PNW CC #3: Home, Sweet Home…needs a decorator!

Another unforeseen critical situation in all of this is the mass hysteria of interior decorators. Have you seen the TV reporters broadcasting from their living rooms, kitchens and basements? I hope we aren’t actually getting a glimpse into their private lives, because, if so, many of these people are in critical need of some taste. However glad I am to see that IKEA has done as well as they have, I am at the same time mortified at the extreme state of unoriginality and lack of imagination. There might be a scourge worse than a virus for which there is not yet a vaccination: It’s called being color blind. I wrote my congress representative and insisted that a course in art appreciation be added to the $1200 we are to receive.


When I started this post, I was on a directive to work from home “as much as possible.” Shortly thereafter, while I was out running “essential” errands, I got a text that a co-worker and his wife tested positive. New directive: Quarantine for 2 weeks (btw…neither required hospitalization, and both are well on their way back to health, recovering at home).

The news waxes on about people battling isolation, cabin fever, and chaos, as people try to figure out how to work from home while learning the hard way how to be a homeschool educator. But there are people like me who are loving the new world order. You won’t see us on TV, though. We’re not about to solicit any sympathies. We are, firstly, healthy, still employed and not on the front lines in the hospitals, M.A.S.H. units or care centers. Next, we are single, no children, no one else who needs us, and under orders from our employer, our city and our state to shelter in place. Coronavirus is awful. Truly. I do not mean to be glib. But, my life at the moment? Not that bad.

The epitome of a lonely walk on a sunny day:

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #2: Hey, look! I have a can of clam chowder!

It’s pantry rummaging time. Not because I’m low on food and too scared to go out in public. I’m rummaging around my pantry because there is something that happens when an over anxious person is stricken with the onset of cabin fever. I don’t know why, but at lunch yesterday, the hunting and foraging instinct kicked in. I have a profound urge to nest within the safe confines of my home.

A moment of curious calm

Later, as I stood staring out a window, chatting with my manager on the phone as we tried to map out how this, however temporary, new normal will have to work, I saw two small birds in a tree, unperturbed, seemingly staring off into the same distance. They were every bit the picture of a comfortable couple gazing at the view from their back deck. All that was missing were a couple of tiny Adirondacks and itty-bitty glasses of wine.

I found the sight of those two birds very calming in the midst of all the hysteria. Small birds are always flitting about; easily startled, but these two sat on that branch staring off into the distance for almost 10 minutes. It was stormy, so the branches were pitching and swaying, but that didn’t bother either of them. Not a single flutter. It is a scene I think I will remember the rest of my life.


The clam chowder was fine, but truthfully, I needed more provisions, so I ventured out for groceries. I’ve been out and about every day this week, but only for short trips that did not involve being in the proximity of more than a couple of people at a time. A trip to the grocery seemed daunting.

Five o’clock is not the time to go to the grocery store on any day, but I knew that before I headed out, so, given the panic, I packed up a full ration of patience (along with homemade hand sanitizer and latex gloves). Not surprisingly, I had to circle the parking lot several times before landing a spot. The cluster-f**k that ensued when 5 cars vied for 2 spots opening up would usually result in a lot of parking-lot road rage. Not so today. As a community, we are well aware we are in crisis-mode. Every driver assessed their part in the do-si-do and maneuvered accordingly and expediently. It was the most neighborly thing I have ever witnessed.

The store was busy, but “normal” busy. The only difference were the empty shelves. It’s funny what people think is necessary to hord: Flour, eggs, butter, but not so much baking soda, yeast or salt. Frozen meals, of course, but only certain frozen meals. There’d been a run on plastic food storage bags, which seemed odd, and sale items, which seemed logical. And, I just have to say, all that broccoli is going to go bad in just a few days, so folks better eat up.

But Collard Greens? Holy crap! I had my pick! Mushrooms, too. Asparagus. Artichoke. Lettuce. Carrots. Radish. All that was left of the white onions were a few paper skins, but yellow, red onion and shallot were plenty to be had. Berries were picked over, but plenty of apples and oranges. Fish, meat, nuts, tomatoes, juice, cheese, baked desserts…you had your pick. What fascinated me was coffee. There was a lot of coffee.

