Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Mask wars

“Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.”
--Darth Vader
I am amazed at the amount of  energy (an money) spent on finding a face covering that isn't a pain in the butt to wear. The pandemic has spawned a whole industry of face coverings from the practical to novel. And none of them are cheap or comfortable. To further complicate things, except for the hand made ones, most come from China and take a long time to get. 

Part of the problem for me is that I have a big head, big ears, a big nose and a double chin. So most face coverings simply don't fit right. Plus I wear glasses and most masks fog them up. So I need to choose between walking around in a fog with glasses or walking around in a fog without glasses.

Face coverings also create socially awkward situations. If you go on a walk and don't wear one, you feel guilty when you pass someone wearing one. And if you wear one, you feel silly when you walk by someone not wearing one. Or annoyed that they aren't wearing one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Does anyone really know what time it is?

Living in quarantine involves the loss of time and days.  Living and working in the same place turns holidays and weekends into just another day waiting. Waiting for the next phase. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for a return to what?

I can't say it was better before we were shuffled off to our homes to work.  The days were pretty much blurred as well. And I was still waiting. Waiting for the day to be over. Waiting for retirement.

Now I'm worried I'm getting a taste of what retirement would be like. I just wouldn't be tied to electronics all day and blurry eyed from back to back video meetings. But I'm afraid I still wouldn't know what day or time it is.

So the pessimist in me thinks this whole thing is just a wash. Different paths, just the same destination. Only difference is that I need to wear a mask.

I am going to the dentist tomorrow morning to hopefully begin restoring a crown that broke off several weeks ago when I was eating popcorn. And oddly enough I am looking forward to it despite my dentist being in downtown Seattle and the potential risks of leaving my hidey hole here at home.

But at least I will be doing something different if not fun. At least I'll be out of my cage and doing something different, but ordinary.  Then again, I'm not looking forward to the idle chit chat about how bad things are and how the economy has tanked.  At least my dentist will get some insurance payments. I just hope it won't be a prolonged thing that requires several visits to resolve.

I'm also going to swing by my office for the first time in two months and bring home one of my big monitores so I don't have to do all my work on this postage stamp of a laptop anymore. That will be weird seeing my office again. 

I had planned on taking the train in and light rail to the dentist. But my wife thought it would be safer to drive and avoid the risks. And since I work for a public transit agency, I feel guilty buying into the perception that the train isn't safe.  Then again, I didn't like the idea of being downtown all day and spending an hour commuting.

But what is time anymore anyway?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


I am getting a bit tired of dire predictions, especially those bearing the phrase "new normal" (and the word "dire" for that matter). Even the New York Times has written semi-parody pieces about the conflicting information coming out every day. I wish just one expert would come out and say, "We really don't know shit about any of this. You'd be better off consulting a psychic."

And while I'm on a rant, I am pretty tired of statements about "trusting science." Science is pretty much about trial and error. So they are winging it as well, just in a more orderly way. In a perverse sort of way, Trump is trusting science when he announced that he is scarfing down malaria medication to ward off the COVID-19 spirits. Perhaps the medication's risk of increasing heart failure combined with his morbid obesity will up his belief in science and my belief in a god.

Bottom line, I don't want to hear about COVID-19, pandemics, financial crisis, social distancing, phased recovery or why we should or shouldn't wear face coverings.  I want to walk down the street and not feel my stress level rise if I see someone approaching me on the same side of the street.  I want to go on a vacation to a tropical environment and have the toughest decision I make be where to have dinner and what to drink.

Instead, I get my joy out of buying stuff on Amazon (mainly face coverings) and waiting excitedly for it to arrive only to find out it is yet another face covering that doesn't really fit or prevent my glasses from fogging up. I've ordered five masks and filters from China through eBay. From the ad they look kind of like something Darth Vader would wear. But since they are from China I probably won't get them until the pandemic is over.

But who can predict when that will be.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

I wonder if even Tom Robbins gets the blues?

