Week 11: Quandary for our times

June 2, 2020

I’ve been thinking about rage.

There’s the rage on our streets, when people smash store windows and steal goods and destroy the livelihood of businesses already crippled by the pandemic.

Or when demonstrators throw firecrackers at police, screaming at them, daring them.

Or when police fire rubber bullets into crowds and smash into protesters — even peaceful ones, even journalists.

Or when no one throws anything or hits anyone. When the marches are “peaceful,” they are still full of rage. You don’t brave the threat of tear gas and pepper spray and coronavirus to march down crowded streets on a weekday if you’re not on fire with fury at the injustice all around you.

Within our homes, there’s rage too. I’ve spent the last three and a half years distraught at our national politics, but I’ve never been this angry.

Here in Los Angeles, we are going on our fourth night of curfew, with no end in sight. The city convulses and convulses again, like major cities all over this country. Yes, we’re horrified by the George Floyd murder. Yes, we’re appalled at the violence casually inflicted on black people at the hands of our authorities.

But here in L.A., we know that too many black people are homeless. Too many people are homeless, period. If we’re paying attention, we know that the COVID wards are filled with the poor and the underprivileged. Our city is a beautiful cauldron of inequity. I worry we’re seeing its contents bubble over.

The one person who is supposed to ease down the heat, our President, instead threatens to call the military on us, then has officers clearing protesters with tear gas and clubs so he can walk across a plaza to a church where he holds up a Bible.

The guns and the threats and the religious symbol — which for him is probably all it is — I defy him to describe even part of what’s inside those covers — it makes me feel as though I will explode, like those emojis with the top of the scalp blowing off. I don’t know what to do with this fury of mine, that’s both potent and noteworthy and completely insignificant, all at the same time.

I have a list of black-owned businesses I can frequent — check. I have and will continue to donate money to causes — check. Once I meet my work deadlines, if I feel well enough that day (still recovering from the virus, in fits and starts), and the protests are still ongoing, I may march.

I don’t know if any of it will matter. The forces arrayed against justice are formidable, and growing more so every day.

In conclusion… well, there are no suitable conclusions to this. Instead, here are two things people said to me that keep echoing in my head, and one story unique to early June, 2020

  1. My mom today, on the phone: “I don’t think anyone is happy right now.”
  2. My friend on Saturday, in reply to my text asking how she was doing because she lives near the rioting: “We are ok, just super sad for the state of our city and our country. Not sure how much more everyone can take.”

And finally, a story. Yesterday, Liam was trying to pick up a Chipotle burrito to join a friend for a socially distanced lunch. He’d made it from Mar Vista to Rancho Park when he realized that they’d given him the wrong order. He’d already driven past boarded up store fronts and stationed police cars and didn’t care to do it again. But he needed his order, so he grit his teeth and went back.

Rattled by … well, everything … he was pulling out of the parking lot when he swerved to avoid a pedestrian and scraped the side of my minivan against a pole. It didn’t look pretty and the bumper seemed to be dangling a bit. I asked him if he could pop it back into place, and he could, so I told him to go ahead, we’d deal with it later. What’s a scraped bumper amid rioting and a pandemic?

Then the President did his shenanigans and we all forgot all about the car.

Today, Liam and Eli drove the minivan down to Manhattan Beach for a protest. They walked five miles round trip during the peaceful rally. When they got back, Eli took the car out again to get groceries for my mother (because she’s in her 80s and remember? there’s still a virus out there). There was a long line in front of Ralphs; inside, the patrons were testy and the clerks were exhausted. When he offered to bag his own groceries, the cashier, an older African-American lady, thanked him and told him he had no idea what kind of a day it had been.

On the way home from dropping the groceries at my mom’s in Westwood, driving down the freeway, he heard a funny scraping noise. A guy in another car yelled at him that he’d better get off the highway and check out what’s going on.

And this is how my son ends up parked at the corner of Amherst and Pearl at 5:30 p.m. with a bumper half-dangling off his car and a curfew barreling his way in 30 minutes.

