Sunday 19 April 2020

The Inside Of A Ping Pong Ball

I’m rather reminded of a punishment I once received when I was at school - I was charged with writing a twelve hundred word essay entitled The Inside Of A Ping Pong Ball. I wish I still had it - it might make a good self-help manual for what’s going on now. 

Amy and I seemed to be building some kind of a life for ourselves on the inside of our ping pong ball. I’m glad I’m not alone in here.

I haven’t actually been very well in the past three or four weeks - chest and rib pains, cough, low level fever, intermittant headaches - I was pretty sure it must be the virus though I was told the only way I could get confirmation of this was by presenting myself at the emergency room, death’s door, sick to the point of dying, ready to be hospitalised…

No fucking thank you. I was still able to operate, though in a somewhat reduced capacity. We’d go for walks and the slightest incline would have me out of breath and clinging on to the nearest tree or telegraph pole for support. Aside from that I’ve had more sleep since the middle of March than I had in the whole of last year. Sometimes all I’ve felt capable of is lying prone on the sofa waiting until it’s time to go back to bed.

It had to be the virus. Either that or some fearful wasting disease. Either way it didn’t seem at all possible to get checked out so I waited for it to go away, which it seemed to be doing, albeit rather slowly.

I thought just maybe it was over it but I still felt quite depleted - some days I’ve felt like I’ve been hit by a truck. Then I seemed to be better - alive, well, fully functioning but… down again. This past week I’ve felt worse than I can remember feeling since this thing started.

We found out that as of this week people like us - old people, the over sixties - could get tested up in Albany. Amy called and got us an appointment, 8am on the university campus.

There were barriers, policemen, soldiers, healthcare workers… Everyone was wearing a mask and the whole operation apart from the test itself was conducted with the car windows up - photo ID on the dashboard, signs held up Are You A First Responder? (shake of the head), Do You Have An Appointment (nodding of head), a document held up against the window Verify That This Information Is Correct...

The soldiers made us laugh - they were all wearing camouflage with high visibility vests over the top, a wonderfully ridiculous conflict of purpose. As we drove slowly through the checkpoint one of them seemed to smile from behind his mask, then he struck a dramatic GI Joe pose just for us.

Finally we got to the actual testing site, the bit where you open the car window. They did Amy first. The woman who conducted the test couldn't have been kinder - 'Okay honey, this is not going to be comfortable but it'll be over in thirty seconds.’

Basically they shove a big Q tip rather a long way up your nose and waggle it about quite a lot. She advised us to sit on our hands to avoid involuntarily swatting her. She was wearing a full hazmat suit complete with a perspex visor and face mask, but I could see that she had short black hair cut in a chic style and carefully applied blue eye make-up. As she probed around somewhere where my sinuses meet my brain I couldn't help thinking this lovely woman was going to see a lot of weird grimaces today.

As we left we were both moved to tears at the great job alll these people are doing. I don't want to clap and bang saucepan lids for healthcare workers, I want to see them properly rewarded for the work they do. It should be clear enough right now that tripling the defense budget at the expense of decent healthcare for everyone was not the smartest course of action.

Anyway, back on the inside of this ping pong ball…

We haven’t been helped by an urgent need to prepare a tax return for 2019 so that I can get my health insurance coverage reinstated. I turned sixty five and to mark my passing into the Old Person category this great country of ours interrupted my health insurance and won't reinstate it until we present a tax return for 2019.

Completing a tax return is a depressing business. I figured it out a good few years ago - nobody wants to be a loser or a failure but that’s exactly what you need to be when you’re in the middle of it. I laugh about: it’s bad enough being a loser without having to prove it once a year… but it’s a serious business. I don’t mind paying for street lights, road repairs, schools and libraries, but I don’t want to contribute to the defense budget, state banquets or even some cunt’s inflated travel expenses. I want to be a loser, not a winner like the president, but I'd still like to be smart like him and not pay any tax.

The test results came through last night. Amy’s is negative, even though she lost her sense of smell the other week for about ten days. Mine’s positive - I’ve got it. I felt deeply disturbed when I got the news and quite emotional.

If I’m honest about this I’m vaguely / acutely worried in the back of my mind that I might suddenly go downhill and die, but I find getting older is a business of constantly facing up to one’s own mortality. A growing list of friends that are no longer with us appears to be developing and it’s becoming clear to me that one day I’ll be on it.

So I stumble into moments of acceptance and find myself thinking that if this doesn’t kill me then old age or something else eventually will. Dying… it’s an ironic fact of life. 

When my mother was getting really old and incapacitated she once said: ‘I’m not scared of dying, it’s just that it’s a great party and I’m not ready to leave it yet.’ 

I feel pretty much the same except that I’m not exactly not scared of dying - it’s not the being dead that worries me, it’s the manner in which it might come about. And I like being alive - I want to stay on at this party until some time in the small hours so I’m hoping midnight isn’t going to come along to turn me into a pumpkin or whatever. 

The crappier I feel the more I’m driven to get in the studio and get things done. I’ve got albums to make. I decided a long time ago - and I’m down on record as saying this (literally as of last year’s Transience album) that I want to leave behind an indelible stain. And I feel almost ok when I’m working on my recordings.

I think I’m going to be ok. I’m more concerned about people who haven’t got anybody, people who are going through this alone. I wish there was something I could do to help but right now all I can do is work on getting better. We’re quarantined. It’s nothing new for me, I’ve been fairly well isolated since March 15th but now it’s official - 'You can’t leave the property' the nurse said, 'until April 28th'. For a moment I felt like landed gentry. Now I just feel... grounded.

I’m going to take a walk around the back yard before it goes dark. I’ll keep well away from the perimeter and try not to attract the attention of any of our more redneck neighbours. Some of them possibly still think this is a hoax. It isn’t.

I’m waving and sending love from inside my ping pong ball.