I ordered a copy of Tom Robbins memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie and even started reading it (I stopped reading most books that didn't rhyme when I had kids).  It is reminding me why he is my favorite author and why reading his books in the first place inspired me to want to be a writer.

For the record, I still want to be a writer.

I imagine Tom Robbins is locked away in his home in LaConner, Washington staring at the Puget Sound and thanking his lucky stars he doesn't live in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle anymore. It is hard to know what Tom Robbins would be doing.

I actually have seen Tom Robbins in person twice in my lackluster life. The first time was at a lecture at the University of Washington where he was asked to speak about love. Someone asked him how to make love last and his response was, "Make love first." I thought that was genius.

The second time I saw him was at the Blue Moon Tavern in the University District. He was one of the judges of the Darrell Bob Houston Literary Award in honor of one of his friends he'd worked with during his years working for newspapers. I didn't interact with him. I was just another barfly on the wall so to speak observing from afar. It took him awhile to show up. 

While I waited I recognized one of his friends, Walk Crowley, a Seattle writer. I had met Crowley through my job. He was always pitching local agencies to pay for vanity press books that he would author. Crowley always wore a bow tie and I found him pompous and condescending. I watched him approach the bar and order a beer, "Bar keep, tre ordinare please."

I told you he was pompous and condescending.

Eventually Tom Robbins showed up with a young woman on his arm. I didn't get close enough to meet him or even hear what he said. It was getting late and I had to get home.

So that is as close as I ever got to greatness. But as I read his memoir, I feel like I know him. But then again as I read each of his books, I felt like I knew him. That's what makes him a great writer.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Bubble man

Walking now is like a strange, sinister ballet. You never know what the other person is going to do when they approach. It's like a social distancing game of chicken. Who is going to veer off before you reach the six-foot buffer zone. 

I've noted joggers are the worst.  They inevitably come too close and are usually huffing and puffing and splattering spittle without a mask. People with little kids and strollers are pretty bad, too. But I can't blame them. Toddlers are like cats and difficult to herd.

Picking up take out is stressful, too. Some restaurants are very organized and everyone knows where to stand or hover waiting for the sanitized pen to sign or the iPad with plastic wrap to insert your debit card. But last night this woman came in behind us and just stood in the doorway so you couldn't possibly keep six-feet between us and her when we exited. I find myself feeling very nasty towards my fellow humans in all of this.

Warm weather makes it worse. People want out of their houses and they flock to the waterfront to marvel in its expanse. We see them standing like zombies staring at the sun while it sets and then shuffling off into the dark when it has melted into the Puget Sound.

While walking, I have noticed how wildlife has become emboldened by all of this. There are rabbits everywhere. And I swear we saw a couple of feral love birds in the trees a few days ago. A owl has been frequenting the wild hillside behind our house and pairs of crows are strutting around on every corner. It's as if they are all waiting for us to leave and give them back the planet. Though the sea gulls will miss the french fries. But they'll adapt.

Monday, May 04, 2020

No news is good news

Literally. I am convinced that all of the reporters working remotely rehash even the slightest utterance about COVID-19 into upteen stories that usually contains the pronouncement, "No one knows why..." Which confirms that no one knows anything about COVID-19. 

And I am also convinced that the term "medical expert" is an oxymoron. I've never been to a doctor who was sure about anything. All of the information you receive is conjecture based on conjecture. First they say not to wear masks. Then they insist you wear masks. They say if you get the virus than you are immune. Then they say that having the virus doesn't make you immune. 

The truth could set you free, if, there was any truth. But the constant bombardment of "facts" simply feeds the fear. And NPR, the self-proclaimed bastion of unbiased Journalism, is just as bad as the rest of them. It parades expert after expert through interviews asking if this safe or is that safe. And the experts hem and haw about unknowns and other factors beyond their control or knowledge. So why bother asking?

