Archive for the 'Virus' Category

A Mask is More than a Mask

You would have thought that the benefits of wearing a mask during this pandemic had finally become settled science. And that only loons would be resisting the call of the mask. But then you’d be wrong.

“Americans are rarely up in arms when they see signs that require them to wear shoes or shirts because abiding by those standards is part of our culture,” says NYU expert David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences.

“There’s a certain bravado of being angry and defying requirements to wear a mask,” he continued.

“Those who choose not to wear masks may feel a sense of solidarity, like they’re taking a stand against authority,” Professor Abrams concluded.

“Once Trump clearly did not wear mask in public, it transmitted a signal that if you’re a good supporter of the president you don’t wear a mask,” reported Chris Jackson of IPSOS public affairs.

Like the learned persons noted above, I’ve often wanted to be quoted in the media, but I’ve never said anything worthwhile. So, in my continuing quest for a memorable byline, I decided to wander through the Ojai metropolis hoping to capitalize and report on the wear/don’t wear issues facing my fellow citizens.

I thought that taking their photos would be a good way of breaking the ice with them. I therefore armed myself with my most impressive piece of camera equipment as a way of assuring potential interviewees that I was indeed the real thing, and someone to be reckoned with. It also would add credence to my encounters with young women who might have otherwise thought that I was merely a dirty old man hoping to take closeup pictures of their breasts and tight shorts.

I love taking photos of people but am a bit reluctant to approach strangers for fear of rejection. To minimize that possibility, I developed a sure-fire way of addressing the problem that featured an elaborate introduction.

“Hi. I’m taking photos of people wearing masks. Can I take yours?” It was a guaranteed winner.

Slinging my camera over my shoulder (it looks a lot cooler that way than draping it around one’s neck) my adventure began with a mid-morning stroll through the grassy plaza between Bonnie Lu’s and Rains, used primarily by pet owners who have nowhere else for their loved ones to take a dump.

My first encounter involved a young couple and their dog.

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“Why are you wearing a mask?” I pointedly asked, adding, “And why isn’t your obviously disinterested dog wearing one?”

The young man replied, “We formerly were terrorists from Afghanistan and have worn masks since we were three. The dog is a Trump supporter and refuses to wear one. He’s a Birther too. We only take him with us so he doesn’t get pissed and crap on the carpet.”

I next wandered over to the plaza fountain and discovered a bevy of young women who were enjoying the warm day and doing a lot of giggling.

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I asked the cute brunette, “What brings you to Ojai on this beautiful day and why are you covering up that lovely face?”

“We don’t work, and we live with our parents who support us financially. We’ve got everything we need in our big house in the Arbolada. I love these Acai bowls from Revel even though we all know they are worse for you than what you get at Ojai Ice Cream. But I ignore it like everything else in my life and hope it will all work out without me doing anything.”

“But what about the masks?” I said.

“Oh, the masks. We just think they are really cool looking. We pick up guys much more easily and never have to show them our faces. Maybe someday they’ll make a body mask too.”

Leaving the lovely ladies, I decided to circumnavigate the plaza and found this young man standing outside the Tortilla House on Signal Street.

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“You’re obviously an upstanding citizen. What brings you to the Tortilla House and why are you wearing a mask?”

“I’m a big Trumper and I only go to restaurants that fly the flag. I’d dump this shitty mask which has been proven to be of no medical value, but Jose the owner will call the cops on me. Can’t wait till Trump is re-elected and we can trash the masks, get rid of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ban Yoga, and shut down every Vegan food joint in this town.”

I thanked him for his patriotic insights and moved on. Mid-way on Ojai Avenue, I found this trucker in front of Osteria Monte Grappa.

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“Welcome to our town,” I began. Why are you wearing a mask and aren’t you worried about exposing yourself to all these stores and people?“

“I have no idea if these masks are any good. But I figure what have I got to lose?” And my covered face makes me even more attractive to the girls. In fact, I just picked up a cute brunette near the plaza fountain.”

I was getting tired and decided to call it a day. On my way I found these two women near Rains department store.

