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.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Living Small in March 2020 Until ?




        These are the best of the worst of times. Being able to walk and talk when so many are  struggling to live. These days will forever be marked B.V. and A.V.
          Then some of us go out, in spite of the warnings, the pleadings, the rules. Someone living alone who has high energy must find a way not to feel isolated while being more fully aware of alone-ness  without  partners, roommates and family folk. It's too late to adopt a dog so I'll rely on a neighbor who has one. Dogs don't get or give the virus. I'll go even further and farther breaking the rules to enjoy the company up close of a few people whom, in these times of stress, I will call family. Substitutes. Not contact every day at length, mind you. Probably less and less as numbers (statistics) mount. But they are there, and have my key.
        Among the many questions raised each day is the inevitable: How are you coping?  What advice to you get or give? Answers  vary each day, as is the definition of what it means to cope.  One of the most ingenious among those of us who find concentration more difficult than ever is to order jigsaw puzzles online. A friend chose a complicated mandala pattern that she said looked difficult enough to challenge her mind - to put mind over matter and lose herself in the combination of shapes and colors.Another form of meditation.
         I put a sign on the front of the house: Keep Calm And Carry On, rallying cry of the Brits during World War II. I wave at  neighbors through the windows. On Friday at 5 p.m. our City Councilman hopes everyone will come to their stoop or porch or equivalent for Happy Hour. No doubt singing will commence. If the Italians can do it, so can we at least try. You vow to learn something new every day, however simple or even silly. I look at recipes like medicine, to lose myself in their myriad ingredients and then pull back: It's not possible to have so many required ingredients on hand and not possible to trip off to the store for just one or two items. Stores now have 'senior hours,' presumably because we seniors in the undefined elderly group are thought to be at great/greater risk. Never mind that seniors can transmit unseen germs to each other like everyone else.
         Pat me on the back, I put in several orders for books at the independent store now closed. Their industry is already severely compromised and these days give Amazon more power than ever.Let Amazon devote  its profits to the vaccine, to paying employees overtime and more.
         Improvise: Hearing that Britain's Royal, heir apparent Prince Charles, caught the bug I decided on his behalf  to concoct a mythical dog for myself and call him Charles. My Charles - little Charlie - can get out and mingle, can still sniff and smell and tastes. He is cheerful and sociable and, of course, asks very little of me.
       My real family is thousands of miles away. I cry when I think I will not see them soon and not know when I can. They are not avid Facebook or Skype people. Their texts are short. An email is an occasion.
          Today is spring on the calendar, usually a hopeful thing. I think about all the equinoxes I've been able to celebrate, the many years of life and memories they contain. I'm counting on summer, -the  heat and  hope.
       

     Slight digression. Take a look and have a thought about some of the past very real catastrophes in the world.:
       Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C., United States on November 7, 2015.[1][2] Located at the intersection of North Capitol StreetMassachusetts Avenue, and F Streets N.W., the memorial was built by the National Park Service and the Ukrainian government to honor the victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–33 and educate the American public.[3] The memorial is one of three monuments in Washington, D.C. designed or co-designed by women (the others being the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.)[4] Congress approved creation of the Holodomor Memorial in 2006.[5]

   
It does lend perspective At least at this point in our shutdown/lockout status. At least most of us are still alive.

      'Small' is relative. You can live big in your mind. Observe how many are utilizing their own resources to compensate for the isolation. Have an old table tennis table stashed away? Bring it up to the largest room in the house, give it center place, and get going with the paddles. Confirmed: physical exercise and mental exertion.
       Everyone has their own idea of a good day, a 'sensible' plan. This writer likes to pretend she can have a schedule that involves at least one productive or creative enterprise, or attempt at one. It might only be vacuuming the floor, or  wiping down the kitchen, cleaning out the fridge, writing a short story for my grandchildren. But it is visible and  valuable. Far trickier is the creative side since it involves dampening down the gremlins that provoke distraction, despair.  Those stray thoughts  and emotional vagaries....Now, finally, we may come to learn what is meant by discipline. Does meditation teach us how to focus? Or is it merely the panacea we need?

