Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Part 11.5: Still No Rest for the Sequestered

 The story thus far: Due to Covid, Julie and Vanessa have swapped their weekly “wine, whine and dine” luncheons together at a local restaurant for “cold cuts, catch-up, and phone call” luncheons apart, with each at her own home. During their most recent call, Julie inadvertently volunteered to help Vanessa with an envelope-stuffing project, only to find Vanessa had anticipated her assistance and left the mailing supplies on her doorstep . . . along with an empty HoHos box.


Julie understood that Vanessa was swamped at work, and she didn't mind helping her . . . much. A full box of chocolate snack cakes would have gone a long way toward erasing that “much.” A bottle or two of wine would have made her downright glad to help out. An empty box of HoHos didn't do a thing to reduce her reluctance.


“So, about those HoHos, Van . . . .” Julie said, checking the box again. Nope. Still empty.


“You know that I love having Michael and Steve in my pandemic pod, right?”


Vanessa's ex-husband and his new husband had moved in with Vanessa when their home remodeling project encountered the same unexpected delays that plague every renovation. Then Covid hit, adding another level of delays and sending the whole thing off the rails.


“Yeah, yeah. No one gets left behind, no one drinks alone, and you split the cooking three ways,” Julie paused, certain she had stumbled across an explanation. “Oh my gosh! They finally realized you can't cook and they voted you off the island!”


“Pffft. My crock pot is better than any immunity idol. Nothing says comfort like slow cooker ham and hash brown casserole, or slow cooker hamburger and tater tot casserole. As long as there's not another potato famine or global shortage of cream of chicken soup, I'm golden.”


“But Michael has gourmet chef-level skills, and a palate to match.”


“Yes, and schedule that leaves him less time than a short-order cook. The classes he's teaching may be virtual, but the homework he grades isn't. He tries, or at least he tried to keep up with the cooking. During the first week of the shut down, Michael made his Zia Rosa's lasagna. We're talking homemade noodles, sauce that simmered on the stove all day, and fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese from an undisclosed, local farm."


"Sounds heavenly," Julie said, trying not to drool.


"Yeah, well, that was then. Last week he made a pyramid out of those single-serving, microwavable mac and cheese cups and told us to knock ourselves out.”


“And Steve . . . .”


“Steve is a stress baker. Steve bakes when stressed.”


“So he's been baking a lot?”


“No. Between the corporate board zoom meetings for his consulting gig, and zoom classes as an adjunct professor, Steve hasn't had time to stress bake. Do you know what happens when Steve can't stress bake? He gets stressed. And you know what happens when Steve gets stressed? Michael gets stressed. And when Michael and Steve are both stressed . . . .”


“They stress you out?” Julie guessed.


“They drive me friggin' crazy! I mean, I love those guys, but they need to calm the frig down.”


“O.K., so you're all too busy to cook. Much. That doesn't explain the empty HoHo box on my doorstep.”


“Steve spent all day yesterday preparing for a VIZ (Very Important Zoom) meeting early this morning. He was so stressed out he couldn't sleep. Normally, he'd whip up a batch of his Nana's cinnamon rolls to calm his nerves, but he didn't have time. Instead he snuck to the grocery store first thing this morning to buy a box of HoHos and a tube of store-brand frosting. He arranged the HoHos on a platter, piped some frosting down the center of each, artfully arranged M&Ms – 'm' side down – on the frosting, and passed them off as homemade chocolate eclairs.”


“You didn't say . . . .”


“Are you kidding? When I was growing up, Mom thought Little Debbie was the anti-Christ and the Keebler Elves were Satan's minions. The only time I got to enjoy junk food was when I was at your house.”


“I'm sure my mom would be . . . .”


“Michael and I gobbled up those HoHos like we were eight-year-olds high on red Kool-Aid . . . or like middle-aged adults strung out on stress and espresso.”


“But why do I have the box?”


“Steve is crap at subterfuge. I mean, he tried to bury it in the recycling bin, but yesterday was trash day, so it was a shallow grave. He has to know we know, but this gives us all plausible deniability, you know?”


“That was a sweet thing you did, Van. Weird, but sweet.”


“Besides, if we play dumb he might make us tiramisu out of Twinkies.”


Coming soon: How Muffy became the Machiavelli of face masks.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Ugly Spring

 

It's ugly spring in Iowa – that awkward time of transition between winter and true spring.


