Apocalypse No

Our youngest son called me last week to let us know, he said, that he is alright.

“Of course,” I said. “I know you are.”

He was not grasping the epidemiological aspects of the new coronavirus pandemic.

“Listen,” I said. “You and I can probably drink a glass of this stuff and, according to the latest statistics, there’s an 80% chance we’d have a mild case or no symptoms at all. That’s the problem. Then, unwittingly, you’d become a carrier. This thing’s hurting older folks and people with previously compromising conditions. And the last thing you want to do, as an unwitting carrier, is accidently kill one of your profs or grandparents. This isn’t an individual health scare. It’s a public health crisis. The transmission curve is steep, everywhere identical, and if we don’t take precautions now it’ll torpedo our entire health care system. Our health care system is already hard at the oars. So then what the hell will we do?”

One thing we shouldn’t do–although it seems we must, as evolving humans–is buy-out all the toilet paper, everywhere, first–before even food. I mean, toilet paper wasn’t even invented until 1857. Do we suppose Napoleon’s famous adage as to what an army marches on would have been any different had the stuff been created half a century earlier?

And, yes, I understand, at heart, it’s a psychological defense mechanism to help cope with what we don’t understand or are afraid of.

Buying water must be akin to this because people are also amassing cases of bottled water as if their taps are about to be stopped. Unless you can’t–or won’t–drink from your faucet, this is senseless. Yes, hydration is essential–but water won’t sustain us, and so far there’s no indication of an infrastructural threat to its safe delivery.

Perhaps most ironic is that people are thronging to do this–standing in long lines, both indoors and out–to store up on items of dubious benefit when the best public health advice is to maintain social distancing. We can’t go see a play anymore, and schools are closed, but we sure can pack ourselves into a grocery store.

I bought lamb chops, couscous and spinach. And chardonnay, naturally enough, for swashbuckling’s sake.

Public health crises of almost every stripe are periodically visited upon us. Sometimes it’s disease, as at present, and sometimes it’s a natural disaster–which, while initially devastating, devolves rapidly into the management of resources and contagion. There’s an earthquake or hurricane, say, suddenly the water is fouled, food is spoiled, people are soaked, shocked, weakened and scared, they take desperate measures–and all too quickly a bad situation smacks of the hellish as disease bestrides the scene.

Survivors do not swaddle themselves in toilet paper or hoard bottled water. Having survived a few of these events with a young family, I’ll tell you what survivors do. First, their situational awareness is a lifestyle–so they are always at a modicum of readiness. There isn’t much in the market they’re going to make a run on. Maybe condoms. Second, they’re adaptable. If the situation stretches out to four horrible, information-less days or two awful, waterless weeks they’re prepared, if just enough, to ride it out.

We moved to Cabo San Lucas in 1994, with four kids ranging in age from seven years to four months. In those days, Cabo was still more a traditional fishing village than the glitzy resort it has now become. Many of its main streets, for instance, were bare dirt. Sand. So when it rained there could be trouble. Real rain, as associated with tropical storms, was catastrophic. Hurricanes were worse. Hurricanes, even if not a direct hit, could ravage everything, suspend everything, paralyze medical response to everything and kill people.

All utilities would lapse for days on end. We’d use candles. A Coleman stove. Roads were either an impassable, malodorous muck or a flash flood sluice bed that could maroon one either in or outside town. We’d hunker down.

And commence the swashbuckling.

First things first, however. We always had long warning of any storm’s approach. We knew our geographical coordinates in Cabo and familiarized ourselves with the likely trajectories of Eastern Pacific hurricanes. So we always knew when danger was imminent.

The first job was to insure that the pila was fully charged. The pila–that’s “battery” in Spanish–was our water tank. Then we’d fill and re-fill bathtubs and sinks and buckets and jugs all while the pila recharged itself again and again until, however temporarily, there was no electricity. I wasn’t joking about water potentially being absent for two weeks. But then, with a little planning, ingenuity and sparing usage, that’s the water sorted.

Next, of course, was to stock up on staples–we had four kids at the time, and kids tend to run through foodstuffs–but, perhaps of equal importance, also to stock all the delicacies we could afford. There is no point in facing two weeks of candlelight dinners if you can’t do it with some panache. With champagne.

With the aid of that elixir, we conceived our fifth child, a second daughter, during just such a disaster. It’s also, after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, how we conceived our first daughter. Quite a finger in the eye of the circumstances at the time.

And that’s my wish for us all. Stick a finger in the eye of this coronavirus. Have a good time with your family. Play some board games. Do the goofy things individual families do. Then put the kids to bed early.

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