Saturday driving home from the store, listening to a pleasant family tale on This American Life, rudely interrupted by NPR to take me urgently to the White House where the presnut had something important to say. The NPR's common taters blabbed on a bit about what an important moment this was, what with the presnut talking about the virus and all. I have an alternate button on my radio for anytime the NPR bullshit gets too deep. It interrupts their program in favor of our local jazz station. Hello Thelonious Monk.
So Sunday I spent a couple of hours working in the yard (it was beautiful, sunny, 49). In the kitchen the radio is playing and it's there again, the presnut with another very very important message. Took me a minute to find an appropriate CD. Dixie Chicks.
What did we learn from these important interruptions? There is a terrible reporter at NBC who foolishly tossed the presnut a softball (Mr. presnut what do you say to all the Americans who are sacred?) to which the presnut responded by charging the mound. Is it finally clear that the presnut is not in control? Is it clear to the media that they should just ignore the presnut's pronouncements; report only his actions, not his words? Or that he has no real intention of being much help?
In the famous press briefing last Friday, the presnut said he was invoking the Defense Production Act which would allow use of the defense contracting process to produce needed medical supplies. Well enough. However, the executive order requires a lot more work from the administration, as it has delegated broad authority for contracting to Health and Human Services, Alex Azar.
Azar is admittedly one of the more competent cabineteers, having served as deputy at HHS during the regime of that Moron George W. Busch, but how much support does he have to get this moving? Not so much, apparently. No evidence that even Azar is serious. The WaPo reports this morning that the presnut is concerned that actually ordering manufacturers to focus their efforts on production of necessary medical supplies will make the USA look like Venezuela. What we have here is an oligarchs utopia. They remain safe in their strongholds, surrounded by armed guards and money. The poor people die off and the handful of technocrats needed to keep the oligarchy happy are rewarded by their corporate employers.
Illinois Governor Pritzker and our own Andy Cuomo have been asking that the presnut take the lead in coordinating the supply process, something that can only be done from the top. The problem, Pritzker says, is all states are now forced to compete with each other for supplies. Cuomo notes he had a contract for masks only to be later informed that the price had gone up. Competition from other states. Cost inflation and shortages. Thanks presnut "I am not a supply clerk." Of course, no matter what else happens we are assured by the presnut that he is not responsible.
I have sworn I am only going shopping twice a week and have already broken the rule. Harry always needs something. If you could just stop by the store to get this, he says, or I just need a couple of things, he says. I'm putting my foot down. Twice a week, Tuesdays and Saturdays. So I went today to Costco and the liquor store. Very little traffic on the streets. Costco had toilet paper, which I don't need. I bought cat litter and peanut butter and dog food and coffee. Essentials. They did not have Handiwipes or Clorox wipes or Lysol etc:
Today I paid with Costco rebate bucks, which you get in one certificate annually and they give you change in cash. I am old enough to be mostly cash based...unlike my youngest (Will) who thinks money is plastic or maybe stored in his phone. A couple weeks ago I loaded up on money so when I went to put the Costco rebate money in my wallet it was chock full. I realized I have not spent any cash in at least two weeks. Usually it's casual beer money, lunch with by oldest (Aaron), and quick trip to the store money. No lunch with Aaron for three weeks? No stops for a beer. The store quit taking money last week. Is it the end of the world as we know it?
I have to feel for the poor sports writers. The DnC has a total staff of about 8 reporters now. One food writer, one beer writer, two doing the work of the 28 or so public affairs and business and cop reporters they used to have... and four sports writers. (OK I may not have these numbers exactly right, but I'm close.)
The sports page is minimum six pages and is no problem to fill up in the normal world. There are prep sports and colleges (we have several, although only Syracuse gets much coverage), and everything from swimming and golf to fill in all the spaces left after the Bills have been thoroughly analyzed and dissected and bloviated. Most of that stuff is gone. What to do now?
