The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #3

Notes on the general state of the neighborhood, the family, and the masses in the time of the virus.

Yesterday’s Numbers:

518 confirmed cases (up 30 from yesterday)

46 confirmed deaths (up 3 from yesterday)

Who runs Barter Town?

Master Blaster

MASTER BLASTER RUNS BARTER TOWN!

I’ve been to the grocery store every day for the past 3 days. Casual stockpiling. I make sure to use different checkers each time, so they don’t catch on to my game. I’m so clever. It was early and quiet this morning. Staples are low – bread, pasta, flour and sugar, frozen veggies. But it was clear that they had already restocked several things from my visit Sunday – I remember the ground beef being completely gone, and most of the chicken. Today there was a little of both to be had. The checker said they’ve been consistently very busy, though they still expect their customary 6 deliveries a week, with perhaps a slight delay on some items (that “slight delay” would send a lot of people back to the toilet paper aisle faster than you can say “Aunty Entity”).

Entity

What’s left are the organics – sanity gaining a foothold in an insane time, as people forced to think about actual survival (justified or not) instead of vanity subsistence leave the high-dollar items on the shelf. Nobody’s coming over for dinner tonight anyway (lemme get a covert COVID AMEN! from the introverts in the shuttered apartments).

This morning at the store I also talked to a notable Seattle chef who owns a couple of very popular restaurants around town. Since the dawn of the plague, people have been using restaurants to virtue signal in their usual convoluted way. At the very beginning the populace was a vociferously threatening pack of kombucha-swilling armchair entrepreneurs: “You penny-pinching restaurant owners had better have a plan in place to take care of your employees when you’re forced to close! And also you had damn well better close, FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD.”

Except they didn’t close right away, so the worry over the contagion being spread in restaurants abated, and the virtue signaling changed to “I’m making sure to get out and support local businesses so they can survive this difficult time.” (wait for it) “AND YOU SHOULD TOO.” (there it is, the obligatory social directive) I’ve heard the phrase “support local business” so many times in the past several days that I want to get a sack of takeout from Applebee’s and eat it in the parking lot of a Home Depot while ordering McDonald’s through UberEats.

At this point pretty much all of the restaurants have contorted themselves into full-service takeout places. I think it’s great, and I alluded yesterday to how big of a bullet we’ve dodged in terms of our descent to Thunderdome by not being faced with the consequences of full-scale restaurant closures. The grocery stores would be decimated by now.  The West Seattle Blog is tracking availability, hours, etc. for all the places that have gone to takeout and delivery service. That blog has been an incredible resource for everything in this community for as long as I’ve lived here. But it’s still run by people, so it has its hiccups. Today someone asked the editor/founder/proprietor if she knew what Starbucks was planning to do, and she replied that she wasn’t bothering with the chains (Starbucks! In Seattle!) until she found out and reported on the local (UNLIKE STARBUCKS IN SEATTLE I GUESS) businesses. Here’s the quote:

“I’m hitting all the indies before worrying about the chains.”

She said as she pensively dabbed the oil that was pooled on her hummus with the corner of a piece of small batch artisanal naan. Spare me. As if every single one of those baristas in their little green aprons isn’t one of your neighbors. The things people choose to ignore. There’s so much middle-finger-waving in everyone’s morality that it’s amazing they can free a hand long enough to unplug their cars.

Anyway, that guy I talked to at the grocery store, the restaurant owner. He’s running takeout from one of his two places – a smaller joint meant more for lunch and fast eating anyway. His other restaurant is a more formal venture, about which he says “I don’t sell food there, I sell an experience. We can’t do takeout.” They’re shut down for the time being. I’m sure the community is aghast. I would have asked more questions – what are your employees doing, how’s your family, etc. – but grocery store encounters aren’t meant to drag on and we had already maxed out our allotted time, plague or no.

………

It’s my first day of homeschooling the boy. Third grade. I mentioned yesterday that his school left us a homework kit that I picked up and brought to the house. We put together a daily schedule based on his usual school program, with some changes because there are some things they just can’t expect us to do here – music, for instance. It’s not as rigorous or complete as his sister’s, but it’s important, and he’s taking fairly well to it:

There is some resistance. Home has a lot of distractions – there are snacks in the cupboards a few feet away. The remaining segments of two delicious Cookie Monster cakes are on the counter. TV and video games are in arm’s reach. But mostly it’s just the different feeling to it, the natural beleif that it isn’t actual school, and can therefore be taken a little less seriously. It’s been a bit challenging to keep him on task. But he’s got strength, and we’re a good team.

