Island Life in a Time of Pandemic
The land mass of the island on which I live in Puget Sound is half again as large as Manhattan. The population of Manhattan is roughly 1.7 million. The year-round population of my island is roughly 10,000. For my money (which is way less than before the stock market tanked), Manhattan, with all those people packed together, is like a Petri dish for pestilence, a bubbling vial of virus, a leaky colander of COVID. Plus, Manhattan has bridges and tunnels that are like feeder tubes for any fast moving disease…depending on the traffic, of course.
Not so, my island. Okay, we have ferries, I’ll grant you that. But they are slow and infrequent and you have to develop a sort of Zen-like suspension of time waiting for the next one. Meditation helps. You cannot be in a hurry when you live on an island.
Ah, but you can be safe! Because what kind of virus is going to be willing to wait patiently at the mainland dock in the inevitable pouring rain while a ferry to the island deems it appropriate to stop by? Uh, uh. Viruses, like New Yorkers, are in a hurry. They are unlikely to queue calmly. They might cause a ruckus and, as is only appropriate, be briskly escorted all the way back to the end of the queue. Plus, there is this: you have to pay to be transported to the island, whereas, as is only appropriate, it costs nothing to return to the disease-infested mainland. Be our guest. Don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out.
Which is not to say that this pandemic has had no effect on our island. Of course it has. Like everywhere else in the world, there is no toilet paper. We have no idea where it went. Is it migratory, like waterfowl? Is there a federal national toilet paper reserve somewhere, maybe in Area 51? Here, though, we have broadleaf maple trees. Its spring and their big green leaves are ripe for the picking. They are our handi-wipes. We are so organic here.
Personally, I live in a lovely post-and-beam cottage tucked away into the woods not far from the shoreline. My only visitors are deer and, as near as I can tell, they are immune to COVID-19. Or so they tell me. It’s hard to trust the word of a fellow creature that can disappear into the shrubbery in seconds when you even mention the word virus. Like the ferries, they are unreliable.
Yet this pandemic has certainly had its effect…beyond toilet paper. For example, I spend an hour every morning engaged in verbal jousting with my friends at an open-air coffee stand just down the hill. If you did not grow up in New York as I did, you might not appreciate what my ex-New York pal Bad Michael and I call “insult hour.” Every day, between 8:00 and 9:00 am, rain or shine, hot or cold, we and at least a half dozen other poor souls we have converted to insult experts, gather to trade barbs and laugh like the crazy people we are.
But a new and troubling pandemic-related problem has emerged. Despite the fact that there is still no sign that the virus has braved the ferry crossing, we all now maintain a six foot separation at the coffee stand. This is awkward for two reasons. First, we are fond of and affectionate with each other, despite slinging insults. And second, we’re none of us that young anymore and a separation of six feet means we can neither appreciate nor respond to the insults because we can’t hear them! The noise level due to all the shouting is annoying the neighbors while, of course, only elevating our reputation as loud-mouthed lunatics.
Forget about toilet paper: we need to keep the peace—send hearing aids!