Quarantine Thoughts: Apocalypse & Chill

A San Francisco couple share their late-night banter on child-rearing and staying sane during a pandemic.

Aaron John Brown and Alexandra Liss are partners who live together in Hayes Valley with two-year-old, Téo.

John Brown is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works in the Tenderloin. He grew up in the Mission and Excelsior.

Liss grew up in North Beach. She is a Video Editor for local political campaigns, such as Mental Health SF and Progressive Supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen.

Like many bay natives they grew up in the same city and even attended the same high school briefly, but never met until dating.

Alex has spent the last several months homeschooling Téo and attempting to edit videos during his naptime. Aaron, meanwhile, has been in and out of meetings and sessions. As such, they don’t have much time to talk until late at night.

On one such recent late-night rap session, they decided to take notes on their banter. The following is an approximation of their conversation — edited for clarity, concision, and to maximize the lulz, of course.

Alex: Aaron and Alexandra — we’re like Siskel and Ebert, but instead of rating movies, we just judge people.

Aaron: … And the dystopian feature film that is our lives during the coronavirus. 

Alex: To be fair, this city was in major need of a Lysol wipe-down prior to COVID-19.

Aaron:  Very true. Though thanks to shelter-in-place, the apocalypse has been a bit anticlimactic. The George Floyd riots are way more intense.

Alex: We’ve had a few friends of friends get sick, but really, I find it’s been more of a magnifier of our life conditions beneath the surface personally to politically! If you were vulnerable on the streets before, now you’re critically exposed. If you were feeling financial instability, now you’re really desperate.

Aaron: If you were rich… Oh wait — you’re somehow getting massive bailouts and still profiting?! 

Alex : Precisely, boo…. I thought there was going to be all this downtime, but I haven’t had a moment to myself between a needy toddler, a demanding job, and trying to make time with my soulmate. 

Aaron: Wait, which one am I? 

Alex: Funny. 

Aaron: On a lighter note, the city does feel a lot like when all the transplants leave for Burning Man and give us our city back. For those of us who grew up in the Excelsior or the Sunset, the streets don’t look much more empty than before this pandemic… 

Alex: Heyyy, I was one of those people who went to the desert five years in a row. You make fun of Burners, but it’ll change your life.

Aaron: Shelter-in-place will change your life. Burning Man will get you an STD. 

Alex: See, that must be part of that 2 percent we didn’t match on OkCupid.  

Aaron: Touché… Ah I’m hungry. I want to order delivery but I don’t want to support any more of these tech companies like Uber Eats, Postmates making bank off making an app and being the middleman. I would if only these 20th century corporations could catch up with 18th century labor laws, that would be great. 

Alex: It’s after curfew anyway… Maybe Airbnb could pay some taxes to fix the damage they did to the housing market.

Aaron: My little brother’s doing well as a delivery man for Postmates. Years of smoking weed and playing Call of Duty all day and when duty finally called — da-da-da-da! Fuckin’ Postmates man. I knew that motherfucker was essential!

Alex : We are seriously lucky we haven’t lost anyone to the virus yet and to still have a semblance of our jobs during all this. My colleagues who shoot and edit film lost their entire life savings and business in a matter of days. It’s devastating. 

Aaron: We lost a lot more folks to the tech-pocalypse than corona so far. Those are the boarded up windows I remember.

Alex: Yeah, the virus called gentrification. 

Aaron: Preach… In other news, poor and homeless people are finally recognized by the rich as people now that they’re potential carriers. They’re starting to rethink universal health care now that they realize that we are going to take them down with us. And it looks like the Boomers — who thought they were leaving us with the bill on global warming — might be rethinking this whole mess they were hoping to skip out on. 

Alex: I heard someone refer to this virus as the “Boomer Remover.” 

Aaron: Sweet Jesus, that’s cold.  

Alex: Cold as the polar ice caps used to be before the Boomers ignored global warming??

Aaron: Sick burn, planet… but no, that’s just wrong. 

