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. 


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.


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

December at last

 Though why a body celebrates the onset of cold and dark defeats me. The first day  of the new month was the first in nearly nine months when I wore  a coat, gloves and a hat. and truly the brisk cool wind was refreshing, especially with encouraging vaccine news erupting almost daily. But a sad day, too, since it was the next to last one when the public could see anything left of the memorial to  the country's 240,000-plus  Covid-19 victims honored by a display of white flags, many of them personal remembrances in writing. conceived as a national place of mourning, a Maryland artist somehow managed to  put together a team plus funding to take over the Armory Parade Grounds opposite DC's old baseball stadium.  The title - America: How could this happen..."- is self-explanatory since it was also a day that saw record number of deaths in one day and hospitalizations from Covid.  

From one day to the next: a total lack of continuity on one's schedule. From working outside among other volunteers helping to take down the flags to very closeup intimate relationship with the dental hygienist and periodontist whom I suspect are weary of hearing patient's existential and physical woes. Still, the experience is special during such a time - to be in small rooms that are as antiseptic and germ-free that is humanly possible, given the work that goes on. One doctor wore what looked like a motorcycle helmet as she bent over one reclining figure with only inches to spare.

The cold and wind has a friend in the masks we wear unsparingly. It could also be true that body language was never more readily in sight. Smiles are excluded, which sometimes makes people inhibited about using sound as well.  To pass someone on the street with friendly intentions: exaggerate with arms a stage bow or offer a sweeping gesture as if to give him/her priority on the pavement. Or even speak: a short phrase that will represent connection of one human to another.

 On the 7th day that is also one month from my January birthday - to a number not ever realized as possible to the young - I plotted to get a Covid test, somehow. My motive was to clear up whether I could be asymptomatic, that having been in the company of a new Covid 'victim' when she seemed healthy, that I might learn something. That I could consider a severe quarantine until the time came for another test. This is confusing as are most 'facts' about the pandemic progress. A test one day may mean nothing until the next test. By the time results are in, a person could be newly infected. But the civic push is on in a big way .Hence, I felt compelled to look at various options - different ones, different requirements. My PCP (personal care physician) is affiliated with Medstar so the urgent care around the corner would make sense. Sign up no problem on line (required) BUT the next spot open for a visit was six days away. Would results be faster than the DC program offering testing at a scattering of sights?  
However, the city's free testing sites (Medstar takes my Medicare care) do not require insurance, but do ask to sign online ahead of time. Long hours later I came up with quagmire: the online form did not accept that I have no 'group ID' number to process my application.  No explanation offered. Should i phone the city to ask why and would I hear back? No, I would not, I would instead go to the local Firehouse 8 on C St. SE Tuesday at 2:30 (now December 8) at the stated time. I would line up, plead my confusion about why I had no name in their online records, hope for the best. (Last time I was tested I never got results after two weeks and had to lean on my PCP to do after the lab, to learn, finally, 'no sign of virus.')
There was a line of people mostly in black cold-weather clothes half a block long, like a trail or series of railway cars. Patiently waiting while the crew (who were just putting on their PPE) took their place. A white tent, a woman seated at the table, and several 'guides' - firehouse personnel or whatever - and iPads to secure that I could be seen. But only as someone who stated' no insurance'  because I had no registered  insurance claim via the online signup portal.
I protested, but a lie it would be as the kind attendant-guide took down my info and was jovial in approach. Seeing my age  on the screen, "wow, you must know a lot,' - all those years of living. 
I was touched. A Human Moment? Had he practiced this line?  And what of the fact that earlier in the day sitting with a 'family-like friend' we had gone over moments in life when past and present combine: her realizing how and when she met the author of a book she was about to read, and how much details mattered then. The pleasure of remembrance.
For me, a jolly moment on a sunny windy day. The man in the tent took my little plastic bag of tricks, poked the wooden stick up my two nostrils, for maybe 30 seconds, laughed along with my attempts to talk.'Why no chairs here?" I wondered. "Who is analyzing the results? LabCorp?" We stood on muddy ground, the oldest person in sight I would guess, followed by youngest - a mother with a young daughter. And was sent along my way with a piece of paper saying I would get results between three and five business days. But nothing about why it mattered, how bizarre our situation that means I will have to return to get another test to allow another quarantine, etc. on, and on...

Later on a quick note, after reading that most Americans these months have looked at an average per person of 10,000 hours of TV movies and such. I calculate that I have struggled to see one segment of an impressive three part Steve McQueen special about Caribbean emigres in London's Notting Hill, and that I've seen very little promotional material of any kind. Spared the hustle  although I can't say I've saved my eyes (who knows damages from the screens around us?) since I've managed instead to consume an average at least one book a week or more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

November at last

 November 4 - what can a person say on the day after the 2020 presidential election, and who could hear it above all the whoops and cheers?

Even so, 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.

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 down  in the sun on his deck chair as though it were the best beach  in the land. He is absolutely psyched out by any thought of travel, he says, 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,

. 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 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." 

What, dare I ask myself, would be my personal legacy of the pandemic assuming I don't carry the germ 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. I've become a squirrel chaser. That is, someone who finds the breed fascinating and in particular a certain squirrel I'll call 'Girl' though I've no idea of her gender. I suspect she knows me by some body sign or odor. She won't move away quite so fast when I am near. I know her by a distinctive non-squirrel-like feature: she has a clipped ear, as though caught in a fight or maybe born that way. Her motive to stay close must be the quality of nuts and seeds she can dig up on the premises. I'm told squirrels can be pets - or achieve some semblance of that. At least one person I know has taken in an abandoned baby to feed it milk and keep it in a shoe box until the creature grew strong - and eventually went back to the urban wilderness without a problem adapting.

Stay tuned for my children's story in the works about a squirrel and a fish and how they got along: the theme suggesting the value in appreciating people who are different from yourself. 

Squirrels and store-bought palm trees can be watched endlessly the nearer we come to the 'real' hardcore winter. The palm (see September's post) isn't thought to last long but I can almost see it struggling to survive with each leaf's fronds (same thing? reaching out for more sun, as days grow shorter. My bathrobe neighbor took a piece of my largest decorative plant and is attempting to grow it on his deck - giving it, I blush, my name. So it's a namesake of sorts that I cheer on daily. 

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.