Between February 10, 2020 and May 27, 2020, I kept a daily diary chronicling my thoughts, impressions, fears, anxieties, and outrages in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It touched on the personal, the public, and the political. It contained stories about how my family and I coped and how events unfolded in the news in real time. It helped to keep me sane and grounded when everything going on in the world counseled otherwise. 

This page contains the entire Diary from beginning to end. All 117,383 words of it. If you’d like to read it entry-by-entry — all 74 entries of it — you can do so here

 

February 10: I’ve been following the coronavirus news from China like most of us follow most news from China. With some interest because China is so big that what happens there has some impact on what happens here, but not in the same way we’d follow domestic news. It’s a small world — and we’d all like to pretend we’re savvy and worldly — but China is a million miles away for most of us. It doesn’t feel particularly real. Maybe saying that out loud makes me sound dumb, but it’s what I feel and I suspect it’s what even a lot of smart and worldly people feel.

Today a friend forwarded a message he received from a mutual friend:

The guy who sent that was someone I’ve known since college — I introduced him and the friend who forwarded it to me — but I broke off contact with him a few years ago. The biggest reason: he had, over the years, become a conspiracy theorist. Paranoid to the point of absurdity. He began trafficking in some of the worst sorts of things you can imagine. Alex Jones-spread lies about the Sandy Hook massacre being faked. Pizzagate. You name it. He doesn’t live near me and I hadn’t seen him in person for many years, but I decided I couldn’t continue to interact with someone that toxic, even if they had, at one time, been a very close friend, and that was that.

At the same time, he is — while not being at all connected with the business or financial world — an extremely savvy investor, at least when it comes to tectonic economic shifts. He did, as suggested above, predict the 2008 market crash well in advance. He shorted the market then and made a lot of money. Sometimes I wonder if he made enough to do what, in hindsight, he seemed like he always wanted to do and completely isolate himself from the world. I wonder if a lack of need for him to interact with society exacerbated his paranoid and conspiratorial tendencies and had totally pushed him over the edge.

Mostly, though, I worry that he is not altogether wrong now. At least about the effects all of this will have.

 

February 28: Coronavirus fears have caused the Japanese baseball league to hold all of its remaining spring training games in empty ballparks. The Korean league went even further, cancelling spring training. This is feeling much more real to me now. Epidemics in internal China feel millions of miles away. Baseball in Japan feels like something just next door, at least to me.

 

March 3: Carleen [my ex-wife] texted to tell me that Costco is out of toilet paper. That seems odd to me. No one has talked about shortages or stockpiling or runs on the store. Earlier in the day I had been at the grocery store and every shelf was full, paper goods included. Carleen ordered some from Amazon.

The kids are pretty aware of the coming epidemic. They’re 14 and 16 and they’re pretty mature even for kids that age, so we’re well past the point of trying to hide bad news or break it to them easily. They know most things as soon as we do if not sooner. As with most things, they are taking this news in apparent stride. While taking Anna home from her piano lesson tonight we joked about how it’s a good thing we’re too broke to travel for spring break, keeping us off of planes and out of airports where we might get infected. Anna made some darker jokes about how all the rich kids who go to her school will jet off with their families to the Caribbean or someplace and bring it back to us.

 

March 5: Rick Santelli of CNBC went on national television tonight and, in response to the shaken stock market, said “Maybe we’d be just better off if we gave [coronavirus] to everybody, and then in a month it would be over because the mortality rate of this probably isn’t going to be any different if we did it that way than the long-term picture, but the difference is we’re wreaking havoc on global and domestic economies.”

This is your brain on capitalism.

 

March 7: Carleen told me her Amazon TP arrived. I made my usual trip to Costco. Despite stories in the news about people stocking up on cleaners and disinfectants, Costco had both in stock. They were rationing, however, limit 1 pack per customer. Everything else was in stock. All of this, for the moment, seems temporary. It seems like the fever will break, at least on the level of everyday life being disrupted, even if the news of the overall epidemic seems dire. At least I’m hoping so.

Nationally speaking, people are openly talking about the degree to which this will impact the United States and the measures that need to be taken. It’s now a pretty serious public health matter and everyone wants to take a lot of time to tell us all how to wash our hands. My first impulse is to laugh — who doesn’t know how to wash their hands? — but then I remember that there all sorts of smart things we, as a society, know how to do but simply don’t because we don’t want to or we don’t give a shit.

Our government, of course, does not seem to care at all. A report in The Atlantic reveals that we are totally botching the response to coronavirus. Far fewer people are being tested than the government claims and even the numbers the government claims are far fewer than would be necessary for anyone to say that the country is effectively responding to the epidemic. We have no idea how bad things actually are. We cannot treat sick people if we do not know what they are sick with. We cannot fight an epidemic without information about the rate and extent of its spread.

When asked, the president lied, saying the coronavirus was contained. He has sent out his most reliable pathological liar to obfuscate and spin the matter.

In addition to the incompetence and the lies of the Trump administration about addressing the outbreak, we have clear evidence that addressing the actual outbreak is not the administration’s top priority. Look no further than the daily news about the administration’s response to the economic fallout of coronavirus as opposed to the epidemic itself. Interest rates are loweredTax relief for the airline, travel, and cruise industries is fast-trackedThe stock market is considered the barometer of a public health crisis. Trump seems far more interested in addressing the economic fallout, but even then, only in a very narrow way, as it relates to Wall Street. It’s not surprising even if it’s distressing and depressing. Money always gets served first.

Can Congress help? It’s hard to see how. The most prominent congressman in the news yesterday was a Colorado representative who wielded an AR-15 rifle he keeps in his office, daring Joe Biden to “come and take it.” He is the same congressman who, while first campaigning in 2010, championed the idea of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control.

This is a national scandal. People will die as a result of the Trump administration’s incompetence, knowing malfeasance, and an overarching lack of seriousness and lack of appreciation of the dangers of this outbreak. Not that this is an accident. To the contrary, this is the inevitable result of over 40 years of those in power casting government the enemy and making government-led health initiatives a particularly sinister enemy. All of this is the result of gutting government of policy and scientific expertise. All of this is the result of letting the president lie with impunity.

We, as a nation, are about to reap what we have sown. And it will be a grim reaping indeed.

 

March 10: The Japanese and Korean leagues have each postponed the start of their seasons. Major League Baseball’s response is to close the clubhouses to reporters. It seems like a pretty pointless, symbolic move given that there are still scores of people in and out of those clubhouses. I don’t think MLB is opportunistically barring the media or anything, but I do suspect that it’s a move that, once all this blows over, risks becoming permanent. Power does not care for scrutiny. Beyond all of that, it doesn’t seem like baseball players are taking it very seriously. Bryce Harper was quoted today saying, “I don’t worry about a disease or a virus. I live my life. I’m doing everything the same. I’m shaking people’s hands, I’m high-fiving. I’m healthy. I’m 27.”

 

March 11: This day will be remembered. “Pandemic Wednesday,” perhaps.

I was at the bowling alley for league night tonight and, as usual, half of the monitors are tuned to ESPN. Usually there’s a basketball game on but it’s all news. There’s no sound so it takes me a while to figure out what’s happening, but I eventually gather that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has tested positive for coronavirus. The game was cancelled. They’re talking about quarantines and suspending the season.

When I got home the news had broken that Tom Hanks and his wife were diagnosed with coronavirus.

In the space of a few hours news of coronavirus has pushed election coverage — which has dominated everything for almost a year — below the fold and is now leading sports and entertainment news and programming as well. I think this all just got real for a lot of people who hadn’t been paying close attention. It feels like we’re in a disaster movie and tonight was the montage when people besides the lead characters — a kid and a plucky scientist? Steve McQueen? — all realize what’s happening and all hell begins to break loose.

 

March 12: I had to do my normal grocery shopping this morning. Kroger wasn’t crowded at 10am and the shelves were fully stocked. I got everything on my list and, while I didn’t really stockpile, I did buy a few more things than usual. I have the kids this weekend and through next Wednesday and, rather than have meals planned through Saturday and then make another trip on Sunday like I usually do, I got stuff I needed to last all the way through Wednesday. Something in the back of my mind just told me that things were about to go sideways after last night.

They soon did. After a couple of days of delays, Major League Baseball announced that spring training is stopping immediately and the beginning of the season will be postponed by at least two weeks. This afternoon Governor DeWine announced that schools will be closing at least for the next three weeks, effective Monday.

I had to go back to the grocery store at around 4pm to pick up a prescription. It was a madhouse. The parking lot was packed. The aisles were packed. The lines were long. People’s carts were overflowing. The toilet paper aisle was completely empty. The country completely snapped in the space of 24 hours.

 

March 13: Allison woke up with a mild fever this morning. Very mild. She was feeling mostly fine again by this afternoon. Her doctor said it was almost certainly nothing. Still, everything feels different now. My general disposition is to approach things logically. To remain pretty calm. I’m usually the guy helping other people keep their heads when shit goes down. I’m still trying to do that but it’s harder.

 

March 14: No fever. False alarm.

 

March 15: The last couple of days have felt mostly normal. There is increasing talk of mass shutdowns of businesses and schools, at least in places where that hasn’t already happened. My kids both have jobs — my son works at a pizza place and my daughter works at her music school — and they’re both still working as normal. Last night we met friends for dinner and drinks, just the four of us. We ate at a restaurant and then went to their house for the drinks. There’s increasing pressure to not do that it, but felt OK at the time given that we didn’t go to a crowded place — and given that the restaurant is an independent place we’re worried won’t survive disruption — but as soon as we woke up this morning we felt like we really should not have done that. We decided that we won’t be doing that again.

“Social distancing” is the phrase of the moment. I wish it wasn’t and wish we didn’t have to contemplate what that will mean for everyone but, In some weird ways, I am kind of looking forward to finding out all of the things we, as a society, realize were totally unnecessary before this happened. Things that existed because advertising convinced us that we wanted them. Things that inertia and social pressure, genuine or otherwise, convinced us we needed but which, in reality, we do not.

It could be small things and it will likely be unexpected things.

I read recently about how the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, which was available live, on TV, in real time, basically ended the primacy of soap operas on network television. People preferred real life drama — or an approximation of it — to scripted drama, and since then judge shows, talk shows, and the like have come to dominate daytime TV. Like anything else there were other factors at play, but O.J.’s trial was at least part of something that made people reassess whether they wanted a thing they had simply taken for granted and, really, wasn’t missed after it was gone.

To be sure, I do not know what those things will be in the post-social distancing age. This is not one of those “Ah ha! Now all of the stupid shit I hated beforehand shall be revealed to be superfluous!” kinds of sentiments. I’m not taking joy in people no longer doing things I didn’t care about or going to parties I wasn’t invited to or anything like that. It’s a genuine curiosity about what we are about to discover we actually didn’t need or was actually undesirable even if we never questioned it otherwise.

I was musing about this on Twitter this morning, and someone — knowing that I write about baseball for a living — shot back with “maybe we’ll realize we don’t need sports.” I’ve actually thought about that a lot in the days since baseball and other sports went on hiatus. Many of my friends have asked me about this since then too.

No, I don’t think sports being gone for a couple of months is going to make people believe they did not need sports in their lives. I think the entertainment sports provides is, generally speaking, a societal good. Some have argued that sports channel aggression once more commonly channeled into tribal war into something with much lower stakes. I don’t know if that’s true or not — it seems to me to be a bit of of an overstatement — but it does foster some sense of collective interest and identity and, again, constitutes entertainment.

That said, it’s quite possible that the temporary cessation of sports will reveal the larger sports-entertainment-media-retail-industrial complex to be oversized and largely unnecessary. Baseball games are good. Baseball on TV is good. Some reporting and commentary about baseball — which is what I do — is good. We could probably stand to dial back, however, on “The SuperFanExperienceZone, brought to you by StarCorp in conjunction with ShoeCompany and broadcast live on MegaSportsNet 24/7.” The corporate tie-ins, the gambling industry and the cultural forces which have made sports into an all-encompassing lifestyle and identity for people, which is a pretty new phenomenon, is probably something which would be better if it went away.

Beyond my little corner of the culture, Dan Kois wrote an article at Slate yesterday which talks about how security theater and rent-seeking behavior by greedy corporations are being shown to be absurd and unnecessary in the wake of COVID-19. The argument, generally, being that if TSA can immediately lift the ban on bottles of hand sanitizer bigger than four ounces and if AT&T can lift broadband data limits at the drop of a hat, they probably weren’t all that critical to begin with. He argues that, “once a policy is revealed as bullshit, it gets a lot harder to convince smart, engaged citizens to capitulate to it.” He thinks that the post-pandemic world will be a better one because people won’t stand for the reimplementation of bullshit policies. I’m less optimistic than he is — I tend to think that power does what power wants — but the observations he makes about all of that seem otherwise on-point.

Maybe I’m not the best person be musing about this. I already work at home. I have for over a decade. I already eat out and go out less than a lot of people because I have kids, because I am home more, which makes it easier to cook, because I’m trying to budget and because, let’s face it, I’m getting older. A lot of people are talking about how social distancing is forcing them live more of their lives online. I’ve been living my life online in many important ways for a very long time.

But I do think we’ll see some changes to society when we get to the other side of this. I can’t begin to guess what they are. Maybe they’re wholly unpredictable by their very nature. Maybe we won’t even realize what has changed for some time. Maybe we’ll look back at some behavior that was common in February 2020 and realize that, after May 2020, it simply was no longer a thing.

Something akin to the way you might look at a photo of you and your friends smoking in a bar in 1994 or remember a kiss goodbye you gave at an airport boarding gate in 1999. Things that were commonplace one day and then impossible the next.

I don’t know if that’s going to look prescient or hopelessly naive a few months from now. I really have no idea what’s going to happen.

 

 

March 16: Allison works at a small accounting office where it’s impossible for more than even ten or 12 people to gather together, but they are doing what most other places are doing and shutting the doors. Business will keep going — it’s tax season — but everyone will do it remotely. She’s the receptionist. She has set up shop at my desk — which, frankly, I never use — and has the phone system routed through her cell phone and her laptop in ways I don’t really understand, but it seems to work. There is a good deal of hassle about how to deal with the office mail and deliveries — people send in their tax documents to the office in hard copy pretty often — but we live close enough to her office where it’s not hard for her to pop over if she needs to get something.

I’ve worked at home for over ten years and I rarely give it a thought, but as vast swaths of the nation begin to do the same, I realize that it’s not necessarily easy for most people. It’s a big adjustment on a personal level. Routines are hard to manage. It’s easy to lose a lot of time and lose structure to your work day if you’re not used to it. I tell as many people as I can that the biggest thing is to just never turn on the TV and everything flows from there, but people have to figure it out for themselves. Besides, the people now working from home aren’t the ones who are the worst off anyway. A lot of jobs can’t be done from home. Those people, if their places of work close, are simply going to be out of a job. I’m extraordinarily worried about them. I’m extraordinarily worried about everyone. A hard recession — or worse — seems inevitable.

I’ve lived through a couple of recessions by now and I’m old enough to know that, however painful they are, we will get through them. I’m far more worried, though, about what lies ahead of us now, in the short and long term, because the nation is being led by a dangerous ignoramus who is not only proud of his ignorance but has staked his entire personal and political identity on it. He said this today, when asked about the nation’s pandemic response:

“It’s going to pop. One day, we’ll be standing, possibly, up here, we’ll say, ‘Well, we won.’ And we’re gonna say that. Sure as you’re sitting there, we’re going to say that. And we’re going to win. And I think we’re gonna win faster than people think. I hope.”

There’s nothing more telling in all of that than the “I hope” at the end. When you don’t have a plan, hope is what you have. Trump is going to get thousands of people killed and, when the secondary effects start to hit in earnest, his only priority will be help large corporations and the rich. 

They’re in court fighting tonight about postponing tomorrow’s primary election here in Ohio. If you had asked me a week ago I’d have said that was insane and that that’s the last thing they should ever do. My mind has changed about that.

Poll workers are overwhelmingly older people. Voter turnout skews sharply in favor of people 50 and over. By holding the election tomorrow we’d be asking people to either stay home and be disenfranchised or go to the polls and risk their death. That seems unacceptable to me, and I’m glad that our governor believes that too.

I dislike our governor a great deal. He’s been in some office or another — lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, attorney general — ever since I first moved to Ohio nearly 30 years ago and I have never voted for him. Indeed, I oppose almost everything he stands for. He has been admirably proactive in all of this, however, and has given me and a lot of other people confidence. I feel like he’s making decisions that are right, not decisions that are politically expedient. He’s been giving addresses every day and is excellent at telling people, in very simple, very clear terms, what the government is doing and why. What people should be doing and should not be doing and why. He’s not just providing information, either. He’s providing a calming influence, I think. What he’s doing is much needed given the vacuum of power and responsibility exhibited by our president.

All of this, and the possibility of a postponed election, makes me think about leadership in past crisis and about how in such times we need strong centralized power. The need for that goes against all of my usual political instincts and is, frankly, frightening. But I think about how the nation probably doesn’t survive the Civil War without Lincoln and probably doesn’t survive the Great Depression without Roosevelt. I think about the power they exercised —  and the lines they sometimes crossed — and imagine how scary that must’ve seemed to people at the time. They did not have the hindsight of history we have to realize that those both responsible and competent men who, for the most part, they were correct to trust with such power. And trust to relinquish it when the crisis had passed.

Now we have a dangerous, incompetent, wannabe autocrat in charge whose only reliable impulse is to abuse power. To take a mile when given an inch. I dread giving him that inch. I’ve never felt this hopeless in our leaders. I’ve never felt this hopeless for our country.

 

March 17: Last night Anna and I talked about people hoarding groceries and supplies. We joke — again, with our shared, very dark sense of humor — about how we might have to go looting in the rich country club neighborhoods nearby if things get dire. I say that we might have a problem as I don’t own a gun. Anna says that’s fine. “Have you ever seen those movies where people break into a rich person’s house and tie them up in chairs in the living room, back-to-back, with duct tape on their mouths?,” she said. ”  bet it’d be pretty easy to do that to rich people in New Albany.” We have to keep a sense of humor. How much of it is self defense? How dark is too dark?

There are limits to it for me. I have friends posting things on Twitter and Facebook. about watching movies about pandemics, reading books about pandemics, and consuming other apocalyptic pop culture and media and I just don’t know how they’re doing it. I think I lost the ability to lean in to stuff like that a few years ago. I don’t need to go all the way in the opposite direction — I don’t plan to do a Mel Brooks marathon or anything that directly compensates for the anxiety — but I just don’t want to see society breaking down when society is breaking down in real life.

Is it because I’m a parent? Maybe, maybe not. I know it’s not every parent — some of my pandemic movie-watching friends have kids — but I really lost my tolerance for horror and dread in fiction when I had kids. I began to worry about so many things I never worried about before. The National did a song about that feeling parents get and I find myself singing it today.

The kids, though, still seem OK. The biggest change I noticed came when the governor suggested that the possibility that school will not resume at all this year. When it was just a two week + spring break closure, they both loved the idea of an extended vacation. They both immediately said that they would not like to be done with school until August. I asked them about it and they couldn’t precisely articulate why, but it was tied up in it simply being strange and socially isolating. There are only so many punches one can roll with while doing what Gen-Z is so good at doing and acting like it doesn’t faze them. At some point that “nothing bothers us” mask has to drop, and I feel like it’s dropping now.

With carryout and delivery restaurants being the only game in town, my son’s pizza place is still open. His mother and I asked him if he felt comfortable going in and he said he wanted to. He didn’t put it in these terms, but I think that, in addition to giving him something to do outside of the house, he wants to feel useful. I’m afraid of everything lately, but I think I’m OK with him still going there. A pizza isn’t much usually, but it might mean a lot for people now if, for no other reason, than it might help them to feel that things are normal.

 

March 18: I went to the grocery store last night. We are still in OK shape, but we needed a few things and, frankly, I wanted to see whether it was as bad as people had been saying. It was strange but, for the most part, things were better than I had assumed.

Most meat, apart from veal and frozen fish, was gone. There was obviously no toilet paper, which I still don’t understand but which I now realize is just a thing we have to deal with. Rice was gone, but a lot of other things people had said were hard to find — dried pasta and sauce, frozen meals — were generally around. There were slimmer pickings on a given brand you might prefer and on varieties of items, but there was a decent amount of fresh produce — some clearly stocked that afternoon — orange juice and things like that. Maybe our situation is unusual? Some have described more dire scenes and have shared photos of empty shelves. Maybe those were just the paper goods shelves. I wish they wouldn’t do that. I suspect it’s causing people to panic buy other things and exacerbate the situation.

More striking than the shelves were the people. It wasn’t particularly crowded for 6pm-6:30 on a Tuesday, but the people inside were all sort of dazed. Some surprised that some things they were looking for were on the shelf, others surprised that some things weren’t. Everyone was shopping differently than usual. No one was stockpiling anything from what I could tell. I think — I hope — that passed after the Thursday-Sunday shock people were undergoing. Maybe that shock happens again if we go on full lockdown, as many suspect we will soon.

There were more older people in the store than I had hoped to see. As we all now know, older people are the ones, for the most part, we are trying to protect from contracting the virus, so they shouldn’t be out if they can’t help it. Not everyone has someone to take care of them or to look in on them. We all have to eat. It just sort of brings home how rough this all is for some people and how hard some of the choices are.

I normally ignore it but I took notice of the specials/announcements/commercials they play over the PA system. “Hey shoppers, today try our special on ___” It was jarring because it sounded like a voice from a normal time and things don’t feel very normal now.

I had put some wine in my cart —  there is still plenty of booze everywhere — and went to the self-checkout. An attendant came over to do the ID check. As usual, he didn’t check the middle aged bald guy’s ID. As usual I make a joke about that. He laughed and said “we’re not selling to kids or anything, but we’ve really got more to do than to check IDs right now.”

As I waked my cart to my car, the voice in my head kept screaming, as it has so often over the past couple of weeks, “Keep your head about you. We all must keep our heads.”

 

March 19: I’ve been in a weird, dumb fight with my dad since early December. I cannot stress how weird and dumb it is, but just know that it means we have not spoken to each other for a long time. It’s not the first time this has happened and, after all of these years, I’m something of a pro at dealing with it. Again: cannot stress how dumb it all is.

I am talking to my mom, still. Both she and he are over 70 and both she and he have compromised immune and/or respiratory systems. This pandemic is basically tailor-made to get them. Thankfully, however, they’re pretty prepared and pretty savvy.

My mom quit her job — she was a part time cashier at Home Depot — several weeks ago to stop interacting with the public. They have always been the sorts to stockpile things, so their very large garage freezer and very large pantry was full well before other people started freaking out. They are physically self-sufficient, mentally competent and live together with a cat in their manageably-sized house and have no need to venture out. Apart from me catching my mom making one quick trip to the store last week — and reading her the riot act about it — they’ve behaved like they should be behaving in a pandemic designed to kill them. I’m more worried about them getting on each other’s nerves than I am worried of them getting sick, frankly.

I ran to the store again yesterday — just to pick up a prescription, not to shop for food — when my phone rang. It was my mom. My dad had cooked a couple slabs of ribs and wanted us to have some. My first impulse, given that we’re pretty well stocked, was to say no, but I stopped myself in mid-“thanks but no thanks” and accepted. The kids love his ribs and it was a nice treat for them for dinner last night. it was also a nice gesture. I don’t know if it was intended to be a gesture, but it was a nice one regardless.

Since I was at the store I asked if she needed anything. At first she said no, but then I heard my dad in the background mention ground beef. Unlike Giant Eagle on Tuesday night, Kroger had a decent amount of meat, limit three packs of fresh stuff. I got them a three-pound pack of ground beef — that freezer will come in handy — which will keep them in sloppy joe’s or cabbage rolls or whatever the hell it is they cook with ground beef.

We devised a method of handing it off that avoided contact. She would drive over — they really do need a means of getting off of each other’s nerves for a few minutes — and call me en route. I’d leave the ground beef on the chair on the front porch, she’d show up, leave the ribs on the porch, and leave. Presto: social distancing with my mother.

When she pulled up I opened a window and yelled at her: “Thanks a lot, Typhoid Mary! Now get the hell out of here before I start shooting!”

She laughed. And left a bigger bag than she’d need just to bring a slab of ribs over. When she left I went out and got it. Inside, in addition to the ribs, were a box of latex gloves, which my dad also stockpiles for some reason, and a six-pack of toilet paper, taken from one of the big Costco 30-packs they usually buy.

We’re still pretty good on TP for now, but our burn rate, so to speak, is a lot greater than theirs. Either way, it was very nice of them. In these times it’s akin to leaving bricks of gold on someone’s doorstep.

 

 

March 19: I’ve been in a weird, dumb fight with my dad since early December. I cannot stress how weird and dumb it is, but just know that it means we have not spoken to each other for a long time. It’s not the first time this has happened and, after all of these years, I’m something of a pro at dealing with it. Again: cannot stress how dumb it all is.

I am talking to my mom, still. Both she and he are over 70 and both she and he have compromised immune and/or respiratory systems. This pandemic is basically tailor-made to get them. Thankfully, however, they’re pretty prepared and pretty savvy.

My mom quit her job — she was a part time cashier at Home Depot — several weeks ago to stop interacting with the public. They have always been the sorts to stockpile things, so their very large garage freezer and very large pantry was full well before other people started freaking out. They are physically self-sufficient, mentally competent and live together with a cat in their manageably-sized house and have no need to venture out. Apart from me catching my mom making one quick trip to the store last week — and reading her the riot act about it — they’ve behaved like they should be behaving in a pandemic designed to kill them. I’m more worried about them getting on each other’s nerves than I am worried of them getting sick, frankly.

I ran to the store again yesterday — just to pick up a prescription, not to shop for food — when my phone rang. It was my mom. My dad had cooked a couple slabs of ribs and wanted us to have some. My first impulse, given that we’re pretty well stocked, was to say no, but I stopped myself in mid-“thanks but no thanks” and accepted. The kids love his ribs and it was a nice treat for them for dinner last night. It was also a nice gesture. I don’t know if it was intended to be a gesture, but it was a nice one regardless.

Since I was at the store I asked if she needed anything. At first she said no, but then I heard my dad in the background mention ground beef. Unlike Giant Eagle on Tuesday night, Kroger had a decent amount of meat, limit three packs of fresh stuff. I got them a three-pound pack of ground beef — that freezer will come in handy — which will keep them in sloppy joes or cabbage rolls or whatever the hell it is they cook with ground beef.

We devised a method of handing it off that avoided contact. She would drive over — they really do need a means of getting off of each other’s nerves for a few minutes — and call me en route. I’d leave the ground beef on the chair on the front porch, she’d show up, leave the ribs on the porch, and leave. Presto: social distancing with my mother.

When she pulled up I opened a window and yelled at her: “Thanks a lot, Typhoid Mary! Now get the hell out of here before I start shooting!”

She laughed. And left a bigger bag than she’d need just to bring a slab of ribs over. When she left I went out and got it. Inside, in addition to the ribs, were a box of latex gloves, which my dad also stockpiles for some reason, and a six-pack of toilet paper, taken from one of the big Costco 30-packs they usually buy. We’re still pretty good on TP for now, but our burn rate, so to speak, is a lot greater than theirs. Either way, it was very nice of them. In these times it’s akin to leaving bricks of gold on someone’s doorstep.

A few minutes ago I texted my dad and thanked him:

 

I guess we’re talking again.

 

I was in a sad mood before I went to bed last night. Thinking about it, I realized it was the first Wednesday I haven’t bowled in a long time. I joined a bowling league because Allison was, quite reasonably, concerned that I was not socializing enough with people outside of my very small sphere. I’m not sure if I miss the socializing all that much, but I did miss the bowling.

As I’ve written in the past, bowling was a big, big part of my childhood and, at times, it has been a lifeline of sanity for me. When I last bowled on a league — when I was 17, which is almost 30 years ago — my average was 168. After seven weeks on a league at 46 it’s only about 150. It’s the spare shooting mostly. The radar has been off, particularly to my right. Last week — Pandemic Wednesday — was kind of a breakthrough. Way better in that department. I somehow just found the 1991 muscle memory again. I shot two pretty damn good games and a third respectable one. I figured I turned a corner. Then all that news hit and, bam. It’s only bowling I guess. In light of everything else going on I was feeling absolutely stupid missing it that much, but I do.

I went upstairs to bed. Allison was already in bed, on her phone, watching a livestream of one of her favorite EDM artists, Illenium, who was writing and recording a new song from his home studio. We’re in a terrible time but there are little blessings. Little things that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. They don’t make up for *gestures generally* but it’s still worth noting.

 

This morning someone I know sent a Facebook blast with all kinds of conspiracy theories about the military taking the streets and things like that. Stuff that has been widely debunked. It’s enraging, but I’m trying not to be enraged. People are afraid and confused. We’re hardwired to believe what we read and what we are told and the critical skills to sort all that out are learned, not innate. It’s also the case that, as I mentioned earlier in this diary, trust in our leaders and official sources is probably at an all-time low. When you’re lied to and gaslit on a daily basis, you’re less likely to sit and listen to a press conference from the governor or, God help us, the president, and go on what they say. Rumor — especially if it reinforces our predispositions — is so appealing in an age in which objective information has been so devalued.

 

Trump went on TV at 11:30 this morning. Allison turned it on. I really have no desire to watch him, basically ever, but the living room is not just my office now, so I don’t say anything. Trump comes on and says “it’s too bad” that there is a global pandemic killing thousands, because “we never had an economy so good . . .” And talks about business, business, business. He’s completely ill-equipped for this job but he also doesn’t even care about it. It’s enraging. I make a number of grumpy comments and Allison turns the TV off. I know she just wants information, but honestly, it’s not going to come from him. If it does it’s not going to be accurate. Either way it’s going to be filtered through layers of propaganda and surrounded by lies. Things are bad enough to devote any mental energy to that piece of shit.

 

 

March 19(b): When I woke up the top trending thing on Twitter was a video that a bunch of celebrities did, with each of them singing “Imagine” over a webcam. The overwhelming reaction was, in effect, “it must be easy to protect calm when you’re living in your Hollywood Hills mansion, no doubt stocked with supplies and/or panic rooms” or whatever.

I get that impulse and I often throw a joke into the big joke pile when it happens, but my two biggest takeaways are:

  1. They’re celebrities, celebrity does not require a certain IQ or level of self-awareness and, in fact, having those things in notable size probably just complicates one’s trek to the top of Celebrity Mountain, so, basically, bless their misguided hearts; and
  2. Whenever I see celebrities doing dumb things like that my biggest concern is that a celebrity I actually like and respect will be involved, ruining them for me. Like, if Paul Rudd or Gillian Anderson showed up on that video imagining all the people living life in peaaaaaacceee, I’d probably cry.

 

The kids’ shared parenting schedule is for me to have them every Monday and Tuesday night, their mother to have them every Wednesday and Thursday night and for us to alternate Friday-Sundays. It’s a pretty good schedule, as it gives each parent five straight days with the kids every other week alternating with five “days off” as it were. Since I live near the school and they walk home to my house each afternoon, even on days when they spend the night at her house, I actually see them more than that, never going more than a Saturday-Sunday without seeing them during the school year. We’ve used that schedule ever since we split up and it works for everyone really well.

On Wednesday I texted Carleen, who is also working from home, about when she’d come by to get them. At first she said 5pm and then, a few moments later, texted me back and told me that maybe they shouldn’t come over. She had a fever. A low one, but enough to scare her. She had called her doctor who said that it was not high enough to qualify as a “fever” for coronavirus testing given that she’s healthy and in her 40s.  Her best bet, they said, was to just hang tight, if the fever spikes, give a call back, and otherwise take it easy and see what happened. I kept the kids on Wednesday night.

The next morning I texted her to see how she was doing. She said that her fever was gone before she had gone to bed the night before and she was feeling fine. She also woke up with no fever. We agreed to check back with one another again that afternoon and, nope, no fever and no other symptoms of anything. She had spent the day disinfecting her house — which, if she is still like she was when we were married, was already spotless and disinfected to within an inch of its life to begin with — and we agreed that we felt OK sending the kids back over there.

In the course of our conversation we started piecing together sicknesses she, the kids, Allison, their coworkers, and I have had in the past month or two. Last week Allison had a similar little one-day low fever that vanished as quickly as it went. In mid-late February Carleen, both kids and I had feverish crud, with my son — who had croup often when he was young and still gets hit harder with colds than the rest of us — having a horrendous cough to go along with it all. We all had been to the doctor and took flu tests, which came up negative. Two of us were diagnosed with sinus infections, two were thought to just have colds or “random virus-y crud,” as my doctor likes to put it. We took some antibiotics and shook what we had in normal course.

Carleen noted that Amy Acton, the medical director of the Ohio Department of Health, said the other day that they have traced back the first Ohio coronavirus case to February 7. Both of us wondered if, someplace in that mix — maybe Carlo with his fever and awful cough, maybe one of her coworkers who said he “had the worst case of bronchitis ever” around that time — had it? And didn’t know it. It seems a far-fetched, but the information even official sources are disseminating every day seems to conflict with what we thought we knew just a few days before. Maybe we’re just allowing ourselves to think things that make us feel better. “Hey, maybe we had it and it wasn’t that bad and maybe now we’re immune!” Maybe these one-day fevers that Carleen and Allison each had — fevers that disappeared as soon as they arrived — were our minds playing tricks on us too.

 

 

I allowed myself to pay attention to details of the various relief/stimulus plans floating around Congress at the moment. After a day or so worth of people of both parties seeming amenable to something straightforward and basic like “let’s send four-figure checks to every man, woman, and child in the country because we are all well and rightly fucked,” it now seems to be devolving into the usual idiotic political battles. Republicans obviously caring more about giant corporations. Democrats far more afraid of being accused of being socialists than they are eager to do the right thing and thus talking about tax credits and means-testing and all manner of qualifications so no Republican can say that they’re not fiscally responsible.

I wrote two paragraphs, in pretty micro-level detail, about why that’s all bad policy, but I deleted it. I don’t want to get too into the political weeds in this diary. It’s all over my Twitter feed and, frankly, I’m trying to keep it out of my mind as much as a person wired like I am can responsibly do. I’m doing my best to just record my feelings and impressions here. So let’s just leave it at this:  Cut checks. Cut them as big as you can. Cut them for every single person in the country, regardless of their income or wealth. If you think it’s unfair for rich people to get one of those checks, claw it back via taxes in 2021, but don’t slow up or gum up the works now. Do it big and do it as soon as possible, because the country is hurtling toward a depression right now and there is no time to waste.

 

After the kids left last night Allison and two of her friends had a FaceTime happy hour:

 

After that Allison and I had some dinner and then watched a James Bond movie. “Skyfall,” which I have seen about 10 times but which Allison had not seen somehow. It’s my favorite Bond flick. Daniel Craig is, in my view, the best Bond, even if only two of the four Bond movies he’s been in are good. “Casino Royale” is pretty great too.

“Skyfall” has an extended segment in which Bond is chasing the bad guy through crowded Underground stations. I instinctively cringed when I saw all of the people crowded together on platforms and cars given what’s going on. This morning I saw this:

 

Not good.

Beyond that, it’s been jarring for me to see any movie in which the US or UK government is shown as competent or serious or that the matters to which they are deeply committed are vital as opposed to the clownery each of them has engaged in the past couple of years.

I’m, pretty obviously, a lefty who has issue with authority and disdain for tradition for tradition’s sake, but my upbringing or disposition (or something) has always caused me to be drawn to institutions. I want to believe in them, really. I want “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and the myth of small town American values to be real, even if I know in my bones they are not. I’m a shameless anglophile who wishes he could look to 1,000 years of shared heritage and say “there will always be an England” or to believe that, if we all just keep a stiff upper lip and our wits about us, we can endure whatever comes our way. All present evidence to the contrary.

Maybe I’ve listen to too many Kinks songs. Maybe it’s why I’m so disappointed by the world.

 

That aside, it was a nice evening, partially because Daniel Craig looks AMAZING kicking people’s asses while wearing Tom Ford suits, but also because we were offline and not obsessing on news or feeding on the anxieties of others or feeding others anxieties of our own. The online/offline battle is one I’ve fought, and mostly lost, for most of the past decade. I think I’m wired to handle it better than a lot of people are — it generally doesn’t impact my moods or distort my thinking as much as I’ve seen it do to others — but I’m more aware of a need to unplug at the moment than usual. At least to the extent that’s possible when our only significant link to the world apart from a trip to the grocery store is a virtual one.

It poured rain last night. Buckets and buckets, with high winds causing it to rattle off the windows. It sounded like machine gun fire peppering the walls of a bunker.

 

 

March 20: The governor has ordered all the barbershops and salons to close. Some people are less affected by these closures than others.

As bald as I am, I actually still do have someone cut my hair. Sure, I could very easily run clippers over the horseshoe around my head or shave it entirely, but there’s something I like about getting a haircut, even if it’s just a buzzcut that takes a couple of minutes. It makes me feel clean and sharp. Self-care, as the kids call it.

I’m wondering what people who actually need to take care of their hair are going to do. I keep thinking of the scene in the Michael Keaton “Batman” when Jack Nicholson’s Joker poisons all of the cosmetics and shampoo and hairspray and stuff, and the newscasters looked like this:

If my scant hair gets a little shaggy I’ll just buzz it myself or shave it off completely and it won’t matter. God only made so many perfect heads. The rest He covered up with hair. Good luck those of you with flaws.

 

Someone put this tweet in my timeline this morning:

That hit around the same time as a Wall Street Journal editorial — and tweets from conservative senators and media figures — saying much the same thing.

My first thought was to dunk on it for being stupid — and it is stupid — but there’s an undercurrent here that I suspect, and I think Ingraham and these other people know, will start to resonate with people soon if it hasn’t already, and it’s very dark.

People will increasingly being to justify, consciously or otherwise, that they are OK with X+Y number of people dying instead of X number of people dying if it means that they can go out to bars and gyms and stuff and resume their normal lives. Certain politicians and media figures will, as here, leverage it, talking about how the economy is paramount. Talking about our mass “overreaction.”

There are always things we have to balance as a society — we could save lives by outlawing cars — but don’t because some measures are unreasonable. Here, however, I do not think we are engaging in much serious balancing at all and our leaders — at least on a national level –have done little to prepare people for any real sacrifice in the face of potentially millions of deaths. Most people think this is a 14-day snow day because that’s what they have basically been told it is. And about a week into it they’re getting antsy, only to have influential people say “yeah, maybe this is all too much.”

Meanwhile, to the extent people are uneasy or afraid, well, that’s being wholly discounted. At a news conference this afternoon an NBC News reporter asked the president, “what do you say to Americans who are scared right now?” Trump said, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question, and I think that’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”

There is nothing to worry about. We have no need to sacrifice. Anyone who suggests this is serious or worrisome is “terrible” and “nasty.”

Maybe it wouldn’t matter if the leaders had impressed upon the populace the seriousness of this. Maybe we simply do not have sacrifice, shared or otherwise, in us as a society anymore. Maybe that quality that got us through two world wars and a depression died with the people who lived through it. I mean, fuck it, we don’t even have basic empathy. We can’t even fake it.

Maybe those instances were the exception, not the rule.

I look at the whole of human history and weigh the number of times when the lives of mostly unseen or unacknowledged victims were seen as cheap vs. the times we’ve practiced mass selflessness, and I fear for what will happen. When there is a choice between money and personal comfort on the one hand, and care for fellow human beings on the other, the money and comfort always wins.

 

To that end: we learned last night that multiple U.S. Senators sold off millions in stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the coronavirus. At least one senator bought stock in a telework company, no doubt having been briefed that social distancing, lockdowns and quarantines were coming. All this while publicly claiming that there was nothing to be worried about or, in some cases, that the whole idea of a pandemic was a “hoax.” They should all go to prison. None of them will. When we go to war, the rich and powerful get more powerful and the poor and weak die. The same happens, apparently, when we’re attacked by viruses.

 

In related news, a person I know has a job in which he goes to people’s houses and offices in the course of his work. His company is still open and is still requiring that he and his coworkers go to work. His fiancé, meanwhile, was asked to self quarantine for two weeks by her employer — who is an actual medical doctor — because of a possible exposure she received. The decidedly non-medical company the guy I know works for says he’s fine, though, and that it’s super unlikely that the virus could pass through 2-3 people and affect anyone he comes into contact with. It’s madness, but there’s money to be made.

 

This evening United Airlines’ CEO threatened big job cuts if the company doesn’t receive “sufficient government support by the end of March.” He didn’t mention, of course, that his airline has spent $11 billion on stock buybacks in the past six years. And that the airline industry as a whole have spent 96% of their free cash flow on stock buybacks in the past decade. That’s money that could’ve been invested in the business. In employees. In rainy day funds which, in an industry particularly susceptible to catastrophic interruption — 9/11, weather events, natural disasters — would have been wise.

The argument for massive CEO salaries, the prioritization of stock price, deregulation, and gigantic tax breaks for businesses is that they “take all the risks” and thus should be rewarded for their bravery in walking out onto the tightrope that is the free market. Yet the moment risk materializes — the moment the slightest adversity presents itself, the moment they even think they might lose their balance — it’s “if you don’t bail us out we’re firing everyone to save our ass.” All of the rewards, none of the risk.

We should do absolutely everything to help workers — workers who are demonized as communists, wanting handouts, or worse when they say they should get any sort of support whatsoever — but to the extent the public has equated “helping workers” with “bailing out businesses that take no responsibility for themselves and their employees whatsoever,” they are are dead wrong. There are other ways to help workers than to give their CEOs bailouts.

Of course we’ll do it. Because America.

 

 

March 21: A number of people I follow have posted about the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-19. I saw someone ask why it didn’t have the sort of cultural impact one might expect given its massive death toll. Why there aren’t as many novels, scholarly works, and poems about it as one sees about wars that kill far fewer. Why there aren’t many memorials and things.

I don’t have a ready answer for that. I suppose we simply notice battlefields, destroyed cities, fallen governments, and collapsed office towers in ways we don’t notice millions dying anonymously at home, in hospitals or in trenches.

One of the odd things about me — inherited from my mother — is that I truly love cemeteries. I like to look at headstones, particularly older ones. It’s not some goth thing or some fascination with the supernatural or the occult. I do not believe in ghosts and I don’t go in for horror movies. I don’t even believe in an afterlife. I simply find graveyards peaceful. They lend themselves to reflection. Not just about death but about life. I have no desire whatsoever to be buried — donate my body to science or throw it on one of those body farms, cremate whatever is left afterward and scatter me where you think I might’ve liked — but If I could live in a house in the middle of a cemetery I would. Dead people don’t crank the bass on their home theater system and don’t forget to bring in their trash cans after the truck comes.

I take long walks pretty often. Six, seven and ten mile walks at times, depending on what kind of shape I’m in. More often than not I’ll route myself through one of the cemeteries around here. There’s a modern, still-in-active use cemetery not too far from me. I tend not to care as much for those. Their sleek, shiny, laser-etched headstones seem a bit much. They’re too elaborate. They try to do too much. Rather than simply mark the resting place of the dead they almost feel like they’re trying to deny death. To animate the body of the person lying underneath them via a photorealistic image of their face, a list of their traits and accomplishments, and a pithy or ambitious quote or what have you. If that’s your thing that’s fine — I’m even less-inclined to tell you how to die than I am to tell you how to live — but something about all that leaves me cold. It puts me in mind of Ozymandias. The dead should live on in the memories of those who loved them. They should not feel the need to get the last word in, which seems like such a petty, mortal concern.

There are a couple of old pioneer cemeteries not much farther away and I like to check them out when my legs allow it. They’re more my style. A simple name and a couple of dates. Maybe a “Father” or “Mother” on the gravestone but that’s about it. The methods and materials they used to carve those things didn’t allow them to hold up to a century or more of weather, so they tend to crumble or fade. Which is fine. I said that the dead should live on in the memories of those who loved them, but the fact is, after a little while, there will be no one left who personally remembered you, let alone loved you. That’s probably an upsetting idea for a lot of people, but it comforts me to know that the world is bigger than the little things which seem so important to us while we live our short lives. Our troubles blow away with the wind and the passage of years. If memory of any one of us does too, that’s OK.

The old headstones don’t all become unreadable, of course. Some are better taken care of than others. Those which faced away from the worst of the weather hold up better. You can still learn a lot about people by looking at them even if they don’t list their job and favorite song lyric. For example, one thing you notice pretty quickly when you walk though those older cemeteries is how many headstones say “Died: 1918” or “Died: 1919” on them. There are oh so many of those.

 

 

My wife owns a horse named Bettlejuice — we just call him Juice — and boards him at a barn 15 miles out in the country from here. The barn sits on 100 acres or so and there are woods and trails and creeks and, rare for Ohio, some hills (“the glacier was kind to us,” Jen, the barn’s owner, told me once). Allison pays a monthly board fee and the people at the barn feed Juice, muck his stall, maintain the property and all of that stuff. She is responsible for the vet and the farrier and any special supplements and things. It’s a pretty standard arrangement for non-rich horse people.

Shelter in place orders or not, you can’t just close a barn. It’s the horses’ house. They still have to eat and drink and they still shit all over the place and if there aren’t people there to take care of it all things would get pretty ugly pretty quickly. Since there is no public-facing part of this barn — you can’t just go up and ask to go for a ride or take lessons or whatever — the barn has remained open. Jen has asked that boarders not come to the barn at a certain time each morning when the small crew of barn workers who feed and muck will be there, but beyond that you can go ride your horse if you want. Or groom him. Or clean your saddle and bridle and stirrups and all of the things you do when you have a horse.

Owning a horse can be a pretty social thing. A lot of women go out to the barn to hang out with their friends, ride together, take a group lesson, drink some wine in the tack room if it’s cold or, on nice evenings, outside. Almost all of Allison’s local friends are people she’s met through riding so she does a good bit of that. Last Labor Day I took my smoker out there and made chicken and ribs for a few dozen people. I go out there and hike on the trails while she rides Juice and afterwards have a beer with one of the other horse husbands, as we’re called. All of that stuff is, quite obviously, out of the question during the pandemic.

Owning a horse can, however, be a pretty solitary pursuit if you want it to be. And while Allison enjoys meeting up with her friends out there she’s pretty introverted by nature. A great deal of her barn time is alone time, by design. She’ll groom Juice, clean tack, and enjoy a couple of hours of not having to answer phones or deal with people. She’s a confident rider, so unlike some horse owners, she’s not afraid to go out on the trails by herself. I think she enjoys that time more than almost anything she does.

It’s cold today, but Allison went out to the barn anyway. She, like everyone else in the country, needs some time out of the house right about now. She wasn’t the only one who had that idea, though, and a couple of her friends showed up too. Oh no! What do you do when you’re not supposed to be hanging out with friends?

Social distancing, equestrian-style. That’s Juice in the foreground. Hi, Juice.

 

I need my own time too. An my own space.

I have, one actually, but no one has ever seen it. It’s a fantasy space to which I often retreat in my mind. An imaginary physical space in which I picture myself actually inhabiting when I’m trying to solve a problem, work through some piece I’m writing or simply trying to think. It’s a house or an apartment, a pretty small one, that is minimalistically furnished. Impossibly so, in fact. No one could ever live in it if, for no other reason, than I’ve never seen its bathroom or kitchen, even if they are suggested in the periphery. My space has a chair — the style changes —  a side table, a book shelf and that’s about it. There’s natural light coming in. I cannot impress upon you how literally I actually inhabit that space when I withdraw into my mind for whatever reason.

I enter and exit my other home pretty seamlessly most of the time, because most of the time I’m alone. Suddenly having someone else working here plus the kids being here all day, however, has made me realize how often I do it and how difficult it can be to reach me when I’m in there. In not wanting to seem distant, I’ve found myself going in and out of there more often, for shorter periods. Maybe just standing in the entryway rather than sitting down in the chair. I don’t know if, in doing so, I’m serving either of my homes particularly well, but it’s been a bit better as the week has gone on.

The other home is not just someplace I can be alone, though. Its minimalism is important to me. My state of mind is tied pretty closely — probably too closely — to how neat and orderly my environment is, and even in my real home I tend to do better, think better, and I’m more happy when things are neat, clean and in their place. It’s not an obsessive thing — I can function fine amid a mess if need be — but my brain just functions better and my mind is calmer when the house is clean.

There was a time a few years ago when my need for solitude, order and cleanliness was far worse. I let it interfere with my life far more than I should have and it created a great deal of issues for me. I was seeing a therapist about other issues at the time, and this all came up, though I didn’t reveal the existence of that second home, even to her. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever revealed it to anyone, my wife included. Congratulations, you’re the first to know about it.

My therapist said that my issues with order and neatness were an understandable reaction to having experienced a couple of things in life that took me by surprise or were out of my control. Probably a more healthy reaction than they might’ve been given that the only thing I’m doing with this is trying to control my own mental state as opposed to larger circumstances or, even worse, other people. She found it a bit paradoxical, and actually found it somewhat amusing that, as it relates to the greater world, I’m someone who believes that the universe is a big, uncontrollable and unpredictable place and that you have to generally roll with the punches. We never talked about death, but the whole bit above about me embracing the idea of mortality and finding comfort in the world forgetting us relatively quickly would probably have made her howl.

She did, however, tell me that I need to learn to live with messes, physical and mental ones, from time to time. That it was OK to leave an unresolved thought for later and to wait until the next morning to do the dishes. Especially when other people are around and I need to be mentally present. I still struggle with that at times, but as I said, I’m better. When I struggle with it I’m at least aware of it.

Still, when Allison went to the barn today I took the opportunity. I cleaned and straightened and organized my real house. And then I sat down on the couch, put my computer on my lap and materialized in my other house. A few hours later and everything was in its right place. In both places.

 

 

 

March 22: Today Ohio announced a total shelter-in-place order. A lockdown. Essential services and businesses stay open, but that’s it. I’m glad they did it. It’s the only way to get near this, even if getting ahead of it is too late. I’ve lived in Ohio for almost 30 years and “pride” is not a thing I’ve felt about it often, but I continue to be proud of what our state is trying to do.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has likewise gotten high marks for his handling of the pandemic in his state. New York has been hit harder than any state so far, so he’s really working from deep in a hole. Cuomo has been giving daily briefings notable for their plain, candid statements and straightforward orders and recommendations that health experts say are wise. Not everyone is listening to him — a packed farmer’s market in Brooklyn made the news yesterday, with hundreds of people in close quarters, browsing while sipping coffee — but it’s been a strong performance overall.

Today Cuomo said that the pandemic and our response to it is going to last “four, six, nine months” and that it’s “not a short-term situation.”

Just as I’m happy about what Ohio is doing, I am glad Cuomo is taking this seriously. But I worry that leaders saying and doing what the leaders of Ohio and New York are doing is going to cause a huge backlash. I worry that people — and, more importantly, other leaders — will react negatively to such dire measures in such a dire situation and that they will agitate for a premature return to normality that will needlessly kill people.