As temperatures climb, Mother Nature begins her seductive striptease of cold-weather attire. She slowly raises her snowbank skirts, the lace-melted edges sullied by sand and dirt, to expose more leggy lawn each day. Her tired sod is mottled brown-gray by matted grass and moldering leaves, lined by varicose trash veins, and pocked by dog poo. 


Still, this suggestive glimpse of green provides an illicit thrill to our winter-weary core. We respond instinctively, desire overriding better judgement.


But Old Man Winter is a persistent suitor. The wind carries his whispered forget-me-nots, an icy finger caressing the nape of our necks. We awaken to find his frosty love notes written on windows and clinging to bare limbs.


We know Mother Nature is fickle. We know she will abandon us, lured away by the beauty of a diamond-flake flurry or fleeing the ire of sleet and ice. Her come-hither warmth beckons, only to be replaced by a (literal) cold shoulder. Her sunny smile gives way to the glower of gray clouds.


And yet we respond with child-like optimism, baring arms and legs and feet – sweatshirts replaced by tank tops, pants giving way to shorts, flip flops kicking aside boots. We endure her seasonal petulance, knowing that soon (Soon? Soon!) she will be ours.


Already, snowmelt giggles softly as it trips over ticklesome, pebble-lined gutters, sprouts foolishly poke forth from the warm shelter of foundations, parkas are relegated to the backs of closets and shovels are replaced by rakes.


Spring – true Spring – has begun her courtship and we are helpless against her charms.


Monday, March 8, 2021

Part 11: No Rest for the Sequestered

 The story thus far: One of the things Julie missed most from the pre-virus days was her weekly lunch-at-a-restaurant date with her best friend Vanessa. Protocols, shutdowns, and closures reduced their meetings to a weekly lunch-time phone call (in addition to random-time-of-day texts, emails, and phone calls) like this one . . .


“Do you remember back when this whole virus-thing started?” Vanessa asked Julie during their regularly scheduled, weekly, lunch-time call.


Julie snorted. “Just barely,” she said.


“You know, back when we all thought everything would be shut down for two, maybe three weeks, tops, and then life would get back to normal? Remember how everyone made big plans for what they were going to do during those two, maybe three weeks of forced stay-cation? I was going to paint my kitchen, learn a foreign language, and start a new exercise program.”


“Oh, Van . . . .”


“OK, so I was going to hire some hot, young hunk to paint my kitchen, have Mexican food delivered, and start exercising.”


“Van, I . . . .”


“Fine. I was going to clear off my kitchen counter, drink margaritas, and buy some cute yoga pants. My point is, this pandemic has been going on for what, seventy years now? And I haven't done any of that.”


“Been a little busy at work?”


It was Vanessa's turn to snort. “Between the regular work, the fill-in work caused by virus-absenteeism, the added virus-related work, the added 'how is the virus affecting work' reports, the mandatory 'voluntary' Covid-coping strategy Zoom meetings, and twice-weekly Covid tests, I've just about had it. As Saint Roch is my witness, I've considered faking my test results just so I could isolate and have a little me time.”


“Trust me, being in isolation isn't a 'get-out-of-work-free' card,” Julie said, looking at the stacks of paperwork on her desk. Julie was on day three of her quarantine after coming into contact with “Germy Jimmy,” who had subsequently tested positive for the virus. Julie had tested negative herself, but was quarantining out of an abundance of caution. Miss Irene had taken over Julie's delivery and errand chores, while Julie handled Miss Irene's usual duties.


“I thought you were working from home already," Julie said. "Why the twice-weekly tests?”


“The last round of job-shuffling has me back at the office two afternoons a week – not the same two days as I go in for tests, mind you. That would be too efficient. I work from home the other six.”


“But that's . . . .”

“OK, the other eight. After a while they all blur together. And now I'm in charge of volunteers.”


“How did that . . . .”


“I was late for a Zoom meeting.”


“Didn't they put you in charge of scheduling Zoom meetings when you were late for the last in-person meeting?”


“They did. I am. Someone hacked my account.”


“You mean someone figured out your password was 'Zoom4Van'?”


“If I thought you knew how to use a computer I'd be suspicious.”


“For someone who built a state-of-the-art router from a first-gen iPhone, a broken toaster, and a discarded Teddy Ruxpin, you are crap at password protection, Van.”


“Pffft, like the CIA needs a password to track my credit cards.”


“I'm sure Hoover and the boys have better . . . .”


