I’m Coping Very Well by Ignoring Reality
and I cannot stop touching my face Part 1: Hurray! A Virus that’s not gay! IN THIS BRAVE, NEW, NOVEL CORONAVIRUS world, I’m not afraid of what I might encounter on the streets, in the produce section of Loblaw’s or on a crowded streetcar. I’m afraid of what I’ll encounter at home. In what should be my eighth-floor isolation tank I’m under siege, for most of my visitors at least occasionally spend their nights in a homeless shelter, and though Public Health Toronto assures me that social distancing and hand-washing are being practised to a rigorous nicety in these minus-five-star hostels, I somehow don’t totally, one-hundred percent buy it. But no one that I know has died, yet, not even someone that a friend knows, not even a friend’s friend’s friend. Only people on TV have died, statistic people, dots on a graph, pie-chart people. Meanwhile my privileged white brain insists that white guys just don’t get sick. But do white gay guys get sick? Hello, heterosexuals. How are you coping? Those of you who aren’t ornery scofflaws— who defy instructions to practise preventive measures and tell Facebook groups that“more people die of the flu” (which you can’t possibly know, because this pandemic has just begun)—are all in a panic, confused by the conflicting directions— about using or not using masks (there is little evidence that wearing a mask protects the wearer, unless you are wearing the medical-grade NIOSH-approved masks which are in desperately short supply—in which case you are depriving a healthcare worker of that one and putting her at risk; wearing a simple or home-made mask MAY marginally protect others from you, if you are infected. If you do wear a mask you MUST STILL practice social distancing and be rigorous about hand-washing and about how you touch and dispose of the mask. If your local public health agency has mandated wearing masks, of course you must do so); about whether you can leave the house or go to the store (I can’t really tell you, it depends on where you live. Generally, yes you can, IF you are not under orders to stay at home or self-isolate, but stay two metres away from people and keep these excursions to the absolute minimum. Listen to, trust and follow the advice of doctors and scientists, NOT politicians.); or what’s quarantine versus isolation (quarantine is what you do for two weeks when you have no symptoms, no known exposure to the virus, OR what you do if you have recently traveled; isolation is what you do when you’re ill and actively symptomatic, or have known contact with the infected; if this is the case, you are probably under orders to do so. I repeat: Listen to and trust and follow the advice of doctors and scientists, NOT politicians.). As the days grind into weeks, you’re probably feeling increasingly haunted, like the spooked protagonist in a slasher movie. And you have no omnipotent narrator, you have to piece together what’s happening by yourself, bit by bit. Your paranoia and anxiety are like a nagging pain that carves sharp outlines around the smallest movement, the most insignificant thought. Someone may be watching you, calling out, “NO! For the love of god, don’t put that fork in your mouth—!!” but they’re in the audience; you’re in the movie. You’re suddenly realizing that this is serious shit, that the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV2, is lying in wait, everywhere. Toxic droplets spritz out of the mouths of your co-workers, virus RNA is lurking on the loving hand you caress after dinner, orbiting your cutlery to the sound of the “Blue Danube” Waltz, sewn into your throw cushions and festering on the bathroom sink.. The virus can live, in the right conditions, for hours. Days. A touch, a breath, a few droplets of saliva in the air, and you’ll be infected. You may not know you’re infected, and there is substantial transmission from the estimated twenty-five percent of those infected who are asymptomatic. You could pass the virus on to your partner, your children. The grocery store clerk. A woman in Vancouver sat on a church pew, contracted the virus, and died. In fact, seventy per cent of us will contract the virus. But I promise you, we won’t call it the “Straight Disease,” or even the “Wuhan Virus,” because those terms would sound like accusations, as unwarranted and prejudicial as calling HIV a “gay virus” and AIDS the “gay disease.” I WAS LIVING IN LONDON, ENGLAND, during the 1980s when AIDS invaded our bodies and our minds. I remember the party I attended—this must have been 1981 or