Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Perks Of Very Dark Times

It's true I have not written any posts since March, when the coronavirus and political discord got the best of me and I had a hard time finding humor in anything. But recently I got to thinking. Just because I've lost my sense of humor doesn't mean I can't write words down. So here you go!

. . .

These are dark times for anyone whose name doesn't rhyme with Pezos, but the silver lining is there to be found if you just look. Sure, it's a pain to wear a face mask, but there ARE some upsides:

  • Nobody can see if you have spinach in your teeth. 
  • Nobody can be blown back by your bad breath. 
  • Men, your coworkers won't even know if you've shaved or not. 
  • The fact that everyone who lost their jobs over COVID isn't masking up and robbing banks every day is sincerely heartening. 
  • Research shows that most of us have gained a 59% increase in our daily requirement of breathed cotton lint.
  • Genuinely dumb people, who believe that re-breathing your own carbon dioxide will kill you, are suddenly very vocal, providing free entertainment for those who have already watched everything on Netflix.
  • Total strangers can now get into fights (hey, your body doesn't care HOW you get your cardio) over facial wear, an advancement that even earrings on men could never bring about. 
  • For the first time in history, the audience-reach of the political yard sign has been exponentially increased by being transferred to the human face.
  • Seriously, your breath has been an issue.
  • Always wanted a daylong ear massage? Boom.

It's not just deadly viruses which have an upside. Elections years always bring their own perks too:

  • The economy gets a tremendous boost from ammunition sales.
  • Also home-use blood pressure cuffs!
  • Citizens are reminded who is good and who is bad.
  • You no longer have to wait all the way until Thanksgiving to "get into it" with Uncle Morty. 


  • "Bloviate" changes from a verb to a noun and rhymes with Soviet, as in "We now live in a uncurtailed Bloviate."
  • Genuine truth is twisted by the powerful to play as lies to the gullible, a cohort of such recent growth in number, if it formed its own political party, it could win every election from now until the civil war. 
  • The Deep State turns out not to be nearly as deep as thought, and is mostly night managers of Dunkin shops. 

Any year with both a deadly worldwide pandemic AND a presidential election could be expected to be full of drama, yet the huge surprises still keep coming and it's only September. We are learning as we go. I certainly am. Check it out—mind blown:

QAnon turns out not to be, as I had thought, for people addicted to Zachary Quinto.

. . .

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Coming out as Californian

I think it is a sign of a certain maturity when you reach the age where you stop trying to hide the fact you are a walking California stereotype. It's not like you publicize it or anything. But you find yourself mentioning casually to a friend that you recently bought reusable stainless steel drinking straws in order to save the turtles. You keep them in a cloth pouch in your car's glove compartment. You whip them out at fast food establishments, saying to the counter person, "No thanks. I brought my own." You ignore her slight recoil, as she realizes she is Just. Not. As. Californian. As. You.

You might think the contents of all glove compartments are the same, from sea to shining sea. They are not. Sure, in cars anywhere between California and New York, you will find some commonality; emergency sunglasses, your old scratched ones you keep just in case you forget your good ones. Paper napkins and ketchup packets. Pencil nubs. Seven years of insurance documents because you can't remember which one is current. Three pennies. Expired coupons. Inexplicably, a roll of dental floss, not even in a dispenser. These are universal.

A Californian's glove compartment, though, might actually contain gloves, because in the morning, steering wheels can dip below 70 degrees to the touch. I am speaking of native Californians, not recent arrivals, the behavior of whom is unpredictable due to the sudden, intoxicating exposure to sunlight. Aside from gloves, though, the glove compartment of a true Californian, by which I mean a SOUTHERN Californian, by which I mean a "woke" Southern Californian, will always have the following items:

Stainless steel drinking straws, kept clean in a hemp drawstring sack made by the indigenous people of Venezuela. (The hemp sacks of Columbia are excellent too, but one cannot verify the "fair trade" aspect of those, and so are to be avoided.) 

Tube socks for the homeless, to be handed out at stop lights. 

Travel size, abridged version of "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, the one with the reflective back cover, which can also be placed under your rear windshield wiper in the event of a breakdown after dark. 

Gift card to Whole Foods, and a stamp card from Vegan Vibrations.

Audio CDs of Michelle Obama's "Becoming," aka El Biblio.

A pair of plastic-free, BPA-free silicone wine glasses, because sharing is caring, and caring is not optional. 

A purple amethyst geode from Sedona, to stabilize your car's chi, a necessity for L.A.'s freeways.

A lot of people reading this will not be from Southern California, and will think I am joking about the steel straws, but I am not. The only thing a Californian wants to protect more than sea turtles is a hemp farmer's right to unionize. We are not playing. 

I admit a steel straw gets awfully cold on the lips when imbibing some iced boba or a milk shake. It takes some getting used to, but better a little discomfort for the cause than sleepless nights over befouling the planet. Plus, there is the satisfaction which comes from knowing you are better than other people, which should not be underestimated. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

I love this life

To paraphrase humorist Lewis Grizzard's book, Bob is dead and I don't feel so good myself.

