I woke up at 8:30 and couldn’t sleep anymore. I scrolled through Facebook thinking, I’ll just let this pass and then I’ll go back to sleep for a few more hours. We’d gone to bed at 2am the night before, not for any reason, just watching the last season of “Schitt’s Creek” aimlessly after having binged “The Tiger King” before. I’d drifted off around 3am or so. Five hours is more sleep than most Americans with day jobs get, I thought. But it felt like a tragedy, the inability to sleep in on a Sunday.
I finally decided to get up. “You should just lie there with your eyes closed and try to sleep a little more,” my husband said sleepily. I kissed him and left the room and went to walk the dog.
Emmett gets the same walk every morning (unless I’m sick or very, very tired). We head east on 6th street, past the leasing office, past the açai bowl and smoothie place, past the Royal Blue Grocery with the young hip kids playing their playlists over the outdoor speakers. Today the smoothie shop is closed, and so is the leasing office. But it’s just after 9am, so that’s maybe not surprising. The convenience store is open, but not full of people. A bearded man on his AirPods stands by the picnic tables with his German shepherd dog, who perks her ears up and turns her body to watch us walk by, but doesn’t stand up. “Good girl,” the man says.
We walk past Zilker Brewing, not yet open, although their sandwich board advertises a new beer available for sale. Earlier this week we bought a six pack of Marco IPA from their walk-up window service, and the server thanked up profusely. We haven’t finished the six pack yet. Usually Emmett can find some sort of chicken garbage outside the Spicy Boys food truck on a Sunday morning, but not today.
It’s grey and wet, although it’s stopped raining. It’s cold for Austin. It feels like Easter in New Jersey. No matter how late in the year Easter came, it was always gray and 40 degrees, even in late April, like the year I turned 21 at midnight after Easter. Cold in Austin feels strange. And it’s a relative “cold” — 50 some degrees is beach weather in New Jersey.
It’s been grey and rainy for four days. It’s all for the best, I suppose. If it was warm and sunny we’d want to go to the pool. But the pool is closed. All the amenities we’d like to take advantage of now that we’re stuck at home are closed. We can’t use the gas grills or congregate in the pretty spaces outside.
We walk past the empty lot full of grass that used to be a house that sold refurbished sewing machines and occasionally advertised boxing lessons on a cardboard sign out front. It seems like such a small lot now, as Emmett walks through the tall grass. It’s too wet for him today. He does a preliminary pee on the edges and we walk on, but he stops suddenly at the parking sign in front of Tamale House, sniffing insistently. Usually it’s cat poop, but who knows. I let him sniff. I watch a mocking bird in the tree, not five feet away, sing full-throated the song of another bird. I don’t know what bird, but it’s giving the song its all.
We walk on, past the Zebra offices, which have been closed this past week with no one in them. The lights are off today, which I’m thankful for; all last week I thought about how much electricity they were wasting lighting and cooling the empty office. Today it occurs to me that the lights are probably on a timer, set way before the apocalypse.
We walk on past Lefty’s Brick Bar, which hasn’t even been open for a year yet. The glass garage doors are shut, and it won’t open today. But there is a youngish, bearded, curly-headed guy with glasses sitting inside at one of the picnic tables, vaping, looking at his phone, a pint glass of a yellow beer on the table next to him. I wonder if it’s Lefty. I briefly consider tapping on the glass to wave; I dream of him opening the doors and sharing a beer with him, just talking to a stranger for a little bit in a social setting. But I know that’s impossible.
Across the street, the pink-stuccoed property that’s been for lease forever with bars on the window has new graffiti. Last week a new “obey” sticker went up; this week it’s been painted over with big purple balloon letters, signed “Eatso”. I wonder if Eatso is a play on “Fatso”. I wonder who the graffiti artists are in our neighborhood. They are relentless, tagging sidewalks and windows and full buildings. They were probably here before gentrification. But I wonder if they were as active then.
We turn at the Arrive hotel, heading south on Chicon. Emmett usually wants to cross the street and keep walking down 6th — there’s a woman in an apartment building who throws Milk Bones at him sometimes. But today it’s cold and wet and I can’t think of walking aimlessly as much as I can settle into our old habit.
We glance down 5th street. There’s a couple walking what looks like a Bernese mountain dog down the middle of the street. It’s such a normal activity, walking the dog, but doing it in the middle of the street is what makes it apocalyptic. We pass a woman walking a little white French bulldog that she has to pick up because it’s too feisty. It snarls at Emmett, who picks his nose up to sniff at it. “We used to have a neighbor with a little white Frenchie,” I explain as the woman shakes her head and smiles at us. “They were best friends, so now whenever he sees one, he kind of asks, ‘Moogle? Is that you?'” She laughs and waves as we pass. She’s wearing house slippers and matching raspberry sweats, and I wonder if she lives in the building we’re walking past.
The offices are all closed here. Emmett and I pause to stalk to squirrel in the two pecan trees in the courtyard, like we always do. The squirrel isn’t out. Usually it talks to us, looking to me to possibly give it food, and thinking Emmett is just a dumb dog (which he is). With no squirrel to hunt, Emmett decides the grass is too wet to poop on. We keep going.
MethodHair is shut, normal for a Sunday, but it’s been shut all week. We turn the corner onto 4th. Ahead of us a woman is walking a happy white pittbull. We won’t run into her. We walk past the apartments, where no one is out on their patios. It’s early still. East Austin is usually quiet on Sundays. This is just quieter than normal. There aren’t as many half-empty Solo cups set on the sidewalk or cans of White Claw rolling down the street. I’ve only seen one, in fact. It may be a leftover from headier times.