Trash is still getting picked up, mail’s still coming, Amazon’s still delivering. We’re doing alright. There were no new proclamations from the Governor’s office today, and no news is good news, as we all know.

Gnus
Remember this guy?

The new cases and the death toll today both increased at a lower rate than the day before, but that’s been inconsistent. It doesn’t take a statistician to understand the concept of small sample size. In other words, I am not about to start drawing any conclusions. Not that I would, anyway. Unlike the rest of the internet, I am not an epidemiologist. 

I asked my homeless brother again how things were going for him and his people in sunny Coronafornia:

Well, I’m selling hand sanitizer for 3 dollars if you’re interested
I have the motherload
Its hooked up to a fire hydrant…I’m just dowsing people with it.👉😤👈
Things are good, poured down rain yesterday,  beautiful today
But this pandemic is threatening my ability to purchase four loko. So I may just buy a case and hide in a bunker
Poetry. I know what you’re thinking, and believe me I agree. That’s my brother, and he’s homeless, so I should tell him he needs to charge a lot more than three bucks for the sanitizer. He’d get a lot more Four Loko that way.

 

4loko

 

—Don’t touch your face, comrade citizen—

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #2

Notes on the general state of the neighborhood, the family, and the masses in the time of the virus.

∼  The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. — Orwell, Animal Farm

Yesterday’s numbers:

Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting the following confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19 through 11:59 p.m. on 3/15/20.

488 confirmed cases (up 68 from yesterday)

43 confirmed deaths (up 6 from yesterday)

Ok, so I’ve finally done it. I’ve officially made hand sanitizer. So what? Essential oils and everything. I’m like a chuffed-up CDC mommy-blogger or something. It was more out of boredom than anything else. I mean, we have hand sanitizer, though not in “bug-out bunker” quantities. And we wash our hands. So the homemade sanitizer is something of an extra, a plague-time  accoutrement. We had some rubbing alcohol on hand for first aid and general utility purposes, and any family with kids has aloe in a cupboard somewhere (even in the bleak Northwest). Quick google for the alcohol-to-aloe ratio, a healthy dose of lavender oil to dull the fumes, and Bob’s yer uncle

Remote learning for the 6th grader, beginning stages of light home-schooling for the 3rd grader. Monday felt like the real Day 1. And in many ways it was nice.

Our daughter’s school did a very impressive job of organizing itself for Armageddon education. She has a full 8:30-3:30 schedule of classes that are held online, with video conferencing. 45 minute classes with 15 minutes between, and an hour or so for lunch. It is a small, private Jr. High school, to which you will say something about luck, but that’s knee-jerk and simplistic. I’ve heard it already: “You’re lucky her school is able to do that.” No, we aren’t. There is no luck. We are where we are because of a long series of decisions and choices made, combined with a significant amount of work (not to mention correcting course after drifting for years on a raft of bad decisions, in my case). We did not wake up in the gutter and get handed this life.

The full and rigorous schedule our daughter is following eliminates the chance to have that snow day feeling that I know millions of kids are dealing with right now. That’s hell on the parents. The kids are in “anything goes” mode, but the parents need to stay in the game. Especially the parents whose jobs do not let up just because they aren’t in the office. Like My wife. She’s at home, at the desk in the bedroom, but it is 100% work. I am free enough to take care of our 3rd grade son , and today that meant guiding him through the homework kit that I picked up from his school this morning (again, this is not lucky – Choices, decisions, and effort got us here). He definitely has the snow day feeling, and the idea of doing school during the plague is hanging on him like an anchor covered in badgers. He is so much boy. So much capital ‘B’ Boy. He even said at one point, when I made him get back to typing practice, “this is supposed to be a fun time.” It is, buddy. All you have to do is choose it.