It turns out there is a unique flavor of panic to getting a call from your kid that a bumper is half off a car and he’s a half hour away from being arrested for breaking curfew. There is no guidebook or precedent that I know of for what you do in that situation.

What did he do? What do you think? He smashed that bumper back into place as best he could, and drove home as carefully as possible. Tomorrow, we will figure out how to get it fixed during a pandemic, skirting protests and riots.

I know this isn’t the fault of the Establishment, or the Bad Cops, or even Donald J. Trump. But it sure feels like it is.

Week 11: Ablaze

May 31, 2020

Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Pexels.com

It’s late, and I should go to bed. But it’s hard to close my eyes on our burning nation.

Look, I’m a white lady from a white neighborhood. I’m not sure what right I have to my opinion, on the murder of George Floyd, on the protests, on the riots or the looting. And I’m not writing this because I believe what I think is important or necessary at this moment. There are so many more important and necessary voices than mine tonight.

But I’m confused. I’m shocked, and embarrassed that I’m shocked. And I’m appalled at myself, because I know by doing nothing so far to affect change, I’m complicit in perpetuating our racist system.

I also want to apologize to everyone who doesn’t enjoy my white privilege — apologize because I know I still don’t get it, and I’m sorrier than I can put into words.

I’m almost always someone who gets almost all her news from print. But today seemed like it demanded video, so I watched my local CBS station and then CNN, for about an hour, until my stomach hurt and I turned it off. I saw so much yelling. So many menacing officers marching forward (though I’m sure, underneath those helmets and bulletproof vests, many of them are terrified). I watched things burn.

First I watched it in L.A. Then Long Beach. Then Santa Monica. Then Philadelphia. Then Washington, D.C. Then New York City. It seemed like our nation itself was on fire.

But the head of our national fire department? Our Commander in Chief? Where was he? Where were the calm words? The call to our better nature?

Nope. Except for an occasional rage tweet, he was quiet.

I’ve lived through national crises before. But we’ve always had a leader who believed he answered to all Americans. I don’t know how a leaderless nation stops convulsing once it starts. I’m scared to find out.

P.S. Here’s a video I watched on Twitter tonight. It brought me to tears. I just had to share it.

Sunday Interview: Liam

May 17, 2020

My oldest son, Liam, was supposed to spend this spring in Ghana. Then the coronavirus hit, and he took up bike riding instead.

Since he landed at LAX on March 17, on a plane from Accra, Ghana by way of Dulles International, he’s logged roughly 1,700 miles on his dad’s bike (a Surly Straggler, for those who care about such things). He’s ridden south to Redondo and north to Malibu; up Benedict Canyon and down Coldwater; east as far as Pasadena, and northwest into Agoura. Last week, he hit a personal goal with a 106 mile ride that took him over the Sepulveda Pass, through the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys, across the hilly farmland separating Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, and to the campus of Cal State Channel Islands, where he spent last summer working as a counselor at a sleep-away camp. Then he wound through more farmland to Pacific Coast Highway, until he climbed up Temescal in the Pacific Palisades and headed home to Mar Vista — seven hours total (Bill — my husband, his dad — and his younger brother were his wingmen, meeting him along the way with food and drink).

I’ve watched all this from my dining room desk, him riding while I type away. And I’ve observed it from the couch or the bed, him riding while I rest, either ill with a virus or, later, recovering from it. I can’t believe he’s done all this. I’m proud that he’s done all this. I envy him to Pasadena and back again.

Especially those first few weeks, when we all huddled inside, afraid to go anywhere or see anyone, sure the virus lurked around every corner — and in our house, it probably did — Liam had the streets of Los Angeles to himself. Mandeville Canyon was empty. The hills of Hollywood were empty. He flew down Venice Boulevard with a handful of cars and a stray bus or two. For many of us, this quarantine has been a time of confinement. For my 21-year-old son — his schoolwork from Ghana minimal at most — it’s been a period of freedom, the likes of which he may never see again.

