in the age of corona #1

April 16, 2020

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… were neoprene booties, neoprene gloves and a bathing suit tied together in the back so it would stay on when I climbed out of the river.

I tied the suit with a ribbon I snipped off a Chanel shopping bag, which added a little tone to the whole ensemble.

At least I hope it added a little tone because this is not how I like to be seen in public — sporting fat wetsuit gloves and a pair of booties that look like Frankenstein’s socks and a bathing suit so old it’s lost all its elastic.

Oh, and mud. Let’s not forget mud. I was wearing that as well.

The mud joined the party when I tried to climb out of the river.

This was not a minor undertaking. The top of the riverbank was a good two to three feet above the water line and I had to pull myself up and out of the water against a wall of silt and crumbly clay. There was nothing underfoot and nothing to grab onto – no purchase – except a few clumps of stinging nettle.

It took me three attempts, each one activating a sort of mini-landslide.

It turns out there’s a name for this phenomenon: failure slip surface, meaning the layer of an earth bank liable to fail under a load.

That day, I was the load.

And there was definite failure.

Erosion, c’est moi.

Normally, I get in and out of the river by way of a ladder at the riverbank club to which I belong. I wear the neoprene gloves and booties for warmth when the river’s cold, which is most of the time. And because the river is cold most of the time and the club is private, I’m normally on my own there. As a result, I normally swim au naturel while my unused bathing suit rots quietly in the bottom of the closet.

That’s my normal.

But of course, the club is closed now, along with so much else.

Of course, almost everything has changed.

The media call it the new normal, almost as if Corona were the new black.

I prefer to call it the new strange.

It’s strange to swim, in an old and useless bathing suit, off a public meadow with people passing close enough – even while maintaining distancing protocols – to throw out threads of perky, running commentary (Watch out for the fishIs it cold?You wouldn’t catch me in there…)

It’s strange to wash my hands so often the skin is raw.

It’s strange to watch people lurching away from each other on the street, like scenes from a benign version of “The Walking Dead”.

It’s strange to spray the bottom of my shoes when I come back into the house.

It’s strange to dread – that 3 o’clock in the morning covered with sweat dread – the possibility of your child catching it.

It’s strange to be in competition –politely, but with deadly intent – for the last bag of flour in the shop.

It’s strange to have to block out thoughts of my 95-year old father, 3,000 miles away, who I can’t be with.

With a few alterations, it’s much the same list we all have, a combination of the crucial and the trivial.

And, ultimately, it’s strange to discover it’s the trivial — – the bathing suit unearthed in the bottom of a closet, the pretty ribbon that holds the suit together, the swim that clears the mind – that gives a sense of control over what seems, at three in the morning, uncontrollable.