn’t work from home, or claimed so, anyhow.) Given how righteously pissed off people are about hypocritical politicians (redundant, I know) going on vacation when everyone else is locked in, the very idea that someone would get a thousand loonies as a bonus after flying someplace nice and warm and sunny… Well, folks are mad, eh. They’ll probably strike that provision from the law, and soon, but this is just another example of the growing unrest. 2021 is gonna be a long, looooooong year…

Plague diaries, Day 296

Sunday night.

This is the last day of my 10-day staycation. It felt so damn nice and relaxing to just sleep and read and sleep and learn and sleep. Did I mention sleep? That “sleep” part was really nice. Oh well… There’s probably just a month left until I get my Canadian permanent residency, though there might be some delays. After that, a few other things will happen fairly quickly at one-month intervals, and after that… As days grow longer, so will my 2021 prospects grow brighter. (And yes, I did just knock on wood.)

Today’s adventure in logistics: I’ve managed to fit seven 18-gallon crates into my Kia, as well as a hamper filled with freshly dried laundry, and several suits, leather jackets, and my trusty old lab coat. (Fun prop, that.) I probably have just two trips left: I’ll knock them out on Saturday. For now, the focus is solely on moving things over: I can sort and arrange them later. Realistically, that means dumping them out of the plastic crates and onto a blanket I laid out on the floor. (Fancy, I know.) It’s so incredibly strange to see most of your possessions in one large pile, without any pattern, rhyme, or reason. It’s a bit like those word clouds that show the most commonly used words, except with things: old souvenirs and prized possessions and electronics, like some lazy modern artist’s snapshot of a life.

Boredom status: I’ve listened to an almost-three-hour-long podcast where Sean Carroll (you know, the physicist) described the way time travel could or could not work in Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity, all while playing Skyrim (my orc’s mercenary got stuck on top of a waterfall; it was pretty hilarious) and driving to and from my studio. It’s both humbling and educational to listen to experts talk about their favourite subjects. That goes so far beyond your basic pop science books and much closer to the deep end of the pool. I admit I lost track about halfway through, but both the podcast and the podcaster’s hatred of Back to the Future were rather entertaining.

In political news, there are more and more half-assed coup attempts in the US. At this point, it’s gone well past ridiculous into tiresome into “come on, really? again?” It started out with 12 Republican senators threatening to sabotage the congressional certification of the electoral vote on January 6. Their apparent ringleader, senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is demanding an “emergency 10-day audit” because of some alleged fraud, the evidence for which no one has been able to actually provide. To make things worse, Washington Post just published a story about (and a recording of) Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state, where he demanded to “find” enough votes to help him flip the state. The call happened just yesterday. Either he made similar calls to the governors of other narrowly-lost states, or he doesn’t understand that Georgia alone won’t help him win.

Either way, there’ll be even more embarrassment and sabotage attempts before Biden’s inauguration on January 20. They could’ve been spending all that time and energy to come up with better anti-covid campaigns or help the 50 states with their vaccination drives…

In covid news, minor correction to what I wrote yesterday: Rod Phillips, Ontario’s disgraced finance minister who participated in Zoom calls so close to his Caribbean beach that people could literally hear the waves in the background, did not quite lose his job. He stepped down as the finance minister but he’ll remain an MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament). He’ll take a 30% pay cut but I’m pretty sure that at some point within a year, once the dust settles, he might find himself in another prestigious position. Standard PR maneuver, really: issue a non-apology apology, step aside (without quitting), then come back in six months or a year – two years, tops. What works for abusive comedians, works for politicians as well.

In more global news, both the US and the UK are starting to entertain some pretty scary vaccination ideas… The first idea is to give people just one dose of the two-dose vaccine – and hope for the best. That’d help vaccinate more people but the herd immunity would be much more difficult to achieve. The second idea is to mix and match random vaccines: get a shot of Pfizer followed by a shot of Moderna three weeks later, or vice versa. Every pharma company out there very quickly pointed out that that’s a horrible idea for which they will not be held liable. The last (but not least horrible) idea is to give folks two shots (yay) from the same manufacturer (also yay) but 12 weeks apart instead of three weeks. No studies have been done on something like that, and there’s no evidence that it’d result in identical or better protection.

They had months to prepare for this… I really hope it won’t come to that, and that they’ll just work out better logistics for that “last mile” vaccine delivery, but they’ve underperformed almost every step of the way in the past… Hope everlasting, eh?

Plague diaries, Day 295

Saturday night.

Well, 2021 officially sucks. My local Tim Hortons ran out of bacon. That’s it, folks. Total loss. Absolute waste of a year. Completely irredeemable garbage, is what I’m saying. I’m just gonna climb into a freezer – defrost me when it’s 2022, eh.

To their credit, when I tweeted this out, even without tagging them, Tim Hortons reached out to me for details. My consolation prize is a voucher for one free hot beverage: since I’m mostly a “large black coffee” guy, I’ll have to get downright creative about maximizing that thing’s value.

I’ve moved another batch of crap to my studio, and spent an hour stuffing more things into those amazing 18-gallon plastic crates that you typically see in hardware stores or when college students move in or out of their dorms. Those things are amazing, and I can’t sing enough praises in their honour. They’re compact, easy to lift, even easier to stack inside a car, and you can always dump things out and bring the crates back to reload them again. I got a little carried away with packing… It was odd: the detritus of nearly a year.

