Pandemic Journal, Entry 8: A New Me

My life coach was reminding me of the importance of self care. “This is your chance to curate a new you,” she said, though her optimism was tempered by the edge in her voice that had grown more insistent over the last two weeks. I nodded into my laptop camera and smiled at the pixelated image of my coach, sitting in pajamas in a dimly lit room, smiling back at me. I could see her teeth.

The old me was missing my exercise routine, and that longing paired with my new habit of watching YouTube videos at three in the morning led to my purchase of an Exercist. The pre-roll video showed a sleek cube, which could have been black or blue or even slightly orange, rotating in a way that made it seem sharp-edged and formless all at the same time. The models who followed its direction moved happily from sit-ups to crunches to squats. They breathed easily; they didn’t sweat. Their smiles glowed. I envied them. I whipped out my credit card and selected express shipping. 

Two days later it arrived. I planned to make an unboxing video for my six YouTube subscribers but impatience got the better of me and I ripped open the package and lifted the gleaming cube and placed it on my kitchen table. The energy in the room shifted ever so slightly. 

I looked for a manual, a power cord, something that would signal I wasn’t at a dead end. I looked online. Nothing.

I called Heidi. “Hey, have you ever used an Exercist?”

Silence. Then, “Uh…no, I’ve never needed an exorcist.”

“Not ex-OR-cist. Ex-ER-cist. It’s an exercise machine. I can’t figure out how it works.”

“Did you read the manual?”

“There isn’t one.”


“There isn’t one.”

“Have you considered taking up knitting?”

She had a point, and this is how most of our conversations ended and yes I did consider taking up knitting but not until this mystery was solved.

I hung up and stared at the cube.

It spoke to me.

“What’s your name?” The voice sounded like Oprah Winfrey’s, and seemed to be coming from inside my head.


“C’mon Ian, let’s exercise!” the cube/Oprah said cheerfully. 

My annoyance with the device quickly changed to delight. In fifteen minutes Oprah’s calm, confident voice led me through a workout that was thorough and refreshing. If this was what curating a new me was all about, I was all in.

For the next week I would rise from a sound sleep to be greeted with, “C’mon Ian, let’s exercise!” The workouts gradually grew in duration, though I never felt the least bit tired. I felt energized and healthy. I was ecstatic.

Time passed and my relationship with the Exercist grew. I was working out an average of six hours a day and was getting really fit. Maybe even a little swole.

I ordered groceries online so I could minimize exposure to others and be available to exercise. One Exercist feature was the randomization of exercise timing. For example, I might be watching television, on a conference call or taking a shower, and I would hear Oprah sing, “C’mon Ian, let’s exercise!”

There was that day my grocery order was missing kale, which now comprised 75% of my diet. I decided to run to the store and grabbed my car keys. I’ll only be gone for 20 minutes, I thought.

Nineteen minutes, it turned out. I unlocked my door, entered my home and was greeted in a way I could have never expected. 

The Exercist, which I could have sworn was sitting on my bedroom dresser, was now squarely in the middle of a living room end table. It spoke.

And it wasn’t Oprah speaking. It was Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket, speaking from the grave, hopped up on amphetamines and rage. 

He mentioned that I had missed an exercise session. He was disappointed and expressed this in many words, most of which had four letters. He questioned my commitment, my masculinity, and my parentage. He was very upset. 

He commanded that I “drop and give him a thousand.” I complied. 

If there was a time that I wished for an app that would allow me to fine tune the exercise randomization, this was it! At some point during each of the next three nights I was awakened by an almost physical presence in the bedroom and a split second later this ghostly drill sergeant screamed at me to leave my bed and engage in hours of push-ups, with an occasional break to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush.

The fourth night, spent in sleepless anticipation, was broken by a sing-song voice that emanated from the kitchen. I slipped out of bed and quickly padded downstairs. The demon box sat on the kitchen counter, having displaced my espresso maker, which was now in pieces on the floor. Is…that…? I thought. Yes, the Exercist was quietly chanting “Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker. Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker. Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker. Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.” 

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. 

