Archive for the 'Human Nature' Category

Bowled Over

It was perfect. No wind, temperature in the 70’s, and a warm mid-day sun caressing my shoulders, easing both physical and psychological stress.

We had left home for a twenty-minute walk to the Ojai Arcade. Mid-way, Jackie used her phone app to impersonally order two Acai bowls from Revel, the specialty food shop that focuses on Acai bowls and Kombucha.

Acai is an ancient berry from the aptly named Acai palm tree that grows in the Central and South American tropics. The berries are crushed, pureed and frozen. The resultant purple puree looks and tastes much like ice cream but is less fattening and, according to the promoters of Acai, more nutritious. 

The puree base of the multi-faceted Acai bowl can be topped with nuts, granola, fruit, chocolate, honey and just about anything else that you find hiding in your kitchen cabinet and refrigerator. It can be quite addicting and I suspect that the nutritionally touted, loaded-up bowl delivers a surprisingly high caloric punch to the unsuspecting muncher.

Eating the bowl’s contents is done with a very sturdy green plastic spoon that could probably be used to jimmy steel doors. You hold the bowl in one hand and spoon its contents into your mouth. I am in a hurry to devour the taste sensation and often embarrass myself. My skill level is low, and I often spoon dollops of Acai and a cascade of roly-poly blueberries directly onto my multi-stained, old guy sweatshirt. I have yet to see Jackie duplicate my sloppiness, but I am still a novice perfecting my skills, while she is the princess of Acai.

Revel offers three kinds of bowls; I am addicted to the Awesome. It sports coconut, cacao nibs, cherry granola, fresh fruit du jour, sliced banana and a drizzle of captivating, oozy peanut butter.

Jackie is hooked on the Libbey Bowl, largely because of its clever Ojai name, cinnamon granola and blueberries. She often brings her own supplemental toppings and is a wizard at piling them onto an already unsteady creation.

The two bowls were prepared a few minutes after she ordered them and put into Revel’s freezer where they could be retrieved when we arrived at the food shop; the place that has consumed much of Jackie’s disposable wealth over the last few years.

It was Sunday and the Farmers’ Market, coupled with wandering out-of-town looky-loos, produced an overflow crowd seeking a respite from the virus. We got our bowls and matching green kryptonite spoons and made a dash for our favorite bench.

This particular bench is part of our routine and the bowls don’t quite taste the same without it. Our faces dropped when we found the bench occupied by two young people who, in addition to being from LA (you can tell by the way they dress), were preparing to spend the entire week obstructing access to our favorite spot.

Even the less-desirable benches were occupied, further adding to my rapidly declining culinary desire. The second-class seating consists of an irregular two-foot rock wall that meanders around the grassy area and is a favorite place for animals to deposit the deconstructed remains of their food and drink.

We picked a decent spot midway between Bonnie Lu’s Café and Rains Department Store, carefully placed our fannies on the hard, bumpy surface, and took the tops off our bowls. My appetite was returning rapidly, and I put the cold, hard seat out of my mind. I dug into the bowl, felt its welcoming pushback, and came away with a delectable mixture of purple Acai, bits of crunchy granola and a big, fat blueberry. Life was good…until Rochelle showed up.

Rochelle is not quite with the program. Jackie describes her as being socially inept, including the annoying habit of affixing herself semi-permanently to anyone who is not quick or agile enough to avoid the encounter.

She also doesn’t believe that facemasks have any value. Nor does she care whether I do. This was displayed with aplomb when she sat down beside me, brought her face to within two feet of mine, and most assuredly deposited invisible Covid-19 droplets into my Acai bowl.

With my appetite once again ruined, I reset my mask and expressed my irritation. “If you want to join us, Rochelle, kindly move six feet away and put on a mask.”

In response, I received a volley of useful information, “Masks are useless. Nobody ever died because they didn’t wear a mask. The flu is a hoax. The government wants to control us. I want my freedom to do as I like.”

My first thought was to respond with cold, hard facts. Realizing the folly of this approach, I focused on her point about freedom and asked “What if a stranger wanted to sit naked on your front porch and take a dump in your flower box?”

Stumped for a quick response, she gave me room for more catchy repartee. “Think of it this way, Rochelle. You don’t have to believe that a mask protects you from anything. But if you wore a mask, your friends, who are few and diminishing, would be more receptive to your uninterrupted intrusions.”

Using my highly developed powers of observation, I realized that she was about to deposit more droplets of increasing size into my acai bowl. A once pristine bowl that was now a toxic waste dump.

As if heaven sent, a friend of Rochelle’s appeared and moved into range. She had overheard our battle cries and sat down, complete with a makeshift bandana that sort of masked her nose and mouth…a good sign. Introduced as Marilyn, she calmly proclaimed that I had basic human rights that should not be encroached upon by Rochelle.

A harbinger of reason, I thought. Until she said, “You know, masks have been shown to cause carbon dioxide poisoning, and wearing a mask weakens your immune system. Mask wearers have been unable to absorb the good microbes in the air to enhance their ability to develop resistance to other diseases. And personally, I fully support that Palm Beach, Florida woman who said to her County Commissioners…I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear, things gotta breathe.”

I rose from my rock seat and wished Rochelle and Marilyn good health. I then deposited my nine- dollar acai bowl in the trash. But in spite of my misgivings, I wondered if there wasn’t some truth in what Marilyn had said.

Maybe I won’t wear any underwear tomorrow.

Waiting’s a Bitch

It’s warm today and I’m sitting outside soaking up some heat. The air is still as concrete, and the only noise is coming from my neighbor’s pool pump.

Funny, I’ve never met this neighbor even though I can hear her movements on the other side of my concrete block fence. I wonder if she’s a Republican.

