About apophenia

On December 29, I took a long walk up to Journal Square with Hilary. We’d somehow made it through 2019, and I was eyeing the calendar warily. My fear was that something dangerous was coming, but I didn’t know what it was. Hilary felt, reasonably, that I was scaring us for no good reason, and wanted to know why I was so certain that we were headed for trouble. I explained that we were all so tightly tethered to central databases and news sources that it was certain that we’d be exposed to psyops more intense and sophisticated than any we’d encountered before. 2019, I felt, was all phony war. 2020 was an election year; power was up for grabs. The big guns would be out, and the big data that had been meticulously collected would all be used in ways we wouldn’t like.

There are loud voices on the Internet who argue that the coronavirus is a psyop. I won’t indulge those who are determined to minimize what we’re up against. I know better. But I do think that the global crisis is providing excellent cover for those who want to play with our minds. Even before an ill wind blew across this country in March, millions of Americans were already struggling with their own fevered imaginations. Stuck at home, in front of screens all day, listening to messages both broadcasted and narrowcasted, we are sitting ducks for ideological programming. And isolation, I’ve noticed, tends to encourage apophenia.

Apophenia isn’t well known by name, but it’s the dominant psychological state of modern America. An apophenic sees patterns and connections where there aren’t any. For him, nothing is meaningless; everything signifies. Those suffering from acute apophenia are so focused on subtext that they’ve lost any sense of the text. Psychiatrists will tell you that apophenia is often an early stage of schizophrenia. This is where we are as a society: separated, even before social distancing, and chasing down individually-tailored rabbit holes as fast as we can go. I fear there’s nothing at the end but madness, but I can’t seem to stop my own fall.

One of the most dangerous things about apophenia is that those who suffer from believe that as their condition deteriorates, they’re getting smarter. They’re seeing an pattern that others are missing. The harder they look, and the more unrelated components they drag into their grand unification theory, the more convinced they are that they’re right, and that those who disagree are obtuse. In good times, this is troubling; in a global crisis, it’s an unbearable exacerbation of a terrible problem. In late 2015, right on the cusp of disastrous times, I wrote that it was certain that unscrupulous people were going to use our apophenia against us — that conspiracy theories were about to become a tool of the powerful and corrosive. It was one of the few times in my life that I’ve ever been prophetic.

Yet apophenia affects me as profoundly as it does those who are dead certain that the coronavirus is a plot to bring down the President by political opponents addicted to adrenochrome. My own apophenia often manifests as hypochondria: perceived symptoms, many of which aren’t symptoms at all, drive me straight toward catastrophic fantasies. I appreciate efforts to keep me educated, but I also feel, strongly, that some of what I’m getting from the TV news and the Internet is designed to amplify my anxiety. My challenge is to rise above my paranoia and my fear, beat back the urge to connect dots that shouldn’t be connected, and recover my balance. How, um… how am I doing? Not too well, I admit. I promise to hang in there as best as I can.

Last night I dreamed I touched my nose

Brett writes that confidence is half of immunity. I know he’s right. Shortly after her diagnosis — when we had limited knowledge of what we were facing — Hilary came into this room and announced that we were going to have to try to have fun. Every morning since then, I’ve woke with a plan to make her happy. That became the priority. Even on the most desperate day we faced, a little more than ten months ago, I was determined to stay cheerful, play games, give her the best minute-to-minute experience a person could have.

So what explains my meltdown yesterday? Over an eight hour period, I became convinced that she had the virus and there was nothing I could do to save her. We wouldn’t even get to be together: she’d be taken to the hospital without me, and I’d be here with a partially operational cellphone, going out of whatever is left of my mind (not much). Despair, Catholics are taught, is a grievous sin because it rules out the possibility of saving grace and divine mercy. Father, I confess that on March 29, the Devil dragged me under, and I don’t even have sharp lapels or a checkered coat.

