Molly Malone Grows Up

Suppose Molly Malone emigrated to America.

In San Francisco’s fair city,
Where the streets are so gritty,
There lived an old woman named Molly Malone.
Downtrodden and homeless,
Her voice, flat and toneless,
Hollered “Tin cans and bottles
Alive, alive oh”

Alive, alive oh. Alive, alive oh.
She cried, “Tin cans and bottles
Alive, alive oh”

Her condition was drastic
Her step it was spastic
While she limped through the streets with her wagon in tow.
As the cans she collected
From the trash were selected,
She cried “Tin cans and bottles,
Alive alive oh”

Alive, alive oh. Alive, alive oh.
She cried, “Tin cans and bottles
Alive, alive oh”

At night on the floor of
A Tenderloin doorway
She wept as she slept on her pallet of stone.
So if you feel dejected,
Dismayed, disrespected,
Consider the fate of
Poor Molly Malone.

Alive, alive oh. Alive, alive oh.
She cried, “Tin cans and bottles
Alive, alive oh”

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 16

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

Music is essential. For a month and a half now, everything’s been shut down exceept “essential services.” Essential services have been judged to include groceries, takeout restaurants, cannabis dispensaries, gun shops, landscaping, convenience stores, hardware stores, office supplies, pest control, hiking trails, banks, home sales, babysitters, auto body shops, breweries.

Music is also an essential service. My brain atrophies without music, just as my body atrophies without food. I hereby petition Governor Newsom to declare it so and to make musicians essential workers, enabling them to ply their trade during the pandemic. In person, never mind the online concerts they don’t make a dime off, never mind the streaming that pays them even less.

The music would have to be presented differently, of course, to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Some concerts are starting up even now, in venues filled to 20% capacity. You’re not paying the electric bill with that, never mind the bass player.

I envision an industry based on outdoor concerts and busking. Let them set up wherever they want. Desirable venues with plenty of room for audiences to spread out would vary by locality, of course, city parks and plazas, empty suburban malls. Here in Half Moon Bay, a band could spread out on the bluffs and play to the people below as they enjoy our newly reopened beaches. A box for collecting contributions would be placed at the foot of the bluff, guarded by an adorable urchin seated six feet away with a large dog, lest the tips be stolen by the newly unemployed.


Concert ads that make me glad it’s a virtual show: I got an email ad from something called Opéra Parallèle.

From an ad by Opera Parallele.


Weeds. Although landscaping services are considered essential, the local harbor town of Princeton is giving free rein to the weed population along its roads. The flower beds on the medians are overgrown, the lawns on the hillsides have all but disappeared. The weeds provide a perfect complement to the harbor, already down at the heels, and to the empty parking lots in front of the restaurants and hotels along Capistrano Drive.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 15

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

The Stench of Virus. There’s a research project at Penn trying to train dogs to smell people who are infected with the virus. Doesn’t being sniffed by a dog sound a lot better than having a swab pushed up your nose? They’re using Labs, too, which are nice, friendly dogs, the kind you always want to give a biscuit to. I checked and found out that Labs are one of the 15 best-sniffing dog breeds out there.

Dogs are used to sniff out a lot of things: drugs, explosives, escaped convicts. But all of these things have a volatile component, something that wafts out onto the wind. How could the virus produce such a thing (and why)? It has only 16 genes.

It may not be the smell of the virus they detect, however. It may be something emitted by the human host in response to the infection, viral perspiration or something. Dogs can detect malaria carriers in a similar manner.

The potential for screening people at airports is obvious. They have drug dogs there already. Could the same dogs be used to screen for both, and should a two-sniff dog be paid more than a one-sniffer? These are questions we may ponder in the future.


The Government We Deserve. Twelve years ago, when W got elected, one of my ersties told me, “That’s okay. People get the government they deserve.” I wasn’t really sure what he meant at the time, and I am still not. Was he saying we were all responsible for putting an idiot in the White House? Did that make it okay? It seemed like a kind of collective punishment, especially since that clown hadn’t polled a majority either.
I wonder if my friend still mouths the same thing today. We have elected someone who makes W seem like a compassionate scholar in comparison. What, exactly, have we done to deserve this? Moscow Mitch may deserve this asshole, but I don’t see how I do.


