IF I WERE to start self-isolating against the spread of Covid-19, as requested by every firetrucking government in the world… How would anyone tell? I’ve been more or less completely self-isolating, without any official prompting, since July, 1988, the last time I actually went to an office every day. (Not counting seven or eight months in 1993 immediately after my father died, when I ran the shop in Guyana, like any good West Indian Potogee, and a few months temping as a typist in London in 1990, to try to make ends meet, though they determinedly remained strangers.)
Media organisations the world over have decided there is no other story than Corona, Corona but it is an interminable news cycle I would spin out of happily. Even admitting that the Corona virus really does seem to have caught on with everybody, everywhere, faster than the Macarena or Gangnam Style, it’s really not my cup of tea or petri dish.
But, still, even Boris Johnson will apparently not know peace unless I demonstrate my distancing. Really, what’s a poor recluse to do? How do the already self-isolated go about trying to self-isolate? Do I get up, look earnestly at the camera, spin on my axis, and sit back down again? There, I’ve done it! I feel like I’ve been pre-approved for a special discount on something I have already.
My lifestyle has been totally unaffected by the terrible new restrictions everyone else is complaining bitterly about; social distancing, my foot; I perfected anti-social distancing 30 years ago, when I got an unlisted telephone number. (When cell phones came along, I had to mutate my self-isolation to accommodate that “improvement” in connectivity, and so stopped answering my phone; even when friends called; indeed, especially when friends called; although, truth be told, I don’t need caller ID to press, “Decline”.)
I was a “social distancer” long before Covid-19, the World Health Organisation and Dr Fauci came along. In 1988, I moved to London to get away from Trinidad friends and, the moment I started making friends in London, I scampered back to Trinidad.
What others are now calling “draconian public limitations”, I call, “standard operating procedure”. Other people find it discomfiting to have to sit two metres away from the next table at a restaurant; I find that close to firetrucking ideal; the only thing better than having the person closest to me being two metres away at Chaud Cafe is having them three metres away; in a perfect world, they would go to KFC.
On those rare occasions when I have money to deposit and have to stand in the line at the bank, I stand sideways, at right angles to the person in front and behind me, legs planted wide apart, like I’m playing that primary school game where kids have to crawl through your legs to rescue you — and still I have someone else’s shoe actually touching mine. On both firetrucking sides! Standing in any Trinidadian line confirms that we carry, in our genetic memory, an Ice Age, where we had to huddle together for warmth.
Over the last 32 years of writing “in the papers” — yes, 32! Christ, I’ve had sex with people that age — I’ve perfected the art of isolating myself from institutions and individuals. When this column began, on Ash Friday, 1988, I started off attacking the governments of the day and the Catholic church but quickly found that didn’t alienate large enough segments of the population, so I spread my own virulent attacks to politicians and religions generally. All my PNM friends swear I am a closet UNC and vice versa; and there isn’t a man of any God who doesn’t wish me eternal damnation (with notable exceptions I can’t name, for fear of further poisoning their promotion chances).
One column, in which I contemplated urinating on praying Muslims at the Oval (not because of any dispute over orthodoxy, but because they were blocking the door to the toilet), sparked two weeks of letters to the editor. I mounted and framed the finding of the Media Complaints Council that another Thank God It’s Friday column had offended Catholics, Muslims and Hindus — the agnostic firetrucking trifecta!
And, of course, the Pentecostal churches almost demand insulting, with their Dark Ages attitude to LGBTQRSTUV people. (See me piss off the gays, en passant, even as I defend them: The Lone Social Distancer Strikes Again!)
That’s how you lose friends and influence people into thinking you’re a dick in Trinidad: mock all they hold sacred; and then remind them they are duty-bound to pray for you — and Jesus knows if they’re sincere.
But the oddest thing is, for the first time in 30 years-plus — perhaps ever, to be honest — this anti-social distancer would happily close the gaps he never minded, indeed, actively created before.
God knows I’d do anything to bring people together over this.
Even get closer to them.
BC Pires is whistling in the dark and coughing into his sleeve