It's like everything else that I hear since Trump, the true disease, was thrust upon on us. I have been constantly filled with false hope that he will be forced out of office, but he is like a cockroach constantly surviving scandals that would have toppled any other political figure in the past. It is the same with COVID-19. I hate listening to the news because I don't want to get sucked up with some false hope that they have developed a vaccine or that the danger is past. 

So I continue to live in uncertainty acknowledging that life has always been uncertain. We never know what the next second will bring let alone the next day, week, month or year. So nothing I hear is news to me.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Still invisible

I spend almost eight hours some days on video meetings. And I still feel as if no one sees me. Still, it is sometimes nice to turn off my camera and be invisible because no one notices. I was in a meeting yesterday afternoon with a bunch of Web developers and none had their cameras on. Apparently it is an IT thing. But as they jabbered on about techno stuff that didn't mean anything, I didn't say a word and I was invisible.

Even when I take one of my many walks, some people approach you as if you are not there and I inevitably am the one to step off into the road to let them pass. I don't wear a mask much when I walk because it seems to be unnecessary. I never come within six feet of anyone but my wife or children. But I think I actually think I would prefer wearing a mask. Because then, although not truly invisible, I become faceless. And then it doesn't matter whether I smile at the passing people or not.

We made fun of the people who wore masks in the beginning. Now it is becoming more common to glare at the ones who don't. Because, locked up in our homes with NPR and constant digital news about the latest on COVID-19 is creating a paranoid nation. Hell there was news of two cats testing positive for the virus yesterday (but on the positive side the news said both are recovering nicely). But I wonder how many people are now avoiding their pets.

The sadly ironic thing is that we are all afraid of something that is also invisible. It is everywhere and no where. You can even have it and not know it. It is the ultimate bogeyman. 

I walked through a park with my daughter the other day and a mother was sitting in front of a sign saying the playground equipment was closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The woman was watching her two children as they climbed all over the equipment.  

Maybe the woman has never heard of the bogeyman.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Walking the walk

I walk a lot these days. There isn't much else to do in the way of exercise. I see a great deal of people jogging. I hate to run. There are no gyms open to go to. I'm not standing in front of the television and doing yoga or aerobics. So I walk.

I have an app that tracks my walks and tells me how far I've gone and how many calories I've burned. You have to walk a long time to burn many calories. So I walk about four times a day.

You see a lot when you walk versus when you drive. You notice more. Like I live in a community that has a great deal of wealth and not lots of diversity. And some people weed more than others.

I generally walk with my wife. It is a time for her to talk about her work. We take our first walk at noon. I then walk with my son at 5 p.m. We walk the the dog. My son doesn't talk much. When he does, it is about YouTube influencers and gamers. The dog doesn't talk at all. She just sniffs at spots I assume other dogs have peed on and poops a great deal. I carry a bag of dog poop on most of those walks.

When I return from walking my dog and my son, I then go on a walk with my daughter. We often go to a nearby large park that is more of a forest preserve with lots of trails. She has been in day camps there during the summer and knows it well. She talks much more than my son. She points out skunk cabbage and other plants she has learned about. 

After walking with my daughter, we usually have dinner. After dinner my wife and I walk again. 

It is a surreal world we walk in. All of the businesses are closed except for several restaurants who have figured out ways to sell take out food and cocktails. Apparently liquor laws have been relaxed in the era of COVID-19. We have kept to our routine of going out to eat every Friday night. Except now we take out and eat in. It's not the same. The food is usually cold by the time we get it home and it loses much appeal once it has been thrown together in a box. But still it is a break from the quarantine we have been forced into.

Other than not having to get up at 6 a.m. and commute to downtown, nothing much has changed for me other than walking all the time. I spend all day in meetings. I end my nights binge watching programs on Amazon or Netflix. And each day it starts all over again. 