Rentals. There’s an outfit offering short-term apartment rentals to halves of married couples who need a break from one another. How do they decide whether it’s the husband or the wife who moves out? I’ll bet it’s usually the husband.

I never did understand how some married couples could work together in the same office, or lab, or band, or whatever. Don’t they need a little breather? Makes your spouse seem that much better when you come back after being exposed to others,

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 14

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

Temper. Confinement is not doing my temper a lot of good. This morning I blew a gasket. It didn’t help that I’d had a stomach ache for over a week, dealing with some kind of a bug. It didn’t help that the air is full of pollen with allergies in full bloom. But what finally set me off were my hands.

I had just gotten up, had a cup of tea, and was standing in the kitchen preparing a bowl of granola. I had cut up some strawberries, added them to the bowl. But when I tried to pick it up, my arthritic fingers failed me, I dropped the bowl, and I ended up with strawberry slices all over the kitchen sink, halfway down the drain. This sent me into a rage. The sink itself is none too clean, I have to admit, and I knew I wasn’t going to try rescuing the berries. So I was fucked out of half my breakfast. But, there was more to it than that.

I’ve been increasingly afflicted with the dropsies recently, and it always pisses me off. The stress of being confined having pushed me closer to the edge, I ended up screaming curses at the ceiling, picking up the bowl and slamming it down into the sink again, trying to break it for vengeance. But nothing broke. There were a couple of glasses in the sink, one of them a Reidel, so I was lucky.

Furious, I shouted and stamped around for a while, then took a second shot at putting breakfast together. Calculating that, if I used more strawberries, it would mean an earlier trip to the grocery store, I went without them. Then I played Sudoku for a while to calm down and took a shower. Afterwards, I took my blood pressure and was surprised to find it only a little higher than usual. I had expected a spike, but maybe my body has grown used to these outbursts.

And then, I was hungry again, because breakfast had been slighter than usual. I found half a container of yogurt in the fridge and thought I’d have more granola. Taking the yogurt from the shelf, I turned around to deposit it on the counter, when it slipped from my fingers and spilled all over the floor.

You reach a point where you can’t react anymore. You just stand there and keep taking the punches,  like Cool Hand Luke.


Frequent Fliers. An email I received today helped me to appreciate Congess’s efforts to help the poor, small businessman with tax breaks amid the coronavirus crisis:

Hello Friends & Fliers,

The Covid 19 crisis has led to an unbelievable increase in the number of people inquiring about private aviation.
We want to help give access to everyone and to that end we are introducing our Tax-Free* 10 Hour Jet Card Programs:  

Light Jet: $49,360 all-in 
Mid-Size Jet: $60,550 all-in
Super Mid-Size Jet: $70,900 all-in
Heavy Jet: $100,800 all-in

No Federal Excise Taxes (Waived Through December 31st)

The Hunger Games Redux

It was Dear Leader’s birthday and he was throwing a party. You were nobody if you didn’t go.

The clouds over the Coliseum threatened rain, but it was still holding back as the crowds poured in through the gates. Today was Dear Leader’s birthday, and he had promised a great celebration with a contest pitting the four Regions of the Empire against one another. The people had come despite their fears of the virus that plagued the land, for Dear Leader had told them to come, and he had promised to hold the sickness at bay.

Quinine tincture poster

They streamed in through the gates, past the vendors selling amulets and charms who lined the main concourse. The longest lines were at large stands with Dear Leader’s image on the signs in front. These were his quinine tincture concessions. The placards promised protection from contagion, at a price that was discounted to honor his birthday.

Cassie, one of the flower girls, ran quickly to take her seat. She had been one of the children chosen to strew rose petals in front of Dear Leader as he walked down the causeway, and now she got to sit in the glass-encased viewing box, with Dear Leader and all the Palace staff. Cassie knew she’d been selected because Daddy worked in the Palace, but she didn’t understand why they’d had to prick her finger this morning. She could have just told them that she wasn’t sick.

One of the Jesters began speaking into a microphone, and Cassie looked out at the scene below. A great expanse of grass was surrounded by thousands of tiered seats where the crowd clamored raucously. Some wore face masks, many decorated with the national flag. Everyone seemed to carry a flask of the tincture. At one end of the grass field stood the great gate from which the contestants would emerge. The events were being projected onto a large screen at the opposite end, so everyone could watch. The Jester’s image could be seen there now.

