I am trapped in the bathroom with two 90-pound dogs and my wife. A tornado was spotted near our house, so we are crammed into this tiny room, taking shelter. There are a few trees down near our house. The wind is howling. My dog has bad gas.

It has been 40 days of self-isolation. And now a tornado. I truly think I’m losing my mind. Do you know what I did this morning to keep from going slap crazy? I wrote a letter to a goat. That’s right. I am not making this up. It’s a handwritten letter.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Why did you write to a goat when could have just written to an ostrich?”

I can’t answer that. All I know is that an animal rescue farm in Seven Valleys, Pennsylavnia, has started a pen-pal service during this quarantine wherein anyone can write to barnyard animals and—here’s the best part—the animals actually write letters back.

This is not a joke. You can send handwritten letters to real animals who

will read them, ponder them, eat them, and eventually turn them into an environmentally safe all-purpose fertilizer.

It’s not just goats who are available for correspondence. But also pigs, chickens, cows, and congresspersons.

This all started when Amanda and Steve Clark founded the Here With Us Farm Sanctuary in York County, Pennsylvania. They rescue abused and neglected animals and give them a great place to live. They have been doing this for a few years and they have animals crawling out of their ears.

This year was supposed to be the farm’s first year doing fun events like camping trips and educational tours. But then the pandemic hit. Life came to a crashing halt. The farm had no visitors.

So that’s where the idea for the pen-pal thing came from. Since visitors couldn’t pet animals in person, Amanda thought maybe they could write letters instead.

DURHAM, N.C.—A brisk day in North Carolina. A little overcast. Chilly outside. But you don’t know much about the weather because you are a 10-year-old boy, stuck on the fifth floor of Duke Hospital. You have myeloid leukemia.

You’re name is Reese Loggins. You are a fourth-grader. Bald. You have a few whisps of hair left after treatments. A perpetual smile. Some freckles, but not too many.

A nurse brings lunch on a tray.

“Reese,” your mother says. “What do you say to the nurse?”

So you tell the nurse, “Thank you.”

Parents are always doing this. They always remind you to say stuff like “yes sir,” “no ma’am,” “yes please,” and “thank you.”

And you say these words a lot because Duke Hospital, which is your home right now, is a madhouse. Everyone is working overtime. Over-overtime, actually. Nurses, doctors, techs, custodial staff, cafeteria workers. Everyone is slaving themselves to the bone because this is a “pandemic.”

The last place anyone wants to be during a worldwide healthcare crisis is a hospital. Medical professionals

have it hard right now. Because the whole world always expects them to “do” something. And if they can’t do it, well, find someone who can.

And it’s not just Duke. North Carolina is no day at the beach right now. Experts projected that North Carolina’s coronavirus crisis will peak at the end of April. Estimates say the state will be 862 hospital beds, 625 ICU beds, and 954 ventilators short of what they’ll need to treat patients.

So the place is flat nuts. Doctors are working themselves silly. Medical workers are following strict, almost unimaginable protocols when it comes to cross-contamination. Throughout the hospital, medical staffers are constantly stripping off gowns, replacing gloves, goggles, visors, facemasks, and powered purifying respirators.

It’s like a scene from a science fiction movie. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what Duke feels like right now. A very…

Lately I’ve been receiving my share of emails from people who don’t have many nice things to say. Today I received more of these messages than usual. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just one of those days.

I suppose since lots of people have been quarantining for well over 40 days now, folks are feeling kind of—and I’m sorry, but don’t know how else to put this—crotchety.

This is what my mother used to say when I would wake up in a bad moods. Crotchety. I was notorious for waking up in bad moods. I am what you’d call a Slow Waker Upper. I have NEVER crawled out of bed feeling like a million bucks.

In the mornings before school, my mother would always remind me, “Don’t be crotchety.” And she would say this in the same low-pitched tone that lions use when they eat the hindquarters of various antelopes.

The latest crotchety email was from a man in West Virginia, who wrote: “I don’t get why you're so obsessed with telling us about

your dogs.”

Then there was the sunny message from a guy in Tampa: “How disappointing, Sean. I thought you wrote about more relevant matters, who gives a [bleep] about baseball at a time like this? Really?”

But my favorite message was the one that came to me in all caps this morning. It went like this: “WHY DON’T YOU EVER WRITE ABOUT MICHIGAN!? YOU’VE WRITTEN ABOUT EVERYWHERE ELSE... WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST US?”

Let me state, for the record, I have nothing against Michiganites (Michigonians? Michigaintiles? Michigan Terriers?)

Actually, I like Michigan. The first time I visited Detroit, my Michigan friends were warning me that traffic was very dangerous. At first, I was inclined to believe them because—this is true—10 minutes after I exited the airport, my taxi got into a car accident. But the cab driver assured me that auto accidents were very…

Day 36 of our quarantine. Many folks are still saying this is the End of the World. And Major League Baseball announced a few days ago that they will be pushing back Opening Day even further than originally thought. Some are saying we might not even have baseball this year.

That hurt.

You might think baseball is kind of a waste of time. And hey, you’re probably right. After all, when the word is falling apart, the last thing anyone needs to be losing sleep over is the importance of solid relief pitching.

