On COVID in Los Angeles

I am meditating. I am freaking out and drinking and scrabbling for contact over text and video chat and then later I am meditating.

They say that churches are in the shape of the cross, the better to connect heaven and earth. Conveniently, the city is in the shape of my wild and roving heart, and every day I worship.

There are two 7-11’s in my neighborhood. Both two blocks away. The first is on a busy street corner. It is new and gleaming, spotless. This is the holy 7-11. It is catty-corner to a giant jeweled church and can’t sell alcohol. The floors are pristine and the hot dogs roll shinily in their case like holy relics on display. They roll to entrance the penitent. Everyone wants to be entranced. Even the slurpee machines seem demure as they splurt forth frozen sugar water and churn with a reassuring buzz. One is healthy here, elevated. You might just buy a vitamin water. You might just buy a $.90 banana. You might peruse the sundries to see if there is anything you are missing for your own personal hygiene or the upkeep of your home. You chat smilingly with the clerks, eyes crinkling above your mask. Everyone is carefully covered in COVID vestments. Plastic on plastic on plastic. The clear plastic vinyl is dropped scintillatingly between you and the clerk, like a confessional, as you bring your wares to the counter. I confess, I want a $.90 banana. I confess, I want a vitamin water. I confess, I want to be whole.

The second 7-11 is for sinners. It is dingy and attended by friendly homeless men who open the door for you. The inside is sticky and the air smells faintly of fear. Somehow there is SO MUCH more candy in here than in the holy 7-11. Here you can buy bottles of overpriced wine, the neon price labels stuck rakishly askew. Here you can buy cigarettes and scratchers. It is unnerving but manageable. Dante would only wink at it. What day is it? Eternity, obviously. The owner will let you go in the back and get your own case of white claw off the refrigerator shelf as you shiver, so he doesn’t have to do it himself. You worry about tripping on the uneven pavement steps outside because you don’t want to touch the grimy COVID-covered railing. You are unsure how much to smile at the homeless men. You are sweating and breathing hot steam underneath your mask. The AC isn’t cranked high enough. It is the Wild West and you are not sure how much to like it. It is the Wild West of candy and white claw and longing.

The cases are growing. The cases are receding. The cases are up but the deaths are down. The cases are higher here than anywhere else in the world. Our best laid plans are laid bare and the Devil is laughing. The cases wax and wane like waves. You can hear the surf pounding the shore of our fear. You hear the surf eroding the future. 

Some people are neutral on the street. Some people walk unperturbed on the street, as if it’s any other day, as if they have never been acquainted with good and evil. Their jaunty masks are the only sign that something is amiss. They strut around, dressed LA-well with t-shirts in fashionable cuts and excellent new shoes of every description. I envy and am confused by them. I catch myself breathing shallowly and I try to breathe like them. I see their easy stride and I try to walk like them. I am unsure how to greet people. I am masked and unable to deploy the wide, disarming smile of which I am vain. We are hidden. Our terror is mostly hidden.

Later, I’m meditating. My apartment is a convent. I am a nun. I have foregone watching the ringingly-beautiful sunset out of my window so I can meditate. This is true abnegation of the flesh. I can still feel the sunset with my skin though, so I am cheating. Later, I have designs on some raspberries and cream. I am a canny nun. The hum of the freaked out city appears in my meditation as rolling hills around me. By the end of the meditation, the rolling hills are still there, but somehow I am numb to them. 

The cases are up, the cases are down, the cases are spinning all around.

Hours or days or weeks later? I have to get in my car for a grocery run. This involves touching several crosswalk buttons on the way to my parking garage and I’m not sure when to pull out the citrus-scented moisturizing Korean hand sanitizer I bought. This was supposed to normalize my experience. A touch of luxury. 

Do I slather it on before touching the door handle of my car? Do I slather the handle? Do I have to sanitize the bottle itself because it has touched my unclean fingers? Do I wait until I am in the car? When do I ascend from untouchable to holy? 

The sanitizing liquid is an ablution. The sanitizing liquid is an act of contrition to a vengeful and cruel god. The act of wringing my wet hands together is a paean, a tiny dance of penance. I slather it on when I feel the Spirit move me.

Do I slather it on the steering wheel? Do I slather it on my keys?

I wish there were a Book of Hours for when to use the sanitizing liquid. I slather it on and feel cleansed. I slather it on and wonder afresh how to quantify virtue. I slather the steering wheel for good measure. It is like speaking in tongues. I offer it to others, I proselytize. It is like the venom of holy snakes. I am an unlikely acolyte.

Then, the groceries are gotten and I am cooking. I am cooking to save my life. I am cooking as if for a wide, warm, laughing family. I am cooking as if I can orchestrate redemption with acts of love nobody can see. So I post the cooking on Instagram. I post the cooking on Facebook. I feel guilty about wanting to be seen cooking. I cook to wash away the sin of despair. I cook to wash away the sin of loneliness. The light washes through my apartment on cue. The light washes through my apartment and I am bathed.

Later, the governor comes on the news. He is as wild-eyed and harried as I. His speech is as clipped and fraught as mine. He stumbles in offering reassurance. He is vulnerable, naked in his appraisals. His bloodshot darting face gives everything away. His missteps alone give me comfort. I breathe deeply in the presence of his suffering.

I breathe deeply and drink, or meditate.