The Covid Strain

By Bill Fountain

Posted January 1, 2021, 5:52 pm


Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
4:20pm

Paul wanted weed.

What he actually wanted was temporary freedom from his self-rejecting thoughts, but as far as his conscious mind was concerned, he needed his medicine and would not be able to relax until he had it. It wasn’t even necessarily the weed that numbed his undesirable thinking, but instead, it was the knowledge that he had more weed to smoke. Paul found that when he packed his last bowl and set it ablaze, he couldn’t even enjoy the high. He was far too worried about how he was going to get more weed.

Recreational marijuana was illegal in his hometown of Gilbert, Arizona, so Paul always relied on his local dealers to keep him stoned. People always told him he should just get a medical card, but Paul excused this suggestion citing expensive costs and the likeliness of recreational marijuana becoming legalized anyway. The truth was- he was afraid of lying to a doctor. Paul used to have a medical marijuana card before it had expired, and he vividly remembers the terrifying conversation he had with the doctor to get it. Paul did as he was told by his friends and described vague headaches, but the doctor was quick to call him out.

“Here’s how I know you’re lying,” the doctor had said before launching into a scientific explanation dissecting Paul’s performance. Paul got offended by this, and quickly went on the defensive.

“Listen, I was told you could help me. If I’m wasting my time, then I’m going to leave now.”

This is when the doctor changed his vibe right away.

“Well hold on now…”

Even though Paul had essentially won the battle, he still treated it as a defeat internally. Paul took this situation as meaning “You’re stupid, Paul. Matter of fact- you’re so stupid that anyone who listens to you talk for any period of time will be able to tell. You’re so stupid that the best way for you to live your life is to not say anything to anyone. In conclusion, you’re stupid as fuck, Paul.” Never mind that he was knowingly bullshitting an educated doctor. Instead, Paul used this as an opportunity to reinforce the perception he already had of himself. He wouldn’t dare risk this type of embarrassment again, so he was fine with getting weed illegally.

He was prepared to vote next week for the legality of his drug of choice and from what people were telling him, Arizona had a solid chance of going green. But until then, Paul would have to go through people he knew to get his fix. The problem was all three of his dealers weren’t coming through. Richie wasn’t re-upping until Thursday, Kevin wasn’t responding as usual, and Tara said she’s trying to quit. He always feared this dreadful moment and cursed himself for not maintaining a steady supply, always smoking the last scrap before seeking more. Now he found himself psychologically trapped, dependent on the demons that deceived him into believing he needed marijuana to tolerate life. Fuck you, Richie, why Thursday?

Paul began desperately scrolling through his contacts until he stopped at the sight of a potential target. He had forgotten about Owen, a former co-worker who had a marijuana card. Paul used to regularly pick up from Owen until back in March when Covid-19 really started making a presence. One day Paul texted Owen asking if he could drop by and Owen responded saying the dispensary was closed until further notice. Paul had heard on the news that the marijuana dispensaries were considered an essential business and would not have to be shut down, so he didn’t believe Owen. He wanted to call Owen out, but what good would that solve? To Paul, this was just Owen’s sly way of breaking communication with him. Paul figured Owen was fed up with always providing weed for Paul, despite the tips Paul always included, and had used Covid-19 as an excuse to break up with him.

But now it was October. Owen couldn’t possibly use Covid-19 as an excuse now; all dispensaries were definitely open, assuming they practiced social distancing and required masks. Paul absolutely despised these Covid stipulations, finding them to be tyrannical nonsense. He saw the WHO’s total death count for 2020 compared to last year’s and wasn’t convinced that there was anything nearly as drastic going on as the media had been portraying. Despite his hatred of masks, Paul always played along and put them on, keeping his mouth shut in fear of confrontation and most importantly- of people rejecting him.

As he sat at his computer desk, Paul drafted a text message to Owen, reading it over multiple times before sending it, as he often did with texts.