I was beginning to question my purchase and would have scheduled a session with my life coach to talk it over but she had blocked my number after I accused her of trying to come between me and my workout buddy. I didn’t think I would miss her, particularly since she had begun wearing a T-Rex costume to all our Zoom calls and would only answer my questions with questions.

I considered returning the Exercist then remembered Dyson has a strict no-refunds policy.

I collapsed on my couch and listened to the Exercist’s chant grow louder and it suddenly made sense. I now understood why everyone who bought exercise equipment eventually sold it on Craigslist. 

“Time to get your workout on, babe,” said the cube. “We’re gonna crush this like Napoleon annihilated the Ruskies at the Battle of Friedland.” I tried to place the voice then realized I had reached the edge of the abyss. I had one toehold, albeit a really pumped toe, on reality. The voice was Dennis Miller’s.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 7: America Has No More F***s to Give

It’s safe to say that everyone in America was watching television that day. The date: Sunday February 7, 2021. The time: Roughly 7:09 am GMT. We all were waiting for a milestone to pass. But this was no celebration – you’ll understand why in a moment. It was a countdown and a tacit admission that the “new normal” wasn’t working out so well. We were waiting for the last bit of empathy, concern, or sense of care to take wings and depart this once-great nation. We were waiting for the moment when there were no – zero, nada – f***s to give.

During the early days we were well stocked on f***s. You could say there was a f***ing surplus. Neighbors were reaching out to neighbors to offer help in all forms. We ordered take out from restaurants we loved in the hope that they would make it through to the other side. Kids and dogs were part of every Zoom meeting, and we chatted about life under lockdown and watched one another closely for signs of distress. We shrugged off bad haircuts and videos of grandparents on TikTok. Even at a distance from one another, many could feel a warm embrace.

Early signs of a weakening f***s index were subtle. An eye roll when none was warranted; deliberately forgetting to add a spouse’s favorite condiment to an Instacart order; insisting that a child’s cry hadn’t been heard. We ignored these signs and chose to believe that everything was okay.

The first visible crack in the facade reverberated across the public consciousness like a sonic boom. Alex Trebek was listening to a Jeopardy contestant describe her passion for nerd-core rap. He raised a finger to quiet her, placed his microphone on the ground, turned and left the studio never to be seen again. The seriousness of this episode became even more evident when a Gallup poll found that 83% of Americans couldn’t care less where he went, and 96% were completely indifferent to the idea of him returning to the show.

Alarmed, the few Americans who still gave a f***k tried to mobilize, but disinterest and a lack of leadership prevented immediate, effective action. Federal and state governments argued over who gave less of a f***k, while apathy quickly spread across urban and rural communities. Congress proposed legislation to make Ben Folds’ “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” the new national anthem, but none of its members could be troubled to show up to vote.

The president, still flailing after asymptomatic apathy had delivered him a second unwanted term, proposed a National F***s Reserve. The one reporter still attending daily press conferences, an intern with OANN, stuck out her tongue, quipped, “As if,” and chucked a shoe at him.

The Secret Service, slowly drained of f***s for more than four years, was nowhere to be seen.

So, there we sat, watching the National F***s Index rapidly move toward zero. At least, that’s what we thought was happening since the artist who was hired to design the NFI graphic really didn’t give a f***k and couldn’t be bothered to think about clarity or legibility. The NFI graphic looked like a squirrel that had been squashed by a bowling ball.

The program host, who didn’t give a f***k about sobriety or manners, gazed at the NFI, glanced over at the camera, sighed and offered a dismissive wave.

The screen went dark.

Americans breathed deep and…who am I kidding? It had been a long time since any of them gave a f**k.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 6: Grass Isn’t Always Greener

Before COVID-19 hit, I had a nice little business going. There were a few plants of Super Skunk growing in the back bedroom, and I could turn those into a steady stream of non-taxable income. My clientele were mostly suburban moms; none of that Scarface scene for me.

COVID-19 wasn’t the problem. Nah, it was what my buddy calls “the last mile problem,” which is just a fancy way of saying you have to get the product into your customers’ hands. These Karens that had been happy to just have me drop by their houses suddenly started asking about “touch-less delivery” and “expedited shipping.” I looked into all the options, because my customers see me as totally essential. But in the end I decided a little hiatus was in order. The money would be there when I decided to reopen.