I don’t know what to do about that. I just fear that, in the aggregate, we do not care enough about others as a society. That we do not care enough to disrupt our lives or the economy beyond a minimal threshold. Indeed, my worst fears about human nature center on this.

It’s been, what, ten days? Eleven days? And people are already freaking out. People are already asking when things will go back to normal. Soon they will start demanding it. Soon weak leaders — and almost every single one of our leaders have earned that descriptor — will cave in. Or, maybe more likely, they’ll attempt to capitalize on people’s fears and anxieties and will do whatever they can to give the populace an easy, palatable answer. I fear it won’t take the economy cratering, banks and lenders trying to collect, food supplies getting interrupted, or small amounts of unrest popping up. It will merely take the suggestion of those things happening, I fear, before society, in the aggregate, says “that’s enough,” and demands we go back to normal. I fear that there will be no shortage of mayors, governors, congressmen and even the president who will accommodate that demand. I fear that they will relent, or worse, will lie to us about where we are and what we’re facing and that it will cause a spike in sickness and death. People will demand an easy answer and no shortage of politicians will rush to give it to them.

When that happens and we do return to that status quo, thousands — possibly millions depending on what projections you believe — will die. Their deaths won’t be covered like the deaths are being covered now. Those people will die quietly and anonymously as we pivot to election coverage or the “inspirational” return of baseball or football or what have you. The band will play on.

Why wouldn’t it? It’s happened before. Ours is a society that came up with the notion of “acceptable losses” in the event of nuclear war. Ours is a society that has collectively chosen to watch the planet heat up and burn rather than take even minimal steps to prevent it. We will be forced to make a choice, sooner than you think, between being able to eat-in at a Panera and keeping strangers from dying. I predict that we won’t even blink as we reach for the Bacon Turkey Bravo.

 

I recently started doing two things that are helping me get through all of this more easily. They’re good practices for normal life as well as life in a pandemic. They’re things I should’ve been doing a long time ago, actually, but here we are.

The first: I’ve ratcheted back on my drinking a tad.

This might seem counterintuitive to some people, as stressful times and more fluid schedules tend to encourage, rather than discourage, drinking, but it makes all sorts of sense to me. For one thing, I enjoy a drink — usually evening bourbon, at home — and the last thing I want it to become is some sort of medicine or balm or crutch. It’s a pleasure for me, and if I’m reaching for a drink for purposes other than pleasure, something is going wrong.

For another thing, when times are stressful, the most important thing you can possibly do is get a good night’s sleep. You can’t control the world, but you can control how prepared you are to deal with it, and nothing prepares you better for dealing with the world than being well-rested. I have found, however, that while one evening bourbon is a very enjoyable thing for me, that the second one, a good bit of the time, interferes with my sleep to some degree. I don’t get drunk and I don’t feel hung over or anything — I really am a quiet, stay-at-home, wake up early boring kind of guy — but I don’t dream as deeply or wake up as sharp after that second one, so I’ve cut it out recently. It has paid pretty immediate dividends.

Despite all of the anxiety flowing through the world right now — and despite how much of it I, a guy who tends not to have anxiety issues, has felt — I have slept very well lately. Last night I slept so deeply that I was able to do something I have never been able do: I was actually able to control what happened in a dream. I was looking at a man and I was aware, in the moment, that I was dreaming. I started to make him do what I wanted him to just by thinking it. Wink your right eye. Tip your cap. Smile. Frown. Maybe other people can do this all the time, but I can’t. When I woke up — much later than I usually wake up, even on a Sunday — I felt fully restored. And I felt a deep sense of peace. Maybe that has nothing to do with a 50% reduction in the amount of bourbon I drink, but it’s pretty damn notable and, my God, is it welcome.

The second thing I’m doing: I roast a chicken every Sunday night and make stock and soup on Monday.

We cook at home a lot as it is. We’re not amateurs. But we’ve never been the types to do things like your grandma did. We’re less efficient — more driven by neat recipe ideas and idealistic notions of what good food is than what is always optimal — than we should be. A month or two ago, though, we just felt like roasting a chicken and the next day I just felt like making stock and soup, old-school style. I don’t imagine that food disruptions will become a chronic issue going forward, but there’s something satisfying about getting three or four meals out of a cheap fryer chicken, some root vegetables and some herbs. Between this and my habit of making a giant vat of white bean, black bean, or lentil soup every week and eating them for lunches every day, I almost feel like I’m a quarter-way prepared for a depression if it comes, even if I do not, under any circumstances want it to come.

 

Yesterday I talked about my long walks. I took one this morning. It was cold, but I layered. It was only four miles, but I’m working back into it. I still managed a decent circuit of my little town. It was a lot emptier than it usually is, even for a Sunday morning. Far fewer cars passed me by than usual as I made my way around. The church parking lots were empty and the Sunday brunch spots were closed. I didn’t make it to any of the graveyards near me, but I still felt like I was walking among the dead.

Putting that Radiohead song in yesterday’s entry inspired me to listen to “Kid A” again as I walked. It’s been a long time since I gave that one a spin. I didn’t care for it when it came out given how much of a departure it was from what they had been doing, but I’ve found a new appreciation for it of late. Vultures circling the dead, you know. Floating out into the ether on sonic textures has a much greater appeal to me now than it did even a few weeks ago. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a hike to “Amnesiac.”

Walking. Sleeping well. Eating well. Taking care of ourselves. Those are things we can try to do, even if everything else is out of our control.

March 23: I went grocery shopping for my parents this morning.

I had called them yesterday to tell them that I was going out to do a little shopping myself. They made me a list and gave me their credit card, using our “leave it on the porch/text when I leave” system. I headed out a little before 7am. I wasn’t sure about the store hours as a lot of them have changed, offering an early hour for older people to shop in an effort to limit their interaction with others. When I got to Kroger I discovered that their senior hour was 7-8, so I left. Probably should have checked first. Giant Eagle wasn’t far away and their senior hour was from 6-7 so I went there. My phone said it was 6:55 when I got to the door. I stood there to wait a bit.

“You can come on in, we’re open” a store worker said. She was probably in her late 60s or early 70s.

“No, that’s OK,” I said. I pointed to the sign. “I’ll wait a couple of minutes.” A guy in his 30s had walked up right behind me and said he’d happily wait a minute or two as well.

“We’re not carding anyone,” the worker said. “It’s fine.” She waved her hand, beckoning us into the store. It was turning into a standoff.

The guy in his 30s and I looked at each other. We both walked in. I don’t suppose it made any difference — there were some older people checking out, but the produce section just beyond the entrance was mostly empty. I kept my distance from anyone and just went on with my shopping.

I got the few items I needed, including a six-pack of toilet paper, praise the gods. It was on a portable rack up front with a “limit 1” sign. The rack was empty not long after I got mine, but I’m going go choose to see that as a step toward sanity reemerging.

I texted my dad to tell him I was on my way to his house with his stuff. He heard me pull up and stood behind his glass storm door as I dropped the bags on the porch.

“Did you get everything? He asked.

“No, they were out of Cascade. I have some at home if you need it.”

“No, that’s OK, we’ll be fine for a while.” he said.

“I actually got some toilet paper!” I said, proud of myself.

“Make it last. Use both sides!” he said.

At least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor in all of this.

 

I went home and began my working day. After writing a couple of articles I read the news and saw that what I was worried about yesterday — an increasing agitation in favor of a return to normality — was coalescing into an official talking point today.

The President said “the cure cannot be worse than the disease itself,” referring to the economic consequences of lockdowns and quarantines. He’s transparently pushing the conversation toward a resumption of a normal economy, whatever the cost.

I get that there are rational reasons to be concerned about the economy — I am concerned myself — but his take on this is not a function of a rational balance of harms presented by fighting the pandemic on the one hand and protecting people’s economic interests on the other. He simply fears that high unemployment and a tanked stock market will harm his reelection chances and his legacy. He’s worried about business and about himself. Those are the only things he has a track record of worrying about.

After taking that in I tweeted something about the concern I have about my parents and vulnerable people like them dying if we do not take anti-pandemic measures seriously. Someone responded to me by reminding me that, “if the economy goes bad, sports bloggers will be among the first to feel it.” I guess that’s supposed to make me change my mind about my parents dying. It’s crazy for anyone not to have their own personal economic well-being as their top priority, apparently.

 

Not that my feelings on it matter that much. The fact that the president’s general sentiment was voiced by an increasing number of people as the day wore on makes it pretty clear to me that we’re going to quarter or eighth-ass this thing for another week — two, maximum — before we start pretending that everything is fine. Before countless people die needlessly because we, as a country, value money more than people’s lives and consider the deaths of people we don’t know to be mere abstractions. Seventeen days ago a conservative commentator went on CNBC and said that it’d be better to give everyone in the country coronavirus because doing so would kill the same number of people but make it blow over faster and harm the economy less. He was roundly mocked and criticized. Now his is, essentially, The Voice of American Pandemic Policy.

Or maybe it’s even worse than that:

I guess, at bottom, I’m not surprised that we’ve reached the point where people are deciding that millions need to die to save businesses. I will admit, though, that I am surprised that it only took about a week and a half to get there.

 

I have a friend who went through some marriage problems many, many years ago. We talked a lot back then as his marriage was crumbling about how he could fix it. About how they could fix it. We were both pretty young and pretty optimistic guys back then and to us it was simply a problem to be solved. And it would be solved, we thought. Inevitably. Failure was not an option.

One day he sent me an email in which he described an epiphany he had. I’ve lost it someplace, but the gist of it has always stuck with me:

“You’re watching an old western and the hero in the white hat has his horse shot out from under him. He falls, he rolls, and — oh no! — he goes over the side of a cliff. But wait! He grabs the cliff’s edge with one hand! He’s hanging there. Certain doom below him! Your first thought is, ‘how is he going to get out of this one?’ And you wait to see how, exactly he gets out of this one. Except . . . real life isn’t like that. There is no script. There is no assured happy ending. Sometimes you lose your grip and you fall and you die.”

He and his wife split up and divorced not long after that.

We, by default, center ourselves in our own narratives. We are the main characters of the novel of our lives. The star of the movie. The cowboy hanging off that cliff. And because of that we tend to assume that we will overcome conflicts and triumph in the end. It’s very difficult for us to process it not going that way.

Hell, we can’t even picture it not going that way in a movie. Ever see “No Country for Old Men?” When the putative hero dies midway through after giving a defiant “I’m going to win!” speech? For all of the violence in that movie, the most jarring part of it was that, actually, the hero often doesn’t win and in the end he didn’t even matter. He was just someone who did some stuff and the rest of the story passed him by and went elsewhere.

We think of our civilization in the same terms as we think of heroes in a story. We assume that we live at the pinnacle of human advancement and that ours is a story of final triumph. This is especially true for Americans. If you are a citizen of the global hegemon, it’s almost impossible to think that you can do wrong as a society. You assume that what you’re doing is righteous by default. If it wasn’t, how would you have become the alpha dog in the first place? And if what you’re doing is righteous, everything will turn out OK in the end.

All of which brings me to something one of my oldest friends said to me the other day. She’s a historian. She said this:

 

“I often think about the Bronze Age Collapse and compare it to the current situation. What I have come to think is that living through a civilization collapse sucks, but sometimes what comes out on the other side is better than what came before. We would not have had Athenian democracy — in the limited sense they used the word — if not for the Bronze Age collapse.

Perhaps the current paradigm of generating wealth for the wealthy through the exploitation of humans and the environment can only change through a complete collapse of the current system, which may come about from a pandemic during a time of irrational leadership. Maybe whatever rises from the ashes will be more equitable and sustainable.

“But boy will it suck to live through it.”

 

There’s nothing written that says we will win. There’s nothing cast in stone establishing that America is righteous or that it will last, either as we know it or in an absolute sense. We can yank the steering wheel and drive our country into the ditch. We seem pretty intent on doing that, actually.

If we do, the road crew will haul away the wreckage and traffic will resume.

 

March 24: I got over eight hours of deep sleep last night but my dreams were filled with all sorts of special-order-for-me anxieties. In an uninterrupted vignette, I realized I was late for a flight.  As I began to pack, I found a puppy in a carrier in my closet which no one had told me about and, while it was OK, it needed my help immediately. I sorted that and got to the airport where they somehow let me on the plane, but not before doing a medical exam in which they had to touch my eyes repeatedly.

Being late for things, having my eyes touched, and pets in peril are all top-tier everyday-life anxieties of mine, so kudos to you, brain.

 

Most of the closures we’ve experienced have been a function of peer and social pressure. The NBA closed so Major League Baseball followed suit. Schools closed, so work went remote. Relatively little of it was accomplished via direct government action. Most states have yet to issue actual shutdown orders. It’s mostly been recommendations and people doing what other people are doing.

The Great Reopening we seem hellbent on setting into motion will likely work that way too.

Neither Donald Trump nor the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board can demand that your private office go back to on-site working, but once they suggest the idea and put it into public circulation — as they have, with gusto, in the past 48 hours — the most craven business leaders out there will demand it and will do so. After they do others, realizing they’re at a competitive disadvantage and that there is no significant help coming from the government, will fall in line. Eventually continuing safe practices and social distancing will be so comparatively harmful to those who do it that even the conscientious ones will stop. They’ll give some masks to workers and they’ll hang some signs reminding people to wash their hands, but business will resume, as usual.

Of course, well before we get to that point, the piecemeal breaking of social distancing will have caused its collective health benefits to largely erode, rendering the efforts of businesses and employers who want to continue to isolate functionally pointless. This is a commons problem and we’re in the process of failing it. It’s only a matter of time before our failure is official.

It will become official as deaths and illnesses spike, but I suspect that spike will go relatively unnoticed and ignored on a macro scale. They will affect millions directly but, from a national perspective, they will be pushed below the fold. At most they’ll be individualized in feature stories about notable people and touching personal essays chronicling particular and personal losses, but the vast majority of suffering will happen off-screen and off-page. I’ve talked with people who are convinced that all of those deaths and hospitalizations will disrupt things terribly, but you’ll never go wrong betting on our country’s ability to muffle the screams of those on whom it is stomping. Or its ability to monetize, mythologize and minimize their suffering. Today the stock market went up 2,000 points because the president signaled that protecting the health of the country was dumb. There’s a lesson in there about this country.

Of course we’ll continue to playact empathy. There will be touching gestures and human interest stories. There will be paeans to the bravery of doctors and nurses. It will all be sewn into the fabric of a larger myth about how we as a nation, “beat” COVID-19. When the NFL opens its season in the fall the giant American flag will be held by doctors and nurses in their scrubs, with the National Anthem playing just after a moment of silence for our brave heroes who “fought and triumphed” over the coronavirus pandemic. The numbers — assuming they’re not fudged — will tell a different story. A story that is not read by many.

I wish that none of that were true, but I also wish I could bet millions on it happening almost exactly like that.

I further wish I could say that Donald Trump is wrong in the calculation he’s making in this regard, but in this case I think he’s displaying an unusual amount of savvy. He has his finger’s on the nation’s pulse with this one. He knows that, on balance, the country wants this. He knows that most Americans, though they’d never say it out loud, are content to sign the death warrants of the most sick, frail and vulnerable among us if it means not being asked to make any significant sacrifices past Easter. By the time this is over our country will have given up sports and some nights out for Lent, but after that most of us will celebrate the resurrection of the economy.

 

I took another walk this evening. As I mentioned the other day, I like to walk through cemeteries. A short stroll through the one closest to me sent some Spanish Flu vibes my way:

 

The living can lie. They can deceive others and themselves. But the dead tell the truth.

 

Allison and I decided that we wanted the kids to keep something of a normal schedule rather than revert to the up-all-night, sleep-all-day thing they do during summer vacation. We don’t expect them to wake up at 6AM like they would when school is in session, but we thought it reasonable that they wake up, generally, in the morning and go to sleep, generally at night. Midnight to 8, maybe. Nothing too onerous. Just in the name of structure.

Whenever we try to impose anything like that, we get pushback. Especially from Carlo, who reverses his schedule on a four-day weekend — staying up all night playing games and dicking around online with friends — not just in the summer. I was prepared for a big fight upon suggesting it.

But it didn’t happen. They both said OK, that’s fine, and pretty quickly agreed to it. This morning, when I checked on them at 8, they were both awake.

It might be one of the more startling things to have happened in all of this so far.

 

March 25: There was a TV movie that came out when I was nine years-old called “Special Bulletin.” The premise: a terrorist group brings a homemade atomic bomb into the Charleston, South Carolina harbor aboard a tugboat and threatens to blow it up if their demands — complete U.S. disarmament — are not met. The whole movie was shot on videotape, not film, and was portrayed as a live newscast. In the end the bomb explodes, devastating the city. They cop out a bit by saying most of the city evacuated and it killed “only” 2,000, but that felt tacked-on, perhaps by network executives. The thing played out like mass horror and death and it scared the living fuck out of me. Even reading the synopsis of it just now, 37 years later, I (a) remember even the smallest details; and (b) feel profoundly uneasy.  I have no idea why my parents let me watch it.

In addition to spiking an already growing anxiety I had about nuclear war, “Special Bulletin” made me wonder what, exactly, would happen if, short of nuclear war, a single American city was destroyed by a nuclear weapon in a terrorist attack or in an accident. I wondered how, beyond its initial death and destruction, it would impact everyday life elsewhere around the country and around the world. It’s a thought that has come and gone throughout my life. Sometimes, as in the wake of 9/11, the thought was at the forefront. Other times it’s been something I go months or even years without thinking too much about.

What’s happening now is certainly nothing like that in form, and comparisons between a pandemic and an isolated nuclear accident or attack aren’t particularly apt for a host of reasons. But CDC worst-case estimates of deaths due to the pandemic are something like 1.7 million, and some people say the CDC is underestimating. That’s nuclear-scale destruction or more so. And when I imagine the second-order effects of my “Special Bulletin” scenario — how the country would react, what it would mean for our national psyche, our way of life and, yes, even our economy — I can’t help but think that what’s going on these days and what will happen in the coming months might match it or even exceed it in the aggregate, even if there is not a single moment of death and terror.

A bomb going off in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina would be a calamity of historic proportions, but — and let’s be honest about it — how would it change life in Los Angeles in a concrete way? Would hundreds of millions of people be thrust into fear and anxiety that they or their loved ones might be next? Would they be forced to isolate and disrupt their daily lives? Would millions lose their jobs? Meanwhile, hardly anyone in the country will go untouched by the pandemic, either because they will get sick and possibly die themselves, because they will lose someone close to them, have someone they know lose someone close to them or become one of the many psychological or economic casualties of the pandemic’s secondary effects. The death and destruction will not be as instantaneous or immediately and visibly traumatic, but in the end, there will be just as many if not more funerals and it will personally touch so many more.

The pandemic, like the Spanish Flu before it, will not make the sort of cultural impact that wars, disasters, or imaginary TV-movie-inspired scenarios do. But it will leave a broad, deep and multifaceted legacy that will be felt for generations. A legacy with which I don’t think we are even beginning to truly reckon.

 

My kids both have a full slate of class assignments as they’re home from school. Online learning with actual, verifiable deadlines. In form, the assignments seem to be pretty academically rigorous and hew pretty closely to things they’d be doing in school, but in volume things are a lot lighter. They have a couple hours worth of work to do a day, no mandatory lectures or class time, and thus way more free time than usual. Which is to say, it shouldn’t be hard for them to finish their work.

I got an email from my son’s geometry teacher this morning, however, revealing that he had only turned in one of three assignments so far. That upset me for obvious reasons, but the fact that he didn’t do the assignments was actually third on the list of things that upset me.

Second on the list was the fact that he lied to me when I asked him if he had done all of his work. That, actually, would almost always be first on this list but it wasn’t this time. No, first on the list was the fact that the teacher’s email was not written as a straightforward reminder or even a gentle scolding for work not done. To the contrary, it was couched in worry. As in, she was genuinely concerned about Carlo. Concerned that maybe he or someone in his family was not healthy. She was truly inquiring as to whether things were OK at home. An interim reminder email — just to him, not to me — had gone unanswered by him, making it worse.

I explained to Carlo that everyone has so much to be stressed about right now without us giving them more to be stressed about. Teachers’ lives are just as uprooted as everyone else’s, and they are being asked to do things now that they never expected that they’d have to do. We have to acknowledge that. We have to acknowledge that everyone is struggling right now to some extent and we have to try harder to meet everyone halfway. More than halfway if we can. We can’t leave people hanging or uncertain, even in the smallest ways.

I hope he took what I told him to heart. I hope everyone takes that notion to heart.

 

This keeps happening:

As a friend said, “This is what happens when you reduce the entire identity of a nation to an economy backed by a military.” Whatever it is, the ghouls who have turned this into a talking point and anyone who buys into should be ostracized from society.

The most perverse part of this is that these people are increasingly couching this sentiment in the same terms one might talk about the “sacrifice” of the World War II era. Some have said that specifically. Nowhere in all of this do they seem to acknowledge that the primary sacrifice of the World War II era on the home front, as opposed to soldiers dying in actual battle, was the willing sacrifice of material goods for the greater good. There was rationing. There were shortages. They lasted many years, people were expected to endure them, and they did. This push for the elderly to die is premised on the alleged need to return to our typical material consumption patterns as soon as possible. For people to pay the ultimate price so we can go to the mall or take in a Lakers game.

 

Someone more humane and thoughtful than Brit fucking Hume is Nick Cave. An artist I’ve long loved and admired and who has a periodic newsletter called the Red Hand Files in which he shares frequently wonderful and profound insights. From today’s entry:

A friend called our new world ‘a ghost ship’ — and maybe she is right. She has recently lost someone dear to her and recognises acutely the premonitory feeling of a world about to be shattered — and that we will need to put ourselves back together again, not only personally, but societally. In time we will be given the opportunity to either contract around the old version of ourselves and our world — insular, self-interested and tribalistic — or understand the connectedness and commonality of all humans, everywhere. In isolation, we will be presented with our essence — of what we are personally and what we are as a society. We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard.

To be sure, Cave says that time is later — he wrote this as a windup to bashing that awful celebrity “Imagine” video I talked about last week — and that, for now, it’s about survival and doing what needs to be done to get through this crisis. Even so, I am glad that someone is thinking beyond themselves and their wallet at the moment. I’m especially glad it is someone who, unfortunately, knows first-hand about untimely loss and tragedy. Listen to people who know of what they speak. Not blithering idiots who call themselves Christians but who are literally asking us to sacrifice people’s lives on the altar of Mammon.

 

I took another long walk tonight. My third in four days. This one was five and a half miles. It was much warmer today, springlike and sunny, so there were a lot more people out than there have been of late. A lot more people than there are even on nice days in the spring and summer, actually. A lot of walkers. Joggers. People riding bikes. And not just the usual types with nice workout gear and stuff. A lot of them were clearly people who don’t get out like this much. Entire families walking together. Middle aged couples who broke out the old three-speeds they haven’t ridden in years. I even passed by a house with hopscotch squares laid out in chalk on the sidewalk.

I mentally squinted and it sort of felt like what I imagine 1955 was like. I mentally squinted and it almost felt like we’ll make it through this if we get enough warm sunny days.

 

March 26: A person I know is pretty sick. I’m not sure if they have coronavirus, but earlier in the week they said they thought they had it. They live in a state where testing is not widely available yet and they aren’t in what we’ve been told are the vulnerable groups, so they’re just guessing. They seem OK for now, but the only thing anyone seems to know is just how little we all know about all of this.

Another person I know happens to be an infectious disease doctor and researcher. We’ve never met in person but we had tentative plans to do so around Memorial Day. He told me today that “few credible thinkers believe we’ll be out of this mess by late May,” so his travel and our dinner plans are out the window. If that’s all we lose, good for us, but it likely won’t be all we lose. All of us, eventually, will know someone or will be someone affected by this directly, medically. Most of them/us will get better and be fine. Some won’t. I don’t think most of us are prepared for that yet. For most of us it’s still a thing that’s happening “out there” and is not yet happening to us or close to us.

We live in a time in which may of us live isolated lives. That’s partially attributable to the general alienation of our age, but some of it is by choice and design. A lot of us — maybe most of us — lead relatively singular and individualized lives due to the way in which we are taught to conceive of ourselves or in the way in which we present ourselves. We have social media identities. We’ve been told we’re unique and special for most of our lives. We live an individual sort of existence, not a collective or communal existence, even if we are surrounded by a lot of people. We’re all at one of those silent raves with the headphones on, dancing on our own amidst a big crowd while not really connecting with it.

I’m not one of those people who decry this development — we are what we are and, despite what some say, there are some benefits to that mode of humanity — but I do think it causes us to miss or even be willingly blind to the suffering of others. I don’t think it prepares us well for death at all. When you write your own script, as so many of us do or at least think we do, and an element of tragedy enters the plot in a place we did not expect it to, it throws the story off the rails. So many of us are about to discover that we’re far from being the sole authors of our lives.

 

I did my best to detach today. At least for me. I read the news and tweeted some angry and intemperate things, but less so than usual. What I tried very hard to do was to not get sucked down into the muck and the darkness of the news, particularly on social media. Yes, information lives in that muck and information is important, but so too is the maintenance of one’s mental health. It’s become cliche advice by now, but in a time when we’re all stuck at home, living online more than we ever have before, it’s important to step away from the scroll. From the news. From everyone else’s anxiety which, in turn, increases our own. Take a break now and then. The darkness will still be there tomorrow.

 

There’s a man named Dave who has been reading my stuff for a while. He reached out to me last year before taking a road trip that took him through West Virginia and, knowing I am from West Virginia, asked for some travel tips. I gave him some and we had a couple of pleasant exchanges. A few weeks later I received a package in the mail containing a book that Dave, based on reading stuff I wrote, knew would be up my alley, a minor league team t-shirt that he also knew would be up my alley, and a bottle of bourbon, the brand of which I had mentioned in passing as one of my favorites and which I could not get in Ohio. Which was definitely up my alley. It was a wonderful thing for him to do. Since then we have exchanged some missives back and forth.

This morning I heard the UPS man stop out front. I went out and there was a box, again from Dave, containing another bottle of that hard-for-me-to-get bourbon. Inside he put a note thanking me “for the writings, insights, and correspondence” and wishing my family and me good health. We exchanged emails again today. Dave has not just been sending weird hermit writers bourbon. He has been helping in his community with food banks and providing assistance to restaurant servers who are out of work (Dave’s daughter, in another city, is a server who has found herself in the same predicament). Dave is modest about all of that — he says it’s not much — but if his generosity of spirit is any indication, he’s doing great things.

It’s hard to avoid everything that is negative right now because, basically, everything is negative, but looking at positive things and positive people for even a brief time helps.

 

March 27: There’s a thing going around in which people are putting teddy bears in their windows. The idea is that families at home with small children don’t have much to do except to go out for walks, and by putting bears in the windows it gives little kids something to search for while out and about. I don’t own an American flag to fly on my house and I am not about to get involved in one of those neighborhood singalongs, but I’ll do the bear thing.

Carlo still has all of his old stuffed animals in the back of his closet. I had him get one of his old bears and we put it in the window. I hadn’t seen the one he found since he was a very little kid, but I instantly remembered it. Almost choked up a bit when I saw it, in fact, wondering where time has gone. Since then we’ve heard a few toddlers and preschoolers shout “look! bear!” It’s felt nice to do something that brings someone a tiny bit of joy, be it a kid or a parent who desperately, desperately needs some time outside.

All of that — and so much more of this — makes me thankful that I don’t have small children right now. I have a special set of anxieties about having teenagers as the world seems to crumble. I worry about what is happening to their hope for the future and whether that feeling I had as a teenager that the world was filled with possibilities for me feels impossible to them. But on a day-to-day basis, hoo-boy, I can only imagine how hard it is to have a small child who can’t play with other kids, go to school, go to day care or what have you. I loved my kids when they were little and often miss that part of their lives, but I remember being pretty constantly exhausted back then too. There’s a lot of sitting on the floor. A lot of sore knees. A lot of crafts and games and, while I’d read, color, draw and play with toys with them for hours on end and not get tires, I never had a ton of patience for crafts and games for some reason. There was a lot of TV and video content that drove me absolutely insane, even if I always did my best to play and watch along.

Whatever the case, it has to be really hard for young parents right now and tonight I pour one out for those of you with three year-olds. And I can pour one out quite easily. I don’t have to bathe my kids, help them brush their teeth, and put them to bed. I can just tell ’em to get lost, daddy is having a drink and watching “Peaky Blinders.”

 

My wife’s office had a video happy hour at 4:30. At 5:30 she jumped on a video call for a drink and a chat with a friend of hers from Texas. We’re tentatively planning on having video cocktails with some new friends of ours on Sunday evening. Social distancing is weird in certain respects, but I almost feel like we’re doing more socializing now than we were before. When you actually have to go out and meet people there are a dozen reasons to bail and, in fact, you tend to look for those reasons at times. When the bar is so low — just sit in front of the computer — it’s way less of an ordeal. I doubt this is the future of personal interaction for most people, but I bet it’s a more popular version of it after this is all over than it was before.

 

I checked in with my mom again tonight to see if they needed anything. Nothing pressing, but if I happened to be out and I found some flour, some sweet onions, and some Cascade, they’d appreciate it. She also asked if I had any 500 or 1000-piece puzzles laying around, as she’s getting bored.

On the one hand this made me a little sad, as I don’t like to think of my parents sitting in the house getting bored. On the other hand, it’s good evidence that they have, in fact, been staying inside the house. Which is something I still sort of wonder about in the back of my mind.

I know they are taking the pandemic seriously — they are well aware that their lives depend on that — but the two of them have been married for 53 years and have not, for a second, relied on anyone else other than themselves in that time. They eloped when my mom was 18 and have never so much as lived in the same town as extended family since 1967. Until my mom quit Home Depot in advance of the pandemic she had always worked. Their being near me now is mostly a function of them wanting to be near my kids when they were younger but if it wasn’t for that they’d likely be living in an RV on a mountaintop someplace.

No matter what it is they are doing or where they are doing it, they have always been an independent and self-contained two-person unit. My dad wakes up at 4am and goes to 24-hour stores at 5am or hardware stores at 6 when the contractors are coming in before jobs. My mom’s default “I have nothing to do” thing is to get in the car and go shopping. Not for clothes or knickknacks, but for, like, a jar of Worcestershire sauce. Indeed, I think she parcels out her grocery list and gets things one at a time just so she has things to do. I can only imagine that this is driving them nuts to have to ask me to bring them sweet onions or dish soap. So nuts that they need puzzles.

Carlo does puzzles pretty often, so I had him gather whatever ones he had in his room that he had already done so I could give them to his grandmother. He found a 500-piece Keith Haring print, a 500-piece M.C. Escher print, and a 750-piece ye olde map of the world. He said the Escher one might be missing a piece or three. I debated not telling my mom that because part of me thinks that her being driven crazy wondering why she can’t finish the puzzle would be hilarious. Hell, maybe it’d be good for her. Keep the mind agile, and whatnot.

I told her, though. If we all make it through this pandemic I don’t want her to kill me.

 

A Facebook ad appeared today for sweatpants, geared specifically to people being forced to stay at home:

 

I tweeted about how, unlike most Facebook ads, it was pretty well-taken. The company responded:

 

A few other people chimed in:

I went and looked and the damn things are $78. For starters. They have some that are $98. I’m trying to imagine what makes any pair of sweatpants worth $78, even now, in an age in which sweatpants are the new workwear. Any feature I try to imagine that would justify a pair of sweatpants costing $78 would probably be illegal in most states.

That said, I do sort of feel like they should send me a pair on the house given that I apparently sent them some business via my free ad. If you’re reading this, Mack Weldon executives, I wear 34/32 jeans — but wouldn’t mind an extra inch or two for loungewear — and I prefer blues and grays in most things, so like, whatever works on your end.

 

March 28: A reader asked me a question this morning that, while as dire as all-get-out, made me reflect a bit about how boned we are as a society. And to question whether, in fact, we are boned. Or if we can even know that.

The question:

“The Easter Island inhabitants are purported to have deforested their island which led to their demise. I’m interested in their decision making process that led them to cut down the very last tree. What overarching need made them decide to cut it down? Was it for food, for building a boat, making warfare? Is America in a similar place vis-a-vis the “tipping point”? Are we almost ready to cut down our last metaphorical tree (i.e. healthcare, the elderly, at-risk individuals, etc.) or do we still have time? Is our leadership able to do that or will they be the ones putting gas in the chainsaw?”

 

Based on random things I remember from anthropology classes in college, the Easter Island deforestation was a product of a number of factors that sort of fed into each other in a negative feedback loop. Parasites and rats were introduced to the island via seafaring excursions causing a decline in plant life, which lead to shortages, which lead to tension, which led to tribal warfare, which led to some messed up priorities in which, out of desperation, the dead were given more resources (the Moai statues) than the living, which lead to more deforestation (to get logs to roll the Moai into place). At some point it all came crashing down.

I have no idea how that relates to what’s going on in America or the world in modern times, but I do believe that complicated systems depend on so many interdependent factors that they’re impossible for people in their midst to fully and consciously appreciate them let alone control them with any sort of certainty. This can work positively, such as when small innovations here or there come together and cause synergistic advances and improvements in a society. But I suspect it works negatively too. When you start plugging one hole another opens up and you end up like those poor sons a’ bitches on Easter Island.

I suspect we’re too close to the situation in our own society to truly appreciate the big picture of it all. I think our broad and determined push to devalue the poor in every conceivable way and to exploit and destroy the environment in what appears to be an unsustainable fashion is, needless to say, pretty damn bad. But whether all of that constitutes evidence of a society in a death spiral or merely a really crappy blip in the broader advancement of humanity I have no real idea.

That question appealed to me because I’ve been trying hard to see a hint of a spark in the darkness. To find a way to frame all of this awfulness in a larger, potentially less-negative light. To that end I’ve been thinking, obviously, about the Black Plague.

There’s a whole area of study out there about how society evolved in response to the Black Plague. How — at least after all of the dying stopped — it hastened the end of the middle ages, led to the advent of the middle class, caused people to question the clergy in ways that, over time, led to the Reformation, impacted architecture and medicine and a host of other things. I’m not comparing what’s happening now to the Black Plague — it’s bad but, nah, it ain’t that, friends — but I do, as I did a few weeks ago, wonder what unexpected things might come after this horrible upheaval. And I wonder if even a few of them might be positives.

I have a lot of friends who live in California and they’ve been talking about how the air is cleaner and clearer than they can ever remember due to the dramatic reduction in driving.

I know people who have realized — and who, I would hope, their employers have realized — can do a great deal of their job from home.

I know people who rarely if ever cooked who have pushed themselves to try and who have been happy with the results.

I know people who have learned some of the lessons our grandparents and great-grandparents learned during the Depression about frugality, conservation and preservation in order to stretch supplies and dollars.

I also know people, unfortunately, who are confronting what it means to simultaneously lose one’s job and thus one’s health insurance at a time of medical crisis.

I’d wish none of the hardships on people from which they are currently suffering and do not for one moment claim that death and disease is “worth it” or anything close to it. But I wonder if our having to endure this misery will lead to at least some positive changes once we’re out of the woods. I certainly hope it does.

I hope it will cause us to drive and consume less, leading to attendant environmental benefits.

I hope that everyone who comes through this comes through it with a killer new recipe or three and an increased self-confidence for having endured something.

I hope that it causes us to care for each other more and come to appreciate that healthcare is not the same as any other good and that purchasing it on the market like we’re expected to in the United States is a horrible idea.

I don’t know that it will. When I’m feeling pessimistic I feel pretty confident that we’ll just snap back into our pre-March 11 habits the moment someone says we can. But I don’t always feel pessimistic and I hope that, even though I wish I could snap my fingers and make this all go away, we come out of it on the other side stronger and better for having had to endure it.

 

I took another long walk today. 8.05 miles according to my little exercise app. My first stop was yet another cemetery:

 

This is the original New Albany cemetery, behind the Village Hall and next to the new police station. It predates Maplewood Cemetery, which is the where I took the photos of those 1918-19 gravestones the other day. This one was in use between 1854 and 1881, though there are some graves dating back to 1837 that someone had moved in here at some point from an even older, now non-existent burial ground. Given that New Albany was founded in 1837, that’s about as old as it’s going to get around here.

The town’s founders, Nobel Landon and William Yantis are both buried here. Given how radically New Albany has changed in the past 30-35 years or so, I am certain that it would be harder for them to recognize this place than it would be for any other founders of small farm towns in Ohio. That is, if they rose from the dead all of a sudden and started to look around, but that’d present a whole other set of problems.

I couldn’t believe I’ve lived here 15 years without noticing this place but then I got home and did a little research and realized why I hadn’t.

The cemetery ceased being used in 1881 and, as often happens, the people who remembered the dead there started to die off themselves. At that point the cemetery started to become neglected. Grown over. Gravestones crumbling. Eventually it was little more than a bunch of tall grass, weeds and stones.

According to the New Albany Historical Society, at some point in the 1960s the guy who owned the land abutting it took it upon himself to bulldoze the gravestones and throw them in Rose Run Creek, which is just to the left in this photo, off-camera. His goal, other than making it easier to mow the property, was to create a pond in the creek with the gravestones as a dam, which is what he did. In so doing he was about 30 years ahead of his time when it came to messing up New Albany’s original heritage in the name of misguided progress, but that’s an essay for another day.

In 1979 the New Albany Historical Society retrieved the gravestones from the creek, did their best to restore them, and then just laid them around the base of the big tree in the photo. It was not until just a couple of years ago that the town shelled out the money to do some underground imaging to see where the bodies were actually buried, after which they restored the gravestones in a bit better fashion and placed them over actual graves. Obviously they don’t know whose grave is whose, but they made a nice arrangement all the same. Like everything else in New Albany, it’s sorta fake, but it looks lovely.

This has nothing to do with the pandemic, obviously. I just like to look at graveyards and talk about them. And, I suppose, if we were not all on lockdowns and quarantines, I probably would’ve just gone to Costco or the mall or something today rather than take an eight-mile walk.

As I said above, I wish we didn’t have to go through this at all but, if we do, at least we can get some good things out of it. Like some exercise. And a history lesson.

 

March 29: On Twitter overnight people were sharing the cover of Playboy from their birth month. Mine — July 1973 — featured nipples on it so I decided not to post it since it might’ve gotten flagged, but it was worth looking up all the same as it had an in-depth interview with Kurt Vonnegut.

For it being nearly half a century old it was striking how of-the-moment the interview was in places. There was a lot of talk about how trust in government has eroded. About how people were searching for community but couldn’t find any. About how people either make nothing or make way too much money and there seems to be nowhere in between and how all of that is decided by corporations determining how much money they can make off of your work. Having read all of that, I can’t decide if it’s comforting that our problems aren’t necessarily new or if it’s awful that we can’t seem to solve anything, basically ever.

Vonnegut was struggling personally at the time — he was promoting “Breakfast of Champions” and that novel had a long and difficult birth — so there was even more pessimism in his answers than usual. At one point he talks about how people who lived through the Great Depression didn’t learn to love life very much. His mother committed suicide. A decade after this interview he would attempt suicide himself. He knew of what he spoke.

That led to the interviewer asking him about how he deals with the unhappiness. Vonnegut said his books had been written in an effort to like life better than he did:

Playboy: So your books have been therapy for yourself.

Vonnegut: Sure. That’s well known. Writers get a nice break in one way, at least: They can treat their mental illnesses every day.

Truth bombs, as always, from Kurt Vonnegut.

 

I’ve talked about my walks and trips to the grocery store a lot, but let’s be real: most of us have been living pretty constantly online since this all began.

Allison spent several minutes today watching an Instagram stream in which John Legend and Chrissy Teigen performed a wedding ceremony for two of their daughter’s stuffed animals on their pool deck. A couple of weeks ago I would’ve had a lot of thoughts and feelings about that but today I simply nodded and said “OK.” That’s just a thing that happens now. I don’t suppose it’s all that crazier than anything else going on at the moment.

This evening we did FaceTime cocktails with a couple we met on our cruise two months ago who just so happen to live in Columbus. We hung out with them once here in town just before the social distancing began and I suppose with all that has gone on it’d be easy to simply lose touch, but Allison is pretty good at reaching out to people and maintaining contact in ways that I’m simply not, even during a pandemic.

I was worried online drinks and chat would be awkward but it was actually pretty fun. I have issues with larger groups sometimes. My hearing is not always good, so I also tend to have trouble tracking conversations and distinguishing people’s voices in loud or crowded settings. Lively bars and restaurants often make me key on one person or tune out entirely. A video conference’s built-in limitations seem to work pretty well for me. Four people is about as good as you can do and still have natural conversational flow, and living rooms are quiet and calm. I wouldn’t object to a lot more of that kind of thing even when this is all over.

 

Another thing I did today: I cut my own hair. Which, given that I’m bald is not exactly a big job, but the sides that grow get shaggy and I usually go get a cleanup every 2-3 weeks. Today I took some clippers I have and did a close shave-over. It’s shorter than I usually do, but it’s not like it matters much:

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I cut my own hair. Not a big job.

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I’m not the first one to do this in the family, as Anna cut her own bangs the other day with a pair of scissors.  I wouldn’t have noticed if her brother hadn’t said something about it. They look fine. We seem to be handling the ban on going to the stylist pretty well. We’ll probably draw the line at doing our own dental work.

 

Today Trump attempted to shout down a black reporter, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS, referring to her as “you people”  and accusing her of being threatening because she had the audacity to question him about actual words he has spoken in the past week. Then the White House staff cut her microphone. That barely-veiled bit of racism, disrespect, and aggression would normally disgrace any public figure but there have been hundreds of such incidents in the past four years. The rules simply don’t apply to Trump.

Nor do the normal rules of presidential accountability. A damning report came out yesterday chronicling the failures of Trump and his administration to take effective action in response to the coming pandemic when it would’ve made a difference. They would, again, in any sane era, cause a president to resign in disgrace, face removal from office via impeachment and, quite possibly, would subject him to a criminal investigation. Not Trump, though. He proudly disclaims all responsibility for his gross incompetence — an incompetence that will, ultimately, lead to the needless death of thousands — and he will, in fact, face no consequences for it at all. All we can seem to do is make dark jokes about it because there is no other recourse.

A similarly damning report came out yesterday setting forth how our for-profit medical system — specifically, the outsourcing of ventilator production, which public health officials had identified as a crucial public need — led to zero ventilators being produced over thirteen years due to the lack of profitability of the endeavor. Again, that which was responsible for this calamity — medical need taking a backseat to private business making money — will not be held responsible. It will likely not even be seriously scrutinized.

For most of the past three years and change I’ve been taking all of this in and thinking that we’re at an unprecedented point of crisis as a nation. But after reading that 1973 Vonnnegut interview this morning, maybe I’m just seeing something that has long been the case and I’m simply confusing it with something new.

The dark jokes about our lack of recourse in the face of Trump’s malevolence and fecklessness?

Playboy: Is that what’s called black humor? Or is all humor black?

Vonnegut:   . . . Freud had already written about gallows humor, which is middle-European humor. It’s people laughing in the middle of political helplessness. Gallows humor had to do with people in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were Jews, Serbs, Croats—all these small groups jammed together into a very unlikely sort of empire. And dreadful things happened to them. They were powerless, helpless people, and so they made jokes. It was all they could do in the face of frustration . . . it’s humor about weak, intelligent people in hopeless situations. And I have customarily written about powerless people who felt there wasn’t much they could do about their situations . . . There is that implication that if you just have a little more energy, a little more fight, the problem can always be solved. This is so untrue that it makes me want to cry—or laugh.

The stuff about the lack of accountability of the people?

Playboy: The Vietnam war has cost us even more than the space program. What do you think it’s done to us?

Vonnegut: It’s broken our hearts. It prolonged something we started to do to ourselves at Hiroshima; it’s simply a continuation of that: an awareness of how ruthless we are. And it’s taken away the illusion that we have some control over our Government. I think we have lost control of our Government. Vietnam made it clear that the ordinary citizen had no way to approach his Government, not even by civil disobedience or by mass demonstration. The Government wasn’t going to respond, no matter what the citizen did. That was a withering lesson . . . we’ve learned over the past eight years that the Government will not respond to what we think and what we say. It simply is not interested. Quite possibly, the Government has never been interested, but it has never made it so clear before that our opinions don’t matter.

While we’re on the subject, Trump said something else petty and fairly appalling today when he touted the ratings his TV appearances have received in the midst of all of this death and disease and horror:

Again, Vonnegut in 1973:

Playboy: Humanity and optimism was the message that George McGovern was trying to get across. How do you account for his spectacular failure?

Vonnegut: He failed as an actor. He couldn’t create on camera a character we could love or hate. So America voted to have his show taken off the air. The American audience doesn’t care about an actor’s private life, doesn’t want his show continued simply because he’s honorable and truthful and has the best interests of the nation at heart in private life. Only one thing matters: Can he jazz us up on camera? This is a national tragedy, of course—that we’ve changed from a society to an audience.

I’ve decided to change my answer from above: It’s not comforting that our problems aren’t new. It’s a goddamn tragedy.

March 30: I saw a Facebook post today that said “79,884 have recovered from the virus . . . try sharing that instead of the death toll.” By that rationale I suppose we should all be happy we aren’t already dead and stop our complaining about things. “Three hundred and thirty million people didn’t die in an industrial accident or from pianos dropping on them from great heights today, bunky, so zip it.”

I guess that sort of misdirection is a defensible play given that our own president is employing the tactic. Today, for example, a reporter asked why we’re so far behind South Korea in testing for COVID-19. He’s been dodging that line of inquiry for a couple of days now, unable to give a satisfactory answer to the question of why, given that the first coronavirus cases appeared in South Korea and the United States on the same day, South Korea’s infection and death rates are so much lower than ours. Instead of answering he lectured the reporter and then condescendingly asked if she even knew the population of Seoul. He then belittled her, and stated with confidence that it’s 38 million.

Except it’s not 38 million. It’s 9.7 million. Where did Trump get such a specifically wrong idea of what Seoul’s population is? From Wikipedia, it seems, where he or some aide misread the elevation as population, thinking that the “m” was for “million” instead of meters:

Did I say misdirection? I’m sorry, I meant stupidity. A stupid, bullheaded refusal to face up to facts, especially bad facts, that will continue to get people killed who would otherwise live if we were not led by a person so awfully and defiantly out of his depth.

 

I made another grocery store run today, in part for my parents. The usual dynamic applied: they requested a few items with a host of humble, “only if you can, please do not go to any trouble,” sorts of disclaimers. I found most of the things, but not all of the things, and did my best to find suitable substitutes when possible. I knew that one item — a can of Lysol disinfectant — would not be on the shelves but I had a can here almost completely unused, that my ex-wife had given us a couple of weeks ago, so I took it with me to leave with my parents.

When I dropped the items my mother and I talked through the door, mostly about how she would not, under any circumstances, accept my can of Lysol. They still had some left in their can, she said, and she would not dream of depriving us of ours. I attempted to fight, but my mother is the sort of person who, if she were run over by a herd of stampeding bison, would insist that you to not help her up because it’d be a shame if you got your shoes muddy in the process of picking her broken body up from the prairie. And it wouldn’t be that passive-aggressive thing some parents do in which they’re trying to guilt trip you. It’s a straightforward hardwired aversion to anyone going out of their way for her.

“I’ll be just fine,” she’d say. “Please, don’t go to any trouble. It was my fault for being in Montana during migration season. I knew that bison look for the lower ground just before winter, and here I was standing in a valley, like an idiot. Don’t give me a second thought.”

I took the Lysol home with me.

This whole process of negotiating the acquisition of scarce supplies, delivering them to those taking shelter, and selflessly negotiating their allocation has made me feel a bit like a character in an extraordinarily poorly-written war novel. Instead of the scrambling through bombed-out buildings and experiencing the serendipitous discovery of a crust of bread — and “oh, what fortune! a single pear!” — it’s all about getting out of my pajama pants and into some jeans and foraging for toilet paper and disinfectant. I suppose those are pretty essential things, but when there is no limit to how many boxes of P.F. Chang’s chicken dumplings, frozen pizzas, bags of chips, and jars of salsa there are, it’s hard to fully assume the noble, sacrificing war mentality required for the role.

 

What about that war mentality?

We’ve spent the past 40 years declaring war on anything and everything as a nation. In addition to literal wars, the United States has declared a war on crime, a war on drugs, and has declared war on whatever disease is scaring the white middle class at any given moment more times than I can count. I’ve often chafe at such invocations because the war metaphor usually means some pretty poorly-though-out policies are on the way, with their lack of nuance and effectiveness excused because, hey, this is war. When leaders declare a war on something it’s almost always a political message. America wins wars, and politicians want people to think they are like generals and that they’re winners. Only passive, pencil-neck types spend their time constructing and implementing cogent policy proposals.

This, however, is a situation far more akin to war in certain aspects than any of those other things on which we have declared war. It has required and will continue to require a massive mobilization of society in order to address it. A mobilization that real wars — at least big ones that have been worth fighting — require and which phony, political “War on ___” campaigns do not.

The casualty rate is certainly going to be that of a war. This morning I read that health officials are bracing the public to prepare for 200,000 deaths in this country. The president, who at first called this all a “hoax” that would “go away on its own,” and then compared it to the H1N1 flu outbreak which killed around 12,500 people, has moved the goal posts now, claiming that 200,000 deaths would represent a triumphant victory on his part. That is almost double the deaths America saw in World War I. It’s about 50,000 more deaths than we endured in Vietnam, Korea, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican American War combined.

I don’t know if that will put us on a war-footing, mentality-wise, but it is certainly a fallout akin to an actual shooting war in terms of body count. The psychological fallout will likewise be immense. The impact it has on medical services and medical providers is already considerable and that impact will last long after the outbreak subsides.

We are likewise starting to get economic projections that are absolutely startling in terms of the unemployment numbers occasioned by all of this. A new estimate from economists at the St. Louis Fed project total COVID-19 Crisis employment reductions at 47 million people. That would translate into a 32.1% unemployment rate. During the height of the Great Depression, that number was around 25%. Granted, the current unemployment crisis should bounce back considerably once shutdown orders are lifted in May and June, but it’s still a massive economic dislocation. And it will not bounce back all the way or anything close to it, I don’t suspect. A lot of businesses won’t survive this and they will not be hiring people back. A lot of businesses who do survive it will have learned to deal with fewer workers and will choose to continue on with lower payrolls.

These numbers are terrifying, but we must remember that we have, in the past, gone through this sort of thing as a nation and we have made it through precisely because we mobilized in a manner commensurate to the threat, either during the wars or afterward, as a means of ameliorating the fallout.

During the Depression, FDR and his administration implemented programs, public work projects, and financial reforms to provide relief and recovery. After World War II we provided veterans with low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a businesses, extended unemployment compensation, and tuition and living expenses to attend college, or vocational school. We didn’t do these things simply in the interest of symbolism or even simple gratitude. We did them because a great crisis had occurred which led to massive amounts of suffering and dislocation which threatened to destabilize the country. We could not allow the Depression to linger, unaddressed. We had already tried to ignore millions of returning soldiers with no means of support once and it ended disastrously, and we could not do it again.