As I considered buying the 1/2 turkey breast from the rotisserie service (as all the chicken was sold, like, all the chicken. They were completely out of fresh chicken to roast more), I heard a shopper curse under his breath that the salami slices were sold out. The neighborly demonstration in the parking lot inspired me to pay it forward. I suggested he get a 1/4 lb. at the deli counter. Poor guy had to take a moment to process. He’d never considered the deli counter before. He smiled and thanked me. As I moved along to the check out, I heard him ask, “How much is a pound?” A pound?! Wow.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #1: Letters from a shut-in

Yesterday at noon, the WA State Governor announced that all groups over 250 in our tri-county area are forbidden from gathering. He then hinted that schools will soon been closed (they did today, in the same tri-county area). A later email from a local school district further hinted an inevitable closure won’t be for weeks, but may be for months. Then, the cherry on top, our President blamed Europe.

For me, it all started last Friday, when the mayor of the small town where I work announced that several city-owned buildings would close. As our office is in one of those buildings (and we are a city agency), we received a subsequent notice to work from home, “as much as possible,” but it was not required. As much as everyone wanted to cry, “hell, yes!”, we abstained. When things get serious, it seems untoward to feel like you are taking advantage. So, most of us showed up the next day. Then we were sent home in the middle of that next day with the admonishment to only come into work if absolutely necessary. Before leaving the office, we were also given an agreement to sign. Basically, a scouts’ honor to work all 8 hours a day and always be available during working hours for phone calls, emails and the like, along with a reminder that city business is city business and no one else’s.

The “work from home” edict is one thing, but an example of how urgent folks are getting about the recommendations to curtail spread of this virus is this: I was talking to one of my co-workers when we were interrupted by a senior manager to be conscious of the fact that we were standing “way” too close. We looked at each other and then assessed our distance. Probably 4 feet. Another co-worker brought out a measuring tape, sort of as a joke, and measured the distance. It was five feet 1 inch. Turns out, “social distance” is six feet apart. Six feet is a really weird distance to have to stand when one is having a comfortable conversation with another. I’m telling ya. Just try it.

The one thing I’ve learned about working from home thus far is this: There is a lot that is accomplished in the consortium of co-workers that cannot possibly be accomplished when everyone is sent to sit in their respective corners with their backs to the room (so to speak). And then there is the weirdness of working from home. Home is where I hang out. Where I kick back. It is where—except for paying bills and all the other homeowner headaches—I only do the things I enjoy doing. There’s no flopping on the couch for an hour’s nap after lunch, just because I can; as I do on weekends. Were my cat still around, I’d being having a heck of a time keeping her off the desk, or circling me, constantly meowing. And, I’ve discovered to my great frustration, my home desk and office chair are not designed for a full day’s toil at the laptop. OUCH! My back!!

I’ve also learned my neighbor above me has a treadmill. I know she works from home on a regular basis, but all this time we’ve been neighbors, I never knew she had a treadmill. On her breaks during the work week, she jumps on that thing. And, that damn thing is loud! It’s like living under an earthquake. Funny, the things you learn when your circumstances change. I called her to ask about the treadmill, and she was surprised I was home. Turns out she always knows when I’m home sick because she hears my TV, or hears me cough. I’m home working, so, no TV, and I’m not sick, so no coughing. I told her to go on with her treadmill. It’ll give me an excuse to go out on a walk to escape the noise!

Which brings me to this: Walking around your neighborhood is the healthiest/safest thing you can do ’round these parts these days. You don’t encounter a single nasty germ-infested surface; the world around you (unless it’s raining) is lovely; and it is more than A-OK to keep a 6-foot-distance from others you pass by. However, it makes meeting the ebullient puppy-dog very awkward. I mean, leave it to the one canine in Hong Kong that (reputedly) contracted COVID19 to ruin such a sublime and neighborly encounter.

Because losing my mind with cabin fever (nevermind viral fever) is something I cannot abide, I will post Letters From a Coronavirus Shut-in regularly. Writing is my salvation as well as my sanity touchstone.


