It is the first week of social distancing. Josefina has thrown her lot in with me. Neither of us have much hope our favorite restaurants will be open for long. She’s borderline distraught; pre-nostalgia plagues her with visions of the squash-blossom tacos and pork-belly ramen soup she will have to forgo, subsisting, instead, entirely on my chili. It’s harrowing.
It is the first Monday of the end of the world as we knew it and I decide to treat Josefina to Starbucks while it is still serving its trademark burnt jitter-juice. From here on out, I tell Jo, we’re making our own cuppa joe. I pull my Toyota into the queue; we’re not stepping inside the Starbucks, of course. We’re keeping our distance. I grip the wheel with sanitized hands, listening to incoherent sports yak. Josefina Jesus-Maria is in the passenger seat arguing with idiots on the internet as she clutches what may be the last 4-pack of toilet paper in the greater Metro Orlando area. She’s focused on bigotry, but I am distracted with a fat man in green stripes and a top-hat adorned with a 4-leaf clover. He’s taking premature selfies in front of Starbucks and his behavior has me nostalgic for St. Patrick’s Days of bygone years uninterrupted by contagion. Welcome to Starbucks! What may I help you with today?
I turn down the radio and place the order. I turn the radio volume back up in time to hear the sports yak guys, Unnecessary Jeffness and Timmy Triple-Bogey, as they bemoan the cancelling of all of 2020, starting with basketball, continuing with the Olympics and possibly trespassing in the holy territory of football. Jeff wonders if this “whole cruise-ship fever thing” was a deliberate attack on America by China, “slapping the apple pie out of the hand of Lady Liberty”. Timmy tells Jeff the Statue of Liberty isn’t holding an apple pie. “Nah, brah, she’s holding a clipboard to keep track of the immigrants.”
I turn off the radio.
Josefina lifts her attention away from whichever cross she is bearing within her online forum and delves, “They say there was a disease research center near Wuhan. Couldn’t they have developed some sort of weapon?” She winces, tightening her grip on the toilet-paper, bracing for impact as she watches me fill my lungs…
Here’s the thing about weapons: there has to be some amount of control. Grenades come with a pin for a reason. If someone were to develop a biological or chemical warfare device, it would be with the intent of controlling the weapon. This Coronavirus is dangerous for one particular reason: it is out of control contagious. If a lab had the ability to weaponized Covid-19, only a madman bent on culling humanity would intentionally release this anywhere – let alone his own backyard.
“A madman or a very sane woman.” Josefina checks me. At this point, she’s fed up with humans. And Instagram.
And, I continue, while it is possible the Wuhan virus lab might mistake one of their viral cocktails for an eggroll dipping sauce and accidentally loose it upon the world courtesy of Panda Express, I have my reservations they – or any virus lab in the United States, Russia, or North Korea – are sophisticated enough to develop a menacing pathogen like this novel Coronavirus. Covid-19 is of a level of complexity beyond anything cooked up in a lab. Covid-19 has all the makings of something much less manmade and much more Old Testament.
“So you are saying ‘no, the virus is not weaponized’?” Josefina asks. “I wish I could pull your right earlobe to get the straightforward answer and the left earlobe to get your unneeded fifteen minute elaboration.”
“But then my right earlobe would be stretched so much lower than the left. And I would never have a chance to elaborate.”
“And we’d still be third in line for coffee.”