So where to begin this project, I thought. First idea: Organize books alphabetically. But not by title. By author. Then all the Hemingways would be together and separate from How To Prepare for Small Claims Court (how the hell did I get that book?) Dumb Idea. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
During the quarantine, I pass in and out of not liking myself. I search for things to soften the light. You need to understand this for what it is, a broken-down apartment on the Pacific Coast Highway. I have to get there. It’s important to me. Most of us are children of sentimentality as we lie beside a lost love on the highway, waiting for her or him to come back to us. Come back, come back, we say, in the sift of our dreams.
Cheap blue sunglasses give my face a cinematic look and I’m barefoot. Yeah, I’m sitting here on the sidewalk in front of the 7-Eleven on a blistering afternoon in Austin, Texas waiting for a bus to crash into the store. This particular 7-Eleven gives off vibes like that because several years ago Charles Whitman shot a man coming out the door carrying a cherry Slurpee. …
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I can’t drive through Salinas California without thinking of John Steinbeck and how hated he was in his own home town. It’s something all writers deal with if they are truthful. For those of you unfamiliar with Steinbeck, Salinas is a medium sized town at the northern end of the one of the most agriculturally rich valleys in the world. We drive through it often on our way from the SF Bay Area to Southern California where my daughter lives. For most of the year it’s an incomparable drive. Mile after mile of farmland growing up the fog-ridged hills that separate the inland from the coast. Just off the highway are small towns where you can stop and get authentic Mexican tacos or a bag of fruit and vegetables fresh from the farm.
But Steinbeck did not write a pastoral. No, he wrote about how, in cramped and desperate conditions, using more than your fair share of toilet paper could bring your family shame. Let me explain.
Just before Christmas I found a well-used copy of Grapes of Wrath while collecting books to donate to the library. I’d just read Travels with Charlie and hungered for more Steinbeck, an author whom I hadn’t read since high school. Travels is an easy and relaxing read; apropos for a long plane ride. Grapes has now taken me three months and I’m not yet finished. Each chapter deserves a second, sometimes third reading. It’s that good.
If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, it’s set at the end of the Great Depression. The Joad family are hardworking, proud though simple farmers forced from their land in Oklahoma by crop failures and the greed of large agricultural interests. They set out for California just hoping for a fair chance to earn a decent living.
Once in the Salinas Valley, they’re treated as sub-humans which is probably why Steinbeck couldn’t set foot in that town again. They are forced to live in labor camps where the rules are made by the occupants. Many of the rules involve sanitation huts which must service a number of families.
Jessie (“big committee lady”) to Ma Joad:
“We got our trouble with toilet paper. Rule says you can’t take none away from here.” She clicked her tongue sharply “Whole camp chips in for toilet paper.” For a moment she was silent, and then she confessed. “Number Four is usin’ more than any other. Somebody’s a-stealin’ it.”
Later the “confessor” explains why her family’s been using more than their fair share:
“Skitters. All five of ‘em [her daughters]. We been low on money. They et the green grapes.They all five got the howling skitters.”
I’m not saying that the TP hoarders all read The Grapes of Wrath and are now afraid of facing the apocalypse having to share a toilet with strangers, particularly if food runs out and they’re forced to eat green grapes and get the “howling skitters.” I think it comes from a deeper fear of being shamed for your toilet habits. If you’ve got a mountain of TP you can use as much as you want without “big committee lady” casting shame on you.
But then, I’m always full of it!
I think the phrase from this post that most haunts me is “I lie in the dark.”
I once went out a few times with the great-granddaughter of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the ex-President of El Salvador. She told me stories about how crazy he was, unless you were crazy, and then he was perfectly sane, and then she asked, “So, are you crazy?”
One day General Martínez looked out the palace window and saw a campesino drop in the street. He didn’t think too much about it and turned back towards a group of ministers huddled over a table. They were looking at the location of Indian villages and discussing how they might launch another massacre of the Pipil people. The man lying in the street was eventually carried away to the hospital, where he died that night of smallpox.
