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.”

 

Is your kid on fire?  No? Then, you’re doing a good job: The Essential Work of Parenting as Part Of My Ongoing Chronicle.

This writer and I have been searching for truth in the same sandbox for many years together.  She took time offline from work/mom-ing to paint a picture of the everyday of raising two boys (six and nine) during this crazy time.

“…Might be interrupted at any time inevitably, but… I mean, where do I start…?  There have been so many different things, hard to put it into one thing.  It’s been extremely challenging, right, but there’s also been really great moments we wouldn’t have otherwise as a family… I don’t even know why I’ve started crying…”

She sets her tears aside to engage with one of her boys who asks if they can take a break now.  I thought of my own mother on the phone talking with Faye who only lived down the block and the time I put a Walt’s shopping bag over my head to jump off the kitchen steps ala Superman and ended up with stitches for the umpteenth time. You got to take advantage of those moments when mom is on the phone to do serious permanent damage.

“It started off, they were saying two weeks (the school),  but I knew it would be longer than two weeks, because we live close to the school and the sign out front said, ‘closed till further notice.’ We knew it would be longer, sure,  and some of our friends who maybe paid more attention and knew,  were saying  they (the kids)  are not coming back this year–  and I was like, ‘that’s crazy, that’s insane.’ I didn’t believe it.”

“We took our kids out the day before school closed actually.  We had plans to see my mom in Chicago.  She was supposed to come here, but then when things started happening, we figured it would be safer for her, for us to go there.  Then, of course, we canceled that trip and took the kids home and said, ‘we are doing it, we are staying home.’

“It was really hard. Immediately.   I was like, ‘I can’t be a home-schooler.’  I have friends who do it, and I admire them, greatly, but I’m also trying to carve out times to write, and rewrite, and the business of writing, you know, networking, and pounding the pavement, all the things that it takes to be a writer… Maybe that’s why I love summers when the kids are home, but I struggle with it, too,  ‘cause I have to give up a lot of my creative time.  And I am someone who if I’m not writing regularly… it has proven to be an anxiety trigger, and just me, as a person, when I feel I have no control over my life or a situation… so I was just immediately confronted by this…’

“And I am aware of these things. Awareness helps. I have a great partner who is able to work from home, able to keep his job, I have a therapist I can still… and then, I got sick.  I didn’t know what it was.  And it was so emotional.  And as you know it’s a hard time to just be sick. I had a lot of anxiety, I was like I have to be around, you know, for my kids and then, my doctor on tele appointment thought I had strep.  So, I took a strep test, got penicillin and I was in a room, isolated, then I got better and my husband got sick.  So, it was so much laundry, so much cleaning, so many dishes- added on top of everything, you know, just trying to disinfect everything…”

“And this distance learning is challenging in many ways – and you find it out at different times.  As you go.  My older son is nine, he’s in fourth grade, and now that all of his work is done at home, alone, it is very isolating and It’s… lonely.  For him.  When you are struggling with a particular problem, you are not in a room where other kids are raising their hands saying, ‘I don’t understand,’ so he feels that he is the only one not getting it.  He can’t see the questions other kids may have, when their hands are in the air and they may not know; that group-learning thing is helpful for my kid, and it is missing and it is really hard.  I hadn’t even thought of it, then it was like a light bulb.  So it’s an added layer that makes it harder…”

“And the teachers and principal are great, district-wide it’s been… the grades can’t go down; they can improve, but they can’t go down.  His teachers have set everything up, but he’s left to his own devices a lot because I have a six-year-old who needs my constant attention, all– day— long.  And the teachers give these worksheets – he hates the work sheets – he’s in kindergarten.”

“The whole Zoom thing is really hard… he’s in kindergarten.  So my struggle with that is, ‘how do I keep him on track? Keep him emotionally supported and make it fun.”  So we play games for math that keep it fun.  I told the teachers, ‘listen, he is not doing the work sheets;’ sometimes he is, but I can’t manage it and I don’t want miserable kids… like he’s got this addition game we got him for Christmas where the problems have a lock and each number has a key and he has to learn which key unlocks which lock and he loves that, so we do that.”

“The principal and his teacher said ‘focus on their emotional development and we will catch him up academically in the fall,’ but it’s really tiring… I mean, today?  I am really tired. Some days are better than others. Spring break I set aside all of my own stuff.  I said I am going to just make it fun! We were going to go down to San Diego be with family, but that couldn’t happen, right, so instead I came up with a theme for each day; one day was pirate day, one day was medieval day.  I built a pirate ship out of boxes, and for medieval day we made swords and armor, and watched movies, like Shrek, and whatever film fit for the day,  and that was so fun… That was something I would never have done.  I am not a crafty mom, but we are home, and we were like let’s make it fun and memorable, and I was excited about that, but I can’t do that every day, I still have to keep up with my work…”

“This is such an unprecedented time… Such a weird time.  I feel like all these things that are hard…?  It’s okay that they are hard right now.  And I have friends who remind me of this.  My brain is wired for perfection, and it’s just how I am, if I’m not perfect, I’m a failure… but this … it’s crazy what we are dealing with.  Friends remind me, ‘it’s okay, it’s okay it’s okay.’ A writer friend who is also a parent posted this thing on Facebook in response to some fear of… ‘what if I not doing good with this home schooling,’ and it said, ‘is he on fire?  No? Then, you are doing good.”