He welcomed the crowd and then invited them to give three cheers for Dear Leader’s birthday. There was a great roar, but he urged them to get louder, and then louder still. When he had the crowd sufficiently worked up, Dear Leader himself stepped up to the microphone.

Cassie was too young to understand a lot of what he said. She got that the virus was something horrible from the Middle Kingdom. That the Rebels were responsible for bringing it here. (Dear Leader hated the Rebels. He told Daddy that they were always making up stories about him and whispering them to the town criers.) But he promised the crowd that the tincture would protect them, and he urged them to buy more.

“If you do get sick,” he said, “it’ll just be a mild case.” Cassie heard his voice over the hiss of air coming through the HEPA filter in the ceiling above her.

Then Dear Leader described the contest. Each Region of the Empire, East, West, North, and South, had prepared a birthday tribute for him, and they were going to present them now. He would choose the one he liked the best, and that Region would win. The prize was a full month’s output from National Slaughterhouse 11, the Empire’s only remaining meat processor. The others had all closed because of the plague. The crowd gasped. Most of them were ravenous for protein, with meat so hard to find. It was a fabulous prize, even if it had to feed a whole Region.


The Jester took back the microphone and introduced the first contestants, the team from the North. The great gate rolled open and the team, a group of high school students from the farmlands, drove a phalanx of tractors to pull their offering out on a huge float.

The North’s gift was a giant ice statue depicting Dear Leader as a great hero in the act of slaying the virus with an AR15. Dear Leader liked the idea of a statue of himself. “Statues are culture,” he told the Jester, approvingly. The statue towered above the tractors, its blue ice covered with condensation despite the refrigeration coils hidden inside. When Cassie saw it, she felt a thrill of pride. Someday, she thought, she would be a warrior like that. Or else marry one.

But Dear Leader did not seem pleased. “Why is it fat?”, she heard him say.

“That’s not fat, sir. It’s an ammo belt.,” the Jester countered.

 “It looks fat. Putin don’t look like that on his horse.”

The tractors pulled the statue around the field with the crowd cheering, but Dear Leader said he thought the students should be fired.

“They’re students,” said the Jester. “I don’t know if they can be fired.”

“The thing’s melting,” Dear Leader complained. And he started to play with his phone.


The next contestants were from the Eastern Region. After the Jester’s introduction, the gates opened again, and a procession of black Cadillacs emerged. They came to a halt forming a semicircle in front of Dear Leader’s glass box, and from each car there emerged three chorus girls and a banker. The girls wore very short skirts and did a little dance in front of Dear Leader before forming two rows. Then the bankers, in dark Brooks Brothers suits, strode between the rows and approached Dear Leader.

Now, Cassie could see that one of them carried the East’s birthday gift. It was a beautiful crown! The Jester read from a card that it was  made of platinum, filigreed with gold, and encrusted with blood-red jewels of rare painite. Cassie thought it was beautiful. She formed a mental image of herself grown up, wearing a crown or a tiara. A tiara wouldn’t be so heavy.


Dear Leader had also formed a mental image of himself. He was wearing the crown and a purple robe and holding a scepter. He was quite pleased at first, but something in the Jester’s description had bothered him. “What do you mean gold filigree? How come it’s not solid gold?” he asked the Jester.

“Sir, it’s platinum. More valuable than gold.”

“It looks like the brushed nickel in my bathroom. And how come no diamonds?”

“Painite is rarer than diamonds, sir. It’s even more valuable,” the Jester said.

“Who the hell ever heard of it? Fire the guy that did this!” Dear Leader shouted.

“But, the Governor of the East is elected, sir. He can’t be fired.”

“Don’t send them any hand sanitizer, then.”


