Things I learned in 2020

What a long strange year it was. I was mostly locked up at home except for groceries for four months, then added in work (sometimes remotely, sometimes in the office) for another five. I’d gotten my last official haircut in February, finally broke down and shaved my head in July, and am now getting close to picking up the clippers again — although not going as short now because, FFS, it’s winter.

In May, I lost my dog. She was old, and the tough sort who hid the fact that she was ill until it was too late, but I also like to think that she knew what was coming and just noped out. A lot of my friends lost pets this year as well, so that theory could actually be the truth.

Every month since March brought its own new disaster to the point that I can’t even remember them all. My one social appearance this year was right near the end of December, when I attended the small masked and socially-distanced funeral of the mother of one of my oldest friends.

Two days before New Year’s Eve, I found out that my boss’s wife lost one of her oldest friends, which also affected me because I’d gotten to know him for business reasons, and I’ve become close to her as well.

Americans have become distanced from the reality of death, but Europe was and is drenched in it because of their historical plagues. Just look up Le Danse Macabre, which was a constant. In the Americas, Hispanic and Latino culture gets it. The gringos… not so much.

Other insights from the año horrible…

  1. I’ve gotten to that point at work where, as I’m going through someone’s prescription list, I know exactly what’s wrong with them just by the drug names. Diabetics, people with major heart disease, transplant recipients, and cancer patients now just jump out at me. “Oh. Taking that, got this. Right.” And yes, I know whether you’re taking those boner pills just for sex, for high blood pressure, or because you have an enlarged prostate. It’s all in the dosage and monthly refill amount. Plus, if it’s for the boners, your wife will probably be adding a telltale prescription of her own.
  2. I’ve finally drilled Spanish so deeply into my brain that I caught myself reading a paragraph in Portuguese and understanding all of it before I realized, “Oh. This isn’t Spanish.” Can’t understand a word of Portuguese if it’s spoken, but most of it is either the same as Spanish or the differences follow such regular rules that it’s completely intelligible in print.

Plus I finally got the opportunity at work to help out a client by explaining something in Spanish after he asked me if I spoke it, and finally my mouth was dumping out the words without my brain stopping to translate from English — and discussing a technical subject, to boot. It’s what I’ve been aiming for over the last eight years or so.

  1. We get a ton of robo-calls at work, but they can be quite fun to mess with, and I’ve figured out how to identify most of them. First off, if the caller ID comes up as just a city name or a long number that starts with a “V,” that’s probably one of them. Also, we have four incoming lines that ring in the order 1, 4, 3, 2. If a call comes in on any line not in order, it’s probably also a robo-caller that dialed at random — for example, 2, 3, or 4 ring when there’s nobody on 1, 2 rings when 1 and 4 are busy, etc.

These calls fall into a few categories: pre-recorded BS, usually about Google/Yelp listings, car warranties, solar panel rebates, etc., which get hung up on instantly; cold calls trying to sell home contracting services, to which I reply, “Oh, we have people already. Bye.”; calls soliciting donations for some police or firefighter fund that always seem to be the same person with the airline pilot voice and are probably also recordings; and, my favorite, people trying to sell Medicare insurance, particularly supplemental plans.

I love these because 1) It’s illegal to make cold calls to try to sell health insurance, especially Medicare, and 2) I have different ways to fuck with them, depending on how busy we are.

If we’re super busy, I’ll just say, “Oh, hey, we’re insurance brokers and we sell Medicare plans, too.” This usually creates a silent reaction that is nonetheless audible and a sudden hang-up.

If we’re not busy, then I’ll play along for a bit, ask questions designed to make them stumble or say something they shouldn’t, then say, “But I thought it was illegal to make cold calls to sell Medicare plans…” If they argue that one, then I hit them with the “We’re insurance brokers” bombshell.

  1. I absolutely despise salesmen cold-calling who will try every trick in the book to get to the boss without telling me why, and some of them can get quite pushy about it. Fortunately, I’ve been given absolute permission to gate-keep the hell out of them, and the more that they insist they have to talk to the boss to explain it because they can’t tell me, the harder I push back.

