Thursday, April 30, 2020

Do Your Job

Okay, he said as he rolled up his metaphorical sleeves, let's get down to it. 
On Monday, the "president" made the following pronouncement: "There has been so much unnecessary death in this country. It could have been stopped and it could have been stopped short, but somebody a long time ago, it seems, decided not to do it that way. And the whole world is suffering because of it." I suppose I should start with the notion of "unnecessary death." This seems to raise the obvious specter of "necessary death." In this matter I would only assume that we look to our institutional means such as the death penalty. It also makes me think of the recent spate of parades and demonstrations in which people, predominately Americans, have rushed out into the streets insisting that the matter of losing a few lives is worth getting our freedoms back. If you're in Georgia, some of those freedoms include getting a haircut or tattoo. If you are not a Constitutional scholar, you may not be familiar with the portions of that document that describe in detail every U.S. citizen's tonsorial and skin decorating rights.
The sad fact of the matter is that these folks are so intent on "sticking it to the man" that they don't recognize what a good deal "the man" has given them. All of these governors who have made tough conscientious decisions on how best to keep people from dying are getting varied amounts of support from the federal government. Many of those "unnecessary deaths" came as a result of a woefully unprepared nation operating in a vacuum. The estimates tossed around early in the game were terrifying, and anyone who looks at the current death toll might be tempted to say, "Where are the millions that everyone promised?"
It reminds me of the George Carlin bit where he played a radio announcer relating the holiday death toll on the highways, "that's down a little from last year - you're not trying!" But that's just it: We are trying. We are doing something that's never been done before. We have stopped rushing forward, regardless of the consequences. And people are staying alive as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, but we are fast approaching a moment where there will be a million patients who have survived. Thanks to the efforts of our doctors, nurses, orderlies, custodians and anyone holding a swab, what could have been is just that: Could have been.
And what did we have to do? Stay home. Stay apart. If only all problems were this easy. Yes, I hear that thunder in the back, the garbled voices screeching about the importance of the economy and how we can't leave a mess for our grandchildren to clean up. As long as those same voices have been raised about climate change and income equity, then I'm willing to let them roar. Someday, a long time from now, we will talk about how somebody stepped up and did the right thing. We won't need to focus on the "somebody" who made all this suffering and death even worse.
But for now, shut up. Stay home. Do your job.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Piers Morgan apologized to Lady Gaga last week. The talk show host apologized to the pop singer for initially diminishing her role in in the World Health Organization's attempts to raise awareness and money to help fight COVID-19. At first, Morgan was very uncivil. “Has she found a cure?” he tweeted. “Otherwise, we don’t need a bloody singer there.” One great big concert and one hundred twenty-seven million dollars later, the big fat apology came: “This was a great initiative that raised a fortune, entertained people, and will help save lives. It was also a perfect illustration of a major star using their profile properly in this crisis. Congrats and sorry for originally questioning it.”
Over the weekend, another pop star decided to follow suit. This was Post Malone's turn to use his talents to help out. He and his band played an eighty minute set of Nirvana covers and raised almost three million dollars. Did he find a cure or help create a vaccine? Nope. He used his talents to pitch into a fund that continues to grow, and perhaps more importantly take some people's minds off of what is going on outside. 
Back in 1985, an Irish musician had an idea about helping alleviate the famine in Africa. He put together a little show called Live Aid with some of his mates. which eventually raised more than one hundred twenty-seven million dollars to ease the humanitarian crisis across the globe. One hundred twenty-seven dollars. Nice coincidence. Nice job. 
They might have been inspired by the hippies who put together three days of peace, love and music in 1969. Four hundred thousand kids came together to celebrate all those previously mentioned concepts and take part in a concert that spawned a cultural meme. "It'll be the Woodstock of plumbing fixture trade shows!" 
Maybe it's that healing power of music that we've heard so much about. There's a lot of healing that needs to take place out there. 
And all that money won't hurt either. 
Keep on rockin'. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Creature Features

Most of your most famous monsters don't really think of themselves as monsters. Your King Kong, your Wolf Man, your Frankenstein's Monster. That last one is, admittedly, a bit of a giveaway, but it brings me back around to my point. There comes that tragic moment when the beast confronts the fact that he, invariably "he," is the scary one. Tragic, really.
And so it was with Fang Monster.
Oh. You aren't familiar with the story of Fang Monster? Perhaps the most frightening creature ever to haunt the halls of my parents' house. On any given Friday night when my parents were out for the evening. Fang Monster would chase my friend and I around the house, up the stairs, down the stairs. We were terrified. The most visceral memory I have of those nights was sitting with both of our backs against the wall with our legs bracing against my bedroom door as Fang Monster shoved and snarled and pounded on the other side. My friend and I had no idea what might happen if somehow Fang Monster would break through. What did he want? Why was he so enraged?
Fang Monster did not want to be a monster. Fang Monster was my younger brother. He had no idea that he was a monster. He just wanted to be able to play with his older brother and his friend. The terms were pretty simple: If you want to play with us, you're going to have to be the bad guy. The rules were simple. Fang Monster chase.
You know the part in the movies where the monster is antagonized by the villagers carrying torches and pitchforks? My friend and I were doing that with peer pressure. Which is worse than torches and pitchforks. My friend and I created a monster. Fang Monster.
Today is Fang Monster's birthday. And the greatest gift I can imagine is this: I'm sorry. You didn't sign up to be a monster. You're not a monster.
We were.

Monday, April 27, 2020


So maybe you've noticed that the subtitle of this blog is "Short Attention Span Theater." Or maybe you've been too rushed to take the time to read down that far. Which is understandable. This is the age in which we live. It's a "don't bother to read the subtitles kind of world" in which we live. It's hard to keep up.
Until now.
All of a sudden we have been gifted with all this extra time. Time to learn how to play guitar, as a friend of mine from work has done. He's got the beginning part of Bob Marley's "Jammin'" almost down. And he continues to work on it.
Because he's got the time. My wife and I have completed watching three seasons of The Good Place. It's a show about being trapped somewhere between heaven and hell and it's entirely relatable currently, but of course back in the days before Quarantine we didn't have time to watch. At least that's what we told ourselves. And best of all, Netflix takes the commercials out. Saving us all that time to learn how to play guitar.
And set up Zoom meetings.
It has occurred to me that back in the day there was no producers or disc jockeys telling Beethoven that that Ninth Symphony is really boss but does it have to be that long? Like the scene in Bohemian Rhapsody where resorts to going to a radio station to personally invite them to play his band's six minute song. Take this to the current status of pop music where songs are released and albums are rarely created to be taken as a whole. We simply don't have the time to listen to anything for more than two minutes and forty-five seconds. During this isolation period, I have been listening to Pink Floyd records start to finish. Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a long title for an album that should be listened to at a sitting. Just your luck! We happen to be sitting for forty to fifty minutes at a stretch these days. Why not enjoy a little extended play?
My sainted mother and I were talking movies the other night, as we have done straight along, but I confess I reach out to her a little more often these days. I wanted to know how she enjoyed the last Avengers movie because I needed validation for my nerdiness from my mother. And we agreed that it was quite epic, which had the subtext of meaning "long." Not that we didn't enjoy it. When I watched it the first time, I was ready to do laps. Yet I am still willing to participate in our culture's obsession with keeping it short. I make my share of jokes about Martin Scorsese's The Irishman. "Oh, it's so long! Why can't it be shorter?" Okay. Maybe they were more whines than jokes, but seemed important to diminish it because of the time it took to watch it. Shameful, when I consider how I reacted to a friend of mine complaining about Peter Jackson's King Kong going on for more than three hours. I was agog. King Kong? Peter Jackson? Why couldn't it have been six hours?
These are unique times. Time to reflect. Savor. Enjoy. Between the mounting fear and depression. And I could go on and on about this, but you've got things to do.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

