It was over so fast I wasn’t even sure it happened. I was at the window at the bank. There had been no line. I was separated from the teller by a ceiling-high sheet of glass. I noticed an industrial-strength can of Lysol on the counter next to her. In the nanosecond between the time when she said, “Thank you” and handed over my receipt, she picked up the can without even looking at it and sprayed, quick as lightning, over her left shoulder. There was no one behind her – or beside her. Just ‘pfssssst’ and the moment, with no acknowledgement, was over. I know her name. She’s helped me a hundred times. I could have asked, but didn’t. I smiled, nodded and left, knowing things had already gotten weirder than they’ve ever been in my half-century on this planet.
I’ve always been a bit of a germaphobe. I carry a bottle of all-natural sanitizer in my jeans for post-meeting handshakes or dining out, but nothing too nuts. Sure, friends have had their fun with me, but something about patting that cylindrical container in my front pocket always made me felt at least somewhat in control of something. Another chink in the armor of normalcy was the day I walked into my neighborhood market for said sanitizer to find only the off-brand size I’ve always avoided. At the time, the virus was only a blip on the news feed. Still having no idea how things were about to escalate, I decided I’d rather go without than deal with the weird snap-off top. Little did I know I could have bought the whole box and sold it a month later for mortgage money and a night with Hugh Jackman.
A few short days passed and our fate was sealed. As I was jumping into my car in the early hours of morning, a tall man in his late thirties sprinted past me, a Costco-sized crate of Kleenex in his arms. I tried to relax my shoulders and scrolled for something uplifting on my Itunes, wondering if he’d stolen it.
Brandi Carlile. Perfect. “I have been to the movies,” she sings, “I’ve seen how it ends…”
Not so perfect.
I think about how, in the Walgreen’s the day before, I’d found the toilet paper aisle – er – ‘wiped’ clean. As I approached the exit, I saw a cart bearing two 12-packs of Angel Soft and nothing else. The woman to whom the cart belonged was otherwise engaged with the hair dye, a smug air of satisfaction palpable in the aisle around her.
I could do it, I thought. Just one of ‘em. She’d never know. I glanced up the aisle in the other direction. A man sporting a face mask was inspecting a new garden hose, clearly pondering if he could spray the virus away from his house the same way he could the fires.
I looked back at the lady. Still oblivious. As was the hose guy. There was also no one, I saw, between me and the front door.
Okay stop it, I didn’t. And I wouldn’t. Whatever. But the fact it crossed my mind? There’s no hope for any of us after this.
The partner had taken his last business trip for Disney just two weeks ago. At the time, there was no mention of concern on his – or my part whatsoever. All this hadn’t gone full-force nuts yet. And even though in the past 24 hours he, and so many others we know, had been asked to work at home until further notice in the California Lockdown, we are presently faced with what to do with my birthday. Truth be told, I could lounge in my pajamas for days on end if I had to. That includes my birthday. Not him. He has to be doing something, going somewhere, making a plan. I’d always thought whenever I finally found someone who could put up with me my weekends would be a cross between the first half of “Body Heat” and the last half of any French film where they do it against a wall. But according to him, it’s my special day and we need a plan. Besides, who’s in the mood for sex when the world is coming to an end and there’s only talk of it getting worse, worser and worsest?
We decide I’m having fun no matter what. People (and according to the news, MOST people) are dying, losing their jobs, some even their minds. The rest of the day can belong to the awfulness, but this night will be mine.
“We’ll order delivery from that Mexican place,” the partner says.
“Can we stop at the service window of the high-priced vegan bakery on Montana?” I ask.
It’s a date. And with the sun setting, like, ten hours later than it used to, we can catch it disappearing behind the Pacific. It will be as close to normal as – no, it won’t be normal at all. But we will all press on and attempt to find something valuable in as many moments as possible, birthday or no birthday.
“Open it,” he says, presenting the gift bag with an air of formality.
It feels important. I gently pull at the tissue paper and drop it to the floor.
“I hope you like it,” he says.
It’s a small ornate box. I open it carefully.
The plastic bottle is adorned with mint, flowers and a label that reads: 365 Brand Hand Sanitizer.
“It’s Mojito. Your favorite.”
“Well, I know that,” I say, taking a moment. “It must have cost you a fortune on the black market.” I feel lightheaded.
He looks at me as if to say, “You’re worth it.”
One of our favorite things to do is stay in town during a major holiday. Ask anyone who’s been in and around LA during Thanksgiving or Christmas. It feels like that old Vincent Price movie where everyone in the world has died from some Godawful plague but him. Heaven. And tonight is no different. Two cars have passed us in the last five minutes. But this is no holiday.
“Mark my words,” the lady who spends most of her days on the corner of Broadway and 6th says, pointing a gnarled finger in our direction. Although her eyes are already trailing off to something shiny in the distance, and I’m sure whatever post-apocalyptic future she forecasts will no doubt unfold, the night is still mine, dammit.
“Happy birthday,” the partner says, squeezing my hand. “At least, I hope it is.”
“It is,” I say, squeezing back as we cross the street against no traffic.
“Mark my words,” the corner lady hollers from across the street.
“Happy birthday,” I whisper to myself.