24 Hours: Life at a Distance in the Coronavirus Quarantine

Dan Rattiner cartoon with birds observing social distancing on telephone wires
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Our friend Chris came over to our house early last Saturday afternoon. I think it is still legal in the State of New York to do this, if you are otherwise healthy and follow the rules.

It had been a wonderfully sunny morning. From inside, we watched as she parked out back and walked around to sit in a deck chair overlooking the harbor. We then came out and sat in deck chairs at a more-than-six-foot distance from her. It was quiet. We could easily hear one another speak. After a half hour, she left the way she had come. We then washed our hands.

Among other things we talked about were our individual childhood memories. They seemed to all three of us to be more vivid in these recent weeks of self-sheltering.

“When I was a little girl,” she said, “my mom, as a special treat, would take us to McDonald’s.

“Last night, I dreamed of her taking me there. It was a wonderful dream, so I thought when lunch came today, I’d go through the drive-through at the Southampton McDonald’s. Surely it would cheer me up, given the situation these days. At the window where you pay, the girl was wearing a mask and gloves. That was good. I had ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a vanilla shake. I paid her. At the next window, the girl who assembled the food was wearing gloves and a mask.

Towne Cellars Leaderboard 2020 March

“I parked right there in the lot. I took out the vanilla shake and put it in the cupholder between the two front seats, then I took out the cheeseburger, opened it and put that between the two front seats. Finally, I took out the fries. When I did, my hand accidentally hit the steering wheel, which knocked the fries upside down, all over the floor. As I bent down to pick some of them up, the dog in the back seat snatched the cheeseburger and ate it.

“That left me looking at the vanilla shake in the cup holder. Huh. I guess enjoying my long-ago childhood was not going to be relived this day.

Had she drunk the shake?

“Yes,” she said. “Defiantly.”

She then told us that she had driven here from there, and the fries were still on the floor of her car. If we wanted to, when she left, we could walk her out and look.

I declined. Too big a risk, I thought.

* * *

After she left, a sudden violent half-,hour downpour crashed thunder and bolts of lightning on this scene—giving us only a few minutes to scurry into the house. It lasted only 15 minutes, though, and then the sun burst through and I ventured onto our front deck again, this time with a rum and coke to take a seat in a comfortable deck chair and survey the damage, if any.

Three Mile Harbor was still there. The trees and foliage everywhere sparkled with the rain. Across the water in the two marinas, the giant white plastic cocoons slicked with the recent downpour still perched precariously on their wooden scaffolding. In a few weeks, they would hatch yachts into the water. Meanwhile, the birds swooped. The fish jumped. I leaned back, the sunshine on my face, happy to catch some rays.

Just 10 minutes later, the sun suddenly vanished. It was as if a house manager has turned off the lights in a movie theater. A chill, damp wind unsettled this darkness.

The cause of all this was a small, gray, pulsating black cloud spilling over the harbor’s far shore and now rumbling menacingly and quickly toward me. This looked like downpour part two. Directly above, high up, white clouds hung in a blue sky. But this black disturbance had come in below it to block off the late-afternoon sun. At the rate it was approaching, it would be here on the deck within a minute.

Again, I scrambled up from my chair. Would it be bringing more buckets of rain and flashes of lightning? Perhaps when it arrived, a bolt would crash down and do me in before it all roared further up the hill in back of the house to disappear into the woods beyond.

I felt fear. Was I being ridiculous? I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. I walked quickly across the deck to the kitchen slider, opened it, came in and slid it closed behind me just in time.

My wife was at the stove, her back to all this.

“That was quick,” she said, without turning around.

I felt it would be safer hiding under the piano. But I said nothing. And indeed, God, seeing I and my drink had gone inside, held his fire. And then, suddenly, this thing, whatever it was, rumbled over the house, and the sun burst through once again.

And no, I’m not going back out there.

* * *

Around one the next day, with my world once again bright and sunny, I went out to my mailbox on the street to get my mail. An important letter from Lexus about the car I leased from them two and a half years ago was inside. It read “Important Safety Recall Interim Notice.” The “Safety” part meant that my Lexus GX460 could crash because it has a particular fuel pump that might cut out, causing the car to turn off suddenly if I were driving along. The “Interim” part meant they had not yet figured out a remedy. When they do, the letter said, my Southampton Lexus dealer will let me know and then replace the pump with an improved one FREE OF CHARGE. Until then, I’m on my own.

Here is another thing to worry about, as if the coronavirus, global warming, crazy weather, rising tides, hacking into websites, misinformation 24/7, politics, North Korea and pollution were not enough.

And furthermore, I SHOULD have been feeling anxious about this fuel pump for the last two and a half years, but because Lexus didn’t write me about it, they spared me that worry. Hooray for that.

And the lease ends in six months.

Another memory of my growing up now came to mind. My first car, a long time ago, had no safety features. None were built into cars then. No seatbelts, no airbags, no nothing. Cars could kill. It could happen. You took that for granted. But I was so happy to have one. I told my mom and dad I’d be extra careful.

I don’t pine for those days, but here’s this letter. It could break, we can’t fix it yet, but we’re alerting you just so you know.

In my opinion, there is just too much information, and often wrong information, spilling over us every minute of every day, spoiling everything we used to enjoy without thinking about it.

That, everything else and the coronavirus. What a time.

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