Eons from now, when the planet is a barren wasteland scorched by solar flares and sheathed by Amazon Hub lockers, several of our evolved descendants will leave their homes on Lunar Outpost X Æ A-12 to return to Earth on an artifact-finding mission. And they will discover, amongst the ruins, a pristine copy of Andrea Askowitz’s “My family are the rule-breaking, lockdown-flouting entitled Americans you’ve heard about during the coronavirus pandemic” etched into uranium—a method physicists used to preserve it after declaring it the single whitest substance that has ever existed.
Unfortunately today, in 2020, we haven’t invented the words yet to describe Askowitz’s piece. “Aggressively alabaster” works in a pinch, but even that is woefully insufficient. It’s an event horizon of bottomless whiteness.
It begins with the sort of seemingly innocuous whiteness that these sort of personal essays often drip with. It doesn’t scream ‘white!’ as much as it whispers it in your ear, like a secret amongst friends.
In August 2019, my kids and I moved to Madrid. Our plan was to spend a year in Spain; learn Spanish; see the world; learn to live less like spoiled Americans.
It requires a special brand of American-brand whiteness and privilege to include the lines “spend a year in Spain” and “see the world” and “learn to live less like spoiled Americans” in the same sentence without a hint of irony. In most essays, this would be the whitest paragraph. But it gets whiter. Andrea Askowitz is a conjurer.
A few weeks after lockdown began, on a food run, I spotted an American man I knew from my Spanish class. He carried a canvas grocery bag over his shoulder, but showed me it was empty. He told me he went out twice a day. “Sometimes I just walk,” he said. “I just want to.”
I stood back six feet. I wanted to ask, “What makes you think you’re so special?” But I knew. This man typified American entitlement. I was angry. I was also jealous.
I can picture the man Askowitz refers to here. He’s bearded, he makes a living selling artisanal blades of grass, he wears cargo shorts in 30-degree weather, he buys clothes at Whole Foods, and he hates Tame Impala now because “Kevin Parker has gone corporate.” But somehow, he’s the least douchiest person in this exchange. Andrea Askowitz is a magician.
My kids and I stayed inside our 1,000-square foot apartment for 46 days. When the Spanish government announced schools would not re-open, we got one of the few flights out, first to London, then Miami. We hadn’t seen Vicky in eight weeks.
Vicky picked us up from the airport and the four of us put masks on and drove to my mom’s beach house in Key Largo, an hour south of our house in Miami. We knew Key Largo wasn’t letting tourists in. We weren’t tourists, exactly. We had a note from my mom, plus two utility bills, and passed through the checkpoint, no problem. The kids and I would quarantine for 14 days. To stay safe, Vicky drove back to Miami.
We’re seven paragraphs in, and Askowitz has already shared that she has access to (at least) three separate homes that she and her family could’ve stayed safely in without endangering the lives of dozens of people.
Also, when I bought a house in 2018, I needed to provide proof of four years of income, handwritten notes from former and current employers, my driver’s license, tax returns, college transcripts, six strands of armpit hair, and a video recording of me singing Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host”—and my first loan application still got denied. Andrea Askowitz was able to pass through a government barricade during a global pandemic with a note from her mom. Andrea Askowitz is Typhoid Mary.
Four days later, Vicky headed from Miami to Key Largo because the kids and I had coronavirus tests scheduled and we only had one car. Maybe we could have taken an Uber to get the test. The truth was, we wanted to be together.
Then Vicky called, crying. She’d been stopped at the checkpoint. I had only heard her cry like that one other time during our 12-year marriage — when her mom died. She said, “The police are not letting me through.”
An hour later Vicky called again, still crying. “I told them I left the kids alone in the house. They’re escorting me home. You have to hide.”
My son, Sebastian, who’s 11, and I ran around the house looking for a hiding place. The bathroom? The utility closet? Sebastian kept a lookout from the window. He yelled, “I see the police car,” and I slid under the bed. It was tight. The slats were an inch from my face. One was splitting. One heavy man and I’d be crushed. Under the bed might not have been the smartest idea, but I could see into the hallway. I could see if the cop came into the room. Would they see me?
One of the problems I had with Spike Lee’s She Hate Me is that it felt like three different movies crammed into one. It was just too much plot. I felt that way again when reading the quoted passage. There’s just too much whiteness happening here for me to accurately process it all. It’s whiteness bukkake, and you need some protective gear to finish it.
