We Mistakenly Took a Portal to Purgatory

First week in March, my wife and I took a trip across Florida to the Gulf, got lost, and returned home through some strange portal to purgatory. I would like to add a disclaimer to this blog post; it’s obvious there are many folks in the world in much worse shape than we are. I might have also played around a little with the facts and the timing in this article; let’s call it poetic license. My purpose here is not self-pity, but rather to find something in the current situation to laugh about. Laughter really is the best medicine, especially in times of pandemics, riots and useless politicians, and when you get lost and wander through a portal to purgatory.

So, anyhow, we are a retired couple who were looking for some fun, and not so much a portal to purgatory. I have a Subaru WRX that I used to drive on curvy Virginia roads, and that was a blast. Then my wife decided to become a beach girl and we moved to Florida, with exactly zero curvy roads, except for the Tail of the Alligator. This is a road that winds along the Gulf of Mexico, the other side of the state from the Jacksonville area where we currently live. So we packed for an overnight and headed out on a Wednesday. We stopped at restaurants for lunch and dinner, stopped at gas stations, stayed in a hotel overnight in Ocala, you know, normal stuff. We arrived at the winding road late Thursday morning.

When we travel, we use my Garmin GPS to get us there. I have her set on a sexy British female voice, and I’ve named her Myrtle. I blame Myrtle for all the things that have happened to us in the past three months. She guided us through this portal to purgatory. Damn you Myrtle!

The ride along the Tail of the Alligator was well worth the trip, a beautiful drive along miles of beaches, waterfront homes and parkland. The road was curvy and the drive in my WRX was fun. We left for home late Thursday, stayed in the same place in Ocala overnight, and that’s when things went awry. Next morning, we headed out and Myrtle somehow managed to drive through a portal to purgatory. That night we went to bed in our condo, not yet realizing our plight.

Next morning, I got out of bed first as usual, made coffee and turned on the news. I should note here that we hadn’t watched TV during our trip, one of the things that probably made it so enjoyable. The news included lots of footage of a place called Wuhan China, where police in full hazmat suits handed out face masks to people standing in line to board a train. I didn’t realize yet that we traveled through this portal to purgatory.

The reporter spoke of how someone in China had eaten an undercooked bat and caught a bat virus infection. I woke my wife and discussed this with her. We agreed it was good that we hadn’t eaten any uncooked bats on our overnight to the Gulf. She told me she was not aware of any restaurants in Florida that offered this delicacy on the menu. This Chinese bat thing didn’t sound right, so I changed the channel. This actually turned out to be the first sign that we had inadvertently traveled through a portal to purgatory.

The news reporter on the next channel spoke of how it wasn’t nice to blame the Chinese, and that we shouldn’t call this pandemic a Chinese virus. That reporter said that the virus didn’t come from an uncooked bat anyhow. Apparently their anonymous sources (read “someone on their news team made it up”) told them that this was a coronavirus, called Covid-19, and it actually came from a Chinese research lab located next to the open market that sells bat parts. 

This virus had killed hundreds, maybe thousands of Chinese people, and the reporters kept repeating over and over that it was not nice to call this a Chinese virus. At this point my head started to ache. My brain tried and tried to process the fact that according to the news media, the problem here was that people were calling this a Chinese virus. My mind, neurotic thing that it is, insisted on focusing on the ‘pandemic thing’ and the ‘killed hundreds or thousands of people’ thing, rather than the ‘it’s not fair to call it a Chinese virus’ thing. Portal to purgatory indeed.

We went to bed that night feeling uncomfortable and sad for the Chinese people who were suffering from this bat virus, although frankly the idea of eating a bat had never occurred to me. And why would a bat virus find a human being’s lungs to be such a tasty treat? However, during the next few days the evidence that we had traveled through a portal to purgatory started coming fast and furious.

My wife and I weren’t quite as sympathetic to the Chinese government once we discovered that they had given the people of Wuhan a week’s notice before locking down their province. Big surprise, over 400,000 of them fled to countries around the world, spreading this bat virus that we couldn’t say was from China to all parts of the world, including the US. Apparently many of them wandered through this same portal to purgatory.

Cases of Covid-19 started piling up, mayors, governors and the federal government were all in major panic mode because apparently this bat virus really liked humans a lot. In fact, it was reported to attack the respiratory system, putting thousands in the hospital on respirators. My wife and I, in our late sixties, were not enthusiastic to hear that this virus was especially fond of the elderly, killing them with great gusto. 

Our always reliable (to make shit up) news media and the federal, state and local governments swung into action like a mob of rabid children, and confusion reigned. According to the main stream media, the most important thing was still that we should not call this the Chinese virus. Apparently it’s racist to call a virus that originated from China a Chinese virus, and that’s a lot more important than the fact that the virus is killing thousands of US citizens.

The governor of New York, where our youngest daughter lives, decided it would be inappropriate to prevent elderly people from returning to nursing homes, even if they were infected with the virus (something about political correctness). So he sent all the infected elderly to nursing homes, infecting all the elderly there as well; I guess this is called equal opportunity infecting. Again, my wife and I were confused. (Well, what do you expect? We are elderly, and all elderly are easily confused).

