Sunday nibble #28: Stir fry, stir crazy

As we move into August, this will be the fifth month of the year in which we are under varying degrees of lockdown or quarantine, something that should have ended last month but which didn’t because far too many Americans lack anything resembling self-control or discipline.

Oh well.

For those of us in California, it all began abruptly on a Friday afternoon at the end of March. March 20, to be precise, although for those of us in the arts, we’d seen the writing on the wall, and live performance and theater took the pre-emptive action of shutting down a week before that.

So my theater job and performance career went into permanent hiatus the Sunday before, and then my day job put us on indefinite furlough for who knew how long.

Somehow, I managed to be fortunate in that I was less than a year away from the end of a previously active unemployment claim, so I went online, re-upped, and there was absolutely no gap in benefits. Sure, the payment from the state was ridiculously small, but the $600 a week from the Federal government really helped, not to mention that $1,200 stimulus check, but you know what?

First off, that stimulus allowed me to get some very necessary repairs done on my car that I couldn’t have afforded otherwise, meaning that I plowed it right back into the local economy and gave other people jobs.

Meanwhile, that Federal unemployment allowed me to keep paying rent, meaning that my landlords kept making money, so they could keep pouring money back into state government in the form of property taxes.

And what does it say when a $600 a week payment from the Federal government (aka $2,600 a month) is more than a lot of people make already?

Hint: Time to either raise the minimum wage to something actually livable, create a guaranteed basic income, or… no, those are the options, really.

You know what I did do with no day job and all that money? I started creating my ass off. What else could I do? I was locked up at home, my dog died less than six weeks into it (and I couldn’t have afforded that without that Federal money) leaving me even lonelier, I started doing improv via Zoom, along with play readings the same way.

And so it went for three months. Oh yeah… somewhere along all that, I finally succumbed to what seems to have been the Great Male Fashion Trend of 2020: Shave your goddamn head.

Yep. Though I’d never done it before, and though there was a good gap between when I’d ordered the clippers and finally used them, there was finally a day in July, after over five months of no haircuts, when I finally just said “Fuck it,” took off the guard, let the thing loose and, ta-da… I was bald for the first time in my life since I plopped out of my Mama’s hoo-hah.

Surprisingly, I didn’t half mind it. I was a bit disturbed to realize that I did not have a 666 birthmark somewhere on my head, although I did have a big mole on t upper back right side of my skull.

But, even more surprisingly, just over two weeks after my head was as bare as a baby’s ass (or as mine) the hair had substantially grown back which, really, was encouraging.

All of which kind of skips the original intent of this Sunday nibble, which was this: On March 20, 2020, everything in L.A. shut down. Zoom kept performance alive, at least among my Improv Theater and my Improv Group… but otherwise, everything went apocalyptic.

Then, around the beginning of July, my day-job boss began to try to figure out how to get things going again. Now, technically, we were actually an essential business, but he didn’t want to endanger anyone.

So… he enlisted me and another staffer to write the COVID safety guidelines, which we did, and then  he figured out that most of us could work remotely.

I now have a small desk next to my personal desk with a laptop and VOIP phone on it, and I didn’t actually have hard-wired internet here until I had to for work. Truth to tell, I’m already really appreciating the speed of the connection over what I had before (don’t ask).

But it wasn’t until earlier in July that I slowly started to work my back to working full time because, honestly, the mental and physical toll of this whole thing has been draining. But… I am managing the 12 foot commute from my bedroom in the mornings, grateful for the 3 foot commute home in the evenings, and still a little boggled at the concept that I have a clone of my office phone sitting on my desk at home.

This is probably going to be life for a while now, actually — those of us who can sheltered in place, and taking care of every last bit of tech in order to contact the outside world and, you know, the more I think about it, the more I think that it’s a great thing.

And, on top of that, I’m the more grateful for a boss who realized that this would be our future status quo back in March, so that now I have gotten (without any outside contact whatsoever) a laptop, a cable internet connection, and an office phone via VOIP, and since the beginning of July I’ve been slowly working back to working full time.

Did I mention that it has the shortest commutes ever?

This just may work for my industry, actually, and that’s probably a good thing. Or a great thing. But, most of all, it reminds me of one thing: Like other landmark years in human history, 2020 is going to be set down as a huge dividing line, before and which after things were not the same.

Is it strange sitting in my own living room and taking business calls and all that? Oh, hell yeah. But is it also super convenient, and does it make me inclined to work really weird hours just because I can? That, too.

