Sunday, August 27- The unusual has become the norm

By Roger Cook
Trying to write down what makes up an average day is difficult, and not just because in one ear, I have the howls and wails of local drunks coming through the window, and in the other ear, the shrieks and screams of a cockatiel who believes whatever I’m doing right now is time that would be better spent giving them pets and treats. It’s difficult because it’s become too hard to say what counts as average anymore; the unusual has become the norm.

Doing just about anything that involves leaving the apartment takes a lot more thought and preparation. Do I take a bus to get somewhere, and if so, which routes have recently had drivers test positive for COVID? Will other people on the bus bother wearing masks? Is there another route I can take that will have fewer people on the bus, even if it adds half an hour to my travel time? Will there be a lineup to get into the grocery store of the day, and how long will I have to wait to stand out in the hot sun? Did I remember to bring a mask with me? And the main question under all of them, is going out worth the risk and anxiety?
My neighborhood has always been a bit on the shady side, but it seems there’s more desperation and brazenness to it since lockdowns and economic collapses. Roving gangs on E-scooters scout the area for delivery trucks to follow, hoping that whatever is being delivered is something they can grab out of the mailbox or front porch. It doesn’t matter if it’s comics or medical equipment; it can still be sold if it can’t be used. Apart from intercepted deliveries, some items are stolen or destroyed seemingly just for the fun of it. Residents in the area have reported lawn ornaments, fencing, flowers and plants, bikes, and even a kayak stolen out of their yards. For a week across the street from my balcony, there was a bike chop shop operating in a parking lot—ballsy move considering that next door was a police building.

Theft doesn’t appear to be the only thing up around here. Overdoses and public intoxication can be found walking a couple of blocks in any direction. Early one morning, while taking the dog out for a walk, I found a woman lying in the middle of the street close to my building, unconscious, and a needle next to her arm. I didn’t think to bring a mask with me because who was I going to run into while walking the dog at four in the morning? The passed out woman wasn’t wearing a mask because when you’re a junkie, that’s going to be low on your list of priorities. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the choice to get too close to her or not because the dog was spooked by the situation and kept trying to pull me away, preventing me from getting too close. All I could do was see that she was breathing and call 911 to send paramedics. I sat nearby, keeping an eye on her while waiting for emergency services to show up. First was the police after a five-minute wait. They checked on the woman, went through her purse, and questioned me while waiting for the ambulance to show up. None of the police officers were wearing masks or social distancing, and I wondered how many people they could spread the virus during their interactions with the public on an average day. The paramedics showed up after another few minutes, and they both geared up in full PPE while stepping out of the ambulance, in sharp contrast to the cops. I stuck around to make sure she got loaded into the ambulance, alright, and before I left, the police told me to give them my name and phone number in case the woman says I assaulted her. It seemed like an odd thing to tell me. What’s the scenario there? While walking a small dog that’s scared of everyone, I assaulted a woman in the middle of the street, left a syringe next to her, and then called 911 and stayed there until the police showed up? Still, even with the world of COVID and the unmasked police response, checking on the woman and calling for help isn’t something that would require much thought for me to do again. Gotta help your neighbors.

Apart from thefts and substance abuse, there’s also been fires. Apparently, there’s been an arsonist at work in this part of town for years, though, so if anything is set on fire from time to time, it counts as normal. So far this year there’s been a restaurant, a couple of houses, an apartment building, and a maple syrup shack that was pretty popular. Not all of those were arson though; the apartment building fire was because drunk idiots were upset there was no big Canada Day party on Parliament Hill this year, so they decided to have their own fireworks show at their apartment building instead. So, of course, what happened happened.

So it’s easy to find reasons to go out as little as possible, but that means having to find more to do while confined to a small home. I do feel fortunate that I live in a mini-zoo with four birds, two cats, a dog, and a roommate. If I were living here alone, my mental state would be far more precarious than it already is. Still, though, loneliness is a frequent issue, and dating is more of a minefield than it already was before. Online communication is nice, but I have not even had a hug in 2020. I’ve started considering hiring an escort just to have someone to watch a movie with me and give me cuddles until I fall asleep. What’s even the etiquette for that now? We both wear masks for all of it in case either of us in asymptomatic? It’s getting to be too much to think about just to want to have a nice night in curled up with someone watching movies.

Confined at home, my two big activities are obsessively keeping an eye on the outside world through news reports, and then finding distractions to stop myself from thinking about the outside world too much and reading news stories of rising infections while at the same time anti-maskers are having protests because they’re under the delusion that spreading a harmful virus is a freedom that must be defended. Sometimes I wonder if there anything can be said to such people to get them to wise up and ditch their stupidity and selfishness. And while wondering that, I came across a news story concerning the landfall of Hurricane Laura.

Port Arthur is a small town in Texas that normally has a population of 54000 people. Just about everyone had evacuated the town to get out of the way of the massive wall of water, wind, and death that was barrelling down on them. But there was one man there with strong convictions, the town liquor store owner. He decided not only not to evacuate but also to keep his store open to serve all the people in the ghost town. He simply stated, – “People need their vodka.” Didn’t matter that one of the biggest storms in that region’s history was about to hit. Didn’t matter that there weren’t any people left in town to sell vodka to. If an actual hurricane and evacuation isn’t enough to convince someone that the normal life he wants and expects isn’t happening, the chances of getting the brainless maskless to jump on board are pretty slim.

I think I’ve reached my quota for thinking about the outside world today, especially because I can feel my brain wanting to consider how much worse things can get, like say, a second wave of the virus spreading rapidly thanks to reopened schools and people being told to go back to work so they can make profits for the people at the top who can still afford to stay home in safety, or what the odds are of a civil war breaking out in the U.S. in November.

The drunks outside have either wandered off or passed out, and my birds have decided to stop screaming at me (for now), so the choice I have now is to either sleep or hop into Virtual Reality for a bit. Either way, though, dreaming or VR, a break from what passes for normal reality is welcome.