The Alone Plague: Day 3 and 4
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 COVID19.
March 11 (Day 3)
Today’s Journal is brought to you by my dad, my older idiot sister Rita and her equally useless daughter Natalie.
So one of the things that’s been happening has been all the misinformation – in this pandemic, the news media and anyone with a social media account…basically they’re acting like complete fucking idiots posting clickbait misinformation or links. I’m glad Alyssa talked me down and I did more research on the Corona virus – sorry, COVID19 – yesterday. The problem is now, instead of being scared, I’m furious at every single person who thinks they’re being helpful but shares information on Facebook or Twitter that is not necessarily calming the public mood of panic.
Here in Calgary on social media we’ve got local personality who goes by the handle of “7-METH-11”. Now to be fair I don’t know their family health situation. I don’t know whether they have an urgent interest in finding proper health tips, but I’m at the point now where I started to hide their posts.
You can tell they’re genuinely trying to help but at this point the only thing they should be doing is saying “Here’s a link to the most recent medical source on how to handle the virus”. And the source they linked to should be a government source. Specifically Health Canada here in our country. And that’s it. No linking to the actual government press releases, no linking to a CTV News article or Global TV video or anything else like that. Go directly to the source.
So Dad, Rita, and Natalie are all living together in one home. Now Dad’s somewhat organized but that’s Mom’s influence when they were married. Unfortunately, Rita was always the drama queen in the family: self-centered and blame everyone else for the problems she creates. Her daughter is worse, and the both of them are slobs living with Dad. These are the worst people for an 80-year-old man with asthma to be living with.
Rita and Natalie are watching all the wrong sources on the news, they’re listening to all the wrong links on social media, their friends and church (yes, they’re Evangelical Christians) and they’re taking it all in and relating it back to Dad. I just spent an hour on the phone calming him down. I wanted to give Rita a call and chew her out, but she’d just go into her “Poor me” martyr routine. I’ve given up talking to her outside of what’s barely necessary.
Meanwhile I checked in with Mom. It’s the complete opposite. Mom was very…calm about it. She said you can prepare as much as you want, but you never know when your life will end. You could survive this current pandemic and two weeks later step across the street just as a drunk driver comes around the corner and you die.
I guess…and this is where it’s hard for me…we have to learn to live life and not live in fear. No one knows how long we’re going to get. Everybody Hurts as the band REM would say, so try to be helpful.
March 12 (Day 4)
So today I got to be the emotional support monkey for everybody. Fuck my life.
Okay. The day began like any other day, and then quickly went sideways. At work, the manager and I were going to do a health and safety inspection. Which got derailed when a large shipment came in, and I got put into service to help put away lab supplies. Meanwhile the manager goes to pieces because he finds out that his cat has got cancer. Rightfully so of course.
Now, I’m not entirely alone doing the work. Heather – my other co-worker – had to be talked off the fucking ledge because she’s freaking out about the virus. I had to calm her down and talk to her about possibilities and statistics and all keeping a calm tone even though I am just as freaked out as her on the inside. Yes, you can say the majority of the people will get the virus and it’ll be like a cold, and only less than 1% will die, but the problem is right now, the best scientists can say is “Yeah, probably. We think so.”
Today was also the day when everybody and their dog decided they needed to come in and do inspections for our First Aid site equipment, and deliver furniture for the office. So we called for the site manager to come down and give a hand. He did, but he’s as warm as a goddamn iceberg.
Next, a friend, Jamie, was texting me freaking out. He flew out to Toronto to help his Mom sell a rental property a few days ago. The airline informed him today another passenger on his flight had tested positive for COVID-19. So Jamie and his mother have been advised to quarantine for 14 days. He’s not taking it well, yet I calmed him down. I wish I could hug him. And tell him that in person. I almost told him that, but….
All through this, did anyone ask me “How are you doing?”
Nope. So when I got home, I did a long meditation, and then made some tea with a generous portion of cannabutter in it. I still had trouble sleeping, so I pulled a chair up to my living room window and watched the world outside.
Tonight there is a snowfall warning and winter storm watch for Southern Alberta. I stared out the window in a dark room as the snow fell and listened to the main theme from the old movie, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.
I’m starting to understand this and see the big picture forming. This is going to impact a lot of things, people and processes in our society and economy. Some will survive, some will change, some will go away. New ideas will spring up in their places. There’s an old saying about living in interesting times. In the future, for those of us who live through this, I think we will want to be boring. But boring doesn’t take up space in the history books; we are in history now. Every. Single. One of us.
