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The alone plague – days 10,11, 12

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID-19.


March 18 (Day 10)

Early this morning I spent about an hour on the phone with Dad’s sister, Aunt Joanne. Auntie Jo ranted about COVID-19 and how she had talked to Rita and told her to change their habits – well, she read Rita the riot act so to speak. We’ll see what happens. It was kind of stressful for me because it took a chunk out of my day that I didn’t have to meditate. So as a result I’m sitting here on the bus to work stressed out and that’s not helping me relax.

The news doesn’t help. This virus is so new that a lot of prevention/ cause/ effect/ recovery/ reinfection data is new. People can handle uncertainty in small amounts in their lives, but this… The federal government has said they’re going to put funding in place for people who are out of work due to the virus. There’s been some talk about a Guaranteed Basic Income being put in place, but nothing concrete. They’ll have to do something. The early forcasted number of people out of work, either temporarily or permanently is said to be around 30%.

And if you take away movies, hanging out in malls, bars, restaurants, restrict where people can go during a pandemic…they’ll be left alone with their thoughts. They may take the time to reflect about the current state of the world and realize that maybe things could be better rather than going back to normal. Whether that’s dealing with economic inequality, the treatment of women, racism, etc. etc. etc. 

[sigh] The “stressed” example here is of course, me. Speculating. Not helpful. I did have a session over the phone with my counsellor. She said I’m doing a lot of good things – a lot of positive things – then told me some tricks to do when Heather, my co-worker, starts on a negative spiral. Tell them “things suck, you get five minutes to bitch but the rest of the shift we gotta be positive”. I’m not sure how that’ll work in practice, but…

Infection rate…Calgary currently has 52 cases while Edmonton has 18. I pointed that out to Jo at one point and I said “You know, you guys should be calling me to see how I’m doing! I shouldn’t be calling you guys to see how you’re doing because we’ve got three times the cases and our airport is still open to international flights!” She apologized, but I suspect I’ll still be the one calling.

Mostly working from home now, but once a week I have to work in the office. How do I keep a positive face on? Music. Specifically, Pharrell Williams Happy and Lesley Gore Sunshine, Lollipop and Rainbows on a loop.

March 19 (Day 11)

So today’s story comes courtesy of a friend of mine, Dave. Dave is a Budtender at a local recreational cannabis store. And yes, he’s heard the Cheech and Chong joke about Dave not being here.

Anyhow, Dave said yesterday was insane. It was a constant lineup of people coming in to buy weed. But wait, there’s more!! Upper management wants staff to follow an hourly cleaning schedule of all surfaces which  customers and staff touch. Touch screen computers, card PIN pads, phones, door handles, countertops, etc. On top of that they must keep the supply restocked. And the manager has to do all the managerial paperwork which yesterday included for some unknown reason an inventory count.

And because upper management are a bunch of flaming idiots and don’t know how to promote a product which practically sells itself… sales are low than expected. They cut scheduling to make it so the majority of the time there’s one budtender and a manager on the floor.

So, fucking insanity. Dave was quite furious and said in the future if anyone bitches about retail staff only making $15 an hour as being too much, he may murder them. But for the most part all the customers are relaxed and chill. Except for one asshole who walked in the store and 5 seconds later, bleated out in the Loud Male Voice “Come on let’s get a move on!” Dave switched from Customer Service Face to Bitch Face, stopped talking and stared the guy down.

We will see this more often. Declare stores essential services? Great. “We are not putting up with your bullshit treatment of staff going forward” Dave said. Do NOT fuck with anyone working in a grocery store or any other store that’s considered “essential”. Dave told me he had a friend working at Best Buy. They’ve blocked the store off except for the front desk. They got a couple who bitched about it. Why? Oh, they just wanted to “Walk around and browse”. They were told to leave…and maybe go home and read the fucking memo about their being a pandemic currently happening.

Meanwhile, people are slowly realizing the world has changed and they have to go home and stay there. A few days ago we had pictures of cars and people all crowding into local parks, and parks in the mountains. I get it, we’re told that if we’re not sick with COVID19, it’s okay to go for a walk as long as we maintain 2 meters distancing. But for fuck’s sake people….it’s no longer just hikers and nature lovers who think “Hey, it’s nice out, let’s go for a walk/hike/hang in the park.” It’s LITERALLY every person in Calgary.

So avoid city, provincial and federal parks (I’m sure they’ll close them soon). Get gas, go for a drive. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, avoiding any areas that are normally pedestrian hotbeds.

[Today’s song – Dave Edmunds I Hear You Knocking ]

March 20 (Day 12)

Today’s song – Same River – is by Pat Metheny from his newest album. I can’t help but think that is kind of what’s going through my head right now and the heads of the smarter more compassionate people who are understanding the bigger picture of this all. We are all in the same river right now.

Our behavior – for better or for worse – will be our lasting testament. For each of us. Rich or poor, young or old, healthy or sick, we’re facing this together. And unlike 100 years ago, with social media, mass communication, computers and data, we know how we’re behaving; we know our neighbours behavior. Yes, it’s a little big brother. But we’re also seeing who we are in the dark.

In Calgary we had a bunch of Yellow Vesters protesting in Forest Lawn. These self-centered dipshits are the playthings of bad actors on the conservative side of the spectrum. They were protesting how Prime Minister Trudeau was handling the crisis, and I swear I saw a “this is a fake virus” sign in one of the photos. Were they practicing social distancing? Ha!

