As dimwitted youngsters insist spring break simply must go on, as certain stubborn governors take turns doing their macho impression of the mayor from Jaws, and as other top-ranking officials demand we all agree to hurry up and pretend everything is basically fine ASAP…it’s painfully obvious Americans hate change, hate being told what to do, hate self-control and self-restraint, hate hate hate when someone tells us we have to be patient, and intensely, passionately despise when the solution to a problem is “do what other countries did”. Like an insufferable teen rebel, we think we know best and we want to do things our way because, like, freedom an’ fun an’ whatnot.
Thousands of people are hospitalized. More will need the same as Coronavirus/COVID-19 testing becomes less of a unicorn-level rarity. Sacrifices are being made on innumerable levels. Nevertheless, idiocy continues to run nearly as rampant as the virus itself because the ramifications aren’t being grasped, the horrors are being downplayed, and the fatalities aren’t occurring four inches away from those in denial. That senseless obliviousness can’t last. Sooner or later this catastrophe will get to someone or something they do care about.
It might be major upheaval. And it might be the small stuff.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as the worldwide Coronavirus saga continues and the American healthcare battlefront is the sole domain visible across all our headline news, my wife Anne and I keep adjusting our personal thresholds and boundaries of everyday living, having faith that one day, whether imminent or distant, this saga will end or at least reach a decrescendo, making way for a less dispiriting chapter of human history. Until then, we do what we need to do during what I call “the interim normal“.
As of the night of Wednesday, March 11, 2020, our home state of Indiana had 11 confirmed Coronavirus cases and zero deaths. The Hoosier State ranked 17th overall on the New York Times US Coronavirus chart that also includes U.S. territories as well as Washington, DC. As outbreaks hit more communities at wildfire speeds, especially in the coastal states with their metropolitan concentrations and their super awesome social gatherings that also make phenomenal Petri dishes, Indiana plummeted down the list like a follow-up single by Men Without Hats sliding down Casey Kasem’s Top 40. At one point we were down to 30th place. It wasn’t something to celebrate at the expense of other states’ casualities, but as a stats junkie I keep checking the rankings daily.
As of the evening of March 24th, not even 14 days later, Indiana is up to 366 confirmed cases and 12 deaths. We’re back up to 19th place. That doesn’t necessarily mean the 30-odd other locales are more sanitary or blessed than we are. No one has all the test kits they need. Not everyone with symptoms has been tested. Those numbers and our chart position will keep fluctuating as the scope and availability of tests broadens. No one’s looking forward to the final tallies.
Anne and I are doing better than some families at the moment. All our immediate elderly relatives have checked in and are either being cared for or have retreated into their safety zones. A few relatives are involuntarily off work for at least the next few weeks. My amazing sister-in-law, who’s very much in healthcare, is running herself into the ground with long, selfless shifts, and last night still made time at home to try her hand at crafting her own masks. No relatives or close friends have received a confirmed diagnosis yet, but we harbor no illusions of divine immunity.
As other, more radically infected states have done, on Monday our governor Eric Holcomb announced Indiana will be going on serious lockdown beginning at midnight, shortly after I hit “Publish” on this very entry. For two weeks all our nonessential businesses will be closed and anyone driving around for frivolous reasons will be righteously shamed. Anne has been working from home since last Wednesday on orders from her employers, and will keep doing so until and unless she’s ordered back to home base. We’ve had to redraw some borderlines here and there, but I think we’ve figured it out.
I was likewise ordered to work-from-home starting two days ago, but am tentatively scheduled to return to the office next Monday. My line of work legally qualifies as “essential” under Indiana’s definitions. A lot of clients need us to be there for them right now, and multiple aspects of my responsibilities function much more quickly with hands-on administration. My employers’ actions and reactions thus far to the crisis have been comprehensive, attentive to scientific mandates, aligned with guidelines set forth by our county’s Board of Health, ahead of the curve judging by the reactions we saw early on, and reassuring enough that I’m not panicking about venturing back out there. On a certain level it feels weird to have the word “essential” attached to me at any tangent, but I won’t shrug it off.
My heart goes out to those businesses judged “nonessential” under our state lockdown. Nearest and dearest to my own selfish interests: comic book shops.
Longtime MCC readers know comics are my thing. I’ve been collecting since 1978, when an issue of Marvel’s old Scooby-Doo comic irrevocably altered my reading habits and my life. It commenced with my mom letting me add a few comics to each and every grocery run. She kept on providing for years until I got old enough to pay for them myself. It’s been a weekly habit ever since. I’ve only broken it once before, during the least best point in my life in October/November 1993. After a few hard weeks of hobby deprivation, eventually I got back on the wagon, but it took time and changes.