Just as it seems silly to me to think of my offering my mother a can of Lysol as a dramatic episode in some war drama, it probably seems silly to many to think of a nationwide quarantine that has us all inside watching Netflix and playing video games as a nation at war. But in very real terms, it is, at least in some very important ways. Our response to it needs to match its threat. Both its immediate threat, in terms of the medical and humanitarian crisis the active phase of the pandemic is visiting upon us, and in terms of its long-term threats to our nationals medical, psychological and economic well-being.

In the meantime, we can do what we’ve always done in war time and be grateful for the sacrifices others have made for us and the blessings that have been visited upon us.

Those sacrifices have not come from soldiers this time around, but from doctors, nurses, medical assistants and medical intake and administrative employees.

They have come from restaurant workers, grocery store workers, and cleaning, sanitation, and public service workers.

They have come from people working in textile mills making masks and gowns and people in factories making ventilators.

They have come from teachers, doing the best they can to work remotely and parents who have attempted to fill in the educational gaps.

They have come from the arts, too. Where would we be without TV shows, movies, books, magazines, websites and music right now?

How little have we, as a society, regarded and how little have we compensated almost all of these people for so long, only to realize just how important they are to our physical and psychological survival now?

We must endure all of this at the moment. But we must not forget those who have made this moment endurable. When the moment has passed, we must do everything we can as a nation to put things all back together again. But we must do so without forgetting that some of the pieces we neglected before are far more structurally significant than we ever realized.

 

March 31: My great uncle Harry — who, for all practical purposes, was my grandfather — was a big baseball fan. He lived in Detroit and he knew some people and because he knew some people he got good tickets to Tigers games. Because he got good tickets to Tigers games I got good tickets to Tigers games, and exposure to those in-person games caused me to seek out baseball on the radio as well. From about 1979-on I went to bed almost every spring and summer night listening to Ernie Harwell call Tigers games on WJR. It’s what turned me into a baseball fan.

Harry died on Tuesday April 10, 1984. I cried when my parents told me what happened, but after the initial shock I held it together pretty well for a ten-year-old kid. I was sad, but I don’t think I cried at the funeral, which was the first funeral I had ever attended. I don’t remember feeling shocked, dazed or confused or anything like that. My memory of the funeral is pretty vivid, but my feelings at the time were sort of detached. Intellectual observations instead of emotional reactions.

We stayed in Detroit with my aunt Ruth for a couple of days as my parents helped her sort out all of the business one has to sort out after someone dies. As my dad went through paperwork and my mom and Ruth went through Harry’s belongings, I went to my uncle Harry’s den, turned on the the NBC Game of the Week, and sat down in the very chair Harry would’ve been sitting in, watching baseball, if he hadn’t dropped dead of a heart attack four days earlier.

Before the game back then they played the highlight show This Week in Baseball. That day the top highlight was about Pete Rose, then playing for the Montreal Expos, who the day before had notched his 4,000th career hit. A video montage of Rose and his career highlights — and video of fans in Montreal, Philadelphia and Cincinnati celebrating — played as Mel Allen talked about Rose becoming only the second player to reach the 4,000 hit plateau.

As I watched it all, I became agitated. Not because of Rose specifically — in 1984 he was not yet infamous — but because people were celebrating anything at all. Didn’t they realize that my uncle Harry had just died? How could people be smiling and laughing and patting a ballplayer on the back when the dirt on Harry’s grave was still fresh?

I stopped myself within a couple of minutes, realizing even at ten years-old that it was a pretty absurd thing to think. These people didn’t know my uncle Harry. Even if they did, death doesn’t stop life from going on. My momentary failure to understand that, I know now, was part of a child’s refusal, on some level, to accept death. Something akin to bargaining, maybe. Or maybe it was reverse bargaining. Some scream, deep from within, demanding that, if one life ends, no one else has the right to act as if everything was normal because to do so somehow made their death something we had to simply accept. Made it commonplace. Made it unimportant, even.

Thing about it, though, is that even if I caught myself that day and even if I have long since learned better, I still feel that way, often, when presented with death.

It’s no longer the agitation I felt in 1984, but I frequently find myself stopping to think about how odd it feels that something or someone can proceed in normal fashion after a tragedy. “How did people go see the Jane Russell movie “The Outlaw” the day after the SS Dorchester sank?” I might ask myself while reading a timeline of 1943. Why didn’t the 5,000-person office close the day after a former employee died? How can life go on as normal for everyone else when everything the dead person ever had and everything they ever would have has now been taken away? Shouldn’t we be doing something more dramatic to honor them? Shouldn’t it disrupt our lives too? Shouldn’t it make us stop and do . . . something?

But like I said: I know better. I know that death is part of life and that it comes for us all and that if we stopped the world every time someone died, there’d be no time for actual living to happen. I may get that impulse now, but I fight against those odd feelings and I almost always win. But I’ve been having a harder time doing it since the pandemic began and the number of dead has risen.

No one I know has died, but I read the numbers every day and it’s getting harder to just nod at it as “part of life.” There are something like 4,000 dead in the United States from COVID-19 as I’m writing this with those numbers certain to multiply many times over. I watched a James Bond movie earlier tonight and people died in between the time it started and the time it ended. People have died since I began typing this. I’m planning to go for a hike tomorrow afternoon, I plan to make some steaks on Thursday, and I plan to do some projects around the house on Saturday and, as that all happens, people will be dying. People who weren’t even sick a week ago. People who had plans to do things next week that will now never happen.

It’s getting harder for me to simply joke and share memes about how annoying it is to shelter-in-place. It’s getting harder for me to look at the photos of the bread and pastries my friends are baking or to hear about the shows they’re binging. It’s getting harder to hear my friends talking about the 2020 election or other things we were all talking about a month ago, as if the world has not been upended by a pandemic. I do some of those things myself because I’m trying to live a normal life, but sometimes I catch myself thinking about normal things and that voice of ten-year-old me inside my head yells, “how can you think of anything except the fact that someone just looked upon someone they love for the last time?”

I know it’s not a reasonable way to live. I know you can’t get on with your own life and you can’t be present for the people who depend on you if you can’t put all of that to the side and do your best to carry on. I know that you can’t feel real feelings for thousands of dead people or else you’d simply crumble.

But I also think about how wrong it felt to me for the world to be starting again a couple of days after my uncle Harry died I and can’t shake that feeling now, when we’re losing so many people and will, without question, lose so many more.

 

April 1: Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy died from COVID-19 today. He was only 52. His songs, even the ones that are 25 years old, sound so fresh that they could’ve been released yesterday. Hooks to burn. So many that he fueled a power pop band, a side band that more than flirted with electronica, massive TV and movie soundtracks, Broadway, and so much more. I wasn’t a die-hard fan or anything, but Fountains of Wayne had a bunch of great songs and I really liked Ivy a lot.

Fifty-two doesn’t sound particularly old to me. It’s only six years older than I am now. Less personally, it’s not that far below the cutoff point people have cited as a demarcation for “high risk” or “low risk” prognosis in all of this.

I suspect that a lot of that talk about age from a couple of weeks ago was wishful thinking, frankly. I know that young people have died and some old people have survived. I know that there are a million complicating factors beyond age that need to be taken into account — things like underlying health and immune system status —  and I have no idea if Schlesinger had any underlying issues that made him a more susceptible-to-death from this scourge than your typical 52-year-old.

But it does make all of this seem closer and more random than the powers-that-be wanted us to conceive of it not all that long ago. It makes those “this only kills the old, the sick and the weak” proclamations of early March and the “maybe that’s OK” sentiments that have been oozing out from under the rocks in the darker corners of the right wing world in the past few days seem all the more obscene.

Rest in peace, Adam Schlesinger.

 

Since my kids’ viral fame — can we still say something has gone “viral?” — a lot of people have asked me how they’re dealing with the world shutting down. The answer: about as well as anyone else is.

Anna downloaded Animal Crossing the other day so I don’t see her much. Carlo downloaded the new version of Doom, so I don’t see him much either. Their school has been pretty proactive about keeping them remotely engaged and I can see if they’re getting their school work done, but as as long as that’s happening I’m OK with them killing time with video games. They come down for meals and then quickly retreat, so at least I know they’re getting sustenance.

The other day I made a point to teach Carlo how to do the laundry. He did two loads but I’m about 95% sure he made sure to forget everything I told him the second he was done with it. Today I made Anna do the laundry. I think she retained it a bit better, but she also spent more time arguing with me why she shouldn’t have to do it than it would’ve taken for her to just do it. That girl is so much like I was at her age that I almost feel bad for her sometimes.

Her main argument — Carlo changes his clothes more often than Lady Gaga, meaning most of the clothes are his, so maybe he should be doing it more — was well taken, but I didn’t let her know she had a point on general principle. I can’t let her leave home in a couple of years without knowing how to do her own laundry. When she does, and she doesn’t have to deal with 11 of Carlo’s t-shirts, five of his hoodies, and always, always, a bunch of mismatched socks every few days, she’ll almost feel like laundry is easy.

 

I took the kids to their mother’s house late this afternoon. As I’ve mentioned, she has Wednesdays and Thursdays and this is her weekend, so I won’t see the kids until Monday. It’s a strange feeling for me given that, when school is open, I see them after school even on my “off” days. My ex and I split up over eight years ago but this “go a full five days without seeing the kids” thing is new to me. I don’t like it, even if they do just lock themselves in their rooms and play video games when they’re here. The house feels different when they’re gone. Not always bad, mind you — Allison and I are used to our couple of evenings and every other weekend alone after all of this time and enjoy our alone time — but it definitely throws the rhythms off. Walking by their empty rooms never feels right.

Just before we left to take them to their mother’s my son and I got into a brief argument over something dumb. He didn’t want to take his jacket with him. I said it was cold. He said it wasn’t like he was going anywhere outside of the house. I said he had no idea what might happen in the next five days, so take the jacket. He decided to dig in with some attitude, I decided to raise my voice and make it clear that I wasn’t going to take the attitude. I won, he grabbed the jacket but he huffed and puffed as we got into the car. Anna, who was right next to me during the yelling, was quiet.

Most of the drive to their mother’s house was quiet as well, with Anna looking out of the passenger window next to me and Carlo in the back seat with his headphones on. I didn’t like that. I hate it when tension lingers and, this time, knowing that I wouldn’t see them for five days — and with how uncertain the world has gotten lately — I felt particularly awful about the possibility of leaving them on a negative note. I forced some conversation by making a joke about a billboard we passed. That prompted Anna, as it often does, to make a joke of her own to top mine. We bantered a bit.

Not long before we turned into their mother’s neighborhood, Carlo, unprompted, offered up his own joke and then mentioned a couple of funny memes he saw that were related to the general topic. As we pulled into the driveway we were all laughing. I still don’t like not seeing them for five days, but I felt a lot better about it than I had a few minutes earlier.

 

A friend that I only know online checked in with me via direct message tonight to see how I was holding up. After that we had a nice conversation about how we’re each dealing, how our parents and friends are dealing, and what this strange new life really means. It was very sweet of her to do that. I felt better after she checked in than I had before she did.

Still, it made me wonder if all of this journaling is making people worry about me. And as soon as I wondered that it made me wonder why I should think it so notable that someone is checking in with me to see if I’m OK in the first place. Isn’t that what people do? Like, actually good people who care about others?

I’ve lived a very isolated life for a very long time now. I am close with my wife and my kids and a few people I encounter in the real world on a semi-regular basis, but the vast majority of my life is spent either online, which is not always real, or inside my head. I do not think of myself as a lonely person, but I spend a lot of time physically alone by virtue of working from home and I spend even more time mentally alone because writing for a living — and for pleasure — often requires it. I’m not complaining. I actually like it. It works for me. But it does make me forget how important actual human connection is.

Especially at a time like this. In the face of a mortal and existential threat, personal connection is not just important, it’s absolutely essential. Ironically, because of the specific nature of this existential threat, personal connection is hard to come by.

I guess all of this has just thrown my balance off. I usually think of personal connection as a luxury, but it’s not now. I’m going to have to adjust to that. I’m going to have to be better about connecting with real people than I have been for many, many years. I don’t think I’ll make it if I don’t.

 

 

April 2: Two of the first news stories I saw this morning:

It’s like Herbert Hoover and Nero had a baby.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hoover lately. Or at least about his time. A great insight into his time can be found in the beginning of William Manchester’s “The Glory and the Dream,” which is a massive yet still massively readable, narrative-driven history of the United States from the Depression through Watergate.

The book begins with a crisis: The Bonus Army’s march on Washington in 1932.

Per longstanding practice in both the U.S. and, earlier, in England, soldiers who fought in wars were given a bonus of some kind of make up for their time away from work and home. The bonus for those in World War I was to be a cash payment, but one which would not be redeemable until 1945. After the Depression hit, however, times were desperate so the veterans demanded earlier payment. They did so in the form of 17,000 World War I veterans and an additional 26,000 family members marching on Washington and actually setting up a camp just across the Anacostia river from Capitol Hill that June. They would, eventually, be dispersed by General McArthur, who — ignoring President Hoover’s order to hold — ordered his troops to overrun the Bonus Army’s camp with fixed bayonets and tear gas. Two protesters were shot and killed. A woman miscarried. Another protester died due to the tear gas aggravating a preexisting condition.

Manchester begins his book with the story of the Bonus Army in order to paint a picture of what Americans simply took for granted in 1932: that the people were suffering and government did not care a lick about their welfare. Indeed, what they got was active hostility. In so doing, Manchester establishes just how rinky dink the federal government was at the time and how utterly incapable it was of addressing the crisis before it. Indeed, it was worse than that: the idea that the government could or even should do much of anything to care for its citizens in the face of crisis was a non-sequitur. The notion of the government actively helping people was simply outside of the intellectual and conceptual framework of those in power at the time. Much of the rest of Manchester’s 1,400+ page book is about how that assumption fundamentally changed after 1932 and how critical that change in assumption was to helping America become the most powerful country and the country with the highest standard of living in the world for the next half century or so.

Our current government cannot reasonably be described as small, but its indifference to the welfare of its people in the face of the current crisis is basically where Hoover and his gang were at in 1932. Sure, the government cares greatly about the military — well, sometimes — and large businesses, but the rest of us are basically the Bonus Army to them.

The president denied the existence of the looming pandemic for weeks and months, sometimes casting it as a hoax. Once that became untenable he proceeded to sow confusion and cast blame on others. At one point he explicitly and defiantly disclaimed any responsibility of his own at all. Now, as a nationwide pandemic that respects no state borders intensifies, he claims the federal government is merely a backup to state and local efforts as he casts blame on various governors he disfavors politically and lashes out at hospital officials, accusing them of complaining too much. Throughout all of this he has lied, almost constantly, about facts large and small in an effort to evade any and all responsibility.

Perhaps worst of all, he has placed his completely incompetent and overwhelmed, yet strangely arrogant, son-in-law in charge. Jared Kushner is a young man who has no qualifications for anything beyond, maybe, commercial real estate, and he has mostly failed in that pursuit. With respect to the pandemic he has been even more disastrous than Trump if that’s at all possible. Yesterday Vanity Fair reported that when New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the state would need 30,000 ventilators when the outbreak reached its peak, Kushner said, “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity . . . I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” A government which cared about its people and which felt obligated to confront a national crisis would not trot Kushner out and pretend he’s an expert. Indeed, it would be less insulting to if Trump sent Kushner out to literally spit on all of us individually, in alphabetical order, between now and Labor Day.

It’s accurate to blame Trump and his incompetence for how bad this has gotten, but the depths to which we have fallen is not purely a function of Trump’s unsuitability for the job of president. Rather, it’s the logical end product of the political movement which has been ascendent in this country for many decades and which deposited Trump in power four years ago.

Republicans have, for over forty years, insisted that, basically, nothing was the business of the government except for war and Wall Street. They have insisted that taxes are theft, regulation is tyranny, public health is the responsibility of the private sector, and that basically everything else is the responsibility of individual states. They then took over in most states and claimed that nothing was the responsibility of states either. Then they cut funding to counties and cities and hospitals and universities and chose to favor charities that, for the most part, served their ideological ends as opposed to the needs of the public. The buck has been passed so far that no one holds it any longer. This was all by design.

Republicans, with a healthy assist from Democrats who have largely accepted Republicans’ basic premises for political reasons, have won that battle and, as a result, we now have the government they so desperately wanted for so long.

Government that, like Hoover’s in 1932, does not believe it is responsible for addressing a massive humanitarian and economic crisis that seems destined to kill thousands upon thousands of people who would not have died if there had been competent leadership. Government which seems destined to sit idly by and watch as we are thrown into a second great depression.

In less than 90 years we have come full circle. To a place where there is no glory and, in place of a dream, we are living a nightmare.

 

April 3: Two weeks ago Jason Hargrove, a bus driver from Detroit, made the news when he took a video while driving his bus, complaining about how a passenger had begun to cough, making no effort to cover her mouth. He was angry and exasperated at people not taking the risks of transmission seriously. His video was circulated pretty widely and was cited for the need for greater shutdowns of public spaces. Hargrove died from COVID-19 yesterday.

The Washington Post began running oral histories of COVID-19. The first ran last Saturday, but I just saw it today. It’s an account from an Indiana man named Tony Sizemore about the death of his girlfriend, Birdie Shelton. It’s not some Medium post drawn from a book of literary personal essays about grief. There is no flowery, reflective or contemplative prose. There is no intellectualizing of it all or attempts to draw life lessons out of it. There is no larger, newsy or editorial context. It’s a man’s contemporaneous account of what it’s like to have someone he loves go from healthy to sick to dead in the space of a few days. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s straightforward, immediate, factual, raw, and painful and it shook me to my core.

And then I had to get on with my day. As we all do.

It’s a jarring dynamic to go from reading about and thinking about the horrors of a pandemic to one’s mundane, mostly sheltered-in-place existence. From death and fear of future calamity to thinking about what to eat for breakfast or what show to binge next. There are always horrors in the world, of course, but most of us are pretty sheltered from them too. Soldiers die and people suffer half a world away. Crime and hardship happen in other parts of town. We’re all pretty much in a place now, however, where things could go from boring to horrifying in a New York minute and I doubt most of us are ready for that. Even if the horror of it isn’t visited upon us personally, I doubt most of us are ready to live in that uncertain state for an extended period of time. I simply don’t think most people are prepared to handle it. I’m not sure I am. Not that we have a choice.

 

As for the mundane: I made another trip to the grocery store this morning.

I was stopped while walking into the store with my reusable bags. Apparently Ohio banned them sometime in the past week but I had missed it. That’s probably a good idea. They’re washable, but no one really washes theirs. I know I don’t. If you say you do, hey, great, but I know you’re lying.

Either way, reusable bags are probably like a mass transit system for viruses. Like those extra long busses with the accordion thingie in the middle, traveling from your trunk to your shopping cart to the end of the belt at the checkout, back to your car and then on to your kitchen counter. I took my bags back to my car and went old school plastic.

The rest of the store was fairly normal by pandemic shopping standards. There was no toilet paper but they did have paper towel, Kleenex and — get this — Clorox Wipes, limit 1 per customer. I haven’t seen those in the wild since well before this all began. I picked up a box of them as two women were looking at the stack, awestruck. “Merry Christmas,” I said. “I don’t believe what I’m seeing,” one of the women said. Most everything else was in stock and there was no rationing of anything except for milk.

In the past week they had installed large plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers. Like the reusable bags thing, that also makes some sense. It puts one in mind of gas stations or convenience stores except, instead of armed robbers, these protect the cashiers from murderous novel viruses.

This grocery store has a separate liquor store (they have to be separate from the rest of the store in Ohio because we are a weird state when it comes to liquor). The liquor store also has a plastic barrier. Today it also had a cashier who, based on my smalltalk with her, is extremely happy that the state liquor commission has stopped advertising rare and hard-to-find bourbons it offers for special releases. It makes sense that they stopped doing that because every time they do one of those things about 200 middle aged white dudes line up to get their bottle of ultra-aged Colonel Kwik-e-Mart’s Kentucky bourbon or whatever and we really don’t need to have people congregating anywhere these days. There’s also this dynamic in which, I swear to God, they follow distributor trucks around to stores to make sure they’re in the place the moment something new or rare is stocked, and I’m sure that the truck drivers and store employees don’t appreciate these vultures.

I love bourbon — I really and truly love it — but I find that kind of thing rather silly. I’ve written at length about how super premium bourbons are more about status than quality, and the trend-chasing behavior you tend to see with these special releases is a product of that. It’s a self-delusion that, I strongly suspect, would make most of these people fail a blind taste test if I were to give them one. Give me my house jug of Evan Williams black label and one bottle of something slightly more refined at any given time and I’m happy.

The cashier was more succinct about it. “Those fancy bourbon guys are assholes,” she said.

She’s not wrong.

 

I spent most of the rest of the day working. I don’t know how I keep finding things to write about given that there’s no baseball happening, but I do. I like that I can still do it and, actually, I’ve been pretty proud of myself for finding stuff to say given the dearth of actual sports content to be found. But it’s a jarring dynamic to go from writing about some outfielder who says his leg is pretty healthy now thanks to the layoff to reading about doctors in New York choosing which of two patients who both need ventilators get one. It helps that I know people want and need the distraction and the illusion of normality and that I have a job that provides a little of that. Hell, I want and need the distraction and the illusion of normality and I’m glad I have a job that helps deliver that. So, like everyone else, I do my best to aside my anxieties about the world and do my job and leave all of the mental sorting for, well, this.

 

It was a gorgeous day today. Sunny and in the 60s. One of those early spring days where you start to notice the blossoms on the trees and that the grass is no longer dormant. I opened some windows after lunch and watched the cats jump in and out of them. There’s a rabbit living under the steps down to my back patio. He spends much of the day sunning himself in the still-empty flowerbed. He’s driving the cats absolutely bonkers and I love it. There would’ve been some daytime home openers today. If times were normal I would’ve had a game on the radio.

Allison knocked off work at 5:30 and we went for a long walk around our empty town. When we got back she tossed some shrimp with spaghetti squash, olive oil, white wine, parm and herbs and it was absolutely delicious. She’s reading a book now. I’m writing this next to an open window as the sun is going down. One of the cats is in the window looking for the rabbit, but he pops under the patio fence and out into the grass between the houses in the evening, making whatever rounds it is that rabbits make.

If I hold my head still enough and look at it with the right kind of eyes it almost feels like a normal spring evening.

 

April 4: I was catching up on some TV last night and there was a commercial that ended with the words “We care. We are here for you” over a black background at the end. I’m pretty sure the commercial was produced before the pandemic began and the message was recently appended at the end in order to acknowledge awareness of what’s going on. All of the ads I see online lately offer up a similar sentiment, regardless of what the product or the brand is. Driving around town, all the billboards are for carryout and delivery restaurants. Most of the restaurants I drive by have professionally-created banners and signage announcing that they are open, that they deliver, or that they offer carryout. Some of them also have some sign version of the “we care” sentiment. The PA system in the grocery stores now feature, alternatively, cheery voices promoting pandemic-appropriate products and solemn voices talking about the need for shoppers to keep their distance from one another. There are slick-looking decals on the floor marking where people should stand when standing in line.

I’m struck by how quickly we’ve gone from hastily printed-out 8.5×11″ “sorry we’re closed” or “practice social distancing” or “carryout only” signs to professionally-produced signage and commercial messaging. It makes me wonder about the people in production studios and print shops developing and creating all of this messaging. About who they are and where they are and how their jobs have changed.

I’m mostly struck by how permanent this is all starting to feel.

 

We belong to a wine club that’s run out of a restaurant. We get a couple of bottles and a couple of tastings each month. The tastings are closed and the restaurant, like all the other restaurants, is carryout only, but you can still go pick up your bottles, so we did that today. Mostly as an excuse to get out of the house. We got there a bit before it opened so we went to the Target nearby to see if they had any of the stuff we haven’t been able to find for my parents at the grocery store. We got lucky: dishwasher soap, which has been hard to find, and toilet paper. Allison picked up a bunch of greeting cards to send to people. Like I said a few days ago, she’s just better at human connection than I am.

It was good to find the things we needed, but the shopping protocols are even stricter as of today than they have been. There’s a limit to how many people can be in the store at once now so there’s a person with a click-counter just inside the door. It wasn’t crowded so we didn’t have to wait, but it was weird for the most common and cliche suburban activity — the Saturday Target run — to be as regimented as all of that. We left Target, picked up our wine and headed toward my parents’ house to drop off the dishwasher soap.

During the drive Allison talked about how uncomfortable it all felt. I’ve done all the shopping since this began so I suppose I’ve eased into this a bit more slowly. In some ways I’m sort of getting used to it. She hadn’t been to any stores since early March, though, so it was new to her. She said that when we left the house this morning she was happy to be going out and doing something but, after experiencing our strange new commercial world, she wished we had just stayed at home. She said it just feels more normal there. I know what she means.

It all reminds me of when Anna was born. Carleen and I spent months preparing. Painting the nursery, buying the gear, taking the parenting classes and doing everything we could to get ready. And, as far as all of those specific things, sure, we were ready. It was all harrowing for a time, but we knew how to feed Anna and change her diapers and give her a bath and, 16 years in and counting, keep her alive. What we weren’t prepared for was coming home from the hospital and having the house just feel . . . different. Uncomfortable. As if it were suddenly not our own. The house hadn’t changed, of course. We had. We were seeing everything with new eyes and feeling everything with new emotions which we did not yet understand and which we would not be able to process for some time.

Something like that is what I’m feeling now, only in reverse. In December 2003 going to the store or stopping in a restaurant for carryout provided a few brief moments of normality that restored some emotional gravity and allowed us to feel a part of the world again before returning to our suddenly strange house. Now it’s the rest of the world that feels alien.

 

Allison changed and left for the barn after we got home. I did the one thing that I know will always make me feel better: I cleaned.

Cleaning and organizing calms and soothes me in ways that most leisure activity does not. A lot of it has to do with my simply feeling better and happier in a neat and organized space. Clutter unsettles me. That mind palace I often retreat to that I described a couple of weeks ago is a minimalist space for a reason. I just feel better and function better when my environment is clean and composed.

Back when I actually had extra money after paying bills I employed a cleaning service for a time. I didn’t like it, actually, and I would’ve stopped it long before now even if I could still afford it because the actual physical act of cleaning is something I enjoy. It’s even something I need.

I have a very hard time turning my brain off most of the time. I love writing and often call it my favorite hobby, but it does the opposite of distracting me from things that are bothering me. To the contrary, it causes me to engage with them instead. There’s a time for that, but it wasn’t today. For various reasons I read way fewer books than I used to. Writing all day requires a lot of newspaper/website/magazine reading and my eyes are just too tired for books most evenings. Even if they weren’t, my attention span for anything but books I really, really want to read has waned. I watch some TV but, again, it has so be something I’ve actively and specifically sought out. I can’t just turn the TV on and see what’s on. Exercise helps, but a treadmill workout is only 30-45 minutes and I wasn’t in the mood for a long walk outside today. No, if I want to just zone out I need to scrub a kitchen or a bathroom or vacuum or do laundry or something.

So that’s what I did. I opened every window in the house and let the fresh spring air blow in, put on a super long Spotify playlist, and dug in. I started with the kitchen, scrubbing the stovetop and moving everything that normally sits on the counters and cleaning all the way to the back corners no one ever sees. I moved on to the bathrooms. I threw towels and bathmats into a hot wash and then cleaned and disinfected the shower, the toilet, the sinks and the countertop like it was my job. I dusted and vacuumed the living room and then I vacuumed the stairs.

As all that was going on I had a couple pounds of well-seasoned chicken thighs in the crockpot. When I finished cleaning they were almost ready to be pulled apart for the enchiladas I was making for dinner. I gave them a few minutes more while I showered and shaved, came down, cracked a beer, made the sauce, grated the cheese, and rolled them up. Allison texted that she was about ready to head home from the barn not long after I finished and I put them in the oven.

An immaculate house. A lovely smell coming from the kitchen. My wife on her way home to share a nice meal and a nice evening with me. The world, as it did when I brought Anna home from the hospital, feels not like our own, but my home does tonight.

April 5: Today the Washington Post ran a meticulously detailed account of all the ways the United States failed to prepare for and fend-off the pandemic. The upshot: the Trump Administration had (a) notice of its impending arrival; (b) notice of its potential severity; (c) the time to act; and (d) the necessary resources to act but wasted 70 days before truly taking the matter seriously. As a result, “the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.”

Trump continues to lie about what’s going on, continues to deflect and project blame, and is intent on disproportionately sharing aid and resources with states and regions containing his political supporters as opposed to places with the greatest need. But even if he had been aces since the first day he publicly acknowledged the seriousness of the pandemic, his incompetence and, in some cases, malevolence, would have already led to the preventable deaths of thousands upon thousands of people. That horrific cake has already been baked.

In a just world Trump would be found guilty of criminal negligence and thrown in a jail cell for the rest of his days. In this world he’ll stand for what will be, somehow, against all sense and reason, a close reelection fight.

 

I have a friend on Facebook who is an amateur genealogist and historian. He notes that while he has seen people talking about official statistics and sharing photos of the food they’re making and the TV shows they’re watching, there are fewer of the sort of day-to-day, slice-of-life personal accounts that people, decades from now, will want to sift through in order to do good social history.

To that end he came up with a series of questions for his friends that gets at all of that. I’ve talked a lot about this sort of thing in the Diary already, but I figured I’d take his questions as he put them. So:

 

When was the last day you went in to work?

November 27, 2009.

OK, maybe his questions about work don’t really apply to someone who has been working at home for over ten years. He also asked about furloughs and layoffs, and thankfully that has not happened to me.

 

When did your state or city order everyone to stay at home?

They strongly recommended it way earlier — and earlier than a lot of states — but the official stay-at-home order went into effect on March 23. As of now it’s in place until May 1, though I suspect that’ll change.

 

Has there been a particular change to your lifestyle that has been difficult to make or accept?

The kids being out of school has been hard to get my head around. Adjusting to my wife working from home has gone about as smoothly as one could hope, but it’s still an adjustment. We had cut back a good deal on restaurants and things so that, while also a change, hasn’t been as bad for us as it has been for some people. Maybe the biggest adjustment has been shopping. Because I already worked at home and have great control over my schedule, for years I have done my shopping in small trips, several times a week, often not even planning meals until that morning, with a trip to the store before lunch. It beat the crowds and allowed for a lot of flexibility. The need to cut back on how often one is in public has made us plan in advance more and do fewer, larger trips to the store. I don’t like stocking up like that. It’s been hard to get used to. And that’s before you get into the notion that simply being in stores feels kind of scary these days.

 

What do you miss the most?

Even if we had cut back on restaurants, those occasional, impulsive, neither-of-us-feels-like-cooking “wanna just go out?” evenings are always nice. I had also recently joined a bowling league that I was enjoying a great deal and, though it had only been six or seven weeks, I was sad when it ended.

 

What is the most unusual thing you have noticed since this crisis began?

The run on toilet paper and certain household products has perplexed me. I understand disinfecting products like bleach cleaner and wipes and things being gone as there is, obviously, a greater attention being paid toward disinfecting. But I don’t understand toilet paper. Or toilet cleaner. Or dish soap. Were all y’all not wiping your asses and cleaning your toilets, and washing your dishes before all of this? I’ve also been amused by the run on rice and dry beans. I’m assuming that’s born of panic in some ways and that’s not amusing, but I also feel like everyone who bought non-instant rice and dry beans who wasn’t already cooking non-instant rice and dry beans is going to stop pretty soon once they realize it takes a bit of effort and know-how to make non-instant rice and dry beans without messing them up.

 

Do you know anyone who has COVID-19?

Yes. I won’t say who in the interests of medical privacy. I will say, though, that the person I know is younger than I am and, as far as I know, has no underlying medical issues that would increase their risk factors as we currently understand them. They seem to be recovering now.

 

Do you know anyone who had died from complications related to COVID-19?

No.

 

How long do you think it will be before the stay-at-home order is lifted in your community?

As I said, it’s currently set to expire on May 1. I predict it lasts until Memorial Day, but the only bit of certainty in all of this is that a date announced for a given event will not hold.

 

Will you immediately return to your normal routine after the stay-at-home order is lifted? Or will you wait before returning to normal? If you’ll wait, how much longer will you do so?

The first thing that’ll likely go back to normal will by my wife going back to her office to work. I suppose that will be the test case. If we feel comfortable I suppose we’ll branch out, bit-by-bit.

 

What’s the first thing you want to do when the stay-at-home order is lifted?

I’m eager to actually see my parents — the most interaction we’ve had is through a glass door when I drop off supplies for them — but I don’t know if, given their age and medical condition, that the lifting of the stay-at-home order will be the trigger for that. We may want to be more cautious. Going to one of the bars or restaurants I’m worried about closing as a result of all of this is likely to happen first.

 

Have you been ordering food out from local restaurants (carry-out or delivery)?

Yes. My son works at a pizza place and has continued working, so he brings home food sometimes. We’ve gotten non-pizza carryout twice since this began. I’ve felt OK with it. I talked to the manager of my son’s store and felt comfortable with the precautions they’re taking. The other places seem to, likewise, be taking this seriously. It’s good for all of us to, once in a while, have a little fun, even if it’s just some takeout barbecue. I also really worry about independently-owned places closing and what do to what I can to keep them open.

 

How often have you been going to the grocery store?

Around once a week. Which, as noted above, is kind of extreme for me.

 

Will you wear a mask when you go out?

I haven’t yet, but I think I will the next time I go. Seems to be the advice now.

 

Do you think other people have been taking this crisis seriously?

Yes and no. For the most part I think people consider it a serious matter and have, in the most important ways, altered their behavior. I think true scofflaws and doubters are extreme cases and that they get more coverage in the media and on social media than their actual numbers likely warrant. I understand how the media works and I’m not surprised about that.

I do think, though, that a great many people, while taking it seriously on an intellectual level, are not practicing the safest of habits. I’ve seen people who are not family — neighbors, it would appear — walking together on sidewalks and walking trails. People are not great about keeping their distance in stores. I think there’s always a disconnect between what people say they do and what they actually do — people underplay their vices and overplay their virtues — and there’s an element of that going on with this. There are also likely a good number of people, such as those people walking with their neighbors, who simply feel like they won’t get sick. There are a lot of people where I live, I suspect, who think that bad things can’t happen to them.

 

Do you think people have been over-reacting to this situation?

No. I do not think that’s been a problem at all. Notwithstanding what I said in the previous answer, I think people should be taking it even more seriously than they are. It’s the safe side on which to err. The claim that anyone is overreacting seems to be a political position assumed by some who have a vested interest in portraying things as normal and under control, not anything born out by facts.

 

How many people do you think will eventually die from COVID-19?

Six figures. I would not be shocked if 200,000 people die in this country. Per the article linked above, I think we’ve ensured that. I suspect, however, that actual deaths attributable to COVID-19 will be much greater than whatever official numbers are reported. We’re simply not testing anywhere near enough people. There are incentives in place for a great many actors and institutions to downplay the COVID-19 death toll. There will be a massive number of news stories about how so-and-so very clearly died a COVID-19-related death, but lawyers, an insurance company, an aid administrator, or a government official insists, for financial or political purposes, that, no, they did not.

One of the first casualties of this pandemic was any semblance of trust I have in our government to properly and truthfully address its gravity.

 

Do you think schools will re-open yet this year?

I do not think so, no. At least where we live. School is scheduled to end the day after Memorial Day. I think that some time in April they will simply announce that schools will not re-open and that the remote learning efforts they have made — which have been pretty solid here compared to a lot of places — will be deemed to constitute the requisite instruction days under state law to call it an official school year.

 

Do you think that summer sports like baseball will occur?

I think baseball will take place simply because there is too much money to be lost if they don’t and Major League Baseball cares about little else but money. Best practices would probably mean cancelling the entire season. My guess is that they’re up and running some sort of schedule by mid-late July. I think they’ll regret doing that but that’s what I think they’ll do.

 

What is one thing you have done since this crisis started that you don’t usually do?

Think about my mortality.

 

Is there anything that has changed in your life since this crisis began that you hope to keep after the crisis ends?

Two things.

First: I have started roasting a chicken every Sunday and making chicken stock and soup every Monday. It’s a pretty basic thing but it’s also a pretty sensible, frugal, efficient and old school thing. I’ve gotten very good at roasting a tasty chicken, the soup is 100x better than anything you can make in a non-from-scratch manner, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. Tonight’s chicken was great and the think I’m looking forward to the most for tomorrow is making my soup.

Second: While I write a lot already, my personal (non-job, on this website) writing has always been a bit erratic. I’ll write a lot one day — many thousands of words even — and then go a week or two before writing more. Since this began I have been consistently writing between 1,000 and 1,500 words a day as a matter of habit (today’s is 2,300, but I blame the questionnaire). Granted, that’s because I’ve been keeping this diary and I won’t always be doing that, but I’d like to write less in volume but more regularly in frequency going forward. It’s just a better habit. If I want to write a book, for example, that kind of controlled, disciplined approach will serve me better than waiting until I am overflowing with inspiration, spewing out 4,000 words, and then going dry for a couple of weeks.

 

Netflix sees me:

Allison has probably watched “Mad Men” all the way through four or five times. I’ve done it at least three times. We just started it again. We didn’t really talk about why. She just suggested it and I said “yeah, sounds good.” I’m not exactly sure why it’s made me feel better to watch it again, but part of it is probably tied up in the notion of the characters all dealing with problems and social dynamics that we, from the present, know are eminently solvable, even if most of the characters don’t solve them. There’s something empowering about seeing and knowing the big picture when our own big picture is so uncertain, and period fiction is good for that.

Then again, maybe it’s because Allison and I used to watch it together, remotely, when we were falling in love and dating long distance and it just reminds me of a happy time. I’m not sure.

 

April 6: A lot of readers of this diary have told me that my words here are helpful to them. That my putting what many of them are feeling down in writing is therapeutic.

I’m glad that I’ve been able to help some people cope in all of this, but I don’t think today I’ll be making anyone feel better about anything. Indeed, today I’m in a pretty dark place and there seems to be no light to be found at all. And I felt that way even before I heard that the most significant baseball figure of my youth died today.

 

We passed 10,000 deaths from COVID-19. Or maybe we did days or even a couple of weeks ago? In yesterday’s entry I speculated the numbers of COVID-19 deaths will greatly exceed the official numbers reported, primarily because of political or economic incentives to downplay the totals. There are simple practical barriers to counting them too, and like clockwork this came across the feed this morning:

New York City will be burying their many dead in temporary mass graves in public parks, ten to a row. One outlet reported that Riker’s Island inmates will be offered $6/hour to dig the graves. “It will be done in a dignified, orderly–and temporary–manner,” says the New York City councilman who announced the plan. Nothing says “orderly and dignified” like mass burials of plague dead by sub-minimum wage-earning prisoners. UPDATE: The councilman who said this has apparently backed off the claim. It happens. I leave it here just to let you know what was coloring my mood as I wrote all of this yesterday.

Meanwhile, states’ efforts to get protective equipment for medical professionals has hit a snag: the “free market.” The governor of Illinois calmly explained tonight that the Trump administration is importing tons of masks and face shields and things from China but, rather than distribute them to where they are needed, they are giving them to private companies who are then having states bid against one another for the equipment. This is a country that, in my parents’ lifetime, performed an unprecedented, massive airlift that saved West Berlin from the Soviet Union. We’re now unable to airlift medical supplies to our own states in the middle of a medical crisis without ensuring that there is ample opportunity for profiteering from rent-seeking corporate middlemen.

One would hope that business interests could be set aside in all of this, but given that our nation’s foremost experts in infectious diseases are being angrily shouted down by fringe conservative economists who insist they know more than the experts about what medical treatment is best as a pandemic rages, I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon.

Let’s look locally, shall we? At least my home state of Ohio has been something of an island of sanity in all of this. Oh, wait: gun sales surged in Ohio in March. In part because, “[a]lthough Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton issued a stay-at-home order, effectively closing all non-essential businesses in the state, the order considers firearm and ammunition suppliers to be essential.” I’ve had a lot of nice things to say about Governor DeWine, but there is no basis for that other than political ideology, so we know if and when push truly comes to shove whose interests will be served first, even in Ohio.

Anything better overseas?

 

On March 3 Johnson, in an effort to downplay the seriousness of the measures required to combat the pandemic, said “I was at a hospital where there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know. And I continue to shake hands.”

I take no pleasure in seeing anyone suffer, but I take even less pleasure in seeing that Johnson’s foolish stance last month continues to be asserted by a large number of political and religious leaders here at present. Everyone wants to be Churchill. Everyone wants to pretend that if they keep calm, carry on, and act defiantly, that they’ll prevail or, more likely, benefit politically. Our leaders do not seem to appreciate that a virus is not impressed with your composure and that the only thing one can do in the face of a pandemic is to take sensible precautions. I guess sensible precautions aren’t assertive and manly enough. I guess it’s worth thousands more dying if it means those in power can get a good quip or photo op inserted into the news cycle of them appearing undaunted and resolute.    

Not that all leaders are choosing style over substance. Things are going far better in Germany than they here or in the UK. Why? Because . . .

“Beyond mass testing and the preparedness of the health care system, many also see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as one reason the fatality rate has been kept low. Ms. Merkel, a trained scientist, has communicated clearly, calmly and regularly throughout the crisis, as she imposed ever-stricter social distancing measures on the country. The restrictions, which have been crucial to slowing the spread of the pandemic, met with little political opposition and are broadly followed. The chancellor’s approval ratings have soared. ‘Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,’ said Professor Kräusslich, ‘is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.'”

It’d almost be better if I didn’t know that. It’d almost be better if it were not so clear that we’re choosing so much of what we’re doing to ourselves because we have chosen to put the worst people in charge and have chosen to follow them into Hell.

 

I tried to unplug and relax in the evening but it didn’t really take.

Anna works for a music school that has gone to online lessons and learning. Her job is to supervise small children as they do various music and musical theory-related exercises on computers, answering whatever questions they have. That translates pretty well to online work, so she can do it on her laptop from her bedroom. She worked a shift this evening, so I just brought her dinner to her upstairs. Since she was allowed to eat in her room I let her brother eat in his room too. Allison was at the barn, so I ended up having a bowl of soup by myself in the kitchen. Without anyone else around there was nothing to distract me from stewing on all the negative news of the day. I probably should’ve just turned on the TV and turned off my brain instead.

One of my cats is kind of a mess. She needs meds to keep from having seizures. She also needs special food because either the seizure meds or her just generally being difficult made her stop eating what she and the other cats have been eating for years. Before all of that she had issues with throwing up and dropping weight, and since one of her sisters died from a disease that caused that dynamic last year, I am always watching her closely and I get kind of stressed out when she doesn’t eat. Like anything else you just roll with it, so each evening consists of me getting her special food out, making sure she, and not the other cats, eat it, and then remembering to give her her anti-seizure pill. Most days it’s fine and it’s become a pretty automatic routine. Tonight she ate, I gave her her pill, and about a half hour later she barfed it all up.

The weather was nice today. At least there was that. Some days that’s all there is.

 

A reader sent me this song overnight. I first heard it around the time Carleen and I were splitting up. I spent most of that year feeling like I was helplessly watching the world happen so this song, which puts me in mind of someone remembering their whole life as it flashes before their eyes, helpless to do anything about it other than remember, stuck with me at the time. It also reminds me a lot of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” at least structurally speaking. Dylan wrote that during the Cuban Missile Crisis when he thought the bombs were going to start dropping. He wanted to think of every big, life-defining, world-ending vision he could and get it all down before he couldn’t any longer.

Feelin’ ya today, Sam. Feelin’ ya today, Bob.

 

 

April 7: Rest in Peace John Prine, victim of COVID-19. Bob Dylan once said, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind-trips to the nth degree.” Dylan is full of shit most of the time, of course. Prine responded by saying he couldn’t even pronounce “Proustian existentialism” and that he said he just wrote songs. They were both right.

 

Allison and I watched the series finale of “Schitt’s Creek” last night. It was such a sweet show. Whenever I watched it I wanted to believe that, on some level, people are as good and as well-intentioned in real life as Dan Levy wrote them to be on that show. Experience and simply looking around renders that a fantasy, but for a few minutes I could pretend otherwise.

 

If you read yesterday’s entry you probably picked up that I was not in the best of moods when I went to bed on Monday night. It happens. Yesterday, overall, was a better day.

A harebrained idea about how to restart the Major League Baseball season came across the wires after I went to bed and greeted me when I woke up. There’s nothing like a harebrained idea from Major League Baseball to put me in a better mood. I’ve spent the past 20 years ripping harebrained ideas from Major League Baseball to shreds and these days all of us would kill for some normality and this gave me some.

I wrote my little piece about it — short version: Major League Baseball thinks it can negotiate and/or wish its way out of a pandemic via an unworkable quarantine scheme, with “we can make some money” seeming to me to be the primary argument in its favor — and then got on with my early morning. Then I got a text from Matt.

Matt is a video producer at NBC. When we first started my website in 2009 he contributed some posts to it. Within a year of the site’s launch we began a daily video feature called “HBT Daily” that he ran from Stamford, Connecticut and I taped from my little studio in my basement and Matt helped my way-out-of-his-depth-ass put together video content five days a week for a few years.

A brief aside about the studio.

When I started taping HBT Daily my son Carlo was four years-old. He had afternoon preschool so he’d be home in the morning and he’d watch me go down to the basement at 10am to record the segment. Sometimes he’d ask me what I was doing, so I’d say, “Daddy is making a video for the Internet.” Sometimes I’d show him one of the videos. At the time the host of HBT Daily was a woman named Tiffany Simons. This is what the videos would look like if you watched them back in the day:

That was me when I was ten years younger, 20+ pounds heavier and had crappy glasses. And people ask why I’m happier in my 40s than I was in my 30s.

Anyway, Carlo would see those videos, say things like “you’re on TV, Daddy!” and thought it was great fun. He never actually saw me tape the segments, though, so he didn’t have a good handle on how it was that I was appearing on a screen next to Tiffany. Which was nothing I thought about until, one day, we had this conversation:

Carlo: Did you do the TV thing today?

Me: Yep.

Carlo: Is that lady still living in our basement?

I told Tiffany about that and she somehow managed not to take out a restraining order against me and/or Carlo.

 

Matt is producing a show at NBC called “LunchTalk Live.”  It launched yesterday and, yes, it’s a show that exists precisely because NBC Sports Network, like all sports platforms, is in need of content given that all the sports have gone away. The host is NBC’s top on-screen dog, Mike Tirico.

Mike is used to broadcasting via satellite from the Super Bowl or the British Open or the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro or something. Thanks to the pandemic he’s basically where I was in 2010, broadcasting via high speed internet from his house. Of course his house is way nicer than mine. And even though our entire industry and entire country is on lockdown, forcing everyone to improvise like crazy, his operation is way slicker than my old videos were too. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s a major media professional with decades of experience and I was a lawyer-turned-blogger who had no business being in front of the camera. I still don’t have any business being in front of a camera, really, but Matt asked me to be on with Tirico today to talk about MLB’s harebrained idea.

I no longer have a basement or a studio, so I put my laptop on top of a laundry drying rack and moved a framed baseball print to a corner of the bedroom to make it kinda/sorta/not really look like a studio. Could’ve been worse. Could’ve had cats in the shot. That used to happen all the time back when I taped HBT Daily in my basement. Matt once told me, after a cat jumped on my lap while taping, that “that’s great television.” I don’t think he was being honest about that because we’d always do a re-take when a cat got in the shot.

Tirico and I did our video, talking about MLB’s harebrained idea. You don’t have to watch it because I sounded even more nasally and more lispy than I normally do today and because I had the laundry rack too close to me, so it made kind of look like an alien. But if you want to watch, this is it:

It was fine.

It also made me think about how long I’ve been doing this and how much my thoughts about my job have changed over time.

Not long after I started doing those videos I started doing actual TV. And not from my basement. Like, they’d fly me in to New York, have a car service pick me up at LaGuardia, and drive me up to the studio in Stamford where we taped NBC’s version of “SportsCenter,” the name of which I can’t remember at the moment but which doesn’t matter because it no longer exists.

They’d deposit me in a green room with ex-athletes like Doug Flutie or Ross Tucker or Amani Toomer or Darryl Hamilton (RIP) or Chris Simms. Or maybe a big media guy like Peter King. A couple of times a fellow baseball internet nerd, Joe Sheehan, would be there and I’m pretty sure both of us wondered why on Earth they thought we should be on TV.

After we’d sit in the green room and talk about the show we’d go to makeup. Most of the makeup technicians had worked for NBC for years, making everyone from Conan O’Brien to Katie Couric and everyone in between look good on camera, but they’d still always treat me like I belonged there even though I very clearly didn’t. Some people on the crew would refer to me as “talent.” As in “talent needs to be on set in five.” Whenever they’d say that I’d blush, which just made the makeup technician have to use more of that foundation in the airbrush gun to cover up my giant, normally pasty but now-blushing face and make it match the tone they applied to my big shiny bald head. I’d go to the set, try to look at the correct camera, try to say something intelligent — I was talent, after all — and then go back to my hotel room, happy I didn’t totally fuck up a live television broadcast.

I eventually started to get better at TV. Mostly because, like most things in life, it’s all about reps. Partially, though, I started to figure out that what made for good sports TV was pretty much the opposite of what makes for good sports writing.

I learned that pacing was, in a lot of ways, more important than the substance of it all. Good banter that didn’t get to the bottom of an issue was way better than a monologue which did. A quip was better than a point. Knowing which camera to look at when and not being distracted when people were trying to tell you something in your earpiece while you were talking was pretty damn important.

Improv rules were kind of important too. The host may ask you, the alleged baseball expert, and the other guy at the desk who may be a retired pro golfer or a tight end who suffered way too many concussions, about something only one of you know anything about. Despite your impulse to want to go off if you were the guy who knew the topic or defer if you had no idea about it, you all still had to talk. And while it was mostly the host’s job, you had to at least help make sure the conversation stayed balanced. You had to give Mr. Golf or Mr. Football some ground, nod and say, “that’s a good point” and try to build off of it, even if what they just said was pure nonsense. All of that could be frustrating intellectually, but the point is to deliver a TV show as if it were a conversation that viewers could feel a part of. If you wanted to argue with someone, go on one of ESPN’s shout-fests or go on a talk radio show. If you wanted to lecture someone, hey, that’s what your blog is for.

Despite how comfortable I eventually got doing television, I only really felt like I had a future in for about a single week in late 2013. That was when, out of the blue, I was approached by someone at Fox Sports who asked me if I’d consider joining them. It was not yet a job offer — I’d have to talk to some other people first — but Fox was at least interested, and they were approaching me, not the other way around.

To the extent Fox wanted me, it was primarily for what I actually do well — write about baseball on the Internet — but they talked a lot about how they liked what they saw of me on TV and that that would be a regular part of it. They even said that, if it worked out, they’d want me to be in Los Angeles where their TV studios are.

