A Postcard From Coronavirus-Stricken Seattle

Madison Park Beach, 11 a.m., Last Friday

It’s the first properly warm day of the year in Seattle and, at Madison Park Beach, housewives who have been cooped up inside with small children for eight months or more are relishing the chance to soak in the sun. Their children are shrieking and roaming — though not as far as they usually might.

“Come back honey, we don’t want that yucky virus.”

The water in the Pacific Northwest — both the kelpy ocean and the freshwater lakes — has a peculiar thickness to it, a viscous quality I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. The surface of Lake Washington is doing its still and steely thing this morning, the blue sky’s reflection somewhat dimmed by the depths beneath. Behind the hills on the lake’s far shore, snow-capped Cascades gleam against the sky. 

A woman in a wetsuit is out there swimming freestyle, followed by a man who is somehow enduring the cold in board shorts and lunging in an agonizingly slow butterfly stroke. He is a heavy man with a heavy German accent, she is small and wiry. They’re both in their 50’s or 60’s. He appears to have a crush on her. 

“You reelly haff zer right stuff!” he tells her as they stand dripping on the grass later. “Zer wasser, so kolt, you sink?” he says, miming shivering and pointing at her. 

“It wasn’t as cold as yesterday,” she shrugs, stripping her wetsuit off one limb at a time, then toweling each arm and leg as soon as it touches the air. “I didn’t mind it.”

The German directs his gaze over the water, feigning nonchalance. “Me neizer.”

These five minutes of bonding over the coldness of the water appear to be the highlight of his day. She hops on her bicycle. He beams at her as she rides away. 

There’s a babysitter in the park. The kids’ parents are probably doctors — who else would need a babysitter when everyone’s working from home?

“Vivian, Grayson, don’t get too close to the other kids,” the babysitter calls. 

When it came to naming their children, wealthy Americans used to get creative. Their history books are full of Ebenezers and Theodosias and Adlais and Zipporahs and Rufuses. If baby names offer any indication of parents’ desires for their children, wealthy Americans of yesteryear sought to build a radical new society staffed by people with futuristic names. But listen out for the names their wealthy descendants give their children nowadays: Vivian, Grayson, Fordham, Hazel. Vaguely regal remixes for their princelings and princesses. A generation not looking forward, but back. 

Cal Anderson Park, 2 p.m., Last Friday

We’re sharing a chile relleno on a grassy patch at the northern end of Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill, a blip of colour and grit in the northside’s mostly suburban sea. Posters on lampposts threaten landlords with rent strikes, stickers proclaim the support of “citizens for a bro-less Capitol Hill,” graffiti cheekily urges passersby to “be gay, do crimes.” 

I regret having a go at Vivian and Grayson’s parents, assuming they really are doctors. We walked past a hospital on the way here. Families lingered outside. Nurses in scrubs came and went. I looked up at the hospital. A cloud seemed to hang over the building.

What is happening in there? I thought.

Masks are more prevalent here as there are more people on the street. But the etiquette is still uncertain — do you only wear them inside stores, or all the time? Should we be walking into the road to maintain social distance on the sidewalk? The rules seem to change on each block, and infractions draw stern glares and furrowed brows above makeshift face coverings. For my part, I find it difficult to seem unthreatening to strangers with a scarf covering my smile. When I confided this to a cashier in a take-out restaurant the other day, she suggested I offer them a formal bow. 

At one point on the street, we pass a maskless man in rimless sunglasses speaking loudly into his phone. 

“I don’t know, I think tonight I’m gonna make a pandemic feast,” he hisses. “I want to cook up a big pot of virus spaghetti with… umm… epidermis sauce,” and he cackles like a hyena.

Back in the park, members of Seattle’s large unhoused community are also making the most of the sun, though Cal Anderson just ain’t big enough for some of these personalities to share. At one point, a nuggety bald man pursues a skinny old timer halfway across the park, shouting threats of violence. Something about a reference to jail. I tend to watch these exchanges closely — in this country, people get shot for less. It’s a tense time for those who sleep rough, with little access to information and potential contamination on every spare dollar bill. There are a few camps in our neighbourhood and lately I have noticed a lot more teenagers living there than usual. 

Before we leave Cal Anderson, however, we spot Seattle’s social distance hero. He’s wearing a cap over his greasy mullet, and a pair of white-and-pink rabbit ears over his cap. He shuffles through the grass, glancing at the people clumped on the grass in ones and twos. He’s carrying a bamboo pole over his shoulder, flying a small laminated sign like a flag: “Six feet of social distance.”

Wallingford, 6 p.m., Today

The air is warm and our windows are open. We’re reheating leftover veggie enchiladas when big band music starts up from somewhere. H calls me into the living room and points out the window. 

A boxy old pickup truck is crawling up Interlake Avenue with giant amplifiers in the back. A grey-haired guy wearing a soiled cap is pumping his fist out the window. The truck is draped in supportive signs. “We deserve a parade,” says one. A banner hanging from the back declares itself as the 

“SeattleQuar 
AntineParade”

I look down the street. People are wandering out onto the street. Kids on porches are wiggling to the music. Joggers are popping out their earbuds. Even some of the adults are dancing, though everyone’s careful to keep their social distance.

Things are bad in this country. 2,000 people have died every single day for the last month, and the nationwide curve has only risen — not dipped or flattened — in recent days. The callousness and sheer incompetence currently on display within some sectors of its government verges on the criminal.

But it remains a wonderful city. 

5 thoughts on “A Postcard From Coronavirus-Stricken Seattle”

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