I hear her son ask if he can play outside in the pool that is not a pool.

“It’s a little plastic thing, you’re supposed to put sand in then fill it with water and call it a pool – well now it’s filled with sand…it’s crazy…”

“My son has all these I.E.P. (Indiviudalized Education Program) appointments, and O.T.  appointments, speech therapist, extra supported learning, and it’s all on Zoom, we just heard from his –“

There is a question about bubbles and something to do with the garden hose from her youngest. I hear her futz with some kind of toy bubble gun.

“And I have this ready bubble kit ready to go – stroke of genius…”

She pours fresh bubbles in and continues…

“So we heard from the speech therapist, and it’s another zoom call  and this isn’t-“

She gets a delivery and asks me to hold. I hear her teach her son to keep six feet away and not touch the box…  There’s  a mini-meltdown about not being able to open the small grill her husband bought

“My youngest gets real upset, hates the mask, and when we go for walks in the neighborhood, he gets frustrated that he can’t touch things.  He likes to touch things all the time… Back to what I was saying, the point is the I.E.P. — there’s no real support for I.E.P. learning right now – and I don’t know how people are doing that.  To do a Zoom for him with someone he’s never met before, ‘cause his regular I.E.P. is on maternity leave, I don’t know… so again, if it creates misery around him wanting to go to speech therapy that is not gonna help – so we are gonna watch, and if it doesn’t help, we’ll pull him out and wait till the fall when his regular speech therapist returns.”

“And the district won’t let the school therapists meet one-on-one with students on tele-health, open Zoom sure, but not one-on-one in… It’s just.. and all the emails, every day, from the district, the therapist, and the I.E.P. team and it’s just too much, I’m  just trying to get through every day.  And when I do get in bed, I’m so exhausted.  The feeling of being behind on everything is—  and me,  who has had a hard time with that feeling in general,  and having it be just okay, you know?   ‘Cause it’s not going to be forever…  And trying not to be crabby and short –  even when I am feeling… like the other night;  my husband puts this small fire pit we have in the driveway, so we can roast marshmallows, and I just … couldn’t be around people – I love my kids, but I couldn’t be around them anymore.  They were being just awful, all day- constantly yelling at me,  and I didn’t blame them at all,  because this is hard, but I was done!  And I got into bed.  It was like eight-o’clock.  I was like, ‘see ya!’

“Thankfully, my husband was like, ‘do it, I got this.’  We understand each other. It’s much easier when we both don’t need that at the same time… I feel really really lucky to have my husband, and we are a real good team–  my heart goes out to single parents,  or… parents who have one kid!   It’s harder when they’re on their own.   I can send mine out to play together, and yes, it turns into fighting in five minutes, but they have each other.  There is a lot to be grateful for.  But we are learning a lot.  Every day.”

“I miss my family. In Chicago and in San Diego, and not being able to see my mom– we see each other once every two /  three months,  so, those things are really hard… ”

“And thinking about what the future holds… on The Daily the other day they were talking about,  ‘how this can be, is going to be, a lot longer…’  I try real hard not-to-go there.  The things that help me the most are being present with my kids– AND they help me with being present because they demand my presence. I say, ‘I’m busy, I’m doing this or that,’  but my little one has trouble wiping his butt, so that brings me back to the present moment and there is not a lot time to hang out mentally in the what ifs.”

The Best and Worst Times to be a Thief. Essential Worker Profile #5 Police Patrol Officer.

I can say many things about this Patrol Officer as a way to introduce them but wouldn’t want to leave too many bread crumbs to point toward their identity.  They work nights in a Metropolitan Division of a major American City.

“I’m out there, walking out there, all day as a police officer with a mask on… it’s crazy! I mean… stick’em up, right?  And I’m the police!!”

He stops to talk to his daughter to offer encouragement and a school project, then continues:

“Listen, Matty, desperate people are getting more and more desperate; the ceiling is being met – no matter who they are or where they are… I mean, normal people are already doing crazy things,  know what I mean?  Normal people. That haven’t had to stay home with their spouse for weeks on end ever, and their patience level is very short.  I mean, in society we know, traditionally, that people lash out at who they are closest to.  And now… because of the stress, so much… lack of knowledge, of what the next day will bring, plus health and economic insecurity… you get a lot of people who have, you know, sleepless nights, and they’re frustrated from sitting at home with people they are not used to sitting home with… Most of the calls we are experiencing are domestic calls.”

“Normal patrol coppers are dealing with domestics; battery, assault, or potential domestic violence… are up thirty- forty percent.”

Thirty to forty percent.

