“Unfortunately, last week’s cafeteria closure hasn’t impacted the cases of wandering indigestion, violent diarrhea, and projectile vomiting currently sweeping Boca Linda High School,” Principal Sandalwood had informed everyone during morning announcements. “Therefore, starting next Monday, all classes will be suspended for two weeks. During this time, administration will continue to monitor the dosequisvirus pandemic as well as coordinate with state and federal officials. Thank you, and God bless…do I let go of the button now?”
But it’s business as usual for Coach Coffee, who’s got us doing our drills and skills as if he’s going to personally take care of the pandemic over the weekend so as to not disrupt our next wrestling match.
(It’s also business as usual for Mrs. Thrailkill, sitting on a folding chair at the foot of the bleachers and recording the proceedings on her cell phone with casual indifference. She’s been doing that a lot lately—research, something I overheard her saying about “behavioral studies of the adolescent male posterior.”)
We haven’t even finished warm-up, though, when Coffee barks, “Howard!” and calls me off the practice mat, jerks his thumb toward the gym entrance, where my dad’s waiting with my gym bag.
I jog over to him. “What’s going on, Dad?” I ask. I take my bag and follow him out the door.
“We’ve got a house to shoot,” he replies.
“Oh, cool. Just let me get changed—”
“No time, son.”
FYI, my dad’s a real estate photographer. It’s not unusual for him to pick me up from school after wrestling practice and have me ride along with him on a twilight shoot. It is unusual for him to do so at the very start of practice and without letting me change first. Maybe traffic’s for shit or something. Or maybe all the dosequisvirus stuff in the news has finally freaked him out to the point where he’s not waiting until Monday to grab the family and get the hell out of Dodge.
It’s overcast outside. We hurry across the parking lot and into Dad’s Optima. We’re headed for Mallomar Bay—that much I glean from the nav on Dad’s phone. Otherwise, the drive is pretty quiet. Dad tries the radio, but there’s only sad violin music on all of the stations. He picks the least melancholy and grips the steering wheel steadily with both hands, stares solemnly at the road the entire time. I sit speechless in the passenger seat and stare out the window. There’s a detour at this one intersection where the toilet paper lines winding around the Spendco parking lot have created a gridlock. Police officers armed with rifles are trying to maintain a semblance of order. A few miles further, a mob of zombie-like pedestrians are dismembering the driver of an overturned Lärabar truck. Further yet: grandmas in surgical masks trying to fill five-gallon water containers from an open fire hydrant.
WTF? This whole dosequisvirus thing is crazy. People aren’t afraid of getting sick, they’re afraid of running out of toilet paper. And Lärabars.
I try not to look out the window again until we reach Mallomar and the two-story beach house overlooking the bay (it turns out we are doing an actual photoshoot). The realtor is blond and petite and named Penny. She guides us inside the house, giving notes to my dad about what she wants, what she doesn’t as we move through the first floor, then the second, Dad with his camera and tripod, me in my helmet, singlet, pads, and lingering look of confusion. My job is to caddie Dad’s enormous camera bag, make sure that all the lights are on in each room, and that the furniture is positioned properly. I’m also supposed to check that any stray personal items belonging to the owners are hidden out of shot. It’s not the worst way to pick up an extra hundred bucks (Dad always pays me for my time), though I’m not going to lie, I’m counting the seconds until we go on break so that I can sneak into the bathroom and ditch the Spandex for jeans and a hoodie.
My chance comes when we shoot the master bathroom. Penny happens to step out into the hallway to take a phone call, and that’s when I ask Dad for the car keys.
“Sure,” he says. “But first…” He hands me the camera bag, leans in close, whispers into my ear, “It’s empty. Grab as much toilet paper as you can fit—there’s a twenty-four pack under the vanity. I’ll distract Penny.” He pushes me into the bathroom and closes the door.
And I’m just standing there in my wrestling gear in a stranger’s master bathroom with an empty camera bag in hand, and I’m wondering what Dad has planned for next week when we all run out of bottled water.