Fourth straight zed. You know me, I don’t get all conspiratorial and pull a full 1984, but sometimes the government is all, like, “hold my beer.” Seattle now has a hotline for reporting businesses that don’t comply with the new mask law, and has created an ominously named “Education and Outreach Team” to handle businesses that are in violation. It is a part of something called “The Department of Finance and Administrative Services’ (FAS) Consumer Protection Division,” which has been granted “enforcement authority over businesses that violate the mandate.” That sounds pleasant It is my understanding that we’ve always had a hotline for reporting violations of the law, but in fairness, that one’s 3 digits long and really hard to remember.
Small entry today, as we’re packing up and heading out this morning. 5-ish hours to the destination, and everyone’s goal is to make it without having to use the bathroom at some virus-infested backwater rest stop in the sticks. Much of the drive will be wide open countryside – Eastern Washington and that part of Idaho is not very populous, to say the least. It should be a beautiful drive. Bio-anatomically, The Boy and I shouldn’t have any trouble in the case that nature calls, but the ladies might struggle a bit. We did get a portable toilet – a sort of short TV Table with a toilet seat for a top, to which one can affix a “liner.” It isn’t very inviting. Smart money says that if it comes down to it, they’re going to opt for the rest stop. We have plenty of hand sanitizer and gloves.
My wife (family members need nicknames on blogs. Maybe I’ll call her The Italian) will be doing most, if not all, of the driving. She gets car sick easily, so driver is the best position for her. I’m not complaining. As the passenger I can reach back and punch the kids easier when they complain too much. Maybe I’ll keep the laptop handy and type up countryside impressions on the fly. Live-blog the pee breaks.
Karamazov is complete. I do appreciate the ending, the way it contrasted two different deaths and triggered thoughts of the novel’s first death much earlier on. How does a person’s life influence their death, and what do we learn from any of them? What constitutes a tragedy? Who deserves our respect and who among the living is even worthy of offering it?
Lighter reading for the trip this week, as I’m bringing the Mr. Rogers book, Kindness and Wonder. So far it’s just biography. The introduction was very off-putting, with a bunch of PC virtue signaling by the author over climate change that was very much not in keeping with the concepts of either kindness or wonder. But considering that the rest of the title is “Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More than Ever,” it’s predictable that things might get a little preachy. It’s that “now more than ever” phrase, signalling compliance with the notion that at any given time, we live in the worst of all possible times. I’m just one guy talking here, but I don’t think Fred Rogers would agree that the need for kindness and wonder varies in degree from day to day, and depends on the state of the ice caps. But what do I know?
Still not dying. I didn’t look very long, but I couldn’t find the data on age distribution. I hear tell that the median age for infection is dropping quickly, which probably (but what do I know) accounts for the increase in cases alongside the decrease in deaths.
An employee at our Trader Joe’s has tested positive, awakening all kinds of brilliant commentary. There’s something like 80,000 people in West Seattle. People are going to get sick. I am no great denier; I take precautions and work to keep my family safe and uninfected as best I can. But still I believe 100% that our problem-to-panic ratio is grossly unbalanced. Every time an employee of some local establishment tests positive, the pitchforks get lit and the torches get sharpened. Suddenly this previously cherished business is accused of failing the community. It’s absurd. In fairness, there are those that come out in support as well. “TJ’s has done a great job from the beginning, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t guarantee that nobody will get sick.” The world’s got a lot of sensible people in it, too, they just don’t head to the comments section quite as often.
It appears the vaccine conversation has already been soundly stratified into two camps: “Inject me yesterday,” and “full Anti-vaxxer.” A few people have expressed a desire to be, perhaps, cautious in adopting a brand new vaccine, its effects being naturally unknown, and they’ve been labeled dangers, threats to public health, and even (no kidding) flat-earthers. Me? I like caution and restraint. I do, however, believe that one part of the reason that vaccines take so long to become available is due to the rigorous and lengthy testing process. It’s not a guarantee of safety, but really there’s no such thing.
One person who said “I don’t want to be injected until I know it’s safe,” was met with “then your decision will result in many more people dying.”
I’m no logician, but I don’t think it works like that. The only trouble I have with the original comment is that it makes everyone the canary in your coal mine. Hard to decide whether it’s wisdom or selfishness.
After a short total news quarantine I decided this morning to check the internet for lies about things up on Capitol Hill. It turns out they’ve changed the name from the mockably effeminate CHAZ to something that more accurately bespeaks the violence within: CHOP. The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest. Looks like they’ve been doing quite a bit of shooting up in there, so they might as well skip to the end and change the name, finally, to Chicago.
I forgot how much I like Marcella. It’s been a long time since season 2 on Netflix, so I had forgotten about it. It’s British detective stuff – DCI this and DS that, and the 3rd season hangs out almost entirely in Ireland. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but there’s enough difference and depth, especially in the Marcella character herself, to separate the show somewhat from the thousands of others in the genre.
