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 45: Butterscotch Lollipops

May 11, 2020

A few minutes ago, I was scrolling through my emails, thinking I’d forgotten about something today, when my eye alighted on the clock in the bottom right corner, and it hit me — I hadn’t written this blog.

Not only hadn’t I written it. I hadn’t even thought about it, all day long.

I’d felt adrift this afternoon. Maybe this was the reason why. Or maybe that’s the kind of times these are. Times when the minutes float into hours, and the hours melt into entire afternoons, and we fail to notice, because we’re drifting along in this fuzzy quarantine dream.

My calendar is full these days. A Zoom call tonight, a Zoom writing seminar tomorrow, another Zoom call on Thursday. And yet, it feels as empty as Venice Boulevard on lockdown. I don’t know why this is. Not only am I seeing the same people as usual. I’m actually seeing more of people I don’t usually see that often. But virtual meet-ups… well, they make me think of those Dum-Dums lollipops that used to fill my treat bag on Halloween. Sure, the cherry ones taste good. So do the grape. Butterscotch was always my favorite.

But after awhile, you want a real cherry. An actual grape. A butterscotch sauce or pudding that doesn’t sport a chemical aftertaste.

So, yeah, that’s my social life these days — a Dum-Dum lollipop. Butterscotch flavor. But still.

There’s many moments when the world itself feels virtual. I see so little of it these days. I must trust that it’s still there. I have to believe that there’s more to life than my house, its inhabitants and the coronavirus. But forgive me if I wonder: do I still have to worry about climate change? Peace in the Middle East? Whether Meghan and Harry can make it on their own without the Royal Family? (Of course I know I have to worry about Trump — he is The Inescapable Man.)

I wonder if I’ll look back on this with nostalgia one day. “Imagine– we didn’t go anywhere or do anything,” I’ll tell my grandchildren, and I’ll sigh. “It was so simple then.”

I hope I’ll remember that simple can be boring. And perplexing. And so fuzzy around the edges that sometimes, in the slow tick of the minutes, entire days slip through your fingers.

Day 42: Horizon

May 8, 2020

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

I woke up this morning so scared.

Nothing has changed, at least not since yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. Nothing has changed all that much since the middle of March, when the boys came home from college and Africa, and our daughter’s high school sent the kids home, and Los Angeles went into lockdown. Yes, we’ve had developments and events — a possible coronavirus sweep through our household, a birthday, an anniversary, a vet scare that will go down in family lore. But for nearly two months, our lives and those of many of our friends and family have run on the same, monotonous treadmill We don’t see new people. We don’t go new places. We don’t experience new things, at least, not outside the confines of our house and grocery stores and, for my husband, the clinic and the hospital.

Some mornings, like today, I wake up and that thought is terrifying. I can’t imagine doing this for two more months. I miss all of you so much. I miss the people I know, the bodies I can’t embrace, the smiles I can’t see in person. Even if we connect on Zoom, I miss something as primal as seeing your speech match the movement of your lips.

But I also miss those of you I don’t know, whom I might meet at a friend’s house, or wave to in the Trader Joe’s parking lot (“You go first,” “No, you”).

I miss — a lot — going into See’s Candies on Sepulveda at National, paying for one chocolate and getting two because everyone who walks in the door is offered a sample (and did you know, if you don’t want the sample they offer, you can ask for a different one?). Also, I miss the ladies who work there, forced to wear anachronistic white dresses with black trim that float me back to my childhood at these same stores in the Valley. Those ladies know all about my two-for-one tricks, but they never so much as lift an eyebrow, only ask me if I’d like a coupon for next month’s promotion with today’s purchase.

The store’s been closed since mid-March. I wonder, do they miss the ridiculous uniforms? The light scent of milk chocolate? Me?

