Wednesday, November 4, 2020

November at last

 November 4 - what can a person say on the day after the 2020 presidential election, and who cares to hear it?

The feeling is something like that of a post 9/11 - doomsday  over and the future way too insecure in our politicized democracy where, it turns out, no man's/woman's vote is really ever secure. Or is made to seem so by vigilant obstructionists..

Today's New York Times Arts section  has an article about a controversial museum exhibit  that opened in New York's Guggenheim Museum in October, then re-opened for timed tickets recently. Titled  "Countryside, the Future" - a personal saga by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas - the multi-media-object show coincidentally tackles what is thought to be significant about election results this week. Namely, a split between rural and urban people and mindset (also echoed in today's NYT column by David Brooks). Nothing ever is that simple (when social media tries to make it so). A big surprise, however, was the degree to which state houses turned red to an unexpected degree: voters expression of what? Anti-urban-elite mentality? Who and what represents that - often sadly thought to be the NYTimes itself, with its stated slogan "All the News Fit To Print" that the paper deems fit. It's also the newspaper of record, one of the few reliable resources of facts and evidence researched for anyone to understand who can read.

Yes, there is much to admire in what is only tentatively a 'rural' world these days, given the extent of broadband, internet reach, out there among the mountains and cows. What a timid or limited mind might miss, alas, is an understated irony - often considered to be a mark of an urbanite. That is when a person can speak on two levels and be understood by like-minded others. Again, another oversimplification. Degrees of literacy do exist and often collide. To be rural does not mean to be simple or  not capable of irony.  I think Koolhaas is not writing a paean to the image of country, real or imagined, but  suggesting (as Jason Farago does) the complications and contradictions in that word. How the existence of what he calls the largest industrial zone in the world - windowless  structures housing high-tech logistical operations of some of our major corporate enterprises - can be found in the Nevada desert. Check out Tahoe Reno Industrial Center and see for yourself. Your life may, in part, depend on that place.

Yes and no: the '9/11' dread is not quite over while Covid and certain uncertain political questions remain. Immediately, though, the country is on a different track. Hunkering down will be the new normal, it seems

The better thought is appreciation for the existence of good neighbors, the 'pod squad', who are invariably supportive in all ways. How often does this occur in the city, I wonder. And since we are not mingling much elsewhere, it is difficult to know. It's the neighbor, a chef by profession now semi-retired, making a slew of pumpkin pies to pass around to some of us (a slice or two) and then, whole ones, to new residents whose rear exit faces the block. It's the generosity of a young couple working full-time at home in the pandemic while raising two girls two and three years old but who offer to include any needed foodstuff  when they order online. Like heavy things, grapefruits that are a bother to track down in person.

It's the way my neighbor on the corner feels relaxed enough to come out mornings in his bathrobe to water his plants before tending to US Treasury business indoors (presumably still in a bathrobe). Afternoons, taking a break, he lays himself out in the sun on his deck as though it were the best beach on hand. He is absolutely psyched out by any thought of travel, this executive who once was daily commuter to Wall Street from Washington. It's other neighbors who consistently watch each other's house, who bring in empty trash cans for others after the city's collection trucks have gone by. The birthday parties for kids three and under that take place on the sidewalks so passersby get roped in.  Packages and mail taken in and rides offered to and from airports... Think this is normal?  Will it change back once we get back to so-called normal - though I doubt the old idea of normal will still exist. The debate is on: most restaurants will either crumble or survive, depending on whose authority or opinion is touted. Restaurants are theater as well as food and physicality will be much cherished. Restaurants are doomed because of back debts they will have to pay to greedy landlords. Restaurants may become clubs, more or less, open to the elite. Or pared down and available to all at reduced rates.

No debate for people who want to tackle the question of how Covid, etc., has affected day to day existence though for some people that existence is a subjective matter. Whether or not mental and emotional states are the most important to chart. A mask is a thing as well as symbol. It is not just what it seems...etc. I've a sneaky thought that people who enjoy theatrics are more likely to take to the habit and think of it as a game. The silliness is serious, of course, as much of comedy  means to be. What we may learn from the experience may say a lot about who we are in our lives - and  how flexible are our personalities. I  have acquired the habit of looking at strangers in the eye as I walk along unless, of course, they exhibit some outward signs of paranoia or hostility. Then, perhaps, a wave - some acknowledgment of our common condition 'under wraps.'  A small thing but then....

