Giant Pencil or Tiny Watermelon?

A couple of days ago, I needed some lime zest and lime juice for a recipe. I’ve been a bit of a slob about the kitchen lately, so I just left the lime halves lying around, and today it occurred to me that they looked like tiny watermelon halves.

Also, in the U.S., we’ve had nearly 90,000 deaths from COVID-19. But don’t worry, states are opening back up before we know it’s safe, and people are blithely going out without regard to the safety of themselves or others. I’m sure it’ll be ok. As long as we don’t test people, Trump has said recently, then we won’t have any new cases to report.

In other news, I know I said that I had left some limes lying around, but actually those are watermelon halves after all. I know I also said that it was a tiny watermelon. But it’s actually an extra-large watermelon. And an extra large pencil! I wrote this post with it. Also the pencil isn’t a pencil, it is a mastodon named Chuck who assures me that truth and facts and reason and empathy don’t matter anymore.

COVID Update #5

I’ve been eating junk cereal again and today was struck by how the back of the box of my Cinnamon Toast Crunch depicts pretty well the current state of mind of a lot of the world. This image takes up the whole of the back of the jumbo sized box:

If you’re not afraid to breathe when you must scuttle out for provisions, there’s some chance you’re outraged that the gubmint is trying to limit your freedoms as a ‘murican. Or maybe you’re outraged at those imbeciles. Or maybe you’re just not used to being around your family as much as the last few weeks have called for and are a little on edge. Maybe you’re just stir crazy. Maybe you work in a grocery store where people without masks breathe on you all day. Maybe you work in a hospital, risking your health to help others. I don’t believe this is a special edition box of cereal printed for this moment in time, but it certainly seems to fit the general mood.

Gas yesterday at my usual station was $1.699. Grocery availability was reasonable, though some things are still being rationed. I was able to buy a 6-pack of toilet paper for the first time in weeks. I did have to go to a second store to get some cannellini for a white chicken chili.

School is officially shut down for the year, and the district has shared plans for calculating final grades. AP exams are still on for my daughter. A driver’s ed course I had signed her up for is moving to an online format for the classroom portion. My son is having an extended break. He is chewing through books very rapidly, which is nice, as he had really slowed down his reading for a while. He spends a lot of his afternoons out in a hammock in the yard with a book.

Some neighbors continue to have guests, which is sort of disturbing.

My hair is about as long as it’s been in my adult life; so is my beard, though that I could trim confidently. I figure if I’m going to look like a caveman, I may as well wear the whole look.

Our postal service is apparently struggling, and people are buying stamps to try to help save the organization. I ordered a couple of books of dinosaur stamps I’m a little excited about. This matters because there’s a very plausible fear that with an election coming up in November, we’ll need to vote by mail if social distancing is still called for. If our authoritarian president allows the post office to go bust, he increases his odds of winning, as greater voter participation tends to go badly for Republicans. It’s shocking that this is a thing we have to worry about. Who would have thought 5 or 6 years ago that this would be a worry?

Life for me remains mostly as it was before the pandemic, though I feel a little more contaminated when I come home from the grocery store now than I did before, and I go outside the neighborhood a little less than I had before (but not much; I was a homebody to begin with). I do feel like I’m living at the top of a slide down into an authoritarian dystopia, which is unsettling and a little hard to fathom. Maybe it’s also hyperbole. I do hope so.

COVID-19 Update #4

I went to buy our week’s worth of groceries this weekend and found the vibe pretty different. The CDC has recommended wearing some kind of covering over mouth and nose to reduce the spread of your own germs. A fair few people are doing so, more at my local co-op than at the chain grocery store. At the co-op, there was a weird sort of stalemate any time I drew near anyone. I didn’t come very close to anyone, to be clear, but any time it seemed a possibility, there was this furtive eye contact and a tacit agreement to sort of circle one another or hang back until it was my turn to approach whatever we were competing for. I felt a little criminal. At the small co-op, workers collected buggies and sanitized them, and they sanitized the credit card terminal’s stylus between uses and asked that people only use the stylus. By contrast, at the chain store, people wandered down the middles of aisles, shopped in groups, and seemed generally less concerned with keeping their breath to themselves, though many did wear face coverings. Both stores had plastic barriers between customer and cashier. Both were fairly well stocked, with paper products notably absent at the chain store. I did not have a face covering this weekend and regretted it; next weekend I will, if it’s a pair of briefs and some pipe cleaner.

Gas is under two bucks, though I forget exactly how much it is. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that figure start with a one, though.

