Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

There is no doubt that some people will die in middle age, of pneumonia.  §

It’s 1:12 am, so this will be a less well-considered (and less well-overwrought) post than the last few.

I’ve finished the laundry, which is something.

Cleaning with me is always that way. I put it off. For a very long time. Then, one thing reaches the point at which I decide that it must be cleaned. Then, having achieved a bit of momentum, I suddenly look around and clean everything in sight.

These days, cleaning everything in sight means deep cleaning, involving ethanol and quarternary ammonium solutions and sodium hypochlorite solutions and so on. The whole places starts to smell like a chemical plant.

I don’t know whether or not it’s doing any good. I don’t suppose anyone does. It could all be for naught.

— § —

I don’t clean as much as perhaps I should or would like to because I’m inevitably behind the gun.

I’ve lived my entire life behind the gun. I was born behind the gun into a family behind the gun. People “on the margins,” they say. My parents were desperately clinging to the lower edge of lower middle class when I was small.

We ate a lot of green beans out of cans mixed with cream of chicken soup out of cans all baked into a single, large pot with a bunch of “generic” corn flakes. (When I was small, there were no “store brands.” There were name brands, and then there were the “generics” that stores sourced from manufacturers. Their packaging was just a plain white box, and the labels said nothing but—in this case—”CORN FLAKES” in big, black, block print.) It was dinner for a family for a buck or so in the prices at the time.

Today, I still feel the same—as though everything in my life is in danger of flying apart at any moment. I don’t think people who are well off have an understanding of precisely what it’s like to live on the margins, hand to mouth—it’s a bit like feeling, all the time, as though you’re on the run from the law.

Now my standard of living is somewhat better than my parents’ was. But I have never quite had an on ramp to the life that they led. The options were basically—ride the debt horse and shoot for the moon, or give up and sink into abject poverty.

I think for an entire generation, that was the sole option. The “live modestly in the lower-middle class” thing is harder and harder; it’s just not available any longer.

— § —

The COVID-19 thing has exacerbated this feeling. On April first, for only the second time in my adult life, I have proper health coverage. The second time.

And the first time, which was just in 2018, lasted only for a quarter—following the acquisition of the company that I worked for (and that did not provide health coverage) by another, larger company. Who covered my healthcare until I was shown the door, right on schedule (we all knew we were only being brought on under the new ownership until the acquisition was completed).

It’s a good time to have health coverage, I suppose, but of course all companies are in something of a liminal moment right now, so it could well be that it won’t last because employment won’t last. We’ll see.

And for those who are well off who are saying, “How is this possible? Employers are mandated to provide coverage to full-time employees!” well, mandates and statutes and regulations are all well and good in theory.

In practice, they don’t even have to pay you. Yes, I worked for a company that did that while I was in New York. No, it wasn’t meat packing or cutting cocaine or anything illegal. It was a well-respected think tank. Well, a sort of legal subdivision-of some-sort of a well-respected think tank. And they’d just stop paying us from time to time, for months at a time.

One day all of the employees, who were generally educated and rather together, got together and send a complaint to the New York labor people. The next day, we received notice that we were all fired. And when we turned up at the door, it was bolted. The company had disappeared, overnight.

The next week they opened up on the other side of town under a new name—well, a new name of the legal subdivision-of-some-sort that was still a part of the same well-known think tank “family.” The new place was the same as the old place—same work, same contracts, same management. Well, one thing wasn’t the same. Us. We’d all been replaced.

So sure, they have to provide you with healthcare, too. Only I’ve never had it. I worked for seven major universities with full teaching loads, not to mention two top North American publishers and two boutique publishers and a couple software companies, and none of them ever provided health insurance to me.

So it’s good to have it. Because I’ve already been living under the gun my entire life and now with COVID-19 threatening, it would be almost too much not to have some sort of healthcare security. So it comes just in time.

Provided it lasts.

— § —

I’m not happy I was right about COVID-19 when I started worrying about it in January. Normally, I’m not the sort to worry about these things. I’m a big believer in the immune system, and in training it. Eating vegetables straight out of a garden. Not sanitizing everything your baby touches to within an inch of hospital grade. Those sorts of things.

