Author Archives: Matthew Appleton

About Matthew Appleton

A dad and loving husband who is also an easily distracted sf&f junkie, LEGO enthusiast, Phillies fan, and writer wannabe who really has too many other responsibilities to be working on his many different on-going projects.

Notes from the Pandemic: Goodbye O’Faolain’s

After this pandemic started and its scope, potential duration, and repercussions became obvious to those being realistic about what was about to unfold, the permanent loss of many beloved shops and restaurants was an obvious certainty. It was going to happen. The only unknown was which places would close their doors for good.

This morning, I found out via posts made by its employees Facebook that last night O’Faolain’s Irish Pub and Restaurant became the first such casualty in my world.

Calling it my favorite Irish pub doesn’t properly convey its importance to me. It was literally and by far my favorite place to go for well over 10 years. Pub quiz, date nights, meeting up with friends, lazy Saturday afternoons reading a book while having cider and fries, and just plain needing to get out of the house… It was all of these things and more.

O’Faolain’s started to become a major part of my life in 2007. In the aftermath of my first marriage finally falling apart, what I needed most was a place to escape to when feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances of that time — which happened often. Before that event, it was just one of any number of places to go eat and have a couple drinks. However, the atmosphere, the fact that hard cider was on tap, the quality of the food, WiFi for public use, and the ability to settle in at somewhat secluded spot quickly made it my first choice when the need (and the opportunity) to flee the apartment arrived. It turned out to be the wonderfully cliched right place at the right time.

What made the serendipity of it all the more special is that I hadn’t had a favorite hangout since college. In the early ’90s, the Irish Pub on the 1100 block of Walnut Street in Philly (which coincidentally closed last summer) served as that focal point in life. Predominantly, it was the place my friends and I frequented to have drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, but it also served as a pleasant rest stop to enjoy some food, drink and maybe even a book after spending a few hours walking around the city. However, after moving to New York City in the summer of ’96, nothing else ever came close to replicating the importance the Irish Pub had during that time. There were certainly other places that saw plenty of my business, but none of them felt special in the same way.

O’Faolain’s became special while dealing with life as a refugee from a failed marriage. A number of evenings were spent there until it felt right to reenter the dating world. Copious amounts of cider and shepherd’s pie were consumed. Large chunks of books were read, and because this was the tail end of the LiveJournal era, a time when longer posts like this were far more frequent, thousands of sentences were strung together as well. Most importantly, it was where much necessary healing took place.

In retrospect, it all happened rather rapidly. In less than a year, it had become the most important place outside of home. Within less than two years, it became an integral part of my history when Sally and I had our first date there. Since then, there have been countless nights of trivia (with more than our fair share of victories), a couple friendships made, additional books read, Eagles games watched with Brandon, the much less frequent blog posts written, gatherings with friends and family, and even times where I went simply to fulfill the need of being by myself for a while in a place that felt comforting.

Alas, the last visit there was completely unremarkable, and I don’t recall exactly when it was or the reason for going. To merely know when it was, I will need to look at credit card statements from the month before O’Faolain’s thought it was closing its doors temporarily while it waited out the opening stages of the pandemic. There was no way to anticipate that it would be my last time there.

The official announcement placed this afternoon on their Facebook page attempted to strike a hopeful tone:

We ask for your understanding in this very difficult time for our hospitality industry and we look forward to providing “a little bit of Irish hospitality” in Sterling soon again. This does not mean the end.

I want to believe that it isn’t the end. However, looking at the situation realistically, the pandemic will go on for another year, at a minimum. At lot can happen in that time, despite current intents and plans. Realistically, it will be longer before it can return, and if it does, there’s no guarantee that it will be in the same location. Even if does, at best it will be something new that manages to be wonderfully reminiscent of the original. As good as it may be, it won’t be the same.

If I’m lucky, I will find some place like it again.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 75

“Everybody is a Ferengi now.” “The high holy church of unfettered capitalism.” Both are flippant remarks about the current state of America I’ve been muttering for a number of years. Sometime in the aftermath of World War II, a significant percentage of Americans began to see and defend our capitalist system with a kind of emotionally-driven religious fervor. We were the greatest country on earth, therefore our economic system must be the best that ever devised. However, no economic system is 100% stable. A variety of forces are always modifying and tweaking it. Groups of people, as well as extremely powerful individuals, constantly compete against each other in an effort to curb the system’s excesses, exploit and enrich themselves further, or simply to make minor tweaks to remove value-neutral inefficiencies.