My neighbors are having work done on their godawful pool, and other neighbors are have had other workers doing yardwork. I saw several neighbors with company visiting this weekend. Nobody comes into our house, and nobody leaves it except to walk the dog cautiously or, a little, to play in the backyard. Even that I feel a little weird about. We’re still having pizza delivered on Fridays as has been our habit for a while, and our pizza place has a hands-free situation that prevents me from having to sign a receipt or get near the delivery person, who puts my pizza boxes on the porch and loiters until I wave them away. It’s nice. I could get used to more hands-free services.

I planted my little garden I had dug last weekend, putting in mostly peas, carrots, and tomatoes, with a few broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi plants just to mix it up a little. I don’t know if any of these will grow. The tomato seeds were mostly ones we saved from some tomatoes we ate a few years ago. The others were seeds we had purchased some years back. I did find some potting soil around the house that I used to enrich some of the soil, but the ground I’m planting in is not the most hospitable, so we’ll see how it goes.

Mostly, life remains near-normal for my family. We’re home-bodies in general anyway.

I’ve heard of lots of people having trouble with their internet, but mine has been stable so far.

The Prime Minister of England is in intensive care, having contracted the virus. Nearly 11,000 people have died of the virus in the U.S. so far, and we have I think 300,000-plus confirmed cases. A few famous people have died.

The president of the U.S. continues to lie and suppress opinions contrary to his own, and the sycophants he has surrounded himself with continue to drive the country into the ground. It’s hard to imagine a government more tainted by corruption and bumbling idiocy than this one. Wisconsin today opted to hold their presidential primary tomorrow instead of delaying, and the implication is that conservative politicians are doing so because they know it will suppress the democratic vote. This seems on brand, and it is unconscionable.

My friend and colleague wrote this post relating sheltering at home to caring for a bunny, and though that sounds a little weird on the surface, her post is well worth a read, for it is both wise and hilarious. You should give it a read.

COVID-19 Update #3

We mostly stayed home over the past week, going out for a couple of medical appointments (nothing COVID-19 related) and having one medical appointment via video, which I could sure get used to, though I suppose there are limits (“hey, Doc, I’ve got this bump between my butt cheeks, here let me just drop trow and try to get my butt real close to the camera where are you going?”). I mowed the yard. We decided to bring back our garden, which we haven’t had for a couple of years because the last time we grew one, nobody really wanted to weed it, so it became a mess pretty quickly. My inclination right now is to be more resigned to whatever lies ahead than to be alarmist. So I’m not packing a go-bag or unrolling razor wire around my property or planning to feed my family for months from a little 6×8 plot or anything. But having a little garden, as we used to, will be nice, will make me feel like we’re another day or two from starvation if things do wind up going sideways. If only my kids ate vegetables.

Here’s the start of the garden. First I broke up all the earth with a shovel, so I could then till it a bunch to break the big chunks into smaller chunks. I’d like to get some decent soil rather than trying to grow a garden in red clay, but I also don’t want to be one of the yahoos packing the parking lot of the hardware/etc store now that Spring has arrived and spreading whatever I may or may not have around (or picking something up). I’ve grown veggies in this soil before, and I reckon I can manage it again.

I went to the grocery store today too, and it seemed a little farther from post-apocalyptic than it did when I last went. Many staples were either missing or in short supply, but there were paper towels, and there was meat, butter, milk, some bread. There were some canned goods too, and rice, but no flour. The store is imposing limits on how much of some things you can buy, which is a little annoying if you’re trying to just buy regular groceries for the week as I’m used to doing, but of course it makes sense and is why things are available that weren’t available a week ago.

We’ve tried using cloth napkins at times over the years, but it never sticks. I feel a little guilty. We’ve been using paper towels for a while (the narrow sheets, at least), and at some point this week, we started tearing those in half so that we’re not using as many. It makes me think of my grandmother carefully opening gifts and smoothing and saving the paper. Hopefully the world will right itself and we’ll keep some of these slightly less bad habits afterward.

There’s confusion about masks. Medical staffers need masks to protect them. People are sewing cloth masks at home that I suppose somebody is distributing to somebody? I think it’s lovely that people are trying to contribute in this way, though I’m skeptical of the efficacy of the masks and worry indeed that they’ll do more harm than good, being likely ineffective and potentially carrying the virus if handled by unknowing carriers. It’s a grander and more selfless gesture than my little victory garden, and the sap in me who gets a little misty thinking about this sort of outpouring of human kindness and cooperation has to tell the more vocal cynic to pipe down.

