Plagueworks

March 2020, West Seattle

You can stand at the dock
now and not be bothered much
by boats. Looking hard you can see it –
the road worn into the water where
the flat-bottomed ferries once
went up and down all day.

The islands want none of us
and won’t come. Vashon squats
with its aliens in a patch-tattered
yurt that shrouds the shore in
smoke-yellow walls – a bit put off
by the virus across the bay.

Bainbridge and Whidbey salute the San Juans
who can finally keep the orcas and grays to themselves.

From shore to shore the semaphore
warns that plagues are made on the
mainland – they’d have us keep our fevers
here. The few running boats ride high
above the jellyfish. Two tired men
throw gray ropes to an empty pier.

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #10

Tired of me yet?

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

Yesterday’s numbers:

  • 1,577 confirmed positive cases (up 218 from yesterday)
  • 109 confirmed deaths (up 9 from yesterday)

Yesterday’s update from the county includes these reassuring words:

“Some initial indications suggest that these types of community mitigations are having a positive impact on decreasing the spread of disease, even if we can’t measure it precisely yet.”

I know a lot of people will be skeptical of that kind of statement and will want specifics – what information, what data, has led to this optimism? For my part, I don’t care. I resist clichés where I can, and the reflexive haughty suspicion of the government’s every attempt to send positive messages is just plain boring. Or any message, really. Look at how it always plays out: 1) Some government official makes a statement. 2) The masses rise up in righteous doubt, demanding data! numbers! science! to back it up. 3) Government official provides numbers! data! and science! to back it up. 4) The masses rise up in righteous doubt about the credibility of the numbers! data! and science! that they asked for and were given. The masses love their righteous doubt, and faithfully follow it up with reluctant compliance.

There’s a website for tracking cases by zip code. It’s down. NO! IT”S UP! (Prolly down again by the time you click that). Here’s me, as of 3/27/20

Annotation 2020-03-27 095355

Yesterday was a trying school day. The boy does not like art. Like most of us, he believes he is terrible at all of it, which makes it impossible to be motivated. We worked at putting together a still life – salt box, glue bottle, apple, and spoon – and he drew up a full color rendering of it all, with shadows and form. Was it good? It was my son’s, and it was genius.

But today is Friday, so I want to make it a little more fun. Mark it as better. There’s not much I can do about it while still expecting him to finish all his work. I think I’ll just sprinkle Fudge Stripe cookies throughout his day, maybe drop a little glass of root beer in front of his grammar worksheet, break out an Oreo during cursive practice, right when it looks like he’s getting discouraged.

Did I say Friday? Our first day without school was March 12. We’ve had a full two weeks of The Change. It’s been smooth. My biggest personal loss has been writing – these diaries have been consistent, but the isolation that helps build a more creative mindset isn’t available. I get up early to eke out an hour or two before the kids get out of bed, and it’s a beautiful little calm before the storm. The book I had started writing, however, is on hold until I get back to my mornings at the bakery. I do miss that place.

Probably the job that I have taken most seriously over the course of these two weeks has not been stocking the larder or cooking the meals, rather it has been prepping the morning’s coffee the night before. This is crucial. We are nearly out of whole bean (two bags of pre-ground on backup duty), but the grinding of it absolutely means doing it the night before, so as not to fire up the bean-chipper in a dark house at 6:00 AM (I know, I know – Six o’clock is already too late for a stalwart traditionalist like you. You get up earlier. Cows to milk,  pails of water to fetch from the well, hardtack to gnaw, politicians to be smarter than). There isn’t a much more gratifying way to start the morning than by breezing past the coffee pot and just switching it on.

Honest Work

 

Ten full entries in the books now. I’d say that I didn’t see this coming, but I didn’t see anything coming because I wasn’t looking. I’ve said how little I care for speculation, and speculation’s all tied up in expectations, so I prefer a strategy that focuses more on just taking things as they come, with a smattering of sensible preparation. Hence the coffee. I am, however, girding myself for the coming admission of wrongness that I must make. I made one prediction: that this would end sooner than we thought it would at the beginning. I never did put a date on it, thinking that it would all be fairly obvious. But we are definitely creeping up on a point when I’ll have to admit it’s gone on long enough. At first I figured that the initial return-to-school date of April 27th would easily be met. I’m starting to doubt that a little. We shall see.

………

I am saddened to have no “Homeless in Coronafornia” update for you today. My brother has not responded to my messages. This always sends a spike of worry into me, but it is also very much SOP to lose contact with him for a while. He might be in jail. He might have been robbed of his phone. Anything could have happened. He might also just have better things to do, I work hard to remind myself.