They never want to leave a name and number, but often set themselves up by asking, “When is the best time to call and reach him?” My reply: “Never.” Yes, we do have ethical sale people out there, but they will actually say what they’re selling, leave a message, or offer to email information for consideration. Those people, I like. But the ones who get mad at me for doing my job, which is to insulate the boss from their bullshit because his time is worth a lot more than mine at work? Yeah, I have no problem escalating the pushback. None at all.

  1. Improv and acting skills definitely translate into the workplace, and it’s made taking phone calls so much more pleasant for me and, I assume, our clients. During our busy period, the phones would ring constantly, and I’d frequently be the only person not already on a call, so I’d wind up fielding a lot of them.

Once I answer a call, it’s all about “Yes, and” with the client — listening to what they tell me, then steering the scene, as it were, by asking the right questions in order to figure out as quickly as possible how to handle the call. Can I answer their question? If not, do I know who can? And how can I get the necessary information for that person?

This process also involves empathy because, unfortunately, our demographic (Medicare patients) happens to have a higher mortality rate than the general population. Too many times now have I spoken with a client who has either lost their spouse or had one or the other of them diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve trained myself to instantly respond, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” And I mean it.

Keep in mind that before this whole lockdown thing and for personal reasons, I was very awkward about such references, and my more likely response would have been, “Oh.” Which isn’t empathetic at all.

Finally, I do take opportunities to latch onto little things, like if the client shares a birthday with a family member or close friend of mine (or, once, me) and point it out, or if they’re a close neighbor, although without being too specific, because that would be weird.

Something I’ve discovered, especially in the case of older people who have lost their spouses, is they just want somebody to talk to. I try to pre-empt that during our busy season, but if it’s a slow day, I consider it a part of my job as well to just chat with them after I take care of their questions.

Hey — it counts toward taking care of their mental health, right? And mine. So that’s part of our service. And, to me, it’s like having a bunch of grandparents calling me all the time, which is nice because I never met either of my biological grandfathers, and lost my grandmothers when I was 17 (maternal) and 23 (paternal).

For some weird reason, too, I get a lot of compliments on my phone voice, which is weird, because I’ve heard recordings of my speaking voice, and I don’t find it attractive at all. But I’ve actually had a number of senior women and at least one senior man flirt with me because of my voice.

You know. Basically, “Oh, you have a great voice. I’d love to see the whole package.” And yes, at least twice in those exact words from someone in their 80s.

I’m not offended by what could legally be considered sexual harassment though because, A) I’m in a privileged class anyway (male); B) They’re old and they can say whatever the hell they want; and C) I really do appreciate the positive feedback and compliments.

And, given current COVID restrictions that may extend until summer, they’re not likely to show up at the office anyway.

Oh… which reminds me…

  1. We wouldn’t be locking down again now if people had only done the right thing back in March for a couple of months. Part of that rests in the laps of people who just could not be bothered to stay at home or wear a mask in public, but a bigger part of that lies at the feet of a certain faction in our Federal Government, which couldn’t be arsed to pay everyone a living wage over the time period they couldn’t work, and across all industries.

If it had been economically feasible for people to just stay home but still be paid enough to live on, we might have stomped this down by last July. Instead, idiots started going on Spring Break in May, and it just got worse from there.

Plus which, not everyone got any kind of meaningful relief, and the biggest irony was that minimum wage workers who did lose their jobs made far more with the government’s $600 a week unemployment bonus than they would have if they’d kept working.

Which is what screwed all those minimum wage workers who were considered essential, by the way. Been to a grocery store lately? Other than health care professionals, those people are your frontline workers.

2020 was a difficult and horrendous year in which the wise among us made sacrifices, a lot of us suffered loss of loved ones and loss of employment or both, and each month brought some new disaster, natural or manmade  — Fires! Hurricanes! Riots! Kobe!

