Week 22: How to Drive Yourself Crazy Buying a Car Long Distance

August 25, 2020

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

I have not been this stressed in a while.

A week and a day ago, I still believed that our middle child, Eli, would be moving into his dorm at Michigan State University this Friday.

Then we found out the school would be completely online, and the dorms would be closed to all but the neediest students. So maybe Eli would stay home. But then he and three friends got together and decided to rent a house. Only they couldn’t find a house. They thought as musicians they’d be too noisy for an apartment building — until they learned the practice rooms on campus would be open. So they looked for an apartment together. But all the four bedroom apartments turned out to be in buildings run by a company that has one-star ratings on Yelp (good job, Eli, checking that out before we signed a lease!). All seemed lost — until they realized they could split up, and rent a pair of two-bedroom apartments in the same building.

Saturday morning, he and his friend Juan (sax player, Florida) signed a lease on a two-bedroom, and Emma (bass, Sacramento) and Andrew (piano, South Dakota) committed to its twin in a neighboring building, after Emma’s dad checked out one of the units, because luckily, he happens to be in the area right now, tending to his mother who lives in Michigan.

The rent must be high for this part of the country, because from the pics, Eli will have a nicer kitchen than we do out here (this is not a super-high bar; our kitchen dates from 1952, but still, granite counter tops for a kid who just learned how to make tuna salad on Monday?). Anyway, it’s done. He has a place to live.

But that turned out to be only the start of our worries. He needs a bed. A frying pan. Dishes. Forks. Something to sit on. A way to vacuum the wall-to-wall carpet. A toilet brush, so that I can have the fantasy he will clean the bathroom from time to time. Oh, and a car. He’s 1.7 miles from campus, where he will need to go to practice, apparently, and the already-sketchy bus service has been further reduced due to the pandemic. Juan, the roommate, has a car, but they don’t know how their schedules will mesh.

I’m sure there are more challenging tasks in life, but that said, it is NOT easy trying to buy a used car in Michigan when you live in California. I know what you’re thinking — why not let Eli deal with it when he arrives? This is a perfectly sensible question. And here’s the honest answer: he’s already pretty stressed about this entire new life he finds himself in. All day long, he’s twitching, or tapping his fingers, or juggling his leg when he sits. He’s not there, in more ways than one.

Okay, that’s fine, I’ve bought numerous cars in my day, new and used. I’m up for the task. But here’s the big surprise: there are hardly any cars to be found. You find a used car with reasonable mileage, at a low price? You’d better be on that lot within the hour, cash in hand, or it is gone. I’ve literally never seen anything like this. One salesman told me this all goes back a few months, to the stimulus checks the government mailed out this spring. Lots of people, apparently, decided to use them to buy or lease cars. But because the automakers had shut down production due to the virus, there were no new cars coming onto the lots. So when buyers ran out of new cars, they started buying used. Meanwhile, people who wanted new cars, or who wanted to exchange older leased models for a brand new lease, were unable to do so, further limiting the used car inventory.

Here’s what this looks like in practice: I find a 2010 Honda CR-V with 65,000 miles on it and an excellent service record. It seems rather over-priced, but I’m confident I can bid them way down. I find a nearby mechanic who says he can look over the car for me, then I call the dealership to arrange the drop off at the mechanic’s shop. This is at 11 a.m. my time, yesterday. The guy says he’ll ring up the mechanic, then call me back. By 1:45 p.m., I still haven’t heard from him, so I call the salesman back. Someone’s looking at the car. By evening it’s sold. I ask about the 2009 on the lot, the one with 106,000 miles. Sold too, yesterday, but they haven’t had time to take it down online. I bet. Busy, busy over there.

I find an old Subaru at a different dealer, and call the next morning. Someone is just signing on the dotted line for that one, as we speak. Then the salesman for the 2010 Honda calls me back. Yesterday’s deal fell through. Am I still interested? Yes! Okay, he says, he’ll call me right back. When an hour passes, then two, I know what’s happened. It sold again, even as we were discussing it on the phone.