I’ll really, really have to downsize: not just my buckets of shiny rocks but also the book hoard I’ve been lugging around the continent (about 100 or so – they add up fast.), and remnants of unsuccessful hobbies. I have an entire crate filled with electronics components, how-to books, and kits: those things managed to distract me and keep me relatively sane during a particularly bad time at work years ago, but it never went anywhere. They’ll make some electronics enthusiast very happy soon, I think.

It’s funny: when I made the long drive from Seattle to Toronto in March 2019, I’d managed to fit everything I owned (that I hadn’t given away or sold) inside my relatively small 2013 Kia Rio. It was a little crowded there, and I did drive solo, but it worked out fine. Now, after less than two years in Canada, I have acquired luxuries that would keep me from repeating that maneuver. (Things like an office chair, a roll-up Ikea mattress, a medium-sized bookshelf, etc.) When I picked up the studio keys from the guy that subleased it to me, he said he was hopping on a bus back to Quebec. (I didn’t pry.) All he had with him was a backpack and a large travel bag. I admire that simplicity and want to get to that point someday… Definitely not going to happen what with my collections of shiny rocks and local art and antique cameras, but hey, it’s good to have aspirations, right?

Speaking of which… I think I wrote earlier that the search&rescue crews back in Washington state started offering covid vaccines to their rescuers. My younger brother is still there, still an active rescuer (proud of you, little bro!), and will get his first shot within a few weeks. If I really wanted to, I could end my wait right here and now: hop on a plane, bring my work laptop with me, spend a month in Seattle to get both of my shots through the search&rescue organization (I still pay my membership dues), and then fly back to Canada. As you’ve already noticed, that wouldn’t be the craziest thing I’ve done. (Probably not even in the top-5.) It would be achievable, and fast, and above all, it would be so easy. See the sights, spend time with my family, hang out (from afar) with my friends, see if my favourite pizzeria is still open (damn it, I’ve just checked and they’ve gone out of business), enjoy the artisanal cider Seattle is known for. It would be so, so easy – but it’d also be wrong. As tempting as that sounds (and it’s really damn tempting), I’d be taking away a dose of the precious vaccine from someone else who’d have to wait a little longer. There’s never a good way to know how that butterfly effect plays out, who lives or dies due to a distant echo of your choices, but nonetheless, it’d be a net negative if I were to fly and get the vaccine allocated for active rescuers.

Sometimes I wonder how much easier my life would be if I just didn’t care about things like that. If I could shamelessly do the unethical things that would objectively (and greatly) benefit me. If I didn’t develop sentimental attachments for my employer or coworkers, and could job-hop between companies like all the cool kids. If I could just jump ship without any regard for other people’s feelings. Oh well. Gotta play the cards you’ve been dealt. I suppose those shark-eyed sociopaths I wonder about also don’t have any deep friendships and relationships, so I’ve got that going for me, eh.

In covid news… Good news: Ontario’s finance minister Rod Phillips has resigned, though he didn’t do that willingly. He went out kicking and screaming, making excuses and providing lame explanations, even going so far as to claim that his pre-scheduled social media pictures and videos (which made it look like he was still in Ontario) were standard industry practice and not, you know, a blatant lie. It didn’t make things better when people found that Doug Ford (Ontario’s premier) had known about Phillips’s vacation but didn’t do anything about it. So, that’s one hypocrite that’s out.

Bad news: turns out, there’s a whole lot more of them. Other government VIPs from all over Canada got caught traveling to Mexico, Greece, California, Hawaii, Peru (classy!), etc. As far as I can tell, every major party (there are three of them here) has egg on their face now. What I’m really curious about is if they’ll a) resign, and b) actually follow the two-week quarantine guidance. If any of them get caught outside their house… Well, there’ll be even more outrage. And hell, I get it. Canada is dark and cold and absolutely miserable in the winter. It gets remarkably sad and gloomy here. I can see why someone would want to fly someplace sunny, especially if they do that every year. But come on, people, did you really think you’d get away with that? Other countries have their own hypocrites, I’m sure, but that right there was remarkably un-Canadian, eh. (I have to use up my “eh” quota every day, or they won’t let me become a citizen in 2023. True story.)

If you haven’t blatantly broken any travel regulations, kudos to you! And if you have… well, do try to follow the rules, would you?

Plague diaries, Day 294

Friday night – the first Friday night of the new year. (Woot!)

I had a bit of a rude awakening this morning when I asked my Amazon Echo “Alexa, what year is this?” (because you can never get too much satisfaction from defeating 2020) and got “it’s 2020” in response. Come on, Alexa coders: you guys literally had one job, eh. (They ended up fixing it around 2pm Eastern Time.) I wonder, though, just how much difference could one news junkie make if he got magically moved one year back. I’d probably sound like a raving maniac, with my warnings of ~340,000 deaths in the US alone. Well, good thing it didn’t come to that, I suppose. (Maybe that’s why we never spot any time travelers – they all appear way too disturbed to us.)

