Quiz #99. Numbers

How many times did you turn to Amazon in 2020? Reflections on numbers, fantasy football and "My Octopus Teacher" in Steve's Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz for December 29, 2020.

99 times this year, I’ve sat down to write a quiz, chronicling my life with Sara and our family during this coronavirus pandemic.  Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz focuses on my own odd obsessions and reflections as I describe our adventures, assumptions and apprehensions in these strange times. We’re beyond lucky. Not infected. Still working. Able to set up a bubble life with deliveries of food, milk and more than a few non-essentials.

239 times this year, Sara and I have placed orders with Amazon.  (They keep track.)  Looking at the list is its own flashback to how we adjusted to a 24/7 life of staying in one place. Work-from-home. Non-work-from-home. Everything-from-home.  For work, a tray table desk to hold a laptop for use from bed. For non-work, cotton gloves to use when scanning old photos to keep them from getting damaged by fingerprints.  For the virus, a fingertip pulse oximeter in case one of us gets Covid.  For Christmas, a set of 3 Covid masks with a Santa Beard.  For the dogs, multiple orders of poop bags, 900 in all for 2020.

Two Amazon 2020 purchases in this one image from Christmas Eve.

36 times this year, Sara and I ordered books from Amazon.  For Sara, it was everything written by Elana Ferrante. After Sara watched “My Brilliant Friend'' on HBO, she then read Ferrante’s four volume set entitled “The Neapolitan Novels”which she said captured the essence of female friendship.  For me, there was non-fiction from “Rage” by Bob Woodward to “Caste” by Isabell Wilkerson plus fiction from “The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” by Christopher Beha to “A Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet, the books marked with post-it tabs for passages that struck me.

10 times this year, I’ve finished reading a book.  As noted in Quiz #93. Unhinged, daughter Annie keeps track of the books that she reads in a journal.  In 2020, she hit her goal of reading 40 books in a year.  That prompted me to figure out how many books I’d read in 2020 (and that, in turn, prompted the search of our Amazon orders).  I just finished “Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano which was a Christmas present from Annie.  It’s really great and I recommend it, a story of living life in the aftermath of an unbelievable tragedy.  It’s also an appreciation of how our everyday lives are lived as interactions with others, many of them strangers.  We rely on and need loved ones, but beyond them, the rest make up the fabric of our lives.

6 times this year, I’ve started (and not finished) a book.  I won’t list them, but they remain at my bedside.  They will have to wait.  Next up for me, “The Cold Millions” from Jess Walter, author of “Beautiful Ruins” which I read and championed in 2013.  After reading “Ruins,” I read everything written by Walter.  What’s remarkable is that he adopts different styles and approaches in all of his writing.  The story of financial collapse is brilliantly told in the story of poetry in “The Financial Lives of the Poets.”  I’ve only read the first paragraph of his latest novel, “The Cold Millions,” but I am already hooked. The topic: nightfall in Spokane, Washington back in 1909.

Darkness came on that town like a candle being snuffed. This was my wife’s constant complaint about Spokane after two years of me copping there, what Rebecca called the “drastic dark” of autumn…. These were hard years, ‘08 and ‘09, bringing to mind Rebecca’s world, drastic. Steep hills, deep canyons, cold winters, hot summers and those dark autumn evenings that made her so melancholy, when five felt like midnight.

88 people now subscribe to Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz on Substack. Like Amazon, Substack tracks everything. From my author’s “dashboard” on Substack, I can see the date and time when each subscriber has opened a quiz. 

From my author’s dashboard on Substack, a notation of the date and time of a quiz being opened from each subscriber.

Substack has been in the news this year as the destination for more than a few disgruntled journalists, looking to branch out on their own and make money with paid subscriptions to newsletters pioneered by Substack.  Of course, this quiz is free--and I am well aware that I owe you a debt of gratitude for reading it.  Writing it is a distraction for me, a way for me to occupy my mind, organize my thoughts and chronicle my own witness to this devastating pandemic.  I only hope that reading it has made you smile at my ridiculous exploits with perhaps a moment of recognition along the way.  This week, the New York Times profiled Dr. Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor and author who has the most successful paid newsletter on Substack, “Letters from an American.”  Ben Smith’s profile, “Heather Cox Richardson Offers a Break From the Media Maelstrom. It’s Working.” is worth a read.  If 350,000 people were paying to read my quiz, I am quite sure that I would not be as understated and humble as Cox Richardson.  Her newsletter is a must-read and I learn something new from it every day.  History, it turns out, has more than a few things to say about these strange times that are all too often described as unprecedented.

In 2020, I scanned more than 10,000 old family photos.  The latest photos, from Photo Album #18 with 536 images from 1992 and 1993, include pictures from daughter Betsy’s second birthday. Betsy just turned 30 this December.  I have 17 old photo albums of pre-digital images to go with roughly 550 photos per album.  That’s roughly 9,350 photos left.