But a lot of us survived it and looking back at what I’ve learned in this year and how I’ve personally changed, it wasn’t all bad.

The year just past was a crucible in the scientific sense: A vessel in which metals can be heated to very high temperatures. Of course, the purpose of this is to transform them, usually by combining them with other metals, or by melting them to pour into molds in order to take on a new form.

Yeah, 2020 felt like it did that to all of us. Some of us have come out as stronger alloys, while others have been molded into completely new forms. Unfortunately, it still produced a lot of slag, but maybe that, too, can be recycled into something better in the months to come.

Image source Pixy.org, (CC0) Public Domain

Now that 2020 is hindsight

Happy New Year! While we’re not out of the woods yet, we are at least seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train.

One year ago from today, nobody had any inkling that 2020 would affect America far more profoundly than 2001, 1941, or 1918. It also came dangerously close to 1860. But then we got news of a little virus in February, began to shut down in March, and 2020 became what I’m going to think of as “The Year We Had No Faces.”

At the end of 2019, I tried to tell people that 2020 was not the first year of the ‘20s, but rather the last year of the ‘10s. They scoffed at the idea then, but I think that now they’ll understand my case. Let 2020 be part of the last decade forever, and let 2021 be the true new beginning that we need.

For me, personally, 2020 had its pros and cons. I’m an ambivert, so while I missed being able to go to work for nearly six months, or to do improv in person at all, I was perfectly fine on my own alone at home. Hey, I completed the first draft of The Rêves during lockdown and, thanks to the stimulus check managed to get major and necessary car repairs done and buy a sweet but relatively cheap musical keyboard — and still have a ton left over for stuff like, oh, I don’t know. Food and utilites?

Or, in other words, I participated in some “percolate up” economics, in which case people who aren’t filthy rich put surprise money back into the economy, thereby helping local merchants, like my mechanic, music shop, and grocery store.

This is as opposed to “trickle-down,” the mistaken belief that giving all the money to the 1% at the top helps anyone. Nope. All they do with it is to invest it for their own benefit, and none of it goes anywhere else.

What? You think that the Bezoses, Musks, and Zuckerbergs of the world turn their windfalls into higher wages and benefits for their employees? Dream on. They turn them into interest bearing and dividend generating instruments for their own benefit.

And, in all the years since Ronald Fucking Reagan (may that asshole rot in hell) created “Trickle-Down Economics,” has no one realized that it could just as easily be called “Tinkle-On Economics?” That’s what happens to anyone who isn’t filthy rich in that system.

Has 2020 radicalized me? Yes and no. I’ve always hated the idea that this country has been run and owned since the beginning by old, white Christian cis-males. Prior to, well, 2016, I thought that we were finally going to break their grip on us. GObama!

The last four years have shown me how determined these dinosaurs are to go kicking and screaming to their less relevant position, and that’s where 2020 has radicalized me. All the economic stuff, I’ve believed for a long time. But as I see the new administration forming, and as I see that a lot of the appointees are, in fact, not old, white, Christian cis-males, it makes me happy.

The light at the end of the tunnel of 2021: President-Elect Joe Biden promised us a cabinet that looks like America, and he is delivering on that promise. And if old white men don’t like that, they can just go pound sand.

Don’t worry old dudes. We’re not like Republicans. We won’t take you around back and shoot you. We’ll just point and laugh at your outdated opinions and racist humor and then tell you, “STFU, Boomer.”

Plus, bonus: Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris. How awesome is that? The first Vice President who is female, and of both African and Asian descent. Plus she’s from my home state.

Of course, there are still a few more hurdles to get over after all of the laughable attempts by certain parties to try to deny or overthrow the results of an election which Biden and Harris overwhelmingly won.

The electoral votes still need to be certified by Congress, and the outgoing President went so far as to ask the Vice President to refuse to do so, effectively blocking the vote. Fortunately, Pence can’t do this, and knows it.

The certification happens on January 6, although GOP Congress members are going to try to stop it. They will fail.