“I would say a majority of our calls are still transient related calls.  Nothing’s changed, in that regard; except, now… it’s always an emergency code three call, which means somebody is throwing rocks or bricks at cars passing by, for example, basically, they are out of control and you can’t talk sense into that person.  That’s it.”

“We have less people in _____ (I blur the division of the city and district to protect their anonymity here) then we have had in years because of the shelters, but… the homeless we have left on the streets are only the one who refuse to get any type of help.   Plus, on top of that, people who have been moved to safe shelter…?  Well, a good portion of them? Don’t want to be there.   So… it’s a tremendous amount of wackiness going on in there – anything and everything… I mean, people who are crawling out from under a park bench where they were sleeping or coming out from the alcove they’ve been in and they find…”

“Here is the economic structure of a transient trying to survive, today.  The absolute knowledge is that a good portion are mentally disabled. And even in normal times they are trying to find a way to survive, in some way shape or form… grabbing recyclables, begging for wares, at the off ramp,  and in many cases are stealing in one way shape or form; breaking into cars, stealing a bag, whatever the case may be… but now… the potential victims of street thieves—- they are gone. There are no victims on the street.   So,  that means desperation for our street thieves. It’s all perspective.”

“Like professional athletes are still making millions of dollars, sure, but a waiter in a restaurant can’t work, and well the homeless person begging can’t support themselves either, because there is no one to beg.  The only non-transients we see on the street are negligent and naïve people.   Irresponsible people who are walking in groups without masks.  Who fail to listen to and abide by stay at home orders. We still got people coming down as tourists. To come down and hang and chill!  I mean…”

“The ____ Police Dept are issuing 1000.00 citations for people who are not wearing a mask.  And all we are doing is educating.  We haven’t been mandated to enforce in a stringent way.  I’ll say,  ‘you have your mask, right?’  ‘In my pocket.’   ‘Why don’t you put it on and take care of everybody- do the right thing.  I always say,  ‘do the right thing.’

“There is gonna come a time when we are gonna have to start enforcing at least the mask rule.  Whether we believe it or not. It is what we are being mandated to do by state government.  I don’t necessarily like to wear mine, but I’m a government official.  So, everything begins with the example I produce and promote for the rest of the community.  So, I never get out of my car without my mask.  If I know I’m gonna be around a bunch of street traffic in the car – I want to promote and be a good example of that,  so I’ll keep it on in my car even.”

“This is the thing.  If you compare my department to New York… Those cats have been decimated.  By the virus.  __PD to date, we have only had _ sworn and civilian personal  infected out of _____ if you count civilian based personal – that’s incredible.  (The numbers he used showed that they were fortunate indeed).  A good number of that _ have already gone back to work. Less than ___ at home under quarantine.  That’s way better then we expected.  And what I’m praying… and I agree we have to open up, in some way shape or form soon… but, once we open up… there’s a horde of people at the castle gate.  ‘Cause there’s been a fire, right?  Then when we open it up, a couple-people-at-a-time, it means the gates are gonna be run over and, and… the gates will tumble down.  The fire for society is that people want to be free – and maybe no one is going to take into consideration… listen, if we don’t somehow try to get the economy started up again, we know we have to – but the ceiling of patience is being reached….”

“And everyone is trusting, me I’m trusting, we’re almost like the typical victim who gets victimized, right? Everyone’s so trusting everything is gonna work out, but yet, at same time… in another month, say… we’re gonna have people not have any idea how they are gonna pay their mortgage, their back rent,  two- three months of bills, forget about it… we might not be out of this by November– and if they let the gates open and the mass of society runs through the gate… we will be at peak levels right away.”

“Listen, Matty, no one wants to think about worst case scenarios, but there are a lot of worst-case scenarios out there.  Talking serious law enforcement stuff where I have to arrest people for not staying inside.  That’s hard core.  If you’re an officer and your job is to reduce crime and make certain there is no public disorder and community members are safe and secure and can enjoy a quality of life, well…. it’s … the ceiling is being reached.”

“I mean, the dynamic, in ___, prior to Covid,  if I arrest you for selling narcotics, you will be out of jail tomorrow; seven years ago– that was a felony; ten years ago– possession was a felony; five years ago– it was a felony to have meth— now…? It’s a misdemeanor.  Everything up to two pounds of dope is an infraction.”

“If I find you with a weapon in your car and even if that weapon is not registered to you, you can still be out of jail the very next day.  Not serve any time.  The D.A. might not even file.   The D.A.s are so inundated with so many different crimes, they wouldn’t even be able to file them.  If I’m addressing an individual on the street and they sock me in the jaw, that individual will be out of jail the very next day.   That is pre-Covid.  Now, post-covid, I can’t even arrest you.   We arrest people, and a lot of the reasons originate from traffic stops P.C. (probable cause) vehicle registration or someone unregistered, etc – we can’t even do those stops.  Now we can’t do that because the state said, ‘don’t worry, nobody can stop you if you have a late registration or bad license.’ If we run you and you have a thousand dollar warrant, we don’t do anything,  we can’t take any risk to bring anybody else into system, because of risk of exposure.  Maybe a five hundred thousand dollar warrant.”