early 1982—when we first started talking about the reports that were coming out about a cohort of gay men whose immune systems had broken down, a cluster of cases of rarely-seen opportunistic infections. The three horsemen of this apocalypse were a horribly disfiguring cancer; a pneumonia so virulent that its victims turned cyanotic; dementia and blindness caused by cytomegalovirus. The acronym AID had meant artificial insemination by donor: lesbians using turkey basters to beget children without the imposition of a dick. Now it was superseded by “AIDS,” “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” “Acquired.” In other words, “lifestyle;” fags behaving badly. The medical establishment thought it was, among other lifestyle choices, “poppers:” amyl nitrate, an inhalant used medically for emergency treatment of angina and recreationally for emergency treatment of inhibition. Its blood pressure-lowering vasodilation and its ability to break down sexual boundaries as you plummeted down its elevator shaft of lust made amyl nitrate, and its country cousin, butyl, the go-to trailer trash intoxicants of the disco era. The cause of AIDS wasn’t poppers, of course. But the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, didn’t come out until many deaths later. AIDS, therefore, is a misnomer, a relic of the few years when no one had a clue, and when taking an interest in a disease that singled out gay men was political suicide. Researchers were desperately attempting to solve the puzzle even as the political establishment, overwhelmingly white, male and Christian, refused to engage—until the mysterious small cohort suddenly exploded into an epidemic too devastating and too ugly to be ignored any longer. AIDS, with its dramatic fast-track aging, its ability to consume the flesh and leave sufferers emaciated as famine victims, cruelly outed those gay exiles who had hidden their orientation from judgmental family and friends, left home and boogie’d on down the road to whatever big-city paradise of freedom and anonymity shone its glittery light most enticingly. Now families were finally reunited, but it was a reunion of ashes: fathers holding the skeletal corpses of sons in hospital rooms, bellowing with grief, realizing that their rejection, tacit or explicit, had made them the vector of transmission. Doris Day, who in her light-hearted film roles was the epitome of the independent career gal brimming with wholesome yet subversive sexuality, is shown on television hugging the wasted frame of Rock Hudson. Rock, in real life her dear friend and a bona-fide queer, is A-list Hollywood royalty, her co-star in a delightful rom-com or two and, as far as the public is concerned, the last word in dreamy, suave, six-foot tall, broad-shouldered heterosexuality. Now the question is: Who will be next? Not next to get AIDS. Who will be the next person you never thought would be gay, but is? Your son? Your friend? Your hairdresser? Your husband? The hug is significant: because no one knows yet what causes the disease, no one wants to touch AIDS patients. A ghastly round of funerals, memorials, cremations becomes social life. These strange things called condoms that no one wants to use. You call a friend you had dinner with two weeks ago, and a friend or family member answers: He’s dead. This gets really interesting when it’s a friend you had sex with two weeks ago. The first experimental treatments are out: They’re as toxic and debilitating as cancer chemotherapy, approximately as subtle, and as predictable as snake oil. Gay men are, in effect, laboratory animals. The treatments cause lipodystrophy, a disfiguring redistribution of fat cells of the body. (Always this savage irony of maiming, of mutilation, in a subculture viciously judgmental of non-ripped bodies, of not-beautiful faces, of un-fabulous, dull, quotidian anything.) You get a hump on your upper back, a real, honest-to-god horror-movie hump, or your face hollows out; you are unrecognizable except as an AIDS Victim. Gay men, outcasts who’ve long ago accepted their banishment and done their fearful, defiant best to stay out of sight, for their safety and society’s comfort, are made aggressively, offensively visible, marked with the stigmata of shame. Victims, male damsels in distress. HIV is transmitted through blood contact. For gay men, this means primarily through anal sex. Heterosexuals, of course, have never in the whole history of time, ever, for any reason, practiced anal sex, and, really, how could the sexual practice of disgusting homosexuals be