I assumed that Donald Trump’s “Fifteen Days to Slow the Spread” was the new “30 Days to Thinner Thighs,” a plan for the country to use coronavirus as a shape-up opportunity, until I discovered he was rebranding self-isolation. However upsetting it was to small business owners and those involved in extra-marital affairs, for me it didn’t require many changes. Since aging out of television writing some twenty years ago, I’ve been working at home. “Working at home” may be a less accurate description of my activities than “no business as usual.”
Day 1: I was dismayed to wake up early, but decided since everyone else was staying home, how could I catch anything? I snuck out to my local supermarket to stock up on essentials. I was too late. Shelves were already bare except for the Passover display of Hanukkah candles and challah. I rushed to several drugstores in search of hand sanitizer. That, too, was futile. Returning home, I went onto eBay and found the last three bottles in the world that hadn’t yet been marked up. I then called friends to brag about my resourcefulness. This wasn’t so bad. I was both more relaxed and more nervous than I could ever remember being. That night my husband and I looked at five shows friends had recommended for binge watching.
Day 2: I got rid of canned food that expired while “Seinfeld” was still on the air, avoiding the temptation to try the beets to see if sell-by dates really matter. I then placed calls to friends I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade, discovering they’ve given up their landlines. Determined to make good use of all the free time, I decided to clean the oven only to discover we had no oven cleaner. Instead, I ate. That turned out to be my default for everything. Each time I washed my hands, I worried that lavender soap from Provence might not be as effective as soaps with less cachet.
Day 3: I told our housekeeper not to come, planning to do it all myself. A friend explained how you know which is a broom and which is a vacuum: if it has a switch, it’s a vacuum. “When we’re done isolating,” I admitted, “I don’t know if I’ll be happier to see my housekeeper or my granddaughter.” She was incredulous that I’d ironed my husband’s t-shirt and insisted that I go onto Zoom and show her the stack I’d done. This was the first time I’d said, “Zoom” since my early Hebrew school days, when we sang “Zoom Gallee Gallee.”
Days 4 and 5: I ate, not every minute, but more than three meals a day. I started reading all the incoming emails about coronavirus, trying to memorize how long germs remain on different surfaces. Learning that they can last up to 72 hours on metal, I became afraid my wedding band might infect me. By noon, I was bored enough to start answering robocalls and cut bangs. I advise against both. I was still reading daily weather reports though I wasn’t sure why since we wouldn’t be outdoors. My husband and I looked at three other Netflix shows.
Day 6: My husband and I changed the linens on our bed. “This is the long side,” he said, pointing to the short side of the fitted sheet. We couldn’t get the sheet to fit the bed. I insisted we keep trying; there had to be a way to make it work — but first I put an away message on my email. I spent several hours trying to get Delta Airlines on the phone to cancel our flight to Paris. My husband told me to give up as we’d agreed to watch “Resistance.”
Day 7: I started losing track of days. I thought that wouldn’t happen to those who observe shabbes except that my girlfriend confided she’d jumped the gun and made cholent on what turned out to be Tuesday. Fresh Direct delivers to us on Wednesdays, which helped keep me organized. They were now setting down the bag outside the door. I prided myself in being cautious but then my friend, whose mission was clearly to out-isolate me, said, “I remove all the items before bringing them in,” telling me she sanitizes each item as well as the bag. “Germs stay on plastic and metal for up to three days,” she wanted me to know.
“Oh no,” I moaned. “My wedding band could do me in. I haven’t been as careful as you.”
I wanted nothing more than to go shopping for tomato basil soup. “Yes, it’s worth the risk,” I told my husband. We put on masks and headed out for food. Trader Joe’s had shoppers lined up outside in order to maintain the six degrees of separation inside. We were nodded in ahead of the others because my roots were starting to come in and gave me away as “elderly.” I was now emboldened enough to go to CVS and use the 32% off coupon that was about to expire. I hoped it wouldn’t take me with it.
Day 8: Stressed and agitated, my resting face said: not resting. Each morning I was waking to hear how many more Americans had contracted COVID-19. I noticed my husband staring at me with great interest. Maybe being locked in together had rekindled the fascination he’d felt when we met over forty years ago. “Your shirt is inside-out,” Martin said.
“So what?” I spit back.
Self-isolating, I’ve discovered, isn’t one of those things you master. I have no idea how long I’ve been doing it, but my worries are compounding. At the start, I worried it might go on long enough for us to run out of toilet paper. Now I’m terrified that Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime don’t have enough shows to get me through the pandemic.