You're Not The Boss Of Me

Let's see, the world is hunkering down as any good world would in the midst of a plague. But, as I have pointed out here recently, that does not mean that we have to recognize a universal cessation of hostilities.
Quite the opposite. Tensions are high, and not just across America's living rooms as families try to negotiate terms of use for their Netflix account. A lot of folks would rather not be told what to do, especially when it comes to wearing a mask or standing six feet away from one another. Now I suspect some might have missed the message, or maybe their good mask was in the wash, or perhaps their sense of distance is impaired by years of being taunted by the conversion to the metric system. Whatever the case, it's causing some people to get more than a little jumpy.
You can add to this list the flood of overly concerned corporations who have taken it upon themselves to produce commercials to remind us just how overly concerned they are with our welfare. Dunkin' Donuts cares. Burger King wants to help. Everyone wants us to know that they offer "contactless delivery." Even Hyundai would like to make things easier for you to buy a car. Even if you don't have anywhere to drive right now.
What can be done with all this pent-up aggression? Some have taken to a nightly ritual of howling at the moon, or at least howling at the twilight. This could be a change from the original version which had Italians singing from their balconies. Which is great if you can get everybody to agree on a song. And everybody knows the words. And sing. Or you could just get up right now and go to your window and yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
Or, you could take it to the lowest possible level and start taking it out on those around you. You could start caterwauling at people who are just doing their jobs. Call them names. Demean them just for making the mistake of being in the same room as you. That's what our "president" does. Don't do that. As the lady said, "It's chaos, be kind."
Just a suggestion. I'm not the boss of you.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Why Waste Your Time?

A while back I wrote here about using a hair dryer to stave off being contaminated by COVID-19. If you still have a blow dryer up your nose, put it down. Unless of course this has been a part of your grooming regimen for some time. Unruly nose hair can be a trial even when we aren't in the midst of a global pandemic.
What I would like to suggest is this: One hundred monkeys and one hundred typewriters. Not actually, but in the following hypothesis: We have millions of people, some of them quite clever - educated even, and it seems that if we were to unleash this vast potential problem solving mechanism on finding a cure for the disease that is currently having its way with the planet. Two housecats were recently diagnosed with coronavirus. And Idris Elba. That was in case you weren't already stirred by the hundreds of thousands who are suffering and dying. Idris Elba.
Instead of spending all your time trying to figure out how to get wifi in the guest bathroom, or choosing what to binge on Netflix next, put on your thinking cap and set yourself a goal to come up with a cure or at least a treatment for COVID-19.
Since you asked, I have considered a few. Like the thought of giving coronavirus the coronavirus. See how they like it. Or what about the M Knight Shamalamadingdong movie where it turns out that water is what kills the aliens? In War of the Worlds it was the common cold that brought the Martians down, so maybe if we can't infect the virus with itself, maybe we could give it some of Keith Richards' old blood from back when he used to have really scary blood. Before he had it all replaced. Or we could lure it to a Taco Bell and force it to eat the entire Dollar Menu. Someone recently suggested that we could scare it away by telling it that we really have feelings for it. And we think it might be time for a commitment.
Instead of singing Happy Birthday or It's A Small World or any other tune that goes on between twenty seconds and four hours, why not spend some time ruminating on how we might combat this beast of a germ? Consider its motivations. Ponder its potential as a world leader, compared to some already elected to high office. Imagine how we might ruin its day instead of staying hidden in our caves, only stepping out in our masks when we want a breath of fresh air filtered through a bandanna.
Or maybe this is all a bad dream, and we will all wake up soon with a sigh of relief. Because that's another thing that I have learned from watching Invaders From Mars. Except when we think we can wipe the sweat from our collective brow and move on with our lives, it turns out that was no dream. There's a worldwide pandemic going on right outside and there is no cure.
Not yet.
So let's get busy.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Should I Shave Or Should I Grow Now?

So, that little project is done.
Not the one where I painted the rocking chair. Although after some sanding and a couple coats of spray blue, it's looking just fine out on the porch again.
It's not the lawn mowing, either. There have been moments when I have looked out on the grass, especially in the back yard, where I have considered pulling the mower out of the garage and hitting it again, just to have something accomplished.
And on the work front, there are daily requests and questions that need answering for technical assistance. How do I log into this? Where is that report? Can first graders do the second grade version? That won't end anytime soon.
The one I am referencing is the space just below my nose and above my chin. About three weeks ago, I started letting my facial hair grow. I am not by any stretch of the imagination alone in this enterprise. Men across the globe have been follically experimenting with their cheeks, chins and upper lips over the past six weeks. Some of the results have been nothing short of transformative. Some of them not so much. A colleague of mine cancelled his beard when another teacher pronounced him "Yasser Arafat."
I was more fortunate. I chose to go for the goatee, mostly because it is the style that universally causes individuals to stroke their chin as they attempt to describe it. It also had the effect of combining with my skin-dome and glasses to give me a Walter White vibe. The guy from Breaking Bad. The guy who gave up his job as a chemistry teacher to get into the drug trade. It allowed me to let folks know, when they asked during Zoom meetings what I had been doing during quarantine, that I was building a meth lab in my basement.
But sooner or later, all good beards must come to an end. I had a beard and mustache when my son was born. That one was raised out of the relative calm before his birth. I wore that one for the first eight or nine months of his life, but I shaved it off as a direct result of seeing him flinch when I leaned down to kiss him goodbye. I don't need whiskers that bad.
And so came the end of this version. My wife was initially enthralled, claiming that she felt like she was "dating a new guy." Somewhere in there, however, I began to remind her of her uncle. That was enough for me. That and the fact that what came sprouting out of my face was not the old standby gerbil colored hair that I had cultivated in my youth. This was a lot of salt with a little bit of pepper. I hit the rewind button hard when I shaved it off. No more meth lab. No more stranger in my wife's boudoir. No more stray food hanging around after meals.
And no audition for ZZ Top.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Life Continues To End

There was some snark floating around Al Gore's Internet in the past few weeks about how the good news in all this stay-at-home time is that there haven't been any school shootings.
Al Gore's Internet is where one expects to find snark, and as we roll past the twenty-first anniversary of the Big Daddy Of Them All, Columbine, it may give us a chance to reflect on the past couple decades. There is something profound to be said about having a home that is gun-free while kids are stuck inside it for months at a time. I am not suggesting that home-schooling could lead to filicide, but there are certainly memes floating around that previously mentioned network of computers giving that impression. Incels will be stuck at home this year along with everyone else, so not having a date to the prom will be removed as a motive for a killing spree.
So, if we don't have to worry about school shootings, I guess we don't have to worry about gun violence while the global pandemic grabs our waking attention.
Except Canada.
Yes, our neighbors to the north experienced their worst mass shooting in Canadian history. A very bad man, dressed as a police officer moved through Nova Scotia, killing eighteen and setting fire to their homes. The homes in which they were sheltering to avoid being killed by a global pandemic. Disguised as a member of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police, he was able to move through a thirty mile area as residents were told to lock their doors and hide in their basements. The horror of an unseen virus was quickly replaced by the horror of a killer pretending to be a trusted first responder. One of the victims was a school teacher. Feel free at this moment to soak in the irony. Or don't. It's bitter and ugly.
Someday, this worldwide epidemic will be in the rearview mirror, and we will emerge from our cocoons to face the world after. Meanwhile, gun sales continue to surge. Shootings in urban areas go on as they have for years.
And we hope that a vaccine can be found. For senseless murder.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Who Needs Sleep?

