After checking myself in at a crack hotel in Buena Park to serve out a two-week quarantine, I just sat in bed and drank rum and wine, with the lights off, the curtains drawn, the TV on, and the sound turned all the way down. Sometimes I’d come close to passing out, but then I’d remember what was going on outside with the cornonavirus, and leap to my feet in fear, pacing around the claustrophobic confines, pounding on my forehead with my fists. Days went by without any sleep.
There was a sickeningly pungent odor in the air that, at first, I thought might have been the lingering fumes from an industrial disinfectant. It took a while to identify the real culprit, a combination of cheap perfume and raunchy sex smells, that had soaked into the mattress. All that stink was coming from the bed. Around the same time, I went to take a shower and found that my inner legs were covered with a vile rash that I’d contracted just from sitting on the clammy sheets so long. In any superhero movie that’s always the point where a beleaguered loser breaks down in lunatic laughter and rises from the ashes, a villain for the ages. My response was to drink myself into a coma.
After ten days, with the end of the quarantine finally in sight, I got a call from my brother in Santa Monica, suggesting that I should really think about being tested for the virus before going to stay at my Mom’s. The same thought had crossed my mind, but I didn’t have a car, and was so out of it that even walking to the end of the block would’ve posed a serious challenge. Tests weren’t widely available at the time, but my brother found a testing site in Long Beach where he was able to schedule an appointment. He then offered to come down and drive me to it.
When my brother showed up at the hotel, I was a weeping and slobbering mess. He practically had to carry me to his car, like a soldier on a battlefield, struggling to get a fallen comrade to the waiting helicopter. It would take ten days to get the test results, and my brother and his wife had booked a better room for me in Long Beach. That meant I was checking out. All I had with me was the little suitcase and laptop that I’d been traveling with in Asia. My brother sprayed them down with sterilizer and put them in garbage bags before placing them in the car. Then we donned masks and rubber gloves and drove to the test site.
I was catatonic, barely able to understand the test directions, when we arrived at the parking lot where they were administering the tests. It involved coughing and swabbing the inside of my mouth. Before I coughed my brother made a move to step out of the car, but was instructed to stay put. He was risking a lot by helping me out.
After turning in the test kit, we drove to a park. The idea was to eat a picnic lunch that my brother’s wife had packed. Eating was out of the question. Speaking wasn’t really an option either. We just stared at a playground that had been closed off with miles of yellow tape.
The hotel my brother took me to was on Ocean Drive in Long Beach, close to the Pike. Under different circumstances I could have made a vacation out of it and gone to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Queen Mary. Although I’d completed my two-week quarantine, California was still under lockdown orders, however, so outside of picking up a few supplies, namely alcohol and more alcohol, my outings were few and far between.
Something gets broken when you’ve been afraid for too long. The shallow breathing that accompanies panic attacks had me convinced that I’d contracted the coronavirus. My mind kept racing to the worst possible outcome. I was pounding wine and rum to try and calm myself down, but could barely sit still, let alone sleep. Anytime I switched on the TV, the news about the pandemic seemed to be getting worse and worse. For the first time in history, the entire world was united in alarm.