The First Forty Days of Lockdown

Today is my 40th day of lockdown. That has a certain Old Testament quality as it was the customary description of “a long time.” I wonder what, if anything, I might have learned and what has changed under these restrictions. To think about learning and changing, it is helpful to imagine the period before something began and the period after. Given the biblical start, why not continue?

We think of C.E. and B.C.E. (Common Era and Before the Common Era) as more “inclusive” alternatives to B.C. and A.D. (Before Christ and Anno Domini). After all, why is it that a tiny minority of smarty-pants Christians got to define how everyone else measured time?

The C.E. / B.C.E. system we use today can be adapted to Coronavirus Era and Before the Coronavirus Era (Covid-19 if you prefer) without even changing the initials. We can simply decide that C.E. began on an arbitrary date (in my case March 15, 2020) and say that date also marked the end of B.C.E.

Precise? Maybe not, but who cares?  Your date might well differ. I bet Xi Jinping’s does.

Here are some random things that have changed or been learned. I might well return to this theme as the lockdown continues, and I am currently wrestling with a B.C.E. story that might even need to be serialized.


I never took calculus, but now I at least have a grasp of what it is. Perhaps, it is like a vaulting pole. I understand what it does even if I can’t possibly use it. The same can be said of art supplies. Or musical instruments. I have learned something about rates of change and exponential growth thanks to looking at all those curves we are trying to bend. Not ready for an exam, but an improvement since B.C.E.


My French is on the upswing after the 18-part Netflix series, “Call My Agent.” At first, I was a wimp about the English subtitles under the French dialogue, but my wife prevailed, and she was right. The superb characters populate a Paris talent agency that is constantly at risk of going off the rails.

Netflix has been a godsend though I doubt my late-night addiction to The Blacklist can be easily sold at home. Raymond Reddington is the poster child for intolerance of obstacles. He shoots them, sometimes in mid-conversation and often at close range.

If you like checklists and getting things done, Reddington is your man. It is lucky for many of the real people who seek to inflict themselves upon us that Reddington is a fictional character.

I am halfway through the 133 forty-minute episodes. It might not be encouraging to those with cabin fever that I am quite confident I will get to the end before the starting gun for reopening the economy is fired.


My podcast host, Frazer Rice, reminded me of the phrase “priced to perfection.” In investment terms, it means that things better keep going as they are or watch out for a sharp decline. Obviously, things did not keep going as they were.

Our shopping habits have gone from “nice to have” to “need to have.” As we spend a little less, we have a little more at the end of the month, but the amount we are not spending is what kept retail stores going. Nieman Marcus is now in bankruptcy and others like it could easily follow. They depend on what I have begun to think of as recreational shopping.

Recreational shopping is clearly not the things that you know you need like groceries. Further up the “Need to Have, Nice to Have” scale are things that might need replacement, but you know what they are. They might be somewhat recreational in that you could temporarily live without them.

Real recreational shopping is when you go to a store wondering if there is something you might like to buy. Since I never do that, I have never really thought of it, but Nieman Marcus has.

If recreational shopping takes a long time to come back, stores will be decimated. Hundreds of thousands of “I don’t need this” or “I can’t afford this” decisions will crush the makers and sellers of “this.” The consumer might delay his purchase, but the makers and sellers will be out of business.


There certainly is a desire for revenge against those whose efforts or failures proved so disruptive. We are supposed to look down on revenge as unworthy, but it is a profound human emotion. The “justice for whatever” advocates shouting from courthouse steps really want revenge, but their publicists have told them not to say so. Cable news depends on it.


Most demonstrations are manufactured rather than spontaneous. The New York Times and The Washington Post called out the recent “let us go back to work” demonstrations in state capitals as being organized by Republican interests with ties to the president. Of course, this is so true that it does not deserve to be called something learned in the last 40 days. Michael Barbaro, host of The Daily Podcast, used his “maximum disdain” setting for the show he hosted on the topic. It was as if this was somehow a head slapping surprise to the reporters.

Holdeth not thy breath awaiting similar coverage of the organizers behind demonstrations in support of their preferred party.


Harvard’s public relations staff was either wiped out by the coronavirus or took collective leave of their senses. Nothing says “we are all in this together” quite like a $40 billion (probably $30 billion now) institution gobbling $8 million from the federal trough. Note to self: thou shalt giveth no money to entities that are so far off the rails.