Meanwhile, have I worked? Have I caught up on my emails? Have I phoned GE to find out why our refrigerator says the water filter is 10 days expired, but its automatic replacement has not shown up in the mail? No, no and no (though as I write this, I realize the missing filter may be less about GE and more about the Post Office under President Trump).

I went on a dog walk with my friend Uttara today and talked her ear off about this car thing for a good 15 minutes before it occurred to me that I am trying to buy a car at one of the worst possible moments of the year, if not of the decade, and that Eli could simply make do until October. That’s when one of the salesmen told me the new cars will start arriving in dealerships again, freeing up the entire system. So unless some amazing deal falls into our lap, I informed Eli at lunchtime, we have officially put car buying on ice until later in the fall.

That gave me a moment to fire off a few emails for an article, and then turn to the next important matter at hand: the apartment itself. This was a walk in the park compared to the cars. Eli plopped down in a chair next to me, and we bought a mattress that will rest on a black wooden platform that the saleswoman at the local mattress store convinced him will be the essence of cool (I’m convinced there’s something in it for them, but I couldn’t figure out what). They’re delivering it the afternoon of the day he arrives in East Lansing. Then we went on the Bed Bath and Beyond site and bought pans and sheets and plates and a few other things that seemed essential. His friend Josh can take him there after he picks him up at the airport, and they can get it all curbside. The store was out of flatware, but Eli said don’t worry, he’ll make do with plastic for awhile. And a colander, as critical as it seemed to me for a pasta lover like himself, was something he says he can figure out down the line, along with a toaster and a trash can.

I was hoping — I crossed and double-crossed my fingers — that I was now done with my part of the move to an apartment in the Upper Midwest.

Then Eli came home from an errand and said he understood about waiting on the car buying thing, he totally got it. But he was stressed, worrying about how he would get around East Lansing when he was too scared to use Uber or Lyft, due to the virus. He didn’t want to be a burden on his friends. He didn’t think it was safe to try to ride a bike with the trombone strapped to his back. He was so, so stressed.

I saw where this was headed. I fired up my internet browser and typed in http://www.edmunds.com. Three hours later and we’re looking at cutting a check tomorrow to Dunning Toyota of Ann Arbor for a 2017 Toyota Corolla with 28K miles on it.

It’s a newer car than we planned on, but it turns out that if he gets Michigan insurance, they don’t ding you for newer model cars there like they do in California. Plus, the cost of the auto insurance in Michigan is less than half of what it would be here in L.A. It’s also a pricier car than we planned to get, but with all the money we’re saving on insurance, we can afford it.

So that’s it, right? I’m just about done with all this apartment stuff? All this spending, throwing the money away so fast it’s like the stuff is on fire and I’m trying not to burn my hands.

Well, after I get him renter’s insurance.

Then comes the hard part. We have to say good-bye.

Masks!

August 4, 2020

Our dog, Georgie, guarding some of my mask collection

I read that there are thousands (millions?) of people across this country who refuse to wear a mask. Over here, in my little corner of West LA, I’m doing my part to counteract that.

I own so many masks. I have a black mask, and a blue one, and an orangey-red one. I have one with cranberry flowered fabric and blue lace straps that slide over the neck and the back of the head. I have two or three tie-dyed ones with cotton straps that loop over the ears. I just opened a mail packet to find two masks inside, one white with embroidered flowers, the other one pink-checked. I have no idea when I ordered these things. I must have thought I lacked that pink gingham touch around my mouth?

Honestly, on any given day around here, you can open up an Amazon-delivered pouch to find new, random masks inside.

Mostly they’re for me. The boys seem to rotate between one or two cloth masks, even though I insist that’s not sanitary. Sarah has a cute collection of satiny white and black ones with swirly patterns, but half the time she uses disposables because she can’t find any of the others. And Bill always uses disposables. We keep a tray of them by the front door, for grab and go. I don’t think they’re eco-conscious, but I purchased the tray when the boxes of them kept appearing, and looked so unattractive on the entry way table. I guess that makes me an enabler.