“J. Edgar was a Fibby. No, this goes much higher than that. I caught Sister Mary Katherine Ignacia lurking outside my office.”


“Wasn't she the . . . .”


“Volunteer 'Director of Volunteers'? Yes. She's been trying to retire for years but couldn't find a replacement. Those big sleeves on her habit really slowed down her reaction time for 'nose goes' .”


“That, and the fact that she's 103.” Julie quickly crossed herself to ward off any stray lightning bolts of smiting. “Now that you're in charge of volunteers, why not have them volunteer to help you with all your other duties?”


“Oh, you sweet, naive girl. Even if there weren't half a dozen well-meaning privacy and security acronyms limiting access to my files, there's this pesky little pandemic that limits . . . well, pretty much everything else – and not just at the hospital. Most of the other volunteer opportunities around town have dried up as well. There's been lots of press about people who have lost their jobs due to COVID, but nothing about all the volunteers who can't volunteer. And do you know what they do with all their newly un-volunteered free time? Call me to ask how they can help. Every. Single. Day.


“There must be something they can do.” Julie licked and sealed another envelope, adding it to the stack of completed Thank You's Miss Irene had given her to write. She wondered how she could swing a volunteer of her own.


Vanessa sighed deeply. “Weh-yell,” she stalled, “there is that direct-mail, fundraising project Sister Mary Kat has been putting off.”


Julie thought Vanessa's sigh sounded suspiciously like the sigh of a person about to ask a big favor. “There you go! Problem solved!” But Julie had a feeling that the problem was far from solved. “When do the volunteers start?”


“They don't. They won't. They turned me down.” Vanessa paused, waiting for Julie to take the bait. When she didn't, Vanessa rushed ahead. “And now I'm stuck with 500 fundraising letters that need to be stuffed into envelopes, addressed and sorted.”


“Van, I'd love to help you but . . . .”


“Thankyousomuch, Jules! You're a life saver! They're in a bag outside your door. I dropped them off on my way to work this morning.”


Julie, who had started pacing when Vanessa made “well” a two-syllable word, paced toward the door.


“I'll send the second batch of 500 letters over as soon as Sister Mary Kat finishes signing them.”


The thought of the 103-year-old Nun signing all those letters triggered Julie's latent Catholic guilt. "Fine. I'll do it. But Van, why is there an empty Ho Ho box in the bag?”


“That's a whole 'nother story,” Vanessa said.


To be continued . . . with Ho Hos.



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Part 10.25: The Case of the Flying Fruit

 The story thus far: Julie is in quarantine and Miss Irene has been kicked out of the grocery store for her role in...


Interrogation Transcript: Deavers' Family Foods Cleanup on Aisle 9 incident.


Voice 1: I keep tellin' ya, this is not an interrogation, Miss Irene, we're just tryin' to get to the bottom of . . . is that a tape recorder?


Voice 2: Not like that Dale! You have to identify yourself before you start talking. That was Dale, the store manager. I'm Paulette Palmedo. And I'd like to plead the first amendment.


Dale: I think you mean the fifth amendment, and this is . . . .


Paulette: Exciting! Isn't it? Just like on Jackie Gleason. You know, my Pauley used to call me his little Della Street. (Giggle) And that's my tape recorder. My son gave it to me. He thinks I'm forgetful.


Dale: I know, mother. And I think you mean Perry Mason. Like I was saying, we're just tryin' to get to the bottom of what happened . . . .


Voice 3: What happened? What happened? I'll tell you what happened. That . . . .


Paulette: State your name.


Voice 3: That's ridic . . . . .


Paulette: State your name! Your honor, if it please the court . . . .


Dale: This isn't a court, Mom . . . er, Ma'am. You are each valued customers here at Deavers' Family Foods, but we just can't have a repeat of what happened . . . .


Voice 3: Lena Johansen. My name is Lena Johansen and I'll tell you what happened. That woman assaulted me in the soup aisle.


Paulette: Let the record show Lena “Wack Doodle” Johansen pointed at Miss Irene just then. They'll never hear you shakin' that bony finger of you'n on the transcript.


Dale: For the last time, Mother, this is not a transcript. Mr. Deavers would like to avoid legal action at all costs.


Voice 4: Then what's Deputy Doug doin' here? This is Irene Truman speaking.


Voice 5: (Clears throat) Deputy David Doug . . . do you need my badge number?


Dale: NO!