Today, I mentioned my 40-day theme to a long-time friend, to whom it represented Lent rather than the Old Testament. That is another entirely valid way to look at it, but I don’t think I have ever given up quite so many things for Lent before.

When I told another lifelong friend that it would be churlish to complain about anything in light of the challenges faced by others, he laughed and made a reference to WASPy behavior. Definitely neither recently learned nor changed.



27 Responses to “The First Forty Days of Lockdown”

Bob Homans, April 23, 2020 at 5:55 pm said:

Yes, but they returned the money!


Haven Pell, April 23, 2020 at 6:01 pm said:

Way too late and well after the public relations damage was done. Frazer Rice and I recorded a podcast that touched on that theme, but before the Harvard debacle. Here’s how they should have thought about it.


richard sperry, April 23, 2020 at 6:09 pm said:

haven…hey, this is really excellent….many thanks …what, you dont do recrational shopping? I have Call my Agent down….try Babylon Berlin….also, Fauda (about Israel vs West Bank terroists)…


Haven Pell, April 23, 2020 at 6:15 pm said:

Thanks Rick, I will try both. I have been a noted non-contributor to the recreational retail sector.


Dianne Warner, April 23, 2020 at 11:51 pm said:

Hello? Barney’s went before Coronavirus, a major disappointment, and next up: Bergdorf Goodman, owned by the Neiman consortium? Both known for high quality vs quantity. But Target will no doubt survive and continue to provide 100% polyester sweatpants for another 40 days of lockdown. And Salted Chocolate Almonds (a Netflix necessity).


Haven Pell, April 24, 2020 at 8:48 am said:

Recreational shopping and salted chocolate might be solid indicators of the gender divide.


Richard Meyer, April 23, 2020 at 6:14 pm said:

The only thing that this pandemic reminds me of is when I was at Summer camp in Connecticut when polio outbreaks occurred ( BV- Before Vaccine) and we were kept in our bunks for days and forbidden to swim in the lake.


Haven Pell, April 23, 2020 at 6:16 pm said:

I was a test subject for the vaccine but I never had your experience.

Reply, April 23, 2020 at 7:36 pm said:

Two observations:
1. Since my wife and I have been receiving chemo for five or more years, our immune systems are compromised — so, if I come down with C-19, I do not want to threaten Dottie and there is no point in going to a hospital, so I would like to make an Apache move and simply head out into the woods.
2. America is usually great in a crunch: an example of this is our having FIVE people who deliver food to us, one of whom is a neighbor who was somewhat of a stranger until now — she simply decided to help us.


Haven Pell, April 23, 2020 at 7:45 pm said:

You probably have more people rooting against your need for the “Apache move” than anyone else I know.

What an uplifting story about your neighbors helping out.

As you have said so often in your sign offs, “keep it going and stay young.”


Dulany Howland, April 23, 2020 at 7:55 pm said:

#1 re: Goibg into the woods is a Peter Beard move
to make it a more contemporary reference!


Haven Pell, April 24, 2020 at 8:50 am said:

Apart from comparable age, the same initials, and the same first name, Bragdon and Beard have as little in common as any two people I can think of.


Richard Johnson, April 23, 2020 at 8:02 pm said:

The choice of the word Quarantine represents an unfortunate need for frequent repetition … The source of the word comes from a previous plague … according to Wikipedia, the word quarantine comes from quarantena, meaning “forty days”, used in the 14th–15th-centuries Venetian language and designating the period that all ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague epidemic.


Haven Pell, April 24, 2020 at 8:57 am said:

Your point is entirely well taken and I am especially chagrined because I had sought out the origin of the word a week or so ago. My thought process went from quarantine to 40 days, but failed to make the return trip. Apparently, the Venetians decided 30 days (the “Trentina”) was insufficient so they upped it to 40 days (the “quarantina”). A bit or early science encouraged by the then Doge, whose name was Fauci.


Haven Pell, April 24, 2020 at 9:20 am said:

Pundificator readers, this comes from the hugely-recommended designer of the website, so I am especially flattered.


james Walton, April 24, 2020 at 1:15 am said:

I’ve really enjoyed the lockdown so far, living in a village 12 miles from Oxford. Haven’t seen a single TV/screen show, and would never go recreational shopping (a vastly overrated human activity). Good weather has helped, and Spotify. It’s been more peaceful, clearer skies, time to reflect , lots of good cooking – and the annoying village church bells have been silenced! I’m beginning to think that’s an annual 40 days off might be another good idea that the Christians stole to help them peddle their control freak religion!


