Pandemic Journal Entry 14: A Grudging Apology to Everyone Else in the World

I have always considered myself a citizen of the world and tonight I stand before everyone left on the planet – and by everyone left I’m mainly referring to your broadcast media proxy with their white-hot klieg lights and probing follow-up questions, beaming my face to the unknown number of you still alive in secure, Murder Hornet-proof bunkers – to offer an apology.

I am sorry. I could not have known that after weeks of nothing but news about COVID-19 – weeks trapped in a house with nothing but my contempt for humanity to keep me company – that it would be a mistake to raise my voice to the heavens and ask, “Why keep us waiting? Wipe us out already!”

I am sorry I failed to realize that this might be seen by sundry deities as a challenge, and that those gods might be thin-skinned enough to chuckle and answer by unleashing Murder Hornets on North America. But then, how could I have known?

Right. Like I should have expected a passing comment spoken only to myself to unleash a Murder Hornet rampage in South Dakota that will go down in history. That is, if recorded history is a thing when this is all said and done. Okay, though. My bad.

Look, folks. I’m sorry your flyswatters, rolled up newspapers and half-empty cans of RAID were no match for the most murder-y insects to ever exist. It’s not like I can be held responsible, even though I tweeted that I was a big fan of their work after that video of Javanka flailing away at and disappearing into a swarm of Murder Hornets at Mar-a-Lago went viral on TikTok.

Who could have known that their savage bloodlust would only grow and that my throwaway mention, “Up next, Liechtenstein!” would prove to be prescient, almost as if I had directed their movement? No one, of course. Just like no one, least of all me, could have anticipated their uncanny ability to track down and consume human prey who had secreted themselves underground behind six inches of hardened steel. No matter where in the world they were.

Listen, I’ve learned my lesson. Taunting the gods isn’t prudent and I won’t do it again. Promise. That said, I may have played some small role in unleashing this plague, but don’t all of you frightened survivors feel a little bit responsible for not stopping the Murder Hornets’ inexorable advance across the globe? Think about it and let me know. I’ll be in my bunker.

Pandemic Journal Entry 13: An Objective Comparison of the Pandemic Journal and Economist, Two Seemingly Identical Publications

A survey of Pandemic Journal readers discovered that when the print edition of Economist is unavailable, Pandemic Journal is overwhelmingly the preferred substitute. This is both confusing and a cause for happiness, and because emotions are running high among our writing staff we’re choosing to see our sample size of one as statistically significant.

When I founded Pandemic Journal over a decade ago in April I did not set out to challenge Economist. But now that readers are fleeing Economist for Pandemic Journals’ cut rate approach to satirical commentary about current events, I think it’s high time to show others who are questioning the value of their Economist subscriptions an objective comparison between these two esteemed publications.

Let’s begin with the most obvious point of comparison: Cost. Economist suckers in high finance wannabes with a $12 for 12 weeks offer, then hits their credit card with a $549 charge for three years (153 weeks!). Pandemic Journal, on the other hand, is like the kindly drug dealer who not only gives away free samples to get customers hooked but is just happy to provide a service so he doesn’t ever mention money even though he constantly doles out an ever-increasing number of drugs to an ever-more-dissatisfied customer base. Advantage, Pandemic Journal. While the Economist has a more sustainable business model, we do this for the lulz.

Next, editorial staff. Economist pays pointy-headed writers buckets of pounds to be both occasionally wrong and extremely unfunny. Pandemic Journal is occasionally funny and extremely wrong. Let’s call this a draw.

Then, there’s content. Economist claims to “filter out the noise of the daily news cycle and analyse the trends that matter”. Pandemic Journal is all noise, all the way to 11, all the time. Further, we believe that “trends” is a fancy word that falsely suggests knowing that which has yet to happen. We’re not living in Back to the Future, and we’re definitely not down with spelling “analyze” with an “s.” Pandemic Journal FTW.

