When a Pandemic Became Everyone’s Boss

Snapshots of lockdown life among techies, linguists, and writers

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#1 — the turnip

I spot a strange yet familiar vegetable in the kitchen I suspect was an accidental buy, like the time rhubarb happened instead of stick celery.

And nearly ended up in the soup.

This one looks as if Donald Trump is holding his breath, half orange, half purple, and there may have been an ulterior motive for this purchase, see #2. I note a sudden proliferation of round- and tube-shaped foods although we all patronize different stores. There’s a lot of very tiny vegan spreadable sausage thingies in the fridge, from two separate sources.

They seem curiously popular, as do the rainbow TicTac candy and it hits me. We’ve all become subconsciously obsessed with the ‘Rona so the foods we buy mirror the shape of the virus. I consider sticking the very tiny vegan spreadable sausage thingies to the turnip and making a model.

But first I must figure out how to open them while keeping my dignity intact. So far, no good and I can’t find a YouTube tutorial.

#2 — the neighbors

The folks upstairs have been living their best life for the last two weeks, they’re up and down the stairs like yo-yos firming up those buttocks while ours get chair-shaped. Between 7 and 8PM, they also lift weights and drop kettle bells on the floor, which we initially mistook for obsessive furniture rearranging.

Don’t surreal times make for surreal behaviors?

Now we know where the sound comes from, we’ve added their exercise routine to our schedules so as not to be unpleasant surprised. One gets used to the thuds after a while.

As a result, swearing has been almost completely eradicated, unless anyone mentions POTUS. When that happens, the American starts getting angsty again and urgently needs reminding of their exact geographical coordinates. The only way to calm them down is by making them stare at a government press release in Dutch until the meaning becomes apparent. Upon publication of the English translation — which is never simultaneous — the American then goes on to play linguistic bingo.

Every time a cabinet crisis meeting happens, it buys this household at least two generous hours of blissful, uninterrupted silence.

#3 — the kettle

Now that we’re all working remotely, there’s always someone to make a cup of tea and that someone is me, 100% of the time.

Whether or not anyone has expressed the desire for tea, I’ve taken it upon myself to foist tea upon the unsuspecting, a British habit I never lost. If I want a cuppa, I’ll make you one as well but I won’t blow your focus by asking you whether you want it; tea is my love language, liquid comfort and encouragement. Please note that tea is never intended as a weapon or a personal attack but as a hug in a mug and there’s now enough toilet paper to accommodate extra bathroom visits.

The person who refills and boils the kettle is not always me though. To help us optimize the tea-making process and correct brewing imbalances, we’ve been collecting data. This household is making the most of lockdown by getting to know itself, both as a group and as individuals, and fostering a more egalitarian mindset.

Also, diligent data collection enables us to recalibrate perception so it aligns more closely with facts.

#4 — the bathrobe

On laundry day, one member of this household announced their intention to embrace Big Lebowski fashion. Since some of us don’t trust ourselves not to giggle at the sight, we called a house meeting and prompty banned bathrobes as business attire.

Preserving focus while working from home is our main concern. Because bathrobes leave little to the imagination, they were deemed a garment of mass distraction potentially disruptive to our productivity.

And so the person doing laundry reappeared in tights, delightfully Peter Pan-esque but for the fact the tights were long johns. Since their design draws the eye to the crotch area, we joyfully cackled our way through the day, our focus intact.

Laughter, it seems, is a potent antidote to kitchen coronavirus hallucinations.

#5— the farting

This is an inevitable part of co-working I had forgotten about since I’ve been a freelancer for a long time and my cats are still in the US. Until the pandemic became everyone’s boss, I was alone at home all day so only had my own flatulence to contend with. As a vegan, I ingest more fiber than the average omnivore and this way of eating has gastrointestinal implications. Hence the mild panic when the entire kingdom of the Netherlands seemingly ran out of toilet paper for a week.

And yet, this tolerant household has decided against censoring or silencing farts. Instead, we agreed to observe social distancing before doing so passing gas, ideally in the bathroom if available or on the balcony if not.

As a trade off, some of us reluctantly put an end to burping loudly while making cartoon voices or reciting the alphabet backwards.

#6 — the rituals

“Cat!” “Cat sighting!” is our rallying cry, the household’s cue to drop whatever we’re doing and rush to the window to admire the creature before it moves away. We keep a daily cat count also referred to as pussy by proxy because desperate times demand desperate measures.

Soup: We cook great big pans of the stuff with whatever vegetables then supply chain gfited us with plus herbs, spices, and beans. Chopping vegetables into tiny pieces is a good way to redirect your attention to the present moment. Especially when you’re pointing a sharp, heavy blade at a defiantly large turnip and calculating the odds of hurting yourself.

We come to a tacit agreement: The turnip can wait. And then we proceed to assign this metaphor a meaning by devoting an entire day to absorbing information on turnips.

# 7— the footwear

The absence of footwear constraints indoors has led to an ongoing debate about the benefits of slippers versus fluffy socks. At the time of writing, we’ve identified foot hugging as the top priority when purchasing a pair of slippers.

Since moving in, I’ve been wearing fuzzy booties to palliate the absence of cats. Now that I rarely go out and cat sightings are unpredictable I often find myself petting my feet.

It is helpful to shelter in place and share your space with those whose company you enjoy.

# 8— the exhaustion

Although some of us are watching our livelihood evaporate in slow motion, we aren’t working any less. We find ourselves doing a little bit more to compensate for how anxious we are, channeling angst into creativity.

While we now sleep a little longer, it doesn’t feel like it as nights are seldom restful. Thankfully, we had all acquired new pillows before the coronavirus outbreak and they require shaping daily with fists.

So the level of physicality our pillows demand of us now counts as regular exercise. Pillow boxing isn’t an olympic discipline yet but we’ve already assembled a team of athletes.

Meanwhile, this very small life in a very small place, together, is such a source of strength and solace it often takes our breath away.

Against all odds, we are quite content in our makeshift cocoon, relishing all the weirdness that comes our way, helping us keep our spirits up.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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