I’ve gobbled up Stephen King’s The Institute novel in just a couple of days, despite it being 576 pages long. (At least that’s what it says for the paperback version.) It’s mighty entertaining, and King really knows how to hook your attention and never let go. A whole lot of it was about politics and probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense 30-40 years down the road, but I guess he wrote it for the here and now. One thing I found odd – not just with this book but with a lot of American sci-fi – is how much the plot revolves around guns. A firefight here, a cool-looking gun-slinger there, etc. That was a significant plot element in the first book of my favourite trilogy, The Breach by Patrick Lee. This is a distinctly American feature, too: when I watched the British Torchwood show, it was pretty funny how their very rare and important “red alert” emergency consisted of them breaking out little pistols (no body armor) and trying to surround the bad guy. It’s funny, the things you can observe once you leave that environment…

Next up: The Disaster Diaries: One Man’s Quest to Learn Everything Necessary to Survive the Apocalypse by Sam Sheridan. I was originally going to borrow How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler by Ryan North but apparently the Kindle formatting doesn’t work with all the charts and diagrams. That’s too bad: just the cover alone was beautiful. I’ve discovered an interesting distinction between the terms “prepper” and “survivalist.” On the surface, they’re the same. In reality, “prepper” has gotten associated with trigger-happy maladjusted weirdos – which, yeah, some are, but many aren’t. The term “survivalist” is intended to convey the original meaning but without all the negative baggage. That strikes me as just a stopgap measure, though: all the bad connotations will follow this term too, regardless of how cool and new and shiny it sounds. Those who judge, will judge; those who have a sweet first aid kit and the manuals to go with it, will have a sweet first aid kit and the manuals to go with it.

…I think my landlords have snapped. They’ve been entertaining guests almost every night over the past week or so. I rarely venture downstairs to see who is having dinner this time, but this time around, instead of their daughter and her two guests, it was two of our neighbours. Normally, I would’ve loved to be the nice Canadian and gotten to know them, but come on, people. Record-high cases. Rising death tolls. Goddamn province-shutdown. Do you want to start a cluster? Because that’s how you start a cluster. I don’t want to have to start wearing a mask to the kitchen whenever I hear an unfamiliar voice, I really don’t, but at this point I might as well live in a diner. A diner that gets very few customers, but still.

There is no reason for me not to pack up and move all my things to my new (and sad) studio right this second – I’m just irrationally concerned about the social implications of offending my landlords by running away very quickly. Well, that, and I’m addicted to the creature comforts such as having a freezer. I guesstimate that I have maybe three more carloads of stuff to move… All entirely doable in a single day, considering it’s a three-hour roundtrip (which includes moving the stuff to the car and back out again.) At this point, I’m just being lazy and making up reasons not to move ASAP. (See, writing this stuff down actually helps.) I’ll make a couple of trips this weekend and finish the big move next weekend, I think – while wearing a damn mask when more dinner guests inevitably show up. Blargh. Blargh, I say.

In covid news, a pharmacist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin intentionally destroyed about 550 shots of the Moderna vaccine by removing them from the refrigerator overnight. The Moderna vaccine doesn’t require super-cold temperatures like the Pfizer vaccine, but it still needs to be kept refrigerated. Now 550 high-risk people will have to wait longer to get their life-saving shots. The guy got fired, arrested, and is being charged with recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. Aside from refusing to vaccinate their children and spreading lies online, this is the first actual case of an anti-vaxxer sabotaging the public health system. That comes just a few days from the first-ever suicide bombing in the US. To quote a very relevant meme “I’m beginning to see a pattern here that I’m not so sure I like.”

Some videos from New Year’s Eve parties are showing up online. It’s as bad as you’d expect. Huge gatherings on the Las Vegas Strip. A tightly packed maskless party in Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort. The silver lining of the mushroom cloud is that we’re officially done with huge holiday celebrations (though some smaller ones remain), so maybe after all this is done, there won’t be any extra spikes and we’ll just stick with plain old exponential growth without any more party infusions. Kinda sad that that’s our best-case outcome right now, but you gotta take what you can get.

On a mildly positive note, Israel has already vaccinated 10% of their population, becoming the first country in the world to do so. (The second and third places go to Bahrain with 3.4% and the UK with 1.4%.) To be fair, Israel’s population is only 9.3 million, so they objectively don’t need as many vaccines as the US or Canada would need. Nonetheless, I hope the rest of the world will learn from their best practices. As Canada’s Atlantic bubble showed, it is possible to achieve amazing results, but it requires tough choices and a lot of planning. Way to go, Israel!

Plague diaries, Day 293

Thursday afternoon. The very last day of 2020. A year ago today…

I don’t usually do these end-of-year review posts, but this has been the strangest year of my life, and I don’t want this memory to fade away or get overwritten by future experiences to the point where I can’t honestly what I’d been thinking on this last day of this terrible year.

I just got the keys for the sad Toronto studio, so that’ll be the sixth place I will have lived in over the course of 12 months. (My previous rental, my current rental I share with landlords, my studio rental, and the three AirBnBs where xgf and I stayed for 72 days.) Even with my tumultuous lifestyle, that was a new record for me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go on a trip again without asking myself, “what if this turns into a 72-day odyssey?”

