Volume 3, Issue 11: Why Would You Wanna Live

"Kid, you've paid your dues. Dues, and dues."

The boys and I were at my parents the other afternoon—we all quarantined from each other for a full month, everyone’s tracking everyone’s movements, we’re all doing our best, sheesh—when the conversation turned, as it inevitably does (very much by his own design), to Donald Trump. I’ve been fortunate, unlike many of my friends, to have parents who think Donald Trump is a horrible idiot; I know families that still don’t spend holidays together because of his election, yet another tragedy of this era. I have no such issue: All you have to is follow my mother on Twitter to know her stance on the guy. (I learned about the hashtag #IMPOTUS from here, which is a weird thing to learn from your mom.)

Anyway, we were grousing about Trump’s total absence of a plan to deal with all this, and how he seems to think he can just wish the coronavirus away, and Mom said, “well, according to him, it’s all back to normal. We made it. We won.” I rolled my eyes, mockingly waved my hands in the air and said, “Oh, yeah, it’s over. It’s over!”

My son, who had been reading a kid’s book about Muhammad Ali I’d assigned him because I am the most draconian of quarantine parents, perked up from the other room and came bounding in, nearly shaking with excitement.

“It’s over?” he said, his eyes wide. “Is it really over?”

You really gotta be careful what you say when kids are in the room.

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I’m scheduled to get a haircut this week. The same lady has been cutting my hair every month, in the exact same way, for about five years. (She’s actually a genius. My hair is unworthy of her talent.) Her salon shut down like everybody else’s did when the pandemic hit, and it stayed closed for two weeks even after Georgia Governor Brian Kemp allowed hairdressers and barbershops to open. This is not one of those bro cut places with a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag on the wall and a bunch of angry dudes getting their goatees trimmed as an act of protest; on April 20, the salon even posted a defiant “we aren’t willing to risk our clients’ lives and our lives to open our doors” statement. But last week, after considerable deliberation, they made the decision to re-open, with a litany of new protocols. I am the sort of anal retentive dork who schedules haircuts months in advance, so I had a May 19 appointment on the books. I reached out to my hairdresser and asked what she thought we should do. She sent me back a picture of her in a face shield that made her look like an iron worker, a serial killer, or both.

This was persuasive, if just to hire her for personal protection. But the question lingered: Should I get a haircut? Sure, I need one, but not any more than everybody else does. (It’s not like I have my show anymore or anything. No one in the world other than me cares what my hair looks like.) The question is whether or not it feels indulgent, even irresponsible, to get a haircut right now. She is taking the proper precautions, I’m taking the proper precautions, we’re all making smart, prudent decisions given the circumstances we’re all faced with. And I can’t hide out in this house forever.

I had two public outings this week, my first interactions with people outside of my family and grocery store employees in more than two months. The first was to tape an episode of the Waitin’ Since Last Saturday podcast with my two co-hosts, out on Scott’s back porch in Watkinsville. The second was an event hosted by my friend Bertis, who gathered four friends together to sit in and drink in the backyard, in chairs 15 feet away from each other. It was awkward at first—it is not natural not to physically greet someone you have not seen in months—but then, once we settled in, we all found that none of us could stop talking. Words came out in a rush, we constantly gabbed over each other, we kept hopping up and down in our seats; it was a cocaine binge without the cocaine. (As far as I know.) Our conversations were circular and rambling and confusing and absolutely wonderful. I had not realized how much I needed it. I am someone who works at home all the time and doesn’t have a ton of human interactions anyway. I thought I might have been uniquely positioned to stay sane through this. But boy did I need to see people.

But the moment I’ll remember most from the two evenings was on Tuesday, when we were taping the podcast. As we all settled into our assigned seats, Scott’s teenage son came outside and waved from the doorway. And I’ll be damned if he hadn’t grown at least two inches in the three months since I’d seen him.

A lot had happened since I’d gone into my house and not left. Life did not stop.

It can feel like we have all been stuck in suspended animation since all this began, that we’ve been running in place, waiting for time to start moving again. But time has kept going. We’ve been waiting this out, waiting to get back to our lives. But this time of waiting, it counts too. The clock is still ticking. The days are still passing. The children are growing. My wife and I had just been lamenting, back in February, how much more independent our children were getting, how fast they were growing up, how quickly it was all passing. “I wish time would just slow down, you know?” she said. And then, this happened, and it seemed like time did slow down, like we were getting this extra opportunity to spend that time with them, to freeze in place with them.

But time hasn’t frozen at all. Everything is still plodding forward like it always has. Just because we’ve stopped doesn’t mean everything else has. We won’t get this time back someday, like it’s on layaway or something. This is it. Now counts.

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Life is far from normal, and it’s going to be a long, long time until it is—if ever. For all the talk about the lifting of restrictions in Georgia and other states, the vast, vast majority of people are behaving no differently than those in states that are shutdown. Sure, you can go eat at a Waffle House right now, but you’re basically sitting alone in one of the three open tables, in a cold, silent restaurant, surrounded by nervous, underpaid workers desperately eager to shuffle you out of there. (You’re better off eating in your car.) This is why so many of the COVID numbers coming out of Georgia in the wake of Kemp’s reopening are so confusing. He can “open” things, but most places aren’t really “open,” and no one is acting as if they are. If you don’t see the anticipated spike in cases over the next month—and you still very well might—it won’t be because the virus got so scared of the Georgians sprinting to their tattoo parlors that it scurried away. It’ll be because the large majority of people are rational actors and will not do something if it does not seem safe to do so. (It also worth keeping in mind that Kemp may have been anticipating this exact thing, that he considered a soft reopening a way to inch the door open incrementally while trusting people to do the right thing, though if he did, he doesn’t seem to have told anyone. And I’m still not sure what the next step is supposed to be.)