I suppose I keep hoping that if my mask looks cheery, or at least attractive, it will sweeten the reason for wearing it. To me, those disposable masks look like defeat, like an ugly, paper, medicinal concession to the virus (I also think they have a chemical smell, and wonder what I’m doing to my body if I inhale that every day). I also hold out this hope that somewhere out there is the Perfect Mask — the one that won’t fog up glasses, or slide down until the tip of my nose is practically poking out, or make it prohibitive for me to breath and talk at the same time.

I’m still looking for the mask of my dreams, but if you’re curious, here are links to two of my favorites so far:

Tie-dye from Everlane, which also has plain ones (Liam says these are his favorites) — https://www.everlane.com/products/unisex-human-mask-5-tie-dye?collection=face-masks

Designer masks, from Michael Stars. On the pricey side, but boy, are they comfy, and do they fit well! — https://www.michaelstars.com/products/lightweight-shaped-mask-3-pack-msjmask3pk

Any masks you love? Leave a comment and tell me about it. I’m always happy to add to my collection!

Week 18: Will College be a Super-Spreader Event?

July 30, 2020

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Four days ago, a mom named Sonia posted this to the Michigan State Spartan Parents Group on Facebook: “Please tell me are you nervous about Covid-19?”

Two hundred people have answered — so far — and here’s the breakdown:

  • Yes — 80
  • Believe it’s manageable with precautions — 29
  • No — 91

I’m not going to bore you with the “yes”es and their reasons. The manageable-with-precautions group seems to rest its faith in the ubiquity of hand sanitizer, the efficacy of cloth masks, and the maturity of college students. I think I begin to teeter after the hand sanitizer and fall off completely after the cloth masks.

Finally, here are a few of the “no” answers.

“Hell no!” responded Alisa.

“Nope … not at all,” wrote Monica. “Why are you asking the question?”

“Nope,” said Becky. “Have other things more pressing.”

“NO, not in the least,” wrote Julie. “My Dr told me my kids have a much higher chance of dying from a lightening strike. And a car accident is more likely, too. This is in God’s hands like everything else.”

And the kicker, for me anyway, from a dude named Dennis: “Nope. It’ll be over November 5th.”

(“Nope,” btw, is a real favorite of the “what-me-worry?” crowd. There’s an absoluteness about it, I guess, that a simple “no” presumably fails to convey.)

I was struck by many things as I scrolled down the interminable list of replies, but one in particular that stood out, from people on both sides of the question, was the assumption that the worry was individual and particular. They were, or they weren’t, worried about whether their own child would get the coronavirus at school.

This occurs to me because I’m working on that exact article, about parental anxiety surrounding kids going back to college. But the more I report it out, the more convinced I become that it’s not our college-age sons and daughters we should be worried about, when we talk about a return to campus. It’s everyone else. What we are doing this fall, as a nation, is highly risky.

There’s been lots of talk about which colleges are holding in-person classes and which are going completely online. The New York Times even has a database, where you can type in the name of a college and learn about its plan for the upcoming semester. But we forget — this isn’t elementary school. It’s not even community college. Just because you lock up the classrooms doesn’t mean the kids stay at home.

At Cal, where my older son goes, only freshmen live in the dorms, and not even all of them, because demand outstrips supply. Nearly every sophomore, junior, senior and graduate student lives in off-campus housing, whether that’s an apartment, a co-op, a rented house with friends, or a fraternity or sorority. Berkeley has gone 100 percent virtual for the fall. But that’s education-only. Dorms are open and, more importantly, the kids are heading back to town.

Just think, how many thousands of people will be on the move in August and September, criss-crossing county lines and state boundaries and the nation itself. And many of these people, if they catch the virus, will have a mild or even asymptomatic case. Plus they are young, with a high tolerance for risk. I don’t see how this is going to work out well, or even manageably, given the current state of things.

I just got off the phone with an infectious disease doctor at the University of Michigan. The danger, she said, really isn’t to the students. It’s exceedingly rare for young people without pre-existing conditions to end up hospitalized with COVID, she said. At most, they tend to have a fever for three or four days, then they bounce back up and go about their business.