Lots of my neighbors seemed to have company this weekend. It’s a little distressing. Do they just not believe in science? I live in a conservative area, so that isn’t a rhetorical question. Well, it is when posed to my reader, but it is also a valid question here. A couple of neighbors have stuck teddybears in a window. My son stuck one in his window for a day but got tired of having his blinds up, and who can blame him, since these days he runs around in his underwear and spends a lot of time doing headstands in his room.

Never have I felt such a virulent disgust for any person than I feel for Donald Trump. This has been the case from day one, but it grows with every new inconceivable thing the bastard does. Today he announced an extension through April of the social distancing guidelines he has questioned to date. I think this is good, and I’m surprised he could be convinced to do it. He also went on Twitter to talk about the ratings of his daily briefings about COVID-19. My hatred for this man is not political. Certainly, my beliefs differ from the ones he claims to hold. But I would take a dignified, responsible adult of any party over this vacuous buffoon. I have felt shame ever since he became president, but his lack of a capacity to operate on any principles more sophisticated than the basest self-regard is especially appalling right now. I’m sure it will be somehow more appalling tomorrow, still more the day after that.

COVID-19 Update #2

I hadn’t anticipated writing about this again quite so quickly, as I hadn’t anticipated much change. But there has been some change. Late last week, my city mayor made an executive order that bars and restaurants no longer provide dine-in service. Over the weekend, the governor (after initially saying something to the effect that he trusted the citizens of Tennessee to make good decisions) finally also issued an executive order limiting the same sorts of things. So, we’re in semi-lockdown.

It’s not a police state or anything, thankfully, though Trump has deployed the National Guard in California, and I can’t really imagine what that’ll mean for people in California. I hope it doesn’t mean that the most vulnerable people get treated (more) poorly, though that does seem to be the general modus operandi of the current administration.

I went to the grocery store on Sunday partially to resupply myself with candy but also to get food for our meals for the coming week. The shelves were a lot more bare this time. When I went a week ago, it was mostly rice, flour, and paper goods that were in short supply. On this trip, there was very little meat, just a scattering of canned goods, no snack cakes, no bread, no butter, and a much smaller selection of cereal than usual. Chips were fairly picked over too, as were frozen vegetables. Soft drinks and candy (historically my most important food group) were thankfully abundantly available.

I’ve seen photos of downtown, which has been fairly bustling in general over the past few years but which now is apparently a ghost town. I’m surprised and relieved that people may be seeming to get the message to keep a distance from one another.

I’ve seen more neighbors walking their dogs and pulling children in wagons than usual, though we are heading into Spring weather, and these activities always pick up after winter draws to a close, so maybe this isn’t pandemic-specific. A neighbor proposed to the neighborhood Facebook group that people put teddybears in windows to give little kids out walking sort of a scavenger hunt, and I find the idea sort of charming. Another floated the idea of bringing a food truck to the neighborhood one night a week so that we could help support local businesses without going out. I’m mixed on this idea — I like the notion of supporting such businesses, but it’s hard for me to avoid thinking that somebody cooped up in a food truck all day and passing food and money back and forth is a pretty effective germ vector.

COVID-19

Although we have sub-freezing weather every year, the state I live in is not well prepared for winter precipitation. E.g. I think we have about a tablespoon of salt to put down for the whole state’s icy roads. Every once in a while, when a big winter weather event is in the forecast, everybody will scurry out to buy bread and milk and be ready to stay home for a few days, or maybe even a week or two. I’m a bit of a hermit and don’t mind staying home — in fact I prefer it — but I don’t like feeling as if I might be stuck at home with no way to get the things I might need. About a week’s worth of isolation from the grocery store is enough for me.

A week ago, I went out and bought about a week’s worth of food. Truthfully, I bought a little more than that — an extra jar of spaghetti sauce, some extra noodles, a ham that’d last several meals and veggies for turning it into a soup. The store was out of toilet paper, flour, and rice. I had no intent to panic buy, but having the little extra safety net of a reasonable supply of the staples seemed rational. I told my wife that if things got bad enough that we’d have trouble surviving week to week, we were screwed in the longer term anyway (being basically helpless consumers in general), so there wasn’t much point in buying for the longer term and contributing to the panic.

It had never occurred to me that events would occur in my life that would make me worry a little about basic survival. And I’m not worried, really. Or not so much. I don’t think I am, at least. Not yet. But what if this is after all the beginning of an unraveling of civilization into a future that looks rather like something out of The Road? Is it hysteria to wonder? Maybe. I hope so. Surely it is.

Even so, I do feel like the current moment is a remarkable moment in history, precisely because what is happening is actually happening, because somehow we’ve landed in a position in which what is happening can possibly happen. It’s almost unfathomable to me.