Our little dead-end street has agreed upon a daily recess at 11:30 for the kids. There’s 4 of them within 4 years of each other who can all play the same games together (while adhering to the CDC’s latest standards for social distancing, of course). Two other kids are a bit younger, and we didn’t see them today. Two others are a bit older, and probably too cool to be hanging out with the children at this point. We didn’t see them, either. The sun was out and the kids had an hour-plus of running in the air, in the street, through the yards and up the driveways. You can see how it changes them to be outside. There’s an animal thing in it that they take to, naturally. It frees them. It frees us all if, again, we choose it.

Later, via text message, I asked my homeless brother what he and his fellow “unhoused people” or “people experiencing homelessness” in Southern California think about it all, and he had this to say:

Apparently there’s a huge demand for toilet paper. And people are going to the store more and the stock market is crashing, old people are dying and I still smoke cigarettes from the ground.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I’ll number my entries, but I’m not going to bother trying to say “Day 1” or “Day 14.” I don’t care to pinpoint anything. The posts are dated. The days run together. With school happening at home and no sports, Saturday and Wednesday have enough in common now that they’re sharing their magics and their miseries in equal parts. One day is too much like another for the names to make much difference anymore. I stand by my prediction that things will not get very bad here, and it’ll be over before we expect it to be, but it will be very interesting to see how things play out. How bad – Lord, I almost feel like an idiot for saying this – how bad it will get. Like the kids running outside, adults jump at the chance to do animal things, too. But when we do it, things tend to get bloody. I think it’s because we’re aware of our beastliness, whereas the kids have no idea. We’re aware, and awareness is embarrassing, and embarrassment loves a little violence to change the subject. Just ask Cain.

I sure hope we don’t get there – burning UPS trucks on the highways and people robbing each other. Those idiots stockpiling hand sanitizer in Tennessee sure didn’t get us started off on a very promising note.

∼ The creatures outside looked from virus to man, and from man to virus, and from virus to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. 

Except that in our case, there are no creatures outside. There is no outside.

 

—Don’t touch your face, comrade citizen—

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #1

Notes on the general state of the neighborhood, the family, and the masses in the time of the virus.

Disclaimer: I really had no idea I was going to go so long, or into so many things. I just wanted to start keeping track of the situation here during our (so far) low grade social quarantine. Things are odd enough out there that having an informal record of it might wind up looking like a good idea. It’s just that jumping into it a couple-few weeks late is requiring some backpedaling. And in any case, as I mention below, things only ramped up to Twilight Zone levels of alarm and theatrics in the last week or so.

The year is 2020, and for not much reason other than that, I’m calling it the Perfect Vision Plague (You know my feelings on naming things).  Also, shortened to PVP, it carries the same acronym as Player vs. Player, which seems so fitting in a time of policing each other’s personal hygiene habits, that it’s like earning a new merit badge in the Cynicism Scouts.

Here’s where we stand now:

King County Coronavirus updates, March 15

Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting the following confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19 through 11:59 p.m. on 3/14/20

  • 420 confirmed cases (up 32 from yesterday)
  • 37 confirmed deaths (up 2 from yesterday)

…………

We’ll just call last weekend, March 14 and 15, “day 1.” It was the first weekend since the news of the outbreak that we really knew where we stood in terms of daily routine. There was no more wondering which schools were going to close and which rogue private schools would hold out – all schools were now officially closed by government decree until at least April 27th. The admonition to stay home from work was strong enough that going to the office on Monday (today) would likely brand you a nonperson among some of your peers. In short, this was the first weekend in which we all officially had The Fear.

Back on Feb 29th, Governor Inslee issued the first proclamation of a particularly worrisome variety  – the kind that sends people, evidently, into fits of involuntary toilet paper hoarding. This was the declaration of a state of emergency for Washington state. It’s probably the best marker for the start of the panic around here, the beginning of the journey into an unlikely blend of camaraderie and McCarthyism. Here’s the synopsis, from the Governor’s announcement of the early gravity of things here in Washington, where things, you know, virus-wise,  are (or at least were, I can’t keep up) worse than anywhere else in the country:

The nation’s first case of COVID-19 was found in a Snohomish County man in January. He had traveled to Wuhan, China and has now recovered. On Feb. 28, the state Department of Health announced two additional cases – a King County woman who had recently traveled to South Korea, and a Snohomish County teenager with no travel history. Both are recovering at home and remain in home isolation.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And overall we were still fairly casual about things. Nothing had been shut down, and even though the toilet paper and hand sanitizer were already becoming unicorns, life was business as usual. The one place to find amplified histrionics and a deluge of virus-related reactionism was, oddly enough, the comment sections of every website. They were neatly stratified into two narrow categories (how strange, I know):

  1. We have a flu season every year that kills tens of thousands! This one isn’t even that lethal. It’s stupid to get worked up over this when we don’t even bat an eye the rest of the time.
  2. SHUT IT ALL DOWN YESTERDAY.

