Last night I found myself pondering the melancholy truth that real life is a picaresque narrative, not a plotted one, and that we – whether individually or collectively – never really circle back to where we started. This is not an original observation on my part, but it is relevant to this moment. Probably like most people, maybe more so because of how much I’ve traveled, I’ve made many friendships that I still cherish but have been unable to maintain. This is just the way of things, but it’s exacerbated by the nature of American society, the way we’ve been able to plug and play our middle-class lifestyles from one interchangeable suburb to another coast to coast.
This morning I heard from my old friend Jerry Burhop. Jerry and I grew up together in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He’s one of exactly two childhood friends that I stay in touch with, and I don’t think it’s accidental that, like me, both of them left Oconomowoc long ago. Jerry ended up in suburban Philadelphia, a financial planner and rock-solid family man. I had been looking forward to spending a couple nights with Jerry and his wife Annmarie during the two-week work trip that I just cancelled.
“Things in the Philly area are as crazy as everywhere else I would assume,” he told me, “with TP flying off the shelves and hand sanitizer more valuable than, well, everything else.” Jerry and Annie’s daughters attend Ohio State and Penn State, both of which have gone online. “If that’s the case I will have both girls home for a few weeks, ironically a beneficial side effect of the social distancing.”
Jerry also wrote: “The market gyrations of course are making my life interesting at work, but I have seen this before. We were very overdue for some market volatility. Corona and the OPEC move were just the final catalyst for a good market correction or even Bear market stretch. This is a buying opportunity in my opinion.”
I spent the later part of this morning watching the televised press conference at which Washington Governor Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a ban on all events attended by 250 people or more – covering, as Inslee put it, “social, recreational, spiritual, and other matters” – throughout King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. “This prohibition could be expanded in the days to come, depending on the development of the virus,” said Inslee. “… It is very likely that this will be extended beyond March.”
“I am asking employers to make changes to how they do business,” he said. People should talk to their doctors about delaying elective surgery: “We do not want to see an avalanche of people coming into our hospitals that have limited capacity. … I’m asking all of our school districts to immediately begin contingency planning for possible closures.” (Later in the day Seattle Public Schools closed for at least 14 days.)
Constantine said that the goal is to “help ensure that a health crisis does not become a humanitarian disaster.”
Responding to a question, Inslee said: “I don’t feel it’s draconian to try to prevent another 22 [sic] people from losing their grandfather or their uncle. I just believe that we are acting responsibly and on a democratic basis. … And believe me, I wish I didn’t have this on my shoulders right now.”
Asked whether we might have to endure a lockdown like Wuhan or Italy, he replied: “Let’s be confident in our ability to do everything we can do to avoid that.” Afterward, buttonholed in the hallway by a local TV reporter, he said: “The beautiful thing, if there is one, is that we know what we gotta do.”
King County is the county where the Seattle Mariners play baseball, and the now-banned large gatherings include the team’s season-opening homestand that starts March 26. Immediately after Governor Inslee’s press conference, the team announced that the seven-game homestand will be played elsewhere – possibly in the Mariners’ opponents’ stadiums in Texas and Minnesota, possibly at a spring training facility in Arizona.
Following a pretty disastrous 2019 campaign (a long and depressing story, of interest only to those of us who insist on being Mariners fans), 2020 was supposed to be the Year of the Youngster, the start of a genuine, proper rebuild toward a legitimately contending team. And ostensibly that’s still what we get to hope for this spring. But the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal rocked the baseball world over the offseason, and now this. Which I know matters little in the context of a global pandemic – which the World Health Organization officially declared today, by the way – but baseball would be a welcome diversion, this year more than any other.
Truth be told, as every crotchety ol’ coot knows, baseball hasn’t really been itself for several decades now. My dad would say the rot started setting in as long ago as 1974, with the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League. But far more serious damage has been done to the game since then, notably by the steroid epidemic of the 1990s. The integrity of an institution can be held together with the moral equivalent of duct tape and spit for only so long, and the Astros’ brazen cheating revealed this past winter was, if not the final nail in the coffin, perhaps the penultimate one. But it might be that the coronavirus disruption offers an occasion for a radical solution along the lines of what Eugene McCarthy proposed in the nerd journal Elysian Fields Quarterly more than 25 years ago: “If all goes badly, the better choice might be to call off the whole thing as too complicated, outlaw all organized baseball, including the Little Leagues, scatter a few balls and bats and gloves and a catcher’s mask or two around, and let the whole process start over again.”
An article in today’s Seattle Times includes, under the heading “Stuck at home?”, this sentence: “Should you be in need of a book, Third Place Books is offering free shipping on all books ordered from its website, through March 13.”
Danny Westneat’s column published yesterday – the day of Joe Biden’s seemingly decisive round of primary victories over Bernie Sanders, possibly even including Washington pending late tallies – was headlined “With both Trump and the coronavirus looming, Democrats are suddenly seeking safety.” Westneat’s lead sentence was: “It’s looking like the revolution may have to wait a while.”
As I was finishing this piece, I got an email from a professor friend: “TCU just sent out a message saying that we’re extending spring break by an extra week [the week I would have been there] and that we’ll then be going to online teaching at least for a few weeks.”
Last night, about 72 hours after that lovely Colin Hay concert, Jenny said to me: “It seems like that was a month ago.”
March 11, 2020
Blue Ear Books founder Ethan Casey, who lives in Seattle, is maintaining a diary of events and developments surrounding the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on life. Visit this page to read the first four installments, dated March 3, 5, 7, and 9, 2020, in PDF format.