Bob was one of our regulars. He would come into the library every day. He was 83, usually wore a Berkeley ball cap, and would walk slightly bent over in a kind of shuffle. Short steps. Out of the corner of my eye I'd recognize his gait immediately.

He acted like he was going to live forever. He was curious about everything. Science, human nature, politics, movies. He was auditing a class at Pomona College on physics or genetics or something, taught by a 92 year old professor. He was so impressed with this 92 year old's mental acuity, I think because he saw his future in the guy.

Libraries have a lot of regulars. We desk staff give them nicknames, since we often don't know their real ones. I have found, through Facebook, that this habit is universal among library staffs. Humanity is on full display in a library, and not always at its flattering best, so the nicknames tend to be negative. More so if the person is difficult to deal with. 

Bob did not have a nickname. He was Bob. He would come up to the Reference desk three or four times during my one-hour shift, to tell me about a movie he loved, or hated with a passion, or the things he was learning at Pomona, or a trip he took to Yosemite with his nephews. He loved Yosemite. Snow. Mountains. The Sierras. He was having a house built up in Northern California, one of those where they join two prefab pieces together. He would regale me with problems he had getting the locals to hook up the plumbing, the electrical, make it inspection-ready. 

"I don't know why I talk so much," Bob would say often, with a smile, curious even about himself. I got the sense there was no one else in his life who was listening, truth be told. He mentioned a wife on the east coast. I didn't pry.

He was kind of a sprite, with an elfin face and a ready smile. He showed me an application he had printed to audition for America's Got Talent as a singer. I questioned him about his vocal training. Those singers on that show are as good as it gets, I said. He was mildly offended that I would insinuate that an 83 year old with no training might not make the cut, entirely confident in his skills. He thought they wanted him to sign away too much privacy in order to get on, though. Eventually he backed out.

You can hear Bob sing. He had a YouTube channel. He liked to upload videos of himself talking about different topics. In one, he stands outside his house and sings "What A Wonderful World." He did have a nice baritone, untrained though it was. He would not have gotten on TV with it, but that song, in particular, absolutely summed up his philosophy of life. 

Bob was an elementary school teacher in Berkeley in the 1960s, during the school busing era which Kamala Harris mentioned often in her recent presidential bid. He had mixed race classes, and was fascinated and angered by the differences the economic situation of a kid could make in his educational progress. He wrote a book a few years ago which details his philosophy of educating children, and thoughts on race. He was not a talented writer, I'll be honest, but he makes clear that injustice really upset him. 

Nevertheless, he was a born optimist. "I love this life," Bob would say almost every day with a smile. It is what I will remember him most for. 

He was a veteran, and proud of it. He was also proud of still being a federal employee; he led large group tours at a famous landmark several times a month. He loved interacting, loved answering questions, loved sharing his enthusiasm for the epic science and art which went into constructing such a wonder.

A year or two ago, late at night, Bob heard a commotion outside his house. He stepped out to see a teenage boy a few doors down, naked, handcuffed, being held by police on his front porch. They were searching his house for the drugs he was reportedly dealing. It was a freezing winter night. Bob was outraged that the police felt it appropriate to display him to his neighbors that way, in what seemed like intentional humiliation, intimidation. He resolved, on the spot, to become a lawyer. To fight the injustice he saw not just that night, but from people in power at many levels in our country.

Turns out no law school wants an 83 year old student. His travails in applying and getting rejections became another topic of our daily conversations. He did not think in terms of well, even if I get a degree, I'll be 85 or 87, and how many years could I actually practice? It never crossed his mind. The point was, he needed to have the power to right wrongs, and this was the way, and the math did not come into it. 

It is why I am writing about him. For Bob, the math did not come into it.

He shuffled when he walked, but he might as well have been 20 in attitude. He did not seem to be ignoring reality. It just didn't occur to him he should consider his age in making decisions. 

In November my fellow librarians began to ask each other, "Have you seen Bob?" Several weeks went by, and I noticed he had several books and a DVD overdue, something which would never have happened were things O.K. I began to hope he was laid up after a car accident up north, or sick with a bad flu. 

Finally I typed up a letter asking about him, looked up his address, and dropped the note in his porch mail slot. I discovered he only lived a few blocks from the library. A few days later, his friends, residents of the house where he lived, came to the library and told me the bad news. A few weeks earlier, Bob had apparently felt poorly, called 9-1-1, and had been taken to the hospital. He died after a heart attack. 

It was hard to believe. He was thin, like a distance runner, and never got sick. He was going to be that lawyer. I believed it. He had a former student, now 60 years old, who was a lawyer, and maybe he would sponsor Bob for law school, he said. Always working an angle, philosophical about any setbacks. He was so much about the future, I believed if anyone could finally manage to live forever, it was Bob.

And then he was gone. His house up north, nearly finished, will never be lived in. The group tours will go on without him. I will not see him come around the corner of the reference desk, his signature ball cap bobbing. The idea is appalling.

The last books he had checked out, and never gotten to finish, were both stories of racial injustice in America. 

I am not surprised.