It’s a rainy pandemic afternoon, and I’m lying on the sofa with Little Dog. I’ve been here, honestly, most of the day, and I’m rather proud of myself. When I woke, it was rainy and cold–there would be no backyard time today. No feigned normalcy, reading under the pecan tree, pretending that I could meet a friend for lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s, then while away the afternoon at Belk and t.j Maxx.
I have been in Belk once–for less than twenty minutes–this year. My younger daughter and I have spent the days since March 13th isolating more than most. Our shopping trips are timed strategically; we have only eaten in a (very safe) restaurant twice–the booth walls are high, and the cleaning is impressive; we are diligent mask-wearers and social distance as much as we can–though in-person teaching makes it difficult for me. COVID has killed two people I knew well, and it has sickened dozens of my family members and friends–so, most of the time, I am content to sit here on the sofa.
But, as I’ve mentioned before, my brain is yearning to do Things. Go Places. (At this point, I think it would even consider attending a three-day barbershop quartet competition.) It is so bored. And this morning, at the sight of the rain, I had to combat its petulance, reminding it that we are staying home heroically.
In the Oscar-winning documentary One Survivor Remembers, Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein says that while in the concentration camps, she spent entire days imagining the parties she would attend after the war–and attempting to decide whether she should wear a red dress or a blue one. She says that if you could occupy your mind, you would survive. That imagination was essential.
Much of my life’s philosophy has been impacted by this documentary–I have shown it in my classroom at least thirty-six times, and it has seeped into my soul. Ms. Klein has helped me appreciate the magic of a quiet evening at home, the taste of strawberries, and the infinite power of imagination.
My twenty-one-year-old daughter and I have always played elaborate games–when she was a sophomore in high school, she invented a car-ride game that was insanely difficult but very simple. She’d say, “Tell me about the time you became a circus acrobat in China/saved eleven children from a burning building/played NFL football and scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.” I would authoritatively improvise my fictional memoir.
Now, we are imagining our way through the pandemic–in fact, we have now spent months pretending that we are at a day spa.
Each day, our pandemic spa has “spativities,” some of which are mandatory–the dishes, laundry, and vacuuming–and some of them are optional–like walking the dog or writing this blog. We consult the imaginary spativity schedule on our phones throughout the day: Is manicure time before or after the afternoon Uno game? What time is the Dairy Queen field trip? Are dogs allowed to attend?
“Announcement Pronouncements” are made throughout the day. We make them loudly and succinctly, usually after dramatically bursting into a room. “I weeded the garden.” “Little Dog likes the new fuzzy blanket.”
More sadly, there is The Daily Violation Report. (The spa has stringent behavioral expectations, and our seven indoor pets often miss the mark.) The forty-five-pound “teenage” puppy is the most frequent offender: yesterday, she ate a more than hundred-year-old telegram from the day my great-grandfather was born. The cats, her accomplices, are no innocents, and Violation Report often includes their escapades. (Edgar drank rainwater from the pot beneath the leaky plaster roof, then sneezed and gagged dramatically. As a Violator, he was given no sympathy.)
In addition to general violations, there are more severe Code Violations. And they are written up on Forms, sometimes by an (imaginary) enforcer named Gladys, whose very name inspires fear.
At the spa, you can interrupt anything–including an Ivy League Zoom session–if you see a Code Violation. You just say brusquely, “Excuse me, but we have a code 73A violation.”
This is always greeted with horror: “Not a code 73A violation!?! Just yesterday, we had a code 48Q.”
“I know, I know. Gladys is writing it up on a Form 37B. She’s canceling all spativities this afternoon.”
“Well, at least she’s not using a Form 9H.”
This has been our schtick since March. Last Saturday, as we were sitting in the den intently discussing various violations and upcoming spativities, I looked at Abby and said, “Do you ever wonder what people who don’t play these elaborate games spend their time talking about?”
It is an absurd farce, silliness of the highest order. But it has been our own personal Tiger King–a little much-needed joy in these 283 long days.