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.

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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.

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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)

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?

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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.

1 href=”https://www.forbes.com/sites/shaharziv/2020/04/14/why-are-rich-americans-getting-17-million-stimulus-checks/#7fd2d6d1665b”

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?


	

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 10

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

Groceries. I read in the news this morning that our leaders are telling us to forego grocery shopping for the next two weeks, until the pandemic is past its peak.

Leaving aside the question of which tea leaves have been consulted to assure us that the disease will be on the wane in a fortnight, I do think that this novel anti-Coronavirus strategy is likely to have some success. It stands to reason that people who have died can no longer be infected by the pathogen. The virus will die out when it finds no one new to infect, and having people starve will accelerate that process without adding to the demand for ventilators. Before you know it, no more coronavirus.

Someone is thinking outside the box. I wonder if it’s the same one who suggested nuking hurricanes.

*

Rain. It’s been raining for three days, a heavy rain with dark clouds filling the skies. I turn on the lights in the house to ward off the mid-day darkness, to make things a little less bleak. But the rain is welcome, and not just because it’s been a dry winter and the moisture is needed.

The rain makes it seem that these days of confinement are less wasted, less of a loss than they would otherwise be. We’d be cooped up anyway, even if it rained without the virus. So, it’s like killing two birds with one stone. Maybe it will rain for the whole month of April, and we will all emerge to a well-washed world, scrubbed clean of the plague.

Rain also serves to make the barren streets seem more normal. Rather than  staying cooped up all day, I took a morning walk down the highway and across to the harbor. Everything was empty, but that’s how it always is when it’s pouring. So it looked normal, in a way.

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Pandas. There’s a bright side to everything, and some positive news about the lockdown comes from a zoo in Hong Kong, where two giant pandas have mated for the first time in a decade. The gawking crowds have been forced to stay at home, and the bears finally have some privacy. 

The pandas are described as middle aged, and I guess that’s why they were shy about doing it in public. It’s understandable. The male, whose name is Ying Ying (why not Ying Yang? I don’t know, but they missed an opportunity) has probably grown a paunch, and I’m sure Le Le, the female, doesn’t have the cute butt she once did.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 9

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

Toilet Paper. So, it turns out that we’re not hoarding it after all. The shelves have been stripped bare, and weeks into the crisis they remain so. The New York Times and the Boston Globe have published articles scolding us for panic buying. They imagine people with rooms full, garages full of the stuff, waiting for the shit to hit the fan, so to speak,

But, it turns out that the so-called “paper of record” and its less opulent neighbor to the north have not actually bothered to look into the matter. People are not shitting at work, they’re shitting at home. Therefore, of course, they’re using more toilet paper in that location.

Why can’t the suppliers just divert the paper they would normally send to office buildings, restaurants, etc? Because it’s different paper. Thinner, packaged differently, often by different manufacturers who use different distributors.

A guy named Will Oremus actually did the research (1). Maybe the grey lady should try to hire him.

(1) https://marker.medium.com/what-everyones-getting-wrong-about-the-toilet-paper-shortage-c812e1358fe0

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Baseball. We learn today in the news that two MLB pitchers, Noah Syndegaard of the Mets and Chris Sale of the Red Sox, have undergone elbow reconstruction surgery (aka Tommy John surgery) in the past week. This happened while every surgical mask, gown, and glove is precious, while OR nurses are wearing plastic garbage bags. (Not their OR nurses.)

The men responsible for these teams tell us that these elective surgeries were justified because, while these players’s lives were not at risk, their livelihoods were.

Really? Their livelihoods?

According to Baseball Reference, Chris Sale has made just under $90 million through 2019, salaries only, not counting endorsements. The number for Syndegaard is over $10 million.

I’d hate to see these guys collecting food stamps.

The real reason, of course, is that recovery from TJ surgery takes over a year. Owners Fred Wilpon and John W. Henry are still paying these guys big bucks and want them ready to go as early as possible for the 2021 season. If that costs some nurses their lives, fuck ’em.

The working classes will continue to breed.

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Teeth. A by-product of the shelter-in-place experience is that no one is going to the dentist anymore, at least for routine care. The DDS community is sitting in empty offices, waiting for clientele. A friend who has kept a practice going for over  forty years had to file for unemployment insurance.

But toothaches and emergencies still occur. Apparently, some dentists are trying to serve their patients online.

And so, I received a text message with a picture of the teeth of someone named Scott, whom I do not know. It wasn’t actually meant for me. Wrong number. A brief accompanying note indicated it was meant for his dentist, a Dr Hoffman.

Dental Image
Scott’s Teeth

This guy has pretty big front teeth, made to look even more so by the cell phone lens. Reminds me of a gopher.

Close inspection revealed that the fellow had chipped his upper right front tooth, the incisor, which dental insiders may know as the number eight.

I did the same thing to my #8 once, years back. Chipped it taking a swig from a bottle of Chianti. I was far from any dentist and text messages didn’t exist. The damned thing hurt for a day or two, and then it stopped bothering me.

I texted back and told Scott to take two aspirin.

 

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 8

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

Today I mended a cup.

Cup mending is not the kind of activity I normally engage in. Cup mending is the kind of thing I plan on doing, putting the pieces away in a safe place and then, generally, forgetting both the safe place and the cup itself.

But I broke a cup two days ago, dropping it into the sink, and so there it was on the counter, the broken handle tucked inside. And I was bored, with nothing to do. There was plenty of glue on a shelf in the garage, including a nifty epoxy with special grips for precision dispensing. It was perfect for the job, and I now have a cup with intact handle. I am to leave it undisturbed for 12 hours. That won’t be difficult in this stillness.

But, as a way to pass the time, cup mending isn’t very effective. Only took about five minutes. I looked around for other things to mend but couldn’t find anything broken. Even thought about breaking a plate, but I was afraid there’d be too many fragments.

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Parsimony appears to be one of the byproducts of cowering in place. We go to the store as infrequently as possible, half the shelves are bare, we come home with whatever we were able to find, and the instinct is to preserve it. Make it last.

Thus, I find myself eating half a candy bar, trying to save half my steak for tomorrow’s dinner, forgoing my afternoon coffee.

I feel as though I have been doing this all my life. It was the same when I was a starving student, a salaryman trying to pay a mortgage, an older worker looking to retire.

You’d think I’d be good at it by now.

*

Bob the Bird is back.

He announces himself every morning, chirping loudly outside my bedroom window. It is a happy sound, the kind of thing that makes you feel guilty for lying lazily in bed.

Bob is a finch, one of several who hang out at the very top of the pine tree in the back yard. They sit and watch the world from there, chirping their commentary. It sounds as if they’re laughing at us.

Finch
Bob the Bird

In those uppermost branches, the finches do not practice social distancing. They are not afraid of the plague, but it can get some animals, too. Today, I read about a cat who had covid-19 symptoms and tested positive. It is now recovering under quarantine.

Then I thought how come there aren’t enough tests for people, but they can test a cat?