I’m also scared to stop the quarantining. I’ve only done two big marketing trips since mid-March. A couple days after the first one, I got sick. Three days after the second one, I had a relapse. Probably, it was coincidence. But the fear grounds me in my house. I try to imagine doing something as ordinary as submitting to an afternoon at Third Street Promenade with my daughter. I used to think there were few things I enjoyed less than spending our hard-earned money and my precious time at Brandy Melville, Urban Outfitters, PacSun and the like. But now I know there is — being unable to even imagine going there again in the future.

That’s not all that scares me, though.

The boys are talking summer plans and I can’t stop remembering how radically different today’s plans are from those of February. Okay, I bargain with the universe, I dealt with a revised spring. I can handle an upside-down summer. But can you please give them back their fall?

No answer.

I see that it takes every bit of pluck my daughter can summon to stick to an academic schedule and prepare for A.P. exams, in this nether-zone of quarantine. I fear what it will require of her, and what it will take from her, if she must continue this way when 11th grade starts in August.

I’m scared that we can’t remain a stable society when a quarter of us are out of work.

I fear the salary cut that may be coming for my husband, because people are losing not just their jobs but their health insurance; at his clinic and at the hospital, aside from the COVID-19 patients, the rooms and hallways are emptier than usual.

And the fear that underlies it all: I lack faith in the President and his administration to do what is best for the nation. Even writing this makes me sad. I can hardly believe it’s true. But the image, coming into clearer focus every day, of a ship without a captain, banging recklessly about at sea, leaves me almost breathless with an existential terror.

Maybe that’s the problem. I’m trying to gaze through a telescope, when what I need to do is peer down a microscope: this house, these kids, that husband, our dog, these friends, and family, and neighbors. Only what’s right here, right now, no more and no less.

The trick to finding calm and sanity, the one that eluded me today, is to stay present. So present that literally, there’s hardly any future to behold.

Because the future — yikes.

Day 41: Astonished

May 7, 2020

I really hate this damn virus. But it gave us the best anniversary we’ve ever had.

I’d been mourning the romantic trip we’d planned to take at the end of last month, when our daughter was supposed to be away at Calculus Camp and our boys would be, as we thought they would be for the foreseeable future, off at college.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

What happened instead was even better: we had all three kids home with us for our 25th wedding anniversary.

I don’t know about you, but when I had kids, this was the dream — to create a new family that I actually enjoyed spending time with. That’s not how it always went for many years. Individually, each child has been a joy, but together they would wear me down to a nub. This one needed this and this one needed that. Someone hit someone. Someone broke something. Someone COULD NOT COPE.

Sometimes I’d pass a mirror, see my reflection, and startle. I was still there. I’d almost forgotten about my own existence.

Other times I’d crumple in despair, wondering who I’d become and what, if anything, would emerge when this never-ending storm finally passed through my life.

Being married in those days was like reaching out in the dark, feeling for his hand, getting maybe his elbow or his shoulder, and thinking, “Right, okay, thank God you’re still there.” Or it was fighting about who should do what and whose days were worse and who was more tired and who was more worn out — then taking a deep breath, and remembering we were both trying our best, in our different ways.

This quarantine has not been easy on our kids. Each one has struggled in his or her own way. But the kids have been easy on us. Not just easy. They have been a joy, individually and collectively. (I know this isn’t the case for many people. All I can say is — I feel you. Also — it’s not your fault.)

So that is the very best, completely unexpected part of our anniversary. They are home, and we love having them here.

And that would have been more than enough. But there was more.

No, the kids did not make us dinner. Did you think I raised saints?

I made dinner — grilled pork tenderloin, roasted rosemary potatoes and sauteed kale with lemon juice and olive oil. I was all ready to serve it, too, at 6:55 p.m., but my husband was out on one of his walks (he’s mostly in motion), so I lay down on the living room couch and started scrolling through Facebook while I waited for him to get back.

Our friend Glen had sent us a Flintstones video of Fred and friends singing Wilma “Happy Anniversary,” so I was watching that, remembering how much I loved The Flintstones, when I started to hear all this noise on the street outside. There were people yelling and horns honking. I was annoyed, because whoever was doing what, it was interfering with my Flintstones song. Then my daughter, standing at the front door, said, “Mom? Do you want to come here?”