A year ago, I never would’ve thought that I’d end up traveling all over Ontario and Quebec in 2020; that I’d move in with my gf; that I’d end up on a roadtrip exploring abandoned mines and running away when my Geiger counter (another new acquisition) starts shrieking at top volume. A year ago, I thought I’d finally treat myself to an international vacation (yay credit card miles) in Tunisia, and then spend a couple of weeks in the summer exploring Montreal and its unique culture. (Obviously, neither of those worked out.) A year ago, I didn’t even dare to imagine that I’d experience a stock market windfall that would get me almost to the magic goal I need to quit the rat race. A year ago, I thought I knew how to say things in French, despite never having taken even a single lesson. Heh.

Things 2020 taught me:

  1. Some countries or regions are more reliable than others. The US, the UK, and the EU failed in their containment measures (and some didn’t even try), while Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Taiwan succeeded. I’d expected the US to fail to respond years ago, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and all they got in response was a bunch of paper towels tossed at them by their president…
  2. Canada partially failed (thanks to “leaders” like Ontario’s premier Doug Ford) but partially succeeded. The so-called “Atlantic bubble” did everything right by shutting down travel, instituting quarantines for outsiders, having high mask compliance, etc. They had zero cases for several months and started to see a small uptick only recently. That proves it can be done, right here, right now.
  3. There’s no such thing as too many first aid supplies. In particular, prior to this pandemic I had no idea oximeters even existed. Now that we’re finishing off 2020, who has two thumbs and a shiny oximeter? This guy!
  4. I’m not as much of a hermit as I’d thought I was. Looking back, my fantasies of buying a patch of land by a river in northern Ontario and just setting up a small little compound (with the option to ride a dirt bike to a town 10 miles away to get food) was viable, and it would’ve worked, but it was also a kneejerk reaction to a ton of remarkably loud and uncivilized roommates I had when I first moved to Canada almost two years ago. (A girl with meth addiction who would loudly wail every morning; a 19-year-old guy with a giant dog that never got enough exercise and would bark incessantly all day and all night… Fun times.) I’m still very much an introvert, but damn, I miss human company: not only dating, but simply hanging out and going to meetups and having fun discussions about everything and nothing.
  5. I can survive just fine without cider (my one low-key indulgence) but going without caffeine results in god-awful headaches.
  6. Life is far too short, and much more precious than we think.

As we’re wrapping up this awful year and entering a new one, things won’t magically get better. Just yesterday, the US set a new covid death record for the third day in a row: 3,740 deaths. The new cases from Christmas celebrations are only now starting to show up, and all the New Year’s Eve celebrations will add even more within the next week or two. And the new British variant is apparently spreading quite rapidly… Things will continue to get worse – but later on, as more vaccines are manufactured and distributed and administered, it’ll get slightly better. I can’t even imagine what horrors the first half of 2021 will bring us (hospitals in Los Angeles are already overwhelmed) but that second half should be better, right? Right?..

Trying to predict the future is nothing but hubris, but what the hell. I predict that a year from now, on December 31, 2021, things will be better. There will be enough vaccines, and enough distribution, to knock this fucker down and keep it from spreading like wildfire. There will be celebrations, and parties, and exuberant, heart-breaking and death-defying reveling as those of who us who will have made it through will try so very hard to catch up on this lost year. To forget it all.

I’m fully aware the odds are not in our favour here and now, but hey – hope everlasting.

And as for resolutions?.. I resolve to end this blog series when I get my second vaccine shot, whenever that may be. (May? July? November?..) I never expected this mess to go on for this long: to be fair, I think most people didn’t. This is hands down the most ambitious non-work project I’ve ever undertaken, but it too will end. And beyond that… I resolve to read more about the art of writing – from Deborah Chester, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and the like – and try my hand at writing short stories. (While continuing to slooooowly chip away at my dusty old sci-fi novel draft.) And maybe I’ll even get fairly good with my harmonica, who knows.

Happy New Year, y’all. It will get better. It must.

Plague diaries, Day 292

Wednesday night.

Well, that was fast. I am now the proud owner of a sublease for a very basic studio smack in the middle of Toronto. (And with a parking spot!) The other guy was pressed for time, posted the ad with an offer I couldn’t refuse, and we signed the whole thing by email. (Yay PDFs!) I’ll pick up the keys tomorrow morning (which, unfortunately, means waking up before noon) and move the first batch of my stuff at the same time. It’s curious that my gem pile from the summer roadtrip managed to fit into just three buckets and one small box: they’d spent about five months laid out on a tarp in the corner of my room. Huh. There’s some kind of lesson here about our assumptions and reality.

In theory, I could just grab a Uhaul and move absolutely everything right away, instead of sloooowly transporting stuff from point A to point B (90-minute roundtrip) in my Kia. Just plain old laziness, I suppose. I should be done and out of here in a couple of weeks, hopefully. Three-and-a-half at most. (Ahh, yes, it just came to me. The studio has a fridge but not a freezer. I’ll have to diligently devour all my frozen goodies before I move. Yeah, that’s a perfectly valid reason. Heh.)

Small personal anniversary: today is the 200th day of my DuoLingo language lessons. They take up just a few minutes per day, but I’m better off for having taken them than not. Here is to many more days of linguistic edumacation.

…if this dog barking from the landlords’ daughter’s corgi continues, I might hire that Uhaul truck and run for it within a week. One definite quality-of-life upside of the basic studio: there are no pets allowed. No barking and howling or anything of the sort. Just blissful, beautiful silence.