They write a lot about Bills potential free agent trades to built the ideal powerhouse team, after draft rebuilding coverage. Lists of possible draft picks free agents is to be expected. There are always the how great Syracuse will be someday stories. Then nothing. So they are applying the Bills formula to prep sports. What to expect from returning starters from 11th grade? An interesting stretch. Histories of famous local sports events and heroes are being written. And recently, in a moment of editorial desperation, two whole pages of TV shows and movie favorites from the entire sports writing staff. Gotta fill that news hole. But they didn't include Porky's or Blues Brothers, Oh Brother Where Art Thou or A Boy and HIs Dog. And no Birdman?
Some days you get up in the morning and think you are sick. That little cough? Do you have a fever? I take my temperature twice a day. Are those sniffles that have been hanging on since January just an early symptom? Not my annual reaction to leaf mold? Hickory is worried that her cough, also a seasonal event, is something more. Paranoid? So is the rest of the world. So should we all be.
Every day is 14 days from sometime. I ran across a receipt from the last day we had dinner out.
March 10 at the Winfield Grill. They had a modest crowd that night and apparently we ran into no one who was sick. And the next day and the next? Nothing more threatening than the grocery store, a doctor's visit for Harry in there someplace and of course three times weekly to dialysis. The grocery now has shields between the checker and the customer, Costco enforces crowd control, keeps the carts six feet apart. The Vet called with my cat's test results and left the medication on her porch.
We are shutting down more and more here. Hickory's job is resettling refugees from Afghanistan who worked with the USA during our occupation of their homeland. It requires a lot of dealing with local relief agencies, landlords and volunteers, not to mention hand-holding with recently arrived refugees. They see her as everyone's mother. She has done a lot of necessary traveling about and visiting in the last month, but this week brought it to a halt. Too much exposure. She is staying home.
I learned how to navigate PFCU's cumbersome money transfer system so I can move money and pay bills from my desk. I changed my weekly shopping days to Tuesday and Friday, and am sticking to it. Hickory has severe allergies and keeps a small supply of masks gave me one for going out. I never thought I would wear a surgical mask to the grocery, but it's comforting. I also carry baby wipes with me (can't buy anything else) to clean off shopping carts, gas pump handles, countertops.
A good thing is we have Will and Swillar with us. They cook a lot and help about the house. It's a great opportunity to get to know them together. So far every night is a dinner party. Food, wine and conversation, the approved method for surviving a plague. Aaron is sheltering in place. Wish he could visit us here.
Talked to Aaron yesterday about him coming to visit. We are fairly confident of being safe except that Hickory's last visit with the Afghans was only a week ago and she is concerned that they may not be obeying all the separation rules, as she found them at a large social gathering. So we wait until at least next weekend.
Beautiful weather yesterday, rainy and cooler today. I'm starting in-door projects, like the long-delayed organizing of the books. I have about 180 feet of book shelves, most of them full. Only one set of shelves, the 56 feet in the main hallway (which I built myself) is reasonably organized and then only in a way that makes sense to me. It's mostly the history collection, but includes a selection of miscellaneous favored novels, books I thought were interesting once but may not have read, and current politics... stuff that is sort of history, but without the perspective offered by people who think about history professionally. I have two book cases, a shelf set of about 30 feet that has mostly detectives, spies, historical novels organized by author. Count 44 Bernard Cornwells, 22 Michael Connelly, a complete set of C.S. Lewis' Heratio Hornblower novels and of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin. Dos Passos. Grisholm and Dick Francis are pretty much in one place, but Elmore Leonard, Larry McMurtry and John LeCarre are scattered hither and yon. (Explain to Joyce Carrol Oates why she doesn't have her own place on the shelves? ) There is a lot of work to be done.
Everyone now seems to have recommendations for reading while isolated. Have some more:
My top five favorite novels about war:
James Jones, The Thin Red Line (You may want to start with From Here to Eternity, also a great book, and no reason not to read the Some Came Running and Whistle after you have gone that far.)
Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead (As gritty and real as Thin Red Line.)
Mark Halprin, A Soldier of the Great War. Had not been for Hemingway we may never have known there was such a war. Halprin gives it great depth and polish.