Fate has a funny way of changing plans, and in this case the punchline was one of those afternoon press conferences where everyone is talking about nothing. But there was something about the words “disinfectant” and “UV light” that caught the nation’s attention like a laser pointer in front of a kitten.
So that’s how I found myself sitting by the curb slinging my goods.

“Hey girl, I got what you need,” I sang, “This is the good stuff.” I motioned toward a bottle of Simple Green.

Five seconds later her stroller was rolling away down the street, forgotten. I tied her off and prepped her fix.

“Cash first,” I said. “Or I can file insurance.”

She handed over her insurance card and $20 co-pay and I shot that stuff straight into her veins.
She was dead in 15 seconds.

But here’s the really weird thing: At first, all those deaths made people question the logic of shooting household chemicals into the bloodstream. But then Dr. Birx was asked to look into the – I don’t know – possibility of reanimating the dead with spray glitter and she just grimaced and offered a weak nod and the press conferences continued and no one cared.

You’d think the FDA and cops and who knows who else would have something to say but no, they all just sat back and watched the bodies pile up and chuckled when Hannity had a weeklong series on the need for a jobs program for all those corpses that were going to spring back to life.

I had to rent three refrigerator trucks to keep up with demand.

It was monotonous work: Sell, fix, add another body to the pile. But I was selling hope, and as I was to come to find out, that’s way more profitable than selling weed.

“Can I interest you in some IV Mr. Clean?”

Pandemic Journal, Entry 5: How I Would Change Random Hollywood Movies

Shawshank Redemption
I haven’t watched this but I would definitely remove any trace of redemption. Retitle it Shawshanked and make sure the action delivers on the title.

The Rock
Let’s get real. Sean Connery circa 1996 is not James Bond Sean Connery by any stretch of the imagination. And the Nic Cage of 1996 is not the….well, who cares? So they both die mid-movie but here’s the twist–the bad guys still lose. That’s because Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn) and his SEALs aren’t stupid enough to emerge from an underground tunnel and choose to be slaughtered. Nope. They HALO in and lock that shit down. Who’s the man now, dog?

Captain Phillips & Pirates of the Caribbean
Yeah, what’s going on here? Simple: I need a way to put Johnny Depp in the crosshairs of a SEAL sniper. Mashup. He’s the Somali Pirate of the Caribbean. Boom. Done. You’re welcome.

Leaving Las Vegas
Nic Cage again? This one’s easy. He dies in an opening credits montage. Elisabeth Shue sees his bloated body floating in the hotel pool and questions her career choices. Fast forward and she’s left Las Vegas for a career as a GSA accountant, living in Maryland. She has a cat.

Star Wars
I’ll ask the Star Wars subreddit what changes will make them angriest. Then I’ll make every last one of those changes.

Requiem for a Dream
You think this is already dark? Hold my beer. The refrigerator will be the main character and nobody’s getting out of this with both arms.

Shoot ‘Em Up
I love this movie simply because there’s no feasible way to include any more shooting. So add an hour-long post-credits sequence that’s just Clive Owen shooting people.

Home Alone
Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci), the attorney from My Cousin Vinny, defends the McCallister family against charges of child abandonment. Peter McCallister (John Heard) dies a broken man.

Mission Impossible–Rogue Nation
Ethan hunt (Tom Cruise) discovers that The Syndicate is actually…wait for it…Scientology.

John Wick
John Wick’s dog lives.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 4: Mrs. Markham’s Pandemic Dining Journal


Sunday family dinner is a tradition at the Markham house and without fail Hubby, our twelve year old son Karl and three year old daughter Honey join hands around the dinner table, lift our voices in prayer, and enjoy the bounty the lord has given us. Today’s meal was London broil seasoned with my special garlic powder mix, a side salad with my extra special ingredient (rhymes with cottage cheese!) and baked potatoes, followed by my adoptive mother’s famous carrot cake. Simply scrumptious!