Neighborliness is such a cliche but has its rewards, often surprising ones. The young couple with their young toddler son sends a text :"We love you." Out of the blue. Why? Because I've thought several times to leave newspapers at their door, knowing they need them to line the floor under his highchair during a madcap dinner. He learns by doing, sometimes throwing...

Passersby of late have been integrating themselves, however briefly, into the  charmed corner of our block. Two in just one 24-hour period stopped (masked always) to take a photograph of the MLKjr. slogan printed on the  black and white stand-up poster on my  front yard that reads: "Life begins to end when you forget to care about the things that matter."  An insignia of sorts, I gather, since one woman explained she was sending these occasional Capitol Hill yard signs to friends elsewhere. Another, when I quizzed her about a motive, volunteered the story of how at least one neighbor in her northwest DC  had criticized someone for posting a similar sign because "it lowers the value of our property." Ah, woe, no comment from me other than  "Can I get the name or address of that person?"

What, dare I ask myself, would be my personal legacy of the pandemic assuming I don't carry it with me to the end? Addiction to the New York Times food page online, printing out  obsessively  recipes I most likely am not qualified to try.  When I do, I'm frustrated by having to reduce an order for four to only one, and that one doesn't eat much. I'll end by throwing away the experiment. 

Lowered expectations for accomplishments each day - naturally. Eating humble pie in the face of so many strangers struggling simply to exist. Exposure to outdoor urban venues - paths, parks, etc. - I might not otherwise have known, though this, too, smacks of self-absorption, and a spoiled person's smugness.



Tuesday, September 1, 2020

New Leaf?

          September comes in like an August in retreat: same fickle weather, same procrastination, same, sameness. Though not in the schools large and small, of course, nearly all of whom are in upheaval over protocol, techniques, needs and wants. A new month produces new hopes - always - with knowledge that a few steps forward (compliance, compassion, etc) inevitably involve  some backward moves.

 On Labor Day, CVS pharmacy staff is working hard to service flu shots -  and with each request from someone 'of an age'  comes the question "have you had the other one?" A sequence of two shots two months apart for the shingles, which insurance may or may not pay for. Children are especially hard-pressed to find fresh entertainment. Outside my front windows I see a group 12-13 and under who have filled up balloons with water and invented a new kind of ball game. Or maybe it is the re-creation of paint ball in the forest where camouflage is key and here - no chance to hide on the sidewalks. So the fun goes. As do the numbers of homeless or otherwise infirm with hands out, signs, pleadings.:Give Anything You Can.

    But the cry for diversity rages on, except that loaded word can have many meanings. As in a single individual who outwardly might fit the mold of a zealot (first impressions being faulty) and then turns out to be more complicated. The proud Westerner - resident of an underpopulated state often thought to be hopelessly a monotone diehard Trumper - turns out to be a skeptic of the country's public and private health system. "You got to do it all yourself. Doctors' egos get in the way," he will confess after a laborious effort to find effective care for a teenage son with cancer.

October looms and comes quickly, quietly with the cooling breaths of autumn a nighty tease. The light recedes. Days diminish in intensity. The pleasure of soft evening air. Air conditioning compressors no longer interrupt meditation. Instead, a surprise - the loud rhythms of a band nearby practicing or performing. Likely amateurs in an upbeat mood.  Conductor-composer John Philip Sousa would be pleased, as would a former long-ago owner of the property where I sit enthralled by the spontaneity of the sound was a member of his famous Marine Band. It's a heartening time, in spite of the oncoming darkness. A time to take the measure of  things, to appreciate and enjoy. Hair stylist Walter entertains while he colors, washes, cuts and blows. He needs to talk more than he needs to mow, so confident is he of his craft. Wisdom and woe, the lessons of life: beets and bananas liquified will bring down one's blood pressure. Ginseng rather than caffeine. No alcohol, ever. 

ADDENDUM to a September below:


I killed a tree recently and I’m not sorry. I killed the tree, an ailanthus, before it killed me, and I did it in tandem with another murder: my neighbor’s towering elm. We plotted together.

That’s not saying I didn’t mourn the act, carried out by hired hands. That I didn’t know such things are taboo. Trees - even invasive and sick ones - produce oxygen, give shade, store carbon. Urban inner-city trees, such as our two, are especially prized when they can stand up to compacted soil, pavement, pollution, human detritus and animal waste. Amazing so many  manage to survive.

