Hot Air: Imagine A World With No One In It

Despite all the bazillions of words thus far written and uttered about this whole new world we’re experiencing for at least the next few weeks, I’ve heard little or nothing said about how our voluntary (and potentially imposed) lockdown is going to depress the living hell out of a lot of people.

I don’t mean depressed in the casual usage of the word — I’m talking about those of us who experience real, clinical depression. Some folks I know are saying they love being shut-ins right now. Many of them are people who’ve seen themselves described quite accurately and vividly in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. These people cherish their alone time and need lots and lots of solitude every day.

I cherish my alone time as well but only in short bursts — late at night or after I’ve spent eight to ten hours grinning and charming, listening to and attempting to assist people. People who work in retail or the food service industry understand this. You can only be lively and connected for a certain amount of time each day. Once you’ve passed your limit in that regard (and everybody’s is different) you have to shut yourself away and ignore everybody and everything. You have to decompress or chill out or do whatever you want to call the process of essentially reconnecting with yourself.

Nevertheless, I love being around people most of the time. When I lived in a studio at Dearborn and Erie streets in Chi. back in the early 1980s, I found it comforting that there was a 24-hour gas station right across the street. The sounds of humans and taxicabs coming and going throughout the night made me feel less isolated, more part of humanity. A lot of people wouldn’t feel that way at all but some of us do. I can go on and on, using this forum as a therapist’s couch and talk about my deep fear of abandonment but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I thrive on the sounds and sights of people going about their business. That may be why I was so loath to leave the big city until I was 51 years old. The loneliness of the country frankly terrified me.

Every day of my life I have to shower, dress up, and get the hell out of the house. Even when I’m sick as a dog, I have to go out. The Loved One to this day shakes her head in wonder when I get ready to split even though I’m in great pain or whacked-out fatigued from some malady or another. “I’ve just gotta get out,” I tell her. She has always described herself as a homebody which, ironically, makes us a good match. I push her to get out more and she pushes me to stick around the hearth more. We’ve reached an acceptable medium.

Holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving also have been problematic for me. The streets on those days are almost empty. The stores are closed. Nobody’s milling around. Few have to work. The world seems an empty, frightening place to me on those days. Where’d everybody go? Have I at last been truly and irrevocably abandoned?

Today, Monday, March 16, 2020, seems to be the mother of all Christmas and Thanksgiving days. Here in Bloomington, 3rd St/State Road 46 was flat-out empty when I got to the intersection. The libraries are closed. the coffeehouses are closed (or, if they’re not, they ought to be). It’s like a Twilight Zone episode. It’s terribly lonely and downright scary out there.

[Image: Rutger Blom Photography]

How many more days of this will I be able to take? Hell, days? We’re thinking weeks and maybe even months of this stuff. I don’t like this one bit and I know there’ll be both psychological and emotional tolls to be paid as this lockdown goes on.

Apartment dwellers in Florence, Italy are singing from their windows in an effort to buck each other up. My next door neighbor, Tom, is a good guy and a friend but should he decide to start singing out his window I might be tempted to sic Sally the Dog on him.

Who am I going to tell jokes to? Who am I going to argue with about Biden and Sanders? My pal Pat and I regularly meet to discus pressing world issues like who’s going to be the fifth starter for the Cubs this year. My friend Susan, like clockwork, plops a pile of clipped newspaper crossword puzzles in my lap every time we meet. I exchange morning mots with baristas Miles and Alyssa and others, a daily ritual I now recognize as essential. And what of the librarians in Nashville (IN), Salem, and Indianapolis whom I’ve come to value as everyday fixtures in my life even if I don’t know their names?

Are they all gone? Have they abandoned me? Or I, them?

To be sure, it’s all too depressing. Oh, I have plans. I need to rewrite a chapter of the Charlotte Zietlow book. I’m working on putting together a reference binder on telescopes. I play chess against my computer. I just got my hands on this year’s edition of Baseball Prospectus. The Loved One and Sally and I will be making daily trips down to Lake Monroe. I’ll keep myself occupied.

But everybody’s gone and that scares the hell out of me.

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