Op-Ed:
Yes, COVID19 is proclaimed a pandemic, and W.H.O. has not minced words in condemning governments for their slow and largely ineffective initial response. And historians will pontificate for decades to come whether this presidential electoral cycle had anything, or everything, to do with why elected officials, from park district commissioners all the way up to POTUS, were quick to make broad, sweeping directives…that is, once it became generally accepted that we had a dire situation at hand. Whatever. I’m left to wonder where the definition of “proportional response” lies in this case?

One one hand, there’s a virus for which there is no remedy, or immunity, that is fatal to the medically vulnerable. On the other hand, within a matter of just one week, businesses, like restaurants, are announcing permanent closure due to a massive drop in revenue. A friend of mine was laid off a gift store clerk job yesterday for lack of revenue from just one week of sales and forecast the many weeks to come of the same. The markets are crashing and it seems another recession is pretty much a given. Recessions have not ever been kind to me and my employment status, so, yeah. I’m worried. I could die (because I’m close enough to the stated ‘vulnerable’ age) or I could be unemployed. Again. Real and exceptionally daunting prospects against a very thin margin for hope against all hope.

So, I ask once more, where does the proportional, or appropriate response lie? W.H.O. and C.D.C. cite China, Singapore and Hong Kong’s response as they only way to manage this particular outbreak. Italy, too, I suppose, but the pundits say it was not enough and way too late in the game. We’re hearing the same criticism of US response. Too little, too late.

Holy crap. Really?

Tit for Tat

I have 25 followers, but… TNKerr, this is aimed at YOU, in particular!

It’s writing prompt time! Never mind my long dry spells. You, TNKerr, write up! This week! V.E.R.B.A.T.I.M!…. (snicker-giggle-snickerhorkhorkspitspat… ). Scroll to the end. Therein lies your challenge fate.

The rest of you? YOU write up, too! Ping/Link your story back to this post. I want to know who you are, as writer, that is. Enjoy!

(For those of you who are wondering…the image? I used to have a writing-prompt blog called The Blog Propellant. Therefore, the following writing prompts…)

  1. stale Cheetos
  2. re-arranging house plants from “needs a lot of sun” to, wait, wha…what the hell…?
  3. She is something I …
  4. …and then…

LD Rose, Class of ’43

I was the one to sort through my parent’s papers and files after their deaths. Among my father’s various papers—drafts of short stories, travel essays, random thoughts and highlights from his career as a City Manager—were his military service records in the Merchant Marines and later in the Naval Reserve. The first piece of paper in the first file was a simple half-sheet form titled, “Employment Severance Notice from Douglas Aircraft,” which read,

I, LD Rose, hereby state that I am terminating, on my own volition, my employment with the Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., on this 3rd day of April 1942 for the reason hereinbelow set forth: Military Service—Voluntary Enlistment.

On the back of the form was a note written in my father’s hand:

I know that I shall never be the same as I was the days that have past. It is something numb and bursting inside, like nothing within the compass of words. It is bitterly sad and jubilant and aches for a night and complete stillness it shall never know. A sad, thin, stretching voice. A face that is a stranger to the day.

My father was 21 when war was declared on Japan. Unlike so many of his peers, including his good friends, my father did not rush to join up. So, what inspired him to finally do so? I doubt it was at his parent’s behest. From the little I was told about them, I would guess them to be Isolationists. He might have been swayed working for Douglas Aircraft (later McDonald Douglas). He would have been surrounded by a lot of pro-war propaganda working for a company like that. Who knows. Whether he was spurred on by a guilty conscience, or a late-arriving sense of patriotic duty, he never said.

Jammed in the back of the files I found a small journal. It was wrapped in a plastic bag that used to contain Palmolive soap bars. The front and back hard-bound covers were ripped away, leaving the clusters of pages precariously clinging to dangling strings that once held them to the biding, and it was badly burned at the top where fire had once threatened to destroy it. I was confident the singed top was the result of a house fire when I was a child. It was a thrill to discover the journal survived.

From the first page, starting from just under the charred top:

…if I were about to take the most decisive step of my life I hesitate upon these words. For indeed, I have taken a decisive step, perhaps a monumental one, and the need for words of monument is impressive. I am, on this date, aboard my first ship, the Phillip Livingston…We are tied up at a smelter, discharging nitrates from Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Oh, the fascination of the far-sounding names!
I fight the death of youth, fight the becoming a man, wanting neither to the exclusion of the other.
I took the helm for the first time today while we moved to another dock. It was a magnificent sensation of importance and responsibility…
Gray ship, gray day…frantic bouncing of the gulls in the wind, a boiling, brutal wind sprawling on the face of the sea-top. We depart Bellingham at 6am and the adventure commences.