I wonder if she is as agitated as I am waiting for this thing to end.

Waiting for Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. A strange mix of states, all of which are mucking about in a feeble attempt to count ballots. To determine who’s the next guy to suffer the job of President.

Why must I go through this ordeal every four years? An ordeal that plays mind-games with my head. That takes me from high to low and back again.

It all began well before voting day, November 3. The onslaught of early voting only added to the suspense. Who were these people who voted early?

I started counting the days until election day two months ago. Watching my candidate on the screen, I found myself hoping he wouldn’t fall down and die…at least not until November 4. I feared that a Covid nasty would bring him to his knees.

I prayed that he’d stay conscious and erect at least until his running mate could assume the office.

Two weeks ago, I called son David and asked him what would happen if my candidate died after the election but before taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day. David Googled and found that the elected vice-president would take the oath. Unfulfilled, I asked him what would happen if both of them died before taking the oath; I think he’s still working on it. Meanwhile I have morbid thoughts about flag-waving guys wearing cowboy hats, racing around in souped-up Ford F-150’s.

I foolishly thought that I would feel better the closer we got to election day. Opinion polls seemed to be headed in the right direction, a comforting thought until I remembered what happened four years ago. To overconfident supporters I said things like, “Don’t count your chickens…” Or, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” Or the Yiddish, “Be quiet, you’ll give yourself a kinehora.” Mostly I just smiled and said nothing.

On election day Jackie was in LA. I was alone with a big TV set and afraid to watch it. I promised myself that I would not turn it on until 5pm. I called Bocalli’s and ordered a medium sausage pizza that left me without an appetite. I made myself a vodka martini that did little to calm my nerves. It took forever to chew the drink’s four olives with pimentos; I was certain they would ever enter my digestive system.

I turned on CNN which was once once a reliable, neutral observer. It was either that or MSNBC which probably called the election for my guy months ago. Or Fox, that rivals MSNBC for best in class for fantasy.

I sat on the couch, chewed on a lukewarm piece of pizza and stared at CNN. John King was standing in front of an electronic map, waving at it with what looked like a Sharpie. Magically, the map segments moved at his command and produced new maps of various permutations and combinations. I was impressed with his sleight of hand and his grasp of numbers but had no idea what he was talking about.

Only one hour past the election, and he was comparing historical data with current voting trends. What-if statements poured from his mouth as though he had a goal of predicting the outcome based on just the votes cast by my Aunt Tilly and my Uncle Max.

It was depressing. I watched the infallible polls being shredded. My guy was a sure loser. Maybe a good thing, since he probably wouldn’t make it to Inauguration Day anyway.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I brought up Netflix on my Roku TV and spotted Moneyball. The ten-year-old movie based on a true story stars Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. The team has just lost three of its top stars and Pitt has hired a numbers whiz kid played by Jonah Hill. They use statistics and probabilities to remake the team to the consternation of its on-field, old-time manager played by the late and lamented Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

I tried to keep my mind on the film but was constantly drawn back to CNN. I flipped back and forth. John King was still dazzling, and I was getting more depressed as the numbers seemed to be beating up on my guy.

It got worse and I fell asleep, probably from a combination of two martinis and a desire to escape reality. I awoke at 11, said good night to a tireless John King, sent Jackie a text, and went to bed where I spent a restless night having muddled thoughts about the upcoming calamity. I even tried to rationalize the worst by thinking about sweet revenge in 2022 and again in 2024…when I’ll be 85.

It’s no better today. I visit the NY Times, CNN, and Facebook with the rapidity of a Gattling gun. I wait for the other shoe to fall, hoping for closure yet dreading the outcome. 

Tomorrow I’ll knock on my neighbor’s door. Maybe she knows something. 

I had a bath on Sunday

I had a bath on Sunday.

sound bath. No water, just a gong and a few other musical instruments. Also known as gong therapy, the instrument is played in a manner that helps with healing, both spiritually and physically.

It was my second sound bath. The first was over a year ago at Healing In America, a laid back place in mid-Ojai that offers yoga, aromatherapy for trauma addiction, quantum energy therapy, and other mysterious programs that my friend Harry would scratch his head about.

My first bath was taken well before Covid when I and twenty others sprawled on the floor at Healing in America, a pillow under my head and a soft banky covering my body. In semi-darkness, I closed my eyes and listened to the gong. Almost an hour passed during which I saw colored lights, heard rapturous sounds, and finally arose feeling much better than when I started. It was, despite my usual cynical self, a surprising experience.

So I was looking forward to another sound drenching, this time at the Ojai Retreat. Offering overnight stays, the Retreat also hosts events that are perhaps not quite as esoteric as the offerings at Healing in America. Attempting to balance these services during a roller coaster set of Covid regulations would strain anyone’s capabilities. In addition, the Retreat has fallen on hard times and been forced to cobble together several sources of capital as it hangs on by its fingernails.

The road to the Retreat winds haphazardly through a residential area. One who is unfamiliar with the road’s twists would be well advised to avoid it at night; daylight trips are challenge enough.

As Jackie drove, I sat back in luxury, remembering how I once drove my father to medical appointments when he could not. Or my cousin Leonard who never learned to drive yet built a successful accounting practice, without ever getting behind a steering wheel. I could get used to this, and probably will, given my deteriorating night vision.

Arriving at the Retreat, I was surprised by the number of cars in the catch-as-catch-can parking lot. I wondered how many people could possibly be interested in a gong bath; then I remembered that this was Ojai, home to thousands who might be charitably viewed as a bit odd.

I thought there might be another event at the Retreat that was filling the lot; but at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, that was probably just wishful thinking.