April 1 - who's the fool?
We are all the fool when supposing we are  in control. Irony aside, at last a person stuck at home can control the day's schedule. Limited choices perhaps, except when he/she get on the Internet and is overwhelmed by testimonies, advice, pods and posts. I'm guilty of that here, in the vain idea that a diary of sorts is worth keeping of the 'times out of joint.'  To note how one acquaintance decides it is time to read Proust; another cleans her apartment''; a third takes up baking bread. I jump around, one plan to another, shiftless and undisciplined. One reliable factor is the  daily  newspaper arriving at my door - a talisman that such chaos can be contained within the pages. I challenge a friend in New York - another daily 'hard copy' reader- to come up with odd/offbeat pieces of information gleaned from NYTimes' prolific pages. I suggested a small article I saw that implied a study showed how warm, better hot baths might help to prevent heart trouble. She declined, saying it was really the obits that interest her. And no wonder. Good people are disappearing -  with legacies to cherish.

On my block, which is how my world turns these days,  the news is either big or small, depending how you view such things.. A very large owl (they are all large) lives in a very large tree next to my house. Or rather, he/she is said to visit occasionally - preferably in the dark hours of 2 a.m. when streets are mostly silent and he can feast on the rodents  on the ground below. Rats, mainly - leaving their former sites, the shuttered restaurants nearby whose garbage normally was a reliable food source for them. My neighbor across the street reports that his one year old Akita caught her first rat today - in his small back garden. It took two hours for the conquest to occur, but then the Akita wasn't experienced. A novel encounter for her.
Another neighbor reports she could get most of what she ordered online from Costco Delivery and it arrived on schedule, more or less. Smiles all around.

When I venture out shortly after 8 a.m. fo ra Trader Joe Senior Hour shopping binge I found so few people inside that some aisles were empty of customers. It was disorienting, to be privileged this way. The idea, of course, is that the elders are considered more vulnerable, both as victims and as carriers. Masks were common; smiles were not.

At 5 p.m. on a day when the DC Mayor predicted one out of seven residents would most likely be afflicted (for better or worse), I make a medicinal Margarita - lots of Vitamin C limes, abundance of alcohol and a swift dose of Triple Sec. I sit on my porch, facing the street, many more than six feet from the sidewalk. I have some brief exchanges with passersby, lifting my glass. The custom of meeting up on the stoop, porch, whatever has not yet taken hold each Friday as our Council member hoped.  So at 5 p.m. the next day - after the CDC recommended everyone wear a mask - I proposed neighbors come out masked (the more colorful the better) and form a procession, a long loose snake, at these Friday happy/unhappy hours. It's a strange sensation to wear a veil and without hearing aids it is difficult to hear many people speaking.
Taking chances - it seems nearly illegal to do so  - I ventured out to my local CVS expecting to find a line. Nobody was at the prescription counter. I needed to reorder, and wanted to leave plenty of time before running out of pills. The pharmacist was in a mask and I had draped a scarf over my nose and mouth. To pronounce my name clearly was a challenge; fortunately I had an old capsule with me clearly marked. Emboldened, I next bought toothpaste and a notebook that I paid for with a credit card on the self-service checkout machine. Leaving, I encountered at the exit door just a foot  away from me a disheveled man ranting and waving his hands erratically, blocking the entrance. Store personnel seemed unconcerned. I pivoted away quickly, somewhat afraid.
You take your chances. A good friend of mine from long ago died this week in New York from pneumonia plus virus. What chance did she have I'll never know. I had neglected to write or phone her to see how she was coping - another woman alone - as soon as the city's lockdown order was announced. Most likely as a writer she was working to the end, not knowing the end was coming. Her latest book is due out this fall.

  So go the days when time seemingly has lost all meaning. Yes, there is a war on with a fight within and without. A stroll at sunset around the block on a Saturday evening: silence, few footsteps,  weariness everywhere. The sun tries chasing away clouds that have given the day a gray pallor. I can only hope for a good, maybe entertaining, dream. You have to be grateful for small things.

The nonfiction bestseller by Erik Larson , 'The Splendid and the Vile,' is, strangely enough, a reassuring read although it focuses on personalities central to the conduct of World War II in London, mainly on Churchill and his family and circle. It illuminates how important was the character of people then - their steely resolve.  (And show, by contrast, how little leadership has been exhibited in this country these days.) Churchill is shown in all his endearing and frustrating form as a leader throughout the worst days of the German blitz. Hardly cheerful text but yet uplifting, engaging.  Though these days of quarantine might be equally well spent reading in depth biographies of the great (James Joyce for me) or historical figures  few people ever heard of but who were critical in their day.

