Saturday, July 24, 2021

Why July

  The month of woe in many places, with heat and smoke interrupting life in many ways.

Still the suffering  can seem limited, depending on a person's location. Escaping Washington, D.C., humidity to  Billings in southeastern Montana can be a blessing since record high temps aren't matched here by exorbitant rises in the humidity scale. It's possible to sit outside in the shade and not feel encumbered by a hot cloth. To date the only inconvenience wrought by unusual weather patterns has been a city order to reduce times that residents can water lawns.

Does that amount to sacrifice? Maybe only if you are in charge of keeping the golf course green.

The subject is a good 'safe' one for conversation. Not so a visitor's questioning store employees about why the rule to wear masks has been dropped - well, everywhere else, too, it seems. The Albertson's clerk comes out from behind the fish counter with an offer of help while I look over the selection. That alone - the gesture - was striking but not as much as the sight of the man in a blue stretch fabric covering the entire lower half of his face. I start to question him when he says "I"m growing a beard" - as if that explained things. (How many men are vain about hair growth on their face?) He plainly wasn't fearful of a virus and didn't want me to think so. I can't resist asking in turn that if the public he serves close up aren't concerned about the Delta variant, especially in unvaccinated people, infecting others? A non sequitur maybe.  He isn't interested and turns away. 

Over drinks an emergency room physician says nearly all victims coming her way these days are unvaccinated but the hospital does not make it mandatory to give such people a shot...even when she explains the likelihood that all of them have the Covid virus that could lead to an early death.

Attitudes are everything. Heaven help the unwary and unwise. Drink up and forget what can't be changed.

 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

June Spoon

What is most obscure in this photo may be the most significant. See one left foot  with silver toenail on a second floor balcony. Idyll idle illustrated: the tenor of the days when heat is abundant and time is a mirage. So what did you do mama during that terrible time called the pandemic, other than sit close to a dogwood tree and watch a neighbor across the way (which is across a small brick walk separating our houses) sort his laundry? Does it really matter - the 'doing' of anything?' I said. Taking life as it comes, learning to live up to those long-ago unreal and often unspoken goals: To read whatever I please, in whatever fashion. Never to complain again that I can't find the time...
And also time for reflection: how the past few months have influenced behavior, memory, ambition, friendships, etc. How much so-called social life do I really need? What is the nature of friendship anyway?  Is my incessant reading encouraging insights into these questions or merely deflecting answers?
My neighbor (pictured below), deep into his two-sided garden (a corner house), tells me about some of the odd behavior of casual onlookers passing by him deep into the ivy and flowers that make up his plot. There is no particular design involved, but, even so,  some people feel the need to vent an opinion. One woman went on a rampage and beat to death (with a stick or such) one lone plant near the waist-high fence where she was standing. My neighbor waited before making a move, deciding whether this was a 'mental case', which likely she was. Venting her frustrating on an innocent (possibly invasive) species, for god knows what reason. And  another woman suddenly began berating him for watering the garden at all. Given news about water crises everywhere (it seems), she challenged him to care for the planet. He wasn't disturbed: You may take a half-hour shower and never think about it, he reminded her. Which of us is guilty? Why did she feel the need to use him as an example of  how individual behavior can affect the universe? Her own guilty, her own frustration?

  Yes, by all Covid counts, cases are dropping in the US while rising most places elsewhere. The transition period is a relative concept. I dare not think 'freedom'  - suspension of anxiety, worry, etc. - without remembering my state of mind many long months ago when the prospect of a vaccine- imminent injection - was possible. How it took some finagling to find time, place, date for that first one. Then  such was the subconscious insanity that I could pretend to know what I was doing when I was way off the rails in some way. I had imagined a place to go one January morning that was totally wrong. I set out on foot to a CVS only to discover I was due at a Safeway instead. In spite of having the name and address written down on paper in my hand. What happened in my mind that I didn't connect with reality that day?  And the nervousness: not being able to find the right place, not being able to get there on time, to be refused -that first shot. So I'm now very aware of my mental state, to understand it may be operating on two levels. I live in the present as a shield, having to be cognizant of alternate universes around me: people who may or may  not be  concerned with Covid, or fearful of vaccines, unwilling to hear other voices.

