Personal Pieces posts
Saturday March 21, 2020
Walking Seattle During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Message left on Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, USA, Earth
Last Sunday—just last Sunday—I was talking to my brother in Minneapolis and told him that we in Seattle we pretty fairly locked down now. For several weeks, it was “Should we ... or shouldn't we?” and now we'd definitely landed on the shouldn‘t side. We were trying to socially distance ourselves and be vaguely responsible. I still went to Trader Joe’s that morning, and had taken a walk the day before to Volunteer Park. But even the latter instance, I told my brother, made me worried. I was like: Should I be walking? is this safe for me and others?
“Now you‘re really overthinking it,” he said.
The New York Times recently raised the same point: Is it OK to take a walk? Their quick answer: Sure, just stay six feet away from everyone you don’t know, everyone not in your family. All of which makes sense. To be honest, I was already practicing it. Last Monday, I did the same walk out to Volunteer Park but veered off before I got there because it became too crowded. it was like everyone was going to Volunteer Park, which shouldn't be the game plan. Tuesday, to avoid the crowds, I walked down to the International District and over by the waterfront. That was less crowded but more depressing: a lot of homeless, Chinese in masks, and shuttered businesses. Thursday, I went for a run; Friday, a bikeride. Today, instead of heading north toward Volulnteer Park, I walked east toward Lake Washington. It was good. I like walking the less-populated neighborhoods, where, if you need to, you can just step into the street if someone is coming toward you. I try to do this with a smile but sometimes forget. We‘re all in the same boat, and should be banding together, but ... Yeah. You might kill me and I might kill you. It’s the weirdest of vibes. But I try to smile.
I did run into a friend of my wife, and we had a good conversation from 10 feeet apart. She complained about the social isolation but she's an extrovert. To me, that's the easiest part of all of this. The hardest part is anticipating where we‘re going. Right now, the world is basically divided between those who understand exponential math and those who don’t, and the latter group is ruining us. Six days ago, despite (at best) spotty testing, the U.S. had the sixth-most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world: 3,774. As I write, we have the third-most confirmed cases in the world: 25,493. Our curve ain't flattening at all. And we still have spotty testing.
Stay safe, everyone.
Sunday March 15, 2020
Three Trips to Trader Joe's
I usually do our weekly shopping at Trader Joe's on Sunday morning. I used to go at 8 AM (Madison, Capitol Hill, Seattle), but a few months ago they pushed back the opening to 9. Something to do with when trucks could arrive with new goods? I rarely went at 8 AM anyway, and not because I wasn't up that early but because that's when the Type-A folks tended to go, and it's no fun fighting for space with them. I'd usually wait until they cleared out. 8:30, 8:45 wasn't bad. But then the switch and it hasn't been as good. 9:30, 9:45 is much busier.
Two weeks ago, doing my usual Sunday run, there were entire shelves unstocked. Like the cereal aisle? Almost all gone. I assumed some trucks hadn't gotten through, and it wasn't until I was talking to my father later that day, and he mentioned that they'd been stocking up on some items in anticipation of the coronavirus situation, that the other shoe dropped.
Last Sunday, my wife went with me. She normally goes to yoga on Sunday mornings but that class was canceled for the time being. In the store, a lot more people looking worried. A lot more facemasks. Purell by the cash register. But the shelves were better stocked.
This morning, a beautiful, crisp morning in Seattle, with the mountains way out, it was still busy at 9:30, 9:45. But not as busy? The shelves looked like they were being depleted again. Barely any pasta left, for example. Even I grabbed more than I normally would. Are customer-service centers like Trader Joe's giving time off for older employees? One hopes. These people are part of the front lines, too.
Will they stay open long? Today, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio ordered all bars and restaurants closed. “Every day we delay, more people will die,” he said.
Meanwhile, this morning on Twitter, during his National Day of Prayer, the president of the United States: defended the medical screenings at airports even though they are causing huge crowds to breathe the same air for hours and hours—the exact opposite of what is recommended; talked up the “catastrophe” of H1N1 Swine Flu response and incorrectly stated that Joe Biden headed it up; attacked Chuck Schumer; talked about a full pardon for Michael Flynn; and defended his claims of a Google website.
Saturday March 14, 2020
‘Should We Be Doing This?’ A Coronavirus Update from the U.S. Epicenter
Two weeks ago today.
I‘ve always been a germaphobe—I had a sickly childhood, etc.—but I always feel guilty about it. Some part of me thinks I’m just being too paranoid about germs and sickness and disease. I should be braver. I should be a better person.
