Chronicles of the Plague Year #3

April 2, 2020

The novel corona virus has put a stop to a lot of things — work, shopping, gatherings, libraries, arts, culture, sports — but it hasn’t affected the ongoing business of looking after pre-existing medical conditions.  Therefore, I had to leave the house today to get some regular quarterly blood work done.  When we went shopping the other day, there were a couple of things that we couldn’t find so I was also tasked with finding those items. It was a minor adventure.

To get to the clinic I decided to take the bus, the first time for me since restrictions came into force.  I am used to the #20 being crammed to the doors and so it was a pleasant shock to see half the seats marked as not for use, and no-one standing. I found the last available seat and was happy enough. However, I was also glad I had on gloves to deal with all the surfaces and unconscious handling that goes on during a bus ride.

I was early for the clinic so I decided to visit Safeway first.  To get in the store I stood in a line that meandered all the way to Broadway Station; everyone six feet apart and amiable enough. It didn’t take too long. Once in, I went looking for the elusive frozen peas which turned out to be non-existent. Frozen peas?  I barely understand a run on Kleenex, and I have been baffled by toilet paper hoarding. But frozen peas, come on! I did find a baguette and some bagels so I considered myself fortunate.

Most of my shopping is done at SuperValu, the East End Food Co-op, and the smaller grocery stores on the Drive. Other than peas, these places have been pretty good at keeping their shelves stocked.  But walking around Safeway, I was reminded of old US propaganda movies about empty shelves in Soviet stores.

In the end, I walked down to Donald’s where I found a small bag of very expensive organic frozen peas. I had no choice but to snatch up the last pack, along with a couple of nectarines that are probably far too early in the season.  Great paper bag they gave me, though.

In between Safeway and Donald’s I went to the blood clinic.  Normally that too is bursting at the seams with clients. Today it was entirely empty apart from phlebotomists wearing masks and visors, and I was in and out in three minutes flat. The receptionist told me that they were used to 350-400 clients a day but were currently only seeing about 40 a day.  My advice — if you need blood work done, this is the time to go!

Now I am back at home, clothes changed and hands scrubbed.  I’ll be quite content to sit here for another few days now that I’ve had my quota of sunshine and distant social interactions.

Chronicles of the Plague Year #2

March 26, 2020

The Everloving and I have been retired for quite a good number of years now.  That means that we have come to terms with being with each other all day, not having a schedule or routine fixed by anybody else, and having the right and ability to do nothing for long periods of time.  Thus — other than not being able to slip out for coffee — this shelter-in-place business is second nature to us.

That “ability to do nothing for long periods of time” along with serious napping is key.

However, I have noticed on social media that people unused to isolation and relaxation have taken to spring cleaning, or gardening, or building things to pass the time, and telling us all about it. I would urge them all to try serious napping but, in the meanwhile, they have spurred me to action: I decided to empty and wash down our fridge.

My God! Who knew that so many different things — jams and sauces, salsas and anchovies, dressings and dips and strange chopped up vegetables — could be bottled in so many different containers?  Laid out on the kitchen counter it seems impossible to imagine they can all fit in the fridge and still leave room for real food. And I daren’t even look at the best-before dates.

And then there are the left-overs that somehow got pushed to the back of fridge. Some of them are left over from the Middle Ages, I think!

Phew.  Now it’s all clean and we have enough space to order in a truckload of goodies.

That’s my job done for the week.  Now for some serious napping while I plan next week’s job.

Chronicles of the Plague Year #1

March 24, 2020

The Everloving and I finally left our self-isolation today to go shopping for the first time in a week.  We found an Evo car nearby and headed out to SuperValu, Santa Barbara’s, and the corner store.

I was a little surprised at how well stocked the supermarket shelves were (I didn’t check the paper products aisle), but there were a number of signs limiting the amounts one could buy. It certainly wasn’t crowded and most people kept their distance. At the checkout it was like the old days, packing one’s own bags, which were not allowed to even rest on the counter. But then there was the elevator.

There is a small (4-person) elevator going down to the parking. In front of us was a middle-aged lady, and behind us a young woman.  When the elevator came, the middle-aged lady went in. We hung back, not wanting to share such a small space. When she saw we were not going in, the young woman barged around us and into the elevator. The first lady made it abundantly clear that she was not sharing, and the girl backed out, shocked, seemingly oblivious to the current situation.  A minute later, when the elevator returned, we walked in and told the girl we were not sharing either. She was mad but, I have to admit, she didn’t curse and yell.