The thing is, when this is all over, people will ask “What did you do during the COVID pandemic?” These guys will have on record that they were being irresponsible idiots.

So, we have to be our best selves. It’s going to feel weird for a lot of people. And it’s not about the other person, it’s about ourselves who we are as an individual, trying not to be greedy, trying not to be fearful, trying to be the best we can for ourselves and to help others because right now that’s all we can do.

I keep telling myself that between deep breaths. Some days it feels like a mantra.

Today Brad and I had a short discussion about the social experiment which is going on at the moment. Oh yes we’re calling it a quarantine but here’s what’s happening on the ground. Government is considering guaranteed basic income for citizens during this crisis. Cities are housing homeless in hotels to prevent the spread. People are dealing with a quarantine situation the likes of which most people have not encountered in my lifetime.

Some parents and grandparents remember the quarantines due to tuberculosis or polio or even as far back potentially has smallpox. For the majority of the population, that has not happened in our lifetime. We’re dealing with a virus which attacks the vulnerable first which includes a lot of seniors. Italy recently announced that they’re not going to provide any care for anyone over 60 who is caught the virus. So bye-bye Baby Boomers.

Brad told me to “consider what’s next after the pandemic.” It punches holes in a lot of arguments politicians have made on cutting services. The public will say “If, during a pandemic, you could provide a guaranteed income, if you could house the poor, if you could roll out public healthcare…why can’t you do it now?” And of course the fiscal conservatives will keep moving the goalposts. They do not want to hear the hard questions we will ask about the world and economic system we want.

Might it be a Readjustment? Yes. We might see the pendulum swing hard to the left and a lot more government social spending and even the United States might turn to a social democracy. Or fascist/authoritarian regimes could spring up worldwide. How this unfolds in a world where we have instant communication and social media makes it different than past quarantines. Of course the problem with that is that we can now watch each other worldwide freaking out over everything.

The Washroom Preacher

A few years ago at the gym, as I finished my workout, I boogied into the men’s change and washroom listening to – appropriately enough – “The Shouty Track” by Lemon Jelly. On the way in, I noticed one of the gym staff as she picked up some trash on the hallway adjacent to the changerooms. Her face had blossomed into a fine “What the Fuck” face.

As I entered the changeroom, I understood why. Some guy was wHaRRrbbLLGarRrbling and ranting about Jesus. I shrug as I’ve got noise cancelling earbuds and walked towards the urinals, but a voice in my head said “Stop. Turn around. You need to play music over this guy.” I grabbed my phone, unplugged the headphones, and in a quick panic, tried to get the damn thing to play on the built-in speakers.

It’s at this point my phone decided to play 20 questions with me….Meanwhile, it’s gone quiet for a moment. I looked up. He was closer to the door, and took the silence to catch his breath. He started up again.

Faced with hearing him try to preach in a shared area where we are also vulnerable (a changeroom for a gym), my ADHD activated a superfast situational assessment and response mode. Situation: the other men in the changeroom behaved like sheep, quiet and meek; in the hope he’d go away or something. Goddammit, people, grow a spine. Then, in response to the Washroom Preacher, I start to sing Tina Charles “I Love to Love”.

Oh, I love to love;
But my baby just loves to dance
He wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

I belted this out loud enough to overpower the guy. I sang in choruses in the past as a Baritone, so I can utilize the loud male singing voice if needed.

Oh, I love to love…
But my baby just loves to dance.
Oh, I love to love…
But he won’t give ourlove a chance –
No-no, no….ooooh!

He paused as I’d thrown off his game. He then walked right up to me as an attempt at intimidation. For a split second I understood why A) guys sometimes like to stick their dick in crazy, and then UNLIKE many men, why B) it’s a bad idea. The guy was not bad looking, but the bug-eyed crazy look on his face spiked my adrenaline and the “fight” response shut down the “fuck” response. He was shorter and slighter than me. I could have fought him if needed but I usually prefer to avoid fisticuffs. He tried to engage me in Jesus talk but I told him loudly “Leave. No one wants to hear what you are saying.”

He tried to talk over me. I repeated what I just said, adding “I don’t think I’m the only guy here who wants you to shut up and leave.” He stopped for a moment as he realized not only was *I* a big guy, there were at least four other guys the same size in the room.

Finally, a staff member appeared to escort him out. Both the staff member (actually, the manager) and I repeat several times he must leave, no one wants him here. Finally it sinks in. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Washroom Preacher has left the building. [cue applause]

Afterwards, the manager tells me he didn’t know where this came from – the individual was an afternoon regular. That day, however, instead of working out his muscles, he chose to try a few reps of preaching. The manager said the Washroom Preacher had just walked in. Then as soon as he was in the changeroom, and moments prior to my appearance, he started to speak from the book of Changeroom, Chapter 2, Verses Crazy to Bizarre.

I told the manager to keep an eye on him. People normally don’t go batshit crazy like this without some repercussions, and I’d rather those repercussions be minimized if they happen at the gym.

Then I left, departing from the side door. The entire walk home I took a different route and constantly checked behind to watch for anyone following me. It was several weeks before I returned to that gym at that time of the day.

But at least on the walk home, I got to listen to Tina Charles’ “I Love to Love” in peace.

Random thoughts: covid-19 & Summer activities

So, NPR put out an article “From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities.