Then again, a ball game is hard to describe to non-baseball people. It’s difficult to give adequate detail to the symphony of little things happening in a ball park. Like the smells. Or the sounds. Or the excitement you feel when you struggle for six hours just to find an illegal parking spot.

I remember when my old man took me to my first ball game. I must have been five. Maybe six. We were

walking through the long parking lot, he was holding my hand. He wore a Phillips 66 ball cap. I don’t know how I remember that.

It was a big stadium. There were huge ramps leading upward to the general admission (crummy) seats, which was all my old man was willing to pay for. He was so tight he had to use WD-40 just to get his wallet out of his pocket.

We sat in the upper decks with the riff raff of society, just like ourselves. The players were so far away that they looked like little fruitflies crawling on ripe pear. I had never felt quite as giddy as I did that day.

You see, you never forget your first glimpse of a ball field. The tight-cut grass, green in the setting sunlight. The geometric chalk lines, red dirt, the sounds of thirty thousand having a conversation at once. Everyone is…

I don’t know what made me think of this. But I when I was a kid, I remember when our preacher would often shout the following words from the pulpit:

“When I die, folks! Don’t weep for me! For I shall be in a place where the fried chicken never endeth!”

This was a sort of joke, you understand. And it always got a good laugh from the congregation because our preacher was a very round man who definitely knew his way around a fried chicken.

The reason I bring this up is probably because last night my wife made fried chicken. She’s been cooking up a storm since this COVID-19 quarantine started.

She used a hot skillet filled with peanut oil. Then she made cornbread to go with the chicken, and turnip greens. It was pure decadence.

And while I was digesting, I got to thinking about how the best and worst periods of my life can be measured in food.

Seriously. I can look back on the most sacred memories of childhood

and one of the first things that comes back to me is the food. The smells, textures, stains on my shirt. Likewise, I can relive my saddest moments and food is often part of those memories, too.

Twenty-four hours after my father’s death, our porch was loaded with casseroles and various wax-paper-lined shoeboxes of fried chicken. Someone even brought a brown paper sack full of biscuits. There were enough hand-thrown biscuits to last until the Second Coming of Elvis.

Among my people, the period surrounding a funeral features a lot of food. Which is ironic because you don’t feel like eating after your loved one dies, but somehow, you do.

But anyway, I can retell my entire life story with food:

Infanthood; pureed fried chicken. Adolescence; whole fried chicken. Teenage-hood; two whole fried chickens. Adulthood; cholesterol free synthetic alfalfa hay, Metamucil, and Lipitor.

Throughout my life…

To whom it may concern:

I wanted to say this in person, but this whole social distancing thing makes that impossible. So I decided to write you a letter. I won’t take up too much of your time.

I just wanted to say that I’ve been so moved by the work you’re doing lately. During this whole coronavirus thing you’ve really gone the extra mile. I wish I could write each one of you. Sadly, there are bajillions of you, and only one of me. So this will have to do.

Anyway, you don’t know me. I’m one of the faceless Americans you’ve been helping when you wake up every morning and do what you do.

Yesterday, for instance, I saw you through the burger-joint window, manning the grill. You wore a surgical mask and latex gloves. You had a line of to-go orders a mile long. Cars were lined up in the drive-thru lane stretching back to Bangladesh. You just did your job.

This letter is for you, and your fellow cooks,

cashiers, and even your grumpy manager, Kate, who made you work last Fourth of July because she is about as much fun as getting slapped with a spatula.

Also, to the woman who wrote to me yesterday whose daughter is a nurse, treating people with COVID-19 in New York. Even though her daughter is young and healthy, she puts herself on the front lines every day.

This is written to hospital custodial workers who clean every inch of every surface. Even the ceilings. To the cafeteria workers. The greeters. The security guards. Maintenance men. Triage. ICU. X-ray techs.

To the guy who drives our local UPS delivery truck. That guy is my hero. Every day he’s making deliveries around town. It makes me wonder how many hundreds of millions of gazillions of people are working every day, packaging boxes, loading trucks, driving forklifts, fulfilling online orders, and…

It was an uneventful morning. I woke up to find the house was still intact. No toilets spontaneously overflowed overnight. No major appliances exploded.

No, this morning everything was A-okay. The sun was shining. Birds were chirping. So I did what lots of men do during a quarantine. Namely, I went to the front yard and I sat on a ratty easy chair that our garbage man forgot to pick up.

Previously, the chair had been rotting in our garage. So I put it in the driveway where it became home to many upstanding local feral cats. For the quarantine, I drug this chair into my front yard and started sitting in it. That’s where I am right now.

I am wearing plaid pajamas, bare feet, messy hair, drinking coffee, waving at cars from my easy chair.

I don’t even bother getting out of my pajamas anymore. I’ve been wearing these things for almost a month now. I just don’t see the point of getting gussied up. Or flossing.

This is how I spend

my days. I just pretty much sit outside on a torn up piece of furniture tapping on my laptop. I take breaks, I look at trees, I wave at my neighbors who sort of edge back inside whenever they see me reclining on my landfill-style barcalounger.

