Covid Diaries: Of Libraries and Naps

April 21st

As Paco squeezed three tablespoons of grape jelly onto the peanut butter coating his wake-up toast sandwich, he told me, “I had a moment with my sister last night.” Apparently, having heard the sniffles that have developed to accompany the deep chesty cough that’s been plaguing him, she went into his room to ask if he needed a tissue to blow his nose. In short order, he was complimenting her on the massive 42-hour, 600+-song playlist of Great Music from the Last Century that she’s been compiling. He’d been listening to it all day and mentioned that he’d never really spent much time with The Beatles before. And there it was: an unflinching glare of “you’re in trouble with me” incredulity. Whaddya mean you’ve hardly listened to The Beatles? She didn’t blink; she didn’t break. Once he’d been properly apologetic for his failing, she issued a list of supplemental Beatles-based homework to go along with his playlist listening, starting with a full play-through of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

April 21st

Paco looked at me tonight and said, “You’re wearing something different than you were earlier.”

“Yes,” I told him. “I did a thing called ‘showering,’ and I changed clothes.”

“Huh,” he mused, as though he hadn’t known such things could happen.

April 22nd

When I walked into the kitchen, Byron was working on his laptop at the counter. He had something to say. “All the library techs, 24 of them, were laid off today. That’s 50% of the library staff.”

This, during the week when there’s actual work to be done at the library as they prepare to launch curbside pick-up of books next week. As a result of these unexpected layoffs — happening hot on the heels of the mayor declaring the library “essential” and deciding the library would begin offering curbside — the librarians will be the ones handing books to patrons. B predicts a good handful will use their vacation, personal, and sick days so they don’t have to show up for work they worry is unsafe.

April 22nd

These library layoffs are lodging in Byron’s eyes. He looks sad and bleary – glassy with something like survivor’s guilt. The rationale behind who was laid off was complicated, for sure, but to many it feels like there was a bewildering lack of transparency from the same city leaders who have been so supportive of curbside book pick-up. Why lay off those who were best prepared to handle the curbside process? Why rev up business at the library and then lay off 50% of the organization?

April 22nd

Development: I’ve started wearing my loose, flowy dresses to bed and calling them “nightgowns.”

April 23rd

I checked in with my Personal Student of the Year, Adison, wondering if he has any employment right now, and he tells me he’s on leave from one job, laid off from the other:

I’m not working at all. Financially, I’m flourishing! Our dear government really pulled through for the little guy this time, specifically with the expansion of unemployment benefits. If you didn’t already know, the benefits were expanded to part-time workers, and there is an additional $600.00/week on top of the standard 40% lost wages. I’m making 4-5 times more money on unemployment than I was working! More than Andee even, who still works full time- crazy!

April 23rd

More and more shoppers are wearing masks, but so many of those who are masked completely violate the six-foot social distance. The most eye-brow lifting grocery violation so far is one Byron witnessed: a masked woman pulled down her mask, touching it from the front, so she could lick her finger and open a plastic produce bag before pulling her mask up again.

April 23rd

During yin tonight, Byron fell asleep in every pose. The cutest was a seated pose where he was clutching a big pillow to his stomach. When the pose ended, he still sat there, head down, looking somehow like Winnie the Pooh.

April 23rd

I’m soooo into watching Deutschland 86 – been a lot of years since I wore blue mascara as a daily habit. As I type this, there’s an East German mother who, first held prisoner by her own government, now freed to the West, is longing for her children to make it across the border, and it’s got me pushing my fingernails into my palms.

April 23rd

Ah, happy day: around midnight, I got a message from one of last semester’s students for whom I’d written a couple letters of reference. He wanted me to know he found out he was awarded both scholarships:

Especially during these times, that was a super nice thing to receive today. It’s a big relief for my academic future, all thanks to you!

Effusive thanks from a teenage boy in a time where everything feels tipped toward the negative had me teary in the darkened kitchen.

April 24th

There was a gift bag on the back porch this morning; inside were four chocolate crosses – sale goodies post-Easter – with a note from Linda that we each are to hang one above our beds, as it’ll ward off Covid. A sounder idea than injecting disinfectants.