Donning our masks, we marched up the ramp leading to the outdoor gathering and were greeted by Miriam and Edie who were collecting donations intended to keep the Retreat in business a few hours longer. We ponied up $15 apiece, chit-chatted a bit and walked outside into the event center.

In addition to a perfect view of the Topa Topas, we were confronted with people sitting in chairs, squatting on the ground, and sprawled horizontally on yoga mats. A quarter of the bathers were without masks. The mask-less appeared unconcerned, or perhaps stoned, and included four thirty-ish women who were lying shoulder to shoulder not a Florsheim shoe length from my feet.

I did not need Gavin Newsom to tell me that we were violating a bevy of Covid regulations, and throwing common sense to the winds.

The host of the wash-up began the proceedings by wading into the midst of the crowd, stopping at and towering over the diminutive Jackie. A nice enough fellow, he announced the mask requirement which seemed to have little impact on the four horsemen of the apocalypse laying at my feet. Mask-less himself, he punctuated his introduction with several mucous-ridden coughs that deposited Covid sized spittle onto Jackie’s arm.

The sound bath began, and I did my best to emulate my year ago experience at Healing in America. I closed my eyes, thought about my snuggly banky, envisioned the multi-colored lights and listened for the gong that would heal me. But all I could think about was the little Covid guys finding their way into my nostrils from perfect, or rather imperfect, strangers. I spent the rest of the hour guesstimating the remaining minutes until my release.

I wondered why I didn’t just grab Jackie and leap through the nearest exit. I was torn just like Tom Hulce, the protagonist in Animal House, who found himself pulled in opposite directions by his alter egos. The Angel and the Devil perched on his shoulders, spouting good and evil, as Tom pondered violating the sleeping young woman in his fraternity bedroom. Unlike him, I succumbed to the worst and remained to the end.

But my bath water would be forever cold and murky.

Mysteries of the Mask

I think that women are more mysterious when wearing a mask.

Women need no help to look more mysterious since I have consistently found them to be unfathomable as well as beautiful. I do not wish to demean their intellectual powers by focusing on their appearance. Their intellectual prowess is legendary as they have proven time and again that they can outmaneuver me with a calculated blink of an eye or a kind word.

The mask merely adds an additional element to the mystery. Before Covid-19, I was challenged only by what lay beneath the usual items of female garb. Slinky pants and strategically buttoned blouses regularly beckoned my curiosity. Always mindful of the prohibition against ogling or leering, I averted my eyes and let my mind do the gawking.

The mask adds yet another opportunity for exploration. It seems to invite a prolonged glance and a peek-a-boo invitation to linger. The eyes are the thing. They, as Shakespeare said, are the windows to the soul. And the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “The face is a picture of the mind while the eyes are its interpreter.”

The masked face does little to hide the emotions of the wearer since they are transmitted by the eyes. When unhappy, we signal it by furrowing our brow, making the eyes look smaller. When happy, we raise our brows making our eyes look larger or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Thoughts that may be erotic are also revealed by focusing on the eyes.

The wearing of a mask is perhaps most notoriously depicted in the 1953 film Salome. Although the plot line is somewhat muddled, Salome, as portrayed by Rita Hayworth, performs the Dance of the Seven Veils before the hopelessly in love King Herod, played by the chunky Charles Laughton. This is a prelude to the beheading of John the Baptist and the presentation of it on a platter, merely to satisfy the desires of the lovely Salome. The film, based on a story in the New Testament, takes great liberty in revising the bible. But no one notices since Rita is captivating in her see-through veil.

My personal mask experiences fall far short of the one suffered by John the Baptist. Since persistent ogling of masked Ojai women could cause Jackie to don a veil and shine up a platter, I have assured her that seeing her beautiful brown eyes appear just above the bed covers in the early morning light is a lovely mystery that will never be solved.

I keep an all-purpose mask hanging around my car’s turn signal wand. I also have two or three in a kitchen drawer. And more are on their way from Amazon. But no matter how many I own, I will more often than not forget to put one in my pocket when I leave the house.

Like today. Jackie and I went on our Bataan Death March at seven this morning. A ninety-minute, five mile hike that passes through a middle class neighborhood like ours, a somewhat seedy part of town where tear-downs sell for thirty times what a paid for my first house in 1962, and the Arbolada where no one can afford to live.

Despite her diminutive stature and lovely legs, Jackie sets a quick pace that I feel compelled to emulate. At 81 I need a bit of encouragement and Jackie supplies it in spades. “You are amazing. There is no one like you. You’re faster than me. When I met you, you couldn’t even roll down Signal Street.  Now you fly to the top of it.”  And other white lies to keep me from staying home and watching Netflix at 7am.

I thought we had ended the hike and were on our way home when I heard Jackie hum the first five bars of a Sousa march. I instantly knew the hike was not over and I waited for her instructions.  “Sweetheart, how about we walk over to Java and Joe for some coffee?”

More in need of an IV than a cup of coffee, I nevertheless said, “Sure, can’t wait to add another mile to our walk. Only pussies would think that sore feet and chest pains were justification for skipping such an opportunity.”

Unlike Red states where they believe the battle against the alien virus has been won or maybe never really existed,  we are compelled to wear a mask everywhere except mortuary embalming rooms, crowds made up solely of twenty-somethings, and persons old enough to remember who Mussolini was.

The re-opening of Java and Joe following a three-month hiatus was accompanied by Ventura County rules that I am sure were designed to make the coffee experience less joyful. Walking up to the glass entry doors, we are presented with signs that cover fully 95 percent of the available surface area. Welcome Back, But Don’t Loiter made me feel warm and fuzzy. Another, Forget About Cash, It’s Dirty, left a peculiar taste in my mouth.

