I’m back in the big city. I have been floating in fluids since March — swimming pool, sea, or beer — and my skin was beginning to wrinkle. I have to go back to work, which, in my case, being a writer, consists of doing everything I can not to work.
Everything has greatly changed these past weeks. Many shops have closed for good, people walk around the city like they are crossing some inhospitable planet, and thanks to the mask nobody recognizes me in the street anymore. Before, it was exhausting going for walks in public, hearing yet again that cry, all too familiar to famous writers like yours truly, upon meeting our fans: “Hey idiot! Give me back my wallet! Help! Police!”
The proof that things have changed a lot in these months is that you used to get coronavirus on a dance floor and now you get it on the unemployment line.
I’d forgotten how wonderful urban life is. I wanted to see those beautiful traffic jams again, so I parked the car in a triple row, blocking the whole road in front of the underwear shop, where I took the opportunity to buy half a dozen pairs of underpants, having just binge-watched YouTubers demonstrating how to convert them into masks, just by folding them half a million times. I have tried it and now I write these lines trapped in my own underwear, which is wrapped firmly around my throat, and lifting the tip of my nose into a snout, and covering my mouth so tightly that it looks like I have laminated my tonsils. I may die of asphyxiation before I finish writing this, but that will be more dignified than calling the fire department and confessing down the line, “This is an emergency! I am trapped inside my own underwear!” Though I don’t expect the underwear being someone else’s would make things any better.
In this new post-Covid or pre-Covid city (depending on whom you vote for), I don’t miss seeing the faces of everyone else, except my eighth-floor neighbor, a beautiful air hostess, who now wears such a huge mask that I fear she might have decided to marry the owner of Emirates Airlines. Thanks to this new way of life I am learning to read people’s eyes. I just ran a stop sign in front of a petrol truck, almost crashing into it, and I read the look of love that the driver gave me perfectly. He said, “Watch where you’re going, you little idiot, or I’ll get out of the truck, slam your head into the tank and set it on fire.”
The proof that things have changed a lot in these months is that you used to get coronavirus on a dance floor and now you get it on the unemployment line. I don’t understand why businessmen choose to close their businesses when they can get into fights with their clientele making them put their masks on, spend a million dollars installing hundreds of automatic disinfectant gel dispensers, burn all the stock that has been touched or returned, and keep running advertising campaigns calling people to their stores to have them thrown out by a security guard so as not to exceed the maximum capacity.
After talking to some friends I have realized that the health situation is not so bad. I talked to the owner of the pub downstairs and he told me that cafes, pubs, and restaurants are the safest places out there, and that bookstores are the real problem. Then I called a friend who is a bookseller, and he told me that bookstores are the safest places around, and that the butchers are the problem. Later I met John, the butcher, and he told me that butchers are the safest place to be — unless you’re a cow — and that the hospitals are the problem. And finally I have been talking to Mikel, the immunological emergency doctor, and he has promised me that hospitals are the safest places to be, and that the morgues are the real problem. I have not been able to speak to Cindy, the owner of the mortuary, because she has just gone off on the most luxurious holiday of her life, traveling the world in her new private jet, probably celebrating that everything is so safe that she barely has a job at all.
Another thing that fascinates me about returning to the city is meeting the neighbors again and seeing that the guy on the fifth floor continues to progress with his do-it-yourself hobby and has kept old his habit of hammering at three in the morning, that the kid on the third floor is now tall like a man, every so often dresses up like a Japanese cuddly toy and fights loudly with his sister in some pseudo-Japanese language, or that the lady on the second floor maintains her interest in perfuming the inner courtyard with the 300 kilos of cabbage she cooks every day. I missed them. But not as much as they missed me, and my habit of throwing eggs at their windows, responding to the cabbage stench with Metallica at full volume, and suggesting to the third-floor teenager that the best way to get to know Japan is to go to South Sudan and rally for the country’s reunification.
The good thing about the city maintaining restrictions on indoor activities is that everyone is forced to go outside and do whatever they can. So in my once peaceful and inspiring evening walk, you can now be run over by a scooter, a jogger, a cyclist, a skateboarder, a crazy person crawling under a wire fence, or a damn stagecoach pulled by rabbits. Everyone is anxious and afraid of being confined again, so they have decided to take advantage, to go out all the time, to move around a lot, to the point that by nightfall the sidewalk looks like a circus and I am the drunk clown dodging a bunch of crazy people on wheels. I told my family about it at lunchtime, and they said that they agree completely, about the clown bit.
Without a doubt, the countryside is a wonderful place to spend your holidays. But after so many weeks doing thousand-hour hikes in high mountains, fighting carnivorous insects, and carrying tons of dry leaves and twigs on my back, I have better understood why one day I decided that I was to become a writer: what I really have a special talent for, an incomparable talent, an immense and definitive talent, is to sit on a terrace in the center of the city and drink beer while I watch everyone else rushing to work.
Itxu Díaz is a Spanish journalist, political satirist and author. He has written nine books on topics as diverse as politics, music, and smart appliances. He is a contributor to the Daily Beast, the Daily Caller, National Review, the American Conservative, The American Spectator, and Diario Las Américas in the United States, and is a columnist for several Spanish magazines and newspapers. He was also an adviser to the Ministry for Education, Culture, and Sports in Spain. Follow him on Twitter at @itxudiaz or visit his website www.itxudiaz.com.
Translated by Joel Dalmau
Illustration by Iñigo Navarro Dávila