In boredom news, I’ve borrowed the e-book version of Stephen King’s The Institute after seeing it on the Goodreads “best of 2019” list last night. I mostly like King’s short stories, since I still feel a bit cheated by the ending to his 1,000+page-long novel The Stand, but The Institute is showing great potential so far. King was 72-ish when he wrote it, and his writing and especially character description keep getting better and better.

In covid news, the first member of the US House of Representatives died of covid. Luke Letlow was Louisiana’s Congressman-elect. He was 41. He had no underlying health conditions. He was an anti-masker. He was photographed on many occasions not wearing a mask in indoor meetings. He had two little kids: three years old and 11 months old. Technically, he died of a heart attack. Contextually, that heart attack happened during an operation related to covid. (I’m not sure what that would be: were they pumping oxygenated blood into him?..) Covid deniers are disturbingly gleeful, pointing out that it was his heart that gave out, not his lungs. That’s like saying that a shooting victim died of blood loss: had there been no shooting, they would’ve lived. Had Letlow followed the most basic guidelines, he wouldn’t have caught covid, and he would’ve lived. Will anyone learn from him?..

Earlier, I wrote about other congress-critters who caught covid. Most of them were on the older side, and all of them recovered. Will Letlow’s death finally make his Republican colleagues realize that they’re as vulnerable as the rest of us? That they should maybe try to take this more seriously and stop obstructing aid? Time will tell.

Plague diaries, Day 291

Tuesday night.

Today was a lot more productive than a baseline lockdown day. One of the rental people got back to me: after spending 50 minutes driving to central Toronto (20 minutes on the highway, 30 minutes in the surface street labyrinth), I got to see the place myself. It’s the most basic and barely habitable studio imaginable, but it’s got all the essentials and it’s actually above ground. That last part is key, since Toronto has a ton of barely habitable basements being rented out left and right. This city is Canada’s version of New York, and there’s been a bit of a real estate bubble, to the point where local TV news has a recurring segment with real estate advice. That’s what it must’ve been like to be in the middle class just before 2008. Heh.

The studio is tiny (I’d say about 350-400 square feet) but it meets all my criteria. Better yet, the guy that wants to hand over his lease will pay for January-February, which makes this deal ever more lucrative. (The lease runs through the end of August.) The place looks like an old-timey brick house sliced into as many studios as humanly possible, much like the place in Niagara Falls where xgf and I stayed eight months ago. The kind of place that has signs saying that setting off a fire alarm will cost you $1,320 CAD. Charming and gruff in that slumlord sort of way, but hey, it’s got a parking lot in the back and it’s just a few blocks away from a subway station.

It felt good to get out of the house: this is the farthest I’ve driven in about two months, if not more. Aside from the super-genius who tried to parallel-park by backing into my car in downtown Toronto, it was even enjoyable. (My honking dissuaded him from pursuing that ambitious course of action and testing whether two objects can, in fact, occupy the same point in space and time. Sorry, science.)

In other news, the Dark Matter book by Blake Crouch is full of awesome sauce. It started out as your garden-variety sci-fi yarn about a parallel universe, but then it went someplace I’d never seen in any work of science fiction, and I’ve devoured a lot of sci-fi, eh. This book is about quantum physics, and love, and life, and choices not taken, and regret, and acceptance. The prose itself is pretty (and occasionally brilliant), and the occasional quotes from other writers, as well as the afterword, provide a lot of follow-up reading ideas. Speaking of which, how much acid was T.S. Eliot on when he wrote “Burnt Norton“? It was either that or mushrooms because I refuse to accept that something so trippy could’ve been written by a sober mind.

Ditto for this quote by Mark Twain, the context for which I’ve yet to look up: “Life itself is only a vision, a dream. Nothing exists; all is a dream. God – man – the world – the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars – a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space – and you… And you are not you–you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought.”

Hard to believe that I encountered so strange and heavy in a pop-culture bestseller. I think I might have a new favourite author now. Next up… Not sure. I’m very tempted to read The End of October by Lawrence Wright because that book came out before the current pandemic, and apparently predicted the worldwide dysfunction perfectly. However, I’m trying to read things that would distract me from pandemics, not give me a what-if scenario. Perhaps later.

In covid news, the vaccine rollout is happening a lot slower than anticipated. In the US, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar had initially promised 100 million vaccinations by the end of 2020. Then that number fell to 20 million. As of right now, only 2.1 million got vaccinated. That’s a big number, yes, but still less than 1% of America’s total population. At this pace, it would take years. Just like I’d feared, there’s no uniform plan: once the vaccines are dropped off, each state has to scramble with their own logistical plans.

Likewise in Canada. Here in Ontario, just over 13,000 shots have been administered, though the initial plan had called for 53,000 by the end of the year. Making things worse, the province’s vaccination clinics took a two-day siesta for Christmas. The official explanation is that they didn’t think medical personnel would’ve been willing to come in and work on those days. (Unofficially, I suspect that was a huge human error made by someone with lack of critical thinking skills and the all-too-common fallacy that holidays are untouchable.) If hostile space aliens ever decide to invade this sorry planet, they should aim for late December, because everything and everyone seems to be shut down during these last few days. I’ve seen (but haven’t opened) some headlines that claim that other countries are actually planning to execute efficient vaccination campaigns with dedicated spaces, schedules, etc. Good for them, eh.

