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OpServing

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Antoine Le Nain: Les Village Pipeaux [The Village Piper] (1642)
"I'm some days tempted …"

I'm taken by the differences between the life I described two years ago and the life I live today. This continuing Damned Pandemic has completely if subtly changed how I live. On my better days, I imagine myself on a mission, serving my country by observing strict protocols so as to do my part to inhibit the transmission of the virus and all of its variants. I duly upgrade my mask as suggested by the CDC. I mostly, and some days most excruciatingly, just stay home and look out my window, an OpServer more than an active actor in this world anymore. I've become a subvocalizing scold when I do venture out, pissed at all the maskless freeloaders dogpiling upon society, extending our travails, cynically shirking their civic responsibility. It would be easy, too easy, to acquiesce to the general ignorance displayed and just play along, give up, expose my position and volunteer to become a lab experiment that could quite easily kill me forever. Instead, The Muse and I keep driving, deciding when we see the overflowing maskless crowd overfilling our local tavern, to go find some more abandoned-looking business from which to order some supper to go. We even eat out at home now.

As a writer and a budding author, I some days struggle to feel as though I describe a world shared by anyone else.
My windows do overlook the center of MY universe, if no others', and might therefore represent no common or universal perspective. My world seems awfully tiny when I compare it to the world I inhabited in the latest manuscript I edited, for there I was traveling, The Muse and I driving to New Orleans and back then flying off to Budapest before The Muse flew to DC for a series of meetings while I wrote in more public places. A great coffee shop and a fine library, with The Public milling all around me. Those seem like ancient times now, every bit as alien as the nineteen-fifties when we'd unselfconsciously engage in behaviors that today would leave us cringing, embarrassed if we saw anyone else engage in them, let alone ourselves. We seem to have passed into a different age. As usual, about forty percent of the population apparently didn't get the memo.

I admit that I'm making up the protocol as I go along. I refuse to eat out though The Muse goes to breakfast (eaten outside) with a group of her peers every Friday morning. I might order a side of smothered hash brown potatoes for pickup, drive them home, and eat them cold as a treat, with little satisfaction, but I cannot bring myself to go inside, sitting down, and removing my mask to eat breakfast in there. I wouldn't dare! The effect of this current assignment has been extreme isolation. For a lack of better guidance and lacking microscopic laser vision which might allow me to spot the marauding virus stalking me, I just stay home. No lunches with The Boys. No beers with The Guys. No early mornings writing in the corner at the Main Street Starbucks, stealthily spying on a gang of idiots who used to gather there daily to reinforce their prejudices before heading out into their work worlds. I some days, most days, feel myself an observer without an object to observe, relying upon projection and imagination to cobble together a sense of being in or even of this world.

The future of fiction might be grand adventures completely played out in a single protagonist's head, multi-verse based, by which I mean utterly displaced from shared space. The illusion might prove internally consistent, but how could it not be as the product of a single, isolated imagination? The dialogue, never taken from what actually happened because those sorts of casual interactions never happen any more. All dialogue occurs slightly muffled, from behind clinical-grade masks, or proves too distracting to actually register, attention more focused upon the obscenely projecting nose which the flimsy, ineffective mask can't seem to cover or the alarming fact that you're interacting with a maskless suicidal or a murderer, perhaps both, out to get you and himself. Or, conversations occur on Zoom.

I came across a screed I posted before This Damned Pandemic while proofing that manuscript. I called the piece The Billionaire's Creed. The piece was pure projection, since I've never personally been a billionaire or seen their creed, but it seemed a reasonable-enough extension of what I'd seen. When interacting with any mysterious system, that system's behavior can serve as a useful tell if not necessarily a definitive one. The first unprincipled principle of The Billionaire's Creed was "Pump like crazy until you're caught then deny everything." I took this unprincipled principle from an old farmer friend who used it to explain how water rights work in practice. In this valley, many times more rights to use water have been granted than water actually exists to satisfy those rights. Mostly, the state, who regulates water use, relies upon the goodwill of those holding the rights to regulate use, but in practice, some of those rights holders tend to be scornful of the regulations and see them as infringing upon their god-given right to dominion over their own land, so they pump like hell then deny everything if caught. This same strategy seems to describe how we as a society have chosen to address climate change as well as This Damned Pandemic, perhaps offering lip service while continuing to do whatever we damned well please until we're caught, then denying everything. In short, we lie to ourselves as our primary response to every challenge. Well, not precisely everyone.

It only takes a small percentage of defectors to undermine the discipline of any line. It becomes increasingly difficult to defend any stance when ten percent won't stand their ground. Fifteen percent might decide the outcome for all the rest, for without that base, too few remain to effectively turn a tide. We have more like forty percent defectors with The Damned Pandemic, and even an entire political party who finds it useful to deny in ever louder voices when caught out, which seems to occur daily. I continue to OpServe from my somewhat less gaudy than ivory tower. I might not have been pumping like Hell through this one, but I sense a certain improvement in my ability to deny that I might not be making much of a difference. I'm some days tempted to just start pumping like Hell, since I might have already mastered the denial side of the business.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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