Deputy Doug: So, what am I doing here, anyway? Technically I'm not on duty, and anyways I didn't. . . .


Dale: Deputy Doug just happened to be the first shopper on the scene. He's the one who called for backup, er, I mean cleanup.


Paulette: Darn. I thought maybe he was gonna frisk me again.


Deputy Doug: No! I mean, I didn't frisk you in the first place. I definitely don't want to do it again.


Paulette: All natural here, Deputy. No fillers or GMOs.


Lena: If we could please get back to the heinous and unprovoked assault upon my person. I'd like to have the term “wack doodle” stricken from the record, please, as it may prejudice the jury.


Miss Irene: Heinous and unprovoked my heiny. You failed to yield the right of way in the produce section, stole that last package of Oreos right from under my hand, and repeatedly violated the Covid-protocol, one-way traffic signs in the shopping aisles. Officer, arrest this woman!


Deputy Doug: Like I was saying, I'm not sure the grocery store falls under my jurisdiction.


Lena: I got to the Oreos first fare and square. Besides, you're about one sandwich cookie away from needing a wide-load sticker pasted on your rear.


Miss Irene: Wide load, eh? You'll think wide load when I . . . .


Lena: Let the record show the perpetrator brandished a tangerine in a threatening manner! Oh! The flashbacks! I may never eat another citrus fruit as long as I live.


Miss Irene: One more wide-load crack and you may not have long to live. Besides. I wasn't the one who started the fruit fight.


Paulette: It was a random, drive-by fruiting. Just like the one that did in poor John Travolta.


Dale: That was Pierce Brosnan in Mrs. Doubtfire, Mother.


Lena: Now really, Miss Irene. You can't expect me to believe that Paulette threw that grapefruit at me.


Miss Irene: I didn't say a word. Snitches get stitches and end up in ditches.


Lena: Paulette is three foot tall and blind as a bat. She couldn't hit the broadside of a . . . .


Paulette: I used to pitch for the Rockford Peaches.


Dale: That was Gena Davis, Mother. A League of Their Own.


Paulette: I was just givin' ya' the ol' brushback. You crowded the plate, stepped into the pitch . . . and you were comin' down the aisle the wrong way.


Lena: Pfft, one-way shopping aisles. I've got more important things to attend to, like that two for one special on cream of mushroom soup! I was checking expiration dates when I was viciously assaulted by a flying fruit! I tried to turn my cart around and head back up the aisle, but Miss Irene was blocking my exit.


Paulette: We had ya' in a pickle!


Lena: When I turned around again, a grapefruit brushed my beehive!


Paulette: The runner stole on a wild pitch! Safe at second base!


Deputy Doug: I swear I thought that was your waist! I was trying to steady you!


Paulette: Gravity and old age, Deputy. Life's seventh-inning sag.


(Silence)


Dale: You can go now, Deputy. I'm sorry for . . . . Thank you for your service to our country, sir.


(Footsteps receding. A door opens and closes.)


(Muffled giggles. A snort.)


Dale: Alright, Mrs. Johansen, let's talk cold turkey. What's it going to take to make all this go away? Mr. Deavers has authorized me to make a very generous settlement. I'm prepared to offer you five percent off today's purchase.


Lena: Twenty.


Dale: Ten, and double coupons for store-brand items.


Lena: Fine. And I want their loyalty rewards card privileges revoked.


Miss Irene: But . . . .


Lena: And Paulette has to take shopping scooter traffic school class before she can get back behind the wobbly wheels of a cart.


Dale: Done!


Paulette: But . . . .


Lena: You whipped around the end of the aisle on that scooter like you were Thelma and Louise heading for the cliff!

(Footsteps receding. Door closing.


Paulette: I know Thelma Louise! 


Dale: (Sigh) No, Mother, she means . . . . 


Paulette: I ran into her the other day, over by the Methodist Church.


Dale: So that's what happened to the bumper on the Cadillac!


Paulette: Pomelo. 


Dale: I'll say!


Paulette: No, that's what hit Lena. I pummeled her with a pomelo. Some people just can't remember details.


Meanwhile, Muffy is making mischief of her own . . . . To be continued.



Monday, November 2, 2020

Part 10: Doing (quaran)Time

 The story thus far: While counting down the hours (48) until her boyfriend Joe was finally out of quarantine, Julie found herself in contact with someone who had been exposed to the virus....


