Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Conqueror Worm

Well, reader, what can I say: Your narrator got COVID-19. Your boy was infected with the novel coronavirus. After approximately 2.15 years of side-stepping the crashing waves of world-historical events, one of them overtook me and splashed all over my ankles. Suffice it to say I am fine, but boy is it ever a pain in the butt to have to isolate oneself, even in the most plush circumstances.

I'd been vaxxed (twice) and boosted (once) starting in early 2021, thanks to the efforts of my sister, who'd mastered the city's scheduling system once the vaccines became generally available. She also drove me to my initial vaccine appointments (Pfizer) at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, just around the corner from Mayday Space. She and Pete had bought a new car, and she and I marveled on the journey at the way it automatically paused its engine to save fuel while idling at a crosswalk. The vibe was off that summer, but being vaccinated at least made me feel like I could once again go anywhere, do anything. But then the winter came, with the contagious new variants, and that good feeling evaporated.

So I had been playing it reasonably safe for the first months of 2022. After the COVID spike eased in January, I'd gone back to working out of my one-seat Gowanus co-working space, strapping a mask on whenever I got up to get water or go to the bathroom. And I'd been canvassing twice a week for David Alexis, NYC-DSA's standard-bearer in Flatbush and the figurehead of an organization-wide effort to end the career of Kevin Parker. We'd been knocking doors since the fall (with a pause during the winter Omicron spike) but had been consistently masking up while doing so. In the end, my best guess is that I got it from a trip to the dentist, the only out-of-the-ordinary thing I'd done the week in question.

The first sign that I was sick was a mysterious pain in my upper back on Saturday afternoon. Like a pulled muscle, though I hadn't done anything strenuous. Nina and I went to sit in the grass on the western slope of Sunset Park, and I just couldn't get comfortable. So we got up and took the subway to Home Depot to pick up some seedlings for the burgeoning herb and tomato garden she's been cultivating in the alley behind our apartment. The next morning, ahead of my canvass shift, I was feeling decidedly "off" - light-headed, unmoored. I resolved to take a COVID test just to be on the safe side, and that's when I got my first, faint double line. I promptly holed up in my little office room and began to work out logistics with Nina (who improbably tested negative) by calling down the hall.

It's hard to recollect my symptoms precisely because of how mild they were. I had something like a sinus headache at first, then a scratchy throat and a sniffle. It didn't feel great, but it was obviously nowhere near what people were experiencing in the first wave. For a few days I lost my sense of smell - but not my sense of taste - which was fascinating but also annoying, because it happened right when I was feeling fully recovered and wanting to chow down on the nastiest foods: Signature sandwiches and waffle fries from Sunset Bagels, the various snacks and frozen treats Nina had acquired for my convalescence.

By far the worst thing I experienced physically (and mentally) while I had COVID was fully self-inflicted. Nina'd bought us some breakfast from the Sunset Park Diner and had thoughtfully ordered me an orange juice. That stuff has historically been challenging for my digestion, but I figured I was sick and I should get some extra vitamin C so I drank it anyway. Sure enough, it sent me straight to the bathroom within the hour. That part wasn't great, but the real awful thing was that I managed to clog the toilet with way too much of the fancy toilet paper we've been spoiling ourselves with. (I know, I know.) And then when it wouldn't go down, I stupidly tried to force it down with the plunger, which only stopped it up more. It's the worst I've ever fucked up a toilet. We tried everything to unclog it, including...
  • Dish soap
  • Epsom salt
  • Flushing it a lot
  • Using a drain snake
  • Plunging it a lot
  • Just waiting a while (8 hours, maybe?)
  • Messaging all of my nice friends in DSA asking for advice because I fucked up my toilet like a child
The thing that finally worked, which we happened upon after I sent a panicked, eleventh-hour text to our unflappable building super Pawel, was a special variation on the drain snake called a "toilet augur." It looks sort of like a big violin or cello bow. Pawel dropped one off outside our door and within minutes the toilet was working again. Just hugely embarrassing from start to finish.

I tested positive for 12 days, from the end of May 'til the first week of June, and I was resolved to stay in my room for the duration, no matter what the CDC might have to say about it. So I had to find some way to pass the time.

One thing I did was dig into Breath of the Wild on the Switch. As a sort of shared, household holiday gift, I'd picked up my friend Noah's Switch and found a copy of BotW on eBay. Somewhat to my surprise, Nina fully embraced the game and invested hundreds of hours into it over the winter months. It didn't even bother her that the thing was suffering from Joy-Con drift, which I noticed immediately the first time I picked it up to play, and which made it impossible for me to concentrate. She just powered through it. Once she relinquished the device, I'd had it fixed, and now that I was laid up I figured I should take my turn. At first, the game failed to grab me - the promise of an "open world" frankly didn't seem all that appealing. As a first mission, I'd done an important favor for a king in exile and been rewarded with a hang-glider (?!) unlocking a massive extent of new terrain filled with monsters and villagers and quests and problems and dialogue and so forth. It was all a bit overwhelming, in a familiar sort of way, having done this kind of thing over and over again across a lifetime of Gameing. So at first I only engaged with the game in small ways, like picking up a side quest where you try to recover some of Link's memories of Princess Zelda. And this was where a compelling (to me) narrative thread emerged: The unlocked memories reveal a world-historic attempt to unite disparate factions and defeat a powerful opponent, with Zelda herself organizing the entire course of her life in preparation for the conflict. And she fucks it up and everyone dies! The leaders of the factions she's brought together all die. Link pretty much dies. So the the world you are exploring is sort of what's left in the aftermath of the Good Guys blowing their big shot. Feels alegorically rich!

I also watched a bunch of movies. My friend Steph and others answered my call for recommendations, and I got some real good stuff off YouTube for a few bucks a pop. Here are some highlights:

We're All Going To The World's Fair - All of my Twitter Friends were talking about this one forever and I got sick of waiting for it to come out on Streaming so I just bought it on YouTUbe. A young person sort of mentally disintegrates after joining a collaborative online role-playing community. Very queasy and disturbing but kind of ethereal as well. It's good!

Let's Scare Jessica To Death - Very, very beautiful movie about a lady who gets out of a mental hospital and struggles to deal with being in an open relationship while she fixes up an old house with her husband in upstate New York. And there's a hippie vampire. Zohra Lampert is extremely plausible as Jessica.

Anguish - This is a wild one! Zelda Rubinstein from Poltergeist and Michael Lerner (who I guess has been in a million movies but always puts out a strong single-episode Seinfeld character vibe) are the stars of the film within this film which is basically about having a panic attack at the movies. Speaking as someone who had to go out to the lobby for a few minutes when I watched Twister as a kid, this was very relatable and authentic.

Popcorn - This is one of those movies with a cover that really made an impression on me as a pale, unhealthy pre-teen picking over the VHS tapes at Tower Video. And has often been the case when I've sat down to actually watch these movies as an adult, this one turned out to be pretty goofy and not very scary at all. A group of college students organizes a film festival to rehab a dilapidated movie theater and a guy starts killing them. There are a few different films-within-the-film that are clever and plausible.

The Slumber Party Massacre - Does what it says on the box! I don't know how much I got from it as a viewer in 2022 but it's a real, you know, artifact; and I'm glad I finally watched it.

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