NBC had always been very, very good to me — and still is — and I wasn’t looking to change jobs. Fox holds national Major League Baseball rights, however, so it presented an opportunity to raise my profile a good bit. It kinda made me feel important and, I’ll admit, for the one week in between that first conversation and the big, multi-person conversation we scheduled that day, I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to be an actual TV personality living in Los Angeles. I may have even looked at real estate listings, you know, just to see what the situation was out there.

Not long into the second, bigger call it became pretty clear to me that, while that first guy l had spoken to liked me a lot, theay all liked someone else way better and they were just doing some due diligence. The call ended and it I knew I wouldn’t hear back from them.

That kind of sucked for a short while, but I got over it pretty quickly when, a few weeks later, I was writing something hyper-critical about some harebrained idea Major League Baseball had come up with and realized that there is no way that Fox — official broadcasting partner of Major League Baseball — would ever let me write that. I know some writers who work for broadcast rights-holders who are able to walk a fine line between independence and criticism on the one hand and the diplomacy necessary in the broadcast business on the other, but I’m not sure I really have those skills. I’m more of a blunt instrument when it comes talking about the actions of people in power. It was all mooted anyway when, a couple of years later, Fox hired a bunch of awful sports talk hosts like Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless and eliminated all of their written editorial content in its entirety. If I had been there I would’ve been out of a job and, I suspect, I’d be back practicing law right now. Everyone’s life is full of opportunities missed, but everyone’s life is also full of bullets dodged and I look at that as a dodged bullet.

The TV stuff with NBC continued for a while longer but began to peter out in 2014 when they realized that they really didn’t need their own version of SportsCenter. They eventually ended that show, and they were right to do it. A couple of months later I moved to a different house. It didn’t have a basement and I didn’t have anyplace for my studio to film my little videos. I came up with some ideas about how to use closets or my garage, but NBC decided it wasn’t really worth it and, again, were right to do so. Football, Hockey, and the Olympics pay the bills there, and there wasn’t much of a percentage in my little but still expensive-to-produce baseball videos to begin with. I boxed up my equipment and, eventually, shipped it back to Stamford. I’ve flown back there maybe twice in the past six years to do a couple of random video segments, and I’ve been on MLB Network and a couple of other places for some one-off TV appearances, but for all practical purposes my TV career, such as it ever was, has been over for a long time.

All of which made today feel weird. But good.

I’m not really sad that the TV stuff is in the rear-view mirror — I’ll always be a writer first, foremost and probably exclusively — but like everyone else with a healthy ego, I like to go in front of a camera and talk about stuff I know a good bit about and I got to do that today. It was also pretty relaxed. Back when I had half a thought that I might have a future in TV, I used to think a lot about my appearances beforehand. I’d try to come up with some one-liners ahead of time. I’d maybe even practice my delivery of certain points I wanted to make before I went on to make sure I hit the big parts big. I’d get a little jolt of nervous excitement when taping something and Matt or whoever was producing said “we have speed,” which directly proceeded “and . . . action.” It all felt like a big deal.

Today, though? It was just kinda fun. I liked talking to Matt again. I liked being on a split screen with a guy as big as Tirico. I liked that I got a video clip out of it. My parents know what I do for a living, but I get the sense that they’ve never really felt that writing on the Internet is a real job. Back when I used to go on NBC Sports Network a lot they’d brag to their friends about their son on TV, so it was nice to be able to share the clip on Facebook so they can, in turn, share it with some person I don’t know who they insist I met when I was a child and, really, why don’t you remember them? It gives them something to do at least.

I even felt a little useful.

I can always find things to write about even if nothing is going on, but my industry as a whole is rather fucked at the moment due to the lack of sports. I liked that I was able to fill some time that they needed to fill on this new show they’re launching for that express purpose. I liked that I could help give something to viewers to watch, even if wasn’t actual sports. Even if it was only three minutes and twenty-seven seconds long. Even if I talked through my nose and lisped.

There are worse ways to spend your day during a pandemic.

 

April 8: This afternoon I dropped Carlo off at work and then took Anna to her mom’s house. On the ride over there Anna and I were talking about the deprivations of our locked-down, pandemic world.

Me: Did you do anything today?

Anna: Of course not. I had an online math test. That’s it.

Me: I guess that’s not a question I should be asking these days.

Anna: No.

Me: [starts laughing out loud]

Anna: What?

Me: I just thought of something. When you have kids, or when you’re a grandmother or whatever, you’re gonna be doing that “back in MY day we had to stay INSIDE because of the PANDEMIC!” thing. You’re going to sound like old people saying how they walked uphill both ways to school or when your grandma Charlie talks about the Depression and all of that. And no one is gonna care at all. They’re just gonna think “there she goes again . . .”

Anna [realization of her uncool future dawning on her]: . . . Oh God . . .

Me: You’re gonna start going on about how you had to conserve toilet paper and cut your own hair and everything and kids are just going to roll their eyes at you.

Anna [the horror of it all hitting home]: They’re gonna be all like, “OK Zoomer!”

We both died laughing, but I think it legitimately bothered her. I hope I’m alive when that all goes down because I’m gonna join in with the kids mocking her.

 

Per the latest in recommended best practices, several days ago I started wearing an improvised bandana mask when I left the house. It was pretty janky:

 

Today in the mail we received some homemade masks sewn by a friend of Allison’s. They are much more refined. Stylish, even. Allison’s is personalized, with a horse print. Mine looks like this:

 

It stays on my face better and is way better made than the red bandana.

Not gonna lie, though: the couple of times I put on the red bandana while walking into a store or a gas station or whatever made me feel like I was about to fire shots into the ceiling and rob the fucking place, and I don’t get the same rush with the little mustaches. Oh well.

 

Bob Dylan recently released his first new song in a very long time. “Murder Most Foul” is a 17-minute murder ballad about the assassination of J.F.K. Dylan refers to that in song as “the soul of a nation being torn away,” after which he lists off, like a mantra, some of the most significant American art and music of the past 60 years.

Dylan’s intentions are rarely easy to decipher and, often, when people do figure them out he’ll lie and say he was talking about something else. He’s funny that way.

With the caveat that he may very well show up in a “Rolling Stone” interview this fall saying that the song was, really, about some obscure French Symbolist, at the moment most people seem to be reading it as a contemplation on how people can still create and thrive and a culture and society can persevere in the face of horror, even if we do not — and should not — forget that horror. At the very least people are interpreting his decision to release it when he did, as we were plunging into the depths of a pandemic, as something along those lines. For all we know he wrote it in 2005. He’ll probably never tell us.

Back on March 25 I mentioned Nick Cave and his “Red Hand Files” newsletter. Today, in response to a reader’s question, Cave talked about “Murder Most Foul.” His interpretation is basically what I said above. But then he went on to talk about whether this will be Dylan’s last new song.

It’s a fair question. Dylan turns 79 next month. Apart from this song he has not put out any newly-written music since his 2012 album “Tempest,” choosing instead to release a series of albums of standards from the Great American Songbook. I’ll put nothing past Dylan — his last creative renaissance came after a seven-year new song hiatus during which he only released a couple of albums of folk standards — but this could be the last new Dylan song we ever hear. If it is, Cave has some advice about how to think about it:

As for whether this is the last time we will hear a new Bob Dylan song. I certainly hope not. But perhaps there is some wisdom in treating all songs, or for that matter, all experiences, with a certain care and reverence, as if encountering these things for the last time. I say this not just in the light of the novel coronavirus, rather that it is an eloquent way to lead one’s life and to appreciate the here and now, by savouring it as if it were for the last time. To have a drink with a friend as if it were the last time, to eat with your family as it were the last time, to read to your child as if it were the last time, or indeed, to sit in the kitchen listening to a new Bob Dylan song as if it were the last time. It permeates all that we do with greater meaning, placing us within the present, our uncertain future, temporarily arrested.

This resonated with me in a major way.

I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe that when we die, we die. That a light switch is simply flipped and we are cast into oblivion, no more aware of our afterlife, such as it is, than we were of our beforelife, such as it was. What were my real time impressions of, say, 1951? Nothing. So too will be my experience of the time after I’m gone.

When I tell people this they often tell me that it’s dark. Or sad. Or that it seems hopeless to them. I’ve had some people say to me, upon hearing this, that I should seek out some sort of mental or spiritual help. I find that all rather laughable, and not just because, if you’ve met me, you’ll attest to the fact that I’m probably the least dark guy you know.

The reality: a final death like that is encouraging to me. Comforting, even. It fills my life with purpose.

If there is nothing else after this — nothing to wait for and no time in which to do more — it means that everything I do now is everything I’ll ever do. I won’t have the time or space to say what I could say now but don’t. I won’t be able to do then that which is not done now. As Cave suggests, everything I do now could be the last time I do it. Every time I see someone could be the last time I see them.

Because of that, I do my best to make sure that my acts, my thoughts, and my interactions are as meaningful as they can be. And, if they can’t be truly meaningful — and let’s be honest, we spend a lot of time in life just farting around, even if we try not to — I at least try to make sure that I leave no dissonant notes which I’ll regret having not resolved. This is why, as I mentioned last week, I don’t like to drop my kids off at their mom’s for five days with our last conversation being an argument or a lecture. This is why I think a lot about and write down a lot about almost everything that pops into my head and any significant experiences I may have. When you only get so much of something, you want to savor it. When you might have to leave in a hurry, you want to make sure you’ve left things where everyone can find them if they need to.

I’m still not sure what I think of “Murder Most Foul.” I think it’s a better poem than a song, and there are a lot of Dylan songs about death and finality that I love more, but I also think that if this is the last thing Bob Dylan ever does, it stands up as a strong final note.

 

My state, Ohio, has been aggressive about shutdowns and things. It seems to be paying off, as yesterday the Department of Health announced that it is beating initial projections of new COVID-19 cases and as such has substantially revised its projections downward. The initial prediction is here, in the blue portion of the graph, when it was projected that at the peak we’ll see 9,800 new COVID-19 cases a day in our state:

 

The new projection, here, shows 1,600 new COVID-19 cases per day:

There no doubt will be idiots who, upon seeing lower-than-initially-projected cases, will claim that this was all an overreaction and that we didn’t need to shut down public life after all. Such is the nature of addressing a pandemic. As the experts say, if the response is effective it will feel like it was all unnecessary simply because we, as humans, tend to notice when things happen and we tend not to notice when things don’t happen (i.e. lots of people who did not die). Given that dynamic, I can only assume working in public health is a thankless job.

Either way: the fact that the idiots who will later complain about all of this will, by definition, be healthy and alive and able voice their idiocy goes a long way toward proving their idiocy in this respect.

 

April 9: In these trying times we must look wherever we can for sound, sober advice.

 

Thank you, Steak-umm.

 

There were protesters at the Ohio Statehouse today demanding that the shutdown orders be lifted.

 

Watching news coverage of it and it became clear that they were not really able to articulate a coherent basis for their protest. Sentiments such as “we are concerned about our Constitutional rights” or “they don’t have the power to do this” were repeated many times but, sorry folks, government does have the power to do this. It’s an actual, life-threatening emergency, and such things are the very reason we stopped living as unconnected bands of nomadic tribesman and began to form civilizations and governments. There are threats that require collective action and sacrifice, even if there aren’t many of them in our own living memory.

As for the “quarantine worse than virus” stuff: the protesters all stood at least six feet apart and most of them were wearing masks. If you really think the virus is no big deal, put your money where your covered mouths are, lock arms and prove us wrong, my dudes.

 

That stuff aside I tried my best to stay away from the news and social media today. So much of it is so dreary that I’m finding I can’t even really face it unless I’m in the best of moods.

The unemployment rate continues to skyrocket. There were 6.6 million new claims last week and now a full 10% of the nation’s entire pre-pandemic workforce has lost their jobs. The country has not seen this magnitude of layoffs and this kind of economic contraction since the Great Depression. And absolutely no one in charge seems to appreciate how dire a threat this all is.

The president is more concerned with optics. He wants the country to be “back up and running” in three weeks, with no appreciation of how dangerous that is. Congress is said to be “scrambling to put another relief package together” but they’ve been in recess for two weeks now and to the extent they are talking, the talk immediately defaults to standard ideological battles about the size of government and abortion and stuff far more aimed at political calculation and either an unconscious or knee-jerk “everything is normal” mode. No one is up to this moment. No one seems to appreciate that bold action, the sort of which we have not seen in this nation since The New Deal, is going to be necessary.

Well, two people do. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Each of whom have set forth detailed policy proposals which appreciate and address the gravity of the moment. Each of whom, however, the country basically told to fuck off in the Democratic primaries. We’re pretty screwed.

 

Sanders just dropped out yesterday. I’m not really prepared to wade into all of that and engage it at the moment. Given that all I can think about right now is survival and endurance in the face of a pandemic, the election feels distant to me, as if I’m viewing it from a pair of inverted binoculars.

Even if I can bring it into closer view for a few moments, navigating all of the ins and outs of our current political landscape seems so goddamn daunting.

I support just about everything Sanders supports, but it seems pretty clear to me that most of the country does not. At least to the extent that they’re willing to vote for it, as opposed to telling some pollster that they’re for it in the abstract. They do the latter more often than they do the former, by the way. It’s one thing to say that more people support socialized medicine, much heavier taxation of the rich, and sweeping environmental reforms, but it’s another thing to get the people who say they support those things to actually vote. I understand that there are massive structural problems with our electoral system, but Sanders has now had two primary cycles to get those people to the polls and he simply hasn’t done it.

In light of that, I’m not really inclined to rage against whatever dumb shit Joe Biden or Democratic officials do. I think they’re mostly worthless at best and have enabled and even collaborated with Republicans and their destructive agenda far more often than they’d ever acknowledge. But I also think the notion — held by a great many of my progressive friends —  that those feckless people are orchestrating some grand conspiracy to freeze out progressives is overstated. If the past 40 years of Democratic politics shows us anything, it’s that they couldn’t orchestrate their way out of a paper bag. I think they’re mostly defensive of their position and status and fearful that doing anything remotely bold will threaten it. True malevolence requires at least a modicum of competence, and I don’t think the DNC or whatever makes up the Democratic Establishment boogeyman of the moment has done much to demonstrate that in some time. Fear and inertia is the catalyst of the moment for those people.

When I’m being honest, I have to admit to myself that most voters, even most Democratic voters, are not really motivated by the ideas and issues that motivate me and my progressive friends. I think most people want quiet and peace and want to be able to go a week without thinking about their government or the problems in the world. I think that, unfortunately, they’re willing to forego all manner of progress if someone lets them have those things for five minutes.

Whatever the case, I don’t think, on balance, they’re ready to follow bold progressive agenda. When I’m being charitable I don’t blame them for that even if I think that such an agenda will help them and the world tremendously. People vote their feelings more than on issues, and if they do vote on issues, it tends to be one or two issues that happen to animate a moment in the cultural zeitgeist rather than issues that form a part of some transformative plan. When they have done the latter, it’s been out of necessity, such as the Depression, but our current calamity didn’t get the timing right for 2020, I suppose.

So where does that leave me? I’ll vote for Joe Biden because no matter how much I dislike him and no matter how much his ascendence represents a complete failure of hope and vision, he’s not a literal Fascist like Trump, and we are at serious risk of Fascism being mainstreamed inn this country beyond the point of no return. I know I have progressive friends who can’t, as the cliche goes, “hold their nose and vote for Biden.” I don’t begrudge them and I’m not going to cajole or harass them, but in the end I do hope they come around simply because I think Trump is a literal danger to the nation and will literally cause people to be killed.

 

All of that aside, I stayed offline for much of the day, tuning out the news and watched a baseball game.

Baseball games usually don’t last most of a day but they do when you are watching them on video and writing about every little thing that happens in them. That’s what I did with a Detroit Tigers game from 1984 that I found on YouTube and decided to live blog over at NBC. It became less of a live blog and more of an annotation, with me hitting pause on the video every 47 seconds to write about some thing that happened with the hindsight of 36 years and with a heavy infusion of memory and nostalgia about what it was like to be a Detroit Tigers fan in 1984.

It ended up being over 6,000 words worth of writing, but they were 6,000 very comforting words, at least for for me. Everything that is going on right now requires presence. Attention to the news. Vigilance against behavior which might make you or the people you love sick. Even the most mundane activities — going for walks, stopping at the store — require an unusual and even uncomfortable level of planning and thought. Being able to just let go and disappear into a ballgame from many decades ago was a balm.

Thank you Dan Petry for tossing a four-hit complete game shutout. You did more for me today than any briefing from the Health Department possibly could.

 

April 10: While planning my last trip to London I was looking at an Underground map when some question popped in my mind that I cannot now remember but which caused me to Google the Underground’s history. I tend to get lost in such things if no one interrupts me so, four or five tangents later, I was into some deeply weird stuff.

Stuff like plague pits.

A plague pit is pretty much what it sounds like: a mass grave dug during a major plague outbreak. The term is most prominently associated with London’s Great Plague of 1665, when a quarter of the city’s population was killed by the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in Britain. At the time the graveyards rapidly filled up and, since London’s real estate market was, then as now, pretty damn tough, individual graves became available only to wealthy people. The solution: city authorities would dig giant trenches, have the people bring out their dead, and dump ’em.

Plague pits come up in sources about the Underground because a great many books and newspaper accounts of its construction say that the reason so many of the tube routes curve and meander is because they were routed to avoid plague pits. Or, in some more gruesome accounts, that they first attempted to dig lines through the plague pits but they were so densely packed with skeletons that they had to stop and go around.

If you take a quick look at a geographically accurate Tube map, as opposed to a schematic map, with straight lines used for the sake of clarity and easier navigation, you can see that, yep, the lines do a lot of curving:

Creepy, right?

Well, no. Because the whole “the Underground was built all curvy to avoid plague pits” thing is not true.

Nineteenth century England was a lot of things, but it was not run by the kind of people who would let dead bodies get in the way of progress. The Underground curves, for the most part, because its builders did its best to follow roads that curved so that they did not have to purchase as many houses and buildings for rights of way. Most of those roads all followed very old routes that preexisted the plague, and no one was digging plague pits in the middle of, say, the Dover Road. Whenever the builders of the Underground did encounter graveyards they simply collected the bodies, threw them in a vault next to the tracks and, sometimes, but not always, put up a little plaque noting that they had to make way.

But even if they intended to avoid plague pits it wasn’t really that big of a problem because plague pits, while a real thing, were actually, far rarer than people think. Plague victims were overwhelmingly buried in churchyard cemeteries.

“The plague is a terrible experience for Londoners, so in some ways they cling on to things that they’re used to, that give them stability and comfort,” said University of London historian Vanessa Harding in this fascinating BBC article from 2016. “And one of those things is, as far as possible, people should be buried properly.” Harding said that, because of that, there are really “only a handful” of actual plague pits.

In related news:

 

According to the New York Times, an average of 150 people die every day in New York City in normal times. The virus has effectively doubled that, overwhelming funeral homes, crematories, cemeteries and city morgues. The Times says that “[n]early 120 morgue workers, assisted by more than 100 soldiers from the Army, the National Guard and the Air National Guard, are working in shifts around the clock, driving rented vans all over the city to pick up bodies.” As such, Hart Island — New York City’s historic potter’s field — has been pressed into service as part of a “contingency burial plan.”

Call it what you want, but the term “plague pit” sings a bit more than “contingency burial plan” if you ask me.

 

I went to Costco this afternoon. I waited until I was not desperate for toilet paper and whatever bulk things people buy at Costco and, instead, just went to get the few things I do tend to get there. I can get gluten free flour and almond flour for Allison there way cheaper and in larger quantities than the grocery store. I buy the big pack of toothbrushes and the four-pack of pork roasts. Carlo drinks the lime La Croix like it’s, um, water, and Anna likes their onion bagels. Not everything works out well there financially speaking — the frozen prepared foods are not really a good deal and no one with a family smaller than the Brady Bunch can go through that much milk — but on balance I’ve optimized my relatively minimal Costco list.

Based on today’s trip, though, I know one thing: we should totally outsource the running of the country to Costco until the pandemic is over. They’ve got it down.

I had driven by last weekend and saw a giant snaking line outside and said “fuck that.”  Like, I actually said it, out loud. I figured an early Friday afternoon trip would be better. And it was. You still have to wait in line, but it was generally fine.

They are VERY vigilant about only letting 125 people in the store at once. You line up, and there are lines painted or taped on the ground to mark six feet so you don’t get in people’s space:

 

That line, by the way, stretched all the way to the distance and then snaked back in this direction last weekend. By all means, do your best to avoid it on a Saturday.

Once inside the cart area it snaked a bit more, kind of like when you get to the covered part of the line for a big roller coaster where you can actually see the trains coming in and people getting on and you start to get a little excited. When you get to the front there are people working click-counters and manning a velvet, er, polyester rope to let people in, 25 at a time, after 25 people have left. As you can see, I was person number 26. Or person number 1 for the next batch:

 

Once you get inside it’s like shopping in a ghost town Costco. It was pretty empty, a few cul-de-sacs notwithstanding. It got modestly crowded when you got back by the meat and fresh foods, and they had another guy working a rope for the little refrigerated room with the fruits and vegetables, where they’d let people in one at a time to get their stuff and get out. Otherwise it was almost . . . pleasant?

As for supplies: they didn’t have toilet paper (well, they had the industrial single-ply stuff) but we’re good on that at the moment. They also didn’t have chicken at all apart from the famous cooked rotisserie chickens. I figure people would riot if they didn’t have those. Everything else was about as normal as usual.

Checking out was like a military operation. There was one person directing you to the optimal line, keeping people from jockeying for position. There was one person taking things out of your cart, one person running the register, and one person putting the stuff back in your cart. The usual Costco protocol might have two people there, but sometimes just one. Never three or four. They have the plexiglass partitions the other stores I’ve been to have too. The guy who checks your receipt at the door is behind a partition as well. Rather than him taking your receipt, checking your cart, making small talk and then marking it with a yellow highlighter, however, you just hold up your receipt to the plexiglass. That part was kind of sad. The very friendly old guy who is most often at the door at my Costco seemed kind of bummed not to be pressing the flesh like he usually does. I suppose we’re all dealing with change.

It was as efficient as all get-out, even with the standing in line, and the standing in line is made up for by the fact that I actually felt safe in there. Contrast that with the grocery store where, though the stores themselves are following the rules and though the workers are doing a great job, the smaller spaces just make it harder to distance and the customers seem to be more all over the place.

 

Anna’s mother dropped her off at my house at 4:30. I picked up Carlo from work at the pizza place at 7. The line for the drive-thru — the only means of picking up pizza there — wrapped all the way around the back of the building, back out into the parking lot and spilled into the parking lot of the Walgreen’s next door. Carlo tells me Friday is always their busiest evening but I’ve never seen anything like that. I suspect that, like me, everyone’s getting a little fatigued with meal planning, shopping, and cooking.

 

My fatigue led us to having breakfast for dinner. Which, to be fair, is pretty awesome even in normal times. We made bacon, eggs, and potatoes, and I cracked an English ale in honor of those thrown in the plague pits. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

 

After dinner Allison brought out a 1,000 piece puzzle she bought a week or two ago. She specifically got one that big so it had to be done on the dining room table rather than up in Carlo’s room, where he does 500-piece puzzles all the time by himself. She wanted us to do something together as a family. She always thinks about that kind of stuff in ways that I wish I did but simply don’t, probably because I spend so much time in my own head or writing or online or whatever.

Carlo loves puzzles, and he’s really damn good at them, so he eagerly came down and started in on it with Allison. Anna is not really a puzzle person — and she, like me, is way more likely to crawl into her head and shut herself off if she’s allowed to — but she, quite surprisingly, came down too. I am really not a puzzle person. I am bad at them. My brain just doesn’t seem to connect with them at all. But I wanted to sit at the table with my family too, so I mixed myself a Manhattan and watched everyone else work on it, offering mostly unhelpful advice and finding pieces which I thought might help the three of them, only to me looked at like I was a moron. “That owl’s eye has a ring around it. The eye I am working on does not have a ring,” I was told in a voice juuuust this side of impatience.

 

As the puzzle slowly came together, the conversation turned to music.

I’ve tried to not be that dad who forces his musical tastes on his kids so, though they obviously hear what I like when we’re in the car or whatever, I don’t spend too much time telling them what I think they should listen to. I’ve been super surprised, then, to find just how much 1990s and early 2000s stuff Carlo likes. Radiohead is a particular favorite of his. He likes Gorillaz and that has led him to Blur to some extent.

Of course there are a ton of artists and albums he likes that I know absolutely nothing about. At one point, in response to nothing in particular, he said “so there’s this Belarusian post-punk band I’ve been listening to. . . ” Which is as it should be. If you’re 14 and you find yourself liking too many of the things your 46 year-old dad likes, you probably should reexamine your priorities.

Anna says that Carlo tries too hard to “show that he’s not like all the other girls” via his musical tastes and, as such, she’s less demonstrative about what she’s into. She likes Harry Styles. Carlo says she likes The 1975. Beyond that I’m really not sure. I was a bit surprised, though, when Allison switched the music we had playing to The Mountain Goats and Anna sang along, word-for-word, with “This Year.”

It’s OK to not know things about your kids. In fact, it can be amazingly fun.

 

April 11: The Los Angeles Times had a story this morning about how, possibly, COVID-19 was spreading around the Bay Area and northern California earlier than many people believe. It tracks a handful of cases, tries to piece together their infection vectors, and gets some experts to go on record suggesting that people could’ve been carrying it in December.

Early in this diary I mentioned that both my ex-wife and I observed some odd illnesses with both of our kids and with one of her coworkers in January. A severe cough and a fever, particularly with Carlo. Everyone was tested for flu and it came back negative. Anna was diagnosed with a sinus infection, but she didn’t have the same sort of symptoms one usually gets with a sinus infection. No nasal drainage or pressure or things like that. For her it was just a stubborn fever and fatigue. Carlo was not diagnosed with a sinus infection. He’s always had severe coughs whenever he gets hit with colds or the various sorts of viruses that swirl around in the winter. Barking coughs that are likely a holdover from his childhood history of croup. When he gets like this they usually just say he has “crud.” Both of the kids were given antibiotics, Anna due to her diagnosis, Carlo because “well, why not?” Both of them saw their illnesses run their course over 7-10 days.

I have no basis for thinking that they or anyone else around here actually had COVID-19. I’m an Occam’s Razor guy and the fact is that a conclusion to that end requires a ton of logical and evidentiary jumps that “Anna had a sinus infection and Carlo had a bad cold” do not. And that’s before you get into the fact that no one, at least around here, who has been studying and tracking all of this has even suggested it as a possibility. There’s also the fact that, though I’ve been holding it basically together mentally speaking, I cannot discount the possibility that I’m irrationally looking for some way out of all of this for myself and my family. “Maybe we already had it and we’ll all be fine,” he thought, wishfully, before retreating into his bunker.

But I do wonder. I wonder if the antibiotics my kids took didn’t really do anything but, rather, they were just riding something else out. I wonder if, a year or two from now when people have written and published their papers about all of this, that we won’t find out that this all progressed differently than we believed. I wonder if we’ve all been so distracted about the mostly disastrous response to COVID-19 in this country, we’ve overlooked its spread.

I read this line in the paper — “Parents, first told their children would be spared as the disease hit older generations, now bury their kids in anger and await funerals that may never come” — and wonder if there aren’t all manner of things we thought we knew about all of this that will turn out to be false.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, I’m seeing that some wacko conspiracy theorists and grifter scumbags like Clay Travis have cited the L.A. Times article and similar sentiment elsewhere, for the proposition that this is all “overblown” or a “hoax” or that it’s just like seasonal flu or something like that. I hope that anyone who has been reading this diary appreciates that I do not, under any circumstances fall in with that lot.

These people want everything to be “normal” and are hellbent, for purposes of their brand, on appearing to be prescient or contradictory or whatever, and they latch on to stories like that in the L.A. Times as evidence for their views. I, in contrast, think that, to the extent articles like that in the L.A. Times are revealing anything, they’re revealing that this could all be worse than officials, particularly those in the Trump Administration, have let on.

Bottom line: even if it does turn out to be true that a lot of people got the virus earlier than we expected, it does not prove the point that Clay Travis and these other wackos think. It does not mean that this is overblown or less sever than reported. To the contrary: it means that there are almost certainly hundreds or maybe thousands more deaths out that have not been attributed to COVID-19.

 

I know the conventional wisdom is that everyone is supposed to be eating like crap and not taking care of themselves since they’ve been forced to stay home, but I’ve probably been taking better care of myself since this all started. Part of it was the cutting back on evening drinks which I’ve mentioned before, but a lot of it is my walking. I’ve talked about those hikes I take before too. I took another one today: six-miles around New Albany, Ohio:

Pretty brisk pace for an old man I suppose. 116 steps per minute according to my little app. I do a faster pace for a shorter duration on the treadmill. I have hills on the treadmill too, so it’s better, but I don’t have any fresh air on the treadmill and I need the fresh air more right now.

I’m well aware of how lucky I am to be able to take these walks. Living in a smallish suburb that borders on actual countryside allows me and everyone else around here to get outside in ways that people in cities can’t without being too close to other people. We have a main leisure trail that tracks US 62 and it can get tad crowded on nice days but it’s nothing like having to rely on city sidewalks and either crowded or possibly closed parks. I’m not all that appreciative of Ohio very often, but between our state’s excellent-so-far handling of the pandemic and the space to move around as spring begins to creep in, I have a lot to be thankful for right now.

 

The Ohio primary which was postponed back on March 17 was rescheduled for April 28. I don’t know if that date will hold but even if it does, I’m none too interested in voting in person so I requested an absentee ballot. I just filled it out. It took less time to do the entire thing, put it in the envelope and walk it out to the mailbox than simply driving to my polling place does. It also had more security attached to it than in-person voting ever has:

  • It had to come to me, at my home, so no one could simply walk in and tell a stranger that they are me;
  • It required that I provide personal information that only I possess. The same information that is on my photo ID; and
  • It required the same signature they ask for at the polling location, so it can be matched with the same signature-on-file they have in the poll books, which is the primary form of verification Ohio voting has used basically forever.

It’s simple. It’s secure. It encourages greater voter participation by not requiring people to rearrange their schedules to make it to the polls. In light of all of this, anyone who opposes voting-from-home or voting-by-mail is either ignorant as to how it works or else they fear that more people voting would be bad for them politically, which is, by definition, anti-democratic.

We should have voting-from-home/vote-by-mail everywhere. It should be automatic (i.e. no need to request a ballot; one should be automatically sent to all registered voters). It should also remain on paper, through the actual mail, not online or via some app or whatever because (a) paper/mail is time-tested and basically foolproof; and (b) apps/technology are untested, hackable, create barriers for older voters or those without access to technology, and would likely just create an excuse for state officials to give technology contracts to private business, which opens the door for corruption.

There’s no legitimate reason not to do this.

 

The COVID-19 death toll in the United States became the highest in the world today. We passed Italy.  As of today, 20,400 people have died. Our caseload is also the world’s highest, with about 526,000. That’s in about six weeks which, per above might not be the relevant timeframe when this is all said and done. And there are many reasons to believe this is all underreported too.

To the extent you think God is an architect, now you know, He’s nothing but a pipe bomb ready to blow.

 

April 12: When we were in England a couple years ago we spent a night and a couple of days in Halifax, which is a city of about 90,000 people in West Yorkshire. We weren’t there long — we were following the band James through a few small towns in the North — but something about the place just connected with me. Maybe it was the surrounding countryside, which looks a lot like West Virginia, where I’m from, at least if you squint. Maybe because, after a a few days in London and Manchester I needed and appreciated a smaller town. I’m not sure, but there were a lot of things about it I really loved.

One specific thing about it I really loved was a great little pub right next to the town hall called The Grayston Unity. It’s a tiny, independent (as opposed to chain-owned, as so many are) place that claims to be the smallest music venue in the U.K. I’d believe it too. The bar area specifically is about the size of a carryout pizza place, and just down a little hallway there’s a small sitting area that’s about the size of someone’s apartment living room:

Since I’ve been there they opened up another similarly-vibed pub a few blocks away called The Meandering Bear.

I tweeted a lot about The Grayston and about Halifax during my trip and made many virtual friends from there and West Yorkshire in general as a result. One of them is Michael, the owner of The Grayston. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for nearly two years now. Though I have promised myself that I will go back the next chance I get, I don’t have any return trips in the works. Still, following them online, hearing about the singers and songwriters they invite to perform, the records they spin during afternoon listening parties, and looking at the photos they share of people drinking beers on the sidewalk out front makes me happy. It reminds me of my trip and the lovely day and night I spent in Halifax.

I worry about places like that, there and here, staying open during all of this. I was specifically worried about The Grayston as, not long after the shutdown order hit Halifax, someone broke into the place, apparently thinking a pub owner was dumb enough to leave his booze in a closed bar. That aside, I can’t imagine running a couple of independent pubs is a super high margin business, so just the mere fact of the shutdown has to put places like that in peril.

All of which made me happy to see this:

They have a whole slate of events, from live yoga to playing classic albums, to quiz night, to an open mic night, all done via Zoom. Tomorrow they’re spinning “Otis Blue” from Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You.” People will log in and chat about it. There’s a virtual tip jar too, that can help the place stay afloat during all of this madness.

I think I’m going to stop in The Grayston sooner than I would have in the normal course. Indeed I may stop in for a beer this morning. Given the time difference, it’s socially acceptable to hoist a pint at 9AM, right?

 

I could certainly use the drink after reading the news.

The New York Times reported yesterday about a large email group consisting of infectious disease and public health experts within and in contact with the Trump Administration who began sharing notes and recommendations about the pandemic in January.

The email group, whose correspondence came to be known as “The Red Dawn Chain,” included people who worked for previous Republican and Democratic administrations.  They made increasingly desperate and urgent recommendations to Trump and people in his inner circle to take measures that would first help isolate and then help mitigate the damage. Trump completely ignored it. For weeks and weeks, primarily because he was more worried about the stock market and because he did not want to be the bearer of bad news to people during an election year:

This email shows the frustration and, in some cases, downright panic, of members of the group. It comes from an infectious disease expert who served in the White House under George W. Bush and who helped create the 2006 anti-pandemic simulations that led to the official pandemic playbook that Trump threw out:

 

There is no escaping the fact that thousands of Americans are dead who would not be because Trump just didn’t give a fuck. We are now seeing the clear documentary evidence of it.

 

After that I decided to spend most of Sunday morning and early afternoon reading a book. The book I chose has been sitting on my desk for a few weeks now: “Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the lives caught in between” by Eric Nusbaum. I get a lot of baseball books sent to me by publishers every spring. Some are good, some are bad, but most of them are pretty straightforward “this is a book about this very specific thing that happened in baseball” or “this is a book that will tell you how think differently about baseball” kinds of things. “Stealing Home” was different.

It’s a sprawling social history of early-to-mid 20th century Los Angeles that covers everything from immigration in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, the copper mines of Arizona, the massive growth of Los Angeles after the first World War, the settlement of the neighborhoods that would soon, inaccurately, be characterized as a single neighborhood called “Chavez Ravine,” the neighborhoods’ eventual demise and destruction, communism and HUAC, patriotism and World War II, the Zoot Suit Riots, the crazy Pacific Coast League, and everything in between.

While well-researched and factually accurate, it’s less a scholarly book than a story of people. Early on you may think he’s jumping around and wondering why we should care about this guy or that family or that particular moment in history, but everyone and everything begins to converge. Almost cinematically.

The story of Dodger Stadium usually begins with Mexican-Americans being evicted from their property just ahead of the bulldozers. This book tells you how it came to that and puts it all in a whole new perspective, even for those of us who generally know the story. 

 

The book was enjoyable, but it wasn’t the total escape I had hoped for. That’s because, after I was done with it, I thought about how little people generally know about what led up to that tragic injustice. How little people generally know about what leads to most tragic injustices. How all of that tends to get whitewashed by the victors when there are victors, by survivors who want to forget, or by those in power who, no matter what they were before, want to encourage the whitewashing and the forgetting. Those who do the suffering and the dying are usually left out of the story, are marginalized or, at best, are relegated to the place of distant and often distorted memory.

Someone is going to develop a COVID-19 vaccine eventually. When they do, they will rightfully be hailed a hero. When it happens, I fear that everyone will want to forget how many people died who should not have due to the criminal negligence of our own government. I fear that their deaths will be cast as inevitable or, worse, necessary, in service of our ultimate triumph over the pandemic. It’s happened like that so many times before. I fear it’ll happen again.

 

 

April 13: It’s that part of spring when it gets fairly warm during the day but cold at night so the thermostat can’t decide what to do when. It ends up feeling cold at 2AM but then the heat kicks on at 5AM and that doesn’t feel right either. So, of course, I’ve woken up feeling hot more mornings than not lately and, of course, the first thought I have now when that happens is “oh great, I have a fever, guess I finally got it.”

Then I go downstairs, pour a cup of coffee and I’m fine within a few minutes. There’s a long list of things to hate at the moment and that’s not near the top of it, but it’s rising fast.

 

And then when you wake up and, after realizing you don’t have a fever, you see stuff like this story making the rounds in which an “urban rodentologist” said that since rats don’t have restaurant food and garbage to root through anymore, armies of cannibalistic rats will begin fighting each other with the mightiest and most cravenly cannibalistic rat armies emerging victorious and ruling the new rat landscape.

Good morning.

 

They voted in Wisconsin last Tuesday. It was extraordinarily irresponsible from both a public health and a governance perspective, made worse by the fact that they could only open a fraction of the polling places due to a lack of volunteer workers. Because of that thousands more people crammed into far fewer places in the midst of a pandemic.

The reason they held the vote: Wisconsin Republicans, fighting the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning, believed that they could put a conservative on the state Supreme Court and that the inevitable lower turnout would help their chances. Just how craven a play it was was captured in this photo:

 

That was the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin House, in full hazmat gear, telling people it was perfectly safe to vote.

What a damn clown. What a damn clown show. But, plot twist: they lost that Supreme Court election and the liberal won. Good to see that, in a rare, rare case of cosmic justice being served, the worst acts by the worst actors weren’t rewarded.

 

Another political fight this week: the U.S. Postal Service is near collapse and the president and Republicans seem to want to let it die. As with holding an election in the midst of a pandemic in an effort to put a conservative judge on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, this is another case of using a pandemic as a means of achieving long-held political objectives. And it provides yet another example of something essential to America’s social fabric coming undone.

 

The background:  Private parcel carriers have lobbied for years for laws which will hobble the Postal Service. They most successfully did that during the George W. Bush administration when they got a law passed which required the post office to do what no other company in the country has to do or would ever choose to do: to fund pensions for 75 years into the future, with current funds. Pension funds simply do not work that way because by basic operation of present vs. future value and cash flow, doing such a thing would absolutely wreck their balance sheets. Well, the post office’s balance sheet is required by Congress to be wrecked, keeping it from doing almost anything to innovate in the best of times or weather even the slightest downturns. The pandemic has created a massive downturn in mail volume — people aren’t sending business correspondence — and so the post office is about to go under.

Republicans want this for a reason beyond just helping further their “privatize everything” ideology. They want to sink future vote-by-mail plans, which are newly popular given the times in which we live. They view voting by mail as something that will increase turnout and they fear that increased turnout will help Democrats, making this a grand confluence of their anti-government, anti-democracy objectives.

 

I don’t know if they’ll win that political fight — I’m still having a hard time accepting that Congress will simply let the United States Postal Service die — but I do see this fight as a part of something larger. A fight beyond just the political sphere and into the social sphere. A fight that we are losing and that I fear we cannot do anything about.

 

America’s conceit that it’s a relatively classless society – economically and socially speaking anyway, not racially speaking, ever – is based on a lot of self-delusion, but at times it’s been a fairly useful and even beneficial delusion.

We had always had rich and poor here, obviously, but until relatively recently money has been less able to allow people to buy themselves out of being a citizen than it has always been in places like Europe or Latin America where economic and social class is a far more ingrained and accepted thing. Sure, you could always buy your luxury goods here and, if you were very rich, you could have servants do your dirty work. But until pretty recently in America most people – including the professional and educated classes – still had to go to the train station or the post office or to hospitals or to libraries or to public schools or any number of other places where the stuff of society happens and interact with people as rough equals irrespective of financial means. It was this very coming together in the public sphere in so many ways that it never occurred in other places that made America America.

But that has been changing over the past several decades. While the very rich could always keep themselves separate and apart, since the 1980s and especially since the advent of the digital age, larger and larger numbers of people have been able to use money to increasingly insulate themselves from this coming together of everyday life.

Elite status, VIP sections, priority lines, platinum healthcare plans, private schools and all manner of other luxuries have created a situation in which not just the swells on Park Avenue, in Newport, Rhode Island, or in Beverly Hills were living differently, but a great swath of the educated and professional classes in cities all over the country were becoming routinely accepted as living a class apart from everyone else. That, in turn, has led to the greater acceptance, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, of the insidious assumption that the affluent and the educated are demographically superior to the poor.

This has long been the case, but we’re seeing that exacerbated in the pandemic, with status and privilege being conferred upon those of us who can more easily work, shop and socialize apart from our actual physical community. How much easier are you able to weather the pandemic because you can work from home and have meetings and then after-work happy hours via Zoom? How much easier is it for you to shop and eat via Instacart and Postmates? How much harder is all of that for people who work in blue collar industries or who do not have actual access to or the financial means required to utilize the conveniences of the digital age?

I think all of this has contributed to the public sphere of American life breaking down in many important ways. I don’t believe we come together as a society, across economic classes, in anything approaching the way we did even when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, let alone the way we did in previous decades. We drive too much and live in isolated and increasingly cloistered communities of like-minded people. “Success” is increasingly equated with being able to buy one’s way out of the public sphere altogether. I think it’s bad for democracy. I think it’s bad for social health. I think it takes us out of the role of citizen and, at best, puts us in the role of voyeur when it comes to the challenges we face as a nation. In many cases it causes us to simply turn away altogether and to believe the entire country is doing as well as we are in our little economically and technologically homogenous cocoon.

The breakdown of the post office, if it happens, is just another part of all of that.

The post office is a vital piece of national infrastructure. It’s specifically mentioned in the Constitution, with Congress ordered to establish a postal service. Practically, it serves everyone — absolutely everyone — equally and efficiently. Yes, efficiently, no matter what lazy joke you might have about postal workers and no matter how bad the line was when you tried to send something across country last December 21. For over 200 years it has allowed people to send things anywhere and it gets there every single time. It goes to places UPS and FedEx won’t serve because it’s not profitable for them to serve them. It costs 55 cents for you to send a card to your grandma that, if the post office is gone, will either cost you $4.50 or will never be sent at all because FedEx does not consider it worth serving the rural road on which your grandmother lives. Or, if it does send it there, it will do so because you signed up for a “FedEx Gold” membership or whatever new level of elite status happens to come into existence.

The post office is one of the last bits of public infrastructure reminding us that, at least once upon a time, we did not consider it all daunting to undertake large national projects which brought our country together on an equal footing. If it becomes another victim of COVID-19 it will be a national tragedy. Another sign in a series of them that we are, as a country, simply broken.

 

 

April 14: This morning, right about when the second cup of coffee was kicking in, I was overcome by a fairly strong feeling of loss stemming from our inability to go anywhere or do anything. Then I began to examine it and ask myself what it is that I miss specifically.

The first thing seemed legitimate: I miss being able to meet people for a drink or a meal. The second one seemed legitimate too: I miss being able to just go someplace, anyplace, with Allison or with the kids even if it’s just walking around the mall or going out for ice cream or something.

But then I realized that, as far as socializing with others go, it’s not a thing I do very often. Then I realized that I am still able to spend a ton of time with Allison and the kids. More time than usual, actually. Hmm. Think harder, Craig.

Beyond that I considered various other things. Movies. Concerts. Baseball games. I quickly realized that I can watch most movies at home and I rather like watching movies at home. I realized that while I enjoy some concerts, they’re not such a part of my life that I’m feeling their loss yet. I mean, I’ll go a couple of months without seeing a show in the normal course. I go months in the offseason without baseball and, even if I had already done that this past offseason, it’s not like I’m tortured by its loss. The dynamic is not that different yet anyway and the weather is not yet warm, so I can pretend it’s February.

The same general dynamic applied to all manner of other activities I could think of. I miss things, but my life is not miserable without these things. It’s certainly OK enough to where I should not be feeling much loss or deprivation to be without them for just a month and, say, another month or two or three after that if need be.

As I was a few sips into my third cup of coffee, I began to wonder if I miss actual things at all or if I just miss the ability to do actual things should I want to. Is the loss really just a loss of choice, or do I truly miss the social things, even if they’re a bit rare in my case. Then I began to wonder if I was simply taking those things for granted and if, maybe, my “this isn’t such a big loss” thoughts weren’t kind of callous, actually.

I didn’t reach a satisfactory conclusion to that line of thought before another intruded, so I decided to just say “yes” and put a pin in it for later. I’ll probably be repeating that whole cycle every few days for the duration.

 

Amazon announced it will be creating an additional 75,000 jobs to meet increased demand in the face of COVID-19 crisis.

Jobs are better than no jobs, but Amazon’s labor track record is deplorable. Their warehouse workers are treated like robots, their drivers are, often, not actual employees with any rights or benefits at all, and their anti-organizing tactics and their harsh retaliation against internal criticism is well-documented.

Jeff Bezos’ billions were built, primarily, from imbuing shopping with a speed and convenience that, previously, was impossible to deliver in an economically efficient manner and subsidizing consumers’ resulting expectations — which would previously be impossible to meet — via the exploitation of its workforce. Which suggests to me that, the eventual recovery, like most economic recoveries in the post-Reagan era, is going to consist of a general downgrade in the quality, security, and pay of available jobs even while employment metrics improve superficially.

Either way, I guess being in the delivery business is everyone’s future. That, combined with mass unemployment, our lives all being lived online, a viral disease ravaging the country, and the federal government basically abdicating its authority, causing others to fill the vacuum, makes me feel like I’ve been dropped into the middle of Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash.” I liked it and everything, but I never really wanted to live it.

 

Meanwhile, in Congress, a GOP congressman from Indiana named Trey Hollingsworth said today that more people dying from COVID-19 is “the lesser of two evils” compared to damaging the economy.

I wish I could have bet on the proposition that “the next Republican Congressman who will say its better to let people die if it means the economy will improve will be named ‘Trey’ and will have made his fortune via private equity aided by his father’s money,” but all the casinos are closed right now. Damn my luck. It was a sure thing.

 

I just read that President Trump has insisted that his signature appear on the $1,200 stimulus checks that are, eventually, being released. According to the Washington Post, it will be the first time a president’s name has appeared on an IRS disbursement. Custom is that a civil servant’s name or some mark of the Treasury Department appears on the signature line so as to assure that the business of government is seen as apolitical. And, in fact, that will happen with these too. Trump’s name won’t be the official signature: it’ll just appear on the memo line.

Trump is doing this because he no doubt thinks that cash payments “from him” will benefit him politically. I think he’s miscalculating.

For one thing, sources of the Post in the Treasury Department are saying that putting Trump’s signature on the checks is delaying them, so that’s not gonna go over well.

Mostly, though, I think that the entire $1,200 stimulus checks thing is going to backfire as a political act.

Money is better than no money, but given the scope of this disaster — given that people have already lost their jobs in massive numbers and given that even more pain is likely in the offing — I’m gonna guess that this particular effort will, over time, be seen as weak and ineffective in the face of COVID-19’s economic fallout. I mean, people are already making memes and jokes about it:

 

Herbert Hoover did stuff after the 1929 stock market crash too. He signed a $160 million tax cut, for example. He made some efforts to get the business community to retain workers and guarantee pay checks. There were various “relief acts” which, while far short of the sort of direct relief that FDR would later enact as part of the New Deal, was unprecedented in American history to that point. He also, like Trump, spent a lot of time claiming that the downturn was all just temporary, that normality was just around the corner, and all of that. He was wrong about all of that and all of his efforts, such as they were, proved utterly ineffective in the face of the Depression.

One of the more visible responses to Hoover’s impotence: his name began to appear on all manner of things.

An old newspaper used as a blanket became a “Hoover blanket.” A “Hoover flag” was an empty pocket turned inside out. Cardboard used to line a shoe when the sole wore through was “Hoover leather.” A “Hoover wagon” was a car with the engine removed and horses hitched to it. Most famously, of course, were the “Hoovervilles.” Shantytowns that popped up in cities all over America, housing the homeless and bringing the impoverishment of a nation into stark relief.

Again: money is better than a kick in the teeth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, a month or three from now, when the unemployment rate remains in double digits, the economy remains ravaged, and 10,000 people are applying for every one job to go work on Jeff Bezos’ farm, people are going to make dark jokes about how high they lived on their “Trump Bucks” before getting back to the business of figuring out how they’re going to survive all of this.

April 15: A hundred or two angry people stormed the Ohio Statehouse today, lambasting Ohio’s governor and health department for their “unconstitutional tyranny,” while baselessly claiming that Trump has the full and unfettered power to overrule them and “re-open” the states, whatever that means right now. They are calling themselves “patriots who love and respect our liberties and the Constitution are sick and tired of the fear-mongering.”

But they’re all so very afraid. Afraid to live in a world that, for one moment, requires them to think of anyone else but themselves or of the greater good. Afraid to live with any sort of deprivation, even if it means the difference between life and death.

They’re not just afraid. They’re unhinged. If you want any more evidence of that, just look at this photo of them that accompanies the article, taken by Columbus Dispatch photographer Joshua A. Bickel, who probably deserves a Pulitzer Prize:

Unhinged in deed and word. Here’s the account of the man leading the chants of the protesters:

“Don’t Mike DeWine supposed to be a Republican (sic)? Don’t he believe in less government? Small government?” [Kevin] Farmer said. “He has an obligated right to get us back to work, because if not, what do you think Americans are gonna go through?” Farmer also led the demonstrators in a series of “When I say tyrant, you say Mike DeWine” chants, among others.

This is happening in Michigan too, where protesters — who filled up streets and blocked ambulances — are not offering vague appeals to concepts just as “patriotism” and “liberty.” They’re just coming right out and saying that they’re angry they can’t do things like buy lawn fertilizer and get their hair done:

This is all terrible. It’s terrible for everyone. But it’s far more terrible for people who are sick, who are dying, or who are having to bury their loved ones who died needlessly because our leaders did not do what was necessary to head this pandemic off when they had the chance. It’s more terrible for those who will get sick and who will die needlessly if we back off of protective measures too soon. Certainly more terrible for them than for a guy who is worried about a little early May crabgrass or a woman whose gray roots are showing, that’s for damn sure.

I see all of this and I wonder what happened to my country. What happened to the nation that, I was so often told when I was growing up, was made of strong stuff. A nation that weathered wars and a depression and before that took on a wild and unforgiving frontier and before that braved an open ocean and then starvation to establish itself in the first place. I know there was a healthy dose of myth making in all of that, but was it all myth making? Does even a shred of that which, allegedly anyway, made us a strong people and which in turn made us a strong country still exist? Did it ever actually exist?

