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.