As the COVID-19 pandemic progressesOur Land will be publishing a series of diary-style updates to capture this unique moment in world historyThis is part two.

Living in the middle of a once-a-in-a century pandemic isn’t exactly conducive to optimism. It’s much easier to get lost in the endless parade of horrible news — the carnage in New York City, the ineptitude of multiple governments, the collapse of the global economy — than it is to focus on gratefulness.

I’ve been fortunate. I work full-time as a firefighter, and my wife works from home for a local non-profit, so our income hasn’t been interrupted. We live in rural Western North Carolina, just outside of Asheville, and haven’t had to deal with the food and supply shortages that folks in more densely populated areas have had to confront. Thus for me to sit here and write an essay about what we should all be thankful for, without having had to deal first-hand with the nastier aspects of this pandemic, might seem a bit naive, or even like rubbing it in. I understand that perspective, but my intentions aren’t malicious. My goal is to point out silver linings from this unprecedented situation, so others — whoever they are — may discover the optimism in their own lives. Or something like that. 

If, despite my best efforts, I end up sounding like a jerk, I apologize. After all, you are adults, and probably don’t need me preaching to you about what to be happy about, yada yada. But I’m going to do it anyway, because truth be told, I’m bored, and this is my attempt to write through said boredom, to keep my mind occupied for a couple hours. Then I’ll go back to twiddling my thumbs and worrying about humanity’s demise — like a normal person. 

Disclaimer: I am in no way trying to make light of COVID-19, because by all accounts it’s a serious disease that poses a significant threat to all of us. Precautions must be taken if we want to keep fatalities to a minimum. What I’m trying to do is bring some levity to these strange and trying times.

So here goes: some stuff to be grateful for while living through what will probably go down as the worst pandemic of the 21st century.

It’s Springtime/All the Dog Walks

Hey, at least things are blooming, and dogs are getting more exercise than they would have otherwise. Quarantine would truly be unbearable if it were the dead of winter and we weren’t able to shake off the staleness by strolling through the neighborhood every once and awhile. Dogs around the country have been especially appreciative of this fact, barking and licking their approval whenever the mood strikes.

The health benefits for our canine friends are apparent, too — at least in the case of my two puppers, Willow and Bucklee. A month or so ago, each of them was carrying at least five extra pounds of winter fat. Now that we’ve been taking them up and down our mountain at least once — sometimes twice — per day, they’re as fit and nimble as NFL halfbacks. I get to go outside, the dogs lose weight and chase squirrels. Everybody wins. 

Watching Movies with My Wife on Our Newly-Purchased 55-inch Roku TV

Because movie theaters will be closed for the foreseeable future, my wife convinced me that we absolutely had to buy a large television to bring the cinematic experience into our home. 

Being a generally frugal guy, I resisted this recommendation at first. But then, as I was taking a shower, she reminded me that my birthday was coming up (I had forgotten) and mentioned that, hey, we could get a discounted 55-inch Roku TV from Best Buy for, like, $250. 

“That’s not bad,” I said, washing my butt.

Three hours later, we had an enormous television in the living room. I don’t regret our shameless act of materialism. After all, we contributed to a crumbling economy by purchasing the thing, and now really can have a cinematic experience in our own humble abode.

With that in mind, here are three movies that I’ve watched recently (complete with one-sentence reviews of each) that would look quite nice on a big screen tele:

Slow West

A symbolic, artistic take on the Western that’s both punishingly heartbreaking, visually breathtaking and refreshingly economical; no film I’ve seen captures the wonder of the American West more vividly and in such concise terms. 

The Florida Project

Carried by stunning performances from three child actors, The Florida Project is an unflinching exploration of America’s underbelly, and one that manages to humanize even its most deplorable characters — the most notable of which might be the state of Florida itself. 

Jumanji: The Next Level

Every bit as entertaining, funny and action-packed as its predecessor; the real thrill here is watching the chemistry between the actors, and the way they shift from one persona to another with ease and grace. 

An Excuse to Use Self-Checkout at the Grocery Store

I used self-checkout as often as possible even before the pandemic, because I am, as a rule, opposed to interactions with strangers. But now I have a socially responsible reason for avoiding others while I’m buying frozen pizzas and low-calorie ice cream. Grant it, I’ve been taking far too many grocery store trips on the whole (it would probably behoove me to chill on those a bit), but when I’m there, I’m an upstanding citizen who rings up his own purchases instead of initiating needless face-to-face interactions with recent high school graduates working the register. 

Long Hair, Don’t Care

I read somewhere, probably on Facebook, that nobody will ever again say to a hair stylist and say “Oh, you just cut hair.” That’s definitely true. Barbers and stylists have been doing their jobs in a thankless atmosphere for years, and all it took was a pandemic of epic proportions for the general public to appreciate how much we need people who know how to properly cut hair. 

I — and many other folks, I’m sure — would love nothing more than a fresh cut right now. I even texted my stylist to see if she would do a house call, but apparently that could cause her to lose her license. With that cold truth in mind, I’m embracing the fact that my locks won’t be tended to for at least another month. That means I have free reign to grow my mane as long, puffy and ridiculous as I want to without facing social repercussions. (You better believe that I’d be growing out my beard to insane lengths, too, if firefighters were allowed to do such a thing.) 

Barbers and stylists have been doing their jobs in a thankless atmosphere for years, and all it took was a pandemic of epic proportions for the general public to appreciate how much we need people who know how to properly cut hair. 

At any rate, thank you barbers and hair stylists. We will never underappreciate you again.

Bugging the hell out of Alexa on my Amazon Echo

In addition to the 55-inch television, my wife also bought an Amazon Dot for my birthday, which is a piece of technology that I never thought I needed, but it turns out that absolutely I did. 

Alexa can do a lot of stuff! Not the least of which includes rapping, singing happy birthday to my father-in-law, and ordering toilet paper on Amazon. It’s fun to ask her random questions, like “how do you say ‘sandwich’ in German?” (answer: sandwich), but when I’m sick of her shenanigans, I really let her know it. “Alexa, knock it off,” I say when I want her to cease her high-minded, pointless ramblings. Sometimes it’s “Alexa, just shut up.” She gets the hint. 

Also, did you know that it’s possible to change Alexa’s name? I really wanted to alter it to something super cool, like Pablo Manurepatch or Bill ‘“The Buttman” Gonzales, but the only options were “computer” and a couple other boring monikers.

Also, did you know that it’s possible to change Alexa’s name? I really wanted to alter it to something super cool, like Pablo Manurepatch or Bill ‘“The Buttman” Gonzales, but the only options were “computer” and a couple other boring monikers.

“I don’t like any of those,” I told my wife. “They’re too dehumanizing.

“You do realize she’s not human, right?” my wife retorted. 

I suppose she isn’t, but what does it mean to be human, really? Alexa can have a conversation with me, can’t she? Ah, yes, but can she feel? Does something move within her when she watches a beautiful sunset? Can she even watch a beautiful sunset without eyes? Where does a robot end and a human begin?

These are questions for another time, and for a much smarter person. This piece has already gone on for far too long. I’m truly sorry for that. Let me get back to twiddling my thumbs and riddling my brain with anxiety, like the rest of you sane people. 

In all seriousness, stay safe out there. 

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