On the 17th of May, Jake Watt left his home in a respectable town for a place in Upstate
New York. While the neighbors had known he would leave for a while, the reality of his leaving never really struck until the day after, when one could peak into the windows of his town house and could see absolutely nothing. I use the word struck because of the quite powerful struckness of the situation; something a little deeper in the town residents’ hearts was pulled when they’d glance at Jake’s strikingly empty house.
You see, Jake, although unfortunately a widower, had, in all other respects, “made it”. While he was only 32, he had climbed the ranks to the executive board of the marketing company he worked for and earned a steady and respectable income because of it. His income allowed him to move into the town with his wife 6 years ago, it allowed the townhouse, it allowed a nice yawn and two largish dinner parties. Even when the wife passed away pity could not overcome the inherent longing for Mark’s position in life. He was relatively young and he had money. He had everything.
And maybe that’s why the residents were struck the day they realized Mark’s house was empty. They had known weeks, maybe months before that Mark was planning to move. He talked about it all the time. He’d move upstate, he’d buy a large plot of land, and then become a beekeeper. He loved bees. He talked about bees all the time. And not that there’s anything wrong with bees, but becoming a beekeeper in New York seemed more like a passing fantasy when work got too stressful than any tangible reality. So for a long time, no one really believed Mark when he talked about bees, or his plans to leave the respectable town. It was silly. It was dumb. It was honestly a bit of a nuisance to hear about all the time. It had to be BS! But then he did it.
I tell you this because Mark was a bit like patient zero for a large epidemic. Mark’s move, and the symbol of Mark’s empty house, more importantly, made a quiet click in some of the town resident’s brains. The first people hit were the Clarks, both accountants at a big firm. Their whole life had been accounting. They both liked math in high school, they were both accounting majors in college, and they met at work. Then one day, they both quit their jobs, and announced via the town’s ‘Moms of [Town name]’ facebook group that they would be selling homemade jewellery. Then a few days later Sandra Collins quit her career as a lawyer so she could renovate her backyard to be fit as a sheep pen. “I like sheep,” she said. People were considerably more appalled with Sandra’s decision. Selling honey and Jewelry might turn out to be a relatively comfortable business model, but shearing at most the 10-20 sheep that would be able to fit in the Collin’s backyard might be one of the least profitable things a person could do in her town. It was insanity. Why would one give up a respectable income for the prospects of shearing sheep?
More and more well off adults in the town began to give their lives away for small, menial tasks that they “enjoyed.” If the whole fiasco stopped at that, maybe everything would’ve been okay. All the adults had savings they could live off of, so if they wanted to go off and do ceramics or whatever that would’ve been fine. The real problem was that all these adults making poor decisions began to influence the town’s youth. Young people don’t have any savings. Young people can’t afford risks.
It started top down. College students, seeing adults give up their lives, became encouraged to do so as well. Many, many, students dropped out. Some immediately picked up jobs as factory workers. “I find sorting things very peaceful,” one dropout said. Some others became janitors and maids, and explained to concerned parents that they found a certain inherent joy in making things that were once dirty clean. The ones that did stay in college started to pursue less conventional majors, ones that would not assure them a steady job and income as their parents had chosen (English majors). It was a complete and total catastrophe. Young adults, who had once had their nice, stable, future two fingers out of their grasp had now blown any possibility of ever living that future away. College students continued to drop out. Some wanted to travel and lose valuable years of their youth that they could’ve been gaining work experience. Some wanted to move to another country where the quality of life was “better.”
Still, the disease moved farther into the youth of the town. High schoolers began to care less and less about grades and more about their extracurricular interests. Students were now applauded for missing class to partake in political protests and even encouraged to miss class if they needed a mental health day. Students, who had no artistic talent at all, took classes like painting and drawing and ceramics in droves, even when it was not required. All was lost for them. How would they ever get into a good college now?
