Friday, January 22, 2021

The Distance

 Six feet, it turns out, can be a difficult space to maintain. It's pretty tiny compared to the one hundred feet required by California to keep flammable vegetation and debris away from your home to keep your home safe and protect the firefighters who may have to come between your house and the grass, trees and shrubs in order to save it. And yet I have on several occasions had to point out the dots on the ground, carefully placed in advance of parents coming to school for the purpose of picking up books, supplies and advice for their children who are waiting in the car. Which happens to be a very safe distance. 

Crowds tend not to be a good place to take this social experiment. Which makes the events of the past year all the more curious. For my family and I, the closing of our local movie palace was the first place that we felt it. That communal sense of popcorn and big screen entertainment is a memory that keeps popping up in connection with our living room, and the comparison suffers. Tickets we purchase long in advance for shows that were postponed remain valid for some future date, but have become largely forgotten. The cut made by closing Disneyland went even deeper as my son surrendered dreams of being among the first to experience the Rise of the Resistance disappeared like so much pixie dust. 

Resistance. That was the other piece, wasn't it? Just as the emperor of doubt and fear rallied his followers into maskless super-spreader events to feed his fragile ego, the rest of us tried to stick to that defensible space. Then events taunted and dared us not to take the streets. George Floyd's death became all the more real to a nation locked inside with a television, watching those eight minutes and forty-six seconds over and over. Until protest was the only way to exorcise some of those demons. The pictures of clashing ideals could often be easily defined by the masks or their defiant lack thereof. We were told that singing in church was a surefire way to spread the virus, but there we were screaming at one another across barricades wanting to have our voices heard.

Meanwhile, back at home, my wife and I were flinching anytime we saw a crowd of people gathered in movies made thirty years ago or more. It crushed the spirit of my gala-prone mate not to have gatherings to attend and parties to plan. Still we watched the throngs pressing in on the Capitol and started the countdown in the same way we did way back when all those motorcycle enthusiasts descended on Sturgis back in August. We avoided travel during the holidays, only to watch cases spike as a result of others priorities: patience and planning versus gratification and that taste of mom's pumpkin pie. Which for some may have been the last thing they tasted. For a while, anyway. 

The pandemic is not over, even if our patience for it has long since evaporated. My wife often opines about the term "social distance," feeling that six feet is much to far to do any actual socializing. It may not be my place, but perhaps I should point out that six feet is also one of the dimensions of your standard grave. 

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And give everyone defensible space. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Shot In The Dark

 Well, okay then. So much for the "kids aren't affected by COVID-19." 

We could start with this simple concept: Everyone is someone else's kid. By this reckoning, all the victims of this virus have been children. Somebody's children.

But today I want to speak of one in particular: Nine year old Pierce O'Loughlin. Little Pierce did not die in an intensive care ward, surrounded by machines and doctors and nurses in masks. He was found dead in his home in San Francisco last Wednesday. His mother alerted authorities when it was reported that he did not attend school that day. When police responded, they found Pierce's body along with the body of his father, Stephen.

Stephen shot and killed his little boy, then turned the gun on himself.

And how is this a COVID-related death? Apparently the ugly ongoing custody battle between Pierce's mother and father centered on an angry disagreement about vaccination. Mom was for it. Dad was against it. Except, it would seem, in the case of lead pellets to relieve the pain of living. 

Once again, we are faced with what may be the most unforgivable crime: Murder-suicide. If you don't want to be vaccinated, and can't imagine living in a world that would do just that to your son, there's the door. Don't take your son with you. Unless you're not really making a statement about being an anti-vaxxer and you're doing the most despicable thing imaginable to punish your ex-wife. 

In which case, this isn't so much a COVID-related death as an excuse to be brutal. As if there wasn't enough death floating around, and suffering was in short supply. Did this clown really need a reason to inflict any more pain? 

Meanwhile, the debate over vaccination will rage, not unlike that about climate change, as our country continues to flirt with the nineteenth century. My parents had a very good friend who, in spite of growing up with polio, became a pediatrician and a professor at the UCLA school of Medicine. My guess is that if she heard of anyone turning down a vaccine for anything, she would have beat them severely with her cane. I wish Dr. Jo would have had a shot at Stephen O'Loughlin before he went. 

Literally and figuratively. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Less Is Not More

 It will be such a relief to have science and math back.