In theory, an owner doesn’t need official permission to take one down on private property. The exception in  Washington D.C., my home, is a so-called heritage tree: old growths of great girth, 100 inches circumference or more, that generally are protected by law.

My big fat dirty ailanthus and my neighbor’s elm measured 106.81. His was a tree to cherish, spreading its canopy elegantly over our rooftops and halfway across the street. Alas, elms also are favored these days by a mean beetle that carries a damaging fungus, the so-called Dutch elm disease named for the country where it was first identified.

The ailanthus, by contrast, is  recognized universally as an invasive scourge of little redeeming value except it is fast-growing and nearly indestructible. It sends out sprouts indiscriminately and often, even after being cut down.  (It’s also known as the ‘tree of heaven’  because of its great reach upward. And, yes, the name was a metaphor  for   struggling immigrant life portrayed in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” title of a 1943 American novel and later a movie.)

My neighbor and I had paid  a commercial firm dearly through the years to keep our trees alive - in theory. Who doesn’t want cooling shade under a hot summer  sun?

Then came a spring storm that sent a supposedly healthy  ailanthus limb  crashing down onto my patio, mangling a newly-bought wrought iron chaise longue and just barely missing my house. An omen if ever there was one. I shuddered recalling the $20,000 estimate  once  given me about the cost of removal, primarily because of its location in a back yard with limited access to the street.

About the same time my neighbor asked an ‘arborist consultant’ (yes, they exist) to advise him about the wisdom of continuing to feed nutrients to an elm that had he thought showed some troublesome signs on its trunk. Sure enough the beetle was winning. Treatment was experimental in Holland and elsewhere but no cure was guaranteed. The arborist at the company recommended by the consultant - RTEC Tree Care in Virginia, which looks after trees on the Capitol lawn and  National Mall -  suggested we could each save considerable money by taking down two together.

That’s when the heritage issue came up. A local Ward 6 arborist, employe of the  D.C. Urban Forestry Administration, had to testify  that our trees were hazardous to the public’s wellbeing. But since mine was on the city’s published list of undesirable invasive species, I probably didn’t need his report, he said - not unless neighbors complained about a sudden loss of shade.

Working with the bureaucracy in a pandemic to arrange permits isn’t easy. RETC managed to fix  a date with D.C.’s Transportation Department to close the block, but a forecast of wind and rain forced a cancellation.

  Two weeks later, the largest crane I’ve ever seen rumbled up at dawn, planting itself on the street along with auxiliary trucks and  crew. A burly conductor directed this steel contraption with the console’s buttons guiding its giant arm in wide sweeps across houses two and three stories high. A computer aboard helped gauge how limbs weighing as much as two ton each could be landed safely with impressive precision. Each move was done in coordination with a crew on ropes wielding chain saws as deftly as scissors, in the air and on the ground. 

No better show this season than most movies and Zoom sessions I’ll wager.

“It’s all physics,” said  RTEC arborist Jim, as if that explained the dynamics involved.

The elm disappeared first, the ailanthus after lunch.  Wood that wasn’t  ground up at once was hauled away. By 3 p.m., all that remained were naked stumps barely a foot high. A sad sight for an elm that had spent its life  enlivening the sky and harboring wildlife. Its cut was clean and solid.

Not so the ailanthus,  whose stump revealed a deep hollow full of decay. I plopped a large potted palm inside the hole to cover the gap. I liked the idea of having a decorative Ikea plant preening in a space recently occupied by my unruly specimen - a pesky dangerous overgrown weed. Come winter, I’ll substitute a fake version. 

Sic transit gloria mundi.




Wednesday, August 5, 2020

August Chronicles



                    Away we go - into the sixth month and no reprieve from warnings and endless best wishes ("Stay safe. Hope you are well.") No straightforward way to  say. What are my wishes these days? Are they the best I can come up with and not sound automatic. August is becoming the most uncomfortable month since few answers to questions about Covid are forthcoming. 
         What are 'best' defenses against the sense of futility so rampant? It's a personal matter. I keep uppermost in mind the memories of past summers when Chautauqua was  ongoing  and the beaches of Greece beckoned. Yes, even in the heat the  salt water was cool on the skin, the view to Turkey across the way was unobstructed, all sense of time was lost in the embrace of sun, sea and sky.
              The current worry when other worries have been tackled is about whether American cities will survive - those with the most prestige and attractions. When jobs are lost and money is scarce might young people especially think of returning 'home,'  to smaller urban centers where cost of living is less and the potential to survive may be greater, not to mention the possibility of raising a family in less pressured territory. Give up the artificially induced ballyhoo regarding 'making it' and 'settle' for a reputation as a responsible, even fulfilled person.