I walked out the front door and there was my husband coming up the driveway and there were some of our best friends on the street, some on foot, some in cars, yelling “Happy Anniversary!” They were the ones honking horns and banging pans, and they were doing it for us.

I asked Bill twice if he organized it, because I couldn’t imagine how else it occurred, but he kept saying no. There were friends from our neighborhood and friends from our temple, and one or two friends who didn’t fit either description. It was astonishing. It took me five full minutes just to process what I was seeing.

It turned out it was the work of my dear friend Orley, whom I met back in 1989 when I spent a semester studying abroad in England. Orley really deserves a blog post of her own sometime, so let me just say for now that I defy anyone to find a better friend than her. My life would not be as good without her in it.

Also. There was Melissa poking through her minivan’s sunroof with a Happy Anniversary sign. There was Paul with his little white dog. There was Melanie with a silver pom-pom and her husband Peter with his camera, recording it all. There was Danielle driving by. There was Karen and Eric, both recovered from the virus, with their dog and their son Adam, sporting a big bright yellow sign, cheering at the foot of our driveway. And Risa and Steve tossing us a silver envelope and Luz leaving us a bouquet of flowers and Damien pumping his fist across the street and Carin and Greg driving by with another homemade sign and Michele and Jeremy waving from the far sidewalk and Karen and Matt and their boys waving multiple signs and yelling and honking as they went past and Jami and her daughter banging pans on our lawn wearing some of the puffiest masks I’ve seen and Anne and her kids smiling and waving from the street and our rabbi and her husband laughing and calling as they joined the moving car parade.

Like I said, astonishing. Thanks to all, including Michelle who helped Orley and Melanie organize, but couldn’t be there because her son was out with the car.

Then we ran inside, gobbled down dinner, and ran back out again to join what our neighbor Patti calls our “viral orchestra.” That means a bunch of our neighbors, gathered in front of someone’s house, banging pots and pans and singing “Happy Birthday” (it started with our middle son’s birthday on April 4, and has continued apace since then. Two birthdays in a row next week!) Last night the birthday boy was our neighbor Ken. When we finished serenading him, the group decided it was our turn.

“What shall we sing?” Anne asked.

“The viral orchestra only knows one song,” Patti replied. And so they sang us “Happy Anniversary” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”

And still, the day wasn’t over. When we got inside, we hauled out the wedding photos that usually languish in the garage, and marveled over how different everyone looked back then. Then my husband presented a power point he’d made about our lives together (25 years in five slides). By the end, he had me laughing so hard I was crying.

Of course, me being me, all that emotion erupted in a migraine this morning. But that’s why they invented medication.

The medication is pretty strong, and so I’m a bit loopy this afternoon, and not sure if what I wrote above makes much sense. And I don’t have the brain power to go back and edit it into shape.

But — wow. What a day. Brought to us by the coronavirus. Okay, no, not by the coronavirus, which has no upside at all, but by the quarantine. Which can be awful, and wonderful and even, occasionally, astonishing.

Sort of like raising children.

Day 39: Normal

May 5, 2020

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

I’m writing today, as I have every day lately, from my dining room table. Behind me is a window twice my size, that looks out onto a world I more observe than inhabit.

But the opening is coming! So I read in the papers. So I see in the news. We’ll get back to business, our President promises. “Normal” will return again.

“Normal,” hand in hand with the coronavirus. Whatever that looks like.

I have no idea what the right path forward is. California’s governor is inching us into more economic activity, and that may be a good thing. As I wrote yesterday, I don’t know that we can live like this forever.

But here’s the conversation so many of us aren’t having: what are we willing to accept in exchange for a paycheck? In a swap for profits?

I just read an op-ed in the New York Times that wonders if our response to the continuing pandemic will come to resemble our reaction to gun violence fatalities.

“The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about,” wrote Charlie Warzel in the Times, “is the one where we simply get used to all the dying.”

