The Sunday Magazine·Personal Essay

A COVID-19 confinement chronicle: week seven — Michael's essay

“The largest banks in the U.S. gave special treatment to their richest clients applying for federal aid. Everything is first class, while the small business owners applying for aid were stuck in steerage. I think that’s called socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest.”

'I think that's called socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest'

A playground in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Talin Vartanian/CBC)
Listen4:32

Self-quarantine, like Dr. Johnson's condemned man, focuses the mind. We entertain thoughts of freedom, of resuming a normal life (whatever that was) of meeting friends we haven't seen for a couple of months.

Those are the major obsessions. But we also get tangled up in small things which we once never thought about. In the early going, it was toilet paper for some. For me it has always been hair. 

If I don't get to a barber soon, my family will have to start cutting my meat and put me in a quiet room.

I look like Charles Manson. Or the Mad Trapper of Rat River. Or the Unabomber. Or "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Given the terrible conditions that millions are forced to confront, a haircut is not even on the list. It shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as people who've lost a job or gotten sick or are locked at home with small children.

But for some reason it has become a minor obsession. Is it vanity? Perhaps. Or maybe it's a kind of hirsute nostalgia for life two months ago.

My first destination upon release will be the welcoming shop of Joe the Barber.

Joe comes from a small village in middle Italy. He goes back every summer. He might miss the trip this summer. 

He has been barbering in my town for more than 50 years; I've been seeing him for about 20. When he celebrated his 50th anniversary, he cut his haircut prices to what they were half a century ago.

It's odd. I look forward to sitting in Joe's chair and letting him go to work almost as much as anything else.

A closed bookstore in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood displays a sign that reads: The Needs of the Many Out-weigh the Needs of the Few Or the One. It's signed Captain Spock Starfleet, Ancient Vulcan Philosophy. (Tahiat Mahboob/CBC)

Mask confusion. Should we wear one or not? Various medical advisories have differed over the past five weeks. At one point we are told the masks don't make much of a difference. Then we are told we should wear them when outside.

As I understand it, the mask is not for the protection of the wearer. It is to protect other people from any droplet possibly containing COVID-19. And which kind should we wear? Professor Mark Loeb of McMaster University has done a meta-analysis of worldwide mask testing. Dr. Loeb found that for the average person, it doesn't make much difference whether you wear an ordinary surgical mask or the special N95 respirators.

A Toronto group calling itself We Make Masks TO has had more than 1,500 requests for masks. Some 44 volunteer sewers have made more than 1,200 masks for the homeless and other people in need.

A message in large multicoloured chalk letters on the sidewalk outside a seniors' residence reads:

"THANK YOU HEALTH CARE WORKERS. WE ARE THINKING OF YOU."

A few months ago, I talked to Mark Carney, the first Canadian to be appointed Governor of the Bank of England. We talked about his new job as special advisor to the UN on climate change. 

But we also talked economics. This was well before the COVID-19 outbreak. In The Economist, Mr. Carney has some interesting things to say about the world post-pandemic. He argues that when world economies open up, they face a test of shareholder capitalism itself.

"When it's over, companies will be judged by how they treated their employees, suppliers and customers, by who shared and who hoarded."

Which is interesting when you learn in the New York Times that the largest banks in the U.S. gave special treatment to their richest clients applying for federal aid. Everything for them is first class, while the small business owners applying for aid are stuck in steerage.

I think that's called socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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