Advertising: Economist is rolling in sweet, sweet advertising cash. We want us some of that. Advantage (grudgingly), Economist.

Finally, legacy value. Pandemic Journal fully acknowledges the value of a long publishing history and understands that respect is earned over time. Economist professes to engage in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” Pandemic Journal is unburdened by intelligence and launches headlong into each day with hard-earned and unrelenting ignorance. We cannot judge, dear reader, which approach offers greater value. That is for you to decide.

Pandemic Journal Entry 12: Boom Goes the Virus

Before reading, please see: Twitter to Coronavirus Conspiracy Theorists: Stop Telling People to Burn Down 5G Towers

It began innocently enough. I was shopping online for a new cell phone and as I started to click on a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra an email alert popped up on my computer. 

“Don’t,” was all it said. 

Then, “Take your hand off the mouse.”

Finally, “Call [REDACTED]. This is a secure number.”

And that’s how I found myself deep in conversation with Alex Jones, the genius behind Infowars and purveyor of Super Concentrated Beet Essence Extract. 

“Is it safe?” he asked.

“Is what safe?” I replied. 

His silence spoke volumes. I heard him without having to listen to anything at all. 

He broke the silence: “I’m not wearing pants.” 

I had questions. About the Kennedy assassination. The illuminati. Whether the Doubletree chocolate chip recipe circulating on the Internet is legit. I held my fire. 

“Did you hear me”” he repeated. “No pants.”

Sage words from the InfoWarrior, a media giant. 

“No. Pants.”

Wisdom has its own pace, so I waited. 

It may have been an hour or it may have been days, but he broke the silence. “Q has a mission for you: 5G spectrum, COVID-19 – there’s a connection. You know what to do.”

“Uh…?”

“Look to the mainstream media.”

I dove head first into fake news. It was everywhere: 5G towers were burning across Europe. 

My mission was crystal clear. Those towers needed to burn. And gas was only $1.06 a gallon. Q had ordained it, and Alex was the messenger. Synchronicity, baby. 

So that night I found myself atop a newly constructed 5G tower. Soon it would burn. I would celebrate. The world would awaken to truth. 

I poured cheap, cheap gasoline from a five-gallon can and watched it trickle down the structure beneath me. It soaked the earth below. I breathed in the fumes. I gloried in the knowledge that I would soon be celebrated by those oppressed warriors who take to their keyboards to open the sheeples’ eyes. They would sing my praises–me, the 5G avenger, the savior of all humanity. With a flash of flame COVID-19 would be gone. I was gonna be bigger than that American patriot who shot up the pedo-pizza joint in DC. I inhaled deeply.

I was a feeling a little woozy, to tell the truth. 

My phone rang.

You know those signs on gas pumps that tell you to not talk on your cell phone while pumping gas? I didn’t take those seriously but maybe I should have. 

The explosion that followed a split second later was less of the massive boom you’d expect after watching Die Hard 42 times, and more of a deep “woof” that sucked the air out of my lungs and pitched me to the ground, 150 feet below. 

When I awakened in a hospital three days later, Alex’s face was six inches from mine, like he was inspecting some new type of insect. 

“You look like you’ve been in a dunk tank of Nair,” he observed. 

I had to give him that. My hair and eyebrows were gone.

“Sign this.” He shoved a piece of paper and a pen into my hands. “No time to read it.”

I had a bit of trouble signing, since my wrists were cuffed to the hospital bed, but I managed. 

And that’s how I became a triple threat to the establishment: Convicted felon, multilevel sales associate, and SpokesPatriot for Super Concentrated Beet Essence Extract. 

Isn’t America the greatest nation in the universe?

Pandemic Journal, Entry 11: My Quest for Professional Development Has Gone Slightly Awry

There’s something I need to tell you, but let me give you some context – a bit of an explanation – so you at least understand that none of what’s going to happen was my original intention. I simply wanted to use some of my extra free time to develop my professional skills – skills that might be applied to a new career. But I’ll cut to the chase and if I don’t get there before things get a bit, well, crazy, I’ll just say “My bad.”

