I started working from home last fall. I’m a technical analyst for Dell working in the global command center. That means I’m the guy they keep around to deal with high-complexity failed service dispatches. The global command center is kind of a fishbowl environment, and in front of us we always had several enormous TVs so that we could monitor emergency or disaster situations. Two of those TVs stayed tuned to CNN all day long. I’m a melancholy person and I found that the continual diet of doom and disaster that CNN broadcasts was getting to me. Now my workspace is the dining table. I am so much more peaceful and centered when I don’t have to listen to the world falling apart in front of me.
I have lung damage and so I really, really cannot afford to get a respiratory infection. I have this industrial respirator that makes me look like something out of Mad Max. The damage happened when I was a small boy. I was four and I caught an awful case of pneumonia; I was very close to dying from it. I spent days and days in the hospital, and when I finally came out I had asthma that would knock me out. So that’s been my life. I have no memories of being a healthy normal being. Fortunately, I am a pretty introverted person so not having a lot of outside contact is okay.
Since the pandemic started, I’m not running as many errands as I did before. I’m not going out to restaurants. I’m not going out to have a beer with a friend. I’m not going to drive out to Taylor or Elgin to go antiques shopping. I’ve lost all those things for now.
I put the sign outside in February as all the fuss was just starting to come up. I went over to the neighborhood sign shop on North Loop and asked them to make the sign for me, ’cause I didn’t want to just isolate myself completely, you know? I sit there and every day I open the curtains and I watch the neighborhood go by. I figured, well, maybe I can get people to wave hello and that’ll be something. Maybe I can get to be known as the guy who waves.
I have a little cadre of regulars who I expect to see every day, and then there are the more casual ones who come by at intervals. I’ve had two or three people stop and want to know if they could take pictures of the sign. I always say yes.
There’s a couple and their toddler that come by pretty much first thing in my morning, like 7:15—I call it taking the baby out for an airing. Then I have walkers and runners throughout the day, all ages. I see lots of dog walkers. Mostly the women are the ones that wave. I don’t know whether they’re better socialized or what.
A couple weeks ago a family that I have now learned lives a couple blocks from me stopped outside. It was a mother and a boy and girl, and the boy and girl held up drawings that they had made for me, each with a short letter written on the back. They said, “Hi, we like seeing you and waving as we come by,” and they told me everybody’s names. They were such nice letters that I wound up writing a reply and put it out on the sign. A couple days ago they came by again. I went out so we talked for a few minutes then.
There’s an older couple who comes by a couple of times a week and we’ve had a couple conversations through the window about the barbecue I have sitting out front. I moved the smoker to where it is so that when I’m going to cook barbecue, I can set up a card table with my personal laptop on it on a Saturday. I’ll sit out there and tend the fire and surf on my laptop, and then when people walk by I say, “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “How are you.” If it’s somebody I do happen to know, then we might talk about whatever’s going on and how their lives are going.
I do get lonely. I’ve been trying to reconnect with some friends using Zoom or Duo or some kind of other application where we can sit and talk and see each other. The sign lets me engage with the neighborhood a little bit. I can’t go out and talk to them but I can at least feel like they’re acknowledging that I exist.
Usually it’s the ones who are absorbed in their phones or tuning out the world listening to music who don’t wave. They keep going and just look straight ahead—never to the left, never to the right—and sometimes I’ll wave at them anyway just to see if they pick it up. But they rarely do.
When work time is over, I close the curtains, and that’s kind of a signal: “All right. We’re gonna relax now.”
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