The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #3

In search of the Raggedy Man

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 Dirty Geese

Any Season’ll Do

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

Happy to be full of it, sometimes

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.

 

Independence Day

Not THAT independence day.

Independence Day

Grandpa, Grandma, can we talk to you
	about our mom and dad?
	I don’t know quite what’s going on
	but things are getting bad.

	Dad’s been crying at the news 
	and his voice is higher pitched.
	His jeans get tighter all the time
	and there’s a limpness in his wrist.

	Meanwhile, mom’s been swearing more
	and wearing suits to her new job.
	She hasn’t fixed her hair in months
	and on weekends she’s a slob.

	Dad’s afraid of everything –
	plastic straws and – what’s a Russian bot?
	Last week was Independence Day,
	and he said he “just forgot.” 

	Mom hasn’t cooked a single meal
	since she went marching in D.C.
	And now our yard has all these signs 
	that say “welcome refugees.”

	Dad almost asked if it was right
	but she wouldn’t let him speak
	so he’s been getting craft beer growler fills
	every day for two straight weeks.

	We don’t know what to do right now
	We’re prolly just too young.
	But maybe you’ve got some idea
	of what’s been going on.

Granddaughter you’re a clever girl
	and grandson you’re no fool.
	So we’ll tell you something here and now
	that you’ll never learn in school.

	You’re noticing about your folks
	that something’s kinda wrong.
	It’s not just them – it’s everywhere.
	We’ve been watching all along.

	If it’s hard these days with mom and dad,
	to know just which is which
	You may not have the words for it,
	But your dad’s your mommy’s– 

You’re right, grandpa, school’s no help
	our teachers are all so strange.
	They say two-plus-two and Judy Blume
	both equal climate change.
	
	They took us out of class one day
	to line up on main street
	with signs that said the world would end
	from the President’s next tweet.

	I just want to build some things,
	and when sister tries to sew
	they swear that STEM’s the thing for her
	and I’m privi- toxi- I don’t know!

	Do you think that you could talk to them?
	To our parents and the school?
	Tell them that they’re scaring us
	and that they all seem real confused.

We surely could go talk to them
	but they hate that we’re so old.
	We remind them of the ways they’ve failed
	and the truths they’re scared to know.

	There’s a wisdom in our wrinkled skin
	that they’re trying hard to kill.
	And if kids like you are catching on
	they’ll start trying harder still.

	For now it’s good you’re noticing
	and that your guts say it’s not right.
	Just keep each other close at hand –
	pick your spots, and fight your fights.








Parenthetical Courage

.

How close were you dad (here he peers
down plastic sights of a painted gun)
to the bad guys when you shot at them?

I had to say (I hoped) in a way
that would not forever break his aim,
I had to say (as hidden as the thing had stayed!)
that I never got that close.

But I was available,
I promised my apology,
had someone simply asked me to.

And that much was surely true
but that much was not enough
to burn me into some hell where
the blood of better men dried
and caked and made crispy
little cards of the sand.

That much was not enough –
as apologies never are.

Were you good at shooting dad and
should I close one eye when I aim?
You should aim I said
(he couldn’t know how blindly)
with every eye you can open.

World Poetry Day

Blame the world!

It’s world poetry day, and I wanted to get something in. I wrote this one a while ago but didn’t publish it because it’s a little bit of a downer, and frankly I just don’t feel that down. Ever, really. Still, it came from somewhere, didn’t it? I’ll have poetry in mind today, and try to come up with something a little brighter.

It’s in a form called a triolet (introduced to me by Cubby) with a nod to Robert Frost. Title comes from Dad, who once said one of the more profound and practical things I’ve heard:

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Yonder

I’m sorry I’m so far away
but my God, this world’s a wedge.
I have to shout now just to say
I’m sorry I’m so far away.
I thought our gold alone could stay
but here it’s peeling from its edge.
I’m sorry I’m so far away,
but my God, this world’s a wedge.

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Tilting Loveward

Every Dog Deserves a Eulogy

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If there is anything that is guaranteed in life, it is that we will love things that are not good for us. Few loves are ever a pure win. Some are calamitous. Most are in between, and most of those lean significantly towards the good. Tilting loveward is our most incorruptible instinct. It is the one thing we do that always moves in the same direction as God, so it is the movement that makes us both most human and most divine.

