Not much new to report. I’m still healthy, indoors, grateful, and paranoid. I’m not spending quite as much time lying awake, worrying about exactly what I touched and when I washed my hands. However, an approaching human without a mask gets my pulse and my dander up something fierce.
I deeply miss non-virtual contact, concerts, theaters, salad bars, dive bars, parks, haircuts, handshakes, barbecue, beach sunsets, and much more. I realize this doesn’t mean a damned thing when millions of us are missing food on the table and an untold number are missing the loved ones they’ve lost. The problems of a person like me don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Frankly, though, I wish the cheermongers — the influencer types who keep babbling “Stay strong! Think positive!” — would shut the hell up. I don’t need to be told how to feel by some clown who’s probably half my age. I know what I need to do to be safe and responsible, starting by covering myself. Anyone who truly believes this tramples on their rights isn’t worth the air they consume. I’ll try to be less grumpy next time. Y’all be safe too.
My wife and I are lucky because we can afford to keep ourselves fed and haven’t had too much trouble finding the essentials. Still, “going to the store” is nothing like it used to be.
First off, we never go inside. Too many people won’t keep their distance. Every week, we put together an online order and arrange a pickup time, which is getting tougher because the slots fill up fast. We park in a designated spot, pop the trunk, and a staffer loads the bags — no up-close contact required. If we’re buying beer, like we did today, we leave a driver’s license in the trunk to confirm we’re a few years past 21.
Sound easy? It’s just the start. A few weeks ago, we got home and found we didn’t get everything we’d paid for, so we had to go back to the store (twice). Now, we drive across the road to an empty parking lot and sort through all the bags to be sure the contents match our list. Except for toilet paper we haven’t run into many shortages, though we haven’t been buying large amounts of meat, and today for some reason we couldn’t get Tabasco sauce.
Finally, at home we wipe everything down with disinfectant before stowing it. Some of the experts say this isn’t necessary but as long as grocery workers are getting sick we’re not taking any chances, however small. The people at the local Kroger’s are always helpful, polite, and understanding. One of them told us he’s an actor who was thrown out of work when everything shut down. Now he has one of the most important jobs in the country, and one of the risky ones.
At least the delivery people had sun and mild temperatures to work in today. In the Chicago area, where my photographer cousin lives, schlepping beer and milk around the parking lot would be no fun at all. Take care and be safe.
Though I try to avoid cliches, today’s title fits like an old shoe, the one I can never find because some lunkhead (guess who) knocked it under the bed. But I digress. Here’s the latest.
The ugly: A trip to Lowe’s and Home Depot to pick up a few critical items for our new house, which we didn’t want to ask our builder to collect. Despite all the pleas to stay home, on a Wednesday morning both parking lots were so packed that it felt like a Saturday morning in the good old days (a couple of months ago). Some of them were contractors but I’m sure most were just bored, risking others’ lives to finish their honey-do lists and buy things like plants.
At Lowe’s, everyone waited outside at six-foot intervals, with no one allowed in until someone else left. Even so, there seemed to be an uncomfortable excess of people in the place, walking too close to us, entering through the exit, and generally acting like the virus doesn’t exist. Maybe half the customers wore masks. All the employees did, but some put them so low on their faces that their noses and even their upper lips were uncovered.
The bad: We got home and found WalMart had suddenly cancelled today’s grocery delivery because of “unexpected demand.” Well, damn. We have food on hand. I just hope this isn’t an omen of worse disruptions to come.
The good: Our stimulus payment hit the bank account. I’m glad we didn’t have to wait longer than necessary, unlike the millions of low-income people whose paper checks will be delayed because Trump wanted his name printed on them. When I worked for the IRS as recently as 2015, this kind of political meddling was unthinkable. No more.
More good: My cousin Chan, who’s a great photographer, is sharing some of his pictures. The one just below was taken at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.
That’s all for today. I think. Of course, the world could change in the next few seconds. Take care and be safe.
I realize this is a drop in the ocean. But I want to record these times in words, if only for myself. It’ll help me sort things out in my head, keep me busy, and ease my writer’s frustration, especially when I get stuck trying to finish my novel-in-progress. I’ll update as warranted, but won’t post just for the sake of it. A babbler and navel-gazer I am not. So here goes.
