The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

“Unfortunately, we all go through bad phases.” ~ Sushmita Sen (Indian actress)

Woo hoo, it’s phase two.  California’s starting to open up, an event I’m greeting with mixed emotions.  On the one hand I’m glad for the small business owners and workers who’ve been holding on through a rough two months and can now start to go back to work.  On the other hand I feel for the employees and business owners who just weren’t able to ride it out and now face an uncertain future.  They must feel like the ones that didn’t get invited to the party; on the outside looking in.

There’s no stone cold lock that reopening is going to quickly repair a cratered economy. Not everyone is going to feel comfortable immediately poking their heads into a barber shop or dipping toes into the pedicurist’s foot bath.  Still it’s a new beginning.  Brand new because things aren’t going to be like they were.  Do I really want to go to a restaurant with partitions between tables?

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go places that have either been closed off by order or that I’ve chosen to avoid out of an abundance of caution.  Getting together with my son and his family seems to be on the horizon.  We haven’t seen them since we were at their house to watch the Super Bowl. Was that eons ago or does it just feel that way? For the time being though the rules makers have ruled out the extended family visits, or at least discouraged them which is in fact discouraging.  Continue reading

The end of another shelter in place week and we’re officially two months in. This week the weather decided to turn back the clock to the beginning of our lockdown nine weeks ago, mid-March. When it hasn’t been raining this week it’s been blustery and chilly, for the Bay Area that is, a qualifier that I have to add because there are people who live in places where cold is really cold and not the mid-50’s.  The rains have turned the front yard project into mud and the weekend rains aren’t going to allow for any drying.

Two things to take away from the weather. Well, three if you count my cursing the messenger, the various weather forecasters who can’t seem to get it right.  One positive takeaway is that it keeps people from going to parks and beaches and the homicidal/suicidal from hitting the streets to protest, maskless and shoulder to shoulder.  Continue reading

dipstick noun
dip·stick | \ ˈdip-ˌstik \
Definition of dipstick
1: a graduated rod for indicating depth (as of oil in a crankcase)
2: [euphemism for dipshit] : NITWIT

Another morning, another bout of depression. This one weighs especially heavy, keeps me in bed until past seven, a good hour and a half beyond my usual rise time. It isn’t the coronavirus per se that’s causing the malaise although the virus is, as usual, the root cause. Nothing has changed between our household and COVID-19. We only do what we can; limit our trips, maintain social distance, wear our masks, wash our hands and continue in our quest to find a gallon of bleach.

But there’s a creeping, single minded hopelessness about those things that we can’t control; the protests, the suicidal/homicidal nuts who frolic on the beaches against orders, the science deniers, anti-vaxxers and the outright lunatics who assault rent-a-cops doing their subsistence pay jobs in asking shoppers to wear a mask.

But it’s the extraordinarily stupid who trouble me the most, the ones who bluster about their rights and their individual freedoms and all the while allow themselves to be led by the nose by a cadre of assorted knaves; corporate interests, politicians worried about where the next feathers for their nests will come from, a yo-yo in the White House and an ever growing cast of charlatans and rapacious aspiring apostles who manage to infiltrate youtube.

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I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

It’s mid-afternoon and I’m taking Jessica to an eye appointment in Oakland. She’s certainly not “my little girl” anymore.  I long ago stopped being surprised by her cogent views and the way she so forcefully and eloquently expresses them when we have serious, and sadly infrequent discussions on politics, society, culture and news.  We’ve crossed into that stage of life when I’ll ask her for her counsel on the occasional life crisis.  I suppose that makes sense.  She’s been through more in her 33 years than I’ve been in my 66.  Jessica has degrees in Political Science and International Negotiation, neither of which are directly applicable to her current job.  That’s like many of us.  How many fellow history degree holders do I know who are doing something besides teaching history or practicing law?

I wonder how her life might be different if she’d pursued something applicable to her education.  Sometimes life pushes you, hard, in directions that you never anticipated.  Now my daughter the aspiring baker dreams of having her own little shop.  Politics to pastry seems like more than a fair exchange.

Like the rest of us (well, the ones who follow the rules) the COVID life has her staying home on weekends when she might normally be out and she’s filling up part of her spare time baking.  It fills the house with luscious inviting smell and our bellies up with countless carbs; bulging chocolate chip cookies, cakes, cobblers, honey laden Greek desserts.  Used to be that my mom would let me lick the batter bowl, now my daughter hands me the bowl and the spatula.  We need to leave shelter in place ASAP.  I feel pounds coming on.

