A Covid time capsule
The essayist Charles Finch's remembrance of May 11, 2020, a random pandemic day
Covid is an endless chain of forgetting and remembering. Each new phase comes at you fast. Now it’s the washing-hands phase. Now it’s the mask phase. Now it’s the washing-lettuce phase. Now it’s lockdown. Now it’s vaccine time. Now it’s hot vax summer. Now you kind of need to be worried again. Now it’s booster time. Now have fun again, a bit. Now be scared again. These phases come and go quickly, and sometimes they double back on themselves, leaving a sense of deja vu, and I find myself remembering everything and remembering nothing at once — all the phases, all the things I learned to cook, all the new and old fears.
It took diving into Charles Finch’s wonderfully wrought new book, “What Just Happened: Notes on a Long Year” to remember just how much I’ve forgotten, and perhaps you’re the same. Charles did what I wish I’d done, should have done: he began keeping a diary as soon as it all went bad. And I’m just going to say that the resulting book sounds like something you totally won’t want to read right now — too soon! — but actually is something you will.
Today I’m delighted to publish this excerpt from it — a random diary entry from May 11, 2020, a random day in an anything-but-random time.
May 11, 2020
By Charles Finch
Unsurprisingly, the election is sharply back in focus. It never left the conversation, of course, but Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee almost exactly as the virus emerged, and the polling between him and Trump has been basically static since the matchup was confirmed: Biden ahead by a wide margin in the national vote, by smaller margins in the states where the election will be decided because of the Electoral College.
There are days I think Biden could win forty states. It’s easy to forget given the daily mental pressure of living in his America how improbably lucky Trump got in 2016. No one thought he could win, which depressed turnout; he ran against a historically unpopular candidate; the Russians and Jim Comey and who the fuck knows who else helped him; and since his improbable victory, even the Democrats (not notable for their political savvy, a shortcoming in a political party, it turns out) destroyed him in the 2018 midterms, while underlining it all is the fact that last time he lost by almost three million votes. Biden is popular, safe, and unchaotic, and every sane American I know would camp out on a cold sidewalk to vote against Trump, whether it was for Joe Biden or a lump of dirt.
Sadly this is the same part of me that watched Trump march through supposedly insurmountable obstacles to get here, convinced that each one would stop him, wrong every time. And now we live with a real chance that he will seize power illegally. People are waking up to that at least. When you read about Nazi Germany, this is how it happens, like Hemingway’s description of how you go bankrupt—gradually and then all at once.