April 14, 2020
This is day 34 of distancing for my wife and me, or D+34, as they might say in the army. On March 8 we had tickets for a “house concert,” with a great jazz musician playing in someone’s living room, and decided not to go for fear of being in a crowd. Our last restaurant meal was about the same time. Now we hardly go anywhere except the grocery store and even then don’t venture inside: we order online and have the bags brought to the car.
On the scale of suffering, we’re pretty near the bottom. We haven’t gotten sick, nor have any of our family and friends, though we think of them all the time. We have a full pantry and enough of our vital meds to last months. Because we were already retired, our daily routine hasn’t been turned upside down. Our musician friends are streaming their concerts. We know we’re lucky.
I can get by without face-to-face contact if it keeps us alive. There’s no particular thing I’m yearning for and can’t have. I won’t even be upset if they scrub the football season. And of course, I’m still writing.
I do wish I could write about a world where people could go about their lives without sickness, countless human and economic tragedies, desperation, and constant fear. But I’m not a science fiction writer.
Since today is National Senior Citizens Day, I thought we could all take a break from our busy schedule of lying about being at Woodstock, and using periods in texts just to aggravate the grandkids. Stay with me while I share some priceless* information from our good friends at the AARP on the subject of living in place. (You do plan on living for a while, right?)
This concept, also known as aging in place, means adapting your home to your age—perhaps by lopping off the second floor to get rid of those knee-killing stairs! Seriously, there are lots of practical, helpful ways to do this. Sadly, the AARP’s ideas are uncommonly bad.
Their first mistake was outsourcing the piece to those Property Brothers from HGTV (bless their hearts) and putting it in the form of a cartoon. This multi-page spread shows the bros leading their own parents through the house, while offering these king-size pearls of wisdom:
“Bedside units hold books, glasses, water, and medicine.” “Low-flow toilets reduce water bills.” “Non-slip floor surfaces reduce falls.” “Elvis really is dead. He’s not hanging out at the Burger King in Kalamazoo.”
Okay, I made up the last one, but you get the idea. These yutzes** must think us elders have the brains of a kohlrabi. So what did you expect from the magazine that invited you to, “Meet Joe’s Prostate?”
The worst part is that many of their suggestions truly make no sense
for seniors (or anyone else). The article notes, “A raised dishwasher eases the
burden of bending and lifting.” Except that the cartoon shows, right next to
said dishwasher, a fridge with the freezer at the bottom WHICH REQUIRES BENDING
AND LIFTING EVERY TIME YOU TAKE SOMETHING OUT.
Still in the kitchen: “Under-counter lighting makes midnight snacking easier.” Right, and while we’re at it, let’s facilitate weight gain and heartburn. And get this: for the bathroom, they propose robo-toilets with “voice-activated flushing and lids that raise automatically.” So when Joe’s prostate gets him up at 3:00 a.m. and the privy suddenly gets balky, he’ll be yelling, “FLUSH! I SAID FLUSH!” and Jane, awakened out of a hot dream involving Harrison Ford, will be telling Alexa, ‘Look up divorce lawyer NOW!”
This panel sums up the witlessness of the story. Would any real husband be so dense as to blurt out, “She’s got a lot more to store!” emphasized by that thought-balloon next to his head? The wife would probably have her own balloon, with a big red X over his vintage Playboy collection.
*Since it doesn’t come with a price, it’s worth exactly what you paid for it. Get it? **Similar to “putz:” dimwitted, but without the added meaning of being slang for “schlong.”
Welcome to my retirement! Not the one from my actual job a few years ago but the brand new one from my other life as a professional language police person and grammar nag, writing under the moniker Uncle Grumpy.
You might ask why I’m retiring. (You might also not care.) Well, it wasn’t an easy decision. I like showing off my knowledge, skewering other people’s bad writing, and—at least once in a blue moon—being funny. However, I’ve reluctantly concluded that the odds of making any real impact* on the problem are somewhere below absolute zero. I’d have a better chance of being voted, “The Hottest of All the Hot Dudes in the South Even Though He’s Sixty-Plus and Is Minus Most of His Hair.”