(Salty eyeballs. Swollen lips. Hair like straw on skin baked dry by the sun. Unselfconscious bodies on a beach of multicolored pebbles. A warm wind over lapping sound of stones rubbing together in an irregular beguiling rhythm.  An unobstructed view across the water to the outline of Turkey seen in a long gray shape. This is paradise dotted by tamarisk trees along a curving shore. A man in a neon yellow vest in charge of picking up stray debris takes the shade beside a public changing room - a small  cubicle open from the knees down.Two such tiny structures are  for the convenience of day trippers, to this out of the way place from town.Hence, too, a shower up against the stone wall under the narrow one-way road above.  Years ago  one morning I was startled but not entirely surprised to see a boatload of  refugees coming ashore  a few hundred yards from my sleeping quarters adjacent to the beach.  I hurried back to  throw on a robe and picked up pack of men's shoes and boots I had brought in anticipation of coming up against such a scene. Two young  Syrian men from Aleppo greeted me next to the shower, nor far from a dozen or more fully covered women and children sitting quietly nearby. They would be taken by bus into town, sheltered in tents in the  public park and  interviewed by UN officials, and after that who knows their fate? Asylum on the mainland, but for how long? And where are they today. I
 neglected to ask to track the young men, whose only interest in the moment was trying on the footwear for size. )
--------
When the great book is written - there will be many of them -  one benchmark question will be 'what kept  you sane?"  Cliche upon cliche. Yet it is possible to produce a plausible answer and not sound entirely off the  rocker (a nice visual taunt). I know that I doubled down on cooking at home, usually for myself, a lonely only, seeing in recipes both distraction and challenge. I gloamed onto the NYTImes Cooking site and ventured  forth. I  persuaded myself not to get into the TV addiction syndrome but somehow rise above the incessant notices about what to watch what/ where/when. Keep focused on what is physical, I say.  The better antidote to words on a screen or page.  

Which - to jump around a bit, even into improbable topics -    reminds me to offer this tonic: shoes as therapy. And why not?  What is more essential in such a destabilized era than a pair of shoes to help provide some assurance of balance and motion.  Not just to the perennially persistent walkers among us. 
For diversion recently I  took myself into a shop that calls itself  ( I warned you) Comfort One. The array within appealed to me as much as a candy store. Among shoes I tried on (and even bought) were the names  "feel good' cog and an 'antistress'  all-purpose black pull-on style. So help me, those were the labels on the box. Or at least on the women's shoe styles I found among the  exuberantly dayglo colored commonsense models. (No wildly high heels here; no fashion brands seen on TV.) The clerk - a shoe dog as they are known in the trade - confirmed what I suspected - that where retail store sales elsewhere are plummeting, they were open regular hours daily and doing very well. 
Say hooray for the body knowing what it wants and needs  best...

We the body politic seems to go back and forth these days about whether living in cities or suburbs is the better choice - depending, of course, if you have a choice.  The author of a forthcoming book with the intriguing title of "Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age" asserts vigorously her case that opting out of city living can backfire, even in a pandemic era where bucolic retreats of any kind are being sought. Annalee Newitz, described as 'a science journalist,' calls into question mainly the resulting dependence on cars and abandonment of any hope for reinforced social support systems in urban populations. In a short piece in the New York Times Op Ed page recently, she never even uses the word - doesn't have to - climate change as related to the profusion of car ownership. 'Garden cities' is a sentimental concept in her mind.  

Some day, individual recitals saying 'how did you survive the virus' might rest on a short summary of daily tactics employed to stay human and focused. A few people might confess going under, into deep depressions, if not totally unwound by physical manifestations of the disease and its aftermath.  A grandchild, who can't quite remember this peculiar era, asking parent or grandparent: What did you do?  And the mishmash of words that will follow in a hastened recall.  Will there be any way to frame the period positively?  The reach for the mundane, perhaps.  Such as: I made it a point to read about a different tree every day, to try relating to nature that goes on around us indifferent to our fate. I tried to focus on good food, likely homemade, and think of the effort as a physical as well as an emotional one. I would take walks and concentrate on a theme of some kind: construction of doors, wrought iron balustrades, numbering, colors and kinds of materials in the built environment. Weren't you bored? I'd hear the little one ask. Which would open up an entirely new conversation: what is the value in, and discipline, of learning to enjoy solitude.