In the event the link goes down, here’s the ”Too Long; Didn’t Read” (TL;DR) version and my thoughts below (alternately, I’ve also recorded this as an audio file; go to my Podcasts page or to Podbean):

  • BYOEverything backyard gathering with one household – Low to medium risk.
  • Eating indoors at a restaurant: Medium to high risk.
  • Attending a religious service indoors: High risk.
  • Spending the day at a popular beach or pool: Low risk.
  • An outdoor celebration such as a wedding with more than 10 guests: Medium to high risk.
  • Using a public restroom: Low to medium risk.
  • Letting a friend use your bathroom: Low risk.
  • Going to a vacation house with another family: Low risk.
  • Staying at a hotel: Low to medium risk.
  • Getting a haircut: Medium to high risk.
  • Going shopping at a mall: Risk varies.
  • Going to a nightclub: High risk.
  • Going camping: Low risk.
  • Exercising outdoors: Low risk.

The risk factors: density of people, knowledge of other people’s or a business’s disinfecting protocols, involvement of alcohol, indoors versus outdoors.

First, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Everyone, all together, inhale, and repeat after me at the top of your lungs: I AM SO FUCKING TIRED OF ALL THIS PANDEMIC PREPARATION AND NEWS AND BULLSHIT!!

Bonus points if you do this as I did it, after putting on two masks in a row where one of the ear loops snapped off, and then putting on gloves only for one of them to rip.

Okay. Finished?

Good. Now, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. You’re angry. You’re frustrated. We all are right now. Yes, chances are the majority of people will get it and it’ll feel like a mild cold. All this preparation and disinfection and physical distancing is not necessarily about you – it’s so any friends and family who could get it and get sick or even die…don’t. Or if they get it, the hospitals aren’t swamped with other patients to the point in triage, they decide this person you love isn’t going to make it and give the Critical Care bed and equipment to another patient.

Yes, it sucks. Yes, we all want things to go back to the way it was. I also want to have won the lottery years ago, or to have become a famous Hollywood actor, writer, and celebrity parrot wrangler, and I want superpowers, or at least a working Iron Man set of armor. The way things are, is the way things are. For those of you who believe it’s some kind of conspiracy, skip to the bottom of this article.

Second, this is all about creating bubbles of protection. Your house is one. Your personal space (6 feet, or almost two meters) is a portable one. Consider this a game, where your bubble can be popped by sharp objects if you get too close to others, or it bends a little bit, but keeping it that way if you stop to talk to someone or are in a confined space with other people might also cause it to pop.

This is really about collective behaviors. And it’s not new – we all agree on certain behaviors to keep society running. You agree to drive on the correct side of the road and obey the rules of the road to mitigate harm to other drivers. Generally we agree to leave others in peace if they’re out and about and leaving you in peace. So collective behaviors –  you must be aware of not just the pandemic risk reduction behaviors of you and those in your household, you also must judge those against what other households, and strangers/businesses are doing.

Do not share food, drink, or utensils. Anything other person touches or has touched becomes a risk factor. Inviting people into your house bubble is a risk. Shopping or eating at a restaurant indoors depends on good ventilation, room to spread out, and time spent indoors. Eating indoors in a restaurant is problematic as if you’re wearing a mask, you must remove it. Avoid places of worship unless they space out mass times, limit the number of people, have no singing and don’t touch shared worship items such as hymnals or potentially taking wine and communion. Whether it be Allah, God, or any other Magical Sky Fairy…well, he/she/it will wait for you. This is where you pray at home with your family. Many churches are also streaming Sunday services so that’s another option.

Watch for crowds at entry points or popular destinations. If it’s crowded, go somewhere else or go at a time when it’s not busy (mornings sometimes). Improvise. Large crowds also mean kids may be tempted to hang out and play with other kids and we know those precious little rugrats are disease vectors, so….(I keed, I keed…I love children…..cooked at 350 degrees for 2 hours with a nice sauce).

Family events – avoid if possible this year. Older relatives or relatives with health problems may feel pressured to attend, especially if you promise to make it safe. Want to make it safe? Have your wedding next summer. Public washrooms are usually designed to have surfaces that can be cleaned frequently; however smaller washrooms pose a difficulty. Look for ones that are clean and fully stocked. If using a friend’s washroom, treat everything surface in the house like it has been dipped in acid. Get in, touch as little as possible in the way of surfaces, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, get out. Hosts – besides providing the person their own towel or paper towels, after the air has cleared and the guest has left the house, go in and do a quick decontamination of high touch surfaces if you want.

Personal services such as haircuts, manicures, doctors/dentists, and massage therapy: Don’t. Unless it’s an emergency (and no, your roots showing doesn’t count, Karen…Dick, buy some clippers and shave your head). You’re in close contact with another person who’s seeing a multitude of other clients. Even if you both wear gloves and a mask, it’s high transmission risk. Even moreso for nightclubbing…don’t. Shopping…try to go at less busy times, get stuff delivered if possible, have one person from your household go, go to outdoor malls rather than indoor.

Group sports, group anything – no, no, no. Unless you can do it by video, or if it’s a no contact sport. Smaller groups are better.

Now, mitigating factors – is your area a big city? Is the rate of COVID-19 lower than another city nearby? Are you and other persons wearing masks? Yeah, that might lower your risks. Get creative or find the person in your family who is creative and ask for solutions. If you want to dance with friends, maybe have a party in your household, or with others via video conferencing, or if you live in suburbia, get together with neighbors and have a dance party where you try out each other’s music, and dance 2 meters apart.