It’s not such a fantastical scenario. The Times reported today that the Trump administration is discussing winding down the White House Coronavirus Task Force; as Trump himself toured a mask manufacturing plant in Phoenix, wearing safety goggles but no mask (like his VP, when he toured the Mayo clinic last week); and where he responded to a reporter’s question about the task force’s possible demise by saying, “”I think we are looking at Phase 2, and we are looking at other phases” of the pandemic.

Of course, Trump is only leading the way. From Florida to Georgia to Iowa, states are lifting quarantine orders. There’s also a cresting frustration in conservative swaths of this state. On Friday, a 24-hour fitness studio called the Gym, in Victorville, Calif., opened for business in defiance of the state’s mandate, with an 8-foot by 10-foot printout of the Constitution posted by the front door.

“This virus is political,” the Gym’s owner, Jacob D. Lewis, told the Los Angeles Times. “It comes down to our civil rights. There’s one thing that people in power forget, one thing that makes us all the same, and that’s the Constitution.

“They can’t force us to shut our doors,” he continued. “We did it voluntarily in the beginning because they hyped it so much, but guess what? They lied to us.”

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide continued to climb. And Riverside County, which contains Victorville, has the second-highest caseload in the state. At 4,354, it’s a fraction of the 28,000-plus cases in Los Angeles County, but more than double the 1,760 cases in San Francisco.

I can imagine an alternative path, one in which we continue to expand testing and demand people wear masks in public while staying home, in private spaces, as much as they can. Meanwhile, we ramp up our contact tracing abilities and invest in a great antibody test, like the one produced by Roche. Once our case numbers come down to a level officials deem acceptable, then we open up, slowly, testing for antibodies so we know who is safe to wander about, while continuing to test for new infections, and then tracing down and quarantining those who came in contact with the ill person.

It’s not a perfect solution, not by a long shot. Even if we have the best antibody test possible, we still don’t know what those antibodies mean. Do they confer immunity? If so, for how long? Also, we’ve burnt up so much precious time this winter and spring not investing in testing, not producing enough masks or hand sanitizer or PPE or any of the other items we need to prevent virus transmission, that we arrived in May hobbled by an economic crisis unlike any I’ve seen before in my lifetime, while here in LA and around most of the nation, more and more people are falling ill. I don’t fault our mayor or our governor, who did the best they could with the tools they had. But it’s also true that the people have been patient, and thanks to bungling at the highest levels, we don’t have enough progress to show for our sacrifices.

I realize I may be ruffling feathers here, and I’m sorry for anyone I’ve upset. But my husband is a doctor, and if we as a nation decide we’re not going to worry about the coronavirus, well, he won’t have that luxury. It’ll be in his exam room and in the ER and in the hospital. He will be exposed to it again and again and again, in a way he’s so far avoided thanks to the quick and decisive actions of our state and local leaders.

And anyway, I don’t know if any of us have that luxury. I just read today about a Ralph’s supermarket in Hollywood where 21 of the 158 employees have tested positive for the virus. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be in much of a hurry to shop there now. If we loose our controls, if we turn our backs on this virus, return to life as we used to live it, the virus won’t just creep away. It will creep inside us. That’s what viruses do. And then where will we be? And how will we function?

Day 34: Housework

April 30, 2020

It’s that time of the week, closing in on Saturday, when I’m going to feel compelled to turn to my family and bring up the dreaded topic of …. housecleaning.

As much as certain members might prefer it, I cannot cheerily allow this abode to disintegrate under a film of grime. I’m also not willing to call my housekeepers back into action, for their health as well as ours.

So. How to divide up the duties?

Obviously, I come into this at a great disadvantage because we’re all spoiled. For years we’ve paid people to mop our floors and wipe down our counters. There were about seven months there, during the Great Recession, when we did it ourselves, and I’m still recovering from the trauma of strong-arming my three children into helping me clean the bathrooms.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Now here I find myself again, much to my surprise. You really can never predict what life will have in store for you.

