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The Cost of Quarantine


Quarantining taught me twin lessons:

1. Time to think is a terrible thing to waste.

2. Time to think is a terrible thing.

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In that order. 

Examining life choices is a bitch. 

Essential facts: I’m a 63-year-old bachelor and a print journalist for 37 years, the past 23 in Las Vegas, the others in New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Been in more newsrooms than I care to remember, except as resumes require. In the absence of a family, it defines me.

Or … did. Like tens of millions, I lost my job to the pandemic. 

So now, a chance to sleep in, perchance to think …

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What have I learned about myself, professionally? That I’ve reached a career crossroad. And picking paths is not my strength. 

What have I learned about myself, personally?  

That solitude — the merits of do-it-yourself-ism, the embrace of aloneness (but not loneliness) in a coupled world as a lifestyle choice — is not an everlasting strength. I’ve tackled life solo, buttressed by confidence in my fortitude in solitude. I was my own company, thank you very much. 

Now? Pillars of defiant singlehood are wobbling beneath me, triggered by the last thing I could’ve imagined — forced societal confinement. I’m not such great company, it turns out, when work camaraderie evaporates, when social recreations shutter, when every day is yesterday and tomorrow — and when I’m my only companionship choice.

I’m like the houseguest I can’t get rid of.  

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I’m aging out of hire-ability. I’ve aged out of desirability (or whatever measure I ever had). I’m personally lonely. I’m professionally scared. There. I said it.

I lost my professional identity — largely doubling as my personal identity. What remains? As medical issues chip away at my health — and as my beloved print media, withering before all this, is often dismissed as a 20th-century dinosaur befuddled in a 21st-century world — what is left beyond treading water? 

Lots of creative people are only a self-loathing episode or two from the emotional abyss with which I often go eyeball to eyeball — so yes, I’ve considered suicide. As a clinical (and medicated) depressive, I always have. Never seriously. But am I inching away from “never” and closer to “ever”? 

I sit and hear the ticking of the clock — or clocks, the irony of being a collector, with around 80 on my walls, so every tick and tock is like a hammer blow.

Details of survival bang around in my stimulation-starved brain (if you MRI’d it, you’d find a sign reading “Free Parking”). Who would hire this communications relic now, I ask myself.  Should I cash in the lower end of Social Security? Scrape together freelance work (such as this essay)? Find supplemental gigs doing anything for any amount now that the career feels kaput?

Cobble together some plan to keep me going for the purpose of … what? Coming home to … who? Defining myself … how?

Hey! I think, gaining psychic strength. I’ll find a good woman. Yes. NOW. The one I should have found decades ago, who’s now twice or thrice divorced, with grandkids. But it’s a readymade family, right? Could I learn the dynamics of family relations at this point?

Time to think. And rethink. And regret. And, perhaps, to reinvent — even as calendar pages that once leisurely floated by now rip away at warp speed.  But the uncertainties tear at my soul. 

Las Vegas — including our economic turbo-engine, the Strip — is reopening. Amen to that. But can a city’s revival course-correct the trajectory of one man who fears he’s effectively dead-ended his future? 

Turning on TV painfully reminds me of what has — and hasn’t — changed, and the gloomier odds of my adaptive capabilities. 

Flashback: Around 55 years ago, as an 8-year-old, I began to grow aware, if only vaguely, of the world’s turbulence: The 1960s.  Vietnam. Generational hostilities. Civil rights struggles. The earth was in convulsions as man walked on the moon. But the world was fresh to me, and much excitement lay ahead — especially the thrill of discovering who I would become and what the world would allow and even encourage me to do. 

Flash forward: It’s 2020.  Parallels are eerie. Politics has divided, hardened, and poisoned us. A pandemic has chased us into hiding. American cities (including clashes on the Strip) burn with rage and racial strife — as a SpaceX rocket takes astronauts back to the stars. 

But at age 63, the thrill of the unknown is missing for the ex-8-year-old. Much of my life has been spent, my flaws calcified, my talents tapped. Perhaps tapped out. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be now. Is reinvention really possible?

Answers don’t come this minute. Maybe the next minute. It’s coming. I can tell by the tick. And the tock. Because … I … hear … every … single … one …