Meet Covid Diarist Ronald Wohlman
Noseweek|September 2020
Ronald Wohlman – EX SOUTH African copywriter, author, and actor – never dreamt that his lockdown diaries, written on Facebook and followed by people all over the world – would become his “life’s work”.
Sue Segar

“Once upon a time in New York City, in the year 2020 to be precise, there lived a kind, medicinally-managed depressive: a neurotic hypochondriac by day, a neurotic insomniac by night.

(Who’m I kidding? He was a hypochondriac at night too, often mostly at night.)”

“What am I writing here? Jesus, I didn’t go into this thinking this will become my opus. But I’m never going to be able to stop writing this diary, am I? It’s now my curse,” wrote Wohlman on Day 61 of his much read and much-loved lockdown journey.

“Addicted to his phone and for the most part going about his simple life not hurting anyone, our antihero was told by everyone he knew that he should write. ‘Oh My God you have to write!!’, they’d all say whenever they saw him. The man chose not to write but instead whined about not writing to a team of expensive shrinks for years.

And then one day, when he was least expecting it – at the time he was getting a massage at All Asians Body Spa on 79th street – an evil virus arrived in his shtetl called the Upper West Side. So on that fateful winter’s day, the man befalls the wicked curse of the virus. He will be trapped in his tower in the middle of Gotham City and will have to write a daily diary entry for the rest of his life. Or until Brad Pitt in a Dr Fauci costume arrives to kiss him on the lips and inject him with a vaccine that’s proven and effective. And maybe kiss him on the lips again, and also on his neck… But only then will the spell be broken.

But hear ye, hear ye, word is that this might take years and years. Like 2 years minimum. Can you imagine for just a second me sitting here in 2022 with the resting face of my grandfather?

Kalman, typing: ‘Day 790. Please Brad, please come today.’ OMG. Lockdown is never-ending is it?”

Wohlman’s musings on living in his lockdown “pod” in New York – normally the world’s busiest city and these days chillingly quiet as the epicenter of the pandemic – were brought to the attention of Noseweek soon after South Africa’s own lockdown started.

With him in the pod are his wife, Judith Dubin, his son, Max, who is studying film in California, their daughter Zoe (16) and their dog Ziggy. Zoe – a budding photographer and videographer – spent part of the lockdown with friends but returned home around week 7.

In the pre-Corona era, Wohlman used to write a column on Facebook called Waiting for a Parking.

“I would write musings and rants in the car while waiting for parking and this series became very popular.

So I knew I had a loving audience on Facebook waiting to hear from me. They hadn’t in a while because I’d given up my car,” he told Noseweek.

“When this lockdown came, it seemed like the perfect ‘waiting for ....’ scenario, in this case, ‘waiting for the lockdown to end’. I also thought it would be a good way to create a community so that we could go through this together.”

His readers range from age 17 to 70-something and span across Australia, South Africa, Israel, India, England, France, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, USA, Canada, and New Zealand. “I have a rabbi, a Buddha, many yogis, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Mormons, atheists, gay people, straight people, people of every colour. So this global diversity and expansive demographic is fascinating to me.

Really incredible that such a diverse group of people feel they can relate to my experiences locked down in New York City. I love that,” Wohlman explains.

His fans include former Cape Town-based author, Rahla Xenopolous (now living in New York with her husband Jason Xenopolous and their teenage triplets), and well-known theatre director, Janice Honeyman. He has featured Baroness Gail Behr as a guest columnist on his lockdown diary, describing her as “one of my most hilarious, brilliant and beloved friends”. Behr recently opened a boutique hotel called Dorp in Cape Town – only to have it closed the very next day by President Ramaphosa’s lockdown declaration.

Wohlman’s Facebook updates are hilariously self-absorbed, imbued with kindness, often poignant, sometimes profound and always relatable. He regularly curses the Trump government and pays tribute to the “soldiers in the war” – the nurses, doctors and others working on the frontline in the fight against the virus.

The comments from his followers are often as entertaining. He clearly has many funny friends …

On Day 0, the day before the lockdown, he described how he went shopping. “I’m late to the apocalypse” – and found all the shops packed with last-minute shoppers.

“I rush around throwing things in. Occasionally I think fuck it, it’s the apocalypse, buy the Lindt slabs with caramel crisps … should I go buy Jew food? During the apocalypse, it might be nice to have some gefilte fish or a matzah ball soup …”

On Day 1, he worried that he’d already eaten three days of apocalypse supplies.

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