anything but disgusting? Those who’ve been infected via blood transfusions, in other words, those who are not gay, are referred to in the press as innocent victims, just in case pity or compassion might moisten an eye for queers. This is enthymeme in its most sinister finery: you call gay men architects of their own, deserved destruction, without even mentioning gay men, by calling everyone but gay men “innocent.” The cloak of deception, once put on, burns through flesh. Already consumed with guilt after hearing ourselves called “queer,” “disgusting” and “pervert” from the time we were able to understand words, we endured the horror of believing, because we were told, that the phantom of our sin was walking amongst us, arm in arm with death as he gathered up his harvest. It could not be happening, but it was happening. The swollen splotches of blood-colored sarcoma on the faces of cadaverous frontliners who just weeks ago had been beautiful men were the flowers of our evil. We’d murdered our loved ones and sexual partners; even our own bodies loathed us. Dr Anthony Fauci, the most trusted physician in the US, a distinguished immunologist, and the chief medical advisor to the Trump administration on COVID-19, is a familiar face to me. He was very much present during the AIDS crisis and he speaks to me directly from that time. Frustrated about the direction of AIDS research, he accepted the post of director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, and made it into the world’s biggest source of funding for AIDS research. Funds were scarce; AIDS research was far from a priority. Reagan had just been elected, and Jerry Falwell, co-founder of the Moral Majority, had said: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” Now that a pandemic affects you, tell me how you feel. Scary, isn’t it? How are you coping? Are you afraid for your loved ones? For yourself? Feeling a little depressed? Crying? Going stir-crazy? Are you feeling guilty about eating, hugging, shaking hands, going to church, seeing a movie, visiting your mom in the old folks’ home? Are you having sex? Are you promiscuous? Are you clean? Continue to Part 2 [Missed Part 1? You’ll find it here.] Part 2: Touching your face is just what happens Today I touched my face thirty-five thousand two hundred and seventy-eight times. I counted them. I did. Following the five-second rule, I ate a piece of shortbread cookie that I’d dropped on the floor and I drank cold coffee out of someone else’s cup. I guzzled milk out of the carton with my lips clamped around the spout, where it says open this end, sneezed into the spout, then put the carton back in the fridge. Proceeding to the bathroom, I surreptitiously picked my right nostril, touched the bathroom door knob with my bare hands, then spent some time examining a blemish. I squeezed the blemish until it popped, then I rubbed my eyes. I brushed my teeth, and I’m not one hundred percent certain I didn’t use the toothbrush that’s dedicated to cleaning around the hinges of the toilet seat. Having brushed my teeth, I went to the kitchen, licked my index finger and picked up off the counter, then ate, some crumbs of shortbread; then I made a big batch of mayonnaise from scratch, using raw egg yolks, while smoking. How am I not dead? I’m like an idiot savant walking across the Don Valley Parkway in a state of blissful ignorance, looking straight ahead as the vehicles miss me by a hair’s breadth. Being a white guy protects you against COVID-19 BECAUSE BEING A WHITE GUY PROTECTS you from everything: homelessness, being dumped by your girlfriend on a rainy Sunday afternoon, any negative emotion except anger, and coronavirus. White guys think optimistic thoughts, like, I’ll probably get the job instead of the black dude; and everyone likes me more than the Muslim guy who is going to bomb something; and I have a nice house. I’ll probably get a couple more nice houses! Then I’ll always have a clean one handy. Either the white guys are optimistic because they always win, or they always win because they’re optimistic. They should do a study. Trump had the coronavirus test. Millions of Americans can’t be tested, but Donald jumps the line. What’s the point of being Prez, you just know he’s thinking, if you can’t jump the line? That’s what clout is—a fancy, guy-talk word for privilege. In Canada, the protocol is no testing of the asymptomatic; Trudeau therefore has not been tested and has not pulled strings to be tested. Canadians take a dim view of people being more equal than others. CHRYSTIA