Both categories were experts, backed by science (I type that word with a small ‘s’ and I feel like an atheist lower-casing ‘God.’ That’s the respect your savior gets from me!).

The notification/warning phase was followed by a very rapid sequence of mandated closures and prohibitions, such that by now the grocery stores are one of the few businesses still allowed to operate normally. Yesterday, March 15th, came the most recent order, and the one that says more than anything so far that we’re simply not gonna screw around here anymore:

Inslee statement on statewide shutdown of restaurants, bars and limits on size of gatherings

And that’s where we stand today. The restaurants, bars, and gyms are closed – the gyms! – and most everything else. The aforementioned grocery stores, as well as pharmacies, remain open. Someone in the comments of the West Seattle Blog asked about the pot shops, and I immediately had visions of dirty college kids passing pipes around tapestry-laden rooms, coughing, sweating, and laughing. They’d be scrubbing the mouthpiece with sanitary wipes between hits, and finding out how hard it is to light the bowl when you’re holding the tube between your elbows. Social distancing requires the use of a 6ft. bong.

So how is humanity keeping itself busy? Well, in a move that surprised nobody, certain names for the virus became racist this week, according to the people who used those names last week (and if carving out time for character assasssination during a pandemic isn’t your clue that we might be a little too dependent on racism as a tool of socio-politcal exepdiency, then please, voluntarily and aggressively self-quarantine well after the “all-clear” is issued). I could make a list of things that are closed and canceled, but the links are pretty useful, and unless this crisis ends up deleting the internet, I think the info is safe (he said with a very “hold my beer” kind of feeling in his gut). Here’s the Governor’s coronavirus page, it appears pretty comprehensive and easy to follow, and it’ll have your state-level updates (until the capital is overrun by looters and Inslee is forced into the Olympia underground, eating rats cooked over fires of slow-burning hand sanitizer) (The Republicans will blame his liberal policies for the rats being there at all)(The Democrats will note, loudly, that there is a burn ban in effect)(The actual residents of Olympia will be going back out for sushi by then)

A thing or two about what I think when I take in this whole situation:

About people, about the great and general us:

I have conflicting feelings here, and I resist the urge to grab a very broad brush of cynicism, plunge it into a tub of mistrust, and start stroking away. All the hoarding makes a lot of us scoff – while of course wondering if we should be getting ours while we still can. And a lot of people are using this opportunity to exercise a (let’s face it, poorly suppressed at the best of times) proclivity for telling their neighbors how to live. There’s a feeling, a gestalt, of unease, uncertainty, and a kind of ineffable difference to human experience, as if we’re all walking around inside of our own doppelgangers, suddenly left-handed.

We do love a good tragedy, but only insofar as we can claim proximity to it. Involvement. I can think of a few things in my lifetime that are “where-were-you-when” events. Those turning points – moments of profound social, political, and cultural significance that people try to stamp by talking about what they were doing when it happened. There was the Berlin Wall coming down, The Space Shuttle Challenger exploding after takeoff, and 9/11. There might be more, but a longer list dilutes the significance. Almost none of us had any real proximity to those events, fewer still were actually involved at all, and yet all we want to do is link ourselves to them in any way we can, usually by talking at length about what we were doing when it happened. I’m honestly not sure what we hope to gain from that.  God only knows if it’s a psychological impulse to appeal for even the thinnest sympathy wherever we can get it, or if it’s as simple as a desire to feel more important than we know very deeply that we are. Whatever it is, it has always felt particularly empty to me. Selfish, too, but I repeat myself.

And that’s why the toilet paper is gone.