In the 1990s, my father was interviewed for a book—though I do not think it was ever published—about the Cadet Midshipmen of the US Merchant Marines during World War II. It was then that all the stories of his three or so years of service came pouring out, exactly as if a faucet inside him was turned to the open position. The interview inspired him to write it all down. I have a photocopy of one of his drafts, somewhere. For all his efforts at writing the perfect short story, opinion piece for the local paper or essay of my parent’s traveling years after retirement, his memoir of his war service was his very best work.

Kingspoint, USMM Academy, class of 1943 or 44.
b.May 1920-d.April 2011

The only time I saw my father sob uncontrollably was during a televised Memorial Day ceremony. Though he did not know combat as those who served in the other branches of the military, he carried very close to his heart the ultimate sacrifice so many of his generation made. He was profoundly proud of his service and honored to be called a Merchant Marine.

Snow Day #2

Snowy park trail
The last snow day around here, photo taken on a park trail near my home.

The first snow day of the year is always about getting out for a walk in the winter wonderland. Because this sort of thing happens only every so often, it’s always a treat.

However, this time, because of the terrible cold (in the 20s and teens) and the high winds with gale-force gusts up to 50 mph, going outside for a lovely stroll was not recommended. The conditions prompted the first “frozen spray warning” I’ve ever heard in the weather forecast for those crazy enough to be out on a boat. When I took the trash/recycling out, the experience was the closest I want to know what it must be like to live in Alaska this time of year. So, I stayed inside watching movies, napping, puttering around with this and that, started a new novel, and watched another movie before calling it an early night.

Cars piled up on slippery downhill road
Even a little snow on the streets on my hill is an issue. (Photo from a twitter feed)

Day #2 is clear and sunny, and the wind is gone, but that’s about it. It’s still in the 20s; the sun only expected to warm things up to a relative balmy 35-degrees. There’s still no getting out of my hill-y neighborhood, as sanding our steep roads is not my city’s priority. It’s another day stuck indoors.

So, Day #2 will be about writing. Stay tuned. 😉

So Many Stories, So Little Time

“Woman with Baby Fleeing Across the Moors”
by John Constabl
e

I look at this painting and instantly wonder, what is her story?! A myriad of ideas goes off in my mind, like a room full of phones, all ringing at once.

What is she running from, and in such a hurry she didn’t have time to put on shoes? But, she did have time to put on her bonnet and cape…? Her long shadow and practically pure white face, along with bits of her garment, indicate a very bright light behind her, but this was painted in pre-electricity era. Is she running from a fire? And, why does she look back? Is someone chasing her? Or, has someone fallen behind and she can’t see them? Is she the infant’s mother? She might not be. She could be a relative, or even a stranger. Is this a kidnapping?

I start drowning in words, unable to sort through and organize any of them into anything cohesive. If I had enough time to flesh this out, I would have many happy hours (yes, hours!) of plotting, scheming, creating …(sigh). Isn’t inspiration wonderful?


The prompts this week (other than the image) are: if I had enough; drowning in words; the phone trilled. 

No, really. I’m thankful!

It’s cliche, I know, but, this being Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge I’m grateful for…

…the dedication of parents. Because of my indifference to parenthood, having never had children, these people leave me in awe. Their drive to make sure their children thrive is amazing to me. I came to this realization only after both my parents were gone. My relative comfort throughout my entire life is solely due to my mother and father’s commitment to their children.

…the chance to pursue a career of my choosing. Though it’s come at a cost—relatively low salary, but most especially the loss of a personal life—I know if the Fairy Godmother of Go Back and Try Again dropped in, I would say, “Tell my younger self this: Just because you are true to yourself, it does not follow you will have everything for which you hope, or wish, or even deserve.”

…that I love art, in all its forms and genres. Design, skill, creativity, color, form, evolution, evocation, emotion. Even if I don’t understand it, or sometimes am unable to tolerate it, I simply can’t imagine life without it.

