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.


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


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.


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.


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.

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?



We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 7

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

Groceries. I went to market this morning to replenish my supplies. The hazmat suit hadn’t been delivered yet (they’re on back order), but I was out of bananas, so I had to go. Force majeure.

New Leaf has a seniors hour when they first open in the morning, so I rolled out of bed, wolfed down breakfast, and headed down there in the car. Passing by Surfer Beach, I saw that there were barricades and no parking signs along the parking strip. But you could still park in the dirt lot by the skateboard ramp, and there were a few boards out on the water.

At New Leaf there were two or three people waiting outside for the store to open. Donning my N-95 and blue vinyl gloves, I got a cart, wiped the handles down with an alcohol wipe, and waited a few minutes along with them. Standing a couple of meters from the closest one, I held my cart between us like a shield. Then, the staff began metering people into the store through a single open door.

Inside, people tried to stay the proper distance apart. It wasn’t crowded at all when the place first opened, but after twenty minutes it began  to fill up. Seniors with carts would meet where the aisles intersected and everyone would stop, afraid to go through. After you. No, after you, really. I will write to store management and suggest the installation of traffic signals.

Some items were well stocked while other shelves were completely bare. There was no rhyme or reason to it. But I got most of what I needed, including bananas, and headed for the register, where I carefully inserted my credit card into the slot without touching any part of the machine. Then, I used homemade hand sanitizer on my gloves and headed out to the car.

Decontamination Procedure. People are concerned that the groceries they buy may themselves be contaminated. As a public service, I will now describe the procedure that I used to avoid bringing the virus home.

Decontamination began at the car. I popped the trunk open with the key fob that I had placed in my right jacket pocket. After loading the groceries, I cleaned my gloves and the key fob with a dash of sanitizer from a dispenser that I had stashed back there. I globbed some on the door handle for good measure, took off my mask, and drove home.

In the garage, I took the bags out and unpacked them on the concrete floor. Bags and boxes went directly to the recycling bin. I had prepared a spray bottle filled with 70% ethanol (EtOH), which I used to douse the items before bringing them into the house. Alcohol is as effective as bleach, and much less obnoxious to use. A spray bottle, such as a house plant mister, is a convenient means of delivery.

Once everything was inside, I washed my gloves again with alcohol and then did all the doorknobs, refrigerator handles, etc. I removed the gloves by turning them inside out, discarded them, and washed my hands with soap and water. Then I threw my clothes into the hamper and headed for the shower.

This procedure may be supplemented at any time by any or all of these optional steps:

  • touching wood
  • throwing salt over one’s shoulder
  • placing garlic on the new groceries
  • drawing a chalk pentangle on the floor around the groceries
  • tying a red string on one’s wrist
  • planting St John’s Wort
  • invoking whichever god one believes in

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 6

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

Chronological music Stuck at home with nothing to do, I am trying out chronological music listening. I put on a selection of music from different eras in the past, moving forward through time. Sometimes it’s modern popular music, and I might start with some Delta blues. Other times, like today, I concentrate on classical, and start in Medieval times.

Today I started with Hildegarde, moved on to the Renaissance with Dunstable, and right now I’m in Baroque Spain with a guy named Joan Cabanilles.

Cabanilles wrote battle music for the Iberian organ. At first, I thought this involved putting one on a wagon and hauling it around on the battlefield to enhearten the troops, like the Greek bards of ancient times. I was impressed with the cultivation of the Spanish nobility, or clergy, or whoever the hell was putting on the wars back then.

But, this turned out not to be the case. Instead, “battle pieces generally imitate the commotion of war with busy voicing, ostinato figures, lively rhythms, and percussive chords that simulate musket or cannon fire” (1). Trumpet sounds are big, too, as you can imagine. So the upper classes who attended these things could have all the fun of being in a battle without actually having to bleed. It was like Netflix.

(1) https://www.thediapason.com/content/baroque-iberian-battle-music-organ


Hand sanitizer Running short of hand sanitizer, I went out on the back deck and whipped up a test batch with the 170 proof alcohol I got at HMB Distillery. I found some aloe gel that had been in the bathroom cabinet forever, added a tablespoon to 100 milliliters of alcohol (just over a cup), and topped it off with a level squirt of lemon juice. Works out to just over 70% alcohol by volume.

So now I’m ready to compete with Purell. They claim their stuff kills 99.99% of bacteria, viruses, germs and everything. I don’t have that kind of data, but I can claim 100% of the flies that landed on the surface.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 5

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

As our government struggles to contain the pandemic, we may be encouraged to learn that, at least, they have come to understand the root cause of it all. The Hill Reporter headlines:

Spiritual Leader To Trump’s Cabinet Puts Blame Of Coronavirus On China, Gay People, And Environmentalists.