A few nights ago, I was awake.
This is part of "the new normal" for me. The insomnia that plagued me once upon a time now resurfaces with a vengeance to let me know that there are things in this life that are out of my control. Yes, it does occur to me just how ironic anyone who read that last sentence will find the my use of the word "plague." For now, let's just imagine that it's a side effect of this virus. Value-added, if you will.
I was thinking about my son. I have done a lot of this over the past month and a half. I have probably checked in with him more often in the past six weeks than I have since he left for college. There was a time when I worried that he might not make it there. Living away from the only home he's known for his entire life seemed like an enormous challenge.
As it turns out, he was up for it. His academic struggles mirrored many of my own during his time at sleep-away school. He toughed it out and learned how to motivate himself and eventually brought home A's and B's.
Home. There it is again. That place where you leave your stuff. Where your heart is. The relative freedom of living under one's own roof cannot be overemphasized here. On recent visits, we have been reminded how much our son's rhythms are now his own. His parents are old and creep off to bed at what they consider a reasonable hour. His life continues on into the wee hours via texts and tweets and streaming media. We are relieved that he camps out in the back of the house, where he can relax in his own version of night and day.
Which is a little like the way things used to be. A very long time ago, he would wake up crying and I would go into his room. I would pick him up and carry him around in the darkness. He was much more portable as a baby than he is now. I would walk to the windows in the back room and show him the world in slumber. I reminded him that the birds had gone to sleep. The neighbors had gone to sleep. His mother was asleep in our room. That's what we do now. We sleep.
It only occurs to me now that those late night strolls were as soothing for me as they were for him. Saying all those comforting things made me relax into the role of daddy. I could leave behind my own cares and focus on the ones of my little boy. Now I look out those same windows and remind myself that everyone else is asleep.
Except maybe my son. He's probably awake playing video games with other young folks who are riding out this peculiar storm.
The birds are asleep. The neighbors are asleep. I will be too. But not right now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Man Behind The Curtain

There are currently a bunch of TV doctors and Talking Heads out there exhorting the masses to take back their freedom. Don't let yourself be fooled into staying inside and missing out on all that life has to offer. Don't let the government push you around. 

The masses, or what amounts to a mass when most of the country is listening to reason, are protesting these Draconian measures being handed down by governors and mayors. The ones that say that staying at home is the best way to slow the spread of the disease that has killed more than one hundred fifty thousand people. Forty thousand of them Americans. And those TV doctors and Talking Heads would like us to believe that those were the ones who were "on their last legs" anyway. 
And our "president" is Tweeting his encouragement of this insurrection. He sees this as "liberation." Liberation from reality? 
I think of America before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In September of 1939, a Gallup poll suggested that less than half of Americans wanted to see their country involved in a World War even as Germany threatened England and France. A month later, when Nazis stormed into Poland, that number went down still further. In May of 1940, only seven percent of Americans wanted to intercede as Hitler's armies marched across western Europe. In December of 1941, after Japan attacked our fleet in Hawaii, only seven percent opposed going to war against the Axis powers. 
Still seven percent didn't want to get involved. 
The number of protesters standing too close and insisting that they open their local Chick-Fil-A is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of seven percent. Most of us continue to shelter in place because it is the thing that keeps us from getting sick. And getting others sick. And dying. Those people on TV are telling us that it's our duty as Americans to speak out. Those people who are part of the propaganda arm of the government are telling the masses that they should exert their authority. Huddle together and yell and scream and cough on one another, and then claim that the death toll has been exaggerated. Or under reported or how more people die in boating accidents every year than this pandemic. 
This was no boating accident. 

First it came for the elderly, and I did not speak out 
Because I was not elderly.
Then it came for those with breathing ailments, and I did not speak out
Because I was not one with breathing ailments.
Then it came for the diabetics, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a diabetic.
Then it came for me
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Test Of Character

Roger Ebert used to have this rule, which he called "The Stanton-Walsh Rule." The terms maintained by this edict were that any film that included either Harry Dean Stanton of M Emmet Walsh in a supporting role would not be "altogether bad." The exceptions that prove this rule would be Dream A Little Dream for Stanton and Wild Wild West for Walsh. They can't all be Maseratis, even for Harry and M Emmet.
Which is pretty much how I feel about Brian Dennehy. Mister Dennehy passed away last week at the age of eighty-one. At this point in history it should probably be noted that his death was not attributed to COVID-19. Besides, if you're familiar with his work, you would be surprised to find that any one virus could take down this mountain of a man. With one hundred eighty-three credits on his IMDB page spanning more than forty-three years, it's hard for me to recall a time when Brian Dennehy wasn't in front of a camera. He was the tough guy who could fill up a doorway and bring the action to a pause while he surveyed the scene. Like Stanton and Walsh, Dennehy was a character actor who rarely took top billing. His job was to show up and make things interesting. He did just that in his second theatrical appearance in Semi-Tough alongside Burt Reynolds. This role didn't show off all the talent that he had to offer, but it got the ball rolling. Most folks will recognize him as the mean old sheriff taunting Sly Stallone in First Blood. Or a few years later, when he was a little softer but still menacing in Cocoon. Or the corrupt lawman of Silverado.
And the list goes on. But it should also include the two Tonys he won for his turns as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night. Still, it's much more likely that you recognize him for his role in Tommy Boy with Chris Farley. This was a working actor. A character actor, as Patton Oswalt's favorite Brian Dennehy story goes. In it, Patton describes being at a Hollywood party where he is struggling with whether or not to belly up to the buffet, whereupon he meets Mister Dennehy and it is eventually his encouragement that allows Patton to succumb to the temptation of all that food. "Character actors, right?"
Maybe he wasn't a movie star like Burt Reynolds or Sylvester Stallone, but he stomped on the Terra. And the buffet. He was a huge talent, and he will be missed. Aloha, Brian Dennehy. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020


In the minutes leading up to the moment when everything changed, I was asking one of our fifth graders about his last basketball game, the one scheduled for that coming Saturday. "Aw," he complained, "They cancelled it because of the Coronavirus." This was a shame indeed because his team had gone undefeated and only had the mild formality of playing a team they had already beat to have a perfect record. Instead all they got was that lousy asterisk*.
It was later that day when word came down that not only was Saturday's basketball cancelled, but so was the rest of school. As the staff rushed around preparing work for students they assumed they would see in a couple weeks, there was little thought of how we would eventually come back together again. It was, by most accounts at the time, going to be a prolonged Spring Break.*
We went home after that, having reminded as many parents as we could that there would be no school for two weeks. Happily, most of them were able to make sense of this pronouncement and we set about imagining how we might deal with the inevitable loss of school days. By Monday of the following week, our return date had been pushed back to May.*
Now there was talk around our district and across our state about the possibility that "normal" was still quite a ways away and field trips and year-end activities like proms and commencements might have to be postponed, altered, or eliminated altogether. All those championship games took a backseat to public health.*
Somewhere down near the midpoint of California, our son was completing his coursework. He had received an email saying that his June commencement was on hold until further notice. A few days later he received another email from his university telling him that his diploma was in the mail. The family joke that erupted out of this was that a courier would drive past his house and toss his sheepskin on the lawn in a bio-hazard bag. A honk and a wave. Congratulations!*
Birthday celebrations are being held online. Easter egg hunts were conducted in living rooms. My wife insists we are beginning to detect facial expressions from the eyes poking out above masks. People who have not picked up their guitar in years are taking lessons from Al Gore's Internet. *
Hopefully these things that we have maintained or shifted to new platforms will make up for the months that have straight up disappeared. There will be more undefeated seasons. There will be more commencements. But not like these.*
*everything changed

