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John Everett Millais: Ophelia, circa 1851
"What else could any obedient citizen do?"

We're enjoined to avoid all but essential outings, so the term essential takes on surprising ambiguity. I cannot honestly say that maintaining my former consumption levels in any way qualifies as an essential objective. In my young adulthood, I sometimes foraged for my supper. Since, I've grown accustomed to a certain relative opulence, but just how essential could any of that be? I remember the time before there was ever wine with dinner, and those long years during the cholesterol scare of the eighties and nineties when I lived on boneless and skinless chicken breast. I became more omnivorous since, but I can't really claim the resulting variety essential. Does boredom constitute an intolerable condition? Do I really need that bag of potato chips or are they just a nice-to-have?

The Muse and I escaped for a scant two hours yesterday afternoon to restock what passes for our wine cellar.
Down to our last two bottles, ones which we'd been avoiding for months, we declared as essential a trip to the wine shop. The drive down into the city felt like a ride on the freedom train, as neither of us had been out for several days. The prior day's snow still covered the roadside, but the road had already scorched off, traffic was very light, and all seemed right with our world. We both knew that we'd essentially lied about how essential this trip actually was, and that we'd purchased our sense of liberation with a fib. Fiberation seems to have become our great escape hatch. Could we do without? Of course. Did we want to deprive ourselves? Nope. Hence the Villa Fiberation Movement.

We felt free until we arrived at the wine shop, which featured a long line of people wearing face masks and practicing extreme social distancing. The line looked endless, and we first weighed if the two hours The Muse's schedule allowed would prove to be a large enough window to even gain entry, let alone to shop, but I'm learning to snatch opportunity. Navigating to an alternative would probably just yield another long line but with even less time remaining. We tied on our face masks and sauntered over to take the last place in line. The wait did not prove in any way excruciating for us, though the woman directly behind us had sneaked out of work and counted down the minutes, long minutes for her, short ones for us. We had for weeks not found ourselves queued up in bright sunshine, and the wait seemed more renewing respite than punishment.

Reaching the head of the line, what I at first mistook for a bearded lady explained that since we were together, we'd have to wait for two people to exit before entering. (Her beard turned out to be a black face mask!) They only allowed fifteen customers inside at once, though the store seemed enormous. We walked every aisle, stocking up, not knowing when we might find a credible enough fib to allow a subsequent trip. One of these, two of those, our cart quickly filled to near capacity. The Muse hardly ever consents to wine with supper these days, and we might manage to consume two bottle per week. At that rate, we're stocked for a few months now. It seemed clear, once I'd loaded the resulting boxes into the car, that we'd essentially restocked the ketchup supply, or something very like that. The essential nature, the underlying fib, quickly evaporated as I restocked the basement wine rack. It had been a ruse, but an enormously satisfying one; perhaps even essential.

Some days, it seems that I thrive on the little lies I confide to myself. I believe that I might be deceiving myself as my chief coping mechanism for dealing with the sudden changes in my life. I violate the stay-at-home order to just drive around in the early hours some days, just to get out, justifying my action by insisting to myself that the car serves as an extension of my home. This morning, I sneaked out to the supermarket after just driving by the place yesterday afternoon. Yes, we needed a few supplies, none of them that convincingly arguable as essential, but the parking lot was full like it only gets on the day before Christmas, so I turned around and slinked home, where I concocted a pot of Italian Gravy, something I'd completely forgotten about making until essentially cornered out of visiting the supermarket. Duress can spark creativity and memory. This morning, few cars greeted me as I approached the supermarket lot. Inside, I found a decent supply of … paper products. Of all the essentials I so easily justify, toilet paper might be the sole essential product on my list.

Justification seems the essence of life, an essential skill for simply getting by. Almost nothing passes objective scrutiny as essential in my life, except the steading capability of essentially lying to myself to shave the occasional corner and so preserve some sense of self-determination. I remain essentially as free as I'd ever care to be, even under the stay-at-home order. I roam my mind endlessly, unfettered by any physical boundary, and if pressed, I might even admit that this social isolation has proven to be very, very good for me. Still, I occasionally shave a pig and take a little big excursion out then back again. I wear my face mask and practice what seems to satisfy the gist of the order without actually obeying the order. I think of myself as working the system so that the system can work. What else could any obedient citizen do?

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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