FREELAND, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER and effectively running the country for the time being, leading with a persona and voice that are “forceful but not frantic, intelligent but not incendiary” is the star of the moment. But I’m not surprised. She’s taken down Saudi Princes over the oppression of women, and the US President over his “security concerns” prompting tariffs, without losing her cool composure. Tackling one more nasty piece of unnecessary genetic material should be second nature by now. Says the LA Times: She won credit globally for speaking out in favor of the liberal international order — perhaps the only prominent North American official to do so — and she was not shy about the importance of using military force.
“Of course it must be a last resort,” she told the broadcaster CBC last year. “But I really believe in this moment today — when … there are many threats to the liberal international order — it is precisely the democracies, it is precisely the countries that stand for values and human rights that also need to be ready to say we are prepared to use hard power when necessary.”
LA Times, Apr 2, 2020 She’s our very own Nancy Pelosi, and there’s nothing I want to do more than to head out in my church clothes and lunch with those ladies. Freeland is a politician of international reputation, a distinguished and influential author, a mother. Iron fist in a velvet glove. She is Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, the second in command. We accomplish in the blink of an eye, effortlessly, what the US fails to accomplish in the past five years of non-stop campaigning, division and dirty tricks: a female political leader showcasing her brilliance at the highest levels of responsibility. Canada fucking rocks. BUT GETTING BACK TO NASTY infections: Trump was swift to brand this virus the “Wuhan” virus. (This means that we will never hear him say the word “virus” without “Wuhan” ever again, compare “crooked Hillary.”) Great care was taken by the scientific community to brand the disease the virus causes COVID-19, a neutral identity, unrelated to race or nationality. But Trump can’t conceive of any interaction that’s not “them versus us,” the real people versus the fake, good people versus bad. White people wouldn’t have caused this, is what he’s telling us. Chinese people are verbally abused and assaulted as a result. Trump tries to pressure the manufacturer 3M not to sell N95 medical grade respirator masks to Canada. Now, the guy has to look out for Americans, I understand that. But he also has to make everything into a battle that he wins. He couldn’t just pick up the phone, could he? Be a mensch? “Hey Justin, how’s Sophie doing? And the kids? Let’s sort out this respirator mask business, can your people work with my people and get this moving? We’re all in this together.” Nope. Authenticity, the simple human touch minus the bombast, is not in his repertoire. His tsunami of ego, thundering across his twiny self-esteem, even twinier than his twiny hwands, is still smarting from Justin’s words, Justin’s push-back, Justin’s refusal to rise to the bait. Donald drops the bombs; Justin puts out the fires, grows a beard for extra gravitas and pulls on a new pair of polka-dot socks. Justin is everything Donald isn’t: intellectual, calm, contained, suave. A little too suave at times, but we’re not complaining, much. Justin apologizes. Canadian trolls and Conservatives and the odious Maxime Bernier—who is absolutely not gay—are trying to politicize Trudeau’s every utterance and act. They don’t realize that partisanship is not appreciated right now, that they come across as bullies, or, even worse, spiteful towards Canadian heroes—that is, if any one is paying any attention at all to their childish sulks. Chrystia Freeland polishes the optics until they gleam, referring to Doug Ford as “my therapist”! Her response to the pandemic, part of her plan, is to make nice to the most detested provincial leader next to Alberta’s Jason Kenney. This is all about parachuting into enemy territory, then asking, “How can I help?” This all about the sublime holding hands with the ridiculous. A Twitter-ette is aghast that Trudeau is taking up Jeff Bezos’ offer of logistical help. Yes, Amazon is a parasite on the retail market, yes, Bezos won’t be satisfied until he has a monopoly on every nook and cranny of every market that sells any good or service to anyone; yes, Bezos pays no tax because—his business model eschews profits and focuses on revenue; yes, his workers are just stand-ins