The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Some holiday traditions are forever. Take for instance, the big blue recycle bin; it’s overflowing with cardboard and there’s a pile of cardboard that won’t be binned until the trashman comes and empties the bin. There’s one prime rib bone left in the fridge, the tree is molting and is no longer being watered and nobody has bothered to light the Christmas village for the past few nights. All traditional signals that Christmas is behind us.

The waning holidays are taking me back a year. It’s a pleasant journey. The families gathered for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; hugs, kisses, handshakes, shared potluck, children huddled over new toys. It’s an unpleasant journey; the sad realization that one bad year feels like decades. It’s almost hard to recall what those pre-COVID days were like. We talk about those days with nostalgia, almost like the characters in those movies that take place in a post war dystopia, “Remember how pleasant the holidays were before the nuclear war?”

It’s happening again this year just like every year about this time; that scornful look back at the outgoing year. It’s time to blame the calendar or a Gregorian number for what we perceived as twelve months of woe, comforting ourselves with the idea that a new calendar, a new number will bring on better days to come. Are we never satisfied? Are we always looking for the great panacea that we believe resides in twelve new sheets of paper?
“Let’s not get that classic car calendar this year, it brought us bad luck. Let’s try puppies or national parks.”
If we’d known a year ago what we were in for we’d have settled for a replay of 2019. Most of us, about 99%, are justified in throwing 2020 on the scrap heap of shattered years. The other 1%? They seem to always get by don’t they? And maddeningly enough they’re getting by better than usual.

To be honest and despite my cynicism about the change of year bringing positive vibes I will be glad to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. But relief aside there won’t be any miracles on January 1st. A January walkover has been ruled out by American’s penchant to put perceived liberty over public safety. We’re in for a New Year’s COVID surge piled on a Christmas COVID surge piled on a Thanksgiving COVID surge piled on a Halloween surge.

And let’s not forget the four year reign of terror that’s turned into three months of alternating indifference and rampant vandalism on the part of the deposed would be king. America’s botched experiment with inept despotism comes to an end on January 20th.

I’ve been looking through photos to include in a year end piece featuring some favorites. Browsing month by month it was saddening to see, in photos, a promising year turned desolate. In January I took a couple of photo excursions across the bay to San Francisco. It bustled.  Busy streets and sidewalks, vendors and street performers all oblivious to what was just weeks away.

The photo I took of a cable car starting up Powell Street was the last image I had of one of those famed trolleys in service. They’re idle now and have been holed up in the cable car barn. In late September one car was rolled out to pose for photos with tourists and COVID weary locals at the Powell and Market turnaround.

A cable car blurs up Powell St.

It was in January that I’d bought airline tickets for a springtime trip to Las Vegas. I was just about finished planning a three week vacation, a summertime road trip through the Midwest, starting in Pittsburgh and ending in Kansas City, taking in baseball games at ten different stadiums along the way. I was just starting to plan an autumn trip to Italy.

February, innocent to the fact that the second month of the year would be the last hurrah. The president knew but he decided to keep it his own little secret. It was an election year after all and I guess he calculated that if he obfuscated enough it would never be discovered. It reminds me of the old teenagers’ trick of sneaking slurps from mom and dad’s vodka bottle and refilling to the line with water. At a certain point the jig is up when it becomes clear that it’s become a bottle of watery vodka. Had Trump owned up and tried to lead he might be celebrating four more years but like the tippling teen he’s been grounded. The families watched the Super Bowl at my son’s house and the following week celebrated my grandson’s tenth birthday in the din, the blaring lights and electronic chaos of Dave and Buster’s.

It was also in February that I twice returned to The City, both times to take pictures and show my own support for Chinatown. One of my favorites of the The City’s districts, Chinatown was the first area of San Francisco to be rocked financially by the coronavirus. The president was helping to push Asian communities over the cliff by dubbing COVID-19, the “China virus.”  Chinatown was trying to hold it together at least through February’s Lunar New Year celebration.  I guess it’s fitting that the new Lunar Year would be the Year of the Rat.  I mean, who really likes rats?

