Please Feed Me

I have now spent a good half-day logging onto various grocery websites, carefully making shopping lists that make my mouth water and stomach rumble, pressing “checkout,” only to find that there are no, I repeat, zero, delivery times or pickup options available. Thankfully I am not in quarantine and can still go shopping, or I guess we would just starve to death. Just for the record, this is my running shopping list:

  • Chocolate
  • Red wine
  • Paper towels
  • Ice cream
  • Brandy
  • Butt wipes
  • Blueberries
  • Cupcakes
  • Lysol spray
  • Mulberries (Seriously. They are the best berries. Since I can’t get any of this, I might as well dream big).
  • Toilet paper
  • Half and half
  • Cookies

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Separated from loved ones

My husband turned 60 yesterday. For months, we planned a big celebration in the desert. Friends were flying in from Michigan and Miami, three houses had been rented, we had reservations for 15 at Pappy & Harriet’s, our favorite saloon, in Pioneertown. For the out of towners, we had a week’s worth of activities planned: trips to Hollywood, a Dodger’s game, kayaking in the ocean, etc.

Then COVID-19 blew that all to hell.

Cancellations of birthday parties are small potatoes compared to the other consequences of the pandemic — to little things like economic collapse, depression, illness, death. I feel more sorry for all the poor teenagers robbed of their quinceanara parties than for Bud. I’ve been trying to focus on the positive in my writings because 1. there is so much anxiety and alarm out there already, and I feel no need to add to it, and 2. I know my family is incredibly privileged. We and everyone we know are healthy. Bud and I both still have incomes. We have a gorgeous panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean from our living room. Until this weekend at least, we could easily go to Cabrillo Beach — our front yard — and walk the dog, paddle, and swim if we wanted to brave the cold water. When the county shut down the beach Thursday, that was a knife in our hearts. But at least we can still look at it.

So it sucked for Bud that his party got cancelled, or hopefully, just postponed. But we made the most of it. We sneaked onto the ocean in our kayaks early in the morning, and enjoyed a beautiful paddle around Angel’s Gate lighthouse. After all, what better way to practice social distancing than to put the ocean between you and the rest of the world? Afterwards, we warmed up in our sauna, then took a nap. While we were sleeping, gremlins — actually, friends who were supposed to join us in the desert — tacked a big birthday banner to the outside of the house and left Bud a giant bottle of Jack Daniel’s, among other treasures. We made do.

One of the other reasons I’ve been relatively sanguine about life under lockdown was because I took a blow to the heart early in this whole mess, and I had to learn to cope. I was scheduled to fly to Wisconsin to visit my father in early March. A dutiful daughter, I was determined to travel even as flying seemed a sketchier and sketchier idea. Then, the day before I was supposed to leave — March 10, the day my son turned 17 — the nursing-home industry announced new guidelines restricting visitors to all facilities. Three months after I last saw Dad, I had to cancel my trip. I don’t know when — or if — I will ever see him again.

Dad has Lewy body dementia, a form of illness similar to Alzheimer’s but worse. His time left on this planet is precious. When I last saw him, in December, he thought I was his mother, if he “recognized” me at all. But still, he held my hand tight when we watched the Christmas carolers serenade his floor of the memory-care unit where he has been since November. He can’t communicate, or comprehend, but he can smile and sing — and snap and rage. He is still in there somewhere. You can see that in the video his wife sent of them singing “Happy Birthday” to Cole. At first he doesn’t understand what’s happening, but as Judy keeps going, his face fills with happiness and he tries singing along too. I played it for Bud yesterday.

It breaks my heart to think poor Dad can now  see no one but his caretakers at the nursing home, that these relative strangers feed him, clean him, dress him, put him to bed at night. He may not have known me, but he always smiles when he sees Judy and their standard poodle, Roi. He hasn’t felt the sun on his face in months and sleeps alone every night — if he sleeps, which he often doesn’t. It’s a terrible fate for the man who has always been there for me, through scraped knees and graduation and marriage and divorce and children.

