AFTER I READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE 911 CALL, my heart just sunk.

I used to party pretty hard. Did some stupid stupid shit. Should have died any number of times. From a variety of situations I put myself in or thought was a good idea at the time. It usually ended up with me getting half my hair cut and lying flat on the driveway somewhere with my keys in my hand, because I was always headed somewhere. Never been arrested. Though pulled over many times, in many states, even Nebraska once. And I loved to talk with cops when I was in the bag. Just to see where the line was. It was in my nature, and my nature was warped and ballooned by whatever cocktail I was enjoying at the time, that usually included, but was not limited to, some kind of depressant, maybe a psychedelic (or two), and some weed for good measure. Hippie-crack, you know. It never occurred to me what kind of exemption I was given.

Think of me as some kind of doughy dirty cherub. With squint-y eyes from my one hitter that kept me from flying off to Pluto. Self-medicating they call it these days. I thought it was a good time. You could not call what I did partying, in the truest sense of the word, not toward the end. Partying implies celebrating. What I was doing, was something else entirely. Gratefully, that is a long time ago now, and sometimes feels like another life, which it is, in some sense, but it feels fresh in my mind tonight.

When I heard of our departed Mr. Floyd being intoxicated and not in control of himself, my heart broke for the man, the times, and all of us on a whole new level. As a man with a problem. A problem beyond his control. That was never afforded the same tolerance I was given because of my simply being white. I guess I was lucky to be blessed with a Brillo pad Afro and a hack-i-sack in my hand when I confronted cops in my cups, stumbling, telling them my opinion on any number of topics. I was cute, you know. I was harmless. Plus, there’s not much of me. I’m 5’6″ on a good day. No. I’m harmless. I’m just being wild. But George… he was ‘a menace.’ ‘A danger.’

Neither one of us were either thing we were seen as. But in truth, he, like me, or any number of the people I know and love, was simply a man trying to get well the only way he knew now. He was a man who moved to Minneapolis to get a fresh start. Get that job as a trucker. And start over. Turn it around. It is a story I know all-too-well. And I hear often when I get to lead groups in residential treatment facilities as a guest artist facilitator doing writing labs. And these choices, or moves often referred to as “geographics,” is a common box to be checked on the road toward lasting recovery for those who find it. And that is why the news of his death at the hands of an unspoken and systemic evil that has beset our time as a plague worse than the one that has claimed 100,00, my heart broke anew.

But it needs to be said. The racial contract, when mixed with the disease of addiction and alcohol abuse, is a nasty-nasty one-two punch in our culture that has me accepting this recent addition to a club that should have ended with one member, that much harder. I understand why people want it to burn. And maybe James Baldwin was right about the Fire next time. There is a reckoning in our country. That has been coming for a long time.

When I read the transcript of the 911 call from the now famous store owner, I was impelled to do the only thing I knew how to do. Lend my pen, which has been steadied and sharpened and my eye and my voice to this. Maybe it helps move things forward by one fraction of one inch. I had taken my eyes off the prize. I see that now. But they’re back on it. And every time my heart breaks, I feel like it can’t break again, then it does.

WAY MORE THAN THAT. Another chronicle of the work we do that is still deemed essential.

This artist doubles as a dance and theater educator whose job description includes a near-constant exposure to angst and chaos.  Her young actors got to open and close their spring musical in one weekend due to the virus that has changed the face of life as we know it.

“It was really crazy to be honest.  We were finishing up tech for the spring play and felt it was a real special show, like last year’s was, and we were like, ‘wow, these kids have really pulled through,’ and it was like, ‘okay, there is some stuff going on and with this flu-like-thing.’  We were getting called into a massive meeting at the Multi-Purpose Room and they were telling us the school was going to shut down.   It was pretty much like, ‘there is this COVID-19, and this is what is going on…”

“We are the only independent school owned by a health institution so we had this inside scoop.  Which gave us power to get into motion right away.  And we knew exactly what to do, preparing to go online, training for one-off online teaching days.  Every teacher knew how to turn part of their curriculum online, but, it felt like we acted so fast, compared to everyone else.  It almost felt silly, at times, because we didn’t know the severity of what was going on.” 