A Chinatown kiosk displays Year of the Rat souvenirs

Should we be glad that there’s no year of the cockroach?

I bought bags of fortune cookies from The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, on historic Ross Alley (for some history of Ross Alley follow the link to my post, My San Francisco – Chinatown, Joy Luck, Bruce Lee And a Rickshaw). Even before the shutdown the little shop was already running on fumes.

A February sign of the times at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Comp.

I’ve visited Chinatown a few times since to buy duck and Chinese barbecue pork from the Hing Lung Company on Stockton Street.

Stockton is where the Chinatown community buys its staples. Stockton is still a busy and crowded street and while maintaining social distance is problematic (I avoid the sidewalk and walk between the row of parked cars and moving traffic) the Asian community doesn’t get apoplectic over the wearing of masks.

A block east on Grant Street it’s a different tale altogether. Grant is where the bulk of Chinatown’s souvenir shops, normally packed, seem to be like so many COVID victims, breathing their last and awaiting their own lonely deaths.

In March Cora and I had lunch in San Francisco’s North Beach and strolled through that Italian neighborhood.  We knew that there was gloom ahead.  We left a large tip for our waiter and wished him well.

When we got in the car to go home we listened on the radio to Trump naming Mike Pence the head of the Coronavirus Task Force. We listened to Pence shower his master with syrupy praise and I remember turning off the radio in disgust when Pence’s fawning  praise turned into the Veep giving Trump verbal fellatio on national radio.

A few days later the curtain came down. The NBA shut down it’s season and the three tickets I had for a Golden State Warriors game turned into four hundred dollars worth of bookmarks. I guess I should laminate them. I managed to get a refund just days before Ticketmaster started issuing credits in lieu of money.

History will be ruthless in ravaging us for politicizing the pandemic. How will it treat the absurdities which actually brought some dark levity to the situation? The hoarding of toilet paper, the dip in sales of Corona Beer because it was somehow linked to coronavirus and the surge in sales of Tito’s Vodka for use as a sanitizer? Turns out there isn’t enough alcohol in vodka to sanitize hands but I’m sure most people found a way to put it to use. Some of those early follies seem quaint in a gloomy sort of way.

When Spring 2020 sprung, it sprang with new signs of the times.

It was April when, during a Coronavirus Task Force Meeting, Trump put his own outrageous and eternal stamp on the pandemic by floating the idea of injecting bleach to ward off the virus.  He was rightfully lampooned by pundits, news organizations and on social media. After his humiliation, months passed before he appeared in another briefing.  This episode will forever highlight Trump’s incompetence and the foolishness of his sycophants for continuing to support him.

A meme lampoon Trump’s idea of injecting bleach.

It wasn’t long before innocence gave way to gravity and levity to foolhardiness. Shutdowns and lockdowns were tolerated for only so long by people who hung the yoke of weaklings on those of us who followed the rules. Who were really the weak ones?
On Memorial Day we learned a new thing – the holiday surge. Well, we really didn’t learn anything because we followed up the Memorial Day surge with an Independence Day surge and then a Labor Day surge and then…

I’ve had almost no problem getting by. I’m one of the lucky ones; retired, no mortgage and a full household. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t struggled. I’ve had some anxiety attacks over the months, not a fear of getting the virus but a fear that this is life from here on out. Fall turned to winter and now at year’s end cases and deaths are increasing unchecked, and inexplicably the “plandemic” nonsense continues to maintain traction in the face of all the death. People continue to ignore medical advice and flaunt their “freedoms.”

Before the news of a vaccine broke I was heading into despair. America was losing this battle, badly. To borrow from a sports term, we were getting our asses handed to us – along with our lungs and our lives. I was starting to believe that we really were headed for one of those dystopian worlds that we see in movies. Was this god unleashing his wrath over our sins? Was Mother Nature applying a well deserved spanking? With the abject failure of leadership I was wondering if year upon year of gutting it out would be worth living. I actually entertained the idea of crossing over to the dark side and just living life as I had pre-COVID. If I’m going to go out, why not do it with a bang.

