Height of the Pandemic: moving under duress

            When we moved into this house, it was the height of the pandemic’s summer surge of 2021. A flotilla of variants kept sailing into port. Covid vaccinations had been available for a few short months. In major urban centers, vaccinations by appointment only were being administered at huge sports arenas, parking lots of thousands of people creeping forward in bumper to bumper traffic jams snaking their way to the nurses’ stations. By the time it was your turn, you’d been sitting in your car breathing car exhaust for an hour and a half (Please arrive fifteen minutes early for your appointment). The nurse with the magic needles aimed the temperature gun at you, then read you the pandemic precaution protocol password questionnaire.


            “In the past twenty four hours have you had a fever of over 101º, had a cough, been exposed to a Trump supporter, been to a red state or voted for Marjorie Taylor Greene?”


            If you answered yes to any of those questions you were directed to the fourteen day quarantine and deprogramming tent where a team of professionals kept everyone else safe from you in one way or another.


            That sounds sufficiently funny, maybe funny enough to make light of plague, life and death, political manipulation and the demise of civilization. Maybe not.


            Since I’d had anaphylactic reactions to pharmaceuticals in the past, I couldn’t get my vaccinations in one of the mass mob scene venues. I was required to get shot in a small setting where I would be monitored for up to an hour after vaccination, and if anything went wrong—in other words, if I went wrong—emergency medical intervention could be administered immediately. This made my son Meyshe very nervous. He thinks I am a lot older than I am whereas I think I’m a lot younger than I am, even though I am reminded with increasing frequency that I’ve earned my wisdom by paying in decades.


            As soon as the two week mark since the second vaccination had passed, Meyshe and I scrambled to find a place to live FAST. In the past I’ve been very picky about finding a place to live. I’d pass up a lot of places that weren’t right—I mean that weren’t spectacular. Character was all important. I’m one of those sensitive artist types, but I’m worse than a sensitive artist type. I’m a whole stew of the fine arts. I am the farthest anyone can get into the artistic spectrum (actually, though the play on words is obvious, I can’t think of a better way to say it). The particularity has served me well. I’ve always found wonderful places to live, not fancy, but full of soul, warmth, personality. I indulged my eccentric tastes. I took the time that was needed. This time, however, I couldn’t indulge anything. We didn’t have the time—not just in the time it would take to find, inspect, compare and decide, but in the time it would take visiting each possible rental, because every minute we would be spending roaming, inspecting, comparing would all be minutes we were at risk of being exposed to Covid. To make matters worse, landlords were taking advantage of the desperation of house hunters. All the prices on rentals had shot up outrageously. It reminded me of what it was like after the 1991 fire in the Berkeley/Oakland hills when the decimal point moved and relocated to the right a notch on rental prices. Suddenly there were 5,000 freshly homeless and traumatized people franticly searching for housing. We were six of those 5,000: my husband (who has since been eXed), my twins who were four and a half years old, my two teenage stepsons and I.


            “What the market will bear” was unbearable then, and that’s what we were facing again in the Spring unto Summer of 2021. I needed to find a place large enough to house all the things that I’d had to put in storage fifteen years before. I’m sure a lot more was stolen from the storage unit than I noticed because I’d forgotten so much of what I had. Fifteen years is a long time to remember material objects you haven’t seen in all that time. It was hard enough making a complete inventory list of a whole house full of objects when the house had burned to the ground days ago.  We were frantically looking for housing when I didn’t even know how much room we’d need.


            We saw first a dingy and depressing house in Richmond Annex, north of Berkeley—dark, remodeled hilariously countless times, peeling exterior paint, damp interior walls, a long living room as narrow as a hallway, bedrooms positioned in the far corners as if someone had spun the house violently throwing all the bedrooms to the periphery with centrifugal force. There was a tiny kitchen shaped like a lopsided bow tie with a three burner stove, something I’d never seen in my life, crammed up against a corner—no counter space, storage cabinets in another room. We bowed out. It was way upwards of four thousand a month. That put a scare in me.


            Then there was a house in Alameda. Alameda had always been an exotic throw back to the 19th century.  You could only get there by tunnel or bridge. It’s an island in the bay thrown down at an odd angle so it’s hard to fix where North, East, South and West are. I’d written emails back and forth with the landlady. I described us as cultured, literate, well behaved and solvent. We rushed out to Alameda and followed the directions I’d printed out from MapQuest. (Nope. Don’t have a “smart” phone. There are reason, terribly philosophical and probably worthy of your derision, but derision is in the mind of the person without a sense of humor).


            I honestly didn’t notice that this was a tract, even though it screamed of one—the wall around the perimeter, the entrance with the logo mounted into pillars on either side of it, identical trees planted along the roads at precise regular intervals, and the facades of the houses where you keep passing the same house, regulated identical lot sizes, each house the same distance from the sidewalk, artificial street names. How I missed it is understandable, but would it have made a difference? It was big, enough room for all the furniture, a garage I could fill up with whatever I wasn’t going to unpack before we moved on. We walked in. I cringed invisibly at the white wall to wall carpets. The stove was gas. We took it.


            I didn’t notice there was no one on the street. After we moved in, I felt the isolation. Or was it the pandemic?

My Welcoming Message

This is my chance to speak about myself in the third person—an uncomfortable task since I will know I’m bragging; you will know it’s me bragging and I will know you know that I know I’m bragging. For this to work I have to find that perfect balance somewhere between megalomania and self-loathing. One or the other alone won’t do. Tobie Shapiro has indeed been writing all her life, so why now for a blog? She’ll give you one good reason:

1) All the people who would sue her have finally died.

Ah, but not to worry. This is not going to be a tell-all of self pity and self-righteousness combined. She has already written that never-to-be-published debut novel, They Were All Mean to Me, and believes she is done with that.

There will be no megalomania or self-loathing until you know her better.

About this third person singular:

Tobie Shapiro has been impractical, unable to tolerate a nine-to-five job, so she devoted herself instead to her creative callings—all-consuming passions that earn, on average, bupkes.

Tobie Shapiro has been married and divorced three times. Sounds terrible—all that failure. But this also means that three men fell in love with her so deeply and wildly that they proposed marriage—actually more than three, but three were accepted, and she wore the same dress to two of the weddings.

She wrote a song and a short story instead of mopping the floor. She cannot sew. If it were possible, she would staple that button back onto the shirt, but the safety pin was closer. (Divorce #1.)

Since Tobie Shapiro was raised with a lunatic at the helm, it takes her a bit longer to figure out that someone is crazy. (Divorce #2.)

She is the mother of twins: a girl and boy. Both of them are what her daughter prefers to call, “neurologically unusual.” Her son is autistic. Her daughter has a combo special of diagnosed “unusualities” that can best be called, “Acronym’s Syndrome.” Say hello to the special education department of the school district. Take a number, hire a lawyer and wait in line. This may have caused the applause to die down in other venues. (Divorce #3.)

Tobie (if we are on a first name basis) usually wins the “most alarming life story” competition of anyone in the support group, which does not endear her to the others. Highlights of that alarming story will be revealed in digestible morsels at well-spaced intervals. Those who feel entertained by catastrophes, melodrama, travesties of justice, and struggles of the underdog to emerge triumphant will not be disappointed—nor if you showed up for the yucks.