The Southern Region’s gift, read the Jester, was to be a passion play celebrating Dear Leader’s victory over his predecessor, the evil Ogre. When the gate opened, a brigade of uniformed teenaged boys marched out in formation, each one holding a staff over his right shoulder. They were members of the Young Leaders, and behind them marched an equal number of girls, the Young Leaders Auxiliary. The girls wore bandannas and held little wands, with sparklers going off at the ends. And behind them, a 1967 Chevy Impala convertible was pulling a wagon that bore a large stuffed effigy of the Ogre. The papier mache creature was propped against a gantry on the wagon, its arms tied behind its back. When it stopped in front of Dear Leader, a winch in the gantry hoisted it up by means of a rope that had been conveniently placed around its neck. It swung back and forth, dangling just above the group of boys.

At this point the girls stepped forward, and each one used her bandanna to blindfold one of the boys, then guided him toward the suspended Ogre. The boys used their staffs to blindly attack the effigy which was, in effect, a piñata. As they rent its sides, its hidden treasures began to spill from the openings: sirloin steaks and pork chops, chicken wings and packages of ground round. Red meat juices flowed.

Photo of lynching

The girls rushed forward to grab their prizes, sometimes fighting among themselves over a particularly fine ribeye. Cassie, too, found it exciting. She wanted to have a boy hit the Ogre for her. She wanted to grab some meat.

She saw that Dear Leader was clearly enjoying the spectacle. He was laughing and pounding his fist on the arm of his chair. But then, he noticed that the top of the effigy’s head was an orange color, and he asked the Jester about it. “Isn’t that the color of my hair?” he said.

“No, Sir,” said the Jester. “That’s just a stain from the blood coming out of the meat.” But Dear Leader hadn’t heard anything after “No.” He never listened to anything that followed a “No.”

“This is some kind of trick by the Rebels,” he said. “To make it look like people are bashing a piñata of me!” His voice was rising, and he was still pounding his fist, but differently than before, Cassie thought, as she watched him turn blue.

Finally, the Jester managed to calm him down. But, the mood had changed. “Bring on the next one,” Dear Leader said sullenly. “And fire someone.”


Unfortunately, it turned out that the team from the West had been unable to come. That region was still under lockdown because of the virus, and there were no flights going in or out. Nevertheless, they had managed to send a video of their offering, and it had arrived just in time. The Jester made the announcement as his assistant prepared the projector.

The image of Dear Leader’s favorite rapper, Kay-Y, appeared on the giant screen. The crowd cheered. It turned out that the Western Region’s gift to Dear Leader was a series of glowing video testimonials from porn stars he had met through the years, and Kay-Y would act as master of ceremonies.

Cassie didn’t know what a porn star was, but she figured it had something to do with making movies, since Kay-Y was involved. He introduced a woman named Fernanda Foxx, who spoke in rapturous tones about a time when she had met Dear Leader in a stairwell. She was followed by Andrea Angel and then by Lacey Love. Although she wasn’t quite sure what it meant, Cassie also wanted a man who could perform like a stallion and make her see the blue lights of ecstasy, again and again, all night long. It sounded like fun, although last year, when she had seen the Lipizzaner horses, she’d gotten bored after an hour.

Dear Leader was really enjoying this, Cassie could see. He kept pumping his fist in the air, looking around at everyone and beaming.

“Samantha Sweets,” said Kay-Y, and another woman took her place on the screen.

“Penny Pussy…”

“And finally, this one’ll really blow your mind, a testimonial to Dear Leader’s versatility,” said Kay-Y. “Last, but certainly not least, Lance Long!” The image of a tall blonde man began to form on the screen.

“WHAAT!! WHO THE HELL LET THAT GET IN THERE?” Dear Leader screamed. No longer beaming, he stared in horror at the enormous screen. The Jester quickly cut off the video as Dear Leader grabbed the microphone. “That was a trick, everybody,” he shouted to the crowd. “It was planted by the Rebels, it’s a fake! I never met that guy. Don’t believe it!”

And then, to the Jester, “Get the town criers out of here. Somebody’s gonna lose their job over this…”

With that, Dear Leader stood up and put his cellphone in his pocket, preparing to leave.  

“Don’t you want to announce the winner?” the Jester asked him. “Which gift did you like the best?”

“Nah, they were all chintzy gifts,” Dear Leader replied. “I didn’t like any of them.”

“What about the prize?”

“We can use it for the Palace. And make sure you send some to the Southern Palace, as well. I’m gonna be there this weekend.” And with that, he walked out, talking to someone on the phone about the day’s sales of tincture.