I am desperate for this to be over, so I can see my father again. Once that’s possible, I’ll be on the first plane to Appleton. I pray he can hold my hand again. People who die of coronavirus die alone, because they are not allowed visitors. The separation of families during the time we need them most is one of the worst aspects of this terrible moment in time. Scott Simon wrote a powerful piece about this “consequence that’s harder to categorize” for NPR’s Weekend Edition on March 7.

I understand, of course, why nursing homes can’t allow visitors. I know it’s for the greater good, including my dad’s health. So I made my peace with the terrible cost of COVID a few weeks ago — weeks that already seems like an eternity.

Still, when I’m looking out on the Pacific, the ocean that my Dad grew up on and loved, I’m thinking about him.




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When life gives you lemons

It’s an era of firsts, and Sunday, I did a couple things I have never done before.

1. I pruned a lemon tree.

2. I climbed the lemon tree in our backyard.

If these seem like trivial feats, let me tell you about our lemon tree: Thorns that seem to be made out of steel stick more than an inch out of the bark. They hurt just to look at. It’s an ornery old tree with gnarled limbs and thick-skinned fruit that Eva Gustavson, the opera star who lived here for more than 50 years, dubbed “stingy.” It’s also our biggest tree, and it’s kind of what the French call “beautiful ugly.” We have never seriously trimmed it in the three years we have owned this property.

So Sunday, I went to town. The tree’s canopy was thick with dead branches that were so dry I could snap them off. Old lemons were rotting on the branch, and some of the leaves had black and white blight. I’m the kind of person that when I start a job, I go deep, so I literally got into that tree. Along with the decay, there were also green shoots and pink and ivory flowers. It smelled delicious. I snapped twigs and clipped branches and knocked moldy fruit down. By the end, my arms were scratched and bleeding and my foot, still recovering from its summer injury, ached.

But the tree looked liberated. No longer crabbed and cranky but open and green and full of light.

No this is not a metaphor. People are not branches. But we live in unprecedented times, and should celebrate noble firsts.

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Don’t blame the kids

Swing set at Cabrillo Beach

Sign of the times.

When Cole was a kid, we used to play a game on the swingset. I’d push him a little bit higher with each push, and each push represented a stage in his life.

“Now you’re being born” set the swing in motion.

“Now you’re a toddler learning to walk and talk” and his feet left the ground.

“Now you’re going to your first day of kindergarten”; feet in the air.

“Now you’re in grade school.” A little higher.

“You’re in middle school.” Higher still.

“Now you’re a moody teenager in high school” and his feet were as high as his head.

“Now you’re an adult and you’re going to college.” Toes topped hair.

“You’ve graduated and you’re working your first job.” Or some days I’d say, “You’re going to graduate school.” And he’d fly above my head now.

“You’re married and have your own family” and Cole was basically flying on his own now.

Sometimes the script would be different. “You’re a world traveler.” “You’re a millionaire.” “You’re a veterinarian saving animals’ lives.” “You’re President!”

As he got older, Cole took over the game. I would always start, but by the end he’d be pumping himself, imagining his own future as he aimed his feet to the sky then finally hurtled himself into the air, landing on the sand, laughing.

This was our special game, one we loved so much I bought him a T-shirt that celebrated it, a white drawing of swings and a child flying through the air on a soft gray fabric, made by a local artist.

Today, the swings are closed, the playground roped off with yellow caution tape.

So please, stop blaming the kids.

The youths you see out trying to do what young people should be doing — living, laughing, loving, having fun — they didn’t create this mess.

Yes, they should stay inside as much as possible. Yes, they should be staying six feet apart, minimum. Yes, binge drinking in clubs during spring break is not, and never was, a good idea.

But what kind of world have we given the next generation: A world where they can’t play with their best friend? Or pet a cute dog? Or hug their mommy when she comes home from a long day of saving lives at the hospital? Where the playground looks like a crime scene?

The kids didn’t stick their heads in the sand — or cash in their stocks — when all the world’s scientists were warning of a critical health crisis.

The kids didn’t lie that there were plenty of COVID-19 tests when there were not, because they know that liars’ pants catch on fire.

The kids didn’t fail to have enough face masks, hand sanitizer, and respirators ready to be released from the national emergency stockpile because with or without the Scouts, they know to be prepared.