Emmett finally can’t hold it anymore and poops in the grass beneath the new trees. I untie the plastic bag from his leash and pick it up. We got this bag yesterday from the takeout we got at Koriente after our four-mile stroll around the lake. They wouldn’t let us drink the beers we ordered while we waited for the food to be prepared. I remember thinking last night when I tied the bag to Emmett’s leash to ensure it got reused, I wonder if there’s some of the virus deposited on this bag, and should I wipe it down with a Clorox wipe? I didn’t. Today I’m wondering if it’s spreading to my hands again, my jacket, my face. Every time I touch something, my mind plays a movie montage of germs spreading across surfaces and to people’s mouths and noses, infecting them without any notice.
The construction across the street seems not to be making any progress. There was low-income housing there six months ago, these old townhouses put up by Lyndon Johnson in the 60s. They’re tearing them down methodically, I assume to replace them with bigger, more efficient apartment blocks, like what I live in, but without the luxury amenities. There’s a fire truck idling down 4th street closer to Comal. Just sitting there. There’s not a restaurant nearby that they could be grabbing coffee from. I wonder why they’re parked in the middle of the street.
We turn up the walkway by Eastside Station, waiting for a woman with a cranky, perfectly round dachshund to deposit her dog poop in the garbage before we move to do the same. She smiles at us. She’s wearing a pink sweatshirt with a dog on it under a rainbow, and I briefly glance a cute phrase about “weiner dog” something or other. She seems desperate to chat. I say some pleasantry about our dogs being territorial, “We’ve got work to do!”
This walkway was painted blue and yellow more than two years ago and they have to repaint it every few months, it seems. It gets dangerously slick when it rains, and I walk on it like a penguin to avoid slipping as much as I can. I don’t want to do that today so I make Emmett walk on the astroturf on the other side. Sometimes he pees on the orange chairs that no one ever sits in. I pull him off that usually. He doesn’t today. All of the apartment patios are full of chairs but empty of people. I wonder if anyone ever sits outside here.
We turn onto 5th and walk west, past the dark Ashiatsu massage parlor, Scruff’s Barber Shop, and my lash Salon, Blink. They’d all be closed this time on a Sunday, too, but they’ve also been closed all week, like everything else. I wonder if in six months they’ll all be replaced by CBD shops or liquor stores, which are the only things that seem to be weathering the storm. I wonder if the owners who founded them wished they’d made other decisions a few years ago. And then I think you can’t have a society that’s just CBD shops and liquor stores.
Emmett’s ears perk up as we pass the gate to the interior of the condos. A guy with a bike is coming out, holding a to-go cup of coffee. He smiles at us and then gets on his bike and rides off. He’s holding the cup kind of precariously and I wonder how far he’s going to go as he turns to go down the hill that is Comal. I couldn’t do that on my bike; I’m not steady enough to ride one-handed on the street in the rain. I’d fall over or get hit by a car. But he seems fine.
We turn up Comal and cross the train tracks. “Let’s get the mail,” I tell Emmett. There’s a moving truck parked on 5th and I marvel at the stress of trying to move in a time like this. As we approach, a police car slides down the street. I think about how many more of those I feel like I’ve seen lately. I think the Austin mayor has increased patrols, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. It may just be I see them more often now because there are much fewer other cars on the road.
A single mover pushes a dolly out of the truck, down a ramp, and into the open door. We follow him. It appears someone is moving out, not in. This makes me very sad for some reason. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know a lot of my neighbors right now.
We turn into the mailroom, which is totally empty, but has some boxes littered throughout it. There was a note on the Amazon lockers, where boxes are usually supposed to be put, telling couriers not to leave the boxes by the lockers. I suppose they’re just leaving them by the mailboxes instead now.
“Why do you want to check the mail?” my husband asked me earlier in the week.
“I’m expecting a check,” I’d told him. This was true. I’d gotten the check. But now checking the mail was just something normal I could do, a way to stay in touch with the outside world, maybe.
Inside is the save the date from my husband’s cousin, set for a safe date in November. So many weddings have been canceled or postponed this spring, it feels strange to think that we’ll be going to a family celebration in November. We bought tickets to two weddings in Albuquerque in May and June, and even those are in question now. There’s also a catalog from a store I’ve never shopped at, covered in racially ambiguous models smiling in colorful bathing suits from a seaside photo shoot. They’re cuddled together in a group hug. It feels very strange to see now.
There’s also the weekly issue of The Economist, which I only read for the obituaries (or at least that’s what I’ve told my husband, who hates them for their treatment of Bernie Sanders). It’s been on a tear recently about the financial apocalypse, and how poorly our political institutions are responding. The media has been having a field day right now, publishing whatever they can about the pandemic. We’re all stuck inside with our phones, so we’ll click on anything that stokes our fears right now.
We walked back through the building and the courtyard, past all the shutdown grills and the pool and the lounge, where the lights were still on, but signs warned that we were forbidden from using them. We walked through the courtyard itself, silent on a grey Sunday morning. As we went to walk into the building, I noticed a tiny, translucent, pink snail gripping onto the door frame.
The winners right now are the birds, the bugs, the stay-at-home dogs, sensationalist media, and streaming services. The losers are the majority of workers who can’t work and have no safety net, the economy, hospitals, and shows that need live studio audiences (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was perhaps the most disturbing thing we’d watched all week, with him sitting in a silent white studio making jokes to no one).
And probably all of us, wondering when this will end and what we should do. My anxiety rages on. My body urges me, quietly but firmly, “Eat something. ” “You just ate,” I tell it, looking at all the dishes of enchiladas I’ve made and eaten, the spaghetti bolognese, the popcorn, the edamame. “More,” my body says. “Please. We don’t know when this will end.”
I settle back in to my apartment and think maybe I’ll try to write something, if I can think straight.