The trouble, she said, is for the rest of the community. The virus may begin on a residence hall, or in a fraternity house (already, in California alone, there have been such cases at U.C. Berkeley and USC), but if the university doesn’t have robust contact tracing and quarantining practices in place — or if it does, but they get overwhelmed — then that’s not where it ends.

Sorry. I know this is scary stuff. But after reading article after article, and preparing to write one myself on this subject, I feel like we’re failing to see the elephant in this room. It’s not just about keeping the students safe, or the faculty, or how many people can share a classroom. It’s about what happens in every college town in every city in the country this fall, and how safe those people, newly arrived from literally all over, can keep the rest of us.

Week 17: Another car?

July 23, 2020

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

How many cars does one household need?

For the last four years, we’ve been an outlier among our friends. In 2015, we added a third driver. In 2018, we added a fourth. At some point, our 16-year-old will get in the last of her driving lessons and take the test and we’ll add a fifth driver.

We still have two cars.

The only reason this is possible is that my husband, Bill, likes to ride his bicycle to work. He’s spent entire summers, when one or both boys were at home, barely getting behind the wheel. These days, all five of us are home, and there have been weeks, when the bike path was closed, when Bill had to drive every day. That was fine, though. The rest of us had nowhere to go anyway.

But even though cases are going through the proverbial roof in L.A., we’re also moving around more these days. Part of that is we’re stir-crazy. But it’s also true that we don’t know anyone who is sick with the virus. We did back in March.

I think I had it, but I tested negative for the virus and for antibodies, and so my “illness” is a source of fierce debate around this house. But leaving me aside, we knew quite a few other people who fell ill with odd respiratory symptoms, and some of them did test positive. The germs felt pervasive, and universal.

Today? There’s no sign of it except in the news. This makes me feel bad, because I suspect that’s a sign of affluence. My husband and my physician friends tell me COVID is rampaging through poor households, and that the hospitals are filled with Latino patients. I heard a story today of one such household — a nuclear family of a mother, asthmatic father and three little kids; a grandma and a grandpa with a lung condition; and two uncles, all sharing a four bedroom apartment. The mother and the asthmatic father and the grandmother all have tested positive for COVID, and the mom, dad and three kids have spent the last two weeks in one room together, trying to shelter from the others.

Same city as me. Different world altogether.

This is not fair. Of course not. None of this is fair. Not only can I afford a third car when many Angelenos can’t even afford one. But now, it turns out, my family and I can afford to not know anyone who is ill. Our privilege surrounds us like a vast ocean, lapping away from us all the way to the horizon.

Some days, I feel like the very fact of this virus will crush me. But that’s me being fragile. Imaginative. Too drenched in the news. The truth is, I have time and space to worry about possible exposure at a time when there are so many cases, L.A. is running out of tests.

Meanwhile, I’ve got three kids who try very hard to stay safe. They wear masks. They socially distance. They keep their friend circles small and somewhat exclusive. But they’ve also been cooped up here for months, and the last thing I want is three depressed young adults on my hands. So at the moment, their lives are — how shall I put this — not exactly isolated.

One of these days, Sarah will drive, too. I suspect it may be time to break down and get that third car, if just to avoid the ear-splitting arguments when everyone’s back home in December and there aren’t nearly enough wheels to go around.

We have one hybrid already, a Ford Fusion. Liam, who studies environmental economics, insists our third car be green as well. I don’t want to lavish a lot of money on this thing and anyway, our insurance tells me if I get them a car that’s new or new-ish, my insurance bill will leap by 5K annually once Sarah gets her license. But if I get them a seven or eight year old car, it’ll inch up by $600. At the moment, I have my eye on a 2012 Lincoln hybrid sedan. Not too sexy (sorry, guys) but not too thirsty, either, and what a deal, because who else would want it?

I’m not sure I do, either. But life is getting busy, and soon there will be five of us vying for the driver’s seat.

Week 16: Pool Area

July 14, 2020

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I was a kid, growing up in Encino, we had a pool in our backyard. It was what they call in the real estate business “kidney-shaped” (though do you really want to think about kidneys and swimming in the same breath?), and it had rounded concrete edges and a diving board with a nice, solid bounce.