But this is different.

And I have a strange feeling about it, one that scares me.

My entire life I told people—I’m not sure how or why—that I would die young, of pnuemonia. I was telling people that when I was twenty. How did I arrive at this conclusion? I can’t say; it’s lost to the annals of history. I only know that at some point it became something I knew about myself, and then, as I entered my mid-30s and finally my 40s, it blissfully faded to “merely suspect or somehow wonder” status.

People in their 20s, especially people that have had a couple of direct brushes with death, as I have, tend to talk about death a bit too freely. And when people would say they were glad I was still around and that this event or that one didn’t get me, I’d say, “Bah, it’s not my time. I’m going to die in middle age of pneumonia. How do I know? I just know.”

But now I haven’t said that to anyone else for years, thankfully. Now, here I am in middle age, and here is a global pandemic that causes bilateral interstitial pneumonia and ARDS.

I don’t know. It’s irrational. But I have a funny feeling about all of this, a spooky feeling. Enough that in between bouts of cleaning, I have been taking steps to put my affairs in order, just in case.

Just in case.

— § —

Speaking of death, it wasn’t only brushes with my own mortality as a young person that shaped my relationship to it. It was the people that died around me as I was young.

That and the fact that I was invariably asked to be a pallbearer at their funerals.

I don’t know whether some people just have a “pallbearer face” or whether in fact most people have the good sense to decline such invitations while I didn’t, but I carried a lot of bodies in my pre-teens and teens.

Two of my own grandparents, four other peoples’ grandparents, two friends my own age and from my own school, and one person from the neighborhood—that I can think of. Now that may not sound like a lot, but for a kid to pack in at least nine instances of carrying a body between the ages of about twelve and fourteen—well, it does something to you at that age.

I got tired of carrying bodies. It was almost a relief to have my own near-death experiences later in my teens and twenties, in a strange way. To get a chance to come to grips with my own mortality rather than always carrying around evidence of that of other people.

But I did also refuse after that to attend funerals or to carry any more bodies, which sadly meant that I missed the funerals of my second two grandparents, something that I regret now. But the past is the past.

This is the present.

And in the present, we are living in a time of global pandemic. And I am sanitizing everything in sight, while also having the strange sensation—not unlike that of deja vu—that comes with being middle aged and hearing of millions being infected with a disease that leads through pneumonia to death after spending a big chunk of my young life being certain that I’d die in middle age of pneumonia.

— § —

Yes, this is a strange and irrational post. And probably nothing of the sort will happen, and I’ll look back on this and snicker.

But it’s 1:40 am now, and at 1:40 am after spending all day cleaning and doing laundry, your mind goes to strange places.

— § —

Whatever happens, I’m not particularly happy about what’s to come. For the vast majority who will survive these few months, the next few months—indeed, the next few years—are not going to be pleasant.

I’ve often wondered about the lives of those who were parents at the time of the Great Depression. Now I get to find out what it was like. And my kids get to be my grandparents—the people who were young at the time of the great depression, but mature enough to realize what it meant.

They will live their entire lives with the memory of “before” and “after.” They can add this memory to the existing “before” and “after” memories that accompany their parents’ divorce.

They will have an epochal consciousness of a kind that I’ve never known, accustomed as I have been to inevitable continuities—like the continuity of forever being behind the financial and career gun, or forever hearing promises of health coverage knowing you’d never get it.

The closest things we Generation X folk have are the fall of the Soviet Union and the September 11th attacks. But both of those are television episodes more than anything else. Someone on the screen says that something very tremendous and important has happened. Then, everything in society carries on much as it was before.

Sure, people say “everything has changed,” but by “everything” they do not mean the shelves at the stores or the methodical day-by-day of going to work, paying the bills, visiting the stores, then coming home and talking about the news.

Today’s kids will live the news. It will transform their lives. Not just some of them, and not just those that are far away.

— § —

We race toward the ides of April.

I’ve always liked this quote, and it seems appropriate now. Bonus points to anyone that recognizes where it’s from:

“Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond all imagining.”

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