Because based on what I’m seeing, some of the weakest people alive walk among us. And are the most vocal among us.

 

But just some of us. Some of us are doing more. One of them is a very old friend of mine, Prabal Dutta, an engineering professor at U.C. Berkeley, who is working on developing a cost-effective powered air-purified respirator that will offer protection to doctors and nurses and other medical personnel during high risk procedures. Think a better, cheaper, and reusable N95 mask at a time when protective equipment for medical workers is becoming increasingly hard to obtain.

I have another friend who works for technology company that is working on tools that will help public health officials trace infection vectors. I have a couple of friends who are doctors and nurses. I have a good friend who is the produce manager for multiple locations of a national supermarket chain and God knows how important we have all realized the food supply lines are. My son, as I’ve mentioned, is making pizzas for people which, for as much as we might take that for granted, is something valuable in this messed up time.

Meanwhile, today I wrote about how a baseball player decided not to shave 48 years ago. I was particularly proud that I thought to use the term “snot mop” when I had used the word “mustache” too many times in a single paragraph.

I mentioned this disconnect to one of my friends who is doing something useful, and he said “entertainment is a valuable good for humans at all times, especially times like these.”

I’ll take it. But really, if things get dire, please sacrifice me and save one of my many far more useful friends. Society will be better for it.

 

This weekend is the off-weekend for me with the kids which means that today is the Wednesday I drop them at their mother’s and don’t see them until Monday. I’m still not used to it — as I mentioned before, this is really the first time since my now very long ago divorce that I routinely go five full days without seeing them — but I dropped Carlo at work and then took Anna to her mom’s because that’s just what we do now. From there I got some carryout, came home and we ate dinner.

After dinner we did a thing we sometimes do: hopped on a real estate site and looked at houses in places where we may conceivably move one day after the kids go away to college. At least if I’m still working a job, like I am now, where I can live basically anywhere. I moved to Ohio for reasons that are now decades old and now moot, Allison moved to Ohio to be with me, but once the kids are done with high school, there really is nothing keeping us here, so we think about the future sometimes.

Normally it’s an activity I enjoy. I like thinking about potential futures for us. I like imagining what life might be like in the Carolinas or Kentucky. Or, if some good fortune comes our way in the next couple of years, someplace that is less affordable at the moment like California or Virginia. The idea is to be live someplace warmer than Ohio is but not so hot and muggy that my thick blood can’t hack it. The idea is also to be someplace where Allison can keep and ride her horse that makes sense for both her and her horse and the things they want to do.

It wasn’t all that enjoyable tonight, though, and I can’t really put my finger on why that is specifically. It had nothing to do with the idea of Allison’s and my future together, the specific places we looked at, or the houses we saw. I think it just had to do with the concept of the future itself. Given all that is happening right now, it’s hard to imagine at the moment. It’s hard to make educated guesses of how things may be.

Maybe it won’t be a bad future. Maybe it will even be a better future than I can even conceive of right now, made better by the lessons we learn and the things we find within ourselves in order to get through this awful time. Maybe we emerge a better, stronger people by virtue of the current adversity. But even if that’s the case, I don’t know what that looks like yet, and even a cautiously optimistic glimpse into an unknown future is a hard glimpse to take.

And if that’s not the case? If things get worse than my gut is telling me it might right now? Well, I don’t know what that looks like either. If things go even more sideways, it’s easier to imagine bad things than it is to imagine sending the kids off to college, packing up our cats, Allison’s horse and our stuff and moving to a modest but tidy little cottage in the countryside someplace. My God, it’s hard to see anything past next week.

 

April 16:  I post these diary entries first thing in the morning. Anyone who knows me well knows how important routines are to me and writing this has become a part of my daily routine.

In normal times I do daily baseball recaps every morning. Now I chronicle what’s it like to live through a global pandemic. Either way, I need some sort of structure to organize my morning and, by extension, my mind, and now it’s this that provides that structure. Even when the entries are sad or harrowing I feel better for having written them. I physically and emotionally relax when they’re posted.

In normal times I then wade out into the Internet, read news, and look for other things to write about. The baseball news is pretty sparse now, so a few weeks ago I started writing a “This Day in Baseball History” post each morning. Yesterday it was that thing about mustaches. Today it was about how the Detroit Tigers got their name. These have turned out to be way more enjoyable than I ever thought they’d be. I probably have a better handle on baseball history than your average guy, but I still learn something new every day. Something funny or something weird. As is the case with routines, anyone who knows me well knows how much I love odd and trivial facts, so it’s all right up my alley.

They’re also satisfying to write because, again, they provide structure. And because there is some semblance of order to these historical stories. There are beginnings, middles and, with the exception of some very recent items I’ve covered, there are ends too. It’s neat. It’s comprehensible. It’s orderly. Along with my Pandemic Diary entry, it provides me two things — two things which take up hours of my time and consist of 4,000 or 5,000 total words — that exert a calming and organizing influence on my day.

When I’m done with those things, however, my day and my mental state start to unravel quite a bit.

It might be because, like today, I have to go out into the world and going out into the world is stressful and anxiety-inducing because it provides a constant reminder of how not normal things are right now.

 

Late this morning I had to make a trip to the grocery store. Today I noticed that they’ve finally made the aisles one-way, with arrow signs or “do not enter this way” signs on the floor. Which is nice, as it decreases the amount of times one needs to walk by someone in a space that really does not lend itself to six-foot distancing.

But then, while walking down, say, every other aisle, I encountered some middle aged-or-older person walking the wrong way. Some of them doing this looked oblivious. Others, though, looked defiant. You could almost picture them at those protests I talked about yesterday, yelling about how being forced to go one way down the baking aisle, with the spices on their left instead of their right — their left! — was “tyranny.”

The defiant ones make me worry more about the future than the oblivious ones. You can at least attempt to teach things to the ignorant. Either way, you’re reminded that things are not normal.

 

Back home, when I’m done with my Diary or my history post I have no choice but to engage with the online world to some degree because my job requires me to engage with the online world. In the absence of baseball news I read other news, and the other news is almost always bad.

I read that Germany is set to reopen some businesses next week and open schools on May 4. How? It has a comprehensive testing system that allows officials to identify and isolate infected people at an early stage. In fact, it has the capacity to run 650,000 tests a week.

I see that and I get angry that we have nothing approaching that. I get angry that the need for testing was well known by anyone with a modicum of expertise about all of this months and months ago and that our total lack of capacity for testing was completely ignored when they had advance warning of what was coming months and months ago. I get angry that that failure — a failure which continues to this very moment — has caused people to die and will cause more people to die. I get angry that that failure is why we have no end in sight to our current predicament. Why we cannot even contemplate sending our kids back to school or opening business yet. Or at least doing it responsibly (it seems we’re going to do it irresponsibly).

Not prioritizing testing capacity — and proceeding to reopen the country despite not having that testing capacity — is complete and utter malpractice on the part of our leaders. It’s an absolute abdication of their responsibility to their country and its people. It’s going to get people killed.

I know how to calm myself down from that particular outrage because it’s one I’ve been reminded of almost daily for a month. So I move on.

 

It doesn’t help, because the next thing I see is that, while they don’t seem to be engaging with the problem of testing, they do seem to be engaging in disconnected fantasy:

“The underlying concept that families can live on $17 a day is one thing,” I think to myself, “but don’t sleep on the idea that anyone other than soulless goons like this use the term ‘bridge liquidity’ when talking about family finances.” A click or two later and I read that another five million people filed new unemployment claims last week. That brings the total to nearly 22 million in the past month. That basically wipes out all job gains since the Great Recession in 2008-09. Here’s your $17. Good luck.

 

Stop looking at the news. Eat some lunch. Pet a cat. OK, that’s better.

For a few minutes anyway, because back online I see that a famous snake oil salesmen is saying that it’d be “appetizing” to just send kids back to school, open up everything else, and absorb a 2-3% mortality rate because it’ll get the economy up and running faster:

A large chunk of the country is being fed that brand of psychopathy every night and I fear that “well, a certain number of people just need to die so businesses can make money again” is becoming mainstreamed.

 

Not that mainstreaming evil isn’t in vogue these days:

This is the U.S. Senator who, after being privately briefed on the coming COVID-19 pandemic, sold her retail stocks and invested in companies that make (a) teleworking software; and (b) medical personal protective equipment. Then she told Americans that COVID-19 was an anti-Trump hoax.

She has made millions, basically, profiteering on a pandemic. She should be under criminal indictment for insider trading. Instead, she will now be in a position to help decide what parts of the economy benefit first and most and how many deaths and hospitalizations we’re willing to tolerate to make that happen. Indeed, she’ll know about that before most anyone else does. I wonder if she’ll use that information to her advantage.

My anger on this point transcends just this awful moment in time. It relates to what we’ve been seeing for years. Four years, in fact, in which Trump and his allies have shown us, time and again, that the best way to get away with anything is to lean, hard, into the bad behavior, even to the point of utter farce. They have shown us that if you show no hint shame and, in fact, if you double and triple down on your malfeasance and malevolence, it overwhelms the system, people become fatigued and you are thus rewarded for your bad behavior. Even if it’s criminal.

It’s a reminder that integrity doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson that is anathema to everything I’ve been taught to believe my entire life but it’s apparent as the nose on my face. What do you do when you reach middle age and realize that everything you believed in was wrong? I’ve realized it anew, almost every day, since 2016 and it’s not getting any easier to take.

 

This whole process of going through the day’s news is not instantaneous. I don’t find myself binging the bad news or subjecting myself to it without any breaks. In between these outrages I find little baseball bits to write about. I put in a load of laundry. I get things ready for dinner for later. I talk to my wife. I proceed, as normally as possible, through my day.

But it’s cumulative, and by the time I read that last bit about the insider trading senator at about 3:30, my brain was about to break. It breaks a lot these days, in direct proportion to how much news I read. I knocked off work at four, which meant that I could knock off the Internet. I was going to clear my head with a walk on the treadmill but Allison convinced me it’d be better for me to go outside. I didn’t feel like I had more than a walk around the block in me, but once the fresh air hit I found some new energy.

 

For the first half mile or so I listened to some pretty loud and cathartic music and thought about how, in a lot of ways, it feels like the world is ending right now and that there’s no good future for any of us.

As I passed the one mile mark, though, the fresh air and exercise began to help. I switched to a Bob Dylan album with songs about 18th century ship captains and outlaws on horses and murdered gamblers at some non-specific time in Old Weird America, and it made me feel like I feel after I write my baseball history post each day. I know this. I know what this is about and where’s it going. It makes me feel good to have some certainty about something.

I walked on through miles, two, three, four and five, moving, increasingly, out of my head and connecting more and more to the fields and creeks I was passing. Feeling the fresh air I was breathing, and the still-cold-for-April wind that, today at least, was mentally bracing. I felt my legs working. I felt my blood flowing. I felt a sense of release that I desperately needed.

 

By the time I got back home Allison had left for the barn. I poured myself some wine and began to cook.

As I was cooking, I got a message from a friend who, like so many people, is working from home with young kids who are home from school. He told me that, for as frustrating and dislocating as all of this is on so many levels, he feels closer to his kids right now than he ever has. He works very long hours usually, leaving early and coming home late, but in the past month he’s gotten to play with them so much more. He’s gotten more in touch with their school work and the subtleties of their personalities so much more. He didn’t whitewash the reasons for all of this and he’s well aware that now is not a positive time or even a blessing-in-disguise time for most people, but he is allowing himself to wonder if, at some point down the road, this won’t be remembered by his kids as some sort of positive time, not unlike how some people called growing up during the Depression “the good old days.” Days made good because of human moments amidst what was otherwise horrible.

I finished cooking. Chicken breasts with rosemary and thyme. Roasted carrots. Roasted sweet potatoes and some broccoli. Enough for a big bowl of fresh dinner for me, enough for dinner for Allison when she got home, and enough for extras for her lunches for the next couple of days.

 

It was a good early morning followed by a bad late morning and afternoon. But then a good walk, some clarifying thoughts, some healthy food, and some good vibes from a good friend helped cleanse me of the day’s toxicity and put me at peace this evening.

I wish I didn’t have to climb up and down mental mountains like this each day. I wish I didn’t have to battle like this just to get back to calm. But as long as I keep doing it, I feel like I’ll be OK.

 

April 17: Today’s entry will be a little bit different than usual. If you want to hear about my life in quarantine, come back tomorrow. This is a pretty good story, though.

 

The woman from the state auditor’s office kept looking out the window next to the front door. Then she’d check her watch, pace around a bit, and do it again. She had been to that door a half dozen times in the previous half hour. Each time, from where I was sitting, it looked like the same old parking lot of the same old office park in the same boring Toledo, Ohio suburb. I had no idea what she was expecting.

After she finished looking for the fourth or fifth time she came back and joined her colleagues at the conference table in the middle of the room. There were a half dozen of them in business casual standing around the table counting coins. Rare, collectible coins, stored in little plastic and cardboard covers, several dozen per box.

One of the auditors would take out a coin and read its label – “1841 Liberty Seated Half Dime” – and another would check it off a list. “1921 Walking Liberty Half-Dollar.” “Check.” Three teams of two auditors each, methodically checking the stock of rare coins against a list on their clipboard.

This wasn’t a normal audit. Less than a week earlier my client – the guy who owned the coin and sports memorabilia shop in the front of the building and whose personal office was in the back of the building in which we were all now sitting – found his name plastered on every newspaper in the state. He was in the news because it was revealed that the State of Ohio had, several years prior, given him $50 million from the state worker’s compensation fund to invest on its behalf.

Now, it was not unusual for the state to give money from its various trust and pension funds to private investors to handle. Until a few years back these public funds only invested in bonds, but when Republicans took over they changed the law to allow them to invest in all manner of private securities in order to realize a greater return. Or, if you’re the skeptical type, in order to benefit private financial interests who could then take healthy commissions from public investments. I’ll let you make up your own mind about what the real motivation was. Point was, there were dozens if not scores of private businesses out there managing millions and millions of public funds on behalf of the State Ohio. It was, by May 26, 2005, the day I was sitting in this office, watching auditors count coins, public knowledge.

Normally, though, these investments were stocks and real estate investments. The $50 million given to my client, however, was invested in something a bit less conventional: rare coins and collectibles, which made up his personal business.

He had written up quite official-looking prospectuses and made representations about what kind of return the taxpayers of Ohio would realize on shares in funds that invested in gold, silver, and platinum. And baseball bats used by Mickey Mantle. And rare letters sent by Teddy Roosevelt to his Secretary of War. And, my favorite, a six-foot velvet banner from 1863, owned by the United States government, which accompanied copies of the Emancipation Proclamation as they made the a train tour of the northern states, promoting Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves to the public.

These items and hundreds more were held, bought, or sold at my client’s discretion in service of giving Ohio appealing investment returns. He and his staff kept detailed inventory lists of each and every coin and collectible bought, sold, or currently held. The holdings of “The Coin Fund,” as it came to be called, since the investment was legally in shares of a business as opposed to physical coins itself, were audited by a private auditing firm every year.

That, while something one could learn if they knew what to look for and issued a public records request, was not really public knowledge. It was something that came as news to the local newspaper, the Toledo Blade, when someone tipped them off that my client, a prominent Toledo personality who, in addition to his rare coin and memorabilia business, was deeply involved in Republican politics, had been given $50 million to invest by state officials, who were also Republicans. The Toledo Blade’s politics were not aligned with my client’s — the people who ran the paper actually hated his guts for a dozen reasons — so it began investigating the Coin Fund.

The investigation did not, initially anyway, find anything legally problematic. It published a lot of stories about my client and his business, however, and anyone who has had involvement with the rare coin and memorabilia industry knows that it’s full of, let’s say, colorful characters. Weird people, really. Some are downright shady. Serious criminality is rather minor — the mob and Mexican drug cartels don’t collect baseball cards — but there’s a lot of cash floating around and a lot of guys doing multi-million dollar deals in vans and hotel rooms. Personal expertise matters a lot, so even if you’re someone who, say, did three years in prison for something, when you come back out you’re still one of the few experts around, so you’ll probably find work again.

It’s the kind of world that, after a month or so of a newspaper writing about it, made politicians understandably uncomfortable to be associated with it. So, as the Blade kept publishing stories about my client, his coins and collectibles, pressure mounted on my client’s benefactors down in Columbus — the governor, the attorney general, officials at the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation whose money was being invested — to say something or do something.

At first they said everything was fine. The governor, Bob Taft, told the press that he was informed that, however unconventional the investments seemed, the Coin Fund had made millions for the state. Which, yes, the private audits had said it did. He said that even though my client was a personal friend of his — they had played golf together many times — the entire process of granting him the $50 million investment was on the up-and-up. The money was all well-accounted for and there is nothing to be worried about.

As the governor was saying all of this, however, my client had hired my boss and, by extension, me, to represent him, because it was pretty clear trouble was brewing. As the governor told everyone there was nothing to see here, my boss took meeting after meeting with increasingly frantic state officials, concerned that this politically connected coin dealer from Toledo was going to get them into deep shit. As those meetings happened, I was dispatched to three different cities to investigate the Coin Fund’s holdings — coins and collectibles which were physically held in unassuming-looking memorabilia shops and warehouses owned by subsidiaries (i.e. friends of my client who were in the same business) to see if there was anything to be worried about.

At a shop in the Philadelphia suburbs a man who called himself a “co-manager” of the Coin Fund gave me a hastily printed-out sheet of paper with lists of rare coins, showed me his vault and said “they’re all in there.” There was no way for me to know that what I was actually seeing was actually owned by the Coin Fund, though. There was no audit trail. It was as if someone stood in front of a mansion, gave you a printed out Microsoft Word document that said “Yeah, I own this house” and you had to take his word for it.

From Philly I flew to an office park in Sarasota, Florida. The guy in charge had better records there. Things looked at least quasi-official, and an actual accounting firm had been there within the previous six months. I was even more freaked out in Sarasota, however, because that guy shared office space with a diamond wholesaler. While I was there he was taking a shipment and it was brought in by two guys openly carrying Uzi submachine guns. When my boss called me late that afternoon and told me to drop everything I was doing and fly, immediately, back to Ohio and to be at our client’s offices in Toledo by 7AM the next morning, I was happy to hear it.

I needed to get to Toledo quickly because the meetings between my boss and the politicians had not been going well. They kept telling my boss and our client that they needed — desperately — too be able to prove to the media that everything was on the up and up and that the best way to do that was to, very publicly, send state auditors into his offices who would count coins and look at financial documents, walk out and tell everyone that everything was fine. The problem: my client really, really did not want them to do that. He told my boss to stall. My boss — may he rest in peace — probably should’ve just quit right there, but he did, in fact, stall. He stalled while I was in Philly and stalled while I was in Sarasota, but he could not stall any longer. The state told him, in no uncertain terms, that auditors would be on-site in Toledo at 9AM the following morning.

I got the last flight out of Tampa to Columbus, was home just before midnight and got a horrible night’s sleep before leaving at 5AM to be up in Toledo at 7. I parked at the coin shop, which was in an office park next to the freeway. A woman opened the front door and frantically waved at me to come inside, and fast. She was extremely agitated. As I walked in she scanned the parking lot and the field between it and the freeway as if she expected an invading horde.

“Did you see anyone out there?” the woman, who was our client’s office manager, asked me.

“Um, no?” I was confused. Who would I possibly be seeing?

“They were there the last two days,” she said. “They had cameras. They were watching people come and go. I don’t know if there were cops or what.”

I told her that they were probably reporters, actually, as the Blade and Ohio’s other papers had been been tipped off that my boss and my client were in Columbus talking to people from the governor’s office and had been writing a lot about the matter in the past couple of days. Since my client was, quite prominently, making himself seen down there, I presumed the heat would be down there, not here, but you never know. I had had no small number of cases that had gotten media attention by then and knew how to deal with reporters (i.e. you mostly can’t, so don’t worry about it) and I told the office manager things were under control.

It didn’t really calm her down, and I soon realized why when she handed me a very small slip of paper.

“Here’s the coin inventory,” she said. It had, like, 100 coins listed and maybe another 100 pieces of memorabilia on it.

“That’s it?!” I said. Based on the documents given to the state and the last private audit from a few months back, there should’ve been at least a thousand things on it. Maybe more.

“That’s what’s actually here,” she said.

“Are you saying that there are two sets of books? One with what you’re supposed to have and one with that’s actually here?!” I said. Before she said anything I immediately said “Wait, do NOT answer that question. I really don’t want to hear you say it.” I took the paper from her, thinking that it might very well be evidence now. I called my boss to tell him about this GIGANTIC red flag that just went up, but he didn’t answer. The auditors were supposed to be there in less than two hours.

I began looking around the office myself, using the much larger inventory list I, and the state, had been given. I still did not really understand what the hell I was looking at when it came to rare coins but I know sports memorabilia very well and maybe a quarter of it was actually on-site. Back in the big storage room the Mickey Mantle bat was just sitting out, not in a case or anything. As I tried to figure out what I was going to tell the people from the auditor’s office, I put on a pair of latex gloves I found in the bathroom, picked up the bat and took some practice hacks with the Emancipation Proclamation banner as a batter’s eye. It was easily the highlight of my day.

My boss called me just before 8:30. I told him what was up. He didn’t sound surprised, which made me realize why he and the client were stalling so much. He told me to put the short, actual inventory list in my briefcase — it was privileged information for now but, yeah, was going to be evidence at some point, so we had a duty to preserve it. He told me that when the auditors showed up that I was to tell them NOT to use the long inventory list they had, as we now had reason to believe it was “incomplete.” They were allowed full access to catalog everything that was there but I was to say no more to them. I was to merely observe as a representative of the client and the business.

When the auditors get there — the woman in charge and six assistants — I greet them and show them around and then I go sit at a desk in the corner, open my laptop up and start playing solitaire while keeping an ear on them in case they say something noteworthy. They go about their business as if it’s just any other day and any other audit. Like me, they’ve all been sent there by more important people down in Columbus. We engage in a little small talk. They’ve been through this kind of thing a million times before. Sometimes they’re reviewing financial records at a bank that has had trouble. Sometimes they’re counting cans of food at a school where someone was stealing the lunch money. Now it’s rare coins. They don’t care, they just count.

I make notes on my legal pad to make them think I’m doing something too, but I’m just doodling. But I keep watching the lead auditor — the woman in charge of the team — walking back and forth to the front door and looking out. Maybe the reporters came back after I came in and she’s watching them like the office manager had been for the past two days.

After two hours of this I catch myself nodding off. I switch from solitaire to minesweeper. The woman from the auditor’s office goes to the door one more time. Then her phone rings. She takes the call, says “uh huh, OK, thanks.” It doesn’t seem like a consequential call, but after she hangs up she nods at one of her coworkers who nods at another and soon all six of them put their notepads down on the table, stand up and quickly move to the back wall of the room. They just stand there.

A few seconds later the front door is kicked open by a large man in a suit, tie and sunglasses with one hand holding a badge in front of him, the other hand resting on the handle of a gun in a holster attached to his belt.

“SEARCH WARRANT!”

A second after he yells that no fewer than twenty state troopers, in uniform, pour into the office and quickly fan out through the place.

My first impulse is to get down on the floor so I don’t get shot, but I realize no one has their guns drawn. Even now, 15 years later, I’m surprised that I had the presence of mind to shut my laptop, jam it and all my papers in my bag and throw the bag over my shoulder so it would be clear that they are mine, the attorney’s, and would not be mistaken for office property — now evidence — taken and thrown in a police van.

The lead investigator was standing by the door so I started walking over to him to identify myself. Before I could get to him, the office manager, who had been reading a book at her desk for the past two hours, walked quickly over to me, shoved a manilla envelope into my chest, and said, “take this and put it in your bag.” I do so without thinking, while simultaneously noticing that the investigator was not paying attention. Then my attention is taken by one of the uniformed troopers.

“Sir, everything in this office is subject to the warrant. Give me your bag.”

I am not giving him my bag, but I was also still in enough of a state of shock that the right lawyer words to express that very defensible proposition were hard to find. I auto-piloted to every cop show I’ve ever watched. “Let me see that warrant, officer,” I said.

I had no idea what I was looking at. I’m a business litigator, not Perry Mason. I pretend to read it closely while trying to get my wits about me. I finally gain a little composure and rattle off a bunch of things about who owns what, attorney-client privilege, and stuff like that. The troopers look at each other and don’t know what to do. They finally have a conference with the lead investigator, who told them to leave me alone. He then came over to me and told me to stay out of everyone’s way.

I called my boss, but he didn’t answer. I stand in a corner and watch the troopers riffling through everything. The office manager doesn’t know what to do with herself so she’s standing next to me. One of the troopers knocks the Emancipation Proclamation banner off the hook it’s hanging on and it falls onto the floor. He doesn’t notice it. Then he walks on it like it’s a rug. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” the office manager yells. “You just walked on a goddamn piece of history!” The trooper ignores her.

My boss calls back and tells me that he knows what’s going on down there (gee, Bill, thanks for telling me), and that I can leave. There is nothing else for me to do today.

I walk outside and there are four TV news trucks, cameras and reporters. There’s a helicopter overhead.  The state Inspector General — who has had nothing to do with this case at all to date and who is not in charge of state auditors — is standing in front of the cameras saying things about “the public trust” and how he’s getting to the bottom of all of this. I had worked on several matters with the Inspector General before. We know each other. I decided to hang around until he was done grandstanding and ask him what the hell was going on. When he’s done with the reporters he turns, recognizes me, and begins to walk over. I figure we’re going to have a conversation, but a camera follows him and he’s still in “on” mode.

“Mr. Calcaterra, I’m Tom Charles (I know that, and he usually calls me “Craig,”), and this office is now under the control of my office and the State Highway Patrol.” Tell me something I don’t know, Tom. He hands me his card, as if I didn’t have it already, and says, “we will be talking again soon.” Don’t ever let anyone you love get in front of a TV camera. It makes them crazy.

I got to my car and remembered the manilla envelope the office manager shoved into my chest. I get it out of my bag and open it up. It has my client’s passport, two of his credit cards, and a wad of cash in it. It’s definitely the sort of thing I’d want if I was gonna, I dunno, go someplace quickly.

I drove home wondering what in the hell my life was.

 

My client was Tom Noe, and for the next year and a half, my life would be consumed with his criminal defense in what came to be known as the “Coingate” scandal. I’d spend an immense amount of time with him, staying at his mansion in Florida and helping him prepare his defense while he was out on bail. I’d make more trips to interview sketchy coin and memorabilia dealers and I paid two more visits to my friends with the Uzis down in Sarasota. In the middle of all of this my son was born and my daughter grew from baby to toddler and, just about, to preschooler. Now, with the passage of time, I can separate out the personal moments and the important moments from all of that, but at the time it was a giant blur.

A year and a half after the raid, Tom Noe would be convicted on multiple criminal counts arising out of his, basically, taking the state’s $50 million, using it for himself and his personal business, and then faking coin and memorabilia sales and telling auditors it was all going great. In the interim he was also convicted on unrelated federal campaign finance charges for giving his own money to his employees and friends and having them donate it to George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in order to make himself look like an important “bundler” which would give him better access to the powerful. Which it did. He got to meet the Pope once, among other things. Money makes the world go round.

When it was all said and done, Noe was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He went inside in late 2006. Note: I gave the passport, the credit cards and the cash to the country prosecutor. Noe never attempted to flee the country, even if my now deceased boss would privately tell us that, actually, that may have been his best move.

Noe’s conviction and all of the insanity that surrounded it led to some gigantic political fallout. The scandal ensnared then-governor Bob Taft, causing him to be criminally convicted for not disclosing gifts and golf outings and things he received from Noe. Outings which, I’m pretty sure, had a lot to do with him getting a sweet $50 million state contract to begin with, though investigators didn’t really bother to look into any of that given how tidy a fall guy Tom was for everything.

The scandal also led to the election of a Democratic governor, Ted Strickland in 2006, who probably wouldn’t have won otherwise. It was a pretty big deal. It also led to a Democratic Attorney General named Mark Dann rising to prominence due to his demagoguing of the Noe case. Dann’s rising star inflated his ego which, I’m guessing, is part of what led to a massive sexual harassment scandal that caused him to resign in disgrace in May of 2008. This all helped me out immensely, because it meant that when my law firm fired me as the Great Recession began in late 2008, there was a brand new attorney general, Richard Cordray, just taking office with a massive incentive to bring people in from the outside. He hired me at a time when no one was finding work and it basically saved my ass. When I started at the AG’s office there were a lot of people who had been in the business of investigating Tom Noe and who knew me pretty well from the other side. They were wary of me at first but we ended up having a pretty big laugh about it all.

 

Because of Ohio’s truth-in-sentencing laws, Noe was not eligible for parole or much if anything in the way of sentence reduction, and multiple clemency petitions have been denied over the years. His release date was set for late 2024.   Tom will be getting out soon, though, because yesterday Governor DeWine commuted his sentence as a result of the pandemic. The story — from the Blade — tries to make that into a scandal, but it’s not. For one thing, Tom — however guilty he was, and he most certainly was — was given a sentence about three times longer than anyone had ever been given for his sort of crime in the history of Ohio. It was massively out of line with most cases, and that had a lot to do with the political considerations that surrounded it.

It’s also the case that Noe is a non-violent offender. He’s 65 years-old. He has asthma and had pneumonia a couple of years back. He’s a textbook example of a high-risk person in the COVID-19 age. He’s never getting close to anything approaching the public trust again. He’s not a threat and not a risk. It makes a lot of sense for him to be set free, and I’d be saying that even if he hadn’t been my client. I’d be saying that even if, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I didn’t come to sort of like the guy.

 

I’ve been sitting on that search warrant story for years. I feel better for having finally written about it. What in the hell does it say about the time we’re living in that the story of a $50 million embezzlement and my unsuccessful defense of it leading to a guy spending 14 years in the clink has made me feel better than anything has in a long time?

 

 

April 18: I made some carrot soup on Friday night. As I was doing that — which is about the most humdrum a thing a person can do on a Friday night — Allison was at the club:

 

Allison is really into EDM and makes a point to go to a show at least every few months if she can. She’s had a couple of shows get cancelled on her so far and it’ll probably be some time before she can go again. Luckily there have been some livestream marathons for the past couple of weekends, with DJs playing from their houses or apartments. Or, in the case of our man Tiësto here, who is probably the biggest, most famous DJ of the past couple of decades, playing from a cavernous room with thousands upon thousands of dollars of light effects that would make most commercial clubs jealous. I can only assume he was streaming that from his auxiliary eight-car garage or something. There’s a lot of money in that racket, guys.

 

We had another FaceTime happy hour with the couple we met on the cruise we took back in January. A great deal of our conversation surrounded the concept of “oh my God, can you believe we all went on a cruise? Like that’s ever happening again.” I suppose the cruise industry will survive this thanks to bailouts. And I’ve read that cruise people — and it’s definitely a type — have already started booking things again for late this year and early next year because prices have gone through the floor. That’s, um, fine, I guess, but I think I will do literally everything there is left to do on the planet before I take a cruise again. Even staying in hotels is going to feel weird for a good long time.

 

I will say: I really do like the FaceTime happy hours. I’m not a shut-in or anything, and my introversion, to the extent it exists, is situational at at best. I’m a decent conversationalist when I’m feeling up to it and I can function totally fine in social settings. When you’ve spend a solid decade with most of your friendships and human interactions being mediated by a computer screen like I have, though, there’s something . . . comforting about having drinks with people that way too.  The rhythms of couple-on-couple conversations seem easier in that setting for me and I’ve come to like it.

But there’s more to it than just habit for me. There’s something in my psyche at play here too. Something which I’ve only really become truly aware of in the past few years: I have a difficult time finding the right balance between observing the world with objective detachment and actively participating in it.

When I was a lawyer I’d often find myself keeping myself too far removed from my clients than I probably should have if I truly wanted to represent them zealously. I kept myself a step apart, in my mind, because I wanted to keep a step apart from their ethics. But I know now there was something more to it. I didn’t want to become enmeshed in the lives and business of others in certain ways because I did not like that level of familiarity regardless. I liked to keep some distance and some space that one cannot easily do when one assumes the role of another’s advocate. This wasn’t the biggest reason I had trouble in that career, but it was always present, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

Since I’ve become a writer — working at home, not interacting with many people in person on a daily basis — I often feel like more of a voyeur than a participant in the world, with a tendency to disengage and think about life more intellectually or theoretically than to actually, you know, live it. This tendency is far more pronounced when I’m under stress or when I’m unhappy. It’s not a good quality. It’s something that, since I became fully aware of it a couple of years ago,  I’ve worked hard to notice and head off when I slip into it around actual people. Still, I’ll likely always have to work a bit harder to fully engage with anyone apart from those to whom I am truly close like my family.

The online happy hours are a sort of engagement, but they’re low commitment since I don’t have to go anywhere. There is a physical distance and formality that gets me out of the “do we sit 2 + 2 at the corner of a bar or do we get a booth or how does this work?” thing that I think about way too much. The technology introduces an element of turn-taking in conversation that makes me feel more comfortable in some ways. I’m almost embarrassed now that I’ve gone back and read all of that, and wonder if anyone who actually knows me in real life can even see this part of me. Maybe it’s all in my head? Maybe it’s obvious but everyone’s polite about it? I have no idea, but it’s how I feel a lot of the time.

 

We had a few warm days a week or two ago, but it’s been pretty cold or rainy most days.  We even had some sleet mixed with snow one day last week. It hasn’t felt much like spring yet. Today it was sunny and, while not super warm, it was warm enough to do some things outside. I’ve been needing to power wash the cats’ litter box (one of those big automatic ones, which makes it a fairly involved job) and since I had the power washer out I cleaned off the patio bricks, fence and furniture too. As I was reeling the hose back in the sun, the moisture, and the dirt all combined for a pleasant, earthy, springlike feel. It reminded me of the turf at the Kentucky Horse Park, where we go and tailgate at the Land Rover Three Day Event each year:

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Head of the Lake

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That would’ve been next weekend but it’s obviously cancelled, which is a bummer, as it’s a great time. Still, that spring smell I got yesterday was encouraging. The seasons are still going to come and go even if everything we fill them with have stopped. There’s something comforting in that.

 

 

April 19: I have an acquaintance from a long time ago with whom I only interact with on Facebook. He is something of a public person due to his job and, as such, he never, ever, posts or talks about political things. I suspect he skews conservative for a few reasons, but he’s really not someone you’d ever expect to get anywhere near politics on his Facebook page. It’s usually all personal stuff, jokes, and funny memes. Because he’s a very amiable and positive person, his entire online vibe is amiability and positivity, even when bad things are happening. I actually like going to his page when things are bad because I can pretty reliably get a laugh.

He hasn’t exactly gone dark or political since this all started, but he has gone dark and political for him. He’s chafed, mildly, about closures like all of us have, but I suspect it’s starting to morph into something a bit sharper.

He recently started reading Orwell’s “1984” for the first time, posting a picture of the cover a couple of days ago, saying “feels like it’s time.” Which, hey, there’s never a bad time to read Orwell, so that’s cool. Today, though, he posted, without comment, a photo of the page in which Orwell talked about how it was “unwise to be seen on the streets unless you had definite business there . . . ‘May I see your papers, comrade? What are you doing here? What time did you leave work? Is this your usual way home?’ — and so forth.” It’s not hard to draw a line from his random comments about the closures to this. Him sharing something even remotely political like that would not be something he’d do lightly.

All of which makes me thank that Trump’s whole “Open the country up! . . Liberate Michigan! Liberate Minnesota!” stuff is striking a nerve. Sure, anything he says will go over great with his cult-like base — and for the moment there is still pretty solid support for staying on the attack against COVID-19, despite how much press the protests are getting — but I worry that it’s going to change the longer goes on. I feel like, if Trump and other leaders continue their efforts to undermine smart public health measures, that “open it up!” sentiment will expand beyond that cult and appeal to people more like my normally non-political friend.

And continue they will.

Trump’s entire rise was premised on grievance and resentment. On telling people that even the slightest of demands of them with respect to others are unreasonable. That they, actually, do not have any responsibility to anyone or anything other than themselves and their comfort and their prejudices. It made a lot of people — not just the mouth-breathers in MAGA hats — feel good to hear it. Building and maintaining a civilization is hard work and a great many people love to be given permission to take a smoke break.

I suspect that, the longer all of this goes on, more and more people, including otherwise non-political people like my friend, will be amenable to that message as it relates to the pandemic. It scares the living hell out of me.

 

As for those protests, a local photographer named Ralph Orr captured some fantastic images of a large protest at the Ohio Statehouse from over the weekend. As you can see, a great many of these people are already part of the degenerate right, with “Q” signs and “Proudboy” flags displayed. He notes in the brief narrative above the photos that, “. .  . Nor did I hear any mention of an individual’s responsibilities to the community, to healthcare workers, to the poor, to the often-vital low-waged workers, to the homeless, to the incarcerated, or to the elderly. The focus was on “rights” not responsibilities. Calls for an end to lying were directed at Governor DeWine and healthcare leaders, not to President Trump.”

That, and the photos, kind of says it all.

 

I wrote this on March 24, which seems like 100 years ago, about how I was worried that we as a country would give short shrift to meaningful and substantive anti-pandemic measures such as pumping needed billions into medical and relief efforts while going heavy on empty symbolism:

I read this in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning:

Right on schedule then, I suppose. We’ll nail the symbolic gestures. We’ll likely totally whiff on anything that truly matters. It’s what we do.

Oh, and as we’re cheering those people at Busch Stadium and all of the other big league ballparks, know that Major League Baseball gave teams the green light to slash non-player salaries in cost-savings measures that will likely amount to rounding error. Because they can.

 

I took another long walk today. Longer than usual and faster than usual, in an effort to really test my limits. According to my fitness app I walked 7.72 miles at a 14-minute mile pace. It was a really good workout. The only moderate issue was that I did it in shoes that, at this point in their long and very well-lived life, are rated for probably six miles at about a 16-minute mile pace. My dogs are barking a bit.

Speaking of dogs, I passed by this as I often do on these walks:

 

Somewhere back there is the home Ohio’s richest man, Les Wexner, which I’ve written about in the past. It’s not far from where I’ve lived for the past 15 years. For the past 5-6 years or so, since I really took up hiking, I’ve taken many, many walks around the perimeter of his property. I can’t say I’ve ever seen or heard a dog. Not that I’m gonna check. Maybe next time I’ll throw a steak over the fence. It works in cartoons and heist movies and stuff.

 

I roasted our Sunday chicken for dinner once again. Afterwards Allison and a friend watched a show via their laptops so I decided to watch a movie.

I wasn’t sure what to watch, though. I spent a long time scrolling through possibilities on Netflix and Amazon. I kept going back and considering, over and over again, movies I’ve seen countless times and know I love already. “Zero Effect,” “The Long Goodbye,” “The Conversation,” and other Craig Classics. I was tweeting about it as I was trying to make a choice, sort of making fun of myself, but a bunch of people responded by saying that they too keep revisiting shows and movies they’ve already seen and know they love.

I guess it’s a comfort thing when everyone is inconvenienced. A certainty thing when everything is uncertain. Totems to remind us of what we are and what we were and that we’re not lost in a dream. Like in “Inception,” which was another one I considered watching again.

In the end, I settled on something I hadn’t seen: “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” I figured laughs were just as good as the comfort of the familiar. And that it was a pretty safe bet that “Walk Hard” would not exactly be the sort of unfamiliar that would unsettle me too terribly much. I was right on both counts.

 

 

April 20: Decided to do my part to stimulate the economy tonight (read: I didn’t wanna cook) so I offered to get the kids carryout:

 

It’s extremely hard to argue with 14 year-old boys about healthy habits when they respond with stuff like “well, you write every day that the world’s ending, so why does it matter?”

 

I have not seen a more thorough analysis of where we are and how we got here than this essay from George Packer of The Atlantic about how, in almost every way that matters, America is a failed state.

Set your pride in the idea of your country aside. Set your reflexive patriotism aside. Just read it. And then ask yourself what, if anything, he gets wrong about the state of our nation. It breaks my heart to say that I can’t find a thing.

In any case, it reminds me of the opening chapter of William Manchester’s “The Glory and the Dream,” which I talked about in the April 2 entry. As Manchester noted, we were waylaid by the Great Depression because we had built a society utterly ill-equipped to deal with it. The same thing is happening now. It took ninety years, but we’re back to square one. A country which is psychologically and structurally incapable of taking care of its people and which desperately needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

 

Re-reading the April 2 entry, I realize, with no small amount of petty self-satisfaction, how much of it tracks what Packer is saying in his essay. I’ll admit that most of these entries slide out of my brain not long after I hit “publish.” That’s sort of by design, really. I started this thing to unload the thoughts in my head and to try to move on from them as quickly as possible, so if my observations stuck with me it’d kind of defeat the purpose. But I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty chuffed that, to the extent I do go back and look at them, they’re holding up.

Maybe it’s just a matter of me sharing a few preoccupations with Packer.

He wrote a book called “The Unwinding” a few years ago that tracked the changes in America from the late 1970s through the present. If you’ve been reading my writing for any amount of time you’ll recognize that as something I go back to pretty often. I grew up with people and in places that weren’t exactly on the cutting edge of the cultural zeitgeist, and for those people, those places and, by extension, me, the 1970s zeitgeist remained pretty prominent well into the portion of my childhood that I still very consciously remember.

I look back on the 70s — and those years in the early 80s that still felt like the 1970s to me —  as a great lost opportunity. It was by no means a great time — I’m not going to whitewash the malaise and uncertainty of the era — but it was a time when responsible people still thought that “fuck it, let’s just make as much money as we possibly can and not worry about anything else” was a sociopathic as opposed to an aspirational concept. It was a time when a nice, thoughtful but, unfortunately, politically-challenged man named Jimmy Carter told us that, maybe, it’d be a good idea to turn the thermostat down a tad and maybe wear a sweater to save some money. In response, our entire nation threw a 40-year-long-and-counting temper tantrum in which it decided, screw that, we’d rather first bankrupt and then destroy the planet rather than sacrifice a single thing. That tantrum is still raging and is largely responsible for the mess we’re in at present.

 

For evidence of that, look no further than Georgia and Tennessee. Georgia’s governor announced today that he will be dropping shutdown orders this weekend, with gyms, bowling alleys, hair salons, nail salons, and massage therapists’ opening as of this weekend and restaurants and movie theaters as of Monday. Tennessee is going to let its shutdown order expire on April 30.

It’s sheer madness. It’s a total cave-in to the fringe protestors I talked about yesterday and, more broadly, to business interests which almost every politician in this country has accepted, since the 1980s anyway, to be more important than any single thing. Most notably the public good. This reopening is going to lead to spikes in infections and deaths. We know this because experts have been modeling this stuff for a century or more and disparate closings of public spaces have been proven to lead to disparate results in infections and deaths.

Worse, it’s going to begin a race to the bottom.

When people in Florida or South Carolina see what’s going on in Georgia, they’re going to clamor for similar treatment. When people in Arkansas see what’s happening in Tennessee, they’ll do the same. Particularly businesses at the borders which are losing out to locals crossing state lines to go to places where restrictions have been relaxed. We’ll see this expand, and that expansion will happen before the ill public health effects, which will lag by a couple of weeks, become apparent.

This inevitable pattern — phenomena which does not respect state borders negatively impacting neighbor states — is the very reason why we have a federal system instead of a confederation of states. We tried that and it did not work because we found that there are simply matters that must be dealt with in a coordinated manner. This is why states do no have their own currency. Or their own militaries. Or their own environmental or consumer laws below a baseline national standard. It is simply unworkable.

People who are politically aligned with the governors of Georgia and Tennessee will decry the idea, set forth in the Packer article, that the nation is broken. But the acts of those two governors is about to provide proof-of-concept for that notion.

 

I spent the evening doing some cleaning and then watching a little TV. Before bed I made one last check of the news and saw that Trump announced an executive order to completely suspend immigration, which he says will protect Americans as we deal with “the Invisible Enemy” that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump, somehow, did not mention that there are something like the three times more Americans infected with COVID-19 than those from the next most-highly-infected country, meaning that we are far more of a a danger to people in other counties than they are to us. Of course, Trump has never been concerned with the accuracy of his anti-immigration ravings.

As I’ve noted here before and as the Packer piece notes as well, a crisis doesn’t break us anew as much as it shows us what is already broken. In this act, it shows us that the president — and his advisor on all things immigration, Stephen Miller, who no doubt prodded Trump to make this move — are looking for any excuse to do what they already want to do but legally cannot do by simple decree. They are using an emergency as a pretext to accomplish their preexisting aims. It’s a classic move of fascist regimes. It’s straight from the textbook.

 

 

April 21: The former New York Times reporter, spy novelist, and, oddly, reefer madness fearmongering author Alex Berenson has been at the vanguard of the “open the country back up” movement. He has spent the last two months accusing governments of overreacting to the pandemic and accusing public health authorities of lying about how many people are sick and how many are dying and of what. He has claimed, constantly, that measures backed by infectious disease experts such as social distancing and closing businesses is authoritarianism. His act has, naturally, been popular on far right wing websites and Fox News. He and his movement can only be described as COVID-19 Trutherism.

Like a lot of truthers and conspiracy theorists, Berenson claims to be the bearer of real truths and accuses others of being the real adherents to conspiracy theories. His act is a tired and familiar one to anyone who has ever spent any time observing charlatans.

When queried he dodges. When presented with medical and public health expertise he accuses you of “appeals to authority.” When making his own case he relies on the authority of quacks and fellow charlatans. As he is doing all of this he is citing what he considers to be low death and infection rates which are a product of social distancing and the shutting down of the public sphere as proof that social distancing and the shutting down of the public sphere was unnecessary. As he engages in this cute, cynical game he has built an increasingly large following consisting of the sorts of people who are enamored with both cute, cynical games and easy answers.

That following is nothing short of a cult. I found this out today when I mocked a Berenson tweet in which he compared the pandemic — which has killed over 46,000 people in the country thus far — to a list of mildly disappointing news stories such as Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record and saying we’ll look back at this and wonder why we cared so much.

My mocking led to Berenson himself responding and saying “I won’t tell him that ~3 million Americans die a year if you don’t.” After that scores of his followers came out of the woodwork to, basically, tell me that people die all the time so this is not a big deal:

A lot of those people die in car wrecks, yet we still have speed limits and seatbelt laws. A lot of people die from contaminated food yet we still have an FDA. A lot of people get shot in the head, yet we still consider murder illegal. The “hey, people die, it makes no sense to do the things necessary to stop it” crowd are a little quieter about those things. Probably because that stuff doesn’t impact their personal happiness or their pocketbook as much.

I’ve been online long enough now to know not to engage with people like this with any seriousness. I know that asking them to support their own assertions will simply be an invitation to be flooded with junk science. I know that confronting them with facts from reliable sources that counter their assertions will do nothing to change their minds. In fact, it will actually escalate their commitment to their erroneous cause. The brain of a cult member cannot process the amount of sunk costs they have devoted to nonsense and it will do whatever it can to protect itself from the harsh realization that they have been sold a bill of goods. Even when, eventually and inevitably, Berenson disgraces himself and his little movement, his adherents will not repudiate their views. They will simply say that Berenson himself was a flawed messenger and delve further into madness. Maybe even one of them will become its new intellectual leader. Maybe it’ll be the COVID-19 truther with whom I was already familiar in the world of sports media.

I also know that to the extent Berenson and any of his adherents try to offer an actual cogent basis for their beliefs, that basis will boils down to “X number of lives is a quite reasonable price to pay for me not to be inconvenienced,” and I’m not really ready to hear that said so plainly.

I further know that that there are people who are not members of that cult who will silently nod along with that for now but, soon, when they see that someone else with that ignorant and destructive view is proudly shouting it, will emerge from silence as well. It happened in 2016 when all manner of horrible views which we previously considered inappropriate in polite discourse were mainstreamed because alt-right and far right media figures gave them voice, at which point Donald Trump ran with them. It will happen again now, with this.

Indeed, someone has picked up Berenson’s ball and is running with it already:

Some are being slightly less blunt about it, but only slightly:

 

Waving away the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people because they happened to have some extremely common co-morbidity factors is heartless idiocy. These were not people at death’s door. Many people with these conditions are the people you see at work or pass on the street each day. These people did not just coincidentally up-and-die in the last month because of some underlying condition. They were killed by a highly infectious virus for which we have no effective treatment let alone a cure. Most of them would have lived much, much longer lives. To use their hypertension or diabetes as some justification for their deaths — as a reason why it’s not necessary to continue to protect people as best we can and to, instead, go back to where we were in early March — is abjectly horrifying. That it’s coming from a United States Senator makes it even more horrifying.

 

Today was the day with most COVID-19 deaths in the United States yet. Over 2,500. That’s almost as many who died on 9/11. What a day to be confronted with all of this nihilism and callousness.

 

Yesterday Ohio announced that school would remain closed for the rest of the year. No one in this house was particularly surprised by that. School here ends the day after Memorial Day, so there’s just a month left. There’d be no point in rushing them back at this point. Carlo and Anna have regular assignments and, from what I can tell anyway, a pretty OK rhythm with online school, such as it is. Anna is worried about her AP Physics and European History tests. Carlo was irked that Model UN was scrapped. Otherwise they’re rolling with it pretty well.

Tonight at dinner I asked them what they’re working on. In English Anna has been reading “A Tale of Two Cities.” She says “it was only a bit of London and then TONS of Paris. More like ‘a tale of one city.’ Charles Dickens was dropping clickbait with that title.”

In European History she has to do an essay on World War I. I’ve probably read and studied more about World War I than anything apart from the law. Probably even more than political philosophy, which was my college major. It’s a topic I never tire of revisiting, even if it’s a horrific topic. Probably because it’s such a horrific topic. Some old dads read a lot about World War II because it’s a great story of triumph. I read a lot about World War I because it never ceases to be a reminder of how wrong we are capable of going as a people and how short our memories and how fleeting and Pyrrhic our victories can be.

We talked about her essay:

Anna: I have to write a World War I essay.

Me: You should do it on the poets like Owen and Sassoon.

Anna: Eh.

Me: I’m guessing you read them?

Anna: Yeah, Dulce et decorum est like a million times.

Me: Owen shoulda put “spoiler alert” on that.

Anna: *dies laughing*

There’s so much that makes me almost want to cry right now that I have to find some way to laugh. Even if it’s in the face of horror.

 

The structure is breaking down to some extent, though. They don’t have much if any face time requirements. Class lectures via Zoom or whatever are optional. It’s all about turning in the work, and they do that, but the work has been tailing off. Carlo told me that in the first couple of weeks of all of this he’d get multiple assignments from each teacher and it took up a lot of time. Now it’s an assignment or two a week from each class and they’re not exactly taxing. They’re not being challenged like they would be in person, but each of them had a pretty intense year, academically speaking, before things shut down so I don’t think mailing in the last couple of months is the end of the world.

