Love in the Time of Corona, Part 17 “The Killer in Me”


When people call up and ask, “So how you doing with this whole quarantine thing?” I know that what they really mean is how am I holding up mentally and emotionally which is sweet and I answer truthfully and ask them to tell me about them. But what really goes through my head when they ask this question is what I mean when I ask myself that same question which I do several times a day everyday.
“So, how you think you’re doing so far with this whole quarantine thing?” I ask myself in a tone dripping wet with sarcasm and I hang my head low because I know I’m just asking me this as a rhetorical question to be cruel. We both know I’m failing miserably. All the things that I could be doing with my time! I could be learning Spanish or French, surely some of one of those languages still lurks in my college brain. I bet Duolingo could help me! I took my trumpet down from on top the chest-on-chest the other day just to play a note to get me started on the right key when I was singing SATB gospel harmonies with myself. I’d record a pass on my phone and then play it and sing along with the computer. (Dang there sure are a lot of me’s around here.) But the sound quality wasn’t great and even though it wasn’t my intention to do it for any other reason than my own entertainment (and possibly worship), I thought of the videos I’ve seen on social media where people sing in tight harmony with 11 other versions of themselves. Self-pity. While thousands are dying by drowning in their own lung snot, I’m here whining because I don’t have what it takes to do a video like that which meets my standards. And since I had my trumpet out, I thought wouldn’t this be a great time to get my lip back? But heck, I don’t have time to be doing that anyway. What was all that stuff I was going to get done now that I have the time to do the things I said I didn’t have time to do? I was going to clean out from underneath the bathroom sink and give the bathroom a top-to-bottom scalding. I was going to finally reorganize the laundry room, replace the broken caster on the roll-away cart in the kitchen, repair and refinish the 150 year-old rockers, get caught up with the IRS paperwork, register a business, write some grants, blog daily, get in really great shape, go back through the Ram Daas meditation series that I failed so miserably on during Mardis Gras. I was going to negotiate a better rate on my credit card and research forgiveness programs for my student loans. Of course wouldn’t it be great if I actually started work on a new script? Or book? Or crap, at this point I’d settle for a poem, a haiku even.
Ugh. This is pointless, berating myself for being a bad sequesterer. That’s taking me nowhere positive. Perhaps tomorrow morning I’ll start with the bathroom.

(next day)

I did not start with the bathroom. Shortly after I woke this morning my phone rang—or I should say my phone vibrated; it hasn’t rung in years— I go see too much live theatre. Or at least I did back in the pre-Corona days. And by saying that I see too much live theatre I don’t mean to insinuate that I see too much live theatre but that I see too much live theatre to have a phone that rings. I have been in at least three Broadway shows during the cell phone era where someone’s phone rang. It moves me to wrath. My phone vibrates. Because I see theatre, my phone only vibrates. Ever. Unless it’s my alarm clock which I never set to go off when I’m scheduled to be at the theatre, only when I’m scheduled to be sleeping and that sleep is scheduled to end. But I don’t set an alarm much these days. Not sure of the point. I rise and roll around a bit until I crawl to the coffee pot and try to talk myself into being a writer for one more day. So this morning after my alarm had not rung and I was creaking into the day (I have a lot of back pain in the morning), my phone vibrated and I saw that it was from an unfamiliar number. Usually, if you’re not already in my phone book, you get to leave a message or send a text and I decide if it’s something I really need to interact with someone about or if it’s Marriott calling to tell me I’ve won the sweepstakes for the thousandth time. But a couple months back I had a heart procedure and went under anesthesia three times in two days. I had a pinched nerve in my back a month ago and underwent a lot of tests for this, that, and the other. I’ve cancelled most appointments and set up others via Tele-health. I missed one call from the VA the other day and I’m still not sure what they were trying to reach me about. So this morning, when the phone buzzed, I answered.
They’ve figured out that they should drop the whole “Mr. or Ms.” thing when calling from a collection agency. I’m sure the caller doesn’t get much past that period these days before they hear that click and that’s if the person answers at all, like if that person might be expecting calls from a doctor. And even though I’m sure the screen in front of her said “JEFFREY Key,” when I said hello, she said, “Jeff?” like we was old homies from the block or some shit. 
“This is he.” I say, reminded of my mother’s constant grammar admonitions. 
The woman on the other end of the line launches into the whole “this call is an attempt to collect a debt and is being recorded to entrap you and any information obtained may be used for that purpose please place your hands on the vehicle and spread your legs you have the right to remain silent and anything you say or think will most definitely be held against you” bit and I was like, “Woah woah woah woah woah woah woah! Can you hold on just a second?” And she said, “Sure.” I stumbled into the living room to the table where I work everyday. I opened my computer and turned on the video journal and begin to ruin her day. I said something like:

I need for you to tell me that I did not wake up a few minutes ago like I thought that I had and that this is some kind of horrible nightmare where I’d awaken in some universe infinitely more unkind than this one, a universe where, conceivably, someone would call someone like myself, someone who works so very hard for a living, a war vet in fact, a service-connected disabled veteran who makes his rent and grocery money doing side-hustles in the way of set construction and hanging lights for everything from TV to conventions and guess, lady, what we’ve been told to do? To go home. Not work. Not go anywhere. Just to save our very lives. So I need you to tell me who in the possible fuck could need their money so fucking bad that you would even consider doing such a merciless act as you have committed.

