‘Let’s say that one percent of the North American population – US, Mexico, Canada – has been infected with the Covid-19 virus – many of them unknowingly. That’s about 5 million people, almost double the official number of 3.2 million. That leaves 99 percent of the population untouched but still vulnerable.’
It’s finally summer here on the Sunshine Coast and week 15 of the Covid. There are still no public celebrations and concerts, no parades or marathons, no team sports and no public fundraisers. Club meetings, Yoga and dance classes are on zoom or skype, even family gatherings and weddings are held virtually with the betrothed assembled in front of a screen instead of a crowd. Good thing the pubs are open again and breweries are an essential service. Camp was already at our table at Gramma’s and our masked server just set down our frosty pints as I walked in.
‘How’s your week been?’ Camp asked, pocketing his little screen.
‘The longest day of the year is coming up,’ I said, as I sat down across from Camp who looked dapper in khaki pants and a short-sleeved shirt, Birkenstocks and sunglasses.
‘Yep, and I decided that in order to celebrate summer, I’m dressing the part.
‘Well, if you want my opinion, it suits you. Casual is in you know.’
‘No, I didn’t know but I have a closet full of clothes I never wear. I thought I’d try some of them and since nobody is dressing up working at home, I’ll support the garment industry.’
‘By wearing your old clothes from home?’
We both concentrated on the lovely scenery and our beers.
‘Here is a frightening statistic Camp,’ I said. ‘Over 400 overdose deaths in the past 3 months, 170 alone in May. These are people who inject what they believe is a rush or a high and what they get instead is a fatal shot of fentanyl laced heroin.’
‘Kids are back in school but I hear that only 30-60 percent of pupils show up,’ I said after we settled into our spot on the veranda, right over the water by the harbour.
‘Does this feel like before the covid?’ I asked Camp, looking around at the generous spacing of the tables and the potted plants between them for separation and distancing.
‘Not really,’ Camp said. ‘It’s strange to be served by Vicky in a face mask like we’re in a hospital setting. Also, I miss smoking my pipe. It goes well with beer.’
‘And teachers got what they’ve been asking for years, thanks to the virus: vastly reduced class sizes and an additional boost in virtual learning capacity. Many kids had to learn from home and use virtual platforms. Not sure how successful that was but those tools won’t go away,’ Camp said.
‘They’ll be part of the learning arsenal,’ I said. ‘And it made kids read, even though it’s on a screen. It’s the future and it has arrived.’
‘Last week we talked about civilisation and I forgot to mention that our cultures wouldn’t exist without beer. I read an essay about how nomadic peoples in the Neolithic met annually for beer festivals. Because this required large quantities of beer, production had to be placed in the hands of specialists – probably shamans and priests at the time. They intensified cultivation and expanded the planting areas. In short, early forms of agriculture were created because of beer. In addition, calendars were needed to make the way to the festivities in time. And some revelers just stayed on, thus creating the first permanent settlements.’
‘Beer, the harbinger of permanence and stability? A bit of a stretch, no?’ I said.
‘It’s a good theory,’ Camp said, raising his glass.
‘What do you make of all these demonstrations and protests for equality and against racism in light of George Floyd’s murder by those nasty cops’ I asked Camp.
‘I’m afraid it won’t change much of anything. It’s like a pressure relief valve, some steam is let off and that’s about it. Black Americans will remain second class citizens as long as they are seen as inferior to whites. Descendants of former slaves and colonized peoples do not become equals with their masters and exploiters even after they are freed. They remain the poor, the underprivileged and the exploited. And its white old men who control the flow of money and you know the golden rule: Those who have the gold rule,’ Camp said, finishing his pint.
‘Sad but true,’ I agreed, ‘but are we condemned to repeat the past over and over like in the movie Groundhog Day?’
‘If you’re a black person then you have to concede that not much has changed since 1967 and James Baldwin’s and Malcolm X’s speeches could have been written today. As far as they are concerned, we now live in their future.’
‘Black lives matter, but do they matter as much as white lives?’ I said.
‘Maybe in the sports arena or the music hall and the military, but not so much in the corridors of power or the halls of justice and not on Wallstreet or Mainstreet.’
‘But a vast number of young white people are demonstrating and protesting against systemic racism. Maybe a change is coming. Maybe this new generation will be colorblind and fair,’ I said. ‘Let’s hope the result is not a drastic increase in Covid infections.’
‘There is only one chance of making a difference and that’s at the ballot box this coming November. If all those Generation Z protesters vote, then maybe there will be a sea-change,’ Camp said. ‘And an uptick in virus transmissions is guaranteed with these mass gatherings. We already know that.’
‘Ready for another one,’ Vicky said, from behind her mask, exchanging the empties for two full ones.
‘Always ready for another one,’ Camp said. ‘How is life behind that mask?’
‘Lonely,’ Vicky said, ‘it’s isolating and distancing. And what am I supposed to do with all my lip sticks and teeth whiteners?’
Camp looked around, absentmindedly tamping his unlit pipe. We were back in the pub, found our usual seats and Vicky was our hostess.
‘How did you get over the last two months,’ I asked her.