Now six days into April ('the cruelest month' said the poet). I practice isolation under a magnificent deep pink cherry tree that looms over three back yards.  I can sit in meditative silence contemplating various limbs as they move in the slightest breeze. None follows a pattern. None is alike, like stars or snowflakes. Oddly, I imagine them as keys or notes on a piano and wish only they could sing. This is a tree with no wish to be predictable. The main trunk is split in two ways, topping off at three stories skyward. This particular breed was supposed to  have died off years ago but maybe because it is rooted in the nutritious remains of a fallen diseased Dutch elm, it has special strength. I feel blessed to have it near - and can even reach out and touch the lowest flower. Winds have come up that threaten the life of the blooms. Branches are like waves in an ocean spreading pink petals everywhere on deep red bricks. Life is fleeting, the blossoms say. Take each day as it comes.

I thought today that I might at least tackle the dust in my house but instead felt greater need to be out in the sun.

On My Block Again: Excitement comes in strange ways. A prized cat likes to sit on a second story windowsill in one of my neighbors' houses across the street. The young Akita dog keeps watch in the yard next door. The neighbor family immediately to my left offer to bring me a Chinese dinner and I offer a beer in exchange. While ruminating on my front porch, I see a runner moving in the road who is  hassled verbally by a car who claims to own the road he/she once is accustomed to travel there unencumbered. There is a spitfire exchange: who has the right to prevail?

Day What of the semi-quarantine? I don't think of days but try to think of Today. Imagine some activity that will provide some personal satisfaction beyond the newspaper.
Cooking and then eating alone has definite drawbacks, too obvious to name.
A little 'game'  that provides some positive feedback is finding places in the city where a person can walk safely in relative solitude, where paths need not be measured in six feet sections. I will happily give away location of the three such places around Washington DC - though likely two of them require a car. A means of transport before starting the walk: Kingman and Heritage Island in the middle of the Anacostia, a real wilderness in parts; a path along the Anacostia River beginning at the end of M St.SE that winds past the Community Boathouse (closed of course), past a gated rear entry  to the U.S. Arboretum, on to the decaying RFK Stadium and then up East Capitol Street and home ; the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland NE, near Catholic University has grounds open for reflection roughly between 9 and 3, with a prayer chapel also available on the site. The tulip show  is worth the trip. This is the Easter Weekend so perhaps another trip is in order, although weekends make such retreats prized by teleworkers tasting freedom from their weekday schedule.

Coming up with such diversions is a challenge - finding resources not ordinarily explored. It's possible, one family realized, to get takeout dinner from a local restaurant and, on an unusually balmy early evening in DC, sit  on benches  outside such iconic sites as the Supreme Court or the Library of Congress. The beautifully landscaped park bordering the river near the Nationals Stadium is a mecca for sunbathers - or once was. Now police patrol to keep the people away.  A pity that canoes and kayaks are tied up; rentals banned. Somehow I can't see the harm in letting people paddle six feet apart on the water.

 A quick walk late afternoon around the 'hood, ostensibly to mail some letters but really to get the feel of the outside world. I walk fast, avoid anyone on my side of the street, head towards the mailbox that is farthest away from my home.  (Envelopes with checks to nonprofits who run public radio and TV.) I wear my mask but keep my eyes alert to anyone who might be near. I see a nearly uninhabited bus going  nearby, north on Pennsylvania and a passenger looking out a window  waving. Does she intend to call attention to my mask: the second side of a special handmade double sided linen cloth creation from a friend deft with needle and thread? My friend had chosen  the fabric from an African source, she told me (my friend is a former Peace Corps country director in Malawi). Mindful of 'keeping up with appearances,' I had put that one on the public side to go with black trousers and a  black top. It's identifiably tribal, being black with white markings. Not the soulless black  blob of a mask available commercially .Was the stranger congratulating me for that choice in a time when many black Americans are being targeted wearing wear black masks resembling robber garb?
I wave back at her, smiling, pointing to my mask, unsure what had caused her to respond. Maybe she simply wanted to connect with someone on her lonely ride. But maybe, too, she knew. A heartening encounter.

In the wee morning hours I came up with a title for a journal of this kind - written under stress.
Henceforth: Whiskey For Breakfast and Bourbon Before Lunch. Anything goes as long as it goes towards lightening the spirit...