A pandemic is a bit like I imagine purgatory would be.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Week five

I was going to call this post, "Week five and still alive," but I thought it might be too morbid and it would force me into a challenge of finding something to rhyme each week. Week six, I pick up sticks sounds stupid. Though I did spend lots of time Sunday cutting out a dead Rhodie on my wild hillside and picking up sticks. 

It was Easter weekend and other than having to work for five hours Saturday morning, it was a fairly normal Easter (given the circumstances). We ordered take out from a greasy bar food type of place on Friday night and learned a lesson as to why you don't order take out bar food during a pandemic (or any time for that matter). By the time we got it home, it was pretty cold and fried food loses its appeal once it reaches room temperature.

I am still walking about three times a day. And I still struggle to find a good mask that doesn't cut off oxygen or pull my ears off. Since I don't go in many stores anyway, a mask seems pointless most of the time. 

I made the mistake of reading a New York Times article about the top ten symptoms of you having the COVID-19 virus other than fever and dry cough. Pretty much it read like the side effects list from most prescriptions and I am sure fueled the paranoia most people feel already about anything out of the ordinary about your body. I question the wisdom of publishing such an article. It just seems to panic more than inform. But there seems to be a lot of this going on.

My wife and I were out walking and stopped at a Gelato shop that is apparently an essential business because they are still open. We purchased a pint of gelato for my son and I noted the girl scooping out gelato didn't have gloves or a mask. She exchanged pleasantries with us as I paid and we walked home. Later that afternoon I took my daughter for a walk and we returned to the same gelato shop. The same girl was working. She didn't recall selling me a pint of gelato about an hour earlier and she exchanged the exact same pleasantries. She still wasn't wearing gloves or a mask.

So I am still invisible, pandemic or no pandemic. Some things never change.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Social distancing down the bunny trail

I was tempted to post an image of Jesus on the cross wearing a face mask, but I figured that might be too much for any nut job that wandered in here by mistake. It has been quite awhile since I had any trolls flame me, but I'm just not in the mood. 

I have stated unequivocally stated on many occasions that I am not a religious person and do not believe in a god. The current pandemic has confirmed my disbelief in one. I have considered the current state a wake up call from nature that we haven't heeded any other signs including global warming, hurricanes, tornadoes or Donald Trump so maybe we'll pay attention to a killer virus.

Though I can't help believe that once this has more or less passed, people will talk big about how they've changed, then shrug and get back to mass consumption and ignoring their neighbors. Even pandemics don't seem to be able to change most people's inherent natures.

We plan to dye Easter eggs on Saturday and try to keep some semblance of normalcy for the kids. They are past the age where they want to attend mass Easter egg hunts and get their photos taken with the Easter Bunny anyway. And not being church going people, not being able to go to a Sunday service has absolutely no impact on us. 

I remember the congregation at church when I was a kid singing, "Every day will be an Easter" (a Christian Scientist hymn) and thinking if every day was an Easter we'd get sick of all the candy. I'm not sure that's what the author intended, but it was basically what Easter meant to me, dyeing Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. These days I don't even eat chocolate so dyeing eggs will be the highlight.

Other than walks, I don't really go out anymore. I went with my wife to the grocery store last weekend and got stressed out by all the people going the wrong way in one way aisles that I agreed to stop going.  My wife reminds me that I am over 60 and take medication for high blood pressure so I shouldn't be taking any chances. I even broke my tooth on an unpopped popcorn kernel the other night and chose to forgo a dentist visit until late in May just to avoid the risk of going to downtown Seattle. Fortunately the tooth was a crown and doesn't hurt.

How does that relate to Easter? Well I broke a crown and Jesus wore a crown of thorns. 

Thought you had me there, didn't you? 

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Masked man

There has been a lot of debate lately about whether or not a face mask can help protect you from the COVID-19 virus and that the whoop de do filtered masks should be reserved for medical staff. Most of it is a moot point because, like toilet paper, most of the masks were swooped up early in the frenzy. You can order disposable masks on Amazon, but they all seem to come from China and won't arrive for a month and a half. Plus they are the ones that only filter out dust and pollen anyway.