Now I’m on to season 3 of Dark, which gives me my sci-fi fix. It’s German and subtitled and has a pretty convoluted storyline. After a few episodes I think I’m going to go back and watch the first two seasons again, in order to get my mind back on track with it.
But first and finally, Karamazov. About 60 pages remaining, so I need to head out to the porch with a coffee (it’s dark and rainy today) and finish that tome once and for all. I was going to read it last night after everyone went to bed, but it got to be too late, what with watching “Worst Cooks in America” with my daughter, and catching the end of “Back to the Future” with The Boy. All I could do after that was go to bed. I was already there, anyway.
Later we pack for the trip. My wife was planning to buy the groceries at Trader Joe’s today. We’ll see if she changes tack due to the Wuhan worker.
Music again? Same as yesterday – it’s all about the sound. Reader Marica and I had a brief chat about tidy madness a while back (wow, that was 46 entries ago). She sent me down a rabbit hole involving some kind of landscape theory that I actually pursued for a couple of hours, but my memory drops everything that I don’t revisit almost daily. As for this ditty below, I don’t actually feel the morbid panic and woe in the least, but I appreciate the access to the emotion. I feel some actual joy, instead, from the marriage of the sound to the sense, the words to the way the energy rises and falls, speeds and slows. And in snatches, the poetry’s quite perfect:
WAIT – I just realized I’ve posted it before. Here’s something else, that fits all the same. The madness is plenty tidy:
Dead weight under my feet Peeling up my honesty
Somehow I forgot what it was worth but I’ll follow his notes to the edges of the earth.
Creatures of the deep Keeper of my memories I’ve come to take them back from which they came, A man who disappeared and left me with his name
And unless you’re honestly coming back home,
I wish you the worst sea sickness I hope you can feel it up inside your head and down in your stomach Remember to breathe when under the water Then you can open up your mouth and sink to the bottom of the earth
And we’ll raise our limbs like lifeless tools
The reaching hands of your pride are twisting up your insides, But before you anchor your line just give me some time.
And I will be with you until time is no more.
You can’t stop me now, I’m a fickle raging bull In a red caped calming crowd You can’t stop me now My devil’s claw is hooked and the road I raised will send me to my grave.
Hey boy, Don’t let go You’re gonna find what you’re looking for Even if that means this whole damn sea will be turned upside down.
Hey boy, Don’t let go Keep your hands on that dirty rope And an eye on things ’cause the sun’s setting and the winds are picking up.
Hey boy, Don’t let go To the hand of your father’s ghost Because up ’til now You believed you were talking to yourself
Hey boy, Don’t you know that you could never come back home? And you will die here all alone.
Had you asked me my mood when I clicked on “My Soundtrack” in the Amazon music app this morning, I would not have answered Clair de lune. Alas, Amazon knows me better than myself, because it turns out that DeBussy was the perfect choice for the first few minutes out here at Sharky’s West. Twin Cedars is abuzz with morning squirrels. It’s a heck of a day right now, if a little later than I would normally get started:
I kind of 3/4 fixed my picture migration problem, meaning that I can get them from phone to PC, but not as seamlessly as before. Something must be done.
Yeesh, the transition to Rhapsody in Blue was not smooth. Alexa, she hardly knows me.
Seven? That’s a noteworthy jump from the zeroes and twos of the past couple weeks. It’s also strikingly coincidental to the note from the DOH yesterday about having removed precisely seven deaths from the total count, due to them being, well, not related to COVID-19. Seven gone, seven returned, and the beat goes on.
It does make me wonder if this might be the bell cow for the protest spike. I didn’t think there would be one, but I’ve been foolishly nonchalant about this thing from the start. I just don’t really believe in the existence of illness and danger that don’t come from mankind’s own conscious irresponsibility. I figured that this bug was just a bug, a natural thing that, while released (probably) through human malice and/or stupidity, would fade out quickly no matter what we did.
The second best way for me to know that I am being honest is by admitting that I don’t know the answer. The first is by admitting I was wrong. Everything else is preening.
Did I say something about good news yesterday? I did. An online literary journal in New York City called Whatever Keeps the Lights On is going to publish one of my poems. It’s an old one that I’ve always loved for its sound and hated for its obscurantism, but it fit the bill for what they were looking for and what they do. There’s irony in it; their theme is work – desk jobs, labor, the grind. I have no work to speak of. No boss, no paycheck, no claim to anonymous cog status. But for one thing, I have known it. For another, though there may be no paycheck, no kept hours, no humiliating servitude (well…), life is still work. It still grinds.