Julie shoved the few remaining boxes of food donations onto shelves by herself, muttering angrily. Meanwhile, Miss Irene and Vanessa charmed, bribed or bullied enough of the right people to get her in for a virus test that day. Julie wondered if the nurse administering the test had been one of the bullied, or if the swab was actually supposed to touch the back of her skull.


Jimmy – or, “Germy Jimmy” as Miss Irene had taken to calling him – tested positive for the virus, but Julie did not. Given her interaction with people who were at risk if exposed, she agreed that it would be best for her to quarantine anyway.


Once she got over the shock of being replaced in Miss Irene's organization, (she knew she wasn't indispensable, but the speed with which her duties had been reassigned was troubling) Julie realized there was an up-side to quarantine. Of course she was disappointed to – once again – be separated from her daughter and Joe, but she thought perhaps it was all for the best. Lately she had been feeling downright bitchy, and while she was confident of Joe's affection, she thought it best not to push her luck.


The fewer people Julie came in contact with, the more they got on her nerves. Familiarity may not have bred contempt, but it had certainly bred discontent. When Big George said he was returning to the shop to work two afternoons each week, Miss Irene had suggested four.


Alone in her apartment, Julie shuffled the boxes of photos she planned to organize “when she had the time.” She idly scrolled through the emails from Muffy (subject line: “Beauty-Fixes After 50: It's Never Too Late To Start”), moving them to a folder marked “delete later.” Then she grabbed a bottle of wine (which Vanessa had left outside her door), a pan of scotcheroos (from Emily), and the “Pride and Prejudice” box set (the good BBC version with Colin Firth) on loan from Steve and plopped down on the couch to sulk.


Mellowed by the alcohol, sugar, and posh British accents, Julie became contemplative. She was tired of the drama, fear-mongering and politicization surrounding the pandemic. As Miss Irene's errand girl, Julie came into (socially distant) contact with many people – with many viewpoints. She listened politely to each of them, smiling and nodding her head whether she wanted to or not.


Julie wore her mask and kept her distance. She washed her hands and regularly applied hand sanitizer. She held her breath and inched backwards when approached by no-maskers or maskers who apparently thought they were guaranteed immunity. She understood the math of exponential spread and knew that “best” protection wasn't “complete” protection.


She noticed that when she set her mind to look for people who were wearing masks, it seemed like most of them did. When she actively looked for people who weren't wearing masks, it seemed like most of them did not. Quite frankly she was too busy obsessing over her own coughs, sniffles and headaches to worry much about what other people wore or did. She was more concerned about unknowingly infecting others than she was about contracting the virus herself.


She didn't think the virus cared what your political affiliation was. She knew people who (swore they) always wore a mask who still caught the virus, and people who (wouldn't admit they) never wore a mask who didn't catch it. She knew people who became extremely ill, and others who did not.


The virus, it seemed, was immune to human concerns.


Julie spent the next day feeling guilty for not feeling guilty about missing work – or at least not working as much. Miss Irene had left a plate of snickerdoodles (Julie's favorite) outside her door that morning . . . along with a list of donors and a box of blank Thank You cards for her to write.


During the afternoon coffee break with Miss Irene and Big George (Skype-ing from across the back yard), Julie learned that her regular duties were once again being reassigned. J.J. had to be pulled off deliveries after mixing up orders for Mrs. Harry Johnson and Mrs. Henry Johnson (sisters who had married brothers, doubling the sibling rivalry). J.J. would take over grocery duties from Miss Irene who had been banned from the store for her involvement in a ruckus that morning.


“Pffft,” Miss Irene pffted. “Most of those people can't figure out which lanes to drive up in the parking lot. How could anyone expect them to follow one-way aisles inside the store? Although, upon reflection, I may have over reacted.” (*Coming soon: Part 10.25 “Cleanup on Aisle 9.”)


“If it's any consolation, I think you've managed things very well . . . until now,” Julie said. “I think people are getting stupider . . . .”


More stupid, dear,” Miss Irene corrected.


Julie silently counted to 10 very quickly. “More stupid every day. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to punch someone in the throat. I'm pretty sure the feeling's mutual. What's your secret?”


“Equal parts prayer, patience, and Templeton Rye whiskey.”


Big George sniffed Miss Irene's coffee mug. “Some parts more equal than others,” he said.


“All right, Mr. Smart Guy,” Miss Irene laughed. “What's your advice for dealing with this craziness?”


Big George thought for a moment before speaking.