It took almost a solid year but I finally had a coronavirus tantrum. I was at Sprouts Market early on Christmas Eve, but not early enough to avoid a COVID queue, that line which forms outside of a store to keep occupancy inside to the legal 25% (or whatever it’s supposed to be these days, hard to keep track). I took a glance at the length of the line, turned around got back in the car and muttered to myself, “I am fucking over it with this fucking COVID shit.” Only I wasn’t muttering. At the sound of my anger, Lexi curled up and tried to disappear into an inconspicuous ball of hair in the back seat.

The news of a vaccine had lifted my sagging spirits until the news of the new COVID strain broke. The worry in everyone’s mind, will it be resistant to the vaccines? I sat out Christmas dinner in my dark bedroom in the middle of a full blown panic attack. Things are better now. I did make the mistake of watching the movie The Midnight Sky, a dystopian view of the world that put me in a bad place again. I don’t doubt that there will be more anxiety attacks.

The dearth of any semblance of leadership has only exacerbated matters. After having tossed the previous administration’s pandemic playbook out with the morning trash, Trump came up with his own slapdash plan, a hash really; deny the virus, play it down, do as little as possible, spread blame and let 50 different chefs argue over what to put into a hash and whether to fry it, bake it, serve it raw, throw the whole thing out or claim that hash isn’t really a dish.

As of this morning’s news it looks like America is going to fall short of the 20 million vaccinations the government promised would happen by year’s end. As of this morning we’re at 2 million, a compelling argument in favor of a single payer system.

As the Pfizer vaccine was rolling out, my daughter and I were talking about who should be at the front of the line. We agreed that frontline healthcare workers and first responders should probably be in the front of the line but we agreed on a hint of worry over something going fatally wrong with the vaccine. Then we’d all be screwed. There’s your script for a dystopian movie – the healers all die from the cure.

I’ve sarcastically floated the idea that every member of the House and the Senate should be the first to get the shots. I mean if they were all to croak and suddenly be gone would we really know the difference?

Seriously I’ve no doubt that the vaccine works and I’m planning on getting mine as soon as my turn comes around; which is more than can be said about members of Congress. In that time honored and odious tradition of pushing aside the women and children and piling into the lifeboats, the knaves who’ve dithered while Americans go broke and die, have jumped the line in front of the doctors and nurses who’ve been doing the heavy lifting.

Playing a shameless hand that included the “essential” card and the “selflessness” card, Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark summed up the whole stench in saying, “A vaccine has been made available to Congress because of the need for continuity of government operations. While I am no more deserving of the vaccine than anyone else, I want to demonstrate that coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective.” Anyone with any semblance of morality and fairness would be ashamed to make such a statement. But then, we’re talking about a member of Congress.

What government operations? Disfunction, argument, the purloining of a handsome salary paid by the taxpayers? That government operation? Laughable if not so sad. Another slap in the face by a corrupt band of pirates making $174,000 dollars plus bennies who told starving Americans to eat cake. If they catch the coronavirus these freebooters will have state of the art care while their constituents will, in some cases, be told that there’s no vacancy at the hospital; ride it out at home. As for congress members demonstrating the safety of the vaccine, that was accomplished over the past months when many truly selfless Americans stood in the front ranks to take an unproven vaccine. Sticking your head out of the bunker after the first wave took the fortress is hardly a profile in bravery, Ms. Clark.

Maybe the most egregious of the brigands is the healthy 49 year old, “Little” Marco Rubio who has for months downplayed the pandemic and then, after jumping the vaccination line, went on Twitter and slammed Anthony Fauci.

If Rubio and Graham and all the others who’ve been running interference for Trump since the pandemic began are looking for an elixir, they should probably take the advice given by their demigod and take an injection of Clorox.

If I sound bitter it’s because I am. Bitter about the virus itself? No, that stuff happens. I’m bitter about the reactions.

