Hell in a Bucket

On privilege and purpose in a time of isolation

Hell in a Bucket

Illustration by Lucia Gaia


March 13th, 2020 - Friday morning in the hills above an early-spring Berkeley. I’m pacing in the street with a phone to my ear.

“I can’t tell if this is another hangover or corona,” I glibly pose to Jayme. She’s my dearest friend and previous partner, who recently left the Bay Area to pursue a Ph.D. in Birmingham, England.

“Are those birds or children in the background?” I ask.

“I’m walking near a school,” Jayme answers.

“Schools are still open there?”

“Everything is pretty much going on as normal here... so far.”

I’m outside my friend Jan’s house, who’s still asleep. Jan is a professional fiddler and has been one of my closest friends and musical collaborators for a decade. As his “best gig season yet” ended abruptly this week, our previous night out was his third straight appearance at Schmidt’s Pub — aka “his bar.” After several pitchers of beer, we decided to attend a midnight jazz concert in an Oakland warehouse. I’d never been there before, but Jan emphasized the place was typically “raging” — a word which, under normal circumstances, would invoke my immediate protestations. We arrived to find a kitsch, dim gallery space with red lighting and a few people lined up along the walls. Nobody was moving. It felt like the milk bar in Clockwork Orange.

I’m trying not to wake Jan or his housemates while also staying within range of their WiFi. Because of our newly differing time zones, morning has become the best time to catch up with Jayme. Luckily, technology helps ameliorate the distance. Last month, Jayme’s sister invited me to join her upcoming trip to visit the UK. My inclusion was meant to be a surprise, but Jayme sniffed out our ruse within the first week. Even though Trump banned flights from the EU, traveling to and from the UK is still permitted. We’re scheduled to arrive early next week.

The blaze of morning sun warms my shoulders and I breathe out. I’ve been on a bit of a bender lately. I can’t tell if my sleep deprivation is because of anxiety, or anxiety because of sleep deprivation. Either way, it’s causing me to drink more than I have in a year.

Perfumes from belling flowers steal my attention before I’m pinching the bridge of my nose again. Sometimes allergies are a good excuse for a developing cold. For now, it feels necessary to conceal. I should take my Claritin.

“I’m getting concerned about a UK travel ban,” I admit to Jayme. “Four more days… trying to beat the–”

Jayme interrupts, “Clock? Sometimes I swear there’s a suburban mom trapped inside you...”

“We might need to start bootlegging toilet paper back home. It’s a total crisis here. People are hoarding and you can’t find it anywhere.”

“People are really losing their shit, huh?”

“You’re on a roll.”

We laugh and part.

Inside, a groggy Jan descends the stairs into the living room, while his housemate’s meditating on WHO's global pandemic announcement - made moments earlier. Trump’s going to address the nation tomorrow. He’ll likely declare a state of emergency.

I log onto my office email and compose articles for online college programs: healthcare administration, computer programming, business management best practices. I should finish them today to lighten my workload in England. Unfortunately, my vision’s blurring. I can’t even craft a complete sentence or remember what I wrote in the previous paragraph. Researching some of the programs, all of the colleges’ websites are posting notices of indefinite suspension. Who’s even looking for schooling options right now?

Most of my musician friends are asking for money on social media. They’re expressing their fear, having lost all potential income for the next few months. It holds a stifling similarity to back-alley panhandlers. With the industry as it is, today’s musicians rely entirely on events and gigs for their income. It’s not their fault people expect free creation. I put their albums on repeat and mute the volume, offering a meager percentage of Spotify earnings.

I feel lucky to have this writing gig. My wallet isn’t flush by any standard, but I can’t imagine the sense of confusion and distress I’d feel in these conditions otherwise. I can continue working as normal, remotely and at my own leisure, as many others face graver challenges. In a past life, I was a musician too. But I wasn’t willing to make inherent sacrifices. I wanted security for this exact reason.

“This is a brutal one,” Jan says, flipping back his long, dirty-blond mane.