“So, there we are (in the Multi-Purpose Room) the Wedneseday night before… we had Moms banging on the door saying, ‘we have to set up the faculty dinner, what are you doing?’ And we were talking about closing the doors for good and…. And the kids killed it for their preview (Of the spring Musical). They had an audience, and that night, after everyone was leaving, the Administration pretty much said, ‘we are now realizing we are not going back after next week.  We are telling you guys first to… if you want to refund the tickets and…make a decision.  So, we planned to jam pack the weekend and added two more shows, showed up for class and then… everything was closed.  So, it was… kind of rapid.” 

“And we fought to keep that Friday show, everybody wanted it, but nobody knew if we should have those many kids in the auditorium.  We had parents saying, ‘I don’t know if my kid is going to show up.’  We had parents’ frustrations and kids saying, ‘this is our show, you are taking it away from us… And it funny to see how stress acts in two generations of the same family, with ‘I’m going you kill you if my kid has to be here tomorrow,’ and the teenager saying, ‘noooo, you can’t do this, this is my life…’”

“Technically, none of the kids knew that after that Friday, they were not coming back to campus.  Mid-Thursday morning, it was decided, ‘no weekend shows, close tonight.’  They would get the Friday show and that was it. Kids didn’t know.  We were not allowed to tell them.”

“On Monday (three days later), there were murmurings, you know.  And we had to learn the how tos, do online block training.  Then, Tuesday we were told, ‘grab your things, please leave, don’t stay, don’t linger on campus, please go.’ 

“So, I recorded one of my last dance pieces with the kids so they could practice, because, not sure if you know this, but, it’s hard to do floor work and hand-stands in your living room.  Just sayin’.   We were doing backward rolls on mats, giant cartwheels – one of my kids…? She is 6’2’.”  So, needless to say, that didn’t go very well for her when she got home.”

“Yeah. I grabbed my office plant and I left.  B___ was in there laundering our costumes and saying, ‘let me clear this out and organize it, just in case… we don’t know how long we’ll be- and I have not been back since.”

That was Early March.   I asked her about doing remote learning.  To get at the truth of the day in reality of bridging the digital divide. 

“It was really interesting, you now. Matt, I live in a one-bedroom apartment … (laughs) You just have this thought, ‘oh my god, they are getting a glimpse into my life I am not comfortable with.  I teach theater and dance, there is no way we can do this without being up and moving.  And the dance was easy to cross over.  Okay, let’s do our warm ups.  Hold on, Miss K I got to put away my cereal…” 

“The upper-classmen, they just had the hardest time… getting them motivated to perform.  We had not actually done it, till the last month.  May.  That is how reluctant they were to perform.  I really pushed to have them on Zoom doing work like in some of my classes that I take, the intimacy, and I kinda wanted my students to experience that, and they were not into it.  That class struggled a lot. For them, it was more check ins, ‘this is so weird, Miss K, I hate it, I miss my friends, why did you cancel the show.’  A lot of misplaced frustrations.  Like we were choosing this, rather than also forced to do it. 

“The freshmen were totally into it, ‘cause they had no preconceived notion of what high school was, they didn’t know what to expect, they were like,  ‘this is cool, whatever.’  Happy to perform, happy to do group projects, easy going, kind of accepting… They missed their friends, but very much had an attitude of, ‘this is what I have to do.’   The older kids, the upperclassmen,  know the benefit of escaping home, and what that means; they’re more settled into what that means to them as person.”  

‘Certain kids are bored out of their minds, so I ended up giving them extra work, the over-achievers, you know,  they want to help out, and be of service, and then, the kids that normally struggle, are just struggling more. It’s hard.  Not personality wise. They say I miss you, Miss K.  The kids on meds, who can’t get their sleep schedule right, their parents breathing down their neck, they are the first ones to say, ‘I miss you.’  And the kids are grieving.  So much.  The person they get to be at highs school.  Social escape.  The life they set up for themselves.  We always think they are kids, and I’m like, ‘no, they are way more than that.’ 

“And kids are okay to tell you they hate it, and it sucks, I miss this and I miss that, and don’t tell you they want you to fix it.  And you would think you would hate talking about it, but it’s nice to hear somebody say it.”     

Re-purposing the Essential; a profile of another Worker among us.