There was very little to do in that house in the 1970s on a summer day. We lived on a busy street on one of those hills that are ubiquitous in the south San Fernando Valley — not really a hill, but the side of a Santa Monica Mountain — and the cars whooshed by on their way to either the flat, sidewalked streets at the top, or to Ventura Boulevard down below. There were hardly any kids around to play with, and none who were my friends. So when I think of the summers, I have two memories: day camp, or lounging for long hours by the pool with my younger brother, Mark.

The pool was surrounded by a chain link fence, I guess so no one could accidentally drown in it. Though I don’t remember a time when we couldn’t open the gate and a dog did drown in the pool once, a Scottish terrier named Heather, who was only 14 months old, and the fence had nothing to do with it. But anyway, there it was, and to get there you’d walk out the back door and across the asphalt driveway — where a pepper tree shed crushable red pellets and lizards dashed, from one spot of shade to the next — up three cement steps, to the gate with one of those horseshoe-shaped latches that you’d have to lift up with one hand while you pushed the gate with the other. This was not easy when you were holding towels and drinks and god knows whatever else you needed to sustain you because the back door was always too far to go.

And then you were there, and there were so many possibilities. You could sit in a chair or lie on a chaise lounge. All were made out of metal frames criss-crossed with plastic strips that stuck to the back of your legs and left checked red marks when you got up. The chaise lounges, though, were fun, because they could be adjusted, from barely reclining to lying flat out on your back, and if you positioned your beach towel well enough, only the backs of your heels and ankles got glued to the furniture. Maybe you’d lie there and read a book, or sit part-way up and color in one.

You could turn on the radio, plugged into an electrical outlet, to KHJ-AM, and listen to the latest hits. Just don’t touch the cord when you’re wet.

The pavement was always scorching hot, so you could try walking on it barefoot and see how long you could go until the pain was so searing you leapt into the nearest chair, or the pool.

And the pool! You could have races. You could see how long you could hold your breath underwater. You could pretend there was an imaginary world underwater and pretend to have conversations with your imaginary friends, until you ran out of breath and had to resurface so you could gulp air and continue the story.

You could dive off the diving board, which was made of decaying wood topped by some peeling material that could occasionally leave you at risk of splinters. But mostly it was okay. You could do a cannonball. You could do a belly flop. You could learn how much belly flops hurt and teach yourself how to execute a proper dive.

You could also walk along the pool’s edge, one foot in front of the other, not quite balanced, about to either fall in sideways or simply stumble on the broiling cement.

At a time when I lacked neighbors and 24 hour screens, it was about as much fun as I could possibly have on a hot day when school was out and, for whatever reason, camp wasn’t on the schedule. I knew it was good. But I knew other kids had it better — more friends to play with, more space to play in — and even as I enjoyed myself, there was no denying the isolation and even loneliness of those long, summer days.

Friends, I think we are all stuck this summer in some version of my Encino backyard. There’s the trappings of the season — the heat and the wet and the family and the furniture we know too well and the creative-fun making. Many of us are privileged, and some are not, but we are all united in wanting more. No matter how much fun that pool is, in the end it’s not the ocean. It’s not even a lake. And as many games as you and your brother can dream up, is it ungrateful to wish that a few more people could join the party?

Here’s the difference: summer ended, and we went back to school. But school’s back online this fall. The country is shutting down again. Across the world, other nations are getting back to normal. Taiwan just held a film festival. New Zealand managed to bring the virus to heel, and the government has lifted almost all restrictions. In the entire nation of Canada, there were 321 cases last week. Meanwhile, Florida tops 15,000 in one day alone.

I love my home life, just like I loved that backyard in Encino. But I’ve been here all spring. I’m going to stay here all summer. Looks like the fall will be more of the same. It doesn’t have to be this way. We are destroying ourselves with our lack of imagination, our inability to pivot in a crisis, our insistence that the way we’ve always done it — each person for herself, individual before community, community before nation — is the way we must barrel forward.

And so here we will remain, stranded in what my family used to so poetically call the “pool area,” making games out of hot concrete and a splintering diving board and a mammoth bowl of chlorinated water. Better order up some foam noodles, and a couple of rafts. It’s going to be a long one.

