This story is not about the coronavirus

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Before you exit this browser tab, hurl your phone in frustration and shout, “If I have to read one more story about the novel coronavirus, I think I’ll ******* lose it!” Fear not: This story has nothing to do with the novel coronavirus.

If you feel the urge to shout anyway, I understand: The pandemic can often be all-consuming. When we aren’t actively absorbing news coverage, COVID-19 infects every one of our conversations and interactions. When our minds are idle, our thoughts pounce on COVID-19 as though it is the last available bottle of hand sanitizer within a 30-mile radius. And if we are lucky enough to be otherwise preoccupied, concerns over COVID-19 bubble in our subconscious, ready to erupt at any moment. This pandemic has proven to be a black hole of mental energy from which the world, rightfully, cannot escape.

That’s why I thought I’d break from my current pastime — hypothesizing about my hypotheses based on other people’s COVID-19 hypotheses — and tell a few stories to help get our minds off of the pandemic. Really, we can all use the distraction.

Flip and his friends are headed to the beach, all six of them wedged in the van Flip “borrowed” from his mom earlier today. The van is yellow. No, mustard. Flip is driving, even though he shouldn’t. 

Flip is only 15 and without a license, but his mom left for work before he woke up this morning and won’t return until night, long after Flip and his friends will have driven home. She’ll never even realize the car was gone. No big deal.

Besides, she practically gave him the key. Flip’s mom likes to hide things (mostly things she doesn’t want Flip to find) in unassuming places around the house. But of course, Flip caught on years ago and has since made a habit of searching compartments and crevices for hidden treasure: dusty cabinets in the armoire, the alcove stretching behind the television, the shelves of his father’s old bookcase. He found the spare key to his mom’s car buried deep in a kitchen drawer, behind a stack of cookbooks. Upon his discovery, Flip could barely mask his excitement —

I didn’t intend for this to come up, really. But while we’re on the subject, I thought I’d ask: Do you happen to have an extra N95 mask handy? If not, any kind will do. I tried to fashion a homemade one the other day using a cloth napkin and rubber bands, but the rubber bands got tangled in my hair and I had to spend 45 minutes untangling them. Have you seen my hair lately? It looks like a bird’s nest up there. I wonder when barbershops will reopen. My guess is not until August at the earliest, and that’s assuming we can be in close proximity to others by then … 

But I don’t think you would’ve wanted to hear the rest of that story, anyway. It was all about friends and adventure and excitement, too reminiscent of life before the pandemic.

I digress. But I don’t think you would’ve wanted to hear the rest of that story, anyway. It was all about friends and adventure and excitement, too reminiscent of life before the pandemic. It just would’ve made you upset — as though the story was taunting you, eating your favorite food in your presence without even sharing a bite. No, let’s try something more relatable, more topical, like this:

Flip is grounded. For what reason, he does not know. He hasn’t yet asked and figures it’s best to wait. Surely, sneaking his mom’s car out of the garage yesterday didn’t help, nor did lying to her when she asked him about it last night. 

Either way, it’s too late now. When Flip’s mom found out about his trip to the beach, she confiscated his phone and forbade him from leaving his bedroom until evening the next day. With nothing to do, Flip has now spent hours pacing back and forth across his room, 6 feet one way and then back —

Wait, that reminds me! Did you read the recent article from the New York Times recommending we maintain at least 15 (not six) feet of social distance from runners? I don’t mean to dwell on the pandemic, but I just want to make sure you hear that update before I forget about it. Apparently, runners can leave a much longer corridor of respiratory particles in their wake compared to walkers. In fact, I wonder how far away that runner was who passed me during my walk yesterday. I can’t remember now. It certainly wasn’t 15 feet. Was it nine? Maybe it was nine. It’s hard to judge. Runners breathe so heavily they probably contaminate the whole city block when they exhale. Anyway, I think I need a better mask. Are you sure you don’t have any extra N95s? Not even one?

Forget it. I’ll ask somebody else. Regardless, I think that story — the one about Flip being grounded in his bedroom — was beginning to hit a little too close to home. I’m writing these stories to provide an imaginary escape from the confines of our reality, yet it seems I’ve only amplified our boredom and isolation. Flip really should get out of the house, enjoy some scenery, breathe fresh air:

Flip now sits at the edge of a tall cliff, his legs dangling precariously off the precipice. There is not another person in sight. Flip swings his feet, rhythmically, to a tune in his head. Far in the distance, he can just make out the opposite edge of the canyon below him, a faint curve on the —

I wasn’t going to mention it, but yes, you’re right: The state of California has flattened the COVID-19 curve considerably in recent weeks. And yes, as government officials have suggested, that could really put us in the fast lane toward being able to push elevator buttons again in the near future. But of course, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. I, for one, will still wash my hands after stepping foot outdoors. One can never be too cautious, especially today. Are you aware that people often forget to clean their thumbs when they wash their hands? Who knew? Not me, not me … 

Now, where was I?

Contact Jericho Rajninger at [email protected].