During our drive she tells me about a documentary she saw about how the news is often delivered with an end game of shaping public opinion.  It brings to mind Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley – dour, no nonsense and not even a hint, spoken or unspoken, of any bias.  That’s not to say there was never any emotion.  I remember Cronkite falling into tears when he reported on the Kennedy assassination.

We both agree that it’s often, too often, difficult to separate fact from partisan fiction.  That’s unless you’re watching CNN or Fox in which case it’s an open and shut case of bias, one from the left the other from the right and there’s nothing really right about either.  They aren’t supposed to be in the business of shaping public opinion or making news when they should simply be reporting news.  Jessica tells me that she’s sick of the back and forth bickering, as sick of the “fuck Trump” stuff as she is with the “fuck Pelosi.”  I have to agree although I’ve been, and probably will continue to be, guilty of the former.

We’re turning off of Highway 80 onto 580, normally a crawl but in the COVID days the traffic flows.  As we cross into Oakland I tell her that it’s my belief that America is so ideologically divided that we’re far beyond the point of any rapprochement. The silos too hardened, the anger too malignant.  Anyone running for office claiming that he/she will be the unifier is either lying or delusional or a mixture of both.
“It’s my opinion, and it’s frankly just recently come to me, that, not necessarily in my lifetime or yours, but at some point the United States will no longer be united. I just wonder how it’s going to divide.  From a philosophical point of view California, New York and the northeast and maybe Colorado could make up one nation and let the rest fend for themselves. It just doesn’t work out geographically.”
It’s a notion that I’ve thought a lot about lately. How would it work? Would it be like the EU with open borders and a common currency and a NATO-like defense compact?Currently America is “a house divided” and we know what Lincoln said about that.

It isn’t a notion that hasn’t been explored. In 1981, journalist Joel Garreau wrote The Nine Nations of North America, which proposes a North America being divided into nine nations based on economic and cultural similarities.  The problem is that the divisions would include Canada and Mexico.  Do those two nations really want to adopt a petulant, child such as America?

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May’s begun with the promise, if that’s the right word, of another month of quarantine. Looking out the window at the brightening sky, it gets bright by five these days, it dawns on me that, there will be things that I’ll miss once the shelter in place ends.  That’s if you don’t count not being able to find bleach or Cup of Noodles (some might argue that the two have the same nutritional value).  Life is actually much simpler now.  Makes sense.  There aren’t very many choices.  It’s stay at home or…stay at home or….stay at home some more.  No internal, “hmm what to do today,” debate.  Traffic is light, we’re not spending as much money because there’s nothing to spend it on and there’s that knowledge that we’re putting a lot less stress on Mother Earth.  Maybe Mother Earth forced the issue on us but that’s for another discussion.

It’s five in the A.M.  My elbow is at the edge of the bed and Lexi is bumping it with her nose.  Some people have an alarm clock that makes chirping noises, others a simple traditional bell.  My alarm physically butts me.  I have to be certain that I don’t stretch my arms before getting up. The wrong stretch sends a bolt of pain from my torn shoulder down my arm and up into my neck.  One thing that I won’t miss is the moratorium on elective surgeries.  I don’t have hair to cut, I don’t care about going out to eat and I don’t play golf.  I just want my shoulder fixed.

In past months when I was getting ready to go out for a run I’d turn on the early news but I’ve not watched or listened to the news for six days now.  It’s like breathing clean air.  I’ve decided that I’m going to step away from news for as long as I can hold out.  Until around late January when the dumpster fire of the election cycle started sending foul fumes into the air waves,  I’d gone months without the news.

And then the coronavirus hit along with the Iowa caucuses and I was hooked again – a news-aholic binging on Anderson Cooper, The New York Times and of course social media debates.  I couldn’t get enough.  I was like those pathetic guys in Mackinaw jackets who hit the dive bars at six in the morning and by seven have their heads drooping over their fourth shot and a beer.  Except my dive bar was CNN, the shot was Poppy Harlow and the beer was Jim Sciutto.  By late last week I decided to go cold turkey.  Continue reading

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

My first few Covid Chronicle posts began with the daily butcher’s bill, that is the number of coronavirus cases and deaths both worldwide and in the United States. I stopped doing that for the simple reason that it was and still is mostly superfluous. We know that the numbers are rising and the world knows that the United States is the global hotspot. These are the unfortunate facts despite the fabrications that roll off the assembly line of Trump’s propaganda machine.