Daily structure is breaking down too. We’ve told the kids they need to be up by 9am during the week to at least attempt to approach the day with some semblance of normalcy, but it’s becoming harder to enforce. Anna is an early riser but Carlo isn’t. He’s up all night playing games or dicking around online and it’s a struggle to wake him up. I’m torn between my desire to follow through and my increasing feeling that it’s sort of pointless. I mean, if it wasn’t for the fact that my job is basically the same as it’s always been, I’d probably be staying up all night too.

Tonight, just before I went up to bed he asked me if he could order a pizza. My first thought was “no.” But then I thought “eh, what the hell?” and I let him. Which means that he’s going to be up late. And which means he’ll be a pain in the ass tomorrow morning. I probably shouldn’t have let him, but I can’t really muster the authority to say no. It’s a supremely fucked up time. Leaning into the fucked-upness of it all doesn’t seem like the worst thing. He’ll have people telling him to stick to a regimen for the rest of his life.

And it’s not like I didn’t see more crazy today than a kid wanting a pizza at 11pm on a Tuesday.

 

April 22: I had a nightmare just before waking up. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it, but it was sort of a re-living of something awful I went through once that I wished I had handled differently. In the dream I handled it exactly the same way that I did the first time, in real life. So I woke up both shaken and pissed off at myself.

At the same time, it was one of the few days when I woke up and, instead of getting depressed upon remembering everything that was going on in the world, I woke up fully aware of what was going on in the world and felt like, OK, actually, this is preferable to what I was dreaming.

 

Then Rosie. Oh, Rosie.

Rosie is a five year-old calico that I got when she was a kitten. I actually got her and her two sisters, Lucy and Scully, at the same time. Along with Allison’s cat Fran that gave us four. Having four cats is the reason I got, and love, that Litter Robot I talked about the other day. Life-saver for crazy cat ladies like me.

Fran, as Allison will tell anyone who asks or who does not ask, is the best cat ever. Smart, nimble, fun, funny, and loving. Everything you want in a cat. Lucy, who we call Bear for reasons that are too silly to go into, is the biggest of the three calico sisters. She’s awesome too. Strong, fast, headstrong and beautiful. Fran and Bear are co-alpha cats, but they don’t fight or challenge each other. They coexist peacefully at the top of the house’s power structure.

Sadly, Scully died last year. She was a sweet and loving cat, but she was runty and not all-together right from the beginning. Maybe it was because of that, and because of a protective streak I have for the runty and sickly ones, that I was so drawn to her. She’d sit on my belly all day as I worked and would follow me around all the time when I was up. She was my little buddy.  Early last year, though, she stopped eating. Despite the vet’s best efforts, she withered and wasted away and just would not get better. There was just a big messy stew of genetic things at play and, in the end, we had to put her down. I’ve had a lot of cats in my life and have put a lot of cats down and I tend to have a pretty good sense of pragmatism and perspective about that kind of thing, but losing Scully broke my heart. I still have trouble talking about it.

Rosie is not runty, but she’s also never really been right. She’s obsessive in many of her behaviors and, while not high-strung in the way people usually think of pets being high-strung — she’ll just stare at the vacuum, not caring — she has a difficult time relaxing. Allison says that Rosie “just doesn’t know how to . . . be.” I think that’s the best way of putting it.

Late last year she began to have seizures. We got those under control with medication in January and she didn’t have a seizure for months, but she began to have them again this past weekend. She’s now had them every single day since they started again. We’re upping her meds but it takes time to level up in her bloodstream and it hasn’t been effective yet. Of course, if you give a cat too many anti-seizure meds they become like little lethargic zombies. The balance is hard.

This morning’s seizure happened at about 7. Unlike some cats who have seizures, Rosie does not just hit the ground and twitch. Hers cause her to run and flail about uncontrollably. She sprints into walls and knocks things over, completely unable to constrain herself. Once, last December, she ran full speed into the dryer vent and got hung up in it when her claws pierced the thin aluminum. On Tuesday she knocked into the water bowl, completely dumping it on herself and the floor. This morning she flung herself through the bottom part of the bar cart, knocking over bottles and metal cocktail shakers and waking up everyone else in the house. Thankfully she didn’t break any glass. Also, thankfully, she hasn’t hurt herself during these seizures beyond a couple of random torn claws that quickly healed.

Our vet and a neuro vet at Ohio State have examined her. Seizures in a five year-old cat either just happen — idiopathic epilepsy they call it — or they’re the result of something nasty like a brain tumor. A cat MRI pushes a couple thousand bucks and, well, that’s just not happening, so we’re assuming epilepsy. When the medicine worked for three months and she was otherwise normal, we figured it was a safe assumption. Now we’re not so sure, but we’re hoping the increased meds start to build up in her system and they stop again.

Sorry to go on so long about my cats, but given what my life has been for the past ten years, these beasts are the closest thing I have to co-workers. I’m around them more than most people and I have better conversations with them than I do with most people as well. The fact that one of them is not well — and is not well in a rather scary way — creates an added level of stress at a time when stress is already at all-time highs.

 

I was taking Anna to her mom’s house this afternoon when she asked me to turn into McDonald’s for a Coke. Neither her mother or I keep soda in the house and she had a hankering. While we were in the drive-thru, the idea of a Coke sounded good to me too. I went cold turkey on diet soda about eight years ago but I’ll have a regular Coke or a Dr. Pepper once or twice a year, usually at a movie. Movie theaters aren’t a thing anymore, so we both got McDonald’s Cokes.

As we were pulling out of the parking lot, Anna took a sip of hers and made a highly satisfied sound:

Anna: Ahhh, that sure hits different in quarantine.

Me: I guess we have to do what we can with simple pleasures.

Anna: It’s like in history when they make us read journals people kept at the time. Some kid gets, like, an orange at Christmas and goes on and on about it for five pages like it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to them.

She’s not wrong. That Coke did hit the spot. Enough to make this journal anyway.

 

It’s the birthday of one of our friend’s daughters. She’s six. Lockdown is a drag for everyone but it has to suck especially hard for a little kid on their birthday.

Her parents organized a little drive-by birthday parade for her. We and a bunch of other people — family members, her little friends driven in their parents’ vans, some decorated with banners and balloons — all met on the street next to theirs and formed a little birthday caravan down their block, around the cul-de-sac and back out again. Carlo has a little wooden train whistle noise maker he got when he was a kid. I brought it with us and blew it as we rolled up while Allison blared “Birthday” by The Beatles on the stereo. We stopped and handed the birthday girl a little pot of flowers and some cupcakes out the window. Later her mom sent us a video of the whole thing from their perspective. The birthday girl seemed to like the whole thing very much. She’ll probably remember that more than any of the other birthday parties she’s had or will have until she grows out of birthday parties.

 

We got home from the parade and made dinner. Then Allison got online to watch a movie with some of her friends. I went upstairs and watched “Harold and Maude.” The New Hollywood period is my favorite era of filmmaking, but I had somehow never seen that one. Probably because I tend to prefer the grittier or more psychologically complex flicks of the time. Give me “The Conversation” or “Fat City” or “California Split” or “Night Moves” or “The Anderson Tapes” or “Charley Varrick.” Whatever the case, I’ve always had “Harold and Maude” on my “to see eventually” list, but I always manage to find something I’d rather watch.

Tonight I couldn’t find anything I’d rather see — “Badlands,” which I also have somehow never seen was a contender, but I didn’t want to go that dark — so Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon it was. It was cute and strange in all the ways I assumed it would be cute and strange based on what I knew about it already. I enjoyed it. Cute and strange were exactly what I needed tonight. It certainly made the day end better than it began.

I watched it in bed upstairs. Rosie got on on the bed and snuggled up against me and went to sleep not long after it started. As I’m typing this, a half hour after it ended, she’s still asleep there. I hope she’s not having bad dreams. I hope she’s OK.

 

April 23: My friend Dave is a bartender in Detroit. He’s a hospitality labor union leader. He’s a family man with a wife and a couple of kids.

In the past year he has been planning to open his own neighborhood bar in Detroit and, to that end, has spent most of his time off building and painting and wiring and plumbing and everything else necessary to start his business. In this, Dave is the textbook definition of a small businessman. He’s doing the “work hard, save up, and then go out on your own, build something and give some jobs to people” thing that we’re so often told is the embodiment of the American Dream.

He had planned to open up at the end of March but, obviously, that’s all delayed. This morning he was part of a CNN feature on the challenges Detroit is facing due to the pandemic:

 

I’m not close enough with Dave to know what if any small business aid he’s applied or received for in all of this. My guess is none, since it’s not yet an open business. But either way, I bet he’s getting less help than millionaires and billion dollar companies are getting right now. Certainly less than well-connected Trump buddies who hired well-connected lobbyists.

It’s certainly not surprising that those in power are far more interested in helping the wealthy and the well-connected than in helping the needy or in backing up their grandstanding about how important actual small businesses are. It’s pathological with them.

As is their hypocrisy.

For example, the big talking point from conservatives for the past couple of days has been how Washington should not be helping states which are experiencing a budgetary crisis due to the shutdowns and the massive number of unemployment claims:

This is the same Nikki Haley who, when governor of South Carolina, presided over a state which received the highest ratio of federal funds given per dollar of income tax paid of any state in the entire country. And she certainly — and correctly — did not think it inappropriate to seek federal aid for her citizens when hurricanes struck. When she was actually in charge of something she understood that the federal government is the necessary backstop when disaster strikes.

Meanwhile Mitch McConnell — the singularly most odious and nihilistic political figure of our age, which is saying something — has taken to referring dismissively to aid as “Blue State Bailouts,” and said he thinks states should just go bankrupt. Which, at present, they cannot legally do. Unlike the federal government, most states are bound by tight budgetary constraints — Ohio is constitutionally prohibited from running a deficit — and they, unlike the federal government, can’t simply start borrowing money. And that’s before you get to the fact that it’s not just the “Blue States” who are facing a crunch. And before you acknowledge the utter repugnance of saying that states which favor you politically are somehow superior and more worthy of support than ones who don’t. A kid going to bed hungry because his parents can’t get unemployment in Big Stone Gap, Virginia — a blue state — is just as bad as a kid going to bed hungry in Harlan, Kentucky — a red state — 40 miles away.

The silver lining of this disingenuous budget talk from these people is that it suggests, pretty strongly, that they think Trump is going to lose in November.

The classic GOP tack is to spend like drunken sailors when they’re in power — doing things like giving a $1.5 trillion tax break to corporations and the wealthy while letting federal spending expand — and to immediately demagogue the national debt and the budget deficit when a Democrat takes office. To that end, I suspect that, at the moment, Nikki Hayley is just getting a jump start on a 2024 presidential run during which she’ll cynically blame President Joe Biden for all of the things Trump has mismanaged to date and all the costs that will be necessary to rebuild the country. I likewise suspect that Mitch McConnell is preparing for life as an opposition leader as well. They’re slipping back into their 2009-2016 selves in preparation for life out of power.

 

Trump losing power cannot come soon enough given that he’s likely to get someone killed by doing things such as musing during a news briefing that bleach or other household disinfectants could be injected into coronavirus patients’ bodies to kill the virus. Yes, really.

Immediately — and encouragingly — our nations’s most prestigious newspaper called for Trump’s resignation or removal pursuant to the 25th Amendment due to his incompetence and incapacity to hold office.

Haha, just kidding:

“In the view of some experts.” But not all experts, the New York Times implies, so this is now a topic for legitimate debate, apparently. Who are the other experts, The Dead Milkmen?

 

I picked up tacos tonight. The taco place is a local chain, with most locations in cool places but since we live out in the burbs, the closest location to us is at a place called Easton Town Center. It’s a mall. One of those outdoor malls that apes a cityscape, built on what used to be farmland out by the freeway outerbelt. There are storefronts and parking meters and sidewalks and all of that, but it’s all private property. Even if one of Easton’s most prominent tenants has taken to calling their store a “town hall” and “gathering place.”

I have a lot of problems with just how much places like Easton blur the lines between mall and city. While it’s a fake city, Easton and places like them hold the sorts of community events — Christmas caroling, arts fairs, outdoor performances and the like — that take place in real public spaces in real cities. Except they’re not truly community events at Easton given that no one has much business being there unless one is shopping or dining out at one of the luxury goods stores on its premises, and that’s obviously not for everyone. And given that, since Easton is private property, their security can kick out anyone they want to for basically any reason or for no reason whatsoever. Try to stage a protest on “main street” in a mall like Easton and see how long you last until you’re hauled away.

Last night, when I went to pick up my tacos I saw another way in which this fake city is troublesome: it’s way more unsettling during a lockdown.

While the actual city streets are pretty deserted, there’s at least some life on them. They carry through-traffic, and there are still people driving places. People actually live in and around them, so you see people walking or you see lights on in people’s houses or apartments. Easton, in contrast, is just dead apart from a couple of restaurants still offering carryout. It’s like someone detonated a neutron bomb, killing all the people and leaving all of the buildings behind.

 

Sometimes I worry that I’m just disappearing up my own asshole with these posts, but then I remember that it’s a diary, and that’s kinda what diaries are for. I also remember that at least as I’m disappearing up my own asshole I’m not going out into the world and risking the health and lives of others while smugly defending my irresponsible choices in confessional essay format. My God, read the room, people.

 

Some better reading: this GQ interview with Jason Isbell, one of my favorite artists. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, including a bit in which he acknowledges the longstanding joke about how he’s every baseball writer’s favorite singer. Maybe the best part, though, is not in anything specific he says, but something the reporter says about him in the intro:

Isbell is unnervingly candid—want to ask about his drinking, or what he talks about in therapy, or his marriage? Ask away. There are no guardrails. Or maybe his honesty is itself the guardrails.

This goes hand-in-hand with that thing Mark Twain said about how the best part of telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember anything. It’s amazing how liberating honesty is. It’s amazing how few people really understand and appreciate that. The truth cannot possibly hurt you if you live your life with truth.

 

 

April 24: It’s prom season. I have friends in Pennsylvania whose daughter is a graduating senior. There’s no real prom, but there was a virtual one.

First the young lad brought his date flowers, leaving them on the bench for her to retrieve to ensure proper social distancing:

Then the couple posed for the traditional boy-in-back-with-arms-around-his-date-while-trying-not-to-act-nervous photo:

We’re all having to adjust to new challenges these days but I feel like dads-of-young-women the world over can get on board with this new reality.

Seriously, though: like the birthday parade for the little girl I talked about the other day, this may not be an ideal celebration or rite of passage, but it’ll certainly be a memorable one. I went to three pretty forgettable proms. I don’t have any good stories to tell about any of them, really. Everything sucks at the moment — and none of what’s happening is worth it — but we’ll be talking about it for the rest of our lives. There will be value in that and, in all of that, we will find little graces.

 

Anna’s mother dropped her off this afternoon. As she was leaving she said, over her shoulder, “Oh, Anna keeps saying she’s going to cut her own hair, I told her she can’t, bye.” So I guess for the next five days I either (a) police her like crazy and try to keep her from hacking her hair off; or (b) let whatever happens happen.

I think anyone even remotely familiar with Anna’s work knows that (a) is not an option. At the same time, I want to at least attempt to back up her mother, so I told Anna that while I can’t stop her from cutting her own hair, I’d really prefer it if she didn’t. And that, if she’d cooperate with her mother’s wishes we could do something fun with her hair after this is all over. Wild color. Wild cuts. You name it. Just, with a professional doing it, not her doing it herself with kitchen shears.

Anna pushed back at that some, but I told her I wasn’t super invested either way. Look at me. How can I possibly have strong opinions about hair? Part of me thinks that if she was really wanting to hack off all her hair she would’ve simply done it already and that the threat of doing it was more to push her mom’s buttons.

And if not? Well, as the old saying goes, the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is two weeks. And it’s not like she’s going anywhere where she can’t look like a poor man’s Pat Benatar or a prison inmate or something if that’s what ends up happening. And if it does, and it’s less-than-great, well, it might be something else we’ll be talking about for the rest of our lives. I’ll get photos so you can too.

 

I joked about Trump’s comments about bleach and household cleaners yesterday, but when I woke up this morning and saw that basically the only response — apart from frantic disclaimers from Lysol and other companies who don’t want to get sued — was widespread joking, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, I realize that Trump is graded on the world’s most forgiving curve for some reason, but this is rather insane. A world-crippling pandemic has killed 50,000 Americans in a month and the President of the United States went before the nation and suggested that injecting poison may help. They should be dragging him away in a straitjacket right now but nothing happens . . . except jokes.

Even the Surgeon General cannot bring himself to say, “no, actually, one should not inject bleach into their veins”:

This is the sort of thing you read old dissidents talking about after years under dictatorships or juntas in eastern Europe or South America or Africa or something. About how the party secretary’s or the generalissimo’s underlings feared contradicting him even if he raved madly and how there is no recourse against the madness other than dark laughter. Whenever I used to read those accounts I always thought to myself, “well, in America at least we have democracy and democratic institutions which prevent us from being powerless like that.” Guess I was fooling myself.

 

On a more sane note, J.C. Bradbury is an academic economist I know from the world of baseball. He lives in Georgia and has been closely following Georgia’s widely derided plan to begin opening restaurants and hair salons and all manner of businesses this weekend. So much of the public discourse about that and other “re-open America” talk has fallen into the extreme buckets of “OPEN EVERYTHING NOW!” or “OH MY GOD, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE.” Bradbury, though, put together a pretty good list of factors which should be present before we start the slow process of returning to normal:

I’m no expert but that all seems to make sense. At the very least, it seems to me that those are the sorts of factors our leaders should be considering and talking about in a very clear and very public way, every day. So few of them, even the good ones, are doing that. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who I have praised repeatedly, has remained vague, saying “opening up is a high-wire act . . . many factors are at play.” Which, yes, but that doesn’t tell any of us basically anything. On the opposite end of the extreme we have Bleach Boy.

 

We also have New York Times columnists who apparently harbor some very odd notions of what life in not New York is like:

The best part of living west of the Hudson River, I have found, is that we are, at all times, miles apart from one another, even in elevators, cube farms, hair salons, bars and at concerts. Clearly we here, in America’s Charming Heartland, are not at risk like those go-go-Gotham-go-getters. We should totally relax everything, just as the wise columnist says. Even if, I suspect, he couldn’t point out 5 non-coastal states on a map, even if you spotted him Oklahoma.

In any event, I find it regrettable that Bret Stephens’ otherwise impeccable expertise about the safety of places like Nashville is not further bolstered by a pithy quote from a notable Nashville resident. Such as, say, John Prine. Did he not try to get a quote from him?

 

As I’ve had to re-learn, over and over again, it’s easier to make the best of lockdown if one does not obsess on the news. A better use of one’s time: watching Tim Booth, the singer of your favorite band, James, and his neighbor, who is a guitarist, doing a couple of songs from his house.

Booth had attempted a livestream yesterday but there were some technical glitches, so he just did two songs on an iPhone and put ’em on Facebook. Were they as good as the seven times I’ve seen James in concert? Nah, but these kinds of things sure are appreciated.

 

COVID-19 cases reported in the United States as of tonight: 898,000. Number of dead: 51,192. In the world those numbers are 2.6 million cases and more than 180,000 dead

Sing myself to sleep a song from the darkest hour, indeed.

(Featured Photo: Marjory Collins, Library of Congress)

 

April 25: I started wearing glasses to read when I was in college and I’ve worn glasses all day, no matter the circumstances, since I was in law school. I’m not blind without them or anything — I can function — but the world is blurry and harder to navigate without them. I can’t read more than the largest print without it being something of a chore. Driving without them can happen if absolutely necessary, but it’s something I’m not super comfortable with. I basically put on my glasses when I wake up and take them off when I go to sleep with exceptions for showers and swimming and not much else.

Since masks became the rage I, like all glasses wearers, am dealing with this:

There are supposed to be ways to adjust your mask to keep that from happening but I can’t seem to get it right, so I’ve just been leaving my glasses in the car when I go into the grocery store. That’s been mostly OK — my eyes can adjust a bit once I’ve had my glasses off for a while — but it has led to minor tragedies like this:

I grew up on crunchy peanut butter and vowed — like Scarlett Fuckin’ O’Hara — that I would never eat crunchy again after I left home. Now it’s come to this. Crunchy peanut butter? It’s like we’re becoming savages.

 

From the Washington Post:

“Sometimes you just need to say the president’s wrong,” said a former administration official who, like some others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. 

I guess you say he’s wrong sometimes, but oh dear, not now! Not in the newspaper for attribution! If I do that, I may not get a job in the next Republican administration!

Beyond parody.

 

Also:

Here’s an idea: pundits, like our man Lake here, who thought the Iraq War was a great idea and would be quickly and easily won should probably pass on offering their “re-opening the country during the pandemic is a great idea” plans. You already helped ruin one country. Let’s not try to ruin another.

 

The Columbus-based clothing giant L-Brands decided to sell-off it’s Victoria’s Secret division early this year and found a buyer in a New York private equity firm called Sycamore Partners. The price tag: over half a billion bucks. The deal was supposed to close in June, but then the pandemic hit, stock prices of everything plummeted, with that of retail stores, which are obviously closed, particularly hard hit. Victoria’s Secret has an online business, but I can only imagine that the age of sweatpants and social isolation isn’t doing any favors for sexy underwear. That has led to some serious buyer’s remorse on the part of Sycamore Partners, which has sued in an effort to get out of the deal.

Like any other private equity firm money is the alpha and omega of their concerns, so I get that they’d look for a way out, but I laughed out loud when I read about their basic argument: that L Brands’ reaction to the pandemic violated the terms of the deal, which required Victoria’s Secret to operate “in the ordinary course consistent with past practice.” These are the exact words from their lawsuit:

“Less than one month after L Brands entered into the Transaction Agreement with Plaintiff, however, it closed nearly all of its approximately 1,600 Victoria’s Secret and PINK brick-and-mortar locations globally, including all 1,091 of its Victoria’s Secret and PINK stores in the United States and Canada . . . These actions have caused significant damage to the Victoria’s Secret business . . . That these actions were taken as a result of or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is no defense to L Brands’ clear breaches of the transaction agreement.”

“You breached the contract by . . . complying with legal/ethical/practical imperatives to close your business to keep people from getting killed by a deadly pandemic,” in addition to being morally fucking unconscionable, isn’t going to fly for a bunch of boring legal reasons. Factually speaking, Sycamore probably knows this, and is just doing this in an effort to get some leverage.

But all I can think of right now is the mid-level litigation attorney — probably someone about where I was when I left the practice of law —  who was tasked with taking first crack at the bullshit verbiage in the lawsuit.

I had to represent a lot of unsavory clients in my day and I had to make a lot of difficult and even borderline unconscionable arguments on their behalf at times. I represented a tobacco company trying to get out of paying money into a public health fund. I represented a guy who stole $50 million of taxpayer dollars. I represented crooked politicians, heartless corporations, and a lot of rich people who seemed to get off on the idea of making life worse for working people and poor people. When you do that you’re going to have times when clients say to you, “get me out of this impossible situation, now! I don’t care how!” and you’re gonna have to come up with something. It’s part of the gig, and if you can’t handle that part of the gig, that gig isn’t for you, just as it ended up not being for me.

Still, this one seems particularly bad.

I’m picturing the guy who drafted this at home — because we’re all at home — staring at his laptop in his little den just off the living room. I picture his wife playing with the kids in the next room, maybe saying “shhh, daddy’s working” when they start to have too much fun. Our man here would much rather be in there with them, but he’s staring at his laptop, trying to figure out what to do.

He goes back over all the email traffic from the main litigation partner who tasked him with this. He looks at the stuff that was forwarded to him from the transactional attorneys who did the Victoria’s Secret deal and who have the client relationship with the private equity firm, trying to make this complaint make something approaching legal sense while also trying to make the client happy.

There was probably some brainstorming in all that email traffic. At first there were probably less repugnant drafts floated. Maybe our man here even did a first draft of the complaint that was a bit more apologetic and passive-voice heavy, saying something like “while the COVID-19 pandemic was clearly the reason for the stores closing, it has had the practical effect of rendering the terms of The Agreement inoperative . . .” Then he got an email from the litigation partner — who had just gotten off a call with the deal people — angrily telling him “no, they BREACHED this deal! Sycamore wants that idea clear and prominent.” Maybe the partner came up with the phrase “That these actions were taken as a result of or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is no defense to L Brands’ clear breaches of the transaction agreement” and demanded it be in the draft complaint.

Our man sighs heavily and includes it in what will be the final draft. He knows it’s awful, but he does it and then he hits send. Then he goes in and plays with his kids for a while, though he has his phone with him and knows it’ll be blowing up with some more changes and final nitpicking before it’s all done. It keeps him from being as mentally present as he wants to be and, if he didn’t already hate himself for his work, he hates himself for what it does to him even when he’s not working. He spends a lot of time wondering how he got here and how he’s ever going to get out.

Or maybe I’m just engaging in massive levels of personal projection here, our boy is kinda proud of himself for drafting stuff like this, and justifies it by driving a Range Rover to the still-open-for-some-reason golf course and to pick up pandemic carryout. They don’t pay guys Range Rover money if they’re wrong all the time, do they? Fucking of course they don’t, Broseph.

 

April 26: Today is my parents’ 53rd wedding anniversary. We aren’t really gift-givers for anniversaries, but I’ll usually get them a card or flowers or I’ll either buy them dinner or something like that. Most of that’s not really an option this year so I went out this morning and got them donuts and left them on their front porch.

An added bonus to that is that it caused me to go by the Dunkin’ Donuts near them. Which is sort of important to me.

In early March — in my last pre-pandemic post on this site — I wrote about my weekly coffees with my daughter. In it I talked about how, oddly, I’ve become something of a regular at this Dunkin’. It’s a franchised location. The man who owns and runs it is Indian, and every employee I’ve seen there is Indian as well. There’s a woman there who seems old enough to be the owner’s mother and a man who could be his father or uncle. There are a couple of young men in their 20s who could be his kids or maybe nephews. I mentioned at the time that the woman who runs the drive-thru most of the time I go through with Anna could either be his wife or sister based on age. I’m not really sure, but the strong vibe there is that it’s a family-run operation.

I’ve talked before about how the term “small business” is misused by politicians and how, in reality, all the “small business” aid and support they talk about tends to actually mean wealthy people and larger-than-you-think businesses. The people who tend to get lost when the concept of “small business” is invoked are small store proprietors. People who run gas stations, restaurants, and convenience stores.

I’d also argue that it includes the people who run franchised locations of a good number of national chains. No, they’re not in the same situation as a fully-independent mom-and-pop operation, but you’d be shocked to learn how little support from the national brand a lot of franchise operators get and just how much they have to invest and how hard they have to work to make a real go of things. A franchised donut shop may not add the sort of local color a completely DIY place would, but the people who run it and the people they employ are valuable too and, quite often, are living in just as thin a line as the DIY folks are. And, this one at least, is very much a family business, even if it has corporate signage.

Anyway, I was happy to go through the drive-thru this morning and see the woman who usually gives Anna and I our coffee on Tuesdays. They were really busy — Sunday is the donut business’s big day — and it’s been a month and a half since I’ve been through that drive-thru, but she still recognized me, smiled, and said “No daughter today? . . . iced coffee next time!” It felt good. It even felt a little bit normal.

 

I’ve long subscribed to the Washington Post, but in the past couple of years I have increasingly found their political coverage to be even more myopically inside-the-Beltway than it usually is. I’ve kept the Post subscription — it’s still a good and useful paper — but wanting something of a counterbalance, last year I subscribed to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times’ political coverage comes from more of a “how what is happening in Washington affects America” perspective. Its sports section is pretty great. Since so much of what affects the country starts in California anyway, it’s a good place to learn new things. I’m also simply fascinated with Los Angeles itself for a bunch of personal reasons and it scratches that itch. Above all else, it’s just a well put-together paper. Since last year, my first-thing-every-Sunday-morning routine is to read the e-edition of the L.A. Times pretty much cover to cover. I’ve been really happy with my subscription.

This morning though, I would’ve thrown my copy across the room if it wasn’t on my laptop. The first story that aggravated me was Sunday’s cover story:

The story has moments in which it’s critical. It notes, for example, how billionaire music and movie mogul David Geffen was mocked and shamed for sharing a photo of his 454-foot yacht with the caption, “Isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus . . . I’m hoping everybody is staying safe.” It also at least nods to the notion that the super-wealthy fleeing L.A. and New York for small towns in the desert or the mountains or the coast risks spreading disease and taxing the medical resources of small towns which are ill-equipped to handle it. But that’s pretty superficial. It’s a look-at-the-rich-people-be-rich story.

I suspect that those who write and publish stories like this one would say that the snapshot they’re providing is, in and of itself, a form of commentary. A “see how some people are living” kind of thing that implies its own critique. For the most part, though, that critique doesn’t come through. It all comes off as straightforward “so-and-so celebrity restauranteur is doing this” and “guy with $8,000-a-month vacation home is doing that.” It’s simply rich people porn.

The issue from a journalism perspective, I think, is that we do not live in an age in which the implied, droll commentary of stories like these even begins to push back against that which is allegedly targeted. Mostly because that which is targeted — in this case “wealth is AMAZING and GOOD” — has no compunction about loudly proclaiming its countervailing view and has no shortage of surrogates who argue for it, often unprompted.

 

Which is something the second rage-inducing story from Sunday’s L.A. Times made pretty clear as well. It was actually an op-ed, headlined “Angelenos like their single-family sprawl. The coronavirus proves them right.”

The argument set forth is pretty much what the headline says: L.A.’s sprawling, car-focused, single-family-house landscape, which is now the poster child for poor, Earth-unfriendly urban planning, is actually a big asset when it comes to beating back the pandemic. People in L.A. are farther apart than people in New York and farther apart than today’s urban planners in L.A. want people to be, the op-ed argues, and that’s why L.A. has had a fraction of the cases and deaths that New York has had. There was a similar op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune earlier this month.

The problem with that, however, is made pretty clear in a story in the next section of the paper, in which it is correctly noted that dense cities in Asia, including Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong, have seen a fraction of New York’s cases. Meanwhile San Francisco, which is the second-densest city in America after New York, has seen a fraction of the cases that New York and L.A. have seen as well. The common denominator is not density, it’s leadership and aggressive implementation of stay-at-home orders, testing, and isolating and neutralizing infection vectors.

That story, despite being based on facts and logic, notes that the kneejerk anti-density take of the op-ed — which is featured many pages before the news story in the print and e-editions of the paper — will likely carry the day when it comes to urban planning:

Nevertheless, speculation about how dense neighborhoods may have contributed to the coronavirus’ spread will almost certainly have an effect on California’s political debates and could affect how the state grows for years to come.

 

People who oppose change always have the advantage in our system. They need not prove their cases the way advocates for change must. They need only offer up buzzwords — “crime!” “parking!” — and invoke the fear of change so many have. By doing so they have proven themselves remarkably able to halt progress. In the future, merely citing the baseless notion that density caused mass death in the COVID-19 pandemic and claiming, without evidence, like the op-ed does, that sprawl and low density protected people will no doubt give them another arrow in their quiver to help them stop zoning changes. Stop projects that encourage increased housing density. Stop expanded transit in its tracks. Indeed, I suspect most of the things we’re learning in this pandemic that are useful — things like working from home, the need for a greater social safety net — will be forgotten while the specious and even downright malignant takeaways — Density is bad! Foreigners are not to be trusted! — will last.

Whatever the case, if one wants to create a less-unequal society, it’s not enough to subtly critique the accumulation of wealth or to implicitly shame the wealthy because the critique will be missed and the wealthy have no shame. If one wants to transform the shape of cities into more Earth-friendly, human-scale forms, it’s not enough to simply marshal the data, because those opposing change will, loudly and in bad faith, shout their erroneous counterarguments. These are lessons that the established liberal and Democratic opposition refuses to learn, over and over again. They eschew straightforward and forceful advocacy, citing the alleged need for “civility” or “incremental change” or asserting a misguided belief in institutions or the integrity of those who oppose them.

It’s a dynamic one can see on the pages of the newspaper — even good newspapers like the Los Angeles Times — every single day.

 

After getting good and worked up about all of that I decided to punt the rest of my cold and rainy Sunday. I put some beans and chicken in the crock pot, poured myself a brunch beer and put on a C-level noir flick that the TCM host characterized, affectionately, as “trash”:

 

It was a fun, bad movie that’s exactly the thing that can pick up a gloomy Sunday. I even managed not to be angry when, in the opening scenes, the main character gets off the bus in Los Angeles and and finds a place to live and a place to work, all without needing a car.

(Featured Photo: Myriam Thyes: Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

April 27: Dr. Lorna M. Breen, the medical director of the Emergency Department at New York-Presbyterian hospital, died of suicide yesterday. She was 49.

Her father, also a doctor, told the New York Times that she had described to him  “an onslaught of [COVID-19] patients who were dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.” She herself contracted COVID-19, recovered, and briefly returned to work before being sent home by the hospital. She had gone to stay with her parents in Virginia where she died.

Her father said she had no history of known mental illness. He said, “she tried to do her job, and it killed her . . . make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

Last week I talked about the nihilist conspiracy theorists whose response to the damage COVID-19 is doing is, basically, “hey, everyone dies . . . this is no different than flu season.” Dr. Breen doesn’t die if this horrific pandemic is “like flu season.” Anyone who denies or diminishes the tragedy of her death or the death of any other victim of this pandemic — of which there are far more than have been formally accounted for thus far — can go straight to hell.

 

Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, spoke today about a path forward for re-opening the state from lockdown. It’s a phased plan. The main points:

  • May 1: A “healthcare opening” which will allow for elective/non-essential medical procedures that do not require an overnight stay to resume and which will allow dental offices to reopen;
  • May 4: Manufacturing, distribution, and construction businesses will open, as will “general offices,” which sounds like any non-public setting centered in office buildings or office parks or what have you. They are asking companies to allow employees to work remotely if at all possible, but offices will open; and
  • May 12: Consumer retail and services opening, meaning shops and stores and things.

Notably absent: restaurants and bars, hair salons, and day care, which DeWine said are not yet considered safe based on the metrics and considerations they’re looking at. That will come later. They’re looking at starting now with what they’re calling environments which are “more controllable.” A patient in for outpatient surgery is less likely to cause problems that could lead to infection, the thinking goes, than a toddler in day care or a 24 year-old bro at a sports bar, and the other categories of places fall someplace in between.

Also notable: we’re basically going to be living in the age of masks, as all of these opening dates come with a number of caveats about crowd levels and how people must behave, and in almost all of these situations masks will be mandated. I expect we’ll all be wearing masks, basically everywhere, for at least a couple of years. I wonder if some people — older people, people with suppressed immune systems — will be wearing masks for the rest of their lives.

 

I’m not smart enough to know if this timetable makes sense but, at the very least, it all seems to be informed by data and science rather than politics. I’m a bit uneasy at the prospect of Allison going back to work as early as a week from today — she works the front desk at her office and interacts with the public –but (a) as has been the case with almost everything else Ohio has done with this so far, I feel pretty confident with how they’re handling things; and (b) Allison’s employers are good, caring people and I trust them to work with her to make her feel comfortable.

Not that there isn’t still aren’t problems.

DeWine premised the announcement by recapping all of the work the state has done to get to this point. He did it, I suspect, to make people feel confident that it’s all well-considered, but I can’t help but note that all of the things he mentioned — a ramped-up number of tests, effective contact tracing, the production of swabs, the acquisition and distribution of protective equipment, etc. — are things that were necessary to address because the federal government utterly failed in this regard. Indeed, today it was reported that Trump was warned of all of this as early as January yet ignored it all for two months. Just this evening Trump held a grandstanding press conference with business leaders in which he talked about how he has a new strategy for “getting testing online.” On March 6 — pushing two months ago — Trump said “anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

This is a failure that goes beyond negligence and incompetence. It’s out-and-out recklessness and indifference that has caused thousands of people to die who might have lived if Trump gave the first fuck about the responsibilities of his office. We talk about his failures and his inadequacies on a shallow level almost daily as he rants and raves as he does. His failure, however, is of a gravity and depth with which I really don’t think we’ve yet to truly contend beyond our surface outrage. He has failed to carry out the fundamental mission of our government: to protect citizens from harm. It’s worse than a failure, actually. It’s a willful abdication. In a just world he’d be removed from office. We do not, of course, live in a just world.

 

Another problem presented itself a couple of hours before DeWine spoke, when the Goon Caucus of Ohio’s Legislature (i.e. Republicans) released their own, competing re-opening timetable which is, basically, “open everything in four days and let God sort it out.”

DeWine is the governor and, in these matters, what he says goes, but this sort of shadow government posturing is still distressing. For one thing, it will be the approach adopted by other states (Texas today said retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen Friday at 25% capacity) and, to the extent this all drags on, it will become an increasingly appealing alternative message here and elsewhere. I mean, this is is a joke, but it’s basically where this piecemeal bullshit is leading us:

The degree to which people like our GOP legislators and others like them are demonstrating just how little they care for anything other than money is fairly startling. Though I suppose if we’re being objective it’d be hard to look back at their track record and find anything else they care about consistently besides money. They, like most Republicans, talk a good game about respecting life but never back it up with actions that suggest they truly respect it. If these people get their way people will die. They will die in the name of the economy. And, in all likelihood, they won’t even save the economy. People will not magically revert to their pre-March behaviors simply because some Republican politicians end restrictions. People are still scared because people are still getting sick and dying, and they do not want to be next.

The empty promise of an immediate return to normality will nonetheless resonate. People aren’t working. People don’t have savings. People don’t have healthcare coverage. Neither the United States nor the states have answers for them right now because we as a country are unwilling to take the necessary steps that will allow ourselves to weather this pandemic in a responsible way. If forced to choose between starving and risking COVID-19 infection, people will do the latter.

I’m glad Mike DeWine has been handling all of this in a responsible manner. But I desperately wish we had leaders who acknowledged how desperately dependent upon employment everyone is for the necessities of survival and how such a state of affairs is not the only way a society can be structured.

 

I took a five-mile walk late this afternoon. There were far more people on the walking trails and there was far more traffic on the roads than I’ve noticed since all this began. Certainly far more than I’d usually expect to see on a Monday. Sure, it was a nice day, but not any nicer than a few scattered days we’ve had of late. Part of me wonders if people are simply letting their schedules drift by virtue of the lack of structure and are beginning to treat weeknights like they might treat Saturdays. Part of me wonders if DeWine’s roadmap to re-opening, such as it is, was encouraging people in some way.

Whatever the case, it was weird having to navigate around so many walkers, joggers and bikers after having my town and the countryside around it more or less to myself for the past couple of months. This might’ve made me cranky on most days but I suppose I was in a pretty decent mood by then. I decided to take it as a sneak preview of a summer that may at least approach normality after a spring that has been utterly lost.

 

April 28: I mentioned a month ago that many of my California friends have noted that a silver lining to the pandemic shutdown has been uncommonly clean and clear California air. Turns out that may have been, largely, a coincidence.

The L.A. Times reports that while all the cars being off the road can’t hurt, the declines in pollution and the record number of high quality air days of late are (a) likely weather-related; and (b) are already over, as this week’s California heat wave is jacking smog levels back up to gross levels, even without cars being on the road.

“The period in green was particularly stormy, with frequent storm systems, rain and atypically high inversion heights,” said Nahal Mogharabi, a spokeswoman for the South Coast AQMD. “It is possible that this was partially due to reduced emissions, but meteorology likely played a much larger role.”

I think most of us want to find some unintended benefits to all of this. To make it feel worth it beyond just the public health effects which are often hard to see. We want to say we used our time well or that something good has come out of it. That’s totally understandable. But I think reaching for some that aren’t really there is fairly inevitable too, and this may be one of those cases.

 

The Wall Street Journal has a story up about Airbnb hosts who are carrying tens of thousands of dollars in monthly mortgage payments or business loans to operate their little mini real estate empires and who are screwed because no one is, obviously, traveling or booking Airbnbs. While I do not wish ill on any person, “multi-unit Airbnb owners” are about 4,593th on my list of people I have sympathy for in all of this. In no small part because their taking apartments off the rental market has a great deal to do with why rents are spiraling in major cities. My message to them: Game Over. Thank you for playing Capitalism. It involves risk. Insert coin and try again.

 

Baseball is a business that entails less financial risk than a lot of others given that the people who own baseball teams are not subject to the antitrust laws. And because they routinely get taxpayers to give them money for stadiums by playacting as civic institutions rather than for-profit businesses. At least when it suits them. Now the people who run baseball seem to want to play the field, geographically speaking, by following various states or cities as they race to the bottom.

I wrote about this over at the day job today. The short version: baseball has the beginning of a number of ill-formed plans on how to start its season, but as time goes on these plans seem to be coalescing around the notion of playing in various “hubs” like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, likely with no fans. The more I follow this the more it seems like they’re going to do what they can do to create an air of inevitability of the sports’ return and then locate itself in places that are pursuing the most aggressive re-opening strategies. Because of that whole inevitability thing, and because people are hungering for sports to return, baseball likely thinks — and likely correctly thinks — that it can avoid catching hell for acting irresponsibly in its quest to get back in business.

I’ve covered baseball for a long time. I love the game and always will. I have come to loathe the business side of things, however, and I rarely go wrong in assuming the worst from those who run the game. If there’s a way to make an extra buck they will go for it at basically any cost and, especially in the past five years or so, increasingly at the cost of the game’s dignity. No, this is not all that different than what most businesses do, but most businesses don’t capture your imagination when you’re a little kid and fill you with wonder for much of your life, largely on the premise of it being about something greater than just revenue maximization. Most businesses don’t dine out on the notion that they’re a public institution. The National Pastime.

All I know for certain is that Major League Baseball, as an institution, is very good at disguising itself as something other than a business when doing so works to its advantage. We’re going to be seeing that here over the next month or two as MLB pursues a reopening plan that we’d likely never tolerate from a restaurant chain, a movie production studio, or a consumer goods chain. It will bang the drum for the game’s return, and the game’s surrogates, many of whom call themselves reporters but often assume the role of public relations people, will bang the drum as well. All on the premise that it’s a necessary part of the nation recovering and moving on when, in reality, we would survive just fine if it were more cautious. And that if baseball were more cautious it might inspire others to be too.

It’ll be a two-way street as well, as politicians will use Major League Baseball and the other professional sports as a means of opening things up more quickly. Why else would New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put executives from the Mets, Yankees, Knicks, and Buffalo Sabres on his big re-opening advisory committee? The sports industry will use politicians to get what they want and politicians will use sports to get what they want. It happens all the time in the normal course and it will happen here too. When it does, I fear that actual public health considerations will take a back seat to the bread and circuses.

 

All of that is a drag. What’s not a drag: pizza.

This evening Allison told me she had ordered me one. But not for tonight. For Friday. Which seemed weird to me, but then she explained that it’s from Jim’s Pizza. Jim’s Pizza is not an actual business. Jim is Allison’s boss, who has a wood-fired pizza oven at his house. He and his wife set up a spreadsheet and anyone at the office who wants a custom made wood-fired pizza on Friday can place their order and swing by and pick up their pizza at a set time. I got the 6:45pm slot and my pepperoni, black olive, mushroom pie will be waiting for me, courtesy of Jim and his wife Kristi. I’m really looking forward to it.

 

In other pizza news, my son continues to be the only person in my family working out of the house, doing 4-5 shifts a week at his pizza place. He worked this afternoon and early evening. When I dropped him off the manager of his store was outside having a smoke. We’d only met once briefly, but I think Carlo has told him what I do because he wanted to talk about baseball with me. I sat in my car as he leaned against the brick wall outside the restaurant’s back door.

He’s an Indians fan and misses the games. He wants to know if they’re going to trade Francisco Lindor. He wants to know if Mike Clevinger will be healthy enough to pitch when games resume. He says he’s tried to watch old games online or on flashback broadcasts on the Indians’ network, but it’s not the same. “God, the grass sure looked shitty in the 80s, didn’t it?” He asked me if I had any idea about when the game will come back. I guessed July but I saved him my editorializing about it all. I have a small, hardcore readership who enjoys it when I get all critical like I did above, but most sports fans don’t want to hear it.

All that being said, it was kind of nice to talk about baseball with someone in real life. It’s been a long while since I’ve really done that.

 

I’ve been kind of burned out on cooking lately. Well, burned out on meal planning more than cooking. Even in lockdown our schedules are hard to match up. Sometimes Carlo works, sometimes he doesn’t. Some nights Anna works, which is online, and which requires her to be at her computer until 8pm or later. Some nights Allison is at the barn, sometimes she isn’t. Her dietary restrictions are something I’m used to, but they are still a complicating factor when it comes to meal planning. It gets to be a lot, and it’s even worse when simply getting in the car and going to a restaurant is not the option that it once was.

Tonight Allison suggested that I just do something basic and fun like French bread pizzas, so I got the stuff for that. I still didn’t feel much like cooking though, so I put the pro pizza maker to work when his shift ended:

He was mildly annoyed at how janky our pizza operation was compared to his, and that he didn’t get paid a dime for it, but it was all OK in the end.

 

April 29: The United States now has more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. The death total has now surpassed that of American dead in the Vietnam War. We have just over 4% of the world’s population but we have about one third of all the world’s known infections. And there is great reason to believe we’re actually underreporting infections and deaths.

Against that backdrop, yesterday the president’s son-in-law, who is somehow in charge of the country’s response to all of this despite being unqualified to do, well, basically anything, said “the federal government rose to the challenge and this is a great success story.” The State of Florida, meanwhile, has ordered medical examiners to stop reporting COVID-19-related deaths because the high numbers they are reporting conflict with the lower numbers state political officials are reporting. 

They say that in war, truth is the first casualty. That goes for basically any crisis these days, I suppose.

 

Last week Trump announced that the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds — the Navy’s and Air Force’s acrobatic flight demonstration squadrons — will go on a multi-city tour to “champion national unity.” They have already started doing flyovers in various cities to, in the Pentagon’s words, “thank first responders, essential personnel, and military service members as we collectively battle the spread of COVID-19.” Trump said, “this is a tribute to them, to our warriors because they’re equal warriors to those incredible pilots and all of the fighters that we have for the more traditional fights that we win.”

It costs $60,000 an hour to operate each of these flight teams. When they fly over, crowds gather when they should not be gathering. And, of course, it does actual jack shit to tangibly help the “first responders, essential personnel, and military service members” to whom this is supposed to be a tribute.

As I’ve said so many times, America does a hell of a job with empty, meaningless symbolism. We do a terrible job actually assisting those in need. It’s a national embarrassment.

 

Meanwhile, some states like Georgia, Iowa and Texas are pursuing aggressive re-opening plans. Given that these re-opening schedules seem to be driven by politics and public opinion more than medical or public health expertise, I think they’ll largely backfire, both because (a) most people will not flock to the mall simply because a governor says they can; and (b) even if they do, it’ll greatly increase the risk of a worse second wave of illness and death.

Another thing it will do, of course, is create a situation where workers feel unsafe and won’t want to report for duty in unsafe environments. At least one of these governors has a response to that: telling the workers to risk their lives or lose their jobs:

An excellent and detailed breakdown of this horrible choice many state governments are forcing their citizens to make can be found in The Atlantic, where writer Amanda Mull talks to the people affected by their governor’s bullheaded insistence on a return to normality in defiance of the experts and of medical professionals:

Instead, their stories depict a struggle between a state government and ordinary people. Georgia’s brash reopening puts much of the state’s working class in an impossible bind: risk death at work, or risk ruining yourself financially at home. In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people. Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.

That so many of our leaders are putting their own citizens in this position is unconscionable. They simply don’t care about people. At all. They don’t even put up a pretense of caring. It’s the literal sacrificing of life at the Altar of Mammon.

 

My kids’ school announced how fourth quarter grades will work. If they completed 70% of their at-home work and their grade is lower than than their third quarter, pre-pandemic grades were, they will get a repeat of their third quarter grade. If their at-home grade is higher, they can keep the at-home grade for fourth quarter. If they didn’t complete 70% of their at-home work their fourth quarter grade rules regardless. There will be no final exams.

I can’t say that I can think of a better way to deal with it, really. This system accounts for the potential falloff some kids will inevitably have from learning at home with diminished structure, but it also rewards hard workers or better independent workers in ways that a Pass/Fail system wouldn’t. There are really no perfect options here, but this doesn’t seem to screw anyone. Above all else, it seems to be a pretty plain acknowledgment that learning environment matters and that there is no real substitute for being in school every day. I’m glad that, unlike so many other parts of our government, the public schools are acknowledging reality.

 

It seems like everyone is baking lately. I have multiple friends who seem to be doing a few loaves of sourdough a week. I have a friend who, basically every night, is posting photos of brownies or cookies or baked goods of some kind. I haven’t really done much of that, but in the past few weeks I’ve made a couple of things.

Last week it was bourbon browned butter Rice Krispie treats. Or, in our case, “Crispy Rice” treats as, because of Allison’s celiac disease, we have to use the Aldi store brand of cereal which, unlike the name brand, is gluten free. I had never made Rice Krispie treats before somehow. They came out pretty good. Anything with bourbon and browned butter is gonna come out pretty good, though, I reckon. The chocolate chip cookies I make in normal times have browned butter — and probably could have bourbon — and they’re the best.

Last night I made a Depression cake. No compelling reason to, actually. We’ve had no problem finding eggs or milk since the second week all of this stuff began, but such recipes are “having a moment” as they say, and Allison wanted to try it. Not because she wanted to get used to Depression-style cooking as much as she’s always looking for things that go light on dairy if possible because celiac disease brings with it a rich tapestry of other intolerances. The verdict: it was . . . fine. It’s recognizable as cake. If someone said “I made cake, would you like some!” and gave you a piece of it you’d eat it and find it acceptable but you wouldn’t consider it memorable. If you, like us, made it at home, you’d have another piece of it after dinner tonight. I guess it all just depends on how badly you want cake.

After I made it I Googled the very idea of “Depression cake” and found that it was also called “wacky cake.” That rung a bell, as my ex-wife’s mother and grandmother had each mentioned that to me before many years ago. I figured it was just an old lady West Virginia thing. Thinking about it now, though, it makes a lot of sense. My ex-mother-in-law was born in the early 30s. Her mother was a young mother, married to a coal miner and they lived in a coal camp. I’ve read and studied a lot about the Depression, but I learned a lot about what life was like then first-hand from them.

It’s always different to learn about such things via the personal experience of others than it is to learn about it in textbooks. It’s not a top-down “[narrator’s voice] during The Great Depression, money was scarce, and people . . .” kind of thing. My ex’s grandmother used to just talk about things “being hard sometimes, so we’d . . .” My ex mother-in-law just talked about “when we were kids.” Meals of prune puddings and canned-meat stews. Stories that sounded just-this-side of Grandpa Simpson’s tales but which had the benefit of being true. For them it was just life and they took it as it came. Wacky cakes were a part of it.

My ex-mother-in-law is still alive in her late-80s, but she was a little kid then. Living memory of that time in this country is almost completely gone. I don’t think this next phase of American life, which may very well include a Second Great Depression, will play out in exactly the same way the lives of my ex-in laws did 80 or 90 years ago, but I do think it will carry with it all manner of new challenges that will form all manner of new habits and ways of life that seem alien to us now. And that will seem alien to our kids and grandkids when we tell them about it when we’re old. Here’s hoping that strange recipes and belt-tightening are as bad as it gets.