I’m bitter about the president and his sycophants, enablers and cult members who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

I’m bitter about the people clamoring for their “freedoms” and their nonsensical assertion that their irresponsible behavior doesn’t affect others. Bitter because “freedoms” aren’t just about spreading the virus. I’m bitter because people exercising their “freedoms” are exhausting healthcare workers and first responders. Bitter because the father of a family friend was brought to UCSF medical center for urgent cancer treatment and his own son can’t go to the hospital to visit because of COVID restrictions. Bitter because COVID restrictions keep me from accompanying my wife to her consultations with her oncologist.

I’m bitter about the twenty somethings and thirty somethings who, if they stay healthy have forty, fifty years in front of them but carry on as if nothing’s out of the ordinary because they “don’t want to lose a year of their lives.”

I’m bitter because these are the very people prolonging everyone’s pain – literal, emotional and financial. At 67, I’d REALLY like to not “lose a year” as I don’t have quite so many left. And the people dead or dying? They’re out of years. Sucks to have been them, huh. None of that matters to the twenty or thirty somethings who don’t really give damn about you or me or the dying and the dead. It’s all about them.

But I’m going to keep on soldiering on, going through that “grueling” task of wearing a face covering and “suffering the rigors” of staying home.

I’m bitter because Congress sent two bills to the president for his signature. The bills were attached to each other, the COVID relief package and the annual omnibus spending package; sent with the ridiculous assumption that a president who is still on a learning curve and really doesn’t care (Do you?) anymore wouldn’t conflate the two. He did of course conflate the two and complained, rightfully, that a $600.00 stimulus check is a joke. But the upshot was that the president couldn’t connect the dots and thought that the tons of pork in the omnibus bill was part of the relief bill, threatened to veto the whole thing and asked for $2000.00 relief checks.

And I’m bitter about the porky omnibus bill because it’s loaded with bacon such as, “$15,000,000 (to) be made available for democracy programs and not less than $10,000,000 shall be made available for gender programs,” – for Pakistan. Because Pakistan is so on the cutting edge of gender equality?  And then there are the pork chops, like funds for a “Resource Study of (the) Springfield (Illinois) Race Riot,”- that occurred in 1908. There’s pulled pork like funding a commission tasked with educating “consumers about the dangers associated with using or storing portable fuel containers for flammable liquids near an open flame.” And then there are the pork rinds divided up between various and sundry nations to a total just south of 1.4 billion dollars. I get it, Washington doesn’t move without pork in any normal year but in this highly unusual year couldn’t Congress slice off a little bit of ham and offer it to the American people.

I’m bitter because after approving the miserly $600.00 checks Mitch McConnell (worth an estimated 22.5 million dollars) crowed, “As the American people continue battling the coronavirus this holiday season, they will not be on their own.”
Will not be on their own? Where the hell do you think they’ve been throughout the summer and fall you damned old cracker? The United States Senate has a long and shameful history of being the place where progress and justice go to die and McConnell’s Senate has set a standard for hindrance and stagnation that is unprecedented and will probably never, ever be achieved by future Senates. When it comes to stagnation and obstruction McConnell will go down as the greatest of all time.
There are only two words to describe McConnell – “unmitigated” and “gall.” Well there’s actually quite a few more but one post can only accommodate a limited amount of billingsgate.

An honest retrospective can’t exclude the goodness, the kindness and the charity that blooms in a difficult year.
*Dolly Parton donated a million dollars to COVID research and started her “Goodnight with Dolly” Storytime series for children.

*Unable to perform music in a New Jersey veteran’s home, musical therapist Christine Sheil has adapted by performing outdoors while the veterans watch and listen from their windows.

*There was the Wisconsin teen who used his 3D printer to make face shields for healthcare workers to help fill the shortage.

*A friend of mine sews face masks (quite good ones actually) to give out to anyone in need.

*Over the summer three high school boys founded Food For Heroes, a nonprofit that delivers food to essential workers and supports local businesses. Raising money through GoFundMe, they pay restaurants to prepare and deliver food to frontline workers at hospitals so restaurants don’t have to pay delivery fees. During the summer they delivered over 500 meals.

There are acts of kindness everywhere and one doesn’t have to look hard to find them.

