Epiphany 2022

Things I’ve learned about people during 2021 that will come in handy in 2022.

Today, January 6, 2022, is the feast of Epiphany in the Western Christian calendar, but in the Orthodox Eastern calendar, it’s actually Christmas Eve. And if you’ve ever wondered where The Twelve Days of Christmas came from, this is it.

January 6 is twelve days after the preceding December 25, or Christmas. So the 12 days idea makes sense as either a countdown from (western) Christmas to Epiphany or from the Nativity and the Magi giving gifts to (eastern) Christmas.

Or something like that. It’s all kind of confused. The salient point here, though, is that “Epiphany,” in its non-religious sense, means “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.”

The last two years, from March 2020 through December 2021, were full of epiphanies large and small, especially as a lot of us wound up in isolation, only really communicating through social media and video conferences.

Here are some of the epiphanies I had — some personal, some general.

  1. I could get used to this, really.

At the very beginning, it meant that I got to stay home with my dog, not deal with the daily commute, and focus on my own stuff. Of course, it got more difficult after my dog died on May 1st, leaving me totally alone.

I managed to survive on unemployment until August, when I went back to my former job working remotely from home — which meant that I had to install actual high-speed internet and WiFi, but this tuned out to be a good thing. And yes, like a lot of people, I found out that I had been making more on unemployment than with my very underpaid day job.

In late September, we had to go back to the office to work in person — operations there are still kind of trapped in the 80s, with way too much on paper and hardly anything digitized. Beginning in December, right after the rush at the office ended, I picked up a freelance and totally remote gig on the side, which quickly turned into an offer of full-time remote work.

I gave notice at the old job in mid-February, started the new job on March 1st at the salary I had asked for — and, note, it was a hell of a lot more than I had been making — and so it’s been work at home ever sense.

Except for those couple of moments when it looked like it was safe to come out, I’ve mostly stayed at home except to go to the grocery store, always masked outside of the house, and I got my first two vaccine shots in April and May. I haven’t managed to get the booster yet, more because it’s not as available than anything else.

But I’m in no rush to leave this cocoon at all. Honestly, except for a dog, everything I need is here. I’ve also long been debating leaving L.A., simplifying, and moving into a smaller but cheaper place outside of the city. I really only need a good internet connection, a nice view, and, ideally, a small house with a backyard (for dog) and pool (for me.)

  1. The people who get it really, really get it

Oddly enough, most of my friends are creative types — actors, writers, directors, dancers, singers, artists, and so on. And, without fail, 99% of them got it from the beginning. They were the first to mask up, wash their hands constantly, social distance, and advise others to do so.

And it wasn’t easy. I spent a few months out of work from a muggle job but at least was able to keep on writing on my own. Others, not so much. As theatre and live events shut down, they were all put out of work. But did they bitch about it and start blaming the government, from local to state to federal?

Nope. They understood the seriousness of the situation and did what they had to do. In fact, during the down time, one amazing friend, Jon Lawrence Rivera, learned how to make Filipino food, like his mother used to do. What he soon learned, though, was that Filipino cooking took place on a huge extended family size scale, so there was always way too much leftover.

He put out a simple message to his friends online: “I have extra food. Who wants some?”

It soon ballooned as he found himself providing food to out-of-work artists who desperately needed it while also being the beneficiary of those who could afford to bringing him the ingredients, tools, and take-out containers he needed to cook. Thus was born Flip Kitchen.

And Jon was far from the only person to turn their idle time into charitable acts. I had friends with crafting or sewing skills turn to cranking out masks by the dozens in the early days when they were scarce, as well as making plastic flip-down face shields.

Also, as soon as they figured out how, people in the community began to get together again virtually, doing play-readings, semi-staged performances and the like, as well as just holding company meetings on a regular basis for moral support.

I had at least four readings of my own work during this time, including Part 1 and Part 2 of my epic play Strange Fruit, as well as a monologue in The Voices of Afghanistan project based on authentic narratives from people who were forced to flee that country and cast entirely with actors who were either native Afghans (and recent escapees) or Afghan-Americans.

The surprise bonus to all of this was that my audience was suddenly a lot bigger than one theater in Los Angeles. The whole thing really felt like what it must have felt like near the beginning of the Great Depression, when FDR used his Works Progress Administration (WPA) to foster artists and keep them creating. Except that, this time, we’re mostly doing it for ourselves — because Republicans won’t let the government do it for us. Speaking of which…

  1. The people who don’t get it are really, really clueless

It’s probably no surprise that this group of people tend to be muggles — i.e. the non-creative types, and thanks to the insurance agent day job I had, I got plenty of chances to interact with them. They were mostly West Valley business types — realtors, bankers, lawyers, plumbers, contractors, and whatever assorted whatnot.