This would be a guy named Ralph Drollinger, who leads a White house bible study group.. He tells us that his conclusion is based upon “a biblically astute evaluation of the situation,” according to the article.

And the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. The virus is out there in the environment, right? That’s where people get infected. We have to shelter in place because the environment is bad for us. So the environmentalists are behind this.

    It was actually quite astute of this Spiritual Leader to make the connection.

But, I want to know why the Mexicans are escaping blame from this guy. And what about the Muslims? The Suffragettes? Gluten-free bread?

Is there a functional synapse left in this place?


While we’re on the topic of synaptic dysfunction, I got one of those Mail Delivery Failed notices from my email system. It was for a message that I had not sent, some spammer spoofing an address on my URL. Curious, I had a look at it:

Hi, neigh͏bor.
Tests confirmed that I was sick with a coronav͏irus.
Doc͏tors said that in the week I will leave the world.
My parents will be left without my sup͏port.
And at this ti͏me you will live enjoying.
I think this is unf͏air, and I suggest you pay me.
What I am sitting at home and don’t try to in͏fect your home.
Life or mo͏ney.
Hurr͏y up! Every hour, I hat͏e you more and more.

It was followed by a bitcoin address.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 4

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

3/25 Today was the first time I ever washed a banana.

I suppose it was a bit paranoid. I had watched the guy at the grocery store unloading bananas from the shipping carton into the bin, and he was wearing blue vinyl gloves. But who knows who put them into the box? Who knows what other customer handled them before I got there? How long can this virus live on a banana, anyway? Probably longer than I can. Apparently, it can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard.


Half Moon Bay Distillery was giving away 170 proof ethanol, BYOB, limit half quart per person.

That’s what I was told, but what I heard was Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, for that is where I used to drink before draft beer became a memory. And so I went to HMB Brewing Company and was told that no, they were not giving away alcohol, but HMB Distillery was.

That’s what I was told, but what I heard was Moss Beach Distillery, for we used to dine there, years ago. And so I drove two miles to Moss Beach, and at the Distillery I was told that no, they were not giving away alcohol, but HMB Distillery was. I finally found the right place, a large shipping garage where all the streets come together in Princeton.

In the middle of the concrete floor, a large silver colored vessel that looked like a coffee urn sat on a small table. A divine chalice dispensing holy water. I stood in awe for a moment. The priest, a friendly bearded chap with blue eyes, was overseeing everything while standing twelve feet back. He invited me to fill about half of my Rubbermaid bottle. I was wearing the blue gloves that Burt sent me, so I did not hesitate to grasp the handle.

I was careful to wash everything down with disinfectant when I got home, and then I incinerated my clothing.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 3

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

3/24  I read where Mr Trump has been tweeting that we need to stop secluding ourselves and re-start the economy. The dead be damned, so to speak. This was apparently in response to some Fox News mouthpiece arguing that a lot of people will starve to death if we have a recession. If they’re gonna die anyway, might as well keep the profits rolling in. Mr Trump bought that argument.

So, we’ll re-evaluate after the two weeks are over, says the follower-in-chief. America will re-open for business, and then everything will be hunky-dory.

Well, we’ve already seen who loses when alternate reality meets virus. And it’s not the virus.


Marion from next door texted she was going shopping and later left a dozen eggs on my front step. She said she’d sprayed everything with one of those plant-based disinfectant sprays they sell in places like New Leaf. The active ingredient, thymol, is a phenol derived from thyme which kills bacteria, fungi, and several viruses but has not been tested on anything like the coronavirus. For a list of things that have, products and chemicals, my avid reader may click here and here.


Perhaps the four years spent living alone since Raye died has prepared me in some way for this ordeal. I’m used to being in this house all day long with no one to talk to. It almost seems natural.

People of a more gregarious nature, finding themselves suddenly confined and alone, have reached out to me. Is it comforting to speak to someone who has survived being alone for so long, to find him still lucid and able to function? Could it be that I possess some expertise in the matter, trade secrets of solitude, that I might share?

Maybe I’ll become a consultant. I could make my own hours.

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 2

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

3/23 – This morning, an article in the Guardian began to cast doubt upon the overlying hallucination that things will get back to normal in a month or two. The sobering thought was that sports in front of crowds would not resume before the summer of 2021. It was a good followup to the headline on Friday from the Japanese news service, NHK. Loose translation: “Some people think going ahead with the Olympics as planned is not such a good idea.” These guys are really on the ball.

I have to say I never understood by what mechanism this whole thing was supposed to go away in a few weeks. Even if we had tests, it’s now way too prevalent in the general population to be contained.

People in Germany and Holland are being told to expect that two thirds of the population will eventually contract the disease. Should be similar here. Although we are more spread out as a population, we don’t have a public health service that is nearly as efficient as theirs.

So let’s do the math, then we can go back to bed and suck our thumbs. Three hundred million Americans, two thirds get the virus, 4% death rate. I get 8 million dead.


