Scientists track disease outbreaks using all kinds of information: hospital admissions, prescription data, even Google searches for phrases like “I can’t smell.”
I have tracked the coronavirus through a hitherto-untapped epidemiological tool: my own inbox. Emails from corporate America are becoming remarkably personal.
Every airline I’ve flown with and hotel chain I’ve stayed with, and some that I haven’t, has been imploring me to understand how deeply they care about me and how antiseptically clean they would be, if only I return. “Please baby please baby please baby baby baby PLEASE,” they said.
Really, Spike Lee said that, in the movie “She’s Gotta Have It.” But that’s what I’ve been hearing in their strangely intimate notes.
For example, the real estate agent who sold our previous house — a delightful person, but not one I’d developed a close personal relationship with — sent her usual listings with an additional sweet missive: “I am here for you.”
While she would not be holding public showings of homes, she said, private visits were available, with “extra precautions.” Reassuringly, she assured me, “I will remain strategic and steadfast,” which was somewhat mystifying but very nice.
Soon, almost every email I received opened with a new salutation, something along the lines of “I hope this finds you safe and well” before getting down to the pitch. Justin Boots, the cowboy footwear company that was swallowed up by Berkshire Hathaway, promised: “The Stampede Collection offers classic western boots that are crafted to get you through anything and everything, including the uncertain times we’re facing today,” as if one of the features of the Jackson Roper was some kind of personal protective equipment.
“You can stomp on the viruses,” my wife said. “Just squish ‘em!”
Yes, these are stressful times. Many of these people are just doing their best, trying to keep their heads above water and struggling to find anything at all to say that conveys the fact that they know something awful is going on, while practically begging: Please baby please, We’re Still Out Here. Please Buy Something.
Don’t get me wrong. I am warm and sympathetic, too. And I would really appreciate it if you would laugh, just a little, at my jokes. I can already hear people saying, “Too soon!” All I can say is, I’ll keep things sparkling clean for you.
Besides, so many of us are going stir crazy in our cobbled-together home offices, we could all use a laugh.
I don’t know about you, but when my bosses told me to work from home, I was sure they were just tired of seeing my face.
That’s still my suspicion, so I’m more motivated than ever to come up with ways of getting rich.
I’ve got skills! Already, I’ve used some cables and dongles to hook up an old computer monitor to my laptop, and I’ve assembled a desk chair. Myself!
Impressive, huh? That’s just a start. I plan to build a robot that can navigate its way to people’s homes and adjust their computers, cut their hair, and make lumbar-support pillows — from their hair!
If only I had the slightest idea how to get started.
But no matter. That dream isn’t avaricious enough. True entrepreneurs are out there doing sanitizer arbitrage. This is the American spirit at work!
Unfortunately, law enforcement authorities have never understood this kind of greatness, and words like “profiteering” have been bandied about. After an outcry about one such businessman, played out in The New York Times, the wise trader donated his goods to a local church for distribution to the needy.
But you can’t squelch the smart money completely. There are investment opportunities in this pandemic. Just look at financial visionaries like Senator Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia, and Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, who sold off boatloads of stock right after getting classified briefings about how terrible the coronavirus could be for the United States and its economy. They did this while assuring Americans that the United States was really on top of that whole coronavirus thing.
Senator Loeffler, whose trades added up to somewhere between $1.2 million and $3.1 million, didn’t just sell stocks. She bought some, too, in companies that offer software for working remotely, and in another company that makes protective medical gear.
Did we all laud these paragons of investing brilliance? I am ashamed to say that we did not. Nattering naysayers cited the Stock Act of 2012, which prohibits lawmakers from using nonpublic information to turn a private profit, and wondered whether what they did was entirely proper. As my former colleague Peter Lattman put it in an acerbic tweet:
Both senators have repeatedly insisted that they are not insider traders. Ms. Loeffler, whose husband is Jeffrey C. Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, wrote on Twitter:
And Senator Burr issued a statement saying he “relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks.”
Fine. There’s nothing to worry about. After all, President Trump has said, “I find them all to be honorable people.” And if that were not enough reassurance, he added: “They said they did nothing wrong.”
That certainly settles it for me.
Still, insider trading thing sounds too risky, even if you absolutely did not engage in insider trading! So maybe I should continue to think small.
After all, I have a hex wrench. And I am strategic and steadfast. Also, I am here for you. Please baby please baby please.