The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

bologna noun
bo·​lo·​gna | \ bə-ˈlō-nē also -nyə, -nə \
: a large smoked sausage of beef, veal, and pork

Point Pinole Regional Shoreline is 2400 acres of scenic liberation located on the San Pablo Bay shoreline just north of the City of Richmond. The park’s web of trails leads you through meadows, past wildflowers, through a cathedral of eucalyptus trees and emerges on the bay shore where you take in the refreshing breezes and vistas of Mt. Tamalpais, the Marin shoreline, and the expanse of San Pablo Bay. Along the shoreline you pass runners, walkers, mountain bike riders and the occasional equestrian. If you want solitude you can take one of the lightly travelled trails into the eucalyptus woods where it’s silent and meditative.

I have a sentimental attachment to Point Pinole. Nearly twenty years ago I coached the Salesian High School Cross Country team and Point Pinole was the location for our team’s home course.  A visit to the park with a walk or a run along the route of the course brings back some pleasing memories.

I was walking Lexi along the shore when the text came in at 3:05 telling Contra Costa County that a new stay at home order would take effect at the close of the weekend. Not even the stay at home order could spoil a sunny afternoon by the bay. I was expecting it anyway and figured to take it all in stride. Earlier in the day I’d warned Jessica that our Christmas plans might be dictated by the county.

Officials from five of the eleven Bay Area counties decided on an early implementation of the state’s proposed stay at home order that would be triggered by the ICU bed capacity dropping below 15%.  The officials pulled the trigger early, before the 15% threshold, knowing that it would be just a matter of a few weeks if not days until the capacity criterion would be met anyway.

Starting on December 7th:
Restaurants will close to both indoor and outdoor dining. They can only do takeout or delivery.
Bars and wineries have to close (indoor and outdoor)
Hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and other personal care services have to close
All retail stores can stay open, but must drop capacity to 20%
Private gatherings of any size will be prohibited.
Berkeley’s Dr. Lisa Hernandez bluntly put the hammer down, “You should not meet in person with anyone you do not live with. Even in a small group, and even outdoors with precautions. If you have a social bubble, it is now popped.”
The stay at home order remains in place through January 4th. Bah, humbug.

The closures aren’t as drastic as those implemented last spring but it’s still going to go hard on small businesses. Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, are you listening?

Fried baloney and hold the Velveeta
Before the lockdown news Cora and I had been discussing Christmas, normally a time when the families get together for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It’s not as if I was planning on a large family Christmas. Thanksgiving had already been paired down. With the writing already on the wall before Thanksgiving when the COVID swell started growing into the current wave I passed on the family gathering at my son’s house. My wife, daughter and two grandchildren still went which I guess made my no show moot. I know that everyone who went to the drastically scaled down gathering have been observing best practices throughout the pandemic but I still opted to opt out.

On Thanksgiving morning I made two large pans of cornbread stuffing, bid the family buon appetito and sent them and the stuffing on their way to San Jose. I sat in front of the fire with a book, a couple of episodes of The West Wing, my dog for company and a fried bologna on white bread sandwich as my feast. The only thing that was missing was the melted Velveeta. Don’t judge.

It looks like the counties have made our Christmas plans for us.  That is if we decide to comply and I fully intend to do so. Christmas comes around every year and I plan to be around for Christmas 2021.

The bloom is off the work from home rose
My observation looking in from the world of retirement is that work from home is starting to take on the appeal of the last scraps of Thanksgiving leftovers; you know, when the slices of turkey breast have taken on a wooden texture and the last slice of pumpkin pie has little fuzzy white spots growing on top.  The novelty of working from home seems to have run its course.

About a half dozen friends whom I’ve talked with thought the idea was the greatest thing since fried bologna at the outset (although they likely didn’t use fried bologna as their ideal). It was a new world of sleeping later, avoiding Bay Area traffic gridlock, working in solitude, bonding time with the kids and the family pet and for the really zealous, the freedom of moving out of the immediate Bay Area while holding on to their Bay Area jobs. It’s months later and they’re over it.

There are times when in person interaction is, if not necessary, at the very least, convenient. There probably wasn’t a day when I didn’t have to get up from my desk and walk to another department to work out a problem or to simply lean over to a co-worker’s cubicle to ask or answer the routine quick question.

Kids bouncing in and out of the home office with school problems or to complain about being bored, the dropped Zoom meetings and taxed internet connections are fraying nerves. And does heating up a Hot Pocket in your microwave hold the same appeal as those long Friday lunch breaks at a restaurant near the office?  The dogs still love it and the cats were never on board with it.