I reached for my mask in my back pocket and, as is my custom, found none. Jackie, bless her type A personality, had two. I was granted temporary use of the spare and, despite our 24/7 sharing of breaths and a few body fluids, wondered what was hiding in the folds of the mask.

We entered the shop, found no one ahead of us and placed our order. What once seemed a trivial task, is now fraught with challenges. Masks on the faces of both the buyer and seller increase the probability that my coffee might be something other than what I ordered. And, it also makes me appear older and more senile when I constantly repeat the phrase, “What did you say?”

In the quest to avoid transfer of germs that may have taken up residence on the Splenda paper packet or the tiny half-and-half single serving container, the barista is forced to prepare your drink. The procedure eliminates the passage of germs from multiple users to your cup. But it does little to avoid transferring the barista germs to you. Especially given the other duties engaged in by these short timers.

It also removes some of the most satisfying do-it-yourself steps in the preparation process; the exact measurement of the sweetener, the pouring of the languorous creamy liquid, the perfect rotation of the wooden stirrer, and the proper click-sure placement of the black plastic top on the completed masterpiece.

I sorely miss my perfect coffee, however I will gladly suffer its indignities as long as I can freely indulge in the mysteries of a woman’s mask.

Maybe I’ve learned…

I was up at 4am  to take Jackie to the airport.

Still inky black outside. Added to my own questionable night vision, it made for a bit of stumbling around, light switch flipping, and getting my head on straight.

It takes 90 minutes to get to LAX when traffic is light. Given the corona virus reduction to the normal congealed traffic flow, we were confident that allowing a three-hour passage between our home and the boarding gate would put us there with time to spare.

Jackie checked her travel inventory three times before leaving the house. Smart phone, electronic boarding pass, driver’s license, hotel information and money…lots of it. Five hours of fitful sleep had little effect on her. Still beautiful and perky. We were stark contrasts in appearance and sparkle.

The eventual need for a parental trip to Eugene, Oregon was never in doubt. It was only when that was uncertain. Yesterday, Jackie heard from Sammy, her quarter-century-old daughter. She has been living for the last three months in Lost Valley, a forested facility that offers group living with food provided by the forest and gardens tended by the residents. No fats, sugar or gluten permitted here.

A wanderer seeking herself, Sammy has circumnavigated the better part of the planet. Tasting the offerings of Tucson, Ojai, Hawaii, and now Oregon, she was troubled by her inability to make a semi-permanent landing. Bright, capable, and likeable, her relationship with people was sometimes akin to that of the land.

Regular phone conversations between Sammy and Jackie were calm but often strained. Mother constantly sought ways to help daughter through the rough spots. Wanting to do it her way, daughter all too often rejected mother’s suggestions as being too directive. The desire for a closer mother-daughter relationship kept the mother perpetually engaged in searching for solutions and responding to daughter’s needs.

Yesterday was a turning point. Too difficult to go it alone, Sammy reached out for help. A burst of texts, phone calls and the involvement of others led to our 90-minute trip to LAX and Jackie’s arrival in Eugene four hours later. I am now at home in a quiet place that is much like a theater where one waits for the performance to continue. And for a happy Act One.

It’s been four months that Jackie and I have been living together, the last two as wife and husband. We have learned much about who we are, what we need and how much we love. Now we will add a third element to the equation as Sammy joins us. The relationship that Jackie and I have forged will assuredly undergo change.

I mentally list the possibilities. Some are funny. No more running around in my underwear. Muted sexual noises in the bedroom. Meals will taste different. TV programs will be vetted more closely. Laundry will require diligent sorting.

Some changes are serious and can have lethal consequences. Covid-19 will have three places to hide before pouncing to feast on one or all of us. Rules about visitors, how many and who they are, will need more analysis. Exposure to risks outside the home will be of greater concern.

Looking to share, I spoke with my daughter Nancy this afternoon. Willing to help in any way, she paused near the end of our conversation and said, “Who does this remind you of?”

“Steven, of course.” My son, talented and outgoing, he never met his potential. A gifted musician, he wrote, sang, and played a mean guitar. Dependent for financial support, he was nevertheless stubborn and unwilling to take parental advice. Calling us when in need. Usually avoiding us when happy. Concerned first with his own comfort, he marched to his own drummer. Against our advice, he spent the last months of his life looking for the magic bullet that would save him. He only found medical frauds willing to take advantage. I held his hand in his last week of life and I cried; he looked at me and tenderly said, “It’s okay, Dad.” It filled volumes.

I should have learned a lot from Steven. I should have learned how to give advice without sounding directive. I should have learned to let him live his own life, not mine. I should have been less argumentative and more loving.

Maybe I’ve learned. We’ll see.

Too much separation

Made margaritas last night. My special recipe calls for Jose Cuervo ready mix (it includes a modicum of tequila), another half-jigger of straight tequila (any old thing will do nicely), a wedge of lime and lots of ice.

The ice lends a cooling feel to your hand on hot late afternoons, except when it is poured into a cheap cardboard Dixie cup. Which is how we served it to four friends at 6pm yesterday on our patio in the waning heat of the afternoon. These Covid-19 gatherings have become more frequent since the virus became our guest… and progressively more inebriating.

Abiding by the rules of social distancing, we maintain six feet of separation, sort of. The first of our meetings was held in a school parking lot where space was plentiful but where the surroundings resembled East Berlin before the wall fell. We have since advanced to our participants’ backyards. To avoid depositing the virus in the sanctity of the home, we enter through a side gate. Lack of access to the host home during the patio party requires a degree of advance bladder planning.

Picking a seat on one’s patio is an adventure that involves thinking about the needs of your companions. Those who have some physical limitations are granted the seat of their choice. Seats are often reorganized after getting settled, sometimes more than once.