June, in theory, we are over the hump with more people than not going unmasked since more have now had one dose than not. Still, insecurities remain. I find myself still a captive of the New York Times Cooking pages - the visual appeal of the recipes excites the gustatory senses. Somehow the ability to print out any and all can be a substitute for not even trying most of them - it is easy escapism. To have 'digested' the ingredients and instructions becomes tantamount to a meal. And owning them allows me to discard them at will, as though I have had the experience of trying them. Such are the wayward habits of a somewhat sequestered life.

Not so sequestered that I can't extend my turtle head in pursuit of a USPS package that never arrived at its destination. Our folly and illusion to believe tracking every single thing through their service is possible. I have gone full into the strange recesses of this organization's ways of not quite admitting when something is 'lost.'  Does anybody out there have a similar experience?  Somehow I'm getting lost in the terrain, one district distribution center to the next and no answer to my query.

Keeping up by keeping going: Even such a simple appointment as a hair cut/color allows me some insight into the outside world. The trick is to exchange an everyday routine for an entirely different one - and stay aware of what the difference is about. Today (6/11) Walter told me he has seen people, clients, who never have left their rooms in the Westchester enclave in two years. Perhaps they have strayed into the corridor, come down for a haircut in the salon on the lobby floor - but not gone outside. Is that possible? Walter can tell me about dinner in an upscale Virginia restaurant with his wife - Argentinian, though he always orders salmon not the meat - and is charged $32 for a class of red wine. Why didn't he ask the price ahead of time? He doesn't say, only that now he has a story to tell - which may justify the price since he can't recall how good was the wine - probably only his wife tasted it -and that gives him satisfaction.  The client before me gives him homemade pumpkin bread; I give him $20 over and above his ridiculously low charge for the session. He wants stories, he admits; he is here to collect other people's experiences with no ulterior motive that I can see. He says he will one day open a house for older people to live together who might otherwise have to stay and burden their children. How sincere is he?  I can't trace his true allegiances. Peruvian and worldly, what does he call home?  A brother back in Peru he won't visit because of quarantine rules (four weeks at your own expense, entering and then what does the US want?). He can vent his ire at the price of the wine. He laughs exuberantly when I say that the charge took care of the linen tablecloth.

Tricky, entering a world semi-maskless. At my local Trader Joe's (masked as required), the checkout clerk remarks that my hair has a different shade today. Indeed, Walter has given me a trendy shade, he says: Red Wine, buy a German company Wells. (He also says the same chemical in that dye has probably given younger people cancer but the rot works more slowly in older ones... So should I assume safely?) How would she even remember me? "It was a brighter red before," she says - no notion of how she would know me at all, except that may not be the way the store tracks customers - by their obvious physical differences. We both are masked, and I am flustered. Does the store keep notes on customers? I'm stupefied, caught, not for the first time.

Washington on a sublime prime late June day with colors crisp and the air calm. A positive feel, just taking in the view from the Navy Yard leading to Yards Park (several romping grounds, with restaurants, grass, etc.) bordered above by the Anacostia  straddled by the new about-to-be-finished Frederick Douglass bridge. Elegant arches are consoling in some way. 





Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Then Came May..




The 'whatever' month. Transition. Ambivalence. The third month into what these days counts as freedom, of a sort. Freedom from a virus attack in virulent form.   It's still a time to count  pleasure from small things: observations during a walk, success at putting a recipe together out of unlikely ingredients (as recommended on the NYTimes food page). The larger things (pleasures) come from enjoying food together with friends in a restaurant. Uncertainty certainly applies to questions about travel overseas this summer. 

Walking about: I noticed a sky blue MiniCooper with orange trim and, for some reason, it lifted my spirits. Especially as it was parked in front of a house painted with no fewer than six colors. This was on an ordinary Capitol Hill street on an ordinary spring day that was a mix of sun and clouds. I walked on through a large open space - park and playground combined - watching very young children cavorting under the casual eye of grownups and felt happy for their innocence. So much of the world is distraught these days,  and not because pandemic vaccine delivery is slowing as seemingly more people refuse it.