Which of course is easy enough to say though I well know a person can't drown sorrows in colorful enticing liquids. There are or should be certain rules to follow. As a child of the last century, when I and others in my combined household (three parents, five children) had the habit of saving things such as tin foil (from inside  the grownups' cigarette packages?) for the war effort, I find myself now reusing old aluminum foil and, yes, even plastic so-called cling wrap. It's difficult to do the latter and questionably hygienic but I feel I'm saving steps I might have to make to replace such items at the store. I no longer think about ducking under tables -- the air raid alert practice -- and closing blackout shades. What comes easily, however, is the notion of routine in the time of uncertainty. Hence, I've determined to keep on my bathrobe until noon if possible (it is), to keep in mind some small goal for the day, and a phone call to or from a friend.

Those calls are lifelines for sure: a text message is devoid of any responsibility to really communicate, with emotion in the voice. I heap objections to a friend who - lazily in my mind - thinks nothing of sending along a few words and a ding. Why  should I target her unfairly except this could be a time for scapegoating, however petty? It's my self pity showing - the single woman alone, who knows better . (Hence, the story told me by a woman who is put upon by phone endlessly and sadly by an old lonely-only acquaintance from an apartment where she sees no one and has no neighbors.)
A phone call late yesterday (4/16) from my friend eager to arrange access to Theodore Roosevelt Island and how challenging that will be - with the city discouraging crowds by closing the parking lot considered the only way to reach the island's paths from the city. We have researched  another possible  avenue by driving into Rosslyn and checking out parking spaces close enough to a hiker/biker walkway that leads there...Likewise, Hains Point - a lovely three mile circumference - has close off all parking spaces alongside the road. A side road across from the now restricted  Wharf might allow us to park and walk a short distance to the Tidal Basin as well. Such are the joys of discovery, a sense of satisfaction, entrepreneurship - and potential exploration of a little-used area for exercise.

I'm still finding little need for television escape in spite of the barrage of tips and links that surface daily. If I would find myself bedridden, no doubt I would eagerly gravitate to the small size screen supported just above eye level in my downstairs living room. Thus far, I seem to use it as a radio since much of the interview shows are relayed by Skype  rather than film. Cosmetic touches still are required, however - maybe even more so. What proud government official unabashedly calls her need for a hair/beauty salon 'essential' since she is expected to appear composed and well groomed. I'd choose a good hair cut  and color these days over a visit to any store...especially now that I've been invited by a neighbor to add on to her Costco and Peapod orders. But a visit to Trader Joe during its 8-9 a.m. senior hour is akin to a trip around the world - the thrill of shopping perhaps a substitute for having freedom of choice in almost every other aspect of life.

Even the shortest walk invites an opportunity to learn, or simply to reflect. How does it happen that on every block within a few hundred yards I notice that  every house has a different style number in front. And a few have none at all. How does it happen except that different owners must feel a need to be different. Mine is vertical, in brass. Most are conventionally horizontal. Not all are easy to read. I walk slowly and look closely.  At one address in the next block - I know not a single neighbor there - I pause, seeing a woman in bathrobe and slippers just closing her door, a cigarette in one hand, and the day's mail in the other. We both spontaneously at each other. I give her a thumbs up and she laughs. That likely never would happen under normal circumstances.

Oh, the holy normal - how the word can irritate. Late Saturday afternoon a big band sound erupts near Eastern Market. I can't see the source but immediately I wonder: how can they play this way, close together? But  of course they need not be standing close at all. Their notes are joyous, invigorating. welcoming.

Strategies for survival are everywhere. Truly ingenious: my neighbor in a wheelchair (victim of West Nile virus many hard years ago) playing - what to call it? pan tennis - with one of his daughters using two dustpans and a tennis ball in the backyard. It is a Tuesday, the  virtual 'school bell' rings at 9. My morning activity will consist of taking my  12 year old Mini Cooper to a local service repair shop since the automatic icon appeared showing engine overheating and 'service repair' needed sign. Taking care of others, even a material object, is therapy. Hence, too, watching over and not interfering with the mother bird planting her nest in my dryer vent high  up on the side of my house. Which will cause me not to use my clothes dryer until the birth of young ones: OR? The neighbors debate. I'm already choosing to put clothes on a rack under a covered porch, or strewn over a railing inside. Improv time! Who's to lose?