The day before will see the runoff elections in Georgia for U.S. Senate, and if both of those offices go to the Democrats — and they just might — then we would have the power to completely undo the mess that the former administration has made of everything.

With those two Senators being Democrats, we’d have a 50-50 split, and do you know who the President of the Senate and tie-breaking vote is? Why, that would be Vice President Kamala Harris.

So all eyes truly are on Georgia, because a double victory there for the Democrats would give them control of two out of the three branches of government — the Executive (President, cabinet, etc.), and the Legislative (Congress, made up of House and Senate.)

This would also leave the door open to fix the Supreme Court by adding four Justices to bring the total to 13, and that’s not arbitrary. It’s an odd number, could be cited as an historical nod to the original 13 colonies, and would match the number of appellate courts in the U.S., meaning that one member of the SCOTUS would not have to oversee more than one appellate court.

There’s no telling what stupidity and insanity certain parties might try to pull off in the two weeks between Congress saying, “Yes, Joe Biden is the president-elect” and John Roberts making him officially the President on January 20th, but we’ll probably see a lot less of it.

With any luck, the coming months will see us turn the ship of state around to avoid the waterfall as we finally give a proper response to COVID-19 in terms of prevention, vaccination, and providing actual financial assistance to people affected.

Invest a little money now so that people actually can stay home for a few weeks or a couple of months until the hospitals empty out and the number of active cases plummets.

With any luck, we will restore protections that have been taken away from not just certain classes of people, but from Federal lands and other protected areas and species.

We will start to see positive reform of the criminal justice system, including eliminating for-profit prisons, possibly legalizing certain drugs under Federal law and freeing all people incarcerated solely for their possession or sale

We can also help the police serve better by figuring out how to bring in other entities to handle cases that might better be handled by non-law-enforcement. For example, you’d send the cops to an armed robbery in progress or to pursue a fleeing carjacker or murderer, but it might be better for everyone to send a social worker or negotiator out on a domestic violence call.

And for everyone’s sake — the police and ours — can we make “on at all times” body and car cameras mandatory and, in exchange, cut down the ridiculous amount of paperwork that law enforcement has to do over absolutely everything? Save that for court reporters reviewing and transcribing the cam footage.

This New Year brings new hope for the future, but we aren’t going to get there unless we shake all of the anger and ill-will of the last four years off, remind ourselves that we are all in it together — in the general sense as Americans, but in the broadest sense as humans everywhere, and it’s time to re-dedicate our efforts to doing what we have to do to end the plagues that tried their best to destroy us in 2020.

One, of course, was COVID-19, but the other was selfishness and the inability to do what had to be done and give up what was necessary in order to help all of us.

Don’t make that mistake in 2021. Keep wearing those masks and social distancing, support your local restaurants by ordering to-go or delivery (and tipping), but do not dine in, and put off those holiday trips to see family and friends. In fact, put off all long trips, especially by common carriers like airplanes.

Life is not going to be normal again until we know that the vaccine works long-term, that we’ve seen the number of active infections drop, and the death rate has gone way down.

None of that has happened yet and, in fact, right around the time Congress is certifying the Electoral Vote is when we should see another uptick because of all the people who couldn’t sacrifice and not travel home for Christmas.

So expect the 2020 Experience to keep on giving until at least the end of June. And that’s being optimistic. In the meantime, while you’re not going out, share some love with those people who’ve entertained you online — share their sites, subscribe to their podcasts, buy their art or etsy stuff, go to their online pay-what-you-can shows and actually pay, and so on.

It doesn’t have to be much individually, but if everybody tosses a couple of bucks in various directions, it will add up. And, anyway, the elections are over and look at how much was donated to all of the candidates.

Now imagine that kind of money divided up among your friends and loved ones and give.

Happy New Year, and may our 2021 be much better than our 2020 was.

New Year’s Countdown, Saturday

T Minus 6

Christmas is over, but doing this countdown has been so much fun that I decided to reset the clock to bring us into New Year’s and the first day of 2021, which is also the first year of the second decade of the 2000s. A lot of people don’t get this and think that the 20s started a year ago, but time doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, the day after December 31 would be January 0.