Hey, remove the commute, it saves me a lot of time and money. And remove the need for so much space for office workers, it saves employers money too, in terms of renting office space, paying utilities and taxes on it, and so on.

So… here’s an idea for the future, one that our elected officials might want to keep an eye on.

If a lot of businesses can be converted to working remotely and a lot of those offices shrink their spaces accordingly, then here’s what we can do:

Regarding the now abandoned office space, convert it into low-income housing or, in the case of large commercial structures like office buildings or malls, convert it directly into free transitional housing for the homeless.

For those businesses that reduce expenses via renting less property, paying for fewer utilities, or so on, establish a state agency which will help them determine how much they’ve saved through the changes, how much per capita that represents for each of their employees, and how they can re-invest 90% of it back into their staff directly while keeping 10% of the benefits themselves, tax free.

I think there was also a provision in here where all elected officials, from city level on up to federal, were all required to be paid minimum wage, but since that would be raised to at least $45 an hour immediately, that might help everyone.

Friday Free-for-All #15

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What is the most important right our government allows for?

All right, random question site — normally, I don’t get political here, but you had to ask, so here we go, keeping in mind that this is the United States edition, but, really, the right I’m going to describe is one that all governments should allow. If they don’t, it’s time to topple them.

The right as I’m going to describe it is a little bit broad, because it’s going to comprise various Constitutional Amendments, laws, and court precedents, but the short version of it is this: Our most important right is the ability to freely and openly criticize our elected officials at any level, without fear of retribution no matter what we say about or to them, and our ability to get rid of them if they displease us, whether via voting them out, or recalling or impeaching them out.

So this covers the First Amendment’s right to free speech, press, and petitioning for redress of grievances for sure. It also scrapes in a few later Amendments, as well as includes the powers already enumerated in the Constitution for impeachment, trial, and removal of members of any and all of the three branches of the Federal government.

In this modern age, it means that any citizen can and should be able to tweet directly to any of their elective representatives and criticize them in the most colorful language possible (and believe me, I’ve seen plenty of that) and, whether they’re right or wrong, the one thing that should be true is that they cannot be arrested or punished for it.

Of course, the one big caveat is that those words don’t move on into threats. “Fuck you representative (name), you are a total asshole” is fine. “Somebody ought to shoot you in the face, and maybe it’ll be me” is not.

Subtle difference, but if we’re adults, I think that we can keep our guns and threats in our pants. Or not.

Now, around the world, several regimes have made it crimes to criticize their leaders — two countries whose English names start with T come to mind — and, in fact, they’ve even tried to punish citizens of other countries who’ve pissed two particular people off.

And that is just lame.

But… back to the U.S. Our most important right has always been the right to vote, but it kind of saddens me that thanks to political fuckery that’s been going on for the last thirty years, doubt has been cast upon two things: one, that voting matters, and two, that there’s any difference between the two major political parties.

Funny thing is that the people who buy into that crap are only politically involved once every four years, and only after their favorite non-starter pseudo third-party (but maybe fill in Republican or Democrat when it’s convenient) candidate doesn’t get enough votes to be nominated.

This is the major problem in the U.S. today: people who claim to be progressive, and yet will willingly toss away our single most important right and power just because their fandom didn’t make it to the finals.

So, ironically, they spend all of their First Amendment (though not really, because they do it on private platforms) rights screaming at people supposedly in the same party for being pragmatic instead of aiming their wrath at, well, you know…

Sadly, my country does not have the Right to be Protected from the Stupid, because that would require universal basic income, free education through grad school, and cheap health care for all.

This right has served us well in the past, though, and it’s been the avenue through which we have seen progressive goals achieved. Universal suffrage for women, unions and workers’ rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ protection and equal rights, among others, didn’t happen because people sat at home being polite.

They organized, they protested, and they let the government know that things had to change. In many cases, the protests and struggles took years, if not decades. And they weren’t bloodless battles. The labor movement, for example, saw many workers and organizers murdered, often at the hands of the private security forces of the companies they worked for. The civil rights movement has a long history of its organizers and supporters being lynched.

To quote Spider-Man, “…with great power there must also come — great responsibility!” No, that’s the actual quote as it first appeared in the comics. The real original comes from the   Public Safety Committee at the French National Convention in 1793: “Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir.”

It means pretty much the same thing, as it did when, in 1817, British MP Willaim Lamb said, “…the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.”

What I mean now is that this great power of ours to address and protest our government comes with an important responsibility: We must never use it in order to infringe the constitutional rights of others, or to endanger the health or well-being of others.