This Program Chair of a theater arts program was in the running for Optimist of the Year before all this.  At first glance, you feel their outlook can’t possibly be genuine, but after you engage in an impossible task with them and see it through to completion, any doubt about their authenticity vanishes.   Their positivity is not born in a weekend seminar with a guy with a spray tan and white capped teeth and his trademark ten steps to success, but in decades of grit and tireless positive action, pulling off the everyday miracle of actually making shit in this mad world.

“…In early March we were on spring break when the serious rumblings began to sort of surface.  In terms of significantly reshaping life for all of us.  We were in the office, but our students fortunately and unfortunately were not with us; fortunately near family, but unfortunately, many of them were spread around the world, which posed a bunch of problems we got to solve.”  

“Mid-March, maybe, I think…?  The mandates were quickly stumbling down from state, right?  California was ahead of the curve in terms of closing up shop.  I remember Monday or Tuesday we began to social distance in meetings, and by Friday, we moved to not being on campus at all.” 

“A real quick shift.  Monday, social distance.  Tuesday,  we cut in half, into two shifts, and then Friday, we were grabbing our stuff and going home.  Looking back, it was like, wow, that was a short amount of time.  Feeling the pressure of communicating with students remotely who were set to come back that Monday.  That was a pressure-filled week of decision making; none of which were real good choices, disappointing somebody, scaring somebody else…”

“So, Friday night at 7.00, just a few days before our students were set to come back, we finally got word from above.  See, ours is part of a college group spread all over the country.  We have sister schools in the Midwest, and the East, and coordinating those moves (to represent) all of us in that amount of time was… like lightening; though, at the time, it felt like molasses.” 

“We made the decision to extend spring break.  That bought time for us to move online.  As we waited to get word from the federal government, and accreditors from above, it was decided to extend spring break another week, which allowed three weeks to train all our faculty to move their classes from in person to on line.  Stress filled, for sure, packed with innovation, positivity… what I realized really quickly, us being a new school, we had a lot of micro-problems as a new organization in a growth period, so, I’m used to experiencing chaos and solving problems, but this problem was also fairly unique, because it was literally, by definition, universal.” 

“But what I found was, surprisingly, a relatively workable, optimistic, positive, forward-moving group that met the moment together and offered up more solutions than road blocks, which was a pleasant surprise.  I was stressing about what would be delivering more work for my faculty – ‘under stress’, our motto was ‘we progress,’  

“So, our team met the moment with that attitude and real quickly shifted all gears and ultimately delivered a ‘good-as-could-be-mini-session’ that rounded out our semester together.  One thing I took on was calling every one of our students every day. To check in, find out if they were healthy, if they had any tech issues, and abundantly, to a person, were fully engaged, trying to squeeze out as much as they could in this altered reality.”  

“What was a unique problem was that we had just gone through a major change.  A shifting of ownership.  All new online learning systems, brand new; the way that we track students, we communicate, e-mails, and everything… had just switched.   No one was an expert on campus.  We were all learning and mastering the new system, then enter Covid, and now this shift requires total mastery.”  

“So, it meant everybody had to put the pedal to the metal… These new tools we were only handed a few months ago were now essential.  Normally, you would have training modules, and all that, but now, all of a sudden, you can’t get your work done, unless you master these online tools.  Which meant that students and faculty had to go to work to master the online modules, and I was surprised at how quickly teachers were able to transition performance based classes completely online…”

“The folks I hire, are by definition, creative.  And now they proved themselves through this by adopting creative solutions.  And the students met that on their end.  Which created a as-good-as-could-be-scenario.  Not perfect, nor could it be, given all the challenges we were facing as a community…”

“One of the things that stuck out to me was we had a stage combat course and I was like, ‘boy, how do you take stage combat to your bedroom by yourself,’   The good news, we had fundamental skills delivered from the previous semester.  So, the instructor turned them all into combat choreographers,  instead of leading class, he chose to make it a process-backed learning module.   Each student had to engage others as teachers and execute the choreography they originated.”  