But we’re good, too. People are helping each other out in any way they can. It’s very hard at a time when physical distance is mandated. This has been instructive in revealing just how much, in spite of all the complaints about the way technology keeps us apart, we depend on close interaction. We pass things hand-to-hand, we hug, shake hands, pat shoulders and backs, pick things up for people when they drop them. We pass food around by hand, and I recall Morocco – eating all those meals with my host family and all my friends, tearing bread for each other, using it to scoop food from the large shared dish in the center of the table. I rarely touched a fork. They’re in the time of the virus, too, and they’ll be having to do things very differently now.

There are a lot of efforts underway to feed the high numbers of children who depend to varying degrees on school lunches. There are some very low-income people who need those meals and will struggle without them, and I hear that all Seattle Public Schools will have meals available for pickup for every SPS student who wants one. Also, the restaurants are closed for dine-in business, but they are turning themselves into full-service takeout vendors. And while this will seem a little too first-world for some people, restaurant availability diminishes the need for stockpiled food at home, while helping to maintain the extremely important sense of normalcy that keeps us all from turning on each other. This is good humanity. It’s why I get the feeling that we’re at a point when real catastrophe will be very hard to come by. We have ways to make things work, and people to do it. If things get really, apocalyptically bad, it won’t be because of a virus or a super-weapon or “the big one.” We are more than capable of helping each other through these things. If it really does go all the way pear-shaped on us, it will be because of us, panicking to the point of hijacking Amazon delivery drivers on the road and, yes, hoarding all the toilet paper.

But I see you cocking your head and making the very concerned face of a cable news celebrity politicizing a crisis and asking “Andy, how are things for you, personally, and that dear family of yours? With all this worry over your health, and also my need for your sage guidance, I cannot sustain a full 20 seconds of hand washing.”

Here’s a weekend recap:

We ate together a lot. It was great. I know people like to hold up the “eating together as a family” ideal as the gold standard in knowing the difference between the Cleavers and the Mansons, but that’s ridiculous. It is definitely very nice to eat together (when nobody is being moody or there’s nothing unsettling or contentious to talk about, and everyone likes what has been cooked, and nobody has anything at all to complain incessantly about) but we simply don’t get to do it very often. Two or three times a week at best. There’s too much work and soccer and piano and swimming and basketball, so we eat far fewer homecooked meals than most people falsely claim to have at their homes. And yet we’re a very good and strong family. Which is why, when we did get to eat together several times over the weekend, it went well.

We also had a baking competition, boys against girls, in which we each tried to make the best Cookie Monster cake. It was a spectacular way to forget all the viral anxiety. It also resulted in two delicious cakes that sanitation requirements forbade us to offer to the neighbors, so we’re enjoying a little dessert several times a day.

Cookie_Monsters
Choose your winner, leave your vote in the comments

I went to the store a couple of times. I’m going to admit as confidently as I know how that I did buy toilet paper. We were down to one package (8 rolls?) at home, so I can credibly say that it was a good time to buy it anyway, but the decision was at least 40% panic. I mean, what if I was the one guy who was too stupid to do it? WHAT WOULD MY FAMILY THINK OF ME. I bought 12 rolls of the weird stuff that was left on the shelf at Target because nobody wanted it. 12 rolls is not a lot. It is not hoarding. I would buy 12 rolls at any normal trip to the store. But it is an odd feeling, purchasing the toilet paper that even hoarding food-stampers won’t touch, when everyone is watching you. “Holy crap, that guy’s desperate.”

Then I went to a different store and they had name brand, super-soft toilet paper on the shelf, so I bought an 8-pack. Now we’re hoarding, kids.

(My wife just came down to tell me that the county in California where her friend lives has made it a misdemeanor to leave your house. We haven’t verified this or looked at the details, and this seems drastic for even those Orwellian pea-brains in that state, so don’t hold me to it. A very quick and shallow google search yields nothing)

We walked in and around Lincoln Park three times over the weekend. Twice with the kids. They hate it and always grumble terrifically when we tell them that it must be done. Still, once we get out and moving they acquiesce to their captivity and have a nice enough time. My son is 9 years old and all it takes is a football or a surprise punch in the gut to make him forget that he’s angry. He’s like a dog that way – sometimes just opening the door to the outside world gets him running around out there with his nose in the air.

Lincoln park
Picture not taken this weekend, in case you were wondering where all the people are.