    Two mind docs turned over the question recently (op-ed NYTimes), citing a study in which subjects chose to have pain inflicted rather than spend long time alone (or the equivalent of a distracting noise). Just to prove they were still human, perhaps. Boredom can be useful, however, if the mind is trained - and feels free to wander in thought: useful thought that can substitute for a lot of self-conscious time-wasting concentration.
Of the pandemic and boredom (for the sermon of the day): useful to have a minor schedule to follow, or  an activity to finish. (I really do read about a different tree each day in addition to sending a 'pandemic era' photo to the DC Historical Society's In Real Time collection; try to stretch a few muscles in my body; try to have at least one conversation with a friend or a congenial service person.   Valuable, too, to let the day flow by with surprising ease simply by following one's curiosity and nosing about the unexpected. 

The month ends on the 31st the way it began: time unhinged and reality  evasive. Look for hope behind the mask: the strange way people can still recognize one another in spite of half a face being covered and when the voice isn't in play. Checking out of the local hardware store today I was hailed by a clerk with the words "Nice cut," referring (I suppose) to my hair. Though I haven't had a  cut in five weeks, I waved back to her, pointing to my head "Gets shorter every week." Meaningless in context but solidly on target as an 'affective' exchange. Shopping or walking or talking without the chance to show any emotion on your features is limiting so how much better when a near stranger breaks through the anonymity of a  socially restricted life.  Better not forget to add to the list a contribution to a worthy cause, of which there are so many these days. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Getting Out of Dodge

 That is to say - leaving Washington for the first time after five months of semi-isolation and coming to Billingsville, Mt.
Which is  inventing a name for a much smaller town in a much larger jurisdiction - a different place and a different pace. Urban worlds, both, though the contrast could not be greater. The trip alone - an airplane ride mostly frowned upon by the country's most often quoted Covid experts -  was a testing exercise in many ways. A way to deceive oneself into feeling somewhat normal again.
That included conversation that wasn't about the restrictions of the virus or even in short spells talk of the pandemic itself.
 Instead, luckily, I was surrounded briefly by two entrepreneurial artists living by their own lights in Montana's largest city, while maintaining connections to political currents of the day.  Below, Shane deLeon and work created following Black Lives Matter celebrants. The small  art gallery was created by another couple, both artists, at the time they were converting  a former commercial space into a two-story  loft-style home. 

 Which goes to show that there is an alternate reality in a town-city ('ville' originally meant farm, then village, in French) whose economy is basically banks and refineries. A village city without a central focus with suburbs stretching forever west.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

July - Why?




Why so much Covid spread, after so many warnings. There's fallout of diametrically opposed proportion and still no sure answers on just how and why the spread occurs to whom and when. Antibody testing is being disparaged for lack of certainty about the source. Covid tests may or may not be available - depending on a person's residence - and results, at least in this writer's experience, not easily obtained.
 Three weeks ago  I took advantage of the District's   collaboration with LabCorp to get a free swab test in a tent put up outside a Firehouse not many blocks away from my home in SE Washington.  As  an 'elder' - someone 'identifying' as such, as the young clerk put it - I went to the front of the line. A smiling nurse in blue garb, battle fatigues in place, did a quick dip into my nose and sent me on to collect a piece of paper telling me how to create an account  with LabCorp and access results on 'a desktop or a mobile device.' Negative or positive, nothing in between I suspected. Wait for at least three and at the most seven days  I was told.