And in much more local news, today’s Least Popular Canadian is Ontario’s finance minister Rod Phillips. It’s been fun to watch the story unfold throughout the day: first, a local journo got the scoop that Phillips went on vacation and left Canada after the legislative session ended on December 13. Then Phillips’s office tried to run interference and claim he might actually be around here somewhere. Then Phillips himself said that he was not, in fact, on vacation, and was very busy with important business calls and other busy business. (Did I convey how busy he claimed he was? Heh.) Then Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier, spotted a great opportunity to distract the public from his own epic fails, and publicly criticized Phillips for breaking the “please do not travel, eh” official guidance. (The “eh” is implied.) Of course, there’ll be no real consequences – the guy still gets to keep his job. Incidentally, he’s on the Caribbean island of St.Barts and not in Costa Rica, which was my first guess. I suppose he didn’t want to mix with the low-budget hoi-polloi.

It takes a fair bit effort to make Canadians angry, but this story seems to have everything. Up until today, most people probably didn’t even know who Rod Phillips was. Today, though, he’s the target of their anger. (I wonder if he’ll issue a non-apology apology and resign. Probably not.) What he did is ultimately inconsequential, but he’s a representative of the largely ineffective Ontario government, and his latest excuse (“Had I been aware then of the eventual December 26th provincewide shutdown, we would have cancelled the trip”) implies he just didn’t want to cancel the trip. That’s some mighty big personal responsibility you got there, mate. Phillips is ultimately a nobody, and this story is a nothing-burger, but today, here and now, he is the avatar of hypocritical government officials. Tomorrow there will be another scandal about someone else, and then more and more, an endless chain of failures that we shall hate and mock and condemn, but which may have been made by most of us. I won’t forgive this idiot, nor will I accept his hollow apologies, but if I squint just a little, I can almost understand where he was coming from, and how he thought he’d get away with it.

Incidentally, my sister, her husband, and their son returned from Miami today. So far, no symptoms. I hope there won’t be.

Good night, y’all – and kudos for not being the Internet’s Least Popular Person today. You’re all doing reasonably great, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 290

Monday night. Just 73.5 more hours until this godforsaken year is gone for good.

I’m starting to get the hang of this whole “rest and digest” thing. It felt utterly alien at first to just stay inside and sleep and consume entertainment, but it’s starting to grow on me, eh. Normally, whenever I have a week or more off, I fly off someplace fun (usually Nevada, alternating between Reno and Vegas) or go on a roadtrip. This is my first staycation in years. Weird, but not unpleasant.

The hunt for Red October my new rental is on. At last, my oversized head will finally do something actually useful. (Let’s be honest, it’s not like I get to practice all that French and Spanish I’m trying to learn.) Toronto’s rental scene has changed a lot since I last looked at it in May. We’d tried and failed to find something in xgf’s price range, which is why she had to move back in with her parents. Has it really been eight months?.. Holy shit – the 72 days of us hiding together ended 218 days ago. That part of the plague year is officially less than 25% of the total experience up to this point. How did all that time fly by?..

Aaaaanyway, back in May, Toronto’s landlords were still being greedy: back then, a good deal on a human-sized apartment (600 sq ft or more, as opposed to those 150 sq ft death traps) in Toronto was around $1,700 CAD ($1,325 USD). Now there’s an overabundance of options in the $1,000-$1,300 CAD range. ($780-$1,013 USD.) It’s probably driven by several things at once… No one wants to live in the middle of a plague-ridden city where all the fun places are perpetually locked down. The ever-expanding work-from-home options mean people don’t need to stay close to the business areas. Travel restrictions mean there’s a whole lot AirBnB business. The unemployment situation (8.5% in Canada; 9.1% in Ontario as of November 2020) means a lot of folks just can’t afford high rent.

Looking at the pictures on some of the local listings, you can just tell that some of them are former AirBnB properties being rented out by month out of what must be sheer desperation. A lot of the apartments are basement units: they vary by size, ceiling height (important when you’re 6’2″), etc. I’m looking for a place I wouldn’t have to share with anyone at all. (Mine! All mine!! mwahaha!!!) My own kitchenette and bathroom and entrance and parking spot. Preferably within walking distance of a subway station: I’ve tried this suburban life, and it just ain’t for me. (And it’ll make things easier when I inevitably sell my car to simplify my life.) My budget is quite flexible and I have just over a month to find a place. My steady job is once again a privilege that gives me an unfair advantage over the rest of my fellow pandemic participants. So far, I’ve sent four emails asking to arrange a viewing. Not a bad start…

My Skyrim orc has discovered a new city and embraced the life of crime. The local Thieves Guild sent him out to shake down local merchants for protection money. That’s not something heroes generally do, but such is life when you want to complete every quest in the game.