“And you know, like your CVS or the local Rite Aid is your homeless person’s personal kitchen.  I’m serious.  This is pre-Covid.  Now it is twenty times worse. Your Rite Aid over at ____  they are gonna walk into that CVS and grab what they need and walk out to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for each location.  But today, if you go to, you know like, your Ross Dress For Less and Loss Prevention catches you for stuffing a bunch of clothes up your shirt and I show up, I arrest you and I book you, nothing’s going to happen, except I walk you out of the door in an hour and a half.

“Previously, you stayed the night in jail, and at least saw a judge, but now… if you steal a car, if I catch you stealing the car, and I take you into custody, and you start pretending you have a cough and sneezing and say you had a temp two days ago, I’m not gonna bring you to jail out of fear for contaminating the police station… Before–  you would meet with my Superior and we start the two hour booking procedures… now my boss comes out, meets me at my car, stays ten feet away and asks a few questions, and then I drive you downtown (to a detention center) and we stand in line, me and my partner and my suspect, and we are like in Disneyland, but like six feet apart, waiting for a ticket to get our turn to get inside,  and then you get up there, and you know, if the suspect is really smart… he sneezes and coughs, no one is gonna let him in and we do nothing.”

“Listen, Matty, we drive around in our vehicles doing nothing, we can’t stop anybody, and then if you have a vehicle code violation I can’t pull you over because of the mandate– and there’s no more people on the street to steal from, but there are still thousands upon thousands of vehicles just sitting there, vehicle thefts have increased twenty five percent… and now, all of a sudden, there’s a stolen vehicle activity call, so  we got sixty patrol cars zooming over to get in on the activity, because they have nothing to do…. Listen, Matty, they make fun of me all the time, they call me..  “I’m like Driving Miiss Daisy,  ’cause I don’t drive fast unless it is an officer needs help call– ’cause it ain’t worth it.  The public doesn’t realize the liability of bringing on the lights and the sirens– normal people don’t understand the liability those two officers are now facing.   If they get into a collision, if someone is hurt or killed, the department is gonna do all they can to NOT take care of you.  Capital N. Capital O.  Capital T.  So, I drive super slow.  I do.  I don’t really give a fuck.”

“This is a normal day occurrence in ____, seventy percent of our radio calls have to do with a transient, okay?  I mean, if I give you the company line, say I’m interviewing for for a promotion, I say, ‘we have to realize that we are not only responsible for our residential and business owners but also our community members who are experiencing hopelessness- that’s what I say at the interview,  but the truth is.. I’m not flying through traffic at a hundred miles an hour because  two homeless people are attacking each other with huge lead pipes – and every unit in the area is flying from an emergency call at 100 miles an hour… except me, I’m going 20.  The safety and security of my family,  I can lose my house, and everything, if something goes wrong… because of someone who can’t take care of themselves?  No.  I go super slow.  Can’t buy into it.”

I ask him again to talk a little more about the uptick in domestics. 

“The truth of the matter is in our society – we have both parents working.  Most people are ships passing in the night.  Many times, people haven’t shared four days together in the last ten years, and now they are forced to be together; or one, or both, are basically unemployed and you are faced with that person all the time… Then you throw on top of that dynamic…. an increased frustration, lack of clarity, desperation on how you are gonna feed your family, keep a roof over head, the car payments, or all of the above… It adds to the frustration and desperation in that home dynamic.  If you already have a situation where there is a challenging relationship to begin with, now it’s increased exponentially.

“Listen, Matty, many of the residences we go to are very small apartments with eight to fifteen people inside.  I mean this is a studio apartment with ten people living in it. Fights are going to occur.  And frustration.  People who are not living under the best circumstances already are faced with even more challenges.  And these domestic calls…  across the board – and society says it should be just men – but it is a fifty- fifty, baby.”

“And then we are also seeing an influx of… let’s say irresponsible people  finding ways to throw parties in ___.  Primarily through AIRBNB networks. (..)  Last weekend, we raided a number of different house parties.  There was a shooting at one.  People are throwing parties for money.  It’s crazy. And the people throwing these parties are facing huge fines.”

They had more to say about the ways people are scrambling to make a buck and how sometimes that runs into the law along with a brief description of the way infected people are coughing on each other as a weapon, but because of the strict codes of silence that they are forced to live under behind the blue wall, we chose to trim a lot. 

“Matty, the general public doesn’t know the kind of scrutiny we have to live under.”

I reminded them that the aim of our conversation is to hopefully bring dimension and humanity to the real lives of people too often reduced to click bait and sound-bites.  But in the end, we chose to blur some details that could be traceable to them.   I walked away once again learning more about the nuanced truth beyond the Google search by simply listening. And… I also, personally, felt safer about enduring these crazy times because of the very things and phases they wanted me to edit so they wouldn’t get in trouble with Internal Affairs. 