Besides, after the giant dumpster fire that was 2020, do we really want to let it be part of the decade that could truly represent a new beginning.

I think the confusion over when decades begin and end comes from how humans count their own ages. Yes, on the day someone turns 20, they are no longer a teen, but that’s because we start counting at zero, and on their first birthday they turn one. Decades, centuries, and millennia all start on the first day of year one and you have to have all of the digits, so it runs 1 all the way to (1)0.

But forget that for the moment. Happy Boxing Day, everyone! This is more celebrated in the British Commonwealth than the U.S., but in honor of this most British of holidays I bring you the most Irish of bands, Dropkick Murphys, with The Season’s Upon Us. The song may be a day late for Christmas, but it’s probably a more honest depiction of how a lot of you celebrated yesterday. Plus it continues the Christmas Countdown theme of Funny Thursday. Enjoy!

Watch from the beginning, see the previous post, or experience the next.

Momentous Monday: Us and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

It’s no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been rough on everyone. It started with Australia on fire and the death of Kobe Bryant, and then just went pear-shaped from there.

We hadn’t even made it to the start of spring when everything went on hold. For me, “normal” started to leave my world in early March, when my improv company shut down — cutting me off from one job as well as a weekly chance to perform that I truly enjoyed.

It came to a full stop on March 20, when Los Angeles shut down a day after San Francisco did. In a lot of ways, I was fortunate because I’d had an unemployment claim from earlier in 2019 that was still active, so didn’t have the problems signing up for it that other people apparently did.

Although I didn’t get the full amount of unemployment because I hadn’t worked enough in the target periods they looked at, that extra $600 per week from the Federal government helped (thanks, Congressional Democrats!)

So, I stayed at home mostly, with weekly masked trips to the grocery store, and it was amazing to see how quickly the two places I regularly went to — RiteAid and Ralphs — adapted. At the same time, though, a lot of Americans acted like selfish little children.

Some states were slow to react if at all, the Federal government totally dropped the ball, and while places like New Zealand got a handle on it (it helps to be an island nation), the U.S., not so much, so that as of now over 200,000 people have died.

Every month seemed to bring something new. In April, we had rumors of “Murder Hornets,” which didn’t really pan out, but then May brought us the death of George Floyd. This on top of so many other murders of Black Americans at the hands of the police set off a wave of fury and protests, which had the side-effect of finally making White American racists reveal themselves.

The end of May brought us people who just couldn’t resist celebrating Memorial Day without masks or social distancing, boosting the plague numbers even more.

It wasn’t pretty. And natural disasters didn’t help. Puerto Rico was pounded by multiple earthquakes of greater than magnitude 5 at the beginning of the year when they still haven’t recovered from hurricane Maria in 2017.

June brought us a couple of gun-toting lawyers threatening protestors marching past their house, and July had more protests, violent counter-protests, and the like.

In August, wildfires started in the west and the Administration started fucking with the USPS. By September, the entire west coast was on fire, while the gulf coast and other points in the south were being slammed by one hurricane or tropical storm after another.

And, of course, 2020 also brought personal disasters to a lot of us. Back on May 1, I lost my beloved dog Sheeba, who was almost 16. She didn’t even start to show symptoms until Monday night, and was gone by Friday afternoon.

A lot of people I know have suffered similar losses. Maybe it’s just a matter of selective attention because I went through it, maybe not, but a lot of my friends seemed to lose dogs or cats this year. And many other lost people, friends and family, to diseases not necessarily COVID-related. There were a notable number of cancer deaths, too.

And then there are those friends of mine who suddenly have to deal with parents of a certain age and declining mental condition who are going to require either placement in a senior care center or some other professional care, and the need for the young to stay away from the elderly in the wake of this pandemic just complicates issues enormously — especially when the kids live in an entirely different city than their parent or parents.