“A big problem we had was our graduating seniors were set to do their showcase, which is a big budget forward facing event,  the culmination of their four years.  A lot of pressure.  And since we are a career school with certain accreditation we have to fulfill data-wise, it becomes real pivotal, pressure, pressure, pressure.  We had to quickly rimagine what a showcase would look like.  Did a real quick research project of what other colleges are doing and identify what the industry innovation trends were.  Doing so, we engaged with our tech team, all hands, and created a thirty, forty page website.  We taught them (the students) to edit together sizzle reels, collected a ton of content and blasted out a collective online showcase.  And it was a team effort.  We had fifteen adult sets of hands wrapped around this and thirty three graduating students, meeting on zoom twice a week, checking all the boxes.  We partnered through Actors Access (an industry work portal) and ended up with as many calls and interest as our in-person showcases.  An exciting, scary, uphill battle that really landed where we wanted to.  The moment forces you to adapt.  And we pride ourselves on graduating well-rounded, capable story-tellers, who are producers and creatives, and this experience really showed that.”

“Our curriculum was built to answer this call.  When I talked to them,  I said, ‘please, help me, because I’m not that smart.’  It was unbelievable to watch the students step up, and all those days they spent building the skills, not just the hard skills, but the soft skills, which we put a lot of lead on, to graduate people that are great to work with; it solidified my hope that these guys and gals are different than most, because they were a delight to work with during that transition.”

“That allowed them to capture their credits and stay on track toward graduation; that was our first goal, we didn’t want the semester to run off the cliff, and we all acknowledge there were missing pieces.  So, then, the next question: how do we go back and how do we go back to doing it.  And we have been knee deep in that conversation for a couple months.  My job is to come up with creative ways to deliver curriculum and make opportunities for application.  And there are a lot of problems to solve, and what this experience is worth (for students going forward) is above my pay grade. I do know that question is being explored in endless sessions with our president and students, and parents, and we gather intel on intentions, and scenarios one, two, three, four, or five; hybrid on line, or in person, on online again in the spring, not being able to do large group performances, and so on…”  

“We are monitoring the industry, the state and city, and going at this idea of running a college as if it is its first year— which is the best way of looking at it.   Take the opportunity to clean out, identify the fat and elements that live ritualistically, or traditionally, and ask yourself the important questions—  is it necessary, can we do something different?  Reevaluate everything.  Is it worth keeping- after pandemic?   What can we create that is not a band aid?  Is this, can this be an opportunity to create something better and lasting?   And we are at a place where all of us need to ask that question; what do we want to lean into?  The stuff that is meaningful and jettison the waste.  We are defining that word essential, and what we are discovering, there are things we never deemed essential before that are now essential.  Like quiet space, extra time with family, spending less money on things that don’t matter, things that are less essential. So, that is the part that can become quite rich, is to cut out things that are frivolous and replace them with things that we are discovering as essential, at our school, our company, and my life.  To find what matters, and fight for it.”

The Dirty Truth

Something to keep in mind here is that he was a numbers guy…

We were soldiering through spotty bandwidth to get some good baby laughs through the WhatsApp video call with A’s brother and sister-in-law in Australia when it all added up.

In between the sequestered parents holding up their youngest in a hand -me-down onesie, A’s brother asked us how the hell it all happened. He was referring to the simple fact that the world’s self-proclaimed only super power and keeper of moral authority; the bastion of the oppressed and land of the free / home of the brave could ever become the epicenter of this global pandemic.

Like I said, he was a numbers guy; making his living doing advanced maths for a government sanctioned online bookie. He wanted to know why the infection rate affected us so disproportionately as compared to pretty much every other nation situated with enough lead time to take the necessary measures to protect their citizens and, more importantly, the means to implement those measures in sweeping fashion.

Tangentially, he was also referring to how He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named could even get elected in the first place and that so many people could continue to support him.

I didn’t know how to answer.

He continued with the concession that, of course, he can understand an anomaly of a certain percentage of fringe elements in the body electric, demonstrating once again that he was a numbers guy, but the unspeakable truth remained a statistical impossibility in the mind of any rational mind.

I jumped in and grabbed the white elephant by the fake-news horns. “So it sounds like you’re saying, and correct me if I’m wrong, you want to know how it is even possible that anywhere close to fifty percent of the people in the ‘supposed greatest democracy’ this side of Alpha Centauri could vote for a reality show host, racist, con man, and misogynist who stole money from a kid’s cancer charity and once bragged about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’ …? How can there possibly be that many nutsos who would willfully exercise their right to vote and cast their ballot for such a candidate without having to do so because their child was in a hostage situation or something… and still, even now, support the man. With the law of averages and all…?”

