Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

May 12: Dr. Anthony Fauci warns of unnecessary “suffering and death” if governors reopen state economies too soon. “[Dr. Fauci] wants to play all sides of the equation. I think we’re going to have a tremendous fourth quarter,” states the President during a media briefing in response to a question about Dr. Fauci’s warnings to the Senate HELP Committee earlier in the day. “[W]e are opening our country. People want it open. The schools are going to be open.” A federal judge holds up the DOJ’s attempt to drop charges against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security advisor who admitted to lying to federal agents during their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The California university systems cancels in-person classes for the fall semester.

Contributors' Voices

Now it’s just old hat, this gearing up for a store. Any enclosed space demands vigilance.  The stiffening gloves, the masks, the spray bottle of bleach and water beside me in the passenger seat.  A moment of breathing, then out the door focused and highly aware. Too aware. For the Bud Light guy doesn’t give a shit, even smirked at me getting out of his truck.  No matter.  Press on, get my groceries, and leave him to Hannity. 

That first night of hysteria, near my birthday, was hellish. As in a twisted tier of some Stygian keep.  Done with work as my academy shut down, I raced to Kroger to get some groceries, my imagination, as ever, exponentializing the worst.  I knew I probably had a couple of days, a swift window of freedom before the virus fell like the Atlanta pollen upon every surface.  The virus would coat everything, stubbornly clinging and creeping into every nook and wrinkle of reality.  We were fucked I assumed. So, as darkness dropped and a jobless stretch of financial ruin loomed ending in an intubated lonely death, I attempted to simplify: get my groceries, get home, and get planning.

Nothing simple about it.  As the sliding doors opened, mud trails led into a sulfur-colored underworld.  Packages littered the aisles, wild-eyed people raced about shoving overflowing carts, the overhead speaker rang clean-up announcements over the din.  For it seemed loud, crazed, a cacophony of demons pressing into my head as the full weight of the moment pressed onto me.  There was nowhere to run.  Nowhere to go.  It was already everywhere, here on the cart handle, there on the oatmeal box on the floor, drifting like a swarm of midges around each and everybody bearing down on me, eyeing me, seeing if I am infected, if I am the one that will kill them, that will pass, like an invisible seed, finality to all their waking days.   

And then I saw him, the first masked person I had seen since I lived in Haiphong. There it is customary, the grit and polluted air forcing the Vietnamese to use any protection whatsoever to shield them from the economic and ecological erosion bearing upon each moment.  Here, though, in Dunwoody Georgia, one of the most insulated and affluent burbs of Atlanta, a mask spells apocalypse.  A gray-haired old man, he sternly pressed by me, watching me as I watched him.  So that’s how it’s gonna be, I thought, each second beyond the home racked by paranoia, fear, and a crushing anxiety.  Death hung suspended within every moment, each breath possibly the beginning of the end. 

A seasoned veteran now, though, I enter the Kroger decisively, my mind already navigating the aisles to efficiently minimize my time. After a month of precaution and common sense, Georgia is now reopening and its insanity is back….exponentialized.  For the majority of shoppers and some workers are unmasked, walking around as if the virus is gone, simply disappeared as Trump said it would and everything is back to normal.  Distance is grudgingly agreed to now, grim-lipped men stare at my get-up, and I feel oddly exposed, my mask and gloves now not protection but a placard that I support Pelosi, that I voted Hillary, and that I hate America and want to destroy the economy to hurt Trump’s reelection chances.   

Maybe it’s projection, maybe it’s not.  I don’t know much of anything anymore, the uncertainty as seemingly boundless and complex as the virus itself. Will militias begin to patrol the streets here as this prolongs, will the cops join them, will this militance divide, as everything does here in America, along racial and political lines and find black cops against white cops, black militias against white, militias against cops, the rest of us caught in the crossfire as the National Guard and maybe the army itself is called in?  Will even the military split along the fault line of Trump? 

This uncertainty of who is us and who is them is crippling me.  Simple courtesy is becoming difficult, and I attempt to maintain a polite demeanor yet am forced to minimize all contact with people.  So in a nasty feedback loop, the divide widens and a lot of people are left isolated and prey to their growing paranoia.  With this heightened loneliness in an already lonely nation, the inevitable conspiracy theories find fertile ground, social media and talk radio piping in from beyond to fill the void of companionship and, sadly, any true literacy.  For let’s face it, the numbers who truly can read, have the mental stamina, time, and focus to really dig into an essay, are dwindling…possibly exponentially.  Twitter, memes, soundbites, etc all speak to a dumbed-down, doped-up culture easy prey to any narcissistic, power-mad individual that might pop-up to exploit them.  And he did.  And now we have a pandemic. And we are fucked. 