In the end the Jester left, too, and no one told the crowd anything. After a while the rain started, and they began to drift out of the Coliseum. They were still angry at the Rebels.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 13

Shelter in place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

Peak Virus. Today is Peak Virus in California, we are told. Someone with a model has predicted that it will be the worst day, with the infection – or at least the first wave – starting to wane after that. Their model is so precise that they even predict 66 deaths today.

It’s a bit like the solstice. I feel we should celebrate, but of course, we can’t have a party. I only wish I had sparklers.


Discordant headlines:

Sex Toy Sales Take Off Amid Quarantine

Looming Global Condom Shortage As Manufacturers Shut Down

Looks like it’s you and me again tonight, Rosie….


Land of Opportunity Congress has passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. The abbreviated form is the CARES Act, showing that congress is more concerned about marketing than governing. But we already knew that.

The act does more for the rich than it does for workers or small businesses, but we already knew that, too. For one thing, it includes a tax break that will give an average $1.7 million to 43,000 taxpayers who all make over a million bucks a year1. Don’t you hate welfare recipients?


Different Strokes. The Governor of New York has ordered people to wear face masks in public. The police in Maryland have ordered people to wear pants when they go out to bring in their mail.

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Bidet Be Damned

A brief history of the bidet.

The sudden popularity of the bidet toilet is not without irony. Bidets were scorned by our virtuous forebears who associated them with pastimes more prurient than pristine. They were more comfortable with real dirt than with the libidinous kind. But amid the toilet paper shortage, I am fortunate that I had a so-called Japanese style toilet installed last summer. It was something I had coveted since the first time I saw one in a Tokyo hotel.

The classic bidet is actually a French invention. It dates back to the XVII century and has long been a common fixture in Europe, where it was discovered by American servicemen during WWII. Since these guys saw only the barracks (no bidet) and the whorehouse (bidet), the device came to have a salacious connotation in their minds. It didn’t help that their partners often used it immediately after intercourse in the belief that they could avoid pregnancy. To these guys, it was not the kind of thing a nice girl sat on.

This kind of bidet is simply a basin that you sit on to wash your crotch. But even in the 1600s, some clever soul found a way to fit one with an elevated reservoir and tubing to deliver a jet of water. The medieval washlet was born.

I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate them when I first ran into them in European hotels. What were they for? There was no seat, the porcelain was cold to sit on. It was too low for washing your hands. We kept beer and ice in them, sometimes. But the Tokyo model, with its spray of warm water, brought me to an apotheosis. I had found my true bidet.

Although the present day washlet, a spray-nozzle marriage of bidet and toilet seat, is often associated with Japan, it is an American invention, one that dates back to the sixties. A New Yorker named Arnold Cohen came up with it, but he got nowhere trying to sell it in the US. However, a Japanese company, Toto Toilets, was interested. Very quickly, the Cohen toilet seat became the norm in Japan.

They were still pretty rare in the US until this year’s toilet paper shortage. Now, there’s a whole range to choose from. You can get one for well under a hundred bucks. It just hooks up to your plumbing and squirts cold water at you. You still need to dry your ass. For somewhat more than that, the Brandel model I have heats the water and has a blow-dry function. It requires an electric outlet. It gets you dry enough that I haven’t had to use toilet paper for a long time.

There are other models that spray perfume or add soap to the water, that play background music or white noise, that open their own lid when you walk into the room. There’s a turbo wash feature, not for the faint of heart.

And, last but not least, boys and girls, the toilet seat is going online. Dr Toto the Toilet Seat is learning to perform medical tests, reporting to your MD over the internet. Toto has a model that measures urine volume and flow rate. There are also tests for metabolic factors like blood glucose and blood pressure.

Can a Covid 19 test be far behind?

Read more about toilets here and here. Read more about clinical tests here.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 12

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

An Old Fisherman. I took a long walk down to the harbor this morning. Highway 1 was completely bare of traffic in broad daylight, something I don’t remember having seen before.

On Johnson Pier, I ran into Cary and his dog, Boda. We greeted each other from 6 feet. Cary is an old fisherman who lives on his boat, makes a living working the trawlers that put out from Princeton in the mornings. He has a long beard with little braids in it, which he twirls together. He was blonde, once.