We began our parties by bringing our own snacks and beverages to avoid cross contamination as we foraged through piles of chips, a bucket of guacamole and freshly popped corn. That requirement has been less firmly applied of late as we bring snacks to share. That chink in the armor has been extended to the serving of alcohol. The use of  ever-increasing volumes of alcohol has loosened our tongues and our ability to maintain the six-foot rule. We brush by each other as we grab food and have difficulty remembering which paper plate is ours. Unlike glass, Dixie cups are never refilled; a fresh one is provided to minimize the mixing of the host’s germs with those of the guests.

A single cough or sneeze from one of our participants often quiets our otherwise noisy group as we mentally analyze the implications of this violation. Sheila, our host two weeks ago had, in addition to providing some lovely snacks, coughed twice and said, “It’s only an allergy.” To which I responded with Walter Cronkite inflection, “Six people were found dead on the Cohn’s patio this morning. The only survivor, Sheila, was heard to say, “But I was sure it was only an allergy.”

Regardless of the level of alcohol in my brain, I am sharply aware of all these risky moves. I used to calculate the number of days that I had to wait after each violation before my Covid-19 symptoms might appear. But there were so many of the violations that the practice was abandoned when I realized that an Excel spread sheet would be needed.

In addition to the peccadillos occurring on the patio, there were other less joyful opportunities elsewhere for virus mating. Around the home, door handles, car steering wheels, my computer keyboard and the mailbox were all highly suspicious and required enough hand soap to make Proctor and Gamble my new best friend.

Westridge market is a veritable cornucopia of opportunities. Selecting bananas, squeezing bagged loaves of olive bread, or reading the ingredients in a jar of avocado mayo was the least of it. The simple act of grabbing and dragging a shopping cart from a reluctant stack was enough to send me to the ER…regardless of whether it had been drenched in disinfectant.

Eating prepared meals to support local eateries was a crapshoot. Buying a Greek salad at Rainbow Bridge was unassuring despite its claim to being gluten free, organic, vegan and free range. Ordering take-out from Hakane Sushi was like participating in a Zombies Overrun New Jersey movie when I visualized the helping hands that had caressed my California roll. No amount of sake could erase that thought from my frontal lobe.

Pumping gas, a now infrequent event, includes the use of a paper towel kindly provided by the local Chevron station. Trying to wrap the towel around my hand is akin to tying my shoe with one hand. But then I forget about the germ-laden keyboard as I enter my zip code.

Face masks do little to comfort my anxiety. Wearing an NP-95 mask left over from the Thomas fire riddles me with guilt as I consider all the first responders who may be doing without. Wearing a home-made cloth one, while attractive, is surely unsuitable to keeping the virus from flying directly through my nostrils or embedding itself in my welcoming brown eyes. Much like Woody Allen in Sleeper, waking to a world that embraces smoking and banana cream pie, I assuage my concerns by fantasizing that the use of masks was really the cause rather than the prevention of the problem.

Our next patio party is Saturday. It’s one of the perks that come with pandemics.

Let’s get physical

The year flew by and one of my markers came due.

Annual physicals at my age are always an adventure. Blood chemistries are my favorite part; they reveal aberrations, trends and a shitload of data that hopefully pops up in blue rather than the less welcome red icons.

My normal routine begins about three months prior to my physical. I’ve been congratulating myself for nine months but realize that happy times may be ending. Nine months of ignorant bliss evaporate as I mentally review the things I was worried about last year and prepare myself for results devoid of happy faces icons.

Blood pressure, PSA score, and hemoglobin levels are my A Team of things to worry about. The dire consequences of negative scores produce thoughts that make marching to the guillotine seem like a walk in the park. Visions of a heart attack, prostate cancer (complete with surgically produced impotency), and the requirement for round the clock kidney dialysis help me while away the hours until my day with Dr. H. My perennial low cholesterol, achieved despite shoving everything edible into my mouth, did nothing to cheer me.

The corona virus enhanced the joyous occasion and gave me something else to worry about whenever my dance card had an opening. As a level one hypochondriac, I think that all my symptoms, a cough, an achy shoulder, a warm forehead, a scratchy throat are all harbingers of the dreaded virus. On the other hand, a true affliction with Covid-19 might delay, or perhaps permanently postpone, my annual physical. Oh joy.

I had my blood drawn at Quest Lab three weeks ago. The phlebotomists were garbed in space suits while I was virtually naked. My veins were terrified of the creature with the needle and did the best they could by performing their much-practiced disappearing act. The alien creature won the battle with ax and jousting lance while I had the multi-toned black and blue marks to attest to the outcome. The vials of blood drawn from my conquered arm seemed a bit darker than usual. My clinically inaccurate observation once again filled a vacant spot on my dance card as I wondered if it portended dire results.

A week ago, I received an email from Quest announcing the on-line availability of my lab results. I was torn. In true pussy tradition, I decided to ignore the invitation and wait for Dr. H to announce them during my visit. I took this route knowing that his approach generally downplays the negative while cheering the positive. Had I taken the other option, negative scores would hang over my head for a full week before being coddled by Dr. H.  I congratulated my good thinking.

Wednesday, the day of my physical, arrived without any aberrant clinical symptoms; I got out of bed. Dressed and fortified by the vegetable juice stolen from Jackie’s personal stash, I drove to the clinic. Forewarned, I brought my flimsy face mask with the cute koala bear icons. It has four ties that must be fastened behind the head. It was the third time I had tried this acrobatic maneuver; fortunately, I completed the task before I could suffer a debilitating stroke from the effort.

I was a bit early for my 8am appointment and filled my time browsing the NY Times on my iPhone. The headlines had words that included catastrophic, pandemic, crisis and panic. They did little to soothe my already fragile psyche.

