The Middle

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

My next door neighbor is a medical assistant, a health care professional, a front-line warrior and a modern day hero.

She is an essential worker. Most of us are not.

Once we go beyond the realm of health care, however, I am increasingly discovering that what constitutes “essential” is largely a matter of opinion.

Retail employees? If you stock shelves or work the register or mop the floors in a store that sells food or medicine, you’re essential. Otherwise, probably not.

If you deliver goods or the mail to homes, are a repair person, haul away the trash, fight fires, keep the peace or keep electricity running through our outlets and water running through our pipes, you are essential. Otherwise, probably not.

Here in California, if you work at a marijuana dispensary, you are an essential worker. After all, folks are relying on you to alleviate some of the severest types of pain (even if it’s just the pain of lockdown loneliness and boredom).

So what’s with all this labeling? Who cares whether our labors are deemed “essential” or not? Well, for one thing, it determines whether your employers can legally keep their businesses open or not. In other words, it determines whether you’ve been laid off, and maybe whether you can pay your bills. It also determines whether you’re exempt from the lockdown so that you can go to work and potentially expose yourself to illness and death.

And then there’s the non-health care professionals, the accountants, teachers, attorneys and state and federal staff workers. Most of us can work from home, thanks to computers and the internet. In many states, we are lumped into the “essential” category, too, even though many of us can hide from the coronavirus on our living room couches, dining room tables, or, in my case, in a chair in my bedroom. Some say we have the best of both worlds: All of the income, none of the risk. We are neither laid off nor on the front lines. We are the people in the middle.

While we admire (from six feet away, of course) those risking life and limb on a daily basis, many of us middle people are finding it difficult to relate to the Netflix and chill set. While we don’t envy being on unemployment benefits (or worse), we’re tired of hearing how bored everyone is. Some of us hiding at home are working our butts off.

I found the whininess of a recent Washington Post article about lockdown to be particular annoying. I guess I should register for that class in empathy skills.

The article recommended that we keep a lockdown journal so we can remember what it was like. Because we want to forget how it was, and soon will.

The author encourages us to remember when:

It was strange that we wore sweatpants every day (and every night). Or worse, I suppose, considering that guy who did a talk on TV with no pants on, not realizing that the camera ratted him out by showing the tops of his bare-skinned legs. I have a hard time relating. I get fully dressed before starting work at my laptop each morning. I don’t wear a tie as I do when I go to the office, but I do wear pants. Not sweatpants.

We never took a shower. Umm, that’s disgusting. I shower daily, lockdown or no.

We stared over and over at the same 12 things in the refrigerator. That’s just sad. Between grocery delivery and periodic face-masked trips to the supermarket, our two refrigerators and our freezers are all alarmingly full.

Zoom was a novelty. Nope. Probably because I’ve never used Zoom. Which may have something to do with my employer’s warning that it’s been hacked and that we’d better stay away from it lest we fall victim to its security breaches. Skype has always worked just fine for us, so I see no reason to jump on the latest faddish bandwagon.

Sleeping until 11 seemed like a luxury. I can’t relate. I get up at 6:45 so I can be working at my laptop at my regular 8:00 start time.

You first couldn’t remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday. Unless I want to miss an important conference call, I don’t have that luxury. There’s this little thing called a calendar, you know. I don’t even have to don a face mask and go out to a store to buy one from an essential worker. It’s right there on Outlook and on our phones and on our watches.

So I’m sorry you’re all bored and everything, but I just can’t relate. And I really don’t want to hear about your Netflix binges and your Candy Crush addiction and your Zoom games.

I’m too busy working to care.

I’ll sign up for that empathy class now.

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