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Giving Up

On a journey beyond sight and sound - I'm about to enter the Overweight Zone.
Okay. Not "about." There has been a substantial period of self-denial prior to this. And when it comes to denial, who better to deny than yourself? Which is precisely what got me into trouble. All of that rationalization and overthinking that comes with little or not portion control. Do the math. I exercised this morning. I'm going to exercise again tomorrow. I ride my bike to school every day for heaven's sake.
But that's just not how these things work. I have in my genetics a predilection toward being round. I used to make fun of my dad and his seemingly never-ending attempts to trim up the paunch he acquired in his middle age years. There was a small eave under his T-shirt where his gut protruded mildly over his belt. I can remember sitting on his feet while he did sit-ups when I was younger and much later I joined him in his new obsession: running.
For decades now, I have been content to use this running thing as my maintenance and my solace. I have tried to stay ambulatory all this time in hopes that if I kept moving I could stay one step ahead of the hefty specter of heft. This fear is now the answer to the oh-so-clever question I once asked my father, "What are you running from?" In my twenties, this seemed very insightful. When I pose it to my fifty-seven year old self, I know that the clever answer would be "mortality," but I think the more encouraging version would be "what am I running to?"
I am running toward a better version of myself. Not necessarily my youth, but it would be nice to feel like I was not simply running in place. Treadmills are abhorrent to me. Running to stand still, as the Irish poet once said.
But it still takes more than working up a sweat to keep up with the metabolic changes that come with being fifty-something. I can no longer process pounds of Peanut M&Ms in the manner my twenty-something system used to. I have made a lot of noise here and anywhere people might hear me about how I deserve my vices since I have sacrificed so very many over the course of the past three decades. Drinking and drugs were an easy choice, and they made me feel noble and since I ended up getting married and starting a family as a somewhat direct result, that was not taken lightly. I still pine for the occasional Coca-Cola, though my kidneys are grateful that I went cold turkey after passing a few stones.
On the flip side, creating a new habit has always come pretty easy for me. The running thing. Taking vitamins and supplements that help stave off the inevitable pains and deficiencies brought to us all by passing years. Actively applying this capacity to my diet seems like a foregone conclusion, but all that denial mentioned previously tends to well up for me at this point.
I read a pithy little Tweet a couple weeks ago that suggested, "You can't spell 'isolate' without 'I ate.'" Which was amusing enough at the time, but as my bathroom scale and shape have begun to reflect this trend, I felt compelled to make a change.
I threw out a half bag of Peanut M&Ms. I decided to give them up in exchange for a few less pounds and maybe a few more years. It is where I find myself currently. So why am I telling you this? Maybe because if I say it here, it will become manifest. Maybe because confession may be as good for blood pressure as it is for the soul. Or perhaps I am passing this along because I want to share this with anyone who has wrestled with change. There's a bit of that going around these days.
If you're thinking about making a sacrifice or a supplement, now just might be the time to do it. While nobody's watching.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What's That?

I have mentioned here recently that my wife and I have been playing a classical composer each day, and it so happened on one particular morning I selected Aaron Copeland. And while we were sitting there at the kitchen table, I was perusing the day's news. I clicked on a link that said "Obama endorses Biden." That was the moment that the gods of Spotify decided to start playing A Lincoln Portrait. As I watched our forty-fourth President speak calmly and directly about the challenges facing our country, I felt a renewed sense of hope. It was a feeling I haven't had for months now. Suddenly, from our kitchen table, my wife and I felt called to action.
I know that we have all had a lot to think about over the past couple of months. The past three and a half years. I know that there are lots of ways this road might have turned, but here we are. All those possible paths have narrowed to a simple crossroad. Had we been able to assemble some incredible hybrid version of all the possible Democratic challengers, all their best qualities and all the ways that each one could break new ground, we wouldn't be so stunned now.
It's time to pick up the pieces. It's time to move forward and stop waiting for the best possible choice and make the choice we need to make.
And now the nerd in me would like to speak: The moment that I described in our kitchen brought a spoiler alert to mind. I apologize if you have not seen Avengers: Endgame yet, but if you've been quarantined for more than a month and you were going to see it, what are you waiting for? When I had that sudden infusion of hope, I was reminded of the scene where Thanos is about to crush Thor, and Thor's hammer comes flying across the screen. Straight into Captain America's hand. In this model, I suppose we can all agree on who Thanos is. The pandemic might be all the swirling nasty creatures and Thor might represent the American people. Maybe Captain America isn't Joe Biden. But he is. He has to be.
Or choose your own goofy metaphor. It's time to get up off the mat and fight back. We've had enough of "the inevitable." It's time to get some hope back in the game.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Long Game

One of my favorite books as a kid was Bill Peet's The Wump World. It tells the tale of a peaceful grass-eating species, the eponymous Wumps, who are suddenly forced to share their planet with an invading horde of nasty blue creatures called Pollutians. "Share" is probably too kind a term, since the Pollutians eventually build on and pave every square inch of the grassy rock on which they landed, driving the benign presence of the Wumps underground. It is, of course, only a matter of time before the Pollutians decide that they have ruined their adopted home and send off scouts to find a new planet to destroy. When the scouts return with news of another green globe to dominate, the Pollutians herd back into their smoke-spouting spaceships and fly away. The Wumps wait until they cannot hear any more rumbling and screeching. One brave Wump burrows to the surface and discovers that the interlopers have left. The rest of the herd follows and they wander the concrete and steel surface until they find a lone sprout sticking up through the asphalt.
If this sounds a little like what goes on during Pixar's Wall-E, then you're not alone there. And it's no coincidence that Bill Peet began his career working for Disney in 1937. But this isn't about plagiarism or homage or copyright infringement. This is about how the idea that eventually nature would win out and humans would be on their way to the next planet to destroy. I say this because of the article I read this morning about the bear population in Yosemite quadrupling. Now before you set yourself to wondering about the gestation period of black bears, rest assured that these are not brand new bears as much as they are bears that have been able to wander back into the camp sites and snack bars where the Pollutians are not. Just a ranger or two who know not to stick their noses into the business of bears.
And the birds in our front yard. And my friend who lives in Los Angeles and says that one can see the Hollywood sign from twenty miles away. And my mother who tells me that the brown cloud that has hung over the Denver metro area for decades has all but disappeared. Things are as green as I can remember them, and while I haven't seen any Wumps meandering about, I suspect it's only a matter of time. Because this isn't about a few weeks or a month or two. This is about thousands of years. Millennia. On the spectrum of life on this big blue marble, the bears and the birds and the dolphins in the canals of Venice will be patiently waiting for more space to become available.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Those Were The Days

