Old Habits Die Hard

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Triumph of Death Wall Painting, ca. 1448, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo (Photo Rob Cook, 2012)

 

“Thus each of us had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

Although avoiding skin-to-skin human contact makes a lot of sense during a pandemic, old habits die hard. Yesterday, for example, I attended a funeral. An old, dear friend invited me to share her pew, and as I leaned over to kiss her, she shied away — a not-infrequent occurrence of my youth, but one I hadn’t experienced in a while. After the service, as we entered the reception hall, two bottles of hand-sanitizer stood next to the guest register. Although I had never used a hand-sanitizer outside a cancer ward, I confess I did a couple of dollops.[1]

UnknownAt a funeral reception, you don’t want repulse people who need a hug. As we embraced, one of my former students said, “Corona Virus be damned.”  For a young person who most likely will face what amounts to a bad cold if infected, this attitude seems reasonable to me. For a woman in her eighties, not so much so. Anyway, at the reception, I let whoever was making eye contact make the first move, whether it be the awkward fumbling of an elbow bump, a handshake, or hug.

Of course, on the way out, I forgot to reapply the hand sanitizer, scratched my beard, tugged at my ear, covered my mouth as I burped, and headed straight to Chico Feo for a couple of beers.  Earlier in the day, I had checked out a bit of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and ran across this horror-inducing sentence:

‘That disorderly tippling in taverns, ale-houses, coffee-houses, and cellars be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague. And that no company or person be suffered to remain or come into any tavern, ale-house, or coffee-house to drink after nine of the clock in the evening, according to the ancient law and custom of this city, upon the penalties ordained in that behalf.

Being of an advanced age, I would rather hazard death than be reduced to drinking at home alone. My sparkling wit might very well wither and die. “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light,” Dylan Thomas wrote sometime prior to bragging about having downed eighteen straight whiskeys, lapsing into a comma, and going ungently into that good night.[2]

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As far as sporting events go, the timing couldn’t be worse. Spring training and the NBA have been suspended, March Madness cancelled outright, and the Masters golf tournament postponed, which echoes precautions enacted in Defoe’s day:

‘That all plays, bear-baitings, games, singing of ballads, buckler-play, or such-like causes of assemblies of people be utterly prohibited, and the parties offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward.

Even Donald Trump, a Corona-Virus optimist, “out of an abundance of caution” has postponed “the Catholics for Trump” event scheduled for 19 March in Milwaukee.  Sources say that Trump has shaken hands with a Brazilian who has tested positive for the virus, but the President himself doesn’t plan to be tested. On the other hand, Court Jester/sycophant Lindsay Graham is in self-quarantine, no doubt binge-watching Lady Di’s wedding while enjoying a hot toddy or two or four or eighteen.

Me, I’m sequestered in my drafty garret skimming Camus’s The Plague and Boccaccio’s The Decameron for quotable quotes, puzzling about how bear-baitings and Macbeth could attract the same audiences, and touching my forehead every five minutes to see if I’m running a fever.

So far, so good.


[1] Thirty-four years of classroom teaching has produced in me a robust immune system. The last time I took a sick day was in 2003.

[2] According to eyewitnesses, he only had, alas, four straight whiskeys. If you’re going to die, you might as well go whole hog, as they say in Wales.