You probably see where this is going.

Protesting to ensure that unarmed, innocent black people are not gunned down by cops or over-zealous vigilantes is a proper use of the power. Protesting to make sure that legal protections are in place to keep transgender people from being fired or evicted is a proper use of the power. Protesting to make sure that corporations cannot underpay or exploit their employees is a proper use of the power.

Protesting because you can’t go out and get a haircut, or shop at Dillard’s, or sit down to eat at the Waffle House, or go to church in person when Zoom is available, or because you don’t want to wear a mask in public are not proper uses of the power.

Sorry, Karen.

When your breath can be as weaponized as you’ve made your white privilege and there are vulnerable people around, put a damn mask on and learn how far six feet is. Then deal with it.

If you want to complain and protest, then please address it to the federal government that whiffed the response in the first place and put us all into this situation, not to the state governments who have been trying to mitigate the damages ever since.

But FFS, stop harassing reporters, assaulting store clerks, or killing security guards. These are not legal acts of protest. They are domestic terrorism.

And that is one right that no American has.

Sunday Nibble #15: Things I’ve learned in lockdown

Random observations so far.

  1. People are definitely observing social distancing here. I had to go to an outdoor ATM but there was someone already there when I arrived. Although there are two machines, they’re less than six feet apart, so I waited way off to the side until he finished, then used the other machine for my transaction. When I was almost done, another person came along, and they waited off to the side as well. That’s how you make it work.
  2. I noticed the same thing when I popped into the Rite Aid next to where I live. It was almost like everyone was wearing a powerful electromagnet set to the same charge — we were all visibly veering away from each other, or backing out of aisles where someone was shopping in order to choose an empty one.
  3. I have had some really heartfelt conversations with store employees lately. On the aforementioned Rite Aid trip, the young clerk and I went through the “How are you doing?” “Good, and you?” “Good” charade but something in me just suddenly made me say, “You know what? Actually, not good, but I’m hanging in there. How are you doing?” And it was a great moment of actual human emotional contact with masks and a sneeze guard between us as we both talked about what was going on in our lives and how we were dealing with it.
  4. My dog has become fascinated with my hand-washing ritual, since it’s the first thing I do every time I come back inside, whether it’s been to walk her, or to grab a quick necessity. She never really used to do this, but for a couple of weeks now, she’s been following me into the bathroom and just standing there staring up at me as I do the twenty second (or more) wash. It’s kind of like she’s looking at me as if to ask, “Daddy, are you okay?” and she does seem a lot more concerned about checking in on me at random. I think she can sense the weird state of depression and ennui that has settled on me.
  5. I baked for the first time in a long time. It’s something I used to do often, but got away from. I’ve always cooked, though, and have cooked a lot of my own meals for the last three and a half years or more. But when a couple of bananas I’d bought went overripe, it was time to make banana bread — social media told me that’s a thing we’re supposed to do in lockdown. I had to improvise, though, because the two eggs I still had had gone bad. They’re not supposed to be green inside when you crack them open, right? That, and I didn’t have brown sugar, so it was white sugar and molasses, plus milk and oil for the eggs. (A chef friend told me later that mayo can also be used as an egg substitute. Who knew?) But I found the entire process to be very therapeutic.
  6. I’ve learned the weird whys about things that are in short supply. The very brief version is that the supply chain balance between commercial and consumer use suddenly shifted far too quickly for production to catch up — huge drop in commercial, huge surge in consumer.

Here’s the deal: TP and paper towels are used in ridiculous amounts by all commercial businesses, because they have to have bathrooms for employees and clients. Regular people, not so much… until quite a lot of us were no longer going in to work or patronizing those businesses. But… the bumwad you use at work or in the subway station is not the same quality as that you use at home, and doesn’t even come from the same factory.

It’s the same story for things like eggs and skim milk. Most of the eggs were going to the restaurant and commercial food industry, since they are such a common ingredient and, like TP and paper towels, the commercial suppliers weren’t the ones shipping to grocery stores. Why would they be when, say, the entire chain of Denny’s restaurants in a region might be ordering something like half a million eggs a week, while an entire chain of grocery stores might only be ordering twenty thousand in the same geographic area? (Source: numbers pulled out of my ass.)