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“Ladies, you look exactly like native Ojaians should look. Do you mind if I take your picture?”  (I had dropped any elaborate explanation of why I was doing this since no one seemed to care and everyone wanted their picture taken anyway.)

The more statuesque of the two said, “Yes, please take our picture with our masks. And could we have a copy? We’d love to send it to our kids who live in L.A. and who worry that we are exposing ourselves to the virus by shlepping all over town without proper precautions. They foolishly think we’re getting senile, especially when we tell them that President Wilson assures us that he has the Spanish Flu under control.”

I laughed, packed it in and, after discussing the pros and cons of The League of Nations, I said good-bye to the ladies and asked them who they would be voting for this November.

“Why Mr. Harding, of course.”

In retrospect, I consider my mask adventure a great success. Only a quarter of the people I met seemed to have any thoughts about the medical value of face coverings. Which is probably a good thing since all that does is cause arguments. And besides, the Swine Flu is right around the corner. Good thing President Ford is planning to vaccinate all of us.

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.

A two-hour wait

It was Bella’s Zoom assisted college graduation and we trooped to Santa Barbara on Sunday for a near-virtual celebration. We paid our serious respects to Covid-19 by taking separate cars; three for the six Sandoval aunts and grandparents, and one for Jackie, Sammy and me.

The 101 headed north was like its old self. Cars filling the three lanes tested my somewhat dormant driving skills.  Speed limits were largely ignored, and lane changes were executed by uncaring Mario Andretti wanna-be’s.

Following Siri’s instructions, we exited the 217 freeway and found ourselves surrounded by the UC Santa Barbara campus. The buildings were as lovely as the weather. Colorful, beckoning and blending into their surroundings. A perfect place conducive to study, whenever party time ended.

Very few students were dressed in graduation garb, including the traditional black robes and mortar boards with tassels.  A smattering of proud parents was taking photos. I day-dreamed about what was facing these graduates as they moved into the next phase of their lives. And I shuddered.

I thought about my own graduation sixty years ago. Held on a warm June day, several thousand of us filled the stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The same stadium that saw my hero, Dick Butkus, graduate a couple of years later. He had finished battering his college football opponents and had gone on to terrorize the NFL as an all-star linebacker.

I saw my father wearing his little used hounds-tooth sport jacket, his bald head topped by the brown fedora that now resides in my son David’s Berkeley home. My father wasn’t big on congratulatory messages nor did he do much hugging or kissing, but I could see he was proud of his son by the glint in his eyes.

My years after college were predictable. Got my diploma, got a job, got married, got three kids. No mystery. No big career path surprise for most graduates. Those who followed a different route were few. Jobs were plentiful, the economy was healthy, and you were expected to follow a standard script, often amply endowed by parents who had bankrolled your education.

The kids at UC face other challenges. A world that has become much bigger. Information overload. An economy that is less welcoming, and a threat from alien viruses. They are more curious than we were and less willing to declare a path for life.

Regaining my concentration, we wound our way through the Eden-like campus that was quiet and practically devoid of cars. Exiting the campus, we drove through neighborhoods populated with somewhat seedy rentals; ones that appealed mostly to starving students. We found Bella’s bicycle strewn bachelor pad. We tooted our horns, waved our balloons, and displayed our hand-written congratulatory signs. All at a socially acceptable distance.

It only took five minutes to abandon those distancing rules. I felt little shame in asking to use the bathroom for a pee break and found my way impeded by another person with similar needs. So much for maintaining the pristine nature of Bella’s digs; one that catered to the somewhat haphazard household requirements of three college roommates and an exceptionally large Alaskan Malamute. My contribution to the disarray was but a drop in the bucket.

We bid Bella good-bye, now a somewhat wealthier woman, and thought about lunch. Given the current frenzy caused by Covid-19 and its peripatetic regulation alterations, we figured that finding a compliant place to eat would be akin to locating the holy grail.

Using the knowledge available only to Siri, we found Brophy Brothers at the harbor in Santa Barbara. It took ten minutes to drive there and a whole lot longer to absorb the sight of packed parking lots and much of the Earth’s population. We were astounded to find an empty spot practically at the water’s edge and congratulated ourselves at our good fortune.