A good perfume containing 70 percent alcohol makes a good sanitizer. Why not? Just be careful not to drink it, whatever our clearly uninformed president might suggest.







Tuesday, March 3, 2020

At the Gas Station





               On Capitol Hill, we have a Capitol Hill Arts Center, a community Hill Center (these are actual buildings offering programs for a price to residents and beyond), and ever so many other physical spots such as  Eastern Market indoors and outside where one as likely or not to run into people one knows and sometimes may only barely remember.  
                We also have a service station for gas and auto repairs that is now is in its third generation of same-family ownership. The name is Distad's, and the longer a person has lived on the Hill (as its known, because, yes, the Capitol building is on the same elevation - a Hi-Line of sorts) the more likely he/she is know to Distad's employees. I go regularly for help with mundane things such as filling my tank or figuring (why don't I ever learn?) proper gauge for air in my tires each season. Recently, I dropped by to buy new windshield wipers after having dared  one rainy evening to cross  the bridge  from Virginia into the District with little rubber tailings on my window wipers that did very little actual wiping. I made it home, sweating.
                While paying up, I chanced into a Woman of Some Importance in these parts - at least to those of us bearing and raising children in previous decades - the estimable Marguerite Kelly whose  Almanac column was a mainstay, and a life saving guidance outlet, in the Washington Post Style section. She was there to do some repairs on her - was it really? - 20-year-old car, laughing at the check-out counter with another acquaintance from 'old times..' Marguerite's writing was my substitute at times for a godmother giving me the only advice I had on how to handle a newborn. I had no mother, no relatives around, no doula (not then much spoken about) and my husband was eternally, it seems, away on missions specific to a member of Congress who always have to be seeking reelection.
              'How is your son'?' she immediately inquired. How could she remember that I had a son, now 43? I wanted to know how she kept her skin so smooth. This is a beautiful woman of 87 with a flawless complexion. "Vitamin E oil," was her answer. Another secret of aging well, she implied, was 'not doing anything." No heavy breathing exercise regimen. She has a daughter and son-in-law living with her, another daughter nearby working for a local theater complex. Marguerite had just had her driver's license renewed and lo and behold, she marveled, she was now good to drive for another ten years. "Ten Years!" she exclaimed.
              I suggested she might consider becoming an Uber or Lyft driver and specialize in the senior market. To make other seniors comfortable and confident they, too, can survive the prejudices of the anti-aging crowd.

            There is another sort of community, too, not often acknowledged as such: riders in a Metro car during rush hours. The physical closeness of strangers  isn't a likely social group - until an emergency arises. I thought of this while sitting on a window seat during the hour when Metro platforms can fill rapidly with the tremendous energy of teenagers  getting out of school, presumably on their way home, letting off steam.
             WAs that the reason for the presence in the car of two very tall (handsome!) uniformed Transit policemen wearing a slew of devices and standing up by two different exit doors - one of them leading to the next car, not normally used. They were unsmiling guardians of the peace, though one appeared to carry what could have been a laser or light (maybe a foghorn!) on his chest. One of them kept staring into the car, while the other looked watchfully onto the platform at each stop before alighting at Metro Center, the usual connecting link for other trains. None of the passengers - except me - seemed intrigued by the sight. Almost everyone had their eyes and hands on mobile phones, though at least one woman was absorbed in a book. My intense stare didn't seem to bother the two men. I was puzzled by public indifference  -- either they found it normal to have fully armed guards aboard or they = we = choose to stay cloaked in indifference as a way of simulating personal privacy. Until otherwise summoned to act... since, these days (a long long stretch) we are conditioned to be constantly aware of what is around us, what could be happening, what would be the correct response.
               I was intimidated by their presence to some degree, being by nature attuned to scenes around me. The journalist's weapon perhaps. Only minutes before the two men had entered the car, I heard a commotion at one stop. There was a delay of some kind. I saw out of the window what could have been a group of tourists yelling and gesturing to someone who might have been part of the group - telling someone, or several, 'get out,' words to that effect. To get out of the Metro car because it was not the right train? I saw expressions of worry, frustration. Definitely a 'crowd scene, ' until the car door closed and we moved on.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Fighting the End of Light