I’m leaning into my hands.

“Hands off the face. You’ll get corona,” he warns.

I wonder if Jan is confused why I’m still in his house. From his deck, I see my neighborhood in San Francisco. Some part of me doesn’t want to return and I can’t put my finger on why. It could be that I’m beginning to fear the spread of the virus. It could be as simple as not wanting to be alone.

He teases my pensive lingering. “The King of Irish Goodbyes is still here?”

“Yeah, it’s nice to be out of The City. What are you doing today?”

“Skiing with…” He proceeds to list several names I recognize, several more I guess I’m supposed to know. “No one’s been up to mountain this season, and this is kinda the last chance. They’re planning to have a proper hootenanny! Have you ever skied before? I know it’s in nature and technically exercise, but you might actually like it.”

I look at him as if he’s asked the dumbest question in the long history of our friendship. My aversion to outdoor settings is rarely a welcome contribution to an active group’s overall mood. I’m fond enough of the friends he’s mentioned, but they are more or less his close friends, and their friends. And while we all get along just fine, I’d more or less still feel like an outsider.

“Where are you planning on staying?”

Andy, who recently married our other musician friend Avery, invited him up to their ski lodge estate in Sugar Bowl, Tahoe. My ears perk.

“The Hellman’s Disney Getaway?”

“That’s the one…”

Jan’s played fiddle in many of Avery’s performances, including a gig at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass — the outdoor festival in San Francisco’s fabled Golden Gate Park. Each October, the event features world-renowned musicians and draws a quarter-million into the park, free of charge. Avery’s grandfather, Warren Hellman, is the son of Wells Fargo founder, Isaias W. Hellman. Simply for a love of bluegrass, Warren and the family founded and solely funded the festival for nearly two decades. They’ve also ponied up cash for at least another decade. Supporting the arts, neoliberalism style. I honestly wonder if I’m allowed to call them by their name.

Sugar Bowl’s website reads: Proudly Independent for 79 Seasons. One of the oldest ski resorts in California, Sugar Bowl has a storied past with ties to Austrian ski culture, Hollywood and Walt Disney. It’s one of the few remaining privately owned resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, with exclusive ski lifts for landowners and those they invite. The only way to this small village is by gondola. Hell, the world could end by next week, might as well get a taste of the highlife on my way out. Seems like the least I could do.

“I guess I could get some good work done while you guys endanger yourselves on a mountain,” I say. “Chill at the lodge; get some chin-wagging and shoulder-rubbing in… find myself a sponsor, if you know what I mean.”

“Great,” Jan says dismissively and pats me on the shoulder, as if he already knew the answer.

His housemate says a big storm is on the way. He suggests Interstate 80, the main artery into the Tahoe stretch of the Sierra Nevadas, will likely close on Saturday because of whiteout conditions. I need to be back in San Francisco on Monday to prepare for my trip, provided the virus permits. Jan promised to perform with some son of a famous bluegrass musician in Turlock on Sunday. It is determined we’ll take my car so I can drop him off in Turlock on the way back. It’s far out of the way, but I insist that I enjoy traveling (only a partial lie). We both agree that even if there’s a blizzard, we’ll do our best to leave the mountains by Sunday morning.

“Are they not closing the slopes because of corona?” I ask.

“Andy says it’s a bunch of rich white folk. The virus won’t be a problem. They are pretending like it doesn’t even exist.”


We are at a grocery store on Shattuck Street in Berkeley, getting supplies for the weekend: hummus, thirty-six beers. Our meager gesture to decadence.

The market’s pandemonium. Carts are filled to the brim with groceries, cleaning supplies, immunity boosters. Nobody’s talking, just scanning aisles and hurling items.

As Jan studies cheese varieties, I watch a lady who couldn’t have been any less than seventy-years-old. Her hands tremble as she pushes a cart. I fear for her. A vast percentage of the mortality rates from the virus are within her age bracket, specifically those with preexisting conditions. We’ve been told it is our moral imperative to keep them safe, to keep our medical facilities free to assist them. I wonder if she should be here. But, I question if it’s my place to act on that fear. Is it my place to foist charitable considerations onto others, who just want to maintain a sense of normalcy? Do we voluntarily sacrifice freewill for safety? Has it come to that?