Since Reagan’s election, however, those looking to exploit the system and modify it to further and entrench their personal enrichment have increasingly possessed the upper hand. It was at some point during the second Bush presidency that the effectiveness of there efforts became undeniably obvious to many of us. At that point, this country had been experimenting with trickle-down economics for 20 years, and the data showed an upward transfer of wealth was clear and undeniable. The richest 10% of the country owned more of the wealth than at any time since the Great Depression (the situation that’s only grown in severity since then.) Yet, many Americans had utterly bought into the notion that our capitalist system was the best and only way to do things. That was when I first started noting the Ferengi and religious aspects to what the American version of capitalism had become.

The truly gobstoppping thing, though, was how entrenched this blind fealty to the economy had become. This has been a godsend to the new oligarchy, which cannot exist if too many people do not have faith in the system. Should that happen, they will rebel eventually, in some form. The best way to inoculate the system from such dissent is to convince as many people as possible that they too can be just as rich and powerful if they just worked hard enough and smart enough. You don’t need to convince everybody; you just need to convince enough people to prevent the system from being completely overhauled. So far, they managed beautifully.

There is no better example of this than Jeff Bezos and his sprawling Amazon business empire. Amazon is literally the kind of company that anti-trust laws were originally established to combat. It long ago became something far more than an online retailer. Its tendrils infiltrate and inhabit our economy in a myriad of ways: they control an an steadily increasing share of the global Internet traffic; it is a significant media company, in the entertainment business both as a producer and distributor; it acts as a middleman to anybody who wants to sell on the Internet; it provides data hosting and cloud services to some of the worlds largest companies; it’s one of the world’s biggest aggregators  of individual’s data; it produces news; and it enriches Bezos personally at the rate of billions of dollars per month.

This is the type of Cthulu-like, multi-tentacled business that should be keeping people awake in fear at night. The reach and scope of their business is quite literally inescapable. Yet, people to continue to act as if Bezos has done nothing wrong. On a literal level, this is true: he has done nothing legally wrong. By those rules and laws. He has just been a shrewd businessman, and he deserves every penny he has made. Besides, hasn’t he made our life’s better, easier, and more enjoyable? What is the harm in that? By the high holy tenants of the religious belief in our economic system, he deserves every penny he owns. This isn’t hyperbole, by the way. I witnessed it myself last week in the comment section of a Facebook post which stated the need for proactively taking our business to away from Amazon. In retrospect, I wish I took a screenshot to illustrate the point.

These people see nothing wrong or disconcerting about the fact that Bezos is on the verge of becoming the worlds first trillionaire. He is accumulating massive amounts of wealth on a scale unseen since at least the Gilded Age — well over 100 years ago — and he continues to do so at a time when the economic inequality of our system is wrecking havoc upon peoples lives in a way not seen since the Great Depression. This becomes even more repugnant when you consider the ruthlessness and immoral treatment of the workers in his distribution centers in Amazon warehouses. The fact that those workers are getting infected by the coronavirus at higher rates than the majority of the population is well-documented. Yet, he is going to slash their meager “hazard” bonus in June. Apparently, he’s not making money fast enough.

Yet, Bezos is just a rather large symptom of a system that is horribly out of whack and unable to handle the current health and economic crisis. The religious fervor of those that support the billionaire class has blinded them to the reality of the fact that they are rubes who have been horribly duped. They are like the character Rom in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when advised by Federation officers to form a union and strike for higher pay. They refuse to acknowledge the full reality of their situation because they want to someday become the exploiters, even though the chances of that happening are realistically nil.

Sadly, this is just history repeating itself. The Great Depression happened primarily because the ultra rich got too greedy and in their efforts to enrich themselves created the conditions that allowed any major shock to bring it all crashing down. The collapse of the Weimar Republic and the ensuing economic shockwaves merely pushed over the first of a long chain of dominoes perfectly aligned to easily topple the global economy into disarray. A more stable and robust economic system could have better survived the shock to the system. This is not to say that there wouldn’t have been economic hardship, but the pain wouldn’t have been as bad. The same thing is happening here. The extreme greed and Smaug-like hoarding of wealth didn’t by itself start the collapse our economy is experiencing. However, it did mean that when the pandemic spiraled out of control, the system was horribly ill-equipped to handle the economic reverberations.

