I’m staring at my blue/grey appointment book, sitting forlornly on the computer table. It’s small enough to fit in my shirt pocket. Stamped on the cover in gold letters is the year 2020, just below the place where I’ve attached one of my address labels. In normal times, I’m terrified that it might wander taking with it the road map of my entire work life, so I’m hoping that address label will serve like an embedded dog chip and steer it back home.
I’ve taken a lot of ribbing over the years for relying on this antiquated method of scheduling my appointments when I could do what most folks do these days and assign my iPhone to the task. If I was a betting man, I would wager on my ability to dig up the details of an upcoming appointment or school visit faster than an iPhone-wielding colleague. It’s been working for me for all 25 years I’ve been in Chicago. Every September, I arrive at the page in the appointment book that reminds me that reminds me that it’s either time to head to Home Depot for next year’s edition or take the lazy route and mail in my order.
When I sit at my desk, I can see in one almost inaccessible corner, 24 of these little books awaiting the arrival of the 2020 book. They contain the story of a quarter century of work- meetings, parent conferences, classes, school visits, Xed out holiday dates to remind me not to overzealously schedule anything on those days, trips to conferences, more meetings. I’m not really sure why I keep these books. I may have looked at them twice in all these years to confirm the date of a particular event. Otherwise, they will be fodder for some future anthropologist exploring the work lives of 20th and 21st century professionals.
For a guy who has been retired for six years the pages in those books have continued to tell a story of coffee shop meetings with friends, former colleagues and mentees. What gets inscribed is more under my control than it was when I was drawing paychecks from places that had bought the rights to my time. I loved that work, but it came, as all jobs do, with an irreducible amount of less appealing time sucks like unnecessary meetings and report writing. Those are gone now, and I’m left with only what I want to do – classrooms I want to visit, people I want to see.
But wait, I’m writing in the present tense when the reality is that now I flip through weeks and months of blank pages in my little book. The frequent ZOOM meetings that now occupy me are inscribed on a wall calendar next to my computer. When you’re not going anywhere, there’s no need for a pocket-sized way of keeping track of your commitments when you’re on the move, so the appointment book, like so many distressed workers,
has been furloughed.
As I head toward my 81st birthday, the question is whether that furlough will end in time to change the zipped-up routines of my current life. It looks like the suicidal calls to open restaurants, parks, beaches, factories, even massage parlors will insure a second and third wave of infection, demanding more lockdown time, particularly for people like me in the most vulnerable categories. My life in confinement is far from terrible. There’s food, financial security, time to read, write, time to keep up with friends and family with greater regularity than was ever possible before. There’s so much to watch that we’ve taken to keeping lists and checking off viewed items as if they were homework assignments.
But the prospect that this is the way things will be from here to the end is terrifying. Will we ever go to the theater again, enjoy restaurant dinners with friends, feel comfortable shopping for our own food, function without mask and gloves, visit a classroom free of fear of infecting or being infected. Younger people will surely see a time when normal life is restored, just as previous generations did after the second and third waves of the Spanish flu pandemic had played themselves out. But for me and my age mates the world is closing in. We may already be living the end game when there won’t be a need for that little appointment book stamped with the year 2021.