Sunday, March 29, 2020

Scenes from the new normal

There are no customers inside the Starbucks near the Market Basket. There is a line of 17 cars at the drive in window waiting for take-out coffee.

The postal clerk at my post office is wearing a mask.  So, is every other person on the street. In the grocery store people either wear masks or kerchiefs over the face like old time bad guys wore in cowboy movies when they were going to rob a bank.

I see a man pull his cart up to his car and wipe down the plastic bags before he places the items in the trunk.

The bank is only letting two customers in at one time.

Zoom software is going viral.  I have zoom meetings all week.

There are a lot more joggers around the track at the high school.

Brandeis has put a lock on the fence openings to its track.  I find it is more difficult to climb over the fence than it was when I was 10. People have placed garbage can lids near the fence to give them a boost. There does not seem to be any reduction in the numbers of people using the track or the soccer fields despite the locks.

Moody street, a street with one restaurant after another, looks and feels eerie.

I read that in some places people are tearing up old tee shirts to use for toilet paper.

Some very clever song parodies are going viral on social media.

Some fraternity brothers met via zoom on Saturday night and had a virtual toast, from Florida, Pennsylvania, Montauk Point, Hyde Park New York, and Boston.

CNN reports are stunning in how they seem out of a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode.

Liquor stores are deemed essential businesses.

We wonder what we would do without the internet.

We are walking and walking and walking for exercise.  Not sure if the fathers on bicycles are more careless than their children.

Gas Prices are plummeting since nobody is going anywhere and there is a surplus.

I'm enjoying the Kominsky Method.

I've cleaned out my closet.  Apparently, cleaning is either a pastime, or people are realizing that having time was never the reason why the house was not cleaned.

The Cuomo brothers are big hits.

A stable day on Wall Street occurs when the Dow Jones only goes up or down 200 points.

My hair is long and wild; others are grayer, as going to the barber or hair stylist is not an option.

I am getting a great deal of use out of my Boston Red Sox pajama bottoms and various sweat shirts.

There is no such thing as rush hour. On Tuesday I had to go into town around the time of a typical morning commute. and it was like driving at 2 in the morning.

We are all getting used to it, but we are really not getting used to it, because we don't really know how long we are going to have get used to it, and we don't know what the landscape will look like when we emerge from the tunnel.

The newspaper gets thinner and thinner.

My buddy who is single signed up for a dating service and then realized that it was foolish to have done so.  Where are you going to meet? 

It's not a dream.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fox News

Last night I decided to watch MSNBC to hear the latest on this Rod Serling episode.  I was watching downstairs and this was a good thing since the news was so depressing and so repetitively discouraging that throwing myself out the window seemed like it might not be a bad idea.

I tried to find a movie to watch.  Flipped through the dozens of channels and could not engage in anything. 

Silvan Tomkins was a researcher who wrote about something he called Affect Theory.  It is a challenge to nutshell a theory that he described in two fat volumes, but essentially the theory suggests that we all, we humans, seek out a net positive affect.  That is we seek out experiences which will make us happier than sad.  I write about this some in describing why people like sports. Sports can provide excitement, entertainment, appreciation for others' prowess, and in general make us happy because of what it brings to our lives.  One can get a net positive affect and not have anything to do with sports.  It could be novels, pets, coins, whatever brings you joy to offset the sadnesses that we often experience.

Today in this episode of the Twilight Zone in which we live, there is precious little to bring us a net positive affect. No sports, no theatre, no good news, and most of all, the phrase of the day is social distancing. Robert Frost wrote "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  True dat.  Social distancing might seem sweet if you've been hanging around with nogoodniks but eventually you seek out closeness.

This morning I woke and shook my head. Once again, I was reminded of our new world where there does not seem to be a light at the end of a dark tunnel and even when we get to the light, we are not quite sure what the land will look like when we emerge.  I flipped on the tv. I moved through some channels and I rested on a station I usually skip over as if I am barefoot and discovered that I am stepping where someone smashed glass.  I stopped on Fox News.

The interviewers were speaking about a drug that President Trump had referred to that had positive effects in dealing with the virus. Now last night I had watched a number of pundits ridicule this claim. It seemed that the drug had not been tested yet for this purpose and therefore could not be the balm the president implied it could be.

However, I found it comforting to listen to this fantasy.  It was a good story for a change. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Of course, there was no truth to it. It was like a feel good episode of Father Knows Best.  We interrupt the Twilight Zone to bring you Robert Young in Father Knows Best.  Nevertheless, it felt good to hear this bogus story about a light at the end of the tunnel.

My dad had a great expression.  He would be arguing with my mother about something and he would bring up a fact to deflate her contention. She would wave him away.  He would say, "Oh don't confuse me with the facts, is that it?"  I think people watch their Fox "news" programs, and MSNBC can be guilty of this as well, because the narrative is comforting and they want to believe what they hear. They like that story better than the other side.

Of course, this is not the role of journalists. A journalist is supposed to be about a dispassionate presentation of truth.  In these times, though, that is not going to ratchet up the chances for positive affect.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This is Jeopardy

Dad, you would not believe what is doing.