He wasn’t born an athlete. When he was a toddler, he needed occupational therapy to learn how to walk and run without stumbling, because he strongly favored his right side over his left. It took him years to learn how to reliably dunk a basketball through a hoop. He struggled through four years of cross-country in high school and still, by senior year, hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it.

.”In cross-country, I was the worst boy on the team,” he said. “Here I don’t know how I compare, but it doesn’t matter. I know I’m good, because I put in so much time and effort. And I enjoy it.”

His dad has ridden thousands of miles over the course of his five-plus decades on this planet, but Liam fell in love with riding at that same sleepaway camp last summer, climbing the nearby mountains on camp bikes with his supervisor Adam, on their hours off. Then, this past winter break, he began looping down to the beach in the morning, just to get in some exercise. When he left for Ghana in January, he figured that was that — he only planned to linger here a couple of weeks in May, in between his time abroad and a summer internship in Washington, D.C.

Then, over the course of a week in March, the plans changed. Ghana is seven hours ahead of Los Angeles, so when Liam got home his internal clock was all off. He went to bed early and woke up at 6 a.m., the sun just beginning to brighten the sky. For weeks, his Ghanaian professors didn’t assign any work at all. The days stretched before him, long and empty. But there was the Surly, waiting in the garage.

I started exploring the beach bike path. Sometimes, I would go up to the Pacific Palisades to see my cousins. Sometimes, I’d ride down to Redondo. That was the first two weeks.

But then they closed the bike path, and I was like, shoot, I don’t know where else I’m going to bike. Because L.A. is not a biking city. I thought I might be done.

The next day I went to check out Sullivan Ridge [a bike trail in the Santa Monica Mountains above the Palisades]. Dad had mentioned it to me and I thought it might be a good ride. But when I got to the top, I was winded, and so I headed back down without doing the trail. The next day, I got up there and I was all ready to ride the trail, but they’d closed all the trails, too. I thought, Well, this kind of stinks.

I rode down the mountain and stopped in at my grandfather’s house in the Palisades.  He said, “Oh, you should check out Mandeville Canyon [in nearby Brentwood]. I know people bike there.” So the next day I did that. And it was very hard, the hardest ride I’d done so far. When I got to the top, I was winded, so I sat down, and this guy who was riding behind me the whole way sat down nearby. I asked him where he’d been, and he said he’d gone up Nichols Canyon, then down Benedict…. And I thought, Oh my gosh, there are so many canyons for me to do!

Soon he found himself biking along Mulholland Drive (“I would’ve thought it was out of reach as a bike destination. I couldn’t believe I’d ridden there. It was very pretty.”). He tried out Sepulveda Boulevard, and decided that even in the time of quarantine and coronavirus, it was a little too much of a speedway for his taste. He rode Coldwater instead, to the San Fernando Valley and back . He did a 50-mile roundtrip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, that involved a return through Silverlake and Griffith Park, to say hi to a friend living in the Hollywood hills. 

I felt like I had a good amount of freedom, even though I didn’t come close to anybody. It was nice to expand my radius, especially when my radius was so restricted by quarantine. The city felt pretty empty. It’s odd now, to see the traffic picking up again. There are so many people out on Ocean Park boulevard, at the beaches. It feels odd to me, because I’m used to seeing it so empty. I know that this is part of an apocalyptic feel for some people, but I liked it when it was cloudy out and everything was empty, and the city felt chill.

He was doing about 125 miles a week at this point. His dad said, “You know, serious riders do 200 miles,” and Liam thought he could probably get up to that. He started by riding to Topanga.

When I was in high school, I dated a girl who lived in Calabasas, so I’d do that drive all the time. I’d see cyclists out on the road and I always wondered what it would be like to do that. It turned out, it wasn’t a terribly difficult ride. I had a new lens through which I judged my ability. And it was around this time, around mid-April, that I decided I was going to do 100 miles.