Alex: Why don’t you grow a man bun to wipe your polar ice cap melting tears?

Aaron: I resent your patriarchal undertones. My moms would disapprove. 

Alex: That’s why I love you. So can we talk about the silver living of this painful shelter-in-place order? First, I’m loving how the rental market is plummeting! Rents for a one-bedroom apartment dropped 9.4 precent in San Francisco compared with May of 2019.

Aaron: Poor chad.  

Alex: Or Bryan with a Y or whatever a typical tech founder’s name is… 

Aaron: (Getting a glimpse of himself in the mirror) at least you didn’t attempt to cut your hair yourself like I did. Everyone’s walking around with “Karen” haircuts trying to fight with the corona managers.  

Alex: I think San Francisco is realizing how much we outsource and don’t know how to do for ourselves. I know people who don’t know how to cut their own nails without a nail lady present. 

Aaron: Well, maybe that one person on BART who always seems to be clipping their toenails can teach them. 

Alex: That gross babe… but seriously, I heard global Co2 emissions are projected to go down 8 percent this year due to the economy halting a bit. 

Aaron: That’s huge.. We should “apocalypse” more often. I think my favorite silver lining is that 8,000 homeless people were promised hotel rooms in SF.

Alex: Mine too! I just imagine when this is all over, how are we supposed to put these people back on the streets? If housing our homeless, which has haunted us since we’ve been alive, can be achieved finally, that will be life and city-altering. 

Aaron: I’ve been a social worker and organizer in the Tenderloin now for 15 years, and the mayor’s count wouldn’t even admit there were more than 6,000 homeless people for decades. There were 15,000 before the crisis according to the Coalition on Homelessness. 

Alex: Wow. Just wow. 

Aaron: (Checks phone) Sigh… Looks like that promise is already being cancelled. Human Services has housed around 2,000 out of the promised 8,000 so far, but the mayor seems to be changing her tune on fulfilling the rest of the commitment. 

Alex: What??

Aaron: Did you know that before the crisis SF alone had over 36,000 empty apartment units due to price gouging and Airbnb?

Alex: How is that even possible? 

Aaron: Landlords would rather hold onto their units than rent them for affordable prices, especially with our rent control laws. Those are 36,000 empty units sitting empty for the taking. And they’re probably all listed and geotagged on Airbnb. “Hey Alexa, how much are crowbars on Amazon?”

Alex: I read that the hotels are costing the city approx $70 a night or an estimated $58 million per month — for a room plus staff for housing the 8,000 homeless. It does sound expensive, until you consider that the city had a property tax surplus of $415 million last year alone. 

Aaron: Yeah, baby, tell that to London Greed. She claims they aren’t housing the homeless due to lack of staff and housing options, but what about eminent domain for the currently vacant spaces? The city didn’t care when they bulldozed the Western Addition…

Alex: Which many call “Hayes Valley.” But it didn’t exist when we grew up. Just a huge freeway overpass and a lot of Section 8 housing… right by where London grew up, District 5… 

Aaron: She sold out. I guess it’s part of the mayoral job description. 

****

Just then, Téo, the two-and-a half-year old toddler, comes bow-leggedly crying and screaming into the bedroom. “Milkiesss… I want milkies.” Alex shoots up in an exhausted daze, stumbles into the fridge to grab a bottle of almond “milkies.” She swiftly changes Téo’s diaper and lays him down in his bed, and cuddles next to him to help him fall asleep. 

A few minutes later, left arm stuck under a toddler, Alex slyly takes her phone out with her right and scrolls through Facebook. She sees a statistic from the WHO: “Every minute a newborn dies from infection caused by lack of safe water and an unclean environment.”