My daughter’s home office is her bedroom. It’s a well appointed room and we live in a nice neighborhood but it lacks the kind of stimulation you get working in a downtown office environment. Looking out the window at Cora watering the yard or the woman in the house across the street puttering in her crazy quilt garden must have gotten old sometime around the end of March. It certainly doesn’t compare to being able to step out into the diversity and bustle of a city street.

It wasn’t that long ago that the workplace consultants and assorted no-nothings, sometimes being one and the same, predicted that the workplace would be radically changed forever – F-O-R-E-V-E-R. That’s a long damn time. I give it until late 2021 when the workplace consultants are going to change their tune. If I sound harsh toward consultants it’s because I’m not much of devotee.

About two years prior to my retirement our company management brought in teams of consultants. You couldn’t turn a corner with out bumping into a consultant.  They took over offices and cubicles and conference rooms and walked the floors bothering the actual workers who were trying to generate actual revenue.  Every few days a strange face would appear and the question of the day in the break room was, “Who in the fuck is that?” When their lab experiment was complete and they’d pillaged the company coffers, they left us with an unworkable Frankenstein monster of a system; a fusion of the cadaver of our old trashed system and the discarded body parts of various and sundry other alien systems.

Since then I’ve thought that consulting must be a pretty sweet gig.  What other job allows a CEO or VEEP to take all the lame ideas that got him fired from previous real jobs and then dress up those leaky vessels with some shoddy caulking and a few touch-ups, float them as watertight forward thinking management and then sell those hole riddled tubs at yacht prices to unsuspecting CEO’s who end up going down with their ships. Those self same CEO’s revive their own careers to become – wait for it – consultants.

While there will certainly be some drastic workplace changes in the short run and many companies will be more open to limited remote working in the long term I believe that much of the normalcy that we knew just a year ago will likely return.  I see the day when CEO’s are going to put out the company memo calling employees back to the mother ship, something that’s going to go hard on folks that pulled up their Bay Area stakes to work remotely near a fly fishing paradise in Idaho.

Cursing Bambi
I’ve just about completed the front yard project that I started in March when the homeowner’s association busybodies rousted me for having a yard that wasn’t up to their exacting standards. I’ll admit the yard wasn’t exactly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but it wasn’t horrible. Horrible would have been a rusted old jalopy sitting on blocks in the middle of the dried patches of a dead lawn. I did NOT, nor did I EVER have a rusted old jalopy on my patches of dead lawn.

After reminding the association representative that sending out the fix it letters during a pandemic was just a trifle tone deaf I promised her that I would work on sprucing the place up – but the board shouldn’t hold its collective breath for completion.

A new lawn was absolutely out of the question. California is subject to droughts and I wasn’t going to spend the money on a lawn that might have to be sacrificed to water restrictions in two years. I suggested a fake lawn like the guy up the street put in, only a more attractive, spendy version than the vulgar day-glow carpet he’d laid down. The fake lawn idea was met with derision from the whole family right down to the dogs and an admonishment from the wife/accountant that a decent looking fake lawn costs as much as a new car. She added dryly that a decent looking fake lawn is the landscaping version of a unicorn or the Loch Ness Monster – in short, a myth.

After mulling it over I decided on a small stone patio and garden area. I used some two inch thick, heavier than hell slabs of flagstone to make a patio and walkway and some moss rock to fashion terraces. We’ve interspersed river rock and some perennials and grasses which I thought would fill in nicely come spring and give the area a sense of solitude even in the front yard.

And then came the deer. It seems the bastards are visiting my new, still tender plants for a late night buffet. Before buying any plants I’d checked to make sure that they’re all deer resistant. Apparently the deer didn’t get the message, because they’ve been consuming everything but the grasses and Mexican Sage. Deer repellent does seem to work but if that fails I may have to visit the local Home Depot to buy a freezer large enough to hold a few hundred pounds of venison.

Other than my war with the local deer, I’m happy with the job and hoping that it all survives the winter rains without washing away. If it does fail, with the terraces collapsing and the plants dying, I’m going to recoup the costs by starting a landscape consulting company.

The Powder Keg
The Powder Keg is a small pub here in Hercules that I often pass on my runs with Lexi. It’s the quintessential neighborhood tavern located on a corner in a residential community. It’s like the bar in the old sitcom Cheers, one of those “everybody knows your name” places. I’ve known Gigi, one of the owners, since she ran a sushi restaurant, also in Hercules. I was heartbroken when she and her partner sold the business but happy to see them open The Powder Keg.