 

 

The Guy You Thank Through the Closed Door. Essential Worker Profile #4

E. is a veteran and a recent graduate of film school.  Bravely joining students half his age and making a thesis film about being reunited with his son.  He’s famous for his buoyant sense of optimism and lightheartedness.    Here he describes his day-to-day delivering for Doordash in the Northwest San Fernando Valley.

“I put on the work gloves and a handkerchief I have in the kitchen – one that says, “I love you,” I got left over from Valentines.  I would cover myself from head to toe – was a little bit in fear… When I was doing deliveries in the beginning, I was cautious, but I don’t think I was in gratitude so much. I would get a lot of those three-dollar deliveries and wouldn’t accept them.  I would only accept eight- or nine-dollar deliveries, but then, one day – I heard the news that in my apartment someone tested positive.  It was the moment I paused…”

“And I did a delivery that day.  Someone was so grateful I was able to do a delivery.  That it kinda sorta changed how I was looking at it…Oh, I can be of service this way.  That is interesting. So, I started doing the three-dollar orders, ’cause maybe someone doesn’t have the money  to pay more than that.  Especially with everything that is happening.  Which led to more tips.  Like I gotta nine-dollar tip. On a three-dollar deal.  It doesn’t always work out… I still don’t accept anything less than three dollars, ’cause business-wise it doesn’t make sense.

For those unaware of the devil math of the modern app based rake – believe me, they stick it to the delivery people, the stores, and the customers.  For drivers– The price -per-mile is often at or below the standard deduction you would use on your income tax return. He breaks it down further:

“Seven miles for three dollars…?  Which is really like fourteen miles, ’cause you have to go there and back, you know… it doesn’t add up.  Business-wise.  I try not to do three dollars for three miles ’cause then I lose money.  Paying for gas and the car.  But I’ll accept a three-dollar order for 1.5 miles.  If it is on my way to another delivery, I’ll do it. ”

“Lately (the delivery charge) has gone up.  Everyone’s drinking alcohol.  So, I’m delivering a lot of alcohol.  I deliver from a place called Total Wine. A lot.  It will say 12 dollars delivery charge – but I know, that for whatever reason – people who order alcohol love to tip – the lowest you get is a twenty-dollar tip for booze.  One time I made fifty-five dollars.  Go figure.  They’ll order cases – whether it’s like… hard spirits and beer, cases of beer, along with a case of wine…”

“And then there’s basic foods.  Like Chili’s.  Where we will wait outside in our cars- we don’t even go in anymore- and they bring the food to us. Same as Wood Ranch, Red Robin – people don’t make contact at all.  Basically, I deliver from the restaurants, where I don’t go inside, and then I drop off at the door.  And sometimes there is a little note that says, ‘thank you, worker,’ or, ‘thank you for what you are doing.’ And I really appreciate that.   It makes me feel – that I am doing something for people who really won’t go out of their house.  And I do it without so much fear now.  I feel better about it since I started feeling grateful… I still put my gloves on and my mask on, and when I get home I take off all my clothes – I air dry my mask… with a hair dryer… I do what I can do ’cause I have a four-year-old, you know.. I do what I can control.”

“I tend to call customers on apartment buildings ’cause they are difficult to get into, and what I hear now,  it can exist in the air; so… I try to meet them outside the building.  I just deliver out front now.”

“I deliver to what was a college town, by CSUN (Cal State- Northridge)… by the dorms, but the dorms are now empty, which is weird,  and I deliver at Porter Ranch, and that’s a nice little drive, and I leave it at the houses, you know.  I hear, ‘thank you,’ from the inside of doors.  As I’m dropping off I hear a muted thank you and the kids echo, ‘thank you,’ and it’s adorable.”

“Reseda and Northridge.  People and families – usually, I don’t see any people.  The other day, I was leaving at the door, and I saw a lady come out, and she was not able to pick up her order and– I can’t help myself – I help her get her order in the door.  Whatever I can do to make it easier.”

“I used to take my girlfriend with me, before,  but I don’t anymore. Or my son. Before all this.  The big deliveries – catering companies, things like that, sometimes I would have my son,  so I take him out with me, and he’s four-years-old, and he carries some of the utensils, and they say,  ‘look at our little worker!’ And they give him a little tip.  My little mascot… he looks adorable.  I used to do that.  But I don’t get to do that no more.”

“I listen to different music.  I’ll listen to N.W.A. from back in the day, to country music — Don Williams and Dolly Partner,  retro Techno, then we’ll go back to EMINEM and Metallica… It depends.  And sometimes the meditative stuff;  some good mind-altering  alpha waves… while I’m delivering.  Sometimes, I just want it to be quiet.   And it’s relaxing.  Or the Black-eyed Peas will be going, “Tonight Is Gonna Be A Good Night” when there nothing to do that night.  … I been caught rocking out in my car by a couple people and they just watch me – well, what are you gonna do. ”

He explained the next part as if traffic I never encountered before.  It did feel oddly foreign to me in this new normal. 

