This morning, I went into my Home Hardware on the Danforth searching for a metal box I could hide my secret stash of end-of-the-world cash in. They were out.

But what they did have fresh in was a shipment of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. So fresh the delivery guy was leaving when I was arriving. Limit of 3 to a customer. These weren’t those wimpy cover-your-fingers wipes. They were the cover-both-hands wipes. 75 of them in each giant package. Which meant I now own 225 of them. If I wipe down our kitchen counter (1) and desks and chairs (1) twice a day, that should keep us safe for…..uh….

Now, flash back to just a week ago. It was Wednesday, March 11. I spent 4 hours teaching writing in a huge financial institution’s downtown office. I had coffee with an old pal. I didn’t shake hands with him; I hugged him. That night, Jean and I went for dinner with friends.

Dinner. With friends. In a restaurant.

Ah…so far away, and so short ago.

Since then, it’s not just our habits that have changed; it’s our entire story.

I stumbled across this idea via a blog entitled “Plot Economics”, by Venkatech Rao.

He talked of “global narrative collapse” as if it’s a medical condition. “It’s not that we don’t trust narrative sources when we lose the plot,” he wrote. “It’s that the narrative sources are temporarily at a loss and don’t know what to say.” Rao claims we’ve lost the plot at a global level three times in the last 30-plus years: the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; 9/11 in 2001; and the Trump election in 2016.

When you lose the plot of what sustains your reality, you find yourself tracking the rawest information you can find. “Even people who normally avoid math start to do math with raw, noisy facts. Pantry stocks math. Alcohol percentage math. Infection risk math. Toilet paper math…The average human only goes data-driven when narratives fail.”

That’s me. I’m hopeless at math and avoid it like the….whoops, avoid it at all costs.

This could also explain my strange obsession with the Johns Hopkins Dashboard that tracks to the minute the invisible contagion, giving COVID-19 sight and meaning. Yesterday, I learned five or six times that the tiny Faroe Islands, between Scotland and Iceland and owned by Denmark, has 47 cases of COVID 19 among its 50,000 people, for an infection rate of .01%. Meanwhile in Canada, we have 478 cases and a population of 38 million, for an infection rate of .001%.

So why is no one talking about the Faroes and the danger it presents all of humankind?

Because nobody goes there.

Except the people who do.

And unlike us, nearly all of them have to.

There’s some math we should keep in mind when we think of who this plague will come for.

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38 thoughts on “THE PLAGUE-GROUND”

  1. Madeline Thompson

    Love your blog Bob – keep them coming, Wonderful sense of the rational in it
    when so much ‘out there’ is hysteria or ‘be afraid, be very afraid’. This particular
    narrative has had me puzzled since day one because there were lots of words but
    nothing had meaning in the common sense categories. So we’ll ride it out and I’m
    glad you’re helping with that! Such a pleasure,

  2. Irene Berkowitz

    Awesome – wonderful piece Bob. Yes, Wednesday evening March 11 our world broke. We will get through this stronger together. We will go to work, out for dinner to yoga and we will shop for shoes: think New York 9-11. But not yet and not for a while. First we have to save the planet.

  3. So glad that you are doing this Bob! Please keep it up. Very heartfelt best wishes for front line ICU/Emerg health care workers that they stay safe and do not have to go into self isolation because of their close contacts at the front line. I have a niece and a nephew in this situation.
    Let’s do all that we can to help them stay healthy, self quarantine when we are asked to because of travel contacts etc., be honest, open and helpful to those around us.

  4. Dear Bob, As always, you are out there communicating in the most positive and rational way. The humour is most welcome too – it is invaluable in stressful times. I look forward to the next issue!

  5. Bob, we can always count on you to have something worthwhile to say. Now that I have buttered you up, can we talk about how much you charge for a few of those wipes?

    1. Bob here — My favourite New Yorker cartoon shows a Great Dane lying on the psychiatrist’s couch who said to his shrink: “But I’m only a Good Dane.”

  6. Great reading Bob. Keep it coming.

    There is a definite danger of the loss of community. This is a community and it will hold together courtesy of your time, talent and efforts.


    Now back to stalking some guy loading the shelves at Loblaws . . .

  7. Thanks Bob. Keep them coming. Your bons mots are a pleasant.change from the, albeit essential, more gloomy pieces we consume every day.

  8. Bob, I remember fondly our return road trip to Whistler during the 2010 Olympics. Keep up and share your observances. We are hunkered down in DT Vancouver, but enjoying the walks around and near Stanley Park under the clear skies.

    1. Bob here — Hi Clint. Yes, I DO remember that road trip to Whistler. We’re up north in the land of no people. Stay safe.

  9. Here is some simple arithmetic that people need to get their head around. It’s not panic talk, it’s just arithmetic. People have read that 30% of the population might contract COVID-19. And 2% might die of it. These do not sound like particularly scary numbers. 2% sounds small. Until you add the multiplier of the population which is a very large number. 38,000,000 (Canada’s population) x 30% x 2% = 228,000 deaths in Canada. Worldwide, 7.6 billion x 30% x 2% = 45.6 million deaths. This is the time to self-isolate, go out only when absolutely necessary, don’t touch your face, wash your hands when you get home, and find a way to safely support people who are worse off than you and need help.

  10. When times are tough, you do what you do best, the written word. Thanks Bob. Hope you and Jean continue to stay safe and healthy.

  11. Dear Bob. I may get addicted to this blog. I have a metal box such as you describe, which i may be persuaded to exchange for wipes. Virtual hugs to you and Jean!

