Groundhog Day in Paradise 

2020 Pan­dem­ic – Day 339

Zoey and P.D.

The grand­fa­ther clock in the entry hall sounds West­min­ster chimes fol­lowed by six gongs. I roll over and sit up on the edge of the bed in the dark, scratch my head, and yawn. I turn on the light, stum­ble into the bath­room, and look in the mir­ror at an old guy. Mussed-up sil­ver hair, puffy eyes, sag­ging jowls. He is my grandchildren’s Papaw, and he looks the part. 

I take my blood pres­sure pill, shave, brush my teeth, floss, gar­gle, show­er, tow­el off, and step on the scales. Up anoth­er pound. I heave a sigh. 

I dress, go down­stairs, and open a can of dog food. When I set the bowls on the floor, Zoey and P.D. jump around, whip­ping my shins with their ropey tails, hap­py out of their minds about the same meal I’ve fed them twice a day for a decade. 

Cindy and I watch the Chan­nel 7 morn­ing news. Gov­er­nor New­som, his pale face smil­ing like it hurts, begs Cal­i­for­ni­ans to stay at home, then apol­o­gizes yet again for the pho­tos that caught him din­ing indoors at a pricey restau­rant with a dozen peo­ple, none of them masked. “I made a mis­take,” he says, just before he extends California’s stay-at-home order into late January. 

May­or Garcetti and Daughter

The news anchor reports that yesterday’s death toll in Los Ange­les broke the pre­vi­ous one-day record. She cuts to a clip of May­or Garcetti’s press con­fer­ence, broad­cast last night from his home where he is quar­an­tined because his daugh­ter test­ed pos­i­tive. “Our hos­pi­tals are over­run,” the may­or says with tears in his eyes. I feel sor­ry for him. The lock­down isn’t help­ing, but he doesn’t know what else to do so he dou­bles down. “Can­cel every­thing,” he tells us. 

We fin­ish break­fast. Cindy heads into the fam­i­ly room to work on her needle­point­ing project, a mul­ti­col­ored ele­phant for one of our grandsons. 

I read the news­pa­per. A front page arti­cle describes chaos at an east-side hos­pi­tal. With twelve patients in cri­sis mode, over­head speak­ers sound Code Blues con­tin­u­ous­ly. Sev­en die with­in a six hour shift, two in a hall­way because there was no ICU bed avail­able. Anoth­er arti­cle says 442 peo­ple died state-wide yes­ter­day, one every three and a half min­utes. Hos­pi­tal morgues are over­flow­ing; funer­al homes are turn­ing away corpses. I toss the news­pa­per in the trash and try to purge its dark images from my thoughts.


At eight, I put on my coat and boots for the main event of the day. “I’m leav­ing,” I shout to Cindy. 

Have a good time.”

I dri­ve to the barn. When I come through the gate, Lily and Jack­son nick­er a greet­ing. I brush Lily’s mane and tail and groom her coat. My daugh­ter and six-year-old grand­daugh­ter lead Marge into the cor­ral from our oth­er barn, tie her up, and tack up Jack­son while I sad­dle Lily. The horse whis­per­er arrives on her geld­ing, Jesse. We’re masked and six feet apart as we mount up and ride out. My daugh­ter leads on Jack­son; I fol­low on Lily; the horse whis­per­er trails on Jesse, pony­ing Marge with my grand­daugh­ter up. 

Hey, Papaw, what’s the ghost’s favorite plant?” she says. 

I don’t know.”


Grand­daugh­ter on Marge Trotting

Our masks muf­fle our laughter. 

It’s a beau­ti­ful day, clear sky, fifty degrees, the air crisp and clean. We crest a hill. Below us, the val­ley floor stretch­es out to pur­ple moun­tains in the east. Lat­er, on flat­land, the horse whis­per­er schools my grand­daugh­ter on trot­ting. Her back is straight; her hands qui­et; her form per­fect. We end the ride with an easy walk down Long Val­ley Road to the barn. 

When the oth­ers leave, I fetch car­rots from the tack room and give one to Lily. She rif­fles my arm with her lips and rests her head on my shoul­der. Jack­son bangs around in the next stall, jeal­ous. I give him a car­rot, pet him, then dri­ve back home. 