Part of what made my mother the person she became was a direct result from growing up during the Second World War. Scrap drives, buying War Bonds, all those things that made it possible for her generation to survive and come out the other side to be the inheritors of the world left to them by the Greatest Generation. They were called the Silent Generation, which is kind of amusing, considering how not silent my mother tends to be. Not obnoxious, but she certainly has a voice. And wisdom. She is the one who assured me that after the election of Donald Trump that "things will get worse."
I probably should have heeded her insistence, having lived through a Great Depression and a World War.
Here we are, in the middle of a global pandemic that has set off an economic downturn that could not have been imagined just a few months ago. I have the odd experience of not quite belonging to any particular generation. Just as my birthday drops me on the line that divides Geminis from Cancers, I am barely a Boomer and hardly an X, I grew up listening to stories about the olden days, frightened by Vietnam and angered by everything that Nixon did. I wondered what it would be like to have a president as universally beloved as Franklin Roosevelt and a country as united as one against a common enemy.
For eight years, I felt like we really had something like that, but I know that for many Barack Obama was a divisive presence. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan never came together like they might have. Somehow we managed to take all that martyrdom and turn it into jingoistic bullying. Barack Obama sent drones into hundreds of targets in the Middle East, and it would be comforting to say that they only killed bad guys. That wouldn't be true.
Now, as I prepare to hand the keys over to my son, who will be telling his kids about shelter in place and toilet paper rationing, I can't help but feel that we missed our chance. This is not our finest hour. This is the extended winter of our discontent. My mother, as is so often the case, was correct. Things got worse in a quantum way that we can only hope to comprehend when we come out the other side. Will we still shake hands and give hugs? Will we ever sit down in a restaurant again? Is six feet something we'll take with us? Is the next war one we can hope to win?
I expect I'll probably keep a mask or two to show the grandchildren, the ones who will hopefully be born with herd immunity. I'll tell them stories about how I used to teach kids in a classroom before all learning went online. And about movie theaters.
And how about how their great grandma was right.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I am grateful every day that I got married to a friend of mine. I had no idea that long ago in that meadow in the mountains that bit about "in sickness and in health" might include a global pandemic. Not that we're sick ourselves, but the rest of the planet is making it feel that way. A couple days back, whenever that was, I ran into my wife int he back room and suggested that maybe this would be a dry run for the way things will be once I retire. To my great relief, this suggestion did not elicit eye rolling or great sighs. This current experiment makes this lifestyle seem viable.
Without so many rubber gloves and face masks.
And social distance.
Around here, the discussion has been about that phrase. My wife is in favor of substituting "physical" for "social." A reminder that we all have a personal space that is permeable by those closest to us, but there are times and places where six feet is just about right. The current situation reminds me of all the uncomfortable situations I have been in where I have willingly sacrificed concern for my personal space to get a better spot in front of the stage, or closer to the rope that drops when Disneyland opens. Americans aren't really good at queuing up. This is most apparent on Black Friday, when zombie hordes seeking deals on brains and widescreen TVs pour through doors in a flood more reminiscent of fluid than human beings. We have become somewhat accepting of stories about deaths associated with our need to find a bargain. Or a really good seat to see the Who.
A couple stories I have read this week remind me of just how dim our society can be. An elderly patient with dementia stumbled into an emergency room and began to grab onto others, one of whom became frightened and enraged and pushed the woman to the floor. She hit her head and died three hours later. Not clear about whether this is considered a COVID-19 related death.
Meanwhile in Chicago, a ceasefire cannot be negotiated. During March, half of which was covered by a shelter in place order, there were more shootings in the Windy City this year than last. The first weekend in April saw two killed and eighteen wounded by gun violence. Hospitals have had to deal with trauma on two fronts: virus and guns.
It's not impossible to reckon on the reason for an increase in violence as stress compounds on top of the already stressed. A breaking point will come when shortages combine with poverty and fear of the unknown grows exponentially.
Which is why I'm happy to be here, inside with my wife, where we mostly fuss at one another about what's going to be on the television for hours at a time. Sickness indeed.

Monday, April 13, 2020

What Day Is It?

Another Manic Monday.
Okay. Another Pandemic Monday. See, all this stress is starting to turn us all into bad versions of Weird Al Yankovic. It should be pointed out that even Al had the good taste to pass on the low-hanging fruit of "My Corona."
Meanwhile, we continue to mark the days in the ways we can. A friend of mine from work suggested that we now refer to days as "the other day," "a few days ago" and "in the next few days." Sundays look a lot like Tuesdays now we can have tacos delivered to us by some guy on a scooter.
Back to music: My wife and I have been telling Google to play music by classical composers. This has the effect of challenging our rusty minds to recall the names of people who have not recently succumbed to a virus, but who have been dead for hundreds of years. We've had Chopin day. And a Mussorgsky, whose first name was Modest. We started a Mahler day, but that became a little oppressive. So far we have steered clear of easy targets like Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. Instead, I find myself poking around in the recesses of my memory looking for composers who I remember from all those years of piano lessons and the sheet music I remember piled next to the lamp on my mother's baby grand.
Which puts me squarely in place to walk across the office and start to plink out tunes on the piano that my son practiced on during his keyboard period. I have some skills left over. I can still read music, and I know where the notes are located, but I don't imagine that the decades I have taken off my own regimen have done my coordination any favors. Every Christmas I make a big show out of playing the first few bars of The Little Drummer Boy. Other than that, we have a very substantial piece of wood furniture upon which we can stack our family photos.
Oh, and there's cooking. I have done more of that since we have been locked inside. I have done my share of opening boxes and shoving things into a microwave, but I have taken the occasion to cut up some vegetables and sauteed this or browned that in hopes of eliciting a reaction from my wife. Which is pretty much the work I feel that I really need to accomplish during this shelter in place: eliciting a reaction from my wife. I want her to say to me, "Remember the other day when you just started playing that song on the piano?"
"The Mozart?"
Oh yea. That would be excellent.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


I had to go back into my room and get it. The hat. The room was the computer lab at the elementary school at which I work. For the past few days it had been the center of activity as our staff rushed about preparing as many Chromebooks as we could find to distribute to our students. The students who were sent home weeks ago with no real sense about what might come next. They were sent home way back in the middle of March with all the copies we could manage in the two hours of notice we were given that schools in our district were closing. Since then, we have been connecting via email and texts and Zoom meetings and Google hangouts and the occasional phone call that keeps us in touch with this education business.
The hat was sitting on the stool where I habitually leave it once I come back in from the playground, or at the end of the day once all the kids have been picked up and I don't have to wait outside with them anymore. Over the past week, there haven't been that many kids to supervise. There have been a lot more parents to talk to, to advise, to remind, to explain things to. Here's a bag of art supplies. Do art with your kids. We can't do that right now. Here's another big wad of books and paper to help your kids practice to write and add and subtract and multiply and so forth. We can't do that right now. Here's a Chromebook for you to connect to Al Gore's Internet so that your child's teacher can make a virtual connection every now and then. We can't do that like we used to right now.
And as I scurried about the school trying to locate scraps of paper or power cords or phone numbers for two free months of wi-fi connection, I wore that hat. The one that used to be blue but has faded to almost gray. The once white block letters over the bill have aged and become filthy enough to make it hard to discern them: FDNY. Fire Department of New York. My mother sent me that hat as a Christmas present after September 11, 2001. It helped keep the memory of those brave first responders alive in my head when I wore it. All those years ago. Now it brought me comfort to think of all those brave first responders who are on the front lines of a different catastrophe.
When at last we had closed the front gates after two days of handing over sanitized envelopes of schoolwork and devices to enable distance learning, it was time to shut the school down for what could be months. Trash was emptied. Appliances were unplugged. The computer lab was shut down. Everything was turned off.
But before I left, I went back in my room and picked up that hat. I wanted to take it home with me. I wanted to remind myself of this tiny bit of heroism, and all the others out there doing their part. Those little bits of essential.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