Frankly, it’s hard to see how the current situation doesn’t proceed along the path similar to that of the Great Depression. Even more disconcertingly, that event may even be less painful and trying than what we are currently facing. Aside from the rise in fascism and nationalism (look, more parallels!), humankind was not facing a slew of other challenges and crises that could very well spell the end of civilization as we know it. Global climate change, ecological collapse, environmental damage wrought by decades of a capitalism — especially in regards to convenience and disposability (planned obsolescence)… All these things were easily capable of eventually causing the exact same kind of shock to the system that COVID-19 did.

In short, what we perceived as normal for the past few decades (which, as noted before, was anything but constant or stable) is long gone. We are entering a new and scary period in human history. One that will require societal change on a level of magnitude that Europe underwent in the decades following the Black Death. Much like the nobility of that time, those who have most profited from the current system will fight tooth and nail to preserve everything they have achieved and “earned.” In much the same way the nobility ruthlessly (and ultimately unsuccessfully) used its connections to the church to bolster and defend their position from economic and societal change, today’s oligarchs will use the firmly established high holy cult of the American capitalist belief system in pursuit of similar goals.

Troubling and turbulent times lay ahead. In some ways, I feel like Sarah Connor gazing off into the distance of the desert at the end of the first Terminator movie. Dark times are coming, and it’s prudent to prepare for them. However the coming storm is like nothing that has come before. Short of becoming a full-blown prepper, how do you actually prepare to handle something of that magnitude? Or, is becoming a prepper the truly prudent course of action at this time?

Whatever the future holds, society has to become kinder and far more thoughtful. We have to be better than Ferengi, and we cannot allow ourselves to rely heavily on faith in that our way of doing things will just work out in the end. If we don’t, human civilization may very well be in a frightful state far sooner than many of us ever imagined.

Saturday Morning Blues (NFtP, Day 72)

I have the day to myself today, and it’s the rare type of Saturday where normally I’d engage in one of my preferred acts of self-care: going to O’Faolain’s to read a book over a couple ciders and an order or two of fries. Even if my favorite pub was open, however, this still wouldn’t be an option — it’s just not safe to do.

The whole situation is depressing as hell.

To an extremely limited degree, I understand the red-hat wearing wankers who are bleating about their rights, freedoms, and liberties while demanding that the country reopen. Staying home, not going to your favorite places, and not engaging in your usual activities for months and with no end in sight is trying as hell. It’s a situation that barely anyone alive today has previously experienced. However, demanding that we completely reopen the country is utterly asinine. It will cause the death of hundreds of thousands.

Even if Northern Virginia was one of those regions attempting to fully reopen, I would continue to stay home. It would be just as depressing as the current situation. I want nothing more than to take a book to O’Faolain’s today, and not doing so is making me miserable. Compounding the misery: many of my other preferred activities are also verboten. Going to the Lego store to look and potentially buy, visiting downtown Frederick or Winchester (though, truth be told, those always involve Sally as well), going to any kind of bookstore… all of these are simply not options, regardless of their current state of operation.

So, it’s a day of pushing through the situational doom and gloom, and doing other things. I’ll still get some reading done, and there are more than a few other enjoyable projects here in the house. I may even push myself out of the current funk. I’ll just have stop fixating on the things that just aren’t possible, and be thankful that other options are available.

Fuck Your “Freedom,” You’re an Asshole

I am done with maintaining even a thin veneer of civility. I have had it with right-wingers in this country, and I despise nearly every single one of them. Each time one of them starts bleating about their rights, freedom, and bringing the economy back, all I hear is incredibly narcissistic, overly-entitled, short-sighted whining.

Back in World War II, when this country last faced a serious crisis, we did whatever it took to win. Industries were nationalized, taxes were raised, lights out curfews enforced in coastal cities, rationing was common, and people sacrificed because it was understood that there was a greater good. It was a hardship, but it was necessary. Everyone understood that not chipping in and doing what was right likely meant putting lives at risk.

But, now… Well, according to the current deranged logic being spouted by the John Birch Society, Tea Party, Libertarian, (somehow) the Christian right, and whackadoodle GOP crowd, freedom is all that matters, and if they don’t get what they want they are going to march on state capital building while proudly bearing their arsenals in an effort to intimidate and scare everyone else in an effort to get what they want. They don’t give the tiniest shit about the health and well-being of others or society as a whole. It’s all about them, and fuck everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Well, I just don’t have it in me anymore to attempt to be understanding or talk civilly to people like that. Their selfishness and preschool-level understandings of rights, freedom, and civic responsibilities and duties is getting other people killed — and the worst part is that they don’t care. They feel like they have a 99% chance of surviving if they should somehow get sick, and they are comfortable with those odds. Of course, if they get sick and come into contact with 300 other people during that time, they will kill three other people because of their selfishness and inhumanity to others. But, that’s not their problem.

