Masks

I am fortunate enough to live up in the hills of Los Angeles where there is lots of green and, for more than a brief moment, you can shut out the world and pretend bad things don’t happen to good people and that you, somehow, are exempt from bad things.

Granted, the pretend game doesn’t always work but in uncertain times, when you’re really in need, it is possible to will a more lovely reality into existence by simply opening your eyes and seeing what stands before you.

Not so much anymore.

Reboot! Reboot!

Early this evening I took my dog Rosie for a walk and all I could see coming down two different hills and then up a third one were masks – lots and lots of colored masks.

Some were black, others were blue and still more had bright bold patterns.   They were, of course, attached to human bodies of varied shapes and sizes and ages, all of whom seemed to have collectively decided to go on a hike or walk, or, more likely, on a specific trip to a well-known destination on top of one of the hills with one of the best views in the city.

Usually at least half of these walkers or hikers or solo fellow humans smile and approach when you have a dog, particularly a cute one, as Rosie will signal to you that she certainly is.

I mean, look at this face.

But that’s not what happened this evening.

This evening not only did Rosie fail to be a people magnet, she and I found ourselves part of a well-defined human obstacle course of avoidance.  The second a mask, or several masks, spotted us, that’s how quickly they scurried into the road, or crossed the street, or looked down and turned away.

It was as if WE had the plague, rather than merely being two of billions of unwilling participants in one.

Over the last few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic now sweeping the globe, it was still possible to pass people at a safe distance with a smile or a nod or even an eye roll at the ridiculousness of our joint medical, um…situation.

Pretty much sums it up

But it’s difficult to recognize a smile when city law now requires that we wear a mask that covers our mouths or risk a hefty fine.  Similarly, we’re being told on the news that we could be taking our life in our hands if we get close enough to any stranger we see in a road in order to give OR receive an eye roll.

These days we keep our eye rolls to ourselves, at least in public, and probably all the time.  For what good is an eye roll anyway, if no one else can see it?

Very much my energy these days

That’s like yelling at the TV when your idiot president is blathering on at a faux news conference about something he knows nothing about (Note: which is pretty much everything) and Lord knows none of us except me would spend even a moment of their normally allotted eye rolling time doing that.

It is interesting to exist in the outside world wearing a literal physical mask since so much has been written over the centuries about the imaginary masks we choose to show to others.

Sorry Phantom, the CDC would not approve. #coveryourfaceplease

I don’t know about you, but at times it’s been confusing and downright appalling to learn just how many virtual masks existed out there and how unadept I’ve been over the years in realizing who was wearing which at what time and for how long.

More surprising is coming to realize over the decades that I’ve been as guilty as so many of those I’ve criticized.  I mean, they felt convincing enough at the time – my masks of heterosexuality, of success, of endless good humor – despite the fact that they were about as representative of my inner truths as the president is of his at one of those aforementioned “press briefings.”

My mask of heterosexuality probably needed some work #lol #denimfordays #sofly

What was even worse was the knowledge, as I grew older, that the protective gear I thought was 99% effective at keeping my inner truths at bay to everyone else, was nowhere near that.  These were quite inferior masks.   Something more akin to washing your hands with icy cold water, sans soap or alcohol based disinfectant, after visiting a church service or synagogue on Easter or Passover in one of the nation’s hot zones of infection, and expecting it to somehow fool the virus and shield you from its infection.

Be fashionable, please.

In other words, not so efficient and not so good.

What is also not very good, but endlessly ironic and really quite efficient, is despite the fact EVERYONE will now be wearing actual cloth masks in public, it will be EASIER THAN EVER to recognize what’s really going on underneath them and the commonality of truth that we share.

We are all terrified, we all want this to end and we are all frustrated that no matter how we slice it or roll it around in our minds, we are not much different than the faceless person we stay six feet away from on the street as far as the virus is concerned.

Be kind to your fellow houseplants

Imagine, it’s taken everyone wearing a mask to realize we are all, essentially, the same.  And in the same boat, or sinking ship, depending on what we choose to do from now on.

Billy Joel – “The Stranger”

Home is where the….?

There’s a fascinating movie now available on Amazon entitled The Last Black Man in San Francisco.  It’s a semi-autobiographical story about its star and co-writer Jimmie Fails and his odyssey to reclaim the old Victorian-style house his grandfather built many decades ago in San Francisco.

The film is about many things and is quite artfully done.  But ultimately it very masterfully asks us to consider the loaded and timeless question of:

What is home?

It’s difficult, and short sighted, NOT to think about the answer these days.

A coat of paint, and a whole lotta heart

The ravages of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, where we’re now being told current estimates of under 100 dead are likely to jump into the 1000s, are seen not only in TV satellite shots of rubble that were once more than habitable houses.  They are equally felt on the faces of every displaced Bahamian staring back at us from the wreckages or through the ache in their voices on radio or through the telephone.