In the chaos, I do my best to rush our shopping. It feels like we are missing some crucial things, but the anxiety of being here makes me want to crawl into the freezer and cryogenically lobotomize myself. We pay for our groceries, toss the bags haphazardly into the car, speed out of the parking lot, and merge straight into gridlock.

As someone who’s driven The 80 most of my life to visit family in the suburbs of Sacramento, traffic is the worst I can remember. By the time we reach Davis, it's taken at least four hours to drive what should’ve been one.

“Do you think the traffic is because of corona?” Jan asks.

“I wonder if this qualifies as a mass gathering.”

We pull off the freeway to hit a Chevron in West Sacramento. As Jan enters the market, I survey the neighborhood: shuttered fast food chains and dilapidated single-story homes with iron bars over their windows. Everytime I return to Sacramento, I remember all its nuances and forget them by the time I leave. This time I write them down:

  • Emaciated dude talking to himself while using an air compressor to clean out his red convertible that looks like something from the 80s… that perhaps contains all the belongings he’s accumulated since the 80s
  • There are at least fifteen employees at the gas station right now. Could they all be on-the-clock? Is this a hub? Is this a community? A group of seemingly off-duty yet attired workers in their lime-green Chevron uniforms with beer-belly midriffs… stroking their equally uniform goatees while chain-smoking Camels
  • The wind’s whipping a patch of eucalyptus behind the gas station like brown fire
  • Will I see chevrons of geese next fall?

I wonder what will happen here if there’s a crisis. The lack of resources and safety nets, understaffed and underfunded hospitals, compromised immune systems, poor diets and nutrition... with a tangible pride despite it all; this pandemic could lead to medical and economic devastation. Yet, I can’t tell if anyone’s worried. Maybe they’re hiding it, trying to continue on as if everything is normal. Are we not doing the same?

Preparing to embark on the next stretch of The 80, I flashback to Dad and his second-divorce purchase of a red, convertible Ferrari. Roaring up to ~120 mph, my face rippled as he blasted Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.” He looked over as proud, clichéd fathers do, and I smiled back, concealing an acute sense of terror. I recall it with fondness.

I think of him now. I think of my whole family. All of them in one way or another have preexisting health concerns. I wish several of them had taken better care of themselves. I wonder if they’re harboring the fear I felt as a passenger that day, hostage to the whims of adrenaline and ego. I’m beginning to feel nervous about our future.

Jan enters the car. “I tried to get out of there without touching anything.”


We approach the outdoor parking lot for the Sugar Bowl gondola. Jan assesses the situation and shakes his head in disapproval.

“Drive to the gated underground parking ,” he says. “We’ll get snowed in if we park up here...”

“With the plebes.”

As Jan tries to convince Andy over the phone to give us one of their reserved parking spaces, the listless attendant overhears the name “Hellman” and instantly lifts the gate without another word. Jan and I high-five like teenagers who snuck into the front row of an R-rated movie, parking directly in front of the gondola entrance.

A dude in his thirties with a ponytail and fire-engine red headband awaits us. I wonder if I knew him in high school. He unloads all of our gear while I observe the type of cars around us: German, Swiss, and Italian makes. There’s a requisite Tesla cadre in the corner of the garage. How do they all look so clean? I always felt my car was nice, but now I’m a pizza delivery guy. We shouldn’t be here... for a number of reasons. But, alas.

Jan gives ski-bum Rambo a handshake tip as we enter the gondola.

“This is my first gondola ride,” I admit to Jan.

“Really?” he asks, genuinely surprised.