He must have really weird working hours, usually seems to be done for the day if I come around at 9 or 10AM. He hangs around the outside tables next to Princeton Seafood, before the place opens, drinking coffee with a half dozen other guys who look just like him. Cary keeps an ancient Mercedes in the harbor lot, uses it to bring in food. And coffee, sometimes.

I watched as he and Boda climbed up the ramp from the docks to the pier. They both struggled to make the climb, Cary bent over, encouraging the dog. I thought to myself, these two will die within days of one another. Such thoughts are not uncommon, lately.


Feeling the Heat in Japan. Here, we have a shortage of masks. In Japan, where the government is sending masks to every household, there is a shortage of thermometers. With fevers being checked at home and at work, the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. There’s a call for any unused thermometers people might have at home. If they don’t work, they probably just need new batteries.

Japan must be a really tough place for foreign workers right now. Most of them have only a rudimentary understanding of the language, can’t follow the news. And Japanese apartments can be tiny. You think you feel isolated?

The NHK news service ran an article about a government outreach for these people. It was a headline piece, illustrated with the following stunningly bad photo. I present it here without crop or edit:

Is this the worst news photograph ever? No heads or faces, we have no idea what they’re doing. But, they do seem to be workers of some kind, foreign or not: they have tool belts and all that. The photo was clearly taken with a cell phone by the story reporter, suggesting that all the photographers in Japan have disappeared, probably plague victims. Are we photographers a high risk group for severe infection, like seniors and people with asthma? Stranger things have happened.

Of Masks And Men

Because even a home-made mask is better than nothing.

We are now being advised to wear some kind of protective mask whenever we venture outdoors. Even home-made ones are said to be better than nothing, and there are quite a few imaginative designs out there, tributes to American ingenuity. Nevertheless, Dear Leader will not be setting the example by wearing one himself. He feels it’s not presidential. “I just can’t see it,” he said, in a moment of uncharacteristic humility.

In contrast, I have complied ardently with this directive. I wore my precious N95 to the grocery store and to the ATM. I wore it when I put out the garbage and when I brought in the mail. But I was afraid that, if I wore it out back to the spa, it would get wet. I was sure that wetting it would ruin it, so I had to come up with some alternative masking arrangement, a waterproof one.

Something made of cloth seemed like an obvious choice, but when I looked into it further, I found that cloth masks have serious drawbacks when they get wet. Virus particles normally travel through the air on droplets of spittle that my loving neighbors have coughed, sneezed, or otherwise excreted into the air. These droplets may get caught on a cloth mask before reaching my face, at least slowing their viral passengers’s attempt to reach my lungs. That is the theory.

But if the mask is wet, things work differently. Wet cloth clings to your face, and capillary action draws the virus particles directly down to your skin. I needed something else.

The internet seemed to offer all sorts of possible solutions. I found instructions for making masks out of flags and jock straps. I found ads for welding shields and for virus-resistant face creams. But the welder’s masks were all on back order, and I was sure the face creams would irritate my skin.

Rummaging through the garage, I came across my old snorkeling gear. At first, I was certain this would be perfect, but I soon ran into a few complications. First, the mask covered only my nose, not my mouth. I solved this problem by using the snorkel, stuffing tissues into it to act as a filter for the virus, and sucking as hard as I could in order to breathe. This effort made me perspire, however, and that caused the mask to fog, blinding me as I tried to grope my way out of the tub and back inside. I fell and hurt my knee when one of my fins caught on the edge of the deck. There had to be another way.

After discarding a few ideas involving flower pots¹, I hit upon the notion of using gallon freezer storage bags. They are cheap and disposable, transparent, and easily affixed to the ears by cutting a two-inch slit just under the reinforced slider. I added a bit of tape to keep the slit from spreading. My first prototype was a little flimsy, but I bolstered it with a bungee strap around my forehead, and it stayed in place well enough.

I was left with the problem of getting a virus-proof closure around the edges. A video about the right way to put on a surgical mask stressed the importance of a good seal. Let me point out that this can be difficult if you have a full beard.