“Before, when there was a lot of traffic, sometimes it took a while to make a delivery and I would only do the weekends, and on the other side (of the hill in Hollywood, or etc)  you can’t park anywhere… but lately, after the Covid,  there’s times when there is nobody around.  On Devonshire… in the evening … and you’d only see one or two cars. All alone.  And the only cars you see are probably delivery drivers, too.  It’s a trip.”

“In Porter Ranch, I like it when you go up there at night, and you get a view of the whole valley.  All the lights.   I’d like to stop and just look – it’s a beautiful view but I don’t stop, wish I would though. But I don’t.”

“Today, I go from three pm to ten pm.  I like to do the evenings a lot more.  I try to hit the rush hours between 5 and 8.30 pm.  Go to a certain spot.  And there will be days where I just start from my place and wait till I get an order.  And head on out.  I usually love Sundays because that is when we get the most orders.  I  take Mondays and Tuesdays off.  And usually do Wednesday through Sunday.   Yeah, but the best days have always been Sundays.  It’s just been a great day.  They stop from one to four, but then start ordering again. Even when things were… normal, there wasn’t a lot of traffic – but now…”

“You know, it’s not the career I want, but it’s not stressful.  And on some days, it can be okay. You zone out. Sundays are my favorite. Let’s put it that way.  If I were to become a millionaire I would still go out and deliver on a Sunday. Go out and deliver some things on Sunday.  Go out and deliver a pizza.”

“It’s not like you meditate, but you are in a place of peace.  It’s hard to describe.  It’s not always like that, but Sundays… and, you know, I think lately with everything… Here’s the thing: you are in the car by yourself.  And your head gets to you…”

I once heard it called windshield time by a truck driver I knew.  A thing.  Like every job, there is a callus. 

“And sometimes… you’re having an argument with someone who isn’t there, you know…? But, for the most part, it is a place to zone out and be like….One.”

“Before this whole Covid,  I felt people were really ungrateful for what you did.  You would feel the snobbishness.  Not appreciative.  One thing was always a pet peeve… it was the whole tip thing.  The app showed me whether they tip or not, you know.   I don’t care if it is twenty-five cents,  but when you don’t tip at all… I feel it is such a slap in the face.  Twenty-five cents or fifteen dollars, fifteen makes me want to work harder, of course, but even if you don’t have anything… a dollar…? What’s a dollar…?  But, when you don’t tip anything… you are not showing any consideration for the driver out there.  And that is why I would cancel on the three dollar orders ’cause it usually meant they wouldn’t tip.”

“I got three deliveries at the same time.  One time.  Cause they were low on drivers – I did a complete mix up and gave the wrong delivery to the different people… and I felt so bad about that.  One of the people I delivered to was super nice – and the other one was a teenager and snooty, and no matter how much I apologized, she said “how can you do such a thing,’ made me feel like a chimp.”

“Stuff like that I never understood.  People make mistakes, I took responsibility.  I even told them, you don’t have to pay me, I just want to fix it.  One time I spilled stuff, it was all over the bag, and I didn’t see it, and you have to man up.  I almost delivered a thousand – close to a thousand– nine hundred deliveries.  I’ve had my mistakes here and there – but less than fifteen, for sure.  I only remember three of them.”

“The tipping has been better recently.  People have been more appreciative. I mean, I want things to go back to the way it was before, obviously, but… it has been easier.”

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake. The Feds Have Failed Us, But At Least I Get To Watch British People Bake.

The Inaugural season of The Great British Baking Show (Beginnings) did more for me to recover from Covid-19-like symptoms than the sum total of the federal response of the supposed greatest democracy that ever was and so-called leader of the free world.

Mary Barry and Paul Hollywood guided me through  the eye of the storm far better than a healthcare system that began to rot in 1968 or so when Nixon made a deal with one of his chums.  Further, Sue and Mel brought more kindness and sanity, based on an actual meritocracy, to give me trust in the order of things and the power of a good recipe for success.  The hard-nosed truth is that the pinnacle of modern science could do nothing to combat a less than single cell organism once it is introduced like a bingo ball into one’s immune system.  We play bingo with ourselves and anomalies pop up all over.   It is a lottery.  Whether we like it or not.

Anyone who has intimate knowledge with Covid-like symptoms knows that we want our immune system to work, but not overwork, because what makes this wee fucker so fucker-ish is that it causes our natural defenses to go haywire and turn against ourselves.  And no one knows how each individual will respond.  There are trends.  Yes.  But there is nothing but uncertainty.    My very own doctor repeated over and over again when asked question after question, “we don’t know.  We just don’t know.”

Which is why the contestants on the Great British Baking Show staring with hope into their ovens gave me the comfort I lacked from a nation’s government that lacks all compassion.   Even in their most dismal failures, it was still something sweet.  And no one was pitted against each other.  The only thing they had to contend with was the intemperance of English summers and what looked like an infestation of dandelions in the English garden behind their white tent.