April 24th

During my walk this afternoon, I did, as I have been lately, a little shuffling thing that’s more than a walk, not quite a run. For someone who hasn’t been able to run this past year due to knee problems, this slow-motion scuttle feels like a triumph. In the noon Fit in 4 classes, too, I am able to jump – gently – for the first time in a year. PT made no difference with my knees, nor did a cortisone shot.

The only things that have changed are: 1) the passage of time, which would be necessary if there was been some sort of injury, and 2) yin yoga, the aim of which is to generate a healing response in the body’s connective tissue, six times a week for the past month and a half. It’s anecdotal evidence, for sure, but I’m going to give yin some serious credit for my return to bouncing.

April 24th

After a full day at work, Byron stopped at HOOPS to pick up our crowler order, and the manager lady had managed to lock herself out of the taproom with her phone stuck inside. So a few folks waited while someone came to let her in. When B got home, it was yin time. I knew he’d been awake since 5 a.m. and was bushed.

As we sat down on the floor for tea and class, I said to him, “This has been the hardest work week for you since you started at the library.” He agreed, adding, “The past six weeks have been the hardest.” His nap during savasana at the end of class offered up at least five variations of a snore.

April 24th

Having finished Deutschland 86 and mourned its passing all day, realizing as I reflect on it that it’s a better show than I even knew as I was in the midst of watching it, I bucked up and started Shtisel. In turn, this meant I was googling at 1 a.m. “How do Hasidic men curl their payot.”

April 25th

We would have been seeing Cloud Cult live at the Norshor Theater tonight. Standing in the kitchen the other day, Paco looked at the calendar hanging on the wall and noted of April, “Everything single thing is crossed off.”

April 25th

Byron slept until 8 a.m. This has happened maybe three times in twenty years. That’s how tough it was this past week at the library.

April 25th

We are longtime fans of chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing, so the first thing I did today was read her NYT article about the closure of her restaurant, Prune, and the case she makes for, perhaps, not re-opening. It’s a detailed insight into the restaurant world, a case study that illustrates the decisions and hassles so many have been facing the past six weeks – but taking that further and looking at how the restaurant business has been broken for years. As I finished reading, I admired her even more. She proves herself someone who’s willing to face hard realities and consider ways to pivot.

April 25th

By the time Paco, B, and I got home from a long walk and a confusing curbside pick-up, Leggy was, for the first time in days, ready for company. I’ve missed this version of her, livening the kitchen with the thoughts that have been brewing in her head, threatening to call Paco on her phone when his tired self doesn’t respond to her verbal “Paaaaaaaaaco” calls (two weeks of cold and cough and plugged ears had prompted him to retire to his bed after the outing).

When we told her he was tired and needed to stay in his room – that she should go up there instead of making him come down, she voiced the motivation behind her insistence: “These days, he’s my only peer.” I knew that but hadn’t framed it up so directly before. I told her to head upstairs and join him on his bed — but then we worried since she was holding a cup of tea, and Leggy plus hot liquids is a disastrous recipe in any setting.

Ten minutes later, we found her in Paco’s newly cleaned bedroom, surveying him with the first of hundreds of questions. Soon it was a family survey. First question: “Do you think everything happens for a reason?” Other questions were “Do you believe in God?” and “What do you think about philosophy?” Allegra’s lucky her only peer is extremely good natured. Also, one of the first things that happened when she walked into his room and sat down: she spilled her tea.

April 26th

I tell you what. My research-writing students this semester are flipping a collective finger at Covid. While it’s not uncommon to lose 25% of a community college class enrollment during course of a semester, these students right now are unshakable. I teach this class every semester, and I’ve never seen the like. There are two sections of 25 students combined into one class online, and both sections were full when we started in January. So: 50 students. In the first bit of the term, two students were dropped, one for not having the pre-requisites and one for non-payment. That put us at 48. After or around the weird Spring Break time (when one week of break was extended into three weeks as the world inhaled a shaky, shuddering breath), one more student dropped. And that’s it. Enrollment hangs tight and steady at 47 as we cruise toward the finish line, each student turning in all the work every single week. I don’t know what to make of it, it’s so unprecedented. Basically, I am benefiting from the random luck of the draw that is class enrollment, and this time around, those who enrolled realllllly want these credits completed.

