Not so very long ago, like in January, my wife and I went to work every day and our son was in Storrs starting his final semester as a senior at UConn. Now I’m unemployed, my wife is no longer working and the kid’s home from school, the three of us sheltering in place under differing circumstances.
All things considered, we’re thankful. Saddened, but thankful. The coronavirus catastrophe has affected us like it has all other Americans, but we aren’t complaining, because while life currently is dull, we’re healthy and have not seen our finances crater, thanks to state and federal programs.
These days I go for long walks multiple times a day. House fix-up projects are obvious, and at some point I may actually undertake them. There’s lots of time to think of the good old days (four months ago) and the new abnormal we’re all facing.
Back then I worked for trucking industry magazines and websites. Our Norwalk-based group was sold and then came cost-cutting layoffs. I’ve been working all my adult life (I’m 65), so at least I’d earned the unemployment dollars. Connecticut has one of the highest-paying rates, topping out at $649 a week for 26 weeks. With the then-recent robust economy, I wasn’t particularly worried about finding something new within a half-year. The wife’s job as a recreation employee at a senior living facility was rock-solid, and she had our family health coverage through her company.
Then coronavirus attacked. The Connecticut Department of Labor normally requires someone collecting unemployment to contact potential employers several times a week, to keep detailed records of each try, and to attend job-placement meetings. Once the virus came on strong I was told via CTDOL text that I no longer needed to look for a job or attend meetings.
As things worsened nationally but especially in New York City, with health care workers and hospitals overwhelmed and people losing jobs by the thousands, the feds took action with the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. What did it mean for me? An extra $600 a week through July, and a likely three-month extension of my state unemployment benefits. While the virus didn’t cause my job loss, it was keeping me from finding a new position, at least in the short term.
Next my wife was furloughed, joining me at home. The virus had and has been causing havoc throughout nursing homes and assisted living facilities, to the point where residents stopped mingling with each other in order to stay well. With no activities there was nothing for my wife to do there. Again, state unemployment benefits kicked in, along with the CARES Act add-on. And her employer graciously allowed us to stay on the company health care plan as long as she paid out what she did when working there.
So here we were, the two of us suddenly unemployed having nothing to do with job performances.
When I picked up our son at UConn for spring break in March, the virus hadn’t devastated society to the extent it soon would, but we decided to pack up all his stuff just in case. Good decision. Within days the school told all students not to return until notified. Soon it was Skype classes only for the rest of the semester.
In May his graduation ceremony was held online. He is our only child; to not be able to experience the joy of his college graduation in person was very upsetting. Seeing his name coldly scrolled on a screen for two seconds was another reminder of the damn virus’ toll. There is talk of a make-up ceremony in late fall, but who knows? UConn refunded us some money for the unused food plan and dorm expenses, but it was little consolation.
Now the three of us wake up each morning with nowhere to go, and not much to do. We’re grateful for the financial help. So many people are worse off than we are. The virus doesn’t care about bills. But there is a savings to being housebound; other than buying food, there’s little to spend money on. Parked cars don’t need gasoline, most stores are closed, thus no shopping, there are no concert or game tickets to buy, no traveling, no bar tabs or restaurant meals (other than take-out once in a while), etc. Even the washer and dryer aren’t as busy, saving water and electricity, since we’re all in comfy clothes, meaning multi-day-wear sweats.
I’m getting plenty of reading done. All those sections of The New York Times I rarely got around to? Go ahead, quiz me. Same with the Wall Street Journal. State officials have been issuing guidelines for easing restrictions so we’ll see how that plays out.
I coined a slogan for us and everyone else: “Don’t Go to the Virus.” Health is everything. If we can stay away from it as best we can, avoiding close contact with people, it will not come looking for us. So far so good. The boring life is fine for now.