He began to train, riding PCH out to the Ventura County line and back. He did Topanga a second time. Finally, a week and a half before the Big Ride, he mapped out a 75-miler over Kanan in Agoura. It turned out to be the hardest ride of all, the upward slope of the mountain not steep but relentless. He nearly passed out in the tunnel from exhaustion and worried he was in trouble when he started to get the chills despite the heat. Nearly out of water, he ate his apple to stave off dehydration and was fine (it’s good to be 21!).

On Saturday, May 9th, he did his 100-miler. There were lots of highlights, but the best part may have come at the very end. 

When I was a kid, I could never get up Grand View (a street that climbs Mar Vista Hill, near our house). On the way back home, though, I set a personal record – two minutes and 28 seconds, Venice to Palms.

These days, he’s still riding, still considering his next big jaunt. Santa Barbara calls.

The days I don’t go on bike rides, I go crazy because I can’t go. But sometimes I need to rest. It’s nice to be outside and exercise and listen to my podcasts as I go [he recommends The Daily, Pod Save the World, Stuff You Should Know, Rabbit Hole, and Oh, Hello]. I really like junk food, especially cheesy gordita crunch and strawberry freeze at Taco Bell. I love Taco Bell so much. I don’t have to worry about eating it now, because I’m biking so much.

I asked him if, in a way, this quarantine has been a blessing for him.

I don’t know about a blessing. It’s not what I thought was going to happen. But it’s been nice.

Day 47: The Bowl

May 13, 2020

Of course the Hollywood Bowl will be closed this summer.

Think about it: you sit in traffic on Highland Boulevard, glancing from the car’s dashboard clock to your phone’s screen to your watch if you’re wearing one, just in case one of them affords you an extra minute or two, because it’s always more jammed and moving more slowly than you expected.

If you’re like me, a very occasional Bowl attendee, you don’t have a designated parking spot, nor any particular allegiance to a lot. You just want to get as close as you can for as reasonable a price as you can. You always end up spending a little more than you want, but eventually, there’s a lot you pick, and you pull in and the cars are too close and you swear you’ll never get out until the last guy leaves, but whatever, you’re stuck, plus you’ve already handed over the cash.

So you gather the food you brought, and the blankets and sweatshirts you hopefully remembered (because there’s already a bite to the air, and it’s just getting chillier as the sun wraps up its daily arc), and you scurry out into the crowd, which swallows you up.

You’re swallowed up, like Jonah in the whale, only this whale is the swarm of people, walking and shuffling and skedaddling up the sidewalk. You walk one block, two, three, four (the Bowl is always further away than you anticipate), and with each block, the whale grows. By the time you pass through the Bowl’s front gate, if you don’t keep your companions in sight, you’ll lose them in the surge of bodies.

Finally, you land at the escalators, and now you’re going up, all of you, a throng elbow to elbow, practically toe to toe, with one common purpose — to get there. Because even though you’re on the Bowl property, you haven’t arrived. Not quite yet.

Here’s when you arrive: when you get to the entry that corresponds to your seat, and the whale of people spits you out into the amphitheater — the wide, open amphitheater, where there’s a seat for everyone, where your ceiling is the sky, and where the crowd is no longer a swarm or a throng or a whale. It’s no longer any kind of impediment at all. It’s necessary. It’s the hum of the evening, the thrumming energy powering the stage. And you melt into it, becoming both you, and not you, listening, maybe cheering, maybe singing, maybe turning to the person next to you, who you’ve never met before in your life and you’ll never see again, and saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”

You may have tears in your eyes. They may have tears in theirs. And they’ll nod, because you’re all in the thing together for some more minutes, maybe a few more, hopefully a lot.

And behind the stage there’s the mountains. Above it, eventually, there are stars and a moon. And you think, this is the best of L.A.

See, there’s just no way. This isn’t a time of shuffling whales or melting consciousnesses or turning sideways to chat with strangers.

Talk about a super-spreader event.