The smallpox spread through San Salvador rapidly. General Martínez declared a national emergency and ordered colored lights to be hung from houses and placed in parks. …
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I haven’t been able to find a carton of eggs in the store for two weeks. According to the produce clerk the last egg shipment (a quantity that usually lasts the store three days) was sold out in thirty minutes. As to why anyone would want to hoard more eggs than they could possibly consume in ten days (which is about as long as a refrigerated carton of eggs will stay fresh, it’s beyond me. You can’t freeze them or dry them. Do you suppose people are going to attempt to hatch chickens by sitting on all those eggs?
And so we are down to our final four eggs. Maybe this week we’ll be able to find eggs at our local grocery but on the oft hand we cannot, Joel, who loves eggs, is being rationed. One egg every other day. It’s hardly a tragedy. Some people don’t eat eggs at all. Some are allergic. Some are lacto/eggo tarians or whatever the term is for someone who who can live without any animal byproducts whatsoever. I’m a firm believer that you have a right to eat whatever keeps you healthy and makes you happy but life without cheese is simply not life for me.
As bizarre as it is to hoard eggs, the hoarding of fresh onions or garlic surprised me as well. Ain’t nothing worse that five pounds of rotting onions. Maybe the idea was to chop them all up and freeze them? Or maybe make fifty pounds of onion soup to store in your freezer. And what happens if the power goes out?
Luckily I had a few onions and gloves of garlic on hand. I guess I’ll use them to grow some more.
Supposedly it’s very simple to grow onions. You wait for sprouts to appear and then plant in dirt with a lot of compost. I know I should be doing something more productive during my quarantine time than waiting for onions to sprout but there’s nothing worse than not having onions or garlic when you need them.
To quote Scarlett (O’Hara): As God is my witness, I will never go onion-less again!
But folks, there’s no need to worry. We’ve got a president who’s smarter than all the epidemiologists. He’s figured out how wipe out the virus with an everyday household product. That’s right, if you get sick, just take a bite or two of Irish Spring (or whatever flavor soap floats your boat.) His rational, if just washing your hands in the stuff kills the virus, think what eating it will do. Heck, it might even make you immune.
On a serious note, do not eat soap. It probably won’t kill you (or make you blind) but it will sure make you happy you hoarded toilet paper!
Please tell me that you are all finding more productive ways to spend your quarantine time other than watching garlic cloves sprout! I need hope.
An interesting perspective of our current predicament.
The Ides of March seem as good a time as any to start this. Known by most as the date of Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, the Ides Of March was also regarded by the Romans as the date of settling debts. In a society where collective and individual debt is rampant, it seems appropriate the way of life most Americans have grown accustomed to in the past 70+ years appears to be, if not coming to an end, at least entering a period of extreme disruption and inconvenience.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is here, it’s deadly, and with no human immunity developed against it, it has the potential to spread and wreak havoc on a scale incomprehensible to far too many people. There is no shortage of data, models, graphs, charts, or information on what this virus is and what type of potential it has. Not to mention recent evidence…
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Following the advice of WHO and in solidarity with the lovely people of Italy, I am in self-quarantine until, of course, we run out of gin. So today, I’m inviting you to my house ….
Come a little closer; I won’t bite …
This solid wood door was originally a dull shade of beige but then I discovered Beet Bonanza Delight. The Jade plant to the side has endured all sorts of torture, including lack of sun but is still holding on. Amazing. The figure greeting you at the door with the ears and the antlers is a reindeer, of course, left over from a Christmas long ago. He actually provides a good place to hang wet garden gloves, tools and umbrellas.
Swinging from the lamp is Guard Toad First Class, Edmond Von Petty. He has ESP.
If he senses that you have a black heart or want money, his chimes begin to quiver in warning to Greta Gecko who wishes to keep her rank a mystery.
