They also serve who only stand and wait? It doesn’t feel like it, Mr. Milton. While I social-distance at home on my ass, doctors, nurses, my postman and the Fedex guy are the ones serving in this pandemic.
As a penance for the guilt, I’ve decided to finally read Finnegans Wake. My hair shirt for the brain.
“A way a lone a last a loved a long...” After grinding my way through three pages of Finnegan, I need sugar. I know there’s cookies in the closet by the washing machine, behind the five cans of Progresso soup and the stack of tuna. I push aside the plastic bag of panic-buy dried pinto beans. Do I have to boil them for 20 minutes before I get rid of the toxins? I should have asked. But the sack at La Reyna Market was open, and it was buy-anything, add water and pray for a milagro. I reach to the back of the closet and find nothing. The mirage of the Keebler fudge stripe cookies evaporates.
Isn’t there a half bar of Trader Joes’ milk chocolate bar behind the last two bottles of IPA on the second shelf in the fridge? I casually saunter past my wife. She’s on the sofa in the living room, learning how to do online Kaltura tutorials.
I open the fridge. Nothing again. Then I remember. Yesterday. I was five minutes into another Trump everyone-else-is-to-blame whine when I rushed to the fridge and scoffed the chocolate in a blind panic.
“I’m going for a walk,” I shout out. I won’t tell her I’m walking to the Mexican store. Maybe she wouldn’t let me in the house again. No, That would be me. I’d demand a head to foot Clorox spraying.
My wife is making the best of her shelter-in-place while I’m spending the Covidture building a workbench and mashing two of my fingers with a hammer. And, of course, reading Finnegan’s Wake. It’s the perfect time. I think of future dinner conversations – if there is such a thing as future. I recall that English prick telling our awed dinner table that Proust should only be read in French. If only I could have responded: “Interestingly that reminds me of a chapter in Finnegan’s Wake.”
I start off on my Odyssey to La Reyna the local emporium for dried pinto beans and chorizo. It’s the closest store. It’s might be empty. I could rush in and grab a pack of Chokis or Canelitas and be out before I’m infected. I plod down the hill. I think of the butt-crunching return fortified by chocolate. We live at the edge of the town. Olive trees, almond orchards, the sun is steaming frost off the fields ... oh to hell with poesy. I got enough of that with my three pages of Finnegan’s Wake. But is it poetry? I can’t tell. It seems like Swedish to me. I have a moment of panic. Maybe I’ve got the Swedish version. I hear the Muppets’ Swedish chef in my head. Perhaps if I read it like Svenske kockenI could understand it.
Hell! I sidestep a tube of shit. I can’t call it anything else. A long tube with pointed ends. Not pebbles or a swirling turd. What is that? Some asshole neighbor probably taking advantage of Covid to break with dog poop etiquette.
“Hey,” the guy from the house with the Marine flag walks toward me holding a shovel. “Did you see it too, neighbor?” I look blankly at him. “You think it’s mountain lion scat? I reckon it is. Maybe bobcat.” He gets closer. I step back. I’ve forgotten the rule. Am I six feet away? Or is it twelve? With one scoop, he shovels up the scat. “I’ll snap a photo and send it in to CalPoly.” He holds it out for me to see. “Uh, good idea.” I manage.
I watch him disappear past his weathered Trump sign and stand motionless. No chocolate. A mountain lion. And a neighbor closing in on my plague-free zone. La Reyna and its shelves of alluring delights suddenly seems like a bridge too far.
I turn and start up the hill. At least there’s the comfort of Finnegan’s Wake. “Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek!”Nope. I couldn’t face the Swedish again. Maybe I’ll watch Schitt’s Creek, speaking of mountain lion scat.
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Raymond Hardie is a writer and editor. After almost 20 years as a magazine editor, three novels, more than a dozen screenplays, plays, and videos and innumerable articles he says he's come to appreciate that writing is rewriting. "I've been telling stories since I was four years old and I've learned why inspiration and perspiration are derived from the same root. Welcome to my writing and my work."