Saturday, March 14 2020

podcaster spirit animals, pizza sauce therapy, and guilt

Dear Journal,

Good morning everyone! Happy Saturday. Even amidst the apocalypse, a big empty weekend to rest and recoup is still appreciated. We all slept in the morning, and we're laying low all weekend. Later this afternoon, I'll sneak out to the grocery store to forage for dinner, but in the meantime we're all just biding our time with water, coffee, cereal, stroopwaffels, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Yesterday was a long day. I attended lots of meetings for work, ending with a final meeting where I had a virtual beer with my team over Zoom. We chatted about this past week and the adjustment to remote life. The same sentiment was heard around the room - more time to sleep in and get things done, but sort of miss chatting and hanging out around the office.

Personally, even the virtual meetings still fulfill the social needs of my work day. I like using my webcam and microphone to participate in a discussion. It feels like I'm running my own little podcast in the middle of the work day. We even joked about assigning each of us a podcaster spirit animal. I appointed myself as the team's Marc Maron - overly frank, off the cuff, and sometimes a bit crass. My coworker Alex brings more of a Joe Rogan energy to the virtual stand-ups. His head is shaved, and he remains mostly stoic, but can get worked up about things. Heath and Nate naturally make a good Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know. Charming with plenty of midwestern politeness to go around, and since they were long time friends before working with us, they have a natural rapport as a duo. The jury is still out on what podcasters pair with Fong and Julia, I'll have to think about that one.

After quitting time, I headed downstairs to begin prepping the pizza dough. As I was heaving the bag of sugar from atop the fridge, the bag ripped, and sugar leaked out onto the floor. I clenched my teeth in frustration. I was already in a bad mood from watching the snippets of the presidential address upstairs before ending my work day. Marissa grabbed the broom from the stair landing and sprung into action. "You just keep making the dough, I got this," she said.

I set the dough aside and jumped in the car to head to Hy-Vee. I anticipated things being a little crazy, but I was determinate to shop for Friday groceries like I normally do. It felt good to get out of the house, but Hy-Vee was teeming with panic and negative energy. The store was packed with people running around and filling their shopping carts up with disgusting amounts of food.

I found an open checkout lane. The cashier briskly swiped my items while I watched beads of sweat on his forehead. His nametag was missing from his shirt, and he stared past me, eyes glazed over.

"Thanks for working today," I said as he handed me my receipt. The cashier shook his head despondently.

"I'm not gonna be working much longer," he said. "Whole stores gonna be empty in three days if this keeps up." I drove home, and reflecting on the small interaction started to stir up anger and bitterness within me. As I was unloading our groceries in the driveway, I waved to our neighbor Dana. She was playing outside with her little girl.

"Happy end of the world!" I hollered to her.

"That's exactly what I said to her this morning," laughed Dana.

"What a strange time it must be to be a kid," I said. We both stared down at Lyra, who was taking calculated, but wobbly steps up the driveway.

"I'm just glad she's too little to know what's going on," said Dana, smiling.

Marissa joined me in the kitchen while I put groceries away. I'm sure she could sense my frustration and anticipated some venting.

"People are so stupid and selfish," I opened sharply, stacking groceries on the counter. "I just hate everyone. Hy-Vee is a complete shitshow. I don't understand what people are doing with all this food, it's not like they're eating more!"

Marissa sat perched on the counter, listening empathetically.

"And Madison thinks it's so green and eco-friendly. I'll tell you this, six months from now next time I get a dirty look for asking for plastic bags at the grocery store, I'm going to remember this week when everyone lost their minds and think about all the food that's probably still rotting away in their basements."

I flung another spoon into the sink. The metal clattered on the cast iron as I hurriedly brushed crumbs off the cutting board.

"Grocery stores exist to store food!" I shouted. "By buying it all up and sticking it in your basement, all you're doing is preventing people from accessing it. It's all going to go to waste!"

"It's OK," said Marissa. "Just make pizza sauce, that always puts you in a good mood." I smiled in relief. "Yeah that's a good idea," I replied. I sliced an onion and slid it into the pot with the broad side of my knife. The sweet perfume of onion sweat filled the air. I added five shakes of oregano. Burying my head into the pod, the aroma made my head feel more clear - like some kind of pizza sauce therapy.

"I'm sorry," I said to Marissa. "This is a tough time for me. I have a lot of anger right now, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it."

Rodney ran into the kitchen with two foam ninja swords sheathed in the neck hole of his t-shirt. "Hey dude," I said. "Can you put the water bottles away."

"Coming RIIIGHT UP," said Rodney, saluting. Using his whole tiny body, he ripped a hole in the plastic and heaved a handful of bottles out. He began carefully stacking the bottles on the fridge shelf. Running out of room, he used a bottle to shove the rest of the food to the back.

"Dude, nice job," I said offering him a high five while Marissa smiled.

Rodney helped me pour the gummy pizza dough onto a sheet pan. I showed him how to dip his fingers in the olive oil and gently tug the dough, spreading it out evenly. Rodney cocked his head back and sneezed into the center of the pizza. I paused and laughed.

"The chef sneezed right in the middle of our pizza," I said to Marissa as she passed behind me. Rodney sneezed again. "Make that twice," I called out. Living with a toddler, it's virtually impossible to avoid exposure to whatever they have. You still have to change them, share food with them, and wipe their noses. Our immune systems are continuous. Rodney has had a cough and cold for the past few days - don't worry - no fever, and the cough is more "mucousy" than dry, so he doesn't have "the thing".

Rodney and I popped the pizza into the oven and washed up. We practiced our bottle flipping while waiting for it to come out of the oven. "Pizza was a good call," I said nodding to Marissa, going into the first slice. "This makes me happy."

After dinner, we played a quick game of jenga, then I put Rodney to bed and took the dogs for a walk around the block. Breathing in chilly outside air and moving my legs felt amazing. Our neighborhood looked so quiet, peaceful, and normal.

I hung out with Marissa in the studio for a bit before returning upstairs. I heard Rodney sobbing in his room. While sleeping, it appears his cough worked him up to the point of puking in his bed. I grabbed Marissa from the basement and we jumped into action, changing his sheets, pajamas, and showering him with sympathy. He still didn't have a fever, which was a very good thing.

"I feel guilty we didn't hear him earlier," said Marissa.

"I feel the same. No sense beating ourselves up, we did our best, and we'll do better next time with new knowledge." While my words may have consoled Marissa, the funk of guilt lingered in my head - a natural pairing with the faint smell of puke in the air.

This morning, Rodney was in good spirits. He sprung out of bed, ready to fight bad guys in front of the TV with his hockey stick. "Rodney crying last night," he said as I was changing him out of his PJs.

"Yeah dude, that was wild," I said. "Are you ok now?"

"GOOD!" said Rodney. "I get bad guys now. Dada I'm hungry," he said bouncing down the stairs.

Thanks for stopping by this morning. Hope you stay healthy and safe. Please remember the people living around you, and only buy what you need. Have a great Saturday, everyone.