        He walked stiffly to the small round chair, as if uncertain where his body should go. He talked carefully, sometimes hesitantly, often slowing to silence. Was he collecting his thoughts, or was this  a way to emphasize what he was saying? Because he said a lot, this pioneering stage director now in his 78th year appearing before a large rapt audience in DC's Hirshhorn auditorium. It was difficult to believe that he had already that day been in two other cities and would fly to Bulgaria - BULGARIA? (no explanation) - in the morning.  Apart from the arts center established under his direction in Water Mill, NY, where, he proudly remarked "there are no doors," he would seem to have no real home. His home was in the interstice between the horizontal and the vertical - within the realm of light that he calls the secret to all good design. Though it seemed that his own light  was fading - he had to be helped to stand erect before an easel holding a large pad of white paper and then ushered back to the chair.
       Trained as an architect at Pratt in New York, Robert Wilson has been a pioneer in theater and opera since the 1950s putting his faith in such statements as "without light there is no space" and quoting Einstein saying "light is the measure of things. Light is structural." Movement enters in, too, in abstract  but geometric ways.  "Time is the line that goes through the center; space is horizontal.And "it's always the space in back of you that makes the space in front of you strong." He is unconventional, to say the least - if that word has any meaning at all in the aesthetic realm. He once created a play using the texts done by a young autistic boy  named Christopher whom he met in a facility supposedly dedicated to helping the so-called developmentally disabled. Or handicapped in ways most people did not understand. Wilson could decipher much of what the boy wrote in terms of patterns that were the boy's language.
        He didn't try to explain the meeting of abstraction, taking for granted a sense of acceptance in how he viewed the world.  The title of the talk - a conversation between Wilson and Hirshhorn director Melissa Chu - was "Re-Setting the Stage."   Revising a person's perception of art and how it is made and received on stage as well as life.
       

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Keep On Moving

Step Afrika came to Apple's most recent Washington area campus on Sunday February 16, for the first time,  offering free their high energy percussive art form that is unique in this country.
The appearance of eight black African-American dancers stomping and slapping  under the renovated Carnegie LIbrary's hard white floors  drew crowds, as expected, and  were in turn given a short history of the tradition and background going back to the 18th century when drums - the African drums - were outlawed.  Performers turned to their own body for expression, using all appendages  and rhythms to create a wholly original means of communication. Stories are told without words . The ensemble of  highly trained, regimented dancers are all college graduates (arts and science) cementing  a history that began with competition between in the sororities and fraternities of traditionally black universities and colleges. To see is to believe....the compulsive creation of community Now in its 25th year, the company is based most of the year on H St. NE in the Atlas Theatre.  Give it up to their infectious movement, and their slogan 'We are better when we step together," between pyrotechnical  seemingly inhuman feats of motion by individual members..
So why an Apple store, of all places?
 The company says it is celebrating Black History month by offering this and similar programs, hoping to attract a wider audience than might usually be found in that austere white building in the middle of a green park. Apparently it worked. Onlookers were stretched over the atrium on upstairs balconies. Small children were captivated on the ground floor. The upbeat, solid steps of these highly disciplined irrepressible  eight performers -- all different in physical styles - were contagious in their call outs (giving instructions to the audience on when to participate) and facial expressions. The lesson to children in the crowd: keep moving! But it wasn't lost either on a feisty woman with purple hair named Heather raising her hand during the Q&A to request "do something for seniors." In other words, think of offering classes (which the company does when they aren't traveling) for an older generation as well.
You go, girl!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Washing UP

And now this, just in from Mineola, NY, uninvited - the so-called Homeland Security newswire, whoever they are.

Handwashing will save us.

A study (I could not dig up) reasons that if people were more careful with their habits, the virus might get delayed. And it targets ten of the world's busiest airports, most likely in some of the world's largest cities. There it is, in cold print, the evil ones among us who have no consideration and refuse to take due measures at the sink after using toilet facilities. Because the advice says go slow, 15 seconds minimum, use soap and water. (Be aware, too, the need to avoid handles or buttons - hardware the virus likes. Protect yourself with paper when using handles.)

Odd how commonsense can easily evade us.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Incidental Notes to Note

On urban life and all its permutations....culled from print sources  (often thought too expensive to make reading them a habit).

Two books as references. "City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age," from Bloomsbury Publishers.
Relatively more recent, for Big Apple (NYC) fans: "Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas" edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. (The latter surname is fascinating to contemplate.) A treasure in handsome vertical binding, enclosing essays by writers of note (Solnit for one), published by the University of California in 2016. Almost defying a category this combination of graphics, maps, essays. Something to learn on every page and wonder at.

