The mute button on the Skype iPhone app does not work the way it should. It’s too sensitive, or not sensitive enough, either way some of my coworkers might have learned some new choice English vocabulary as I try to fend of the crawlers while still participating in all of our crisis meetings. I’ve already written that the coronavirus situation is changing how we work, how it’s nothing like the way we used to work from home when the kids were in school. It would be challenging enough to work at home under normal conditions with kids, but this is no normal era.
I rarely swear at my kids (are you listening social services??) because usually things are much more upbeat. If we’re talking about making plans for a launch or a perfume, I do a pretty good job of keeping the perspective. Why stress about what is clearly the least critical product that anyone can buy?
But work has become extremely stressful. The uncertainty of decision-making causes paralysis. Information streams in from different sources and often contradicts itself. Optimists say one thing, the pessimists have already gone into their bunkers. Do we cut everything for the first semester? Do we boost up digital? I’m making contingency plans for contingency plans. And the speed at which we need to react requires constant attention to emails and slides that must appear seemingly out of thin air.
I’m fortunate enough to work for a major multinational company (that has no relation to anything that I write and I do not speak on their behalf, blah blah blah). While we focus on beauty products, not very necessary for people who are in quarantine, we also have skincare products which should better weather the rough market. It’s not like staying inside makes eczema go away.
Many businesses are suffering and unfortunately there is no way to know which ones will succumb, or if the proposed government bail outs will save them. Gig economy workers are finding themselves cut off, not just from new contracts but payments from work already done. The economy is a giant chain, one that can break at any link. The coronavirus hit so fast on the scale of business time that people couldn’t start to put money away. For the 40% of the American population unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense, today is nothing short of a catastrophe.
I’ve often said it before, after sipping a beautiful Santanay or while strolling along a beach in St. Rafael, but I have never been happier to be living in France than right the fuck now. Strong social safety nets ensure that people can’t lose their jobs without proper compensation. The public healthcare system allows people to get the treatment they need with no financial impact on their lives. The hospitals are great, doctors are very capable, and unemployment is fast and fair.
France also produces a ton of great food, from the obvious things like cheese and wine to meats and seafood. If things get really apocalyptic, France will be better off than a place like Singapore.
Speaking of France, it’s telling that the essential businesses that are allowed to stay open include bakeries. How else would you get your fresh bread? And while that may sound absurd, I think it actually makes sense. A bakery is probably the closest place to each individual in order to get food. If you want to limit social interactions it’s better to disperse throughout small places where people spend very little time than concentrate everyone in the same large supermarkets where they spend more time.
When I stepped into the bakery two days ago the smells wiped away the sense of dread that the mostly empty streets inspired. The baker was rolling baguettes and the girl smiled when I asked for some pain au chocolats. The freshly cooked baguettes were visibly steaming, I asked for one too.
Tomorrow is the weekend, whatever that means. It will be the same rhythm and the same activities but at least the stress of work will be lifted. Maybe I’ll try to play some guitar or get some administrative things done. Maybe we will succeed at getting in a half hour of exercise with my wife. Maybe we will get a coordinated nap where everyone in the apartment sleeps at the same time.
That’s a lot of maybes, but that’s all life is right now.