Also, a lot of those eggs are also going into the processed foods you eat, and the baked goods, and that’s also where the milk winds up. But, as you’ve probably noticed, while you can now find 1%, 2%, and whole milk with ease, there’s still no non-fat or skim milk to be found and that’s because, again, the vast majority of it was going to those baked good and processed food companies — who are still cranking things out, even though you can’t find hamburger buns but there’s plenty of bread. And why do they hog the skim milk? Simple. To improve their fat and calorie numbers in the Nutrition Facts boxes.

Same story with butter, which you can’t find, versus margarine, which you can.

  1. I’ve also learned which food items are popular and which aren’t. Apparently, people love Swiss cheese and aren’t so fond of cheddar. If you’re looking for bean and cheese burritos, good luck, but all the other kinds are abundant. Any of the chocolate adjacent Pop Tarts are gone, but there are plenty of fruit flavors. If you want your canned tuna in water, sorry — but tuna in oil and the low sodium version are all over the place. You can’t clean your counters or wipe your ass, but you can blow your nose. And if you’re looking for frozen fruit, don’t set your heart on my favorite: raspberries.

Damn. Who knew that I actually shared the public’s taste in cheese and frozen fruit? I’d always thought that I was an outlier.

  1. Gas has never been cheaper, but I haven’t had to fill my tank in more than seven weeks, and it may still be another month before I have to again. (I last filled it one week before the lockdown so, yeah — that tank is pretty gassed.)

Welcome to the first Sunday in May, and thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

Theatre Thursday: Difficult withdrawal

Fortunately, our lockdown still allows me the creative outlet of writing, and it’s made it easy to keep up with my ambition to post here every day. But otherwise, I’m stuck in the house with the dog, other than the weekly trip for groceries, and the very occasional side errand.

Did you know that health insurers seem to have an aversion to taking payment via any method but mailed check? It probably has to do with HIPPA, but it’s damn annoying. It means I have to find an open post office that also actually has an open slot to put the mail in. And no, I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve spotted a corner mailbox anywhere around here.

Oh, and stamps. Still, at least it’s a stealth mission I only have to do once a month, and I can avoid people while doing it if I work it right. The same is true of the ATM. There’s a little-trafficked outdoor one down the block from me, and when I have run into people there, everyone has done an amazing job at maintaining distance and only using one machine at a time.

These withdrawals, though, have nothing to do with the title of the piece. The hard part is not being able to go onto a stage and perform in front of an audience right now.

As of this writing, it has been about seven-and-a-half weeks, or fifty-two days, since I’ve done improv in front of a live audience, and it is… difficult.

Yes, we’ve continued to do shows via Zoom, but that’s just not the same. It becomes more of an exercise in staying connected with the team, which is very necessary and helpful, but it’s not performing in the same sense.

At our last meeting, someone joked about adding a laugh track to the session, and I was tempted to pull out the sound effects machine and do it — although it wouldn’t really be the same.

There’s nothing like the thrill of experiencing an audience’s live and immediate reaction, whether you’re doing comedy or drama. For example, one of the most exciting experiences I have as an improviser is when we’re doing a rhyming game like Da Doo Ron Ron, where the first two players come up with a single rhyme each, and then the third has to come up with three on the same word.

It’s an elimination game, but here’s the fun part. When you’re down to three players left, the same person is going to get the triple rhyme every time, and I’ve gotten such a reputation at being good at the game that, more often than not, this is the point when the ref puts me in that number three spot.

And there have been times when I’ve made it through three or four rounds — maybe even five — without messing up, and in that case, every time around, I can hear the audience’s anticipation and excitement just crank up, especially when I pull it off. Then, when somebody with only one rhyme whiffs it, I can actually feel the appreciation that I made it through.

Of course, there are other ways to get a reaction from an audience, and one of my favorites came from the time I played a depressed, unicycle-riding bear in an adaptation of a John Irving short story. What? Like you didn’t think of his name as soon as you say unicycle and bear?

There was one long scene where most of us were standing upstage while two other characters were doing their shtick in front of us, and I’d been given license to do business by the director, since that scene was not terribly essential to the plot.

The actress playing the grandmother character was wearing this fur stole with glass grapes on it, and so I decided that the bear thought they were real. At one point, I went over and tried to eat them, and she whacked me away with her clutch.

But before I went for the grapes was when I got the big reaction. See, I’d figured out that if I put these little hard candies from Trader Joe’s in my mouth before the scene and just let them sit there, I’d build up a lot of saliva. So I’d eventually notice the grapes, then start to obsess on them, then kind of sniff at them, and when I sensed that I had the audience’s attention, I let my mouth open a little, tilt my chin down, and wham! Drool cascade to the stage.