Even the kids know better than to shake hands and stand shoulder to shoulder with a group of people at a press conference at which you declare a national emergency.

Almost three months after the Chinese government first notified the world of a new virus, the kids didn’t fail to pass even one piece of legislation guaranteeing free virus testing, health care, protective health gear and mandatory paid medical and family leave for all, because they know that if their life paths have to be interrupted by this natural crisis made immeasurably worse by an incompetent government, they at least need their mommies and daddies to be home with them, without losing their jobs and incomes.

Don’t blame my kid if you see him driving the car he bought with his own money for the 17th birthday whose celebration was robbed from him by shelter-in-place advisories. He may not be able to drive to school, or to work, or to Knott’s Berry Farm, or to his friend’s house, but at least he can drive.

Don’t blame the kids riding their bikes, or skateboarding — why do we always blame the skateboarders? If we cared about their health as much as we care about us olds, we’d remember that kids need exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, and kids need to play.

Not everyone has backyards.

And please, don’t blame the kids for spending a LOT of time playing video games. What else are they supposed to do?! Online, they can chat with their friends. Online, they can shoot the bad guys who helped get us in this mess. Online, they can play.

Kids need to play.

Don’t blame the kids. They didn’t create this sick world and elect the people who head its greatest power.

If you look out your window and see the kids racing by on their wheels, their feet, or their imaginations, and you are seeking someone to blame, look at the face reflecting back at you, and think about what that person should be doing to give the kids back the lives we promised them.

For an excellent article on the long-term effect of closing schools on kids during the ebola crisis, read Robert Jenkins’s Los Angeles Times op ed published March 13, 2020.


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It’s the End of the World — and People Feel Fine?

It’s the end of the world, and apparently, at least for a few hours today on the coast of California — ground zero of the great American  house arrest experiment — everyone felt fine.

My house looks down on Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro and out onto the Pacific Ocean. This afternoon, it was like a beautiful summer day out there: There were dozens of white-winged sailboats on the water, as if for a regatta. The sand was full of people playing, walking, surfing, etc. Weather wise, it was also like a beautiful summer day, or at least like the new spring day it is — a break amid weeks of rain and cold. Looking out on this idyll, it was hard to believe that our entire state is under a legal order to “shelter in place.” Unless, of course, that place is the beach.

Which, in a sense, it is. Where else are people supposed to go? No work, no malls, no theaters, no libraries, no museums, no bowling, no pools. No fun, in the words of Iggy Pop? What is there to do, during this respite from the rain, but go to beaches and parks?

I don’t see groups of more than 10 congregating, as our government has ordered. Some people — though definitely not all — are at least attempting to stay six feet from people they are not with. One couple — but only one — wears masks as they take their dog for a walk, and  when they return, the man has lowered his to his chin. Mostly, families are having a day at the beach together: laughing, building sand castles, holding hands. Maybe a day like they haven’t had time for in months, or even years.

It’s tragic that it took a pandemic to make us stop our workaholic habits, but maybe we, as a society, need to pause, rest, and reset. The people walking by my window are happy. They feel fine.

Me, I fled the land. My friend and I went kayaking, keeping ourselves a boat length apart. It was perfect conditions for a paddle: sunny and calm. We said hello to the California sea lions on the howler buoy, all blissfully oblivious of a human pandemic. We floated above the green sea grass and pink coral heads, listening to the waves and the birds. It was quiet, peaceful: No sound of traffic, few planes or boats. The sky was so clear, you could see structures on Catalina 25 miles away. Sure, all that rain scrubbed the atmosphere clean. But fewer commuters means less cars means cleaner air, as other parts of the world have also experienced.

Maybe this isn’t the end, but the opportunity for a new beginning.



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Turbulence at the Rock Hall

Black History Month Spotlight: Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston is the only woman being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 2020.

In her 1998 piece Turbulent, Shirin Neshat juxtaposes two videos. In the first, a man in a white button-down shirt stands in front of an auditorium of other men. He turns to face the camera and sings a work by the Persian poet Rumi, accompanied by string instruments that are not filmed. It’s a powerfully emotive performance – a series of ululated exclamations — rewarded by a round of applause; the man takes his bows.