There were a lot of people at the park, which was nice to see. The weather was sunny but cold and windy. Usually that wind will keep people inside, but it was obvious that what we all really needed, even after just a few days of stress and worry, was to get the hell outside. Air, trees, water, the sounds of the ferries and seagulls, the stiff lashing of the wind on your cheeks – it’s a big reset button. It lightens you, physically, in both color and weight, wiping away a grimy darkness that had settled on you like coaldust while you shuffled around a shuttered house, scrubbing the skin from your hands with 90% alcohol concoctions.

This has gone long. I’ll talk a bit about school and the kids tomorrow, as well as whatever else might come up in this ever developing situation. For the record, my early prediction for the Societal Freeze brought about by the Perfect Vison Plague is that here in the United States it will be over much sooner than we think. We will have overreacted in effective ways, and we will look back on this whole thing as a job well done.

Not the Italians, though. They’re gonna be pissed off for generations.

 

I Assembled This Irrational Post By Random Chance

In lieu of FB, I’m doing these things here. That’ll reduce it’s viewership to about 6 from about 60, but that hardly seems significant.

“Do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.”

“Those who care for something else, more than civilization, are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved.”

In the Time of the Virus We’re Not Sick, but…

One of the more common themes of life as a human, at least as I look back over things, is not knowing what to do, think, feel, or say. All the more true in this time of the incipient plague. Like earthquakes, winning the lottery, and getting published, I’ve got that undeniable sense that it will most definitely “never happen to me.” (He said in an election year.) And as the man in the song says:

“the agony and the irony, they’re killing me.”

Whatever that digression was about…

I’m being a little cleaner, more sanitary (what a word) than before, but that doesn’t amount to much. I’m more worried than before, but again…

I do wish that we would go back to calling it a plague. I like what Merriam Webster gives me online; this introduction to misery and despair:

plague
noun
\ ˈplāg \
Definition of plague
(Entry 1 of 2)
1a : a disastrous evil or affliction : calamity
b : a destructively numerous influx or multiplication of a noxious animal : infestation a plague of locusts
2a : an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : pestilence
b : a virulent contagious febrile disease that is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) and that occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic forms
— called also black death
3a : a cause of irritation : nuisance
b : a sudden unwelcome outbreak a plague of burglaries

2b sounds suitably scientific, and that’s what we’re all after these days. That’s why we don’t call it a plague. We call it a what?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

We call it an epidemic. Now that’s science-y! Our saviors can do something about that! Scientists: the people who settle disputes in an indisputable manner, who answer questions with unquestionable answers, and are never to be doubted (except when it comes to food and biological sex; then suddenly they’re a bunch of Keystone Khemists who have no business telling us anything). Test tubes, beakers, swabs, and acronyms! An epidemic doesn’t stand a chance.

But then 2b dons its plague doctor mask, and descends upon us with the “black death.”

In which we think of Artifacts and potential Evocations - Onyx Path Forums

Call it the black death instead of an epidemic and things seem pretty hopeless, don’t they? I mean, just add it to definition 1a up there: “Evil.” “Calamity.” We don’t have labs for evil and calamity, much less black death.  We do have art, though:

Church Records Could Identify an Ancient Roman Plague - The Atlantic
Jules-Élie Delaunay’s “Plague in Rome” (1869)

And there’s literature, from Defoe to Camus, and a little work you may have heard of that’s called, in some circles, The Bible ((science has declared a hyperlink to be unnecessary in the case of The Bible (A little joke that I’m now recognizing has substantial depth to be explored, depending on your sleep and electrolyte levels this soon after DST clock changing)).

All of which is to say that I don’t know what I am saying, or what I want to say, or how to thnk or feel about it all. We have a germaphobe in the house already, so there hasn’t been much of an uptick in the previously sensible sanitation habits (though between me and the kids, our germaphobe hardly stands a chance).  And I find myself reading King County Health reports very selectively, for the information that helps me to not be concerned – all the dying people are old, they all came from the same care center, etc. There’s not much of a reason to give it any thought at all, as long as I do it like that.

