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Right now, life as an otter sounds pretty good

Can we all admit that this quarantine is getting a little weirder every week? The rules for what we can and cannot do in order to defeat the coronavirus have become so specific that many of us are staging strange little rebellions at home by completely obliterating the rules that were once so much a part of the fabric of our daily lives that we took them for granted.

For example, in pre-quarantine days, how many times did you stay up until 4 a.m. in the morning — on a Tuesday, or was it Wednesday? — binge-watching six episodes of “Ozark” on Netflix while also binging on a diet of wasabi almonds, Wheat Thins, Freeze Pops and Easter candy? 

In pre-quarantine days, meals were generally planned and reasonably balanced. How many of us now are having cereal for lunch at 3:30 p.m., and then eating dinner at 10 p.m., a meal consisting of completely random, spontaneously chosen “food groups.”

Typical scenario in our house:

“What do you feel like for dinner?”

“I don’t care. What time is it?

“10:15.”

“Right, I guess we should eat then. I could cut up some zucchini!”

“Good idea! I think there are some breaded fish patties in the freezer!”

“Yes! And I think we have some leftover chili. Also, I think there’s a pear that hasn’t turned brown yet.”

Our 15-year-old son is so bored that he not only speaks to us on an alarmingly regular basis now, but will also willingly participate in family activities such as playing blackjack using gummy worms as chips, or walking Lake Junaluska at midnight when the only sign of life anywhere in the absolute stillness are a few startled geese and one imperious swan, who seems not to find any humor at all in the impromptu game of hide and seek we launch halfway around the lake.

We’re working on projects that have needed attention for months, or years, such as cleaning out the basement, the closets and the drainpipes. We’re caught up on our laundry for the first time since … OK, for the first time ever. I am re-alphabetizing 3,000 CDs, while Tammy is upstairs making tiny miniature dachshund figures out of felt fabric for a mobile she must have seen in a dream, or more likely saw on Pinterest, which is for her the Bermuda Triangle. She flies in and disappears forever.

Having long since exhausted ordinary conversational patterns — why talk about your day when all the participants in it are already well aware of every detail? — we move on to other pressing matters, such as what are the precise qualities of a perfect pickle, whether a good shower is better than a good bath, and the things we would like to do when the world opens back up again.

Ever the romantic, I tell my wife one night after splitting a family-size package of Kit-Kat bars that I would do this all over again — not eating the Kit-Kat bars, which I already regret, but marrying her — despite her inexplicable revulsion of jazz and my incomprehensible distaste for cheese. I tell her that I will find her again in the next life, and the next one, and the next one after that.

She wonders who, or what, we’ll be in future lives. Maybe trees in a rainforest, if any still exist. Maybe otters. She likes this idea.

“Would we be otters in the wild?” she asks.

“I don’t think so,” I say. “We’d be otters in a very nicely maintained nature park. We’d spend all day entertaining children. Women in green polo shirts and khaki shorts would feed us shellfish and little frogs.”

“Is that what otters eat?”

“It beats what we’re eating now,” I say.

We check Facebook every so often to check in on friends we haven’t seen for weeks. Seems like everyone is playing little games that involve making lists: their 10 favorite fictional dogs, eight highlights of their senior year in high school, six characters throughout history they’d choose as breakfast companions.

Others are posting photographs of themselves doing normal things, as if in contrast to the strangeness of being cooped up in their houses for several weeks or months. See, there’s Margie in her flower garden and there’s Bill turning over steaks on the grill while little Susie chases their standard poodle around the yard.

Finally, there are the political jeremiads. Trump haters forecasting a crushing defeat in November and a subsequent prison term for the president, while Trump lovers are posting ever nuttier conspiracy theories about how Nancy Pelosi teamed up with the mainstream media, China, Italy, George Soros, the NBA, Planned Parenthood, Tom Hanks, the Grateful Dead and the ghost of Saul Alinsky to create this pandemic as a means of ruining Trump’s chances of getting re-elected in November.

I don’t have the heart to tell them that the Democrats would have trouble organizing a game of pick-up basketball, much less masterminding a pandemic. On the other hand, if Trump is trailing in the polls by June and we are also still in quarantine, these theories are just going to get even crazier.

By then, we may all wish we were otters.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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