I don’t have to be nice to such people. Fuck them. All of them. Especially those who know me personally. I don’t care if you are a friend or a family member. If you are of the mindset that your liberty and freedom is more important than doing the right thing, then you are a killer, and I want nothing to do with you. I’m holding you to a higher standard because if you know me, chances are excellent that you’ve seen other things I’ve posted here or on Facebook. You know how I feel about this. This is not a simple matter of “it’s just an opinion” or “let’s agree to disagree.” I have no fucks to give to that bullshit. Your attitude will cause others to die. If you are some kind of Christian who can’t be bothered to understand this… Well, I hope the God you believe in is far more forgiving than I am.

Hundreds of thousands of people are going to die in this country because of a deranged right-wing way of thinking that devalues society and the general well being — all for the fetishization of individualism. I don’t have to talk nice to such people anymore. I’m tired of trying to get them to understand and see the light — tired of trying to get them to develop the smallest shred of empathy. Sometimes, you just have let the lemmings go rushing headlong over the cliff to their death.

It just sucks that they are going to take so many people who are sincerely trying otherwise with them.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 58

The plan, and still the intent, is to utilize my long morning walks as a time to listen to audiobooks. However, as was the case with workouts on the elliptical motion machines at the gym, it also seems to be the perfect time to dictate posts like this into my phone. That combined with a stretch of days that didn’t include a lengthy stroll has resulted in little progress on Camus’s The Plague over the past week. At some point, I’ll reach some sort of happy equilibrium, but until then…

Last weekend, we began work on what is probably our first pandemic project: properly organizing the garage and getting rid of the junk that’s accumulated via years of inertia. This task has really needed our attention for longer than we care to admit. Aside from the boxes of things that haven’t been touched since moving nearly nine years ago, much of what is currently stored in there is more or less haphazardly strewn around.

We started by tossing some of the things that could obviously go into the trash. However, that’s not necessarily as easy as it was just two months ago. As part of their efforts to protect their workers, something we totally endorse, the trash company will only empty their approved trash and recycle bins. They will not accept anything placed on the curb for disposal. As a result, a section of the garage has become the area where we will neatly stack everything that we will most likely need to pay a junk removal company to take off our hands.

Further complicating our efforts is the significant amount of e-waste piled into a couple boxes. Ideally, it should all go to an electronics recycling program. However, Virginia doesn’t really have such a program — at least, that was the case when I last checked the website for the state agency that should be in charge of such a thing. (Admittedly, that was at least a couple years go.) In fact, the posted directions/suggestions were to take old computers, wires, peripherals, etc. to Best Buy for their recycling program. Unfortunately, at this time the closest Best Buy is only allowing curbside pick up of online orders. So, more items for the junk section of the garage.

In the meantime, we are re-opening all the old boxes, deciding what can be saved and what can be pitched, and repacking what we are saving into sturdier plastic storage bins. Those Items are finding new homes in plastic bins freed as part of another long avoided project: resorting the Lego collection. Despite its size, and the amount of space it occupies in the garage, no effort is being made to whittle down the size. For the time being, I am relocating many Lego into larger bins and their original, smaller bins are being used for repacking items. This effort also serves to help remove the various sets currently taking space in my work office.

The garage isn’t the only place where this kind of effort is needed. A couple areas of the house also have turned into clutter zones. Those need to be tackled in much the same manner. When all this is done, it’ll be time to see who will remove all the detritus at the best price.

None of this spring cleaning would be happening at this time without the current travel restrictions and stay at home orders. Mind you, half the country is hell-bent on re-opening, proving once again humankind’s self-destructive capacity for selfishness, greed, and carelessness towards others. To a degree, it seems that as with things such as recycling and other forms of trying to reduce our carbon footprint and waste, we are left attempting to do the right thing while the powers that be allow the situation to barrel out of control. All we can do is lead our lives as best we can.

So much of life under these conditions is unnerving — and not just the pandemic and the federal government’s woefully inadequate response to the crisis. Before this started, we as a species were already facing a series of events (plastic pollution, pending environmental collapse, runaway climate change — to name a few) that could potentially cause the downfall of the U.S., and human civilization as a whole. Yet, little work was being done to address those. Given the collective denial and inaction of this country’s leaders to those problems, I suppose it’s not surprising that so many of them have collectively decided to shrug and act like the economy matters far more than human lives.