Meanwhile the mayor of New York City kept coming on the news over and over yelling something like “The sky is falling. The sky is falling. There’s no hope. Everyone go home and shoot yourself”, or something to that effect. Apparently NYC only had a single ventilator, and he was determined to keep it for himself. It’s nice to have ethical leaders in high places.

But, it was the surgeon general, CDC, some guy called Dr. Fauci and the WHO that confirmed that we had most definitely passed through some portal to purgatory on the way home from our overnight trip. We heard that experts from these great US institutions were scheduled to speak to us and provide definitive information as to how to defeat this bat pandemic that was definitely not from China. First came the surgeon general, a distinguished gentleman who informed us that it was not necessary, in fact it was a bad idea, to wear a mask to protect ourselves from infection by this lethal (at least to us old folks) bat virus not from China. 

Then the venerable Dr. Fauci, another distinguished looking gentleman, reiterated this same thing, assuring us that there was no need to wear a mask. I would like to point out that at the same time these two distinguished gentlemen were providing us with this sage medical advice, the news media were constantly running footage from Wuhan China (where the virus most definitely did not originate) showing policemen in full hazmat suits handing out masks to what looked a lot like Chinese citizens (imagine our confusion) and ordering them at gunpoint to put the masks on over their nose and mouth.

Then the distinguished looking gentleman who heads up the WHO (I’m a little skeptical of distinguished looking gentlemen at this point) came on TV and told us that a) there is no evidence that this virus originated in China, but probably came from Europe, or perhaps the NBA, and b) the virus was not transmitted on surfaces or in the air. I found myself questioning this information, since during my career as a scientist I worked in BL-4 research labs and even had the flu a few times, and in both cases viruses are often transmitted through airborne contamination and touching contaminated surfaces. This is why it’s very important to wash one’s hands until they fall off, at which point you don’t have to worry about this mode of transmission anymore.

A couple of weeks later, the surgeon general had disappeared from the scene altogether, (maybe he disappeared through some other portal to purgatory) but the venerable Dr. Fauci returned to notify us that it was, indeed, a really good idea to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the virus. He meekly explained that he had originally said masks weren’t necessary because there weren’t enough to go around, and he wanted doctors and nurses to have access to them first.

Made my wife and I proud Americans to discover how concerned these government employees were for our well-being, as elderly, you know, the ones that this virus actually kills. Since government employees can’t be fired for incompetence this distinguished gentlemen will be head of NIAID long after he’s dead (sigh). So in this bizarre world, which my wife now refers to as purgatory (more on that later), we had to decide on our own “to mask, or not to mask.” We chose to mask, and my wife was clever enough to figure out that Home Depot also sold the venerable N-95 masks. We were able to get a few before they went the way of the goonie bird, and toilet paper (as in extinct).

Then the news media started confusing themselves further. There were studies showing that this coronavirus (not from bats or China?) remained viable on surfaces for up to 7 days and in the air for up to 6 hours after someone infected sneezed or coughed. But, you still didn’t need to wear a mask outside, because somehow the virus would magically disappear or take a lunch break if you happened to be walking behind an infected person who coughed.

Then the report came out that if you went jogging with others, you needed to jog side by side. If one of you coughed, sneezed or breathed heavy (I don’t know about you, but if I’m running I’m breathing heavy) and someone was behind you, they could suck the virus in through their nose, mouth, eyes, ears or gills (for those humans that are mer-people) and become infected. So my wife and I decided that in this bizarre new world, we wouldn’t jog, go outside, or breath and we’d still wear masks. Damn portal to purgatory.

There’s the buying of the groceries, toilet paper (good luck with that), disinfectant wipes, disinfectant hand lotion, anything with the word disinfectant in it. At our age, we’re supposed to stay indoors at all times. So, after duly wiping down our cell phones and setting them on fire, we phoned Publix and asked to talk to one of their personal shoppers. We were apparently a little behind this curve, because they were already scheduled through 2027.

So we tried Winn Dixie, where we had better luck. A nice young man purchased our groceries and delivered them to our door. That brought up the next question, “to wipe or not to wipe.” We decided to err on the conservative side, and wiped all the groceries down with disinfectant wipes before bringing them into our condo. This is especially fun in Florida, where it’s now 150 degrees by seven AM.

Having worked as a scientist in BL-4 labs (labs that handle highly lethal and virulent viruses like Ebola), I have some knowledge of how to handle highly infectious and lethal viruses. However, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d find myself in a situation where I had to treat my home like a BL-4 lab. When my wife and I wander out anywhere, mask on, hand sanitizer in shirt pocket at the ready, carrying a 6 foot stick to make sure people maintain social distancing, and a cigarette lighter in my pocket in case I have to set myself on fire as the last ditch effort to decontaminate myself, it’s quite exciting. 

In this brave new world, there’s really not much to wander outside for, other than to take out the garbage, get the mail, take the car in for maintenance, and drive the cars to keep the battery charged or to the car wash. Never dreamed date night would devolve into driving the car to keep the battery charged or making out while driving through the car wash. No more restaurants, bars, movies, shopping or going to the beach. Even filling up at the gas station is an event; hand sanitizer, mask, 6 foot from any other human being, wipe down everything.