My John Prine Story

So, here's my John Prine story:
When I turned forty, a couple of my buddies decided we should all go down to Key West and relive the trip we took to Florida when we were in our twenties. It was very different this time, if only because there was no foldout bed in our room with "DO NOT USE" scrawled across the mattress. We were doing things in a much more upscale way. We were celebrating another decade of getting through the getting through.
Something that was still the same was that we had one designated drinker with us, but since we were in Margaritaville proper, there were still plenty of visits to the local taverns.
At this point, I suspect that you may be wondering how all of this has anything to do with John Prine. I'm getting there. That mention of Margaritaville should bring to mind Jimmy Buffett. I will give you the next leg up which is the connection between Mister Buffett and Steve Goodman. Steve Goodman, for the uninitiated is the source of a great many songs, many of which were sung by Jimmy and enjoyed in his own right. And Steve Goodman was friends with fellow singer/songwriter John Prine.
So by now you're probably getting a sense of where this conch train is heading.
In all of the various establishments we found ourselves in, there was almost always somebody at the mic, strumming a guitar, singing songs about the islands, or the sea, or missing someone who had gone off to the islands or the sea. There are a lot of opportunities for the folks who find themselves in Key West to be A) entertained by a singer/songwriter or B) engaged in some sort of performance of songs written by themselves. Or anyone else.
Starting to get pretty interesting, huh?
Well, it was getting late when we stepped in out of the rain and into the bar of the Best Western Hotel. This was actually the second time we had landed in this spot, the first time we had been shooed out by our designated drinker. I assumed that they must have been out of those little paper umbrellas for his cocktail, and we pressed on. And just as abruptly, we were steered back, and this time we ordered our tonic and lime and whatever tropical mixture that would suit the drinker. We took a table in a mostly empty room, where I noticed a piano. I assumed that the player of that piano must be on break.
I was wrong. In another quirky twist of fate, my friends hopped up from the table and our designated drinker took his place at the keyboard. The two of them tore into a cleverly personalized version of "A Pirate Looks At Forty" just for me. A few other patrons smiled and took in the moment. I was impressed and embarrassed but extraordinarily pleased with the tribute. They finished to a round of applause that exceeded polite.
And then one of the hotel employees took up the mic, and my friend was nudged off the piano bench in favor of her own accompanist. She dedicated her next song to me, because my name had been announced as the birthday boy. The song she sang was "Angel From Montgomery." Do not ask me why this stranger had somehow become convinced that I would love nothing more than to be serenaded by a stranger on this muggy summer night in Key West. But I guess you can imagine what happened next.
We went back to our hotel.
Wait. Did I forget to mention that "Angel From Montgomery" was written by John Prine? Not my favorite John Prine song. That honor goes to "Souvenirs." But "Angel From Montgomery" is the only John Prine song I have ever had dedicated to me by a slightly tipsy hotel employee.
COVID-19 reached out and grabbed John Prine from us this past week, and I will miss him and all his music, especially that song. Mister Prine stomped on the Terra, especially the beaches of Key West. He will be missed.
Aloha, John.

Friday, April 10, 2020


When I looked at the clock, it read 2:45. In bright red block numerals. This was the school's clock, and the bell was sounding. It was reminding the boys and girls that it was time to go home. Except there were no boys and girls. Just a bunch of teachers and staff, scurrying about in attempts to make the distribution of Chromebooks possible. The fact that I was not opening the gate to let the nonexistent children out was underscored by the fact that I ended up opening the gate anyway. Not to let anyone out. Or in. I was marking off six foot gaps that I marked with sidewalk chalk. Not hopscotch or any sort of science experiment. Except maybe it was. I was hoping to see the effects of three weeks of shelter in place and a strict diet of social distancing. More of a social experiment than a science experiment.
Which is how teaching feels currently. To me, anyway. When I rode up to school, the sun was already up. That was unusual. I saw a second grader walking down the sidewalk with his father. He recognized me with even with my newly instituted salt and pepper goatee. We waved. I pulled over, but not too close. I asked them how they were doing. Alright came the reply. Dad asked me and I said about the same. "Well," I said as I started to pedal away, "See you soon."
And those words were hopeful and a little desperate. I expected to see the two of them, or at least Dad when the time came to pick up the packets of work that teachers had prepared for their students. The packets that were somehow supposed to take the place of nearly three months of instruction. Inside each of these envelopes was the report card, nominally the second of three but this year the last. No last trimester to try and sort things out or capture the magic of long division. This year we were necessarily casting them adrift in a world of xeroxed pages and online learning. The best and the brightest of us were making regular connections with the kids in their classes along with their families. A colleague of mine wondered aloud if some of our students might actually learn better in a distraction-free environment. I suggested that maybe we found a way to deal with our bullying problem.
Or maybe this was the final referendum on the value of classroom teachers. Here I was, the computer teacher, getting ready to hand out a hundred laptop devices to help ward off the notion that we had somehow abandoned our mission in favor of the once upon a time science fiction notion of kids logging into their classes from the comfort and safety of their homes to interact with an artificial intelligence that would patiently guide them through the standards and requirements for a well-rounded education.
By the time I had done all I could to prepare for this teacher-less existence, it was well after four. I knew I would have to be there early the next day to explain and herd and explain some more. I wasn't obsolete.
Not yet, anyway.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

What's The Deal?

There was a time when we looked to our leaders for inspiration. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took to the airwaves to read the comics to his youngest constituents back in 1945. That's the kind of thing that can get an airport named after you. This was during a newspaper delivery strike in the Big Apple, but that didn't stop kids from hearing about the latest adventures of Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie. 
During the Great Depression and World War Two, Americans took solace in Franklin Roosevelt's Fireside Chats. These speeches ranged from unemployment to fighting fascism in Europe, renewing calm and confidence in our nation and infusing hope into what was, at the time, a hope vortex. A couple historical notes: FDR was elected to four consecutive terms as President of the United States. His administration instituted major social programs that were progressive for their time and today would most likely be labeled "socialist." The New Deal included the Works Progress Administration, putting millions back to work on roads, bridges and dams. Movie fans can celebrate the projects of the WPA every time they see the Griffith Observatory in Rebel Without A Cause or the Timberline Lodge as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. But aside from building backdrops for films, this program built self-esteem in a country that was depressed. Literally and figuratively. This, by the way, was the guy who came up with that clever bit about having nothing to fear but fear itself. 
That is not where we are right now. My father had a name for the way people tend to gather together at times of crisis. He called it the Potbelly Syndrome, in reference to the times when there was a stove in the general store that townsfolk would gather around and commiserate about the troubles facing the community. Now we've got Zoom meetings. "Don't forget to mute yourself after you're done speaking." Social distance keeps us from huddling together. The other day, a neighbor dropped by, and we hung out on our front lawn, maintaining six feet between us as we pulled weeds together. And all we could talk about was fear and loathing.  How could we have sunk so low, and how could we hope to crawl back out?
The light that we were able to share was our governor, Gavin Newsom. This is the guy who got us all on the stay at home bus early. He's been keeping an eye on the state for us, and giving us the reality check that we need. He's the one who said that he wanted to be as straight with us as he is with his daughter when he guessed that we probably wouldn't be sending kids back to school this year. And no, he hasn't started reading the comics to us over the radio, but his voice is reassuring in a time when that is something that is nearly impossible to find. 
I look forward to the days when we will all gather together once again and build a bridge. Or maybe just hang out at the mall. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Sleep Less

I used to have insomnia all the time. The tiniest nit would need to be picked from late at night until early in the morning. I took pains to remember my father's advice when he saw me suffering through those sleepless nights, even as a kid: There's not a lot you can do about it now, so try and rest so you have the energy to take on the problem when the sun is out.
Which was good, practical advice. Such good advice, in fact, that I have passed it along at different times to my wife and my son when they have had difficulty sleeping. I feel as though this line has had enduring effect over the years, and recently I found myself lying awake wondering what the next day would bring. So I trotted out the old man's advice. I sat it down across the room with the hopes that just being in the presence of such fatherly wisdom would lull me off to dreamland.
No such luck.
I tried stretching it out to cover the anxiety I was feeling about COVID-19 and all the ways it was impacting my world. I wanted to use it as a comforter, a barrier, a way to ward off the evil spirits that hung around the hours past midnight.
It did not cover up all the stabbing and clanging going on in my head. No matter how hard I closed my eyes and wished for a moment's relief to just slip away, I was confronted by the omnipresence of this crisis. Every time I have cleared my throat in the past three weeks, I have waited for the rest of the symptoms to come piling on. Each day brings a new list of friends, family members and public figures falling prey to the disease that is defining us all right now.
There is no escape. There is no relief. Especially not in the middle of the night.
As an experienced insomniac, my panic level is pretty easy to maintain. I know that, just like Annie says, the sun will come up tomorrow. Which is fine because she's got Sandy and Daddy Warbucks to look after her. I'm trying to hold the center of my life right now, and it feels like it's coming unmoored. So I'll just drift a while. Maybe not to sleep, but into the next day. Where all this stuff will be waiting for me in the light.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020