“Hey man, any chance I could drop by tonight?”

He didn’t know why he was hesitant. He was mostly debating whether or not to include in the message that he was willing to tip $20, but he figured this would be a given and eventually tapped the send icon.

Paul put his phone on the desk face up and used his new hope to open Reddit on his desktop. At least he was actually doing something now, instead of just hopelessly agonizing. As soon as the page loaded, he heard the soothing buzz of his iPhone. Paul’s gaze immediately focused on the written words he had been manifesting:

“Yeah man. What are you looking for”

It wasn’t even joy that Paul felt in this moment, but instead, it was a long-awaited relief. He tapped, tapped away on his device until he felt satisfied the combination of taps suited his current perceived needs and would progress the transaction efficiently.

“80 of tops. Thanks brutha, when could i come thru?”

Paul always made sure to use vague terms in weed-related text messages so he could thwart the Feds. For all Paul’s FBI agent knows, Paul is merely looking to finally buy those baseball cards he’s been hassling Owen about. He’s had an eye on that 1980 Topps Complete Set, featuring the rookie card of Ricky Henderson, and is finally pulling the trigger. There’s no way that text message could suggest that Paul is buying $80 worth of top quality weed, so he felt safe. Insane, emotional safety concerns such as these often clouded Paul’s THC-ridden mind. He didn’t realize he was actually safe because nobody gives a shit.

“Whenever! Mind wearing a mask?” Owen texted back.

“No problem! I’ll head over now, I’ll be there in 25 mins” Paul replied. He didn’t even have time to be annoyed by this request because he was too ecstatic to finally be back in a state of emotional comfortability. All of a sudden he now found himself with vivacious energy and a distinct excitement for the future, whatever it may hold. He was nervous to socialize and reconnect with somebody, but the fantasized image of his drive home with the weed in his pocket was far too strong and rewarding.

His nerves were mitigated when he remembered that at least he wouldn’t have to worry about shaking hands. It had nothing to do with germs; Paul was afraid of handshakes. He had locked in too many memories of miscalculating the projection of the arm and hand, wrongly assuming a traditional handshake when the other went for a slide-to-fist bump, and vice versa. He agreed with his subsequent self-assessment that this is yet another exhibit that proved he is nothing more than an awkward person. It was impossible for him to know that in reality, each and every single person he had shared an awkward handshake with had completely forgotten about it, never to recall it again.

Paul stepped in his 2012 Toyota Corolla and began the trek over to Owen’s Scottsdale home, safely arriving in 24 and a half minutes, impressing himself not only with his punctuality but also with his completion of the route without the need of any navigational assistance. He pulled over to the curb and slowed down to a halt in front of Owen’s home as he fished for his iPhone to send a text. The routine was typically the same. Owen would hop in, they would drive 3 minutes to the dispensary, Owen would get out and make the purchase while Paul waited in the car, and finally, Paul would drop Owen back off at his house. Simple enough.

“Here” Paul texted as he masked up. He ran through some lines he could say to trick Owen into believing Paul was somebody that he wasn’t. There wasn’t a chance in hell Owen was going to find out Paul was skeptical of Covid. He was afraid of how he felt skeptics were portrayed on the news. The last thing he needed was for Owen to think he was some sadistic conspiracy theorist who wishes death upon the elderly and probably hates black people. He could already picture his social sentencing if he decided to express himself. The only thing Paul wanted to do was get his weed and go home and was willing to utter any sounds out of his mouth to make this happen smoothly.

A shaggy-haired Owen exited his home and strutted out to the passenger seat as Paul watched him, taking notice of his fashionable, plaid mask. He opened the car door and let out a joyous, “hey man! How’ve you been?”

“Pretty good, man! Just surviving the best I can in these crazy times!” Paul replied as Owen sat down and closed the car door.

“Yeah, it is crazy. Did you know Patrick got Covid?” Owen asked.

