Discover more from Stoic Observations
Taking The Test
A Contemporary Horror Story
Today my youngest daughter has been on telephone for at least 2 hours straight. She walks from the front yard through the kitchen to the backyard with tears streaming down her face. Perhaps she’s breaking up. My wife, having suffered a pinched nerve tends to foul her mood in the effort required to clomp down the stairs. She doesn’t speak. My oldest daughter is in her room, as ever. I see her maybe for 20 minutes in the whole day unless we decide to watch a movie during dinner. Tonight, no movie.
Tonight I have to go get tested for the novel coronavirus. I was supposed to do it yesterday, but instead I washed three quarters of the dishes assigned to me and ran out to fetch Carl’s Jr. Fast food is, during my busy work schedule, the only way to keep ahead of the dishes. A large inviting kitchen is, in that way, a blessing and a curse. My life is a blessing and a curse. I’m that affluent guy who is not rich but knows rich people who complain as much as I do. I’m too smart to work really hard, but not smart enough to have my money work hard for me. I’m the kind of comfortable American who doesn’t care if you like my attitude or not, even though I’m as thoughtful as most anyone cares to be. People will miss me when I’m dead. But I’m not dead.
I don’t expect to test positive. I’ve been sitting most days in my air-conditioned home office with a fan blowing across my face. I work for what I call the world’s oldest garage startup. We’re working on our third exit strategy. Hard times for strivers. Our biggest customer is an airline. They have no flights and therefore no work for us this since March of this year, but our hard times started last year. I have burned through my one and a half of my two 401Ks and 68% of my unsecured credit. I’m working on 2/3rds of my ordinary salary, but that’s too much money for the State of California’s special conditions for unemployment reimbursement. My banks keep pretending they don’t know my salary has been docked, so they ask politely in pop-up ads for me to review my personal information. I am quite healthy enough to feel all of this pain and stress in excruciating detail. I don’t have a fever or shortness of breath. I just have financial headaches.
Yesterday I dropped my XBox trying to set it upright. Bricked it. Two weeks ago I had to put the truck in the shop. For three weeks my network service has been crappy. Last week I took my Macbook to the shop. The battery had swollen up so much that the screen wouldn’t fold all the way down. $650 and I’ll get it back in 6-10 business days. Swell. I am typing this from a Raspberry Pi, my $75 computer. I’m beginning to understand in very practical terms that I can live with less. Except I am 59 years old in the tech industry and my startup hasn’t cashed out and is running out of cash. I have a full life beyond the screens with obligations. This is pandemic time. Nobody interviews. It’s all body shop spam for part time work in Indiana or Ohio for stuff I forgot 10 years ago. Or online tests and all of the specific questions that 28 year-olds with 6 years of experience in a seven year old computer language can think of. Instagram delivers me Hallmark cards from old college buddies. That makes lots more money these days than the systems I wrote to help airline pilots.
Can you feel my pain? I don’t want you to. I’m a writer, and I have plenty of material. I play games chance and balance with my interests, ethics, time and audiences. I’ll never compete with anyone who can take a selfie with Caitlyn Jenner. I’m dedicated to stuff we used to call ‘important’. I’m a grownup. I think of the economy like it’s a galaxy far far away, and I am from a small planet on the outer rim. I think my planet has the right minerals. I think I’m worth my salt. I’m streaming music from Sting on my browser. I’m in between Synchronicity II and Message in a Bottle.
There’s no rush hour traffic between myself and the clinic. The truck is running smoothly now. I’ll get there in time, but there’s no appointment necessary. The building is in my old neighborhood across the street from where my daughter attended pre-school when we moved there in 2002. The pre-school is now senior housing. The clinic used to be a Blockbuster Video. There are plenty of parking spaces. It’s all so easy. I click off the video recorder on my phone. I’ve talked enough about my stoic attitude towards taking the test. If I test positive, it could be interesting. If I have the virus, it might even go viral. There’s no telling. Two years ago I posted a picture of my parents’ wedding picture on Reddit. It got 11,000 likes. The biggest thing I had ever done, it was completely unexpected. You never know how the universe is going to shift under your feet. Make the most of the moment. Eat that chocolate cake.