I’d like to say I’m back — I’m no longer physically shaking — but I don’t think I can. I’m still dealing with the irrational fear that the rainier it gets, the more likely it is that critical symptoms of the disease will suddenly manifest. I can’t figure out what the connection is: normally I love the rain. I even like to ride my bicycle in it. Today’s rain is supposed to start at 3 p.m., and I admit I’m desperately hoping it’s just a quick shower. My imagination continues to outpace all containment efforts.

It’s been seven days since the pharmacy visit. Since then, we’ve mostly stayed inside — weather hasn’t been wonderful, and there’s nothing much to see in the neighborhood. We’d never ordered groceries from a delivery service before, but last week we broke down and got vegetables from Amazon Prime. After dinner, paranoia kicked in. What if the paper bags weren’t properly sanitized? What if the robe I was in when I carried the groceries upstairs came into contact with virus particles? Why trust Amazon? Everything became suspect. I found myself washing my hands in the middle of the night. I found myself sleeping on my back in case I transferred any viral dust to my pillow.

This sort of crazed behavior is harmful to Hilary, who needs a healthier habitat. The determination that came so naturally to me during chemotherapy and radiation has deserted me. I do realize that I am mapping my fear for my cousins on to our own unrelated circumstances, and I need to hold it together and react to things that I can control, because the news isn’t going to improve any time soon. One of Hilary’s friends, who lives in the Heights, has been sick: she spent her fiftieth birthday in the ER after her blood oxygen level dropped. She got it from her daughter, who has been struggling with various symptoms for three weeks. Last night, through our walls, which are not thin, I could hear our pregnant neighbor bawling. I wish I could make her happy, too. Someday I’ll make it up to everyone.

Scary hours

I have lived a long time. I would like to live longer, but I don’t want to be greedy about it. If a meteor was approaching the planet, zeroing in on New Jersey from some precinct of space, and there was no way to avoid it, I don’t think I’d panic. I’d have Hilary with me. Because of her, my life has been a rich and beautiful thing. We’d face the catastrophe together.

No, what I fear is separation: being unable to help her when she needs me, or comfort her when she’s frightened. When I’m shook up, my anxiety drives a wedge between us. Neither of us wants to worry the other.

My cousin has been taken to the hospital. She is 70 years old. She had run a fever for many days — she was up to 102 degrees on Friday. She didn’t want to go. Her children, one of whom is in recovery from the virus and another who hasn’t been tested, had been taking good care of her. Once she experienced chest pains and difficulty breathing, they sent for the ambulance. No one was allowed to go with her. She’s on her own in a battlezone.

Reports have been sketchy. We know she spent the night in the ER. An x-ray of her chest suggested pneumonia. The hospital is looking for a bed for her. They’ve treated her with plaquenil, which is one of the two quinoline drugs given to malaria patients. Her daughter, who brought the virus back from a business trip to Vail, told me she feels helpless. I’m sure it goes well beyond that. We’ve been checking our phones for updates. But for those on the other side of the glass doors, the world of the hospital is a silent one. We hope to hear something more clarifying than a howl. We hope for a sunnier day.

Opening day

In January, which feels like oh so long ago, our plane home from Miami was delayed for four hours. Surface winds in Newark, we were told. The literature at the airport gift shops concerned true crime or fake crime or in between crime, Girl Chopped Up or Girl Flung From The Train, or Pieces Of Her by Karen Slaughter (this last one is an actual title that I won’t forget soon). None of that was for me. Instead, I bought us a baseball season preview. Then I spent the balance of the wait time, and most of the flight, circling desirable players. After the mess that was 2019, I knew I needed to find some good Cauliflowers for Hilary.

The Cauliflowers are Hilary’s ballplayers. They constitute the roster of her beloved rotisserie league baseball team. The fate of The Cauliflowers is not of small significance to her. A few years ago, her squad took the top prize, and I made her a poster of her sixteen best point-producers — Francisco Lindor was on there, as was Jose Altuve. It still hangs on the wall of her office at the University, alongside the history books and the 18th C. British literature.