Our client is Amazon and Synchrony Bank.

(I choke for a moment.)

What is your name and spell it.

Susan, S-u-s-a-n Lyndsay, L-y-n-d-s-a-y

And who are you with Susan Lyndsay?

(She mumbles some name and launches back into her spiel.)

Spell it!

Dynamic, D-y-n-a-m-i-c Recovery, R-e-c-o-v-e-r-y


(And she gives it. Phone number too. All slow enough so I can write it down.)

And then I proceed to lay into her in a way that only a few can. I gave her a speech worthy of Dixie Carter and I didn’t slow down. I reached through that phone and used all my powers of empathy to see exactly who I was talking to and I dress her down from the floor up. By the time I was done laying out for her the entire plot from evil Lord Shitbag throwing autofellatio parties for himself in the James S. Brady Briefing Room in the West Wing of the White House during a global pandemic to creating a vivid picture in her mind of the people on the other end of the line who she’d call today, she was in tears.

“Bu-bu-but I’m a single mom.” Her tune had turned from predator to pitiful.

So are a lot of people, Sugar! My guess is you’ll be calling a few of them today. You are abusing people who are already down! That’s what meth dealers do, Lindsay. If a meth dealer said, (in whiney tone) ‘But I’m a single mom!” would you give her a pass? Fuck no. Sooner or later it becomes about what kind of world you want to leave for your child. Walk away from this evilness, Lindsay. We’ve all been told to stop working. You stop working too. The only people who should be working right now are those fighting this bullshit on the frontlines and those supporting them. Calling people on the phone from a collections agency isn’t only non-essential it is insanely vicious and in case there is any ambiguity around the morality of your choice to dial my number now that I have so eloquently and patiently explained to you, you should know that tonight when you crawl in bed you are going to be thinking of—

(sniffling) Hold please.

Hello Mr. Key this is the Supervisor. My name is Rmnmrl Mnmnn and—

I didn’t understand that. Your name is what?


Uh-uh. Spell it!

R-e-b-e-c-c-a Rebecca. Rosado R-o-s-a-d-o. Now Mr. Key I can help you—

No, no, Rebecca I’m about to help you. I’m about to help you make a better decision with your life. This is not about saving my credit report, that’s pretty much beyond redemption at this point. This about your saving your own soul. That is the position you chose to put yourself in and you are going to listen to me young lady. I’ve seen a lot of this old world and I’m about to let you benefit from some of my experience. Somewhere, sometime in your distant past you—

Mr. Key—

Nope! Y’all called me. You made that decision. Now you get to listen. The very presumption that it would in anywise be remotely okay for you to be calling people who are huddled in their homes, afraid for their lives, afraid for the lives of the people they love, afraid for the state of their future and their family’s future, hell, afraid they won’t be able to put food in their fridge this week, is absolutely ludicrous! It is unconscionable for you to be trying to exact this last pound of flesh from someone who wore the uniform of the United States Marine THINKING I was doing it for you, Rebecca, but it appears that what I really risked my life for was so that you could call me today, a man who doesn’t know how I’m going to make a living now that my entire industry has shut down but yet you want to call and harass me on behalf of a multinational company worth over $200 BILLION dollars?! How do you LIVE with yourself Rebecca? Incidentally, there is absolute zero chance I owe Amazon any money. I had Amazon Prime until I discontinued it one month after it had renewed and I have never had any sort of credit account with them. So you see you shit all over my day for nothing. 
I’m going to tell you one more little story, Rebecca, and you can pass it to Lyndsay and anyone else who you think is not completely beyond redemption in your clan of conniving vultures. I’m going to tell you this story and then I’m going to hang up and spend the rest of today trying to navigate myself out of this PTSD nightmare into which you have plunged me. One day, in the not-too-distant future, Rebecca, if the species is to survive this pandemic, people will look back and reminisce about these dark times. People did it after Katrina here, still do; they talk about what life was like for them in New Orleans during that perilous storm and the floods that followed. People who’ve gone to war together do it too, people who have so far outlived AIDS. Someday, in the future you will be standing in a group of people who will be discussing what they did to help during the plague. This, Rebecca. This is what you did. You called people who were suffering, people who were already down, perhaps as down as they’d been in their life and you
just. kept. kicking.
Congratulations. Your parents must be so proud.

Then I hung up the phone and spent the rest of the day, yesterday, doing exactly what I’d told my Little Miss Shylock I would be doing, trying to sort out my reeling mind, feeling of course immeasurably awful about the way I had eviscerated those two young women who are just trying to make a living. And fuck Amazon. I breathed through inordinate amounts of anxiety, walked from room to room and back again trying to escape the murderous fantasies of my brain. The Marine Corps installs that chip, “death is the solution, if something scares or confuses you, kill it!” but no one ever uninstalls it. I just tried to busy myself with other things, all the while holding my mouth open wide so I wouldn’t do that thing where I bite the inside of my mouth until it bleeds. Fuck you Amazon.

This blog, the part before the phone call, was begun the night before. It looks like I rocked myself to sleep with some good old self-recrimination and shame. I need to get outside more. There was some mention of a to-do list I’ve been avoiding and perhaps a promise to scour the bathroom. Maybe I’ll (finally) post this blog and do that next. Cleaning usually helps calm my mind. 

I won’t be answering unknown numbers anymore. If my doctors need to tell me something they can email me.

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