And unlike our current political cast, the contestants were chosen for their skill rather than their predilection for drama.   I believe in The Great British Baking Show as a necessary medicine in the ongoing battle against a worldwide pandemic.   And would vote for any of them to lead the U.S. federal response, or at least some kind of symbolic cabinet position of human kindness and sweetery.

Learning what a bain-marie was brought me and my immune system the much needed distraction in my ten-eleven-day cycle of freak out, watch people bake, meditate, pee, repeat so I could advance to the recovery phase of this whole thing.  Learning about what piping is and that meat pies once contained eel was much better than learning about the death toll and whether we were flattening the curve

I recall U.S. Grant would take to whittling a stick when his soldiers were in battle.  There is a famous anecdote of just such behavior on the high ground above Cold Harbor.  Because he knew he could do nothing.  His plans were in place and the thing was under way.  Fighting a virus with no known cure except blind faith in your own system and your generals requires that kind of mindless and totally unimportant thing to focus on.  Without a stick to whittle, I took to learning the concepts of baking and English nomenclature.

In any meditation, mantras or focus points, mudras, or even just focusing on the breath- it gives us a diving bell.  Into ourselves and relaxation and peace.  And encouraging Cathryn to believe in herself as she made sweet and savory bakes was just that.  And for that length of time, I was exempt and unexposed to the vector of infection of deception and conceit known as the President’s daily briefings.  I had to get really sick to feel free from his insane vitriol.   Getting the thing (we think) brought a welcome respite from baring witness to the slow-moving train wreck of the single worst governmental leadership since Nero.   And just like the disease itself, Trump deceives in his attempt to get the system to turn on itself.  An irony not lost on me.

But the credit must be shared with honorable mentions going to Zero Zero Zero, Derry Girls, and our nightly bedtime story of catching up on how Marty and Wendy Byrd were doing.

Yearning for the normalcy of the Byrd family in Ozark where they only had to survive a war between the KC outfit and the cartels and not the insanity, ineptitude, and cruelty of a nation that no longer serves in the best interest of its citizenry helped alleviate the minor symptoms of inflammation that could prove dangerous when Tylenol or Chinese Curing Pills could not.   And watching the ingenuity of Brandon, the dignified imp himself, navigate all the world’s challenges of making a good bake with gentle Hobbit-like jurisprudence and innocence lends a much needed and neighborly sweetness to an otherwise improbable time.  For we are all in the baker’s oven right now, regardless if we know it, or not.  Whether we will we rise or fall is entirely up to how well we have been proven.

After thought: So I guess, A. was right when she spotted me making coffee in the traditional way and helping with the dishes that I am starting, “to feel feisty and artfully complain” and therefore must be doing better.

I guess I’ll make this one about me. And all of us.

Before I got Covid 19, a half marathon was the longest race I’ve ever done.

Quiet streets interrupted only by the siren doppler effect take on a whole new meaning when you come down with the fever. There is a bit of false flag deception built into this from the get-go with common symptoms of anxiety-attacks that painfully mirror real symptoms of the thing itself, but I knew, nonetheless, the weirdness I was experiencing and the stingy nerves was something abnormal.   It was also something I used to pay good money for.

A. was basting a whole trout in olives and tomatoes and herbs and maybe I was just frightened at trying something new, bones face and fleshy cheek bones and all. It was late on Tuesday last week and we hadn’t eaten dinner, so maybe I was just hungry.  I get kooky when I don’t eat.  Just ask her.  Slowly, one by one, the rule-outs began, leaving me with nothing but questions and a fever of 102.

The first night was a shroud of uncertainty and night sweats.

The  next morning I noticed, after the fear spiked, was that there was a sense of peace that came over me in knowing.  Knowing I probably got it, and there was nothing I can do to change that. The fear came much later. Days later. In between, there was the steady counterpoint of Derry Girls on Netflix and Zero zero zero on Amazon and a near constant pot of chicken soup fortified by home-made bone broth that A. made.

The triage nurse on the phone chuckled when we asked about self-isolating in a studio apartment and he confirmed what we already knew.  We were both, more than likely, already exposed.

As a point of reference:

We were literally washing the things we bought from the store when I first noticed something was up. This was after seventeen days of staying at home and wearing gloves and masks before it was cool.  A. and I were ahead of the dawn of awakening that finally penetrated our Great American Exceptionalism mainly due to A.s self-admitted paranoia and ours having relatives in Italy.  We had a glimpse inside the time machine from the get-go.   And none of that changed anything.

It’s amazing how many of my loved ones were medical experts when I trusted them with knowledge that I was sick.  Everyone wanted me to get tested.  As if it was an easy thing. The cold hard truth is due to the shortage because of the Federal Government’s incompetence and cruelty- public health mandates that only severe cases and essential workers can get one… with the only exception being celebrities.

I was a celebrity at one time – but only a minor one, so that doesn’t qualify me.