Alex feels the soft breath of her toddler tickling her chin. She looks at the dozens of sippy cups filled with clear water strewn about the house, finding it jaded that one of her biggest pain points is cleaning up after them. She holds her son closer. Alex lets out a deep sigh and thinks to herself, “These other global diseases really could learn from whomever the coronavirus’ publicist is…” 

****

In the next bedroom over, Aaron is also scrolling through Facebook on his iPhone and thinks about his time with the Coalition on Homelessness. One Christmas he dressed as Tiny Tim and handcuffed himself to the Christmas tree in City Hall to make a statement about Gavin Newsom’s winter budget cuts. As he scrolls, he sees a live video streaming on Facebook showing the Coalition on Homelessness protesting in front of Mayor London Breed’s house. Aaron watches diligently as his old crew demand London follow through with housing the homeless, the most vulnerable in this city. Aaron thinks to himself, “if you really want to know what’s going on and how to fix it, always ask them first. The mayor that listens is not only going to solve homelessness, but fix this whole city.” 

Alex stumbles back in bed exhausted and finds her way into Aaron’s neck nook. 

****

Alex: He’s finally asleep… ughhh I feel awful wanting to vent about our first world problems when we are so fucking lucky in this world, but can we talk about what it’s like to be a Quarantined mom in this city, for a second? 

Aaron: Like a dog mom, or human mom?

Alex: I know SF literally has more dogs than children, but let’s talk about the human variety. 

Aaron: It’s true, I don’t know how you moms do it all: homeschooling Téo and the neighbor kid, then somehow finding the concentration to edit videos while I’m loudly pacing about doing Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting in the same living room space. Then Téo comes up to you every two minutes asking for Milkies or having a 2-year-old melt-down. It’s intense. 

Alex: Like yesterday when I gave Téo a popsicle and then the tip broke…

Aaron: Ah man, that was brutal. He screamed for 20 minutes because the popsicle was broken, yet he would not accept another flavor. 

Alex. He can be such a “two-uche bag “ sometimes…

Aaron: But he’s pent up and lacking socialization. I mean, how do you even explain to these young kids who are being isolated from all their friends and maintain some semblance of normalcy? 

Alex: Kids are surprisingly resilient and adaptive. Many people mistake Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory being about the strongest who survive, but really the key trait to survival he spoke of, was adaptability.

Aaron: That’s right, baby. Kids are adaptable… but to walk past another park, jungle gym and tell Téo he can’t play or touch his friends is heart-wrenching. Then we can get so busy and overwhelmed with life, we’re shoving the very same screens in his face, which back in early March we were trying so hard to minimize. 

Alex: That’s why I sneak socially distanced quarantinis on the roof with the two other moms in our building where we let our kids run around as we release our primal screams in the corner. The non-stop multitasking wears on the soul. I got the dirtiest look from a passerby in our building for letting our three kids play together on the roof. 

Aaron: The shaming is real! My friend posted a picture with his dog at the beach — not a person in sight, yet the tattle tale social distance police had a field day. It’s like the out-of-work internet trolls have to let out their microaggressions somewhere… 

Alex: Yeah, all the Karen’s, man. You think internet trolls are bad, try the mom-shaming culture. Granted these little three-nagers are petri dishes of germs, as parents, we’ve got to help each other take breaks and adhere to smart distancing techniques on top of social distancing. 

Aaron: Oh man, I can already feel the internet trolls coming out of their caves for your term “smart distancing.” I can see it in the comments of this article right now. 

Alex: See, this is why I didn’t do much of the whole people-thing even pre-quarantine…. 

Aaron: Are you more of the Zoom type? 

Alex: Ahhh! Fuck zoom! If another person sends me another fucking Zoom invite, with their shitty audio and ridiculous AR background… I’m just gonna… jump into the screen and noose myself with the ridiculous, unnecessarily long Zoom link wrapped around my neck. 

Aaron: I know, baby, I know. It’s all going to be alright… Can we talk about how social Darwinism is about to turn all the red states blue? Like all the angry evangelicals were like “drill baby drill, let me keep my plastics, we don’t believe in science, we need more guns, we don’t need vaccinations — we’re superior! God will protect us,” and then god was like… “Hold my beer…”

Alex: Speaking of all the Trumpers who went out with their AR-15s to demand that we re-open the economy — they’re all cropping up again, calling the George Floyd protests hypocritical. I just think progressives are more patient. Like… Yeah! We wan’t haircuts, too, but we’re not going to risk our lives for that. Calling attention to institutionalized racism and centuries of police brutality on the other hand… that’s slightly more important than going to the neighborhood watering hole. Know what I’m saying?