All well and good but still no dice. Is the backlog so great that a major US health corporation is struggling?  And what if I had to find out before traveling to a place that required proof of a 'recent' test? How long is a test good for anyway?
The result of my having to research how to get the results - now three weeks later: My private physician's office gave me the correct 'consumer' number for LabCorp (after I had tried to post my 'query' two times to the company online, as they requested - stating I had not received results). An hour or so into the call, I heard from a LabCorp employe named 'Lee' that he had determined (after another 15 minutes holding the line) the firehouse or personnel working there that day had failed to send along my email, or even perhaps, other vital information and that, somehow - he didn't know how but he did give me the phone number of the firehouse, I was lost in the shuffle. Said person Lee - that he could not tell me results ("negative or positive") over the phone, just that some glitch had occurred. I called the firehouse and left word with the answering machine - a man connected to health in DC I was told. Be careful, I said. Be aware if this happened to me maybe others are out there running around with Covid.
So I got my results: SARS-CoV-2 NAA  Not Detected. Then a long graf, of this and that. Specimen ID and Control ID numbers, account, phone, etc.  though it listed a different firehouse from the one where I had the test.  I called the number of the Firehouse in charge (given me by the LabCorp man Lee), left a message warning that such glitches might corrupt the program. No answer back yet.
Such are the games we must play to stay well.
Would anyone in the testing lab thought to send up a flag if my results had been 'Detected' I wonder?

The times may change but days can seem the same. Some loosening at the edges but  skepticism over all. Maybe real estate developers and construction  workers are the only ones who understand what it means to effect change. Weather changes but seldom varies in prospect.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

June is bustin' out


          Yes, the first  week of the fourth month for the virus  burst forth with fury and indignation and the virus surely part of it: long days being cooped up and then assaulted by another senseless murder of a black man by a white policeman that followed an earlier senseless murder in another town. Would the drama be different if the so-called law officers had  been black? That isn't the question of the hour, obviously. The surprise was how the explosion of energy and anger so quickly became universal.
           Otherwise, the month opened with the 'soft opening' of society in different ways, different places - a sounding board and test of personal discipline. It pointed to a maskless future only when seated outside with only a few people who were not allowed to get up and move around. (I used the restaurant's bathroom anyway.) The  fourth month of the pandemic also showed how little society has learned - or how difficult it will be to know much that is definite about the virus in the future, or even about the society itself..
Look carefully through the trees and see a small creature taking the sun on what appears to be a log. He/she turtle may be one of few living beings unconcerned about the world at the moment.

For diversion, a return to the mundane daily partly comforting matters of being able to complain about trivia. I write as a victim of Trader Joe's vaunted frozen food offerings, this one called Shrimp Tika Marsala, and the sad realization that I have been had every much as voters are being 'had' by a president who has no concept of what a leader should be. Like DT, TJ outsources most of its food offerings that in this case presumed a pretty package of vial and dangerous ingredients would be a satisfying dinner for a single person isolated during
 Covid  (Will future consumers and other people refer to this period as such?). The percentage of sodium, saturated fat and such are astronomical. So shout out, complain, get rid of the purveyor and start cooking for yourself again - not be seduced by the easy living beautifully packaged goods of no value. Mea culpa: of course I could have checked the percentages of sodium and salt on the package beforehand. My greedy hand thought to save some steps in a newly cleaned kitchen. My lesson of the day: more greens, less paper. Obvious lesson: a leading path to death from Covid is a bad diet.

As the days go by, so does my tally of both the smartest and dumbest things done to weather the storm of silence. One (both categories?) was becoming a total addict of the New York Times' cooking pages - online and off.  By now I  have dozens of mouth-watering temptations that, put in practice, may result in  maybe one success out of five. (Who likes having to divide numbers meant for four or more when only one person is eating? ) Another that looks dumb may not be so in reality. On daily walks, I pick a theme - to study rooftops, the numbering on houses, choices of paint colors. At home I keep on hand a  notebook in which to write the  blizzard of notations coming at me from various media, chiefly entertainment. Then I fail to watch none of them.
For better or worse.

But there are some compensations in being forced to wander locally in new places for exercise. My own observations are an ordinary sort that have been previously catalogued by experts in the area. I get an amateur's reward compiling lists of such things as: notable architectural features of homes on Capitol Hill that keep me taking trips outside my own domain. One time, once employed, I made a photographer accompany me on a story about finials. Of course, she did'n't know what I was talking about - few people would - and when I told her she was miffed. No people in that story, no emotion.  I was at a loss to explain my interest in them - but such are the ways of offbeat living. On Capitol Hill, we have German siding (which see), iron balustrades  (what's that? I have to look it up) and railings, peculiar decorative wood pieces  of arabesque design,  and plenty of finials. Plus a few other eye-stopping features.  Special windows I'm sure. Impressive to the nerdy and newbie. Not likely a Pulitzer prize here so we dropped the finials story but I didn't give up loving trivia and the social and architectural history behind it all.
Note: finials are 'distinctive apex' primarily atop a roof pinnacle. If that helps.  A balustrade is "a railing supported by balusters," which does't help much at all. 

