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. 

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...

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

April As Cruelest Month We (May) Ever Will Know

Let's be clear and remember when this hiding out thing started. Friday the 13th of March a friend reminds me. I was to be in New York that weekend but cancelled just before every event up there was cancelled. Then I was invited to a BSO concert at Strathmore.That, too, was cancelled. No one quite knew what was coming. Being 'hunkered down' had different meanings to different people.  I expect that one day my granddaughter, one of them, will ask me 'what was it like during the pandemic? What did you DO?' And I'll be able to tell her it was the world turned upside down, so a person had to roll with it. 'You could have dinner in the morning, breakfast at night. Drink bourbon with your ice cream. You could do nothing and not care.'
'But, granny' - I'm one of several she could call on - 'weren't you BORED? How did you stand wearing masks all the time?"
"Well, my child,  so many lemons made wonderful lemonade.  Imagine being able to watch a flower bloom. Wave at strangers and not be considered a moron. Read several books simultaneously and ignore Tv and the internet. It's difficult to explain how valuable time became, the looseness of it. When thinking thoughts could be considered a value on its own because the quiet, and lack of outside entertainment, made it possible.'

  The photo below was taken on April 27, a long way into the  siege. It was taken on East Capitol Street only blocks from the U.S. Capitol Building. It speaks oceans about the very real divide that has grown up in the city where statistics are mounting.  How presumptuous to proclaim your goodheartedness on one of Washington's most 'respectable' and expensive avenues. Stately homes, for the most part, set off by front and rear gardens. Advertising the graciousness of citizens for sure. Noblesse oblige. Perhaps the big box stores are missing essentials like toilet paper but smaller outfits all have a supply. Brings to mind the conundrum of what constitutes civic action, empathy, social cohesion. Maybe offering a free bottle of wine might be more consequential and welcome.



              That's not to say good things aren't happening to a few people - the novelists, for instance. Anyone able to focus and hoping to have time enough to complete a project. And to some lucky retirees, such as myself, not bound by many rules beyond the civic ones now in charge: masking up and washing hands. At certain times I'm almost delirious with the sense of freedom extended beyond the norm - beyond reason, if reason is even left in the world we know today. Because I have almost a complete loss of the guilt and shame that comes with being financially well enough off in the so-called normal times - that I'm 'not doing enough with my life' beyond  guilt-erasing volunteer work. Leaving a legacy: that's off the table when simply holding onto life is required.

               A question that might be pertinent in these times: What is one thing you considered essential to maintain your sanity? Fess up -  it isn't the feel-good malarky to stay calm, etc. I think better to refer to something quite physical - a notebook, in which you can keep track of the various options for food and entertainment/ clues to staying alive in heart and mind. So I found at my local hardware store (of all places) a little so-called Decomposition Book - recycled pages in a tiny bound notebook in which I can jot down appealing references to the world beyond my door. My neighbors last minute offer me a slice of pizza for dinner and I readily accept, glad to be given a clue to another site that delivers fresh food (this one makes tomato sauce on the premises).

               The notebooks are piling up: dozens of suggestions daily for what to do, what to watch, how to move. I readily understand the psychology, at least my own. Writing things down promotes the idea a person is organized and so is the world outside, at the same time I am also creating a major disorder since when am I ever going to follow up, to make the time for the virtual as opposed to the real book in hand that I most certainly crave.

               I consider buying a secondhand rowing machine, such are the admonitions to keep up the body at all costs. Tantalizing. Except the ad says that it is 100 pounds weight and slightly difficult to fold for storage. I'm not sure these are the times when we should be shopping for what is, really, nonessential items just because I'm not disciplined enough to do my Pilates exercises on the floor at home..

               This segment (photos to follow later) is about the virtues and vices of walking the city while masked. At the very least, trying to stay six feet away from anything breathing whether or not the human being wears a mask. Surprisingly few people do whom I see taking the air in open spaces (as opposed to narrow sidewalks in the so-called inner city though my city is mainly a group of neighborhoods). Nor do all of them, not even most, move to one side when passing. The suggestion by the city's mayor is to do both these things but the rule is definitely do the mask inside public places. At our Eastern Market (a village and a neighborhood), nobody is allowed in without one though, alas, it was suddenly shut with 12 hours notice when a worker was found to have the virus. To be opened within 48 hours again after a thorough cleaning. Weekends are the worst time to be out; the teleworking employes are free to roam then. So aim for real distance - seek out areas of town that are not glamor spots, are hardly even know to exist.
                  Then, surprise, see how much you have missed of what is going on in formerly not-so-hot spots: the high rise apartments/condos jutting skyward not far from homespun row houses with porches and tiny front yards. Paths barely trod along the still neglected Anacostia River on the DC side, past yacht and boat basins. No services here of course. No signs either. Past gates closed for the duration and then up against covered fences sealing off major construction projects, at least one of which was once said to have housing in low to middle income range but now delayed. Large swaths of the city in dispute over ownership and purpose. Formerly iconic buildings such as RFK Stadium now moldering. The protocol is tricky when maneuvering the lines. To nod, to wave, to speak - are we 'in it' together or are we separated by a piece of cloth over our lower faces? (Above left, a woman ignoring the world as she is told to do - by slinging a hammock between trees on an isolated part of city land: the Kingman island in the middle of the Anacostia River. Sublime quiet. An in-your-face statement, how a denizen possibly of a small apartment can shield herself from stay-at-home rules.)
                   Ignore everyone and concentrate on what is around and below you. Namely, the "please take me' items laid out for the picking. The 'Little Free Library' shelters jammed with books. A curbside square of grass filled with books (3 feet apart). I find three titles I probably never before thought I might want to read. An elderly couple well masked test the  wheelie file cabinet sitting out under a tree and decide to roll it home. They were out for the game, the hunt.
                     It takes some real imagination to come up with activities, especially around children. My neighbors (have I said this?) with their three active daughters are masters. They haul out hammers and wood and make things: maybe a modest tree platform. They find two dustpans and a tennis ball and play a form of pingpong or tennis standing up in the back yard. They work the yard - tending to greenery and maybe some vegetables.

                       The photo at the top of this page shows inequality at work: a hand printed sign taped to the front of a box outside a popular CVS near Eastern Market metro. Sadly, libraries are not on the list of essential services, likely because of the difficulty of separating people along the line of free computers but also the normal role of libraries servicing the community that practices an open for all policy.