Taking my eyes off the horizon: A shutdown diary of sorts

Early days of the shutdown featured cleaned out shelves at Acme.

by Hugh Gilmore

Shutdown began here in Philadelphia on March 22. It seemed drastic, but not much worse than having the lifeguard whistle you out of the pool because of lightning. Everybody thought, we'll just huddle here at the snack stand until the storm passes. The we'll all cannonball back in.

But that didn't happen. The stay at home orders were extended through April. Facing a horizon that far away seemed awful. I decided to be staunch and chin-up about getting through. Each night, removing my socks, I said to my wife, "Well, we got through April 1, only 29 days to go." Then, it was 28, and so forth. I did that nonsense for only a few weeks and stopped when the cheerfulness started feeling phony and presumptuous. It hurt more than it helped, once it became apparent that the time to return to Free Swim/All Lanes Open would keep shifting.

Trips out of the house for necessities seemed scary back in April and May. Even with a mask and gloves there was always the danger at first that I'd run into "That Guy." The first time I met him was at Weavers Way co-op. I'd waited my turn outside and then went in when cued. I  went right to the deli case. I stood at the end. The man being waited on stood in the middle and stayed there even after he'd given his order. I took a step and leaned down to see what was in the case in front of him. "Step back, mister, keep your distance," he said. He sounded like the great Gildersleeve, but I was embarrassed. Lesson learned, though.

The following week I was shopping in the Flourtown Acme, first aisle, where the pickles and tomato sauces hang out. "Wrong way, mister," a voice said. Huh? What? Him again: Gildersleeve, still speaking through a dark bandana like Jesse James telling me to get my hands up. The Acme had traffic-flow directional arrows on the floor, new since I'd been there last. Got me again. He was right, of course, but it's been months now and I still practice zinging one-line rejoinders in my head should he accost me again.

Very annoying – though I was wrong. And so I was a bit nervous on my third trip out of the home bunker when I went to Fresh Foods the following week. I did my small shop, headed for the checkout, got there, saw someone in line, saw the space marker on the floor, dutifully backed up without looking, caught the back of my heel on a barely protruding utility plate set in the floor, and fell down. Righted again, with the help of my witnesses, my elbow and butt hurt, but I was well enough to check out and go home. There I discovered my elbow had been deeply cut and was bleeding. With fingers crossed and great apprehension I went to Chestnut Hill Hospital for stitches.

And so, I'd gone three-for-three on my first outings. Everything's been hunky-dory since, but I still keep it to a minimum. We used to eat out a few times a week and consume the leftovers when we were home. That has changed a lot. We plan meals now. We cook a fresh, healthy meal nearly every day, waste very little food and even make it a point to eat at the nicely set dining room table. No TV during meals. The routine has become pleasant, bonding, even, if I may dare use that term about a 34-year marriage. Sometimes we even turn on the battery-powered candle.

And yes, we have, though not often enough to be considered benefactors, ordered either delivery or pick-up from a few of our favorite local restaurants. The experience is different enough to break the spell of home cooking. Seeing people up on the Avenue enjoying restaurant meals and ambience is very tempting. We're just not quite ready for that risk yet.

Exercising has been a problem until recently. At first, my wife and son and I walked in the Wissahickon but it became very crowded after a while. I know there are wonderful hiking spots within a half-hour ride, but I wanted someplace close by so I could incorporate exercise into my ordinary day and not have it be a special-occasion trip. We retreated to the basement and did video-guided aerobics and stretching exercises (my wife, Janet, used to be a fitness instructor at the Abington Y). Then a great thing happened: Springside-Chestnut Hill Academies reopened their track for public use during restricted hours. I love fast-walking and I've been going there every morning for the past three weeks before the temperature rises. A bit of heaven on earth. I'm back up to two fast miles every day.

What helped the most so far was taking my eyes away from the horizon and looking at what was right in front of me.

To be continued.


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