until the AI robots are ready to be deployed. Yes, but lives are at stake and if the big, bad wolf offers warehousing and deliveries—you take his paw and skippity off to grandma’s nursing home, grateful for the help because otherwise people will die. To my immense satisfaction, someone else took her to task, saying, “You sound like a Bernie supporter.” I knew exactly what he meant: petty, dull, self-absorbed, illogical; childishly unwilling to compromise the little principle for the greater good. “No, thank you, evil Jeff Bezos! Because you are mean to your employees and are a rapacious capitalist we scorn your tainted help! We’ll tell the old folks’ families that their deaths were not in vain!” Don’t eat cold food! JEEPERS! COLD FOOD IS ONE of the worst things you can indulge in when you’re trying to stay virus-free. Think of what cold food means: ice cream. Eat cold ice cream and the corona virus is lured in. Even non-living entities made up of coils of RNA (raspberry-nougat-almond) and DNA (Dutch chocolate-nectarine-anise, which is European) adore ice cream. The usual strains normally prefer vanilla, chocolate or strawberry; of course, there’s the odd retro-virus that likes pistachio and tutti-frutti and rum-raisin. The kind of viruses your Dad would have liked! Tell your wife or girlfriend to serve you food that’s hot! And if you don’t have a little lady to take care of the food preparation, just keep microwaving the ice cream, ten minutes on “high.” You got it, bro! Hit me some, c’mon! Don’t overload your body with nutrients NUTRIENTS ARE WAY TOO DEMANDING. One week it’s acai berries, then it’s Omega-3 fatty acids, then anthocyanins. If it’s not strawberry socialism it’s blueberry Bolshevism! My friend says there’s a vibration that will protect you from the coronavirus, and just think of the money and time that could be saved if only my friend could remember who told him! Or I’ll just eat a mango. It’s time to put nutrients in their place. Replace nutritious food with, for example, Pop Tarts. I’ve eaten virtually nothing but Pop Tarts for the past two weeks, and already I’m going to the bathroom less. Yes, not at all is less. I hope to completely give up that total waste of time, sitting-on-the-john-in-the-bathroom boondoggle, and, the way things are going, in approximately three more days, I’ll just explode anyway. Stand back—WWWWHHHHHOOOOOOAHHH! Done! Gimme another Pop Tart, and slather some Nutella on that sucker! Just stick it here, in the crater where my stomach used to be! Confession: I had never eaten, if that’s the word, a Pop Tart before. But I remember that pop tarts were part of the invasion of space food in the fifties and sixties. Those decades were hopeful and focused on the future, and the future was going to be super neat, if not downright spiffy. Now that we’d killed a dog by shooting it up into space in a rocket pulled by visible strings, there seemed to be no limit to our useless imaginations. These tools called computers were going to be in every home that had a garage the size of a railway car and its own source of electricity, and they were going to relieve us of the doldrums of work. We would then spend our time in our bathing suits by our swimming pools. Such a persuasive dream that no one ventured to ask exactly where our money would come from so that we could give up work and live like three hundred million Gina Lollabrigidas vacationing in Monaco. One day we woke up and food was gone. Goodbye to braised beef and roast chicken and fresh vegetables and home made fruit pies, because, Sputnik. Food, nutrients, the boondoggle! You can’t build a rocket in the spare time that exists between shopping, cooking and cleaning up after home-cooked meals. That would be madness! There aren’t enough women to do all that housework and cook all that food and service all those menfolk—while wearing full-length calico and popping Valium to deflect suicidal ideation—in, like, the Universe! And you can’t have raspberry pies or hamburgers or fish sticks floating in front of your atomic degromulator! That would be chaotic! Computers were longer coming than we thought, but while waiting we did have astronaut food. Astronaut food came in powdered form and in small packets. Real food was the size of a house compared to Tang, an orange beverage only in color, and Carnation Instant Breakfast, an inferior chemical-laced quasi-milkshake that contained absolutely every nutrient you needed that was in the glass of milk you added to the powder. Pop Tarts are a revelation. What happened to my life? They