John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers. War is mostly hanging around waiting to be abused by some asshole noncom. Read all about it.
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage. Rich, rewarding, thoughtful. Crane writes as though he were there. (He wasn't.) A good companion to Jones and Mailer.
(Bonus book) Thomas Keneally, Daughters of Mars. Keneally, best known for Schindler's List, tells the story of two sisters who go off to war to work as nurses at Gallipoli. Beautifully told. Like most war stories, it doesn't end well.
Really excellent 19th Century romances:
Literature from the USA in this period is pretty thin. Fennimore Cooper has a couple of favorites, The Deerslayer and Last of the Mohicans.
For an eye-opener, I recommend Uncle Tom's Cabin. It's the most important book of the century, so ask yourself why no one ever asked you to read it in school. It's preachy and packed with heretical Christian theology (Harriett's daddy, a famous preacher of the day, moved the family to Ohio from Massachusetts in order to save the new state from the ravages of Catholicism). It presents a clear picture of the 19th Century white liberal view of slaves and black people in general. Uncle Tom is Uncle Tom, and there is the mischievous Topsy, but there is true romance and adventure (remember those young lovers from King and I?) and a view of what slavery was like. (Turns out Harriett Beecher Stowe meticulously documented it.) This is a picture of life under slavery not again attempted in American writing until very recently. And of course, as Abraham Lincoln pointed out, it's the book that started it all.
Read anything by Jane Austin, although I didn't care much for Northanger Abbey.
Anything by Thomas Hardy. Be cautious with Jude the Obscure. It's the first Hardy book I ever read and I think of it often still, but doubt that I will read it again. It's very moving and terribly sad. Favorites include Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess D'Ubervilles, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.
I got interested in George Elliott when I decided I had to finally read Silas Marner, which I was supposed to read in high school. I looked her up on the Wiki. Mary Ann Evans was well-regarded editor who started writing fiction late because she wanted to put more reality into fiction written by women. Then she published under a man's name. The pseudonym also allowed her to avoid the notoriety that would draw attention to the fact that she was shacked up with a married man. I read Middlemarch, supposed to be her finest work. I recommend Adam Bede.
So I went to Costco today. I think it's a safe place to shop because they clean every cart and enforce the crowd rules. They are limiting the number of people in the store, which means the line this morning was very very very long. Whatever I went for I didn't need that badly.
While cleaning the basement (a worthy task for this season) I find many boxes and bags of sheebees. A sheebee, of course, is something you have when you need it. The beauty of a sheebee is you may not know when you need it but you will know when you do. The solution when you find many of them is to find a large box and put them all in it. Then you have a box of sheebees.
Happy Easter Eggs, eh? I'm never too sure when its Easter so we had the ham last week. This week we are back to pot roast.
I think I recently discussed new skills you learn when you are in plague defense mode. Such as transferring money using the clunky banking system at the local baby credit union. So lately I have expanded my skills and have been manically ordering shit from the internets.
Usually when I have a home project it takes several trips to the Man Store to get it done. This is mostly because of lost tools, lost parts and most importantly, poor organization and planning. Nearly two weeks ago we had a decent weather day so I went after this project of cutting back this massive hedge that every year tries to overwhelm my solar panels. It's right behind the solar array and about 10 feet tall, which allows the top branches to grow over the panels. I usually just cut back the top branches. This year it's coming down to four feet or so. Serious cutting ahead.
So of course the battery powered sawzall disn't work, and I'm contemplating an extra trip to Le Depot des Hommes. No unnecessary shopping! I choose the internets which delays the effort nearly a week... but you know, I'm not in a hurry. I want to get it done before the new growth comes on, but there are a few weeks before that happens. It took three separate orders. One for the saw, one when I realized It didn't have any batteries with it, and one for blades. Fortunately I got all those orders in a single day.
Since then I have ordered camera batteries, ink for my printer and a massive roll of plain brown paper. I think I had had too much to drink when I did that.