It’s hard to believe that it was five weeks ago that Cherise and I went to a birthday party of a good friend with a dozen or so other people. As the party went late into the night, coronavirus was a popular topic, but it seemed like one of those things that would just eventually fade away. Even I thought, “hey, a lot of people are saying this is just like a ‘super flu’, so let’s just be safe and I’m sure we’ll ride it out and it’ll be fine.“ The previous week, my employer had banned all travel and I had assumed it was a little bit overkill. I accepted it as a precaution and figured that we’d be back in business a few weeks later. And hey, I could use a few weeks off the road anyway.
Little did I know that we would shut in for such a long time. I think I was prepared to quarantine myself just as a precaution for a few days, but it was only three days later when Governor Newsom made the call to enforce a shelter in place. That’s when it got real.
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise of sorts.
From a personal perspective, these last five weeks have actually been a relatively minor inconvenience. In fact, in some ways, it’s been great. I don’t know what it says about us, but I think we handled last five weeks better than we handled the 48 hours that we lost power back in the fall when avoiding fires for PG&E. Cut off my electricity & WiFi and I don’t know what to do with myself. Keep the electricity but make me stay indoors, and I can keep myself busy. Yeah, sports were cut off, but the Orioles were gonna be horrible this year and Georgetown was already out of March Madness. And besides, there is a new season of Ozark and Narcos:Mexico coming out. Thank you, Netflix. Sure, we’d miss Hawaii, but we’ve already been there three times and we eventually go again. The vacation timing was already a little tough for me with work, so maybe the delay wouldn’t be so bad. And I reminded Cherise not to look at the stock market. Let it go down, let it go sideways, let it come back up. We didn’t pay attention to it before and we won’t care about it now, no matter what the news tells us. I detest roller coasters in real life, and I sure as hell don’t like them when they are financial—and watching it isn’t going to help it.
In some ways, our family was built for something like this. We are all pretty much homebodies and never need to go out much. While we certainly enjoy our outings, a quiet night at home was just as fun as anything else. Iris and I would probably describe ourselves as introverts. In fact, there are a lot of things about the last five weeks that I’ve absolutely loved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s been a couple of moments where the stress may have hit us or we felt a little stir crazy, as any family would. And I imagine I’ve gotten on Cherise’s nerves or the girls’ nerves at some point. And there are moments when girls might clash, though it usually ends up with them cracking each other up. They razz each other to the point where I keep wondering when they went from being sisters to being brothers. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of more than a couple of instances where things came to a head, and the great memories far outweigh those. Personally, I feel a stronger bond with the girls, and I have seen new sides of them come out. They’ve made this time an opportunity to create. Iris continues her fiction writing, while Robyn continues to write code in Scratch. They’re experimenting with stuff, they’re trying new things in the kitchen (I’ve been the recipient of many a delicious dessert), they decided to make an Easter egg hunt for me and Cherise (after 14 years of us doing it for them), they’ve been picking up the slack in housecleaning since our cleaners can’t come, and they’ve been putting little hysterical Post-it notes around the house to randomly crack us up. Their latest thing is painting toenails and fingernails, first their own and then Cherise’s toes and mine. We’ve done our share of karaoke, including many renditions of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Hamilton Polka”. We decided, after watching many episodes of Shark Tank, to do our home version of Shark Tank where Cherise and I come up with businesses to pitch to the girls, and then they come up with businesses to pitch to us. It’s a level of creativity and showmanship that brings out the best in all of us. We’re even talking about creating “Investors University”, a spinoff of “Inventors University”. We’ve had a lot of deep conversations about life, everyone’s future, and just what’s important. Usually, by the time we finally get them to go to bed, Cherise and I spend the next half hour talking about how amazing they are and how we just love being around them. It’s a really profound time.
Meanwhile, my opportunities at work grew right before the start of the shelter in place and, a couple of weeks later, a reorg added new members to my team. In taking on the new responsibility as well as trying to help the company manage through an unprecedented situation with postponed and cancelled events, I’ve never been busier. I’m on constant calls, I’m working weekends, I’m staying up late, and I am waking up early in the morning with my brain buzzing. Some of the concepts I dreamed up for years ago are finally getting the opportunity to get implemented and used by tens of millions of event goers (well, when events come back). I’m in the middle of a career renaissance of sorts and it is easy to be oblivious about what’s going on around the world. Oh, and even being shut in, I’m still getting in my 10K runs and 70,000 weekly Fitbit steps and haven’t missed any of my fitness goals that I said the beginning of the year. So thanks for asking. I’m doing great!
And in a way, that’s what leaves me so confused.