So for now: cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Keep your distance from each other. Wash your hands you dirty pigs. And shut the fuck up unless you’re a doctor with Health Canada.
The Alone Plague: Day 1 and 2 – the beginning
March 9 (Day 1)
I saw something yesterday in a news article which gave me pause and inspired me to start this journal. Some expert in virology had mentioned about making all the proper preparations for this pandemic. He was sympathetic that each of us has to live through this once in a hundred-year event. So, the Spanish Flu part 2 Electric Boogaloo. Or would that be “Flu-galoo?”
Panicking morons continue to buy up toilet paper by the truckloads. I had to ask Almighty Google why. Two different psychologists mentioned how this behavior is kind of a panic response. Even if we tell some of those people that you don’t need to do that, a shortage of toilet paper – as one unit takes up so much real estate on the shelf – is visually obvious. This creates a weird feedback loop. People will see the empty shelves and panic and want to buy some themselves.
It doesn’t help that government, the media including social media and other sources, are all giving conflicting information on how to prepare. So, the end result is squadrons of dipshit morons buying truckloads of ass wipe. When they should be making sure they have 14-day supply of food, they have cold medicine on hand, and they have tissues. Speaking of government, they are not helping by just now getting their emergency response centers set up.
Today at the gym, an attendant mentioned they will no longer have as many boxes of facial tissue on-site because the emergency response Centre for Calgary is reserving most of this item. I’m sure this is being repeated on the provincial and Federal levels; they are bulk-buying medicines, tissues, toilet paper, hand soap, soap sanitizer. Which is helping the shortages get worse.
A friend mentioned something about demographics and branding by pointing out that Calgary Coop and Safeway stores still have lots of toilet paper, while Walmart and Costco sold out first. I didn’t really follow his reasoning. I mean, they’re discount stores that sell in bulk. I think he was trying to make a point about the demographics of their customers.
The sheer volume of product purchased makes no goddamn sense. And for someone who’s waiting for the bank to release some funds for my RSP – ‘five business days”…yeah right – this is also pissing me off that I can’t get ANY regular groceries, let alone a 2-week supply. But hey, that’s the Invisible Hand of the economy! Waving the middle finger at people who don’t have any money and yelling “Fuck you all I’ve got mine.”
I worry, privately. I’ve got the song History Repeating by The Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey running through my head. Are we seeing a repeat? Then what – economic depression and then a war to distract?
I need to remember to breath. Corona virus posts are now slowly creeping into my social network newsfeeds.
March 10 (Day 2)
Today I had a bit of a meltdown. Of course the problem was having too much medical cannabis and then reading information about the virus. Even if you go through medical sites there’s just so much fear mongering on social media and other places that it just spills into this existential angst that adds to the rest of the stuff that’s going on in life.
[the sound of the author taking a deep breath is heard]
Fortunately my friend Alyssa talk me off the ledge. And she came with a good strategy too, besides taking deep breaths. A lot of these people and websites and groups that think they’re talking about the virus in a positive way still are following the media template of “If it bleeds, it leads!” so time to hide them, time to hide a lot of people on social media. I do wish sometimes we didn’t live in the era of fake news; where everybody pretends they are an expert and there weren’t grifters idiots and morons getting in the way in situations like this.
Doesn’t help having imprecise medications when it comes to the use of medical cannabis. I’m sure in five years from now, we’ll have precise dosages on the medical side, and we’ll strong and cheap weed on the recreational side. Maybe that blissful mood you get when you have just the right strain will be possible for longer periods of time
Of course not that a pandemic is a convenient time for anything, but it would help if we didn’t have politicians at all levels who are fucking numb-nuts.
I’m not just talking about the orange Menace who is in power in the White House, I’m talking about here in Alberta provincially. Here we have a poorly educated “nominally” Christian politician who’d love to fuck over everyone for having dared not vote conservative the prior election. This is horrible, and not the hallmarks of a good leader, but you look at it from a business mindset and from an authoritarian mindset and you know these people are thinking, “I’ve got mine, I’m safe in my little bunker. This will probably kill poor and middle-class folk more than my class. Yeah, it’s gonna fuck up the economy short term, but I got money, so fuck everyone else except for me and mine.”