So throughout the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 situation, I‘ve been two minds about things.
A week ago Tuesday, we were hosting a farewell dinner for one of our friends, who was heading back to Australia to look after her mother after the death of her father last summer, and some part of me wondered, “Should we still be doing this? Is this responsible?” More cases and more deaths were being reported in Seattle and King County, where I live. A death in February at a hospital three blocks from where I live was reported two weeks after the fact. The thing seemed to be getting bigger and closer. It was supposedly deadlier than the flu and much more contagious. Or was it the same? I assumed the former because responsible people said so while Fox News said no. That’s the giveaway. That's the tell. I wondered “Should we be doing this?” but I didn't see a way out. What was the alternative? Not going anywhere for anything? Holing up for weeks at a time? Or longer? That would never happen. The economy would stagnate. The stock market would crash. Businesses wouldn't allow it. Plus the world wasn't as germaphobic as me, so this thing would continue to spread while we were holed up.
Anyway, we had the dinner, and the next night I went to a work event where people were still inclined to shake hands. I always offered a fist, which led to laughter and a move to touch elbows, and people joking, as you do in a crisis, with gallows humor. All last week, too, the first week in March, we had workers at our place. They were painting our bathroom, the final stages of a remodel that began last June. (Yes, last June. Don't ask.) And while some part of my brain was thinking, “Is this smart? Is this responsible?,” another part wondered, “If not now, when?” So we did it. I still don't know if it was smart, but it's partly why I wasn't as worried as I might ordinarily be. The world was coming in and we were going out and that's the way it had to be.
But changes kept happening. The thing kept lapping up on us. A dinner got canceled last Saturday so we went to the movies, “Emma.,” at SIFF Egyptian. There was a good crowd there but the people behind the concession counter were now wearing gloves and there was hand sanitizer next to the napkins. Thursday, two days ago, we went to the movies again, “The Traitor,” at SIFF Uptown. Yes to gloves, yes to hand sanitizer, but now there was only one other couple in the theater. Then yesterday SIFF announced it was temporarily shuttering its doors.
SIFF was actually late to the party. Cancelations have been happening for a while. Initially it was annual events like the Emerald City Comicon, which was scheduled for this weekend but was postponed until the summer. That made sense. But what about non-annual events? What about the baseball season? Broadway? We were going to New York for a week in April, and we had tickets to “West Side Story,” and I was hoping for a Yankees or Mets game. Initially the prices seemed exorbitant. Then I began to wonder if they might go down becaues of COVID-19? Then I began to wonder if they might happen at all? And yes, they‘re not happening at all. And yes, we’re not going to New York.
The NBA canceling the rest of its season seemed the big one. That's when I went “Wow.” I'm trying to remember the timeline, the cancelations came so fast and furious. I kept relaying them to my wife. A section of Italy. No wait, all of Italy. Gov. Inslee warned against gatherings of more than 250 people; then it shrunk to ... 50? Then all bets were off. We were also trying to be brave and not panic and carry on. People reported that Seattle was a ghost town and I responded that it was less ghost town and more like a 2014 Seattle Seahawks game. Ha ha. Then it became more like a 2014 Seahawks playoff game. Then it was the Super Bowl. Today, this morning, I opened my second-floor window and leaned out for fresh air; and I was just hanging there, watching the world go by, when I realized the world wasn't going by. No one was out. It was Saturday morning, 8:30, and my office overlooks Boren Avenue, which always has traffic on it, car and foot, and I usually see people walking along Cherry Avenue, too. But it was maybe 15-20 seconds before I saw my first person—a jogger down on Terry. Then I saw a woman walking on the other side of Boren. And eventually a few cars. But just a few.
More people have been getting in touch lately. Familly and friends, texts and phone calls and email messages. “You guys OK?” It was my sister last weekend, and I told her it's a little odd seeing the world becoming more me than me. I think I was kind of proud of that; now not. Now I feel I should‘ve been more me than me.
I finally ran the numbers last week—Wednesday or Thursday. Very contagious, no vaccine, 1% mortality rate (conservative estimate). If everyone gets it, that means 78 million people die. Conservatively.
It was just two months ago, Jan. 8, that The New York Times first reported China had identified a pneumonialike illness with this subhed: “The new coronavirus doesn’t appear to be readily spread by humans, but researchers caution that more study is needed.” It was just two weeks ago, Feb. 27, that Trump accused Democrats and the news media of exaggerating the coronavirus threat. He said it was like the flu, which has a .1% mortality rate and a vaccine. His then-chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told conservative activists that journalists were hyping the coronavirus because “they think this will bring down the president; that's what this is all about.” Their current line is that everyone should look forward; they‘re saying that no one should politicize this. But they already did. Which is why they don’t want us to look back at it. They are horrible people. Fuck them. But never forget.