On a recent Sunday morning the two young women were seated at a sunny outdoor table enjoying brunch and wine. I stopped in the middle of my run and talked with them, asking how they were making do during the coronavirus. After months of being closed they went to take out and then to outdoor seating only.  The bar remained closed.

The two women doted on Lexi while we talked.  They seemed optimistic and upbeat even though they have every right to complain, especially since much of their pre-pandemic business relied on the friendly, jovial crowd that packed the bar to watch sports and trade local gossip.

Gigi told me that her concern is for the winter months when cool weather and the rains will force them to revert to takeout with free local delivery. I left with a deep admiration for those women. They didn’t come off like people facing a crisis that could sink their little business. They didn’t whine, cry “unfair,” or call the governor a fascist. They seem resolute but still cheerful. They seem to realize that we need to control the virus before trying to go back to the good old days and I’ve no doubt that they won’t try to fudge the rules.

As I continued on with my run I thought about California’s history of droughts.  With only a few days of rain in November it’s looking like we might be on track for another. It seemed to me that a few months of drought might be a small blessing for restaurateurs like Gigi. A rain free winter will keep the outdoor tables dry and the wolves at bay until a vaccine takes hold.

That conversation took place before the new lockdown was announced. I imagine that when word came down from the county they sat down after closing with a bottle of wine and hashed out the hard decisions to come.

Their hearts are in the right place and their priorities straight. During our talk, Gigi told me that they don’t plan to use delivery services like DoorDash or UberEats. When I started to mention the downside of the delivery and service fees she stopped me. “It’s not that.  We’re afraid of another level of handling for our orders,” she explained.
If there’s any justice in what seems more and more like an unjust world they’ll come out of the other end of this a little bruised but otherwise sound.

baloney noun
[ buh-loh-nee ]
Slang. foolishness; nonsense.
I went to the supermarket this morning to pick up a few items; celery, chips, whipping cream, a toothbrush, some snapper fillets and a carton of eggnog. Lockdown starts at 10 P.M. tonight so out of curiosity I walked past the paper goods aisle to see if a redo of lockdown would bring on a redo of foolishness. Sure enough the toilet paper section was nearly picked clean. And that my fellow Americans, is a bunch of baloney.

Since March we haven’t learned about the need for masks, we haven’t learned about the need to maintain distance, we haven’t learned about avoiding indoor crowds, we haven’t learned that events like Trump rallies are ill-advised and we haven’t learned that panic buying of toilet paper is rude, unnecessary and just plain dumb.

5 thoughts on “The COVID Chronicles: Lockdown Redux, Fried Bologna and a Bunch of Baloney

  1. Scott Blake says:

    Your last paragraph says it all. We haven’t learned. I don’t mean individually but as a whole. Along with many people I know and many I don’t know, I dutifully put on the mask and stay away from crowds. Yesterday on the YouTube replay of the NBC nightly news, I saw films of crowds gathering without masks to support Trump and his Goebbels-like hysterical claims of election fraud. Over 74 million voters decided that after 4 years of running a disastrous freak show, Trump deserved to be reelected. We haven’t learned. Because we haven’t learned, many more will become seriously ill and die before the vaccine is widely available. That’s assuming most people opt to get the shot, even though many are resistant to doing so. I guess they’re somewhat convinced that they’re also resistant to getting the virus.

    I agree about the workplace consultants, often called efficiency experts. I’ve been in workplaces where they have been brought in and the result was never worth the time and effort they spent. I also agree about the future of working at home. I have heard many people say and write similar things as you wrote about it. It looks great at first but there are useful elements to having a workplace that is not your home. For one thing, it doesn’t intrude on your home space (not much anyway).

    1. Paulie says:

      While it’s a fashionable and fun activity to single out the Trump rallies, the Trumpers don’t hold the franchise on unsafe behavior. It certainly wasn’t only the right wing that decided it would be a good idea to have multi-family Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. I think that the bulk of the problem is with the people who take note of the guidelines and tweak them to conform to what they think is still safe. I can’t say that I haven’t been guilty of that sort of rationalization.
      It would also be helpful if the leadership would be consistent in establishing their guidelines. I think that Cuomo blew it when he used one set of rules for churches and another for small businesses. It’s certainly easier to social distance inside of a large church than in a mom and pop grocery store.

  2. Morning. The pandemic has brought out some of the best aspects and worst aspects of our species. Vaccines, I suppose, will save the day, and will save the economy, even though there are scads of nitwits out there who will refuse to get inoculated.

    1. Paulie says:

      Some of the nitwits may have no choice about the vaccine if they want to retain their jobs. I would imagine that at some point the argument over vaccination against a deadly virus will make it to the Supreme Court. And that will constitute another bunch of baloney.

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