In the second, a woman in a black hijab stands in front of an empty theater and softly begins moaning. The camera rotates to her face slowly. She sings wordless scales, with the only accompaniment the amplified echo of her own voice, panting and bell-like and screeching – a one-woman emotive cacophony. When she finishes, there is no applause. There is no one there to clap.

Turbulence answers the old riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? The woman, Iranian vocalist and composer Sussan Deyhim, makes a mighty sound – as have the other women, across time and space, who have sung their songs in the privacy of their showers, their bedrooms, their walks, their woods because no one could, or would, hear them. Neshat was directly commenting on the fact that in her birth country of Iran, women were not allowed to sing in public after the Islamic revolution (they now can sing only in limited circumstances). But I see the bold, disturbing binary depicted in Turbulent as relevant across cultures.

How many little girls have been told they should be seen and not heard? How many aspiring musicians have auditioned for A&R men – and they are almost always men – only to be asked to trade their bodies for a contract? How many women have gotten past the casting couch only to be told they’re not skinny/pretty/pale/soft/sexy enough? How many were kept off the airwaves because only one woman was allowed on the playlist – because (as one country radio consultant infamously said) they were the tomatoes in the salad, not the lettuce? How many were allowed to be representatives of feminine beauty, but only for one song, one year, before they were deemed too old? How many were recognized for the innovations – the genius — that made them not necessarily popular, but pioneers? How many are saluted as legends? Are in the Songwriters Hall of Fame? Are in the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame?

We can answer the last two questions: 31 songwriters, or 7 percent of the total body, and  — as of today’s announcement of the class of 2020 – 140 artists, or 7.68 percent.

The halls’ omissions are striking. I do not think they accurately correlate to the successes of women in music, though that’s a hard thing to quantify. They certainly do not correlate to the efforts and effects of female musicians, to the percentage of women in the world, or to any known genetic link to musical talent. What they do represent are the gendered tastes of the mostly male nominating and voting bodies that make these decisions. They are today’s version of the Shriners or Masons: bro’ societies devoted to self-perpetuation. They are patriarchies.

Which makes it all the more offensive when they insist their decisions have nothing to do with gender or race, but only with quality (as both Rock Hall Foundation CEO Joel Peresman and former Rock Hall Board chair Jann Wenner have recently said). When they say that, they tell us that Chaka Khan, Big Mama Thornton, Cher, Labelle, the Go-Go’s, Bette Midler, Celia Cruz, Selena, Bjork, Dionne Warwick, Pat Benatar, etc., etc., are not actually good, but are just women. They add insult to injury.

The halls didn’t necessarily erect the obstacles that have historically kept sisters from achieving the fame and fortune of their brothers – though many of the industry insiders who created and run the halls certainly did work for companies infamous for sexual discrimination. But by repeatedly inducting only a puny, token number of acceptable ladies, they enshrine those gags – and then say they were earned.

Look outside the industry. In your home, in your schoolyard, in your gym, around your campfire: who makes the music? Who sings the songs?

And who is listening?

Turbulent is included in Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again, an exhibit currently at the Broad museum in Los Angeles,

You can read my previous writing about the Rock Hall here:


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Rock Hall Keeps Getting More Male and More White


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 2020 inductees this morning. The good news is both Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G. are included. The bad news is Houston is the only woman among the 23 people honored (including the non-performer honorees), and she and Biggie are two of the only four people of color. That means 4.34% of this year’s class is female, and 17.39% is POC. Cumulatively, that means the Rock Hall continues to get less diverse by race and gender: 7.68% of the total number of inductees is female, down from the already depressing 7.77% of 2019. For POC, that’s 32.4%, down from 32.77%.

These results should throw down the gauntlet for new Rock Hall Chair John Sykes, who has said that increasing the hall’s diversity is his top priority. He will have to take strong, decisive actions to reverse this steady decline.

Stylistically, the lineup is slightly more diverse than in some years, including T. Rex, the Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails. Chaka Khan was snubbed once again — a fact I consider an outrage. The only other woman nominated, Pat Benatar, was also passed over.

Thanks to LMU graduate student Marika Price for crunching the numers.

You can read my previous writing about the Rock Hall here:

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