My self-improvement quest for classy music that I’d actually enjoy led me to Amazon Music, where I put together a list of classy music scores. I figure playing them all on my Alexa first thing in the morning would be more relaxing than listening to news podcasts. Alas, I’m still just pretending to be into good music, so most of the stuff on my list is just instrumental covers of pop culture soundtracks. (That said, the “Paint it black” theme from Westworld is absolutely breathtaking.) The search for classic compositions that I can actually stomach is still ongoing… Meanwhile, here is the playlist itself – and if it gets hit by digital decay sometime in the future, it currently consists of:

  1. Westworld (Paint It Black) Theme, Rogue One – Out Of This World Movie Themes, Voidoid
  2. Westworld, The Theme System
  3. The Heart Asks Pleasure First, The Composer’s Cut Series, Vol. III: The Piano, The Michael Nyman Band
  4. Indiana Jones Theme, Classics at the Movies: Adventure
  5. Con te partirò (Arr. Shearman for Orchestra), Classical Chillout
  6. Dragonborn, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Original Game Soundtrack, Jeremy Soule
  7. The Avengers (From “Avengers Assemble”), Avengers Assemble Theme, London Music Works
  8. Liberi Fatali (Final Fantasy VIII), Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu
  9. The Man with the Machine Gun (Final Fantasy VIII), Distant Worlds II: More Music from Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu
  10. Don’t Be Afraid (Final Fantasy VIII), Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu
  11. Badinerie, Wow-Classics Feat. Mozart & Handel

In covid news, even with the low-ball official CDC count, there have been 332,246 covid deaths in the US. We’ve officially crossed the “1 in 1,000” threshold. Early on, the case fatality rate (CFR) was assumed to be 0.1%. Seeing as not everyone in the US has been infected, and more than 0.1% of population have died of covid, that CFR estimate is gonna have to be adjusted upwards.

Imagine a large concert or a football game. Imagine 15,000 people cheering with you. Imagine most, but not all of them, heading for the exit once it’s done. Imagine 15 dead bodies left behind: they might have been perfect strangers, or your friends, or even yourself. Imagine hundreds more who get to go home but end up with severe lifelong damage. That is where the US is right now. With all the Christmas gatherings a few days ago, we’re in for yet another spike in cases, in deaths, in oh-so-predictable news stories about people who started clusters within their families but feign ignorance and accept no responsibility. Systems have momentum. The vaccination campaign is protecting more people with every passing day, but there will be so much more misery…

Stay inside, damn it. Stay masked. Stay safe.

Plague diaries, Day 289

Sunday night.

I ventured outside today to run some errands for the first time in almost two weeks. After I finished adding air to my tires (they deflated in the cold, it seems) at the local gas station, an old man walked up and asked how the process works. He was parked behind me and wasn’t wearing a mask. I backed away while gesticulating and pantomiming the process. It’s simple enough, so I hope he figured it out. I did not stay behind to help him: it was for his protection as well as mine.

As I walked up to the grocery store, a large and seemingly angry guy started heading in my direction, gesticulating and apparently yelling about something, though I couldn’t hear him with his mask on. Maybe he just needed a dollar coin to unlock one of those fancy shopping carts. Maybe it was something else. I speedwalked away from him. There was a time when I gladly would have stopped and helped everyone I encountered. That time was before 1.76 million people died in a global pandemic… I’m not gonna lie – I kinda feel like shit, but empathy is the first thing to go out the window in a crisis situation when you don’t know who might be infected – not even yourself.

Incidentally, even though the Ontario-wide lockdown officially began yesterday, I saw no restrictions at either LCBO (where they keep liquor and, more importantly, cider) or the local grocery store. There was no one at the entrance counting how many people have entered. There were no queues like in the earlier mini-lockdowns. It’s disconcerting.

I spent the afternoon browsing the Goodreads 2020 awards list, with the top books (and top finalists) chosen by readers all over the world. At this point, my Kindle app has several years’ worth of e-books, but most of them just got hoarded along the way. Using my highly scientific approach (reading just about everything about every top book), I created a small list of the main books to peruse. Meanwhile, though, I speed-read through the book I mentioned a few days ago (it got a bit dry after a while) and started “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch. The way he describes the most banal things is fascinating. (E.g., “The headlights graze a teetering stretch of twelve-foot fencing, topped with a tiara of rusted barbed wire.”) The action is great too, to the point where I gobbled up the first three chapters in one go. Good times, eh.

My fantasy-world orc got sidetracked on a huge detour when his GPS spell failed: along the way, he stumbled on a cave filled with vampires, barely managed to kill them all after drinking his last health potion, and contracted a mild case of vampirism. He then spent an hour running toward the nearest city (in the buff, because heavy armor slows him down) to buy a “Cure Disease” potion and fix that nasty affliction. (In other news, human NPCs are remarkably squeamish when a naked orc runs by them.) After all, it would be mighty awkward if the world’s savior were to become a vampire. (Mwahahaha.) Ahhhh, Skyrim…

In somewhat political news, the Nashville bombing was not a terrorist attack after all. It turns out the culprit was a 63-year-old white guy who was a stereotypical loner as well as a certified alarm installer. He died in the blast and apparently didn’t mean to hurt others, which explains why he played the “please evacuate” recording beforehand. At the same time, no one is quite sure why precisely he hated AT&T so much that he destroyed their office. (Incidentally, that also disabled the local 911 line and a whole lot of cellphones, so his actions might have ended up killing people indirectly.) Because of his skin colour, the media is painting him not as a terrorist who set off the first suicide bomb on the US soil but much more mildly. The New York Times headline is “A Quiet Life, a Thunderous Death, and a Nightmare That Shook Nashville” instead of, say, “a suicide bomber terrorizes Nashville on Christmas.” This is madness. If he were Muslim, every headline would have been along the lines of “why didn’t his community de-radicalize him?”

