The streets are mostly empty.  I don’t mind.  I am a walker, and I find the city peaceable.  I should have stayed at home writing drastic, prophetic words, to rival Camus’s The Plague, speaking of watching “a feeling normally as individual as the ache of separation from those one loves, suddenly become a feeling in which all shared alike and — together with fear — the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lay ahead.”

But I’m no Camus.  First I stopped reading newspaper articles, then their headlines.  I don’t want to keep up with the body count or the infection rate.  I know how bad it is, even before all the zeroes get added.  I refuse to speak the first half of the virus’s name, because I don’t want to glorify it.  I always washed my hands a lot, so that’s nothing new.  And six feet apart—that is the distance I like anyway, what I call the contemplative gap.  I’m not the person you’re likely to find in a nightclub.  Conviviality writ small, I seek it, as the time when three newfound friends and I spent all night on a balcony in San Miguel de Allende, watching New Year’s Eve fireworks go off in the distance, drinking tequila out of a handmade Talavera bottle, listening to salsa brava, then driving around at six in the morning, still a little tight, searching for breakfast.  We finally got fed cold huevos divorciados in a cavernous restaurant with most of the lights off, only because the owner took pity on us, as if we were urchins.

I like watching people from across the street as they queue up for a blockbuster movie involving superheroes mildly surprised to find themselves in the same picture, the kind I probably wouldn’t enjoy, or a popular new restaurant in Koreatown.  There is something endearing about everyone’s quiet expectancy, their sense of belonging at a remarkable happening.  It doesn’t matter if the movie disappoints. They won’t notice.  They only want to be somewhere at the right time, even if it’s not the rapture.  I have been riding trains to this and that favorite neighborhood.  I walked around Koreatown, until I arrived at a restaurant where I sometimes went for takeout, a place where patrons-in-waiting stood outside as long as two hours hoping to enter, staring enviously at the ones in the backlit picture window, already eating deceptively simple dishes, as those outside waited for their phones to buzz with an alert.  Today, no one sits.  A single overhead light left on illuminates a patch of the dining room..  Everything looks remarkably clean and safe within.  The eerily white tablecloths have the hue of moonlight falling on a bleached skull.  Suddenly, for the first time, I wish to belong.  But everybody else is at home, terrified or just quietly resigned.

Only a year ago, The Washington Examiner ran an article, titled “Notre Dame—an Ineffable Sadness.”  It read,

the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral is a shattering disaster almost impossible to put into words.  For the crowds who gazed at the conflagration from the banks of the Seine, as for millions around the world riveted to their television screens, the sight was one of horror, bottomless sadness, abject helplessness.

That used to count as a catastrophe.

I had a habit of sitting outside that cathedral, on the steps, sporadically feeding birds and teaching myself to play the harmonica.  I never got good at it, but the pigeons didn’t seem to mind.  A few times I went in to Mass, and listened to the congregation sing the Te Deum out of the Ambrosian hymnal.  Those same rapt faces, the ones from the Korean restaurant, the nightclub, the cinema, singing together and reciting together, so sure of themselves.  Then they, and everybody else, had to watch that magnificent edifice be gutted by wicked fire, destroying with it the same false sense of permanence that let them believe in a benevolent God in the first place.  I was raised Catholic, so I should know better than to say these things.  I should simply pray the way I was taught, before the skeptical seed sprouted in me.

Ô saint Antoine, le plus gentil des saints, ton amour de Dieu et de ses créatures t’a valu, sur cette terre, des pouvoirs miraculeux. Je t’implore d’intercéder en ma faveur.

That’s what we’re all saying to ourselves, right?  Please intercede on my behalf.  I don’t ask to go to straight to the front of the line.  I only want to get there before the eggs, toilet paper, and medical attention are gone.  I only need a dozen eggs, two rolls, and one life.

I’ve been hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, against the rules. There’s nobody there.  The wildflowers are bursting with color, canary yellow, fuchsia, blood red.  There has been plenty of rain in recent weeks.  The air has not smelled this fresh since I moved to Los Angeles.  The drought and the wildfires from last season that pitilessly destroyed so many lives, so many millions of acres of forest and scrub, the ones referred to daily as apocalyptic, are barely a memory now, except to those who suffered their wrath directly, and those who responded.  That particular plague was undemocratic.  Yes, billionaires and the poor both got scorched.  But not all of them.  This virus seems to have more democratic intentions, sociology and statistics notwithstanding.  Any of us could be fucked.

As Camus often said, in so many words, it’s a weird time.  When someone walking a dog waves from me across the street, they seem to be sending out a subtle rescue signal.  When the cashier shyly greets me behind her mask at the grocery, she appears on the verge of speaking an elegy.

I have no taste for elegies.  I’m certainly not writing one here.  I possess a sensibility that is half optimism and half fatalism.  That odd combination keeps me in good spirits.  I don’t expect the worst to happen.  But when it does, I’ll be mentally prepared.  I found my next door neighbor the other morning digging weeds out of his yard with bare fingers, for quite some time.  Finally, he turned and asked, “What are you looking at?”  I wasn’t sure.  I thought perhaps he had buried Federal treasury bills in a jar, or that he was trying to get to the center of the earth.  I asked if I could help him.  He said that was okay, as long as we remained as far apart from each other as the wingspan of three American kestrels, flying abreast.  He didn’t say where they were going.