I’m embarrassed to admit that many summers I haven’t made it to the Bowl at all. I have my excuses, none of them good enough. Not when you can buy nosebleed seats to some performances for less than $20 a ticket. But I always knew it was there. I always sat with the purple brochure that landed in my mailbox each spring and thought, “How about this one? And this one? And this one? Definitely, at the very least, the Sound of Music sing-along.”

Now, I can’t even do that.

It’s been a startling spring. An alarming, head-spinning, heart-palpitating spring. But I fear it will be a dull summer. The sun will be out and the colors will pop, but our lives may feel muted. So much that makes summer thrilling, from venues like the Bowl to sunbathing on the beach to road trips and jet planes and staying somewhere that isn’t our homes, simply won’t happen.

Shoot.

The Bowl is furloughing a quarter of its staff and all of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. It’s also laying off all seasonal employees. If you love the Bowl, please consider donating what you can.

Day 46: Georgia

May 12, 2020

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

There’s this lady I interview frequently about debt and personal finance. She’s smart and articulate, plus she gives great quotes. I always enjoy talking to her.

We never talked about where we lived. Until today, comparing notes on our coronavirus experience. Turns out she lives in Georgia. And that, it seems, means we live in two different universes.

Here in L.A., the trails and beaches are opening, and I can do a drive-by skirt purchase, for whatever that’s worth. Otherwise, we’ll almost certainly be staying at home until mid-August. Many of the college students will be home even longer. The Cal State system just announced it’s cancelling most in-person classes and going online in the fall.

Meanwhile, in a suburb of Atlanta, the personal finance expert is weighing whether and how to venture out. This week she went to Target (an adventure also available to me). Next week, she’s getting a pedicure. What she’d really love to do is sit down at the salon and get her hair cut and colored — if that isn’t too risky.

“Things are opening up around here,” she said. “We’re all wearing masks and being careful.”

Of course, she added, you have to be more careful if you live somewhere like me. Somewhere like Los Angeles, where the number of cases keeps going up, and up. “I’m in an area where it’s not too active,” she said of the virus.

But is that true? And should it even matter to me, what she and her fellow Georgians get right or wrong?

On the one hand, no. I’m going to continue to stay at home, no matter what she does or doesn’t do. And she lives thousands of miles away. Airplanes are practically grounded. No one’s doing road trips. It won’t be easy for her germs to get to my city.

On the other hand, almost no one alive today has lived through a pandemic before. And humanity has never faced a pandemic with this level of information at our fingertips. We have no idea what will happen when we decide to quarantine indefinitely.

So is the Georgia way better? Is it even comparable, or is she right — she’s safer there than I am here?

There’s no straight answer to that question. There’s this:

Georgia has had a relatively consistent number of daily new cases since April 24. In this period, the seven-day average of the number of new cases per day has only been as low as 628 and as high 769, and the overall trend remains relatively steady.

From the CNN website today

But the state also has a new COVID-19 hot spot, among the Latino community in a town called Gainesville. The disease has been hitting black and brown communities in Georgia especially hard — 80 percent of all coronavirus hospitalizations in Atlanta are African-American.

Also, a new study out of Georgia Tech predicts a second rise in the state’s coronavirus cases, sometime between early June and August, if residents don’t continue to practice social distancing. “I hope that many people in Georgia, wherever they are, continue the social distancing, the physical distancing to the extent it’s possible,” a Georgia Tech researcher told Fox 5 news in Atlanta.

Basically, our governor has told us what to do. Theirs is leaving the decision up to each individual. It’s so hard, though, to figure it out for yourself. My Georgia source figures if she goes to a nail salon and just has them work on her feet — only a pedi, no mani — she should be okay. But this article I read last night would argue otherwise. It’s not just about the person who’s painting her toenails. It’s about sitting for a half hour or more in one room filled with many other workers and patrons, any one of whom could have the virus. Think about it: when you go to the market, you’re in a large space through which you’re moving pretty much constantly. In a nail salon, the room is much smaller, and you’re exposed to the same group of people for longer periods of time.

