Some country folk ask how we manage to share such confined territory. I should explain that under normal circumstances—Sneeky and I occupying three rooms and a bathroom—my home is relatively spacious for Manhattan. It shrinks dramatically when you factor in the loving roommate and the boxes of provisions and protective gear.
It takes your breath away when there’s no leaving it. We change when we’re locked up.
My girlfriend is by nature outgoing, an adventuress who instinctively engages strangers. She loves to find out what makes people tick, what they’re good at, how they can amuse. If all else fails, she launches terrible puns, which at least make people laugh nervously.
On the two occasions we left the city together, she was unforgettably lively company. She tells good stories, gets people to open their doors and minds. She dreams of a life well traveled.
I love to take trips, but I don’t mind staying home, reading, researching, playing games, goofing off together. She likes to read, too—on the road.
Now she has contracted a nasty case of claustrophobia. She tries to deal with it. As do I.
I hope the pandemic takes its inevitable break before it strangles her. I reckon the first wave will end in a month or so. In the meantime, I wish she’d stop being rude to my partner. His visits are unbearably tense. They snap at each other’s comments the way lizards zap flies. All that cringing hurts my neck.
Some city folk ask how someone who knew this pandemic was coming wound up trapped in Manhattan. Great question! I always intended to rent a place upstate, not far from a UPS center and not close to many people. I acquired an old car so Sneeky and I could ride out the plague in rural comfort. Solitude has its charms.
I was confident I could make a good living by saving lives—selling protective gear from a prudent distance. Still, I arranged some remote work in my profession. (It quickly fell through when the pandemic broke out: Projects were frozen, contractors eliminated.)
I Fell in Love Instead
You’d think someone who was planning to withdraw from his known world would have enough sense to practice isolation in advance. Well, I did. I wooed the Internet.
I founded a site about the music and life of Gene Clark. (Here’s a site that deservedly outlasted mine.) Clark was the coolest member of the original Byrds and he wrote most of the songs that weren’t rented from Dylan. (Watch his great live vocal performance—amid go-go dancers—on the Byrds’ second-ever appearance on TV.)
Clark was taking home the hottest women and the bulk of the publishing money till the other Byrds made him unwelcome. Clark wrote most of the lyrics to Eight Miles High (hear the band’s original, better, unofficial version) before leaving to pursue a solo career that went unthinkably unappreciated. (My site was unseen, too, but I think I’ll add his music to my already legendary Cultural Merchandise Page.)
I also spent hours every day on the flu boards, signed onto friends’ networks, all that. I might as well slap clichés together—I explored social distancing via social networking. Call it ‘Safe Friendship.’ All those buddies would come in handy on the distant rural pandemic nights when Sneeky didn’t feel like talking.
I encountered a woman in Los Angeles, a friend of a friend of someone or other. She posted smart and funny and unpredictable things and seemed bored out there. We were headed in opposite directions, career-wise. Neither seemed to think the other was wrong.
After pursuing art dance for years, she was developing promotional software for a big bank. I was abandoning my professional avocation to commit to my own dream, my own business. (If I survive bird flu, I’ll reenter that profession with enough to live on for a couple of years while I try to do it my way.)
My new correspondent delighted in mocking my obsession with H5N1. Early on, her grandparents coincidentally sent her some of the masks I sell; she accused me of bamboozling the aged and demanded a refund—in person—in LA.
Banned in Austin
That caught my eye. Which she then pinned to the screen with a stream of peculiar emails, IMs, and photos she hadn’t posted for the public. (They weren’t obscene, just brimming with character.) Her eyes were dark and suggestive in a wise, angelic face that could otherwise adorn a Jane Austin movie. She’d been cursed with smoldering black holes in a mask of enlightened and accomplished femininity.
She was proud of her refocused ambition and she wanted a lot from her new life. She liked that I was fanatical, too.
By the time we started calling one another, interest was keen. Her voice was breathy, suggestive. I remember dreaming that we met by a river. Rushing waters drowned out what we were trying to say, so we swam together. She was light and shadow in liquid motion. I was happy.
Soon we met here. It turned out she’d been planning to leap to a bigger bank in New York. I hosted her while she cased the institution, which had cheated me badly on credit interest after the first crash.
She left my apartment only to eat and to be interviewed by ever-more-prominent players in the organization. Those bankers loved her as much as I did, although they got more sleep. (I was busy adding color to her cheeks.) She won the job, though it took a few extra days to authorize the salary she was demanding. I was awed by her confidence. She was a high-performing virus who’d found a good cell in their operating system. “A good start” is how she put it.
We celebrated their surrender till after dawn. (Hung)over brunch, it became obvious that I should invite her to live in my apartment while I prepared to head upstate to ride out the plague she didn’t believe in. The longer H5N1 took to cross over from the chickens and pigs, the more I’d visit her here.
She hinted at fleeing with me if H5N1 did break out. But she isn’t the type to run. (She admires Ayn Rand, too.) I turned out not to be the type to run off on her. Here I am.
Our isolation began like a low-budget romantic adventure flick. This is the first time I’ve lived with a lover. It’s been exciting.