So the do it yourself versions have become popular. Most are fashioned from bandanas and people basically look like they are going to rob a train or bank. fortunately very few trains are running and no banks are open so there haven't been any misunderstandings that I know of. 

The first mask I wore in public was a prop from a surgeon costume I'd worn in a skit at work many years ago (don't ask). It seemed like a legitimate enough mask, but I think it is actually made of paper that looks like cloth, so I don't think it will make it through many washings. Next I just tied an old Seahawks bandana around my face cowboy style. Works in a pinch, but it kept sliding off my nose, so not sure how much good it does.

I tried another mask using a method from the web where you fold the bandana around hair ties that slip over your ears and keep the mask over your face. The hair ties unfortunately folded my ears down and made me look like something out of Lord of the Rings. And they kept popping off. So I finally just found some cotton fabric with a pirate print and hand sewed cloth ties onto. The result is a crude but effective face mask. By effective, I mean it covers my nose and mouth and, if nothing else, keeps me from sneezing and coughing on people. 

Not that I have been within six feet from anyone but my wife and kids for weeks. I have ventured to the store with my wife a few times and it is almost comical to see people try and stay distant from each other while trying to find canned goods. Our store even created one-way aisles (that most people ignore) to keep people from trying pass each other in the tight space.  But Americans can't seem to self regulate. Just as people ignore speed limits and don't use blinkers, we encounter people who just push up the wrong way in the grocery aisles and seem oblivious to the six-foot rule. I want to get a t-shirt made that reads, "Better six feet away than six feet under." But someone would probably take it the wrong way.

I think having a sense of humor during these times puts me in the higher risk category.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

If it is Tuesday this must be my blog

My daughter thought Monday was Sunday. Because you start to lose track of time when you sleep, work and live in the same place for 24/7. Even going for a walk starts to look the same. Though we have started thinking about writing to the local online newspaper and suggesting some common rules for walking in the time of social distancing. For example, if everyone walked on the right, you wouldn't have to step into the road so much. And a single person should yield to two or more people. Simple things.

I have found that working at home has a psychological impact on you as well. Because even on weekends, you are in the place that you work and it is hard to leave it behind. I try and spend most of my time during a work day, down in my home office. And I avoid going there on weekends, but it still has an effect on me.

The longer this stretches on the more I see the effects of stress on my family and the people I work with. Part of it is not knowing when it will end. Part of it is not knowing what will happen when it ends. It is hard at this point to imagine things returning to normal. You start to appreciate all of the things you took for granted, like going to a movie, eating out and not having to swerve around people when you are walking.

It is interesting how quickly marketing people have switched gears to capitalize on this mess. I get e-mails from online merchants selling home office furniture. I get fed online videos about buying toilet paper online. It is almost shameless the way we take advantage of even the worst circumstances.

I don't really worry about getting sick. Though I am hyper aware of even the slightest symptom. The actual virus still feels remote and vague like the bogeyman. I am more worried about my family, my job and the economy. I actually would like to retire sometime. What are the odds when I had retirement in sight, we'd experience the worst disaster in my lifetime.

You can't as an individual prepare for something like this. The only ones who do are nut job dooms day preppers. They must be loving this. 

In the beginning of this forced isolation, I saw lots of positive things in people. Although we needed to stay six feet apart, I noticed people seemed friendlier than they used to be when you walked past them. They said hello or waved. Now people just seem stressed and confused. 

And stressed and confused people start doing weird things. Today, they had to pull one of our light rail trains out of service because a guy was observed coughing in paper towels and wiping them on seats. It didn't surprise me. And I've noticed more vandalism and litter lately. While walking today we saw someone had tossed a pizza box from a restaurant up the street into some persons yard. We have also noticed people picking up after their dog and then tossing the bag down the slope behind our house.

I hope this is some of the worst of it. God knows what people will do if this drags on for months.