Still, I get her logic — and her fear. “Just because things are open, doesn’t mean I’m going there,” she said. “I really need a haircut — but I’m holding out. A little while longer.”

I wish that were all it would take. Another week or two, and “normal” will return. Maybe the virus truly does spread more slowly in her suburb, where she says the houses are spread out and neighbors were distanced before social distancing ever became a thing. Maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t matter, because they’ve decided what reality is, and it doesn’t look like ours out here.

I don’t understand how we can both be living in the same country. And that does matter. It feels lately like it’s starting to matter more and more.

Day 29: Jabberwocky

April 23, 2020

Lewis Carroll

These days!

When have we ever seen anything like these days?

When I dare to look up from my daily grind, I wonder if I’m living a nonsense version of my life.

Like, take my iPhone calendar. It keeps issuing reminders of phantom events. “The Antipodes MT,” it announces. “April 25, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.”

Also, “Calculus Camp, Today.”

These two events actually were not supposed to co-exist. Our 16-year-old goes to a public school that takes Advanced Placement exams very seriously — a little too seriously, I tend to think. But one silver lining to this obsession is that the teachers actually drive all calculus students up to the San Bernardino Mountains, east of the city, for a four-day calculus extravaganza every April. In between lessons, the kids get to hang out in nature and with each other, plus they snag Calculus Camp sweatshirts to wear proudly back at school. Plus they tend to pass the exam.

Since our two boys were supposed to be away, one at college in Michigan and one studying abroad in Ghana, that meant my husband and I would have three nights to ourselves. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary on May 6th, and we’d talked about going away somewhere this weekend, even just overnight. I had dreams of Terranea.

That, of course, conflicted with “The Antipodes.” We have season tickets, with our neighbors Dave and Cheryl, to the Mark Taper Forum. For years, Cheryl and I would walk our dogs and talk about all the great cultural events we would attend if not for the soccer games at the park, or the child who needed a ride to a birthday party. Finally, last year, I called her up and said the time had come. We’ve seen more than half a dozen plays since then, most of them dramas on their national tour after a stint on Broadway. My husband’s been saying he wants tickets to musicals or the Philharmonic next year. Enough with all this Sturm und Drang. But for me, it’s been a dream.

See, this is the kind of problem I used to deal with: remembering to call the Taper and exchange our Antipodes tickets for a different weekend.

Today, the Terranea’s website says the resort, out of the typical “abundance of caution,” is closed. So is the Taper.

I have no idea what “The Antipodes” is about but I would give my eye teeth to go downtown this weekend and see it performed. Every time the reminder comes up on my phone, I salivate.

I used to jot down every appointment on my virtual calendar, because if I didn’t, I’d forget. I even had color codes — yellow for family, blue for me, red for work appointments and deadlines. I still punch in things now and then, but it’s more out of habit than anything else. There isn’t that much going on in my life. I tend to remember what’s coming.

But the calendar was about more than just ensuring I didn’t miss an engagement. I mean, I thought that was the purpose. Now I understand — it was also a way of marking the future. Like a dog lifting its leg to pee on a tree, I was claiming the next day, week, month as mine, and knowable.

I don’t know anything anymore. Our governor says we’re not close to meeting criteria for reopening the state, so he can’t give us a date. But c’mon. Are we looking at weeks? Months?

This is absurd. It’s like living in a Samuel Beckett play, issuing pronouncements that don’t make sense in the real world, waiting on something that’s in no rush to come, if it comes at all.

Because — well, I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade here folks, but if it’s occurred to me, it must have occurred to you: what if normal never returns? What if this starts a cascade of events that changes our lives forever?

See, here I go again, trying to know the future by imagining the worst. But the worst I can imagine is rarely what comes to pass. Instead, it’s something else.

There’s this poem I used to love as a kid, called “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll (he of Alice in Wonderland fame). It’s a poem that almost makes sense, but not quite. You feel like if you squint and look at it just so, its odd pieces will fall into place. Only you can never get the angle of the squint quite right.