But here we are. Maybe it’ll pass. I occasionally see headlines about things like scientists using supercomputers to find things that will mitigate COVID-19, and in those moments, I think, “Aha, here is the deux ex machina. This is how the movie ends. We’re going to be ok.” Because of course we’re going to be ok. That’s how it works for privileged people like me in privileged nations. But then the story isn’t quite so positive as the headline. Or I read another about how even if we slow the spread of the disease in the short term, we’re a year or more away from a vaccine that would lead us to actual global safety, and a failure to persist in social distancing in the mean time will simply start the cycle again. It’s a sobering thought. Maybe this isn’t just a snow week with a twist. Maybe this is a new reality. Maybe I should go ahead and plant a garden and learn to create fire.

Things are ok for my family right now. Hopefully they’ll stay that way. I wanted to record a few little snapshots of reality for my future self to look back on (internet and electricity willing). With any luck, I’ll look back on this in a couple of weeks after some miracle cure has fixed everything and realize I was being silly to worry at all, to want to record the state of things. But just in case things do get bad, and as a point of reference if they get bad and then better, here are some observations about my world right now.

Gas is around $2 per gallon right now, maybe a few cents north of that.

I have reliable internet, electricity, and gas, and my heat and air work reliably. Our water runs clear, and our hot water heater works well. Our toilets flush our waste away. We have soap and shampoo and are able to shower daily.

Yesterday was the first day of Spring, and in the morning, I hear loads of birds singing. It has rained most days over the last few weeks (it’s raining now, and thundering now and again), and I’m a little tired of it, but I feel like it’s probably preferable to drought right now, depending on what’s to come.

Knoxville didn’t seem to’ve had much urgency about COVID-19 until maybe today. I went (a little reluctantly) for takeout last night from my son’s favorite restaurant for his birthday, and many of the restaurants I passed had lots of cars in their lots and people dining in, though the general advice world-wide for a couple of weeks now has been that we should minimize such congregating to minimize spread of the virus. Today, the Knoxville mayor issued an order at last to shut down dine-in service for restaurants and bars.

I worry a lot about small businesses, little breweries, game stores, my local donut shop. I worry about the people who work in these places, often people who are making below minimum wage and relying on tips. I worry that my charming little local bookstore will shut down. I’m afraid though to go patronize any of these places, as I don’t want to spread any germs I may have or pick up germs from anybody else. I worry that in the coming weeks and months, so many places will shut down and that so many lives of people living close to the bone will become even more desperate. I’m tipping well when I have occasion, and I keep trying to think of cockamamie ideas I might suggest to small business owners I know, to help them through this time, though it’s really a little silly of me, if well-intended.

Grocery stores do still have food, but selection isn’t what it was a month ago. I wonder if we’ll go out one day to find the stores broken into and looted by people with no other realistic choice. I realize this sounds a little dramatic and that I may look back soon and chuckle at my naivete (I really hope I do).

The government is appalling. Partisanship aside, it seems very clear to me that those who are supposed to protect the interests of the citizenry are aggressively failing to do so.

It’s hard to know what to believe about the world. This isn’t brand new, but it seems worse to me over the last year or two.

This week was Spring break, so the kids were going to be home from school anyway, but school is as of now on hold until April 6. Some teachers are trying to gather material students can work on online. Universities have moved to an online format in a hurry. I’m very skeptical that school will resume for this school year, and I’m a little paralyzed about what to do about it. Should I figure out how to homeschool? That feels like a big responsibility. My kids are bright; should I just figure they’ll be ok and can just pick things back up whenever school resumes?

I do not fear for the physical safety of my family. We have shelter, transportation, and food for the reasonable short-term.

My family is healthy on the whole. There’ve been some cold symptoms in the house, but nothing symptomatic of COVID-19, no fevers, no respiratory distress. My daughter has asthma, so I worry about what may come, but for now, we have medicine and she’s fine. We’re all fine. We eat too much junk food, I’ll grant.

Life is 99% normal for me, with no significant changes from our routines over the last few years other than the dismissal of school. We read, play games, talk, listen to music, do laundry, make messes, vacuum, feed the pets, quarrel from time to time, and everything else that’s been usual for us of late.

I’ve worked from home for years and continue to be able to do so. I’m able to keep in contact with people via the internet and my phone, though being not especially social on the whole, I don’t do so as frequently as I probably ought to.

There’s plenty more to say, but this is a snapshot and not a photo album, so I’ll stop there, as this is feeling a little tedious and maybe silly already.