I’m a Quarantine Refuser

So, everybody’s got a Disaster Manifesto, even if nobody really thinks it’ll work. Here’s mine – hole up where you can’t be found and sit tight until everybody else is dead. It’s working for me so far.

The newsnets have dubbed the likes of me “Quarantine Refusers”. Thankfully there’s so many unidentified dead that they haven’t yet been able to make an accurate list of us out of the missing. And there’s a use of the word “Thankfully” I didn’t think I’d see myself making. Misanthropic curmudgeon I may be, but that’s a new low. As penance or punishment – swear I didn’t cut and paste:
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
Not cause of heaven or hell or karma or any of that shit, it’d just be nice to feel like I’m any kind of loss to the world.

Anyhow, turns out us quarantine refuseniks have good reason to stay away from the hostels, if the blogs from those who’ve escaped them are anything to go by. The ABC newsnets are claiming they’re set up to work on similar lines to the successful quarantines in China, with new arrivals isolated and given food until it’s safe for them to join the green-lighted people inside. The escapees, however, tell tales of hotels crammed to double capacity, healthy people being forced into rooms with those already coughing blood, being locked in, food not arriving, handsets confiscated, families broken up… and all enforced by police supported by a network of Emergency Support Officers recruited mostly from security firms. I wonder if Coll’s finally living his dream.

I also wonder how much of this is a botched attempt at containment of the disease, and how much is just population control. Maybe those who’ve been sitting in their luxury bunkers for weeks just want to limit property damage and ensure there’s more food left for them when everybody else is dead. Maybe the authorities had my manifesto. Is that paranoid? It’s difficult to tell these days. I’ve always held that no conspiracies are necessary for powerful people to be arsewipes, but it does seem like this snapped into action like a sprung trap the instant the riots started. Perhaps I should be out there, smashing up the security stations, instead of in here washing down the last of the chocolate fondant puddings with a bottle of Prosecco.

I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.

But I’m not dying just yet.

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Sorting my lifetime supplies

My first week in isolation has been eerily undisturbed. The local newsnets fill with vids of people boarding up their homes and happily toddling down to their local quarantine hostel, and my CCTV screens show the odd hopeful looter making their way through the wrecked store. Here I am, all prepared for a desperate last stand, and the wailing sirens and ranged forces of law and order have failed to lay siege to me. I feel kind of snubbed.

I’ve been busy, though. We don’t have a huge warehouse built onto the store, but there’s plenty here if you know where to look: the cafe kitchens are always well-stocked, and a week’s stock for the cafe is one person’s lifetime supply (that’s my favourite joke just now – I have a lifetime’s supply of all essentials, measuring a lifetime as the time until the supply runs out). The shelves weren’t entirely picked clean before the looters were ousted, so the supply situation’s not so bad. I’ve taken as much as I can reasonably fit up to my inner sanctum, and I’ve set up a sort of maze leading casual explorers away from the kitchens, to a little stock of goodies – a decent enough haul to persuade the average looter to get gone without poking their nose further. Plus, I found some wireless home security kits in the hardware section, so I’ve set up a network of cameras and alarms that’d make Coll cream his pants.

I’ve also had a little time to sit thinking about why I did this, and I can understand why it’s hard for some of you to believe. Thing is, I don’t expect to face the consequences. I look at how this thing’s spreading round the world, with the whole of Asia and half the Middle East covered, and the newsnets talk like it’s just another flood or drought or war, but it’ll be under control before it gets to the English-speaking white folks. It’s bullshit – you know how we’ve kept it back so far? We haven’t. We’ve ignored the signs. Because to really be safe, we’d have had to stop the wheels turning, give out all the food, crash the markets. Instead we just got corporations to sponsor steri-sprays and face-masks, and those sponsors wouldn’t want the advice leaflets to say “Don’t work, don’t shop”. Now it’s too late. This is where it all comes down. Holing myself up here, it’s not really about survival, except in the short-term. If I’m going to go out coughing blood, or gasping my dehydrated last by an empty storage tank, I want to do it without fighting past hundreds of others for the privilege. Mei’s part of something bigger, but I’ve got no real reason to make it through into whatever’s left of Canberra after the quarantine. I’m here because I’m not getting herded into a make-shift prison to die at the government’s convenience. If we’re all going to hell, I’m taking my own damn handcart.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to go out any time soon. I’ve got it pretty damn sweet here, just now. I’m running two 50” homesets, drinking the most expensive wine in the store and figured I’d best use up the Deluxe range sirloin steaks with a whisky-cream and organic shallot peppercorn sauce. Tomorrow I’ll nab a fryer from the household isle and make some chips. I have a lifetime’s supply of potatoes and I should use them up before they start sprouting.

And I Feel Fine.

I want to savour this, because I probably won’t get to say it again for some while, if ever; so believe me when I say, cheeses priced on a popsicle, you will not believe the day I’ve had!

It all started with a newscast. It could have been just an ordinary day at the office, but someone decided to let slip that the deaths in Sydney last week were confirmed as blood flu, and this led to a series of events that placed me in my current situation: holed up in the security booth, the sole occupant of my former workplace, while Canberra goes to shit around my electronic eyes and ears.