This is the question that remains. Even after all the pundits and the articles in Atlantic we pretend to read the whole way through in between checking our eBay bids… the haunting question hangs. Hangs like a shiny noose: The world wants to know.

I still couldn’t answer. Beyond the breakdown of critical thinking, the hallowing out of basic governing institutions, the cementing of binary thinking, and the distrust that has been fanned by a news media that can no longer call itself the fourth estate– I had nothing. All I could do was wait for the baby to get lifted up to the camera again and chuckle at seeing us on the other side of the ocean in real time. I was as speechless and dumbfounded as little baby B___.

Where could I start? Even if I could cut through the video lag, would I be able to talk about the rise of nationalism, and disintegration of what it means to be patriotic, the loss of the individual, ritual, and unspoken systemic fear… I was hogtied.

A. jumped in and reminded us all that America is yet a tween-ager and pointed out the obvious problems of living in an increasingly global community in a traditionally isolationist society where international news is so hard to come by despite there being twenty-four hour access on a variety of platforms. I woke up from my logic-freeze where my conscience was buffering like a spinning rainbow wheel and said what my friend David always says, ‘Americans aren’t very good at remembering their history’ and we all agreed that it doesn’t help most Americans are no longer taught to think critically. But if I was to be honest, all the answers felt insufficient. And still do. Any way of understanding this un-reality-reality fails me. Except that, we took it for granted. It, being the social contract of what it requires to live in a healthy democracy.

Maybe the can-do-America is melting down and needs a time-out because we are finally being told we can’t. We are learning about real limitation. And confusing prudence with an attack of personal liberty. I mean, what the fuck does wearing a mask have to do with freedom…? I don’t know. But something.

Maybe it is simply the logical endgame to a democracy fallen to entropy that no longer requires active citizenship with unfiltered access to information and the ability to interpret that and make informed decisions to function. In the end, it is we who outsourced The It, the thing that led us here. We have ceased to participate in our democracy. In a sustained way, despite being woke, because, well, we like being comfortable. Like any institution that rests on its laurels and lives by reputation only – our privilege, like a third generation beneficiary of self-made family wealth, we can’t help but burn it all down. Perhaps, and I may be wrong, we may secretly feel like we don’t deserve “it,” because we not only did nothing to earn it, we are reminded on a daily basis (or were) that we are shadow copies without fidelity compared to the moral amplitude of the supposed Greatest Generation.

Disaster capitalism, born in some U. of C. Nobel laureate economics lecture, that some have visited upon any unstable neighboring democracy grandfathered into the Monroe Doctrine — teetering on disaster and economic collapse and ripe for the cult of personality exported there as the only thing we still make besides cast-iron skillets — now visits us.

We reap what we have sown. It’s no wonder half of America wants to get in a time machine and selectively remember when. Even if that “when” has no actual resemblance to what was. Especially for anyone other-ed by either class, pigmentation, or orientation.

Setting aside the crazy rapture joyous fuck nuts who get off on this time of plague, when you compare the trajectory of empires as they decline, the days ahead don’t look good. Empires don’t fade well. Nor do they recede. They crash in brilliant fashion. Like a rotten tree grown beyond its means to support its height; a giant at one time succumbing to internal rot.The only thing one can really do is get out of the way when it falls, pack up our house hold gods and carry the only thing that maters with us as we move from the flames – the stories of how we got here and what life was like along the way.

Of course I didn’t say any of this. I couldn’t. These thoughts and feelings were barely words then. And words mean less and less now as they are used, commandeered in the name of untruth. It is a hard time for us who employ language to forward truth. Even in simply maintaining faith that it matters. That speaking the COMMON SENSE like an old former corset maker named Good Tom Paine once did still fucking matters. Or should we all open our windows wide and scream “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” like Peter Finch, the anchor in Network, proclaimed.