Before the current shutdown I bought lunch for myself and my grandchildren at a little coastal seafood joint. It was dining outdoors with a view of the Pacific. When I paid for my food I left a tip that was far bigger than the meal itself. As I walked away I remember the man calling out to me.
“God bless you and may it come back to you a thousand times over.”

In our own home we’ve adapted as best we can. The spring stay at home compelled me to accomplish some things that I otherwise might not have considered; two classes and three books on Constitutional law, one class on the culture of the American South, two on the Holocaust, and one on morality in politics, and yes the latter does sound like a contradiction in terms. Next on the list are an Italian class, a better understanding of Photoshop and maybe another Constitutional law class.

During the spring shutdown, Cora taught our granddaughter Lucy how to sew; Lucy and her brother Jackson got some geography lessons and learned how to use a world globe.

We’re headed into a second year of pandemic and as bleak as things can look I’m still hopeful. I’m planning on being able to take a vacation in the summer even if it’s still a socially distanced camping trip – something that I may have to bribe Cora into.

We’ll get through it and while there won’t be a dystopia I hope that there will be lessons learned.

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11 thoughts on “The COVID Chronicles: 2020

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    You’ve outdone yourself yet again, Paulie. So much insightful analysis, complete with some needed humor to go with the angst. You could have carved that post into 4 or even 5 separate posts; each one would be a worthy read on its own. Here’s to turning the corner on all this agony.

    1. Paulie says:

      Hello Jane. As I mentioned to another blogger who commented on the length of a previous post, brevity is not one of my strong points. I actually chopped a lot out of this post. It was only after publishing that I realized how long it is. Thanks for hanging in there.
      Wishing you a wonderful 2021.

      1. Jane Fritz says:

        I always love reading your posts, Paulie, long or short. I just meant that you put 4-5 posts worth of effort into it, you should get the “credit”. Wishing the same to you. Take care of yourselves … and your state!

  2. On the positive side, I look at it this way: New generations will have little or no memory of this year. Think of all tales we can tell our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (If we live to tell about it!) Our experiences of 2020 (and 2021) are unlike nothing in the past 100 years, and hopefully there will be nothing like it in the next 100. Preserve this post for posterity. You have chronicled it so well.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Marie for reading and commenting. My grandchildren are living this. It’s been rough on them but they seem to be rolling with the punches. I tell them stories about their great grandfather’s hard times, like the Depression and having flown during WWII and of their great grandmother having lived under Mussolini and of their maternal grandmother surviving the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. It’s probably small comfort but I hope it gives them some perspective. I also tell them that when they have children they will have some unbelievable stories to tell.
      As a nation and a society we haven’t done well. Let me rephrase that. Many should have done better. I certainly hope that we learn something from this. If we don’t a lot of dedication and courage and inspiring deeds will have been for naught. That and all the lives lost. Be healthy and safe in 2021.

  3. Thanks for that walk down the colorful streets of Chinatown, the adjacent dim alleys and the joys of your memory lane. In the 1980’s a conference brought us to your city and we experienced the food and souvenirs of Chinatown but never sampled the pleasures found nearby.

    I think anyone who is writing this year has their own version of the Covid Chronicles. In our annual letter (always in couplet rhyming scheme—a family tradition) to fam & friends I closed with the following lines.
    This deep division of our nation takes its toll on fam and friend,
    weakening bonds of closeness and for some a life will end.
    Covid denying-spreaders place health workers’ lives at risk,
    yet those patients in high places will get best care with timing brisk.
    What does it mean when politicians say, “Nursing care we value most”,
    and defy all rules of contagion; watch their victims die as they boast:
    “It’s no big deal, new treatments are effective, you’ll be better soon”!
    In those populations now at higher risk, funeral dirge will be their tune!
    Since we say, “We care for others”, now on soapbox I postulate
    Yes, Black Lives Matter! 1619 – 2020: Is 400 years too late?
    That saying’s not exclusive; it’s just to focus people’s thoughts,
    for if there’s no discussion, energy for change just goes to naught.
    May you share some kindness with your fellow man in year 2021.
    Let health, peace, compromise and sharing be a guide for having lots more fun!