It’s my only published piece outside of a couple that were printed in Seattle University’s literary magazine. As much as I frown upon the impulse to belittle one’s own achievements, I do know that the number of submissions at Seattle U is always pretty small. I am proud of those published pieces, and have kept copies of the books in a safe place, but it almost seemed like a certainty.
A million thanks to the good people at WKTLO. When I read the acceptance email, I forgot I was sick for a few minutes. I’ll provide all the relevant info once they’ve put it on their site. Now when I write my little bio I can have a line that says “his work has appeared in…” And that’s pretty cool.
Here’s how the texting went yesterday, with the friend I’ve been trying to go see since Sunday, prevented thus far by my head cold:
“Are you feeling better?”
“I’m not 100%. Some lingering congestion and stuffiness.”
“You want to bring the kids over at 6:30?”
By that I gathered that he was comfortable with me coming over. Our wives were at a gathering somewhere else. We went, took our own drinks and snacks, and the kids bounced around in the trampoline. Their son and daughter are the same ages as ours (their boy is a year younger, whatevs), but they haven’t hung out since March at least. Probably February. I love how good kids are at acting like nothing’s happened. You’d think they all just saw each other the day before, and the day before that. Their new-ish black lab ran around the yard chewing on all the things we own and giving us a chance to realize that we probably care too much about them. The boys threw each other around inside the caged trampoline, the girls made “routines” of absurd movements, adding a new one to the end each time it was their turn, in a kind of Simon game, where they had to keep remembering all the previous moves each time. It was graceless, ridiculous, and awesome.
Could hit 80 degrees here at Twin Cedars today. Let’s get some sun!
I’ve been nursing a head cold since Saturday or Sunday, I can’t remember which (insert joke about the days being indistinguishable “in these weird times”). It’s the annoying congestion somewhere between the ears, a little scratch in the throat, almost a sinus headache but not quite (Yes, I’m aware that the CDC says that all of those, along with toenail fungus and mosquito bites, are COVID-19 symptoms). I’m on a steady dose of alternating Sudafed and DayQuil (gotta modulate the phaser frequency when you’re dealing with The Borg), but can’t do any more NyQuil. One of the great benefits of being a non-drinker is that there’s really no such thing as a rough morning anymore. NyQuil greatly reduces the certainty of that. Anyway, it’s all very, umm, common, if puns are allowed (though I think they’re a symptom now, too). But now, even though I know it isn’t The Big One, I feel like a danger to humanity. I have that “sick person voice” that would have people in a grocery store emptying their pockets like pirates tossing treasure and rum overboard so they could run from me faster. We used to joke about ourselves and the children getting sick: “Going to school’s like swimming in a petri dish, haha!” “It builds immunity!” And the suddenly unspeakable “can’t avoid it forever, you know.” It appears that we believe we can.
But it’s been pushing back, day by day, my plans to take The Boy to go see a friend. His friend’s dad and I (my friend; I can say that, right?) haven’t spent any time together since February, and they blew some of their refunded summer camp money on a nice, big trampoline for their backyard. The Boy and I were supposed to head over on Sunday. Then it was Monday, then “later this week.” We’re now scheduled to go tonight for some bouncing and grilled food. Six months ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It’s just a little head cold. Somebody’s always got something, right? But now I have to worry about pariah syndrome, especially as the only known conservative in our circle of friends (much more important to them than it is to me, of course). If I show up somewhere with a sniffle I’ll be that Billy-Bob MAGA-tard who hates science, still says “Wuhan,” and never believed in it anyway. I doubt they’ll invite me to their grandma’s funeral, after I’ve killed her with my denial.
Which leads us to this odd place:
I understand there are “data corrections” leading to those negative numbers. Something about adjusted zip codes or addresses, unincorporated areas. And speaking of adjustments:
How are you changing the way you identify deaths caused by COVID-19?
At present, we count all deaths to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. We will change the way we report COVID-19 deaths in two phases. Phase 1 will take place on June 17, and Phase 2 will roll out over the next few weeks.
Phase 1: Remove deaths where COVID-19 did not contribute to death from our death count. For Phase 1, this will result in seven deaths being removed from our current death count, including two suicides, three homicides, and two overdose deaths. Four of the deaths are from King and three are from Yakima. Additional non-COVID-19 deaths may be removed throughout the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.
More phases! I’m all phased out. This document has it all! It’s short and surprisingly direct. Like, embarrassingly so. But you can have that combination of brazenness and insouciance about your ineptitude when consequences don’t exist, and the people depending on your expertise have stopped believing in your expertise. Somehow I think that seven might be a slightly conservative number. Since what, March? How did that even happen anyway? And by “that” I mean being told by weeping parents that they found their son hanging from a beam in the basement, and reacting by saying “mark it up as COVID.” That’s some hard core agenda conformism going on.
“What about this one, Gary?”
“I keep telling you, COVID. They’re all COVID.”