I barely remember the swine flu or the bird flu, which are much cooler names, BTW, than Coronavirus, but there’s probably something worth examining in a society’s tendencies when naming it’s disasters – do we shoot for sensationalism? Gravitas? Humo(u)r? (our ancestors would certainly have much to say about the humors in the time of a plague).  I do know that we fancy ourselves a very intellectual culture and society here in the US, and “unseriousness” is frowned very seriously upon – he said, yet again, in an election year.

And I have to say, though I’m sure it’s just coming from the macabre child that will not release its hold on my soul, that I envy a society that called its affliction something so dour, dire, and distraught as “The Black Death.” That’s beautiful. Succinct. I don’t think we’d ever do that. I already note how unwilling people are to joke about this outbreak, and resistance to humor is another mark of a society that overvalues intellectualism amidst a dearth of it. Comedians are brilliant, and geniuses tell huge jokes. But mediocrity (and we are mediocre, on average – definitions and all that) – mediocrity poses and postures, and adopts a serious tone, because it adapts poorly to things that stray too far from the line it clings to. Mediocrity hides best when it moves least, and there’s nothing more stagnant than humorlessness.

I had no idea I was going to go there. But here I am, talking about fear and humorlessness in the time of plague, and in an election year, blah blah. Of course it’s somewhat overserious of me to draw that comparison at all, which fact brings swimming back to me what the man said in the song, and what I already laid out above:

“the agony and the irony, they’re killing me.”

Especially the irony.

 

The Dirty Geese

A few weeks ago, the family and I took a much needed but ill-timed (weather-wise) trip to Camano Island for the weekend. February is no time to head up the Washington coast. That wind. If you live in the PNW, you know that wind. We couldn’t do a lot. But my wife and I did get to take a good walk halfway across a vast bay that went full dry when the tide went out. It was clear from the pieces of driftwood that were still visible when the tide came back in, that we could probably have walked across it wet, too. Aside from that, the weather kept us mostly indoors. It was a nice rental, with a telescope for eagle spotting, and we did alright. Even the kids.

On a local’s advice we made a short drive from there up to La Conner. We were told we might see some snow geese on the drive.  Swans, too, but mostly geese. And we did. One of us pointed out the window to a field next a barn and said “She was right. Geese.” The wife and I shrugged. The kids shrugged. Our sharp black Mercedes shrugged and sped along the Pioneer Highway. And for a few minutes we saw a few more – dozen here, dozen there. “I think that one’s a swan.” But then we turned West onto Fir Island Road.

In the distance we could definitely make out a vague brightening, groundward, inverting the natural order of a Northwest winter, where the light we wait for – we pause for, we die for – is the elusive and short-lived sunbreak. The sky was far too thick to hope for that, but the dark earth of those coastal farms held an entirely unexpected thrill. We drove on and slowed so that my wife could avoid the cars pulled half-off the narrow road while also trying to see what they and their tri-pod mounted cameras were there for. We finally put two German wheels in a bar ditch and looked. Someone must have said “wow,” because it was the only word that could have made any sense.  The road was a new beach, and we had pulled off of it to look at a whole new ocean – this one snow white and downy, the furtive waves of a fallow field covered in snow geese. Thousands upon thousands of them. I believe it’s Carver, maybe Ford (maybe neither) who has a brilliant short story that takes place on a hunt during the height of the snow goose migration in Washington. Richard Ford it is, the story is Communist:

“I put down my gun and on my hands and knees crawled up the earthwork through the wheatgrass and thistle until I could see down to the lake and see the geese. And they were there, like a white bandage laid on the water, wide and long and continuous, a white expanse of snow geese, seventy yards from me, on the bank, but stretching onto the lake, which was large itself – a half mile across, with thick tules in the far side and wild plums farther and the blue mountain behind them”

Our geese were in a muddy field, and with Ford in mind I knew I wanted to ignore the fact that the pure white birds were hiding filthy undersides. This was no time for that. I don’t know if I said anything to my family then about that story – I know I remembered it right away and I hope that I said something. Let them know. Let them in. The world gets too big at a time like that, and a man shouldn’t be alone in it.

We looked for a while. There’s nothing ese to do about it.  I hoped someone would do something else – honk a horn, sneeze, fire a gun – that would make the whole thing lift off. Ford called it a “raft,” but of course his were on the water. I wanted to see if they would all take off at once, or if it might start gradually from one end and curl fantastically off the ground like a giant vegetable peeler scraping off a skin of soap. Or maybe it would be random and messy – disappointing. We didn’t find out.