But all of these things, every single damn one of them, pales in comparison to the biggest disaster that has befallen the U.S. yet this year, and has put us into unknown territory that we are going to have to navigate through very carefully.

I’m talking, of course, about the death last Friday of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She was the last bulwark protecting the Supreme Court from falling into fascist, reactionary hands for a generation, and the greatest hope of progressives was that she’d live until the inauguration, then announce her retirement as soon as Joe Biden was sworn in.

I won’t even get into the utter hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell saying he’ll ram through whomever Trump nominates when he refused the same courtesy to Barack Obama because “it was too close to the election” (eight months beforehand)  when this one comes up less than seven weeks before.

So… call your senators, especially if yours has an R after their name. Remind them of the 2016 “McConnell Doctrine,” and demand that they follow it. Let the Voters Decide!

And then damn well vote in November, and vote like the future of this country depends on it, because it does. Do we fully become Nazi Germany circa 1939, or pull back from the brink and return to sanity?

That choice is in your hands… for now. But if we fuck it up in November, we may lose that power forever, and this experiment in Democracy ends.

Sunday Nibble #26: The year that probably wasn’t

Tomorrow, it will be four months (if you count by days) since word came down in the city of Los Angeles and then the state of California that we were going into lockdown. That’s 122 days, or just over 17 weeks.

We had a grace period until noon the next day for all non-essential services to shut down. Now, technically, since I work in the field of health insurance, we are considered essential in a pandemic. However, at the same time, since we all work out of the boss’s house, it would be really unfair to have our germy asses marching in and out all day. Not to mention that several of our employees are higher risk.

So… the high-risk staff started to work at home, as did some of the other staff. I came in on that last day to take some files from the office to one of the homeworkers, and then… onto unemployment to wait it out at home.

I managed to luck out because I had an unemployment claim from earlier that was still active as of March, so there was nothing new to open. Apparently, that was not the case with a lot of people, who wound up waiting weeks or even months before their money started coming through.

Now, I didn’t qualify for the full amount, but the bonus $600 a week from the federal government sure helped, as did that stimulus check — and you can bet that a lot of it went right back into the economy for stupid things like rent and food.

The stimulus actually covered the new tires and battery that I’d desperately needed but had put off and, sadly, helped to cover the end-of-life costs for my dog Sheeba in May. Funny thing, too, and something that fiscal conservatives don’t seem to understand: Give poor people money, and they will throw it right back into the economy and create jobs and boost profits.

Give rich people money, they will shove it into some bank account, probably offshore, where the only people who will benefit are other people with way too much money who shuffle it back and forth where the only product is more money — for them — but not more jobs for anyone else.

Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, and I did start to notice all of the strange physical and psychological effects. Although I couldn’t see any of my friends in person anymore, at least I could contact them on social media, and the more we all talked, the more we realized that we were all being abnormal in the same ways.

Loss of appetite. Lack of energy. Inability to fall asleep. Inability to focus. General anxiety or depression or panic, or any two or all three. The most disturbing dreams, many of which involved being in zombie films or caught in crowds without masks.

But we persevered, and we coped. We made it past the Great TP Shortage of 2020, and eventually all settled on our preferred form of mask (I’m a fan of the head-gaiter/paper surgical combo myself), got really good at dodging people and maintaining six feet, and wound up ordering more shit online in the course of four months than most of us had in the previous four years.

Personally, I took the opportunity to get back into music because — stimulus again — after the dog and the car, I was able to get a really cheap yet really good MIDI keyboard (and still have money left over) and start to compose and play. (I already had stuff like the digital multi-track recorder and composing/scoring software from a past life.)

Also, by the time July rolled around and it was pushing six months since a haircut, I just bit the bullet and took the clippers to my head, so that the nine-inch long mop was reduced to stubble. Basically, I pretty much shaved it, or at least went a phase or two shorter than a crew cut. The biggest surprise was that I actually didn’t mind the look.

I’m not the only male in my general group of friends to have done this, by the way. It just took me longer to take the plunge. But I should be good until at least December now.