So, we now are not only fighting a physical virus but a spiritual virus. And this one is insidiously deployed through the ubiquitous media we’re ensnared in to maintain power structures and values enshrined within American myth and nestled like a snug gun in the mind of the GOP. Conversation is impossible; I am of the elite and they are entitled to their opinion.  So no matter how many facts, examples, data I deploy in whatever little conversations I am having with them, they have rebuttals and data from their experts.  And the theories proliferate exponentially, social media a vast vector snaking across the globe, invading homes, coiling into phones, and infiltrating minds, each culture and subculture, all communities prey to this ever-expanding delirium of possibilities, truth and reason and mundane reality itself now buried beneath layers upon layers of narratives and perception, Babel incarnate. 

And the loop-de-loop tumbles on. Us vs them.  Neighbor vs neighbor.  Who is with us and who is against us. 


So even efficiently moving thru the Kroger, my mind spins in the same tired ruts.  I think of Dickinson’s lines, “The Brain, within its groove”, and am saddened at how easily my mind spins upon the same old themes.  The isolation of this particular time, the dropping off of friends due to politics and the lack of students/work, no family, no real home except a cascading series of rentals, my lack of ambition, the poverty, wandering and continual grind of alcoholism…. 

For the more fertile offshoot of this seeming pause to our lives has been the immense amount of introspection and self-appraisal that hopefully is taking place.  I say hopefully because I don’t know what other people are thinking, how much time they spend examining their lives, how much they too are just grinding through and seeking answers and comfort within their social and social media networks. The pressing sense, though, of an imminent demise, that this truly is the End Times, has sharpened perception and memory, each moment intently focused on the now while simultaneously opening up long hidden channels into my past, my mind (again like Dickinson) cleaving into twined strands of the past and present, memories surfacing like acid flashbacks to overwhelm consciousness then drift away, seep away like dreams.   

The night of my birthday, the 19th, was extraordinarily powerful. With traffic slowing considerably, I went out for a pleasure cruise through the north Atlanta suburbs, a labyrinth of lush vegetation with bursts of blooms scattered thru the woody, winding ways.  I wanted to be drawn back into my childhood, my days spent at Chastain Park where my parents were heavily involved with the sports leagues there.  Days spent as the Goob, as the dirty, squirrelly little kid everywhere and nowhere, lost within whatever worlds inhabited my head each day.  And nothing has changed.  I drive down Lake Forrest, remembering the plunges into the thickly overgrown ravines to collect errant golf balls, the games of war and pretending to be the Three Investigators, the incredible adventures Isaac and I went on exploring the boundaries and depths of the sprawling park.  For then the world was huge, a creek an exotic river, a copse Sherwood Forest, a lone deer mythic with its appearance.  And nothing has changed.  I have been all over the world, can’t stop rushing about the world, an incessant need for adventure disrupting any semblance of respectable normality.  I am still everywhere and nowhere, still the Goob, and I moved through that night like a cloaked interloper of my past, peering from my car drifting thru the quiet streets upon childhood friends’ homes, old parks where we played, my childhood and adolescent schools, creeks and slivers of forests where we lost ourselves, each and every turn and bend of the seemingly innumerable roads opening swaths of my formerly unrecoverable past, my life unspooling out before me with deep, clear memories.  I thought this must be what it’s like to die and your life flashes before you. This was no flash, though, but a cool, dimlit, long-drawn hours ride, a phantasmagoric plunge through time and memory like a grotesque, nostalgic version of Monster Plantation at Six Flags.  A slow cruise through my Atlanta days only to recognize and confirm that whatever monsters exist or did exist or will exist have only been created by me, nurtured by me, coddled by me. No matter how I twist it, no matter where I wash up, no matter how all this ends, it’s been a beautiful life, an enchanted life, a worthy life….. 

 Yet no end is near, faint stories of people stricken by the virus reaching me, 2 degrees removed, a former teacher’s daughter the only person I’ve really known to have caught it.  How is that possible? How is it that this scourge hasn’t reached me?  Why is my north Atlanta, fairly wealthy milieu impenetrable?  And the news and data keep spilling grim numbers and stories, an amputated leg for a Broadway star, a bodybuilding nurse transformed to a skeleton, a rural county barraged by a body count, the Worldodometer numbers churning up and up and up incomprehensibly.  Barely anyone in this Kroger is coughing or even remotely looking sick.  Is all this truly hullabaloo? 