In covid news, the US has crossed the 19,000,000-case mark. The current count is 19.2 million, and that doesn’t account for all the people who can’t get a test, who won’t get a test, or who received a false negative. (Just like one of my favourite writers, John Scalzi, who got sick after his daughter got it from her college roommate. His test was negative but he had all the symptoms and is currently stuck with the dreaded brain fog.) Realistically, the real number of covid cases is several times higher… The exponential growth is getting to the point that even the slowpoke official count logs a new million every few days. If hospitals aren’t already rationing medical care, they will begin soon.

In other covid news… What’s the most polite way to tell your landlords “Sorry, but I think your daughter is a plague vector?” They’ve been having guests for dinner for at least three days in a row now, including tonight. I can kinda-sorta understand (though not accept) celebrating Christmas and Boxing Day, but what the hell kind of holiday is December 28th?.. This time around, there are three guests: their 20-something daughter and her boyfriend, as usual, and a friend of theirs. At least three households under one roof. They typically come over once a week. Given that the new mutated variant is already spreading through Ontario, it’s really just a matter of time before one of the guests brings it (or the plain old normal covid) to one of these gatherings. They may be careful in their everyday life, and the odds may be low, but they’re greater than zero.

I’ll try to politely ask “so, is your daughter as careful as you guys?” or something along those lines, but there is definitely a future where I’ll have to wear a mask in the common areas of the house… My year-long lease ends on February 1st. I’d initially planned on renewing it, but… I’ll spend the rest of tonight online, searching for anyone who would be willing to rent a standalone apartment for six months. Depriving myself of human company altogether would not be good for me, and I’m fully aware that maybe I’m overreacting, maybe I’m being too paranoid. Then again, in my line of work there are only two ways to survive: an open mind and a weapons-grade paranoia. (And as the old saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t a poltergeist with a knife right behind you.”) Given how I’ve outlasted several governors, prime ministers, and presidents in my strict isolation regime, I’m not eager to break that streak just because my landlords are feeling extra-lonely. We all are. Not all of us ignore medical advice and take unnecessary risks, though. They are, on the balance, good people, and it hurts me a fair bit, but we’ll have to part ways.

So it goes.

Plague diaries, Day 288

Saturday night, Boxing Day.

I’ve got no idea what Boxing Day is all about (my landlords said there are sales involved), but hey – that’s another day off at the end of the year, another chance to sleep in. I’ve gotten to the point of indoors relaxation where I had to look up what day this was. All it took to get to that blissful state was two days of sleeping and relaxing. Well, and the fact that I stayed up till 5am last night, mostly just for the novelty’s sake. Life is good, eh.

My orc alter ego in Skyrim has mastered the art of commerce and became a traveling salesman. I hope that world’s economy will be able to deal with the flood of homemade vampire-repelling daggers I dumped on the market. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d ever type.) In the process, my character became a bit of a hoarder, so he moved veeeeery sloooowly from one town to another, since both he and his sidekick ended up carrying way too much weight. …I guess no matter how much you try to distance yourself, in the end your video game alter ego becomes your reflection in more ways than one. (I’m not much of an enchanter or an alchemist in real life, but I am good at finance and constantly trying not to hoard. Heh.) Looks like my alter ego will need an alter alter ago.

I forgot how great it feels to do absolutely nothing: just some light reading, a small Spanish lesson, binge-watching a TV show (I love Schitt’s Creek, but the Canadian winter in that show lasts only one episode; what gives?), gaming… This intellectual relaxation has already given me an idea for a new e-book that would be edumacational and also relevant to my poli-sci major. And yes, let’s be honest, my lockdown experience would’ve been entirely different if I had kids. I can’t imagine what that must be like: on the one hand, a whole lot of bonding time for the whole family; on the other hand, nowhere to run and no other adults to socialize with. I cannot understand what people with little kids have been going through this whole year, and I won’t even pretend to. I just have this sneaking suspicion that it’s a whole lot more complicated than my hermit existence with a fairly wide variety of entertainment to choose from. Kudos to you, lockdown parents – I hope you hang in there.

In covid news, things are heating up with the UK covid variant. Two cases were found in Ontario, just east of Toronto. The couple had not traveled and had no high-risk contacts, which means this thing is already here and circulating within the community. Given the less-than-stellar containment efforts (delaying the lockdown until after Christmas, etc), I have zero confidence in the local government’s ability to contain the new variant. It remains to be seen if it’s more dangerous than regular covid but it’s best to play it safe – and Ford’s government doesn’t seem to know the basic rules of the game.

Meanwhile, Japan is closing its borders entirely until at least the end of January after a few cases of the UK variant were found there. Japanese citizens and foreign nationals will still be able to fly in, but they’ll have to spend two weeks in quarantine. No one else will be allowed in. That is a very drastic step, but after everything else the world has gone through in 2020, I fully understand why some would want to crank up their safety measures all the way to 11. We still don’t have nearly enough information on how dangerous this new variant is, or whether the existing vaccines will protect against it. If we have to spend another six months (or a year) locking down and avoiding social contact… I’m too much of an introvert to be out there rioting, but I would definitely be able to relate to those who’d hit the streets in protest. So let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that, eh?

Stay safe, y’all, and happy Boxing Day.