Another nice thing about walking is the chance to snap a photo or two .Yesterday I took one of my neighbor across the way, down to his shorts suntanning on the roof in a towel-covered deck chair, eyes closed, doubtless a drink in mind. He might mind that I did, but since I don't post with names and addresses I think he is spared retribution.
At a snail pace it's possible to jot down a note or two. I have notebooks in every room of the house, usually to cite books, events, movies we the stay-at-home public always are being offered (now more likely with a price tag). I put down telephone numbers, restaurant menu items, assorted this and that until it all becomes too much. No one ever before - I like to imagine - has been through this quiet promotion of such engrossing variety. To the point that I ignore it all, or most of it. Too much of a good thing leading to a very bad conscience.
Coping and compromising has become the new slogan, irony the best medicine leavened with humor.

What have you/we learned from the experience of 'lockdown' might be a worthy question except it's complicated by so many personal factors - ie a person alone vs family members; inner city or suburb; healthy or not. Why it seems so hard to answer: getting a grip on one's power of concentration. Whenever I try to think through a question/subject, I am reminded of the toy tube through which one can look and turn to observe a multitude of moving lights. The slightest move of your finger changes the focus - and the scene. Sitting at home alone brings distractions aplenty (sirens, dings, hunger pangs whatever) - and angst always. The known and the unknown keeps changing everywhere. Better to read and try to lose yourself in another life. Or get up and do something: maybe something feel-good, to shake off the shame of not being useful. 
Hence, the friend who volunteers to drive food donations from a restaurant or packing area to a hand-out site somewhere across town. My own shallow effort recently was spending many dollars in the nearby secondhand (repurposed, whatever you want to call it) woman's clothing store on its opening day. Contact tracing, sanitizing lotion, distancing, limits, etc. all in place. (Including a steamer to 'wash down' everything a shopper tried on but turned down.) I bought nothing that I needed - but saved the environment, right?  Put money into the owner of a small local business. In exchange, I felt treated to a rare theatrical experience - interchange between strangers, fantasy wishes presented by a display of colorful designs and fabrics. Though nothing to compare with the action of a young friend who found herself prevailed upon inside Washington's Eastern Market by a masked stranger asking for money. He was black (now Black?), she was blonde White. He was hungry, he said. "What are you hungry for?" she asked. A woman of strong street instincts didn't expect he would confess "a smoke,'  weed or drink. 
"I'd love some pig feet," he answered. Right away she turned to the Hispanic behind the (plastic shrouded) chicken counter and ordered three. Why three? "It just seemed like a good number,"  she says, never having seen much less eaten pig feet. The clerk looked surprised , almost as much I suspect, was the man. One good-sized foot cost $5 so she took $15 from her purse and handed the package over to the man. It's this young woman's style to enter into exchanges with strangers, her own sense of theater perhaps.



   
    

Friday, May 1, 2020

May is Maybe month




         Hard to believe and hard to know much about anything these days. Already May 1 and so little is known about our future with the virus. We celebrate living one more day and try to remain content with a philosophical out look - those of us, surely a minority, who have relatively stable lives. This being a Friday, it is when a new tradition has begun in my neighborhood - Ward 6, which is greater Capitol Hill in DC - instigated by DC Council  member Charles Allen to step out on porches and stoops at 5 p.m. for a Happy Hour alone together. I intend to mix ahead a cool concoction and sit out on the rocking chair on my front porch, hoping to catch the eye and maybe voice of some neighbors on my block. As it happens, I seem to be the only home owner with a covered porch that makes the gesture a natural one. Out West, in several Montana towns, I'm told the ritual on many evenings is for entire neighborhoods to step outside and bellow on behalf of the health and care workers doing the toughest work imaginable during pandemic days.

