Downtime

Last Laugh: The Quarantine Chart

15 September 2020By Gavin Rothenburger
Illustration by John Devolle

I’ve never particularly liked to be breathed on. Somebody’s hot, humid, partially de-oxygenated, coffee- and kale-infused lung ejections has always ranked low on my list of things I like to have wafted across my face and, on the “things wafting across my face” scale, falls somewhere just above the warming burp of a dyspeptic Doberman.

Now, in case you haven’t heard, we have a pandemic going on and, though I hate to admit it, I’d rather endure a puff of canine wind from a bloated German Shepherd guard dog than have the mask-less, mouth-breathing, socially-undistanced charter guests huff one more breath up my nose.

The charter was booked as a means of “self-quarantine” where the group could safely isolate with a large crew of people in a confined space with suspect ventilation. They insisted that we have our brains stabbed by dollar-store cotton swabs that were thrust up our noses with all the subtle grace of a hammer attack to scrape out our precious but dwindling gray matter, and prove we weren’t infected. We were then required to quarantine aboard between the test and charter in order, I imagine, to guarantee our sanity was compromised before even getting started.

And then they breathed on us. They huffed, they puffed, and they spewed their stale airport-bar breath and spread germs like Petri dishes hurled into ceiling fans as they dove in for hugs, hearty handshakes, and slurry, sloppy “pleased to meet you’s.” The wafting was palpable.

All this was fine. Our provisions were delivered, we pretended the salon bar was our own and, generally speaking, didn’t get lost on the way home. But then the guests arrived, and things started to go wrong. Strange as it may seem, in my experience, I’ve found every charter I’ve ever done has gone swimmingly until the guests decide to show up and ruin everything, and in this case they did. We had 12 people embark, none of whom, as far as I could make out, had the least inkling of what masks were unless they thought masks were socks and meant to be worn on your feet.

And then they breathed on us. They huffed, they puffed, and they spewed their stale airport-bar breath and spread germs like Petri dishes hurled into ceiling fans as they dove in for hugs, hearty handshakes, and slurry, sloppy “pleased to meet you’s.” The wafting was palpable.

Quarantine to them, it seemed, was a social thing you did by nightly isolating with a large group of interchanging strangers on tightly packed patios while sampling each other’s cocktails. It’s needing to lean in close to speak because of the noise caused by everybody else having to lean in to be heard above all the leaning in. They would then be ferried back to the anchorage while having a sneezing competition instigated by the peppery pitcher of Bloody Mary a kindly stranger had given them.

Somewhere along the line, it became apparent that what was needed was some self-isolation from the guests who, with every trip ashore, seemed — short of finding a laboratory and bathing in anything marked “lethal contagion” — intent on catching the plague. Their natural friendliness would have normally been a nice thing but with this lot of close-talkers, it became a really infectious sort of friendliness liable to provide an uncomfortable bout of pandemic.

The interior crew begged to wear respirators and silver-service surgical gowns. Engineering tried to figure out how to fill the Hi-Fog system with bleach, while the captain, voicing his indignation and determination not to stand for it, mostly stood around agreeing with whatever it was he’d been told to stand for.

For my part, I was morally outraged, physically appalled, and forced to resort to my violent apathy by lethargically conceding that we were all, plain and simply, f*&%ed. Oh well.

I’m not in a high-risk group. Neither was the crew. That said, I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to be exposed to somebody who’s positive and spend weeks shackled to my bed and, most of all, I don’t want to be that guy wandering around with his mask on backwards asymptomatically infecting anybody but the captain who, we all agreed, could not stand for something by himself for a couple of months and leave us alone.

Like with fire drills, safety orientations, and throwing the deckhand overboard to simulate MOB situations, we need to keep ourselves and our guests safe. So far as I know, there’s no exercise that can be performed for virus training, save for practicing hexes and dramatically hissing at people entering our personal space. But we have to try: safe practice from crew and guests alike is probably more important than ever.

The charter finished, and the wafting came to an end. We all shambled off to again have a swab pile-driven into our frontal lobes and we’re now isolated on board. Any wafting air now comes from the legionnaires-infested oxygen from our own AC and there’s nothing to do but wait for results, quarantine at the salon bar, and when someone sneezes, make-believe it was the peppery Bloody Mary.

This column is taken from the September 2020 issue of Dockwalk.

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