Tag Archives: Coronavirus

The Milkman of Human Kindness

When I was a kid, the milkman of human kindness came to our house every week. We had a metal box outside our front door and once a week, in the morning, it would be magically filled with milk — even, sometimes, with chocolate milk. I know, this sounds too good to be true, but it was the 1970s, and I did grow up in Wisconsin.

And now, thanks to the pandemic, I am once again having milk delivered to my home every Saturday morning. And not just milk, but fresh produce, eggs, yogurt, bread — organic, locally produced. Just as in my childhood, Farm Fresh to You magically leaves boxes of goodies at my door during the night. In fact, I’m looking for a vintage metal milk box so I can truly relive my past.

At first, shopping during coronavirus completely stressed me out. Like many of us, I have become used to being able to stop by the market and pick up whatever I want, whenever I want. I do not buy groceries like my mother did: Visiting the big supermarket once a week and picking everything up in one fell swoop. I’m not good at planning like that. And I don’t like it. I prefer the Parisian/New York way, stopping by multiple specialty shops, buying cheese at the fromagerie, a baguette at the bakery, steak at the meat shop, etc. The food is always fresh, never frozen. And the experience of having the butcher cut the chops for you is exquisite, the kind of personal exchange you don’t get at, say, Ralph’s.

When our “leaders” told us we should stay home as much as possible, I tried to obey. I spent days on the websites of various food emporiums, trying to schedule deliveries or pickups. I never managed the former, but I did successfully complete one Von’s pickup. Of course, by the time we finally got our order — a week after I had made it — there was a whole new list of things we needed. So I dutifully spent two days scheduling another pickup, and waited patiently another week to pick up those supplies. Only this time, after waiting two hours for the anticipated notice that my “being assembled” order was ready, when I went to Von’s, the computer had crashed and lost my, and who knows how many other, shopping lists.

I’m done with big-box food capitalism. Now, I get my groceries the way I love: delivered fresh from the farm. And what I can’t get there, I buy only from local mom-and-pop stores. Small businesses need our support, especially since the government has failed them. And yes, Herr Garcetti, I go shopping multiple times a week. One day, I get pasta and pizza dough from Pirozzi‘s. Another, cappucinos and local bread and chips from The Corner Store. Point Fermin Market is good for just about everything, including alcohol, and I love to ask Singh how his grandson is doing. Acacia Bakery makes the best tortillas and other amazing galletas and confections. And the pandemic hasn’t diminished South Shores Meat Shop’s amazing selection of meat butchered on the premises including, of course, the best cevapcici this side of Croatia. If I want meat and Italian goods, I’ll head to A1.

And on Saturdays, the eggs, carrots, apples, and kale appear on my doorstep. They aren’t cheap, but they’re good. This week, I think I’ll order chocolate milk.

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The imbalance of nature

The animals are taking over the beach, and they are hungry. With humans now banned from the spaces their tax dollars fund, critters are free to roam. Giant flocks of grebes and terns have made the inner and outer waters of Cabrillo their home, holding cacophonous mating gatherings — yes, orgies — day after day. Skunks roam the beach and hills brazenly, toddling across the sands. A fox trotted down the middle of Stephen M. White Drive midday. Skinny, it looked not liberated, but desperate. The animals here are dependent on human waste for their food, and they are starving. The sky may be enjoying its respite from pollution, but the critters that have learned to coexist with us are now on their own.

Rid of mechanical noise, the sound is magical. I find myself shunning human music in order to listen to the birds. Our neighbor, an adult male somewhere on the autism scale who is an avid birder, has taken it upon himself to try to feed all the gulls, crows, ravens, and squirrels in the neighborhood. We constantly hear birds landing and walking across our roof, the gulls’ pink webbed feet sometimes visible through our skylight.

We inherited this virus by violating our relationship with wild beasts, and we are not the only critters paying the cost. The balance of nature is off.

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Lost in the stars

Every day, every death, coronavirus reminds me more of the AIDS crisis than of SARS, or H1N1, or the 1918 flu. As HIV did before it, Covid-19 is stealing a generation of artists — though these are our elder statesmen, rather than our future. Hal Willner was some kind of a genius, a genius at recognizing genius at least (takes one to know one). He had brilliant, eccentric taste and chutzpah, celebrating the work of past visionaries such as Kurt Weill and Carl Stalling by bringing together such living artists as Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithfull, Sun Ra, and Lou Reed. He was an omnivorous omnipresence in New York when I lived there, someone who loved poetry as well as jazz, cartoons and opera. That relentless relishing of the artistic spirit is a rare, precious quality, now parted.

And then, John Prine — an American folk hero if there ever was one. Willner recognized and elevated genius — Prine was one, in a completely humble, plainspoken way, a crafter of unforgettable tunes. Thankfully he left us with his own funeral song, “When I Get to Heaven.” The band up there just gets better and better. Our loss.

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Nuff said

IMG_0764

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April 7, 2020 · 5:52 pm

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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