Yes, it is frustrating to see the assholes. There was a guy in the supermarket the other day wearing a “I WILL NOT COMPLY” T-shirt with an AR-15 on it, and he was purposely taking up two full lanes with two shopping carts and making a big spectacle out of the fact that he wasn’t wearing a mask. Knowing these people are out there, and that they are cheered on by our president, is infuriating. But it was also far, far from the norm. That guy was the only person in the supermarket I saw who wasn’t wearing a mask, and everyone just politely ignored him. They just navigated around him and went about finishing up their shopping. He was talking to no one but himself. I occasionally see people gathering in ways that strike me as unsafe and unwise, and I wish they wouldn’t, but I cannot do anything about that other than make sure that I and the people I care about don’t act that way. We have to take care of ourselves and the people around us.

And part of taking care of ourselves is knowing what we can do, safely … and doing it. I do not know what the future brings. I am not going to do anything to put myself or others at risk. I know what this virus is, and what it has done, to people I know, to the city I lived in and loved for nearly 14 years. But I am also going to stop pretending that this is just an indefinite pause button, that we can just wait here frozen in place until we get to be normal. The look on my son’s face when he thought this was all over, that we’d made it through … man, it broke my heart. For all his good cheer, he’s been suffering through this, that this is an intrusion, an aberration, of what should be the most free-spirited, joyous time of his life. He thought, for that brief second, that he was free. He thought we’d made it.

We haven’t made it. We’re not particularly close. But it doesn’t do me or my loved ones any good to tell them to just stay stuck until an indeterminate date in the future. They need to live now, and so do I. I am not going to go eat at a Waffle House. I am not going to host or attend a big party. I am not going to stop wearing a mask. I am not going to do anything that makes this already dangerous world even more dangerous for me and the rest of us. I am going to follow every rule the scientists and experts tell me to follow.

But I’m going to stop pretending that this is just a period of time to be weathered and moved on from. None of us will ever be the same after this, but I don’t know when “after this” is. I only know what now is. This is not a freeze. This is life. Happening. This second. Right now. So I’m going to spend more time doing socially distant drinks with friends. I’m going to go on bike rides with the kids. I’m going to proceed cautiously, but I will not paralyzed by fear. I’m going to try to make everything of this that I can. And yeah: I’m might just get a goddamned haircut. As long as she doesn’t use the blowtorch.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Baseball Year in Review: 1998, MLB.com. This was basically just an excuse to write about my dad again.

  2. Big Questions Every Sports League Needs to Answer Before It Returns, New York. It’s going to be a heady three weeks, to be sure. I understand all the issues involved. I would also, you know, like sports to come back. I sure did enjoy that soccer this morning, weird as it was.

  3. Better Know a Player: Matt Williams, MLB.com. I don’t actually think he would have broken Roger Maris’ record, had the 1994 strike not happened, for what it’s worth.

  4. What to Watch Instead: The Woman in the Window, Vulture. This is not a movie I feel particularly all that bad having missed to this point.

  5. The Thirty: “Coolest” Player on Each Team, MLB.com. I am far from certain I am the ideal arbiter of this particular point!

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we looked back at the movie year of 1999, and also “Stalag 17” and “Big Night.” “Big Night” is such a joyous movie.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, this is that socially distant show. I believe I talked very fast, even faster than usual.

Seeing Red, no show, but if there’s baseball this year, we’re gonna try to figure something out.

HEY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MARTY SIEDERER!!!!

Hey, Marty! Yeah, you! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAN. It’s your [REDACTED] birthday tomorrow, and your daughter Emily, who emailed me to say you love reading my columns and forward them to her all the time, wanted to make sure you got a shout-out. She claims that you are a truly wonderful person, that you’ve worked for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for more than 40 years, that you’re a Flatbush kid and a Rutgers grad, and that you are—and I will make sure I have this quote exact—“the best dad I could ever ask for.”

Those all seem like positive traits to me, but the fact that you read this newsletter religiously and then foist it on your unsuspecting daughter does strike me as a potentially fatal character flaw. Either way: Happy birthday, man. You have an awesome daughter who loves you, you have a fulfilling life … and you have lousy taste in prose. Have a great one!

LAUGH THAT I NEEDED THIS WEEK

My grandfather made me watch this routine when I was six years old, and for a while, I had it mostly memorized. It’s still so funny and smart and precise. Also it’s possible I really miss baseball.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The Prophecies of Q,” Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic. I know I’ve been linking The Atlantic a lot lately, but my goodness. We are living in a very, very stupid world.

Also: If you’re one of those “I’ll vote for Joe Biden because Donald Trump is a lunatic who is going to get us all killed but I won’t particularly like it” people, this piece in New York may increase your enthusiasm. I read it and thought, “I’m legitimately sort of proud to be voting for this guy?”

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Writing everyone back has become one of my seven favorite quarantine activities. So send 'em:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Now It’s On,” Grandaddy. Sometimes I think Grierson and I are the only Grandaddy fans. Is that true? I hope it is not true.

We have reached this level of the homeschooling:

Oh, heck, that’s what the next 70 years of their lives are gonna be anyway. Except they won’t get to do it outside.

Stay safe, everyone.

Best,
Will