“…Man may consciously, purposely, desire what is injurious to himself, what is stupid, very stupid—simply in order to have the right to desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be bound by an obligation to desire only what is sensible. Of course, this very stupid thing, this caprice of ours, may be in reality, gentlemen, more advantageous for us than anything else on earth, especially in certain cases. And in particular it may be more advantageous than any advantage even when it does us obvious harm, and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason concerning our advantage—for in any circumstances it preserves for us what is most precious and most important—that is, our personality, our individuality.”
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground
We have time now to wonder, in our Covid-quarantines, and time leads one to wonder all manner of things. Did anyone ever believe those letters were real, in Penthouse Forum? Do mandrakes really scream when they’re pulled from the ground?
Do lobsters cough?
I’m not really up on my mandrake lore, but some people say lobsters scream. You’d scream too if someone threw you into a pot of boiling, salted water.
There’s time to wonder now, and time to wander; my dad, for instance, went to a department store the other day, not something he typically does. Some monster close-out, “prices will never be this low again” sale.
He bought some shirts, and a few pairs of socks, for himself. He bought a coffee mug, for me; it’s white and it has a drawing of a cat holding barbells over his head.
“You’re so strong” is printed below the cat. A “saw this and thought of you” kind of thing.
Aww, you’re probably thinking. How nice, I bet you’re saying to yourself.
Go blow your nose. Don’t get all teary-eyed just yet. The store is fifty miles away. That’s a hundred miles, round trip. Six months ago, you couldn’t pry him off the sofa.
Now at the height of a pandemic, he drives a hundred miles for a couple of shirts and some socks he doesn’t need. And a coffee mug, when he knows I don’t drink coffee.
We live in Tennessee; as of August 4th, there were 112, 441 cases of Covid-19. There were 1,117 deaths. I know that because my dad sends me links to the Tennessee Department of Health website, as well as stories from The Washington Post with documented, up-to-date information about the spread of the coronavirus.
He’s informed. He knows the situation. He also knows there are twenty-seven pounds of frozen peaches in the freezer in our garage.
No, I’ve said. I’ve stomped my foot. I've forbidden the purchase of peaches for the foreseeable future. Ixnay on the eachespay. I thought I was pretty clear.
So what does he do, Covid-19 raging all around us? He drives fifteen miles to the store, one way, that’s thirty miles round trip and buys—guess what?
He says he wears a mask. He says he practices social distancing. But he’s eighty years old. He’s forgetful. For all I know, he could be standing there maskless and within inches of other shoppers who are all wheezing and coughing like a horde of consumptive lobsters, and who, like him, wouldn’t even be there if they had the sense God gave a goose.
Note to self: google "lobster cough". Sounds like one of those snappy comebacks, doesn’t it:
Say Bob, you going to the game?
Does a lobster cough? 'Course I am.
Does the Pope wear a funny hat.
I imagine it as a wet, hacking sound. I’m not certain, though, that lobsters actually cough.
What I do know is, this is the same man who rages, daily, at the Trump administration’s inept and weak-kneed response to the Covid-19 crisis. Yet here we are, with twenty-seven pounds of peaches in the freezer and my father steady buying more.
In Tennessee, as of today, August 15, 2020, the coronavirus death toll is approaching 1500. There are 130, 458 cases of Covid-19 in The Volunteer State.
In our spare bedroom there’s a dresser drawer that’s crammed full of men’s black socks. There’s a closet full of shirts that are still on the hangers, price tags dangling like fishing lures.
Still my father makes these shopping trips three or four times a week, for coffee mugs I’ll never use and shirts and socks he’ll forget he bought. Six months ago, you couldn’t move him off the couch without a bullhorn and a taser.
“You’re so strong”. Of course I am. Does a lobster cough.
Do I have a choice.
The lobsters don't. Cough, that is. They don’t have vocal cords. Lobsters suffer in silence. They self-quarantine inside their shells until they’re caught up in our nets.
On the frozen peaches front, we now have thirty pounds, sliced and bagged and in the freezer. That’s up from twenty-seven; men want choice, said Dostoevsky. Whatever it may cost, and wherever it may lead.