“Dude Coolson’s making another dosequisvirus announcement.”
I look up at Theo. He’s swiping incessantly on his phone. We’re sitting across from each other at our usual socially-distanced lunchtime workbenches out in the middle of the Boca Linda football field. In case you haven’t noticed, the Runt Squad has become a tribute band, with only two original members remaining. Ernie’s still at home dealing with his hysterical pregnancy; Jan’s presumably having lunch on his own, because I haven’t seen or heard a peep from him since I got us both banned from Thrill-Kill’s crypto-carnival the other night. Even Mini’s MIA. Or simply lying dormant in some dark nook of Theo’s backpack.
“Why are you doomscrolling?” I ask.
“I’m not doomscrolling.” Swipe, swipe…
“Yeah, you are.”
Swipe, swipe, swipe…
“You haven’t even touched your veggie wrap.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Loss of appetite, slouched posture, frownie-face—how are you not doomscrolling?” I get up, go over to Theo’s workbench, yank the phone from his hand.
Surprisingly, he yanks it back.
Scowls at me.
Lowers his head again and taps the touchscreen, turns the volume up so that I’m now secondhand doomscrolling:
“…effective as of midnight, I’m placing the city of San Angelico under a mandatory stay-at-home order. I’m also initiating the closure of all non-essential stores and services. Those remaining open will be limited to twenty-five-percent capacity. I’m also expanding the Fundoshi Mandate to apply privately as well as publicly. Nudity, while strongly, strongly recommended—especially for comely women under the age of twenty-five—is still optional at this point. But please, regardless of age, sex, or body mass index, if you can go naked, do go naked.
“My fellow Angelicans. These have been trying times. We’ve scrimped and scraped and sacrificed. We’ve gone without power, without clothes. We’ve had to contend with spray bottles, sheen checks, social distancing, and so much uncertainty during a time of great social and economic upheaval. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I stand before you a man humbled by the perseverance, the dedication of each and every resident of this great city of ours for remaining resolute in the face of adversity. Despite our most heroic efforts, though, dosequisvirus infections and rogue ember counts are on the rise. Our efforts thus far have slowed the spread, but without aggressive monitoring and contact tracing, it won’t be enough to stop it. That’s why we need to cut off these rogue embers and nasty cooties at the source.
“With that in mind, the city has contracted with Sneekycam Systems to outfit every household in San Angelico with sophisticated sheen monitoring and contact tracing hardware and software. Sneekycam will be sending its first wave of specially-trained technicians to residential homes starting this weekend. Our goal is seventy-five-percent coverage by year’s end. By this time next year, every last man, woman, and child will be monitored and protected by Sneekycam. Combined with normalized nudity, a strict fundoshi regimen, spray bottles, social distancing, and continued rolling power-ons, I’m confident we can get this epidemic under control in mere years rather than decades.
“Stay indoors. Pay your bills. Maintain your sheen. Go naked, save lives. Fucking do it. We’re all in this together.
“Now, I’d like to turn things over to our esteemed fire commissioner, Nathaniel Faustman, with this week’s numbers.”
“Thank you, Mr. Coolson. Good afternoon, everyone. Please excuse my cloven hooves. They’re the result of a childhood accident…”
Now Theo’s got me doomscrolling, too. I’m slowly and thoughtfully chewing suddenly-bland mouthfuls of chicken salad while swipe-swiping on my own phone. For the first time since the dosequisvirus epidemic hit I’m worried. Like, really worried. You see the daily stats for DOSVID-19 infections, the ember-related hospitalizations, and they’re just numbers on a screen. Replayed footage of that same poor, unfortunate old woman lying on a gurney in a random ER while nurses set up an IV drip, douse her with their spray bottles. Other people in other parts of town dealing with other matters. But now it’s hitting us where we live—literally. I mean, going fundoshi in public, I guess in some distantly sane way that makes the slightest sense. But why would we have to go naked or stay in our loincloths in the privacy of our own homes unless something’s really, truly wrong? Are the germs that potent, the rogue embers that bad?
The Internet says yes.
“Huh,” I murmur, stumbling across a press photo of Dude Coolson. “Mayor Coolson sort of looks like Will Arnett with a combover, doesn’t he?”
Theo raises an eyebrow, swipe-swipes on his phone. “Huh. He sort of does.”
See what we did there? The two of us are too scared to admit it, and so we’re simply poking fun at the mayor’s douche bag demeanor. With all due respect to the real Will Arnett, of course. “Somehow having this guy as mayor doesn’t fill me with confidence.”
Theo squints at his phone. “The least he could’ve done was not deliver his speech from a golf course.”