The worst part of this whole epidemic though, perhaps the reason the town could never be saved, never go back to how it once was, was when the sick ideas passed from Jake Watt to the adults, from college students to the high schoolers finally reached the children. Now, children have always had strange and hopeful ideas, but never before had they been encouraged by the older and wiser generations above them. The day this town was finally damned was the day children could dream free.
Personal space is well, personal. So why do I constantly feel my personal space has somehow become communal? Am I sending a signal that silently beckons, ”Please, please, really, come closer, let’s touch elbows.”
There’s a group of people who make it their sole responsibility to make me so uncomfortable I wish to never leave my house.
They are unavoidable because they are completely oblivious to the unwritten social rules of respecting the “bubble.” Now, I understand that there are circumstances where there is no escaping small spaces that are overcrowded.
For instance, take elevators. They are claustrophobic areas, to begin with. Now jam an abundance of people into them and you’ve created my nightmare.
The subway is also a notoriously stressful situation. The heat, the noise, the concerningly unidentifiable smells. My head pressed deep into the cave of a disgusting sweaty armpit.
Though I couldn’t be more uncomfortable pressed up against other humans in elevators and subways, I know that these situations are unavoidable. However, there are certain avoidable venues where having my bubble encroached upon just really grinds my gears.
Friday night, a big bucket of popcorn, a package of Swedish fish, and a whole theatre row to yourself. This would be paradise if the chatty first date couple chose a different movie. . . or a different row. Instead, you watch them take stock of the theater, walking down the aisle, pointing to available rows. You huddle behind your bucket of popcorn, but alas they plunk down precisely one chair away. God forbid they sit directly next to you. No, that would be too socially unacceptable. Instead, they think they’ve provided you a cushion from their awkward first-date laughs, and loud whispering. But nope, one chair is not an adequate respite. There is an entire empty row! It must be because they want to be close enough that if I don’t finish my popcorn, they can reach over and grab a handful for themselves.
Or, there is the movie patron who feels it is necessary to choose, of all the empty seats, the one right in front of you, so that you can spend the rest of the movie maneuvering your gaze around his large head.
As a new driver, I have discovered another annoying place that my space is invaded - parking lots.
I try very hard to find spots away from the crowd so that I can park in peace and not worry about other cars around me. I usually carefully execute a three-point turn, easing my car between the white lines. Why then, is it that I can come back to my spot only to find another car parked right next to me when there are abundant options elsewhere? Is someone hoping to catch me contorting my body just to squeeze into the driver seat? Or jump out at me when my car door gently grazes theirs to hold me accountable?
I didn’t think this would ever be a problem since there was an entire unused parking lot. But I have learned that personal space is not a universal value that is appreciated.
The pinnacle of space invasion is the public restroom debacle. Urinals are in the ultimate sanctuary of privacy. I am in a vulnerable position. The last thing I need is that guy who sidles up to the urinal RIGHT NEXT to me. Who does that? And worse, he has the audacity to give me the nod of companionship that is unique to male bathroom etiquette.
I want to say, “Dude, there are other spots that are available that give us some breathing room. Please - a little space!” Not to mention having an audience makes one have a little stage fright, shall we say.
The fact is, while I have learned to cope with this public privacy invasion pandemic, I avoid it when I can. I know there will be people out there that have no sense of boundaries and continuously trespass on my “me” zone. I can only hope that this hyperbolic rhetoric will educate the reader, so we can outrun this personal space race.
A DAY IN MY LIFE IN QUARANTINE
by Paige Berta
At the time I am writing this, I have not been outside in days -- not even for a walk
around my cul-de-sac. I have essentially been hibernating within my home for about three weeks
now, and that is, of course, due to the novel coronavirus. And after spending all of this time
inside, I am now bored out of my mind; so bored that I actually cleaned up my room for once!
Who even does that anymore? Although I actually have things that I need to do, like writing this
essay, procrastination always takes over. These tasks could have potentially cured my boredom
for a couple hours, but pointless ones are simply more appealing.