Before the stay-at-home order I would meet my train­er at the gym for an hour’s work­out three days a week. Now I exer­cise at home with weights and an ath­let­ic ball. With­out the trainer’s encour­age­ment I give up after thir­ty minutes. 

Pre­vi­ous Project

Back in the house, Cindy shows me the morning’s hand­i­work. The vivid col­ors and intri­cate stitch­ing on a flat can­vass resem­ble an ana­con­da instead of an ele­phant, but when she con­verts her projects to three dimen­sions, they always mag­i­cal­ly trans­form into a stun­ning work of art. 

After lunch, I sit in my home office and work on my nov­el. Jer­ry Dade is 73, a life-long bank rob­ber who suf­fers from symp­toms of demen­tia. He’s ter­ri­fied, and I want to save him. All the main char­ac­ters in my nov­els came through dark caves into the light, but I can’t seem to find a cred­i­ble way out for Jerry. 

Wil­son Left Behind

After a cou­ple hours of frus­tra­tion, I take a break, dri­ve to the oth­er barn, and hang out with Marge and Wil­son. Wilson’s a big old boy with a gen­tle dis­po­si­tion. Feel­ing bad that we left him behind today, I promise him I’ll ride him tomor­row. The break helps. I come up with an idea, go back home, and write it out. 

You can set your watch by the dogs’ inter­nal clocks. At four sharp they start danc­ing around my desk. There’s no deny­ing them. I grab their leash­es and dri­ve them to a trail head. We walk less than a mile in an hour as they pause over every scent. 

Dri­ving to the Trailhead

Back at home, the dogs’ evening meal pro­duces anoth­er fren­zied eupho­ria. Cindy and I grill chick­en and make a sal­ad. After din­ner we watch tele­vi­sion, then go to bed. Cindy falls asleep while I read. I’m in the mid­dle of Paris Trout by Pete Dex­ter. When the page blurs, I turn off the bed­side lamp. I brood about the spread of Covid and the stay-at-home order as I drift off to sleep.




Day 340

The grand­fa­ther clock in the entry hall sounds West­min­ster chimes fol­lowed by six gongs. I roll over and sit up on the edge of the bed in the dark, scratch my head, and yawn. I turn on the light, stum­ble into the bath­room, and look in the mir­ror at an old guy. 

Lat­er, stand­ing at the kitchen counter, I’m open­ing a can of dog food when a descrip­tion of a med­ical cri­sis in yesterday’s news­pa­per comes back to haunt me. A hos­pi­tal bed in an ICU. An endo­tra­cheal tube extends from a patient’s mouth to a gas­ket con­nect­ed to a ven­ti­la­tor. Exhaust­ed health care work­ers in haz­mat suits hov­er over him. His eyes widen with pan­ic. He gasps for breath. 

As I look out the win­dow at the amber glow of anoth­er pic­turesque sun­rise at the top of anoth­er per­fect day a sense of guilt wash­es over me. I’m quar­an­tined in a Gar­den of Eden with Cindy, the hors­es, and the dogs. As long as I keep my dis­tance, I can still see my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. The rate of infec­tion in Hid­den Hills is among the low­est in the coun­ty, but in the unlike­ly event the virus finds us here, Cindy and I are healthy and we’ll beat it. I’ve got it made, but while oth­ers strug­gle just to sur­vive, I sulk about being locked down in Par­adise. My malaise is self­ish and friv­o­lous, and I’m ashamed of it. 

You’d bet­ter feed them before they break your legs,” Cindy says, stand­ing beside me. 

I come out of my trance to the sting of ropey dog tails lash­ing my shins. I set the bowls on the floor, and Zoey and P.D. gob­ble up their stan­dard chow like it’s filet mignon. Cindy smiles. I do, too. 

In bed that night, I read Paris Trout. The page blurs. I turn off the light. The day has fol­lowed the pat­tern of all the pre­vi­ous days of the stay-at-home order, but this time as I drift off to sleep, instead of wor­ry­ing about Covid, I think about Cindy’s smile, Lily’s soul­ful eyes, and my grand­daugh­ter rid­ing Marge. 


Post Script: Appar­ent­ly, my sense of guilt is not unique. See The Para­dox of Priv­i­lege: Guilt Dur­ing Covid-19 at