Another day, another glance at some minor rebellion - white paint Black Lives Matter slogan on the back of a black leather-like coat worn by a fellow hung up on his cell phone. The everyday scene at Union Market is a place apart, defiantly its own space with crowds and traffic fighting stubborn pedestrians. A distillery next to a secondhand goods store next to a downmarket emporium of Chinese imports.  At the top of the hill (incline, rather) a movie theater is open to a few stalwart patrons. It is late afternoon on too good a day to spend inside yet there we were - all seven of us. The owner/manager thanked us for coming, saying they had opened only recently) before he started the projector (or whatever digital operation is involved).

Definitely, a new mood, a sense of hope. At Eastern Market today - a fair-weather low humidity Saturday - a young man put two buckets upside down outside an alley  and floated two yellow smiley-face  balloons  to draw attention to himself while he stood between them singing an operatic aria, complete with face and hand expressions. He was instant entertainment in hopes of attracting a few tips.  All this while passersby wandered along the car-free street with dogs and children past restaurants setting up tables - distancing observed - on the sidewalk Cheerful overall, no catch.

Talk centers on mood mainly.  How to relate, how to know. Everyone has his/her own way of feeling 'normal.' It struck me today, during the third week of May, how we might each cling to a single action establishing a 'new phase.' What choices!  Going to a restaurant and eating indoors. Buying new clothes for a wardrobe that might never be needed. The act is what counts since who knows the reality of the future? 

Monday, April 12, 2021

April Agonies and Ecstasies


 


Nothing much to suffer from when the final vaccination has taken hold so back to complaining about fickle weather awhile exulting in the profusion of plants and flowers.

However, the recognition in retrospect of meaningful times during Pandemic days without forgetting the subprime anxiety and worry about casual contacts.

Here a brief glimpse of the season's magnificence. A cherry tree that spreads its pink wings over four back yards on Capitol Hill. Thick enough at times to hide the helicopters roaring sporadically overhead.        


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

March Maddening



         Coming out of our shell? Well, sort of. Two shots delivered (Moderna) in February two weeks apart, meant waiting two weeks of March to begin to 'feel different.' Sort of. Physically, little changes, though pandemic anxiety is difficult to shake. Sleep is erratic. Public behavior is like playacting. Masks feel eternal - and necessary. Emotionally,  relief of course, A lack of fear and trepidation. Lunching with two friends who are also past the danger zone, or supposedly so, when chance of a life threatening disease is diminished. 

     What's so maddening in the wake of this new phase of life (in which life seems altogether possible, without danger of a virus claiming my own) is the advent of pollen and then the cicada hurricane...I'm left with sniffling and coughing and  sneezing, wondering if the scourge will ever end. Both scourges, not to be compared. Pollen-nated while vaccinated.

 I"m one of the lucky ones, now today (already officially spring) among a very small minority of those who have' crossed the line'. There is a guilt connected to the sense of freedom, partly compensated by the idea of celebration. What helps, too, is the promise of a great profusion of flowers everywhere, alongside budding trees, the ecstatic delight of  color and sun. Plants and flowers engender tremendous emotional support accompanying the medical boost.

Though what to do or say to people refusing to follow CDC 'orders' - who say absolutely no vaccine for them. The strong-minded mother of two young twins declaring she never has been sick, never had the flu, never needed protection and so won't start now. Will she at least allow her children to help protect others from Covid and take a jab when that age group is highlighted. So much still is unknown about the secret carriers - children as well as adults.

A 52-year-old Black man says he refuses the option because he believes  the vaccine is 'unnatural' - does not come from nature. He cannot be convinced that the virus itself is a biological mishap arising out of an animal's contact with humans. No, he must insist on a paranoid version - that the virus was created in a lab  whether by accident - still unknown - or design. The tall thin man has become fixated on what he calls a natural diet - fruit and vegetables only, little or no meat - and thinks will keep him safe. He works outside as a handyman while wearing mask, has a phone (so aware of the world, at least minimally) but no checking account. He obviously does not feel responsible in any way for fellow human beings; his conscience relates only to the wellbeing of his own body. 

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PS The pig wants into the game, too.

Monday, February 8, 2021

February 2021 ETC.