That temporary collection stoppage was my own fault. What’s coming next isn’t.
As a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic, as of last Sunday roughly one-third of America’s 2200 remaining comic shops were shut down in multiple states under lockdowns. Most hoped to be temporary closures; in a few extreme cases, shops that were already on the brink are treating it as permanent. Purveyors of monthly comics weren’t among the healthiest industries before 2020. Many have survived some of the leanest times through a combination of determination, creativity, loyal customers, and probably learning how to make the most of razor-thin profit margins. (Suffice it to say America used to have far, far more than 2200 comic shops in the early ’90s.) Many shop owners hoped that even with the doors locked, they could continue offering new comics each week either by mail-order or via quick curbside pickups.
Then came Monday the 23rd. Diamond Comic Distributors, the primary supplier for all the major publishers servicing those 2200 shops, announced that with one-third of their accounts presently discontinued, and given the crisis at hand, they believe there’s no point in continuing to offer weekly comics right now. This week’s new releases will therefore be the last printed monthly comics for sale until and unless the Coronavirus saga reaches a denouement manageable enough for shops to reopen.
That’s assuming enough shops can reopen weels or months from now. That’s assuming they can subsist without new products until then. That’s assuming they find ways to retain ownership of their storefronts with little or no income to cover their leases or rents. That’s assuming America can support 2200 comic shops all suddenly forced to become mail-order businesses with only their existing back issues and overstocked trades to sell, all in direct competition with existing internet mail-order companies and eBay sellers. That’s assuming Amazon doesn’t turn its monolithic attention span in their direction and consume their small businesses whole as it has others.
If the needs for social distancing and minimal human contact continue for as many months as scientific authorities promise it truly needs to, and if Diamond continues its monopolistic hiatus, then…well, unless all the comics collectors out there suddenly develop insatiable cravings for old Marvel Ultimate collections and DC New 52 leftovers, we’re looking at 2200 comic shops experiencing the same bleak fate as all those independent bookshops that shuffled off this mortal coil courtesy of Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon…who then turned around and shoved Borders into the same pit.
Some shops could try obtaining material from elsewhere besides Diamond. Book publishers who deal only in original graphic novels and nothing pamphlet-sized should be fine, I’m sure. I expect Raina Telgemeier to continue ruling, and deservedly so. But some of us old-fashioned readers prefer singles to trades. And those distinctions won’t matter if all those shops aren’t able or permitted to reopen in the first place.
It’s possible the publishers may continue releasing their wares digitally. I don’t care. I don’t read digital comics. At all. I compartmentalize my hobbies so that print-reading (i.e., comics and books) is among my favorite respites from screen addiction. I don’t want every single thing I do in life to take place exclusively through screens. Comics were there for me before the invention of computers, smartphones, and all the other glowing informatical devices in between. I was hoping comics and their dedicated shops would outlast me.
As a kindly concession to all the customers they’re about to cut off, Diamond allowed shops to sell this week’s new comics on Tuesday instead of making them wait till the traditional, contractually mandated Wednesday. My weekly shop is near my workplace, not by our house. After I clocked out at the kitchen table at 4 p.m., I got in the car and made a special trip out just for the sake of the shop. While other Hoosiers stocked up on still more toilet paper for the two-week ordeal ahead, I picked up my last stack of new floppies as pictured above — in my mind a far more precious form of paper product — then grabbed a few more items to add to my purchase on this, my last visit through their doors for a while. Hopefully only for a while.
I mean…my backlog of unread books is as huge as many other readers’. I’m in no danger of running out of reading matter within the next several years. But since childhood that weekly shop trip has been a doorway to new adventures and new escapes, a steady connection point for longtime favorite characters and promising new ones, a hobby, a habit, an outlet for art appreciation, and one of the few places in my life beyond these four walls where I can feel anything remotely resembling a sense of belonging to a community.
For America to survive the virus and for human lives to be saved, our comic shops will have to go on time-out. Many of them may not survive…to say nothing of the writers, artists, and other contributors whose grand plans, visions in progress, and paychecks and livelihoods are also hanging precariously in the balance.
I understand and accept the higher purpose of the drastic steps and moral and spiritual obligations to the needs of the many. Nevertheless, this part of the interim normal sucks.