It’s all depressing as hell.

 

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 50

Today’s post is brought to you by a stream of consciousness dictated into my phone while taking a morning stroll a couple days ago. I considered editing, revising, and reworking in the interest of ultimately posting something that properly flowed and had real structure. However, reading and thinking it over made it clear that a significant amount of work would be necessary to make that happen. Ultimately, leaving it in the form it organically took (with just a few, though significant, modifications) meant getting it online faster, which seemed just a little more important…

It sickens me when reading about the various things that GOP politicians are doing to reopen the economy in the midst of all this. All of it shows an extremely cavalier disregard of human life. I have been fond of saying for a long time that the GOP is not actually pro-life, that they merely have a fetus fetish. The past few weeks have provided ample evidence for this. The GOP governors of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and the states that never actually issued proper lockdown measures in the first place are all  deciding that the economy is more important than human lives. Worse, the ending of measures to slow the spread of the virus comes with particularly odious ramifications. If a business decides they don’t want to reopen because of wanting to protect their workers, they won’t be able to claim any kind of insurance or assistance designed to help businesses affected by the pandemic. By the same token, workers who refuse to report to work due to safety concerns (especially if their employer isn’t taking reasonable precautions to safeguard their health) won’t be able to claim unemployment benefits. After all, the job is there waiting for them regardless of  lack of safety measures deployed to protect them. To further rub salt in the wound, many in the GOP are pushing hard right now for laws to protect businesses from liability if workers get sick due to exposure on the job. All of this, proves the disgusting, immortal worship of the almighty dollar over human life. Those who suffer the worse: those who can’t afford to miss a paycheck if no other means of assistance is available.

As if they see just how morally indefensible their position is, a meme embraced by some acquiescent right wingers has been something along the lines of, “well, freedom means that you also have the freedom to not go to work if you are concerned about your own safety.” No, people are being forced to choose between their own safety on working low-wage jobs just to survive. That isn’t freedom — which is what the right-wing is claiming to defend. No, you just changed the economics of slavery. Actually, this is really nothing new. Slavery, feudalism, children in coal mines, companies taking advantage of economic disparity in different regions of the world, even current laws here in the US — such as those that apply to farm workers and restaurant workers — have all been about boosting profits for the business and upper classes at the expense of human life, health, and dignity.

Combine that with the right wing absolutist worship of the Second Amendment, their affection for throwing around US military might indiscriminately, the subsequent refusal to truly properly care for our veterans afterwards, and the absolute refusal to do anything to help American workers because it reeks too much of “socialism,”… Well, that calls for a revision of my statement about their fetus fetish. Really, America’s right wing, which of the GOP absolutely caters to in every discernible way, is a death cult with a fetus fetish.

Yesterday, David, a friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

So when things get back to “normal,” does anything change on workplace rights / benefits? We’ve got 10s of millions of people working from home with young kids right now — does this move the needle on issues like paid family leave?
Does this ease any of the parent guilt that my generation has imposed on ourselves? Bad parents because we work too hard, bad workers because we parent too hard?

Bunches of questions have been raised — political, social, everything. But as we reopen the economy, I hope people will consider that there are opportunities to make improvements.

In response I wrote this:

I read this this morning and have been giving it a lot of thought. My “short” answer:

    1. Putting “normal” in quotes: well done. We are never returning to the previous normal. This is a society changing event on the scale of the Great Depression.
    2. Having said that, the GOP will do everything in its power to continue the path it had been on for the past 40+ years. The battle is not over, and it won’t be until enough people realize that the GOP doesn’t give an actual shit about anybody who isn’t rich and/or powerful enough to warrant their actual attention. They will continue to throw bones to the religious right and the white nationalists because they need their votes. Remember that it took years of the Great Depression before enough of the voting populace properly internalized the depravity of lassaiz faire economics the first time.
    3. The Democratic Party has its own issues to sort out, and many of the people behind the scenes who are bankrolling the GOP insanity will also do what they can to prevent a proper progressive takeover of the Democratic Party.
    4. If history is a guide, the progressive takeover will eventually succeed, but not before plenty of additional pain and suffering for the American people as a whole.
    5. Complicating all of this: we are still staring down the barrels of ecological collapse, runaway global climate changes, and an increasingly distressing problem with a plastic pollution.
    6. I don’t think its hyperbole at all to suggest we are in the opening stage of a protracted series of global events that will completely change what “normal” means for virtually everyone on the planet.
    7. I want to believe that when the new normal arrives, that it will be one firmly rooted in a new system that values things much differently than the old ones that have created the clusterfuck of events that is threatening human civilization was we know it. Unfortunately, I would say that the chances of a complete collapse of human civilization is disturbingly non-trivial. (I say this without the slightest hint of exaggeration — I truly believe this.)
    8. This has been your ray of fucking sunshine for the day. 🙂