The door to the clinic opened and a creature who looked like an astronaut doing a space walk outside the International Space Station came out with a table and various implements. We spoke without the benefit of an interpreter, and I was heartened to discover that it was nurse Kathy.

She took my temperature and measured my oxygen saturation level with that cute little device that attaches to your finger. The device shoots beams of light through the blood in your finger and measures the changes in light absorption and eventually the amount of oxygen flowing to the farthest part of your body. I passed and was given a sticky note that looked suspiciously like the hall passes I got in high school.

I was weighed and measured. Still wearing my cute koala bear mask, I had my blood pressure taken and was escorted to an examining room. Devoid of magazines and deprived of my cell phone, I settled back for some serious meditation.

Dr. H arrived and, despite a professional looking face mask, seemed to be in good spirits. Not always a good sign, I wondered if I was being set up for a rude awakening and I refused to join in the gaiety.

He asked me some general questions about my aches and pains (none debilitating), my exercise routine (over the top), sleeping habits (whenever I can), and sexual habits (whenever I can). So far so good. Our adventure through the lab tests proved unexciting. Blood good, PSA stable.

We then did the old-fashioned thing. Dr. H listened to my heart and seemed to linger a bit longer than usual. A brief dissertation on heartbeat skipping led to a surprise EKG. What’s this heart crap, I thought. Blessedly, the results were devoid of any problems, and I thought that maybe someone was just reminding me not to take things for granted.

I smiled and silently thanked my parents for their genes. And I gave a big telepathic kiss to Jackie who had religiously forced me to eat my vegetables and dragged me on hikes along Shelf Road, uphill, both ways.

Who’s in charge anyway?

Brandi of Fancy Free Photography just sent us a link to our wedding photos. Viewing them, I smiled so much that the persistent rain clouds parted, and I felt physically uplifted. My breathing quickened, my eyes refused to blink, and my fingers clambered over my Dell keyboard as I scrolled haphazardly through the evidence of our wedding day.

Almost two hundred pictures leaped off the screen. Jackie, me, the two of us, our guests, the Rabbi, and the harpist cascaded down and across the screen, everyone a keeper. I could not get enough of them. They are worth the price of admission, but they hardly do justice to the herculean efforts that changed the occasion from a standard wedding of two lovers to an odyssey that might never have happened.

A year ago, as we shared Jackie’s sauna in her castle dungeon of a garage, we spoke of marriage and promised ourselves to each other. Even then it seemed like the beginning of a quest, complete with digitized monsters and other obstacles that block the hero’s path as he seeks the prize at the end of the latest video game.

Some gamers have what it takes to overcome a myriad of challenges. Taking the correct path, acquiring the latest weaponry and being quick on the draw are vital components. But the key to gamer success is accepting setbacks and then coming back for more. Nothing can divert their attention from the final objective. Difficulties on the way are quickly analyzed, corrections made, and then they’re back at it. Time is of little consequence. It simply must be done. No excuses or exceptions are permitted.

Jackie is a black-belt at overcoming obstacles and achieving her goals. Her talents would make short work of 2019’s most popular video games. Resident Evil, Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Sekiro, and Devil May Cry are child’s play for this woman. Older games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto 2 would be rejected out of hand as not being worth her time.

I’ve seen it up front and close. I consider myself diligent and loathe to procrastinate, but compared to Jackie I’m a slug. I look like a three-toed sloth compared to her cheetah-like movements. One better stay out of her way when she’s set her teeth. Best to just lean back, relax and watch things evolve.

I participated in determining the number of wedding guests. What started out as a family-only affair quickly grew large enough to repopulate Pompei following the eruption of Vesuvius. Other than that, my contributions to the event’s details consisted largely of cheering Jackie on with “Sounds good to me. Whatever you say, sweetheart. And, I’m available when needed.”

The wedding venue Azu, food selections, the officiating Rabbi, photographer, florist and harpist all fell nicely in place. Plans were completed and deposits paid. Then the corona virus appeared, uninvited and apparently angry at its exclusion from our guest list.

As the magnitude of the virus epidemic became pandemic, alterations to our wedding plans went from annoying to maddening.

Out of town guests dropped like flies. Who could blame them when their seat companion might be Senor Corona? Weddings are seldom first choice in most people’s vacation plans. Some guests, anxious to find any reason to stay home, might have been grateful for the rising rates of hospitalization reported by a media starved for news.

Much like a CNN talking head on election night, we constantly evaluated input from friends and relatives and considered postponing the blessed event. But, like a peregrine falcon zeroing in on a rabbit, Jackie stayed focused. “We are doing this now. No postponement. I’m not planning this thing again.” My weak contribution of a series of yes dears sealed my fate.

Pronouncements emanated from the Oval Office and the Governor’s Mansion. All seemed to have been conjured up solely to deep-six our wedding. No large gatherings. No gatherings of more than ten. Stay six feet apart. Stay home. This means you, Jackie.

The guest list declined by a quarter, then another quarter. In a show of solidarity, people dropped out who were never even on the guest list. I had visions of the attending, sad-faced guests wishing us well while contracting the virus from eating wedding cake, then falling at our feet. We decided to move the wedding to our house, thereby eliminating the potential cost of body removal from Azu’s bill. The guest list was trashed and a blizzard of E-vite mailings uninvited most of the remaining stalwarts.

The harpist was the first to quit. Jackie found another in the middle of the night. The florist threatened to throw the boatload of flowers over our fence to avoid contracting the malady, but Jackie sweetly reminded her of the contract she had signed. The cake baker left a terse message declining the pleasure of producing it; Jackie decided that cookies were good enough. The officiating Rabbi developed a nasty malady that prevented her attendance. Jackie called half of Ventura County and found a replacement who felt rabbinically protected from the heathen virus. Jackie was not to be denied.