    Regarding 2021 calendars, for our panacea we chose puppies. Jack Russel Terrier’s being our breed of choice.
    Fingers crossed for a truly New Year,
    Stewart

    1. Paulie says:

      Stewart, Your couplet sums up the year in a much more civilized and controlled manner than I could muster. I’m in awe of poets. During my school years an English teacher would occasionally assign the class to write a poem. I think it left me traumatized as I’ve never been able to put a decent poem together.
      If you return to The City you should visit the “other” Chinatown in the alleys and on Stockton Street. (This morning I’m heading there for some duck and pork).
      This year I opted for a California Coast calendar. I never can find a Gordon Setter calendar – or a Gordon Setter anything for that matter.
      Wishing you a Happy New Year.

  4. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,

    Great pictures, especially of Chinatown.

    I appreciate your political thoughts and I got so much joy from this line > Where the hell do you think they’ve been throughout the summer and fall you damned old cracker?

    Brilliant. 😀

    I loathe that fucker. LOATHE.

    Your bitterness is palpable and justified. It’s so good that you write.

    Less than 3 lunatic weeks to contend with … counting down.

    Wishing you much better days in 2021.

    Hugs,
    eden

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Eden. I love Chinatown. I have some wonderful, if blurry, memories of closing down the Rickshaw, and having a 2 A.M platter of chow fun. I’m on a mission to visit Li Po, a little dive where Anthony Bourdain got hammered during a binge in an episode of The Layover. After leaving my computer today I’m heading on a mission to get some duck and pork at Hing Lung.
      As for Mitch McConnell, it would been more useful to control the Senate than dispense with Trump. Depending on what happens in the runoff we might achieve both.
      I’m certain that the founders never had it in their heads that a 78 year old rich guy (who married into his wife’s Chinese shipping money), from a state that has some of the poorest counties in he nation would end up as a de facto ruler of the whole nation. This is a loophole that needs to be mended.
      We’re down to under 20 days but it’s like having to sit helplessly and watch a gang of vandals carry out their destruction. We’ll be lucky if we don’t end up in a shooting war with Iran
      Stay well.

      1. eden baylee says:

        Yep, speaking of vandals and destruction, now you have Jan. 6 to look forward to. I really hope nobody is killed. As for that wife of McConnell… she gives Asians a bad name. If I believed in hell, there’d be a special place in it for her, though if she’s sleeping with her husband, she’s already there.

  5. Scott Blake says:

    Congrats on reaching almost the end of last year without a pandemic tantrum. Most of us fired one off before that, myself included. Even though the switch from one year to the next is partially symbolic, I almost cried with relief when 2020 became last year instead of this year that never seemed to end. I agree with your bitterness list. The freedom of choice crowd are either selfish, fools, or both. The people who laugh it off, thinking that it’s all a hoax. I would gladly wish that all of them get the virus and die but realize that would be a good wish only if they didn’t infect or affect anyone else, which is unlikely. As for Marco Rubio, that POS should be flung from a catapult into a swamp full of gators.

    One Congressman I will speak well of is the one who represents your district, Mike Thompson. I’ve been getting nothing but being ignored and lied to by the IRS that has withheld the tax refund I filed for in May because, in the words of one IRS employee I spoke with after being on hold for over an hour in October, “we have totally mishandled your return”. In desperation I contacted Congressman Thompson’s office. His Chief of Staff has been working to help me out and at least he is getting some answers from the Infernal Revenoors. I will be surprised if I receive the payment before the next year’s return is due.

    Congressman Thompson is on the Ways and Means Committee and his Chief of Staff told me that the Congressman has a burr under his saddle about the disgraceful ineptitude of the IRS. We’ll see if Ways and Means can get anything done about the mess that is the IRS, but sad to say that (as you mentioned in other words) the government especially under the misguidance of Trump is pathetic at best and has more holes than a sieve. He claims to have mastered the art of the deal. As we have seen in the past 4 years, the only deal that he has mastered is the raw deal for everyone except himself and his toadies.

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