The function of art is supposedly to bring order out of chaos, a tall order even when the chaos is static, and a superhuman task in a time when chaos is multiplying. — Hunter S. Thompson, 1964
LAS VEGAS — I keep pushing this can down the road.
I started writing about the coronavirus pandemic —our new normal— about a week ago, filling it with the latest facts and everything. Took me days to research. But the chaos kept multiplying by the hour, and I did the worst thing a writer, or any artist, can do: I hesitated. Into the breach surged waves of doubt and fear, and ultimately despair —”What good amid these, O me, O life?“— to the point where I didn’t see the use in writing anything anymore. Not that I wanted to die, just that I didn’t see the point in saying anything in such a busy, preoccupied, batshit-crazy world. Like pissing into the wind, writing is. Merely thinking these days is like shitting in the bathwater. Why bother and make a stink—for what?
So far this isn’t bringing any order out of our collective chaos, but screw Order. When the Chaos has so thoroughly saturated every cubic inch of human existence, chaotic reporting is every honest journalist’s duty; and I consider myself something of a journalist, in that this is something of a journal entry, which I allow the rest of the God-forsaken world to read over my shoulder.
I’ll start at the start…
I’d been hearing something about some flu-like disease ripping through China and the rest of Asia. My wife is probably the first person to mention it to me. She does business in China, for which she’s taken weeklong trips to Asia, usually around Chinese New Year, end of January, early February. But this year she said, “Hell no,” she wasn’t going to no Asia, that there was some disease over there killing a lot of people.
Then came some trouble with the dog and then the Nevada caucuses, which I covered for Latino Rebels —the caucuses, and a bit about the dog, too— and so COVID-19, the disease caused by this new virus, was as out of my mind as it was out of my sight.
The disease roared back onto my radar the week of March 13. That Thursday my wife came home early from work and said we should go looking for toilet paper and water, and to stock up generally, that “they” —otherwise referred to as “the Government“— would be shutting everything down and locking us in for two weeks. I didn’t take her too seriously —I’m not a worrier, not attached to anything enough to worry much about losing it— but we were off to the stores anyhow.
We stopped at Target first, the one in MacDonald Ranch. It was pouring out; it had been pouring for a few days, which is weird around here. Even my elderly neighbor from across the way, an old retired EMT fireman whose name I’ve never learned, said it was the damndest thing he’d seen in the 22-and-a-half years since he moved here from Pittsburgh. All the raining and sporadic thunder reminded us of home. (There’s almost never any actual lightning in Vegas, not like back in Chicago.)
Inside Targét, the shelves in the toilet paper and kitchen towel aisles were bare bones, as were some of the aisles in the food section. The sight of those empty shelves put everybody on edge, the air as taut as a guitar string, ready to snap at the first hard pluck. The people in those aisles looked miserable. Their faces had all the blood drained out of them, and they walked around as if their legs were where all the blood went. Their eyes were big and full of fear, their mouths small. Surrounded by so many forlorn expressions, I realized I must’ve been wearing the same one without even knowing it. There’s no toilet paper, no paper towels, no pasta… What will we do now?
The lines of stuffed shopping carts at the checkout counters at our local Albertsons reminded me of the Chicago Skyway Toll Plaza during rush hour. I’d searched corrals out in the parking lot for a spare cart but couldn’t find a single one. A husky, middle-aged rural type wearing a red MAGA hat glanced at me, and we gave each other the slightest nod of recognition: we were in the same boat. “I hate to see all these people hoarding shit,” he said, as we padded back toward the store, side by side. “Just take what you need, and save some for everybody else.”
Which I would’ve done, but it was hard to act rationally when your wife and stepdaughter, and everybody they heard from, were saying we needed to stock up ASAP for what may be the long-awaited End Times. Apparently everyone’s preparing for the End Times Lite, though, because I noticed that only the name-brand items were out of stock, while the generic brands had plenty. The stepdaughter wanted to make sure she had ingredients to make crème brûlée or vegan birthday cake or whatever fancy thing she’s always wanting to bake.