I'm not of two minds about it anymore. And I‘ll be fine with the social isolation. I’m a writer and a reader and a movie watcher. I'm a walker and a biker and a jogger. There's tons of Cagney films to watch. There's tons to stream. So I‘ll be fine as long as I’m fine. I hope I'm fine. I hope you're fine.
Monday January 13, 2020
I‘ll have something up on the Oscar nominations soon, I guess—although we’re back to Daniel's sister's line, aren't we? “Just what the world needs, Daniel...”
Anyway, nothing yet. I‘ve been sick for the last nine days. It started a week ago Sunday as a dry cough and a tightness in my chest, then four days later leapt into the usual horror show of spewing uncontrollably out of most available facial orifices. It got really bad Friday night, which always seems to be the way. It waits for the weekend. Worst night was last night: chills, massive headache, achy, coughing, difficulty breathing, little sleep. The difficulty breathing is the scariest part. Saw a doctor this morning and she asked the usual questions and did the usual tests. Good news: Not flu (I had a flu shot but some strain is making the rounds anyway) and not pneumonia. Just viral gunk mixed with my asthma. (Leading to miasma.) Got meds. I often wonder where I’d be if not for modern medicine. Dead, most likely.
While at the doctor's office, and before the diagnosis, the nurse gave me one of those “Don't spread your germs” surgical masks to wear while I was in the medical center. I did better. I wore it outside, too. Kind of fun. No one's going to come near you if you're wearing one of those things. I might make a habit of it.
Tuesday December 31, 2019
To a Kidney Stone of a Decade
This will be my last post of the 2010s. My first post of the 2010s, on Jan. 1 2010, 8:44 AM, was short:
Bushed: The word I'd use to sum up the decade. I'm bushed, you‘re bushed, we’ve all been Bushed—the country and the world. We need a new starting line. Hey, here comes one now.
Everyone is trying to fathom what the hell we just went through. Yesterday, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich tweeted, “I don't know about you, but I'm ready to put this anti-democracy decade to rest. It began January 21, 2010 with Citizens United and ends with Donald Trump in the White House.” Over the weekend, Michiko Kakutani wrote an Op-Ed in the Times, “The 2010s Were the End of Normal,” in which she quotes others quoting Yeats (“The centre cannot hold”) and Auden (“Waves of anger and fear...”).
I, too, have been thinking Auden and “September 1, 1939,” but I‘ve been focusing on the “low, dishonest decade” part. That’s where we are. The propagandists won; they got away with it. Meanwhile, the legit press still offers both sides even if one side is a known lie. Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov, who lived under Soviet lies, is trying to school us on this: “Stop giving equal times to lies,” he said last week on CNN. He said the legit press' “outdated sense of fairness is killing our democracy.” He's not wrong.
What a decade. Who knew a social media platform would help upend democracy—and its CEO wouldn't care? Who knew we'd elect, as president of the United States(!), a fatuous, Mussolini-ish real estate moron, who appears to have survived bankruptcy with loans floated from Russian oligarchs, and who, as president, has enraged allies, embraced dictators, taunted the powerless with third-grade insults, paid for the silence of porn stars, obstructed justice, obstructed Congress, ignored the rule of law, lied every day and in every way, and has repeatedly asked foreign governments, either vocally (Russia, China), or secretly (Ukraine), to interfere in American elections? And yet he's never fallen below a 35% approval rating? Who knew Nazis would ever be a thing again? And on American soil?
More than Yeats, though, more than Auden, I think of Trudeau. As a kid we owned “The Doonesbury Chronicles,” the big history of the “Doonesbury” daily comic strip through the 1970s; and on Dec. 7, 1979, he published the strip below. I think I read it before I knew what a kidney stone was:
Who helped in the 2010s? Beyond the personal? A few names: Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Mulaney, Joe Posnanski, Jane Mayer, John Stewart, Jill Lepore, Rick Perlstein, Kumail Nanjiani, Jacques Audiard, Martin Scorsese, Marion Cotillard, Zhou Xun, and the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals. Also the New York Yankees—for being the first New York Yankees team in 100 years to not win a pennant in a calendar decade. Bless you, boys.
Mike Doonesbury was right about disco, so maybe the same will be true for a few of this decade's villains: they, too, shall pass. One can hope. Toot toot, beep beep.