“When there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s hard to keep things going.” ~ Joe Sestak
In California we’ve just passed one month of shelter in place and while we’re still more or less shut in we’re seeing a flicker of distant light. Strategies for reopening are becoming a real part of the discussion from coast to coast. In some circles it’s been reasonable and in others it’s been irrational hysteria, a hysteria that has the potential to blow out that little flicker. With a few deranged exceptions here in the Golden State the plans for reopening seem to have been relatively well accepted. The word “reopening” is the light that’s keeping us going.
Gavin Calls the Tune
California Governor Gavin Newsom laid out the basics just a day before the calendar marked one month of lockdown. I don’t know what I expected from his briefing. I knew what I wanted, what I hoped for and what I was certain that I wouldn’t hear. In my wildest fantasy I wanted to see a stage festooned with red, white and blue balloons and Newsom announcing that he was ordering the doors all thrown open by the end of the month, without restriction and we would all be safe and cozy.
As it turned out the grand reopening that many of us Californians were hoping that Newsom would announce was like the lottery ticket that yields two lousy dollars instead of the multi-millions that we spent in our dreams.
While there were no balloons there were graphs and charts and a very officious doctor person who reviewed the nuts and bolts of a staged reopening in such minute detail that she lost me a few minutes in. It was sort of like watching the TV weather forecaster who likes to flaunt his meteorology degree by talking about ridges, highs, lows and anomalies when all you want to know is whether or not it’s going to rain on Saturday.
When it was all over, despite being prepared for the underwhelming I was still left staring at the wall, crestfallen. The briefing was less about reopening and more about modified behavior. Maybe the most disheartening statement of the whole briefing was “I know you want the timeline but we can’t get ahead of the dream just yet.” Newsom’s presentation was the long version of a simple old saying, “Hold your water.” Yeah, it’s understood but the understanding doesn’t make it any more palatable.
Newsom, like everyone else from the president down to some guy on a TV commercial repeated ad nauseum the now trite “new normal.” “New normal,” is another of those candidates for phrase of the year come 2021, joining “flattening the curve,” “social distancing,” “community spread” and a whole plagued lexicon. It’s a field of words and phrases much like a presidential election, lots of candidates with not much to like.
One of Newsom’s examples of new normal has the schools opening in the fall with staggered schedules, some students attending in the morning and others in the afternoon. There will be no congregating during mealtimes and assemblies, and recess and P.E. classes, such as they were, will all need restructuring.
None of what Newsom laid out seems unreasonable but it’s a lot like breaking your ankle and getting a cast, something I have intimate knowledge of. It’s six weeks or more of being highly restricted, having an itch you can’t get to and then experiencing the brief joy of having the cast removed and then getting smacked by the sobering reality that you can’t go back to running or even walking like you used to until you’ve gone through some therapy. And where are we in the broken ankle analogy? Ha, we haven’t even gotten to the x-ray to determine whether or not we can lose the cast. We’re still waiting it out and trying not to stick a coat hanger under the cast to get to the itch.
The Shelter in Place Schtick
It’s not as if there’s nothing to keep me occupied. There’s plenty. It’s just that most of it isn’t appealing; vacuum the house, clean the bathroom and follow the edict of the front yard gestapo – aka, the homeowner’s association.
In an earlier post I wrote about receiving a terse letter from the association’s administrator warning of dire consequences if I don’t replace my dead lawn with something more pleasing to the board of directors’ eyes. For years since the last drought that began in 2011 and the subsequent statewide orders to conserve water killed our front lawn I’ve been out of compliance with the CC&R’s (HOA speak for Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions aka the book of no-no’s). I haven’t been the only neighborhood scofflaw. Many of the residents, those that didn’t water their lawns secretly in the dead of night during a drought like the board members did, also let their lawns die. Despite thumbing their own noses at a multi-year dry spell the board still couldn’t very well insist that people water their lawns and so for years nobody really cared. Then came the deluge of 2019 that filled the reservoirs and brought the board to an epiphany. The board dispatched the landscaping brownshirts on a blitzkrieg through the neighborhoods leading to the threatening letters. The letters which went out about a week after Newsom’s shelter in place order, weren’t well received.