Granted, it’s much easier this time. I’m not running childcare as I’m sweeping. I’m not trying to make a game out of Windex and a mirror. And to a certain extent, I don’t mind the work. Unlike in 2010, when I had an 11-year-old, a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, I’m not always on my feet. I now spend long stretches every day at my computer. I love that — but everything has its limits.

So Friday night, when I’m setting the dining room table for Shabbat dinner (we eat at the kitchen table the rest of the week), I clear away my office chair and my keyboard and mouse and laptop on a stand and the books underneath the laptop to prop the screen up to eye-level and the slanted footstool on the floor to promote good posture and all the cords that come with the apparatus — all of it moves to the side. That’s where it stays until Sunday morning.

In the Jewish tradition, the sabbath lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and during that time you’re not supposed to work. We almost always have a family dinner on Friday night, but that’s where our observance usually stops. However, these days — these long, faceless, blending-all-together quarantine days — I’ve felt a need to delineate. Work for me is sitting. So on Shabbat, instead, I move, a spray bottle in one hand, a rag in the other.

The only part that’s unpleasant is when I walk by my family members lounging, screen in hand, a smile on their lips, not even aware the hausfrau is passing by.

In case you were wondering — you probably were — my husband does his part on the cleaning front. But there are five of us living in this house, and watching others not participate burns a small, hot fire in the center of my chest.

I’ve gotten an offer this week from the trombone player, newly liberated from schoolwork, to do 30 minutes of housework every day. I just need to come up with a project and ask, and he will get it done on his schedule. That’s 3 1/2 hours a week, if he’s really game for it — nothing to sneeze at there!

The other two…. in all fairness, the oldest child does the bulk of our grocery shopping around here, and shops for my mother and her boyfriend as well, every other week. And the youngest is still deep in school work.

Still. Saturday, and the dirty house, looms. I’m going to try to cut a deal with them tonight. Wish me luck.

How do you handle the housework in your house? Chore charts? Yelling? Just give up and do it yourself? Please feel free to add a comment !

Sunday interview: Ashley

April 26, 2020

Photo by Natalia Sobolivska on Unsplash

Note: This is a true story, but names have been changed to preserve the subjects’ privacy

Ten months ago, a cancer diagnosis transformed the lives of Ashley and her family. They learned that Karenna, then 11 years old and the youngest of their four girls, had an advanced case of bone cancer.

Since then, Ashley and her daughter have driven 30 miles, from their home in the western suburbs of Los Angeles, to UCLA every other week for five straight days of chemo treatment, followed by nine days of recovery. Long before the coronavirus drove America out of the workplace, Ashley put her career as a landscape designer on hold to tend to her daughter, whose condition requires round-the-clock care. The two of them have also been basically on lockdown, since Karenna’s immune system is so fragile.

Then, in March, the pandemic hit. Soon, the rest of the world – plus the rest of their family – joined them in unexpected quarantine.

Ashley:  Cancer comes with many questions. Now you have COVID, which is very similar, in terms of how do you get it? Could be this way, could be that way. How long does it last? How does it manifest in each person? Cancer is the same way. How long is treatment? When will this be over? When will we know that it’s not going to come back? So it was like, is there yet another thing now that we have to worry about? 

In the very beginning, I was in a state of complete – I mean, you go from this busy life, lots of distractions, very busy work, everyone’s got their full schedule, and then you find out one day your kid has cancer.

Since I’ve now surrendered to cancer, it was easier for me to surrender to COVID. I wasn’t working any more. I had no social life that wasn’t phone calls or walks.

Her doctor at UCLA told us, “I really doubt Karenna’s going to get this (based the way scientists believe the virus interacts with the body, and evidence from Italy and New York City).” He’s more worried about me getting it, or (her husband) Charles getting it. Karenna can’t bear the thought of me getting sick.

For instance, if I was to have a fever, she would have to get chemo alone. Now, anyone 13 or older is getting chemo alone. The kids are sitting there bawling behind other curtains in the chemo clinic. One parent is allowed, but if that one parent is sick, the kid has to get it alone, which is super-traumatic.