“Sure. But – look, Gary, I don’t want to be annoying here or start any trouble or anything -“
“I know, but, well, did the head come in with the charred torso, or haven’t they found it yet?”*
It’s probably not exactly like that. Knee-jerk skepticism is often confused with careful reasoning, but sometimes they make it pretty easy for that doubt to well up.
*Gary? Mike? It sounds like a cast of all white males. No women, no POC’s. Go lynch me on Twitter.But they’re being both stupid and morally bad, so it’s actually right. Right? I swear I don’t know what to do anymore.
On to kinder things tomorrow. I have some good news to report, and I’m counting on better weather to turn things around for us.
I HAD a guinea golden;
I lost it in the sand,
And though the sum was simple,
And pounds were in the land,
Still had it such a value
Unto my frugal eye,
That when I could not find it
I sat me down to sigh.
I had a crimson robin
Who sang full many a day,
But when the woods were painted
He, too, did fly away.
Time brought me other robins,—
Their ballads were the same,—
Still for my missing troubadour
I kept the “house at hame.”
I had a star in heaven;
One Pleiad was its name,
And when I was not heeding
It wandered from the same.
And though the skies are crowded,
And all the night ashine,
I do not care about it,
Since none of them are mine.
My story has a moral:
I have a missing friend,—
Pleiad its name, and robin,
And guinea in the sand,—
And when this mournful ditty,
Accompanied with tear,
Shall meet the eye of traitor
In country far from here,
Grant that repentance solemn
May seize upon his mind,
And he no consolation
Beneath the sun may find.
Seems oddly unforgiving. “House at Hame” is from an 1822 Scottish ballad about a woman, at home and working hard to keep her kids fed and clothed while her husband is gone. Presumably in a war, because that’s how these things usually go. There was some unrest in Scotland in 1820, “The Radical War,” but that was short-lived and domestic, consisting of riots and occasional clashes with authorities (where have I heard that before?). Interestingly, and antithetical to Emily’s poem, the husband in the song does return home, to much joy and celebration. A bit more upbeat than Dickinson’s wish for eternal suffering.
I’m going to let the Plague Diaries slide into a less prominent role here. It’s getting old, and I find myself complaining too much. It’s going to be dragging on long enough that I don’t need to worry about running out of things to say. The Boy’s school just emailed us to the tune of “expect to continue some level of homeschooling next year.” They have no definite plan yet, but it won’t be like it used to be. Months ago I obstinately refused to believe that this vain terror would have any lasting effects on life as we knew it. It may be time to admit that I was wrong about that. I am wrong an awful lot.
But I’m right, too, and it’s frustrating. Yesterday I received an email from a friend. I went to high school with her husband. We don’t talk much. But they’re a very thoughtful couple, and it didn’t surprise me that they reached out, offering prayers, thoughts, well wishes while they hear about Seattle on the news. I can’t imagine what image they are getting through The Big Filter. My mom, for instance, asked me how close I lived to “The block party.” No irony, no sarcasm. That’s just what the news told her was happening on Capitol Hill. And that kind of confusion and spin is what fueled my response to yesterday’s email from my friend in California:
It's odd here. From our house it's impossible to tell anything has happened. Or is happening. The West Seattle Bridge being out of operation really cuts us off from the world, and with all the Coronavirus restrictions, well, our universe is decidedly shrunken.
The behavior of people confuses and saddens me, and I guess I just try my best to know what I think about it all. As of now, I have no idea. Everyone seems to have a good point to make alongside every bad one, nobody's doing anything all the way right or all the way wrong, and the whole thing just seems to keep everyone divided and unhappy. I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov right now, in which the principal character lives (at least in the first part) in a monastery. I can't help wanting to run to one myself.
Whether it's streets blocked with protesters, or COVID restrictions from the Governor, I'm tired of not being able to go where I want, when I want. It's a pretty nice life here in our big house with plenty of food and money, but the soul begs for movement, contact, and variety.
Wherever the other side of all this is, and whenever it comes, I hope we all arrive there better than when it started.
Death seems oddly binary sometimes. You are or you aren’t. There are some or there are none. I don’t think anyone’s paying attention to the body count anymore.
We had guests! Four of my wife’s friends came over last night for a happy hour. It was the official christening of the patio, and they did it right. Lots of snacks and drinks and laughs and normalcy. It was the first time in 3 months that we had a few hours that didn’t feel restricted or confined. Or, as The Boy would say, “detaining.” My God, it was liberating. Except for the notable absence of hugs.
After they all left, we did some cleaning up and settling in, then the two of us headed out for our own bit of quiet time on the patio (we’re still working on a name for it). It’s a peaceful oasis, to be sure. The boy sniffed out the marshmallows that my wife brought out (no s’mores, just the marshmallows), so he floated out and took up his usual position:
We’re in the city, and our neighbors’ houses are stacked close by, but there are a lot of large cedars and maples, as well as some rather lush landscaping that allows us to feel distant and alone when we’re out there.
