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 #9

Straighten the path

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

Yesterday’s numbers:

  • 1,359 confirmed positive cases (up 82 from yesterday)
  • 100 confirmed deaths (up 6 from yesterday)

An even 100. Let’s keep it under 200 for the duration, eh? They’re back to confirmed numbers, too. I guess their Windows XP system finally got those updates installed. And there’s this “new” campaign now called “Stand Together, Stay Apart.” They’re finding new ways to say the same thing. Fine with me. Constant escalation of restrictions is the fast lane to defensiveness and panic. Whether they mean to or not, the government here is sending the message that we’re already doing enough, as long as we just friggin’ do it. It keeps the sense of threatening heavy-handedness from creeping in (says the guy living on a peninsula whose government just cut off access to the mainland with 4 hours notice).

This is the first time since the beginning of things that I didn’t start writing today’s post yesterday. Maybe that means we’re normalizing. Our quarantine is no longer a surprise or an adjustment – at least not much of one. The changes are small and connected enough to the last change that it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Doesn’t seem like things are getting worse. That’s a feat that our public health people can be a little proud of. They’ve managed to manipulate a ridiculously fickle public into being reasonable about this. Oh, there’s griping and complaining and theorizing and second-guessing, but we were doing that before all of this – in the midst of incredibly prosperous and liberty-filled times.

Around here, “please stay home if you can,” became “schools are closed,” “don’t go to work,” and “practice social distancing;” then a small shift to the outdoors with “don’t crowd the parks and beaches,” which became “the parking lots are closed at the parks and beaches.” And now, for all the zigging-and-zagging of the past two weeks we’re really still just at “please stay home if you can.”  It’s interesting to note that the second thing – schools are closed – was the last thing we did that was motivated by the coronavirus. Everything else was necessary because of us, in our tendency to combine denial with resistance, and then rather pridefully confuse that mixture with wisdom.

Which makes me think of elections, for some reason (haha). What if we’re still being socially distant on election day? Do you think anyone’s planning for that right now? I would be, if I were somehow connected to that process. In Washington we vote by mail, so no worries. The ballot handlers would have to be careful, but there’s no shared equipment, no lines, no screens to touch, pens or pencils or however the rubes in other states do it. Are there still chads anywhere?

chad

Throughout it all, it’s worth mentioning, the government (bless their souls) is still encouraging us all to go outside and get some exercise. I agree wholeheartedly and appreciate their faithful adherence to that basic tenet of human health. It’s important to move, and to breathe fresh air. And now that the parking lots at the parks are closed, and the weather’s a bit worse, it won’t be socially irresponsible to go there. The crowds’ll be diminished, perhaps back to something close to “locals on a weekday” levels. I hope so. Mind you, the best I’ve done along the lines of exercise is some minor landscaping – taking a curved path of large stepping stones and turning it into a straight path of large stepping stones. My wife did a great deal of the work herself, having begun it the day after I wrenched my back moving the birdbath. We’re doing it via a system of shortcuts and disregard for the correct way to lay stones, but that’s ok because it’s a lot harder this way, and is taking longer.

Path
Those gnomes were painted by wife’s grandma, well before the time of hanging chads.

Otherwise I’ve been idle, probably because I feel genuinely ashamed somewhere in my subconscious for being part of the crowding problem at Alki beach. I mean, there’s no getting around it – I was one of the bad guys in all of that. There’s an impulse when one is guilty of something to cast aspersions on the crime, but that’s childish. I find it healthier, more gratifying, and more honest to simply put my hand in the air and say “that was me.” Makes it easier to move on. Try it sometime. Ah, who am I kidding, you already do.

I’m busy though, too. We’re taking my son’s schooling perfectly seriously, so he and I are pretty thoroughly occupied from 9-3 every day. Third grade is fascinating – basic math, bad handwriting, cursive practice. But that’s all expected. What warms me is the art history – looking at Durer and Velasquez, at modern marble quarrying and Michelangelo. Chiaroscuro, foreshortening. I didn’t hear those words until high school. And also the literature – they write their own stories, proofread, edit, and revise. He’s reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh right now. I’m going to read it along with him for the flashbacks and nostalgia, and also to make it something he and I can talk about.

And his sister in 6th grade – she just finished reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl, with an accompanying series of interpretation assignments that were impressively layered. In the mail yesterday she received her next reading assignment: Animal Farm. I don’t think I had it that good in 6th grade. There’s an odd serendipity or synchronicity to the universe that I like to note in times like these: I used a quote from Animal Farm in the 2nd episode of these Plague Diaries, having no idea her school would be sending the book to her.

Anyway, the sun’s up, and I have to go see what I’m going to write about tomorrow.

………

 

Your “Homeless in Coronafornia” update for today:

Um still pretty quiet but it seems more people are starting to come out and do things

Not very exciting, that one. He’d know more about people getting out than I would. He is out all the time, having no “in” to enjoy with any regularity. And that’s probably the way things are going to go. We’ll all just start acting more normal without the government telling us to (we’re no slaves, amirite). We’ll creep back into the public places, nobody will tell us not to anymore, and the “all clear” will come when we’re already back to meeting the mailman at the door.

 

—Admit your mistakes, 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 #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—