On the off chance that either President Trump or Governor Newsom might swoop down on us, we performed the wedding in two shifts, each with few than six people. Others, stuck at home, could view the shrunken event via Zoom; at least we saved money on the food.

The threat of rain abated an hour before the event, and it remained bright and warm until an hour after its conclusion. I attribute that heavenly blessing to Jackie’s can-do reputation which goes well beyond these earthly environs.

Looking at the photos, you’d think that we always planned it that way. Maybe we did, but we just didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t your common garden-variety wedding. But then with Jackie in charge, you knew it was going to be spectacular.

The most precious thing

What is the most precious thing in the world?

What are the characteristics that make it so? A short list might include beauty, timelessness, desirability and scarcity.

Until last week, my most precious list would have included a unique jewel much like the Hope Diamond. At 45 carats, about a third of an ounce, the Hope luxuriates in Washington DC’s Museum of National History. Legend has it that the diamond is cursed and the owner, or anyone else who touches it, will die. Sort of like forgetting to clean your doorknobs of the Corona virus. If the stone was in the Museum’s gift shop, its price tag would be about $350 million plus tax. Not sure if they offer gift wrapping.

The Mona Lisa is also in the running. Housed in the Paris Louvre, the lady with the mysterious smile is estimated to set you back nearly a billion bucks, plus tax. Framing is extra. The Italian noblewoman, believed to be Lisa Gherardini, was painted by da Vinci around 1503. She displays an enigmatic expression that undoubtedly reflects Lisa’s awareness that twenty-first century art connoisseurs would assuredly be foolish enough to pay her over inflated price.

Faberge eggs have captured the imagination since the 1800’s when they were produced in Czarist Russia. Most were made for royalty, but the majority did not survive the revolution, or the misguided melting of the undervalued eggs for their gold. One such egg, purchased at a flea market fifty years ago for $14,000, currently has an estimated value of over thirty million. The ignorant flea market purchaser kept it in his Midwest home located next to a highway and a Dunkin Donuts until an antique dealer spotted it sitting next to some cupcakes on the owner’s Formica kitchen counter.

These three items have at least one thing in common. None have any utilitarian value. If you awoke next Monday morning and discovered that your Faberge was cracked, your diamond shattered or the Mona Lisa looking like DC Comics’ Joker, you would probably shrug and say something like easy come, easy go. Then turn over in bed, snuggle with your sweetie, and your morning would go on as always, without the diamond, the painting or the egg.

The most precious list takes on a wholly different flavor when we are faced with something that can seriously impact how we live. The current Corona crisis helps put things in perspective. Especially at the grocery store. Tough times with real or imaginary shortages of taken-for-granted items, often reveal some of our baser instincts.

In 1967 we lived in Chicago when we had 27 inches of snow in a single day. The freeway shut down and people used it as boardwalk to the nearest market. Gallons of milk disappeared from store shelves, probably into homes where it was never consumed. It surely spoiled before it could be wolfed down by people who hadn’t had a glassful since they were in Mrs. Weintraub’s first grade class.

Moving to Los Angeles that same year to avoid future blizzards, we were welcomed with earthquakes. The worst was the 1994 Northridge quake. No electricity. No open markets. We became a third world country overnight. Hot dogs from our non-functioning freezer were roasted over our still operating gas stove. Candles provided light. Empty fifty-gallon metal barrels appeared on the street; their burning wood scraps providing a place for people to gather. We avoided driving our cars, fearful that we might never find fuel in gas stations that could no longer pump it. Hush hush messages were shared with friends whenever a secret stash of store-based vitals was discovered; we invariably arrived too late to grab anything that we didn’t really need anyway.

The blizzard cleanup and the quake reconstruction were short term impediments to our lifestyle. They were localized, allowing billions of people to be mere TV voyeurs watching the drama unfold without being directly affected by the events. We intuitively knew that our lives would be restored to normalcy before the next Olympics.

In agonizing contrast, the Corona madness has the entire world at its feet. Any permanent respite is impossible to predict with any certainty. At seven every morning we watch ABC’s George Stephanopoulos lean forward in his Good Morning America swivel chair and tell us how god-damn awful this thing is. How the rate of infection will soon fill every hospital bed, the Superdome and all the sea-going Maersk shipping containers with victims who have no ventilators and no hope. How anyone George interviews is deemed crazy by him if they say things are getting under control. We multi-task by staring at the streaming crawler spewing more bad news at the bottom of our TV screen…repeating these disasters every sixty seconds. Like lemmings, we are too paralyzed to turn it off and switch to the fifteenth episode of the fourth year of our favorite depressing Netflix series.

Images of food shortages race through our frontal lobe. Some of us remember World War 2 ration books, victory gardens and meatless Mondays. We mentally inventory our available foodstuffs. We have no idea when this worst of all flu seasons will end. We see the Vons’ parking lot filled from six in the morning into the night. Cars sliding snail-like up and down the aisles looking to catch a break. We think they must know something we don’t. So we join them.

We grab an available cart, ladling germs onto the palms of our hands. We enter through the automatic doors, thankful we don’t have to touch them. We grab a disinfectant tissue and wipe our hands and the cart’s push bar. We dispose of the tissue on top of the overflowing garbage can.

Once fully inside, we stop. Where are we going? Left or right? So much to choose from. Better make up our mind quickly before someone else snatches our number one item while we procrastinate like Lot’s wife. We finally decide.