This is the world we live in. And I know, it’s not that easy. It’s more complicated than that, but…[the sound of another deep breath is heard]
You do start to see it at the street level. People are starting to keep their distance. Today on the bus there’s a few of us standing because all the seats were taken, and no one wanted to sit near another person. It’s now you start to wonder….”was this my last Christmas with this family member?” “Will I see this friend again?”.
You know that statistically the odds are pretty good that all will be well. But I don’t know what is going to happen in the future to…well, everything. We’re all “Walking in the Dark” to riff off today’s song.
a kind nightmare
You hate it when it happens.
It’s not the regular dream, the scary one populated with symbols, weird images, faceless black figures with a burning cold grip dragging you down into dank suffocating mud, and you…helpless to move or fight back. Sure, you wake up sweating and panting, but you get back to sleep, the fear forgotten, because it’s just a metaphor for your life.
It’s worse. It’s that dream.
You’re seated at a dresser. Your Mom’s dresser, the one with the big mirror. A little girl sits opposite you in the mirror. She’s dressed in an angel’s outfit. You remember Mom loved that costume. She stares back at you, and shouts: “I don’t wanna be some whiney sick broke loser like you! You’re fat and ugly!”
You reach out and touch the mirror, and you’re in the life she wanted. A perfect world. But maybe this is the real world. It feels right. Good, reliable steady employment in a career – not a job – a career where you and your skills are respected. The nice big home in a trendy neighbourhood, you and Chris, married and in love, being good little consumers with regular trips to Ikea.
Oh sure. There are some minor upsets. No real worries, though – no health problems, no money problems, just a forever bright day. Here, all of your family and friends are hale and hearty, filled with fortune’s favor. Nobody’s turned away from you. No one is either dead, dying, or simply abandoning you.
Her world fades away and you’re back at the dresser, opposite the little girl. She sneers, stands up, and fades away. You sit there alone knowing you could never be that woman in that perfect world. You like the drama, too much. Everyday you’ll nail yourself to a cross, alone and helpless and always at war with a cruel world. The nightmares make it worse as they fill you with images of an ideal world you could never achieve.
And that’s when you look, really look closer at the mirror. A sliver of the kitchen can be seen in the reflection, and for a moment, you see me there. Your face, but the eyes are instead mouths clicking their fangs together:
We love to feed on your fear and anguish.
Don’t wake up….just yet.
We. Are. Ever…so hungry!
“Look, this is ridiculous. I didn’t profit from making and then wearing my Mikey Moose costume for Halloween last year. I went to a party then after we went out to a bar. I wasn’t saying I was the real Mikey. It was just me.” Del Rogers pointed back at himself.
“Mr. Rogers, as the letter discussed, due to changes made recently to International Copyright and Trademark laws, we control all images of Mikey Moose…” Daniel Pullam, the lawyer for Nisdey Studios, clicked on his e-tablet. An electronic image of a letter appeared in mid-air between the two men. The letter expanded to twice its size and the relevant paragraphs became highlighted, copied themselves and drifted down to the table in front of Del, like two leaves.
“As you see, the law covers ALL images. Had you purchased one of the official Mikey Moose Nisdey Studios costumes, you would be covered. Had your costume been constructed in such a way as to indicate it was a parody, you would be exempted.” Daniel tapped on his tablet and a 3D video display of Del dressed as Mikey Moose appeared on the table and started dancing.
“Your costume,” Daniel spoke as the dancing Mikey evaporated back into the tablet, “-was an exceptional imitation of the real costume actors wear at Mikey-World. And therefore subject to copyright infringement and all penalties therein.”
Del was quiet as he stared down at the tabletop, like a chastened child. Finally, he spoke: “Now what? Are you going to sue me for all I’ve got?”
At this Daniel put on a smile he hoped was sincere but not too creepy. “Mr. Rogers, when dealing with individuals, Nisdey Studios and Mikey-World Incorporated prefer to be…flexible.” Daniel reached down below the table and pulled up a large suitcase. He placed it on the table, opened it, and pulled out a costume that looked remarkably like a cartoon fish mixed with the body of a businessman. He hoped the folks in the Costuming department were accurate in guessing Del’s body shape and height.
“Now, as Halloween is coming up this year, then Christmas after that, you’ve no doubt heard about our new upcoming family film, The Incredible Mr. Fish…”
Left Foot, Right foot
An earlier draft of this story appeared on 365tomorrows.com from back in 2010.
lonely figure walked across a barren planet.
figure – a man within an armoured suit – slowly woke. The dark fog formed
memories. A survey ship in the sky above. A planet with exploitable minerals. A
landing pod. Malfunction. Escape. Desperation. Constantly walking.