What brought me to this sorry state? ‘Twas this bit of prose from a New
York Times article: “In one
dramatic marker of the divide, the Republican minority in the Oregon Senate on Thursday
fleed the Capitol to prevent a vote on the carbon-pricing bill, which
they say would harm the state’s economy.”
That’s right, FLEED. Of all the linguistic apocalypti** I’ve seen, which is plenty, this is among the worst. What next, “bleeded?” Most fourth-graders would know better. Even spellcheck, which I usually warn people not to lean on, would’ve caught it. I’m reminded of Groucho Marx in Monkey Business: “Oh, why can’t we break away from all this, just you and I, and lodge with my fleas in the hills? I mean… flee to my lodge in the hills.”
In any case, I am done grumping. I will no longer rend my teeth or gnash my garments over every goof I find. I shall live a life of serenity, unbothered by dangling modifiers, promiscuous possessives, buzzwords, typos like “pubic” for “public,” and all the rest. I’ll mentally step over these little issues like parking-lot puddles, and if they threaten to aggravate me I’ll simply take a stiff drink (unless I hear them on the radio while driving).
*This is literally the last time I’m going to say it: “Impact” is not a verb. I know I’m not supposed to say “literally” but since I’m retiring, this IS literally the last time I’m going to say it, so I’m literally giving myself a mulligan. **This might or might not be the proper plural of “apocalypse.” Who cares? I’m retired, remember?
The dragonflies were coming out at the beach last week, a new cycle of life beginning with the season. For my wife and me, a stage of life was ending, as we cleared out and sold the beach house we’d owned and cherished for the last sixteen years.
Growing up in the Midwest and not being the imaginative type (think Lake Wobegon), I never dreamed I might someday have a home by the water. I spent lots of summer days swimming in lakes, but never went to Florida for spring break. I had no clue that the world’s most gorgeous beaches lay on the Gulf of Mexico in the area once called the Redneck Riviera, now the Emerald Coast.
Then my girlfriend and I visited friends there and were entranced by the white sand, the balmy turquoise-blue water, and the cool, laid-back vibe. We bought a condo, got married on the beach, and a few years later traded up to a house, where we spent the best times of our lives. Swimming in the Gulf as little fish nibbled our toes. Riding our bikes to get ice cream at ten a.m. if we felt like it. Floating in our pool with Pat Metheny on the outdoor speakers. Kayaking in the rare dune lakes all around us. Eating sweet Gulf shrimp on the beach at sunset. Joining our neighbors for a Fourth of July pig roast, complete with a New Orleans funeral procession for the pig, then watching fireworks all along the coast. Catching beads at Mardi Gras in Panama City.
Of all those moments, the very best were the clear nights when we lay in our deck chairs for hours on end, marveling at the Milky Way and the planets, talking, and just being together. My wife’s creative spirit and loving heart touched every corner, from the wreath on the door, to the screened porch she had put in, to the nature photos she took and hung on the walls. We could go down anytime and find everything as we’d left it, waiting for us like an old friend.
But eventually, managing the place became a struggle. Meanwhile, our historic beach town was ruined by a plague of mini-Trump Towers, hideous new houses that blocked our Gulf view and were full of obnoxious tourists. These are the kind who bring their guns on vacation, then forget and leave them for the next group of renters (or their kids) to find. They overran our formerly uncrowded beaches, tore around the streets on golf carts, and shot off tons of fireworks even when it was nowhere near the Fourth.
We fought back. When some jerks got raucous in the house behind ours, we fired up the stereo and introduced them to John Coltrane at top volume. But it just wasn’t paradise anymore. And when Hurricane Michael slammed Panama City and came within twenty miles of us, it was time to sell and move on.
I know it’s the right decision. I still feel like I’ve torn out part of my heart. Little things remind me of the place all the time: no more beach house keys on my ring, several beach-related bookmarks to delete from my browser, the storm forecasts I don’t need to follow anymore.
But we gave our home a proper farewell. We donated lots of household goods to people who’d lost everything in Michael (and didn’t need the National Hurricane Center to tell them it was a Category 5). On the last evening, we walked down to the beach with boxes of shells we’d collected over the years and cast them back into the sea.
Like Hemingway’s Paris, the beach is a moveable feast, a state of mind. We can see the same stars and planets from our porch in Atlanta. It’s spring and this Sunday is Easter. The dragonflies will be back soon.