The rotating cable brings our vessel (I’ll just call it a vessel) to the edge and I raise my hands like I’m taking the plunge on an idiotica rollercoaster. But the speed remains at a ‘leisurely pace’ as we sail over snow and pines. My heart races from the height. The wind increases and pedulates our vessel with a mother’s rocking motion. Jan says the crest of the Sugar Bowl range gets wind speeds up to 100 mph – comforting.

As our ride nears the destination terminal, we remark on the ostentation of the estates, some as ornate as Austrian chalets tucked into the Alps. Very on-brand.

We’re met by Andy as we exit the gondola. I realize the drastic shift in altitude did a number on my sinuses. I’m going to have to suppress the symptoms. I don’t want to burst their virus-free bubble. Just then, a mother and daughter exit a gondola behind us while wearing face masks. The room grows somber. They look toward the ground and shuffle past, staying as close to the wall and as far from us as possible.

The mountain attendants, also around our age, don’t speak to us as they unload our luggage. Apparently ski-bum Rambo informed them we’re short on gratuities. Blowing into their hands, the attendants shiver and remain quiet. I try to make eye-contact, but they’re focusing on the coming vessels.

As we make our way to the residence, I see something out of a Christmas movie. There’s a wide, snow-covered street illuminated by the richest hue of streetlamp light. I look at the street name and notice Nob Hill, which is the neighborhood over from where I live in SF.

“Many of the Sugar Bowl streets are named after places in The City,” Andy briefs.

We stand before Hellman's estate. It’s a four story behemoth with decorative facades, accented with generous and powdery snow. Andy and Jan discuss the renovations. I’m ensured there’s been much improvement. However, all the windows are boarded with drab wooden slats, offering meager, diamond-shaped holes to see the outside world. I look up the stairwell, hoping there’ll be a large living room with a panoramic mountainside view. But there are just a bunch of bedrooms. Similarly, up on the fourth floor is a large children’s room with a solitary window located in the bathroom. Returning to the first floor, I feel a slight, inexpressible guilt about my disappointment. I wonder why you’d have a place in such a stunning location if you can’t even see out the windows. Maybe I’m just in the dark.

“Are these boards for the wind?” I ask.

Andy looks, as if having forgotten they’re there. “I don’t know, they’re pretty much on all year. The other one has better lighting, in my opinion.”

I pause. “The other what now?”

Apparently they purchased another Sugar Bowl estate because they felt this one’s too crowded when the children visit. I then learn there’s another even nicer home down the way, but it’s “near the train-tracks.” By the end of his explanation, I’m not quite sure how many estates they actually own on the mountain. I leave this conversation under the impression it’s at least three.

Andy and Jan proceed to a patio beneath the entrance porch, where they spark up a joint. It’s been years since I’ve gotten high. Something compels me. I breathe it in, instantly wondering if I have irreparably compromised my lungs. Since quitting cigs, I’ve been much healthier. Would this simple puff revert all the progress made? Can I not be permitted this innocent reprieve from reality?

We sit beside the fireplace listening to The Beach Boys’ Smile Sessions. In my slightly elevated haze, I have an urge to draw Celtic Knots. Threading the intricate lace of a triquetra loop into my notepad, I consider the nonlinearity of time, the weave of death and reincarnation: snow falling, melting, hydrating, evaporating, and sublimating.

As the other guests arrive, I sidle into a state of forgetfulness. It’s warm, numbing, untraceable. We are eating and drinking at our leisure as the snow falls, beside the fire, with Mendicino goat cheeses, vintaged red wine from Napa, and other accoutrements I’ve rarely before experienced.

At the end of the night, I elect to take one of the children’s rooms on the fourth floor. Sitting upright in a twin bed (with my feet dangling off the end), I see snowflakes descend past the bathroom window and hear a gentle bowing of wind. I notice tightness in my chest. Between my literal (and figurative) elevation and peripheral anxiety, I convince myself labored breathing can be expected.

I unzip my backpack and lift out the only book I brought with me: Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty. I open to my earmark. The chapter: CAPTIVITY, CATHARSIS.