Prep the coffee, Comrade Citizen!

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #8

Let me see your papers!

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

Hogan's heroes

It’s troubling (or comforting) that here in Seattle, the public is looking more and more like old Schultzy, while the Governor is creeping closer to his inner Hogan. My faith is in all the wrong places for a refreshing change.

Yesterday’s numbers:

  • 1277 estimated positive cases (up 107 from yesterday)
  • 94 estimated deaths (up 7 from yesterday)

The language has changed from “confirmed” cases and deaths, to “estimated.” That’s a significant shift, but it’s only because:

“Cases reported today are an approximation. Case numbers draw from a Washington State Department of Health database that is in the process of being updated. We expect to have an official count tomorrow.”

update
Imma go with sleep.

Imagine if all this was going down in, say, November of 1999, with Y2K looming on the horizon. The panic! The toilet paper hoarding that would have happened! A plague and IT issues? That’s a different kind of virus altogether. But I shouldn’t joke – people will take it too seriously and rumors will circulate. Like here in West Seattle, where the combination of our bridge closure and restrictions on non-essential nouns already started the spread of the particularly, predictably paranoid rumor that the “essential” personnel would have to carry some kind of ID or badge on them to prove their worth while driving on the alternate bridge with a Subaru riding extra low from a heavy load of bootlegged kombucha and toilet paper.

In the important tradition of good rumors lacking details, this one was unclear on who would issue those badges ((no doubt THE GOVERNMENT (or Amazon, for the truly skilled conspiracy theorists)). In any case, it’s garbage, but garbage fueled by absurd realities and the dependable absurdity of people. In this case, it appears that as soon as the governor said “essential workers,” employers started taking it on themselves to create and issue passes of various kinds.

RUMORS
“WSB” is the editor/founder/proprietor of the West Seattle Blog. She’s very good at this.

“Federal Response Directive.” Sounds like some regional manager at Safeway caught a serious case of the “I’m Importants.” But that’s not the only one. Many commenters reported being issued some kind of pass, despite the fact that the Washington Dept of Commerce has flatly said that no, there will be no requirement whatsoever for anyone to show any kind of ID/pass/badge/token/ticket/trinket/talisman (hold my beer).

………

Yesterday – and by extension this post – was the dullest day of the apocalypse so far. I stayed in, nursing my back. It’s much better today, thanks.  I schooled the boy, waxed the floor, made a big pot of food that’ll last 4 or 5 days, and baked another loaf of soda bread. It’s so good my wife eats it, and that’s saying something, friends.

IMG_3242
A lil’ rosemary in there.

I’m having it for breakfast right now. Cold, with a butter blanket laid across it, chased by fresh coffee. Good morning!

Your “Homeless in Coronafornia update for today:

Umm…I dont know. I think everyone is dead. It’s quite empty. And I need a dang room. So I’m out panhandling bc my mobile apartment and driver have vanished with my  belongings. Clear as a bell this morning though…

He likes to find his silver linings. It’s probably an odd time for panhandling. People feeling extra compassionate during a hard time, while wanting even less than usual to get anywhere near a homeless person, besides so many fewer people being out to begin with. I get dizzy thinking about all the problems people have in this world. Problems that I know too little about. Coronavirus will fade away. Poverty, addiction, mental illness – they’re not going anywhere.

Squash the rumors, comrade citizen!

 

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #7

On the optimism of risk

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

Yesterday’s numbers:

  • 1170 confirmed cases (up 130 from yesterday)
  • 87 confirmed deaths (up 12 from yesterday)

After a couple of days with a low “new death” count, we’re up 12.

Bridge cam

To recap, in case you missed my bonus post this morning: West Seattle is cut off! It’s just another thing that seems horrifying up front, but will wind up being not very interesting in the end. It’s of a piece with the whole “the world will be a different place when this is over” trope. I’m hearing that more and more, and I just don’t know why anyone believes it. Different how? We’re going to go back to work and school, and in 6 months we’ll barely remember the Coronavirus. There will likely be businesses that don’t survive this, and life will be different for those people, but this is not going to shift us into some new global existence of…of what, exactly? Nobody seems to have gotten that far yet. That’s because all of the fun is in the prophecy – the fulfillment always just feels like December 26th (unless that’s your birthday).

