My wife and I both get up inordinately early. A typical pre-plague morning has us up before the alarum peals at 5:10. As often as not, my wife (who is also a creative director) has an aspect of Ahab about her. She is banging away at her Mac in search of some elusive white whale, aka an idea.
Most typically, I hit my Mac around 5:20. I post a post I had written the day before, check my mail and social media accounts for any dumbness that simply must be attended to. Then I throw on whatever seasonally appropriate rags I have lying about and take Whiskey, my nearly eight-year-old golden retriever out for a walk on a Robert Moses-built promenade high above the murk of the East River.
If I'm lucky that morning, the sky will be clear and dark and the light pollution not too bad. I'll spot the planet of Venus winking at me and might see Arcturus of Betelgeuse or another celestial body I learned of so many rotations ago when I was stuck in a cub scouts' uniform in wood-paneled suburbia.
More often, I see the red green lights of a sturdy ancient diesel tug pushing two-hundred feet of barge slow against the current and out to sea. It must be the quietest job in the world out on a cold river on a cold morning with the hot burn of coffee in your stomach, your Shackleton turtleneck itchy against your ruddy skin.
Many years ago, I learned two things that have helped me cope with our current and who-knows-how-long office diaspora.
This was probably 1993 and I was at Ally & Gargano. They had promoted me and fired my boss, Ed Butler, because I was faster and cheaper. They made no allowance for Ed's reliably quirky brilliance. They preferred my speed and bludgeon. The rust in our industry had already begun to eat at our core.
I met Ed for lunch one day, he was out of work, me having assumed his job. We met at a coffee shop and he was on-time and immaculately dressed.
"You look great, Ed" I said as Dottie brought us our Adam and Eves, Whiskey down.
Ed rubbed his face pensively, took a forkful and said, "When you're unemployed, you get up early, you shower, shave and put on some decent clothing. Otherwise you turn into a bum."
That was a stern war-time upbringing talking but he had a point.
Holocaust survivor, psychologist and author Viktor Frankl wrote about his years in Auschwitz and remarked on how he always washed his face and combed his hair, even if he had none and had to use his fingers for a comb.
This post isn't about death and dying (for once.) It's about living in a world gone haywire. And in a way it's about upholding your standards and your values and your ethos no matter how much social distance we're told to keep or how many months we will seclude ourselves as we Mad Maxify Amerika as it slides further into its fetid Trumpian abyss.
I'm not quite getting up at 5:10 this days. But my calls start at 9, and I'm still blogging, still walking Whiskey, still working out.
Also still showering, shaving and, most important, showing up.
That's our obligation. That and occasionally smiling at a stranger or helping an old lady carry home her groceries.
That's what makes us human.