It is why we love our dogs, so often doing so not because of them, but in spite of them. The strife and inconvenience that they bring to our lives almost immediately outweigh the joy: the ruined rugs and floors; the shoes, furniture and walls chewed to pieces; the holes in the yard and the fence, the running away. The vet bills. The apologies to the neighbors and the boarding expenses when we go on vacation (if we still take vacations, now that we have a dog). The piles of dog-specific clutter that enters our homes and disrupts our lives from deep down in the Feng all the way up to the shui. And unless you are a full time hunter or a sled driver in the Yukon, the return we receive on this investment in chaos is rarely more than a wagging tail and yet another body that we didn’t invite into our bed but is there anyway.

Yet for all that, we look one time at some oversized paws, get nipped by those tiny piranha puppy teeth, and smell that unbelievably sweet vanilla-maple perfume down in their downy coats, and we tilt ever harder loveward.

The years go on and some of the early worries vanish, along with the amount of free space left on the bed. They are years on cruise control when the young dog mostly behaves and our lives are are an often mechanical, sometimes poetic routine. “This is why I got a dog,” we say and mean it because her coat is rich and full and as she naps after hours of running in the park her breaths come easy and even. We don’t know why but suddenly we want to invite friends over. We want people around us, and our dog. We want to show off a little.

The years continue to go on and some of the early worries start to return, along with the amount of free space on the bed because she can’t get up there anymore. We tap the brakes and adjust our speed more frequently. “It is difficult to have a dog,” we say and mean it because the mature dog has some new dietary needs and her coat is thinning and her face is turning white and as she naps after a short walk down the hill to the mailbox her breaths come with a slight wheeze and catch. We don’t know why but suddenly we want to sleep, too. We want to be alone with our thoughts, and our dog. We want to cry a little.

So yes, it becomes increasingly difficult to say, honestly, that we’re happy we have a dog. Yet for all the woes that I could easily catalog over the 15 years of a tumultuous life with our dear Lucy, I find us undeniably diminished by her departure. She died yesterday, medically induced. It was a decision we made based on the fact that for however much longer she might go on, every single day would be both her best day remaining, and also worse than the one before. We did it for her. We did it to let her go out on the highest note she had left.

We could have had it done at home, but at the vet she was well known and even better loved. We sat with her there on the floor and as the sedatives took effect the whole building seemed to sag with her muscles. She worked her way at first voraciously through the pile of treats that the doctor set before her. Then she forgot them, rested her chin on the blanket, and let her tongue hang comically and adorably from the front of her mouth. The rest was done with a somehow tender clinical ease, by way of two more injections, and she faded gently out from there without so much as the tiniest twitch or final significant breath. She was just still there – only not – and there was no longer anything we could ask of her. That, I suppose, is the final gift: that she no longer has to wonder how to make us happy.

She could have gone on for a while, survivor that she was. As a pup she was bitten in the face by a rattlesnake and barely flinched. I, on the other hand, drove so fast and recklessly to the animal hospital in a rented roller skate of a car that news helicopters were being scrambled.  Years later, the new dog we got to be her companion wound up turning on her and attacking her brutally several times. We found that dog a new home (literally – not in an “off to live on a farm” kind of way). She had food allergies and skin conditions and more medical issues than I can list. But in the end there was always Lucy, waddling bow-legged along and pawing her nose at a world that seemed bent on holding her back. She kept going.

But the joy was gone for her. She really just slept through any stretch of time in which she had no reasonable hope for food. She followed us to bed but could barely manage the stairs. Life was naught but compulsion and habit, and was only getting worse, so we let her finally get off those aching legs of hers forever.

We remember her best, perhaps, driven for years by a steroid imbalance that left her with an improbably large liver and a literally insatiable hunger for food, rushing to the kitchen whenever she heard the dishwasher open so she could scrounge up any scraps she could reach. She lived to eat, and she died among food.

I only ask her to please, just once, make sure to poop in God’s living room on Roomba day. My children can attest that it might be the only time you ever get to hear Him swear.

In her life and again in her death, Lucy tilts us loveward.

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