Nearly everything in that rant is something I previously expressed on Facebook, to Sally in private, or via other means/forums. The future scares me. Not just the long-term future either. The orange shit goblin currently occupying the White House has more or less lived up to all the my worst fears after his election. In the midst of all this, it’s frighteningly likely it is he will take full advantage of both of the current situation and of the ridiculous amount of leeway and latitude that the GOP has provided him — as evidenced by their near unanimous capitulation to trump during the impeachment hearings. Who would have ever thought back in 2012 that Mitch Romney would someday be the last GOP senator to show something of a shred of morality and conscience?

The situation seem all the more dire now that the courts have now been thoroughly stacked with right wing idealogues, and the Federal Election Commission is completely powerless. Mitch McConnell and Der Katzengröpenfürher have acted in concert to ensure that there are no longer enough members of the FEC to have the necessary quorum to actually do anything. They couldn’t even be bothered to fill the current vacancies with right wing sycophant, like they did with the FCC and Ajit Pai.

No, there is quite literally nothing to get in the way of Trump should he decide, and he absolutely will, to break every federal law that is in his way while attempting to get reelected. With the pandemic and the massive weakening of the governmental structures designed to constrain someone like Trump (see just about every single statement issued by Attorney General Barr since he was appointed to the post), the coming election is perfectly situated for a Reichstag fire incident — the scale of which could actually bring down the American republic in much the same way the Roman Republic turned it’s back on representative rule.

Should that happen, and the chances are scarily real, who knows what kind of right-wing nationalist monstrosity the government will turn into. I read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here during the 2016 elections. As eerily prescient as it was, it did end on a hopeful note. Maybe Lewis wanted to be optimistic, that he wanted to believe in the overall goodness of American citizens in particular and humankind in general. I don’t have such a worldview. There’s a reason behind my preferred trivia team name, Misanthropic Secular Humanists, for the past few years. We are our own best hope for progress, salvation, and survival in the face of so many daunting issues. However, as a species we still exhibit an unhealthy level of selfishness, greed, nearsightedness, tribalism, sexism, and racism (by no means an exhaustive list of our worst qualities.) These shortcomings are so profound that my comment to David about potential for a collapse of human civilization does not in any way seem overly pessimistic.

(Aside: yes, humankind is capable of amazing artistic and technological creativity and beauty. People regularly engage in awe-inspiring acts of kindness and generosity. Our best qualities can be breathtaking when on full display. Unfortunately, this is clearly a period in history where all worst instincts and qualities are on full display.)

I truly hope my worries are misplaced and that they are ultimately proven wrong. I don’t ever expect us, either as a nation or as a species, to coelesce around a truly progressive vision of how to reshape the economy, the way we live, and the way we treat each other and our world — even though it is abundantly clear that the old normal needs to be jettisoned the same way feudalism withered away after the Black Death.

I wish I possessed something optimistic and uplifting to end this end this on, but I just don’t have it in me.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 47

I miss going to the gym. No, not really. I miss having the options that going to the gym provided. Mind you, sustained periods of eating and exercising properly have been exceedingly rare over the past few years — but now isn’t the time to go into that. Nonetheless, I have managed to avoid a sloth-like existence, and trips to the gym were frequent enough to mostly justify the monthly expense.

One of the rare positives of the pandemic is that with all gyms closed by state order, that particular outlay is currently off the books. My credit card, which is billed automatically each month, didn’t show a gym charge for April. Unfortunately, no gym fees also means no trips to use the elliptical motion machine — my preferred method of exercise. Now, our house does have a treadmill, which Sally has owned since before we met, and going out for walks is a viable option as well. However, neither of them is zero impact the way a Precor system is, and walking fast enough to truly get aerobic exercise wrecks havoc with my ankles, shins, and knees.

So, for the time being, the act of forcing myself to the gym to get needed exercise is now weirdly something that’s missed. Thanks, COVID-19 pandemic.