We stare at the overhead signs. And then we spot it. Paper Goods. We move quickly. Our heart is pounding. We look down the chosen aisle. Our eyes shift right. A sea of off-white metal meets our gaze. Having never seen an empty Vons display rack, we are momentarily stunned, unable to move. How is this possible?

Now we know what the most precious item is. What will change sensible shoppers into glutinous hoarders. What we can’t do without. Names that had little importance two weeks ago have come to the top of our most precious list. Northern, Charmin, Kirkland, Angel Soft, Cottonelle, Scott. All gone.

The Hope Diamond, the Mona Lisa and Faberge eggs are still available. But who gives a shit?

I’ve had enough Corona

Went to the board meeting at the synagogue Monday night. It’s a once a month thing that lasts about two hours. I generally last about one hour and then begin to fidget.

The chairs are reasonably comfortable but even the cushiest Ethan Allen lounge chair begins to grind into my butt after about thirty minutes. Jackie tells me that I have no meat on my fanny; I trust her judgment since she’s had ample time to explore the terrain.

Fidgeting can also be accompanied by pen twiddling, paper shuffling and tiny facial grimaces whenever I think the speaker has outworn his welcome. The face thing began earlier than usual that evening when one of the board members launched into a dissertation on the ravages of the Corona virus. Although a physician with access to the latest medical advances, I found his warnings akin to what the dinosaurs must have discussed as they anxiously awaited the giant meteor that ended their 150 million years reign on earth. We’ve only been around for 300,000 years, so we’ve got a lot to learn. Especially since learning from history is not one of our strong points.

Although there is overwhelming scientific support for the meteor theory, there are also believers in a virus borne plague that may have decimated the dino population. Dead animals who contracted the malady, let’s call it the Budweiser virus, were in turn eaten by the survivors. Then they succumbed to the virus that had ridden the coattails of their ingested friends. And then there were none.

My doctor friend did not predict a dinosaur-like event. But visions of prophylactic measures ran through my brain as he itemized what we should do to assure our survival. High on the list was hand sanitizer. But would there be enough Purell to save us from the Corona virus? Or would we emulate our luckless T-Rex ancestor by wandering down Ojai Avenue like zombies, seeking the flesh of former friends to assuage our hunger.

The following day I attended my Creative Writing class. The room was packed with senior citizens who were ideal Corona candidates. Old, a bit klutzy and with already compromised immune systems. Not to worry, since some of us had come armed with the now ubiquitous life-saving Purell elixir. However, my comfort level dropped several levels when one of my classmates announced that Purell was to be avoided because it causes cancer. She assured us that she had confirmed this on the web.

Terrified, I was left with a choice. Risk the Budweiser-like elimination of all human beings or suffer an oncological nightmare rendered by the emperor of all diseases. I fidgeted in my seat, fumbled with an over-sized paper clip and was inattentive while my colleagues audibled their heart-felt essays. The class ended and I wondered if an afternoon martini might restore my confidence.

A trip to the athletic club temporarily put off the martini. Peter was on the neighboring treadmill. Of similar ages, we greet each other, review yesterday’s news and share thoughts about how this country should be run. Realizing the futility of it, we move on to more important things. Surrounded by a sea of Kleenex and sanitizer wipes. Peter’s treadmill is gleaming from his efforts to keep it clean and germ free. He feels impervious to the virus.

We simultaneously complete our workout. I blithely pick up my germ laden cellphone and am about to walk down the stairs to the locker room. Peter calls to me. “Take this cleansing wipe, spread it out and use it to hold onto the stair railing.”  Not wishing to offend, I gratefully accept the moist tissue and make my way to the locker room. I immediately violate any benefit of the rail wipe when I dial the combination lock and collect a boatload of happy, invisible germs onto my fingers.

I enter the shower stall and wonder how much scrub time I should devote to each part of my body. God knows what’s invading me through the soles of my feet. The soap dispenser is particularly nettlesome. It’s a twelve-ounce bottle that requires a downward push on a plunger to dispense a marble sized glob of soap. I wonder who had been there before me. Did they deposit alien germs on the plunger? Am I to be undone by someone who is ignorant of proper shower etiquette? Why is there no Purell sanitizer in the shower stall? Doesn’t the club know that failure to sanitize could spell doom for all humankind?

Newly sanitized, I listen to KPCC as I drive home. Generally interesting, this NPR station normally covers a wide array of stories. Of late, the mind-numbing focus has been on Corona where statistics abound and are updated every nanosecond. Interviews with health professionals fill vacant airtime. Their message universally includes the case count, the death count and the don’t count on any vaccine for a year mantra. It concludes with an admonition of “don’t panic.” All of which causes me to panic.

I now listen exclusively to KUSC, the classical music station where, blessedly, Mozart never heard of Corona, or any other virus, while composing The Magic Flute.

Jackie and I plan to marry on March 22. Seventy-five invitees have decisions to make. Should they risk virus oblivion or throw caution to the wind, drink wine, eat good food and laugh with friends. Thoughts about my own well-being regularly enter my consciousness. It is not a fear of contracting the dreaded illness. It’s being physically unable to attend my own wedding. An event that includes flowers, photos, a cake, a harpist and, potentially, a bunch of forfeited deposits.

I lie half awake this morning and wonder what would happen if I am sick on March 22. I decide that nothing short of a meteor direct hit will keep me from it. I see it now. Although bed ridden, I arrive at the wedding venue speeding down Ojai Avenue in a white LifeLine ambulance with sirens blaring. We have a reserved parking space right in front. I’m wheeled from the vehicle on a gurney. A drug infused IV is embedded in my right arm. I sign the Ketuba. I’m under the chuppah with lovely Jackie hovering over me. We recite our vows. Rabbi Lisa pronounces us married. I’m happy.

After all, who needs Purell when you’re in love?


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