NEIGHBOR: Our weird neighbor is sitting in that godforsaken chair again.

NEIGHBOR’S SPOUSE: I feel sorry for his wife.

Occasionally, I crack open a can of flavored sparkling water. I have really gotten into the sparkling water lately. My wife buys them. They are great. They have no sugar and no nutritional value whatsoever. This means you can drink several thousand of them.

But you have to be careful because I read an article this morning which states that the leading cause of spontaneous bodily explosions can be traced back to carbonated beverages.

But enough about that. I’ve been sitting…

This morning, someone delivered groceries to Miss Wanda’s house on her porch. It is the 43rd day of Miss Wanda’s quarantine, and she already has plenty of groceries. The bags arrived unexpectedly. There was a note attached: “To Wanda, with hugs and kisses.”

Wanda is 93 years old. She has no idea who left the groceries. Or why. But when it was done, Wanda says she and her nurse were looking around for hidden cameras.

“We thought it was some kinda joke,” Wanda said.

Her nurse wiped down every item—even the Raisinettes and the Milk Duds—with bleach and rubbing alcohol.

“I like Raisinettes,” said Wanda. “But they’re too hard to chew. Milk Duds are pretty good, though.”

Sometimes I wonder what gets into people. What makes them do nice things? I have met some pretty good eggs in my time. Good people who had nothing to gain from being nice and yet, somehow, they still were. Why? That’s what I’ve been asking myself all day since I heard about Wanda. Why?

Take me, for

instance. Occasionally I do major selfless acts. Like selflessly leaving the peanut butter and jelly jars on the counter with the lids off after I make a sandwich. Just in case someone wants to use them later. I even leave the knife in the jar.

Or, for example, when there is only one biscuit left at the supper table. I am moved with compassion to do the selfless thing. This is because of something my mother always said when I was a kid: “Do not ever take the last biscuit or I will stab you with salad tongs.”

So I never take the last biscuit. In fact, I wouldn’t dream of it. I simply take three quarters of the last biscuit.

I know you are probably thinking I am too self-sacrificing, but I do it for love.

Even so, I have known some gracious people who…

My earliest memory is of a record player. It sat in my mother’s bedroom. Sometimes, she would play records for me.

In one particular memory, she holds me in her arms and we dance to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The tune is “Girl from Ipanema.”

Then, she turns off Herb. She puts on another record. It is a childhood favorite. The album is Walt Disney World’s Country Bear Jamboree. The sound of a fiddle fills the room.

Mother and I have a Disney-style hoedown.

I don’t know how I remember this, but I do. Just like I remember Mary Ann Andrews, who once kidnapped my Teddy bear. The bear she stole was the guitarist for the Country Bears Jamboree band, Big Al.

Mary Ann’s family moved to Texas, and she took Big Al with her. I was heartbroken.

My mother wrote Mary’s family a letter, threatening legal action if Big Al was not returned unharmed. In a few weeks, Big Al arrived in our mailbox and my mother agreed not to press charges.

I still

have that stuffed bear today. In fact, he sits above my desk because I was raised on golden-era Disney classics, and I would not want to live in a world without Big Al.

Anyway, my wife and I went to a concert a few months ago—seems like years ago now. It was supposed to be fun, but it left me feeling empty. A few guys onstage attempted to see how loud they could crank their amplifiers while having grand mal seizures.

We were with friends who were younger than us. I don’t know how many concerts you’ve seen lately, but young people don’t actually watch live bands anymore. They point cellphone cameras at the stage and look at their phones instead.

Halfway through the concert, I was ready to leave.

I’d rather suffer gout than listen to music that sounds like major road…

Day 30 of our quarantine. I am going for a walk to ease my cabin fever. I see a woman walking her dogs. Two schnauzers. She wears a white mask. She is talking, holding a smartphone, doing a video call.

When we pass each other, I step to the other side of the street. I don’t want to violate the eight-foot social-distancing rule, which clearly states: “Back the heck off, buddy, I have mace.”

Some kids who pass us on bicycles. They definitely aren’t following the eight-foot rule. They aren’t even following the eight-centimeter rule. They are traveling maybe 150 miles per hour.

They brush past us so closely that I can smell their little-boy stink. One kid almost knocks the woman over. She drops her phone and cusses.

I am tempted to raise my fists and shout, “You dang kids!” But I can’t. Because a long time ago, I took a solemn vow to never say this phrase against my own kind.

When I was a kid, old man Jensen used to have

a sign in his front yard that read: “KEEP OFF LAWN.” He didn’t want anyone touching his grass. He was very particular about his centipede grass, always out there primping it, fertilizing it, reading bedtime stories to it, burping it. To us kids, however, his lawn was perfect for bicycle croquet.

Old man Jensen would come barreling out of his door, trousers pulled up to his nipples, horn rimmed glasses, shaking his fists. “You dang kids!” he’d shout. And if he saw his shadow, it was six more weeks of winter.

The woman in the mask is really upset. She says me in a muffled voice, “Did you see those little [bad words]?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I can’t believe they’re acting so irresponsible.”

And this is what the lady shouts next—I am not making this up. “You dang kids!”

And just like that, old man Jensen…