Other, specific things I sorely miss (aside from physically interacting with friends and family). I’m sure that everybody is missing just about every one of these, with maybe one notable exception:

  • Listening to music while driving in the car. I actually don’t like driving very much, but my car has a nice sound system, and it’s one of the best places for me to listen to music. With the notable exception of couple weekends ago, which will be discussed in a future post, I’ve averaged about 20 minutes of driving time per week — hardly enough to properly experience Ghost, for example.
  • Going to the grocery store, or any store for that matter, without worrying about whether this trip is going to cause me to get sick, or, worse, get everyone else in my house sick.
  • Planning and then anticipating trips to Philly. It’s going to be a long time before there’s another visit to the place that truly feels like home.
  • Weekly trivia nights at O’Faolain’s. Admittedly, there had been stretches of not going for a few months at a time, but the option to go was always there, even if it wasn’t taken.
  • Deciding on a whim to eat out, decide on the restaurant, and then enjoy the meal there. Figuring out what to prepare for every meal on a much more regular basis (not to mention the cleanup) is getting exhausting.

Finally, earlier today Vice President Pence visited the Mayo Clinic and didn’t wear a mask while interacting with staff and patients. Normally, I would never wish death or illness on someone, but if anyone ever deserved to get sick and experience some karmic comeuppance, it’s that man. Well, his boss as well. Maybe Pence will spread the germs and we can get a two-for-one deal out of this.

 

My Pandemic Playlist (NFtP, Day 45)

Around the time the shelter at home and nonessential business closure orders started to go into effect,  pandemic music playlists seemed to appear nearly everywhere on online. After looking over a few of the lists, I decided to stop perusing them because of the need to create one totally to my taste, with as little outside influence as possible. It also didn’t help that certain songs — most notably R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — just seemed way too ubiquitous and obvious.

So, my list started with Warren Zevon’s “Life’ll Kill Ya,” because… Well, how could you not start with a song by an artist who wrote so much about death? From there, I added another every day or so until the list reached 10 songs, and then progress stalled for a couple weeks. Then, a couple evenings ago, while throwing dinner together in the kitchen with Sally, we were listening to a playlist of adult contemporary songs when two additional songs caught our attention and seemed to be good fits for the list.

Work on my pandemic playlist still isn’t complete. It seems like whatever the final list is, it shouldn’t take more time than the length of a standard CD. Once it contains enough songs, we’ll figure the best possible play order as well. In the meantime, the following songs will be included:

“Life’ll Kill Ya,” Warren Zevon
“Rats,” Ghost
“99.9F°,” Suzanne Vega
“(Nothing but) Flowers,” Talking Heads
“Someone to Love,” Fountains of Wayne
“Everything Is Awful,” The Decemberists
“Germs”, “Weird Al” Yankovic
“No One Lives Forever,” Oingo Boingo
“High Hopes,” Bruce Springsteen
“Burn the Castle,” New Model Army
“Stuck in the Middle,” Stealers Wheel
“A Life of Illusion,” Joe Walsh

When it’s completed, I’ll revisit this post and provide some additional commentary. In the meantime, there may actually be a post that’s not part of the Notes From the Pandemic series.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 41

A couple days ago, I posted the following to Facebook. First, as a comment on a friend’s post, then again, as a post on my own page:

The fact that introverts are by nature more comfortable with social distancing does not mean we can handle social distancing indefinitely. We too enjoy being able to spend time with friends and loved ones — we just don’t recharge our batteries that way. Over time, we also start missing that level of human contact. It’s a mistake to assume that introverts aren’t feeling many of the same emotions as a result of all this.

We are all in the same boat; we just boarded it in different ways.

Because it was originally a comment to someone else’s post, some important context/additional information is needed. Sheltering at home presents new difficulties for an introvert when doing so with a family. There are four of us sheltering together: Sally, Brandon, Charlie (my step-daughter), and myself. Finding true solitary time is rather difficult under these circumstances. Furthermore, even though I’ve worked from home for 10 years, doing so with three other people in the house is very different from when you are literally alone for hours on end. Getting outside to take walks helps alleviate some of the need for alone time, but it’s not the same as truly being alone in your own home, recharging without the possibility of interruption.

However, walks are different these days as well. Before the pandemic, going out for walk and getting lost in your thoughts, an audiobook, or music was a simple thing to do. Now, one needs to be aware of the surroundings and others at all times. The outside is safer than being in a crowded place of business, but it’s still an excellent idea to keep your distance from everyone else who is out walking, running, riding their bikes. In fact, I’ve stopped using the various exer-cise trails that wind through the community because they just don’t feel safe. There are people who still aren’t being fully mindful of others, and many of those paths don’t have sufficient clearance to step off and make some distance. Furthermore, at certain times during the day, there can quite a few people on them. It’s far safer and easier to stick to the sidewalks, where you can actually step out into the street to circumvent others as needed. Still, you always need to be aware, and sometimes need to anticipate and plan a few steps ahead (pun intended) where you need to turn or take a slightly circuitous route. It’s like playing a real-life, real-time strategy game.