We all love to feel important, and because we have a hard time getting that feeling from our everyday lives – from the mundane and decent moments – we imagine doomsday scenarios and great changes. We manufacture tragedy where it doesn’t exist, farming it like oysters in the brackish waters of our boredom and banality. Nothing’s more dull than stagnation, so we want to believe that something different’s coming to stir us up. It isn’t, though, and that’s the best part. We’re too good at civilization. The plague can’t ruin us with toilet paper and sanitizer shortages, and it isn’t going to forever change our way of life as we come out the back end of it (in a couple weeks or months or whatever). We’re too resilient and our systems are too redundant, and we’re just too big. You can’t turn an aircraft carrier in a phone booth.

The governor also laid out some “enhanced strategies” yesterday. I see now that there’s a slogan attached to it: “Stay home, stay healthy.” Fine by me. It may actually be a misdemeanor now to be within 6 feet of someone. I don’t see much chance of that being enforced with anything more than a shout. Inslee has avoided calling directly for a shelter-in-place, which I think is a pretty savvy move. The public has been calling for it and predicting it (so that later they can say they were right) for a while now. It’s been an unavoidable term in an unavoidable conversation, and the Governor won’t be sucked in by the sheepish momentum. Possibly it also leaves room for escalation. After all, what if you order a shelter-in-place and things get worse? Where do you go from there, Martial Law? He’s at least buffered and slowed the lockdown process with an additional step this way, and perhaps has significantly (smartly, invisibly) staid the hand of public panic by avoiding the language of school shootings and severe weather.

Or maybe it’s just politics, distinguishing himself from the New Yorks and Californias, hoping that in the end he can look at his voters and say that he was right. It’s his own low-risk bet on future validation. He’ll be able to stand there and say that he successfully fought the plague without resorting to the draconian measures of the other states, all the while doing essentially the same thing they did, only using different words.

Either way, I say “Good job, Jay.”

BUT…

There is a line now at Trader Joe’s. They’re doing the one person out, one person in thing, with a max capacity of 20 shoppers. I came down the stairs from the parking garage yesterday, saw that the line was 7 or 8 people deep, and decided not to wait. I like Trader Joe’s. It is easy to ignore their shortcomings, given the low prices and some of the goodies that are unique to their stores. But I’m not waiting in line for it, six feet away from the next person.

I went back to my usual store, closer to home anyway, and found myself with an unexpected sweet tooth. Bought two kinds of cookies, a tub of ice cream, and even a package of ladyfingers for some reason I can’t explain (except that I turned towards the shelf and there they were). They are not very good. Clearly Tiramisu is the best thing that ever happened to them. Toilet paper was still out, as was the yeast. I’ve been looking for yeast since this thing started, and in the meantime managed to forget my lack by making soda bread. Yeastless and delicious, with a little rosemary to make it classy.

Soda Bread

I’ll make another loaf today, as well as a large vat of chicken and noodles, which is the only thing I can think of that qualifies as a family recipe for us. My grandma used to make it when she visited, especially during Christmas and Thanksgiving. My mom made it when grandma wasn’t around (and after she died, of course), and I’ve been making it ever since I moved away from home, such a long time ago. Everyone loves it.

………

So, as we’ve already explored, things are very serious. There’s hard lessons to be learned! Life as we know it will be forever changed! Well, I took a walk the other day with a friend who recently found out his 8 year-old son is dying of a rare condition, and they caught it too late. They could still have years to go, but most of them won’t be good. It was a walk in a park that made us part of the unperson population, being too cavalier about social distancing, and apparently putting everyone at risk with our irresponsible behavior. Risk. My friend and his family are a thousand tragic steps beyond risk. They are living with something far more sinister and damning: certainty. He would joyfully replace that certainty with the welcome possibilities of mere risk, rather than knowing so plainly the hell that is coming. So he is understandably unmoved by the moralizing masses in the comments of the Governor’s twitter feed. Tell him, and the rest of his family, that going to the park is dangerous and irresponsible. That the world’s going to be different when this is over. For them, yes, very. But not because of quarantines, closed bridges, or government decrees. Not because we “came together as a community” and “supported local businesses” while we looked at the suddenly clean air of our cities and “finally learned a hard lesson about climate change” (yes, people are saying this). Nope, all the people in a situation like my friend, who are plagued by reality, are just trying to find the importance in the mundane and decent moments of the life they have left, before it changes for real, forever.

Your “Homeless in Coronafornia” update:

Goot morning from ground zero
Anyone know of a place to pee inside?

That’s a concern of an unbridgeable kind. I’m usually less troubled by his troubles than I should be. It’s comments like those that remind me not to go around manufacturing tragedy where it doesn’t exist.