This is not the time to stop and chat. At your barbers, at any store. Get in, get what you need, get out.  Do not, I repeat, do NOT piss off any of the staff in any store. If you have a complaint, act like you’re giving some friendly advice to your boss or someone with which you need to curry favor. This is the old “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar” rule. Retail and grocery store staff have zero patience and will not put up with any bullshit or bullying behavior.

If you need to have quiet moments when you cry, if you get angry and forgo some pandemic protection rules, well, life is all a risk, and life is happy and sad and frustrating and amazing all at once. We all have moments when we freak out. When we get angry and rebel. Shit happens. Pick yourself up, apologize where necessary, try to do better, mourn your old life, and be nice not only to family, friends and strangers, be nice to yourself.

Now. To the conspiracy nuts: OMG, you guys are adorable! You actually think that if there was a big conspiracy, none of the planners would be able to resist gossiping about it! You actually think enough humans could agree to plan and go in one direction. That’s so inspiring! Tell you what – ask anyone who’s worked in a job with a bunch of team members what happens when the job rolls out a new procedure/technology. Oh, sure one person may be in charge of training/planning this new thing, and to outsiders it looks like it was rolled out seamlessly. But for anyone who’s been involved in big projects in corporations…if you were to compile and review all the related emails, documents and meetings, you’d find that the project only got done with a lot of screaming, snitching to teammates superiors that “Natalie” wasn’t doing the work required, and often done half assed and last minute, with fixes occurring on the fly.

Now, try to run this same level of project under a veil of secrecy. Imagine not going home to your spouse and being unable to complain about the project. No gossiping with other friends in the company that “Rita is on the Project with us, and she’s fucking useless. A stapler would be more helpful.” People can’t plan surprise parties for family or friends without there always being a leak, and you think people wouldn’t take the chance to write a tell-all book or appear on network television if half of your conspiracies were true and provable?

But then again, maybe I’m part of the conspiracy.
If so, they need to start paying me, because I’m not getting rich being “Conspiracy Actor #68-CANab1s”.

the alone plague – days 8 and 9

March 16 (Day 8)

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID-19.


To quote from Men In Black “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

Darren called me tonight. He’s still working from home. And he apparently is somebody who thinks that the COVID-19 is a government conspiracy. I was tempted to challenge him, but I think and hope this is just his way of dealing with all the shit that’s happening. Eventually, I deescalated him and then changed the conversation to other things. He’s a conservative voter, but sometimes I wish he’s put some thoughts into his philosophy.

While he was talking, at one point I wanted to shout at him, “You can have a hyper-efficient government which can plan and carry out a vast conspiracy. Or you can have a government which is incompetent. They are mutually exclusive. Also, humans suck at keeping secrets.”

Don’t believe me? Plan a surprise party for a friend or family member. Afterwards, corner the person and ask them if they found out about beforehand. I can guarantee that if the person was honest, they’d confess they figured this out weeks ago.

This is just a tiny secret – a surprise party. If you had a big secret like the moon landing being fake, the Earth being flat…well, something that juicy? Yeah, someone would eventually blab. This is not covering the fact that anyone who’s a project manager knows: trying to get everyone organized and going in the same direction is slightly more effective than herding cats.

Of course usually the conspiracy theorist responds to any criticisms by saying “Ooh you’re clearly in on the conspiracy.” It’s always about moving the goalposts so they remain the person who knows, who is special.

Life is way more complicated than that. And I get it. You’re scared. You’re angry. You’re frustrated. WE ALL ARE. You want easy answers and just because you’ve come up with a narrative you think is the true reason for an incredibly complex situation….well, It’s selfish to think you deserve more attention for whatever reason.

This first go-round – because there are second, third and sometimes even forth waves of a pandemic – is our dress rehearsal for when…not if, when…things get bad. My friend Brad said in Alberta, we need to keep the critical cases under 500 as there are only 500 ventilators or ICU beds or whatever province wide.

It’s hard keeping this in my head, staying positive. I’m sure it doesn’t help that outside of work, I’m in a perpetual haze of cannabis. I cry when I’m at home. Last night I listened to “Calling All Angels” by k.d. lang and Jane Siberry. I’m not Christian. I just want the angels to be our better selves. For once. For this crisis.

March 17 (Day 9)

Alyssa messaged me this today after I spoke with her last night. Well, I told her I didn’t want to talk as I was going to cry myself to sleep.

Someday, I’m going to die. Someday, you’re going to die. Someday all your family and friends are going to die. Someday every human on this planet will die.

All we know is our time in life is finite. We get what everyone else gets: a lifetime. Worrying about death makes about as much sense as worrying about your birth before you were born. All we have is the moment. We can mentally time travel forward or into the past feeling regrets about her actions reminiscing times when we were happy, dreaming about the things to come and your hopes with it and maybe worrying about the future. But the thing is, we’re now. We exist now. And that moment is now gone. So is this moment.

And if all we truly have is a moment why not choose to make that moment happy, pleasant? Why not try to be the best in that moment?

It’s hard. And it does your head in. And it’s going to stress us all out. Especially with less distractions.

The city of Calgary has shut down recreational centers, gyms, and libraries. No gatherings larger than 250 people. Schools kindergarten to grade 12 have had classes cancelled. People are being told to order delivery food, keep their distance from each other, and work from home if they can.