After a self imposed cooling off period I phoned the HOA administrator. The cooling off period was necessary to keep me from losing my shit over a demand that homeowners take on a major DIY during an international crisis and a cratering economy.
Ms. Hall at the administration office was the unlucky apparatchik who apparently drew the short straw and was assigned the mission of fielding calls from indignant homeowners. I explained to her in calm tones that given the current circumstance of a pandemic and melting down economy that the notice left me “a bit taken aback” (a gross understatement on my part). Ms. Hall admitted that the timing of the letter wasn’t ideal (more gross understatement) and that most calls to her have ranged from “you’ve got to be kidding” to something like, “you’ve got to be fucking kidding.” It can’t be a pleasant day at the office that I imagine that Ms. Hall starts with starched black coffee and ends with a little shot of Wild Turkey – or a lotta little shots of Wild Turkey.
The upshot of our conversation was a detente. Given circumstances there is no urgency in compliance and after the crisis is over the board is willing to work with residents on a case by case basis. In the end the conversation was amicable and we wished each other well.
And so I’ve taken up pick and shovel and with the theme of The Bridge Over the River Kwai whistling in my head I’ve been ripping up the front yard. Every now and then I stop and try to buck myself up with the words of the movie’s prison camp commander, “Be happy in your work.”
The world globe arrived from Amazon and the grandchildren are learning how to use it and have started studying individual countries. Jackson drew Russia and Lucy is learning about Poland. While we were developing some topics for the kids to research Jackson made the excellent suggestion that we include something about national foods. I thought it was so excellent that I lost my head and committed to cooking a dish from each country. Who’s up for pierogies and borscht? Vodka anyone?
Stimulating the Domestic Economy
The stimulus money landed in our bank account by direct deposit sparing me the abhorrence of getting a check and seeing the signature of the clown who would be king. The first time ever that a president’s name has been on an IRS check. I can only imagine the many pairs of rolled eyes among the White House staff, the Treasury Department and the IRS and all the whispers about having to indulge the spoiled child. Funny thing, he wasn’t at all interested in having his name on a check issued to a porn star. The stimulus money has been earmarked to stimulate the fencing guy to build us a new fence.
It took a phone call and some patience and perseverance to get a $400.00 refund for 3 tickets to a March 25th Golden State Warriors game that was never played and that the NBA still considers to be only postponed and not cancelled. The NBA commish is apparently trying to figure out how to squeeze in some games, all without fans in attendance at first and then…who the hell knows. I for one have no immediate plans to sit with 18,000 other canaries in the cave. All the money is welcome but it’s small consolation for the $46,000 lost to the virus and the demolition of the economy last month.
A Medley of Moods
The days are a series of mood swings; hope, anticipation, anger, disgust and depression. Yesterday morning in an attempt to pull myself out of the dumps I went to the shoreline with the intention of taking pictures. I packed all the gear in the trunk of the car, parked and sat for a few minutes looking out at the bay. On this particular morning there would be no creative juices and so dry and bare of any emotion at all I drove back home.
Later I pulled Jackson from a video screen and the two of us spent the afternoon putting together an Adirondack chair. It was just what I needed to pull me out of indifferent despair. Next week when the children are back with us I’ll let them paint it a nice bright aquamarine.
Whatever brightness that came from the chair project was extinguished and replaced by rage as we watched the evening news and scenes of protesters in Michigan and other states, all at the urging of King Don the first (and hopefully last). I thought of including in this posting some commentary of the chaos and stupidity that is unbecoming of a nation that’s supposed to be exemplary, but I’ll set all that aside for another time.
We lurch through the hours, the days, the weeks and now a new milestone, the months. Our cure is a potion of measures, not necessarily equal, of patience, composure, restraint, fortitude, and something we seem to be in very short supply of – reason.
And let’s not forget to add a dram of hope.