— Give me six feet, comrade citizen! —

YOU SHALL NOT PASS

It’s going to come to this eventually:

The city of Seattle – mainlanders, as we here on the peninsula of West Seattle will be referring to them soon enough – has seen fit to shut down the West Seattle Bridge. The usual alternative, known colloquially as “the low bridge” (poetic as hell, I know), will be restricted to transit, first responders, and freight.  The low bridge also happens to be a draw bridge, adding hilariously to the complications. This means a significant southward detour for 80,000 residents, via and onto roads that are laughably unequipped for heavy traffic volume. But Governor Inslee simultaneously issued a state-wide “please stay home, and stuff” order, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Right? Right. He didn’t use the mot du jour, shelter-in-place, but that’s because it’s been said so many billions of times over the past week that it’s literally impossible to say anymore. We’re just fresh out. Instead he issued a – and I’m quoting here – “stay at home order to fight this virus.”

They’re going to be assessing the bridge due to cracks that they’ve openly admitted to having known about for several years. It’ll be closed as long as it takes for the assessment, and remain closed as long as it takes for repairs. Or, as the SDOT director said in a garish flourish of education-proud degree speak, “until further notice.” The bottom line is that as far as West Seattle is concerned, this here quarantine can go on as long as it wants. We’re going nowhere, and we have everything we need right here anyway. Heck, there’s times I’ve gone weeks without leaving this peninsula, and that’s when we don’t have a plague to celebrate. So roll on, quarantine. Carry on, stay-at-home order. And claim your victims, Coronavirus. We’ll gladly hole up here “until further notice.”

bridge
WS Bridge, and its little brother, “the low bridge.”

But be advised, mainlanders, one day you’re going to want to come back across that bridge yourselves, to enjoy the beauty of Alki Beach and Lincoln Park, our attendance at which has drawn your ire for a solid week now. You’ll want to take in the best views in the city while hoping to bump into Eddie Vedder. You’ll want to stroll through the Junction, shop at the last Easy Street Records, grab a cone from Husky Deli, and watch the sun go down over the Olympics from Three Tree Point.  And we are going to refuse. You will march pathetically through the rubble, over our glorious bridge that you say is barely holding itself together, waving your white flag (check with the Seattle City Council, they have extras from that time they were on Sawant’s side about the head tax), and begging us to let you surrender. We will respond as succinctly as sir Anthony up there, by simply telling you to “Go to Hell.”

White Center will happily (and quite easily, you’d know if you ever deigned to go there) hold our Southern border. That town has resisted white people’s best efforts at gentrification since before Richard Hugo called it home, and it’s residents will be finished with you before their pho gets cold.

last days

 

 

 

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #6

With Monday comes the tedium

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

IMG_3217 (2)
Crowds? what crowds?

Today’s numbers:

    • 1,040 confirmed cases (up 106 from yesterday)
    • 75 confirmed deaths (up 1 from yesterday)

The care center in Kirkland where this whole thing kicked off for us has leveled off in terms of body count. For the first couple of weeks, nearly all of the new fatalities came from that one place, but it’s been a few days since the last one. Hopefully the worst is over for them. It must be frightening to be there, elderly and not wanting this to be the way your number is delivered. I can’t imagine. I suppose some are ready, and some are not, just like always.

Quarantine weekend was (dare I be so droll?) nice. I hesitate to over-sentimentalize things, but it would be shallow of me to ignore the fact that we have good neighbors. I don’t want to say “community” because I think that word is somewhat weaponized – a virtue grenade lobbed from dubious moral high ground. “I love this community,” “the strength of our community is…” etc. It’s nice, but I think a little vapid, and generally meant to cast a wider net than the waters being fished really call for. Neighbors, on the other hand, yes. And we have good ones. To ride the cliché of looking for the good in all this strangeness, our neighbor-cluster has been a very bright spot. We gather nightly (the weather’s turning, though, so watch out) in camp chairs, with drinks ranging from scotch to coffee to last night’s appearance of a Bloody Mary. The talk is good and fun, with nobody harping on political/governmental issues, no opinion-slinging about whether we’re over- or under-reacting to this whole thing (as a community, haha). Just the usual jokes about social distancing and the obligatory prediction of the coming lockdown. It seems to be a foregone conclusion in the minds of most that Seattle ‘s shelter-in-place order is just a Governor’s presser away (that’s a very short article that uses the term “shelter-in-place” six (6!) times) I don’t know. I don’t care. Speculation wears me down faster than a belt sander, so I just refuse to do it (with the exception of maintaining my very general prediction that this’ll be over sooner than we think. But that’s saying very little, and committing to less). Outside of our 5:00 happy hour at the end of the dead-end road, we (the neighbors) see plenty of each other out in the yards now that we’re all home. No soccer games or swim meets, no piano recitals, no fund raisers. Just everybody, here. The gardens are being refreshed, the daffodils are being complimented, the decks are being washed, and indeed (don’t get off the cliché wagon yet, Andy) the sounds of the kids playing their ridiculous and fluid-ruled games are ever present.