What this generally meant, 99.95% of the time, was that none of them really had a creative bone in their bodies. A friend of mine who crosses into that group via his work with his wife as a marketing guru regularly inadvertently confirms this.

Now, my friend and his wife are creative geniuses as well, and not at all muggles. But one of the things he regularly does is to post a question on Facebook, which can range from “Fill in the blank” to “If… would you” to questions about best movie, musical group, etc., to caption contests.

And, inevitably, a few consistent things happen among the muggles but not the creatives. Although the “Fill in the blanks” are supposed to be one answer per person, there are a couple of guys who jump in at the top and will rattle off three to five answers — usually the most obvious options — and I think they’re both lawyers.

Another rule is this one: “Don’t repeat a previous answer.” How many people do you think check? Yep. Not a lot, apparently.

But the ones that really separate the creative from the muggles are the caption contests. The answers to these will range from the random to the non-sequitur to someone just commenting on the photo rather than trying to caption it.

Basically, these people seem to be the ones who do not know how to (or even attempt to) read the instructions first.

This is the benign version of the people who don’t get COVID or the necessary precautions. They are the assholes who wear their masks below their noses in enclosed public spaces, don’t get vaccinated, stand too close in line at the store, rush out immediately to the nearest public event just because they can, and so on.

At their worst, they will mock people who take precautions for “living in fear,” and blame everyone else for having to stay home and live on unemployment until things return to normal.

Except… they don’t return to normal while we have the deniers around, or the ones too stupid or arrogant to read the instructions first.

  1. Some people are perpetually needy

You probably have these folk in your social media, too, but their posts center around one theme: “My life sucks and it’s not my fault!” In some rare cases, this is actually true. Victims of domestic abuse, those with chronic illnesses or diseases, children abused or abandoned by their parents/caregivers, or refugees forced to flee their homelands all come to mind.

These people are allowed to complain and seek help on social media when and however they need to.

But then there the ones who are just ongoing victims of their own poor choices, like a couple with no marketable job skills who run off together at 18 and proceed to have one baby after another until they’re constantly asking everyone for help with everything. This isn’t the only cause of this sort of thing — I’ve seen childless couples who married late do it, although they tend to be constantly begging for stuff — does anyone have a sofa they no longer need and want to give away, does anyone have an extra TV, and so on.

Probably must infuriating are the parents that always seem to be posting about family trips and vacations, home improvement projects, or investments in things that really only seem like hobbies — and then, every other month, it’s GoFundMe time because their car’s transmission went out or their washing machine blew up, or part of the ceiling fell in.

These are also the people subject to vague-booking: “So that happened. Dammit.” “That was $750 I didn’t need /s” or “The landlord said it’s not their job to fix it.” These always come across as blatant please to get friends to enter with sympathy (“Oh no, honey, what happened?”) and then gradually draw out the story, but only in a manner that paints the OP in the most sympathetic light.

Now, these people have always been around, but they’ve just become a lot more obvious in the last year or two. Gee, wonder why? I can think of at least half a dozen that are constantly clogging up my feed with this shit, although I’ve taken mostly to ignoring them. Sometimes, when it gets really heinous, I’ll put them on mute for a month. But I’ve decided that there’s no need to engage anymore.

  1. Suddenly, everyone is an expert

This probably requires no explanation in the post-COVID world, as so many people go to YouTube University and are suddenly epidemiologists. But it goes beyond that one and can be particularly fun to shoot down when someone starts to opine in some area I’m very familiar with.

People have particularly naïve and wrong ideas about what it’s like behind the scenes on film and TV, for example, and can spout off with some bullshit explanation about why Actor A is an asshole because they did thing X on the set for movie Z to Actor B, of course taking whichever side the celebrity gossip mag pitched as the “hero” in the headline. And yes, the whole Rust shooting incident brought people out of the woodwork by the ton, all of them suddenly arms experts convinced that Alec Baldwin was absolutely guilty of murder.

Proving that none of them has any idea of how a film set is supposed to work in cases like this and, when it breaks down, why it’s not the actor’s fault. The actor isn’t supposed to have to worry about this shit because there’s a team of professionals taking care of it. Except when they aren’t.

So those were some of my epiphanies from 2021. What are yours? Tell us in the comments!

This piece not to be confused with Epiphany from January 2020.

Sunday Nibble #87: Brace yourselves — it’s Doomsday

Doomsday is nigh! No, really, it is, and it happens again on December 12. Find out how and why.