I stayed home with my son, enrolled in an on-line course on becoming a realtor and applied for every dollar from the government I could. I did better than some others.’ Happy to be back. I missed seeing and being with people the most.’ And with that she dropped two lovely pints in front of us.
‘You know Clare is working from home, just like Muriel, and all this virtual interconnecting is driving her crazy, must be the same for Muriel,’ I said.
‘Yes, teaching from home is a real challenge. Also, many people who work from crowded homes, Muriel has a friend where 4 adults are trying to work from home. Two university students and the parents. Everybody gets a turn at the kitchen table, 4 computers, 4 smart phones and somebody has to cook and clean.’
Camp and I met by the dock and brought our beers and peeves along.
‘Now that the weather is warmer and it’s light until ten o’clock at night it also means that everything is growing in wild profusion: grass, lawns, shrubs, flowers, gardens and noise,’ Camp said.
‘Noise? You mean the birds and frogs?’
‘I woke up this morning and I see a world transformed by Covid-19. If anything could stop a way of life and break the cultural heart of the world then this virus has done a pretty good job. Nothing in my life time has had a similar impact. ‘I doubt that anybody remembers a time when we cannot touch, hug or be close to others,’ I said to Camp, who was lighting his pipe.
‘Are we a bubble or a pod?’ I asked Camp as we sat down on his porch for our Thirsty Thursday meeting. It was a nice sunny day and the birds were going crazy.
‘I guess you and I are a pod since we spend a lot of time together, as are Muriel and I and you and Clare. If the four of us get together then we’re a bubble since we amalgamated two pods.’
‘What do you expect from politicians?’ Camp asked shaking his head
‘It’s not wisdom or learnedness, not even fairness or correctness but simple honesty would be a good start. Do they ever admit to being wrong, having made the wrong decision, taken the wrong side, being fooled by a good story?’ I said.
We were sitting on a bench by the sea shore, six feet apart, enjoying the warm spring weather, breaking another silly law: drinking in public. That’s because one of Muriel’s and Camp’s neighbours complained to the town council about us sitting on Camp’s front porch, disrespecting distancing guidelines. I never thought I’d see neighbours denouncing neighbours, not for hiding illegal aliens, but for acting normal. Clare put it bluntly: ‘This virus outbreak will bring out the worst in people and the best. People will rally to help and support each other or rat each other out.’
‘This will turn into a carnival’, Campbell or simply Camp to all who know him, prophesized.
‘And how is that,’ I asked, not sure if he meant a celebratory or a destructive kind of event. He was about to let me into his fantasy world.
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.
Camp dropped over for our weekly debrief over a couple of beers. It was my turn to host and l stocked up on some Coronas since I heard that the brand was hurting. Clare let him in but instead of hug gave him a reserved wave from 6ft away. It’s the new intimacy. How will we ever get past this distancing is anybody’s guess. Fact is I don’t like it, coming from a culture where three cheek kisses are customary greetings. We sat down in my upstairs office which has a view of the coastal mountains, Keats and Gambier island but it’s not the same as being in our pub right on the harbour.
I walked to Muriel’s house where Camp lives now and didn’t meet anybody, even though it’s not an isolated road. It felt kind of eerie, as if the town was depopulated. Camp answered the door and led me downstairs into his den which was strewn with books, maps, a wooden desk with a laptop and several more books on it. A busy place by all accounts.
There was a knock on the door and then Camp stepped in without waiting, being practically one of the family. It’s Saturday, not Thursday. We sat upstairs and I fetched us a couple of cold ones. ‘No draught I’m afraid,’ I said but you have a choice here. Once we had our beers we sat down, rather than stand around the kitchen, leaning on the fridge and the sink, as people are apt to do.
‘Last week I debated if I should close my store and join the social distancing movement,’ Camp said when he sat down at our table which was the only one occupied in the whole pub. ‘This might help to slow down the crown virus a fraction but it definitely would be the death knell for the already non-profit book store. So, I decided to keep it open, wipe the door handle every time somebody comes in and out, wear surgical gloves for the money which is practically non-existent, don’t breathe on people and keep an upbeat atmosphere by playing funky music. No blues, no classical but reggae and jazz like Charley Parker, Miles Davis and such. If nothing else it keeps me in a good mood.
In the last month alone, the world has gone topsy-turvy and everybody is running for the exits it seems, grabbing toilet paper and useless face masks on the way out. Camp and I are looking at all the hysteria and financial market convulsions from our vantage point at Gramma’s Pub, feeling a bit removed from it all since Gibsons is virtually an island, away from the hub-bub of the big city and the rest of the world. In order to not get caught in the maelstrom of panic I decided to propose a game to my friend Campbell, Camp to all and sundry around here.
‘The weather is better but that’s about it for good news,’ I said as I sat down opposite Campbell or Camp, as my drinking buddy is known. He was busily pawing his smart phone – against our rules – but he seemed intense and it was obviously important to him.
‘How would you have handled the standoff between Trudeau, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suet’wen nation, northeast of Prince George, and the solidarity protesters in the Mowhawk territory in Ontario who have been blocking the rail line there,’ I asked Camp after Vicky, our dependable waitress set down two pints in front of us.
‘It’s a tough one,’ Camp said.