………

Last week I met a friend for a walk. This is Alki beach. It’s been in the news lately, an example of the people’s refusal to take the plague seriously. This beach (and all of Seattle’s more popular park and public spaces) has been very, very crowded since the social distancing mandates, school closures, and working from home began. But guys, the weather has been amazing:

Alki Weed
Last Thursday at Alki.

The beach smelled like weed and Thursday.  In other words, unremarkable. It was more crowded than the picture shows, and the crowding has increased daily since then. My opinions are meaningless, but it is the opinion of the general public (the part that is generally not going to the beach, anyway) that this is very irresponsible and dangerous. So that is what all of the talk is about now – the crowded parks and what our community of armchair epidemiologists have learned from the internet about how a virus spreads in the open air. I begrudge them nothing, neither the beachgoers (I was there myself!) nor the ersatz experts. Everything that everyone is doing and saying today is not a concern for the present, but a bet on the future, seeding the narrative in the hopes that when the end of this thing arrives, their opinions will be awash in the glow of righteous hindsight, that soothing balm that only comes by chance, and yet whose truth is always claimed by the accidental victors. An opinion made today is nothing but a desire to say “see, I was right” tomorrow. And it’s a safe bet, because when we lose we are not expected to say “see, I was wrong.”

………

The short version is simply that, after a weekend hiatus here at the PVPD, not much has changed. We’re all still healthy and haven’t tried to kill each other yet. I threw my back out moving a giant stone birdbath thing – broke one shovel that I had comically praised for its longevity not 30 minutes prior, and eventually used a floor jack to make the bigger moves. I have enough time on my hands to try a handful of different strange pain remedies, none of which are nearly as effective as ibuprofen and a little careful stretching (he said, in the absence of any prescription narcotics). CBD oil I think is the biggest sham going these days, but that doesn’t stop me from using it. This morning I picked up the boy’s new homework packet for the week, and dropped off the old one, feeling very much like we accomplished a great deal and had a successful week of homeschooling.

Stone Dead
The stone what broke me, in its final resting place. Army gnome for scale.

Your “Homeless in Coronafornia” update for today:

We are fine, just waiting on our checks…
There was a resonating collective sigh of relief when the government pulled that out.
It’s like getting paid for a snowday

I’m not sure “the government” has quite put that one together yet. I may be wrong, but he shouldn’t get ahead of himself. Maybe.

 

— Stay off the beach, comrade citizen!—

Life Belongs to the Morning

A Plague Diaries interlude for National Poetry Day

Matins

Light the fires     
     lace the shoes         
          follow the leashless dogs!

Put your shoulder to the breaking of the fog

Death awaits, yes!
But you can march on him -
and make him doubt -

and make him pause
Prayer
THE PRAYER (1877) Frederick Arthur Bridgman

“Ah, the prayers of the millions, how they must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God.” — Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat

I like to think that all the prayers make it to God, but naturally so many of them are each other’s antitheses that there must be an awful lot of uneasiness in the queue.

………

Life belongs to the morning, and as I came down the stairs just after six o’clock I saw a group of two and a group of three people out for a walk in the dark. One coming up the hill, the other going down. Normally there would be more activity at 6am, but it would be commuters – rote movements, made by reflex, driven and direct. A lengthy SOS tapped out in the rhythm and spacing of cars streaming off the ferry.  This morning the walkers owned the road. They did not hold any line on the first day of Spring, but moved like drunken bees, letting their forgivable concerns be confused in the carelessness of their steps. From one edge of the pavement to the other, with an odd pause now and then, hands on hips and saying things that I, also stopped but inside my house with one slippered foot not yet on the floor, was never meant to hear.

Still, outside or in, they say the plague rages on, and

The world’s first murderer
(here Cain’s dust coughs a proud mote)
breaches quarantines to meet
not the cowering flowers
of a beaten people.

Skirmishers of the timeless virus
face good bodies and strong.
What fear they carry is shared…
walked off…
drawn out and dispersed
to the bone-drumming thrum
of the empty ferry’s engines

in reverse.