There’s not going to be any rotisserie league season in 2020. We’ll be lucky if there’s any season at all. Until there’s a vaccine, it’s hard to imagine MLB encouraging thirty-five thousand sweaty customers to jam themselves into stadiums. Because baseball is as synonymous with spring for us as Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura, it feels like the calendar has failed to turn. Our team, as you surely know, is the San Francisco Giants, and we’ve had meaningful times in the house by McCovey Cove, singing along to “Lights” by Journey and cheering on Buster Posey. No high-fives for us, for awhile — in San Francisco, or anywhere else.

And while I am the notorious baseball fanatic around here, this has hit Hilary harder than it has hit me. She likes to watch the game every night. Part of that is her Ruthian emotional investment in her favorites, and her Cauliflowers, and the rhythm and regularity of the baseball season as it unfolds. But she’s also comforted by the sound of the crowd, and the feel of the blanket of summer as it hangs over the stadium, and the talented Mets and Giants broadcasters. She’ll watch spring training games from beginning to end; she’ll even cultivate a rooting interest in the outcome of exhibitions. We don’t follow any other sports — baseball is it, and our sudden deprivation has unnerved us both. During the worst days of chemotherapy, we always had baseball games to distract us from what was happening, even if they were just buzzing and cracking in the background.

As a salve in desperate times, MLB now allows fans to watch old games over their network. All fans were offered a guaranteed opening-day win: a famous victory drawn from the archive. Giants fans have been spoiled ever since Hilary took up the cause in 2009: she’s watched the team win three World Championships, each one more improbable than the last. That gave MLB a few famous options, and they offered us a rerun of the final game of the 2014 World Series — the game, as you may know, where Madison Bumgarner came out of the bullpen on short rest and carried the Giants across the wire. I don’t have the same recall for baseball that I do for popular music, but I remember everything that transpired that night. Hilary surely does, too. A game like that held no mystery for us.

So instead, we watched Game 7 of the 1952 World Series: Yanks vs. Dodgers, Mickey against the Duke. While I knew all of the names, I’d never seen any of those players in action. At one point in an early inning, I realized that everybody hugging a base was a Hall of Famer: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges, who’d go on to win the Series as the manager of the Miracle Mets, in the batter’s box, facing down the great Allie Reynolds. (He was limited to a sacrifice fly, alas.) I’d never seen Ebbets Field, or Casey Stengel pacing the dugout, and I’d never heard Mel Allen or Red Barber call a game from beginning to end. The experience felt like something out of a dream: a step back in time at a moment when we’re all held in stasis. Baseball, for me, has always been a reason to live — if only to satisfy my ferocious curiosity about how Kluber will fare in Texas, how the Mets will cope with the absence of Thor, whether Bregman’s great year was a can-battering illusion, which version of Johnny Cueto we’re going to get on any given night, who’s on first. Whenever and wherever they say “play ball” again, we’re going to do our damnedest to be there.

Nobody in charge

By executive order, the governor of Mississippi overrides decisions made by Mississippi municipalities and orders people back to work. Later he amends this decision, and then amends his amendment. Rhode Island announces its intention to enforce the mandatory quarantine of New York visitors by going door to door and screening for Empire State license plates. Closer to home, a friend of a friend complains that New Yorkers have spread viral pollution on the otherwise pristine beaches of Cape Cod. The beleaguered governor of Michigan demands assistance from the federal government. The President belittles her; denunciations and reinforcement come from the usual quarters, signifying nothing but show.

Friends, we’re falling apart. Less than two weeks after the first municipal shutdowns and enforced isolation, the bonds that hold together the states, regions, and cities are fraying. Maybe they were never really there, and it’s taken a global crisis and an ineffectual federal government to make us realize that the union is, in 2020, anthem performances and guesswork, and that’s about it. The network executives who once happily aired every red-hat rally Trump held, squeezing every rating point they could out of the outrage and controversy that ensued, now weigh whether the daily Presidential press conferences are worth coverage. A little too little, and far too late, if you ask me, but nobody’s asking me, and that’s probably because they know what I’d say.

