It is difficult to fathom that we’ve been asked to keep one fathom (1 fathom = 6 feet or 1.8 meters) apart for nearly a year already. It is called ‘social distancing.’ Being one-fathom tall, roughly, I have learned to calculate my distance from someone by imagining laying down. If from where I am standing and where someone else is standing is one body length away, then, we’re told, we are safe to be around one another.
Dots, precisely one fathom apart, or in my case one body length apart, dot everything today. Stores, airports, post offices, bus stops, churches, even public restrooms have been redecorated with colorful dots. I have gotten quite adept at standing on dots. With one large stretch, I can almost make it to another dot in just one step as if I were in a boyish competition (and in fact, I did get into a competition with a young boy at Safeway a couple of months back. With a mighty leap, he could land on another dot better than I).
Bringing mail to the post office allows me to practice my dot hopping technique- or waiting to check out at the grocery store. But the dots are sometimes placed in the path of where others must walk, which presents a distancing conflict. I, unfortunately, have offended some by having to enter their one-fathom personal space temporarily. It is unfathomable how irate some have gotten. Some have fearfully looked at me as if I’m wearing a suicide vest or I’m a walking multi-colored tentacled virus. I must admit that I’ve considered doing one of two things; pretend to reach into my jacket to detonate my vest or pretend to cough. Boom! But that would be spiteful (however, it would likely clear out the checkout line).
The experience leaves me uneasy. I’ve gone from being an anonymous shopper hoping bananas, ice cream sandwiches, and ibuprofen are in the same aisle to being held in great suspicion. “Is he a super spreader?” “Did he just sneeze?” They all look at me coldly with just their eyes showing above their masks. I smile back, but only my mask sees it. Then they step back an additional fathom and turn away as if I smell. What happened to my friendly little town?
I once followed the blue dots into a Costco restroom. Three urinals, each maybe two feet apart, greeted me. Two young guys who hopefully self-identify as males had made themselves comfortable, leaving the center urinal empty. I was full, the bladder more precisely, so I decided to taxi up close, placing me well within the no-fly one-fathom zone. Settled and appropriately posed, I dare a glance at each of my urinal mates. Is it possible one or the other is a carrier? One sniffles not once but twice. Then the other. I decide to hold my breath and close my eyes.
By the time the two gentlemen had pushed back from the urinals and re-stowed their gear, I was turning blue and starting to tip a bit. I tried not to take a big breath of likely virus-laden air, but I couldn’t help taking a big gulp. I opened my eyes, rebalance my self and stumble to the washbasin not remembering to zip up. My two urinal mates are watching me, convinced that I’m about ready to code from COVID. They beat it out of the restroom before drying their hands. Better to flee than be asked to give mouth to mouth to an unzippered boomer.
Back at home, I read that most virus transmissions occur from social events and between family members. I will whisper to gathering with family occasionally and not wearing a mask while outdoors. But with the vaccine nearby, I decide to play it safe. So if going to a store full of angry, suspicious strangers is allowed and not a source of transmission, then the answer is to treat my home like a store. So I order a hundred red dots with sticky back adhesive online and a dozen clear plexiglass panels.
While my wife away shopping, I set about placing red dots everywhere exactly one fathom apart- in front of the sink, the shower, the toilet, the washing machine, the front door, the sidewalk to the front door, and the ladder to the attic. I stuck red dots on all the furniture and if one could not sit one fathom apart, then I found some yellow tape in the garage and X’d out the chair. I placed warning signs on the front door that all who entered must have a mask and social distance… or else. I briefly ponder attempting to find my pellet gun.
My wife and I have shared the same bed for over 40 years. It’s easier that way as there is only one bed to make and one set of sheets to wash (that’s what I told the kids when growing up). So I installed a plexiglass panel down the middle of the bed and placed a red dot on each side, precisely one body length apart. In my exuberance, I also stuck a red dot on the floor one fathom from the bed, not thinking how unlikely it would be that someone would ever be waiting in line to enter the bed. A bit embarrassed, I tried to cover up by telling my wife that I was attempting to anticipate all possibilities. She now tells others her bed is set up like a checkout lane.
So I wrote her a poem.
Dear, this Red Dot is for you Pretend it were a rose I wish you not the flu Even our bed it goes
The plexiglass is clear A barrier to the tentacle It might take another year To reach our epochal
With vaccine at hand But so far away No power to demand It will be as it may
Dear, Sleep well tonight You’re safe from me Tis morning is bright We’ll soon be free