"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, April 3, 2020

Eat, Drink, And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die–Sad Shut-Ins And Happy Libertines In The Time Of Corona

There was no reason for Elmira’s indifference. Just because Corona was on her mind there was no reason to give this on-and-off routine.  She and Brent were among the lucky – or unlucky – ones who got caught in the COVID quarantine, locked in place in San Francisco in a Guerrero Street walkup in the Mission, an apartment sublet by a friend who was to be on mission in Africa for two weeks but who got locked down and quarantined in Niamey.

Image result for images san fraknciso neighborhoods view of golden gate bridge

Niamey is one of the hottest places in Africa, as far north in the Sahel as you can go before the Sahara, with temperatures easily above 115F and no water.  No respite is offered by the wide, slow,  shallow Niger River, dried to a trickle in the summer, its shoals and muddy banks fertile breeding ground for millions of malarial mosquitos.  The city has nothing of interest other than a few Bedouin stalls, cloth markets, and a clandestine arms bazaar where the best Russian, Israeli, French, and American weapons are for sale.  To be quarantined in Niamey in what once been ‘the jewel of the Sahel’, a Libyan hotel built by Bangladeshi labor which couldn’t stand its first rain, nothing but a shower by tropical standards but enough to seep into the ineptly plastered mortar and begin to crack and crumble even before guests arrived.  Of course the hotel was nothing more than a vanity project of President-for-Life Philippe N’gomo, a shameless waste of government resources as was the folly of the Presidents of Cote d’Ivoire (mansions and fabulous government palaces in the country’s new capital), Romania (where Ceausescu razed a quarter of the city to build his Socialist Visionary City) or even Duvalierville, Papa Doc’s imagined, paid for, but never built showcase of Haitian modernism.

Image result for images niamey niger river

In any case the Guerrero Street lessor certainly had it far worse than the two Americans, one from Pittsburgh and the other from Cleveland who took a flat in a neutral third-party location for a limited amount of time in a city which was far more beautiful, diverse, and far more exciting than their own.  She talked of Cleveland's  Rock and Roll Museum, the fish that had returned to Lake Erie, and the lively Slovak neighborhoods in Aural Heights; and he was enthusiastic about Three Rivers, the baseball stadium, the Squirrel Hill Hollywood delis, and the antique streetcar lines. Neither one of them could put much oomph in their boosterism, and both independently had decided to leave their hometowns whatever the cost.  Two weeks in San Francisco would be not only a sojourn in America’s most spectacular city, but a definite trial run of their affair.

The liaison was not atypical of any Cleveland-Pittsburgh romance, begun in a sports bar and played out on the banks of one of the famous rivers of the city.  They liked each other well enough, but both being in their early 30s they had become far less demanding than a decade ago. It was not exactly that they had dismissed coquettishness, machismo, and sex appeal entirely; just that such qualities played second fiddle to responsibility.  A quick few weeks in The City by the Bay would test respect, consideration, interest, and caring; and once those essentials had been checked and punched, the romance could return to the Midwest.

The experiment had begun to go sour before the Mayor and the Governor of California got serious about quarantine.  The couple saw the shutdown coming and kicked themselves for not bailing sooner, but no one advancing in reproductive years wants to be too quick on the draw; and moreover they found the idea of returning to their unkempt, small, and airless English basement apartments in Cleveland and Pittsburgh unconscionable.  Since Poor Harvey was stuck in Niamey and God only knew when he would be able to leave; and since he would certainly forgive the rental charges for the quarantine period, why indeed would anyone want to leave especially to go back to Pittsburgh?

“Won’t you miss the brats and beer?”, Elmira kidded Brent in the first days of the lockdown.

See the source image

Not only had the blush on the bloom of their romantic rose begun to fade – they were clearly not meant for each other, age notwithstanding –  it had gone entirely from the Mission which in recent years had become a shit-stinking place for derelicts, bums, and drug addicts.  Pittsburgh and Cleveland, while not exactly Shangri La, were beginning to look a bit more desirable.

It was the perfect Corona lockdown storm – two people forcibly shut in from a dangerous virus who found out that not only were they not suited for each other, but they got on each other’s nerves; and as much as neither wanted to admit their mistake, they really didn’t like each other much at all.

They had not been together long enough to build up the resentment, frustration, and hostility that older couples feel.  They were too young and immature to channel George and Martha, Edward Albee’s couple in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – two people mated in a quasi-arranged upper class marriage who hated each other from the very first night – but showed intimations of such enmity in the very foreseeable future.  In the first week of quarantine they were childish – they missed their parents, their brothers and sisters,  their friends and their toys.  In the second, they complained about misplaced towels, grease on the stove, and especially a sexual indifference.  If there was one sure thing about being quarantined, it was absolute, unexamined sexual liberty.  Fuck whenever, however.  Even if they had emotionally cooled to each other, why give up raw sex?

A learning moment – quarantine throws water on libido rather than stimulates it. 

There is a scene in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts where the Tom Waits and Lili Tomlinson characters feel the shakes of a Los Angeles earthquake, take another drink from their cute, paper Japanese umbrella swizzle-stick tropical punches, laugh, and happy to go out together, say “This is the big one”.  Sudden, unexpected, existential climax is exciting; being trapped in a Guerrero Street walk up and having to step over Capp Street bums and dog shit when they go out is definitely not.

Image result for images Tom Waits Lily Tomlin Shortcuts

“Do you love me?”, asked Brent of Elmira on Day 17.  By that time only a few clean panties and fewer clean dinner plates remained, so the question was inopportune at best; and Elvira was even more convinced of Brent’s inappropriateness.  Not only was he not handling Corona well. he hadn’t a clue about normal male-female relationships.  Where had he been, all those years in Pittsburgh, Elmira wondered.  Was the city even more sexually unsophisticated than she had thought?  Had he learned nothing from those Squirrel Hill Jewesses and Sewickley blondes? Or even from the mill broads on Arch Street?

Meanwhile their lessor, quarantined in Niamey, had adjusted well and quickly. Within days he had invited Mlle. Toure,  a beautiful Fulani, light-skinned, Egyptian-looking woman, bookkeeper in his World Bank office to join him in the Executive Suite of the Hotel independence and be quarantined with him.  She accepted, as did her little sister, and for the time of quarantine, they all ate lobster and oysters imported from France, baby lamb, Camembert, and of course the finest Alsace and Burgundy wines.

The savviest among us could care less about Corona, Epicureans and Romans all

And  behold, joy and gladness,

killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,

eating flesh and drinking wine.

Let us eat and drink,

for tomorrow we die.

So, what to make of Brent and Elmira who, dutiful, responsible, and faithful put up with almost three weeks of the niggling and petty insults that were their parents’ territory.  Meanwhile the Guerrero Street lessor, caught and quarantined in the most awful and inhospitable of places, not only made the best of it, but had the time of his life.

Live and let live, que sera sera, Oriental spiritualism, and Nietzschean nihilism all have their day in the time of Corona.  Temperate, reflective, and  insightful musings are what we have been taught; but it is to the fuck-all’s, the Niamey sexual wanderlust adventurers for whom no simple threat is enclosing, that cheers go up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.