That’s right. Today, November 7th is Doomsday! But don’t worry. That has nothing to do with the end of the world. It’s just the odd terminology that refers to an algorithm by which you can quickly calculate in your head what day of the week any given date fell on or will fall on.

It was devised in 1973 by John Conway and, if you’re a big enough computer nerd, you’ll recognize that name immediately. He created the famous Game of Life, which used very few rules to govern the behavior of random pixels in order to generate complex systems that would either keep evolving forever, lock in to some stable and repeated pattern, or die out either by moving off of the screen completely, completely dying out, or freezing up.

You can play it online right now, if you’d like.

Regarding the Doomsday Algorithm, though, it’s based on the idea that the Gregorian Calendar cycle repeats every 400 years. The Doomsday part itself refers to particular days during each year that will always fall on the same day of the week during the year.

In order to tell someone what day of the week a random date falls on, you just have to figure out what the Doomsday Weekday is for the particular year, then the Doomsday for the particular month, then count to the chosen date from there.

It sounds like a lot of math, but it isn’t, because of the cyclic nature of the calendar, plus you can also reduce everything to a number to make for easier math, starting with numbering the days of the week from 0 to 6, starting with Sunday, which gives us 7 total days.

Each century will have one of four days of the week as its anchor, and each year within that century will offset the century date based on the algorithm as well. The four dates in order are Friday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Sunday, in case you’re wondering. In our current cycle, these apply to the 1800s, 1900s, 2000s, and 2100s.

This will give you the number that corresponds to the Doomsday for a particular year. In the case of 2021, that number is zero, so the day is Sunday. I’m now going to walk it backwards to make it a little clearer what happens.

There are a handful of dates to remember within the year that will give you a point from which to count to a chosen date, but most of them are easy to remember. For even months except February, the Doomsday is just the same as the month number: April 4, June 6, August 8, October 10, and December 12.

The remaining months come in pairs: May and September, and July and November. It works out that these dates are May 9, September 5, July 11, and November 7. If we put them into numerical form, they become 5/9, 9/5, 7/11, 11/7 — and it doesn’t matter which order you write your dates in, since they’re mirror pairs. The phrase to remember is, “I work 9 to 5 at the 7-Eleven.”

So all of these dates in 2021 fall on Sunday: April 4, May 9, June 6, July 11, August 8, September 5, October 10, November 7, and December 12.

January and March are a little tricker, but not much. The last day of January, the 31st will always be Doomsday or, if you’d like easier math, just remember January 3, February 14, and March 14. Except (because there’s always an exception) in Leap Years, move January and February ahead one day, to the 4th and 15th.

Confusing? It really won’t be once you play around with it a bit in your head. Bonus points: the 4th of July and Halloween are also always on Doomsday, as we’ve just seen with Halloween 2021 being on Sunday. Christmas and the following New Year’s day will always be the day before Doomsday, since boxing day, December 26, is exactly two weeks after December 12.

Again, this whole thing can sound complicated until you take the time to work through it, and you can find simple explanations online as well. It can be a great party trick if you learn the whole thing so you can do any given date, but even if you only memorize the Doomsday for the current year, it can be useful for figuring out what date someone is proposing a meeting for or for when someone in a meeting asks, “What day of the week is Labor Day this year?” and can answer pretty quickly without pulling out your phone.

For a fun video explanation, we have Numberphile and the always delightful Professor James Grime to thank for this:

Image source: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Christoph Murer, National Gallery of Art, (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons

Five interesting inauguration days

Since I’m writing ahead of time and it’s not even January 17th yet — a day that may or may not erupt in violence — I have no idea what the circumstances will be as you read this on the morning of January 20, 2021.

Today, the duly elected Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris are set to be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States at the Capitol in Washington D.C. at noon. Certain parties in this country think that the election was rigged, despite all evidence to the contrary. Or, rather, no evidence at all from their side.

So it could get ugly, and we could have started our Second Civil War by the time you read this — or sanity could prevail, the protests become nothing, especially given the massive presence of National Guard, DC Police, and other peacekeepers already set to be there.

It’s certainly going to be the most unusual inauguration of my lifetime, probably of any living person’s lifetime, and I’d even go so far as to say the most unusual in the entire history of the U.S.

There have been odd moments, of course, but nothing like what we’re looking at. But in the spirit of keeping things light on what could be a day that passes through some darkness before the clouds break, here are five unusual moments from past U.S. Presidential inaugurations.

  1. Andrew Jackson (March 4, 1829)

Does this quote from Whitehousehistory.org sound like anyone you know? “The ‘common man’ had come to the capital to revel in the installation of a popular champion as chief executive. Washingtonians, generally, were not so cheerful, deeming the admired champion a backwoods barbarian, his associates cronies, and his followers an uncivilized horde.”