  12. Susan Harrington

    Bless you Bob,
    Thank you
    This is so helpful. Keep up the good work and take care.
    Love to you and Jean,
    Susie H

  13. Some special Home Hardware you have! For others perhaps the bleach/water concentrate in a spray bottle. I think the analogy to 9/11 apt: it took “us” 18 months to get back on track: Christo’s Central Park installation was a huge boost to the world (and New York). Let us keep our eye on the prize and look for something colorful and joyous, daily!

  14. Bob,
    Collingwood Home Hardware is out of Clorox wipes so I’ll just have to use dish detergent!
    Love your blog and incentive for the rest of us to join your ‘ community’. We read all the Covid19 news but it feels very distant like a Tsunami that has not yet hit .. Thank you for keeing us connected. To you and Jean, keep well.

  15. If you are identifying potentially vulnerable spots, please consider; our isolated Indigenous populations, refugee camps and rural India. Stay tuned.

  16. Thanks, Bob. I’ll be looking forward to these. You’ve always kept me healthy so appreciate your words.

  17. Bob, here you are, yay! wonderful to see your voice. So glad you will keep us posted on your mind-set and view of our brave new world. I for one, will be here listening. Stay strong and well, love you and Jean. xo Jude

  18. Dear Bob
    Stan and I are preparing to return home tomorrow from the US. Never have we felt so grateful to get back to our beloved Canada! I read your blog and felt instantly connected- please keep them coming to your Ramsay community.
    Hoping that you and Jean stay safe and signing off for now with warm thoughts and memories of our Fogo Island trip last year … wondering how those terrific islanders are faring?

  19. Bob: Maybe I could borrow some of your more than adequate supply of swipes….adequate for the next week, that is. I have had no such luck. So in a recent attack of despair, I began using my one remaining bottle of scotch. My place has never smelled so good. And it works wonders, ….in several ways.

  20. joseph rosenthal

    Bob we can only say and happily admit that you are, and always have been, a fine young lad and you and lady Jean are a great couple. keep doing what you are doing and always have been doing , that is , spreading the joy to one and all. joe and Diane

  21. Bob and friends,
    Thank you for including me ..I will definitely stay tuned in to get another and always intelligent and fresh perspective from you, and the RamsayTalks community. Intelligent, vibrant, wise and connected.

    I chatted with my immunology/ cell biology research doctor nephew from SK Gilgan centre, who is a downtowner as well… He thinks we ought to be prepared for this to be ongoing 3 months, maybe longer. He does not have any special insider edge, BTW, but he understands the actual biology let’s say better than the average hack. A lot better.

    I say this not to be alarming, but to get our collective, positive psyche at least in “okay so how do we manage THAT?” mode.

    This outlet is kinda awesome. And Bob, you have so much at your disposal to feed community and connectivity in progressively creative ways! I look forward to Ramsay Talks on webinar format! Book lists and some forums for book club reviews,. Yup. Online. And one thing I can fully imagine this cool group will appreciate, virtual travels. I am already a fan of Rick Steve’s, and various Planet Earth videos/ DVDs etc. I am guessing many in this group could share a yarn or two about the coolest places they have been on the planet.

    Meanwhile, we are in this together… Apart.

    Stay healthy all! Stay connected! Stay positive!

    1. Bob here — Hi Sharon…..we are hiding up north .. just as soon as we can figure out how to do RamsayTalks virtuially, we’re there!
      Cheers and stay safe./ Bob

  22. As always a refresh and well penned view on the world and comedy (some may say tragic comedy) that is life. Thank you, much needed and appreciated.

    1. Heidi – Just got a note form Spatsizi that they’re examining all their trips, etc etc.
      We sure hope t get there this August and hope eveb more we can see you there
      or in Toronto.

      We’re hiding out in our cottage up north with Jean learning telemedicine and me….writing blogs!

      Much love,

      Bob (and Jean)

  23. I am sure that unless John or I have it already my counters are ok. I know two people being tested – only one I have a single degree of separation from. To keep my narrative going, I am not being obsessed by the news; I am following summer camp rules of clean-up every day and set some goals and routines that don’t involve Netflix, and thanking my mother for teaching me how to cook something good from anything.

    We are going to have another loss of narrative soon: and it will be caused by climate change. This is just a teeny shot across the bow by comparison. I hope we learn we can cooperate globally. Stay well.

    1. Trish — Ans here I thought we’d be born and get into heaven without some global calamity befalling us.
      Wong again!
      Cheers and love,

  24. Thanks to you Bob and all the others who have contributed thus far.
    You’ve lifted my spirit from the bed I’ve been in for 10 days.
    And I think I will also do some virtual traveling. I hadn’t thought of it
    until S. Taylor planted the seed in an earlier post.

  25. Bob, as usual, you determine the temperature of the moment. Such welcome insights and humour and giving all of us your community and spirit. Tha k you and I will look forward to the next instalment!

  26. Bob
    We all need a reflection of our own reality and continued discussion. Keep the dialogue going…
    I am currently in London visiting the girls which slowly is moving to lock down. Left Dublin yesterday , deserted streets and pubs but lovely walks from Bray to Greystones, Glasnevin, PowersCourt and Mount Jerome.
    Today Jemma and l going to Hampstead Heath ….Spring is blossom.

    1. Erin — Jean and I are hiding out up north. She’s learning telemedicine and I’m…..well, I’m writing blogs!
      A straneg trn of events, I must say. I’m glad you made it back from all your travels.

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