So, although I couldn’t really answer his question to any satisfaction, I had to recognize that the entire world sees us as a liability and really does as the Irish Times writer, Fintan O’Toole, pointed out, not only fears us, but pities us now, too. And that is a dangerously unstable cocktail.

We Couldn’t Even Get Flowers; Another Worker Profile of Someone Doing What They Do During These Insane Times.

They first started thinking about what it would be like to work in “the business” after losing both their parents at an early age.  For the past eight years, they have worked for a small funeral home that, like many things these days, falls under a much larger corporate umbrella.

“We go now to work every day, but the mortuary is not open to pubic.  Not even by appointment.  We used to meet with families, contact the next of kin, and find out what kind of services they want and set up arrangements.  Where one might select a casket, or cremation, we’d talk about that; but now it’s all done over the phone, and internet, which means it’s less personal.   And that’s weird. Because you are so used to that personal touch; understanding, or, trying to understand, what they are going through, and now– you are just a voice. On the phone. Trying to listen. And it’s easy to slip into being an order-taker.  I try to always remember that somebody lost their mom or dad.   The great thing is I don’t have to dress up so much. Not a coat and tie… I contact them by phone, and more and more of them are victims of this virus.”

More and more. 

“We are owned by a big company.  And there are other mortuaries in the area that are dealing with it, too.  All under the same umbrella. And the number of cases has really multiplied, even in the last week… I mean, there’s all kind of H.I.P.A.A. rules about asking what a person died of, but in this case, we have to know when we send somebody to pick somebody up, especially nursing homes, we have to find out, so we can have the proper PPE.  I personally don’t go out and pick people up.  There are folks who do that.  Usually, we ask if there are any infectious diseases, and people get it right away, and they say either it’s Covid or, I forget the word, Covid probable,  maybe this person hasn’t been tested, and I’ve heard of people who test one day and they are fine and the next couple days they are not, so…”

“It’s very very limited.  Our services.   If it’s cremation, whether it is Covid or not, there usually isn’t a viewing, but there were times when there was a viewing before cremation, for example in the Vietnamese community, but now in the case of Covid, they have to be embalmed first.  (Even if they are to be cremated)  No viewings. People can be buried, but there have not been a lot of directives, either from the National Funeral Directors Association or C.D.C. – but it seems to be that embalming doesn’t kill the disease completely.  So, if family wants to see the body, then we limit viewing to 30 minutes.”

“You almost make it up as you go along, ’cause there is no president or protocol. But right away, The Catholic Church, for example, said ‘no more services in churches,  but only services outdoors at Catholic Cemeteries and only up to ten people… and that is kind of what it remained.  There is one private cemetery that undermines us, says you can have as many people as you want, which is,um… against county guidelines – and in those cases I end up being… more an observer, rather than a participant.”

“What we have been telling families, and what they end up doing a lot is a cremation right now and a celebration of life service down the line.   And a lot are opting for that kind of postponement.  We had to make clear right away we can’t store bodies. We don’t have facilities to store a body for three months …”

“Everybody is watching the day-to-day-reopening-we-don’t-know-when-and-all-that… we will probably be going with county guidelines.  Something we just started doing and it seems to be really helpful is adding The Facebook Live ceremonies.  We did one, a Buddhist service in our chapel, and I’m sure will evolve as things change.”

“We try to maintain social distancing as much as we can, but, you know, people come as families, right?   But often they feel like they don’t have to (social distance) but, you know… if they are coming from different households… maybe they should; which is where it is hard.  We get the ones that say, ‘I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye ’cause they were in the hospital and didn’t get a chance to see them.’  I try to take everyone as they come and do what I can for them … I tell folks, ‘we can only have ten people at the cemetery,’ and then they say, ‘well, we are going to have forty,’ and I say,  ‘wait, what, forty?’  And in the case I try to become, well… more an observer than a participant…  If I’m doing two, three funerals a week then I’m exposed to fifty – sixty plus people …”

My friend has the acute and very natural gift of always sounding like they are genuinely smiling with full knowledge of what is. 

“That’s the other thing, with any business, even though our numbers are up for the season, the revenue is down, because we are not doing the formal visitation, the night before, and the whole thing.  They are not getting the register book, the folders, and the prayer cards, but I’m… Luckily, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve been pressured to sell something folks don’t want.   I won’t push anything I don’t believe in – they’re gonna spend what they are going to spend, for a casket, or not.”