It’s the same all around. I know people —mostly young Latinas, I should say— who are genuinely freaked out, but who still don’t seem to fully appreciate the severity of the current crisis. Just today my well-to-do yuppie sister-in-law back in Chicago said she planned on flying out here to Vegas, because things were getting too scary for her back home. “Quarantine,” I told her, “means stay your ass where you are.” But she still wasn’t hearing it; she was texting my wife and all her other sisters, hoping for the green light. She wants to come out here so she can spend The Quarantine —what we’re calling the next month or three— in comfort. Never mind who she might infect on the trip over.
Why are we still allowing flights around the country anyway? Why would the mayor of Vegas, or the governor of Nevada, allow any nonessential passengers to land at McCarran Airport? Why isn’t the whole nation on lockdown, like South Korea was at first—which showed to be an effective method in stopping the spread of a pandemic, and which makes it all the more tragic that places like Taiwan and Singapore are faced with an onslaught now that they’ve lifted their shutdowns too early?
There’s something seriously fishy about that last sentence, structurally speaking, but no time now to fix it. Got to keep moving forward. “Movimiento es vida,” ¿qué no?
If there’s one thing I wanted to point out, at the start of this Quarantine period, it’s how dangerous Capitalism has proven itself to be.
I’ve been railing about it for the past couple weeks—in earnest, I mean. Look, if we wanted to stop this virus dead in its tracks, we know what to do: Test everybody. Find out who’s sick, and isolate their asses. Find out who they came in contact with over the pass so-and-so days—we’ve all seen the movie Contagion by now, haven’t we?
But because we don’t have enough tests, and because even if we did, we don’t have the proper system in place, at least in this country, to carry out the tests in a quick and effective manner, then our next option, the most painful one, is to stop all social activity. We don’t know where the virus is, who has it, where they’ve been, where they’re going—so our best bet is to shut everything down and wait it out. Let everybody who has it now, whether they know it or not, seek treatment in the coming weeks; let everybody who doesn’t have it stay that way.
We’re not doing that. Even now. The Machine won’t allow us to. The Machine can’t stop. We know this. We’ve known this. We’ve known for at least the past 40 years —longer than I’ve been twitching—that Capitalism is destroying the planet, and we can’t stop it, or even so much as slow it down. No, it speeds up even more. It eats, and eats more. We should be on complete lockdown, to save lives —as much as 2.2 million in the United States alone, according to the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team in London— and yet it’s still business-as-much-as-usual throughout much of the country. Everybody’s worried about the economy. Everybody’s worried about eating, and electricity, and water, and where they’re going to sleep next month. Capitalism’s got us all by the scrotum, even with a pandemic menacing our glans.
And it isn’t incompetence. I was arguing with my aunt on the phone on Sunday, and she was trying to convince me that none of this is Trump’s fault, that he isn’t really in charge of anything anyway. “Do you think Bernie would be any better?” she asked incredulously. “Of course he would,” I said. “Cuz he actually cares about the people.”
“But, papi, it doesn’t matter whether someone cares or not; it’s about whether they have a good strategy, like a businessman. And Trump has that. He’s a businessman. Say whatever you want, about the bankruptcies, that he’s stupid or whatever, but he’s still there, ain’t he? He’s still there in the White House. He hasn’t lost a thing.”
She’s right, and wrong. That Trump is president of the United States, after so many failed scams —I mean business deals— is evidence of the fact that he’s made of something rare, indeed. But rare is not necessarily good. And that a con man, a huckster, a stooge, a slob, a philistine, an ogre like Trump can become president of the United States proves the…
I don’t have the energy to finish that thought. I’ve just sipped the last of a cocktail glass filled to the rim with ice and Kentucky bourbon. So what if I’ve been trying to channel the Good Doctor of Gonzo for the past few months. I thank my lucky stars that I have. I’ll channel whoever the fuck can keep my head straight in these whirlwind times. Because people say Thompson was mad and crazy, but that’s all lies. He was just another wise man like that stray dog Diogenes and even Socrates himself. They all knew: not that the game is rigged, per se, but that the game is set up in a way that the players —or the played, rather— are the same who keep the game in motion.