Meanwhile, there are the occasional reports of rich people being clueless, self-centered twats. Well, moreso than usual! The Calgary Flames hockey team, like many other sports organizations, have cancelled the rest of the season. But while the managers and players keep getting paid, oh gee no money for the part time concession workers.

People got rightly pissed at that and the Flames reversed course. You know, if it takes a global pandemic to realize the problem is too many rich assholes and not enough guillotines well, hey, that’s a fair trade.

What else. They’re cancelling TV shows. Talk shows are now performing with no audience. Actors like Tom Hanks and Idris Elba have the virus. Netflix have shut down shows….I’m not concerned as I have books, I have a library card and live in a country where I can access online materials. Privileged.

I think that’s what is important to remember – many of us in North America are fortunate. Other people in other countries are not so much.

Not that there’s not some twisted black humor in it…I saw an image “supposedly” from Norway, advising their citizens not to travel to countries with poor health care systems. Like the United States.

And even when I talk with some friends online. Mary, who’s a flight attendant for WestJet said she saw someone cough into their hands, and everyone in the plane looked at the person as if he was death itself. Or as she put it so succinctly with a video from the 1978 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” people point at you and do an unearthly scream when you approach.

Okay. Maaaaaaaaaybe not that bad. Yet. Tonight, I reconnected my Christmas lights, and lit up a whole bunch of candles, wandered around the apartment listening to REM’s song “ITEOTWAWKI”.

Karenpocalypse, or dicks demise

Debra heard the sound and almost screamed. It sounded like the rattle of a thousand shopping carts. She was at the grocery store in the middle of a pandemic with her boyfriend Richard (“always Richard, not Rick, and never Dick”) which alone had already put her on the verge of a public freak-out.

When she and Richard moved in together at the start of January, things were going well. Oh, sure, this was the first time he had dated someone who was First Nations, but he seemed very open and willing to learn the world through Debra’s eyes. Then the pandemic happened, and they both ended up working from home and being around each other 24 hours of the day. This would be difficult for an established relationship; it was almost impossible for a new one. Suddenly all those annoying little idiosyncrasies couples would have months to process, accept, or improve were exposed to each other.

Debra noticed Richard acted as if he was invulnerable and didn’t understand her concerns about viral transmission. Besides the history of smallpox blankets given to First Nations tribes, Deb had an uncle who had died in the AIDS crisis back in 1993; she was somewhat knowledgeable about viral transmission and risk reduction. Debra wore gloves and a facemask in public; she kept the recommended 2 meters distance from other people. Richard….well, he washed his hands frequently, but sometimes she had to prompt him. He wouldn’t wear a facemask (“That’s silly”) and viewed social distancing as an optional requirement. Consequently, they had had several arguments about pandemic procedures. Richard said he understood but would revert to his old habits.

Debra suspected because of his upbringing – nominally Christian, male, middle class – the aura of invincibility was built into him. He never had to worry about bigotry, hate or misogyny. Oh, sure, he made a show of being “woke” but she was beginning to have her doubts. Little things like how he seemed friendly with store clerks, yet she started to realize that “friendliness” was framed in a patronizing tone. Before the pandemic, he seemed polite when retail staff told him “No” to a request. Yet…she also felt he was two seconds away from asking “May I speak to your manager?”

During the pandemic, that mask was coming off; she’d seen him lose his patience with store clerks several times when then told him they were out of the item he wanted or asked him to stand back from the counter. Debra brushed it off as frustration with the rapid changes.

However, she had started to truly hate him about a week ago. He was on a Zoom call with Karen – his co-worker – and they had made fun of the level of paranoia around COVID19. Richard and Karen had expressed their disgust at the Calgary Stampede cancelling for 2020. He stated, “Fuck it! Open the economy back up, let everyone catch it, a few will die, but life will get back to normal.”

Richard had assumed she was in the other room working, and Debra never let on she had overheard this part of the conversation. But later when he was taking a shower, she cyber-creeped his computer and social media profile. He’d made sure several of his posts were not visible to Debra when she viewed his profile from her computer, but from the posts he was following, he seemed fonder of conservative ideology than she’d thought. As well, Karen and Richard were having a lot of the same type of conversations (“This is overblown, it’s just a bad cold!” “God, when can we get back to normal life…if the conservatives had won the last federal election, we wouldn’t have had this bullshit lockdown!”). Richard occasionally whined about Debra’s overprotective nature. All this was bad enough, but Karen would frequently respond with subtle racist insults towards Debra. None of which Richard protested.

Today, in the grocery story, Debra was wearing a mask and gloves. Richard wasn’t. Where she was following the arrows on the floor, going up and down the now one-way grocery aisles, he rolled his eyes and walked down the aisle to get what was needed – oblivious to her concerns, or the presence of others.

Then they bumped into Karen. Debra took the opportunity to finish the rest of the shopping while they socialized, but the next aisle over, she’d heard the following: “…I can’t stand it…everything I do is wrong. I swear, last night she was on the verge of calling me a racist.”

“Oh, that’s terrible” Karen replied. “I warned you about her…Indian women are nothing but trouble. She’s probably got a secret stash of booze stashed away in the apartment. Do you ever smell it on her?”