 

April 30: My car has a recall notice and, to my surprise, the dealer is still open so I took it in this morning mostly as an excuse to leave the house. No one was there when I got there except for the service department people. After handing over my keys I went back to the waiting area with my laptop to do some work. After about an hour a couple more people showed up to wait while their cars were being serviced, but everyone kept their distance. Just before I left I saw a salesperson out in the lot, showing a couple a Subaru Outback. I guess someone may really need to buy a car right now but it struck me as odd that this part of the economy was operating as normally as it was under the circumstances.

As for just being there: it was the first time I’ve been somewhere with my mask where I wasn’t able to just get in and get out quickly. I brought a travel mug of coffee and had to lift the bottom of my mask each time I wanted to take a sip. I felt like this:

I figured it was OK given that there was so much distance between everyone in the room. I don’t know. Doing anything that is not a set routine right now feels so harrowing.

 

Speaking of cars, I was accosted online today by someone making an anti-shutdown argument I often ignore but decided to think a bit about today: “hey, life is full of risks. People die in car crashes. Should we just ban cars?!”

You know what? We would 100% be banning cars — or passing emergency laws to severely limit their use — if we were experiencing the same patterns in auto fatalities as we’re seeing with COVID-19.

Do you know how many people died in automobile accidents in 2018 in this country? I didn’t until I looked it up. The answer: 36,560. That’s a lot! But nearly twice as many people have died of COVID-19 in the past two months than died in auto accidents in 12 months in 2018. I will go out on a limb here and say that if, suddenly, the automobile fatality rate increased by a factor of five or six there would be immediate, nationwide action to do something about it and it would likely be pretty damn radical. We’d actually probably ban all non-essential driving until we could figure out why it has happened and until something could be done about it.

Hell, we already have taken pretty radical action in response to automobile fatalities, at least when you look over the long term.

Current rates of automobile fatalities are, actually, pretty darn low. In 2018 there were 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. When they started keeping records for that in the 1920s, the number was over 20 times that. Even as late as the late 70s, the automobile death rate was almost three times that of today. There is similar improvement if you measure things by deaths against total population. There is even pretty substantial improvement in the raw number of automotive deaths despite an overall increase in the amount driven and the size of the population. Those 36,560 deaths in 2018 can be compared to over 54,000 deaths in 1972, when the country was much smaller and drove fewer miles.

The number and rates of automotive fatalities have gone down — dramatically — because we, as a nation, have made a gigantic, across-the-board effort to make auto travel safer. The government has mandated safety measures, even when some have claimed that their doing so infringes upon personal freedoms. The private sector has not only complied with those governmental standards, but has gone above and beyond to do more, going so far as to make auto safety a selling point — something they use in marketing — as opposed to a mere obligation.

People have likewise altered their habits in dramatic ways. On the whole, we drive less recklessly than our parents and grandparents did both because of those laws and because it’s no longer culturally acceptable to drive in ways that were considered normal 50 years ago. Dad isn’t having martinis after work and then driving home without his seatbelt in his car with non-shatterproof glass and a non-collapseable steering column. Kids aren’t out drag racing or drinking cases of Hamm’s out by the quarry and cruising the streets like they did back in the day. We’ve changed all that because it was really fucking dangerous to drive cars a few decades ago. Way more than it is today anyway.

So, please, spare me the specious arguments about how we shouldn’t be taking steps to combat COVID-19 because cars or cigarettes or alcohol or anything else is also dangerous. We, as a society, have almost always made great efforts to rein-in hazards to people’s health and personal safety when presented with them. Sometimes those efforts have come in response to government action. Sometimes they’ve come in response to legal threats. Sometimes they’ve been the product of changes in human behavior. Most of the time it’s been in response to some combination of those things.

But we do it. We do it because we’re unavoidably mortal. We do it because we’re generally rational. We do it because most of us want people to live as long as they can. Those same considerations apply to a pandemic.

 

But only generally rational. My god, did we see plenty of evidence today suggesting that at least a small number of us are out of our goddamn minds. Unfortunately, one of those people is the President of the United States.

First the civilians, who think they’re in some sort of paramilitary force:

That’s the capitol building in Michigan, where armed protesters showed up to shout at lawmakers and to ensure that measures taken by their governor to protect them from a deadly pandemic are rolled back. And they’re likely to be rolled back, as the state’s GOP legislature moved today to sue the governor to have her emergency declarations nullified.

It probably goes without saying that if a large group of black protesters showed up at the state capitol with semi-automatic weapons, yelling at legislators, they would be killed, with a quickness, by the police or the national guard. These men, however, are treated differently for some reason. And they’re getting their way. All by virtue of their outrage at, again, the government trying to keep them from dying an ugly, painful death.

The president, meanwhile, has decided that this whole “United States” thing is not all that important: 

Imagine if China mounted an amphibious invasion of the west coast and Trump said “the Chinese army is in California, Washington, and Oregon. Those are Democrat states so, eh, we’ll see if we’ll deploy the military. Wars are tough.”

The entire point of the federal government is to deal with problems that are national in scope or to deal with emergencies in single states which are beyond the ability of the state to handle alone. Hurricanes come to mind. When they or any other sort of natural disaster happens, the federal government, always, mobilizes to deal with both the immediate effects of the disaster but also to alleviate the negative economic effects.

Trump, though, is simply saying, in the face of a national emergency, that eh, maybe he’ll help those who are politically loyal to him, but not those who are not. At best. In some respects, he’s abdicating the federal government’s role completely, regardless of what anyone thinks of him, casting Washington as a reluctant backstop. Fiddling as Rome gasps.

This is the sort of thing that should cause a president to be removed from office. We’ve learned, unfortunately, that one of the two political parties has no interest whatsoever in governing, only power. Because the president who is utterly refusing to fulfill the most basic duties of his office is a member of their party, they don’t care.

 

Maybe it doesn’t matter, though. Maybe America, as we know it anyway, is simply doomed.

I don’t say that lightly. I’m actually becoming more and more convinced of it.

Since the end of the Cold War, our national ethos has been limited to two things and two things only: the accumulation of wealth and the projection of military power. Those in power are in power because they represent a commitment to one or both of those concepts and those concepts only. Hardly anyone with any actual power in our current political class has demonstrated any sort of commitment to the well-being of America or its citizens. Those in politics who do demonstrate such a commitment are cast as radicals. Oddballs. And, at times, threats, who are dealt with in ways aimed at neutralizing them.

Into this milieu came a virus that quickly created a pandemic. A pandemic that cares not a lick for our military might and is utterly unaffected by our wealth. At least unless that wealth is used to ensure the well-being of America and its citizens by, say, making it materially possible for them to remain quarantined long enough for the virus to be fought.

We don’t have that will, however and will not use our material wealth in that fashion. As such, people suffer both medically and economically. They get sick and they die in numbers far outstripping that of nations whose national ethos is not so focused on material wealth and military power. They become desperate and do things like storm state capitol buildings with guns. Or they become unhinged, lose all perspective and do things like invoke the Holocaust in response to being told not to go to sports bars. At the very least, they begin to chafe hard against best public health practices and slowly but surely begin to undue whatever good anti-pandemic efforts have achieved. We’re seeing that in some states already. We’ll see it elsewhere soon.

This pandemic will end, but I do not think there’s any going back to any recognizable concept of American Greatness. Mostly because we haven’t really demonstrated such greatness in any real way for a long, long time.

We were able to continue to act as if we had for a long time because it wasn’t truly challenged. Our economic and military might has covered for the rot setting in underneath, but the rot has been laid pretty bare. We don’t have the will to face anything approaching a serious challenge. We don’t have the leadership willing or capable of rallying us in the face of one. We are crumbling. We are melting down. We have no way to contend with a threat that cannot be shot at or for which there is no profit opportunity.

 

Empires fall. Usually not because of invading hordes but, rather, because of internal rot and because the values and ethos on which they were built are shown to be illusory. Because the promises they make to themselves and their people are unable to be kept.

The British Empire was arguably the greatest empire the world has ever seen. By the mid-19th century it was acknowledged as the world’s preeminent industrial and military power. Great exhibitions were held in which its extraordinary achievements as a nation were displayed to an envious and admiring world. Yet, within a few years, the cracks began to show.

Inequalities and deprivation at home became increasingly obvious. Its grip on its colonial holdings began to loosen in the face of increasingly bloody rebellions and uprisings, leading to increasingly brutal crackdowns and undercutting Britain’s claim that it was engaged in a glorious “civilizing mission.” At home, political polarization over the most pressing issues of the day — things like “the Irish Question” — led to governments which could not rally sufficient support to adequately address them or, for that matter, other important day-to-day issues.

Abroad, challengers to Britain’s power — most notably Germany — were emboldened. The country’s so-called “splendid isolation” ended, with the UK signing treaties with France. With Japan. With Russia. The country began to feel, on some level, that it was not the power it liked to think it was. For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Rudyard Kipling composed the poem “Recessional,” which strongly alluded to national decline and served as a reminder — largely unheeded, at least by those in power — of the transient nature of empire itself.

The First and Second World Wars ended with Britain, technically speaking, victorious, but utterly gutted. Despite moments of glory — The Battle of Britain, El Alamein — its self-conception as a preeminent or, at the very least, an independent military power was proven erroneous. It’s self-conception as an imperial power was outright obliterated as it, reluctantly, came to accept that it must devolve its colonial possessions. Its self-conception as an economic power was severely undercut by postwar deprivation and near national bankruptcy, avoided only due to intervention on the part of the United States.

 

I think that, in many ways, America is where the United Kingdom was a century ago. We don’t call ourselves an “empire,” but we are. We’re technically victorious, we’re culturally influential, and we are treated as the most powerful force on Earth, but we’re similarly gutted. A wide gulf exists between our stated ideals and our actions. Our self-conception as a force of good in the world and our self-conception of a land of freedom and opportunity at home is relentlessly undercut by our actions in the world and our utter disregard for our own people.

The concepts of democracy, humanity, and freedom form the corpus of our secular religion, but our ruling class is truly a class apart from the common people. Many of those leaders are oblivious of and immune to the struggles we face. Many others are outright apostates to the principles of democracy, humanity, and freedom in the first place.  Either way, the current crisis is laying bare just how unwilling and how incapable we are of rising to the challenges the idealized version of America — and even some former versions of America — would’ve been able to handle in the normal course.

This crisis will end because all crises end, but it’s already too late for us to plausibly claim, later, that it was actively vanquished. An objective view of how it all eventually plays out will necessarily be one of failure analysis and that failure analysis will necessarily show how our failure as a nation as a whole was largely responsible. In this it, like a colonial uprising in New Zealand or South Africa or a dockworker’s strike in the Port of London, will at least eventually be seen as an unmistakable milestone of our national decline.

I’ve long worried about this decline. I’ve spent an unfathomable about of mental energy over the years — much of it on the pages of this site — thinking about what we can and should do in order to stem it and rally ourselves back to being the country we’ve long imagined ourselves to be. I’ve come to believe, however, that the decline is, by now, irreversible. I tend to think that now it’s all about managing the collapse.

When some empires fall its via definitive and righteous defeat, usually militarily. Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, for example. In those cases their post-imperial order was largely proscribed for them by others. They thus had a road map of how to remake themselves into something positive and support to help them do it. That won’t be the case with us. Our decline will be more like that of Great Britain or, perhaps, the Soviet Union. A collapse occasioned by a crumbling and rotting from within that allows most of us to deny and then put off the sort of national reckoning required to find our new place in the world and the new conception of ourselves.

Will we, like the former Soviet Union, descend into corrupt kleptocracy, with elites grabbing everything they can before most people realize what’s happening, after which all that is left is to assume a mindset of national resignation?

Will we, alternatively, follow the post-imperial British model and flail around in an extended malaise with occasional periods of resurgence, laden by a nostalgia for our past greatness?

Or will we regroup and reform? Will our collapse create an opening for those people I mentioned above — those who, at present, do care about the well-being of Americans and who are now cast as radicals and oddballs? An opening for the bright young minds of my children’s generation? Will we, with their leadership, be able to stop looking backwards at a now-discredited conception of America and, instead, remake our country anew?  A country that is humane? A country that is committed, both in theory and in practice, to something other than the mere projection of military strength and the accumulation of material wealth?

To the extent I have hope, that’s my hope. It’s about the only hope I have to hang on to these days.

 

May 1: The other day I mentioned that Allison’s boss and his wife — Jim and Kristie — were making pizzas for people from the office in their home pizza oven. That was this evening. I went over at about 6:30 and got mine.

For an operation run off of their back porch, it’s pretty professional-looking:

The oven:

The final product, once I got it home:

 

It was fantastic. Restaurant quality. If the whole accounting/dental marketing thing doesn’t work out for them, they could definitely fall back on this.

I didn’t realize it until I was on my way back home with the pizza that the few minutes I sat and talked to them — from a safe distance — while waiting for it was the first time I have really talked to anyone outside of my family in-person since this whole thing began.

 

I’ve sort of been connecting with some other people lately too.

Long time readers may remember that last year I spent some time doing a little half-assed genealogy. The big takeaways were here, such as they were. An offshoot of that was one thing I wrote about my paternal great grandmother’s brother, who owned a locally famous restaurant/nightclub in Detroit from the 1940s through the 1960s. That was fun to research and write, but as I have zero connection to anyone on those branches of the family tree I just wrote it, put it out there, and kind of forgot about it.

This past week, though, some descendants of that nightclub owner — no doubt as bored out of their gourds as the rest of us — stumbled upon it and began sending it around to one another, after which several of them reached out to me. I haven’t talked to any of them too deeply yet, but a couple of interesting things spun out of it.

One random thing: one of the direct descendants of my nightclub-owning great-great uncle is 1988 Olympic gymnast Phoebe Mills. She won a bronze medal on the balance beam and she’s, apparently, my second cousin once removed. As are her brother, Nate Mills, a speed skater in the 1992, 1994, 1998 Olympics, and her sister, Jessica Mills, who won the 1989 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. I can only assume that their mother — my first cousin, twice removed — married into some athletic genes, because God knows my end of the family doesn’t have any.

I’ve been emailing a bit with one of the older people in that family who told me that “we have been looking for Dora for years,” referring to my great grandmother and her descendants, which include my grandmother, my dad, and me. She was quite a bit older that her nightclub-owning little brother — and, following a stroke, was in a nursing home for the last decade of her life — so I imagine losing touch is pretty understandable. Either way, I suppose that makes me all of these people’s “long lost cousin.”

It’s not at all unwelcome — one of them plans to call me soon and I’m rather looking forward to it — but it’s all kind of odd.

One of them told me that her side of the family “is so large, there are so many of us, so many cousins, we almost lose track.” As I noted in my genealogy writing last year, my extended family — at least the parts one would normally keep connected with — is almost non-existent. All the grandparents are long dead. There have never been any real family rifts or arguments, but my own family’s itinerant and independent nature has basically put us off on islands on our own. My parents live near me and I keep in contact with my brother in California, but that’s basically it. I have an aunt and a couple of first cousins on that side of things I haven’t seen in years. My kids have no cousins in my family. Our branch of the tree is not dead, exactly, but if it was a real tree they probably would’ve pruned off this odd little shoot of it many years ago for aesthetic purposes.

I don’t think too much about that outside of my irregular dips into genealogy. And I don’t have any problem with it when I do think about it, really. As I’ve written many, many times, blood — and the obligations people assume by simple virtue of blood — is overrated. Relationships are what matter. But it’s still rather strange to realize that there are a shitload of people banging around out there who share some of your DNA. Some of whom, I presume, who don’t say “oof!” and “oy!” every time they stand up or sit down.

 

As for the rest of the world:

U.S. Senators are returning to Washington next week, but they’ll be taking their health into their own hands. Politico reports that, during a conference call with top GOP officials yesterday, the Capitol physician said that they don’t have the capacity to test all 100 senators for coronavirus.

Again, a reminder, that on March 6 — pushing two months ago — Trump said “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” Folks, if U.S. Senators can’t get a test, you aren’t getting one either. And, as every expert has noted, the shutdowns cannot responsibly end unless and until there are massive numbers of tests available. 

At this point, though, I’m starting to think that they’ll just end the shutdowns irresponsibly. Even in places where one would’ve thought resolve to do the right thing was generally higher. Check this out:

They generally weren’t wearing masks or keeping their distance, so I’m guessing we’ll be reading soon about how that protest became a super infection vector.

Allison grew up in Orange County and I’ve talked about how I wouldn’t mind moving there after the kids go off to college. That’s mostly for the weather and stuff, but an added bonus would, apparently, be that we’d be in the 99th percentile of intelligence in that neck of the woods and, hey, it’s sometimes good to be a big fish in a small intellectual pond.

Anyway, some infectious disease experts just released a report saying that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to last as long as two years and won’t be controlled until about two-thirds of the world’s population is immune. Given that it’s been less than two months and people have already started to lose any sort of patience with all of this I don’t think there’s any hope that they’ll be able to get their minds around two years of altered existence, even if that doesn’t entail lockdowns. It seems that we are just pathologically opposed to engaging in concerted behavior that serves the greater good.

 

Normally, in such instances, our leaders would rally us toward that greater good, but as I’ve noted time and again in this Diary, they don’t seem to have the skill and, in many cases, the basic desire to do that. Even the ones who, until now, have been lauded for doing a good job:

Under mounting pressure to lift the state’s stay-at-home order, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said that he will make an announcement as early as next week on his plans to begin to ease restrictions on Californians to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Before that, Newsom had talked about it being a matter of “weeks” before restrictions could be lifted. Now he’s talking “days.” They’ll all likely cave soon. Even if some of them do a better job of making it look like they’re not caving.

In related news, here’s a fun chart:

World War I may only be third in death toll, but for my money it ranks #1 for senseless death toll, and I suspect we’re gonna take its place by both measures pretty damn soon.

 

May 2: I had planned to do the day a certain way and Allison planned to do the day a certain way and by mid-morning it became apparent that the day was not going to go those ways and we ended up in that place where I think everyone ends up two or three times a week, asking, no one in particular, “why can’t things just be normal?!”

But we know the answer to that and it’s not an answer worth dwelling on because we can’t do a goddamn thing about it. So we got in the car, went to a park and went for a walk.

We decided to take a trail that wasn’t likely to have a lot of people on it. And there was no one on it, mostly because it was muddy:

That’s what waterproof hiking shoes are for, I suppose.

After a couple of miles — and some watery, itchy eyes and sniffly noses — we went back to the car and stopped at Target to pick up some seasonal allergy meds. It was kind of anxiety-inducing. I’m used to the go-in-get-what-you-need-get-out dynamic of the grocery store, but Target still had a number of people just sort of milling around and shopping for nothing in particular. It’s been so long since I’ve been around people not taking clear and definitive paths through human traffic. I’ve sort of forgotten how to navigate around the meanderers.

 

One of the things I’d normally be doing around now would be gardening. I don’t do anything elaborate, but I do plant annuals and spread mulch and that sort of thing. Just some neatening-up and coloring-up the beds in front of the house and those around the patio in the back. It’s been cold or rainy for most of the past few weekends but it was warm and pleasant today. Except I didn’t do any work outside and I’m not sure when or if I will.

The garden centers have been open. I’m not sure why, exactly, that’s the case. Maybe dealing with living things like plants or pets or whatever make you an essential business. Maybe there’s a fine enough line between landscaping businesses — which have stayed open — and nursery businesses that render the distinctions close to meaningless. I don’t know. I do know, though, that I have hesitated going by and picking up flats of snapdragons or impatiens and whatever else I’d plant this spring because it feels like it’d be an unnecessary trek out into public.

On the way back home we passed by the big nursery near us. The parking lot was overflowing out into the road and it was no doubt crammed with people. I couldn’t imagine a place I’d less rather be. When I got home I looked at my rather sad, empty flower beds and figured that, for now at least, I’ll just try to keep them clear of weeds and worry about flowers at some other time. It just can’t possibly rate that high on the scale of importance.

Allison left for the barn not long after we got home. Instead of gardening I just opened all of the windows and began to straighten and clean the house. It scratches the same itch I suppose. The imposition of order over disorder mostly, which I’ve always known to be something my psyche desperately craves and needs, especially in times of stress. I can’t abide a mess, be it a physical one or something more cosmic, and if I can compose my environment in an orderly and organized fashion it calms my mind. After a few hours of that, accompanied by a few golden age Kinks albums, which I’ve been binging of late, I was feeling much better.

 

I usually get about 85% of these entries done on the date in the title — they’re the reflections of that day — and post them in the morning, on the date of the article. I’m writing this part forward at around 5AM on the morning of May 3, however. Partially because I got pretty tired as I was writing last night and felt that zoning out to more music was the best use of my time. Partially because I’ve been up since 3AM and I can’t think of what else to do with myself besides write.

The weather woke up at first. We went to bed with the windows open but it had gotten stuffy and some rain started blowing in at around 3, so I got up, closed windows and clicked on the AC. When I got back in bed Rosie began jumping on and off the bed, up onto the headboard, and generally being a dick. Rather than toss and turn and fight with her I went downstairs, figuring I’d chill out and then get back into bed.

I probably should’ve realized Rosie’s restlessness was the harbinger of a seizure. Just after I wrote about her last week the vet put her on a pretty powerful new drug. It comes in a gigantic horse-sized pill, but I’m good at pilling cats and it’s not been an issue. Even better, it had completely stopped the seizures. Her last one was a week ago Saturday. She started the medicine that day and had gone a week without one. Not long after I came downstairs, though, she had one that sent her slamming against the walls. There’s no going to sleep after that for me, but she’s now passed out on the couch next to me.

If they happen once every week or two we can handle it, I think. If this is the beginning of another every day cycle, though, I’m not sure what we’ll be able to do.

 

My Sunday L.A. Times showed up in my inbox a few minutes ago. On the front page was this:

 

Probably worth noting at the outset that, back in February, the L.A. Times ran an article about teenagers sharing coronavirus memes and characterized it all as irrational and hysterical. Turns out that, actually, the kids were right and everyone should’ve been paying more fucking attention. As usual.

That aside, as someone who spends a ton of time online, and as someone who has teenagers who live and breathe meme culture, I’m gonna take at least some issue with the notion that memes — or, as the article focuses on, TikTok clips and the like — are a function of people “remaining positive.”

If an Earth-killing asteroid was on a guaranteed square-strike trajectory, the last thing we’d see before our deaths would be memes. You’d get texts from teenagers with pics of graveyards captioned with “Lol it me” and things like that.

This sort of expression is, I suppose, more superficially positive than gloom and doom and genuine freaking out, but it’s not the sort of positivity people like this author are suggesting it is. Meme culture is often about laughing in self-defense, with the nut of most of the humor being the inherent powerlessness of the speaker in the given situation. It’s gallows humor, and gallows humor is, by definition, humor that stems from desperation and hopelessness.

A desperation and hopelessness with which the generation of young adults steeped in meme culture are well acquainted given all that their elders have made of the world into which they’ve been thrust.

 

May 3: I woke up at 3AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. By 9:30AM I was flagging. I’m not a napper. I actually don’t like naps very much. I find that they throw me off more than they help me. Forty-five minutes or an hour of sleep put me into a fog that takes just as long to come out of as the nap takes. I’m almost always better-served by caffeine, adrenaline, or simply powering through until I can go to sleep in the evening with an earlier bedtime making up the sleep deficit.

Not today. When Allison told me I should go take a nap I couldn’t muster even the slightest objection. My head hit the pillow at 10AM and I didn’t wake up until 1PM. I dreamed the most vivid dreams imaginable. Dreams which I knew at the time to be dreams. Dreams which, as they unfolded, I could control and manipulate. I’m never able to do that, but today I could.

The sleep itself was nice, but there has to be something said for the few hours in which I had control over everything in my environment at a time when almost everything seems to be out of my control.

 

In the past 24 hours both my mom and Allison’s mom fell down at home. Allison’s mom got up off the couch, didn’t realize her foot was asleep, fell over, and as she did so hurt her ankle. It appears to be either sprained or broken. We told her she should go to the urgent care but she decided to just ice and elevate it and go to see her doctor tomorrow. In the meantime she seems generally OK. My mother simply tripped over her own feet on the back patio and went face down onto the concrete. She somehow didn’t hurt herself beyond some minor scrapes. Most of the damage was probably done to my dad’s heart and nerves as he watched her face-plant. She said he was still shaken an hour later.

All four of our parents are in their 70s and it’s less-than-great to fall in your 70s in the best of circumstances. That it happened to both of our mothers in the middle of all of this, when simply going to see a doctor or going to the hospital is a major and potentially fraught undertaking is certainly not what you want.

Hell, a friend ours who is younger than I am fell off his skateboard the other night and broke his arm. Even that trip to the ER seemed to be a big ordeal of isolation, precaution, and logistics. I can’t imagine what vulnerable people like our parents would have to deal with if they had to go in for something non-COVID-19-related right now. If I were them maybe I’d simply sit home with a sprained or broken ankle too. I have no idea.

 

From the Financial Times:

The cost to immunise people around the world against coronavirus is likely to exceed $20bn, far surpassing the initial fundraising target of $8bn set for an EU-led donors’ meeting to be held on Monday, global health organisations say. International health bodies suggest the full cost could reach $25bn, once funding needed to produce doses in vast numbers and distribute them globally is taken into account. The figure highlights the financial, political and logistical difficulties ahead . . .

$20 billion is  . . .

Meanwhile, the rough economic cost of the first two months spent fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States alone was estimated to be about $2.14 trillion, and that was likely a conservative estimate.

I feel like we can afford $20 billion to immunize the world from a pandemic that has already killed a quarter of a million people. If we’re short, maybe we can just ask for a loan? Jeff Bezos is good for it. His personal Amazon holdings have risen over $24 billion in the first few months of 2020 alone.

 

Former President George W. Bush released a three-minute video/pep talk to Americans last night. Like most former presidents he tends not to wade into, well, anything in public, but here he urged Americans to remember “how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” and said “in the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful” who “rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”

My feelings upon watching it are so conflicted that it’s almost too much to process.

We have a habit in this country of immediately forgiving presidents for their shortcomings and transgressions the moment they leave office. Once out of power we treat them as if they’re lovable old grandfathers as opposed to men whose acts and omissions shape history for decades, often for the worse. We’re still dealing with Nixon’s and Reagan’s legacies decades after they died, yet the former was pardoned and partially rehabilitated in his lifetime and the latter was practically deified while he still walked the Earth. Clinton nostalgia ebbs and flows, but far more people pine for the allegedly carefree days of his time in office than accurately note that he was a toxic human being. It’s a pining that has screwed up Democratic politics for 20 years now. George H.W. Bush and Obama get the same treatment. An emphasis on what was popular about them, a memory-holing of their worst acts.

George W. Bush is treated much the same way and it’s more inexcusable in his case than in the case of any former president.

He’s treated as if he didn’t thrust us into nearly 20 straight years of pointless wars that have killed over a million people and which have accomplished nothing. Treated as if he did not mismanage the preparation and the relief of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, leaving a major American city to descend into chaos, anarchy, and mass death. Treated as if he did not enact and enable policies which led directly to the most catastrophic financial crisis this country had seen since the Great Depression. The scope of the damage George W. Bush either actively visited upon America and the world or which he allowed to happen while he stood by and did nothing is so great that it’s hard to calculate.

Despite this, he’s talked about as some kindly old figure for whom we’re supposed to have some sort of nostalgia. Since his video last night countless people — both regular folks and members of the media and political class — have offered some sort of “gee, if we only had Bush instead of Trump, we’d be so much better off right now.” It’s positively deranged.

Seriously: no matter what you take away from this episode — and, indeed, no matter how technically true it likely is that Bush being in charge would, in certain objective ways, be better than Trump — do not let your takeaway from this be “oh, I wish we had George W. Bush back.” He criminally mismanaged more than his share of emergencies and disasters in his own time. When you’re getting kicked in the nuts by someone in steel-toed boots, you can wish for something better than to be kicked in the nuts by someone wearing a pair of wingtips.

Yet, like a moviegoer shamelessly manipulated by an emotionally manipulative musical score, I feel . . . something.

Not for Bush — not by damn sight — but for the broad concept of someone in some position of authority at least pretending to care about the American people. It’s a reminder of just how fucking small an effort it takes to simply acknowledge that people are suffering and to at least feint toward caring about it, which Bush did in his video. It’s a level of basic compassion that, given the messenger, is riven with complication, but a level of basic compassion and leadership for which I and millions of Americans obviously hunger.

How easy would it be for even someone as horrible as Donald Trump to give voice to at least a few words someone else wrote for him expressing some level of acknowledgement of what people are going through? Astoundingly easy, one thinks. Yet not only can he not do even that — not only can he not rise to even a George fucking W. Bush level of expressing compassion for his fellow Americans — he swiped back at Bush today, clearly resentful that anyone of prominence would dare do so.

This whole situation is like we’ve been taken hostage by kidnappers and one of the slightly kinder sidekicks offered us a Snickers bar while waiting for the ransom drop, only to have the ringleader of the operation smack it out of our hands, turn on his accomplice and snap, “stick to the plan!” at him.

 

May 4: For the second straight day I woke up at 3AM. Today it wasn’t because of the cat. It was just . . . because. I don’t know. I was fully alert and awake and my brain started working and I knew that there was no going back to sleep. Maybe that Sunday nap just screwed everything up after all.

I’ve always been an early riser — I’m sort of famous for it in a pathetic way among my readers and social media followers — but 3AM is extreme even for me. When I do wake up earlier than usual I generally use that time productively, but it’s an emotionally disorienting time all the same. All of that “darkest before the dawn” stuff is no joke. It’s amazing where your mind goes at 3:30 or 4AM. It’s amazing how, after the sun comes up, you look back at what you were thinking in those dark hours and realize how unnerving so much of it was. It’s bad enough in normal times. These days it’s even worse.

 

One good thing today: because of plummeting oil prices and because, since we don’t really eat out anymore, all of our money goes to a grocery store that also has a gas station which offers fuel discounts based on dollars spent on food, I filled up my car today at 95 cents a gallon:

 

It’s like being zapped back to 1998. Get me, I’m studying for the bar exam and the CD player in my Honda Civic is blasting “Hello Nasty.”

 

Trump spoke yesterday, scaling up his estimate for the number of expected dead from his past prediction of 65,000 to 100,000. Of course, given that we’ve basically met and are rocketing past his prior prediction it wasn’t worth spit. I don’t think his current one is either, even if it accidentally ends up being close to the mark. He’s not shown a shred of actual engagement with any of this or a shred of concern for Americans going through it. His predictions and insights into the scope of this pandemic are no more informed or useful than when they make an octopus predict which team will win the Super Bowl. Actually, they’re probably worse. The octopus isn’t a narcissistic sociopath and isn’t trying to deceive anyone.

 

In Trump’s defense, if those estimates are poor it’s only because the number of dead don’t seem to matter to him very much to begin with:

“As President Trump presses for states to reopen their economies, his administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths on June 1.”

Unlike most of what Trump does, however, I suspect there’s a method to this madness.

 

A national consensus, led by our president, is forming. A consensus rooted in the notion that we’re OK with people dying at alarming rates as long as there is a minimal disruption to the economy and minimal inconveniences in our daily lives. It’s a consensus that will, increasingly, be expressed via a political and corporate strategy that serves the interests of public relations rather than the interests of medical science and public health. One that, more than anything else, conditions and desensitizes the public to the concept of daily mass death.

Trump is now floating the idea of 3,000 deaths a day being the expectation despite the fact that around 2,000 has been where we top out most of the time now, in what was supposed to be the peak. He’s doing that to set the bogey. To set some new allegedly normal that, later, when we get there — thanks to the increasingly aggressive reopening strategy on the part of most states — he can say was totally within expectations.

To the extent that narrative gains even the slightest bit of purchase, governors will begin to parrot the idea that we’re into a new, expected normal despite the fact that deaths have spiked. If enough of them do it, the media will normalize it because that’s what the media does. And business and citizens will accept it because everyone is exhausted and we’re all just waiting for the OK from everyone else to quit sacrificing and to quit being inconvenienced. We’re looking for an excuse to not care anymore.

 

We’ve seen this pattern before. We saw it as the 2000s wore on and the reports of war dead in Iraq and Afghanistan were first pushed below the fold and then off the front page completely. We, as a country, began not to care that we had been fighting two wars for years and years and that, in many significant ways, we still are. Now we’re seeing it in service of cover for a premature reopening of society despite the fact that we have not yet done the necessary work to ride out this pandemic responsibly.

For all of the day-in-day out stuff that I talk about here or that any of us talk about in the real world, that will be and should be the lasting legacy of COVID-19 in America. How it ushered in the time when the longstanding subtext of American existence — money is more important than people’s lives — was stated plainly and loudly by our leaders and a shockingly large number of our people. A time when we willfully and openly set policies which we acknowledge will kill people in order to serve the interests of commerce and the personal comfort of those who cannot stand a moment’s discomfort.

“Of course, everybody wants to save every life they can — but the question is, towards what end, ultimately?” — Chris Christie, on CNN last night. Don’t bash him, though. He’s just saying out loud what most of our leaders are thinking and what, increasingly most people are beginning to think.

 

Perhaps the most prominent place we’re going to see this all play out is in my bailiwick: baseball.

For weeks now, Major League Baseball and its surrogates have been floating tentative plans for when and how the season can start. While most reporters and fans have been preoccupied with the “hows” of it all — how many games, how the schedule will be set up, whether there will be a universal designated hitter — the thing you should actually key on is the whens and the wheres of it all.

The logistics of these MLB/Players Union brainstorming sessions have changed five or six times, but each new idea that gets leaked has something in common: an early July start date. That date seems to be a function of pressure from politicians like Trump and Mitch McConnell, each of whom have been pushing baseball to return for symbolic and inspirational purposes and each of whom — along with many other political and business leaders — would love nothing more than to see the National Pastime debut on or around the Fourth of July so that they can declare the nation healed and normality restored.

That timing works for Major League Baseball too, in that it gives the league, basically, the entire month of May to see if the aggressive re-opening plans of various states blows up in their faces. I mean, I think it’s inevitable that deaths will spike, as Trump is conditioning us to expect, but the key here will be to look and see if there are moments of bad optics. Famous people getting sick. Vocal re-opening advocates being disgraced or embarrassed. Unrest of some kind. Yes, 3,000 a people a day may die, but if that death toll unfolds in mere statistical form for most people while a steady backdrop of cable news b-roll of healthy people enjoying lunch at outdoor cafes plays on our televisions each evening, it will be deemed a success by most involved. It will allow Major League Baseball to push for that July 4 reopening while being able to say “hey, we’re just following society’s lead.”

As for the where: early plans that were leaked involved players and team personnel being quarantined in Arizona or Florida or both. That went over terribly — the idea of players being away from their families did not sit well with most folks — and those ideas have been all but scrapped. Now the leaked plans focus on a setup in which teams play in their home parks and players and team personnel sleep in their own beds at night. Again, this serves the interests of optics.

Statistically speaking, there is a very good chance that someone who plays for a team or works for a team is going to get sick and, possibly, die. If that were to happen during an Arizona quarantine scenario it would look horrible. A sports quarantine like they described would be like having a couple of thousand people on a cruise ship. The league would basically have to cease functioning because the purpose of the quarantine would have been defeated.

If they stay and play at home, however, a person getting sick or dying is, really, not all that different than any other person getting sick or dying. No guarantees will ever have been made and, if it happens, it will get woven into the tapestry of normality everyone is working so hard to create. “Hey, that’s part of life now. It could’ve happened at the grocery store or at one of these now-open restaurants.” As with the rest of us, the responsibility for the health of ballplayers and the people who work in baseball will be transferred from those in charge and placed back in the hands of individuals. Individuals, I’ll note, who are particularly well-suited to be blank canvasses onto which television producers and P.R. people can paint inspirational human interest stories about overcoming obstacles that are bigger than the game.

Which is to say: the game is going to go on. It’s going to go on, driven by inspirational, symbolic and financial imperatives, not because June is going to be any safer than May or because July will be any safer than June. It’s going to go on and, if people die, their deaths will be part of a normalization of it all we’re seeing to begin in society at large. Part of a mass agreement to accept mass death.

Baseball, as they like to say, is a reflection of society. What they tend to leave out, however, is that it reflects society’s worst aspects just as much as it reflects its best ones.

 

 

May 5: There was a meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to figure out how to make the participants’ own problems someone else’s. It was at that meeting that someone first gave voice to the notion of “declaring victory.”

That idea — simply “declaring victory” — is a pretty powerful tool in the hands of the shameless. It’s one we used to use at my old law firm all the time. To deploy it, one simply declares the matter at issue to be settled. If it requires the assertion that black is, in fact, white, all the better.

The point is to shift the burden to the other side — or to create an “other side” completely — and to turn a crisis into a confrontation in which you have the high ground. You transform a situation in which there is ambiguity or confusion into one in which there is certainty, well-founded or otherwise, at least on your part, with the other side’s uncertainty suddenly becoming its weakness.

You force the other side to demand things of you when they’d prefer to be reticent. You make them overtly refuse to do something you want them to do when they’d prefer to be coy. You dare them to sue you, with any hesitation on their part a tell of their weakness. The upshot is that, by declaring victory, you make the other side act in a given way that gives you a simpler means of attack or a simpler mode of defense. I used to take part in meetings in which this course of action decided upon all the time, always with full knowledge of the disingenuousness of the declaration of victory. That was the point. It was a tactic for when the substance was not in your favor.

This meeting, however, was different. It did not take place in a law firm conference room. It took place at the White House. At this meeting the decision was made to simply declare victory over COVID-19. To declare it over or, at the very least, something close to over. To, as I talked about yesterday, do everything possible to transform the pandemic from a national emergency to a matter of boring and accepted background.

At this meeting it was decided to leak the bogey of 3,000 daily deaths in June. To “draw the sting,” as we used to say back in the day, by disclosing damaging information now, before the other side has a chance to bring it out as news or as an accusation. When 3,000 a day are dying in June, the declaration of victory allows them to say, “hey, we said that this would happen a month ago. It’s not a surprise.” And if only, say, 2,800 die on a given Wednesday, it allows them to declare a mini victory in the interim.

Part of the declaration of victory requires getting off of the war footing with respect to COVID-19. Here’s how they’re doing this:

Trump administration officials are telling members and staff of the coronavirus task force that the White House plans to wind down the operation in coming weeks despite growing evidence that the crisis is raging on . . . It is not clear whether any other group might replace the task force. But its gradual demise, which officials said might never be formally announced, would only intensify the questions about whether the administration is adequately organized to address the complex, life-and-death decisions related to the virus and giving adequate voice to scientists and public health experts in making policy.

Asking what will replace the task force is a silly question. Nothing, effectively, will replace it. And that’s by design.

It’s all part of a forced normalization in which Trump and his administration believe that if they start acting like there’s no pandemic there will, effectively, be no pandemic. That, in the absence of press briefings and public officials signaling that COVID-19 is a crisis — and absent any other indicia of urgency — it will cease to be treated as an urgent crisis by the press and the people.

If and when critics attack the president for this or for the ongoing, disastrous effects of the pandemic, he will cast himself as an agent of calm normality and cast his critics as the party of death and disease. As downers who want to distract the country from the miraculous economic recovery he is on the verge of bringing about. COVID-19, Trump will soon attempt to claim through his actions, has been vanquished. The situation is within expected parameters. Anyone who says otherwise is living in the past and is, frankly, a drag.

This sort of thing has been Trump’s m.o. for a very long time. To say everything’s great when it’s horrible and to accuse his opponents of doing exactly the things he has done. To behave awfully, irresponsibly, and even illegally and to have the press and the people shout “hey, that’s not OK,” only to shout back “So? What are you gonna do about it?” The declaration of victory puts the onus on the accuser to do the very hard work of reining in the miscreant. Work that has almost always proven to be impossible given the power of the presidency and the fecklessness of the media and Trump’s opponents in actually following through. Declaring victory in the face of seemingly insurmountable evidence to the contrary is a tactic that has worked amazingly well for Trump until now. Now he’ll no doubt go back to the same well again.

I don’t think it’ll be successful this time, at least not politically speaking. For all of the resiliency Trump has shown, I do not think he’ll ultimately get away with claiming that 3,000 people a day — over 100,000 people in total — dying in a pandemic which he has manifestly mismanaged is, actually, a victory. Indeed, I strongly believe that he will lose the election in November.

But that’s pretty cold comfort given that his declaration of victory now cannot be redressed in any effective way for the next six months. And that to get to that point it will, apparently, require the deaths of thousands of people who would not die if, instead of pursuing gambits like this, Trump or anyone near him took this crisis even remotely seriously.

 

I had to take a drive today. The drive took me through a part of town I don’t go through all that often anymore. Part of it included my old neighborhood, where I bought my first house back in 1999. I still like to go by it sometimes to see how it’s holding up. I went a bit out of my way to do it again today.

I sold that house 15 years ago, but the same people I sold it to still live there. They were a young, recently-married couple then and the small, older, but kinda funky house suited them, just as it had suited us when we bought it five years earlier as a young, recently-married couple. By late 2004 we had a baby, though, and another one on the way. The small, older, but kinda funky house was quickly making less sense for us.

I’m pretty sure the new owners — though I shouldn’t call them that given that they’ve had the place three times as long as I did — had a baby a few years ago. I’m assuming that, anyway, based on the Little Tikes car I saw on the porch one day when I drove by. I can’t tell if they’ve had more kids and I can’t tell if they’ve done any major renovations to the house. From the outside it doesn’t look like it. I guess they’re just better at dealing with one bathroom and drafty windows and all the stuff that comes with an old house than we were.

For years the only car I could see in the driveway when I drove by was a Honda Accord. I’d guess a 2004-05 model, purchased not long after they bought the house from us. They still have it but today, for the first time, I saw a second car. A Subaru Forester. Maybe 4-5 years old. Which is kind of trippy, because our two cars now are a 2004 Honda Accord I bought used after I sold that house and my 2014 Subaru Forester.

I’m sitting here right now wondering if my ex and I didn’t sell that house to an alternate universe version of ourselves who skated in from a parallel timeline. I wonder if they got stuck here and now they’re forced to live out some one-track-removed existence of themselves.

 

Before I passed by my old house I was driving on the Ohio State campus. This was out of necessity, not out of curiosity about the past. Campus, not surprisingly, is empty. The busses were still running, however. I passed or followed several of them. They were still making stops but no one got on or off. The busses that I passed seemed to be empty.

These empty busses were the eeriest, most surreal thing I’ve seen since back on March 18 when I saw people walking around the grocery store, confused and disoriented. I didn’t mention it in that entry because I was sort of overwhelmed by it all and wasn’t sure how to process it, but I encountered a man in the store that day — maybe in his 60s, dressed in sweat pants and a tattered coat, with scraggly hair and looking many days unshaven — who tried to talk to me as I was trying to get my mind around early pandemic shopping. I was looking at the meager bread choices and he was standing near the empty peanut butter shelf, shuffling about in circles, talking to no one in particular at first but then clearly focusing on me.

“They say that you can just live on peanut butter. But the peanut butter is gone . . .”

It wasn’t a comment that invited a response. Indeed, his tone was matter-of-fact, not curious, conversational, or concerned. It was as if he was trying to tell me something about the nature of the universe rather than to merely exclaim something. I’ve thought about that man a lot in the last two months. He unsettled me a good deal that evening and I can’t really shake him from my mind. Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t from some parallel timeline too. I almost expected to see him get off one of those busses today.

 

I drove on.

I’m sure every 25-year-removed alumnus of a college says this, but dear lord is Ohio State’s campus different now. Whether it’s on the High Street side or on down Woodruff Avenue or Cannon Drive, the place may as well have been transported here from an alien planet, with every sixth building from 1993 retained in order to keep us honest and off balance.

Which is all probably for the best. I’ve never been a guy even remotely likely to descend on his old stomping grounds and revel in nostalgia, but the fact that I probably couldn’t even find the best parts of those old stomping grounds without a detailed map anymore is a handy bit of insurance in that regard. You can’t go home again. You shouldn’t ever try to go home again (even if you do drive by it once in a while). But in case you do try, in a moment of weakness, to actually go home again, hopefully home will hide from you long enough, like Ohio State’s campus hides from old men like me, to where you realize what a hassle going home again actually is. And then you change your mind and try to find someplace new.

 

I was on campus for a reason. Rosie.

Her seizures didn’t stop, even with the new, powerful — too powerful — medicine they prescribed for her. The seizures actually increased in frequency and severity. Last week, during a particularly bad one, she violently flung herself down the stairs. In the past several days she’s had multiple seizures a day. She almost completely stopped eating normally but ate so ravenously while coming down from a seizure that she could only keep her food down half the time. She cut her foot while trying to grab onto something during a seizure a couple of weeks ago. It kept reopening every time she had another one, causing her to leave bloody footprints after each episode. For the past week she slept so close to me at night that it felt like she was clinging to me for dear life and when she was awake she was so zonked out by the meds that she didn’t seem to be taking joy in anything. I’ve been waking up at the slightest noise, worried that she was in distress. It’s probably why I kept waking up and staying up at 3AM.

We made the choice this morning to put her down. Her vet, a neurologist at Ohio State’s veterinary hospital, agreed with us that it was the right decision. I took her down there instead of to our usual vet who has handled this kind of thing for us before. Rosie was always something of a difficult and complicated cat, even when she was healthy, but we decided that maybe, with her final act, she could at least help some vet students better learn their craft or give an idea or two to someone doing some research of messed up cat brains. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Rosie never seemed to know how to simply be. My hope was that she at least found some sort of purpose, tangible or cosmic, in death.

I hugged and kissed her goodbye and left. When I got back to the car I cried my eyes out. Then I drove though campus. I drove past the ghost busses, turned north up High Street and drove through my old neighborhood and past my old house. Then I drove home. Hoping, as always, that I can keep the ghosts in the past where they belong so that I have enough energy to fight the new monsters which present themselves seemingly every single day.

 

May 6: Still shaken up about Rosie today.

Allison and I keep thinking we see her sitting in windows or running around corners. Due to some of her odd habits, both pre-and post-seizure, we did certain things in the house such as leaving the door to the laundry room/litter box area cracked (when she had a seizure in there she would catch a claw on the dryer vent and hurt herself, so we needed to create an easier escape route for her than the small kitty door) and keeping the door to our bathroom closed (she knew how to turn on the water faucet in there with her head, resulting in the water running for hours). All day I’ve caught myself making sure the doors were open or closed, forgetting that I didn’t need to bother with that anymore.

I also didn’t know what to do with myself today without going through many of the routines I’d developed for her. All the pills. Making up special bowls of food. It was just an awful lot to take.

But a couple of things helped. First: a lot of very sweet messages from a lot of you.

This is a diary so I don’t often break the fourth wall and talk about the people reading it. But I know a lot of you do read this and a lot of you have reached out to me over the past couple of months. Some of you to tell me that what I’ve written has helped you process our strange new existence. Some of you just to say hi or to ask if I’m doing OK.

Today so many of you reached out to comfort me about Rosie. I tried to respond to everyone. If I missed you, I’m sorry. But know that it meant a great deal to me to hear from you.

Everyone may be socially isolated, but I’ve somehow felt even closer to people than usual over these past couple of months by virtue of this diary and the digital connections that surround it. Thank you.

 

Something else that helped: takeout Indian food and patio drinks with Allison:

We’re gonna make it through all of this. We’re gonna make it through this together. We’re gonna make it through all of this if it kills us.

 

There’s some hope that an experimental Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford, and which is starting human trials, could be a workable vaccine with a million doses produced by September. There are obviously no guarantees — early reports such as these often turn into vapor with a quickness — but given how inept our leaders have responded to this from a public health perspective, the best hope we have now is some sort of magic bullet from the world of medicine that will save us from that lot. All we have, actually, is this sort of hope because, otherwise, we’ve been thrown to the wolves.

Why do I say that? Because of sentiment like this:

Bethany S. Mandel

@bethanyshondark

This isn’t about greed. It’s survival. People can’t buy food or pay rent or mortgages. Small businesses are closing. Dentists and doctors are going into the red. Schools are going to start closing. This is the destruction of society we’re talking about.

Bethany S. Mandel

@bethanyshondark

There will be no pediatricians or general doctors or physical therapists or nurses or home health aides. No dentists. No zoos or aquariums. No private schools. No restaurants or caterers. No hairdressers or nail technicians. No gyms. No summer camps or daycares.

1,259 people are talking about this

Bethany S. Mandel

@bethanyshondark

We never had ventilator shortages. My local pediatric ER converted to a COVID ward and now sits empty. What are we waiting on here? I’d genuinely like an answer. A vaccine? Because if that’s it, our society will be absolutely wrecked in the meantime.

Bethany S. Mandel

@bethanyshondark

You can call me a Grandma killer. I’m not sacrificing my home, food on the table, all of our docs and dentists, every form of pleasure (museums, zoos, restaurants), all my kids’ teachers in order to make other people comfortable. If you want to stay locked down, do. I’m not.

17.5K people are talking about this

 

If you listen to people like this person — who is a well-known and well-read voice from the conservative mediasphere — the only two options we, apparently, have right now is (a) everyone resumes normal life and hundreds of thousands of people die from illness; or (b) everyone stays home forever and dies from poverty.

No one seems to want to acknowledge that there were at least three other non-exclusive courses of action we could have taken as a country, and which some other countries have taken, that we have simply and irresponsibly ignored:

  • We could have and should have prepared for this eventuality in the first place by having a coherent pandemic plan in place that could have been deployed when the warning signs became apparent early in the year;
  • We could have and should have used this shutdown time to make up for that lack of pre-planning and to, basically, embark on a Marshall Plan-level effort to create testing, contact tracing, and PPE capacity that could enable a safer and more responsible reopening now; and/or
  • We could have and should have, as the richest nation in the world, deployed a massive welfare state initiative in which we basically paid people to stay home in a longer, more thorough shutdown while efforts were made to further remedy our poor pre-planning and our lack of post-shutdown leadership.

We did none of that. Instead:

  • Trump ignored the problem in its runup and actively dismantled key parts of our country’s anti-pandemic operation;
  • He then wasted almost the entire past two months by denying the very existence of the pandemic and then disclaiming federal responsibility to deal with it, forcing the states to embark on a patchwork anti-pandemic plan with a fraction of the resources available, all while putting political pressure on governors to, actually, do less than they’re doing; and
  • We provided financial relief efforts to people and business that have been far too small on the people side and riven with corruption and cronyism on the business side.

It was simply unimaginable to our leaders that this situation could arise. It was simply unimaginable that they could be proactive in order to address it like the emergency it is. It remains simply unimaginable to them that something other than the post-Ronald Reagan American Economic Order could be put in place to ease the suffering of the country. That is why we are in a situation where we are forced to choose between “killing grandma” and enduring mass economic suffering.