As has been the case since the beginning of this regime, it’s impossible for outsiders to tell who is in charge of what — and that’s likely because nobody is in charge of anything much. The Vice President is supposed to be handling pandemic response, unless the President contradicts him while he’s standing there red-faced, unless Dr. Fauci is on hand to throw cold water on the rosy projections and self-congratulation, unless Dr. Fauci has been sent to the cornfield for displeasing Anthony Fremont. There’s a suggestion that Jared Kushner is doing something, which will surely come to the same sorry end as it generally does whenever Jared Kushner is given a portfolio. Is it any wonder that people are prescribing themselves fish-tank cleaner and crossing their fingers?

Yesterday, Politico ran a story that referred to the President as an “authoritarian weakman.” That’s cute, and I get it, and I think we’ve all become painfully familiar with the vacillation they’re talking about. But a funny thing I’ve noticed about authoritarians is that when push comes to shove, they’re all weak men. They’re always happy to boss you around and consolidate power on a sunny day, but the moment they have to make a real, consequential decision, they never know what to do. Authoritarianism is an expression of deep insecurity; it’s the jealous, desperate accrual of power for its own sake, and an absence of true leadership and selfless action in the face of real challenges. There are still leaders in America — people who might actually be able to salvage a union that’s falling to pieces before our eyes — but they’ve been marginalized and made unwelcome by people in power who recoil at any sign of moral legitimacy. That citizens cannot, or will not, elevate these people to positions of consequence suggests to me that America no longer means all that much to Americans.

Noah Zark

In The Beginning Of Desire, a close reading of the Book of Genesis, Rabbi Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg interprets the Flood story as a metaphor for pregnancy and birth. Noah floats, silent and surrounded by symbols of generative potential, in an amniotic sea inside the womb of the ark. After a period of labor — forty days and forty nights, which is scriptural code for a very long time — he emerges through the breach into a world wiped clean as a dish. Rabbi Zornberg, who is a wonderful teacher, hears the psychological resonances in every verse. She points out (as many scholars have) that Noah is effectively mute; God talks to him, but he doesn’t talk back, choosing instead to carry out his duties. Genesis never gives us the name of his wife. During his time on the page, which isn’t long, he remains embryonic.

I think the Book of Exodus is the most powerful work of literature ever composed. But these days, it isn’t the Passover story that is resonating with me. Instead, I’ve been feeling like Noah adrift on the sea; a sea that was once the world he knew, but which was now inaccessible to him. We’ve retreated to our arks, sealed the doors with pitch, and we’re waiting out our forty days and forty nights. The air outside, we’ve been warned, may be flooded with vaporized pathogens — we imagine the virus hanging in droplets, sneezed out by a jogger, or just blown in on an ill wind. A hard and violent rain keeps falling.

We’re encouraged to be productive during this period of gestation. I keep on working. Hilary keeps improving her online teaching skills. I am always comforted to hear my next door neighbor making beats. Today, for the first day in weeks, I barely read or listened to any news. I checked Twitter for personal messages, but refused to scroll. In the unlikely event that good tidings come, I’ll be told about them. The break from news inundation helped me balance myself. I feel powerfully for all those who can’t unplug, and must face this head on — the grocers and pharmacists, the people running the power grid, the sanitation workers, the doctors who treated Hilary, everybody out there in the storm tonight.

In Genesis, Noah does nothing but put his head down and listen to God, and God, in Genesis, is a talkative character. He makes it clear that the flood is a punishment: a hard reset on a planet that had become, in his divine view, misaligned. Only through sacrifice can the anger be eased. Once the rains stop, God swears not to do it again, but I’m sure Rabbi Zornberg would agree that there’s a strong implication in Genesis that he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back. Reality, the Old Testament teaches us, is capricious. God is mercurial, prone to tantrums, easily put off, and always tempted to chuck the whole creation into the furnace and begin again. Like Noah, we do what we’re told, eyes on the horizon, waiting for the olive leaf and a sign that we might be reborn.

