Almost 300 years ago, in 1722, English writer Daniel Defoe came out with a little book titled Journal of a Plague Year, relating the experiences of the city of London during the bubonic plague that hit that city in 1665 and killed 70,000 of its inhabitants in a single year.
The book was intended as a warning to the Netherlands of the disastrous effects of the plaque that was then threatening that region and which descended with full force the following year.
As the author of Robinson Crusoe – the most translated book in the English language after the Bible – Defoe’s words carried weight. In fact, his Journal is where we get the popular meme “Bring out your dead.”
It is also among the first popular depictions of society’s elite fleeing to the countryside to avoid contagion from their urban inferiors, presaging today’s social distancing, (leavened with a little British class consciousness.)
To this day, academicians don’t quite know what to make of Defoe and his Journal. Is he a journalist writing of events that occurred when he was but five, or is he a novelist who uses charts, statistics and anecdotes to make a point? Is Journal of a Plague Year a work of fiction or non-fiction? Is Defoe a novelist or a journalist?
Anyone who does not see a parallel with current news reporters and their reports on the COVID-19 pandemic simply is not paying attention. Who and what are we to believe about an event that could be – but probably isn’t – fatal?
There is a remedy for that uncertainty. Maybe it’s time each of us started our own private Journal of a Pandemic Year, in which we record for posterity the facts, forecasts and individual experiences, as they happen to us and as we perceive them.
By way of example, I’ll go first.
ITEM: I entered self-enforced isolation about three weeks ago, when I read of the infections and deaths in Italy, due almost certainly to interaction with travelers and tourists from distant lands, mostly China.
I am vulnerable, so I can’t be wrong
ITEM: I determined that, like it or not, I am among society’s most vulnerable, due to age and immunological challenges. In other words, I have some skin in the game, and I can’t afford to bet wrong. I will act accordingly.
The real workers are finally appreciated
ITEM: I am beginning to like a world in which truck drivers and nurses are prized above entertainers and news readers.
Avoiding social contact
ITEM: To the extent practicable, I will avoid social contact, and when necessity arises, I will wear latex gloves and a face mask, no matter how silly I feel doing it.
Some steps are hard
ITEM: I have suspended my Uber/Lyft ride-share driving until this mess is over. I don’t need repeated exposure to random people I don’t know, nor do they need exposure to me.
Unemployment or not?
ITEM: I appreciate the government’s desire to make up my ride-share income through unemployment compensation, but I emphatically do not need to be paid two or three times what I was earning. That’s wasteful, and I would prefer not to be a party to such a scheme.
ITEM: I am disappointed but not surprised by the Democrats’ attempt to turn this crisis to their political advantage. Shame on them.
H-E-B has been great
ITEM: I am pleased that my grocer of choice – the supermarket titan H-E-B – has risen to the top of providers who correctly predicted and ingeniously met the challenges imposed by this pandemic. The grocery chain was founded in Kerrville, on a street not two miles from where I sit and I am pleased beyond measure that the firm has always proven to be an exemplary corporate citizen, in matters both material and spiritual. They take care to feed the body and the soul.
Waffle House - ouch
ITEM: This is not a drill. Waffle House has closed 418 of its 1,992 locations, most of them concentrated along the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. They are in Code Red status, their highest degree of concern.
We will be fine
ITEM: The Good Wife and I have enough ramen, ham hocks and pinto beans, marinara sauce and pasta squirreled away to last us til Christmas. (Although her Oreos and my half-gallons of Blue Bell ice cream are in doubt.)
Even Peeps has closed
ITEM: The makers of Peeps – those unctuous marshmallow-sugar coated treats – closed their factory to spare their workers further social contact, but not before ensuring there will be enough pink and yellow Peeps for all the Easter baskets in the land.
Bill Bouldin, a Virginian by birth and a Son of Texas by nature, is a former Air Force pilot and veteran journalist who has spent many tale-weaving years on the Texas-Mexico border.