That tone and those images are eerily familiar.  They build from last year’s wildfires in California, the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Florida (Note: $91.61 billion in damages, according to estimates), which were preceded by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey earlier that year, which built on various other blizzards, floods, hurricanes and fires in the two years before in the U.S., all of which (and more) harken us back to what feels to be (but surely won’t be) the granddaddy/parent of them all in the U.S., Louisiana’s Hurricane Katrina (2005 and $125 billion in damages).

It is important to note that in human terms, over 150 million people were displaced internationally due to national disasters in just the time period between 2008-2013.  Still, that number doesn’t even include any of the disasters randomly mentioned above.

What she said

Nevertheless, there is ONE bright spot we can safely assume in all of this:

The vast majority of ALL of these people in all of these disasters still have a place in their lives THEY call home.

Last Black Man in San Francisco, a multiple winner at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, forces us to confront our value judgments on where people live and how they live these days.

Sure, an old Victorian townhouse in one of the great urban cities in the US is nice and trendy and all that and more.  Yet it all depends on where that particular piece of brick and metal and neighborhood fall in your personal (and racial) hierarchy and in what year it’s being rated.

How much do you think Don Draper’s whorehouse is going for these days? #stillthinkingaboutit #madmenforever #jonhamm

If you live in a big city it’s likely the hip area you’ve probably overpaid handsomely for was once a slum, an ordinary working class neighborhood or even a downtown factory outlet on the wrong side (or no side) of town.

You may think you’re hip and cool now but the same people who lived in that same place 40 years prior were on the outside world looking in and considered anything but.  Nevertheless, their place might have also been considered a whole lot homier than what you’ve made of it.  Perhaps they themselves were even a lot happier.

And if we were to really stretch the metaphor that could even be said for the guy whose only house consisted entirely of an illegal tent pitched in the alleyway of one of those streets or cul-de-sacs not more than a block from you.

Really?

Yes, truly.

Right, Chairy, it’s real easy to philosophize about all this when YOU’RE writing with a roof over YOUR over-privileged head!!

Well, perhaps.

But no one (Note: Not even Chairy) is advocating living without a bed and/or a place to stay warm or cool, is what most humans want.  It’s just that, well, NOT having these material comforts does not make anyone homeless in the truest sense of the word.

To brand a person as homeless is to dehumanize them.  It is to relegate them to a category of disenfranchised and forces them into some overall sad statistic WE can keep a healthy distance from.

It is to also put them into a group too many of us Americans these days want to keep a distance from.

When people are homeless we assume they lost the home they had, are fleeing some inferior home they occupied in some unwise place or for some unknown reason for which THEY are solely to blame.  Or are not smart enough.  Or were born into a caste system where they never really had the very basic of human needs.

Yes #kindnessalwayswins

Whichever is the case, and in some cases we assume there are many, clearly THEY are not US.  Most certainly they are also lesser than.

The images of so many immigrant families standing on line, or in 2019 American parlance cutting in line, in order to make a life in the United States is our other new version of those people without homes.  Those people who are homeless.

Imagine the effort it takes to leave the place in which you were raised by accident of your birth and come to a strange country where you likely do not speak the language and have few, if any prospects other than the fact that you won’t be murdered in cold blood.

Could YOU make the journey?  Would YOU make the journey?  Finally, WHY would YOU make the journey?

You were born and raised in Honduras, Nicaragua, Syria, Guatemala, et al.  You’d leave everything behind with the pipe dream of making your home in the United States?  What could possibly make you think a homeless person should be lucky enough to be given a HOME in the United States???

Of course, the answer is every one of those people making that journey already have a HOME, i.e. a place where they can feel safe and warm, because they brought it with them from their own country. 

We should all be the Baileys welcoming the Martinis #breadsaltwine

It might not be brick and mortar or discernible by the contents of their suitcases or the money in their wallets.  Sometimes, it is merely a spot where they know they are okay, or will be okay in the face of adversity.  For each and every one of us, home is at least partly that or we are, indeed, the ones who are truly homeless.

As the world shifts, drowns and burns, and the borders of our respective countries of origin are slowly beginning to be sealed off, it’s important we be clear on who and what makes a real home.

As the offspring of two sets of immigrant grandparents, and a member of at least two minority groups still persecuted very actively worldwide, I know how and where I LIVE is not the determinant of who I AM.

… plus it’s not like I have an infinity pool #soLA

I especially know this after buying my first house a mere three years ago in a city prone these days to natural disasters.

If I lost it tomorrow, yes, I’d be devastated.  But I would never consider myself homeless.

Nor should you.  In regards to yourself or anyone else.  And that’s especially true if you right now you are fortunate enough to have any sort of physical roof over your head.

Diana Ross – “Home” (from The Wiz)