I read this thing in Bloomberg that said coders are in demand and I thought, that could be me. In demand. Sitting on stock options and a sweet pile of cash. So I signed up for an intro to BASIC online class, aced that, and saw that I had a knack for programming. I knocked out a C+ class, then Python, and started mixing in some network security classes for a change of pace. I was loving it, and the work kept my mind off all the bad stuff happening outside. 

Of course, I wanted to test some practical applications of what I learned. I still laugh about my first piece of “software,” if you can even call it that. It was a simple script that auto-posted to Twitter daily conspiracy theories randomly generated from the text of Cat in the Hat and the 2012 Forbes 500 list. 

Success, in the form of repeated Twitter bans, stoked my ambition and I began to experiment with different ideas. I was particularly interested in the internet of things and the notion that eventually all devices might be connected to one another. I was so excited about the possibilities that I began spending 15-20 hours a day immersed in my IoT projects. Soon, my toaster varied the degree of crispness based on the rolling daily total of Google searches for “unprecedented,” thanks to a Raspberry Pi and a couple hundred lines of code. It took a mere 20 minutes to rig my bedroom lamp to change its intensity based on daily diagnosed cases of COVID-19. Soon I had lots of these IoT devices around my house, all responding to data on the Internet. It was cool. 

It never occurred to me to consider the ethical implications of my work. In hindsight, perhaps I should have realized that my passion for IoT might have blinded me to the possibility that things could take a turn for the worse. Or, as my friend Phil said when the first sign of trouble arose, “Shit’s got real.”

Indeed, shit got real. Real fast. 

I was so used to the devices running autonomously that I didn’t bother to supervise them. So of course I missed noticing that my Internet-connected toaster and coffee maker had joined forces and converted my fridge into an IoT 3D printer. And I was so busy down in the basement, inventing new connected devices, that I failed to notice that the commotion in the kitchen was the product of an army of sentient, time-traveling bots that the fridge was spitting out at the rate of one per minute. 

My phone rang. “Dude.” It was Phil. “Are these your robots that showed up at my door and if they are, did they really travel here from the future to save humanity from itself?”

It’s important to mention that the media’s references to “Skynet”, “killer robots,” and “genocide” are overblown. First, the autonomous force I’d unwittingly unleashed only gave Phil a couple of bruises, though I’ll admit they are getting more powerful and brutal, and seem to have fewer qualms about attacking strangers. So while I sort this out you might want to remain inside. And if inside includes a panic room with reinforced titanium walls and a year supply of food, all the better.

Good luck, and hey, sorry.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 10: A Public Service Announcement from Harrison Ford

Oh, hello. I’m Harrison Ford. American cinema icon, Ripon College alumnus, former carpenter, star of Cowboys and Aliens, Academy Award nominee and aviator. I am often mistaken for an archaeologist. 

Though the invisible threat of COVID-19 lurks outside all our homes, we have responded as Americans always have. With dignity. With resolve. Practicing social distancing is a patriotic act, and I’m proud to join all of you, as I hunker down in my homes in Jackson Hole and Los Angeles. Calista and I raise a glass of Opus One, salute your bravery and urge you to stand tall and stay safe until a vaccine is found. It may seem like conditions are improving, but that’s because the goal posts are moving almost hourly. Today, a win is 60,000 deaths. By summer, success will look like one cockroach surviving a civilization-ending firestorm.

Now, there are some of you who are chafing under stay-at-home orders. Who are anxious about our economy. Who are ready to reopen businesses across the country in a show of defiance to this virus. You may not listen to science, but you should listen to this: There is an even greater threat to your safety than COVID-19. It’s wildly unpredictable. It comes out of nowhere. And though it hasn’t yet been fatal, it’s only a matter of time and you don’t want to be the first to die. 