My iphone and my Surface laptop have stopped shaking hands on photos. I have the icloud app on the laptop, and until a few days ago there were no problems. All the pictures I took on the iphone were automatically sent to the photos app on the laptop. It’s a surprisingly significant inconvenience to have that relationship broken up. Now I have to email pics to myself from the phone, then save, upload, etc. I need to get this hammered out today.
Speaking of pics, here’s the boy’s finished owl pellet project. We pulled together as much of the vole skeleton as the pellet and our patience allowed, then emailed the picture to his science teacher. One more school box officially checked:
He is the only kid left on the block who is still in school. You can imagine this causes some consternation. But I’m taking these last few days pretty lightly, and as is normal, he’s complaining about his detention while actually enjoying an enormously greater amount of free time than he should be allowed right now. I love kids.
We are going on vacation! We’ll be spending 4 or 5 days around the 4th of July in Sandpoint, Idaho. My wife still has a great deal of concern over the Coronavirus, being a natural germophobe, and was reluctant to give this trip the go-ahead. But a couple of her friends that came for happy hour last night have already taken some similar trips with their families, and they did me a great service by reassuring her that it is all very possible to do in a clean and healthy way. I could see her, quite visibly, getting more comfortable with the idea, and last night over roasted marshmallows she started asking me my thoughts on rental houses vs resort lodgings. This morning it is a done deal. My God how we need this.
It’ll be a 5-6 hour drive, but I haven’t had a good road trip in years, so I’m excited. The kids have always done well in the car. We’re meeting friends there – they have twin boys around our son’s age. We really, really like these people. This is going to be fantastic.
Slinging a few episodes of the Plague Diaries from lakeside in Idaho will be a nice change.
These quotes are getting long. Wait until you see tomorrow’s.
“Oh, how well he understood that for the humble soul of the simple Russian, worn out by toil and grief, and, above all, by everlasting injustice and everlasting sin, his own and the world’s, there is no stronger need and consolation than to find some holy thing or person, to fall down before him and venerate him.”
– Dostoevsky, The Brothers K
The problem, Fyodor, is that we don’t have time for holiness, so we find some criminal charlatan, and venerate him instead. (He said, in an election year, during race riots.)
The toil and grief:
Not much left to say here. It was interesting to go to the KING 5 news website yesterday to see poor Governor Inslee and the Coronavirus buried deep, deep, and barely visible beneath a pile of violence, fire, and retreating police.
More West Seattle businesses reopened yesterday.
The everlasting sin:
I don’t know what to say here, as far as the police and the rioters go. It’s too obvious to point out the idiocy of running around and burning things, then becoming indignant when the police show up. In the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the police just left. They’re still around, still mildly present, but they boarded up and abandoned the precinct building. That might have been the smart move. The mature move. I have two children who fight with each other all the time, both of them being irrationally intractable and far more wrong than right, making it obvious to any 3rd party observer that the best course of action is for the smarter, stronger one to shrug, walk off, and let the other have his tantrum.
And it’s all very childish, isn’t it? Every time. The rioters are mad at the cops, so they do things to deliberately draw out the cops. The cops come and do hard, mean things to the rioters because the actions of the rioters demanded it, the rioters point and say “see?” and somehow nobody feels as stupid as they should. Or they actually do, and like all children when they start to feel their own guilt, they double down on the crookedness.
This is a questionable choice, though:
The mayor said previously she hoped the crews would help to clean up the area daily. The city is also maintaining chemical toilets in Cal Anderson and will add a new bank of toilets outside Seattle Central on Broadway in a bid to avoid the health problems that dogged the neighborhood’s Occupy camp nearly a decade ago.
They made this bed. Don’t clean the sheets for them.
The article also said that the rioters had rearranged barricades to block traffic. Cars and trucks are having to turn around. That’s nice, because we all know that businesses create their own goods on Star Trek replicators in the back room, and never have to be supplied by deliveries from the outside.
Perfect opportunity for a siege, if you ask me. Starve ’em out. Their little urban p-patches, fertilized as they are by patchouli and vanity, won’t be near enough to feed them all.
It’s important to note, just once, that equality and justice are the rallying cry, but as with everything else that mobs do, the true driving force behind all of this is the simple fear of not being able to take credit when something significant happens. “I was there.” Doesn’t really matter what that something is. We are driven by fear and loneliness more than anything perhaps. Surfing a human tsunami anonymously as it wipes a city away is preferable to having to say, afterwards, that you only saw it on snapchat. Lots of little nobodies are paddling in a panic out there, because fortifying your house against the flotsam-riddled wave is too much work, and lonely.
