The worst is yet to come.
I had to go mail a package today. Someone bought a t-shirt on Friday off the Bandcamp site for this band I used to play in. It’s very much in keeping with that band’s story that the only time we would sell one of our t-shirts in the past four years would be during a world-wide pandemic, but it’s nice to be remembered.
But responsibilities are responsibilities, and so I donned my mask (made out of fabric with sunflowers on it! by my sister-in-law! delivered to our mailbox! we said hi and chatted from 10 feet away!) and headed to the nearest postal shipping facility, the UPS Store Inc. over on the east side of Athens. It was determined that the UPS Store would probably be less crowded, and take less time, than going to the USPS post office downtown, or the post office on the west side out by the mall, or the one in Winterville.
The last time I was out, it was May 2nd, and at that point, not much had changed in the day or two since Georgia had been given the green light to open by our governor. You saw way fewer people out, and 95% of people were wearing masks. And the ones who weren’t feel under the definition of “at the point of, or living right next door to, total economic destitution,” so you could cut them a break. Like, when you’re lined up outside the plasma donation center waiting for it to open, a virus with a 96%-97% survival rate is the least of your problems. I say this as someone who donated plasma lots of time in the 1990s in order to tide me over for food until payday, and as someone who got them to play vampire movies while I was donating.
Also, because I guess this need to be pointed out as often as possible, A disease that killed 3% of Americans would kill 9,000,000 Americans. That’s a lot of Americans! Who don’t have to die!
So back to the UPS Store. A lot sure has changed in the last five days. Like most US shopping experiences, it sits in a beige-colored strip mall with uninspiring architecture. So my trip meant I also got to see a grocery store, a local coffee shop, a Chick-Fil-A, a Beef O’Brady’s, etc. etc., ad nauseum, add nausea. Based on what I saw–and on my drive home, I cruised past the shopping center with the Goodwill, the Ollie’s, the CVS–everybody is back out and about again. It could have been a year ago. You wouldn’t even know there was a pandemic, aside from the people wearing masks. And that number has dropped from the 95% on May 2nd to around 60% on May 6th.
What’s most troubling about all this is Athens, Georgia was one of the first communities to go on lock down, back around March 15th. Our schools closed two weeks before schools in New York City. I say, fuck Andrew Cuomo–and not in the weird eroticized way some people are talking about him. Apparently the virus also causes daddy issues. If you want to nominate someone for president, Athens mayor Kelly Girtz is a better choice than Cuomo. He’s also a better choice than Joe Biden, but that’s a subject for another time.
So Athens has been basically a ghost town for the past seven weeks. And yet it still saw 13 county residents die from the Coronavirus. The numbers are murky as hell, because the two hospitals here serve 15-20 rural counties around us, so somebody could die here in Athens but count as a death in, say, Elbert County.
So if everyone stays home, and 13 people die, what do you think is going to happen when nobody stays home?
The UPS Store had a sign on the door asking people to maintain a six-foot distance, and for there not to be more than five people in the store at a time. As I walked up, the man going in (masked) held the door for a woman with four boxes under her arm (unmasked). She went in behind him, and stood directly behind him while they waited in line. I waited for the door to close, read the sign, and looked inside. Five people. As I stood outside, I thought about the man who blew his nose on a woman’s shirt at a Dollar General in Michigan after she asked him to respect social distancing. I thought about the dudes who shot two McDonald’s employees who asked them to leave the dining room. I wondered how long I was going to have to stand outside the UPS Store, and what kind of random-ass interaction I was going to have if someone came up behind me wanting to go inside. Finally, two people walked out–at once, the person in front holding the door for the person behind them. I can see the cause of death on the coroner report now: southern hospitality.
I went inside and mailed the package. It cost $12.41. The t-shirt had cost $15 plus $5 for shipping, and I had forwarded the $15 from the sale to the band’s drummer, who’s had his hours cut at work. So it ended up costing me $7.41 because somebody bought a t-shirt. And that is also very much in keeping with my history in that band. As I was paying for my purchase, a college girl came in, bright & chipper and wearing a t-shirt with the word HEROES across the front in big letters. She wasn’t wearing a mask. She wasn’t practicing social distancing. She was in a very good mood. The two people working at the UPS Store, most decidedly, were not.
I filmed and edited this video myself back in 2013-ish. Many of the stores in it are now closed, and that open field at the end has been replaced by the University of Georgia’s veterinarian school. The title of the song was taken from a collection of Shulamith Firestone stories. And while the airless spaces in her title were mostly internal–the stories talk candidly about her struggles with depression, and her experiences inside whatever kindest euphemism we’re using these days for mental hospitals. But on this day, it feels like everything is airless spaces. And driving past endless full parking lots of cars on my way home, living in America in May 2020 feels a lot like being inside a mental hospital. I hope that wall we’re building along the Mexican border is padded.