There is a virus that has created a worldwide problem, a pandemic.  This is not the swine flu, this is a virus that has spread and can be deadly.  How bad is it?

Schools have been closed.  Restaurants are not allowed to seat patrons. People over 60 are asked to stay put and not go outside.  Every day we are encouraged to wash our hands multiple times and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

The grocery stores last week were mobbed.  It would be funny and is sort of, but there is a toilet paper shortage.  Yesterday the grocery I go to had gotten some, and I saw a man looking like he was possessed hauling out two cases. I had a sense this guy had not had a good time of it for a few days.

There are no ball games. This is March Madness time. The tournament was called off. Baseball has been postponed. Basketball and hockey seasons have been suspended.  A basketball game was stopped at halftime because of concerns. No sports, as in none. No high school, college, professional. No sports.

Planes are flying half empty because people have been discouraged to fly. Just great that a few days before the hullabaloo I flew on a packed flight.  If you want to go out of your mind you can watch the news where every story is about how we are in deep trouble and it is going to get worse.  The stock market has dropped 10,000 points in a couple of weeks. 

Gyms are closed so I get my exercise walking.  This evening I walked to the post office to mail a letter. On the way back I took the longer route and walked along Main Street. Usually this is a busy road.  It was relatively empty. There are restaurants on both sides of the road.  Every one had a sign out front either indicating they were closed or could only do take out. A bank had a sign that read that only three people are allowed to enter the bank at any one time.

I have various projects to do around the house plus am teaching my courses on line. So I am keeping myself busy.  I watch almost no tv except for Jeopardy at 730.  Last night I settled in to watch and, go figure, the mayor interrupted the show to talk about how bad the situation is and why we have to be extra cautious.  There has been talk of sheltering in.  This means that one is literally prohibited from leaving the house or wherever you are at.

I cant imagine how that would have impacted you and mom if you were still with us. Your entire community must be on edge. The high risk groups are seniors so they (and alas, the pronoun now is we) are discouraged from doing much of anything. 

It's surreal. This is Jeopardy.

Friday, March 13, 2020

wild west

Where to begin.

Has there been a stranger week than this one?

I get up early this morning to go to the grocery.  I am in the store at 7.  It is packed. Mobbed. I get my items and stand in line for 20 minutes. I look behind me and see the slackers who arrived at 730. They will wait til the cows come home to check out.  I leave the grocery and roll my cart to the car.

Two women follow me. It is not because I look hot in my sweatshirt.  They want my cart.  It is 735. In this grocery the size of Kansas, with carts enough for all the people in Lichtenstein, there are no carts. I could sell mine and buy a Buick.

On Monday I taught a regular class.  On Tuesday the university issues a statement indicating that we would continue to teach classes on ground. However, faculty in high risk categories are urged to stay home. They list what is high risk. I am high risk in two categories. How did that happen?  I am not the nervous type when it comes to health scares. I read that I am high risk, however, I get antsy. I go in anyway on Wednesday, but at noon am intercepted by a student who tells me the school has gone on-line.

I go home to find out that the NCAA has cancelled March Madness.  And then the NBA has suspended its season as has Major League Baseball. Now I am genuinely nervous.  I figure with all the shekels that are at stake with the NCAA tournament, the NBA, NHL, and major league baseball--someone has got to know something that is not minor to stop the flow of dough.  Businesses like professional sports teams are not wholly altruistic, they must know something.  And, ho hum, the stock market drops 3000 points in two days. What to worry? I have some quarters in my car. I think.

I turn on the set at 3 pm today, and am comforted by our president. Not.  If I had to teach an advanced course in Physics, I would have had it more together, and Physics and I, in high school, were not on the best of terms. This guy is a caricature.  I've heard detractors call him Pinocchio. I think Clarabell is more apt. If Pinocchio and Clarabell did the slow dance, maybe this would be the offspring. (Pinocchio promised to pull out).

You can fly to Florida now for 59 dollars. And, no doubt, have the whole plane to yourself.  Just last Saturday, six days ago, I sat on a packed plane and paid more than twice as much to return from Florida. And I got a good deal with that price.

At the grocery store today, one which is typically packed with foodstuffs, people were yanking food off the shelves like the next time they intended to shop would be for Thanksgiving.  The woman in front of me at the check out spent 250 dollars.

Everything is dark in town. The theaters, the universities. Today I received a mailing that the local library will be closed after today.  I checked for the libraries in the area. They are all shutting down.  Boston Public Schools are closing on Tuesday and are opening, wait for it, April 27th.

Now we are just stunned. Wait until people stop getting paid because the theater has shut down, nobody is going to restaurants, people are afraid to go get a haircut, the actors in the plays are unemployed,  the people who work in the cafeteria are told to go on furlough.  Pilots, stewardesses.  You feel sad because your trip to aruba is cancelled. how do you think the poor shlamazel who busts his ass for 9 months out of the year to get his resort ready for three months in the winter feels.  Major league baseball cancels. We are sad. You know who is really sad. The guy who sells the peanuts outside and who counts on selling peanuts to pay the rent.

Hold onto your hats.