That would be the bunch that turned up to cheer on the installation of Andrew Jackson as the seventh president, and Jackson was, to put it kindly, a genocidal monster. Maybe Harriet Tubman will finally replace him on the $20 bill.

Anyway, those “common men” came to the inauguration and then followed on to the White House for the afterparty, and it turned into a shitshow.

The mob wound up in the White House, trampling on delicate furniture, colliding with waiters and making them spill their laden trays, and generally causing havoc. As a side note, this election came four years after the previous, when none of the candidates, Jackson among them, gained enough Electoral votes, so the winner was decided by Congress.

It wasn’t Jackson, so 1828 was also a vindication for all of Jackson’s followers who felt that they’d been robbed in 1824. They just got caught up in the moment, I guess, once they managed to push their way into the White House. Plus ça change…

    1. Calvin Coolidge (August 3, 1923)

You’ll note by the date that this was no normal inauguration to begin with, and you’d be right. Coolidge, who was Vice President, originally became President #30 when Warren G. Harding dropped dead. “Silent Cal” got the news while he was visiting with the family homestead up in rural Vermont.

Not being big on publicity or anything like that, and since his father was a Justice of the Peace, Dad swore in Son on the spot in a private ceremony with a few witnesses and some members of the press. The news of Harding’s death had been delivered by hand because the homestead lacked electricity and a telephone.

The oath was repeated in Washington D.C. in front of a Justice from the Court of the District of Columbia.

Such a low-key inauguration makes it no surprise then why Dorothy Parker quipped what she did ten years later. When told that Coolidge had died, her snap response was, “How can they tell?

  1. Lyndon Baines Johnson (November 22, 1963)

Another off-date inauguration for obvious reasons, LBJ became president when JFK was assassinated. His was the only mile-high inauguration, taking place on Air Force One en route back to D.C. from Dallas.

Johnson insisted that Jackie Kennedy be there with him, mainly so that JFK’s fans would accept him as the next president. Remember, Kennedy was the patrician East Coast liberal, while Johnson was brought on board to rein in the Southerners and Dixiecrats, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that the JFK fans would turn on LBJ.

There were also a couple of firsts with this one: The first and only time that a President was sworn in on an airplane, and the first time that the oath of office was administered by a woman, U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes.

  1. Bill Clinton (January 20, 1993)

The most interesting feature of this inauguration was the rather unusual composition of the traditional parade to the Capitol. Rather than the usual military cadets and equestrian teams, the parade and pre-parade entertainment featured acts like a “precision lawn chair marching team,” a reggae band, and two Elvis impersonators, to represent the old fat one and the young skinny one.

Other guests in the parade included Lesbian and Gay Band of America; a company of hearing-impaired young adults using ASL to interpret lyrics from live music under the name the Sounds of Silence; former Peace Corps volunteers; residents from McCrossan Boys Ranch home for wayward boys; and a high school band from Florida, whose school was destroyed by hurricane Andrew.

As reported in the Washington Post at the time, “’We wanted to make sure that we chose a cross section of people and performers that would, to the extent possible, represent every sector of society,’ said Sally Aman, spokeswoman for the Inaugural Parade Committee. ‘We chose a group of performers that represents the theme of reunion in this inaugural.’”

Of course, almost as cool as all that inclusion was when Bill played sax at his own inaugural ball.

    1. Barack Obama (January 20, 2009)

Because Chief Justice John Roberts tripped on his tongue, Barack Obama was actually sworn in twice, once in public and once in private. Roberts’ stumble tripped up Obama as well and, especially because there were so many bitter losers waiting to delegitimize him at the first opportunity, they didn’t take any chances.

Hey, why risk some basement lawyer trying to claim, “They not do all words right, he not real pres?”

And there was yet another public ceremony, because the first one happened on a Sunday. Of course, the first one was and will always be the real one that made him President, fumbles notwithstanding, but that was followed by the private ceremony in the Blue Room of the White House, and then by the second public ceremony on Monday, January 21.

And why that second ceremony? It had nothing to do with making it legit. Rather, when January 20 falls on a Sunday, tradition dictates that the President takes the formal oath on that day, then repeats the ceremony and gives his address on Monday.

Which, nowadays, makes no sense. I mean, hell, they moved the Oscars to Sunday so more people could watch, right? And when is the Super Bowl?

Oh… bonus fun fact. Advertisers cannot refer to the Super Bowl in their commercials, even if they run during the Super Bowl. They have to call it “The Big Game.”

So, while today’s events will certainly be unusual for a lot of reasons, may they not be extraordinary, and may Thursday find us all living together in peace.

Image source, the inauguration of Barack Obama, Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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