“People are scared. They're scared for their health. Scared for their jobs. Scared for their families and scared for their country. And each of them is right.” He let this sink in. “But each of them is wrong, too. When you hold too tightly to your own fear, you become blind to the fears of others.


“Recognizing someone else's fear requires you to admit that you may be wrong. It's threatening. And whenever a frightened creature feels threatened, they lash out.


“You can't change people's opinions or actions by force . . . or even through reason, usually.” He glanced sideways at Miss Irene and grinned. “Believe me, I've tried.”


Miss Irene kissed him on the cheek. “But you can be a good influence,” she said.


“That's what I'm counting on, dear. Now if you'll excuse me ladies, I need to get back to work. Remember Julie, the only person you can change is yourself. Be patient. Be kind. Show the way. Be the light.”


Julie leaned back in her chair to look out her window. She watched as Big George crossed the backyard, waving up at her window as he passed the garage. She waved back.


“All that wisdom and a great butt, too,” Miss Irene said, drawing Julie's attention back to her computer screen. “Don't let that Mr. Miyagi act fool you, though. J.J. told me Mr. Holmer stopped by the shop this morning and got on a rant, as he always does. George listened to him for a while, then excused himself to change the batteries in his hearing aids and never came back.”


“But Big George doesn't wear hearing aids,” Julie said.


“Exactly.” Miss Irene arched an eyebrow. “We're all doing the best we can, dear. Some days we're Mother Theresa, some days our hearing aids quit working.”


Miss Irene's phone chimed. She grumbled as she read the text. “Well, dear, it seems I need to go shine my light up Muffy's . . . viewpoint. It's a good thing I know where to find you. You may have to arrange bail for me.”


To be continued ...


Monday, October 12, 2020

Part 9: Wait for it

The story thus far: The pandemic changed every aspect of life in Pleasant Glen, including the way people kept track of time.


Two weeks.


Julie was used to waiting. Or, at least, she thought she was.


When her daughter Emily went to off college, Julie had learned to wait. She waited for Family Weekend, for Thanksgiving Vacation, for Winter Recess, for Spring Break. She learned that if she was patient, she would be rewarded with some small amount of mother-daughter time, even if it was only a laundry date.


The virus changed all that. Schedules were in a constant state of flux. Plans were made, only to be postponed. Patience was rewarded with more delays.


Julie tried to hide her relief when Emily's school-sponsored Spring Break trip overseas was canceled because of the virus. She tried to hide her disappointment when Emily decided to stay with friends in Chicago during break instead of coming home. Julie tried to hide her relief when the Illinois “stay-at-home” order shut down Rush Street, making Chicago no more attractive or fun than little Pleasant Glen, Iowa.


Then the school announced that classes would be moved online, and Emily's return to Pleasant Glen was assured. Even that relief was short lived.


Since Julie's new job as Miss Irene's delivery girl put her in contact with people at high-risk from the virus, and Emily's grandmother was high-risk because of her age, Emily's homecoming included two weeks of self-quarantine – just to be on the safe side. The very situations that necessitated that quarantine, made finding a place to quarantine challenging.


Fourteen days.


After much fretting, Bob offered the apartment above the Bar as a home (not far) away from home. In lieu of rent, Emily was tasked with making the space fit for habitation by sorting through boxes of memorabilia from bands that had played the Bar over the decades.


Julie was relieved to have her daughter home – or almost home. Julie was disappointed that seeing her daughter up close-ish involved sitting on the rickety fire escape outside the apartment – especially since Julie was afraid of heights.


Eventually Emily's quarantine came to an end, unlike Joe's seemingly endless quarantine – or rather his series of quarantines.


Joe had been caught in New York when the virus struck and left him scrambling to find a flight back to Iowa. Once home, he began a two-week quarantine at his rural Des Moines home/office. Nine days in, his father suffered a heart attack. Joe headed to Arizona to re-start his quarantine and lend socially-distant support from the safety of the detached in-law suite at his sister's house, while his mom temporarily moved to the “big house.”


Joe's father recovered and was discharged by the end of Joe's first week there. By the end of week two, although happy to see his son – from across the yard – Joe's father was more happy to return to his own bed in the guest house. Joe returned to Iowa to begin yet another quarantine – this time in the recently cleared and vacated apartment above The Bar.


Three hundred thirty-six hours.