I can’t feel my face

Hand sanitizer reminds me of the worst days of chemotherapy. We’d never used it before. But we were taking the train back and forth to Sloan Kettering, and standing in crowds, trying our best to stay upright. We didn’t want to pick up any opportunistic infections. At the hospital, dispensers of Purell foam were everywhere. I got in the habit of slathering it on my hands whenever we entered or exited any room, anywhere in the building. The smell of sanitizer is a powerful trigger: instantly I am back on that train, hoping there’d be no delays, hoping no one was sick, hoping that the fearsome after-effects of a chemotherapy session wouldn’t begin until Hilary was home in bed.

Damn it, I swore I’d never write about those months. I never wanted anybody else to read about them and get upset. But I’m back to the constant worry that at any moment, something terrible might begin. Symptoms would begin; a trap door would open, and she’d drop, and I’d never be able to recover her. For twenty-eight years, all I have ever wanted to be was the one who would catch her if she fell. So my fear that I could get her sick — that I could be the one who pulls that lever, however inadvertently, and let the trap doors swing — has been overwhelming. I’ll touch my face and I’ll feel like I’ve condemned us both. An act as innocuous as an eye scratch has begun to feel as threatening as a live mine. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back, I was told when I was a child. I never stepped on a crack, because unlikely as it seemed, what if it was true?

I was ten years old when I first heard about AIDS. It was then called GRID: gay-related immune deficiency. A year later we learned that it could be spread through heterosexual contact, too. Great, I remember thinking, that’s everything out. As a young teenager I thought about sex constantly — how to get it, how many different ways I wanted to try it, what sort of adventures I might have while pursuing it, the ups and downs, the seeker and the sought, the whole shebang. The hunger never eased. At the same time, I read the public-service announcements and Village Voice articles that testified to the awful reality: a single errant contact could spell doom. Nothing was foolproof but abstinence, and abstinence seemed quite out of the question for me. Once I became sexually active, I was terrified that I had it — that I’d made a mistake that would not only be my undoing, but the undoing of the people I found exciting and lovely. My deepest fear was not that I would die horribly, but that I would be a transmitter, a vector, a ruiner of the lives of others.

I’ve spent the last few days having intense flashbacks to the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve been remembering the mood on the street in Manhattan — the OutWeek and Enjoy AZT posters, the elegiac Pet Shop Boys songs, the looming dread and suspicion in the clubs, the feeling that a playground we’d been promised was falling apart. Our ungovernable desires, we were told, were the corrosive forces that made that collapse inevitable. In the midst of this catastrophe, not only is casual sex an affront to the public health, but so is a handshake. We’re not even supposed to touch ourselves: we’ve got to keep all surfaces scrubbed and squeaky clean. By government order, we are alienated from our experiences and exiled from our senses. And because the alternative is unspeakable, I’m going along with it.

The crack-up

Overlooked amidst the noise, but still significant: New Jersey and New York visitors to Florida must now go through a fourteen-day quarantine before entering the state. This decision was made by the governor of Florida, who has been criticized for his refusal to close the beaches. Yesterday’s order felt like a compensatory move — a restriction on free travel that is probably going to require a state border control to enforce.

Closing the barn door once the horse is long gone seems like a very Trumpy thing to do, and Ron DeSantis is indeed among the Trumpiest of governors. So it’s noteworthy that DeSantis’s suspension of Schengen Americana came after the federal government opted not to put limitations on domestic travel. DeSantis did not take his cue from the White House. He acted on his own.

As the crisis worsens, governors and mayors have grabbed for the yoke. They’ve finally decided to drop the charade and treat the President like the bystander he is. This adjustment was a long time coming, and it took a worldwide lockdown to make it crystal clear. Now that it is, it’s hard to see how the White House will ever reclaim any of the authority or credibility it has thrown away. Every time Trump takes the podium and gives another one of his rambling press conferences, he delights his fans but digs himself, and the office of the Presidency, a deeper hole.