       Most days, though best in good weather,  I'll often take a chance on catching the attention of passersby on the pavement outside my house -  dogs and children in two, forward and  back. Most of them are head and footless bodies, cut off by the porch beyond my two front windows. People go by like waves - sporadic, unspoken. I wave through the window on the chance of achieving some meaningful contact.  A smile on an unmasked face, my own or that of strangers. Masked walkers seldom are alert to the scene around them, being tuned in to their phones or to steps ahead. That isn't the case with my immediate neighbors who exchange greetings outside their small yards across the street, at the end of the telecommuting day, with babes in arms before the dinner hour.  The variety of families and friendly faces is welcoming, almost inspiring.  Gay, married, Latino, black - an exceptional medley from ages 9 months to probably 69 years or more. Hope for all of us.

shoes for the taking, hopes abandoned
        More hope: On a short walk stretching my legs, I spy a printed sign taped to a fence along a commercial corridor.'Rock concert Saturday night 6:30 until?,' it says, giving an address just a few blocks away from mine. What could be better? I mask up and show up just after the hour to find  others, masked and unmasked, dogs and children, scattered on an entire street shut off with orange cones on either end. Three young musicians - two guitars and a drum set - are tuning up with microphones on what is usually a small parking space next to the home of the District's mostly non-voting Congressional Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. And lo, behold Ms. Norton herself sits on a stone bench - unmasked for the moment - drinking red wine (or so it is reported to me) out of a white cup. She is smiling. A tall bearded home repair man has hauled a stuffed armchair to one side of the 'stage', beer in hand. He springs up in welcome and we do a little jig together; his partner, who stands apart, says the woman drummer is all of 16 years old and a famous tomboy/girl in the 'hood. This scene has been going on for several Saturdays weather permitting, spontaneously generated: a welcome treat.

Saturday night on E St. and East Capitol SE
Walking is exercise but also an experiment in observation.
Look down and there is a small sign under your feet - ode to the public passing by. Look up and see a toy bear waving from behind the window of any number of houses.  Pass by the Little Free Library boxes and help yourself to leftovers - useful gifts for little people perhaps.
'Maybe' month is turning into a forever question regarding free locomotion. It's tempting to think forced slowdown encourages more patience. And in spite of freeway speed drivers,  a certain courtesy seems to take hold on city pavements between  car and pedestrian. 'You go,'I wave and 'No you go' is the return, masks and
 Neighbors gather.
all. Maybe the mask IS the thing - marking the wearer's courtesy to help protect the public. Alas, on this 13th day of the month, anniversary of the March day that shutdowns began, I still seem not to be able to write legibly by hand. That is likely due to a subliminal anxiety that rules the days. I try carefully to print words - slower but surer - a reminder perhaps that life really is better live at a less hectic pace. Whatever good will come of the pandemic period? What is the natural reflex in human behavior when stress suddenly becomes less? That question has only begun to be debated.

     At least signs of real spring have returned. My goal today is to iron a sun-dried duvet cover for my bed. Such are life's little accomplishments.
I'm pondering while I smooth away wrinkles (on the cover) why it is we feel (I feel anyway) a greater sense of aging these days. Do our dreams at night steal away  energy? My body aches. Not having regular pIlates sessions obviously hurts. I can't really improve bodily function without those damn machines! Living with no sense of the future drains a person I suppose. Quite a surreal movie could be made of a person's nightly encounters during this period.

      Streets in my DC neighborhood are emptying out, to judge by relatively few parked cars and increasing number of free spaces. New York's more fortunate have gone north to the Hudson River Valley, Berkshires, Florida. Only one apartment on each floor is occupied in her building, reports a friend packing up for a drive to her place by a lake in Massachusetts. "At least there I can kayak," she says.  Washington has the Chesapeake and the Eastern Shore.

      Handwritten call to action found on a walk along the National Mall on 5/20/20. Practical suggestion for the times.
Such a walk definitely increases a person's powers of observation, and awareness of  contrasts everywhere: plants and flowers in profusion - living, growing things - against shuttered buildings that normally would offer feasts the imagination for visitors (entering freely, without charge).  How this sits heavily on the mind while the feet are steadfastly moving  forward in rhythm as though to defy the elements  that threaten our everyday existence. How it is that I can read the New York Times and learn simple exercises to relieve  muscular body pressures caused by confinement (chiefly while working on screens). The  pages reveal a world in upheaval, the unraveling of societies, stalemated government actions up against the  mundane.
Between two trees on a 'closed' city park on Memorial Day, a boy walks a slack wire set up with overhead rope, while his family looks on. Further along, a man tends to his muscles using a heavy rubber band that surrounds a 'heavy' tree.

Meanwhile, the city's mayor muses (teases?) about reopening steps - saying on one day that the 'advisory committee' has determined what they should be without saying when they would happen.  The holiday weekend was full of people out of doors, half masked...