 


February came  out of nowhere. Many days recently seem just like the next one or the one the day before. No special event marks the changing of the months - except for those lucky enough to celebrate the certainty of a first or second vaccine dose. 

And how does the prospect of becoming more safe, somewhat immune, feel?  More of a mix of emotions than all out relief. Some of the same habits, patterns of behavior continue. An obsession with creating the next meal, the uncertainty of being able to plan far ahead, awareness that  mindset and outlook is determined a great deal by the behavior of others.  To wit, cocooned in my single state,  alone at home most days, I am 'out of the box' elated when some incidental encounter occurs either remotely or in person. A neighbor texted me this morning out of the blue that she had left me a piece of lasagna in a plastic container outside my gate. No explanation - just a note.  A thrilling note of care, never mind that I've stuffed my fridge with food and go on binge buying to local stores occasionally just to be around people

Or maybe the reason for these forays is more complicated. The chance to go unrestricted into a world that looks BC - before Covid - in many respects. A chance to have some spontaneous connection with strangers, using all senses to get oneself out of the humdrum daily life. Getting some exercise and stimulation Out There. So when I went yesterday on a whim to buy what I had convinced myself was a 'necessity' - jumbo pasta shells that I could stuff deliciously, maliciously, with sausage and cheese - I knew the surest place to find them was an Italian grocery in the Union Market near me in NE Washington. Too far to walk on a dreary day (though at 46 degrees, nearly a warm one), but a grand excursion into another neighborhood. I surely did not want to make a dish of pasta always too large for consumption. But I wanted to feel I could find a physical object that I desired in a context that I could pretend was 'normal.'   A cheerful burly man queried me with a smile: What was I looking for?  Ah, yes, he said - they had run out of the shells and reordered so there must be some in one of the large cartons stacked up before the pasta shelves. I said I had found a parking space and wasn't going to be in a hurry to leave. He said he would attack the cartons and, lo, he did find the Ferrara labeled box and handed it to me. I can't even remember now if he wore a mask and, if he did, how would I recall a smile? A mask in my own mind perhaps? (I've been a bit absent-minded of late: signed the date on a check sent to someone as " Feb. 2121" without realizing it until later. Went to my bank to deposit a check and somehow ended up withdrawing an equal sum from my account. The clerk seemed to understand my confused state.)

This pretense of buying a box of pasta I didn't need led me into a wonderland of sights and smells, engagement with clerks only too glad to see a shopper or sightseer in their midst - , and the best excuse to walk up and down streets in an ever-changing area. Apartment buildings being built opposite small wholesale dealers in food and other goods, a bustle of commercial activity, discovery of an emerging Latin market and restaurant center. Some protocols easily observed: quick sanitizing hand wash in and out of stores. The local book outlet, Politics and Prose, now condensed, open for browsing. How long has it been since I felt free to roam the shelves? No more than five or eight or such allowed in at a time but on a Wednesday afternoon that would not be a problem.

Then home again, bags clanging with the edible merchandise for which I am probably reluctant to consume, dreading the routine, yet again, of creating a meal by myself, for myself alone yet somehow having to try. A pattern of sorts: prove that the NYTimes recipes are accessible and the rhythm of creation will be satisfying in ways far beyond the pleasures of taste.  How, even in the bloated newly remodeled Safeway in my home neighborhood, I can do such wishful thinking of the preparation ahead, knowing at the same time that I do not want to be subject to the confinement involved.

The month now notable for the date (2/14) and time (approx. 11:45 a.m.) I receive a second Covid vaccine. No mean thing to be a member of what is something of a club - those relatively few of us working towards a form of security to be able to mingle in the world. Not necessarily mingle freely with impunity but at least with some relief that it is now unlikely (after a 10-14 day wait-and-see time) that I would be a victim of the disease. A serious victim. So I feel I have won some sort of lottery through little effort and a lot of prayer. Prayers that take the form of specific dreams about the process, the actual jab. Through it all, anxiety was rising from some unknowable source - until I felt like a kid going off to the first day of school alone. No special favors were being granted me, I was only one in a long line standing outside the Model Cities Senior Wellness Center unsure of what system was in progress. Anxiety that if I failed to arrive on the stated hour chosen that I would be, again, adrift in a crowd waiting to find out every day if, indeed, symptoms had turned up in my system.  Nearly all coming there were white and masked and older. DC citizens mainly from nearby Ward 6 grouped by their preordained appointment time, every 15 minutes. An ice storm had struck the day before, cutting down travel and any thought of walking far on slippery sidewalks. The city in lockdown: no mail because postal carriers couldn't risk a fall, and especially on brick that can e especially slick in  30 degree weather.