This would elicit an amused but disgusted “Ew!”, at which point, I’d go for the grapes, grandma would do her biz, and the audience would eat it up.

Although I was also part of the human chorus in that show, the bear had exactly four words of dialogue, right before dying, but it always felt like I did so much more without saying a thing through the rest of the show.

That one was a magical experience.

Another role where I had about the same number of words (all in Spanish) but again got to play everything through energy and body language was as The Dreamer in Tennessee William’s extremely idiosyncratic and weird Camino Real, which I described at the time — I think accurately — as a ton of fun for the cast, not so much for the audience.

I was basically a leather-clad pseudo-Jesus in intense eye-make-up hauling around a blind Virgen de Guadalupe, fending off the forces of evil at the end, and intimidating the hell out of the audience with my eyes alone. Seriously — black eye shadow above, silver below, can turn your eyes into deadly weapons.

Bonus points: We didn’t limit our playing area to the stage for that one, so we were all up in the house. Like I said, a ton of fun for us, not so much for the audience.

But right now, I’d be grateful for any show to perform live for living people. Yes, it’s kind of ironic that my original trajectory was never supposed to be as a performer. Truth be told, I actually kind of sucked in my middle school drama class, which discouraged me until I basically got dared into it in college — see the above link.

At the moment, it looks like there will be at least two more weeks of this, if not more — and, honestly, I do expect more, at least in sane states like California.

At the moment, I’m reminded of some of my lines from that college play I got dared to audition for, and then cast in:

For ill or good, let the wheel turn.

For who knows the end of good or evil?

Until the grinders cease

And the door shall be shut in the street,

And all the daughters of music shall be brought low.

Stay home, stay safe, tip your server.

Image source: Ghost light at WildWood Arts Center, Little Rock, AR, by Jon Ellwood. Used unmodified under (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sunday Nibble #14: Maprilay 57th

As our lockdown drags on, the days and weeks bleed into each other in an ultimately mind-numbing routine of solitude. Yes, there are those occasional virtual breaks to meet with friends, and if those aren’t anchors to sanity, I don’t know what is.

I may also finally wind up being equipped to work from home since, surprise, my day job is considered an essential business, it’s just that when this all started, only the licensed agents were already set up with the necessary security on their home computers — HIPAA regulations, you see.

That may restore some semblance of normalcy. Or not. It’s honestly been hard enough to focus on anything, and a big part of that of course is due to the whole uncertainty of “Where is the money going to come from?”

Oh, there’s unemployment, but it’s not enough. There are promises, as yet unkept by the Federal government, of supplementing everyone’s unemployment by $600 a week, which would go a long way. There are also those stimulus checks, which are taking their sweet time.

And while my state and city have banned tenant evictions for non-payment of rent, with the ability to pay back skipped amounts over 12 months, landlords have still been trying to evict people. Although that in itself would be a good trick, because the courts are mostly closed and the sheriffs aren’t evicting.

My one daily routine that gets me outside briefly a few times a day is walking the dog. I live in a gated garden complex, so I never have to leave the grounds, and my dog is very old, so she doesn’t like to walk all that far. But even in our short forays, I have started to notice the changes in nature around us, and they are interesting, to say the least.

The most obvious one is how clean the air is, how white the clouds look, and how much more rain we’ve had the last month or so. It’s also been a lot colder than it’s been this time of year for ages, and I have to think that the combination of limited vehicle, aircraft, and watercraft traffic has something to do with it.

And that wouldn’t be at all incorrect. While it varies by area, weekday weather and weekend weather can be very different, and Southern California has always seemed to be one of those places fond of weekend storms. Since we’ve essentially been on a long weekend for just over a month now, it’s not a big surprise.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are suddenly a lot more bees buzzing around one particular bush near my back door. And I know you’re probably thinking, “Hey, it’s spring. That’s when bees come around, right?”

Well, yes, but… since my dog has always loved to nose around this bush, when there are bees in it I’m very aware, because she also likes to snap at tiny flying things, and I really don’t want her getting stung in the mouth. This bush is right near a doggy poop-bag station, so it’s been a common stop on our walk for years, even when those walks were a lot longer.

This is the first time, really, I can remember it swarming so much. This is also interesting because about a month and a half before everything went down, a neighbor reported that there were a bunch of dead and dying bees on the sidewalk just to the north of the complex, which is on the opposite corner from where I am.

The second thing I noticed was the sudden apparent disappearance of the two most common forms of wild life around — crows and squirrels. The crows in particular would make themselves very obvious, especially around sunset, when a large and cawing flock would circle the tall trees on the north end, eventually settling in for a little murder before nightfall.