The start of each work week calls for a special dinner, unless of course there’s no work – but still! My Spaghetti al Markham is always the talk of the church carry-in, and my family loves it just as much when I serve it at home! Hubby says the vodka in the sauce is what makes it but please don’t tell my church family!


Inspired by six back-to-back episodes of Guys Grocery Games, I challenged myself to make dinner using ingredients selected by Karl and Honey. I won’t humble brag, as the kids say, but I made a pretty mean dish of rice, corn starch, and rosemary!


Theme dinners are always fun! Tonight’s was “Cabbage, bitches!” It’s always a good idea to experience new things, and Cabbage Three Ways was a most unexpected experience for everyone. Best of all, there were plenty of leftovers after the entire family could only eat a single (small!) helping. 


Imagination is the most powerful thing we can possess. “Karl?” He looked up from poking the cat with a stick. “If you were on death row and ordered a last meal, what would you imagine it would be?”

“A cowboy ribeye medium rare, two large BK fries, and a whole watermelon,” he answered, as if he’d been thinking about my question for days.

“Well Karl, imagine you’re in a Texas prison,” I replied, serving him a single saltine topped with (Dukes!) mayonnaise. 

Friday–Date Night!

Without fail, during our five years of wedded bliss, Hubby and I have dedicated Friday dinner just to us so that we can stoke the romantic fires, if you know what I mean! I spiced up this date night by tossing the car keys and twenty bucks to Karl. “Get you and Honey something to eat. No peanuts, no shellfish. You know Honey’s deathly allergic. I’m not kidding.”

I know what my man needs, and that was some “me time” in the basement, watching a rerun of the 2003 Bills/Patriots game, with the company of that half gallon of Stoly he keeps for those days that he feels extra sad. 

I also know the importance of self care, and that meant a bottle of Kim Crawford Pinot Noir and a half-gallon of Rocky Road, while I sobbed quietly where nobody could hear. 


Someone said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because if you’re not home in time for it you’re in a lot of trouble! I guess that meant the entire Family Markham was in hot water, after we spent all night and most of the morning at the ER after Karl fed Honey a (double!) helping of Shrimp Pad Thai! We gathered around Honey and waited with bated breath for her purplish skin to turn its more typical pale custard. 

Awkward mealtime conversations are always to be avoided. You don’t need to be Emily Post to understand that! To spare the hospital staff the unbearably awkward discussion about “no insurance” or “declined credit cards” we waited for the nursing shift change and empowered Honey to discharge herself! 


Another week, another blessed gathering of the Family Markham. Sadly, Hubby is not with us for this meal thanks to the untimely intervention of the sheriff, who had questions about our abrupt departure from the ER.

He’s with me in spirit, and I can feel this as I sit in his special lounger in the basement, cuddling his Stoly. He’ll be home soon (I’m certain of it!) and once again the whole famdamnily will gather around the table each night, at least until the last rotting vegetables in our fridge are gone.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 3: Jeff, Interrupted

Jeff Bezos was a genius with the pallet wrapper. His flair for efficiency allowed him to wrap five more pallets per day than his predecessor who had made the job-killing mistake of uttering the word “union” in front of a co-worker who everyone in the warehouse knew had the corporate tip line on speed dial. 

Jeff looked across the vast warehouse at pallet after pallet of toilet paper, and sighed.

Wrapping TP in a Nebraska warehouse hadn’t been his plan when he started The World’s Largest Bookstore (he could no longer say the company’s name without weeping uncontrollably). Sales had been brisk, and the bell that rang in his office every time a book sold soon took on a taunting insistence that slowly drove weaker souls mad. Jeff took note and raised the bell’s volume.

Evenings, he and his ex would stroll through Seattle, and each time they passed an independent bookstore they would smile at one another, murmur “disrupt” and share a chaste kiss.

His growing empire wasn’t profitable, and there were missteps. Jeff’s vanity project, a self-published 20-volume set of his musings on management, translated into Mandarin, flopped and would have caused the company to miss payroll had he not fired 20% of the staff. He wasn’t heartless, though, and gave each departing employee one of the 20 volumes along with a hearty pat on the back.