Still it is/was a strange psychological element that nearly upended me, interrupting sleep the night before. I had comfort only in the fact a friend would drive me to the center (I was afraid, among other things, the lock on my 13-year-old car was frozen solid in the ice storm, making a drive impossible.) The comfort of having another person around. Does such anxiety go back to a childhood spent too much alone and insecure lacking any real sense of safety.  I grew up always running from those fears,  when one is one's own worst enemy and victim. How I would shirk challenge in order not to fail lest I disappoint. Such a state of mind  must stem from early roots. What else accounts for the diminution of self-confidence and strength.

But it is Sunday, Valentine's Day - and the relief was immense after receiving the jab from one of the Safeway pharmacists doing the jabbing on overtime. Entry into a large bright room and a choice of unveiling either left or right upper arm. Little small talk ensues. A single sting and then our reward: a coupon from Safeway (the sponsor? who indeed was paying for all this?) saying we would get 10 percent off on purchases on a trip in the future with the exception of liquor and prescription medicines. We are encouraged to wait 15 minutes in an adjoining room in case some unsuspected reaction took place. I said I would wait in my friend's car and ran out, as though from prison. Relief was more than palpable. I could turn to thoughts of others, buy flowers for the neighbors who do me small favors unasked. And in turn  I am given some heart-shaped ravioli and homemade cookies. My son on the phone volunteers that I should expect the second dose to have some side effects' though he has yet to have even one dose.   He did not overstate the case. I spent a night and a day with a success of aches and pains and self-pity - as warned. 

normal state since it is still not yet known if vaccinated people can be carriers and even if two or more of us are together unmasked that we can pretend normalcy. To await the studies, the what-ifs, a life ahead that still will seem precarious but probably not deadly.  How long will such a limbo state last is key. To be among, at this date, only 4.2 percent of the US population to be 'fully vaccinated.' But not, alas, fully secure of best behavior around others.

I'm probably among many people who continue to be deviled by different forms of anxiety: where they come from, how to 'cure.'   A friend believes that his brush with Covid (fatigue mainly) produced welcome change in his sleeping habits for unknown reasons. Maybe the habit of sleep lingered on..so that now he can count on enjoying 'full night's sleep,' where before (B.C.) he struggled. The anxiety I often feel about digital devices and their 'bedeviling' impersonal sometimes inscrutable rules: might it stem from one's sense of helplessness in general, the impersonality of nature and its command over life. When sitting alone at home watching films on television, I have a similar reaction: the movies are manipulative, indifferent to individuals in the audience, a reminder of how the 'entertainment age' has taken over the world. Explosions of social media as substitute for human interaction and immediacy. My rebellion and my frustration over why it had to happen and why it came to be.

How much is Covid, how much worry over political/social trends in the country at large? Remarkably, it's somehow soothing to be among people -one at a time ideally - each giving the story always with a sightly different  twist on how he/she managed to sign up for the vaccine, what happened when he/she actually got the vaccine, and what physical reaction the first or second might have occurred. The body knows...and each body is different so reactions are unpredictable in each person.  The comfort, of course, is knowing a date is fixed, the vial is secured (or will be until the message comes about a delay...). Should we all be wearing a V sign if we have officially made it through the hoops.  So it was the other night that I could enjoy a martini and regale with some humor what was my experience to a couple who were also  now 'done.' 

Then the problem becomes whether this is reassuring to others who are not. "Can't wait to get the mask off,' is the general cry of greeting to replace 'How are you?' which is meaningless: everyone is miserable  having to wear a face covering, listening or reading about rule changes (what is 'safe' and 'unsafe').