4 times this year, I’ve won the weekly prize for most points scored in the two DFS-style fantasy football leagues in which I’ve played during 2020.  As noted in Quiz #82.  Promise Made, Promise Broken, I was planning on sitting out fantasy football for 2020 until a doctor I met on the internet came up with a format for fantasy football in 2020 that was described as “pandemic-proof.”  I never thought the NFL season would make it beyond October, but I was wrong and son Ted was right.  Ted said there was too much money at stake for the NFL not to figure out how to conduct a season amid a pandemic.  As I write this, awake too early on Tuesday, December 29th, the season-long results are in from the two fantasy leagues.  (Most fantasy football leagues end on Week 16 because in real life in Week 17, the best players often sit out the last week of the regular season when their teams clinch playoff spots.) I finished second in the league run by the doctor, “Doctors of Gridiron,” just barely missing a chance to pass Renegades, the team that had been in the lead. It all came down to results from the final game of Week 16 on Monday Night Football.  In a mirror league I set up with 36 other friends and family members, I finished third.  (If I had started Jamison Crowder on Sunday for the New York Jets instead of Cole Beasley for the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, I would have finished first in the Doctor league and second in the other.)

In 2020, we sent out 316 holiday cards. With the USPS delay, we’re still getting cards from others in the mail.  Our holiday newsletter, written as a “What did NOT happen?” quiz, is online and on demand.  People can either read it with an answer key at the bottom or take it as a Google Form with a graded quiz result posted to a Google Sheet upon completion.  So far, only 13 people have been brave enough to take it and get graded.  I appreciate their courage and appreciation of the absurdity of it all in playing along.

3 times this year, Sara has watched certain episodes of “Episodes,” the TV comedy series about Matt  LeBlanc, playing Matt LeBlanc, in a send-up about making a TV comedy series. I was never big on “Friends” so passed when Sara started watching “Episodes” on those weekday nights when I worked from home.  During one especially slow work night, I was able to sit with Sara (my iPhone in my hand in case there was news) and watch the final 3 episodes of “Episodes.” It was pretty funny.  Sara agreed to re-watch the series with me on weekend nights.  The only problem is that, because I have trouble sleeping, I fall asleep early, often while watching TV.  If that happens during an episode of “Episodes” that means the next night, we have to watch the episode again as I fast forward through the parts I saw, slowing down to watch those parts where I’d fallen asleep.  For Sara, it’s her third time watching the episode—and she’s not thrilled about this.

2 times this year, people have recommended that we watch “My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix, a documentary about one man’s underwater appreciation of an octopus, living in a small area of water off the coast of South Africa.  The first recommendation was from a coworker, the second from my nephew David who went to college for film and worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, organizing film festivals that included the debut of “Boyhood.”  Sara and I watched “My Octopus Teacher” this Saturday, December 26th. It’s incredible and, if you watch it, you will never eat calamari again. Beyond getting an appreciation for the octopus, we were both fascinated by the obsession and commitment of the filmmaker. The underwater video is breathtaking, but Sara observed that it’s a nature film (of which she has watched many) presented in the modern-day style of the podcast, “Serial.”  The documentary’s central focus is told through the lens of this one man--and what the life of the octopus meant to him,  “And then I wondered, what did this mean?”

2 times this year, I’ve woken myself (and Sara) up, shouting in distress from a nightmare.  That’s never happened before. It’s a horrible feeling, especially transitioning from unconscious desperation to wakeful worry that you’re screaming in bed while you’re supposed to be asleep.

From silly to sad, these numbers tell our story of 2020.  And yet they pale against the most important number. 335,393 people are dead in this country so far--and that number is climbing each day.  The grim reality is that the pandemic is lurking right outside our door. 

Help is on the way. Too late for too many.  It can’t get here soon enough.


What did NOT happen in 2020?

A. I ordered a “Plaster Magic” kit from Amazon;

B. I ordered a rope with a floatation device at the end from Amazon;

C. I ordered extra ceramic light bulbs for our outdoor Christmas lights from Amazon;

D. Sara ordered a Fleetwood Mac compilation CD from Amazon;

E. Sara ordered “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama from Amazon.

Want the answer?

Answer #99. Numbers.

If you’re a subscriber, the answer will be sent to you as a separate email when the question is published.

Want more?

Here’s the next quiz in the series: Quiz #100. “… one.”

Here’s the previous quiz in the series: Quiz #98. “MFC.”

Here’s the first quiz in the series: Quiz #1. Stella and Social Distancing, March 13, 2020

Here is an archive of all the quizzes.

The quiz is explained here: Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz.

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