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The ”lay off” Day 7

Whatsthisday, the 307th of Archpril

The clocks changed tonight. I only know because I happened to be awake when they switched. An odd experience. One minute it’s 01:59 and the next 03:00. Yesterday was Earth Hour I’d missed that too, but Magdalena remembered and we spent a sleepy hour reading by candle and lamplight before heading to bed at 21:15. It’s a sort of tradition now.

I missed both of these events because the available bandwidth to process news is simply overwhelmed with Covid-19. For a microscopic virus, it’s footprint in the macro world has become gargantuan, undeniable. Even for those for whom denial had become a way of life.

I went to bed too early and now I can't sleep, so I’m browsing The Guardian and eating Clementines. We used to call them Mandarin oranges when I was a kid, but in Sweden, they call them Clementines for some reason. The US news is just apocalyptic. That’s a word I use far too much, but it really is the only one that fits now. Multiple, simultaneously accelerating sites of infection, the death rate approaching a thousand a day and the federal response remains jerky, incoherent, contradictory. At every news conference, Trump is like a bear in a trap, enraged, striking out blindly, snout spraying foam and blood with every snarl. He seems to sense a looming future that involves piano-wire and a sturdy lampost on some broad american boulevard. The lunacy is incomparable, without precedent in my lifetime. We are watching the Suez-cide of an empire in real time.

In Sweden, things remain comparatively calm, but the undercurrent of concern is electric. We all feel it. We all know the exponential curve is on the way for us too. Our own local "Empire", the EU, is under tremendous strain as well, but here at least the causes remain pedestrian and institutional: the predictable outcome of a deliberately weak central authority rather then some bloated Nero. When this is over, we need to take a closer look at that.

The house is cold – I’ve turned off the electric heating as spring pushes the temperatures higher, but it’s 0 degrees out there – so I creep down to start a fire. This is a delicate business at 03:30 in the morning or 02:30, whatever. The point is, it’s the middle of the night, and starting a fire tends to be a noisy obtrusive business, what with the roaring blaze, cast iron stove and so forth. I manage to get it just right, a minimum of metallic pings and ticks, the air flow turned down low to throttle brighter flames but not the coals. Satisfactory. I get back to writing.

We’ve been in voluntary lockdown for about 2 weeks now. The first week was just a conventional work from home and then the layoff came. That was week 2. Today/Tonight/This morning, we are heading into week 3. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything and I’d planned a series of activities with a minimum of social interaction for Saturday. Two things actually, a trip to hand stuff in to the 2nd hand place (Vinden which literally translates as Attic) and the open air recycling center. The fruits of a week with too much time on my hands. To that we've added a trip to ICA Maxi for a final round of supplies buying.

The handoff at Vinden was perfect. There were some other people dropping stuff off, but we waited in the car for them to finish and then dumped our stuff. Eight bags of assorted clothes, utensils and older electronic odds and ends.

Social interactions? Zero. Then we headed to Maxi.

It’s dawning on me that this isn’t ideal. I’ve had misgivings about heading into an enormous shopping center in the middle of a global pandemic. Shopping should really be done only during off peak times and Saturday morning is about as on peak as you can get. This is feeling more and more like an avoidable error. I clutch my hand sanitizer and pull on my gloves. However, when we finally pull into the parking garage I’m encouraged. There are very few cars.

We don’t need that much stuff, so instead of a trolley we get one of those rolling baskets and head in. There are plenty of people about, but Maxi (as the name suggests) is very large. It has acres of floor space and I can immediately see that people are distributed for maximal social distancing. There is a weird synchronicity to their movements, as if everyone is generating a repelling magnetic field, they slide past each other with meters of clearance. Even when people are speaking to each other or staff, they seem to be standing on either side of a 2 meter gorge.

We pinball our way to the cat food (these goddam cats will be the death of us), traversing a wide arc through pet toys and obscure cleaning products, it’s a very lightly trafficked part of the store and we meet no one. Then down into fruit and vegetables to pick up oranges, clementines, apples and bananas. I read somewhere you can freeze fresh fruit and I want to try it. Magdalena has more practical goals in mind and selects the ingredients for a salad.

In the fruit and veg section we actually bump into our handyman, Lars. Not literally of course. He has a heart condition and we don't want to kill him, so we stand either side of the gorge and shout pleasantries. Then onto dairy for milk (reason number two, after cat food, we are here at all) and two big plugs of cheese.

Then I decide I want to get a loaf of freshly baked bread, but it’s a dilemma. No packaging. If I touch the bread with my gloves, anything on the gloves will transfer and then I’ll shove that material into my stupid fat face when we get home. I opt to remove the gloves, sanitize, pop the bread into the bags provided, then put the gloves back on. A month ago this aberrant, peculiar behavior would have attracted stares. Today, not the merest ripple of interest. The world has moved on. We head to the check outs.

They are well manned and we immediately find one with a single shopper finishing up. I realize then we should have self-scanned all this crap. Now the checkout person is going to touch all our stuff, breath on it and so forth. While they contaminate everything I’m blipping my card. The blipping is great because you just hover the card over the reader. Nothing actually touches anything. You still have to punch in the code on the keypad (I shudder at this even though I’m wearing gloves) but the whole business is so much superior to the epidemiological nightmare of handing physical cash back and forth.

Uuurgh. Cash. Filthy lucre. What a mad unsanitary idea cash is. Or more correctly in Sweden, was. Another big plus in Sweden’s fight against the spread of the virus. Cash is no longer king. It’s not even a local warlord and all its Statues were pulled down years ago.

We head out to the car, sanitize, and home.

Social interactions? Two.

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