I feel that I have to set the record straight.

You may or may not have been reading these daily write-ups since the coronavirus hit in full force, but in a matter of just eight days, the world has flipped around. I first lamented that my coffee shop closed; of course, that feels almost silly now.

And it may seem that I go out quite a bit, but not so. I am practicing social distancing like anyone else. In fact, like the copy editor I am, I pride myself on being (for the most part) a rules’ follower. I now go out every other day and only for something essential (milk, to mail a bill, to cash a check—yes, I did successfully accomplish that today in an actual vehicle.)

I take this situation very seriously. I scrutinize email updates from the township commissioner.

In the course of a week, the stats went viral: 851 COVID-19 cases in the state of Pennsylvania (up from 133); 159 in Montgomery County where I live outside of Philadelphia (up from 42), and 37 in the even more local Lower Merion area (up from eight).

In fact, I take it so seriously that I had my first nightmare in a very long time.

Those who know me are aware that I get about three hours of daily sleep (five to six on a good night). Now, you may think I am exaggerating, but not so. I was never a great sleeper—five hours were ideal—but then I started online journalism, and it never stops.

There is work around the clock. You think you’re getting ahead and bam! More work.

But I like night, and I like the work. It’s so quiet and peaceful, and I get so much done. Doing dishes, organizing laundry, sending email, signing checks, downloading photos …

So, this nightmare. I was running away from something in a parking lot, ducking between cars, though nothing was actually chasing me. I saw a shadow from a distance. And I was barefoot, for some reason, yet still running pretty fast. I awoke with a jolt on the sofa (I dozed off watching the news) and heard the familiar but creepy noise above me.


That’s what we call our round, plastic robot floor-cleaner. It’s not a name brand and honestly has a mind of its own. We’ve tried to program him, but he still goes off at the oddest hours, and in-between vacuuming up dust and crumbs tends to go right for the paper towel or napkin that inadvertently slides under the dinner table. Then he gets all clogged up and makes what sounds like a deep hacking cough.

Was he the dark object in the night? Or was it more like a Pacman-like figure chomping its way through our house? Through our life? Ah, this virus … I want Shmutzie to suck it up and make it disappear.

In the meantime, I will hide in the house, and work and teach, and clean and cook and not get much sleep, like everyone else these days. And maybe take Shmutzie’s batteries out, and for the time being, put a pair of shoes by the bed.

You never know when you’re going to need to up and run.

Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.

This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).

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