One of the Hallmark cards said that being out of shape is hard and that working out every day to stay in shape is hard. Choose your hard. Surviving this pandemic is hard. It’s hard all the way down. I think I’ve chosen the right path my entire life. If I’m infected and die, none of that will matter. Have I been appropriately vigilant? I think so, but I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t know that I was diabetic until this past January, three months later just as I went full-bore Keto Diet, intermittent fasting and hitting the HIIT gym tree times a week, the gym shut down under orders from the Governor. The pounds are finally starting to creep back. It was hard doing the workouts. It’s hard not doing the workouts. It’s going to be hard no matter which way this test works out.
I got screened at the door, well actually they forgot to do that. But a kind woman gave me a stapled sheaf of papers and a magnetic bucket with numbers on it to place on my truck. I took pictures of my ID and insurance card, uploaded them without the benefit of 5G and filled out the forms. Metformin. Atorvastatin. Two alcoholic beverages per week on average. Half way through filling out the form, a young man in scrubs approaches. I find my keys with my awkward left hand and turn on the ignition so the window will scroll down. We forgot… So he takes my temperature. The gadget on my finger is taking too long to read my blood oxygen level. It’s 96% and my heart rate is 98. I try to remember what Donald Trump’s numbers were. I cannot. He tells me my numbers are pretty good. There seems to be genuine surprise in his voice. Still, I wish the numbers were reversed.
I didn’t run this morning. What else haven’t I done? My father won’t let me visit him until I test negative. My brother has shoulder surgery this coming weekend. I need to be the Number One Son again. That’s my duty, and I need to be up to the task. I cannot afford to be a burden. If I fail this test I will have everyone’s sympathy but my own. I need to be taking care of all of my business. That’s what matters.
A third staffer comes out with a plastic wrapped swab that resembles the swizzle stick in a Singapore Sling in a dingy downtown Vegas casino. It’s long. She grips it in her left hand like a stiletto. My wife told me that Blue Cross might not cover the test which would then cost me $240, but the woman says everything is approved. I tell her now is the time when she should say “This is going to pinch..” but she says no but maybe your eye will water. For the ten seconds it takes as I press my head back into the bucket seat I am reminded of the first time I got seawater up my nose. Then it’s done. I should have my results online by 9pm; if I am positive then they will call me as well. My passenger seat has several masks as well as the medical form I photographed and uploaded. I put my IDs back into my wallet and back out of the parking lot. I notice myself sweating under my LA ball cap. I notice myself sniffling through that one punctured nostril. This is the most I have noticed how my own face feels in recent memory. The old familiar buildings of my old neighborhood roll by. I put my Airpods back in and try to listen to an audiobook. Instead I call home. My wife says “Panda Express is a good idea.” Yes it is.
I can’t log in to the medical portal, I’m wearing contacts and can’t find my reading glasses. I’m too frustrated to try a third time. So I simply enjoy the orange chicken. It’s delicious and doesn’t move the dial of my blood glucose beyond the normal limits. Halfway through the Dry Bar comic’s routine, the family room is empty and I retreat to my office to try one more time. I fall asleep at my desk and awake to the sound of my wife finishing off the dishes. She’s an angel. Nobody has called me or sent me an email. I guess I’m going to be OK, but I am annoyed. One more thing left unresolved, another short term debt assumed. I’m going to bed.
Before I am completely out, I reprogram the automations on my $50 light bulbs. I’ve been putting it off for a year and a half. The October mornings are dark and we still haven’t pushed back the clocks - our economy out of synchrony with the actual universe. Now at 7am, the digital goblins of Apple, in collaboration with the digital spooks of Phillips will make sure there’s enough light for me to find my running shoes as the days grow shorter. We’ll deal with the rest of this tomorrow morning, after my hard run.