And, when we get home, it’s strip down, leave shoes outside (actually we do this before stripping down, and the neighbors should be eternally grateful), put all contaminated clothes immediately in the washing machine, and shower to remove all dreaded virus from our person. My wife and I have gotten so tired of this drill after three months that some days we just hide under the bed all day and watch TV from there.

So-called social change has also taken a turn to the bizarre in this strange new world where we landed after straying through that portal to purgatory. When we left, Affirmative Action included Hispanics, Asians, members of the LGBTQ community and African Americans. In this new world, only black lives matter. What happened to those other groups? Does any of this have to do with disagreements over who should wear masks? Is this virus that’s not from China somehow racist? It must have something to do with Dr. Fauci. Someone call Dr. Fauci, and he’ll make it all better.

Since there’s not much else to do, my wife and I watch way too much TV. We had the news on the other night, and in this bizarre world a news broadcast seems to really mean “make shit up.” It’s mostly the stuff we used to find in those “rags” at the end of the grocery counter. I guess that’s what happens when you create 24/7 news channels. They have to fill the air with something; just wish they’d find something a little less polluting.

Anyhow, we were watching some footage of a peaceful demonstration/violent riot in NYC. Note: we used to call burning and looting violent rioting, but it’s now a peaceful demonstration. But, I digress. Hard not to. So, my wife and I are watching this peaceful demonstration that’s supposed to be about police brutality and systemic racism against the African American community, and we couldn’t find any blacks in the footage anywhere. It was all twenty-something white kids. Finally, an African American male wandered through the picture, looking confused. We were relieved to see at least one person of color in the mix. Perhaps I had my mask on wrong, and couldn’t see the TV very well. Again, very confusing for us old folks.

Which brings me to the ‘other pandemic’, an infectious disease some are calling white privilege. This is very confusing to my wife and me. We watched another news broadcast from the venerable NYC where a rather plump young white man, early twenties, glasses and a mask, was yelling at a sixty-something white woman to “take her white privilege ass and stand over there”. She and her fellow New Yorkians were inconveniently standing between him, his white brothers and the statue they wanted to tear down. 

First of all, this kid must not have any mirrors in his home, because he was WHITE, and by definition born into so-called white privilege. Second, perhaps he thought the mask he was wearing somehow protected him from this infectious white privilege disease. We should probably ask the venerable Dr. Fauci about this, too. Anyhow, the sixty-something New Yorkian chose to move her white privilege ass in his direction, tell him she’d stand where the hell ever she wanted, and then chased him away. The speed with which he departed was impressive, I must say. His mask almost fell off.

There are other examples of seriously confusing aspects of this strange world, or purgatory as my wife has chosen to call it. For example, some major US cities are defunding the police and telling them to stand down at the same time as they are releasing criminals from prison because of Covid-19 infection. I’m confident this is going to go well. I can’t help but think that this “not-Chinese” virus must affect politicians in especially odd ways, basically nuking the common sense center of the brain. There’s also the Seattle city managers who were seen on TV blasting the police and demanding to disband them altogether, while spending taxpayer dollars to hire body guards and private security for themselves and their families. Someone should make a mask to protect us from them.

My wife and I are over 65, and we try to take a walk through the neighborhood at least once a day to keep the old body moving. Otherwise parts freeze up and fall off. We’re old, but we walk as fast as we can, because we’re terrified that if we move too slow we might be mistaken for a historical statue and a crowd will show up and start tearing us down. That could hurt.

Finally, my wife calls this bizarre world where we landed after Myrtle got us lost on the way back from our day trip ‘purgatory’. She calls it purgatory, because before we took our day trip she took a walk on the beach every morning, followed by attending her daily yoga class. She loved going to downtown St. Augustine to visit the craft stores, eating seafood at the local restaurants, taking long walks on the beach in the evening, visiting Florida’s beautiful state parks, and generally getting out of the condo.

Now she’s locked in the house all day with a crotchety old man (that would be me). She’s taken up a hobby of making lots of different types of masks, in the hope that she can find one to repel me, but no luck yet. I guess I’m infectious, kind of like coronavirus, and I’m not from China either.

The good news is we have a plan. We’re going to pack up our Subaru for another overnight trip. It’s going to be tough, because we have to sleep in the car (hotels aren’t safe due to the virus), carry our own food (eating out isn’t safe, because, well…you know), pee in a bottle (bathrooms aren’t safe)…you get the idea. But it’ll be worth it, because after we drive the Tail of the Alligator again, we’re going to make sure Myrtle has the right coordinates and hopefully she’ll bring us home through the original portal, the one that isn’t the portal to purgatory. So, if this works, we’ll theoretically disappear from this bizarre new world and go back to the bizarre old one that we were used to, where it’s time to prepare for hurricane season. Wish us luck.

If you like this blog post, you might also enjoy my book PLEASURIA: TAKE AS DIRECTED, a wacky comedy murder mystery, available on Amazon at http://bit.ly/pleasuria