…a landscape. Natural, urban, human or surreal. There is not a one I do not find absolutely spectacular.

…a beach. If someone told me I had to name a sacred place, I would name a beach, be it a lakeside, riverside, stream or ocean. But, particularly, an ocean beach and sea air. It’s as close to  divinity as I think I will ever find.

…my willingness to find a solution whenever trouble rears its ugly head. Oh, sure, adversity has made me gunshy. I’m not a chance-taker as a result. I’ve hesitated and put my head in the sand many times. But, eventually I can’t stand it anymore and find a way out or onward.

…the friends I once had. They are long gone, for any number of reasons, but if they were not in my life at the time I knew them, I’m not sure I would have been able to manage.

…now that I’m middle aged, the medical establishment. Even for all its faults, I’m grateful for a place and a people who can tell me exactly what the hell this thing is on my arm!

…a midlife crisis that steered me directly into the world of writing, cooking and photography. Just when I thought my creative life would never be fully realized, I found these outlets. I’m not all that good, but that’s hardly the point. I love the process, the discovery, and whatever successes I can claim. Just look at my smile!

…a few trivial things: wine, to name one. A handsome face smiling at me, for no particular reason. Perfectly cooked Salmon or pork. A beautiful garden and a stroll through a park. A well done BBC TV series. Novels and movies that enthrall. Fascinating documentaries. That I’m no longer hung up with what I look like (I credit menopause). Whomever created dark chocolate. Weekend mornings, anywhere, any season, rain or shine. Road trips. Unexpected chances (so exciting!) All the folks who came up with modern conveniences, as well as those who subsequently outlined how those conveniences are not actually beneficial, but the potential death of us all. Except kitty litter. Those of us with an indoor cat that is afflicted with a delicate digestive system knows that stuff is literally magic in a box.

Tonight’s Characters

#1: He’s 80, reading the newspaper while making his way slowly through a slice of key lime pie and an Irish Coffee. The waitress swoops by with ” ‘nother one for ya?” and grabs the almost empty coffee. He snatches it back. “Yes, but let me…” He swallows the final gulp, then thrusts the mug into her stomach. When she comes back with his 2nd drink, he places a gentle hand on her arm and apologizes. She shrugs it off.
The bill arrives. He pays with a card, but makes a point of leaving her a 20-dollar bill. He places the bill carefully, intentionally, neatly in the middle of the table, fussing with how level and even it appears. When he leaves, he stops her and points to the table. “For you.”

#2: Forty-something bartender. Tall and lean. Thick glasses and soft spoken. Always friendly, of course, but shy and serious. One time I ordered a chocolate martini from him  and he beamed. Probably one of the worst concoctions I’ve ever had, but I smiled when he asked if I liked it. “That was fun!” he said.  “Nobody orders drinks like that, ever! Want another?” I shake my head. “I’m good.”

#3: “I’m 61 and retiring in 4 years!” It was something she was always quick to say. Short and very, very round. When I say short, I mean not technically a dwarf, but unquestionably short. So is her hair. She proudly sports a Dennis the Menace tuft. “I tell the barber, it’s not short enough if it isn’t standing up!”
Happy and energetic, but something about  her puts you on guard.
“I hate beans,” she says giving a mock shudder and vomit. “Hate! Any of ’em. All of ’em!” with another mock shudder and vomit. You get the feeling you’re supposed to ask why, but something tells to you keep quiet and not engage. She continues to shake her head and pantomime she’s been made to sniff a turd.
Over time, you come to realize there is something not quite right about her, so you distance yourself. Eventually, you mention this to your manager, who surprises you when she says, “Good idea.”
It’s been a couple of weeks since she was fired. People were surprised she lasted as long as she did (10 months). Turns out she fucked up a lot, in many different ways. But always with a smile.
Anway, she was at our workplace tonight, happy as you please, as if showing up at the workplace that summarily dismissed her with cause (and a long list of causes, at that) ain’t no big thing. “Bet you’re surprised to see me!” she says. I laugh, awkwardly, and walk away.
I get it. It’s a big Fuck You. But she didn’t come in the building with guns ablazing. So, you keep just being you, Terri. You just keep being you.


Thinking of April’s wonderful character studies!