Also, Karenna had planned this big trip post-chemo, which was supposed to be in June – she wanted to go to Italy. Now we can’t go anywhere for God knows how long.

But you know what? As awful as it has been, there has been so much beauty. The amount of support! There was this woman who organized 75 people in our neighborhood to bring Karenna a gift every single day. Every single morning there’s a beautiful wrapped gift outside our door. And we don’t even know these people. It’s all anonymous. 

There’s something really beautiful about community and the simplicity of our family now.  I never played Monopoly with the girls their entire childhoods, and we played Monopoly. Before, we were always going in different directions. It was kind of a big deal after we played, because I thought, Wow, we never do anything like that.  The amount of family dinners we’ve had, cooking meals, sitting outside by the pool. We never cleared our schedules in 20 years. Now it’s like, what are we doing for breakfast? What are we doing for lunch? Elizabeth (the oldest girl) gets up and makes coffee for everyone. She takes orders. Anything that you would have gotten at any matcha bar. She’s trying to find boba. That’s all we don’t have.

I’ve always believed in God, but there’s something really different now. I’ve had to accept that I’m not really 100 percent in control. Things are going to happen and I’m going to have to roll with it.

I used to sit down every night and make my list and it was like, Okay, I’m going to get through this list tomorrow. Everything will be done on this list. There is no list anymore. And I don’t even care. I’m telling you I care about nothing anymore but health and family.

Now, with this pandemic, the entire world is worried about health. Every single person knows that health is at risk. There’s a unity.

This is a long-term quarantine, which is very much parallel to what we’ve experienced. It feels like saying, “Do you get what we’ve been going through?” and everyone in the world is like, “Yes!”

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.

Sunday interview: Laurie Jacoby

April 19, 2020

Laurie’s dog, Bear

Laurie Jacoby walked into a Venice loft seven years ago and knew she’d found her home. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is such a perfect space,’” she said.

Sunshine poured in from a skylight in the high ceiling that soared above a spacious living room and kitchen. Sure, it was only 1600 square feet total. And there were no doors save for the one bathroom, so whatever anybody said or listened to in the bedroom could be clearly heard at the other end of the home.

But what did she care? She was a divorced empty-nester, shedding a house in Westside Village where she’d raised her daughter and son. It was only going to be her there, and anyway, she’d be at work all week.

So she moved in, and it was everything she’d hoped and more. At times, with the beach and the bike path a stone’s throw away, it could feel like being on a permanent vacation.

Three years passed this way. Then life got even better. “I didn’t anticipate,” she said, “falling in love again.”

Fast-forward another four years, and Laurie and her boyfriend, Mark Schwarz live in the loft together. There’s family nearby and far away: her 91-year-old mother is in New Jersey, Mark has grown children in LA and Denver, Laurie’s 34-year-old daughter lives with her boyfriend a few blocks away, and her 29-year-old son lives with his girlfriend near Dodger Stadium.

I talked to Laurie last week about sheltering in a small space with the one you love.

How long have the two of you been quarantining?

I’ve been home five weeks yesterday. I went to work on a Thursday and I thought, “This doesn’t feel right.”  Mark has asthma. Because I represent journalists [she’s an agent], we have the TV on at work so we can watch our clients all day long. If something happens in the world, I will know about it. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but all of a sudden it felt like, “This isn’t going to get better.”

I ran to Trader Joe’s and ran home and said, “Okay, this is where we are. This is it.”

Did you think you’d still be here, locked down?

Ha! No, I thought it would be, like, a week or two. How long could it last?

This is so strange.

No doors. One bedroom. Two people. How’s that going, day after day after day?

If you are in one room, you can hear if someone scratches their nose in another room. We have two televisions, one in the bedroom and one in the living room, but there’s no way you can watch them at the same time.

You can’t go into the bedroom and close the door. And now I’m working at home which I’ve never really done before.

The way I decompress is I need quiet and I need alone time. I’m someone who likes to read with complete silence, so that’s been a challenge.

Does it stress Mark out too?