Taking our Covid-19 threatened lungs in hand, we donned our facemasks and began the short walk to Brophy’s. It looked like Easter break in Miami Beach or Cancun. Hordes of young people paraded before us showing no evidence of any concern over their exposure to Covid. On the contrary,  young nubile women exposed much of their skin to public view, wearing bikinis that were at least two sizes smaller than their raging hormone filled bodies. My facemask served me well by camouflaging my perverted drooling.

Brophy’s welcomed our tired and hunger ravaged bodies. The view from the restaurant was captivating. The anticipation of perfectly fried, crispy calamari dipped in spicy mayo, lemon-garlic scampi drenched in melted butter, and a cold Cadillac Margarita teased my taste buds. With expectations like my own, Jackie stepped up to the host at the reception desk. Using her sweetest voice, she said, “Please, do you have a table for three?

The host responded with, “It’ll be two hours.”

He could have been more sympathetic and said, “I’m sorry and wish I could help you.”

Or “You’ve obviously come a long way and the old fella with you must be exhausted. But I’m afraid there is a busload of nuns ahead of you who’ve come all the way from the Vatican to savor our famous Brophy Bloody Mary.”

Dejected and still hungry, Jackie and Sammy arm wrestled over the next choice of dining pleasure. Both ladies, exhausted by the combat, agreed to try the strip mall where Jackie buys fresh pressed juice.

We walked back from Brophy’s to the car, bouncing off people who had apparently never heard of social distancing. With every step I felt my chest tighten, my throat become scratchy and my body temperature rise to 100.4 degrees. I was certain that I had become the first person to develop the virus after only a seven-minute exposure to an asymptomatic beach bunny.

We found Pani’s, a take-out joint right next to Vons and ordered three salads. They arrived in generic cardboard boxes. An impossibly resistant cellophane package eventually regurgitated a plastic knife and fork. While shoveling food in my mouth, I only slopped two dollops of oily salad dressing on my shirt, re-enforcing one of the negatives about getting old.

There was no one within thirty feet of us. It was heaven.

 

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.

Who Was That Masked Man?

If you haven’t spent all your time violating social distancing rules and fingering the cops in Newport Beach, you probably know about Mr. Trump’s carefully thought out cure for Covid-19.  His willingness to experiment on others with ultraviolet light in combination with the injection of household disinfectants, proves that he is indeed a modern day Jonas Salk, and an expert in dreaming up innovative techniques that will allow us to get back to what we were doing before the virus. Like watching TV and boozing it with the neighbors, eating triple-decker Carl’s cheeseburgers in the comfort of their yellow plastic seats, and having sex with strangers who don’t wear masks.

I also have it on good authority that Mr. Trump is convinced that there are untapped benefits to the revival of other drugs and procedures that were once believed to cure many challenging conditions. Accordingly, he has ordered Dr. Deborah Birx, the president’s corona response coordinator, to research possible solutions for eliminating the virus.

You may recall seeing Dr. Birx on TV, head down and looking for a place to crawl under, as Mr. Trump described his enthusiasm for the Bright Light and Lysol Solution to Covid-19. Her less than enthusiastic reception to Mr. Trump’s scientific dissertation last Thursday was replaced on the following Sunday talk shows with a more nuanced response; one that undoubtedly resulted from a hastily convened private chalkboard presentation to her by the president.

Since then Dr. Birx has focused exclusively on the president’s priorities. Her plate is overflowing as she wades through trepanning (drilling holes in your skull to allow the escape of evil spirits), bloodletting with leeches, electroshock therapy, beneficial maggots, and frontal lobotomies like the one performed on Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Not to be upstaged, the vice-president, looking for something to do, has formed a special task force dedicated to the evaluation of the benefits of wearing face masks. A true American hero, Mr. Pence has established two volunteer groups. One in which everyone wears a face mask and a second which includes only him. Over time, Mr. Pence will compare the number of infections in the masked group with those of his own. He has studied the creation of double-blind tests and is convinced that his methodology is likely to produce one of the most exciting outcomes of the pandemic.