A common sense study out of Brandeis University based on 72,000 census tracts telling "how a child's neighborhood influences his/her opportunities over time."  As reported in the Washington Post on Saturday 1/25/20.  The focus was on 100 of  America's  largest Metro areas, said to be home to 67 percent of the country's children.

The New York Times' Business section on 1/27/20 tallying numbers to prove a rising number of older city dwellers - those people 'of a certain age'  moving into urban settings. The implications are vast when demands for housing and services are taken into consideration since more of us are growing older in greater numbers than ever.

Ever onward with the Samaritan spirit, New York style, as caught by CBS-TV when a woman who got dragged under an SUV on a busy Broadway street recently was rescued at once by dozens of strangers coming together to lift the car high enough to free her. She was pictured immediately afterward, on her back using a cell phone. Calling an ambulance maybe?
A day or so later another woman  sitting alone late morning in a subway car at a lower Manhattan station was assaulted by a man who grabbed the cellphone in her hand. and ran off. She followed, yelling , but to no avail. A passerby saw her and called 911 at once, without having to bother asking what had happened.

In Case You Missed It Department:
Though the subject applies to anyone driving any kind of vehicle on any road in these United States...from Smithsonian magazine for March 2020. How it happened that we Americans drive on the right side of the road  with the steering wheel on the left when, in yesteryear before automobiles became a necessity and not an extravagance, the wheel was on the right-hand side (and drivers stayed on the right side of the road).
According to a curator of road transportation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (who would have thought such a title existed), the Ford Model T was responsible in 1909. The idea was to allow passengers better exit at the curb and give drivers better views of oncoming traffic. The history of what and why, says Roger White in the magazine's blurb upfront answering reader questions, goes back to pre-automobile era year 1792 when the new Pennsylvania turnpike required buggy or wagon drivers to keep right. Presumably for orderly behavior on public land. New York City only in the early 1900s is said to have instituted the world's (!) first traffic code. Kudos to historians who keep us duly informed!



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Is DC Culture


                    That was the question the 21-year-old graduating student at San Diego State had to find out for herself. Born in Colorado, A. (to allow her some privacy) never had much reason to visit, much less live, in an East Coast city. The U.S. capital was likely to provide more than the usual  urban challenge. She knew that, and she also knew that - in her words - "I could afford to try anything for one year." The problem for the young AmericaCorps teaching assistant was to stick the course, once she knew exactly what the challenge was.
                      DC public schools are enormously complex, based in large part on the city's geography. The majority (African American) of its citizens reside across the Anacostia River, a strict divide both in income  levels and topography - factors of history and economics (a way not to mention racial prejudice through the years). The neighborhoods east of the river have tribes of their own - often, she found out, based simply on  where a person lived. Boundaries can be staked out in defensive mode, strictly because 'being different' is dangerous. Being different in skin color and different ivy a street number. Taking refuge as cover for slights elsewhere.
                        She never had thought of becoming an education professional (her mother is  an elementary school teacher in Colorado). She was an international business major with thoughts of somehow eventually getting a job in the non profit sector. Striving daily up front and personal with  a small team of other paid assistants like her to help middle school students would teach her lessons she hadn't anticipated - such as how to react when fights break out on school grounds. The worst one she witnessed was between the mother of a student and her daughter's classmate. The daughter had lost a fight a day earlier with another student so the mother got friends to come with her to beat up the 'winner.'
                    She'll work hard by whatever means possible just to get a young student to apply his talent - 'and they are really bright talented kids" - so he can move on to the next level. To get him up to C level, to keep him interested in subject matter - in anything. "So many parents are young and disadvantaged themselves. There are children having children." Sure, support staff is impressive at the school but A's job - which includes free Metro pass and food stamps  - isn't one that can be described except within context of particular classes and children. She and her cohorts, who include young people of color, receive several weeks' training in advance of the school year. But how to prepare for the ten-hour days full of stress and frustration over what can't be readily controlled.

                      The usual explanation for the term DC Culture is Go Go - hip hop and rap combined. Joyous upbeat vocal and physical manifestations of  energy. But there is a dark (often held to be derogatory ) side too often overlooked where problems exist that can take months, even years, to solve.