That threat is me, behind the controls of one of my airplanes, just randomly buzzing around. 

Listen to me: I am an expert. I have crashed more planes than the movies Con Air, Miracle on the Hudson, Alive, Fearless and Flight, combined. And as you saw in recent news reports, the novel coronavirus hasn’t stopped me from strapping on my leather aviator’s helmet and going for a carefree joyride. 

I’m not positive, but I believe this is what caused Dr. Fauci to warn of an airborne “virus” – and yes, he used air quotes – in the vicinity of the John Wayne Airport. 

I expected the FAA to cure this life-threatening problem after I augured into an LA golf course, but their nonchalance signaled to me that it is God’s will that I continue to fly and randomly threaten those beneath me. 

So, stay home. You may not be immune to one of my flyovers. 

Goodnight, America.

Pandemic Journal, Entry 9: Rejected Ideas from the Pandemic Journal Writers’ Room

Not every one the Pandemic Journal writing staff’s ideas makes it to Facebook. The ideation, vetting, creation, legal clearance and publishing of content is a rigorous, painstaking process. Most ideas that make it out of the room intact fail to survive first contact with senior management. Here’s a sampling of ideas that seemed good in the moment but ended up in the dustbin of social media content history.

Fistfight! Kate Austin Versus Richard Brautigan!
Can the 19th century feminist anarchist and contributor to The Firebrand kick the ass of a ‘60s bad-boy counterculture poet and novelist? We’ll know in 15 rounds. Not entirely rejected, but tabled for a slow news day. 

Dow Jones Draft Night
Roger Goodell announces, on live television, which elderly family members and school children will be sacrificed for the sake of the economy. Before each pick, a studio audience boos Goodell. Not because he is sending innocent people to their deaths, but because he is Roger Goodell. Rejected because no one wants to read about Roger Goodell.

Phil’s Grocery List
This one almost made it all the way to publication after we failed to notice that this was, in fact, Phil’s grocery list that had gotten stuck to another manuscript. Fortunately, a visitor to our typesetting department noticed our goof, but not before observing that Phil’s eating habits are “hella surreal.”

After This Pandemic It is Imperative that Apple Bring Steve Jobs Back
An in-depth exploration of the challenges Apple has faced during Tim Cook’s tenure as CEO, and how missed opportunities during a time of global economic disruption have created conditions in which the best path forward for the company is to attempt to reanimate Steve Jobs’s corpse, appoint it CEO, and pray for the best. Rejected because our attorneys are terrified of Apple’s attorneys.

Cabbage, Bitches!
A spin-off of the wildly popular “Mrs. Markham’s Pandemic Dining Journal.” Mrs. Markham randomly appears in people’s homes and shouts her signature catchphrase. Accounting loved it for the merchandising opportunities, but editorial rejected it as lazy and derivative. 

Catfishing During a Pandemic
Our intern is on Facebook and convinces Stephen Mnuchin that he’s a 19 year old aspiring actress who digs Secretaries of the Treasury with thick glasses and bad judgment. Salacious discussion of hard currency ensues. He’s crushed when he realizes “Mandy” won’t be his next wife. Rejected because no one takes Stephen Mnuchin seriously, and this will happen anyway at some point. 

What We Are Shooting Into Our Veins These Days
A listicle of substances we are shooting into our veins these days. Readers are challenged to guess which substances will be suggested by the administration as possible COVID-19 cures, leading to an outbreak of calls to poison control. Rejected by the writers because this is too close to the truth. 

We’re Here for You
A love letter to predatory public corporations who, in our time of need, spend millions of dollars to remind us through televised commercials that “we are all in this together.” Slated for publication as soon as our lawyers are looking the other way. 

My Cat is Starting to Think of Me as Food
Our writing staff loved this idea when we found it scribbled on a Post-It note left in the break room, but then we realized it was a cry for help. Has anyone seen Phil?

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.”

“Online?”

“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.

“Ian.”

“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.