Salt of the Earth

I called Camp on his phone. A rare event since I usually see him at the store, the pub and lately at each other’s house. ‘Apparently, we need to consider all of us as asymptomatic,’ I said, ‘meaning we’re all potential carriers of covid-19 and as such need to keep our distance. Should we meet halfway at Armours Beach and bring our own bottles and sit six feet apart?’ I asked.

There was a moment of silence. ‘Hello are you there?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m here,’ Camp’s gruff voice responded. ‘Since I haven’t been out of the house since you were here last and haven’t seen a soul, I’m definitely not asymptomatic.  Muriel teaches from home and has done all the shopping, once last Saturday.’

‘The same here, I said. I’ve been out twice in the past two weeks, once to your house and once to the grocery store last week. I make a menu plan for two weeks and shop once, which is new for us since I used to shop almost daily. We’ve been for walks and haven’t seen anybody up close, passing each other like zombies.’

I decided it’s ok to walk over and visit Camp. Nobody ordered us to suspend common sense. I passed the shuttered shops and the empty streets felt eerie and surreal. The only upside was the myriad of birds and frogs who were doing their spring ritual unperturbed by the calamity that has befallen the humans. Camp received me at the door, hands in the pockets of his woolen cardigan with a pipe in his mouth.

‘What’s that?’ I asked, taken aback.

‘I thought I’d take up smoking one or two pipes a day. I used to long ago and I can tell you it gives me comfort and I like the whole ritual of tamping the pipe and even Muriel likes the aroma of pipe tabaco, although she vehemently disapproves, therefore I have to smoke outside. For now.’

I just shook my head. ‘I guess in these times anything goes and who am I to say it’s unhealthy when thousands are dying each and every day from a random virus.’

‘We can sit out here and enjoy the evening sun. I’ll get us some blankets and I wiped down the bottles. He pointed to two bright orange Adirondack chairs, 6 feet apart. ‘Just to impress Muriel, who is watching us from upstairs.’ I looked up and waved.

‘There are a lot of conspiracy theories circulating on the net,’ I said.  ‘Anything from Bill Gates and the WHO wanting to reduce the world population to theories linking the 5G networks to the pandemic.’

‘All total rubbish,’ Camp said. ‘Just thinking about them is a waste of time.’

‘Ok, got that. You know, I watch the graphic curves and read the latest updates every morning and I’ve come to a point where I can read the most horrible statistics with a sense of detachment, like an academic exercise. Just a couple of weeks ago I would throw up my hands and lament the sorry state of the world’s response to this pandemic but now I’ve stoically come to accept the daily death stats like scores at a soccer tournament. Like Dr. Tam’s grim forecast of 11 to 22 thousand deaths in Canada. Seems a trifle unrealistic considering we have 500 deaths so far. I’ve become numb and somewhat desensitised, like watching a famine or a war from my comfy arm chair.’

‘I think that’s a normal reaction because we’re helpless and drowning in an avalanche of information. It’s the only topic these days.’

‘We really don’t know much about how this virus behaves. Even people who have had it and developed immunity, can they still be carriers?’ I said.

‘Every day we learn new facts and scientists all over the world are working at understanding and reigning in this nasty RNA code. There will be treatment and a vaccine.’

‘If you were immune you could even open your book store with a sign in the window: ‘Immune Business’ or ‘Safe Zone’ or something like that.’

Camp shook his head resigned. ‘That’s all a good idea but the fact is, I’ll probably be so broke I won’t be able to open the store, immune or not.’

We both took a swig from our bottles.

‘That’s what worries me now,’ I said. ‘The outfall. Millions of people and businesses unable to pay the rent, the suppliers, the payroll or the utilities, losing their storefronts, even homes and houses.’

‘The governments all pledged help and money and the banks promised mortgage relieve and lower credit card interest rates,’ Camp said. ‘And our governments are printing money like it’s the Weimar republic. Just adding a few zeros to their deficits and off we go into the unknows fiscal wilderness.’

‘But where are the checks and who gets them?’ I asked.  ‘Not the small-time entrepreneurs that just opened a business, not the woman who just left her abusive husband and moved in with her sister, not the boat owner who can’t pay his moorage nor sell his boat since nobody is buying.’

‘You got another one of these,’ I asked, pointing at my empty bottle.’

‘Yes, it’s my last Corona since the brewery was shut down by the Mexican government. Apparently, beer is not an essential commodity.’

‘A real pity that. It sounds like the end of the world,’ I said, clutching my new beer.

‘Now that we know how to shut down entire countries, maybe we should do this for a couple of weeks each year, to give our planet some breathing room, kind of a pollution holiday,’ I said.

‘Maybe that will happen serendipitously because so many people are switching to working from home now, maybe they’ll just keep doing that. No point driving into the city to your office if you can just go to your basement office in your pyjamas and slippers.’

‘Luckily the liquor and pot stores are still open,’ Camp said, ‘and we should toast all the healthcare workers, grocery store, liquor store, pharmacy and building supply store employees and all those people on the front lines who keep this society running.’

‘What’s all the noise? Oh, it’s seven o’clock. I usually ring my Swiss cow bell while Clare bangs her pot. It’s a heartwarming noise and speaks to a compassionate community. Maybe that will be the legacy of this pandemic, people coming together.’

‘It’s a good thought,’ Camp said, ‘a bit naïve and wishful but right now, we need to stick together and support each other. We are the people.’

‘To the salt of the earth and to us, the people,’ I toasted and we both drank to that.


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