But then July rolled around and just a few days ago, the state of California and the city of Los Angeles announced, “Oops. Y’all screwed it up, so we’re pushing reset and starting over.”

Luckily, this was right after I’d finally gotten stuff set up so that I can now work from home — HIPAA compliant secure-connected laptop and phone line to the main office, although it took a lot of rearranging of… everything to make it work.

And it looks like we’re all going to still be sheltered in place for as long as this takes, but that’s kind of okay. In a lot of ways, technological advances of the last twenty or thirty years have prepared us for this.

I had a great conversation about it with the boss the last time I swung by the office, which was earlier last week to pick up the remote phone as we discussed the future, and how everything was going to be different after this year.

For one thing, we both agreed that companies are going to realize that they actually can let their employees work remotely, that stuff still gets done, people are probably happier with a better life-work balance, and the companies can also save a fortune as well.

Why? Well, a few reasons — it probably cuts down the likelihood of sexual harassment issues enormously if people aren’t working face-to-face and if most interactions are in group video meetings where everyone is a witness.

But the biggie, we realized, is this one: companies will need a lot less space to function in. Instead of needing tens of thousands of square feet of office to house all the various departments and necessary support functions, like restrooms and breakrooms and meeting spaces, even a major company may only need, at most, something the size of the average nail salon or storefront fast food joint — a place for the receptionist to mostly handle incoming and outgoing physical packages and mail, and a backroom for the server and network facilities.

Everything else? Stick it online. The big loser, though, will be commercial real estate, but that has several upsides.

First off, it means that all of those buildings and land are going to need to be repurposed, and if local governments play it right, it means this: A sudden abundance of new and affordable buildings and land for cheap housing, possibly with no need for wholesale teardown and new construction, but also plenty of jobs for construction crews to come in and do conversions.

Anyway… every acre of land could provide 36 housing units of 1,200 square feet each — which is pretty generous for an apartment, but remember that when you’re dealing with converting an office building, you multiply each acre by number of stories.

A small repurposed ten-story building could provide a hell of a lot of housing, even if the bottom floor is taken up by those aforementioned reduced-footprint businesses. And an acre is a lot less than a city block, which many office buildings span easily, in both directions.

Of course, another probable victim of all of this will probably be malls — both of the indoor and strip variety, which just adds a whole lot more land that can be repurposed to housing.

There were more things we figured would never recover, but that should be enough for now.

In any case, in the future, I think that 2020 is going to go down as something like “The year that never happened,” or “When everything changed.”

This probably is not going to be a bad thing at all, really. We just need to stick it through to the end. It looks like the sane states will be keeping their heads in until November, but that’s exactly the point when we need to emerge in force to make sure that we never face a disaster like this again.

Happy New Year!

T Minus 0

Zero as in the two zeroes in 2020, and here we are, in the last year of the 2010s. That’s right. It’s not the first year of the ‘20s. It’s the last year of the ‘10s. Don’t worry. A lot of people get this wrong, but it’s a simple fix.

What day does every month start on? That’s right… the 1st. Today is not January 0, 2020. It’s January 1. Same with February, March, April, etc., right on through the year. The ‘20s don’t start until one year from today, January 1, 2021.

So why the confusion? I think it’s for the simple reason that we count the ages of things like people, pets, or institutions from the zero. So, for example, a baby doesn’t celebrate their first birthday until twelve months after they flop out of the uterus, whether by the natural exit or with some creative way-making by a gyno with a scalpel.

In contrast, every month, year, decade, century, and millennium is born on the one. It’s even in our counting system. We count up from one to ten, which is the one that ends with zero.

On the other hand, a countdown goes the other direction and ends, as this one does, with Day Zero, New Year’s Day, the first day of the last year of the ‘10s.

Did I mention that today’s theme is famous bands? And to bring this countdown to a close, I bring you a very famous band called ABBA with a song all about the day. Here’s to new and good things happening. (And ignore the fact that part of the lyrics of this song obviously belong to a New Year’s Day on a year ending in 1!)