I haven’t heard or seen them in such numbers for a long time. I did see two very quiet crows wheel by today, but they flew off.

It’s been the same with the squirrels. A couple of the magnolias seem so have their resident tree dogs, who delight in stealing oranges off of those trees, and then hauling them up to eat. Even when the squirrels are not around, the tell-tale gnawed fruit always is — and, again, I haven’t seen that in a while.

What I have seen, though, that’s new: a bunch of tiny brown finches flittering around in the branches, chatting with each other. It’s a sound I hadn’t heard before, but now it’s abundant, and it’s not like a normal bird chirp. It’s more like they click at each other.

It’s like the entire miniature ecosystem around here has shifted, and I’m sure there have been a lot of other changes as well that I haven’t seen because I’ve pretty much been limited to an area with a 0,6 mile radius, which is half the distance from where I get my dog food to where I get my groceries. I’m somewhere in the middle.

At the moment, we’ve got at least another three weeks to go, but that’s subject to change, and it’s entirely possible that large gatherings will be banned on into 2021. That may even apply to everything from small theatre on up, and that’s where the real uncertainty comes in.

We could easily be facing a year without any public rituals of any kind, religious or secular. Well, ideally. Unfortunately, we have people who still think that just being in a church, synagogue, or other religious setting will protect themit won’t.

It leads to the strange paradox where any such gatherings might lead to a lot more deaths, which would lead to a lot of funerals, except that those funerals shouldn’t happen because they’ll just lead to a lot more funerals, and so on.

And yes, it will decimate if not devastate industries: funeral homes, wedding planners, caterers, florists, tailors and tux shops.

On the other hand, a lot of us under a certain age have been living a lot of our social lives online already for a while, so in a way we’re well-suited to the changes, and can probably deal with virtual… everything.

It’s not impossible. It’s just lonely. But, do stay home. Wear a mask or face covering when you do go out, and when you do on those very rare occasions, pay attention to nature. I do think it’s trying to tell us something.

Sunday Nibble #13: Taking pause

I don’t know what designation historians will come up with for the year 2020 — or even if it will be limited to just one year — but it will definitely be one of those great cultural markers that represents a hard stop, an irrefutable before and after point in human history.

It’s also going to have that significance in every single country and culture on the planet, and I can’t even think of a precedent in all of human history. There are certainly hard stops that had far-ranging though limited effects, like the fall of the Roman Empire, the end of the Aztec Empire, and the Reconquista, to mention three that mostly affected the western world.

Larger regions were affected by things like the Napoleonic Wars, and both the Great War and its unimaginatively named sequel World War II — but there were places that largely escaped the direct influence of those events. Asia, Australia, and most of Africa were untouched by Napoleon.

The World Wars may not have directly threatened every country on every continent, but may have indirectly changed things for them. It certainly changed world politics forever by leaving us with the Cold War and its aftermath.

This current plague is different in that no country on the planet has escaped it, and no person in the world is unaffected, period.

It’s as if the entire planet has become London in 1666, when the entire city was shut down by plague. The bad news there is that the thing that effectively ended it was the Great Fire of London, which destroyed densely populated and impoverished areas, driving out the rats that carried the fleas that were the ultimate cause of the disease. The true human death toll isn’t known.

Contemporary writers claimed that few people perished, but the fire burned so hot that entire communities could have been cremated without leaving any evidence behind.

It does feel, though, like we’re going to see another Great Fire in a metaphorical sense, as old institutions and ways collapse, never to exist again. If the lockdowns and lack of governmental help last long enough, then we may see widespread revolutions. At the very least, there may be general strikes that will starve the ruling classes of their income.

There is hope in the darkness, though, and I see it whenever I take the dog on a very limited walk and look up at the sky to see how clean it is. We’ve also had a lot more rain here than we’ve had for a while, and it’s unseasonal. It feels like the planet has decided to take a shower and clean up while we’re all inside.

I have friends who are at home sewing masks and others who are making videos or hosting shows on Zoom to keep people entertained. Still others are making sure that friends get things they need if they don’t have them, all while social distancing.

My improv group has been meeting regularly on Mondays via Zoom for some mutual self-care and to perform, and the main ComedySportz L.A. improv company itself has been having online shows that have been selling out every Saturday night.