Confession time: While the rest of the country was scrambling to make sure they had enough two-ply toilet tissue to last them through the apocalypse, I was making sure that the supply line that kept me in peanut M&Ms remained intact. I was ordering them on Amazon, two thirty-two ounce bags at a time, delivered to my door in what seemed like a very reasonable and responsible two days. Let me save you the time on the math there: Four pounds of candy covered chocolate peanuts that I would work my way through over the course of days or weeks, depending on the amount of time I have to sit in front of my computer, working, watching, chatting or playing Civilization. The Stay-At-Home order has had the effect of ramping up that dependence, but I am trying to remain vigilant. Portion control is not something that comes naturally to me.
But there was a time, a lifetime ago, when I was extraordinarily good at stockpile maintenance. Having two brothers with similar appetites to my own informed my hoarding principles. Initial forays into this mindset were brought on by raids of the family cookie jar. Having a centrally located distribution point located in the kitchen made getting more than our codified "two cookies of the day" difficult. But not impossible. Ninja skills were necessary in order to get the lid of the ceramic container off without making a sound, pawing the fistful of cookies with one hand while delicately replacing the lid and padding back to the bedroom or basement. Many was the evening, before dinner, when I was sent by my older brother on such a mission, and I was generally rewarded with an extra chocolate chip or Oreo for my efforts.
Then came the great Bubble Yum embargo. When those cubes of soft, sugary gum first became available, I would ride with a group of neighborhood kids on our bikes down to the nearest 7-11. There we would proceed to buy as many of those red packs as our allowances would afford. It started out when, instead of just getting the one pack of five, one of the kids figured he could save himself a trip the following day by purchasing two. Things escalated quickly, and ultimately we were taking extra trips by ourselves to see when the rack had been restocked, and even expanding our search radius to include 7-11s that were not so close by. Eventually buying unopened cases of what had been a treat just weeks before was the response. My younger brother and I took turns bringing back far more bubble gum than we could ever chew ourselves back to our rooms, hiding our booty under our beds. And while we never succumbed to the depths of creating our own black market, we were cautious about to whom we would share our reserves. Ultimately, the neighborhood's boss reacted by shifting focus away from Bubble Yum to Starburst.
So there we were, sleeping just above a vast storehouse of ever-hardening bubble gum that no one really wanted anymore.
And that's why I am happy to keep my peanut M&M cache a secret. Just between me and you, right?

Monday, April 06, 2020

Things That Make You Go Huh?

With a lot of time to sit around and mull, I find all manner of things happening around me and the rest of the planet.
Why did the "president" relieve US Navy Captain Crozier of his command after the Captain let the world know that there were infected sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt? It was determined that the Captain went out of the chain of command to beg for the help of his crew. Why would that happen? Huh?
Why is Jared Kushner in charge of anything? After you include the chance meeting between him and the "president's" favorite daughter, what makes him qualified to do anything outside of selling real estate? He's in charge of peace in the Middle East. He's in charge of a task force for distribution of supplies during the pandemic. Huh?
Why is the "president" so confused by social distance? Could it be that all those years of forcing himself on others, especially women, that he does not see the wisdom of staying six feet away from one another? Maybe his absurd need for crowds cheering their adulation for him has its beginnings in some vortex of self-esteem that sucked in his children one at a time until they had no chance but to repeat the same grotesque behavior. Huh?
Why can't anyone figure out that an epidemic that affects the lungs will create and epidemic's need for ventilators? Elon Musk made a big deal about donating ventilators to a world yearning to breathe free. Turns out that they were not ventilators but BPAP machines, the kind that people use to keep them from snoring. A guy who wants to run a reusable space ship line to Mars doesn't know the difference? Huh?
Why can't we use the most powerful tool created in the last one hundred years, by Al Gore, to spread important news that is correct? The Internet is currently full of a lot of conflicting information that only compounds the confusion and suffering, along with the occasional puppy video. The Center for Disease Control competes for bandwidth with all the other yakkity yak that purports to be news. And we are left to try to figure out when those big checks will come and how to make masks out of underwear and if those underwear masks will really help. Huh?
Why is Easter in the Spring and Christmas in December? Switching them around would allow us to anticipate the rebirth when things are at their darkest and the birth when everything is alive and blooming. Huh?

Sunday, April 05, 2020


You want the truth?
I am not having a good time here. Not because nobody else is having a bad time. Everybody else is having a bad time. That's kind of guaranteed with a pandemic.
But if someone had told me that school would be out after the second week in March, I would have imagined a mash-up that included equal parts Pleasure Island and my couch. All those books and movies that I have made excuses for years about not reading or watching, ignoring the opportunities to learn something new. At last, I can finally take this moment to sit down and listen to a podcast. Maybe a few podcasts. This is my chance.
Except that is not how I am wired. First of all, nobody said that school was called off, not completely. I am still duty and honor bound to teach. Not the way I used to. Not the get up at five forty-five and be at school at six thirty in time to prepare to open the gates for those first kids to spill onto the playground at seven forty. Not the moderate an ever-growing mass of kids until the bell rings at eight thirty to send them all into their classrooms. Then spend that first hour preparing for my first class, checking to see if there were any teachers or students straggling in for the purposes of coverage and herding. Monday and Tuesday it's computers. Wednesday through Friday it's PE, with a new class every fifty minutes. And then it's time to open the gates and let them all spill out into the afternoon, with the clock ticking down the moments until they return. Until we hit one hundred eighty days and then we lock the gates for a couple months to reset the system.
But now the system is all cattywampus. There is no rhythm to what goes on. I confess that I take a small comfort to having my life run by a series of bells ringing. Time to move on to the next thing. But there are no bells now. There is no clear line guiding me from one activity to the next. I am deprived of that oh-so-important ritual of the countdown to summer vacation. It's not here, but it is. We're still teaching. We're still meeting. Over Al Gore's Internet.
Now we're counting the days until things go back to normal.
Whatever that means.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Splendid Isolation