But there are tricks. One, that I learned when I took snorkeling lessons, is to use vaseline. So, after shaving a clean line under my chin at the neckline, I smeared gobs of the stuff all around my head and neck, working the bag into place. I put it on extra thick at the top of my head, because that’s where the bag’s corner was, and my hair, although thin, kept getting in the way. I had to use another bungee.

I should stress that this was a prototype. I realized that I would run out of air. Had it worked, I would have punched another hole in the bag and run a piece of rubber tubing through the kitchen window, bringing virus-free air from indoors. But as things worked out, I got vaseline on everything until I couldn’t see through the bag, and I slipped three times trying to get out of the tub. It was getting to be dinner time, so I finally gave up.

Washing off the vaseline proved to be another problem. I got it all over the bathroom walls as I tried to shower it off, but it seemed that no amount of soap and hot water would break its grip on my hair. Despite all my scrubbing, I still felt its tackiness.

I needed a solvent that would effectively dissolve the stuff. Fortunately, a very large jug of alcohol, used for decontamination, was sitting in the kitchen. Even with that, it was difficult to get that stuff out of my hair. But after using half a gallon, at last I felt pretty clean. A little dizzy from breathing the fumes, but finally able to go make dinner. After a quick rinse, I headed for the kitchen. By now, I was famished.

Dinner was to be some leftover stew that only needed to be heated on the stove. My eyes were watering, I was still woozy from the fumes, and something — I thought it was water — was dripping onto my shoulders as I poured the stuff into a pan. I twisted the knob on the stove and heard the igniter click a few times before the gas caught, but the flash of combustion seemed a lot more vigorous than usual. The last thing I remember was a loud Whoosh.

There is a magic trick that involves burning alcohol in your hand. Actually, it is the vapors above the alcohol that burn, leaving your hand unscathed. This wasn’t quite like that. As the fumes ignited, they took most of my remaining hair with them. I tried to take some consolation from the fact that I did need a haircut, but I was really upset. While I was passed out, the EMTs had eaten my stew, and one of them had the nerve to say it had too much garlic.

¹As a diving bell

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 11

Shelter in place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

Passover. Passover has begun, and for the first time since Raye died four years ago, I did not wonder if anyone would invite me to a seder. Nobody did, of course, but this year it never even crossed my mind. The coronavirus is even less popular than I am.

We are taught that god, pissed off at the Egyptians, sent a plague to slaughter all their first born babies, but that it passed over the Jewish kids. Looks like someone else’s god is running this one.

It’s not the catholic one, though. People are dropping like flies in catholic Italy. The other day the pope came out and suggested that the pandemic is nature’s response to global warming. I will make no attempt to find any logic behind this statement, but I was struck by the fact that he pointed to “nature” rather than “god”. Everyone’s trying to shift the blame.


Congregation. When I first read that Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, had asserted that religious services are “essential businesses” under the covid 19 response, my first thought was, well, we have marijuana. And then I thought, rather more self-righteously, that we can get weed delivered, we don’t have to gather in contagious crowds.

Not that weed is the same as religion, to be sure. But, it serves more or less the same purpose.

Anyway, I was wrong about Texas. It turns out that their worship, while essential, must still conform to the broad tenets of our fuzzy national pandemic response. And it turns out that religion is the same as weed, at least in that you can get it delivered.

Gov. Abbott’s order calls for congregants to maintain social distancing during in-person worship. Everyone gets their own pew, staggered seating, please. Where the faithful are numerous, this may require adding shifts. Will the pastor demand more pay? Will the sermons be shorter? Where to spread the choir? How to chew the wafer?

The phrase “in-person” had me asking myself what other kinds of worship might be available. Perhaps the process had been automated, like setting up payments for your car. But, it turns out that absolution is absolutely available online, through church websites and by other means. Not only is social distancing maintained, online worship has the further advantage that each congregant can pray at his or her own pace.

In addition to the many online benedictions there are also drive-through options, where you can repent from the insulated comfort of your own car. You just have to roll down your window to interact with a small loudspeaker (robotically sanitized with fragranced bleach after every worshiper). I imagine the sermons are short to keep the lines down, because congregants are asked to remain one car length apart. Not recommended for Harleys.

Finally, can we even call it a “congregation” any more? In the era of remote worship, wouldn’t “segregation” be a better term?