“Oh, no! Is he alright?” Paul responded as he checked the perimeter before stepping on the gas to the next stop.

“Yeah, he’s better now since he quarantined. I was worried about him for a while. This stuff is no joke,” Owen said.

“It is no joke. That’s good that Patrick is doing better. It’s scary how the younger people like us can get it and be completely fine but could pass it off to somebody older who could die from it,” Paul parroted as he turned left on to the main road.

“I know, that’s why we got to be so careful. Oh hey, you got the money? I don’t want to be doing any sketchy money passing in front of the shop.”

“Yeah, I got you, man,” Paul said. He reached for his back-right pocket and pulled out his wallet. He used his knees to stabilize the wheel as he used his other hand to scoop the 5 twenties out of his wallet until his vehicle began veering into the oncoming lane where another car cruised at residential speed.

“Careful there!” Owen exclaimed. Paul had noticed the veering but felt he was in control and was in no danger. To satisfy his guest, Paul dropped the wallet on his lap and hastily corrected the alignment of his car to safely maneuver around the oncoming car.

“Sorry about that! I’m dumb. Here, just take $100 out and keep the change,” Paul replied, handing his wallet off to Owen. There was $118 in the wallet. Paul enjoyed this moment of somebody else possibly thinking he was cash-rich. The truth was that $118 was every dollar that Paul currently had to his name.

“Sounds good, my man. I’ll get you the best deal I can, the highest THC count for the best price. Hopefully, everyone’s wearing a mask in there, I don’t want to be killing my loved ones!” Owen said.

“It seems Scottsdale has been good about wearing masks,” Paul said, based on absolutely nothing he had heard or seen. “I stay away from the anti-maskers, there’s… there’s something wrong with those people.”

“Yeah, they are selfish!” Owen replied. They continued gossiping about Paul’s secret identity for the remainder of the trip to the dispensary, as well as on the way back to Owen’s house after the goods were scored. Paul noticed that Owen had used his $20 tip to pick up some pre-rolls. Paul was glad that he made the trip worthwhile for Owen and also glad that he was able to keep his performance up to a tee, putting his authentic beliefs aside to win the prize.

The two exchanged goodbyes as Paul entered Phase 3 of the weed transaction- the satisfying, isolated drive home, finally realizing his fantasized vision. He made sure to cruise control the speed limit, in no hurry now that everything in his world was right.


45 MINUTES EARLIER


“How do you have no money? It’s your turn to buy and I want to get high,” the woman said to Owen as they stood in their kitchen.

“I have money, Rachel! We just need to save it for rent,” Owen replied.

“Ugh, I know. I’m just tired of smoking resin from the bong. It makes me feel gross. This world’s got me stressing. Fuck Covid-19,” she said.

“I’m going to make plenty in tips tomorrow so I will make sure to stop at the dispensary on my way home,” Owen replied, as he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket.

He read the incoming text message from his old co-worker, Paul.

“Hey man, any chance I could drop by tonight?”

“Who is it?” Rachel asked.

“Oh, hell, yeah. Paul is looking to buy some weed so he can get us some!” Owen giddily replied as he texted Paul back.

“Paul’s back! I thought he hated you or something,” Rachel replied.

“No, he just stopped texting me once Rasta’s closed down for like 2 days,” Owen said as he read the new message from Paul. “He’s going to be here in 25 minutes.”

“Owen, don’t fucking bring up any of your conspiracy theories about coronavirus. That man will drop you right off and buy weed somewhere else,” Rachel warned.

“I won’t! I’m pretty sure Paul is super liberal. I wonder if he’s going to be wearing a mask in his car. Oh shit, should I wear a mask in his car? How will I know before I step in?”

“Why don’t you just ask him if he doesn’t mind wearing a mask? That way he won’t think you’re crazy and you won’t have to worry about whether or not you should wear one.”

“That’s a good idea. Don’t worry, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

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