Putting a special shine on the steady head-down vibe of the class was a series of emails from one student. Listen, her topic is what it is, and this semester doesn’t seem like the time to get overly rigid about the word “scholarly,” especially when the student has landed on a subject that is bringing her energy and joy in the midst of Covid blight. Her chatty emails today lifted me all afternoon:

This is quite the challenging project (The research paper draft).

I was so excited about this, that I just had to tell SOMEONE… but I mentioned in my research proposal that I had been “scam baiting” a Nigerian scammer online.  It started in January – and I had been trying to get him to admit that he’s a scammer – but I attempted FOUR times over the past three months and he got super mad each time and insisted that he was not a scammer and that he really was this famous person that he was claiming to be (but it was blatantly obvious it was fake).  Well low and behold… on Friday… I got a complete confession from him!!  He admitted to being a scammer and agreed to let me interview him about scamming!  I did pay him for his time (I told him I would not pay him any money if he was scamming me, but that I would have no problem paying him for his time).  It was a huge “win” for me to get him to fess up.  I’m reworking part of my draft to incorporate some of the info he gave me.  Although, everything he told me was right in line with all of my other resources.  I guess I was just more caught up in the novelty of the whole thing that I got a scammer to admit what he was up to.  Maybe I should start my own reality TV show called “Nigerian Scammer Whisperer”?  Funny stuff. I used a fictitious identity – so it was a safe project.

I have TONS of sources for my Works Cited page.  Hopefully my Works Cited page isn’t longer than the paper itself (only joking). But I’m worried that I have too many. Is that a thing?  

Anyway – I just had to share

Our conversation went back and forth for a few hours, and as I read more and more details about the elaborate counter-scam she ran on this guy under the guise of “academic research,” there were a lot of things I could have said to her. But. Well. All I felt compelled to do was assure her a long Works Cited is never a bad thing and join her in a huge laugh.

Then it occurred to me: her exuberance and joy were something I haven’t seen from anyone – really, not from anyone – in six weeks. The pure woo-hoo of her energy is scrubbing something clean in me. I’m as excited about this trashy research paper as she is.

April 27th

I wonder what the weekly CSA produce-box pick-up on our front porch will look like when it starts. Our house is the pick-up spot for subscribers on the east end of town for 18 weeks through the summer and early fall. Do we prop the front screen door open? I think we do. Are there even boxes this year? Usually, people come in to the porch with bags and take the produce out of their boxes, so maybe that still works? It’s a brain game, this puzzling through of “Who will touch what, and what can’t be touched, and what will need scrubbing, and what signs will need to be posted in the yard about social distancing?” I foresee long emails from Farmer Rick.

April 27th

People are writing emails to the city council regarding the library lay-offs. When I discovered this, I texted Byron – him, sweatily downtown in the library answering unending phone calls from those wanting to book curbside appointments, three days behind in the rest of his work, trying to figure out how they’ll streamline the curbside process at the same time juggling dizzying logistics about moving held books from the branches to the main library — except, hey, wait, that guy doesn’t want that hold from the branch anymore because he placed it March 18th and then, realizing it could be months before he got his hands on it, went ahead and bought it for himself, so why should they drive that book from a branch to the main library? Before they move 600 held books from a branch to Main, they need to sort out which patrons even still want all the books they’ve requested in the past two months, but also: itchy readers want their books now — except, too, the branches each have ONE person showing up because the rest are rightly peeved about layoffs and are taking vacation or personal days, plus also too, some of the people who weren’t laid off don’t want any part of curbside because they worry about safety, and then hey, hi, ho, some of those whose lay-offs start in two weeks are coming in to help launch curbside even though they’ll be exposed to the public despite not having healthcare by the end of May — all of which is to say Byron’s naps during yin yoga are an exhausted pause in the midst of WTF.








2 responses to “Covid Diaries: Of Libraries and Naps”

  1. Kirsten Pihlaja Avatar
    Kirsten Pihlaja

    is your student (or are you) familiar with the comedian Joe Lycett? He’s made many a special about getting scammers to confess. Really funny!

  2. Melissa Avatar

    That research on scammers is delightful–and sweet news about your other students, too!
    The ebb and flow of feeling overwhelmed, then peaceful, then the angst hits again, it’s tough to get used to. Mostly we feel very drained.
    On the radio the other day I listened to a discussion about journal writing during this time, the guest was Jerry Apps. I thought of your blog posts while I listened to the conversation.

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