“We were trying to make it simple as possible, in the beginning, trying to make it as memorable as we can… Like Facebook Live streaming, that’s helping open it up.   Initially, we couldn’t get flowers, ’cause the flower mart was closed downtown and our florist, the florist who we all use, they couldn’t  buy wholesale flowers.  In the very beginning, we had to say we can’t get flowers right now.   And then the loved ones would call around and it would be the same result because no florist was open, so…”

“It’s pretty easy to get priests or ministers to do a graveside service, short private services…”

“When this all started, there was a lot of lack of information; a lot of the people that were going to pick somebody up were not as prepared– even though they had dealt with infectious diseases before, H.I.V. Hepatisis C, or….  We had morning meetings. Every day. Talking about how many cases we had the night before.  And we would all kinda report in about that…  And there’s a lot of disinformation,  families would call,  ‘hey, they have covid 19 and I know we can’t do a burial, it has to be cremation…’  And we would say, ‘that’s not true, we can do this…”

“Listen, if you don’t care about people, you shouldn’t be in this field.  I came into it very late.  I have only been doing it eight years, but one thing I try do, from time to time… I would try to learn something about their loved one.   Ask had they been sick a long time,  what happened; and people, for the most part, want to talk.  So, I try to take that extra time to talk.  And normally, we would sit down, and say… let’s make this a memorable thing.  How can we remember them and make it special?  So now… we take that time finding about them on the phone, so you just don’t end up an order taker, like, ‘do you want fries with that, Want an urn? Cremation? No? Check.’ We’re really not even meeting them.  They’ll call up and we’ll meet them in the parking lot and they will hand us the clothing. We take the clothing, if it’s a burial.  And then the other times, if it is a cremation, we don’t see them till the time they pick up the death certificates and the urn; otherwise, that is the only time we were encountering them…”

“And there’s been a lot of older folks, even without the virus, who have given up. I’ve had at least one suicide, after it all started.  The family was really surprised by it, and you wonder, was he afraid he would get virus?  He was older, eighty.  The business is seasonal.  And a lot of people are surprised by that, but  November, December, and January are our busy months.  People tend to make it through the first of the year and then they pass away, but right now, we are jammed, and it is April/ May and we are busy, usually, but not super busy, and now… we are super busy… I get, well, tired… ’cause I’m on the computer all day because there is just so much paper work, especially with cremations, and you are generating all of this…”

I ask him how he is doing with all of this.

“I think I’m doing okay.  The other day we had six Covid cases in two days… And that is a lot.  Usually, we get one case every two-three days – we refer to them as cases, each one represents a loved one,  a person, but…”

“So, all of a sudden, we had six.  In a two-day period.   And I… came home depressed. Luckily, we haven’t lost any kids.  And thank God we haven’t had any of that.  As a funeral director, you have to get a level of detachment.  And there are some families that you really bond with them, and others you want them to go away;  and some people, they come in, and it’s like, almost a burden, and you just want to think… it’s like that we are just trying to take out the garbage for them. I had one guy, who was a nephew, and he had to take care of his uncle, who he hadn’t seen in fifteen years.  And he was an alcoholic (the uncle) and he was like, ‘what do I have to sign, and what do I have to do… You have to remain a certain level of detachment, or, it will get you.  But, then you have a kid, and it affects you, and if it doesn’t affect you, you don’t care, and if you don’t care you are in the wrong business…”

“That’s why I think it’s worked out for me as a career, because it reflects a lot about how I feel.  Like when you were going through what you were going through with your mom.  I knew, because that’s what I do and also because I lost both my parents when I was young, when I was nineteen, back to back, heart attack, cancer… So, when I see the person who is the same age as I was when my parents passed away, when I see a nineteen-year-old kid like that, I know that feeling.”

We wait for the beeping of the sanitation workers in the alleyway to do their own invisible job before he continues. 

“I’ve heard from families, you know, when we talk, on the phone, and they say they weren’t able to go in and, you know, see them. But, some nurse had done a Facetime call, held up the phone, and they tell me how special that was.  Those things they were doing. When they got to me, it makes such a difference to the family.”