All those people who were writing off Bernie Sanders and his supporters just two weeks ago, saying that his vision of America was “crazy,” that his goal of Medicare for All and free public college was “too expensive,” those same sheep didn’t say a peep when the New York Federal Reserve gave the banks over a trillion dollars —$1,500,000,000,000— to keep them afloat amidst the economic turmoil. And the fleeced aren’t going to say anything now that the Fed is placing another trillion dollars into said vaults. Just like they didn’t bat an eyelash when the House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) approved a $22 billion increase to the defense budget.
Do you know how much it would cost to provide free public college in the United States? Do you know what it would cost to provide universal health care? Not no 2.2 trillion dollars. And even if it did —even if it cost four trillion dollars— apparently we have 2.2 trillion lying around to give to the banks, the same banks that sunk the country, and the world, a decade ago. So we should have four trillion to give to everyday Americans.
But everyday Americans —like you and me?— we don’t count. We’re not worth four trillion dollars, or 2.2, or .2—nothing. This System is meant to squeeze us, not provide for us. When the nation’s leaders first woke up to the pandemic, Speaker Pelosi was on TV talking about making the tests “affordable.”
Can you even fucking imagine? Nancy Pelosi, who’s a millionaire, who’s to the right of a lot of her Republican colleagues these days, who told those kids demanding action on climate change that she knew best and that they were just young and dumb.
Here’s a novel thought for this new novel coronavirus: Fuck everybody and everything that supports this System that, when people’s lives are on the line, thinks first of its own pockets.
I wrote recently that Capitalism is anti-human and anti-life, and clearly it is. We should be on a complete lockdown right now but the airlines are still up and running because, well, 2.2 million Americans can lose their lives, but we can’t let American Airlines go bankrupt. And though we need emergency supplies, and we need to provide for all the people thrown out of work and into financial peril, we first need to shore up the big banks, the banks that do nothing but continually throw us into financial peril, not to mention planetary doom—we need to save them first, then us. We can’t afford Medicare for All, or housing for homeless vets, but we should put together a stimulus package for Carnival Cruise Line.
Where are our priorities? It’s enough to make a man who knows a little too much start to… well, let’s say it’s enough to make him start to feel like a wise man.
But what good is being a wise man in this world?
There’s plenty more to touch on; let me go through my Facebook page (I usually post news items I think might be of general interest):
You saw how Cuba, in an Uncle Sam headlock for the past 50 years, still managed to send doctors to Italy? Fuck what MSNBC tells you—that there is the beauty of socialism. In São Paolo, Brasil—where they have a batshit president, too, but at least they have a national healthcare system to counteract him—they’re converting 80-year-old, 40,000-seat Pacaembu Stadium into “an open-air hospital” with “more than 200 beds” and expect to have it ready —get this— “in 10 days.” Brazil doesn’t have one-tenth the number of cases that the United States does, and still… In similar news, in Denmark —which has a market-socialist economy, and a national health care system to go with it— the Danish government is going to cover 75 percent of the salaries of workers sent home during its shutdown. Does Denmark have more money than America? If so, we’ve all been lied to our whole lives.
And on that note, I think I’ll end with a scrap of poetry I coughed up in honor of the CoronaVirus Global Pandemic Quarantine Shutdown 2020, a.k.a. 2020 Is Canceled Until Further Notice, Please Stay in Your Homes and Wait for Further Instructions (Order In If You Need To—and Can Afford It):
POEM OF THE ONE PERCENT
the wealthy few will wait this out
the rest of you are damned
the poor and sick can go to hell
we don’t want cities crammed!