During a trip to the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday, Mr. Pence identified a further benefit to keeping his face uncovered. Doing so allows him to “look workers in the eye” while thanking them for their efforts. When reminded by his aides, who were all wearing masks, that a mask does not cover the eyes, Mr. Pence said “Really?” Asked by reporters whether his lack of a facial covering was a knee-jerk reaction to the president’s disdain for face masks, the vice-president reiterated the importance of his double-blind test and said that putting a mask on would invalidate the results, waste taxpayer money, and keep him from fulfilling god’s plan.

Mitch McConnell, who took time out from suggesting that cities and states declare bankruptcy rather than take federal government handouts, joined the face mask discussion. A frequent guest on Fox News Sunday, he took nearly all his allotted time with Chris Wallace to thank the president and vice-president for their leadership and their unselfish willingness to die because they refused to wear a fifty-cent mask.

Mr. McConnell then revealed that being patriotic, he had joined Mr. Pence in his double-blind test and was fully committed to seeing it through despite the probable dangers of wearing a face mask. He explained that he would religiously wear a mask, even while eating. When Chris noted that Mitch’s approval ratings had suffered a thirty-point drop in the latest polls, the Senator opined that the mask might have the additional benefit of helping him remain hidden from view and thereby retain his Senate seat.

Struggling to keep political pace with the president’s call for more virus research, Joe Biden had mixed feelings about wearing a face mask. Queried by Chuck Todd on this Sunday’s Meet the Press, he said he doesn’t want to look like a pussy and so he makes his on-screen appearances unmasked. Concern about contracting the virus coupled with his advanced age, inability to complete a sentence, and his questionable hair style, Mr. Biden admitted to being torn. Helpfully, Mr. Todd suggested that Joe might consider joining the vice-president’s double-blind face mask trial and so put the blame for wearing one on the rules of the trial.

To which Mr. Biden responded, “Why don’t you say something nice instead of being a smartass all the time?”

What earthquake?

There was a 3.7 earthquake in Los Angeles this morning, and no one seemed to care.

My morning corona virus routine began with a treadmill romp in the exercise room. Walking at a three miles per hour blazing pace, I stared at the TV and soaked up the morning news on my local ABC station.

Miriam Hernandez was saying something about an earthquake and finished that intro with a hand-off to John Gregory who was standing at the epicenter of the quake in Windsor Hills. It is a small hole in the wall near Inglewood; a larger hole in the wall famous for the Fabulous Forum where Kareem and Magic taught basketball to lesser mortals who were foolish enough to challenge them.

The Lakers have long since departed the Forum for fancier digs downtown. The once fabulous venue now hosts events including the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, Men’s Freestyle Wrestling World Cup and my favorite, the Super Flyweight World Championship.

The excitement generated by these events might normally have been eclipsed by a 3.7 quake. But there was John, standing alone in the street, attempting to rouse us from our coma-like, corona-induced slumber. He did his best with mind-grabbing one-liners including no injuries have been reported, no visible damage can be seen, and calls to 911 were underwhelming.

To put things in perspective and add an element of humor to his broadcast, John might have given us a quick tutorial on the Richter Scale.

Developed in 1935 by Charles Richter at the California Institute of Technology, it’s a logarithmic scale that probably means nothing to you, so I will skip any explanation of it. Suffice it to say, the scale measures a quake’s amplitude by the size of the wiggles on an earthquake recording…just like those on an EKG readout of your heart. Being logarithmic, each whole number increase in Dr. Richter’s amplitude scale is ten times greater than the previous number. At 6.7, the amplitude of the 1994 Northridge quake was 1,000 (10x10x10) times greater than the 3.7 one this morning.

Continuing to impress you with my knowledge of logarithms, the Richter Scale also measures the energy released by a quake. Even scarier than amplitude, each whole number increase is about 30 times greater than the prior number. Ergo, the Northridge quake released energy that was 27,000 (30x30x30) times greater than the one being featured by John this morning. More to the point, that is why my fish tank fell over in the Northridge quake while I slept blissfully through today’s puny tremor.

The quest for Covid-19 newsworthy items continues to dominate the media, further stretching John’s ability to satisfy our appetites with something like a mini-quake. However, I have noticed a slow creep of other news items that had once filled my TV screen, prior to Man vs. Covid-19.

For example, two days ago, a mass murder in Canada got a half-day of coverage, then exhausted its welcome when the police in a small New Jersey town got an anonymous tip about a body being stored in a shed outside one of the state’s largest nursing homes. Arriving there, the cops found 17 bodies lying about with Covid-19 etched on their foreheads. This was enough to shove any news about this Thursday’s NFL draft to a status well below the day’s most appealing pasta recipe.

Poor Joe Biden, who has never worn the mantle of Mr. Excitement, was pictured exhorting his admirers to storm the White House. He was quickly placed on the inactive list when he was upstaged by a Covid-19 mother in the Bronx tending to the needs of her six kids and a dog.

Donald Trump briefly tweeted into the spotlight when he decided to stop all border crossings. The business community angrily noted that this would cut the number of day laborers by two-thirds and further threaten the already fragile food chain. Realizing that he had just alienated his base and potentially caused irreparable damage to his favorite cereal, Captain Crunch, Mr. Trump said his tweet had been misinterpreted and was meant to apply only to crossings made from American Samoa.

Signs that the virus is losing some steam make new crises harder to find. Or maybe we are simply becoming bored with the whole thing. Face masks, while de rigueur, no longer attract the attention they once did. What started out as a quest for the holy grail has turned into a complete face-covering wardrobe with masks for day use and others specifically for nighttime entertaining.

Flag waving, horn honking moms wearing cowboy boots filled TV screens for a time, until mildly disinterested viewers realized that these protesters were a poor substitute for the Tea Party. Tired of schlepping the heavy flags and with a growing inability to understand how their deaths from the virus might make them more patriotic, they closed up shop and joined the ranks of those other patriots who refuse to vaccinate their children.

But not to worry about content as there will shortly be juicier Covid-19 adventures to fill the void. As noted in today’s Washington Post….

By the end of the week, Georgia residents will be able to get their hair permed and nails done. By Monday, they will be cleared for action flicks at the cineplex and burgers at their favorite greasy spoon.

And it will almost certainly lead to more novel corona virus infections and deaths.

As several states — including South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida — rush to reopen businesses, the sudden relaxation of restrictions will supply new targets for the coronavirus that has kept the United States largely closed down…

An 8.0 quake will seem like a walk in the park.

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.

A Place in the Sun

I went to Westridge Market this morning looking for a few things to make this really yummy sounding pear recipe. Pears, blue cheese, tart dried cherries, lemons and brown sugar. I already had the final ingredient, port wine, at home. Port is not my favorite mind bender, but until it spoils it can serve as a safety net if I exhaust my scotch, gin, vodka and bourbon. Oh, and the white wine too.

I visit the local markets frequently. It’s something to do while the virus tracks me down and a bit of a challenge. I’ve made a game of it, with toilet paper playing a leading role. Other less challenging roles are assigned to canned goods and baking supplies. All have been in short supply and the game has become more problematic as the days go by. Dire messages from the news-hungry media and the President’s semi-factual, self-taught pronouncements have encouraged me to stock up in anticipation of the rapid evolution of a new ice age populated only by cockroaches, termites and English sparrows.

This morning’s Play Station worthy episode began with an exploration of the offerings available on the Internet. I dove into the quest anticipating the usual disappointment. The object of my desire, toilet paper, was unavailable at Costco, Amazon or Vons. “Out of Stock” was the most popular response to my incessant clicking. “Available in June” was a close second. Visions of self-imposed constipation lit up my morning.

Convincing myself that there was a critical, not to be postponed, need for the components of my pear recipe, I drove to Westridge. Optimistic, I extracted two cloth grocery bags from my trunk, dropped them into one of several thousand empty shopping carts and wheeled my way into the store. Shelved stock was pathetic, except for liquor which seems to self-regenerate without human intervention. Usually abundant, now scarce, cans of tomatoes were standing apart from one another as though they too dreaded the touch of some other can’s corona-infested tin cladding.