Some local reports will tell you that I started the panic buying. That’s a lie – they were rioting before I even came on the air, I just turned a random stampede into a choreographed ballet of loot and run. Who knows how bad it could have been without me? I can relate word-for-word my almost-entirely-improvised announcement, because I recorded it for posterity. It was my finest hour, my greatest performance, my tribute to Boal’s Invisible Theatre and, in all probability, my legacy, and it went like this:

Greetings shoppers, I’m Elaine, and I’m here to enhance your looting experience on behalf of Colmart on this, our last day of business.
The recommended items of the day are cough-drops and booze, but I can see the more discerning shoppers are headed for the tinned goods and the pasta & pulses aisle. As I speak, I see on security screen 2 that there’s an altercation going on over a 2kg bag of tri-colour fusilli, and — yep, clean-up on aisle — too late, there goes a shopper and a trolleyful of corned beef and — come on now, shoppers, no fair looting her while she’s down — instead, I’d grab your last carton of semi-skimmed longlife before the security guards grab you, yes, you with the oh-so-flattering cycling shorts, on your bike, they’re coming round the back of aisle 3, no, THE OTHER WAY, where the cereal used to be…that’s it, keep running! He got away, Dorothy, he got away…
Here come the reinforcements, and I can announce… They’re coming for you, lentils and jellybeans, and the tills have been closed, I repeat, the tills are off, and staff are being evacuated. I’ve been asked nicely to get my arse off the air, but don’t worry, people, I’m barricaded in here with the shut-off switch, I can see the security screens for inside and out and I’ll be announcing when the cops arrive, so keep on looting — it’s like the Christmas rush and the January sales all rolled into one, here, people, you gotta stock up like there’s no tomorrow, because the rumour has it there’s no tomorrow.

At this point I left them with a stirring dose of an aptly titled REM track, turning it up loud enough to drown Jezza’s frantic banging on the office door, while I finished off my own preparations.
I’ve been squirreling away supplies in the DJ booth for weeks, and I’d made out I was going camping after work to explain the sleeping bag, water containers, camp stove and large rucksack, which I’d filled with gas canisters, a small crate of tinned food, sundry luxury items, various locks, bolts and latches and a cordless drill. The aluminium sheet for securing the skylight had been hidden behind the sound desk about a week back. I’d already secured the office door, so I took care of the roof, removed the security tag and cork from a large bottle of vintage Moët and sat back to watch the show. When Jezza started using the fire extinguisher as a battering ram, I texted him a photo of myself, champagne and cigar in hand, D-locked round the neck to the door handle.
“Leave me be or it’s going on the store socnet,” I called. The story was already on the store socnet, as it turns out, and was doing the rounds of the local newsnets until they took down everything but the evacuation procedures.
Jezza was shouting that he didn’t give a fuck if it injured me, it was his fucking door and they should hack it the fuck down. He’d managed to wrangle the assistance of the fire brigade, but they didn’t seem too happy with that idea, and after telling Jezza they were a little busy to sort out his industrial disputes, what with the looting and rioting around the city, I heard their footsteps retreat. Twenty minutes later the security screens showed Coll striding towards the fire escape, blowtorch in hand, Jezza dragging himself along after with a face like a ripe tomato. I watched them climb roofwards.
There were several loud thumps from above before the smash and crackle of the skylight shattering onto the metal sheet, then the brief hiss of an oxyacetylene flame, but the aluminium didn’t even get glowy before it fizzled out into swearing.
Coll’s tones were a little too low to make out, but after Jezza’s thundering “Whaddya mean it’s outta gas? Where the fuck do you keep the stuff?” I patted a desk drawer, smiled to myself and poured another glass of bubbly. Then I listened to Jezza alternately fume, cajole, threaten, plead and insult me for a full 43 minutes before he finally gave up and left me to it.
They cut off the cameras, then the power, and I’d just filled my fifth container before the water went, too. I got enough charged batteries to run essentials like a light and a handset for a few weeks. When I was sure they were really gone, I ventured out to turn the power and water back on, arrange the cameras to my satisfaction and secure several other doors on the way up here.

I hear that hostels and hotels are being secured and set up for quarantines. I prefer to sit out the epidemic from here. Whatever Jezza and Coll are doing now, I expect getting me out of this room has fallen a few steps lower on their to-do list. The days from here on in will be mainly uneventful, and also numbered. Don’t let me get gloomy, my macaronis; talk to me, sing to me, entertain me as I record my further descent into madness for your delight and edification. Let’s try to make the coming weeks pass like a fart, not a kidney stone.

Making preparations

So, looks like I’ll get my wish about moving on from this dump – I’ve been made redundant. As of today, I’m working my three weeks’ notice.

Worst part about it is I can’t even blame Jezza, though I won’t pretend the hint of glee under his faux-regret tone went unnoticed. Turns out the experiment with “Tannoy Greeters” has been officially designated a flop, and the Colmart family are disinheriting us all. They’re going to have announcements recorded weeks in advance by a professional polenta-pusher with an Equity card, and piped into all stores on the half hour, every half hour. Next time I pass by the Leisure and Lifestyle aisles and hear the rustle of a malicious whisper, I’ll remember that, and smile. Nothing else to do now but make preparations for my departure.