March 14th, 2020 - It’s 7:30 am, Saturday, and I wake up with a foreboding sense of doom. My chest is still tight. While taking a hot shower, I stare at the mountainous piles of snow that’ve collected outside.

Meanwhile there’s a pile of messages collecting on my phone. On WhatsApp, I find an extensive exchange between Jayme and her sister. I fear they’re reacting to a UK travel ban. To my relief, they’re only questioning the ‘ethics’ of traveling itself. Jayme sends a picture of the crowded pub she’s in, captioned: Clearly England doesn’t give a fuk

I head downstairs. All the guests are in the kitchen making pancakes, eggs, and bacon. I log onto my work email as Jan sets up his laptop beside me. I ask what he’s working on. He says emails, which I’m pretty sure isn’t true. In the midst of finalizing yesterday’s articles, one guest calls us over.

“Pancakes, boys! Warm those tummies for a big ski-day!”

We ignore this initially puerile invitation, before a firmer suggestion that we close our devices. My annoyance over the second insistence must’ve been palpable. I’m not going to justify to them that I’m working, that I’m not going to interrupt the progress I’m making for Sugar Bowl Pancakes. I wasn’t consulted on when breakfast was going to be, and I shouldn’t be made to feel like a child stubbornly refusing to put down videogames.

Jan, not doing much of anything in the first place, joins them before I do. When I eventually stand up and make my way to the kitchen, there’s only bacon left. As a vegetarian, I improvise an avocado sandwich and stand in the kitchen, watching everyone else eat at the table. I wonder if they are going to invite me to sit with them, but maybe I’m projecting antisocial behaviors. That said, the offer never comes. While they’re laughing and talking, I linger like one of the gondola attendants. I want to return to the separate table and continue working, but I’m not one for public acts of defiance.

As they prepare to ski, my phone receives a headline notification: Trump adds UK and Ireland to US travel ban

I post the article to our WhatsApp group, followed by texts attempting to justify why we shouldn’t cancel our plans. We walk through the different scenarios. Ultimately, pragmatism prevails and our plans are thwarted. Jayme surmises: At least the environment will benefit from this shutdown. Also can’t we dismantle a dormant capitalism??

I sigh and rest my head on the kitchen island. I want to cry, but not around these people. Confiding to Jan that a UK travel ban was just announced, he’s clearly empathetic, but no less ready to ski.

“Well, as a believer in parity, I guess no one should escape getting fucked by this,” I submit.

“Well, you shouldn’t have even been traveling in the first place,” another guest reprimands with intentional snark (clearly oblivious to the fact that they themself also traveled to get here).

I look up my flight reservation. There’s a notice about a fee waiver on flight cancellations, due to the travel ban. My finger hesitates over the cancellation button. Rather, I open a new word doc to stare down a barren, white screen. Writing about the potential of a cancelled flight is apparently easier than cancelling the flight itself.

Jan and the guests admire the quantity of snowfall. Heaps of shimmering fluff cover the entire deck. Due to the severity of the storm, two of the runs have already been closed. Jan and Andy harmonize, joking about the implausibility of leaving tomorrow morning.

“We should stay isolated anyway, right?”

I don’t care when we leave anymore.

Back on the fourth floor, I pace around my child-sized dormitory. Outside, as snow continues to fall, entrapment sets in. I’m stuck, but I don’t know where to go. With my flight being effectively cancelled, and the increasing eeriness of the Bay Area, I don’t know where else I could possibly want to be. But there’s no escaping my helplessness. I lay supine on the hardwood floor. Over an hour passes before I find the strength to move.

Back downstairs I wrap up work for the day. Three other non-skiing guests lounge in the living room, discussing the sacrifices they’re prepared to make in the instance of a quarantine. They agree no yoga classes would be tough, but find cursory solace that online video sessions might suffice.

It quickly escalates into a messy polemic about how to reproach people who won’t listen to the facts. They begin a tangent on how most people are taught to repress their feelings — that instead of allowing a steady, healthy catharsis of emotions, they resort to anger when uncomfortable. These guests believe that we are culturally encouraged not to share our thoughts, to keep them hidden, guarded; instead we act out in anger, which only alienates others. It’s surmised that this is a selfish reaction to the world. That those who are angry are children.