Tom Jenson coalesced from out of the drug-induced fog. Minerals on the planet interfering with electronics on landing pod. Survival suit with onboard AI heavily shielded. A desert almost a thousand kilometers away. A safe site for a retrieval ship to land. Time running out. The constant walking.
Lately a memory kept bubbling up to the surface when Tom woke. A time his uncle said “…the hardest thing to do most days is to put one foot in front of the other.” Of course, the topic was depression…and his uncle did kill himself, eventually. A sigh escaped from Tom’s mouth. If only the crash had killed me.
shook his head and cleared away that last thought. He was starting to drift
again. Time to lower the pain meds for a while. Pain gave him some clarity of
thought. The suit’s AI protested; but in this, he had some capacity to override
its commands. As long as his mental state remained calm, he had some control.
brought up the time remaining, just as the pain started in his feet. 3 days, 15
hours, 21 minutes. That’s how long his ship The Far Reach could hold
orbit and still have fuel for the trip home. The AI on his ship and the one in
his suit had formulated a solution for escape; allowing for some damage to the
mind and meat of Tom. Very thoughtful of them he mused.
pain levelled off at a tolerable level for a moment. Tom wondered what shape
his feet were in. He understood now what his uncle meant – every fibre of his
being screamed “lay down…let it stop…just stop”. He had been walking non-stop
for one week. Or rather, the suit had been walking for a week. He gave up
controlling his body three days into the march.
was just meat in a shell, but meat that needed to live. The trick was balance –
between travel time and the days of surviving in the shell protecting him. The
suit could run to the retrieval site in under four days, but Tom would be dead
– a sludge of ground meat, bones and excrement.
reviewing the rescue plan the two AIs had formulated, he had them lock him out
of any but the most basic commands. Tom understood now why they recommended
this action. At least twice daily he screamed at the suit to stop, to let him rest.
That’s usually when it pumped up the meds. The survival suit was quite the
achievement – in theory it could provide him with everything he needed from the
existing resources on this planet.
He could lay down. He could rest. The Far Reach could return to base and request manned assistance. Except he’d have wear the suit until help returned – which, this far out could be up to six months. Assuming he didn’t go mad from the loneliness, with only the onboard AI and the primitive lichen on this rock to keep him company. I may go insane even before I reach the drop zone, Tom thought.
constant walk with no stops at a pace the suit could repair the meat, as the
repetitive movement ground away at bones, skin, muscles, and his mind. Tom
would reach the drop zone with about 23 hours to spare. Better than the
original estimate of a 3-hour window. But at a constant walk with no stops.
hardest thing for you to do most days is to put one foot in front of the
other.” Tom Jenson remembered his uncle telling him when he was only 12 years
old. His uncle thus described his depression, hoping to illustrate the depth of
his sadness, in a way a child could.
Tom didn’t understand at the time what his uncle said – how the everyday activities wore a depressed person down, how it took a colossal effort to perform these activities. He understood now, but knew unlike his uncle, Tom had no avenue of escape. Screaming “Kill me! Kill me!” only ensured the suit would drug him into unconsciousness. How many times had he had those thoughts, the fantasy of ending his life?
Pain pulled at his sanity…he’d be drugged soon. The prison of the suit, the futility of his actions and his thoughts caused him to start giggling. He struggled against the relentless marching action.He fought the dark thoughts but they fell upon him: The med-bay on the ship will repair my body and even wipe my memories from after the crash…nothing matters, matters, matter let me die, let me free, let me breath the air let me out. He struggled against the relentless marching action.
laughter started slowly building, turning into an inhuman yell that lasted a
moment before the suit increased the medications. Tom’s consciousness washed
away. He remembered a ship. A planet below. A malfunction. His mind slipped back
into the fog.
A lonely figure walked across a barren planet.
Corporate Bliss – A Story Told In Emails
To: Michelle Featherstone, CEO; Xavier Chu, VP product development
From: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher
Subject: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 10:10AM
Having just concluded Human Trials of our new drug “Bliss”, what follows is the initial evaluation of the Research department and my thoughts. The full report is attached, and I strongly suggest you take the time to review the full report.
Please note this conversation is confidential and is only to be shared with members of the executive team and myself.