Debra heard Richard’s laugh, and then the start of a denial, but by that time she was furious. She raced down the aisle and headed over to the diary section to get as far away as possible from both. That’s when she heard the loud rattling noise.

She looked around to discern the origin of the noise and noticed metal shutters slamming down on the front windows of the store. Suddenly the noise stopped, and there was an eerie silence. Then a loud ringing noise emanated from the store’s public announcement system and (curiously) Deb’s cell phone. A female voice spoke:

“Good Afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen. Despite our staff warning many of our customers, we have noticed a great deal of you not following pandemic protocols. Many of you are not wearing masks, gloves, are not social distancing, and are not following the clearly marked signs indicating the directional flow of shoppers. Consequently, in conjunction with doctors, nurses, teachers, artists, and other essential workers, we have decided to take action. We are tired of being paid just above minimum wage to do the lions share of the work. We are frustrated to have to listen to the Karens and Dicks of the world complain that we’re not worshipping the ground upon which they tread, and then to have them expect we respond to every barked order with instant compliance. We are exhausted of the rich and the politicians they bought deciding the people who do the real work can be exploited for maximum financial gain and dismissed at a moment’s notice while they sit on a pile of gold and contribute nothing to society. There is a Biblical saying The Meek shall inherit the Earth but it’s clear it’s missing a second part which would be …when they get pissed at the gross ignorance and self-centeredness of the rich and privileged and decide to rise up. We have hacked into your cell phones and social media accounts. And we have determined for the world to progress, one third of you must die. Today, in our store, that number is more like 50%.”

Suddenly, there was the sound of what Debra recognized as drones. Many drones. One dropped in front of her, and a green light flashed out from it. The voice on the PA system resumed.

“If a drone appears in front of you and shines a green light, you are safe, as you are recognized as a responsible adult, and respectful to retail staff, nurses and doctors, teachers and so on. As for the rest…”

Debra looked down the aisle towards the front of the building to see Karen running for the emergency exit, pursued by a drone. It fired off several darts and Karen dropped to the ground in a heap. There were screams in the air, but it only lasted moments. Then the silence resumed as all the drones flew away.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our staff will be removing the targeted former customers. Your patience as we clear the aisles is appreciated, so much so that we will be offering a 50% discount on all your groceries. Please continue to shop smart, shop S-Mart, purchase only the recommended amounts on any grocery items in high demand, and follow social distancing and directions for the aisles.”

A low rattling noise was heard as the shutters on the windows and doors slowly raised upwards. Debra walked up to the front of the store with her cart and saw the staff pull away bodies, including those of Karen and Richard.

She wasn’t sure if she’d like this new world order. But she thought it best not to complain.

The alone plague – Days 5, 6, 7

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID-19.


 March 13 (Day 5)

A snowstorm continues to hit Calgary. It’s – 20 with a wind chill of -31. I’m sitting here on my sofa in the evening listening to the song “Absence of Fear” by Bliss. Appropriate.

And I have to show that tomorrow when I go into work: absence of fear. I have to be calm. Because I have no one to comfort me when I come home. All of you have your family, children, you can stay at home alone with them. But I am just alone. And I have to pretend I’m strong. But I’m so tired of being strong.

I wish I was young again. Because I could have the absence of fear instead of being my age and being afraid of death. But I breathe in deep and I breathe out, and you see me and I smile and I am pleasant to you. But the warm exterior is a thin layer of makeup over a scrambled egg wash for pies.

Wait…scrambled egg wash for pies? Hahaha.

I’m laughing so hard I’m crying. I have no idea what I was even saying now because that was so absurd. I will miss this time when voice-to-text algorithms were imprecise. This is up there with the time I told Alyssa take care of yourself and voice-to-text printed out Pikachu yourself.

Maybe it’s a sign. For me to survive, I should release my inner weirdo, laughing at how absurd the world has become. That’s my way to “Whistle past the graveyard” as they say.

There are more restrictions coming – we’ll probably follow places like Italy. Stay home, no gatherings larger than 50 people or less, and only essential services operating. We’re already starting to see “temporary” layoffs. Doctors and dentists are cancelling appointments except for emergencies. Social distancing is starting to creep into the public place, but there’s been a few times when oblivious idiots wander down the middle of the sidewalk on 17th Avenue and you must duck into the entranceway of a building to avoid them.

It occurs to me if I really released my inner weirdo, I could just dance along to my music. That might work to promote social distancing. And give me an escape valve.

In the news today, the Prime Minister Trudeau self-isolated with his family because his wife tested positive for COVID-19. The World Heath Organization finally declared it’s an international pandemic. Major sports leagues have suspended or cancelled their season (as a non-sports watcher, I’m really upset about that one), the stock market and crude prices are dropping (and yet, the conservatives here in Alberta still are planning on a miracle from Oil and Gas). We are going into uncertain territory here, and only time will tell what will happen in the future.

March 14 (Day 6)

This morning I went early to the grocery store, just to get groceries. The bank finally released my funds. I pretty much have what I need for Emergency Response items such as Purell, tissue, and disinfectant wipes just from past purchases. This was just food that I needed to get. I have enough supplies to last me for a while if need be. Especially if I start dieting!

Anyhow…at 730 in the morning, the grocery store was busy. There were a few vacant shelves and in some cases I had to buy larger or smaller sizes of stuff – I’m not sure why vinegar was sold out except for the large size. That was fun carting that home. But bright side – after it’s empty, fill with water and it becomes a 20-pound home weight!