Since you all have golden hearts and want no money from me (I hope), you may press Greta’s button without fear of being zapped.
Have you brought your card? Well, there’s always room on the fridge.
Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who tacks everything on her frig.
I also planted an Australian fern right next to the front door because I love ferns.
Unfortunately these ferns can reach 16 feet high and wide. He’s also very affectionate and so watch out as you leave!
Sorry you have to go so soon but I know you have other doors to check out over at Norm’s Place. Come again.
In the morning, while waiting for my brain to de-thaw from the long winter of sleep I turn on the television and watch a movie or documentary. Generally not for very long. Just long enough to dissipate the residue of unsettling dreams. This morning I watched part of a documentary about Fred Rogers called Won’t you be my Neighbor? I used to think watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with my toddler was worse than eight hours at a miserable job but you know, he was a decent guy. I sure wish we had him around today to help children cope with the schism in this country. I wonder what he would say. “Children, the world has seen evil men before and many millions of people have died but that doesn’t mean that you’re not special.”
A cat of entirely different stripes, Captain Kangaroo, was the reason my father finally allowed a boob tube in our house. My little sister’d fallen in love with the show and she always got what she wanted because she was “special,” aka, a champion pouter who could and would hide under the bed and refuse to eat until she got her way.
By that time I was a teenager and so warned my parents that Lizzie’s fixation with Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans would warp her forever but, did they listen to me? No. And so she’s been married nineteen times. I guess she thinks there’s a man out there somewhere who likes to talk to stuffed animals and is not some kind of pervert.
Back to my apology, Fred Rogers had amazing will power. He swam a mile every single day and maintained the exact same weight for most of his adult life. He could also focus his attention one hundred percent on listening to young children. Have you ever tried to listen to a toddler for longer than a few minutes?
Apparently he wasn’t fond of Eddie Murphy’s brilliant satire: Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood:
But there are pictures of the two men embracing in later years. Do you think Trump will ever embrace Alec Baldwin?
I’ve consolidated a series of posts I wrote back in 2014 into a page called A Dummies Guide to Innocent Spouse Relief. If you have any interest in how wacky tax code is here in the US, check it out.
In Northern California where I live we are having the most incredible weather. Sunny and springlike days, no wind, no fog, no smog so why am I so glum? Because it’s supposed to be raining! Plants are dying. The whole bloody month of February has been bone dry and in the 70s. If it stays this way, by summer we’ll all be dead.
Well, probably not but we won’t have enough water to shower daily or wash the car. These grassy hills will turn brown. Trees, wither and droop sadly to the ground.
Because in the United States we have the stupidest president imaginable. Any person with a head still on should be able to defeat him in the next election. And yet, like the lack of rain in California, there seems to be a lack of common sense amongst the people running against him. They’re all infinitely smarter than him. They’re all infinitely more trustworthy than him. They’re all at least … human.
Okay, Grandpa Bernie has been claiming for decades that America could be just like Canada or Denmark or Sweden! Or even Germany. All we have to do is tax the insanely rich. It’s not that far left. He’s not Fidel Castro. He’s said how he’ll pay for Medicare for All but he can’t provide exact numbers because it’s never been attempted. Just like the frigging rain in California. It might return, it generally does but what if it doesn’t? It has been done successfully in other countries. I’ve been to those countries. They are not like Cuba or even Russia.
Next, Boss Bloomberg’s big mouth. People make remarks in the workplace every day that someone finds offensive. I had a boss who could not construct a sentence without using some form of the word “fuck.” He used it as a noun, adjective, adverb, in prayers to God, meetings with important clients, and even when blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. But he was an uber generous man who believed everyone – janitor, secretary, CEO – deserved an equal voice and respect and so complaints to Human Resources about his “inappropriate” language generally got filed in the trash can. Do we really care if Richie Rich makes an inappropriate joke every now and then? Compared to what we got now, no.