The Essay

The Essay: No Place Like Home

By Frank Holland

Illustration by Ryan Johnson.

Welcome to our home! It’s so nice of you to join us for this Zoom dinner party on such short notice. You can leave your jackets anywhere you want. Please, sit down! Can I offer you literally nothing? Great!

I see we have two more guests arriving; I’ll just head over to the virtual foyer and let them in. Tony! Caroline! So glad you could make it. What’s this, you brought a bottle of wine? How thoughtful! Just hang on to it and we’ll pick it up when we see you in 12 to 18 months, or never. On second thought, you better just uncork it and drink it now. What’s that? You’re on mute. Still on mute, sorry. Maybe try exaggerating your facial expressions as you sip so we get a better idea of the finish.

OK! Who’s ready for the tour? We’re so excited to show you what we’ve done with the place since the world began collapsing all around us. We’ll start here in the living room. As you can see, our new motif is “hand grenade thrown into an antique shop.” This is because we have three children under the age of 10 whose existence has been largely confined to this house since mid-March. It’s what I imagine must be happening beneath that giant steel-and-concrete dome on top of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Don’t mind the plume of acrid black smoke behind the TV and the whiff of melted plastic; that’s just our internet router. It’s cranking at 0.5 past the speed of light for 15 hours a day in order to facilitate Zoom work; Zoom kindergarten; Zoom second grade; Zoom fourth grade; obsessive Google searches for “managing anxiety” and “air quality Bay Area”; fun-in-theory/not-in-practice Zoom social engagements; and Netflix, which we use to mainline early episodes of The Office after our children go to bed because on-demand, socially distant lobotomies are not a thing.

As you can see, our new motif is “hand grenade thrown into an antique shop.”

The dining room has become school. School is also the children’s bedrooms. Our back patio occasionally becomes school. And the basement. School is everywhere and nowhere, a shapeless, swirling miasma of bespoke learning platforms and arcane communication tools that pervades every square inch of our current existence. Do not confuse school with education. Welcome to school!

Dinner isn’t quite ready, so let me get you — I mean, feel free to get yourself — another drink.

Onward to the office! Now, we’ve really spent a lot of time working on this space since the pandemic began. It began as a simple space with good natural light, handsome bookshelves and a comfortable desk. Now it does triple duty as a home gym and screaming room. And let me tell you, it really is a great place to scream; just ask my 5-year-old. Our old routines are out the window, but at least now I can spend a few minutes each day at my desk contemplating the nightmare hellscape we all now inhabit. I think this is called mindfulness.

I’m sorry, I should have asked: Does anyone need to pause the tour to use the bathroom? If so, please remember to turn off both your video and audio. OK, great.

Now, this is an addition we’re very excited about. We call it our “breathing room.” It used to be a closet, but we’ve packed it with a half-dozen HEPA air purifiers and a white noise machine set to “waterfall.” We go in here during wildfire season when the AQI turns purple. This is where we spent the second half of August, just doing some old-fashioned family oxygen consumption, tending to our respective Zoom lives, and contemplating a move to New Zealand.

OK! It looks like dinner is ready, so let’s make our way to the kitchen. This is where we make all of the things that don’t come close to approximating the experience at our favorite restaurants, most of which have closed indefinitely. You can see that our pantry and refrigerator are both stocked with items that were unobtainable early in the pandemic. Like my great-grandmother, whose psyche never fully recovered from the Great Depression, we are now prepared for the next time our local Trader Joe’s begins to look like a Soviet grocery store from the late 1980s.

Please forgive us for not taking you through the kids’ rooms upstairs. You would not like these
rooms. I do not like these rooms. They are governed by entropy, filled with untold thousands of Legos and unflattering caricature drawings of me attempting to maintain my last shred of sanity while the external world is reduced to the size of an iPhone screen.

We’ll be eating outside tonight, except we won’t, because I know enough about Victorian chimney sweeps and coal miners to understand that black lung is something to avoid. So, we’ll just grab our plates, head back into the breathing room, and turn on this virtual Zoom background of our back patio. Nice, right?

And that concludes our tour! It’s amazing to think about how much the place has changed in less than a year. When 2020 started, it was just a house. Today, it’s so much more.

Frank Holland is the Gazette’s executive editor.

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