That in mind, I believe I’ve got a meme owing on preparations, and a little barney on a friend’s blog the other day got me thinking about isolation and quarantine. Everybody’s got their Blood Flu emergency box of beans and bandages, but nobody’s really talking about how they’ll avoid catching the virus – because, y’know, much as I’d hate to be caught without supplies, the first rule of survival is don’t be dead. In this case, that means being in isolation before everyone else thinks of it, so I’m going to take back my disparaging remarks about Jack’s attempt to isolate himself from his own family, even though there’s not a sniff of flu as yet on his half of the continent. Myself, I don’t pretend to be in anything resembling a “quarantine”, but reading about Mei’s situation gives me an awareness of when I’m in contact with people, and I realise I’ve been living in pretty isolated circumstances as a matter of routine.

I always had to be self-reliant. My folks washed their hands of me the day I told them I wanted to go to drama school. Gifted with what my mother liked to call a face for radio and a body for truck-driving, I’m not exactly inundated with auditions, but I work and I manage. When anything’s gone wrong in my life, whether it’s with a contract or the plumbing, I’ve looked up how to fix it myself before calling out the experts. It’s partly a lack of funds, and partly, for want of a better word, pride – if I can do something for myself, I will. I live alone, work alone and generally avoid people. I shop online, drive to work, cook and eat alone, spend my leisure time walking and camping in the outback alone. In fact, at this point, I probably haven’t been in especially close proximity to another human being for longer than Mei. Which means that if the Blood Flu is, as we speak, spreading through Australia in its silent phase, I’m safe as a cheese sarnie at a vegan convention.

Could misanthropy be my salvation? Should I thank my parents for instilling in me a crippling social dysfunction? I am making some preparations, but just to be especially paranoid or mysterious or both, I’m not going to say on a public forum what they are. Let it be known, though: I got my ideas. I’m researching systems and squirrelling away supplies. I’m gonna be just fine.

I gotta get out of this place.

So Blood Flu panic is heating up down here since that maybe-possibly-probably-not diagnosis in Cairns. You can’t walk down a high street without getting half a dozen bottles of steri-spray thrown at you, and Jezza’s raving ’cause we just ordered a truck-load of the stuff and now every quack, god-squad and insurance peddler is giving it away outside the door.

I didn’t feel like taking the lunchtime walk of shame to sit on my own in the caf today. I mostly eat in the DJ booth these days, which is a little claustrophobic but does mean I don’t even have to pass Coll, though that doesn’t stop him shouting me his latest plots and schemes, or his analysis on how liberal immigration policies will kill us all. At least he doesn’t seem to expect a response.

I don’t know why he confides in me, except that I’m a captive audience given the room arrangement. He doesn’t tell me everything, though. I know where the security cameras are, and I’ve seen images on his monitors from places they aren’t. I reckon the creepy fucker spends as much time watching the staff as the stock. I take a careful sweep of this room at the start of the day, I tell ya. I’d dob him in, only I reckon Jezza’s in on it. It would explain his rumoured ability to hear a shelf-stacker whisper “union” from two floors away.

I got to get out of here before I lose sight of the last road sign back to sanity.

Pushing Polenta

Yeah, yeah – I am still writing this thing, though I’ve mostly been spending my online time chatting with my friend Mei who’s stranded in Beijing for the holidays with no word about her family.  That’s some scary shit happening out there – whether it’s Bird Flu or not, who knows, but there’s some kind of epidemic going down and whole provinces are being cut off.  The stories trickling out through blogs and independent newsnets are pretty horrific.  If you’ve got a minute and an ounce of human compassion, go make a donation.  If not – make one anyway, you miserable bastard.

I, meanwhile, continue to be a cheery little member of the dysfunctional Colmart family. Today, I found a note on my desk: “Remember to push the fucking Polenta – we overstocked again. Jezza.”  Polenta is the bane of my life.  It has the flavour and consistency of soggy sand, it’s overpriced, it doesn’t even look appetising, and I had to spend all day enthusing about it every hour, on the hour, because somebody in marketing decided it’s trendy and they won’t stop ordering the stuff in even though no fucker buys it.  At least I followed the golden rule of getting the price reduction in three times each announcement, even if one was to say it made a 50% saving on standard wall-filler, and another suggesting shoppers donate the saving to the Asian Flu appeal.   I knew I’d catch shit for it, but what do you do with material like that?

Jezza wasn’t impressed.  “What do you think this is, Comic Relief?” he wheezed at me when he’d dragged himself up the stairs and through the security room.  “Tell them what the offers are, point them to the premium goods, manage the crowds when the checkouts are closing, but for fuck’s sake stop entertaining them!  This is the last fucking time, Elaine – you can do the comedy circuit when you’re fucking fired!”  Jezza loves to say “fuck”, he thinks it makes him one of us.

So, not my best day, and it means my witty banter will be keeping a low profile at work for the next couple of weeks.  No fun to be had here, shoppers – come back in the sales.

And don’t forget to make that donation.  I got my eye on you, mate.