I found myself wishing the best to a man who owned a small business. When the world goes this crazy, I just know that people will look for any scapegoats. President Fucktard of the Excited States is already doing it, calling it “The Chinese Flu” instead of its official name, COVID-19.

The shop owner owns a small corner store near me. They’re going to be the hardest hit, and really, they should be supported rather than the big multinational corporations. But you know, idiots will use this time to be racist towards anyone who looks vaguely Chinese. I told him I wish the best for him and I wish for him to remember all the good because the bad always announces itself so loudly.

I told him how as a child, once a week my mother and I would buy scratch and win lottery tickets, also a small bag of Cheezies to share. It was a silly thing, but now, when I need that comfort, when my Mom is hundreds of kilometers away, I sometimes buy a lottery ticket and Cheezies.

We need that. Now. We need the small things. The quiet things. We need to share the kindness, and recognize it when things have gone this way. It’s going to get harder to do, as the economy grounds to a halt and supplies become scarce and expensive. The general public has not experienced this for 50 years. Oh sure, small groups have – I saw a hilarious post on social media paralleling how freaked out the public is and how they feel their government is dithering over this problem. The punchline was something like “gay men in the 1980s totally don’t know what you’re going through”. The unspoken sarcasm was thanks to AIDS, of course they did.

A friend Darren told me they laid off 70% of their staff. Historically, you do not want a public that’s aimless for a long period of time, especially during a time where the economy is going in the shitter. We may have to institute something along the line of a Guaranteed Basic Income to get us through. I also think the only way we’ll get through this is how the LGBTQ Community got through AIDS – helping each other. Looking around after we fall, for someone there to help, and reaching out to help…well, while maintaining physical distancing.

Today’s song – the song Don’t Look Back – again, Bliss, from the album “Quiet Letters” .

March 15 (Day 7)

The snow and the cold continue in Calgary. A beautiful white crystalline death-shroud. I spoke with a few people online and over the phone, including Jamie. I’ll get to him in a moment.

As I’m watching the snow drift downward to the pavement, I’m running everything over my head. We are now such a big society, a big social organism but we still have the panicky responses. We suck at separating Existential Danger from Real Danger. Especially when it’s a danger most of us in the West have not had to deal with for 50 years.

And eventually, we all must face the idea of death. Of ourselves, of our friends, of our family. We’ve been lucky – this type of existential threat humanity hasn’t faced since World War II.

And now we have a choice. We can live our lives in fear and maybe use the false daydream of a possible afterlife to comfort us, but in the face of this potential existential danger, those are small answers and small comfort.

But for right now…all we have is right now. To be worrying about the meaning of life, to be afraid about what comes after…seems as stupid as being afraid of what you were before you were born. The meaning of life for now IS now.

So tonight, after I’m done with this, as I lay myself down to sleep, I’m going to try to forget all that and just revel in the fact that I am alive, I draw breath, I think. The rest is just speculation. I may catch this virus tomorrow. I may catch it 3 months from now. I may be one of the extremely lucky ones and I don’t catch it at all. But that’s the same as worrying about if I cross the street today and get run over by a distracted driver.

Can’t live our life in fear.

So, Jamie. He messaged me and we set up a video call. He is climbing the walls in Toronto with his mother, day three or four of their quarantine. He’s normally the quieter of the two of us, but…he was chatty. We bounced ideas around. Mostly how in an economic system where money is traded and exists as ones and zeros on computers and in “The Cloud”, is money real? What happens when you have instantly one third of the population out of work for the foreseeable future? People will start defaulting on loans, mortgages, and credit cards. But is that debt any more real than the money? Something else to worry about…or maybe distract ourselves from COVID19? We couldn’t decide.

Okay, also Jamie was shirtless on the video call. I really hope I have a good poker face.

I did end the conversation with Jamie on some words of wisdom. Years ago I worked for an airline helping people plan their trips. They’d often worry about what could go wrong if they’re travelling during Hurricane Season or some other thing in their life getting in the way. I reassured them and discussed the rules on changing flights, but ultimately I told them “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

Plan, hope, but don’t let it consume your mind, don’t obsess on the bad. Don’t let go of the fact you’re here right now. Let Hope be the one thing that takes you over. Even if it does feel fake, forced. Yes, for me: Rip the smile off and beneath it you’ll see something along the lines of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. But all I can do for now is hope. That’s something. That’s moving forward. That’s action.

So, for now, I hope I have a good day at work. I hope I can quickly find Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and the song Conga. I hope I don’t look too spastic dancing around the apartment to it.

the sorcerer’s balance sheet

Carefully unspooling a glitter rat into the ether, Professor Warren (Warlock Emeritus) sighed in frustration. It felt like pushing a small boulder through a deep pool of gelatin. It never used to be this difficult. Something was wrong, and it wasn’t just old age creeping up on the necromancer. He didn’t get to be head of the Mystic College (Saskatoon branch) by running away from problems, but this one was troublesome.

Just then his assistant Adam Lerner burst through the door – quite literally, as Adam was still a bit wonky on the skill of phasing, and he usually ended up popping into the other side with a loud bang. The rat gave a startled squeak and exploded into glitter.

Professor Warren sighed. The Custodial Witches really hate cleaning magic glitter. He turned to address his assistant. “Adam, don’t ever go into Surveillance Sorcery. They’d hear you from a mile away.”