I have a little experience with this shelter-in-place thing. Most of the Junes, Julys and Augusts of my youth were spent doing just that in a mountain cabin above Boulder, Colorado. My family might go for days, even weeks at a time without encountering another soul in our retreat among the pines. It was all part of the ritual of going to The Cabin. We didn't have a fancy name for it. After scratching their heads about it for some time, my parents took the suggestion from an artist friend of theirs. "What do you call it?" he asked. They told him, "We call it the cabin." And the week after that he showed up with a discrete hand-painted sign that read just that "The Cabin." Part of opening up the place, whether it was for the season or just a day, was hanging that sign over the front steps.
And there it stayed, until we were ready to return to civilization. Not that we didn't make trips down to the big city for supplies and a load or two of laundry every so often. There was no electricity or running water in our oasis, but there was a gas refrigerator. If we could get the cold things up the twisty, turning road, they would stay cold. We could even make ice, if we were patient enough to let the ice cubes freeze in their trays. The gas refrigerator came with an ice maker, but it ran on electricity and would have required plumbing to make it work.
Drinking water, the kind you could turn into those ice cubes, came from "downtown," the place my father would make his commute to each weekday morning, and we could count on him for five to ten gallons every few days. Along with the newspapers and mail. That was our regular window on the outside world. That and those supply runs we made with my mom.
We would pack the laundry bag, a couple of coolers, and three boys in the car. The last thing we loaded up was the Cabin Box. A two foot long cardboard container with no lid. That was what brought our dog running. He reckoned correctly that we would be taking a trip in the car when he saw that box. A car trip for which he was expressly invited. There was always a flurry of excitement around these voyages down the hill. The boys knew that there would be a chance to help out with the various chores and push one of the carts that would be part of a train that needed to be pushed through the grocery store, out to the car, brought back to the house, then separated into the coolers and bags and the Cabin Box to make the return trip. There might even be a chance to watch some television.
All the while, our dog was content to revert to his backyard habits. This meant being fenced in, relegated to a tiny patch of lawn, compared to the meadows and forest that he enjoyed in the hills. This also meant that if there was an opening, he would respond as he would at any other time when he was a city dog: he would run away. This meant that one of the responsibilities we all took on was to keep the dog from bolting as we carried things out to the car. It took us several years to figure out that all we needed to do to take that stimulus away was to replace it with another: once he saw the Cabin Box making its way to the back end of the station wagon, there was no need to chase. He was inside, bouncing from seat to seat, anxious to get the show on the road and back up to the mountains where he had the run of acres of potential digging spots and scents of animals he could only imagine. Then we all piled in after him, coolers and groceries and maybe some ice from town. We went back up the hill to our shelter in place. The Cabin.

Friday, April 03, 2020

How Far?

While our "president" continues to admonish reporters for asking him questions instead of lavishing him and all those great workers out there with praise, the people who actually know things are giving the first mild indications of hope. Not actual hope, mind you, since people are still getting infected in record numbers and dying by the hundreds and thousands, but "a glimmer of hope." In an interview with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "What we're starting to see right now is just the inklings." 
Inklings. Glimmers. Okay, not actual hope, but it's something upon which we can build. 
In the meantime, we continue to keep our distance. My wife likes to refer to it as "physical distance" because she would like to believe that the distance she and I are currently keeping is "social." It is that magical distance of six feet that we are all attempting to maintain. Because that is what we have been told. In my mind, I imagine squadrons of germs preparing to leap from the outstretched hand of a neighbor waving hello. I can see the microbes squirming and preparing to launch themselves from children, dogs, horizontal and vertical surfaces. When I go out for a run on what feels like empty streets, I inevitably encounter a human. I squeeze to the right, or sometimes step off the curb to the left, giving wide berth for us both. I weigh the dangers of stepping out into traffic with those of becoming infected. I figure that if I am five feet nine inches tall that if I could fall down and not land on the person or persons in my quadrant, I am staying safe.
As long as I don't pick up any litter.
Living in urban Oakland, I have made a habit of picking up the odd bit of trash as I wander through the streets in my attempt to stay exercised. Those cans or scraps of paper or shopping bags get dropped into the closest waste receptacle. Which I don't want to touch anymore. Not the trash or the trash can. I just keep running along the sidewalk with the hope that none of those virus molecules are clever enough to lay in wait for hours at a stretch, ready to jump up and attach themselves to my ankles. If only we could teach the germs social distance. Or maybe I can keep trying to outrun them. 

Thursday, April 02, 2020

If You Can Break It There, You Can Break It Anywhere

You've all seen the movie. Pardon me, the movies where New York City was destroyed by monsters. It's pretty easy to point at the Eighth Wonder of the World, King Kong, who started this trend. Giant beasts stomping down Fifth Avenue have been a pretty regular occurrence since 1933. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Times Square and a passel of anonymous skyscrapers have all taken a beating from big lizards and space aliens and the occasional giant ape. Twenty-five years before 9/11, Dino De Laurentiis sent a rebooted Kong up the side of the World Trade Center bashing windows and doors and those interloping helicopters. Sure, you could tear up Poughkeepsie or Ithaca, but if you really want to be known as a gargantuan anything, you had better set your sights on the city so nice they named it twice: New York, New York.
As alluded to earlier, real life intruded profoundly in 2001 when the Twin Towers came tumbling down and we all watched. Only this time it was the airplanes that got him. It wasn't beauty that killed the beast. And then it was time to rebuild. Which reminds me of the limited series of comic books Marvel put out called Damage Control detailing the adventures of an elite group that exists primarily to put things back together after super hero battles tear them up. All those lasers and rockets and Hulks can do some pretty significant destruction, and then you throw in some giant robots and a beast from twenty thousand fathoms and you've got quite a mess.
A mess that everyone can relate to, judging by the way Hollywood has made it the backdrop of so much Armageddon. But here's the cool thing about giant robots and lizards and apes: you can see them. Even if it takes a couple hours to figure out how to lure that bad beastie up to the top of some building that reminds them of the mountains on their home planet or jungle or whatever or an extra few seconds to develop the freeze ray that allows them to be dropped into a medically induced coma long enough to be shipped off to some desolate ice floe somewhere. The good guys will win.
We can't see the virus. It's not smashing buildings, but the havoc it is wreaking is very real. Our "president" seems to think we're at war. Perhaps it makes him feel more in control. If only this was one giant farm animal, bent on the destruction of some major metropolitan area, then maybe his approach would make sense.
We aren't at war. We are trying to survive. There will not come a moment when a bullet-riddled COVID-19 will come toppling down off of the Freedom Tower. Tony Stark will not be sending the last microbes back through a cosmic vortex just before it closes. This is a time for thinking. It is a time for science, and not the kind of science that builds exothermic blasters. It is a time to solve puzzles. Not to race to the fight, but to shy away. Make room. Make good choices. Wash our hands. This won't make a great movie, which is probably more than just fine with the folks in NYC.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020


Somewhat early in the wave of uncertainty that broke across the globe, my wife asserted to me that we were in luck because we had our hair dryer. This was not news to me, though I am follically challenged and have no personal use for such an appliance, but I have used it on occasion to inflate our guest bed mattress. Which was not the purpose for which my wife was speaking. She was anxious to try out the coronavirus prevention/cure of blowing hot air up our noses to kill all those nasty germs.
This came on the heels of a widely circulated email that was filled with all kinds of helpful nonsense about how to avoid the plague. Like the part where if you could hold your breath for ten seconds, you were fine. I'll give you all a moment to try that one out. Ten seconds? Go!
Right. Not that hard. Certainly less arduous than having a blow dryer shoved up your nasal cavity on high. Infinitely more pleasurable would be breathing the steam from a mixture of boiling water, salt and orange peel. Soothing, and pleasant enough to convince that nasty virus to leave you alone. Probably not. 
Almost as unlikely as the idea that drinking plenty of water would cure what ails you, if what ails you happens to be COVID-19. The assurance behind this one is that moving all those scary bugs down out of your mouth would wash them down into the acid bath found in your stomach where they would be dissolved and then excreted. Sorry, but this is medical advice I'm tossing around here. It's not all pretty. Nor is it true. But we could all stand to drink a lot more water, right?
Helicopters will not be spraying disinfectant on neighborhoods.
Chloroquine phosphate is not a miracle cure. Ask the Arizona couple that dosed themselves with the additive that is used to clean fish tanks. On second thought, don't ask them both, since the husband died, and his wife is intensive care for poisoning themselves. 
Which is not to say that there won't be a cure, or some magic potion that will make all the bad sick go away and leave us with the usual sick that we have all come to fret would be the signs of the coming pandemic. Keep washing your hands. Coughing into your elbow. Stay six feet apart. Stay at home. And wait.