No, it doesn’t bother him in the same way. But really quickly, he got anxious about his health concerns. Three years ago he got the flu and his lung capacity was down to 10 percent.

As soon as I realized we’d be staying at home, I’m worried about food and stuff like that. I was like, “What series are we going to watch?” Meanwhile, he’s thinking about his asthma, reading about people having to go on ventilators. But now we’re here, we’re secure, we’re fine.

So I’m guessing you run all the errands?

Because I’m 63 and Mark is asthmatic and 67 and my kids absolutely adore him, they have been so protective of us. They’re making sure we’re not shopping. At first they were getting all our groceries. Now we’re all using Instacart and other delivery services.

It feels like I’m so young and vital and healthy. It makes this whole pandemic seems real, when they say “No, do Instacart, because this could be terribly serious for both of you.”

It’s a little like the tables are turned. They are taking care of us, and that’s sometimes difficult for Mark and me to accept.

 But we’re also so grateful. There’s this back and forth that’s happened sort of organically, people caring for each other in ways we didn’t know we would.

Okay, not only can’t you go to the office, you can’t even go to the store. What’s a release? How do you find some peace?

 We also have a 90 pound lab mix in this space of ours. His name is Bear, and we have to walk him. He’s a sweet, sweet dog. I’m outside right now, for instance, looking at the boats, and it’s lovely.

In the morning, I’ll get up before Mark does.  I take a novel, whatever book I’m reading, and I try to read while the sun starts coming up over the skylights. That’s my quiet time. That’s where I’m finding I do have some privacy. Once he gets up, I’ll have some breakfast, then I’ll head over to the counter or the big comfy chair in the bedroom to do some work.

I also had to spell out some rules. Like, I would say, “I’m going to take a bath,” and Mark would say, “I’m going to walk the dog.” It would be really nice in the bath, I’d light some candles, and then I come out and it’s like, oh, he’s back. He’s back already. No, I need more time.

So now I say, “No, here’s the deal. I’m going to take a bath and then, as I’m getting out of the bath, you’re going to walk the dog.”

We’re figuring out how to make the space work for us.

How about friends? Are you socializing on the phone? On video chat?

The thing that’s driving me the most nuts is that I’m not a friend of technology. All the Zoom calls, that much time on my screen. I don’t want it in my personal life. Usually I don’t look at my email all weekend. These days, I’m at my counter and drinking and talking to friends. That is driving me nuts. I’m making it lovely for myself, but everything is happening within my walls.

I know from Facebook that you had a birthday this week. How was it, celebrating a birthday in quarantine?

Mark sent me flowers. He made signs and put them up around the loft, saying things like “Happy birthday! No one is invited!”

On Sunday, my daughter brought by Wexler’s lox, everything bagels and cream cheese. Oh my god. I said to Mark, “This is the best lox, and the best bagel I’ve ever had.”

And the kids were really sweet. All four of them [her daughter and son and their partners] showed up in our parking lot, and they have a happy birthday song playing from the car. They’re dancing, because they know I like to dance. The six of us, we’re all dancing in the parking lot, with six feet between us, and it’s so sweet. My son made a sourdough bread for me. He dances into the middle of our circle, and puts it down. Then I dance into the middle and get it. People would walk by and one of them would call out, “It’s Laurie’s birthday!”

We also ordered in dinner. It was only the second time we’ve done that (since the lockdown started) because we were nervous about that at first. Mark ordered in Italian food, including pizza, because he knows it’s my favorite. I looked at him and said, “This is the best pizza I’ve ever had.”

It was the funniest kind of birthday. In a way, it was one of the best. The littlest things made me so happy.

Any other bright spots in this dark time?

I’m taking a bunch of dance classes – I’m a Lindy hopper!.      

Sometimes I take my music and class outside. There is an office building next-door and the front doors are all glass – acting as a mirror.  So I’m basically dancing on the sidewalk and no one seems to care!  THAT is freedom.  

Featured photo of Venice by Shanna Camilleri on Unsplash