I look at the numbers every day. You know the numbers. The number of infections. The number of fatalities. I take a couple of glances at CNN a day, trying not to do too many and get wrapped in it. I read the NY Times & Washington Post with the economic impact of layoffs. A couple of weeks before the pandemic, I read a statistic about how many families were one lost paycheck from serious trouble. Well, no one plans for a pandemic. And now, there are so many people who find themselves applying for unemployment. I often find myself stuck in the rabbit hole of Twitter. While inside is Shangri-La, I’m very aware of what is going on outside of our house and how tone deaf the first couple of paragraphs might sound to those who are struggling. I’m particularly pained when I see the numbers in New York and listen to Andrew Cuomo. The NY/NJ area will always be home to me. I imagine my father still being there and how I’d be worried sick for him right now to be cooped up in an apartment on the Upper West Side by himself, knowing full well that he would be extremely susceptible to coronavirus due to his asthma and other issues. Of course, as an immunologist who spent a lot of his time working on a epidemiology during his career, I can only imagine his take on this thing (I can hear his words in my head now)—and how much he would’ve loved Dr. Fauci. But beyond the hypotheticals of my late father, I am aware of the very real struggles of those that I still love and care about who are completely affected by the virus. I think of my oldest friend, who is struggling with the guilt as his sister is taking care of their parents, one of whom is recovering from a pair of strokes, and he has to stay distant. And then last week, I sent a text to another truly dear friend of mine on her birthday, with my standard comment that I hope she was “handling the quarantine OK”. Little did I know that she had contracted the virus herself, her boyfriend nearly died from it, and she lost three coworkers to it. An innocent birthday text turned into a horror show starring this special friend of mine. I spent the rest of the day in a weird state as my face was on Zoom after Zoom, but my head was in New York. Next year is my friend’s 50th birthday and she somehow managed to be optimistic enough to mention it in the texts. She alluded a trip she wanted to take to Nashville. I don’t care if it’s in Timbuktu. I’ll be there.
And I think of my brother who, as a doctor, is spending his days at the hospital and likely exposing himself to this stuff. I caught up with him a couple of weeks ago, but had to cut the call short to hop on a Zoom and didn’t get to ask how he was doing. A week later, I called him for his birthday and left a voicemail when I couldn’t catch him, and I had a moment where I wondered if he was OK. When I posted something on Facebook the next day, he commented and made a remark that he was proud of what I did in the post. Best comment ever. In addition to always wanting to make him proud, I’m just happy that he’s finding the time to flip through Facebook. Of course, maybe my reaction was helped by the fact that I just seen the movie “Onward” which I managed to hold in my crying (mostly) until the girls went to bed, and then spent 15 minutes weeping in gratitude of my older brother (what an amazing movie—literally got everything right that Frozen got wrong). Call me back, asshole!
And after all this, I see the conspiracy theories that suggest that this is all a lie, that this was an evil plan laid forth by the Chinese government, or that it was concocted by Bill Gates as a way to make more money. Because obviously, the guy that’s giving away tens of billions of dollars feels the need to profit from death and destruction. Seriously, fuck you all. I don’t like cursing in this blog, especially since I know that Iris and Robyn now know where it is and probably check it to make sure that I’m not saying too much about them. But I repeat, fuck you all.
And then I watch the most bizarre series of governmental decisions imaginable. Yes, friends and colleagues, I see you imploring me to not make a political and not play the blame game. “Let’s all be unified.” Sorry, but the lack of accountability and acceptance of failures are costing people’s lives only serves to prolong the pathetic response that the federal government shows. Speaking truth the power is the only way to change things. Fuck politics. I’m not concerned about November right now. I’m not concerned about who gets credit. I’m not concerned about egos. I honestly don’t care whose name is on the check. Just do your fucking job. So, to those of you who find the righteous path in telling me that this isn’t time to play the blame game, I remind you that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. So take your sanctimonious bullshit somewhere else, because it ain’t gonna fly here.
I sit here and I feel helpless. And busy. And proud. And fortunate. And guilty. And worried. And sad. And angry. But mostly, just helpless. We’ve tried to help financially by donating to a number of causes, including local food banks. We continue to pay our house cleaners and gardeners, even though they haven’t been here in several weeks. When I found out that a recent college grad who was doing some minor work on a side project for me had been furloughed from her job, I’ve paid her in advance. Way in advance. Cherise and I keep trying to get takeout from local restaurants and we’re tipping uniquely large amounts, the level that my dad would frown at me for doing (he was a pretty bad tipper). I’ve been spending time talking to people to keep their spirits up, including a couple of random college students that reached out to me in LinkedIn to ask for career or startup advice. One was an international student at Cornell who was stuck on campus dorm (couldn’t fly back to his home country) and one of two people in the dorm. Cornell can be a lonely place in normal circumstances, but with only one other person in the entire building, what he must’ve been going through was insane. But for an hour, we got to talk about live events, concerts, and the thrill of the business. I think we both got to forget about what was going on outside and it was nice. Last week, I did a webcast to 40 engineering students in India (led by my cousin’s son) as they all had their semesters cut short, but they were definitely up for a chat about entrepreneurship & Silicon Valley. We all know this pandemic would be over eventually, but I reminded them that they could be part of the solution to make sure we never go through this again—not to mention be the solution for our other challenges, such as Climate Change. Again, for a moment, it was nice to think about the world as better in the future. It can be. It should be. It will be. And it’s the kids in college today who will take this experience and do the most with it.
As I try to do these random acts of kindness, I want no credit and I deserve no credit. In fact, they’re probably more selfish than anything. They help me process the emotions and maybe ease the guilt or manage my role in all of this (“if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”). I want the girls to know that I’m doing these things. I want them to think about who’s on the other end of that generosity. I want them to think about how the inequities exist are most apparent when we run into these situations. They have always existed, but they’re most apparent when situations go to extremes. I want to remind them that they are insanely fortunate (which they definitely know). I want them to know that if this was two years ago, this might’ve jeopardized their college funds and even our ability to stay in this house. Instead, we’re thriving and it’s our responsibility to use that good fortune to think of others. None of really know how or when this is going to end. But as long as it carries on and we carry on, I just hope to personally find some balance of the emotions I have and keep finding ways of being a positive force while not allowing the guilt to completely destroy the pure thrill I get from this amazing family and job that I have.