They finally gave us washable cloth masks at work. When I brought one home, my wife commented that it looked like a young girl’s panties. That thought had definitely not occurred to me. Soft, small, white and, yes, cottony. That is, after Emily said it, what they looked like. I couldn’t get the troubling association out of my mind. I had brought home panties, wadded up in my pocket like a perv. There are people that are into that, at least I’ve heard about it somewhere. They go into Target just to buy underwear–gross, bearded guys in weird T-shirts who stare grinning at the teen-aged cashiers. That’s not me! It’s just a tangent, something to take my mind off the virus. I wish I could put my brain in the washing machine and cleanse it of all this corona madness. Clearly, I’ve been stained by it.
Yesterday, I read that a Chinese study found that men who had contracted the virus and recovered still had detectable amounts of it in their semen. My wife thinks I read too many articles about it, that I’m “obsessed.” I didn’t tell her about that one for selfish reasons. The corona virus has been a real mood-killer. I can’t remember the last time we shared a meal in a restaurant together. Mostly, I’ve been playing with the kids when I’m at home. All the exercise, I’m happy to say, has really gotten me into shape. Something people who are childless might not realize is that, in addition to basically homeschooling our kids, we have to be their best friends as well.
At the park by our house, there are these blaze-orange signs around the softball fields forbidding their use. The ones in English have been torn down, I assume by angry citizens. You just see a stake in the ground next to an accompanying message in foreign languages. In addition to the signs, they placed a chain-link fence around the playground equipment for maintenance.
There had been, before this pandemic started, a movement by concerned mommies and daddies to have the tire mulch removed. It was believed to be dreadful, cancerous stuff. While it was bouncy, and a great shock absorber for falls, I was happy to see it go. The rubbery mulch used to stain my son’s fingers. You just can’t keep those grubby hands out of their mouths when they are toddlers. The parks department replaced it last year with old-fashioned wood chips.
Over the weekend, we observed workers hack apart a rubber-coated ramp in the playground with chainsaws. Then they coated the ramp in black asphalt which they sprinkled with some kind of blue confetti to make it look visually appealing. It seemed like a fun project. They were tooling around with Bobcats and managed to run over a sapling and demolish a bench by the ball diamonds. I guess if they destroy something every time they make a repair, they’ll always have a job.
I did pen a letter of complaint to the Park’s commissioner over the ballpark closures, politely inquiring how human lives were endangered by us playing baseball together when we shared a roof. My oldest was going to compete in an organized league this summer. They took that away from me. From him. Then they forbid me from even practicing with him. Yards in this city are not made for baseball. The parks, at this point, are all we have.
The campgrounds in the state, too, are closed. Yet, I see homeless people have set up tents damn near wherever they please in the city’s park system and no one seems to do anything about that. I’ve entertained fantasies of just going down to the river and toasting some marshmallows alongside them with the family. What the fuck? I might make some new friends.
I’m pushing fifty now and here I am complaining about the homeless like Archie Bunker. I just get tired of all the Minnesota niceness, the good-liberal political correctness. It seems like a pathway to destruction. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. We seem pretty far along. The Parks Department responded to my written complaint by saying, “families can still go to the park and kick a ball, play tag, or fly a kite.” I see parent’s doing exactly that with their kids. It is kite season, but I haven’t seen anyone dare to play baseball. Perhaps, I will be that Son of Liberty who does it. But I know what will happen. I’ll be chastised by some well-meaning geezer who perceives my tossing a ball to my kid as a threat to their longevity. One only has to drive a short distance to a suburb to escape these restrictions, which is probably what I’ll do. It wouldn’t be summer without baseball—the smell of the glove, the ping of the bat and that orange dirt staining our tennis shoes.
We were playing football together yesterday. Theo caught a short pass and streaked away from his brother for a touchdown. A woman happened to be walking her Irish Setter. She had to hold onto the leash with both hands to keep the excited canine from tearing after him. The way he stared eagerly at Theo, you could really tell the animal wanted to play, that he was missing out on something as well. A bit lonely for conversation and amused by her pet’s behavior, I greeted the woman. I told her how, on the way to park, we had seen an Animal Control officer with a captured racoon in a sack.
“It had been sick and struggling in someone’s yard,” I explained.
“Yes, they’re prone to distemper,” she said. Her tone was a bit know-it-all and I sensed her displeasure in speaking to me. Human interaction has become so awkward with the social distancing. But it’s been kind of getting that way already.
“Not to mention rabies,” I added, “definitely not a do-it-yourself job.”
Years before that, I had returned home from the bus stop to find a dead racoon in front of our house in a pool of blood. It was the size, damn near, of a small bear. I made a call and the city picked it up before the yellow bus safely returned my son home to me.
She went on to explain how the animal, with its compulsive hand washing, had become our collective mascot, its name even an anagram for corona. You can’t get away from it! No matter how hard you try. Leave your phone at home, but some person with a need to vent will remind you.
Like it or not, we live in a different time. Right now, in some Nobles-county cornfield, unsold hogs are being fed through a woodchipper Fargo-style for composting. Our leaders, both Democrat and Republican, have failed us. Yet, they still find a way to tell us what to do. I suppose it is this in-betweenness that I struggle with, this toxic combination of independence and restriction.
Like anyone, I’m not happy about it. On the last day of my weekend, I drove to Mankato, in spite of the governor’s “Stay at Home” order, to pick up a basketball hoop I had selfishly purchased for my sons. The city is placing boards over the basketball hoops just as they have taken down the tennis nets. It’s all rather irrational, the actions of overlapping bureaucracies trying to make us “safe.”
I finally found, after some idiotic driving around, the shopping mall. In my urgency I had forgotten my mask and felt, by the time I found it, like I was about to piss my pants. It was a culture shock. In Minneapolis, 90 percent of shoppers are now masked. There, it was almost like 10 percent. I had crossed over, unauthorized and radio blaring, into a foreign country.
A white-shirted manager in a tie helped me load the large cardboard box into the back of my Subaru. I sensed his sympathy at the situation I faced living in my so-called sanctuary city. In front of the store, seated on benches as if waiting for me to arrive, were bronze sculptures of our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington–slaveholders each of them—were, for better or worse, our national symbols of freedom and empowerment. I brought that ten-foot hoop with glass backboard home to my sons.
In spite of my college education, I did not know until recently, that the participants of the revolutionary stunt known as the Boston Tea Party had dressed up as Mohawk Indians. My own political education has been, with good intentions, sanitized by the forces of political correctness. If not for me, my sons would not likewise know that the event known as 9-11 had even happened. Flagless, that pole stands by our garage, available for anyone’s use—a bold declaration of my fatherhood.