Week 15: College Choices

July 9, 2020

Sunrise over Agriculture Hall, Auditorium Road and Hannah Plaza, Michigan State Univerity

In less than six weeks, we’re going to have to start making some consequential decisions about schooling.

Our oldest, Liam, is supposed to start his senior year at U.C. Berkeley next month. He wants to drive up north, from our home in L.A., on August 19. He says I should unload him and his stuff on the sidewalk in front of his fraternity house, give him one last hug and speed away. All of his classes will be online, which will keep professors and staff safe. As for Liam, he’ll be living with 30 to 40 other guys, in a house that never seemed that clean to me to begin with.

Our middle son, Eli, is still waiting on a move-in date for his dorm at Michigan State, where he’ll be a sophomore. The school says it’s a go for a late August start, which in Eli’s case means living on campus, one history class online, and a slew of music classes that are listed as hybrid, or even in-person. The School of Music hasn’t released many details, so he and his friends have filled in the blanks, imagining music theory classes where you go once a week, on your assigned day, in person, and the rest of the time participate as best you can from your computer screen in your room. He’s a trombone player, and he’s hoping to do some of his playing in person. Can you imagine being a middle-aged professor in a room, no matter what the size, with eight or nine kids blowing through their horns, during this pandemic? No, I can’t either.

Eli’d like me to fly with him across the country, so I can help him retrieve his things from a friend’s basement, where they’ve been stored since he rushed home in March, and move them into his new room. But that seems like a lot of unnecessary exposure for me. He’ll have to go alone this time.

Meanwhile, LA Unified continues to try to plot out a path forward, but it’s looking narrower every day. I just don’t see, with the city’s numbers the way they are, how the district will bring kids back for in-person classes. This will be a hard pill for Sarah to swallow: after months of isolation, months more ahead. But I will know she’s safe. And maybe we can finally go somewhere. Bill has to reserve vacation time months in advance, and when everything was going haywire during the initial lockdown, we forgot to book days during the summer. We figure if classes are online, maybe she could do online from a rented condo in Palm Springs for a week in October or November. Something to look forward to, at least.

Meanwhile, I worry about my boys. I don’t see how either of them goes back to school and escapes exposure to the virus. And not just a little exposure, but high, repeated, viral loads worth of exposure. They’re 21 and 19, both in excellent health. They should be fine. But as we now know, this virus is capricious. I don’t want to keep them at home when they want to be there. I also don’t want to spend my fall worrying about them, plotting what I would do if they got hospitalized and I needed to go to them.

But that’s the crisis tomorrow. In the meantime, Bill’s on hospital service again this week. This never happens during the summer, but then again, COVID-19 never happened during the summer. He’s not on the COVID ward, but yesterday his duties involved a trip to the ER, which is pretty much COVID Central. So, not great. But he comes home each day in good health and he leaves each morning after running for miles and miles. We don’t exactly get used to it. But I, at least, have learned to live with his risk in the background of my days.

I suppose that’s my model for the fall, and my boys. Fret a lot and often at first. Then, loosen my grip, and allow it to slide it to the background, just one more noise in the low hum of threat all around.

Week 14: Caseload

June 25, 2020

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Do you ever start to type “2020,” as I just did, find you’ve written “2002” instead, and wish that it wasn’t a typo?

I can’t believe I keep waking up to this year.

I can’t believe we are running from a plague we cannot corral, under the stewardship of a President who would rather rant than lead.

I can’t believe that I spent half of 2008 sending $5 and $10 donations to Barack Obama’s campaign, bopping along to newscasters declaring a “postracial nation,” floating straight through New Year’s on the high of electing the nation’s first black president, only find myself living in a society as racist as any I’ve read about in the history books.

I can’t believe that after the shitshow that was the fall of 2008 and the entire year of 2009, we have allowed so many of our fellow citizens to remain on such a precarious financial edge that this shutdown has instantly thrown them into financial desperation.

I can’t believe that, thanks to this virus, so many people have so little money dropping into their bank accounts, and the federal government is not riding out on a white horse to save them.