 

Friday, January 8, 2021

January 2021 The Great Unknowns

So it seems. We are all hunkered down in our unsheltered bunkers, waiting. To hear latest information on virus behavior on vaccine rollout, on political news.

Nothing else. 

It is nearly impossible to describe mental moods surrounding the immanent possibility of obtaining a vaccine. An unease unlike anything else save the miseries of being lost in an unsettling dream. The sense of being alone, totally in a lottery of sorts that would determine success in finding a spot. Of not ever really knowing how that will come about. The clatter of helicopter blades overhead, circling and circling, atop the fiery screams of police cars and fire engines racing through the town. My town a village of sorts, the Capitol Hill residential world, and an address eight blocks from the Capitol itself now shrouded in military paraphernalia on thousands of camouflaged soldiers. How strong the sense of doom hangs over in the wake of what now is called an insurrection for lack of any real definition.

  At the same time there is a desperate sense of impending deadline as vaccine becomes available but in unknown numbers of doses. The tightrope walk on the computer, figuring answers to a system that answers best to those familiar with government methods. How this mentored a crippling inhibition to thought. How when I had in my hand printed material directing me to a certain pharmacy where I would get a first injection I would misread the information  and insist that my goal was a CVS and not what was clearly written down 'Safeway.' That I insisted on  first glance that I had to be available for three hours, between 11 and 2 on a certain Sunday - when in fact I misread the line and neglected to see that I was due between 11 and 12 . That nerves trembling I went to the wrong place in spite of reading sign that said 'no vaccines here.'  That an obliging CVS employe with an iPad in her hand gently corrected me and pointed to the Safeway across the street.This was after I thought to carry a folding stool with me, fearing I would be standing in line for three hours at the site written down on precious paper. And I only had got that far because I had thought to reve up my computer well ahead of the published start time for 65-and-older first appointments.

So, finally, a first shot and absolutely no reaction when even the gentle pharmacist in charge of administering the doses confessed he had had a sore arm for days and had to sleep on his back. Another friend confessed to the soreness and also to a bruise she attributed to 'thin old skin.' But no complaints until I was told that the second required Moderna shot would be given at another location. It was up to me to sign up, yet again, take my chances on a slot. Though at least I had proof of having a place in line at one of the three 'senior wellness centers' listed on the piece of paper he handed me. Another hangup: it wasn't explained that this still was a Safeway link and that the only browser I could use to connect with any one of the three centers was Chrome. Safari on my Mac was useless. We do live in a complex world when even such basics are not readily explained.

Overall continuing into inauguration day: why such an obsession with food, with recipes, and having to find work to do with my hands. It wasn't/isn't enough to open piles of books and dive into other worlds. The very real outside world made concentration difficult = but a clearly written recipe at least provided a sense of order and even some satisfaction. I could create something, whether good or bad. I could see progress that way, physical evidence of change. I painted out the stain on my bedroom ceiling caused by a link from my roof some weeks ago. I could clean my hands and feel relief.  All this throughout the clattering stutter sound of helicopters overhead, the screaming sirens in the street, the sight of soldiers in camouflage on every other street where there weren't also parked police cars.

Some people are emotional, others intestinal I love quoting as a ritual to anyone wondering why a stomach can show upsets even when a mind appears calm. I have been in a third mode - the irrational - through days fraught with questions about violence and insults and uncertainties (mostly now about vaccine distribution). When thinking or sleeping does not improve the state of one's mind.

Then, lo, the curtain raises on what is purportedly a New Era, though staffed well with old hands under the new/old president. Still a lack of consolation, however, given the staggering numbers still in thrall to conspiracy and loss and whatever it is threatens minds that seem concocted out of fear. A strong sense of unease governs days shrouded in the Covid menace. It is little comfort to realize that, as of today, 1/24, I am one of only 810 residents in my DC Ward 6 who have been given a single vaccine shot - out of thousands who must keep trying. And the single shot isn't real protection except psychologically.  Experts say the so-called protected person still can transmit virus (but not get deathly sick him/herself).

Stasis. Waiting. Wondering. All opportunity for pondering. 

Useful fact to remember in the course of the day: That by 2050 some 2/3rds of the world's population will live in urban areas - though what is actually known as a city may yet be defined.

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