I remain quiet. I’m not even sure they realize I’m here.

Admittedly, I feel angry. I wonder if it’s because I only have three or four people with whom I can share my intimate feelings; one being Jayme, my most cherished confidant, now physically inaccessible with the travel ban. I think of everyone struggling in my circle as well. Sure, they act irrationally at times. Yes, on occasion they behave like petulant children. Still, I consider who's been angry and the reasons they’ve had. It’s not just selfish, nor self-serving. Anger results from fear. In the face of injustice, and sometimes ritualized injustice, people break. Anger will stem from pain, disappointment. But anger results from empathy as well.

The encroaching pandemic hasn’t been an unfortunate accident. This didn’t happen just by chance. A panoply of systemic flaws, isolationist dogmatisms, laissez-faire yet exploitative economic policies, unmitigated privilege and accumulation, oppression by speculation, and seditious anachronistic moral customs have brought us to this crisis. Though it all seems a momentary blip in the Sugar Bowl Continuum. There’s real pain out there, real fear. This is the first bonafide threat to our society in generations.

I don’t say this to the guests. After taking a breath, I realize that I haven’t been outside today. I take a pair of wool socks from Jan’s backpack, put on my city boots, peacoat, and walk out into the white.


“That was the last run,” Jan announces. “They’re observing corona restrictions.”

There’s a brief moment of silence held, before someone replies, “Well, there’s still tons of cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing to do.”

“Now that sounds like some good fun!” another guest volleys with a thick Wisconsinite accent.

Apparently, someone has to be wheezing in bed before it’s something we should acknowledge.

After cleaning up from his day of skiing, Jan joins me at the table. He asks how my day went. I feign a response. We pick up some guitars and a mandolin, jamming out our favorite covers. A couple songs turn into a few hours, with the help of plentiful pilsners. Music and drinking have always served as a welcome distraction in our years of friendship, especially when in congress.

Dinner is served: a massive chicken roast, with an abundance of root vegetables. I take an entitled portion of the veggies, this time being offered a spot at the communal table. Maybe, they feel bad about earlier.

At 1:30am, Andy, Jan, and I stumble through the snow to the community jacuzzi at the Sporthaus Fitness & Spa. The door’s unlocked even though it’s way past closing hours. I look into a vaulted, modernized lobby with an unused fireplace and stairs leading to a sauna. The lobby desk is lined with blue tiles and empty towel racks. Andy signs himself in and remains perplexed about the lack of towels. We then find them used and strewn about the men’s locker room.

“This is fucking haggard,” Andy says.

“Are they not cleaning up because of corona?” Jan speculates.

“There’s probably a new virus breeding in here already,” I reply.

We undress in the lobby. I donn Andy’s swim trunks, as Andy and Jan denude. We prance through a blistering two-feet of snow to the jacuzzi, plunging into the steamy pit.

“So good,” Jan decides.

Brothing,” Andy groans.

Jan and Andy are joking about staying in the tub all night while throwing snowballs at each other. They get out of the tub and lay their naked bodies in the snow, face down, only to reenter with abandon. There’s chlorine in my eyes from their waves.

Suddenly, my acute claustrophobia returns. The snow: it’s uncompromising. I feel every little snowflake stinging my bald head.

Panicking, I exit the jacuzzi with haste as they huck snowballs at my raisined frame. After drying off, I clothe myself and soldier through the heavy snow back to the estate, alone. I climb four stories and crawl under sheets.

My chest is tight again. There’s no fever. I breathe out, no cough.

The snowfall is thick in my window. The darkness bleeds like a pot of spilled ink.


March 15th, 2020 - Sunday. Jan’s driving my car through the blizzard. We’re alone on The 80. Torrents of snowflakes cascade from the vibrant white mist of a shallow sky. Despite the conditions, my anxieties and fears are dissipating. I feel a tinge of peace for the first time in weeks, breathing in and out with ease.