“Sorry Professor, but I think I know why I can’t quite master phasing…and it has everything to do with the assignment you gave me.” Adam slapped a thick folder onto the Professor’s desk. Warren raised his eyebrows. This was just a make-work project he gave Adam for extra credit and didn’t expect any serious results.

He opened the folder. The pages were written in ink. Not newt’s blood. Not the ink of the Glittering Octopi of Titan. Not even Mermaid’s Tears…it was just ink.

“That’s…unusual Adam. The ink.” He smelled the report. “And the paper’s non-magical as well. You know we have formatting requirements on reports, and this could count towards a deduction. What’s this all about?”

“Sorry, Professor, but it’s the only way I could get everything down. Any time I started writing about my findings using magical means, the ink wouldn’t stay on the page. Or the paper would explode in flames. Someone or something is binding magic. It’s why your magic has been a little harder to master than normal…” At this Warren looked up at his assistant with a hostile glare. “…Uh, and why the undergrads this year seem a little slower than usual.”

“Binding magic? How? For what purpose?” The professor tried flipping through the pages magically, but every attempt sputtered. Sighing, he resorted to manually turning the pages.

“Sir, I don’t know the how. But as to the purpose, I think it’s to remove all magic from the world.”

Silence enveloped the room. If Adam and the professor weren’t preoccupied, they would have noticed the sudden disappearance of rush hour broomstick travel in the window overlooking Mystic Freeway 506.

Warren muttered some words under his breath, but no information came from the report. “Damn…I am not reading this entire thing. What’s the prognosis? Did you get at least some conclusions? Rate of binding? How is it transmitted?”

“Professor, we need more research to answer fully all those questions. All I can tell you is that sooner or later, we’ll be in a world with no magic, indeed a word where magic never worked at all!”

“That’s impossible! I – ” Warren paused…he had the oddest sensation, like his body was trying to burp, hiccup, sneeze and fart all at the same time. He blinked, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes and looked up at his assistant.

“…so as I was saying, Adam, nice work. You’ve worked some real enchantment on your assignment, making the numbers dance.” He closed the report cover that was now titled Financial Analysis of Industries with Conservative Growth for the next Five Years. “As a reward, I’ve decided as my new TA, I’m giving you the first year Intro to Accounting course to teach. Here’s the file on the course material.” Professor Warren handed a manila folder to Adam. A speck of glitter slid off the report and vanished. “Take the rest of the afternoon off…it’s a magical day out there.”

Adam turned and walked out. For a second, the young man appeared to be walking on air. But only for a second.

Resetting, Again

“I used to think wherever I died, I would find my way to Heaven. But now? Hah!” That came from the ship’s cook. We were sitting in the mess hall, poking at food we’ve poked at hundreds…maybe thousands of times before.

“I still don’t get it…our bodies reset, our ship resets, but we keep our memories, and we stay in this bubble of strange energy” the cook continued. He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and this branch of physics wasn’t the easiest to explain. Hell, I was the ship’s navigator and with my understanding of physics, I had a hard time understanding what was happening to us. Had happened to us. Will happen to us.

We were unwitting guinea pigs for an experiment. The good Doctor Richards only explained what was necessary when he came onboard. We were told that it was “…an experimental space drive but based on our existing technology with a few additional tweaks. Nothing to worry about.”

When we activated said drive, we ended up here. Most of us. I was working with Richards in Engineering. Had I been on the bridge, well…most of the ship made it through the jump. The bridge, however, seems to be part of the weird spacetime bubble. Everything on the bridge, and everyone. It hurts to look at what’s remaining. We avoid that deck now. I was now the commanding officer on this ship of the damned.

At first, I tried moving us out with what control we had in Engineering. Nothing. Then the reset happened. Richards told me what the “additional tweaks” were. His best guess as to the result? We were trapped in a repeating slice of spacetime, cycling back every forty hours.

Death wasn’t an escape. I’ve killed myself multiple times, had the cook kill me just as many times. The next cycle, I wake up back on the ship. Alive. The last few cycles, we’ve been taking our rage out on the doctor, finding new and exciting ways to kill him. I’ve not asked him for any further theories since he told me the details of his “additional tweaks”. That was the first time I killed him. Maybe it’s time to switch to torture.

“Well it’s almost Reset” I said, getting up from the table. “Tell you what, why don’t we ask the doc himself when he comes to.” The cook got up and followed me over to another table on the far side of the mess hall. “If we keep him alive, he might be motivated to explain the situation.”

“Considering he’s the smart guy got us into this?” the cook asked. “I dunno. I’m still pissed at him.” We both looked down at the purple face of Doctor Richards as he lay on the table. We suffocated him with brussels sprouts this last time. We were starting to run out of ways to kill him.

“You got your gun handy?” the cook asked.

“Sure. But remember, keep him alive.” I handed my gun to the cook. The transition was almost complete. I was seeing ghosting images of what was and what is overlap. Richards’ skin colour began to take on a healthy pink hue.

“I was thinking, shoot him in the balls first. Then ask some questions. We like the answer, he gets some First Aid. We don’t like his answer…well, we blow off his appendages one at a time.” He licked his lips at this prospect.

Transition all but complete, the good doctor inhaled, opened his eyes, and looked up from the table we had tied him to. Who knows, Richards could keep us entertained for the next 39 hours and 55 minutes. If not, we’ll just try again. And again. And again. And again.