taste like an old Peak Freen cookie that’s been run over by an eighteen-wheeler, then rubbed over your grandfather’s asshole when he mistook the waistband of the trackpants he’s been wearing for six weeks for his pocket. With marshmallows. Putting them in the toaster lifts them from unappealing to dangerous when, like me, you think that, because they have icing on them, you’re supposed to leave on the silver paper covering that keeps them “fresh.” Whatever “fresh” means with respect to something assembled in a factory by a bunch of mechanical arms. Bad food is a comforting companion if your dog is circling Alpha Centauri YESTERDAY I STARTED MY EVENING MEAL WITH shortbread, followed by a coulis of cream cheese frosting. No need for cake! I washed this down, always my favorite turn of phrase for mindful eating, second only to “chunky soup” and “sliders,” with semi-frozen Fresca, “the 1970’s drink.” Fresca is, yes, a grapefruit-flavored soft drink from the seventies. This reflects our values of the time: hard work, dedication and sacrifice that only grapefruit could embody, especially considering the cancer risk of Aspartame, or is it Alzheimer’s. I’ve spoken countless times, OK, once, about the discovery of the pink grapefruit, a major highlight of my drab, small-town childhood where the most exciting thing to do was find an old blanket, invite the little girl next door to join you underneath it and compare your genitals. And that’s when you were sixteen! Hey, why don’t you have one? My mother would buy jars of grapefruit segments that looked like the pictures anti-abortion protestors put on their placards. We would eat these pulpy embryos, sip the harsh, mouth-abrading juice and squint as we cried. We could have triumphed, if only we had known what the battle consisted of. Make a Fresca slushy or Fresca sorbet: Put the biggest fucking bottle of Fresca you can find in the freezer until it’s frozen solid. Run the neck of the bottle under the tap, twist off the top and point it at someone who can take a little tease, because that sucker’s gonna squirt like twenty Jenna Jameses having their g-spots finger-pounded by half the guys on Fraternity X. Fresca! The nineteen-seventies drink! Now anyone can be a hero If you touch a Doug Ford—wash your hands. DUG-UP FORD, THE SUPPURATING, PUSTULE-COVERED reincarnation of his gloriously dead brother, Rob, is now a mash-up of Winston Churchill and Pierre Trudeau (accept no substitutes) because he’s been competent for two weeks. He’s become a hero faster than we can lower our standards. I hope you’re afraid. I do. I want you to feel what I felt, every second of your life, until this is over. Who will be next? Will it be me? I hope you think of your isolation now and then think of those of us who lay in hospital beds abandoned by family. Must be their lifestyle. Serve ’em right. Victims, not innocent. I hope you shed a thousand tears for every one I shed for every friend who died and I hope you have an hour of fear for every second you delayed your response because it was just a bunch of queers that god was punishing. But I don’t hope you or your loved ones die. I won’t cross that line. Dougie a hero? Please. Dougie is not very smart, but he’s smart enough to know how much he’s despised in this city, for cuts to essential services. These cuts have made millions of people poorer, less well educated, less healthy and ultimately more vulnerable. Here, once again, is the list (click to view in a new window) : So please don’t tell me what a hero Doug Ford is. His two-week stretch of pink, sweaty panic doing duty for competence is like your child’s macaroni picture that you stick to the fridge—wonderful, but only for a six-year-old. And after reconsidering, let me cross that line. I have a long memory, and a preferred fate for politicians like Doug Ford. I will say that politicians who build societies, who defer to science and scientists, who serve all the people they represent, are the politicians whose legacies will continue to enrich society long after they’re gone. They are the leaders who will earn our love and gratitude for generations, who will be part of history. I’ve used enthymeme in the above statement: that rhetorical device I explained in Part One, in which a key part of the logic is deliberately omitted, thus encouraging the listener or reader to complete the picture for themselves; to think actively of who is not described and what’s not expressed. The elephant in the room, you might say. ֍ #COOVID19 #ChrystiaFreeland #flattenthecurve #DougFord #ThankgodforCanada