Maybe we should have paid a lot more attention to the "count" of the crowd back at the 2017 inauguration of the former game show host, now twice-impeached "president." He and his minions seemed to struggle with the concept of "more than" and "less than." It could be that those symbols, "Which way is the alligator pointing?" They were saying that there were more people at their guy's inauguration, but it was pretty obvious they meant less. A couple things here: It could be that these people really were bad at math. Or it could be that they figured that if they just kept talking about it, everyone would start to believe it. Like so many things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. But there were not more people at his inauguration. The truth was not in the middle on that one. 

It could be that they got stuck on the somewhat obscure factoid that Donald Trump received more votes than any incumbent president before him. Latching on to this piece of information stoked the fires of ignorance however, and ignored the other little piece that came right next to it: Joe Biden received more votes than any candidate in American history. Listening to full sentences has never been a strong point for that crowd, so maybe they couldn't stick around for the truth. 

Maybe they were just late. Telling time and calendars is another strand of math that may have escaped the grasp of the fans of the former game-show host. They all showed up about a year too late. Then they proceeded to storm the Capitol. Two weeks before the inauguration of the next president. 

Perhaps it's not a math thing at all. Maybe it's just terrorism. Like the way that terrorist tried to light a fuse on his sneakers to blow up a plane back in December 2001 and we are all still taking our shoes off before we get on board our flights. Since those idjits showed up a couple weeks ago, the National Guard and assorted and asserted law enforcement have cordoned off the Mall in Washington D.C. ensuring that the crowds attending Joe Biden's will not only be smaller than four years ago but virtually non-existent. Now that crowds have become mobs, bracing for violence and screening our elected representatives for weapons, the celebration is muted. Diminished by the idjits who showed up late. Late for the inauguration. Late for the election of their leader's successor. 

Late. 

Less. 

Lost. 

And now the work to restore what has been torn apart for the past four years begins. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Partly Cloudy

 The news that Georgia has gone blue should not be overshadowed by the ugly mess that has been the past few weeks. This is the good news for bleeding hearts such as myself that has been in such short supply during the four years of Trumplestiltskin. What should be remembered, however, is that this kind of thing has been happening intermittently not just as a distraction from the current administration, but as a response to the forces that brought us our first African American president. These have been the steps forward when as a country we are so very prone to taking two steps back.

The past four years have, at times, felt like we were sprinting in the wrong direction. For us bleeding hearts, anyway. Trying to keep our eyes on that proverbial prize was difficult if not impossible. There were times during which the almost absurd evil stacked up in such a way that it almost blocked out the sun. 

The sun came out a little bit this past week: The National Rifle Association declared bankruptcy. While the Trump family was putting things in boxes and patching the holes and hoping to get their deposit back, the NRA was announcing to their move to Texas to be free of the “toxic political environment of New York.” Oh, and they are hemorrhaging money and filing Chapter 11 will allow them to consolidate their debts and assets. And a major donor is challenging that filing, suggesting that the powers that used to be in the NRA have defrauded contributors by using their donations to pad their excessive lifestyles. Suggesting that all is not well in our country's most prominent gun lobby comes as happy news to those of us who root against the evil empire. Or at least what we perceive to be the evil empire. 

Because i know that January 20 will show up as a dark day for those who live on the other side of this equation. Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen? And I suppose there will be those who will see this parting of the clouds in my world as a storm front in theirs. It's like that weather forecast that aims to please everyone: Partly cloudy. This too, as they say, shall pass. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Get Back

 Let's get things back to normal.

That's what I hear people say. Good people. People with wisdom and experience. They want things to stop being the way they are: abnormal. Late last week, the global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed two million. 

Two million human beings have died in less than a year from a virus that we can only pretend to understand. Vaccines are in short supply and their distribution is proving to be every bit as mismanaged as everything else associated with this disease. Cynics among us will shout, "That sounds pretty normal to me."

But it shouldn't be. Humans have a pretty good history of coming together in times of crisis. Droughts and famine, for example, have created mass humanitarian events that have narrowed the divide between left and right, east and west. That was normal. Extraordinary but expected. 

Not so much anymore. Resources are scarce and cooperation seems limited. How we choose to deal with the pandemic defines us politically. This doesn't just seem abnormal, it seems ridiculous. During the siege on the Capitol, as members of congress were being ushered to safety, certain individuals refused masks being handed out due to the confined space in which they found themselves. Would it be "normal" for these folks to be so easily distinguished along party lines? Should their reactions to the chaos outside be linked to antisocial behavior inside?

It's not normal. Disneyland is opening, at last, not as an amusement park but as a vaccination center. That's not normal. Ninety-three percent of school-age children in the U.S. are using some form of distance learning, meaning that they are not in classrooms with their peers, socializing and connecting with teachers and friends. That's not normal. I haven't had to break up a fistfight on the playground for ten months. A relief, yes, but not normal. 