Haven Pell, April 24, 2020 at 8:59 am said:

Hmmmm, maybe I should add Spotify? I wonder if there is a church bell channel?


Jimmy Weekes, April 24, 2020 at 9:57 am said:

I have heard it referred to as Retail Therapy. My wife is the absolute opposite of the woman shopping cliche. I feel confident going into a women’s department at a department store and saying, in a loud voice, “Get whatever you want Honey, I’ll treat you.” She will make a very fast pass at all the racks saying things like “no” “nah” “too bright” and then. say “I’m done, let’s go.” Our daughters have to press gang her to get new clothes.

On the subject of Blacklist. I binge watched the first 4 seasons and have been like an addict ever since. Raymond and Dembe, his conscience, are two of my favorite characters. New episode tonight!!!


Haven Pell, April 24, 2020 at 12:28 pm said:

Dembe is a wonderful character. I am at the end of season 3. Lizze “died” in child birth after the shootout at her wedding. (Though I am quite doubtful that she really did) Looking for clues as to how they will bring her back and focusing on (a) a dream on RR’s part and (b) a ruse to keep her safe.


Chris Ronaldson, April 25, 2020 at 7:12 am said:

Increasingly I feel that the western response is inappropriate. in broad terms, a virus has appeared that culls the weak (and I am old enough to be a potential casualty). In laudably trying to protect our weak, the chosen remedy has been to take measures which seriously impact the whole of our societies.
Worse, the recession caused by these measures will, as always, have greater consequences in the developing world where the privation will be much more pronounced. There will be more extremism, more wars, more lawlessness, more rapes.
We have had our knee-jerk reaction and now it is time for a rethink.


Haven Pell, April 25, 2020 at 9:00 am said:

Our minds don’t do well with low-likelihood-high-consequence occurrences like death from COVID-19. We also don’t do as well with the unknown as we do with the known. We happily shrug off significantly higher automobile fatalities because they happen every year. It does seem to me that a death is a death no matter what the cause, but, for the moment, we are not thinking that way. Perhaps, as we become more used to these new developments, we will begin to do so. Stories about the impact of the virus on third world countries write themselves. Typically, they are ignored by all but a few.


Peter W. Bragdon, April 25, 2020 at 8:05 pm said:

To veer away from C-19 to the political scene, every American should see “A Face in the Crowd” — this move from the 50’s predicts the future — really devastating.


Haven Pell, April 26, 2020 at 8:41 am said:

From a quick search: “Ambitious young radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) finds a charming rogue named Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) in an Arkansas drunk tank and puts him on the air. Soon, Rhodes’ local popularity gets him an appearance on television in Memphis, which he parlays into national network stardom that he uses to endorse a presidential candidate for personal gain. But the increasingly petulant star’s ego, arrogance and womanizing threaten his rise to the top.”


Livingston Miller, April 26, 2020 at 11:24 pm said:

So many comments, Pundificator, and congrats on that. Maybe you are in that tiny cohort of biz’s that thrive in a stay at home environment. You know, Netflix, Clorox, Zoom and the like. More important, will definitely check out Call My Agent on Netflix having completely exhausted the amazing Israeli TV shows such as Shtisel (Amazon and fantastic), Fauda (different, but fantastic on Netflix) and Unorthodox (clever name on Netflix). I’m ready for a French, but with soustitres,.


Haven Pell, April 27, 2020 at 9:46 am said:

I wonder if there is a upper limit on the titles you can add to an Amazon or Netflix list? This is not a good development for checklist people who go all anxious about things on lists that are not completed. Fauda has been widely recommended and is on my list. Maybe after the English Game (1/3 of the way through).

Will people begin to root against the ending of the lock down so they have more time to finish their Amazon and Netflix lists?

As to the success of th Pundificator in these unusual times, I attribute it to the pricing model. I was earlier in hitting the sweet spot that story writing is pretty much valueless when value is measured in dollars. The responses on the other hand….


Richard Meyer, May 03, 2020 at 4:07 pm said:

Since Trump ran for office, I have often thought of “ A Face In The Crowd”. Andy Griffith, far from his usual “
Aw, shucks” persona, does a great job as “ Lonesome Rhodes”, a character I always thought reminiscent of The Donald.


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