I’ve seen very little in the way of stupid directly and for the most part people are maintaining social distance and wearing masks. The few moments of stupid I’ve seen haven’t been recent, and were in the grocery store, when a large group of people, generally youngish, and clearly probably not all living, together would come in to hit the liquor aisle and then all stand really close to each other.

Currently, the only stupid I’ve seen are the very few people who’ve gone to the grocery store without a mask or, extra special stupid, they’ve had a mask, but it’s pulled down so that it doesn’t cover their nose.

Sigh.

I do think that there’s a special place in hell, though, for a few Instagram “influencers” I’ve noticed who are still going out into the world to shoot their “OMG this is so fucking important” bullshit. I won’t mention names of the offenders, but one in particular was stupid enough to post time-stamped video of a bunch of unmasked people working in what I assume is some sort communal office space, or a group of people riding in the same van very close together.

Oh yeah, in that one, the person shooting also shows the speedometer, and ass-boy is doing 125 mph down the highway — while one of the group is standing in the back of the van.

I will mention one influencer who’s doing the right thing: Juanpa Zurita, who is stuck in isolation with his entire family somewhere in Mexico. They’ve been spending their time making masks and face guards for health care workers, not going outside, as well as pranking each other, and otherwise just being entertaining.

So, I don’t know. Maybe future historians will call this period “The Year When the World Stayed at Home,” or “The Great Pause,” or “The Global Reset.”

Another name for it might be “The Darwin Awards Ultimate World Championship.”

I am doing my best to not win any awards in that competition, and I hope that you are, too. Tomorrow was originally supposed to be the end of the lockdown here in L.A., but it was extended to May 15 over a week ago. I’m not holding out any hope that that date won’t be extended, either.

But whatever it takes to pull the planet through this, let’s just team up and do it.

Sunday Nibble #10: Plus ça change

It seems that any sudden societal upheaval in America follows the same basic pattern as the COVID-19 situation, as follows.

  1. Rumors of something bad coming, ignored.
  2. A little bit of the bad thing happens, the media starts to mention it.
  3. A couple more bad things happen, and suddenly the media turns it into a trend.
  4. Continue escalating hype until people freak.
  5. Store shelves stripped bare.
  6. The government fails to react.
  7. Shit gets real.
  8. The government finally sort of does… something?

Specifically, I’m thinking of the L.A. riots, which were nearly 30 years ago, but the same pattern seems to apply to the AIDS crisis (without the hoarding but with the freaking, I think) and it probably applies to the Watts Riots and the Spanish Flu and every other sudden crisis.

But I’m having a definite déjà vu over this one, even though I was a far younger and very naïve person (politically and otherwise) back on April 29, 1992. Okay, same day of the month as this post, a month early, totally unintended.

But that April day was when Los Angeles exploded in violence because the police officers who had beaten Rodney King for no reason were acquitted.

From what I remember, the story broke by the minute, and my dad freaked out about it as soon as he heard the verdict. Of course, he had lived here through the Watts Riots, so he had previous experience. I did not.

Time to stock up on everything, said he, and the stores were insane — much like they were a week before all of California shut down ten days ago.

Water and TP aisles empty, a lot of other essentials practically gone. Well, you know the drill. You all just lived through it.  At the time, though, the assholeishness of it didn’t occur to me because I was still working on installing that whole self-awareness subroutine, but, looking back… yeah. Even my dad had been a greedy asshole about it. Everyone had.

The shutdown due to the riots lasted all of about five days. And, on top of that, I realized that my dad really shouldn’t have been so worried. It was Woodland Hills, way out in the West Valley, aka “The place all the white people moved to in the 60s in order to avoid sending their kids to school with non-white people.”

Poetic justice: I went to school there with a lot of non-white people, and now a lot of the part of Woodland Hills I grew up in and where my parents lived is now heavily Hispanic. I love it. It was when this influx began that all the scared whypipo moved to the Simi Valley.” (My parents tried to join the exodus, but no one wanted to buy their house.)

As for Simi Valley, it’s the home of the Reagan Library, which tells you everything you need to know about it and its demographics. They wanted the place built there, even though the only real connection he had to the city was that he was once governor of the state.

Oh, yeah. One other thing Simi Valley: It was also the venue to which the trial of the cops who beat Rodney King was moved, apparently, with the ultimate defense goal of finding a jury favorable to… the cops. Why would that jury be favorable? Because so many police officers lived there.

And then LA. exploded into violence over a jury verdict delivered in a different county. But that explosion never got anywhere near Woodland Hills because, of course it didn’t.