And like that fistfight thing, I'm not sure I'm anxious to go back to whatever it was that got us here. When we begin to build it back, we want to build it back better. Normal gave us climate change. Normal gave us corporations are people. Normal gave us Qanon. Normal gave us 2020. 

I'm not sure about normal, but I'm sure I don't want to go back to 2020. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Suffer The Little Children

 A week after the riots in our nation's capitol that helped make everything about 2021 look like an extended dance remix of 2020, my son entered the room and announced, "I've been alive for three quarters of our country's impeachments." A quick check of dates allowed that he has, in fact, been on this planet for the impeachments of Bill Clinton (once) and Donald Trump (twice). None of us in the room had any personal recollection of Andrew Johnson's back in 1868.

But I remembered Watergate. And Richard Nixon. And Haldeman and Erlichman and all the President's Men. The events of the summer of 1974 live in my memory and profoundly shaped my political outlook moving forward. From the age of twelve. Nixon was not impeached. He left the White House on Marine One in one of the most stellar examples of "You can't fire me, I quit!" that could ever be imagined. 

That was nearly fifty years ago. At that time, the war in Vietnam was ending, and that was the reference I had for national suffering prior to the upheaval that brought us Gerald Ford. President Ford will probably be best remembered for giving Chevy Chase a career, and for pardoning former president Richard Nixon. It was that four to six year period that made me the cynic that I am today. 

Not that I don't still look for silver linings, or make excuses for those who I admire. But when I think of what it must be like to be a young person at this point in history, I shudder. Not just a little. The past four years have been nothing but a betrayal of all those ideals put forth in the eight before that. The face of American politics is now one of shame and disgrace. American casualties from our involvement in Vietnam capped out at just under sixty thousand. American casualties from COVID-19 stand just below four hundred thousand, while that number continues to rise with thousands more dying each day. Anyone celebrating their first birthday this year will have lived through half the impeachments of an American president, and the greatest loss of American life - compared to all our wars combined - in our history. 

I suppose it makes sense that my own reaction to the events of the past few weeks has fueled my already somewhat jaundiced view of our political landscape. But it has also given me hope. The victories in Georgia and the ceiling shattering election of our first woman of any color to the second highest office in our land should mean something. They are an example of resiliency, one of our nation's super powers. Convincing a twelve year old of that, or my twenty-three year old son?

Time will tell. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Test Of My Patience

 Part of my daily routine when I arrive at school these days is to fill out a Daily Symptom Checklist. It's a Google Form, designed to track the health of the school district's employees who continue to serve on their campuses. The "essential ones." There are only nine questions, six of which are school, ID number, first and last name, cell phone, email. Then comes the $64,000 questions: Do you  or does any member of your household have a current confirmed COVID-19 infection? Followed by a more specific list of symptoms: fever, headache, diarrhea, shortness of breath and so on. The last one is a temperature check, doubling down on that whole fever question which is itself a doubling down on the symptom question. And each day that I sit down at my table in the hallway, I open my laptop and enter that same information. Dutifully. Without ever knowing with absolute certainty that I do not carry a steaming hot bowl of virus around with me everywhere I go.

Until now. 

After ten months of fear and oddly placed confidence, I have received my first official COVID-19 test. The old joke about staying up late the night before applies here, since I have spent more than my share of anxious moments since last March wondering if and when I would catch the virus. As the tech point person for our school, I have had the opportunity to meet and greet a great many individuals coming and going for this and that. Mostly to pick up or drop off Chromebooks in various states of repair. Most of this contact has been masked, and I have rushed to the office to grab a disposable one for parents and students who arrive without having read any of the memos sent out or signage displayed in and around the building. 

Last week, I went to the nearest district-provided location for my district-sanctioned test. I sat down at a small table outside a warehouse on the other side of a plexiglass divider and waited while the nurse checked for my appointment. Once I was confirmed as a district-approved employee, I was handed a swab that I was told to swish around my teeth, tongue and gums for thirty seconds. After that, I verified my district-issued email address and my cell phone number and was assured that I would be contacted within forty-eight hours.

When forty=eight hours came and went, I assumed like so many district-sponsored events, that there may have been an unforeseen event that kept the results from being made available to me. After four days, I imagined that I might assume that the results were negative with no reason to bother me. After six days I worried that they may have assumed that I had died from complications and not bothered to contact me. So I dug up the email address of the folks in charge.

Within a few minutes, I received a reply assuring me that I had indeed tested negative for COVID, and that I should look forward to getting another test next month. 

Better start studying now.