Much has been made of his regrettable suggestion that we reopen businesses, return to work, and throw the weakest among us into the volcano for the sake of the stock market. That is just the sort of attitude we’ve come to expect of him, and the outrage he’s engendered among those of us who aren’t greedy psychopaths is well-earned. But the open secret is that Trump isn’t going to re-launch anything — and that’s because Trump didn’t close anything. The governors of the states made those decisions. In the absence of intelligent national leadership, each state is going its own way.

Federal inaction may yet be the end of me. Governor Cuomo has made it clear that New York (and by extension New Jersey) needs tens of thousands of ventilators. The White House is either unable or unwilling to make a forceful move on behalf of Americans who need help. This, to me, is not just another expression of Trumpian cruelty. It’s also a tacit admission that the President has no idea how to put an idea into practice, and he’s exiled from his immediate circle anybody who does. He doesn’t know how to use the powers of his office. Governors have stepped into the leadership vacuum because they’ve been given no choice: either act with as much autonomy as possible, or suffer the brutal consequences of federal incompetence.

Americans tend to rally around the chief during times of crisis. In the middle of a disaster, it takes a special sort of leader to squander public goodwill. Unfortunately, we’ve got that sort of leader right now, and the public is adjusting accordingly. One of the astonishing things about the past few weeks is how quickly Cuomo, Newsom, Inslee, et. al. have been accepted by millions as de facto chief executives, and the President has been relegated to the role of a cranky, parsimonious uncle, without expertise or compassion, or statesmaship, nothing to recommend him other than control over a big fat wallet. Sentiment changes and the public is fickle, and it’s not hard to imagine Andrew Cuomo’s face dripping with egg in a week. For now, he appears to be acting — and in a crisis, action is everything.

Some version of America is going to struggle through this crisis. The country that emerges might not be the United States we recognize. Regardless of the outcome of the November elections, the virus has weakened the office of the Presidency, and made it clear to states and cities that when the sirens go off, they’ve got to take care of themselves. Revisionist history teaches us that there’s never a proper accounting of anything; I expect those with an interest in the maintenance of the regime to do whatever they can to make us forget about the weeks of inaction, and all the misinformation that came from the White House in February and early March. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as they expect it will be. The dust is going to settle on a looser confederacy.

Pharmacy

I’m afraid to go to the pharmacy. But we knew we had to do it: we had to get medicine for Hilary. She’d tried to get the doctor to mail it to us, but his office called in the prescription instead. I suppose if we’d really been paranoid, we could have asked the pharmacy to post it to us from a few blocks away. But who knows how long that would have taken?

Even in the early days of the epidemic when the emphasis was on panicked hand-sanitizer collection, I never wanted to go to the pharmacy — I felt like it was a great germ-amplification box. We braved it a few days before the curfews were announced, and did our business as quickly as we could. The energy on the floor was crazed, desperate, especially in the paper-products aisle. The line stretched from the registers to the middle of the store. Everybody, from the customers to the cashiers to the security guards, looked ready to snap.

Today’s mood was different. I found it far scarier. Only ten people were allowed in the store at the same time, which meant that the pharmacy had only a fraction of the clientele it usually does. There was an eerie, half-awake feel to the place: you could, theoretically, still buy chocolates and cereal and batteries, but nobody was doing any of the sort. The only line was the one leading to the prescription desk. They’d taped standing stations to the floor, six feet apart, to accommodate customers.

Out on the avenue, nobody had a mask on, not even the grocery shoppers; in the pharmacy, all the visitors did. The pharmacists kept their faces uncovered — perhaps to avoid frightening the customers? I was happy to see that they were wearing gloves. Interns had been thrown to the wolves at the cash registers. All the pharmacists I recognized from those agonizing months of cancer treatment were clustered in the back, keeping a strategic distance from those of us there to pick up drugs. The line moved slowly. Through a face mask, his voice muffled, a man ahead of me argued with the register-runner about insurance; this went on for many painful minutes. I didn’t see whether he got what he came for. I hope he did.