These days, I think, are Jabberwocky days. That’s the only way they make any kind of sense at all.

In case you don’t remember it, or if hasn’t yet graced your life, I’m going to let Lewis Carroll and his nonsense poem take us out today:

Jabberwocky

BY LEWIS CARROLL

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Day 27: The Boxer

April 21, 2020

These days, I keep playing The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, over and over on my iPhone.

I am just a poor boy/ Though my story’s seldom told/ I have squandered my resistance / for a pocket full of mumbles/ Such are promises.

It’s sad and haunting, not a squint of joy from start to finish. I don’t mean to say I’m always down. But these coronavirus times are sad and hard. Sitting here in my dining room flooded with late afternoon sunshine, steps away from a fully-loaded kitchen, in a home with a grassy yard, on a quiet street full of friendly neighbors, I’m haunted by the tales of want I see online and in my morning newspaper.

All lies and jest/ Still a man hears what he wants to hear/ and disregards the rest

This quarantine period has been marked in our household by some of the most frank, searing conversations we’ve ever had as a family. Each one of us has tried his or her best to say what we mean and feel, directly and with kindness. This has helped us keep friction to a minimum.

I’ve seen the same from our local leaders. Our mayor, Eric Garcetti, recently gave what I thought was one of the most moving and honest political speeches I’ve ever heard. “I’ve never before hesitated to assure you that our city is strong,” he said in his State of the City address. “But I won’t say those words tonight. Our city is under attack. Our daily life is unrecognizable.

“We are bowed and we are worn down. We are grieving our dead.” The mayor paused to swallow back tears. “But we are not broken.”

If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it. After seeing it, I’d follow this guy anywhere.

But then I turn my attention to the White House, and I’m sifting through piles of rubble to find shards of truth. I read about the governor of Georgia forcing his state open this week while his own mayors plead with their citizens to stay home, and I don’t know whether to hang my head in despair, or yell out in fury.

Laying low/Seeking out the poorer quarters/ where the ragged people go/ Looking for the places/ only they would know

And then there’s the virus itself, or whatever it is that’s lodged in my body and doesn’t want to vacate.

I was in-bed sick for about 10 days, but I’ve not been really well for over a month. Yesterday was the first time in five weeks that I went on a long, aimless walk with the dog and did not have to lie on the couch for hours afterwards. So today, I thought I would add in a 15 minute abs workout.

So, yeah, not a great idea. The tickle that’s been gone for a week returned to my throat. After lunch, I had that tightness in my chest again, along with the chills and body aches. I was able to work only after I lay down for about an hour.

Like the song says, this illness leads you to places only other sick people know. I lack the words to describe this ache that settles on my tongue and this burn that whispers in my throat. How to explain the exhaustion that pulls me to bed as suddenly and surely as a magnet? Or the fear that lingers, despite all reasonable evidence, that the sickness will return and swallow me up again?

I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m lucky. When I’m not shivering on a couch, I know I’m getting better. But this virus is a beast. All this economic disaster we’re facing, all these political battles we’re pitching — it’s so easy to forget they are the sideshow. The virus is the thing, the main attraction, the reason we’re all at home, and angry, and frightened. Frightened if we have it, and frightened if we don’t.

The scariest part is there’s so much about it we don’t understand. Like I’ve experienced, many coronavirus survivors report it lingers for weeks or longer. Why is that? We don’t know why it’s asymptomatic in one body, mild in another and fatal in a third. We don’t even know why some people test positive for the virus and others test negative when they present with the same symptoms.

Lie la lie/ lie la la la lie lie/ Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie.

In the midst of all this horror and uncertainty, I wish I felt that everyone in charge was telling me the truth. Was acting with the noblest of intentions. Had our nation’s best interests at heart.

Here’s what I do have:

My returning health

My governor and my mayor and (surprisingly) the superintendent of LA Unified, who’s doing his level best to feed anyone who’s hungry, wherever they live, whether they have kids at his schools or not.

The soothing harmonies of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, telling an old story that feels new again.