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The Rhinoceros

The Rhinoceros, by Albrecht Dürer, 1515
"I'd much rather take care of anybody else."

I think of myself as eminently Adaptable, though I know I'm not. I'm certainly nobody's chameleon. I try to keep a low profile so as to not stand out. My primary defense never has been a good offense, but my diligence in remaining inoffensive and also unoffendable. I try to fit in by remaining invisible. When in Rome, I stick out like an infected thumb. The same in Paris, Prague, Vienna, and London, for I cannot even see what Adaptability might look like there. My fallback position seems to be to become even more me than I might have been anywhere else, an obvious difference in any ubiquitous crowd. I order my croissant with decaf and swallow that bitter reconstituted powder as if I enjoyed it even though I quite obviously—even to myself, even to The Muse—don't enjoy it at all. I'm a sheepish grin and bear it kind of fellow. I fake my Adaptability.

Facing a pandemic, I imagine myself somehow immune to the worst case outcome.
I understand that this SmallThing could invade and actually kill me, but I also recognize that I stand essentially defenseless. I have not been out there defiantly baring my chest, egging it on, nor have I passively acquiesced to its threat. I frequently wash my hands, though I'm confident that I do not wash them nearly often enough. I avoid crowds except when I forget that the rules of engagement have changed. Much of my living seems mindlessly habitual. When I catch myself, I can change. My chief difficulty lies in managing to catch myself, for I'm not accustomed to very closely monitoring myself. When I catch the damned thing, or when it finally catches me, I won't need to pretend to play the victim. I'll either survive or I won't. I haven't given up an ounce of optimism, but I can appreciate the limits of my personal Adaptability.

I write this because I suspect that I might have become infected. This being hardly a surprise, given the recent rise in reported cases and also given that I've lately, perhaps unwisely, mingled in suspect populations. I told myself that I had no real choice. I'd made certain commitments and I needed to make good on them. I merely tried to remain true to my word. Human can talk themselves into almost anything under the reassuring guise of doing the right thing. I saw the rules changing around me but innocently thought that they might not quite yet apply to me. Innocence and ignorance are kissing cousins, capable of spreading anything. I might have infected myself.

There being no testing available and unable to find the freaking thermometer, I rest uneasily, wondering. I visited the pharmacy yesterday and noticed the sign announcing that they had no thermometers remaining in stock. Also no hand sanitizer. Many grocery store aisles reminded me of a grocery we visited in the Czech Parrot's Beak region where they still heated with coal. A dark grey pall hung over the town redolent with reminiscent coal smoke. We stopped into a grocery to score some lunch items and found a shop largely stocked with beetroot, turnip, onion, and potato. There were no potatoes at the first store I stopped at yesterday. The second had no milk, its meat case dark and empty. Canned soups were also scarce. Our odd palate left most of the items on my shopping list still available. Nobody's trying to corner the market in lemon juice or garbanzo beans. I even found a few potatoes remaining there.

An old thought experiment proposed not thinking of a rhinoceros. Of course, one can only think of rhinoceroses once enjoined not to think about them. It's the same with this Novel Virus. We're enjoined not to worry, which reliably invokes the worrying response, forcing some to go into survival-of-the-fittest mode, fitness apparently judged by how much toilet paper a competitor can hoard. We're told that we're vulnerable, but we know ourselves to be more adaptable than that, though the selves we think we know might not quite measure up to the ones everyone around us knows so well. They've seen us fake our way through innumerable perils and each of us here today have earned the title of survivor. We're reigning champions until we're not. The Muse just called and directed me to take care of myself, insisting that my primary job right now entails no more obligation than to just take care of myself. I'm unsure if I'm up to
that challenge. I'd much rather take care of anybody else.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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