Wednesday, November 4, 2020

November at last

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

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

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

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

Tahoe Reno Industrial Center and see for yourself. Your life may, in part, depend on that place.

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

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

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

No debate for people who want to tackle the question of how Covid, etc., has affected day to day existence though for some people that existence is a subjective matter. Whether or not mental and emotional states are the most important to chart. A mask is a thing as well as symbol. It is not just what it seems...etc. I've a sneaky thought that people who enjoy theatrics are more likely to take to the habit and think of it as a game. The silliness is serious, of course,

. What we may learn from the experience may say a lot about who we are in our lives - and  how flexible are our personalities. I  have acquired the habit of looking at strangers in the eye as I walk along unless, of course, they exhibit some outward signs of paranoia or hostility. Then, perhaps, a wave - some acknowledgment of our common condition 'under wraps.'  A small thing but then....

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

Passersby of late have been integrating themselves, however briefly, into the  charmed corner of our block. Two in just one 24-hour period stopped (masked always) to take a photograph of the MLKjr. slogan printed on the  black and white stand-up poster on my  front yard that reads: "Life begins to end when you forget to care about things that matter."  An insignia of sorts, I gather, since one woman explained she was sending these occasional Capitol Hill yard signs to friends elsewhere. Another, when I quizzed her about a motive, volunteered the story of how at least one neighbor in her northwest DC  had criticized someone for posting a similar sign because "it lowers the value of our property." 

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

Lowered expectations for accomplishments each day - naturally. Eating humble pie in the face of so many strangers struggling simply to exist. Exposure to outdoor urban venues - paths, parks, etc. - I might not otherwise have known, though this, too, smacks of self-absorption, and a spoiled person's smugness. I've become a squirrel chaser. That is, someone who finds the breed fascinating and in particular a certain squirrel I'll call 'Girl' though I've no idea of her gender. I suspect she knows me by some body sign or odor. She won't move away quite so fast when I am near. I know her by a distinctive non-squirrel-like feature: she has a clipped ear, as though caught in a fight or maybe born that way. Her motive to stay close must be the quality of nuts and seeds she can dig up on the premises. I'm told squirrels can be pets - or achieve some semblance of that. At least one person I know has taken in an abandoned baby to feed it milk and keep it in a shoe box until the creature grew strong - and eventually went back to the urban wilderness without a problem adapting.

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

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