The Way It Is

Did you have a good Thanksgiving holiday weekend?  I did. 

We had a small group of family and friends over for the first time in three years for turkey day.  I cooked and, gotta say, it was one of those meals where everything went right.

The bird cooked perfectly and I barely basted it.  The roasted sweet potatoes with apple, honey and maple syrup, was fantastic.  Cornbread stuffing made separately worked really well.  Roasted brussels sprouts felt perfect.  Even the green salad with pomegranate seeds was a standout, not to mention the homemade corn bread I made in my spare time, as well as the excellent cranberry sauce my sister-in-law made.

Ina approved!

It wasn’t all good news, though.

There were 22 people killed and 44 injured in seven mass shootings over Thanksgiving week.  That’s an average of one a day, for those who are now too overwhelmed or saddened or stumped to think about it. 

Of course, I thought about it.  But there was food to buy, cooking to get done and timing and plating to figure out, culminating with me watching some of the new Broadway musicals on NBC’s Thanksgiving Day parade (Note: Ugh, don’t bother.  And yes we’re speaking to you, Some Like it Hot!) on that all too treacherous morning of the big meal.

Don’t even get me started on this

Well, treacherous is a relative term.  Obviously.

But it’s not like the five that died and dozens more who were injured four days prior at that beloved Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ party spot, Club Q, thought a few hours of their partying prior to Thanksgiving was particularly dangerous either. 

And even though I’ve never actually been inside a Wal-Mart (Note:  Yeah, that’s correct), it’s safe to imagine that the six human beings blown to bits by a disgruntled employee would never have imagined in their wildest dreams that being in that location would prove to be the most treacherous place on earth for them two days later.

Sigh.

The great intellectual and writer, the late Susan Sontag, published a devastating short story, The Way We Live Now, back in the mid-eighties.  It described in snippets of conversation that felt casual and gossipy but were anything but, the new normal that the AIDS epidemic in NYC had wrought.

Life would never return to the naive everyday-ness that we had previously dared to intermittently consider to be treacherous. In fact, most of what we considered pre mid-eighties treacherousness would be considered quaint, and then some, from then there on.

Nothing about Ms. Sontag’s prose was melodramatic, studied or even particularly special at the time.  But that’s what made it unique. She was merely reporting the conversational facts of deterioration, disease and death as if they were an itemized prep list of thoughts, tasks and snarky tidbits one could encounter before, during and after a typical Thanksgiving holiday dinner.

A must read (click the pic for the link)

In essence, she was telling us we would grow used to anything if we had to because even with the grotesquely awful there were plans to be executed, events to attend to and meals certainly to be made.  What was going on outside was awful but, well, we’d just have to modify.  Amid the medicines, hospital visits and funeral plans, the rest of us would still get hungry.  Right?  After all, there was nothing we could do about it, anyway. 

Having lived through the dreadful beginning and middle of AIDS as death sentence in the eighties and nineties, I can’t help but feel a familiarity of those times to the way we live now – in 2022.

It’s not that gun proliferation and violence is a new virus in our midst, the way AIDS was back then.  It’s that it has begun to metastasize in a scarily virulent way.

The new normal

There have so far been 606 mass shootings in the US in 2022, as opposed to 610 in total in 2020 and 690 last year (an all-time high).  We could still be #1 by the time this year is out but no matter where we fall, or fail, we will certainly be competitive with the worst of the worst before 2023 rings in.

There are now more guns that people in the US. (Note: 393 million guns to be exact), the majority of which are owned by white men, who are more than likely to identify as rural and Republican.

No, I’m not racial profiling.  Here is an exhaustive story from CNN in June. 

And a front-page story in the NY Times this weekend casually chronicled the latest trend in a new kind of non-verbal public discourse – the armed demonstrator.

This should not be normal

Sure, it’s our right to carry a weapon if we have a permit.  But in June in the US we had an average of one armed demonstration per day.  What this means is that packin’ right wing protestors, sometimes led by the Proud Boys or Oath Keeper members,  routinely show up at public events in places like Phoenix or Nashville carrying sidearms, long guns or other such paraphernalia because…they can.

If it scares you, well maybe you should be scared.  Or not.  Our freedom, your choice.  Or, well, perhaps it’s both.

It’s worth noting lots of these events also seem to happen around abortion clinics, or gatherings sponsored by the LGBTQ community.  Sometimes they’re even near places where people vote.  Or where certain other minority groups choose to congregate. 

This feels right to me

This is not surprising since 10 states have extremely lax laws regarding firearms, allowing pretty much any gun owner the legal right to carry a weapon in a crowd, a government building or even restaurant serving Thanksgiving dinner. 

So if you found yourself in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia or