Archive for the 'Virus' Category

French Fries

The snack bar at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club is not known for its vegan dishes nor for any self-imposed limitation on the saturated fat globules served up to its otherwise health-conscious members.

The Club recently began a Tuesday dinner soiree that continued its happy-go-lucky diet of mind-numbing weekly specials that featured burgers, fries and, just in case you burned too many calories in the lap pool, a hearty pile of macaroni and cheese.

This heart stopping road to perdition was sidetracked this past Tuesday with a surprise offering that included a garden salad and salmon.  Jackie brought this dietary turnabout to my attention and offered to treat me to a night out two days later. Jackie’s daughter, Sammy, rounded out the guest list with her youthful friends, Esmerelda and Sergio.

A warm, soft, east wind surrounded us as we emerged from the club and stepped onto the stone-age designed back patio. Three young women were participating in a mind-bending yoga class designed for those who seek new ways to challenge how nature has constructed the human body. I felt a bit guilty thinking about food while they huffed and puffed, so I decided to think of them as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Jackie had ordered our meals in advance. We retrieved them from the pickup window, got two glasses of chardonnay and sat down at the indestructible wrought iron table. Opening the Covid-induced ubiquitous cardboard box revealed a leafy salad that had been blessed with a few microscopic bits of salmon.

Having just met Esmerelda and Sergio, I restrained myself from complaining about the relative absence of fish and went to work on the salad. Sammy had mystically anticipated the non-caloric salad and had compensated for it by conjuring up two large tubs of fries; I attacked them with little regard to the needs of our dinner companions.

We filled the air with words that smoothed the raw edges caused by making a first-time contact with relative strangers. One’s physical appearance became less important as our conversation continued. We discovered some commonality in our backgrounds and, though unsaid, I was sure we shared similar political views.

Prompted by Jackie, the vaccine moved front and center. “Have you had your shots?”

“No.”

“Do you plan to get them?”

“No.”

“Any special reason?”

“I don’t want anything put in my body that’s likely to cause a problem. For example, I’ve heard that…”

And then Sergio launched into a litany of the negative effects suffered by the millions who have already embraced the vaccine…or for that matter, any vaccine.

The salad wilted and the fries congealed.

I found it useless to pursue the matter as I had no facts to contest his claims of the danger of government supported vaccines, nor of a miracle Asian compound that had been shown to prevent Covid from entering the body and alternatively cure anyone who already has the disease.

In retrospect, I wish I would have said that the Federal Trade Commission regularly sends warnings to companies advising them to stop making unsupportable claims about curing Covid…or the absence of any deaths due to the vaccine…or the rise in the incidence of the disease attacking younger people…or…

And then I thought, “What the hell, it’s a beautiful evening, I’m here with very nice people, I ate some delicious French fries…and I’ve had both my shots. They’ll figure it out.”

At least they’re not Republicans.

Countless Days

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clearer again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

I was sitting on the couch enjoying a giant Wagamama bowl from Hip Vgn and watching CNN’s Chris Cuomo berate some poor guy whose only crime was that he mistakenly thought Chris would be in a more benevolent mood after months of venting his anger by stomping Republicans.

Eating on the couch has become an enjoyable habit even if the poor lighting and my declining night vision make me sometimes wonder what I’m eating. I must often wait until morning when the spots on my sweatshirt reveal what I enjoyed the night before.

Jackie was downing the last vestiges of her Ashram bowl and looking forward to another episode of the Netflix thriller, The Sinner, with Bill Pullman who does a good imitation of Peter Falk’s Columbo including the sloppy unwashed garb, minus the comedy.

Fixated on Cuomo’s ever tightening facial muscles, I was surprised when Jackie turned to me, flashed that devilishly cute smile and said, “It’s our anniversary today.”

Huh, what? I went into a catatonic state of guilt and quickly chronicled February events searching for something that I had forgotten. Had I missed an important one? Let’s see…no birthday, no first date, no wedding anniversary, not the flowerless Valentine’s Day that had been celebrated at the Torrey Pines Lodge.

“Our vaccination, sweetheart. It’s fourteen days since we got our second Pfizer shot at the Fairgrounds. We’re immune.”

I was relieved but surprised that I hadn’t thought of it earlier in the day. Counting days from one vaccination to another had become an annoying habit. Like a cult, our friends and relatives had joined in their own counting, discussed it at length and mused about what would be different in our lives once we were all aglow with the vaccine.

I had started the counting exercise when we made our appointment to get the first shot. I hoped I could avoid the dreaded virus while waiting for shot day to arrive; it would be a shame if I contracted Covid on the tail-end of the countdown. Better sooner than later, I inanely thought. To speed things up, I tried to make the days pass more quickly; the shortened winter daylight hours were a blessing; sleeping ten hours a day cut into the time for mental gymnastics.

Following the first shot I pondered its possible effects. Three days after the injection was I now 3/14 more immune than the day I got it? I even factored in Dr. Fauci’s daily reports; my mind became an unfathomable data depository. Just when I thought I had it figured out, Dr. Fauci unceremoniously altered his assumptions. The troubling announcement of new virus variants was too much; I decided to ignore them since differential equations have never been my strong point.

The day of our second shot dawned. We arrived at the Fairgrounds expecting large crowds and an appropriate acknowledgement of our two-week survival; unfortunately, we were disappointed to note the absence of any festive Fairground signs like, Welcome Back, Fred or Way to Go, Jackie. We accepted anonymity, got our booster shots and began the next countdown.

I continued the daily countdown to full immunity in a less frenzied manner. The presence of a full load of vaccine loosened our defenses. Hand washing declined from an hourly ritual to a more manageable interval. Masks were loosened from their usual blood-clotting state to a less painful fit.

I no longer worry schizophrenically about the lack of social distancing at Agave Maria or the Topa Topa Brewing Company, nor do I needlessly wonder why I must cover my face when I use the restroom while diners at the tables go unmasked. I’ve stopped moving to the opposite side of Montgomery Street when others are approaching me in what I had previously considered my private space.

I marvel that I have arrived at this point unscathed given my Perils of Pauline attitude that seemed to fly in the face of recommended safe practices. Friends have been cloistered while I have been more available. Trips have been limited only by our imagination. I have dared the virus to interfere with the help I have provided to others.

The liberating feeling seems to be catching on. A declining lack of seriousness permeates the town. The County reports that some vaccination appointment slots are going unfilled. Pfizer and Moderna seem to be successfully arm-wrestling new viruses to a draw.

Happy days are here again…countless ones, I hope.

I’ve been shot

In spite of many real or imagined misgivings, I got my first Covid vaccination shot last week.

After months of watching TV horror stories about the scarcity of the vaccine, the lack of resources to stick it in my arm, and the uncertainty of when old guys might be eligible, I was sure that I was destined to remain a vaccine virgin for the foreseeable future.

Maybe not. While engaging in my evening sport of reading mindless Facebook postings, my iPhone announced an incoming missive from the County of Ventura.

“Dear Old Person”, it began. “You and the other over the hill citizens are now eligible to get shot. Use your smart phone to contact us and make an appointment. Better hurry, there’s a lot of you old farts out there.”

Since passing well beyond the age of consent, I have learned to pay close attention to directives from the government bureaucracy. It controls just about everything out there, and I find it much easier to do as I am told. Sort of like depending on a wife who lovingly believes it’s her job to guide me through my day and put me down at night.

Dutifully and without hesitation, I found the Ventura County sign-up site on my iPhone and was astonished to see every appointment slot for the next two weeks wide open. Comparing notes with Nurse Jackie, we chose a mid-afternoon slot two days hence at the Ventura Fairgrounds. So far so good.

Jackie is a bit antsy about getting flu shots; I think she may be a closet anti-vaxxer. Last year was the first time that she finally opted to tank up with the seasonal vaccine that’s intended to ward off the run-of-the-mill flu. She survived that encounter without injury and, I thought, was ready for the bigger challenge of the Covid vaccination. Overcoming her multiple bouts of squeamishness required repeated doses of “Don’t worry, Sweetheart, you will be fine. I promise.” A liberal helping of inducements, like bribing a four-year-old, sealed the deal.

A born pessimist, I spent the two days before the vaccination conjuring up various scenarios, all of which were mildly depraved.  I thought, “They will run out of vaccine just before my turn at the needle. They will lose my reservation and, with all appointment slots taken, I will need to wait a month for a new one.” Worst of all, I was certain that I had developed every symptom of the Covid virus, would be disqualified from participation…and, of course, die.

Often feeling fluish and sure that I had a temperature over 101, I made several dozen attempts at taking it with my battery driven instant read thermometer. The bliss of seeing 98.6 popup on the little LCD window soon became my favorite avocation; unfortunately, the bliss was short-lived, and I reverted to my customary misery after only a nanosecond or two.

The big day arrived, and Jackie and I arm wrestled over when we should leave for the Fairgrounds and our 3:40 pm appointment. I was certain that being even 5 minutes late would consign us to the trash heap of no-shows, banished forever due to our chronic tardiness. We compromised and departed almost an hour before our appointment. The trip took only 25 minutes, which Jackie duly noted…several times.

The line of cars on the access road to the Fairgrounds stretched into Santa Barbara County, or so it seemed. We inched along the road without the need of the accelerator pedal. I watched the dashboard clock grind down at cosmic speed until it reached and then surpassed our 3:40 appointment time. I was sure I was going directly to hell.

The entrance to the parking lot was ushered by a very nice man whose job it seemed was to provide information and, secondarily, severely back up the traffic while he shared anecdotes with the drivers. He encouraged us to stick with the program, telling us they were an hour behind schedule and not to worry about being late. Jackie stared at me with that “I told you so” look.

We parked, made careful note of where we were, and headed off in the direction of the inoculation site. We had plenty of company.

This was just the second day following the opening of the vaccination event to folks over the age of 75. I swear that everyone that age in the Northern Hemisphere was at the Fairgrounds. People with canes, walkers and wheelchairs filled the void. It was the first time in years that I was at an event where I was younger than other people.

The blessed volunteers guided people from lane to lane as we moved slowly toward the Fairgrounds’ entry door. For all I knew, inside it might as well have been Valhalla, Shangri-La or any other place of happiness. The eagerness of the elderly to get the vaccine belied the thought that old, chronically impaired people have nothing to live for.

I admit that the secrecy of what lay beyond the entry door played tricks with my imagination. I wondered if we were really being guided to the end of our road, much like those people in the futuristic 1976 film Logan’s Run who were exterminated at the age of 30.

Or perhaps we were signing up to have Charleton Heston turn us into food for the living in the film Soylent Green.

But no, there were only angels behind the Fairgrounds’ door. Angels who took our names, examined our id’s, helped us fill out forms, escorted us to our seats, administered our shots and sat us down for 15 minutes while they made sure we had no adverse reactions.

Angels who did everything efficiently, kindly and with a smile. Angels who put themselves at risk by exposing themselves to us.

Even though the process took nearly three hours, it was a model of good planning, dedicated workers and friendly faces. We all took it in stride. No one butt into line, no one complained, and everyone followed instructions. People helping people.

It was dark when we left the building, and with the aid of our iPhone flashlights we found our car. As we drove to the exit, we found the same happy usher who had guided us at the beginning of our journey. He smiled and asked if we were ok.

“Sure”, I said. “Thanks to you and the other angels.”

I’ve only got another two weeks before I get my second shot.

Better charge the batteries in my thermometer. 

I’m on sensory overload

Normally a placid, accepting person with a don’t rock the boat mentality, my patience has been worn dangerously thin by the pandemic. So thin that I physically react to sharp sounds, like the shutting of doors and even the clink of new ice cubes as they exit the freezer cube tray and drop into the awaiting receptacle. I’m convinced that I no longer require my hearing aids since I hear everything within a three-block radius.

We’re in a race. A race featuring two competitors, the Covid-19 virus and the County of Ventura. Winner take all.

I’ve adjusted my life to the pandemic. I’ve tightened up my exposure to situations that seemed to almost dare the little Covids to bite me.

I can be seen wearing a tight fitting, blood clotting mask at 6am while I walk down Montgomery Street to the gym in the dark without encountering another soul.

I’ve have worn several layers of skin off my hands as I meticulously scrub them with soap and sanitizer, even though I have touched nothing but the inside of my coat pockets.

I now religiously launder masks that were previously left alone to accumulate substantial quantities of food particles in the belief that the stoppages caused by my meal detritus would produce a significant barrier to the entry of the virus.

I don’t touch door handles as I enter or exit business establishments. Instead, I use my well insulated upper arm to deftly shove the door open in a manner that offers me enough time to navigate through the opening before the door can slam itself into my fragile body.

I avoid using cash. Paper currency surely harbors the virus in its green ink. I always leave my coins on the counter as a tip, even at the dry cleaners, the pharmacy, and the grocery; I get a lot of smiles that way.

I created an Excel spreadsheet that records any encounter with a living being…including animals.  I carefully monitor the 14-day incubation period during which I wait to see if a confrontation can be dropped from my active list. It’s a sobering exercise that reveals the heart-stopping volume of such encounters and which does nothing to tame my blood pressure.

I visit with friends only via iPhone and Zoom, but I’m not totally convinced that the Covids haven’t found a way to participate clandestinely in the meetups. I have toyed with the idea of wearing a mask during these calls but decided that my friends would not understand and would strongly suggest that I seek professional help.

I’ve signed up to receive notices from the Ventura County Recovers website. Valuable information is communicated daily that includes new case counts, deaths and my favorite…where I stand in the pecking order to receive the vaccine. Old guys like me have been assigned to Phase 1B, Tier 1, right behind the phase that includes mortuary and cemetery workers. So, I can either get the vaccine or die in the process and be disposed of by my betters.

Veterinarians are treated no better than I, which is probably a mistake. If we lose veterinarians to the virus, Fido won’t be able to get his rabies vaccine, leaving the door wide open to a rabies pandemic. It offers me a double whammy: the option of dying from rabies-caused muscle paralysis or suffocating due to the diminished lung capacity offered by Covid.  Poor Fido, poor me.

None of this irritates me. What does make me want to leap from my chair and strangle someone is the unbelievably shoddy way that the vaccine has been produced, distributed and administered.

It’s not like we just heard about vaccines from some extraterrestrial source. No alien being rang the White House doorbell at the 11th hour and said “Surprise, here’s how you make vaccines…go for it.” We had fair warning; we weren’t left alone with just a three-day weekend to work out the details. We had plenty of time to whip out an Excel spreadsheet and document a viable plan. My newly retired daughter could have done it in a week, by herself, with a long lunch hour and without help.

Now we find ourselves dependent on quickly producing the vaccine and efficiently sticking it into 350 million people. We are dependent on each county doing the right thing. Dependent on each bureaucracy to treat people fairly. And, as a result of this Three Stooges planning method, what we have is a very mixed, everchanging, irritating comedy show.

Three days ago, at 6pm. I received an email from the county updating me with the latest bad news…You’re out of luck…no vaccines for you ancient beings for at least two, maybe three, weeks. Find something to do with your spare time.

Unwilling to leave my life to a chance encounter with an asymptomatic virus carrier for the next three weeks, I considered holding my breath for that period of time or laying low at the bottom of my jacuzzi to avoid ingesting any new Covids.

While I was weighing the benefits of each option, a second email from the county tooted its arrival on my iPhone at 7pm.  Good news…pay no attention to the bad news delivered by our 6pm email. Salvation has arrived! You old farts who have managed to be a burden on society for at least 75 years can sign up for your vaccination. Move your fat ass off the couch and make an appointment before we change our minds. More emails to follow.

As a dutiful ward of the state, I made an appointment for 3:40 today.

I’ve spent the last 36 hours worrying about them running out of vaccine at 3:30.

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.

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.

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.


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