It was the knives that killed him. Not him. And not literally.

Books weren’t enough, and an evening walk brought him to a kitchen store where he gazed at the knives shimmering in the window display. Involuntarily, he murmured “disrupt.”

The next day a pallet-load of knives appeared at the warehouse. Back in the office, the bell rang incessantly, whispering to Jeff, “Cheap knives, cheap knives. More profit. More profit.”

The screams that echoed across the warehouse were louder, as unpackaged knives unexpectedly flew down the conveyor belts. Fingers littered the floor. As pickers stared at one another in fingerless disbelief, blood soaked packages continued to slide down the conveyors. 

The bell kept ringing. 

Jeff didn’t know it at that moment, but the bell was tolling for his empire. 

Now, a thousand miles away from the investigations, lawsuits and criminal indictments, he wondered, “Is it lunch time already?”

Pandemic Journal, Entry 2: Reopening America: The Prologue

My temper had risen beyond simmering to not quite a full boil, like water that’s being heated for pasta but isn’t quite ready for that moment when it’s acceptable to introduce store-bought spaghetti to its-soon-to-be-a-dente fate. I had to do something.

I called the #reopen hotline. Operators were standing by.

“We need to reopen America,” I said. “My local vinyl shop has a first pressing of Paul’s Boutique and they’re not shipping.”

“Will they do curbside pickup?”




“Then you’ve called the right people, brother. But first a few questions: Are you prepared to suffocate for the cause? Does renal failure scare you? Do you live in the swing states of Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin?”

“No, yes, and no.”

“Sorry friend, our funding only covers those three midwestern states. Kinda think of it as a ‘preserve our rights and get out the vote’ movement.”

“Any tips in case I want to freelance this?” I asked.

“Nope. Knock yourself dead. Though not literally, I pray.”

I hung up dejected but not defeated, like Michael Jordan coming to dual realizations: 1) it takes more than raw athletic talent to hit a curveball, and 2) there’s always the NBA.

I strapped up. 

I donned my Punisher t-shirt and a pair of Old Navy camo cargo shorts. 

Then, a pair of Vans slip-ons with stars and stripes fabric.

I threw my grandad’s single barrel .410 over my shoulder. 

Last, I slipped a homemade mask from Etsy over my face. The photorealistic kitten face on it softened my harsh demeanor. 

It was time to reopen America.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 1: My Hobby

We all need hobbies during this pandemic and mine is holding Fidel Castro-length press conferences in my front yard each evening. If you have friends in the media, please share this with them because all I’m getting are well-meaning comments from my neighbors. Like, “Turn that megaphone off! It’s 10 PM!” Or, “I’m calling the police!”

But I persist. 

My press conferences will continue as long as the pandemic confines us to our homes. Or at least until our governor sees the error of his ways and, brought to his senses by 25 bellowing Christians in full tactical gear, allows us to exercise our constitutional right to walk around Best Buy dreaming of 4K TVs that unemployment have put just out of reach. 

In case you missed last night’s press conference, which ended sooner than planned thanks to “enhanced law enforcement presence,” here’s the transcript:

Me (Muffled): Is this thing on? Did you remember to buy batteries?
Beth: This is a very bad idea. Shut up and come inside. 
Me (at the top of my lungs): Members of the mainstream media, liars and believers in “science”, I have all the power. 

(I hold up a picture of Vince Offer. Google him.)

I am using that power to nominate and confirm ‘Muricas new Economic Vitality Czar. He was not my first choice, but after my people shared with me the unfortunate news that Larry Vaughn is not a real person, I made the snap, perfect decision that Vince is the man to lead us back to Dow 20,000. I can’t wait for him to read about my decision on Twitter and come crawling to join my team. 

You’re welcome. 

I’ll now take questions. But not nasty ones. 

Neighbor: STFU!

Me: My mouth will not STFU until it’s uncovered by N95 masks that don’t exist.

Neighbor: I’m calling the cops. 

Me: Tell them I thank them for their service. 

(Long period of awkward silence. Sound of beer bottle shattering in street. Sirens. Lots of sirens.)