Alex: Uhhh it’s just so easy to be wound up! I read somewhere that we’re entering this dreaded third quarter of isolation. Initially we were all panic buying and full of confusion, and then a “honeymoon period” when it felt novel to cook sourdough and be in our pjs… but this third quarter loneliness appears to be a real phenomenon. 

Aaron: Yes, it’s real. According to clinical psychologists, there are many studies of people isolated in space or submarines and they found an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear. Interpersonal conflicts correlate with the longer one has been in isolation. Whatever bad coping habits and tics you had before will only be exacerbated as stressors increase. To survive interpersonally we will have to learn better ways to treat each other and tolerate each other either to avoid or as a result of conflict.

Alex: Ooh, I love it when you talk “therapeese” to me. 

Aaron: Rawr. 

Alex: So yeah, I’m trying to keep it together, but isolation is affecting us all, in such profound ways. I feel like I’m constantly on my period. I’m crying at Geico commercials because I miss going outside… so, so much.

Aaron: But think how much “we could save on car insurance.” Kidding. Maybe, we are watching too much TV.

Alex: I feel ashamed admitting how hard it is. I mean those gun toting protestors hella make me vomit a bit in my mouth, but dang, these social distancing rules are likely to remain in force until at least September or October as a second wave of infections could be triggered if we mix too soon. How are we going to get through this stage three together? 

Aaron: Who knows, it could be realistically 18 months? We’re all likely to get pregnant or divorced. 

Alex: But were not married yet. 

Aaron: Exactly… Talk about sheltering in… placenta.

Alex: That was a good one. 

Aaron: Thanks boo. 

Alex: Well, maybe this Pandemic isn’t all bad… maybe this time will change the way we all engage with each other…  

Aaron: In the way we look at our  work… how we treat our homeless and most vulnerable. 

Alex: … Our priorities given to the environment and treatment of animals, which cross contamination likely caused all of this… 

Aaron: Our priorities on how we treat each other and those we love…

Aaron: Well, interestingly, according to the isolation studies, no matter how hard the expedition was, nearly 100 percent of the astronauts and arctic explorers want to go back into isolation for a second time. 

Alex: But if the isolation is so deeply lonely and conflict ridden, how is this so? 

Aaron: It’s fascinating, right? The study was by Dr Kimberley Norris, who is an authority on confinement and reintegration. Despite ill ridden times, having the space to sit back and think, also allowed people to figure out what’s important and find value in what the difficult circumstance had taught. Being isolated gives us a better idea of our personal values, and more impetus to act on them…

Alex: I dunno, sounds like a first world luxury. 

Aaron: Yeah, we should probably Zoom later and talk about it. 

Alex: Fuck off.

Aaron: I’m kidding, I’m kiddding… well, do you think you learned any valuable lessons so far? 

Alex: Honestly? I can’t believe I’m saying this but, I think I want to see my parents more. They still live in the Bay and we haven’t seen them since the holidays. This experience has reminded me of their vulnerability and how precious time is. 

Aaron: Yeah, it’s been unsettling not knowing when we can get on a plane and be there to see my moms. 

Alex: What about you, my love? Being an essential worker, you’re more at risk but also a bit less isolated? 

Aaron: Yeah, that helps. But I deal with a lot of “beaurocrazy” and I realize that I want to be making an actual difference versus being in meetings that go in circles and hardly get things done… 

Alex: Wow babe, your insight is turning me on. 

Aaron: You sweet talker, you… 

Aaron places his hand on Alex’s thigh. Alex gives Aaron side-eye with a smirk. 

Aaron: … or should I just send you a zoom calendar rendezvous link for another time? 

Alex hits him with her pillow as hard as she can.

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