We’ve been driving down the mountain at a steady 30 mph, wearing our sunglasses. The glare is blinding. Jan calls his bluegrass band to tell them he’s going to miss the performance. We decide to go back to Schmidt’s to tie up this strange weekend, or maybe just out of habit.

It's a beautiful desolation, this snowy mountainside. How perfectly alive I feel. Still, I grieve over the UK travel ban, devastated to not see Jayme. For weeks I’ve been looking forward to sharing in her new life, meeting her new friends, and experiencing a new part of the world with her. Mostly, though, I just miss the space and time it takes to truly be with someone you care for. Social media keeps the thread of a relationship intact, but there’s something distinct about being physically near someone else that affords a unified sense of belonging; of vulnerability. Acceptance is a process. Patience is a necessary part of healing.

Jan’s been quiet. I sense he’s been hurting too.

“You alright?” I ask.

He’s concentrating, staring off into the middle-distance.

He replies, “Just trying to focus on what’s ahead.”

Soon, the snow transitions to rain and the whitewash fantasy melts away to reality. We drive through Sacramento and back toward the Bay, unencumbered by traffic.

Sunlight radiates in braids on the Carnequez Straight, as we cross the bridge to Martinez. I see the pier where Jayme and I went fishing for the first time over the summer. The sun was blistering that day, and right as a military bomber passed overhead, I took a picture of her reeling in a tiny fish from the estuary.

We arrive in Berkeley and park in front of Schmidt’s. Right as we reach the entrance, the bartender announces last call. Jan looks at his phone.

“Dave, it’s only 4pm!”

“Mayor ordered a citywide lockdown,” he flatly replies.

We order our final round for the foreseeable future. Jan first strikes up a conversation with a local couple, then with a woman visiting from Germany. She’s been temporarily living in Mexico and will head back tomorrow due to what Mayor London Breed is calling a “shelter-in-place” order.

Anxiety pervades again. I don’t want to be here either. Worse, I don’t know where I want to be. To where, exactly, could I escape and be safe from the virus? Safe from being a vector? A remote island? Well, they’re asking us to be islands. Total, unwavering, uncompromising isolation. Is social distancing our only remaining shelter from the storm? I’m a writer, I’m used to isolation. But this is different. It’s indeterminate. We don’t know to what degree we’ll be forced into confinement, nor for how long. I want to resist this oppression. But, I quickly remind myself, this dwarfs oppression; it’s prevention. It’s my ostensible civic duty. It’s social responsibility.

As Jan continues to chat, I read an article from the Mercury News: Shelter-in-place will be effective Monday, at midnight. I can’t tell if London Breed is utterly mad, or if it’s the right call. London… I was supposed to arrive at Heathrow Airport in three days. Jayme was going to be waiting for us at the gates. I didn’t beat the clock.

Jan, speaking on my behalf to the German woman, likely flirting, explains we’re both musicians and now pretty much out of work. Ready to correct him, I then notice Marquez's, Love in the Time of Cholera on the shelf at Schmidt’s. I think of all the pandemics, wars, famines, genocides, enslavements, natural disasters, violations of rights, suppressions of freedoms; the ineffable persecutions humanity has faced. We’re resilient. We endure. But resolving conflict always took time, required engagement, and was never dealt with alone.

In truth, I’m afraid. I’ve been running around for a week trying to find any distraction, any way to ease the pain and fear. It’s inevitable. But, I’m not alone. We are going into isolation, together. It’s time to get home.

There’s a bump on my shoulder. Jan’s searching for me with a grin. “You ready?”

I raise my half-finished pilsner like a yellow flag, watching the bubbles popping at the surface. I drink it down.

“I am.”

Dan Talamantes

is a writer and historian from the Central Valley of California. His work has been published in the Elderly, Cathexis, Soft Punk, Paragon Press, The Write Launch, SF Chronicle, among others.

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