“Bliss” (see Appendix A for the scientific name) was designed as an anti-depressant to be used long term. We also wanted a drug which was not addictive, non-psychotropic, with limited side effects. Previous drugs have, in some cases, caused seizures, increase or decrease in appetite, sexual dysfunction, explosive anal bleeding, and in some cases, psychotic breaks in users. In addition, patients using existing anti-depressants often complained that while many anti-depressants worked, they
often rendered subjects as “emotionless robots.”
With Bliss we’ve removed the existing negative effects. The combination of cannabinoids, caffeine, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), Anandamide, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and with our own proprietary chemicals (see Appendix A for full listing) has created a drug such that all users have experienced remarkable reduction if not elimination in all depressions (see Appendix B, “Patient Feedback”). There is no issue with addiction, withdrawal, or drug tolerance, patients retain full command of their mental and emotional faculties, some minor decline in sexual desire, but only the one negative (but long-term) side effect we previously experienced in lab animals.
Regarding said long-term side effect in humans. Our team has verified Bliss may slightly accelerate aging in patients. See Appendix C “Side effects” for full details; essentially patients age 1.45 to 2.45 years for every year passed – usually short-term use means shorter aging rates; extended use could mean almost 3 years aging for each calendar year passed. Similar results were spotted in rats and chimpanzee test animals – again, for the background and dosage levels over time, see Appendix C. Yet when discussed with patients at the end of the trial, many felt the tradeoff was acceptable in light of the drastic improvement in their outlook (Appendix B, “Patient Feedback”). Admittedly, about 68% of patients will only use Bliss for a maximum of five years – it’s the severe cases among that remaining 32% who will use it for ten to twenty years (Appendix A, “Usage Statistics”).
To: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher; Michelle Featherstone, CEO
From: Xavier Chu, VP product development
Subject: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 10:59AM
Well, the minor decline in sexual desire – what if we paired Bliss with a light dose of Dyxaphlopin? The two drugs are very complimentary. Truth be told the only reason we knew about the sexual disfunction is that many of the Bliss test subjects, with their mood drastically improved, are feeling more amorous.
As for the decrease in lifespan – Paula, I noticed in Appendix B that besides increased sex drive, many patients reported engaging in other physical activities (hiking, exercise, for example) and overall adopting a healthier lifestyle. If we roll it out to the medical community, we could insist “Bliss” must be taken in conjunction with a change in diet and increased physical activity. That should cover a large majority of the short-term users and even the longer-term users.
To: Xavier Chu, VP product development, Michelle Featherstone, CEO;
From: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher
Subject: RE: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 11:23AM
Even if a patient becomes a personal trainer, eats organic vegetarian, they’re still looking at aging a year and a half for every year. We don’t have enough information on long term use. True, we can extrapolate based on results from both animal and human trials. A twenty-year-old subject taking Bliss for ten years on their 30th birthday will look have the body of a 40-year-old.
While I feel that point should be stressed as a potential issue in the event a person is prone to any age-related illnesses. Even if we warn the patients, a smart lawyer could come after us for said illnesses.
To: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher; Xavier Chu, VP product development
From: Michelle Featherstone, CEO
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 11:30AM
I’ll set up a meeting with Legal, but as long as we’re upfront about the side effects, I am not worried.
And referring back to the usage stats – the majority includes a lot of people who are only aging 18 months for every year, the majority only will be using it for five years, and as for the rest, we can cover it with the “healthy living” advice Xavier mentioned.
We can partner with diet clinics so there’s great synergy there. Yes, for the minority of long-term users, someone using Bliss for 20 years will actually age 60. But if I recall correctly, the breakdown on these long-term users showed over half of them would commit suicide or become heavy users of illegal drugs and risk overdoses. We’re saving them and giving them years of…well, Bliss. And as they’re taking the drug, they really won’t care about the aging anyhow…that being said…
We *can* suggest not giving it to anyone older than 50 – a bonus as we’d avoid having Bliss prescribed under any government senior medication programs; that usually cuts into any profit margins. Speaking of, Xavier, what are we looking at for market price?
To: Michelle Featherstone, CEO; Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher;
From: Xavier Chu, VP product development
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 11:53AM
Well, Prozac and similar anti-depressants are currently running at $250 for a 10mg pill. Factoring in all our costs, I say we start at $1500 per 10mg pill. I’ll have to do some more research and crunch some numbers, but from Bliss alone, revenues should easily be double the previous year. I’d say $20 billion is a conservative guess. And, we’ll all be in for a nice bonus for the first few years.