Anyway, it’s all fear and momentum now. People feel the advantage building for the other team, so loyalties will be shifting, and an embarrassing sequence of bad political decisions and dangerous policy choices is sure to follow. Votes uber alles. Seattle may get its experiment with real socialism sooner than later. The corporations that pump blood into this city and keep it alive are no doubt already working on their bugout plans. Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, etc. They’re the most generous, philanthropic, socially conscious and justice-oriented entities this city has ever known, but socialism’s about criminalizing the success of others, so it’ll be “off with their heads.” If you don’t think Bezos and Bill are fully prepared to wag a middle finger in the rearview without skipping a corporate beat, you’re more naive than I am. And folks, you read these pages, I’m pretty bad.
The humble soul:
It was my daughter’s last day of 6th grade yesterday. Felt like nothing happened. They had a Zoom class or two, then it was just over. Nothing changes much for me, either. She’s independent – gets herself up and fed in plenty of time for classes, so that was never part of my routine. The school tried to signify things by sending out a few high-energy emails full of great ideas for the summer and commiserations over the “weirdness of these times,” but in the end it’s just a few months without classes. No big to-do. I imagine we’ll all be out and about in a fairly normal, pre-Wuhan way sooner than later, because as hard as sudden homeschooling may have been for people, it at least had structure and requirements and a schedule, to some degree. Summer’s just chaos, and families are going to be clamoring for the progression of recovery phases to continue with as much haste as possible. We need to go from 1.5 to 4, like today.
I cut The Boy’s hair yesterday. I haven’t done that in years. His mom gave him a little trim a few weeks ago, but no kind of a lasting scourge like the one I laid on him in the bathroom, under the humming clippers after school. He’s got wild hair, he does, and I may not be particularly proud of my tonsorial handiwork, but he was perfectly pleased:
“Thanks for giving me a good haircut. I look a lot more like you. I like looking like you.”
“There will be people near me, and to be a human being among human beings, and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed, and not to falter — this is what life is, herein lies its task.”
– Dostoevsky, writing to his brother about his 11th hour stay of execution. Obviously nobody told him about the Wuhan Flu or George Floyd.
Businesses are starting to reopen, albeit with all that reduced capacity. This is when I realize how much I rely upon ritual. Not routine – I can take or leave routine. But ritual. Especially with food. I do not run out and grab a quick coffee, and I try very hard not to just throw some food down my gullet on the way to somewhere. There’s a deep breath and centering sensation that I work into everything that I can. I don’t drink coffee while I’m cooking breakfast, for instance, because I can’t pay any attention to it that way. It makes the coffee pass through my morning like some banal accessory – a function of need or a simple rote transaction. An item on a list. I prefer to pay attention to it. I eat when I can notice what I’m eating, where I’m eating, with whom I’m eating. Not that I give it an exhausting, oppressive degree of significance; it’s just that I tend to try to relax into it.
The ritual is scattered and abused by six-foot intervals and masks. Especially by the stress and tension of wondering whether I’m doing it right. I’ve always been a little paralyzed by the wondering, even in the normal times. If I’m joyfully planting plants outside, spreading fresh dirt and mulch, feeling good, a person walking down the street past me will send me into internal fits of worry and doubt. I assume they’re a horticulturist who can see with a second’s glance that I’m using the wrong kind of soil, putting the wrong kind of plant in the wrong place, not digging a big enough hole, etc. In short, I’ve always believed that I’m the only person in the world who isn’t an expert at the thing I’m doing, so I’m doing it wrong, and that everyone else can see it right away. Choosing produce is a brutal exercise in anxiety suppression. Everyone’s watching me grab the worst possible cantaloupe on the pile and thinking “what a noob.” It’s the sense of observation and evaluation.
I found it out in high school, after I first learned that it was possible to skip a class. What nobody told me was what it would feel like, for me, to return to class the next day. The shame and embarrassment, the unshakable belief that it mattered to everyone what I did. The knowledge that it didn’t – that nobody cared in the least what I did – but the inability to marry that knowledge to the opposite belief. So I skipped class, but then was unable to face my classmates and teacher, and wound up, predictably, almost never going back. I failed all my classes one quarter. Every single one. Seven F’s.
I’ve been that way since the start of the quarantine. Believing that if I go out I’ll be wrongly estimating six feet, standing in the wrong place, wearing the wrong kind of mask in the wrong way, etc. And literally everyone else in the world will be able to see my errors right away, and wonder what in the hell is wrong with me.
So I don’t want to go for coffee where I have to adapt to a prescribed ritual that’s fraught at every step with ways to do it wrong. Distances observed and instructions taped to the floor, nowhere to sit, wear your mask, get your things and move along. That’s no way to live, and I don’t have that little off switch that keeps me from worrying about it all. Not the virus, mind you. I doubt very much we have anything left to worry about there. Worried instead about the way a simple, insignificant misstep can make me feel like a villain, while starkly highlighting the embarrassing condition of our public insecurities. Like I’m in high school again, walking back into the classroom after skipping a day.