The object of my search was two aisles removed from the unsocial tomato cans. Not wishing to seem obvious, but also wary of losing my place to others, I moved casually in a feigned disinterested manner.  I stared down the coveted aisle. Shelves normally laden with rolls of toilet paper were barren. I cruised aimlessly down the empty shelves and noted the signs that were taped to the metal. Written unceremoniously with a Sharpie, they severely admonished hoarders. Three Rolls to a Customer. Leave Some for the Next Guy. No Exceptions. I half expected that I’d find one that said Get Used to It or a page of instructions, complete with photos, demonstrating a more efficient way of wiping your fanny. There were so many signs that, for a moment, I thought I might take them home as substitutes for the real thing.

I wondered how, if they really had toilet paper, they would enforce the no more than three rolls per customer rule. Could a family of four, including two infants nestled in the shopping cart, buy twelve rolls? Might a couple split their groceries and check out separately doubling their bounty? Could the same purchaser check out three rolls, exit the store, come back five minutes later and get a second helping? Could seniors double-dip since they tended to make more daily visits to the throne than younger people?

As I stood there fantasizing, I glimpsed a flash of white set back in the shadows of the bottom shelf. My heart raced as I reached in and grasped it. A roll that had somehow eluded my competition was now mine. It bore no resemblance to any of the usual brands. It was clumsily wrapped in nondescript paper and looked as though it might have been previously fondled and rejected by several seekers less amorous than I.

I stared at the roll in my hand. I’ve learned a lot about toilet tissue while cruising the web. Number of layers and the thickness of each prominently jump to the top of the list of important characteristics. Some rolls have more sheets, but each sheet may be thinner. Or shorter. The status of your septic system may trounce all other considerations. These critical issues should cause one to pause as they review the qualities that most closely match their particular preferences.

Rolls made for commercial use often have narrow holes in the center of the roll that make it unsuitable for hanging on your common garden-variety tissue holder. Perhaps this deliberate impediment limits the number of rolls purloined by employees or visitors who don’t want a hundred feet of toilet paper cascading down the center of their bathroom. If you have ever attempted to re-roll a runaway roll, you know what I mean.

These industrial rolls are often sold in boxes of sixty or more. Rejected in normal times, these lifetime supplies from China are now in demand. However, one must often give up one full space in a two-car garage to house these monstrosities. And what about the impact on the neighbors’ sensitivities when seeing the over-sized cartons being wheeled off the large shipment FedEx truck. On the other hand, an otherwise cranky but needy neighbor can become your new best friend overnight.

There I was, holding an orphaned, undersized and rejected roll of paper. One that normally would have been consigned to the parking lot dumpster. But today, it was found gold. I placed it lovingly in the center of my shopping cart and began my march to the checkout station. And then I wondered what I was doing.

Had I become so besotted with my search for toilet paper that I had lost my sense of proportion? Was I so bereft of my senses that the acquisition of one runty ill-wrapped roll could consume me? Did I even know how many rolls I already had or even where I had stored them?

My accomplishment paled as I reached the checkout. I felt a twinge of embarrassment as I tossed my purchases onto the conveyor belt. I was sure the checker was thinking “Poor guy. Only one roll of toilet paper.  And then what?  I shudder to think.”

Bagging my purchases into my own ancient, germ-infested cloth bag revealed the extent of my shame. The toilet paper went first, to be buried by my other menial purchases before anyone but the checker could be made privy to my dismal situation.

Arriving home, I considered possible storage locations for the orphan. Housing it with rolls that had familiar pedigrees like Scott and Charmin just would not do. On the other hand, a dark, recessed place of its own seemed too harsh on the little fella.

I decided that anonymity was the best course of action. Unwrapping the roll gave it life and a certain air of mystery. Able to assume any identity, it is no longer an outcast as it hangs with honor waiting to serve me.

I think both of us are quite happy with the way it all turned out.

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?


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