And of course, I can’t believe the numbers. The caseloads. The hospitals that are filling up, not in New York this time, but in Texas, Arizona and Florida. Bill tells me the numbers are up at his hospital, too, here in L.A. Can you get your head around this? I know I can’t. Are we supposed to stay in our homes for the foreseeable future? What if I do, and you don’t? What if I’m home and bored, and you’re out and having fun, and I get sick again, and you don’t?

Or what if I can’t stand it anymore either, and go making merry with my friends, and I get sick again and they do, too?

I got tested for antibodies a couple of weeks ago, and it came back negative. That should settle the question, that I didn’t have the virus. But I’m on a FB group for virus lingerers, and just about everyone on there who had a mild case has tested negative for antibodies. I’m pretty slammed with work right now, but one day when I can emerge from all these deadlines, I would love to pitch a story about whether mild COVID cases fly under the antibody radar.

That, though, is in the future. At the moment, I feel pretty decent, as long as I limit my exercise to walking. I’ve also got these pink blotches on my shins that look like someone beat my legs up. Just on the inside. Just up to the knee. The doctors can’t tell me what they are, and since they don’t hurt or itch, I try not to worry about them. They did get darker right before my last relapse, a couple of weeks ago. Right now, they’re pale, so that’s good. Still, don’t expect to see me in shorts any time soon.

But the thought I can’t escape is that I don’t have any detectable antibodies to the coronavirus, so I could get it again. Or, if I’m wrong about all this, for the first time.

Another thing I can’t believe, in a long, long list of them.

Day 52: Health

May 18, 2020

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

I’ve decided to try to write about good things and gratitude this week, because frankly, the pall over this time is real, and living in shadows is a tough existence.

So. A bit of sunshine.

Today, I’m grateful for health. I’m grateful that my health is getting better. A nap a day seems to keep the fatigue at bay.

But more than that, I’m grateful that my husband is healthy, because back in March, when this whole thing started, I was so scared he wouldn’t be. Bill is an internist who mostly sees patients in clinic, but sometimes does weeks in the hospital. Today, actually, is his last day of seven in a row on hospital service. In these last couple of months, he’s treated patients who he feared had the coronavirus — and thankfully, they didn’t. He’s also worn a surgical mask (instead of an N-95) to treat a non-COVID patient who later turned out to have the disease. It’s been such a roller coaster.

I was also worried I would give him the virus. But, nothing.

About once a year, Bill gets the flu, and it can be a pretty violent affair — for 24 hours, he retreats to bed and can barely move. Then he’s up, and it’s over, and he returns to work. This year, that happened in January. I don’t think it was the coronavirus because I got that bug after him (as I’ve mentioned before, I get everything), and it did not feel anything like what felled me in March. It felt, basically, like the flu.

I worried that, for Bill, COVID-19 would be the flu on steroids. But so far, it’s been more like one of the colds that whip through our house from time to time: knocking me sideways, inconveniencing a kid or two, slipping right past my husband without so much as a sniffle.

I’m also grateful for the health of my parents and their partners. It’s not clear at this point if my father’s stroke last month was caused by a heart arrhythmia or by the coronavirus. He’s tested negative for the virus and the antibody test failed to come up with anything, but his constellation of symptoms was so strange that even his doctor has floated the possibility. In any case, he’s well again, as is his wife, Joyce, and for that I’m thankful.

My mother’s boyfriend, Richard, continues to recover, which in itself feels like a miracle, because he’s spent the entirety of 2020 so far quite ill from metastatic kidney cancer. But every time we see him these days, he stands a little straighter and his color’s a little brighter. My mom has stayed healthy, though the effort of nearly cutting herself off from the world leaves her quite bored.

My in-laws in upstate New York are healthy. My brother, and my husband’s brother, and their families are healthy. So are my kids. So is my extended family. So are my friends. At least, as far as I know.

I’ve never thought so much about illness at a time when I’m surrounded by such an abundance of good, even robust health.

The virus has, for the most part, treated my world gently. I pray it continues that way, for me and for you.