The brain within its groove…. Others seem to be really diving into their work and creativity during this.  I can’t seem to get past the futility of it all, this incessant narcissistic jabber of look-at-me and see-what-I-am-doing, the celebrity quarantine performances and virtuous messaging of stay at home, flatten the curve, and find “love and light in these dark, unprecedented times”.  Even before all this, I began a poem about Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, seeing it as an apt metaphor for the idea of an ever-expanding economy and the technology/social media that will sustain it.  Like everything else in my life, the poem hangs unfinished, incomplete, everywhere and nowhere, like the painting of the tower itself.  For fluidity is what I see and know, the ability to shift and be whatever I want to be at whatever moment.  Nothing staked down, no list of identity markers on my Twitter page, no plaques of accomplishment lining my walls, barely any possessions to show for 47 years of shifting shiftless days.  Everyone and no one…..everywhere and nowhere.  Like the virus that drifts, settles, replicates, and then sinks within its host only to drift, settle, and replicate….just beyond the borders of my circle, everywhere yet nowhere, closing in, coiling and twisting in some demented gyre around the summit of its proliferant spread to ultimately, ineluctably, reach ME. 

And that thought horrifies in its immediacy.  That with years of smoking and a weak right kidney from a congenital UPJ obstruction I will probably go under with any large exposure.  That no matter how much I exercise and drink water and take supplements and stretch and breathe deeply and laugh and meditate and read and hike that the years of abuse, addiction, and stress have taken their toll, have chipped away at my health all for this moment, for this virus that seeks, like me, the path of least resistance and flows ineluctably into our weakest vessels.  And we are all vessels, the Earth one vast organism spitting out an organism feasting upon our ill health, our processed food bodies and flabby girths easy meals, fast food quickly consumed and discarded.  This here existence, so fraught with beauty, possibility, and grace, now only fit for its consumption, the ouroboric gobblings of each upon each upon each until all nooks are filled, all niches finally reached….     

And the exhaustion with it all only deepens as I push my laden cart to the car.  Physically, mentally, spiritually exhausted, madness ubiquitous.  I will try to enjoy my walk later, will try to enjoy the birds, trees, and squirrels, will try to find any spark of inspiration that might prompt me to finish what is ever unfinished, will try to discover any splinter that might set me off on a new track and release me from this groove, yet the rut seems too deeply-furrowed, so thoroughly set that a profound despair seems to be all there is and all there will ever be.  For the loonies have taken over and I can’t help but feel we are fucked.  

So, spraying down my packages to the amusement of the pinch-faced lady in the car beside me, I churn and twist on this ceaseless spool of thought, my mind, everywhere and nowhere, drifting, settling, and replicating only to drift, settle, and replicate, just another Babel coiling upward and inward, forever incomplete, forever unfinished         

—Matthew Chipman, teacher in Atlanta, GA

Read more

Reena Ninan, “Supreme Court hears arguments over Trump’s financial records,” CBS News (May 12, 2020),

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo Calls Chinese Coronavirus the ‘European Virus,'” Breitbart News (May 12, 2020),
John Yang, “Coronavirus pandemic threatens Flint, Michigan, with 2nd major health crisis,” PBS Newshour (May 12, 2020),

“Questions remain over handling of Ahmaud Arbery case after arrests are made,” Nightline, ABC News (May 12, 2020),


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Carr, Georgia Attorney General Christopher M. “Request That Georgia Bureau of Investigations Open an Investigation into Possible Prosecutorial Misconduct in Ahmaud Arbery Case,” May 11, 2020.
Bourouiba, Lydia. “Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19.” JAMA 323, no. 18 (May 12, 2020): 1837–38.
U.S. Congressman Ted Budd. “Reps. Ted Budd and Ken Buck Introduce Bill to Get America Back to Work,” May 12, 2020.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. “Payroll Employment down 20.5 Million in April 2020.” TED: The Economics Daily, May 12, 2020.

Droesch, Blake. “Five Charts: How Coronavirus Has Impacted Digital Grocery.” eMarketer, May 12, 2020.

Hendaus, Mohamed A. “Remdesivir in the Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): A Simplified Summary.” Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics (May 12, 2020): 1–6.
Social Media
Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.