When I first heard this joke, it was about a Jewish man and kugel. But then I recently read this version on a Scenes:
A man in Mexico was on his deathbed when he suddenly smelled tamales. His favorite food. He flung himself out of bed and dragged himself to the kitchen where he saw his wife busy cooking. With his last bit of strength, he reached for a tamale and his hand was immediately smacked with a wooden spoon. “Those are for the funeral.”
I laughed. It spoke to me.
A few days ago I dragged myself to a clinic to get a COVID-19 test. The line stretched around the block and it took almost three hours. Afterward, I emotionally ate two slices of pizza, one right after the other. On the street. Both pepperoni. There will be free pizza at my funeral. And tamales. Kugel, too. This essay is legally binding.
It’s been almost two years since the highly-contagious coronavirus was first discovered and then started spreading around the world. Since then, 800,000 Americans have died during the ensuing pandemic. Over five million people around the world have perished.
I have received three shots of a vaccine, the most recent being a “booster” to protect against variants of the virus. The newest mutation — named Omicron, which sounds like a Transformer— is currently surging through New York City. I know, right now, at least a half-dozen people, all vaxxed, who have come down with this new illness. The symptoms are milder, or so I hear.
Of course, the Scenes “mild” has two meanings now.
The first definition is, you know, “not severe” but it can also mean “not in a medically-induced coma.”
A couple of weeks ago my life was almost normal. Kinda sorta. I wore masks on the subway, yes. Should have been doing that for years. They shudder to think of what I caught down there. My vaccination card was checked before entering movies, where We also wore my mask, mostly out of duty. I saw friends, but we met and ate outdoors when we could. So this variant is an unwelcome surprise. As I stood in line, waiting, I received a text from a friend whose husband and daughter are sick, wheezing, and coughing together, canceling their holiday plans because no one wants to infect grandma.
Just to be clear, I’m not symptomatic. I was getting tested at the request of my ex-fiancee, whose sister is immunocompromised. She is taking care of my one-eyed dog for the holiday while I visit my family in Texas. If I visit my family. Should I visit my family? Goddammit.
She is going to pick up the pooch and we’re going to say “hi,” from a distance. My ex and I haven’t seen each other in a while. I think she’s doing as well as can be expected.
We survived Scenes:
The pandemic but our relationship did not. We spent most of last year living in a small house north of the city with her mother and sister. I made them countless stuffed peppers. I watched countless hours of Jeopardy! with them. We were terrified together, we laughed together, the four of us. But it was too much. The snow, the plague, the loss. We tried. She tried. I tried.
The world doesn’t end with a whimper, it ends with a long, defeated sigh.
I am still close with her family but I have a new life now. It’s smaller, a little more fragile than I’d like. But it’s mine and I still make stuffed peppers, only not as many.
At the clinic:
The nurse was visibly tired behind her mask. My eyes watered Scenes, as they always do when the swab enters my nostril. We didn’t make small talk. I was just one more anxious person getting tested, one of who knows how many she’d seen that day. Hundreds?
I waited for my results and they are negative, and yet, during that time, thousands more New Yorkers tested positive. This is what living with a virus looks like. A few months of not thinking about sore throats or hospitals and then, suddenly, we’re back.
He was probably ten, fifteen years younger. This is the worst he’s seen he tells me.
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He gets a weekly test because he’s unvaccinate and then there’s a pause in our banter because the people who loudly refuse to get vaccinate are sometimes the same who call the virus “fake news” in 2020. He told me he’s unvaccinated almost sheepishly and I felt the anger in me rise and then I relaxed my fists. I didn’t have the energy to hate him so I just asked him why he’s unvaccinated.
He stammer Scenes:
He was sick as a kid, had multiple surgeries, something about his lymph nodes. He’s scare of the vaccine so he gets the test because that’s his workplace’s other option and so I drop it. It had been a long day. We’re on our feet. He’s getting texts and I’m getting texts. So-and-so went to a party, so-and-so went to a show. People are testing positive. This feels like the beginning, all over again.
I have another test scheduled for later this week, and then I’ll make the decision about whether I should visit my mom, who is 78 and vulnerable. I already know what I have to do but I’m going to spend another couple of days pretending I’m going to see her.
And so here I am, sitting in my apartment. Again. I’m listening to Taylor Swift’s melancholy power-pop album ‘Folklore,’ which was my soundtrack during the worst of the pandemic. I was never a fan of hers but I am now a convert. I am listening to her sad songs again to remind me of that time I was brave. This time around, though, I’m stocking up more frozen pizzas and buying fewer cans of beef stew.
I won’t wipe down my groceries with disinfectant wipes. This time is not the last time.
The twelve essays in this short collection write during late winter and early spring of 2020. The title of each scene is the date it publish.
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I wrote dozens of essays during the pandemic for my blog Humungus, which was both a job and a coping mechanism.
My best to stick to writing about pop culture and politics but the growing COVID-19 crisis crept into my work. Chose a nine-week period which reveals, slowly, the intensity of that particular part of the timeline. Edit these selections for typos and tighten a few paragraphs here and there but otherwise, Left them as they write, in a hurry, scared, scattershot, and clear-eyed.
Just a few scenes. Essays about quarantine, and movies, and muddling through. They’re reminders of what was so that what is right now doesn’t seem so overwhelming. We will get through this. In the meantime, wear a mask when asked, get vaccinated, please, love your friends and family, and eat your favorite foods, now, while you have the time.