We moved on to La Conner. Cute, quaint, all that stuff. It has the mildly interesting Rainbow Bridge. We spent a good couple of hours hiding out from the rain in curio shops and galleries. Bought some things we didn’t need, and had a grand finale in a candy store where the proprietors were wonderful with the kids. Walked out of there with way too much chocolate (I’m a sucker for a classic turtle – milk chocolate, caramel, and good, old-fashioned peanuts). The kids ate ice cream in the cold and rain. We went back to the car.

On the return trip the geese were still there, but I think some had left. Or maybe it was just that we’d already had our first time, and it would never look like that to us again. A lot of them were flying, having robbed us of the sight of the take-off that I wanted so badly. One of them, in a display of trite symbolism that could only disappoint, shat a great wad of stewed grasses onto the hood of the Mercedes. This is its own story, I thought, and I wondered if Richard Ford’s characters could drive their Nash Ambassador back out to that lake for a second run, and still pull their triggers:

“I don’t know why I shoot ’em. They’re so beautiful.” He looked at me.
“I don’t know either,” I said.
“Maybe there’s nothing else to do with them.” Glen stared at the goose again and shook his head. “Maybe this is exactly what they’re put on earth for.”
I did not know what to say because I did not know what he could mean by that, though what I felt was embarrassment at the great number of geese there were, and a dulled feeling like a hunger because the shooting had stopped and it was over for me now.

And to think, there was a moment in there when I wondered why we went.

 

 

Unabashed thanks to Gerard at American Digest. For more and better PNW tavelogueing, see his The Olympic Peninsula at the Vernal Equinox

GO AHEAD

The last thing I ever want to do is the thing that everyone else is doing. For the purpose of this entry, that thing is playing the victim. Claiming specialness. I am not special. I am not a victim. But I am willing to observe, politely and mildly, that there is a bit of an extant sentiment in society that is, shall we say, ever-so-slightly in opposition to men. There’s lots of things we’re not supposed to be, depending on who you ask. But it’s all the same thing in the end, really. The thing we’re not supposed to be, is us.

So what. My entire childhood and adolescence were based on doing exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. Big deal. Still, here I am: one of these men – at least in terms of biology and mentality – that we don’t seem to want much of. I write occasional poems in support of others like me because after three years in college, I learned more than anything that the most important thing to do is to celebrate and support with the greatest fervor those things that are the most like ourselves. The liberal arts world in college is a world based on the elevation of things of your own kind, and denigration of things outside of your own cultural circle. And also tolerance. Do what you will with that little contradiction.

I am aware of what kind of man I am. I only very occasionally build things, but I have an embarrassingly impressive array of tools. That kind of cliché. I fold laundry more than I hammer steel, I wash dishes more than I turn wrenches. My hands are not hard or large. I am tall but not imposing, and I am (he meekly admits) terrified of confrontations. My God, I think back over all of the fights I have craftily avoided in my life and I am not proud. But it’s still in there, that core thing, that masculinity that is called toxic nowadays. I know our need of it, and bristle at the mockery directed its way.

I am not here to argue against that. It strikes me as hypocritical in some ways. The masculinity I own and revere does not raise its voice to protest. It works and produces and creates and lets that action speak for it. It follows the cardinal rule of the writer in that it does not tell – it shows. I am here not to complain but to be a fan. To write up my support for the hard things that we are, and for the shittily unrefinable parts of our nature that I would not run from a fight to preserve.

Having said that:

GO AHEAD

Be dirty and don’t hide 
your large hands that could 
                    split timber.

They flip thin pages, too,
rattle pans and
feed their fighting heirs.

GO AHEAD

Be mean and lift the heavy thing 
and don’t mind making a little 
                    show of it.

Your beambroad back
can bear it and
won’t tremble in the least

GO AHEAD

Be hard, clumsy and cruel
and let the sneer of the timid 
                    mock itself.

You hardly can part 
from that look that
feeds you its forsaken strength

GO AHEAD

Be bare-knuckled and nude
because we need most what
                    no one wants.

The world knows and 
keeps a place 
for the things we expel.