But indulge me for a moment and picture, like I’m picturing, Typhoid Andrea frantically sprinting through her mom’s beach house while looking for a hideout from the po-po.
“What about the pantry???” Sebastian offers. “Which pantry???” Andrea screams back. “The loft pantry!!!” Sebastian answers, as Andrea sprints up the floating staircase, past the moon room, and opens the pantry door—only to discover that it’s filled with cans of oat milk. “Fuck!!!” she howls, as she slams the door. But then reopens it and takes a can with her to stay hydrated.
Andrea Askowitz is not dehydrated at least.
It got hot under the bed. Claustrophobic. I couldn’t move my neck.
I heard the front door open. The kids ran out. I hoped they’d do what I told them: “Do not let anyone in the house, not even a cop. Do not tell them I’m here. Just say hi to Mami Vicky.”
I heard voices. I heard footsteps. Minutes later, Vicky and the kids came upstairs. The cop was gone. The coast was clear.
I’m trying to imagine a black parent instructing their 11-year-old black son to give commands to police officers, but my nose keeps bleeding. Maybe the air in this room is dry or something. I don’t know. Andrea Askowitz is a genie.
It took Vicky hours to relax. She told me the story. She told my mom, her brother, her sister. She had her story down.
She said, “They held me for an hour. It was police brutality. The cop at the checkpoint looked at my paperwork and told me to make a U-turn. I said I came through four days ago with my kids. He said, ‘You should not have been let through; turn around.’ I pulled over. I wasn’t going to leave. I said I needed to speak to a deputy. I said I left my kids alone. The deputy told me to shut up. That’s when I started crying. I said I went out to run errands. I tried to show him the plastic drawers I just bought at Walmart. But he was not interested in evidence. He said, ‘Listen, lady, I’ve been here 13 hours listening to bulls**t stories like yours.’”
Vicky told me this is when she got hysterical. She was impersonating a single mom, separated from her children. She believed her story so completely; she felt justified
She didn’t leave and finally they relented. A cop escorted her to make sure her story was true.
The deputy was a bully. He was that guy who got a taste of power and then imagined himself king of the world. But he was also doing a worthy job, which was to keep coronavirus out of the Florida Keys.
Again, Andrea Askowitz has done a magic trick. Through sheer will and unprecedented whiteness, she’s managed to write an essay that has me rooting for the police. When that cop said “Listen, lady, I’ve been here 13 hours listening to bullshit stories like yours” I wanted to find him and hug him and take him for a beer. And during our beer summit, I’d say: “You think Vicky’s story was bad? Wait till you read her wife’s essay.” And then we’d laugh and we’d cry—Oh, the sweet sadness of our tears!—and I’d drive him home.
Also, “They held me for an hour. It was police brutality.” is such a perfect phrase that I want to bronze it and sleep with it. Not in a sexual way, though. I just want to hold it close while I’m in bed. And maybe take it with me on walks to the park to feed the ducks. We can quarantine together. Maybe binge watch Ozark or Hannibal. Can an essay be an emotional support animal? Andrea Askowitz is a matchmaker.
The truth is, we were the exact people the cops wanted to keep out. We had been in one of the most infected cities in one of the most infected countries in the world. We rode two airplanes; walked through three airports. Two of us were children, currently considered vectors. But we disregarded the rules because… well, because we wanted to.
We’ve been together a week now. Our tests came back negative, and still a county health official calls every day to make sure we haven’t developed symptoms. They are doing an excellent job keeping the community safe. My official told me they only have 89 cases in a population of 75,000. She also told me the checkpoints are overwhelmed with people trying to sneak in with fake IDs and fantastic stories.
I didn’t tell her that was us.
The essay concludes with Typhoid Andrea reminding us that she thoroughly sucks and could’ve easily killed dozens of people. But now, my thoughts are with the hundreds of writers and journalists and editors and others who make a living on words and have been laid off during the pandemic. Countless jobs lost because of a global tragedy exacerbated by a lack of empathy and conscientiousness, but a publication still thought it wise to commission Andrea Askowitz to chronicle how deep her void is, too.
That this was able to happen is all you need to know about...anything now, really. Andrea Askowitz is a white American.