The small things add up, and I’m noticing them more now after a month not leaving this area. I haven’t had to fill the car with gas since March, and my EZpass hasn’t dropped a dime in what would have been a forty-dollar month, at least. The lack of mileage means less need for an oil change as soon. And not being on the road trying to cross the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel has saved me more than a few anxiety attacks. The lack of the usual dash into 711 at midday for something to drink, or the vending machine at the college for a snack, is adding up.
I haven’t bought myself a dessert at Panera when I stop to pick my mother up a bear claw every once in a while, and this has saved me more than a few pounds along with whatever other crap I was eating on the road, plumped behind the wheel of the car, one hand deep in the brown bag of hot fries.
Though I do miss bringing mom the bear claw. She doesn’t care, and it wasn’t about the food as much as the absolute joy on her face of spending a little time hanging out. We’d sit and talk for an hour about nothing at all, and, honestly, that routine has continued for nearly three decades, so it’s kind of strange to not help shuffle her papers for her or bring her some groceries. Or just talk about the pictures of her great-grandchildren which creep across her Iframe. They’re getting big, all four of them.
I haven’t had to spend any money at IHOP or Village Inn or wherever Jack and I decide to have pie, or lunch, or lunch and pie, and where we talk about weather and radio and about what pisses me off this week about David Sedaris’ writing. At Ynot Pizza I get the chicken parm sandwich and soup and he gets the eggplant parm and salad and calamari and meatballs—Jack eats more than I do. I’ve known Jack for thirty years and we’ve spent every other week for several years now eating everything on the menu BUT pie.
Tim, too, and we hang out for hours talking about—and this is why we’ve remained so close for twenty years—anything but writing. Sure, it sneaks into the conversation sometimes, but mostly we talk about time, and age, and our folks, the four of whom seemed to have traveled similar destinies. Yes, we talk about them a lot. Except when we go to Texas de Brazil where gauchos carrying skewers of food like lamb and prime rib and fine cuts of pork and trays of seafood wander table to table, and then we just talk about food. Just food.
All of that seems so long ago, and none of it feels very close to our future. God knows when Mom’s place will relax the conditions enough. Her birthday’s coming up in two weeks and it won’t be spent together. Mine’s in July and that’s pretty questionable too.
The expenses of this pandemic.
I know my students have saved money not being able to eat their normal two fast-food meals a day or the three stops at Starbucks on campus, but they’ve also lost out on why they stop at the coffee shop to begin with. I’ve written extensively about that “Third Place” we all need; hell, I feel like I’ve written a book about it. But no one has that “place” anymore, those places that get in our blood and keep us alive; they’re all closed and we’re not really sure when they’ll be open again. And my students especially learn more in conversation in the student union than they do in most of their classes; at least the stuff they’re going to remember years from now.
And classes? Yes, I can teach them the material, but the nuances of facial expressions that help them know whether or not they’re on track, the quick comments from colleagues that ignite ideas or start friendships for these freshman, are paused. And the motivation has been derailed. I can teach them the material online, of course, but what is it costing them to not have that eye contact, that quick after-class quip that wakes them up. I became more prepared to teach college by working for Richard Simmons than I ever did from two grad schools. Classrooms are exercise facilities where we warm them up, motivate them, work on cognitive skills, do some group mental aerobics, and during the cool down we encourage them and set some fires. They need that; they need the one on one only found on campus. You can’t put a price on that kind of subtlety, you can’t measure the cost of dormitory companionship’s.
I’m not suggesting anything should be handled differently. I’m not a medical expert and I have no interest in listening to anyone except medical experts on when I can once again visit mom and plop a bear claw on her table and say “surprise,” because they’ve already warned me the cost of a compromised immune system.
I’m well aware that the expenses of this virus are most difficult to measure.