I don’t have a mask. Instead, I tried, with only occasional success, to keep a purple and red bandana over my face. (Hilary felt that I looked a bit like a crossdresser, which raised my spirits, although she wouldn’t say whether I was passable.) The intern running the checkout counter thrust a credit card reader at me across a makeshift divider that had been set up, but when I tried to use it, it wouldn’t work. He voided the transaction and tried again. When it became clear that the problem was with the credit card machine, a team of store managers descended on the register. Their social distancing was iffy. I tried to hand them the co-pay in cash, but they couldn’t accept it: the transaction needed to be digitally logged in a system that could only be accessed by credit card. Finally, after switching to a different register, the purchase went through. I applied sanitizer liberally and bicycled home through the rain.

It’s four hours later, and I am still shook. My hope is that I won’t be going back to the pharmacy anytime soon. My fear is that circumstances will make a return visit mandatory. Those interns deserve combat pay that I know damn well they aren’t getting. They’re probably just relieved to have jobs. I need to clear my head, assure myself I’m okay, and call it a successful procurement of essentials in what has become a strange, defamiliarized, hostile zone. I got the goods for my girl. I’m back.

Uneasy Sunday

A guy, outside the liquor store at the intersection of 4th Street and Newark Ave.: “they’re not going to put you in jail for being outside.” Policemen would have their hands full. Lots of foot traffic on Jersey and Newark yesterday — people getting provisions, walking dogs, talking to friends from the safety of the tops of stoops. Downtowners have learned the steps to the social distancing dance quickly: pedestrians cross the street or stand aside as others approach. Blind corners with high hedges cause anxiety. You can find yourself on top of a neighbor in a hurry. Such encounters prompt embarrassment, flinches, looks of guilt, brief exchanges of cordialities before doing the dash. We’re all shy and awkward tweepop caricatures now.

New sign in the window of the laundromat: NO FOLDING, in black marker on fuschia paper. You’ve got to get your clothes and run. I’ve seen anecdotal reports of big weekend gatherings in Williamsburg and Bushwick, all in defiance of the government proscriptions. Maybe those are accurate. I can say there wasn’t anything happening in our part of Downtown Jersey City. It was darker and quieter than it’s been on any night since we moved to 4th street in 2007. No roof parties, no house parties, no loud conversations at 3 a.m., no car alarms, no cars, really.

My father reminds me that I once wrote a play set during a pandemic. He wonders if this is the right time to revive it. That doesn’t seem like a good idea at all, but I do notice that many of popular movies on streaming services are all about contagions, diseases, doctors, heroic medicine, etcetera. I’d have guessed that we’d all be immersed in space operas and other pure escapist fluff, but perhaps the collective imagination doesn’t move that way. Maybe it only leaps to the nearest narrative footstone. In the play, the pandemic was a metaphor for fears about immigration and the terrible damage that AIDS had done to interpersonal intimacy and sexual expression. This virus is a figure for all kinds of things, and as non-scientists, we can’t talk about it without using metaphor. But in an all-too-real sense, it’s no metaphor at all. It’s an actual pathogen, one that will mess you up if it crosses your path. I don’t want to distract people from that.

With everything closed and pertinent warnings given, the podium space that has been hogged by elected officials can, in theory, now be given to doctors and scientists. I know I have very little interest in hearing a press conference from anybody who doesn’t have a Ph.D. or M.D. In late March, addresses from politicians feel like posturing at best. At worst, they’re more misinformation. The President has been playing amateur physician, prescribing a miracle drug that his own medical advisers are visibly skeptical about. It’s possible that he really believes he knows better, and even more possible that he just wants to be on TV as much as he can. Meanwhile, Politico reports that the executive branch is pressing for new emergency powers that would allow judges to detain the arrested indefinitely. These threats to habeas corpus are as scary as the virus. The consensus on the Internet is that Congress will never let this happen, but I’m not so certain. Two weeks ago, nobody thought they’d close the parks. Events move fast. The guy on the corner by the liquor store should get his sunshine while he can.