That is why, at this point, a vaccine is our only real hope to avoid a public health calamity and/or a second great depression.

 

As for that patchwork response I mentioned above, there are two governors who have been praised for their work more than most of the others to date: Mike DeWine of Ohio and Andrew Cuomo of New York. But let’s not hand out any trophies yet, as both of them are failing to show their best sides this week.

Yesterday DeWine announced $775 million in budget cuts, with most coming from Medicaid, K-12 education, and higher education. That will lead to massive job cuts and austerity measures in education and healthcare.

Were there any alternatives? Sure there were. The state maintains a so-called “Rainy Day Fund” — which is technically called the “Budget Stabilization Fund,” and which is specifically designed for the purpose of addressing unexpected budget shortfalls. That fund currently sits at $2.7 billion, or over three times the current shortfall. He could also, of course, simply call for increased taxes. DeWine is a Republican, however, so you’d be more likely to get him to rip off his clothes, shout “HAIL SATAN!” slaughter a goat, and drink its blood on live television than to see a tax increase happen.

DeWine was specifically asked why he’s not tapping the rainy day fund. He said the state shouldn’t use this money “until it has to.” I’m struggling to imagine what he thinks a rainy day actually looks like.

Every time I’ve praised Mike DeWine for his handling of COVID-19 in Ohio I’ve prefaced it by saying I support almost nothing else about him. This is why. It’s because when given a choice of either (a) spending some money in state coffers; (b) placing even part of the burden on wealthy Ohioans or businesses; or (c) making life harder for teachers and for the sick and needy, he will always — ALWAYS — pick option (c). He and every Republican will do that, every time.

 

Meanwhile, in New York, Andrew Cuomo seems to be calling into question the very idea of teachers in classrooms teaching children:

I have two pretty high-achieving high schoolers and their school was, from what I can tell, far better prepared to go to remote learning than most schools. They have had a steady and fairly regimented assignment pipeline. There are video meetups with teachers and a number of resources for students who need to communicate directly with teachers.

They are also kinda flailing in many ways. Their schedule and structure has been difficult to maintain, and they are socially isolated in ways that none of us could even begin to imagine being when we were fourteen and sixteen-years old. They’ll get by because they’re bright, they’re pretty self-motivated, and because they go to a school that does not want for material resources. They also have parents who transitioned easily into working from home and who, thus far, have not been at risk of losing their jobs.

I can only imagine how rough all of this is for kids who do not have all of these things going for them. Whose schools are not well-funded by a wealthy suburb’s property tax base. Whose parents are strapped and stressed. Who may have to worry about where the next meal is coming from.

School is not just about ticking off bullet points on a state-mandated lesson plan. It’s an essential part of a community. An essential part of every child’s upbringing and socialization. There is no substitute for kids going to school, and to the extent anyone uses our few months of a remote learning as a pretext for slashing education budgets and promoting “post-pandemic” remote learning initiatives, they will be making a catastrophic mistake.

 

In Texas, their governor, Greg Abbott, who has been touting an aggressive reopening plan for his state, was recorded on a private call admitting that “every scientific and medical report shows” state re-openings “ipso facto” lead to an increase in coronavirus cases:

“How do we know reopening businesses won’t result in faster spread of more cases of COVID-19?. Listen, the fact of the matter is pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening—whether you want to call it a reopening of businesses or of just a reopening of society—in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase and spread. It’s almost ipso facto. The more that you have people out there, the greater the possibility is for transmission. The goal never has been to get transmission down to zero.”

He’s now claiming this is what he’s been saying all along, but that’s not true. He has been saying that if numbers of infected go up after reopening it’s because of increased testing just showing people who were already infected.

As I’ve been saying for a long time now: they know that what they’re doing is wrong. They know that because we do not have adequate testing procedures and resources that the sort of reopening they are mounting right now is going to lead to otherwise avoidable deaths. They simply don’t care. They’re OK with it because they believe the mass of deaths coming down the pike will blend into the news cycle in ways that a besieged economy cannot. They’ve made a choice and we’re all expected to live with it. Or die with it.

So again, this is why I put hope in medical breakthroughs that may be pie in the sky at the moment. It’s literally all we have.

 

Short of that kind of hope we’re left with distractions:

If, in 1991, someone had asked you to bet money on the likelihood that the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses was going to get into a Twitter beef with the Secretary of the Treasury during a global pandemic, what would you have said? Apart from “wait, what’s Twitter?”

Get in the ring, Steven. When we’re not stricken with existential terror, we’re all kinda bored. I’d sort of like to see what happens.

 

 

May 7: It started with a plan. It is ending with a “gamble.” In the meantime we’ve witnessed the abject failure of our government to protect its people from harm.

For the past two months Ohio has done an admirable job responding to the pandemic. The state, led by our governor, Mike DeWine, received rave reviews nationally, from both Democrats and Republicans for its proactive approach.

DeWine closed one of the state’s biggest events — the Arnold Sports Festival — in early March, before most people even realized what was coming down the pike. He recommended colleges suspend in-person classes. Other states followed our lead. He closed Ohio’s public schools. Other states followed our lead. On March 15 DeWine ordered all restaurants and bars closed when cable news was still running video of packed establishments elsewhere in the country. Within days other states followed our lead.

As March and then April wore on DeWine was praised — by this writer included — for eschewing politics and basing his decisions on medical and scientific expertise. That he was accompanied at almost every one of his nearly-daily press conferences by Dr. Amy Acton of the Ohio Department of Health — described by The New York Times as “not only the brains behind the state’s early, aggressive coronavirus response; but also its most effective messenger,” — was both encouraging and even inspiring. Trump and the federal government may have thrown us to the wolves, but we were in good hands with Mike DeWine.

As the conversation turned to the matter of reopening, DeWine continued to show prudence. While governors in Texas and Tennessee and Georgia simply decided to open the states for business without even pretending to care about the adverse public health effects, DeWine took a more cautious tack.

On April 27, DeWine announced a stepped schedule in which first hospitals, then warehouses and manufacturing facilities, and then offices would open, followed later by consumer retail. He stressed that it was data and science dictating this schedule. He specifically left off the opening of places for which people were clamoring the most: restaurants, bars, hair salons, nail salons, and day care centers. The reason? The personal, public interaction in such places was too close. The numbers and the conditions on the ground mitigated against even putting those on the schedule yet.

What was needed before that can happen? DeWine specifically laid it out: a ramped-up number of COVID-19 tests, more effective contact tracing, the production of swabs, and the acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment. Contrary to the disingenuous argument of the open-everything-now crowd, the point was not to wait for “zero infections” or “zero deaths.” The point was to have a situation in place in which people who were infected could know it and could isolate themselves in order not to infect others. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an unreasonable ask.

Today, ten days later, DeWine announced the opening bars and restaurants, barber shops, hair salons and other personal care businesses. Barber shops, salons, spas and the like can open May 15. Restaurants can open for outdoor dining May 15 and inside dining May 21. Both groups have guidelines they must abide by, devised by different working groups comprised of industry representatives from across the state. Notably, those working groups consist exclusively of executives and business owners, not hourly workers who will be in the line of fire.

 

What changed? Did we suddenly ramp up that testing? Contact tracing? PPE production? No. Yesterday there were only 8,000 tests performed in Ohio. DeWine said earlier this week that we will only have 22,000 tests available a day by the end of May and those will only be for those already hospitalized and for healthcare workers. We still have the same shortages of PPE we had ten days ago. We still are experiencing an increasing number of infected and an increasing number of dead. Today, instead of numbers and testing, DeWine talked about “risks” and the need for workers and customers who will now be wading back into the public sphere, to “take a gamble” and how we need to rely on people to “do the right thing.”

The governor has simply changed his mind. Instead of letting science dictate our course of action, we’re now just rolling the dice.

Maybe a revolt in his own party has something to do with it. Earlier this week the Republican-dominated Ohio Legislature — in what was clearly a rebuke of DeWine — passed a bill seeking to limit Dr. Acton’s power. Underlying that action were increasingly reactionary responses to the state’s health orders by Republicans and increasing personal attacks on Dr. Acton, some of which compared Acton — who is Jewish — to Nazis.

DeWine has vowed to veto any bill that would curb Acton’s authority, but it’s hard to see DeWine’s announcement today as anything but a cave-in to those agitating to open up the state more quickly. If you doubt that, the fact that Ohio’s Loony Caucus is now scrambling to match what DeWine did in an effort to claim political ownership over the reopening of businesses is all you need to know:

Tyler Buchanan@Tylerjoelb

Rep. Cross, who thinks COVID-19 is China conducting “biological warfare” against the U.S., is proposing a bill to reopen businesses just as Gov. DeWine already announced nearly all are reopening in the next week https://twitter.com/joncrossoh/status/1258463446208741383 

Jon Cross@joncrossoh

Bill Drop Alert: #BusinessFairnessAct allowing small biz to reopen/operate if they sell similar products as essential big-box retail. Let’s get the government foot off the throat of small biz & give them a fighting chance to safely reopen and fairly compete! W/ 32+ Cosponsors!

Embedded video

See Tyler Buchanan’s other Tweets

So we’re opening back up.

At least everyone is being strongly encouraged to wear masks.

Oh, wait:

With few exceptions, Ohio’s Republican lawmakers flouted federal guidelines recommending everyone wear masks in congregate settings. Democrats heeded them. Barefaced, Speaker of the House Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said he didn’t even own a mask.

“It’s just a personal matter for people,” he said to a gaggle of masked reporters. “Some are comfortable with it and some aren’t.”

It’s not a matter of “comfort.” Anyone who has been in public over the past few weeks knows that a great many people are not wearing masks and that, actually, it has become a strange point of aggressive political protest on the part of many to specifically not wear masks.

Governor DeWine, any help?

Tyler Buchanan@Tylerjoelb

DeWine asked directly by @ARobbinsTV about people not wearing masks

DeWine answers generally about how masks are effective.

That’s really not the point — the point is people aren’t listening to that and aren’t wearing them. DeWine/Acton simply haven’t been able to answer that.

See Tyler Buchanan’s other Tweets

Gulp.

So, if we don’t have testing, contact tracing, PPE, improving infection and death metrics and we have an insane subset of the population aggressively eschewing masks, what do we have?

Well, during the press conference today the chairwoman of the working group who helped decide that it was time to open restaurants said, “we’re Buckeyes, we know we can do this.”

So there you are. School spirit will keep us alive. Go Bucks.

 

My state is not the only entity in which I have a vested interest caving in. Major League Baseball said today that it plans to submit a return-to-play proposal to the players within a week.

As I wrote the other day, I believe MLB has simply deemed July 4 to be the start date — largely for symbolic and political purposes — and, as seems to be the case with Ohio’s reopening, the actual science and public health considerations of the matter are secondary at best. I will change my mind on this if and when Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred states with some actual scientific and numerical specificity what, exactly, he is looking at or what he is being told with respect to COVID-19 abatement that made him determine that early July is an appropriate date.

And, no, “we have received assurances from Governor So-and-So” or non-specific references to “the opinion of public health officials” or whatever doesn’t cut it. Mostly because, as we’re seeing with Ohio, that kind of stuff is all just a gamble. It’s all just gut feeling prodded along by political calculation. Also because there is a clear movement afoot to silence medical and public health expertise and to stifle any possible source of dissent on that score as we rush headlong into reopening.

For example, today it was reported that the Trump Administration has pulled the plug on a detailed plan developed by CDC scientists which provided detailed guidance on what steps should be taken by the government, businesses, and the public to ensure safety during a reopening of the economy and public life. A CDC official, speaking to the Associated Press, said that agency scientists were told the document “would never see the light of day.”

The reason it was buried, I suspect, is that the document made it pretty clear just how out-of-the-ordinary life will have to be in order for any reopening to happen. Things like eliminating buffets and drink stations. Things like decision trees of how to deal with things if there is a concern of infection or contamination. All of which, I suspect, cuts against the “everything is normal” message Trump and seemingly everyone else in power wants to send.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the governor has ended a program in which the state’s health department was working with academic experts on modeling and predicting the course the pandemic will take, most likely because they are predicting a future peak which undercuts the governor’s aggressive reopening plan. The state said, instead, that they will rely on “real-time” information from federal agencies. Which would be fine, except that sort of information is not released publicly. They can say anything they want to support their political agenda of reopening the economy and there is no way to tell if it actually reflects good public health practices. Indeed, given the move to cut off access to public information from experts, you can be almost 100% certain that it will not reflect good practices.

 

The government and private industry is putting on a full-court press to bury bad news. To bury information that may remind people of how dangerous things are. To ensure that their aggressive and irresponsible reopening plans are met with as little resistance as possible. As long as we keep shutting down the work of scientists and experts whose work reveals that our reopening of the economy is, actually, disastrous, our reopening of the economy will be considered a raging success.

That’s the illusion that is in the process of being created. The reality: we have just given up.

Mike DeWine gave it two months of strong effort that turned out to be false hustle and then caved. Other governors put in five or six weeks of eyewash before deciding that it was better to simply pretend everything was fine. Trump, at best, pretended to care for a couple of weeks but no one was ever really buying it.

So now DeWine is talking about how we need to “gamble” on things going OK. Other governors are simply blowing sunshine up everyone’s ass and saying things are OK. Trump, meanwhile, is rebranding Americans as “warriors” in order to make all the coming illnesses and deaths look honorable and patriotic. Those who were supposed to lead us are putting it all back on the people and offering us little more than thoughts and prayers. We’re our own.

Why? Because preparing for and fighting the pandemic was simply too hard for them. Too hard for America. America, unlike Germany and South Korea, didn’t have the will to put in the necessary work, so we didn’t.

We have failed. Our government — our very society — has failed at its single most important task: to protect its citizens from harm. Not because it was impossible, but simply because it was hard.

 

 

May 8: I went to the store again today. Chicken was back in stock and there was a good amount of it, even if it was rationed. It was totally gone last weekend after reports of processing plants being shut down due to workers getting sick.

My guess is, like most shortages we’ve seen, it was more about people making panicked runs on the stores than it was about there simply being a dearth of available product. Maybe going on Friday morning instead of trying to shop on Saturday and Sunday makes a difference too. I’m not sure. I used to go to the store almost every other day, often shopping for each night’s meal on the same day. I had the time. Now I shop less frequently, doing stock-up runs to limit how much I’m out and about. It’s caused me to pay better attention to when stores stock the shelves and when people shop. I suppose I’m lucky that my schedule is flexible enough to give me those kinds of options.

The meat shortages, inevitably, have made me think again about how much meat we eat. We’re not a red-meat-and-potatoes-every-night kind of family, but we still probably eat more meat than we should.

Some of it is necessary. Allison’s celiac disease and some of the intolerances that often engenders makes it difficult to for her to eat a lot the traditional meat substitutes like lentils, chickpeas, and beans, at least in more than moderate quantities. Today she got a pack of tofu. It’s been a while since she’s done that but I think it’s worth trying again. I love tofu — a Thai-chili tofu is my go-to protein at our favorite taco place — but I’ve not been super successful at cooking it well at home. I’d like to remedy that and now is a perfect time to do it.

Short of that, Allison’s system does best when things are kept relatively simple, and that often involves meat. She’s on a run of some of her best digestive health in years these days and, in addition to some supplements she takes, we’re mostly crediting it to the chicken bowls: grilled or sous vide chicken breasts with either green beans or carrots over rice. For the last year or so I’ve cooked up the chicken and the rice for her a day or two in advance and she has the bowls for lunch. Health-wise, it’s certainly been an improvement over turkey sandwiches or soups and things. I want for her to be able to keep that up, but if there continue to be problems with supply, we may have to change that.

Not all of our meat eating is necessary, but that which is not necessary is fun. I have a smoker that Allison and her parents got me last year. This weekend I’ll probably take it out for the first time since last Thanksgiving and make some ribs. Ribs have been pretty easy to find. This weekend they’ll be pretty easy to cook.

Sorry if you thought that was going to turn into a “maybe I should become a vegetarian” thing. I’m sympathetic, and do eat more plant-based foods than I used to, but really, my impulses to be anti-meat are almost exclusively health-related as opposed to philosophical or political. I mean, one of my greatest legal victories of all time came against PETA.

 

After posting yesterday’s entry in which I criticized Ohio’s governor for relenting on a prudent anti-pandemic plan and, instead, just going ahead and reopening everything, a lot of people responded with some variation of “Hey, that’s unfair! The governor had no choice but to open things up because [insert facts detailing the ways in which society is totally breaking down]!”

Folks, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but if fewer than two months’ worth of half-assed efforts to prevent thousands upon thousands of people dying leads to a total breakdown of society, it kind of makes my point about how our leaders have totally failed us. Moreover, the fact that all this back and forth was going on as half of my timeline was watching baseball games from Asia with fans in the stands, made possible because the leaders of those countries actually took all of this seriously, should probably speak for itself as well.

Lots of countries, actually. Most countries that are not The United States:

This was always a winnable fight. The United States simply chose not to try to win. So we lost.

 

I’m still not understanding the anti-mask/anti-social distancing sentiment out there. Then again, maybe it’s all driven by the fact that the people who freak out about wearing masks are kind of stupid:

Last week, Costco announced it would be requiring all shoppers to wear a mask or face covering “that covers the mouth and nose at all times” while in stores nationwide . . . Costco faced immediate backlash from a sizable number of people who declared they would no longer shop at the big-box retailer if forced to cover their faces.

Someone should tell those people that, given Costco’s very intent is to keep people without masks OUT of their stores, boycotting their stores because you won’t wear a mask is . . . not exactly something that is going to upset Costco very much.

Or maybe it’s driven by the fact that these people are total jerks:

That tweet is kind of amazing. It suggests that not only is the author a gigantic baby who has absolutely no sense of perspective at all, but that he somehow couldn’t overcome the rather minor obstacles he cited in order to buy a toaster. He was totally and completely thwarted because of . . . hand sanitizer?

The replies to that tweet are even more amazing:

One possible takeaway here is that the modern conservatism movement is 95% about people desperately wanting validation for being gigantic assholes. And that probably is the case with respect to masks in certain contexts. But then I step away from the Internet and realize that there’s a pretty big disconnect between this sort of sentiment and what actually happens in the real world.

There is certainly a fringe group of people who aggressively flout norms and rules, but they don’t constitute anything approaching a majority. Even if you go to the biggest Wal-Mart in the most conservative exurb in America, you don’t see the sort of anarchy these keyboard warriors are promoting. They’re not driving on the left side of the street in defiance of “big government’s tyrannical traffic laws.” There may be a lot of oblivious people going the wrong way down a recently-created one-way aisle, but they’re not strutting as they do it. Most people are, generally, trying to do the right thing.

The people tweeting about smiling at dirty looks and not giving a shit are engaging in something akin to fan fiction. They’re the wimpy guy who gets home and fantasizes about beating up the bully but never does anything about it. But now, unlike before, they have an outlet where they can share their fantasies. And there are thousands of like-minded people who hang out there who will back them up and tell them that no, in reality, they are not cowards.

 

When I think about it harder, I realize that the anti-mask stuff is a function of both stupid people and jerks. It’s not mutually exclusive. Indeed, there’s a third category of folks driving this: our leaders.

Yesterday I mentioned Ohio’s legislative leaders who are making a political point out of not wearing masks. You’ve no doubt seen that President Trump and Vice President Pence aren’t wearing masks, even flouting the rules of hospitals containing sick COVID-19 patients in the process.

In related news, Katie Miller, Pence’s press secretary has been diagnosed with COVID-19. She is the one in this photo without the mask:

 

In addition to her, one of President Trump’s personal valets has tested positive for coronavirus, as has Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant.

I do not offer this to make light of these peoples’ illnesses, because no one’s illness is good news. Nor do I offer it to suggest that their illnesses were deserved because, similarly, no one deserves to be sick. I simply offer it to note that a virus does not care about the image you or your employers are trying to project. It does not care about how defiant you are. It does not care if the guidelines set forth by public officials are, in your view, an infringement upon your personal freedoms. Primarily because it’s a fucking virus.

 

Some people won’t wear masks. Others do wear them but let the mask slip:

They don’t care about us. Not even a little bit. We should stop pretending that they do.

 

May 9: My parents are both in their 70s and both have compromised immune and/or respiratory systems. They, you will not be surprised, have been staying isolated as much as possible. I’ve done some of their grocery shopping, but they had already stocked up pretty well. They go for walks or drives and they play Yahtzee pretty obsessively — seriously, they keep and number their score sheets and they’re well over 3,000 games played in the past year or so — but that’s about it.

Yesterday my dad made some lasagna for us and my mom dropped it off. Today they came by to pick up the pan, but mostly to see their grandkids. Even though they live just a few miles away, it’s been months.

This is how you visit grandma and grandpa in the age of COVID-19:

 

If Ohio legislators get their way, it’ll be the only way my kids will get to see their grandparents for a very long time.

Two Republican state lawmakers proposed legislation today that would strip the state’s health director of much of her power to respond to this or any other pandemic. It would prohibit her from issuing quarantine orders and would ban business closures, which it would classify as “a seizure of property.”

Even if these bills are vetoed — and they almost certainly will be — the very effort is communicating a dangerous message. It casts health experts as an enemy not to be trusted. It gives license to their supporters to ignore medically and scientifically sound health guidance. It’s pure, grandstanding nihilism that is getting people killed. It’s a politics reflective of a completely and utterly broken society.

If people like that get their way, and they seem to be getting their way, and as long as there is not freely available testing, it’s not going to be safe for my parents to hug their grandchildren for months and months. It’s not going to be safe for them to do anything put blow kisses from 20 feet away and play Yahtzee all day.

 

My friend Ben owns a used and rare book store in Wooster, Ohio. He was featured in his local paper today in a story about how local businesses are getting creative during the shutdown. For his part, he’s doing delivery and shipping and has entered into a partnership with Bookshop, a website dedicated to supporting independent bookstores. If you go to that site and order a book from his portal, a portion of the sales will go to his store. Or, of course, you can go to the Bookshop main page and find an independent book store near you to support.

I hope Ben’s store weathers all of this. I hope as many independent businesses as possible weather this. I know many won’t.

As it was, our country was becoming increasingly chain-i-fied. Little family-owned shops, cafes, and restaurants were disappearing in favor of Amazon, Starbucks, and various fast casual places. What used to be colorful storefronts along city streets are being turned into mobile phone dealers and bank branches. Instead of revitalizing old main streets, we’ve built entirely new, phony main streets, be they in the faux-cityscape malls I talked about a few weeks ago or in the history-altering planned communities like the one in which I live. The organic existence and growth of communities — characterized by initial deliberate design mixed with geography, history, and the accumulation of people’s habits and decisions along with all manner of accidents, happy or otherwise — is being supplanted by master-planning. Master-planning that is, inevitably, fueled by coordinated business interests, not by the broader impulses that historically characterized the forming of communities.

Maybe that process was inevitable. It has certainly been long in the making. The pandemic is, however, going to exacerbate things. Some of it will be well-intentioned. Planners will want larger indoor and outdoor spaces that can better accommodate socially-distanced citizens and customers and that will favor businesses that can accommodate those demands. Most of it will be opportunistic, however, with the large corporate entities who had the money to more comfortably ride all of this out — or who got quick bailouts by our corporation-favoring leaders — filling the void left by the moms and pops who couldn’t make it. As our economy is revitalized it will, undoubtedly, become sanitized and homogenized.

 

That’s the businesses. As for the worker:

 

Now would be a good time to remember that (1) throwing tens of millions of Americans into an under-funded or unfunded unemployment; (2) forcing millions more to go to work in unsafe conditions; while (3) doing only a fraction of the necessary work to beat the pandemic via medical and public health efforts; and (4) reopening up businesses while the pandemic still rages was an intentional policy choice on the part of the United States and its leaders. Other countries did not handle things this way and we did not have to handle it that way here.

But we did. In the words of Timothy Egan in his New York Times op-ed today, Here’s what America is today:

“A country that turned out eight combat aircraft every hour at the peak of World War II could not even produce enough 75-cent masks or simple cotton nasal swabs for testing in this pandemic.

“A country that showed the world how to defeat polio now promotes quack remedies involving household disinfectants from the presidential podium.

“A country that rescued postwar Europe with the Marshall Plan didn’t even bother to show up this week at the teleconference of global leaders pledging contributions for a coronavirus vaccine.

“A country that sent George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower to crush the Nazis now fights a war against a viral killer with Jared Kushner, a feckless failed real estate speculator who holds power by virtue of his marriage to the president’s daughter.” 

 

We are now reaping the consequences of those choices — this recklessness that borders on maliciousness — at the cost of our economy and, more importantly, at the cost of thousands of lives. Our country stands in ruins right now because of those choices.

And I fear it’s only going to get worse:

“The city of Pasadena is warning against Mother’s Day gatherings after its public health department recently traced a cluster of at least five coronavirus cases to a birthday party.

“The party was held after the city issued stay-at-home orders March 19 and was attended by a large number of extended family members and friends who did not wear face coverings or stay six feet apart, the city said in a news release.

“One person showed up to the party exhibiting symptoms and joking she may have the virus,” Lisa Derderian, spokeswoman for the city of Pasadena, said in an email. “The aftermath affected several others who became seriously ill because of one person’s negligent and selfish behavior.””

 

If we can’t trust people to do the right thing and we won’t tolerate the government ordering them to do the right — assuming it even has the will and the desire to do the right thing — what chance do we have?

 

May 10: There is a story in today’s Los Angeles Times about a nurse named Celia Marcos. She oversaw a ward at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center which took the many COVID-19 patients who overflowed from the primary COVID-19 ward.

On April 3, a patient stopped breathing. Marcos’ face was covered only with a thin surgical mask, but she nonetheless began procedures to resuscitate him. On April 17 Celia Marcos was dead.

The story that many want to tell of Marcos’ death — the story told by people who, like President Trump, want to cast heath care workers and COVID-19 patients as “warriors,” which implies the inevitability of their deaths — is one of a selfless caregiver who chose her patient’s life over her own. But the reality is tragic:

As charge nurse, Marcos was required to respond to patients who stopped breathing, but she wasn’t provided an N95 mask at the beginning of her shift, her co-workers say. The masks are scarce and staff who do get them are often asked to reuse them over multiple days, they said.

“The hospital wasn’t giving us appropriate PPE — the N95s were locked,” said one nurse, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity after expressing fear of retaliation from hospital administrators. “It’s just too painful for everybody, what happened to her.”

There is some administrative ambiguity here, as the hospital, relying on CDC guidelines, concluded that Marcos did not have “unprotected exposure to COVID-19.” That may, technically, be true. That’s because early in the pandemic, the CDC recommended N95 masks for treating all suspected COVID-19 patients, but it recently switched to recommending masks only for high-risk procedures. Marcos, the hospital ruled, was not assigned to the COVID-19 ward and her act of resuscitating the patient was not specifically identified as one of those high-risk procedures so she was not technically “unprotected.”

The CDC did not lower the bar for compliance because it was determined that that lower bar was just as safe, of course. They did so because there was and remains a severe shortage of N95 masks. They, as so often happens in a regulatory culture that is not serious about regulation, dialed down safety requirements which magically transform unsafe behavior into acceptable behavior. This usually happens because businesses — and in this country, perversely, hospitals are businesses — agitate for lower standards which allow them to save money and which gives them greater protection from legal liability. One wonders if, in this particular case, the standard was lowered because of pressure from the White House to make our country’s utter failure to produce sufficient protective equipment look less negligent than it truly is.

Either way, it’s all a fiction. A fiction designed to excuse our national shortage of personal protective equipment. A fiction designed to excuse our failure as a nation to prepare for this pandemic and our failure as a nation to respond to it. Multiply this fiction by dozens, scores, or maybe hundreds of other little fictions our leaders have authored over the past few months. By the corners cut. By the big lies told to our people and the little lies they’ve told to themselves to help them sleep at night.

Celia Marcos is dead because our country was unwilling to do what was necessary to keep her safe. Celia Marcos is dead because of those lies.

 

Those lies also tend to involve our highest government officials telling us that there is nothing to fear and that it is safe enough to reopen the country now. Yet:

As always, watch what those in power do. Do not listen to what they say.

 

It’s Mother’s Day.

My mother and I have never done the Mother’s Day brunch thing a lot of people do. She’s not a going out kind of person. Most years I’ll get her a card and some flowers and maybe a sweet treat and sit and talk and have coffee with her for a while when I bring them over.

I got her a card the other day and some flowers and a sweet treat this morning and dropped them off on her porch. No chat and no coffee, but I suppose it’s the closest-to-their-normal most people will get on Mother’s Day. If you are the take-your-mom-out-to-brunch type, or the mom-who-gets-taken-out-to-brunch type this day had to truly suck. As it was, the vast majority of us were the can’t-even-see-your-mother types and, actually, that sucked as well.

 

There was a lot of talk when the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders began about how to make the best use of one’s time. Articles and memes spread about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear while sheltering-in-place during England’s annual plague outbreaks between 1603 and 1606. About how Issac Newton fled Cambridge and holed up at a farm during the Plague of 1665, during which he invented calculus, created an entire new understanding of physics, figured out gravity, and more. The idea, usually stated directly, was “DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE WITH YOUR QUARANTINE OR ELSE YOU HAVE FAILED!”

Even if you want to give Shakespeare and Newton their quarantine props — which you probably shouldn’t, because (a) no one really knows when Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Newton did a ton of work on his theories pre-and-post-plague — that’s kind of a bullshit standard, right? “Hey, if two of the greatest minds in the history of the planet did something great while stuck at home, you should too!” The combined efforts of millions rarely if ever accomplish over their entire lives what those two did in a few years in the 17th century.

But it’s still bullshit even if you don’t aim as high as those two.

“Write that novel!” “Learn a second language!” “Master Béarnaise sauce!” That kind of stuff is great if you want to. If you can. If you have the time and are in a head space where you feel like you can even take on such things, but these are stressful damn times. A lot of people have lost their jobs and don’t know what they’re going to do. A lot of other people are being worked harder, under more stressful circumstances than before. Some people are sick or have loved ones who are. Some people are simply having a hard time adjusting to this strange new normal of being home alone or being around their whole families 24/7, each of which might be unusual and jarring for a given person.

The notion that you’re some sort of failure if you don’t do something that high-achieving people in a capitalist society deem productive — almost always something that is either financially remunerative or Mother Teresa-level selfless — is already bullshit. The idea that you’re some sort of failure if you don’t do that during this of all times is not just bullshit, it’s bullshit squared.

Just survive, man. Do whatever you can do to maintain your health and your sanity and everything else is gravy.

And hey, if you happen to be a teenager who works at a pizza place who (a) makes a good amount of money when pizza places are one of the only things open; (b) you have nothing to spend it on at all and have no living expenses of your own; and (c) talk about one day starting a band with your snack rack-creating friends, you can use this time to save up your money to buy yourself a synthesizer and attempt to teach yourself how to play it:

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Who dis?

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I’m not sure how it’s coming because he won’t let me listen to him as he experiments with it, but even if he doesn’t compose the synth-pop version of King Lear by the time school starts again this August, I won’t disown him as a failure.

I mean, I’ll settle for the synth-pop version of Troilus and Cressida.

 

May 11: Ohio allowed offices to open last Monday. Allison’s office held off an extra week but it opened today. She went in for part of the day on Friday when no one else was really around to get herself situated. This morning I put her desk chair, which has been in our house since March, in the back of my car and drove it back to her office, following her to work. I dropped the chair off and came home to the first work day in a very long time in which she wasn’t around.

I’m uneasy about Ohio reopening like it is. I think the schedule was rushed and I think the government basically threw everything it had been saying about testing and science aside in order to not be the last state to the bottom as our country rushes headlong into, well, whatever it is we’re rushing into. Whether it’s a failure of the state or the federal government, we did not utilize the lockdown period the way it was supposed to be utilized and I’m having a hard time seeing what’s happened on a macro level that makes things all that much better now than it was two months ago.

The micro level makes me feel a little bit better. Everyone — at least everyone who isn’t an elected official — is aware of what we’re up against now. The high-profile protests and the whack jobs which make the news for disregarding personal safety notwithstanding, most people are being smart. They’re mostly wearing masks. They’re washing their hands. They’re keeping personal distance for the most part. Humans are imperfect and there will always be lapses, but they’re generally trying.

The specific micro-micro level of Allison’s office also gives me confidence. I know the people who run the place and who work there care. They have used the last several weeks to buy loads of hand sanitizer for everyone. They have had a series of meetings with all hands on deck during which in-office practices have been discussed with suggestions both taken and acted upon. Allison works up front and had concerns about people just walking in and, in response, they have made it clear that people are not just waltzing into the office. There are isolated drop and pickup bins for documents. That sort of thing. It’s about as much as you can do given that, if the rest of the state is opening, everyone pretty much has to follow along.

Still, I worry. I can’t put that worry into any specific form and say “x should be happening” or “y would be better.” I don’t have a better idea about how to proceed given that, on the whole, most of the country has decided that it’s not worth even trying. Once this ceased to be about unified effort and sacrifice, the purpose of closing the office was basically mooted and so here we are. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

And if the link proves too weak, Allison put this up on her desk to make sure she has some protection. Tell ’em, Wayne:

 

 

Allison’s job is not one that, over the long haul, can be done from home, but a whole lot of people who have been working from home since March are serving as proof-of-concept that way more of us can be doing it:

Facebook said last week that most of its employees will be allowed to work from home through the end of 2020. Google parent-company Alphabet plans to open offices for up to 15% of workers as early as June, but the majority of people who can work from home will continue to do so, perhaps through the end of the year.

Not all of those people will go back to full-time on-site work, I reckon. Not if the figures in that article are close to accurate. It says companies will realize $11K savings for each employee going to half-time work-from-home, and that’s real money that companies will do a lot to grab.

It’s also not just people at massive companies like Facebook and Google. Almost anyone in tech, professional services and other fields that aren’t forward-facing could probably do part time or even 3/4 time from home.

Before now the big roadblocks to telecommuting were (a) confidence in the efficacy of large-scale video conferencing and remote network integration; and (b) managerial distrust of a remote workforce. The infrastructure has proven reliable. Employees have had this chance to show that they aren’t going to slack off just because a supervisor can’t lean into their cubicle. Companies are learning what people with experience with work-from-home colleagues have long known: the people who were going to be unproductive at home are the same ones who were unproductive at the office.

I know I’m biased here. I’ve worked from home for a decade and I can’t imagine going back to an office environment, so part of this is me proselytizing. But I’ll grant that there are some downsides to it.

It’s important to have at least some connection to the office zeitgeist. The vibe and the “soft” moments that don’t always happen in formal meetings. Sometimes a hallway conversation is the most important thing that can happen all day. That kind of thing isn’t super important to my job because I work almost entirely independently by design, farting around on the Internet and spewing content into the void, but even I’ve missed that at times over the years.

Still, I think the benefits outweigh the problems. And I suspect that if we flash forward two or three years from now, a much larger percentage of office workers will be working from home than ever would’ve been the case without this pandemic.

 

Another first today: a dental appointment. Not a normal one — I really don’t think it’s a great idea to head in for a cleaning yet — but one with Carlo’s orthodontist.

When you have braces you have to do stuff to them periodically, and it’s been over two months since he was last in. With dental offices opening up here a week or so ago, his number came up so I took him in.

The setup was, like Allison’s office, as good as you could hope for. There were obviously far fewer kids in there than there usually are when Carlo had his appointment. We waited outside the door until someone told us to come in so there weren’t people in the waiting room. They took our temperatures and, before the appointment, gave us a medical questionnaire. Everyone there had masks and everyone who came in was required to wear one. How much of that is optics and how much of that is actually effective I don’t know. I’ve read so many conflicting things on it all in the past few weeks that it all blurs together now and I just find myself hoping that everyone is just being smart.

Carlo is near the end of his time in braces. His crooked teeth have been straightened, but as is the case with a lot of kids, he has been bad about wearing his rubber bands, so his cross-bite is still a mess. Before the pandemic each month’s visit consisted of a basic adjustment followed by a lot of lecturing about how he needs to wear his rubber bands more. Today, even though parents of older kids were told to wait out in the car if it all possible, I had to go in with him because, before the pandemic, they had gone so far as to schedule a formal “yell at dad to see if we can make one last, best effort to get the kid to wear his rubber bands” meeting.

I’m not gonna lie: that was one thing I was happy to have put off when all this hit. Mostly because I had no idea what I was going to say.

Carlo’s sister wouldn’t wear her rubber bands when she had braces. I, I will confess, didn’t wear my rubber bands when I had braces back in the 80s. I still have a little cross-bite as a result, but I’m fine. His sister does too and she’s fine. Carlo’s is probably worse than ours. While I (a) wish he would wear his rubber bands; and (b) do not want him to have issues with his bite when he’s older, the example his father and his older sister have set for him was never gonna make this turn out well. God made the Calcaterras stubborn. We’re often our own worst enemies. But He also made us keen observers of most situations and pretty good strategic thinkers. We generally want to do the right thing but on some level we tend to know what we can get away with. Carlo was never going to wear those rubber bands. I know it in my bones.

Today’s come-to-Jesus meeting about rubber bands did not go well for the nice woman conducting it. In addition to layers of knee-jerk multi-generational resistance to the mission at hand, Carlo and I both sat there giving off the unspoken but unmistakable vibe of “after all that the world has gone through, are you really going to lecture us on this?” That wasn’t conscious, and I’m only realizing that was what was happening in hindsight and I’m not proud of it. She’s trying to do their job. The whole orthodontic office is trying to do right by my son’s fucked-up cross-bite.  We’re rude impediments to that.

But the kid gets his braces off next month and, frankly, we’re all pretty stoked about it.

 

My cat Rosie had a lot of digestive problems a couple of years ago and we ended up putting her on prescription food. It was super expensive but I got a slight discount on it if I bought it via auto-shipment on Chewy.com. I had an unopened bag when she died. Today we emailed Chewy to inquire about returning the bag because, really, that stuff is expensive:

They responded back:

 

I’ve held it together through most of the past two months. I’ve put my emotions into this Diary as much as possible and I have done everything I can to maintain an even keel. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t almost break down and cry over a goddamn customer service email about a cat with a damn “paw” pun it.

What a few months this has been.

 

May 12: No shit:

And not just on Twitter. It’s soon to be trending nationwide. That’s what Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress today. He said that states which push too quickly to reopen businesses and allow public gatherings could “trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.”

Which is pretty much all states at this point. Ohio — the previously cautious, prudent Ohio — even went so far as to announce that tattoo, piercing, and massage parlors can open three days from now. There is basically nothing held back at this point. Nothing short of quickies in the alley are off-limits in the Buckeye State.

Fauci said, “[i]f you think we have it completely under control, we don’t.” We’ve gone into full denial on a national level. The only question now is, when infection and death rates bounce back up, we bother to shut down again. I am not at all convinced that we do. I think we’ve decided to power through this and live in a state of cognitive dissonance with respect to the body count. I suspect that lot of people secretly or, perhaps, not so secretly think that’s what we should have done before.

 

A friend of mine is Facebook friends with a lot of conservative people and he has shared with me a lot of their frankly unhinged posts about how sunlight kills COVID-19, about how Fauci is part of a “deep state conspiracy” and how Obama secretly transferred millions of dollars to labs in Wuhan to . . . I dunno? Destroy America? Insane stuff like that.

This morning a high school friend shared this, in which the poster apparently believes the destruction of the economy makes Democrats “giddy.”

The through-current of paranoia, cynicism, conspiracy theorizing, misinformation and anger in these kinds of things wasn’t created in a vacuum. The president has spent months sowing it through his own words and actions. He first denied the seriousness of the pandemic and, since the deadly reality hit, has alternatively lied about it or lashed out and blamed others for it. An us-versus-them fantasy world already existed with respect to the everyday business of America, but it has now been allowed and encouraged to flourish in the face of a deadly pandemic which has killed 80,000 people and counting.

People have and will continue to die because of it. As it’s happening, the country is being torn apart. That process would not have metastasized without Trump’s encouragement. We’ve been intentionally led into this hell, make no mistake about it.

 

Things aren’t going well in my bailiwick either. At the moment negotiations rage as to how to play the 2020 baseball season. I’ve written that to death at the baseball site, but the upshot is that (a) team owners want financial concessions in addition to those the players have already made in order to play a theoretical season;  and (b) there remain considerable health and safety hurdles that, even if superficially addressed, will still place players in risky situations due to the nature of professional sports.

And here’s how it’s playing publicly, in the words of a governor, via an irresponsibly uncritical tweet from the president of the Baseball Writers Association of America:

Players are being asked to do things that, no matter how it is spun, are unnecessary and unsafe. They agreed to financial concessions in order to do it already. Now being asked to make even bigger financial concessions and they’re being cast as profiteers. It’s madness.

I think baseball is possible in 2020. I think if they find a way to bring online adequate testing — testing that is not depriving the country of testing that is more pressing and which should take priority over athletes — and if there is a smart plan to deal with players who test positive that will prevent them from infecting others, yes, they could make it work. I am also sure that a lot of players are itching to play. It’s what they do and what they enjoy and they want to be a part of America returning to normal.

But given that the league is primarily concerned with squeezing them financially, and given that the public, the politicians and the media seem hellbent on demonizing them unless they completely roll over and throw themselves into games with no regard for their well being, if I were one of them right now I’d be inclined to say “I’m out. See you in 2021.”

 

It’s been unseasonably cold for a few days but today the sun came out and it pushed 60. To celebrate I pulled out my smoker for the first time since last fall and threw a few slabs of ribs and a chicken on it. I’m not some master barbecue sensei or anything, but I’ve gotten pretty good with the basic stuff:

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First smoke of the year

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It was more than we could eat. The kids, Allison and I usually do fine on one slab and the chicken — and the mac and cheese I made to go with it — so I had some left over. We called a couple we know and they swung by to pick up one of the slabs. I’m going to deliver the other one to my dad tomorrow.

We tend to have people over for dinner once or twice a month. It’s been ages since we’ve been able to do that and I miss it. I don’t know when we’ll feel comfortable doing that again but, in the meantime, it felt nice to share some food with some people.

 

Anna takes AP exams tomorrow and Thursday. European History and then Physics. All of this was supposed to be done in school. All of it was supposed to be done after several weeks of ramp-up in those classes. The tests were supposed to be three hours long and gauge the kids’ mastery of college-level material. Now each test is 45 minutes long, taken online and it’s open book.

I’m not worried about Anna. For one thing, she’s only in the 10th grade, so her even taking these tests now is sort of gravy. For another thing she has a good computer a solid internet connection and won’t have any unusual or extreme stresses at home interfering with her test taking. She’ll get by fine.

There are likely a lot of kids who aren’t so lucky, however. Kids who, because of the shutdowns, are facing a much more difficult challenge to get some valuable college credit out of this. Maybe they have spotty internet or no access to a computer at home at all or, if they do, they don’t have a private place in which they can take a challenging test. Maybe their home life has been a challenge overall because of illness or financial hardship. Everything is just a mess right now and a lot of that mess is going to affect a lot of kids.

Not that such challenges didn’t exist before, albeit in somewhat different form. It all goes back to the observation so many of us made during the first week or two of all of this: the pandemic is not necessarily creating new problems for us from whole cloth. It is showing us the cracks that already existed in society. It is placing them in much higher relief.

I wonder how many of these inequities from which those of us who are lucky enough not to suffer went by completely unobserved by us before. I wonder if February me would’ve been as blasé as I am now about how Anna does on this test. I wonder how much thought I would’ve given the whole setup to begin with.

 

May 13: I got this ad from Southwest Airlines today:

 

I normally mock ads, but there’s something to this one that resonates. No, not the $49 one-way fares (though that is a good deal), but the “freedom to hope, to plan, to dream” part.

The thing about our current state — at least if we’re taking it seriously and aren’t storming the mall because it happened to open on Tuesday — is that we have no plans right now. No travel this summer. No parties or cookouts over Memorial Day Weekend. Not tickets to the ballgame next weekend. We have nothing to really look forward to. It’s just a complete of-the-moment existence.

Some of us can do of-the-moment pretty well. Most of us can’t. We need something to propel our lives forward, and a big part of that propelling is the anticipation of future events and experiences. Whether you believe the old sayings on the matter or the modern social science which backs it up, the state of anticipating and desiring something is often as good if not better than the actual doing of things. I’ve had some good vacations and bad ones. Some good dinners out and some bad ones. I have gone to some good parties and some bad ones. But I’ve looked forward to almost every single one of them and got a great deal of joy out of the planning for them and the anticipation of them.

But now we have basically nothing. While the anxiety about our health and the health of our loved ones and the material hardships of lockdown and all of its attendant economic strife has been front and center for us every day since mid-March, this becalmed time has taken a toll of its own.

Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion. As idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.

 

On Tuesday Carlo asked me if he could get a bunch of craft supplies for a project for school. Popsicle sticks, modeling clay, construction paper, cardboard tubes, yarn. Stuff like that. I asked him which one of his teachers is expecting parents to go out and buy them things in this environment. It was his bio-med class — a combo biology/anatomy class that I wish they offered me when I was a 9th grader — but it turns out it’s an optional thing. More of an activity they suggested for kids who are bored than an actual assignment. He’s apparently modeling the human respiratory system and urinary tract. I think. Carlo is always somewhat vague about such things. Either way, I decided that if he has an impulse to do anything that is not playing video games and re-watching MCU movies for the fourth time it was worth encouraging so I told him I’d see what I could do.

Even though I work on the Internet I’m not the most naturally online person. My brain still thinks in a pretty analog, meatspace fashion a lot of the time. I tend to call places for appointments rather than go to their websites. I was still writing out shopping lists and people’s phone numbers on pieces of paper until embarrassingly recently. It’s not about stubborn defiance of technology in my case. I embrace technology when I remember it exists. It’s just that the process of discovering or remembering that there are 21st century (or even late 20th century) solutions for any given problem I have is a never-ending one for me. My brain is just stuck in 1979 in more ways than I usually care to admit.

In light of that, my first thought was “well, ‘thanks’ to our governor the stores opened today so I suppose I can grab my mask, go to one, get in, get out, and be done with it.” This morning, assuming Carlo and I had a shopping trip in our future, I went to the Michael’s website to see what time the store opened:

Oh yeah. 1979-brained Craig forgot that everyone is doing the whole delivery/curbside pickup thing now. I guess since I haven’t used that for grocery stores — the time slots for those fill up so far in advance that it outstrips my meal-planning skills — and since I haven’t done any other sort of shopping I didn’t consider it in other contexts.

This was a boon for me especially, in that I hate craft stores. I hate crafts, actually. Always have. I don’t have the skills or the imagination for most crafty things. I was always filled with at least some bit of dread when the kids were smaller and had to do crafts for school that required a lot of hands-on parental help. A lot of that dread revolved around simply going to the store itself. I can never find things in those kinds of places. I even have a hard time imagining that a lot of the stuff in those places exist. “Styrofoam cones in assorted sizes? What are the odds that such a thing even– oh, there’s a whole shelf of them.”

Rather than stumble around aimlessly through the displays of plastic, decorative ivy and the aisles full of rustic, unfinished birdhouses waiting to be bedazzled, I did five or six quick searches for the stuff Carlo needed, clicked “curbside” and was finished before I was done with my first cup of coffee. The email saying that my order was ready popped in before 10am. I made the quick drive there and the nice lady from Michael’s brought it out to me in a plastic bag and I was home with it in no time.

I know a lot of stores had already put in easy-in, easy-out online shopping pickup counters in the past few years. The new Target near us has one with a dedicated entrance. It’s mostly to compete with Amazon, I imagine. But I wonder how much of this pandemic-inspired delivery/curbside world will continue to exist after everything fully reopens and people start to actually leave their houses. For easily overwhelmed, get-in-get-out shoppers like me it seems like a no-brainer. But as I was pulling away from Michael’s this morning I saw a couple of older women who struck me as black belt-level craft ladies, one with a husband in-tow, walking into the store.

They’d probably been itching to hit the decorative ivy/birdhouse section for months. Maybe their becalmed anticipation wasn’t for concerts or travel plans. Maybe it was for crafting. Maybe it was simply for being in the craft store itself.

 

Today, “in recognition of health care workers,” F-16 fighter jets from the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio National Guard and a KC-135 refueling plane from the National Guard’s 121st Air Refueling Wing flew over several hospitals here in Columbus. I’m sure those doctors, nurses, and everyone else working in those places felt super recognized. I’m sure they wouldn’t feel much more appreciated by, say, adequate protective equipment, better pay, and a government and public that would actually listen to sound medical advice so that they had fewer seriously sick and dying patients to treat.

But that’s not happening. Ohio went even further down the road toward opening the whole state up today, announcing that tattoo parlors, massage parlors and piercing salons can open up on Friday. As if there is some bit of medical science which has determined it’s safe to open those then as opposed to last week or next week. Nope, it’s Friday because . . . reasons.

Retail businesses like that craft store have already reopened. Bar and restaurant patios will open Friday. Dining rooms can reopen next Thursday. Gyms and daycare centers are about the only things still closed and I suspect it won’t be long before those reopen as well. By the time June rolls around the only thing you won’t be able to do legally in Ohio is have a quickie behind the William McKinley statue in front of the Statehouse. 

Despite all of that, the loony caucus of the Ohio Senate has introduced yet another bill aimed at limiting the power of the state health department. The Senators sponsoring the bill — Republicans, natch — say the bill would “immediately end the shutdown of the state” and would also “subject certain health orders from Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton to a vote from legislators.”

Why do this now, when everything is being opened up already? I suspect it’s so that the legislators can take credit for what Governor DeWine has already done. And, of course, DeWine has done what he has done — reversed course completely on his previously prudent approach — in an effort to head the looney caucus off in the first place. People talk about political strife at the Statehouse, but they all seem to be working together just fine.

Another reason for this bill: to prevent the state from enacting another set of shutdowns if and when all of this premature reopening leads to a deadly second wave of COVID-19 in the state, which I suspect it will. The only question will be whether, when it does, the state cooks the books in order to hide the number of sick and dead the second time around. Like Florida has done. And like the federal government is attempting to do. We’ve learned a lot in the past two months, but our politicians have mostly learned that there is little upside to doing the right thing. They won’t make the mistake of trying to do it twice.

 

I don’t really pay too close attention to Elon Musk. I know what he and his various enterprises are all about, but I don’t understand why he has a weird legion of tech-adjacent fanboys. I likewise don’t understand the media’s usually far-too-credulous coverage of him and his businesses. He’s a half-sane billionaire businessman with poor house training, the sort of which we have always had. His products are just fancier and shinier than, say, Richard Branson’s airline and Ted Turner’s TV stations.

Musk has been aggressively thumbing his nose at safety and common sense during the pandemic. Sort of a combination “I’m a billionaire and the rules don’t apply to me” thing and an “I’m Elon Musk and I’m basically a sociopath” thing. It’s gotten him a lot of coverage that I’m sure he likes and has launched a lot of Elon Musk-related discourse on social media that I’m sure he also likes.

Musk opened Tesla’s Fremont, California factory on Monday in defiance of or