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 38: Stuck

May 4, 2020

Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com

I feel like I should be celebrating. Our governor, Gavin Newsom, just announced the easing of some stay-at-home rules, starting as early as the end of the week.

We’ll be able to buy clothes and flowers and basketballs from actual stores. Okay, they’ll have to bring purchases to the curb (I think that’s what he’s saying). But it’s a start. It’s like cracking the window and letting in the spring air after a long, hard winter.

But I’ve spent today intent on the virus. Not in the general sense, either; in the specific. In the way it refuses to leave my body.

I’ve tried so hard to be patient and thoughtful, to treat my health with the careful, ginger touch befitting an antique China doll.

But still, the virus comes back.

If I walk up Mar Vista hill, it comes back.

If I do a 15 minute exercise video, and then two days later do a 20 minute exercise video, it comes back.

If something stressful happens, it comes back.

If I eat food that aggravates my delicate stomach, it comes back.

If the plants bloom in the garden outside my bedroom, and my allergies flare, it comes back.

I don’t mean to say I’m lying around all the time, curled up on the couch, shivering and aching from head to toe, like when this first started. I’ve never popped a fever. I’ve never been short of breath.

But I still get some body aches and some headaches and some fatigue and some chest pain. Sometimes I wake up at 3 a.m. and my stomach hurts and I want to throw up and I’m wondering if I should head to the bathroom, only I’m so dizzy I end up lying there, debating which is more likely, vomiting or tripping. Sometimes — well, this morning — I finally got out of bed and stuck my finger into a pulse oximeter because my chest felt like someone slid a corset around it and pulled and the little device said 93 — which is just a touch too low.

But then I had some tea and puttered about the kitchen, and about three quarters of an hour later, I tried the device again and it now showed a perfect pulse ox of 99. The nausea drifted away, coaxing the dizziness along with it. The chest and body and head aches diminished, until they were mere whispers of their former selves, just a tension I only noticed if I stopped to inquire of myself.

It turns out I’m not alone in this. The prevailing wisdom is a mild case of the coronavirus should span no more than two weeks, before disappearing into the ether, like any other cold or flu. But like so much else with this virus, the prevailing wisdom is a pastiche of observation and wishful thinking. It may also be more appropriate for men than for women.

The South Korean government has been tracking relapse cases of COVID-19. Out of the 163 people they are following, 109 (or two-thirds) are women.

Another risk factor for relapse may be a pre-existing condition. I’ve had Lyme disease in the past, which may or may not be active these days (my understanding is it’s impossible to tell, because my positive Western Blot test only confirms that I was exposed, not that I’m still fighting the infection). But the one gift the Lyme seems to have left behind was a case of IBS that can flare to truly epic proportions. I’m working with physicians and therapists and herbalists on changing things, but at the moment, a dinner with onions and garlic will keep me up with stomach pain half the night.

A woman who struggled to recover from the coronavirus created a Slack group for others like her; when she surveyed her members, two-thirds reported having a pre-existing condition, such as seasonal allergies or asthma.

I joined this Slack group today, as well as a similar group on Reddit. While it is alarming to see channels like #60plus-days, there’s comfort in seeing I’m not alone, and, as appalling as it sounds, in reading about people who are worse off than I am. Day 40 of a fever, anyone?

To get this sickness is to tumble into a world of conjecture, where prayer feels nearly as potent as medicine.

I keep thinking about this woman, Laurie Garrett, whom Frank Bruni interviewed for his column in yesterday’s New York Times. She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s been predicting a pandemic like this for years now. She pictures the pandemic coming in waves, hitting Houston this time, Boston the next, going and going and going on.

“I’ve been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36 months, and that’s my best-case scenario,” she told Bruni.

What we don’t know about this virus could fill Donald Trump’s White House and spill out onto the South Lawn. Whatever we do, however we go forward from here, we need to remember that. Surprises lie ahead. Danger lies ahead. But it seems like we have to try. Doesn’t it?

On a side note, I’m not sure how often I will continue to write this blog once the world starts to open up again. I think I will keep it going, at least for awhile, but possibly not every day. Like with everything else, we’ll just have to see how it goes.