Now, the eight steps at the top of this article seemed to have taken place all in one day in the case of the L.A. riots — maybe because it threatened rich white people?

Other times, events have moved in much slower motion. Reading the history on it, in the case of the AIDS crisis it took well over a decade to go from point 1 to point 8, and point 6 was intentionally extended, most likely causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

And in our modern age, we’ve gone through the cycle in a hyper-fast manner. Still slower than the L.A. riots — or maybe not, because all of the trial drama and build up for that  one took months.

But when it came to Corona Lockdown, we went from 1 to 8 in about three months at most, also stalling for far too long at 6, and we all reacted in the same damn exact way.

Let’s be greedy little bitches and grab everything we can.

And that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I think that the key, though, is in step 7, as in when shit gets real, but for the 1%. First off, when they realize that they are not immune — and we’ve already had an A-list actor and spouse, several members of Congress, and various other celebrities test positive.

Second is when this realization is going to make them start spending their money on fixing shit, and they’re going to realize that they only caught it because the people they depend on do not have the same access to health care and income security that they do.

All the sheltering in place in the world does no good if their maid has to take public transportation because she can’t afford a car or insurance, and can’t take sick days off if nobody pays her for them.

If a billionaire can’t work for a month it makes no difference, because all of their passive and residual income from investments or rents and royalties keeps rolling in. Until, of course, the stock market tanks and their investments become a bit less valuable, and that’s another thing that makes them think about how helping others will help themselves.

Did I mention that the maid and all those other low-paid workers who interact closely with the billionaire probably don’t have the best health insurance or lowest deductible plan, if any?

And that Mr. or Ms. 1% doesn’t even really notice the help much so that they certainly don’t notice when the maid is coughing all over the counters while cleaning them, or that they themselves have a habit of leaning over their personal assistant from much closer than six feet while telling her what you need her to schedule, all because they’re trying to stare down her top.

They won’t even put two and two together when they suddenly feel feverish, because the only way they’re going to decide to get tested is if they come down with full-blown symptoms or if they hear that someone in their social circle has tested positive or reported symptoms.

Even then, and even if they test positive, they aren’t going to do a thing to help anyone outside of their circles until the big red flag is hoist.

That’s right. We won’t see really important action from the 1% until the grandest event of them all: Somebody in their class dies from this virus — and that is inevitable. Once that happens, you’re going to see mountains moved like never before to block the spread and find a cure.

Just look at how the straight community’s tune changed the second that Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. Hey, there’s a reason Magic is still alive and a year older than Rock Hudson was when he AIDS killed him. You do the math.

Yep. Suddenly, death comes calling on their kind and the 1% goes socialist harder than your Bernie bro nephew who’s majoring in PoliSci at Berkeley.

“Pay the peons to stay home and the hell away from me! Give them all the health insurance they need for free so they don’t make my family sick. And let’s do something about all these homeless. No more evictions for now, everyone gets enough money to pay their rent. Ah, hell. Here’s property I bought and never developed, cover it in motor homes. Just keep the homeless the hell out of where I am, okay? And figure out how everybody who can works from home. Give ’em the equipment to do it.”

It’s Scrooge the morning after the four ghosts visit. Sad, but if they’re paying for your Christmas goose, just shut up and cash the checks, no matter how big an asshole your Scrooge was up until their sudden revelation.

Kind of ironic but fitting, really, that the deadly virus of “Trickle Down Economics” that Ronald Reagan foisted on America in the 80s — and which directly created the shitshow we’re living now — might actually start to trickle the hell down because of another deadly virus.

See, the big flaw with “trickle down economics” was the assumption that if you gave rich people more money, they would liberally toss it down on their subordinates, everyone would get raises, and it would be good times.

In reality? Not so much. The only trickle down the working class experienced was getting pissed on by the owners.

The fatal flaw of capitalism is that people — no matter their social status or personal wealth or lack thereof — tend to act, on an anonymous playing field, in their own best interests and no one else’s.

Yes, there are definitely altruistic human beings. Mr. Rogers’ “helpers” do exist, but they are few and far between.

In capitalism, which is a zero sum game, most of the players will only be altruistic when incentivized, and the incentive that works the best is to steer them toward an action that, while serving others instead of themselves, will ultimately cost them less in the long run.

Death is the great equalizer, after all. Not to mention that there is no one so rich that they wouldn’t trade their entire fortune in exchange for fending off death. If our modern robber barons can pull the same trick for only a quarter of their fortune, they will think it had been worth the price, and their selfishness might ultimately leave the world a better place.

We shall see.