Updated: May 4, 2020
By Jay Stone
OTTAWA — And on the fifth day of self-isolation, we got out the jigsaw puzzle.
It’s been sitting unopened in the basement since two Christmases ago, when we finally finished the one of a New Yorker magazine cover depicting a woman walking her dog, a project that occupied most of that holiday season and pretty well ended my love affair with looking for little blue pieces shaped like a capital H that might fit into the sky.
This new one is a street scene by Vincent Van Gogh, a big-shot artist who gets all the critics excited, but who has a maddening habit of using the same colour of dark brown for both the tops of buildings and the cobblestone streets. Plus, even though the picture is rectangular, he didn’t seem to provide four corner pieces. This to me is not art.
Anyway, here we are, scraping the bottom of the barrel and we’re not even a week in yet. I’m doing it with The Older Woman Who Finds Herself Trapped In A House With Me, and to mark the occasion she took a picture of me with all 1,000 pieces of the Van Gogh spread on the dining room table. I tried to put on a look of happy anticipation, but the Woman e-mailed the photo to a few people and my daughter wrote back, “Dad looks like he’s been kidnapped.”
I guess we all have: abducted by the Trump Flu and forced to live in our spacious accommodations with nothing to occupy us but some books, a lot of TV stations showing old movies, the Internet, copious piles of toilet paper and, in extremis, Vincent Van Frickin’ Gogh. It’s a benign kind of kidnapping, but it’s frightening if you stop to think about it, so I don’t. My motto: If you have time on your hands, scrub it off.
Hand-washing takes up another good chunk of the day, but I’ve found that every time I do it makes me want to pee and then I have to do it all over again. One could spend a productive couple of weeks in the bathroom doing little else, although that won’t get the Van Gogh assembled. By the way, if the lockdown lasts so long that I can actually finish this jigsaw puzzle, please regard this as my suicide note.
Meanwhile, I go for walks around the neighbourhood. Since there is nothing new to talk about and I refuse to listen to any negative news, I end up commenting on interesting windows on some houses or the broken fence in front of the school that I hadn’t noticed before. The streets are spookily empty except for joggers. It’s like a Margaret Atwood story come to life, and it strikes me that while most disasters, like 9/11, remind people of films (“It looked like something out of a movie”), the Trump Flu reminds us of a book, which is scarier.
On the main streets, there are still some surprises: a Starbucks that’s open; a dry cleaners still in business. Today I saw a group of guys standing in the parking lot of a closed bar, taking a smoke break from whatever it is they were supposed to be doing. They stood a regulation two metres apart, in a circle, like the Harlem Globetrotters but instead of passing the ball they’re passing the time.
I still see friends who I might have gone to lunch with, or tea. Now we walk together on opposite sides of the sidewalk trying to be positive. At least this is happening in the spring: imagine how bad it would be in the dead of winter. At least the electricity is still on, and the water, and the Internet. Everyone knows someone who is stuck somewhere on a cruise ship or a foreign country that has closed its borders. At least we’re home.
Some of the dramas are diverting. A couple who I know were in Italy on a long vacation when the virus struck and they couldn’t get out. They planned to cross into Switzerland, but they found they couldn’t, and then they planned to rent a car and drive to Nice and then take a train to Paris and then fly home, but that fell through as well. Finally they got a train to Rome and a flight to Ottawa via Heathrow and Toronto, a hair’s-breadth escape that was as fraught as a Second World War movie. They’re home safe now, but I miss the drama. It was better than anything on TV.
I’ve become addicted to Facebook, where I get most of this news, plus a lot of pandemic jokes. Someone posted that her cleaning lady is working from home: she’s going to phone and tell them what to do. I told this to my brother and he said, “But who will steal the jewelry?”
And then there’s the reading. My friend loaned me the David Sedaris book Calypso and I marvel how he can spin delicate and insightful tales out of minuscule family dramas. It’s No. 1 on my Trump Flu Reading List.
Someone else slipped me the new Lee Child novel Jack Reacher Blue Moon. This is the 23rd novel in a series of stories about a big guy who travels around America solving people’s problems by beating up the bad guys and I have no hesitation in saying that this story — which insinuates our hero into a fight between Ukrainian and Albanian criminal gangs — is the most preposterous yet. This in no way lessens my enjoyment. I believe I have read all the books; indeed, I may have read some of them more than once because the titles are kind of generic and you can pick up a paperback in a used-book store and be halfway through it before you remember that you’ve already read about Jack Reacher beating up this particular guy.
Between that and Van Gogh and the walks and the endless baths I’ve been taking — the Woman informed me the other day that while I was soaking she’d received two phone calls, which is a day’s worth around here— I’m pretty well run off my feet. In one more week I’ll be out of isolation and I’ll be able to go to the drug store and buy more bubble bath. I’ll let you know how that goes.
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