A Week in the Life of Forging Ploughshares: Movies and Pizza in Quarantine

Faith and I woke up to the realization that we have the Coronavirus, again. I noted that the children are raised, the cars are paid off, so we need not prolong the end. After several strong cups of coffee, I shake the disease, one more time. By the end of the day we are both recovered but morbidity cycles through on most days.

After two weeks of intense not dying, Faith was determined to celebrate by actually leaving the house and getting carry out pizza.  Not wanting to dampen her enthusiasm but also wanting to subtly point out the risks, I compared it to the fun of eating Japanese fugu – also a potentially poisonous meal requiring a respirator, I pointed out. She thought I was joking, so I noted the great cleanliness we could expect from Moberly teenagers. “I am sure they wipe their hands thoroughly on the pizza boxes after sneezing on the pizzas,” I assured her. She was determined to eat pizza, even if it killed us. So, we donned gloves, masks, and drove to Dominos to die.

 I cracked the window slightly at the drive thru and I could detect the amusement of our Pizza Attendant. We live in a bright red state in what is proudly advertised as Little Dixie, so just a hint of precaution marks you as communist. Two old people wrapped in masks and gloves and driving a Prius clearly was opportunity for red-baiting fun. He leaned out the drive thru window and twisted his head so that he could breathe into my face through the crack, “How are you folks today,” he leered. I quickly turned my head to limit the viral load, which only caused him to lean closer to spray me as I ordered. When he brought our pizza, it required that I lower the window and he squeezed the upper half of his body through our window and pretended to cough.

 Faith did not notice any of this but just seemed delighted to have pizza, so I muted my “pie of death” musings.  She took the pizza out of the box before bringing it into the house, as Dr. Fauci had apparently ordered us to do (a procedure only top immunologists must understand). We decided we would take a break from all of the bad news and cheer up with a documentary – Tiger King, sounds like Lion King, only in Oklahoma. There is a certain comfort in watching total chaos in the midst of a pandemic while eating Corona with extra cheese.  

Joe Exotic may not fit most people’s image of Oklahoma but, at least in my experience, he is pure Oklahoma.  The Barnum and Bailey Circus used to set up near our house in Ponca City, where we lived just off the runway of the airport (my father would taxi his little purple Stinson home to our front door). Some of my earliest memories are of playing with the circus children and eating breakfast with the tallest man in the world, the sword swallower, the fat lady, and the human cannon ball.  A guy with a mullet and tigers is a perfect, even nostalgic, distraction from the pandemic, pointing to normal chaos – murder for hire and feeding the tigers old meat and husbands.  

The fragile nature of the human condition may be the singular lesson of the moment, accentuated by what became our docuseries binging. McMillions traces a happy enough sounding scam – the McDonald’s Monopoly game scam – which lasted from 1989 to 2001 and implicated the million-dollar winners in the McDonalds promotion. Some 50 different winners and middle men were implicated when it was discovered Jerry Jacobson, the head of security for the agency that ran the promotion, was stealing and selling the winning tickets. No one noticed the early winners were all from the East coast, of Italian extraction and interconnected with the Colombo Family. The obvious lesson of the series: ill-gotten gain wrecks the life of everyone involved – even the lives of the innocent. The entire economy now feels like a failed Monopoly game.   

The singular story of moral hope we watched is portrayed in a morally hopeless setting.  True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, follows Bryan Stevenson’s saint-like endeavor to rescue death row inmates from execution through his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative. His summing up of the criminal justice system is that it “treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.” The film’s depiction of slavery, lynching, mass incarceration, and the wrecked lives, even of those Stevenson rescues, speaks of the enduring two-hundred-year-old disease of racism.  The film also documents Stevenson’s role in the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, dedicated to the more than 4,400 African American victims of lynching. The American legal system and the American economy are clearly a rigged game – perhaps too dirty not to fail.  

 We have maintained a degree of normalcy through the little screen, with Zoom church, Zoom classes, and Zoom book club. The constraints of electronic fellowship accentuate the loss of a group dynamic, no shared atmosphere, no eating together, but there are also advantages. Erin and Beret in Hawaii and Jino and Beshia in India are able to join us for book club. Jino described the extremes of police chasing him with a bamboo cane one week and the next week they dressed up in Coronavirus costumes to try a gentler approach. “That’s India,” he explained cheerily. They have succeeded in clearing the streets, but Jino looked out his front window to discover water buffalo have now replaced the people. When I told Jason this, he said he could relate as the yaks and polar bears are now a real problem in Atlanta – he may have been thinking of Lost and the days we could still share together in fictional apocalypse.  

Now the only person, besides Faith, that I see is Michael, who still comes to work in the Ploughshares community garden. We are judging the success of the garden by Michael’s health as he is determined to live on what grows in our little plot. So far things are looking pretty slim but strawberries, lettuce, onions, and potatoes are springing up and have survived two freezes. Michael walks across town to get to the garden and I was glad to see he was wearing a full mask – not that I thought it would protect him from the virus but it would hide his Asian features from local Dixie confederates.  In the few days he has worked in the garden he has cultivated relationships all around – sipping tea on the porch with the neighbor, daily talks with the preacher walking his dog. His generosity of spirit shines all around. Maybe truth and fiction are being sifted; maybe people are already more considerate.

Jino says the air in India is cleaner than ever, and I hear Los Angeles is now smog free.