No, these days taking a walk is definitely not an efficient way for an introvert to recharge their batteries.

A few shorter items to close today’s post:

  • Yesterday’s post left out that I didn’t go out for my birthday bacon cheeseburger this year. While Five Guys, my preferred burger joint, is open for takeout and delivery, it’s not the same as actually eating the burger immediately, right there on the premises. In case you read yesterday’s post and are wondering why there wasn’t a burger on Sally’s and my date night, I try to avoid eating meat in her presence, out of respect for her vegetarianism, which is strict and absolute. (Unlike mine, which has a quarterly bacon cheeseburger exemption — birthday, Father’s Day, Brandon’s birthday, and the holiday season — because I just love the things too damn much.
  • My Lego Mini-Me is getting an update. Thanks to my hair growing out, the current hair piece on the minifigure really doesn’t properly represent me anymore. Lego doesn’t have a piece that’s a great match for how my hair looks now, but there are a couple parts that might be in the realm of close enough. Yesterday, I ordered them from a seller on BrinkLink.com. Before and after photos will be posted.
  • According to The Washington Post, as of 7:44 AM EDT, at least 44,673 have died from the coronavirus, with 2,574 reported deaths yesterday. Amazingly, a number of GOP governors in the south and midwest have either not enacted any restrictions to slow the virus’s spread or are now relaxing any they put in place. The GOP values money over human lives. They are not pro-life. They are death cult with a fetus fetish.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 40

It’s rather unsettling to properly contemplate the long list of things that are getting postponed or canceled. Concerts, sporting events, weddings, senior proms, family gatherings, high school reunions… In the giant list of things, my 48th birthday isn’t necessarily the kind of event that should be a big deal. Yet, it was casualty of the pandemic, and canceling it was nonetheless disappointing.

When Loudoun County Public Schools abruptly shut down at 5:00 AM on March 12, Sally and I immediately knew that the birthday plans were in jeopardy. They actually weren’t anything elaborate. We were going to celebrate a few days early by grabbing dinner and drinks in downtown Winchester on the evening of March 19, spend the night at the George Washington Hotel, which is just a couple blocks away from there, and then spend the next day visiting favorite shops and restaurants in the Winchester area. It was something we have done numerous times over the years, so it wasn’t in of itself anything special. However, in addition to being my birthday celebration, it was going to be our first night out of the year, which we eagerly anticipated for weeks.

Initially, there didn’t seem to be any pressing reason to not go through with the plans. However, that quickly changed less than 12 hours after LCPS announced the school closings, when Governor Northam issued a State of Emergency. Over the following days, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths increased — both locally and nationally — and authorities enacted various additional measures to prevent its spread, we modified the plans in a manner that would still let us at least spend some away from the house. For a few days, the revised overnight getaway involved spending the evening at the hotel, ordering takeout from the nearby restaurants, and getting drinks from the hotel bar and/or bring our own alcohol to the room.

Those plans collapsed completely on St. Patrick’s Day when Northam issued a public health emergency order that barred more than 10 patrons at businesses. Although that is what ultimately necessitated canceling the hotel reservation, we had started leaning towards that decision the day before when O’Faolain’s announced that they were temporarily closing as a result of the increased danger to public health. In the end, our big getaway turned into taking Friday, March 20 and the following Tuesday (my actual birthday) off from work, and the two of us simply spending those days together. The closest we got to eating out was over the weekend, when we went to Five Guys, got a large order of fries as takeout, and then proceeded to eat them in the minivan in the parking lot.

We called that a date night.

Chances are good that many of the guidelines and restrictions currently in place will still be there when each of our next birthdays come around. With any luck, we’ll be able to properly celebrate my 50th in 2022. It will be even better if Sally and I can properly enjoy our 10th wedding anniversary at the end of 2021.

A couple other tidbits to close this post out on:

  • I actually made the decision months ago, before COVID-19 turned our lives upside, but Albert Camus’s The Plague is my classic novel for the year. I’m now about a third of the way through it.
  • Along those same lines, it feels like a rewatch of 12 Monkeys is in order. Either the movie or the television series will do nicely. There’s really no reason why it can’t be both.