The Drive looked desolate as we drove back, with so many restaurants bars and cafes closed.  Oddly enough, while Beckwoman’s is not often open even at the best of times, she had decided to be there today.

Next to the corner store on Venables there is a storefront with a large sign inviting customers to a “soon to be open” cafe. It looked forlorn and I suspect that “soon” is not just around the corner.



A Socially Distant Gathering

March 21, 2020

A group of us (average age about 70) decided that for the good of our mental health we would gather for a rendezvous at Salsbury Park this morning.


We are used to meeting quite often, and this was an excuse to break out of our social isolation for an hour, chat, gossip, run with the dogs. We were all very disciplined about staying a decent step apart from each other. It was a gorgeous day and I am certain it did us good.

This could become a habit if we continue to be house-bound for a few weeks.


March 16, 2020

I have always loved writing, words, languages. It is one of the great joys of my life that the final chapter of my working life was as a professional writer.

I remember with the clarity of the senile the day in 1960 I first discovered Roget’s Thesaurus. It was a moment of sheer ecstasy for a 10-year old boy with undiagnosed OCD and an over-developed love for words. Pages of words. Lists of words. Lists of words in clever categories. Words referring back to other words. I spent several months reading it from front to back. To hell with God, this was heaven.

This nostalgic torrent was unleashed through the agency of Jonathan Yardley’s review of Joshua Kendall’s biography of Peter Mark Roget. From the review I was fascinated to learn that the Thesaurus for Roget was a form of therapy for depression.

“As a boy, he stumbled upon a remarkable discovery — that compiling lists of words could provide solace, no matter what misfortunes might befall him. He was particularly fond of cataloguing the objects, both animate and inanimate, in his environment. As an adult, he kept returning to the classification of words and concepts. Immersion in the nuances of language could invariably both energize him and keep his persistent anxiety at bay.”

I’m sure I know exactly how he felt.

Panic, Don’t Panic

March 13, 2020

I just came back from shopping on Commercial Drive. First time I have been out this week. The Drive was about as busy as usual, with no masks in sight, and definitely no panic. In fact, everyone seemed happy just that the rain was keeping off.

However, just a mile or so away at the same time, the Everloving was shopping at No Frills on Hastings where, she reported, there were hundreds of people pushing and shoving and emptying the shelves.

Not sure what any of this might mean, if anything; just wanted to report it.

A Good Diet v. The Virus

March 8, 2020

The other day I mentioned on social media that the Everloving and I were going for dim sum today. Normally, that would not have elicited a moment’s interest from anyone but these are anything but normal times.

As a society we are in the midst (or perhaps just the beginning) of a virus pandemic panic that is beginning to paralyse everyday activities: business and recreational travel has almost ceased, sports events have been cancelled or closed to the public, major gatherings of people are discouraged, handshakes have given way to elbow bumps, and there are reports of toilet-paper riots at Costco, Even some of my most rational acquaintances have become besotted with following every drip of news about covid-19.

So, my announcement was met with shock in some quarters. I was advised not to go (the risk of infection was too high), I was told that Chinese restaurants are empty these days (and so eating there would be weird), and our continued good health was wished for several times.

Well, we went.  On the way, the cab driver told us that all Chinese restaurants were empty and some had even laid off their staff. It would have been a surprise to him, I am sure, to see the crowds of people outside Western Lake’s door happily waiting for their number to be called.  It took us a while to barge through the crowd to get to the reception desk but, once there, we were soon seated for our reservation.  It was packed, every table filled to the brim with contented customers, none of whom were wearing masks, and attentive servers, most of whom we have known for a decade and more.

We stuffed ourselves with sui mai, ha gow, deep fried squid, chow fun, spicy green beans, and finished it off with chilled goji berry with lychee gelatin.  It was a feast, each bite tastier than the last.  In the hour or so we were there, there was always a lineup, and the crowd at the door when we left was thicker than when we arrived.  There seems no chance that Western Lake is going out of business any time soon.

But they were definitely aware of the virus. We were chatting with the manager. His uncle (who was our very friendly landlord for 17 years) just came back from a Mediterranean cruise that included Italy. He and his wife are self-quarantining for two weeks.

Other than that, whatever pandemic panic is gripping the city, the Province, the world, there was no evidence of it all today at Victoria & 34th.