There’s no room for my ritual in a place like that. No rest. No deep breath or centering.
I have a lot of dreams about still being in the Army. Usually it’s a lot of confusion about why the heck I’m still in the Army, mixed with dread and disappointment about the fact that I’m still in the Army, combined thirdly with some tremendous panic because I’m supposed to be on a plane to my next deployment, but I don’t have any of my stuff. They’re generally weird and exhausting. Sometimes the whole dream is an escalating frustration – I’ll order a soldier to do something simple, he’ll refuse, and the rest of the dream will be me increasing the rage, volume, and invective of my order until I’m screaming fitfully at him to just fucking do the thing, all while he’s just standing there, perfectly, obviously, blissfully disinterested in anything I have to say. Total impotence.
Anyway, last night I dreamed that we were invaded. By the French (I know, right?). I was up in the booth at some big stadium, the place was full of American soldiers. I had no weapon, but everyone else did. It’s just that nobody seemed to care. I kept grabbing a weapon from someone, popping out into the hallway to kill a few French soldiers (who were dressed, by the way, in some kind of 18th century (19th, 17th, I have NO IDEA) uniform with long red coats that looked waaaaay to heavy for the warm weather), then popping back into the booth to try to rally some support. Again, nobody cared much about what I had to say. I just kept shooting the French, and they were always slumping back sadly against the wall, with very young faces, boys and girls alike. The whole thing wasn’t completely emotionless, but it certainly lacked urgency or passion. There wasn’t any blood. Nobody bled.
There’s an easy parallel, of course, between all that impotence in my dreams and the paralysis of doubt from which my rituals free me, but I’m going to make sure I keep them six feet apart.
It’s freakin’ Juneuary here in Seattle. Low 60’s and rainy. Nice for the plants, bad for heart, hard on the kids. The Boy, as I’ve mentioned, is really feeling it. The weather and the lockdown. He has more bad times, hard days, breakdowns, etc. Here he comes now, down the stairs – let’s take the temperature:
“I was awake at 5:22. I remember because Rae was climbing all over me.”
“I thought your door was closed.”
“It was open. Just a crack.”
“Oh, sorry about that.”
“It’s OK, I like her.”
He’s starting strong, but he almost always does. Things often begin their downward turn at bout 10:15, which is when math starts for the day. But that couldn’t have anything to do with it, right?
They’ve revamped the dashboard again. King County is in the cleverly hedged Phase 1.5 of recovery/return. Honestly, it’s difficult keeping up with what it all means. Restaurants can function at 25% capacity, though I doubt that many of them can make any money that way. I know there’s been a robust demand for takeout over the last few months. Assuming that keeps up, maybe combining it with the quarter-full seating will actually be worth it. We’re told, also, that we can hang out with up to 5 people from outside of our immediate families. But of course we have to (it is strongly suggested) wear masks and maintain social distancing. In other words, unless I’ve been sleeping for 3 or 4 months here, there’s no change at all. Other people have always been permissible, if generally discouraged, as long as the six-foot-salve was in place.
That’s the primary 4-way intersection of Alaska Street and California Avenue, from whence The Junction gets its name. Someone estimated upwards of 2000 people by the time it was all said and done. It went peacefully and without incident, as far as I know. Nice job, neighbors.
One of the presenters played the National Anthem on his guitar, apparently so everyone could kneel.
At 3:40, black Seattleite Jimi Hendrix tells Dick Cavett why he did it:
“All I did was play it. I’m American, so I played it.”
The interesting point is that Dick asked about the hate mail that would be generated not because Hendrix played the National Anthem, but because he played it “unconventionally.” Not faithful enough to the original intent. Presumably not respectful enough. Times have changed.
Jimi just said “I thought it was beautiful.”
It’s 50 years gone, so it isn’t very responsible to draw parallels, but it’s right there, anyway. No telling what Jimi would say today.
Our daughter adopted the Japanese maple tree that we just planted. It was part of her “outdoor education” day at school last week:
It’s the last day of homework kit exchanges for The Boy’s school. One more week of this stultifying attempt at education. I applaud his school for managing it as well as they have. Realistic expectations are important. There’s a long-running owl pellet dissection project that we haven’t completed, and frankly I have no way of knowing whether we’re behind on or missing anything else. My assumption is that we’re doing fine – that we did fine – and he’ll move on smoothly to 4th grade. It will be highly disappointing if, after 3 months of zero feedback, we’re blindsided by some report that he’s behind. But I really don’t expect that to happen. His school is small, and laid back, and even kind of old-fashioned. And they are fully independent. Yes, on some level they are accountable to (presumably) the state, but they are not a member of any groups or associations of private/independent schools. Just a small, K-5 collection of fewer than 100 students in the back hall of a Baptist Church. I’ll miss that place when he’s done there.