And speaking of truth…

A positive or negative test (or false negative / false positive – who the fuck knows -see earlier articles yadda-yadda-yadda ) doesn’t really change anything that can be done.  I have a friend with a friend who works ICU at County and they keep their patients on fluids and make sure they stay on their stomachs and sides to stave off pneumonia that this thing likes to gift us after a few days.   Before this all began, I was seventy percent water or so, now I am fairly certain I am water.  And I pee a lot.  I mean, a lot.  When this is all over I’ll go get tested for antibodies, but for now it is rest and fluids.  So please don’t leave links in the comments of what to do.  You may, for the first time in your post-Google life not be an expert.

But there are a lot of mild to moderate cases / unconfirmed but suspected blah blah blah cases- like my own that need to follow a few things in order to stay out of the hospital and keep it from being clogged up for the inherently more critical.   As the news states, a lot of young people ended up in the hospital, which I am not surprised by having now experienced it.  The amount of rest and humility it demands for your body to have a singleness of purpose to defeat this fucker, and the sustained effort of nothingness is incongruous with what it means to the vigor of youth.  But it will take you down if you do not lie down and stay down.   Period.

And manage your fear.  No joke.    The hardest part is managing the fear.  And knowing when to cry.  Which I think must be the gift built into the DNA coding of this wee little fucker.   A chance for all of us to lie down and do nothing and look at our own fear.  For a week or two.  Think of as a vacation.  But a really shitty one.

If I may get like zen-light for a moment… I think having a mild case of the plague taught me even more about the nature of impermanence.   That the ride of the fever rises and falls… That’s what it does.  Like all things.   It made me think of that thing I heard on my ten-day meditation retreat.  From the teacher. Over and over again.  “Everything rises and passes away.” Over and over and over again.  And somehow I didn’t get it till now.   Now, I  directly experienced it.  In between episodes of Love is Blind on Netflix and minor panic attacks.

This wee little fucker can teach you this and other lessons the hard way or the easy way.  That’s entirely up to you and your willingness to stay down.  Again, I’m speaking to anyone who isn’t in our most vulnerable population.  Inflation, like all pain, teaches us to submit.  But modern culture especially American, pipes us with messaging of the opposite.  But I think what I’ve learned is that maybe  we all should be like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke and just stay the fuck down.

Because-

Breath is life and this thing literally takes your breath away.

In the end, all I can say is … these times require all of us to be brave.  And bravery enters only with fear.  You can’t truly have one without the other.  So anyone who says you can’t have faith and fear at the same time probably has never been frightened.  And I believe this pivot point in humanity will bring us each in our own way to our  very own private breaking point.  And I say let it happen.    It might come from the kids being brats with their homework under house arrest, or not being able to sleep because of an unnamed worry, or a friend being sick, or you being stuck in limbo, or not knowing if you are getting better or worse.  If now is the time to go to the hospital or a time to practice box breathing.  But it will happen.  And it will happen for all of us on earth.  And I say that is a good thing.  The only thing. And I stand behind that one hundred percent.

A friend who is HIV positive and lived through the AIDS crisis and admits to being, ‘very good with criers,’ says, ‘he relaxed when he learned he got HIV.”  I totally understood.  In an era where the lived-in experience of how to ascend the mountain and get back down safely is limited, I was in need of a sherpa.  And the sherpas come in all forms.  In my case, a queen from Australia.   That kind of fellowship helped relieve the strain this put on my own lady as she made various kinds of soup and tried to deal with me.

Having trench buddies helped me days in for the critical moment.  See, this thing gives a false victory.  It makes you think you are getting better, and you are, in fact, getting better, but that is exactly when it leaves lung problems behind in its wake.  If you don’t stay down.   The way back down the mountain, as any experienced mountaineer knows, is often where people get hurt.  Because they are weary and filled with a sense of that false victory and think they know the way.  So, if you get this, or someone you know gets this, please insist they do as my friend who practices Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and plays he flute suggests – stay down.  For two weeks.

I don’t know how people do this alone.  Or without some kind or blend of Ayurveda -Chinese medicine – Jewish penicillin diet.   And A. jokes to being built for the post-apocalyptic end times, but my love and gratitude for her knows no limit.  In a month or so of seclusion here in a small studio, we haven’t said a single cross word to each other.  And laughed more than our share.   And that is something indeed.  The only thing.

I didn’t miss the junk mail in my inbox from how to clean my gutters and I can’t even begin to comprehend that my favorite song writer, and personal poet hero John Prine is dead and gone.  All I can say at this point, and there will be more later I am sure, is that I feel our conversation needs to shift to not how do we not get this, but what we do when we, or someone within our we, gets this.  It will happen.  it’s already happening.  And none of us can do it alone. Or in the words of my dearest love, “we are all in this together, but separately.”

With gratitude day by day for our personal grocery delivery angels, E and his father  (and the tongue photos he interpreted)  and the Chinese herbs and encouragement to stay calm amid it all.

M

PS In my humble opinion, traditional modern western medicine must bend an ear to five-thousand-year-old practices of boosting our chi and immunity when there is no cure.  And maybe that is why the lack of critical cases in Korea is so low.  I don’t know.  But that is a topic for further discussion down the road.  In the meantime, back to rest and The British Baking Show.