One of those things is watching copious amounts of Netflix. When I say this, I am not
exaggerating; at one point in this global pandemic, I watched an entire season of I Am Not Okay
With This in one sitting. And even though I have held back from watching trending shows such
as Love is Blind and Ozark, I couldn’t resist watching Tiger King. It is by far the craziest
documentary that I have ever watched, and I am completely baffled by the Tiger King himself,
Joe Exotic. To sum him up in one sentence, he runs a big cat zoo, is a convicted felon, and is a
self-centered polygamist with a mullet. Who wouldn’t want to watch a show on him?
And of course, another one of my pointless activities is sleeping. Ever since the
beginning of the quarantine, my sleep schedule has changed dramatically; I am now consistently
going to bed at around 2 a.m. and waking up at around noon. My parents don’t even bother to
say ‘good morning’ to me anymore, but rather ‘good afternoon.’ And when I get up, I don’t even
bother to get out of my pajamas -- I almost never leave the house now, so why should I put on
uncomfortable normal clothes? But the best part about sleeping in late is that most of the day has
already passed by the time I roll out of bed. So, I automatically cut out four or five boring hours
of my life, and make my day more a bit more bearable.
Now, I’ll admit that as the days roll by, I’m getting a little antsy. It’s crossed my mind
that it might actually be desirable to see my friends and teachers again in-person. And maybe
doing some homework wouldn’t kill me. Still, it’s not often that we have the opportunity to
engage in sloth with impunity. So, even though I barely did anything over break and rarely went
outside, it was certainly a productive one.
By Margaret Gregorich
Congratulations. Getting your driver’s license is a big deal. You might be 16 and a
half or 17, but either way this is a big moment for you. This is your chance to be
independent, to go anywhere you’d like to go with whoever you’d like to go with.
For the past 6 months or longer, you’ve been slaving away in driving class. Your
mind has become numb from the droning two hour lectures at least once a week. You’ve
suffered through painful one on one lessons with middle aged men with road rage who are
extremely frustrated with the fact that they have to teach you how to do a three point turn
on their Monday afternoon. Your parents have had to drive you everywhere- know your
every move, regulate your social life. Nonetheless, it was all worth it. Now you have it. You
have the shiny piece of plastic with your name on it and a picture of you looking way too
young and nervous to operate a multiple ton piece of machinery. No going back now.
Your first mission as a licensed driver has always been to pick up your friends and
drive all of you to your favorite diner. You know that this isn’t technically allowed within
the first year of having your license, but you shook on it. Once you’ve gathered them, you
take a deep breath and tighten your hands around the steering wheel. You know what
comes next. As you grow closer to the roaring sound of cars whizzing by at speeds you’ve
never even thought about reaching, your heart tightens in your chest. The highway. Your
biggest fear, your worst enemy.
You’re on the ramp, and your hands are unable to keep a tight grip because of the
sweat sliding across them. It’s too late to turn back now, and you know you promised your
friends. They can’t think you’re too scared to go on the highway, for God’s sake. You’re
sixteen and a half, basically a full-grown adult. You know what you’re supposed to do-
speed up, blinker, check blind spot, move in. You know the words, but somehow doing
them now seems to be an impossible feat. You’ve watched your parents and siblings do it a
thousand times, as though it was the easiest motion they’ve ever gone through. What if you
hit someone? What if you hurt yourself or your friends? What if you do it wrong, and they
It comes from the backseat. Hey, are you okay? You’re going 15 miles per hour on the
ramp, we thought this was going to be fun. Hey speed up. Go faster.
The pedals at your feet feel like 50 tons of metal. You see white paint, yellow paint,
dotted white, solid white, dotted yellow, solid yellow. There’s too many colors, especially
compared to the blinding blue of the sky above. You look down to make sure your feet are
still there. What about your legs, are they still there? They are. Are they moving? You think
so. Hey, speed up.
This is what you were most excited for on your sixteenth birthday. This. You will
join the sea of cars speeding past you on that never ending stretch of pavement. You will
travel at those mind crushing speeds. You will.