Since Joe's quarantines were all precautionary or travel-based rather than exposure-based, Julie and Joe bent the rules a little. There was a very private concert with Joe on stage at The Bar and Julie seated at the far end of the building, and a Romeo and Juliet moment with Julie on the landing outside her apartment and Joe at the base of the stairs.


Julie was counting down the days – two – until she could talk with Joe from a distance less than one story. While she waited, she worked. The weekend collection drive for the food pantry had been an overwhelming success and now it all needed to be put away. It was a Monday, and there was work involved, so volunteers were scarce. Julie's lone helper was a high-school age stock boy who hadn't had the good sense to look busy when the manager entered the back room. Jimmy was on loan from the local Mom and Pop grocery which had hosted the food drive, and his main duty was to make sure the store's delivery van was returned A.S.A.P.


They worked quickly – huffing behind their masks – to unload the van and stack the goods in the crowded storage room. They were nearly done when Jimmy received a phone call:


His girlfriend, with whom he had spent the majority of the weekend, had tested positive for the virus.


While the virus had slowed many aspects of Pleasant Glen social life, it had fertilized the already fast and efficient gossip grapevine. Jimmy had just left and Julie was locking up when her phone rang.


“You know what this means.” Miss Irene didn't need to say more. Julie sighed heavily before replying:


Twenty thousand, one hundred sixty minutes.”


To be continued...

Julie decides a little quarantine time may be just what she needs.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Part 8.2: Who's Zoomin' ... zoomed

 The story thus far: Vanessa, like many others, has turned to Zoom meetings while working at home during the pandemic. Things are going about as well as she fears. We'll back up a few lines to get a running start for part two...


The meeting was going well and discussion had moved on to the photo, when Vanessa felt her heart begin to race. She listened inattentively, her mind wandering, as the people in the postage stamp-sized gallery view frames on her computer screen checked their calendars.


How many cups of coffee DID I have? she wondered. “. . . second week of July?” a stamp asked.


Two cups were needed for coherent conversation. “Inside or outside?”


Two and a half made her perky, but three cups . . . . “Masks or no masks?”


Vanessa felt beads of sweat forming on her upper lip. “What's the point of a photo if no one recognizes me?”


A prickly feeling spread across her face. “. . . temperature scans.”


Three cups would trigger a . . . “Face shields?” . . . hot flash.


Vanessa fanned herself surreptitiously with a Snootyslacks Foundation brochure while the postage stamps debated the merits of plastic face shields. She reached for her glass of water, hoping a drink would ease her symptoms.


It didn't.


She was caught off guard mid-sip by a question and inhaled when she should have swallowed, causing her to sputter and cough.


And cough.


And cough.


The postage stamps went wild. “Do you think this is funny?” “Is this your idea of a joke?” “Have you been tested? “Ohmygosh, is COVID a computer virus?”


Steve, who had been hovering in the doorway impatiently waiting for his VIPZM, rushed in to help his friend.


“Steve, I . . . .” Vanessa croaked.


As he handed her his “lucky” white silk, jacquard pocket square (his was a V-VIPZM), Steve was struck by inspiration.


“That's Doctor Steve,” he said, smiling at the stamps with all the candor of a late-night infomercial host. “Please pardon Ms. Kolkwitz. She's having what we in the biz refer to as an 'age-related, brief, tropical vacation'.” Taking the stamps' stunned silence for confusion he added, sotto voce, “A hot flash.” The female postage stamps nodded with understanding. The male postage stamps looked like they'd rather be anywhere else at that moment.


Vanessa, having regained control of herself, tried to regain control of the meeting as well. “The hospital has a lovely, terraced, rose garden that will allow you all to maintain social distance without looking too spread out. You can lower your masks briefly for the photo, allowing us to see your faces while still showing your concern for safety.”


The postage stamps hesitated.


“And refreshments afterwards,” Steve said.


Assured that PGCHC was COVID-free, their egos stroked, and photo scheduled, the board unanimously agreed to proceed, adjourned the meeting and signed off.


One thing was still bothering Vanessa. “Doctor Steve?” she said questioningly as she cleared her things from the desk.


“PhD . . . M.D.,” Steve shrugged, “they don't ask to see my badge when I make a reservation at Olive Garden.” He sat down in the control chair, then checked and re-checked his watch. “Before you leave would you turn on the ceiling fan?” he asked, blotting sweat from his forehead. “It's kind of hot in here.”


If you liked this (and I hope you did), tell a friend! And check out my novel, Scout's Honor, and the soon to be published Scout's Redemption.