I’m stressed. We’re all stressed, of course, but I’m starting to feel it in different ways. No appetite, sleeping poorly. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Last night I spent ten hours in bed and still woke up exhausted. I kept waking up all night, actually, feeling short of breath. Not the COVID 19 symptom,  no cough or fever, just feeling so stressed I couldn’t relax and take a deep breath. It’s like I have to remind myself to inhale. I’ll try to do some yoga, maybe that’ll help.


Yesterday, I went down to Surfer Beach to check out the sunset. I was surprised at how many people were there, walking around in small groups. Kids on bikes were all over the streets, enjoying the holiday from school. There was a strange sense of community in this, as if people had come to gaze fondly at their neighbors from a distance of six feet. Fortunately, no one came close to me, as I had forgotten my pepper spray.

At one point a group of 5 or 6 of these vectors passed me on the walkway. They were not keeping the advised 6 feet apart, and they seemed to be talking and breathing on one another other intemperately. I wanted to reproach them and remind them of the guidelines, but they had large dogs, so I decided against it.


To Shoot a Hummingbird

Lenny, a street photographer, is stuck at home because of the corona virus. He wants to try taking pictures of the hummingbirds that feed on the potted plants on his back deck. He wrote to ask for advice.

Hi Lenny

I did an impromptu project like this last year, while visiting my brother in law, a cannabis dealer in LA. He has a couple of hummingbird feeders in his backyard. One day, having been left alone there with enough of his wares to hospitalize Cheech and Chong, I ended up pulling out my gear and photographing hummers. I had a D600, a pretty good speedlight, and a tripod.


My first suggestion is to use a flash. Flash lighting helps to freeze the action, and it also lets you to reduce aperture to gain more depth of field. This can be useful for focusing, because the birds move so fast.

It’s nice to use a diffuser on the light to soften the shadows a bit, but that may depend on how powerful your light is and how close to the bird you can place it.

Flash Duration

The flash freezes the action. It lasts a  tenth of a millisecond or something, at least at low power. Way faster than your shutter, so if the flash light is dominant, it no longer matters what your shutter speed is. Just set aperture for depth of field and regulate flash power for exposure.


However, the more you crank up the power on a speedlight, the longer the duration of the flash (1). And hummingbird wing and tail movements are very fast. With most speedlights,  you’ll start to see wing and tail flutter if you shoot at more than 1/4th power. If you shoot less than that on a sunny day, you’ll start to see a contribution from ambient light, which may also show wing motion, depending on your shutter speed.

So, balancing flash and ambient lighting is a bit more involved than it seems at first. On top of all this, I was trying to conserve my battery, ‘cause I didn’t have a spare. I had found my brother in law’s stash, but I couldn’t find his AA cells, and I was in no condition to drive anywhere to buy more. You have to weigh a lot of factors to get good photographs.

Ultimately, I backed off on power and ended up with a blend of light sources, with some motion revealed by the ambient light. The effect is kind of artsy, I think, but different from the pin-sharp you could do with more light. Artsy is what you call a shot that falls a little short technically. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The birds didn’t seem to react to the flash. I was surprised at this, thinking it might spook them, but I was able to fire it again and again, and they just kept feeding.

Guide Number

Your flash should have a manufacturer’s guide number (or you can measure it), which is equal to the product of the distance and f-number at which your subject is fully illuminated at full power (it will be specified in meters or feet). A diffuser will knock that back a bit. How much depends upon the diffuser. You can measure that by taking pictures of your wife in the kitchen with and without the diffuser and then comparing the little histogram thingies in Lightroom.

If you don’t have a wife, or if she refuses to cook for you, you could take pictures of a grey card. This would be more precise, but possibly not as attractive.

Depth of Field

I wanted to photograph the birds in flight, because a shot of a hummingbird sitting on a feeder is ordinary. So, I put the flash on my tripod and aimed it in the general direction of the birds’s flight path on their approach to the feeders, and then slaved it to my Nikon. Sometimes the birds would hover in front of the feeders for an easy shot, sometimes they’d just swoop right in, giving me no time to react. I handheld the camera and shot as best I could with spot focusing.


The biggest lens I had was a 200mm, so I wanted to get as close as I could. I set up about 2 meters to one side of their path. To gain focusing depth, I tried to stop down as much as possible, to f11-f16. That gave me about 10 centimeters to work with, but of course it reduced the light intake and was demanding on the flash.


I managed to milk a couple of hours of shooting from my battery, got some decent pictures and had a good time. I think you’ve picked a very good self-isolation project.

Good luck and get some good pictures!

(1) Nearer to full power, most speedlights run closer to 1/400 sec. https://improvephotography.com/46974/flash-duration-speedlights-long-pop-flash/

(2) More about bird photography: http://best-left-unsaid.com/photography/photographing-birds-in-flight/