Quarantine

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By Sean Dietrich

I’m playing cards with my wife outside on our porch. We never do this. In fact, I can hardly believe this is happening. It’s almost like a dream.
The sun is setting. It’s a pleasant spring evening. The North Florida mosquitoes are the size of Volkswagen Jettas. My wife and I are sipping beers, playing five-card draw. It’s been years since we’ve done this.
You know, in some ways this coronavirus quarantine thing isn’t all bad. Yes, I know the newscasters are constantly reminding us to stay inside our living rooms, and to keep our televisions cranked up loud so we don’t miss urgent commercials about reverse mortgage offers. But I need a break from TV.
I’m sort of getting into the spirit of this quarantine. Right now I feel the same as I did when I was a kid and school got cancelled. Whenever school closed it was like getting set free from Alcatraz. That’s how today feels.
Anyway, I love playing cards. There was a time in childhood when I was always coaxing my friends to play Crazy Eights, War or gin rummy. Sometimes, we would sneak into the Baptist church shed, where no fundamentalist mothers could find us, and we would play poker. We played high-stakes tournaments. The game was Omaha hi-low split-eight or better, no limit. If you can just imagine.
We once played a three-hour game with Brother Gary, the church maintenance man. Brother Gary must have smoked three packs of cigarettes that afternoon. Wherever he is today, Gary still owes my cousin, Ed Lee, roughly $800,000.
As a young man, we used to play cards during lunch breaks on construction jobsites. We would toss dollar bills and quarters onto the lunch table. One day, I lost 16 bucks and I was sick about it. It’s funny how a man changes with age. If I lost 16 bucks today, it wouldn’t matter. But back then I was nauseous.
After the game, my boss took me aside and gave me $16 and said, “Promise me you won’t ever gamble again, it doesn’t suit you.”
I should have kept that promise because today, after a few hours of cards with my wife, she now owns the deed to both my kidneys and I owe her a cruise to Cozumél.
You know what else has been great about this quarantine? I’ve been going on lots of walks. And I’ve seen tons of people outside lately. They’re all talking, laughing, barbecuing, strolling with loved ones or doing some kind of leisure activity.
You rarely see things like this in neighborhoods anymore. Oh, sure, you’ll see one or two people having a cookout, but not like what I’m seeing. It’s as if the whole world has decided it’s the Fourth of July.
Things have changed dramatically in one week. Used to, nobody in our neighborhood even swept their porch. But yesterday, I passed by several family porch cookouts. At one house, someone was playing guitar and the whole family was singing. So help me, singing.
I saw kids riding bikes up and down the road. This might not sound like anything exceptional if you grew up the way many of us did. My Schwinn was a member of the immediate family. But in today’s world a lot of kids don’t even own bikes.
I saw a young couple pushing a stroller, listening to “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” on a small loudspeaker. And a lady power-walking, talking furiously about something important into her phone. People washing cars until their driveways were covered in suds. A dog getting a bath. A kid playing in the sprinklers.
A few houses down, I passed an old lady seated in her open garage, drinking tea, reading a newspaper. Next door to her was a flock of young mothers, each seated ten feet apart, drinking wine.
Across the street was an older man lying beneath a Ford truck in his driveway. I heard the familiar sound of a ratchet wrench, clicking. And the sound of George Jones blasting from a tiny transistor radio.
I walked past a boy carrying his fishing tackle, heading toward the bay. And when I passed our boat ramp, I found four trucks waiting to back their boat trailers into the baywater. Four.
I know you’re probably thinking this sounds like an imaginary scene from the 1950s, but this is what I saw. And this is just one day I’m talking about. It’s been like this all week.
Yes, I know the world is falling apart right now. And yes, I know there is a lot to be worried about. But something wonderful is happening in spite of it all.
Kids are playing. Brothers are wrestling in the grass instead of playing zombie apocalypse video games. Families are on porches, sipping cold beverages. Children are laughing. Dogs are getting flea dips. Folks are singing. Old men are changing the oil in Fords. Radios are once again playing George Jones.
I know the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on civilization as we know it. And I know many are saying this world will never be the same after it’s over. I’m sure they’re right. But there is something very weird happening in my neighborhood right now. Something almost too charming to believe. I don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful, it’s long overdue. And I hope it never ends.
Also, I’m pretty sure my wife is cheating at cards.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South.

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