There’s no more dirt in the driveway, and I’m staying project-free for a while. What does that mean? Probably that I’ll start reading The Brothers Karamazov for something to do. I’m always a little happier when I’m reading.
I came downstairs to assume my usual position, and found The Boy, asleep under a blanket in my chair. I don’t know when he got out of bed and headed down there. He’s been out of sorts – sudden bursts of sadness, lots of resistance to school and soccer. He’s a feeler, emotional, and as much as we may think that the heavy things of our big, grown-up world don’t penetrate their gleeful childish ignorance, we are wrong. He’s been, for instance, for weeks now finding ways to work the word “detain” into conversation. “I feel so detained today,” or, in the middle of doing chores or schoolwork, “this feels so detaining.” I don’t know that I use that word very often, but he picked it up somewhere and is feeling it. Of course if I said any of this to twitter I would be told that he needs to check his privilege; that he has no idea what it really means to be detained. Because everything is binary, zero-sum, and a 9 year-old saying he feels detained during the COVID-19 quarantine, while riots are burning the cities, is a slap in the face to 9 year-old immigrants in detention facilities at the border. It can only mean that.
Even Lileks is depressing this week. If you just got your internet this morning, and still don’t know James Lileks, here’s your chance. Click on “The Bleat” and you’re on your way. He’s always taking the angle that I wish I would have been insightful enough to take myself. There’s no one more level-headed and erudite, and this week he just sounds pissed off and tired and sad and well, not himself. Things have taken their toll. On all of us.
The first of several planned and announced demonstrations in West Seattle is at 10:00 this morning. I don’t anticipate problems. This is a gathering of people on a street corner outside of a senior care center. Another one is later this afternoon at a busy intersection, but there’s no retail to speak of out there. Hooliganism also not expected.
It’s tomorrow’s march through the heart of West Seattle that worries me. Someting about the idea of movement seems to excite the mobs, and there are lots of juicy targets for the brick-throwing anti-capitalists.
Let me just say something here that nobody else will (I also hate that I said that just now. As if I’m so special, so unique that I could possibly be the only person to say something. What a jerk). It ties directly to what I’ve said several times about people being exhilarated by tragedy. People taking a, perhaps unintentional and consciously unnoticed, thrill in being a part of something horrible. Like COVID-19 and the excitement that seemed to come out when people talked about how bad it might become. Like watching a grenade get lobbed into a public swimming pool and being a little disappointed, in spite of our better angels, when it turns out to be a dud.
We’re a fodder-fed society, and there’s no fodder in joy.
So what I’m saying is that I see it in me. Just admitting that right here, right now. A part of me wants to see West Seattle burning tomorrow. I want to be able to drive through on Sunday morning and see the broken windows and graffiti, take pictures, write about it, and commiserate with my neighbors about the sadness of it all while working in, every dozen sentences or so, the boilerplate “it’s a shame that they have to make the good protesters look bad like this.” It’s a small part of me that wants this, a part in no danger of becoming dominant. The part that longs to belong, to be able to say #metoo. The allure of locking horns with hell and boasting, later, of my survivability. Especially when I was never in any real danger because the devil doesn’t want me. It’s weak and petty. It’s the side of me that wants something for nothing; to take credit for resilience that I may not have shown in the face of anything more immediate than these approximate dangers that I see on the news. I don’t know if you feel that, too, but I know I’m not the only one who does.
Find something that sucks that you can admit about yourself today. Maybe it’s the part of you that hopes, when you’re reading an article about a murder, that the perpetrator turns out to be not of your race. Or the jolt of happiness you feel when you’re reading an article about a politician in a sex scandal, and they turn out to be not of your party. Drag that feeling out by its tail, give it a little shake, then put it back in and make sure you remember where you left it. I’d like to say that you should throw it away, but let’s be honest.
The boy woke, stirred, accidentally shook a sleeping cat from his lap, then slumped down onto the floor and fell asleep again on the rug, as he mumbled something indecipherable to me. This is not the sleep of bliss under the impenetrable dome of childhood. His is the sleep of emotional exhaustion. The exhaustion of the long-borne illusion, the impotence of childhood. and the weariness of trying to work out just what that thing is, slinking around behind all of these toys and games that seem so nice. That thing that worries you inexplicably and keeps full contentment at bay. The thing that no amount of otter pops and ice cream can sweeten enough to silence. That thing that feels so detaining.
He’ll know it one day as conscience, or Original Sin, or a grand moment of unchecked honesty. Maybe he’ll be careful enough, astute enough, mature enough, to drag it out by its tail, give it a little shake, and then set it free.