But since we’ve reached some grim milestones it might be worth revisiting the butcher’s bill with a comparison of where we were a month ago.
Sunday, March 29th, 2020
The Butcher’s Bill 10:30 AM, PDT (only a momentary snapshot)
Cases: 691,867 Deaths: 32,988
United States
Cases: 130,478 Deaths: 2,314

Tuesday, April 29th, 2020
The Butcher’s Bill 8:00 AM, PDT (only a momentary snapshot)
Cases: 3,164,597 Deaths: 219,459
United States
Cases: 1,038,281 Deaths: 59,438
I mention this because I ran across a Facebook Group called Open California…NOW (the group’s emphasis).  The preamble to this group reads, The evidence is clear: COVID-19 is nowhere as deadly as government officials proclaimed, and the high demand on our healthcare system never materialized.  Is it a cold case of not equating numbers with  lives lost?  Or is it a complete and total absence of any semblance of reason, as one of the posts on the Open California page calls the pandemic a conspiracy. Continue reading

“I didn’t want normal until I didn’t have it anymore”
~ Maggie Stiefvater, Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception

Same old same old new normal
Thirty-five days sheltered in place; or is it 33? 34? 38?  A borderless block of time.  We have to look at our phones to figure out what day of the week it is.  Remember when the phone was that ugly thing on the kitchen wall that served no other purpose other than talking to the neighbor or the person trying to sell you insurance?  You talked on the phone and looked on the calendar when you needed to know the day of the week?  Now the calendar is almost worthless as the days melt into a shapeless slab.  Is it Wednesday or Friday?  No Monday blahs or hump days or TGIF.  You can still have taco Tuesday but Friday Happy Hours at the bar are relics of the old normal.

Governor Gavin Newsom issued his weekly update and much to everyone’s disappointment there is still no real timetable for starting to reopen the state. That’s not to say that the flicker of light isn’t getting just a smidge brighter. Newsom announced that hospitals can “can consider resuming medical care that residents have delayed during this crisis, such as heart valve replacements, angioplasty and tumor removals.” I don’t need any of that work done but just the fact that overhauling hearts is back on the schedule then how much further out can fixing up a rotator cuff be? Sooner than later I hope because just putting on a shirt is a new experience in pain. In my case soon is still no sooner than October at best, but at least they’ve allowed me to fall into the queue.

While most of us were disappointed by Newsom’s briefing, the anti-vax group that’s been ramrodding some of the irresponsible protests around the state must be apoplectic.  It shouldn’t surprise me that the rabble rousers are anti-vaxxers.  Public health hasn’t been their strong suit so why change over a pandemic.  If the anti-vaxxers can’t kill society with measles they might just as well give coronavirus a shot – wait, they don’t like shots.


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If we lose our sanity …
We can but howl the lugubrious howl of idiots,
the howl of the utterly lost
howling their nowhereness. ~ D.H. Lawrence, “At Last”

I knew this train would be coming down the tracks long before I saw it, long before I heard the whistle or felt those faint vibrations that they say you can feel by touching the rails. I have to say that it took a little longer than I’d expected. I figured it would be just a week or two but kooks being unpredictable by nature stagger to the beat of their own broken drums. As soon as the shelter in place orders went out over a month ago I knew that sooner or later there would be a backlash. And when I say as soon as, I mean I called it the very day that Gavin Newsom announced California’s shelter in place back on March 19th, an order meant to try and get a handle on COVID-19. I even correctly predicted the makeup of the agitators.

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“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. Continue reading

Plans to reopen are in the works but we still need to be vigilant, patient and in the confines of our domestic bunkers.  In the meantime here’s another breakout from the outbreak.
I went on a safari through my archives to find some photos of our animal kingdom.

“Birds were created to record everything. They were not designed just to be beautiful jewels in the sky, but to serve as the eyes of heaven.”
~ Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Bluish bird edited

Heron – Louisiana

Turkey profile 1

Wild Turkey

Duck 7x5

Duck. San Pablo Bay

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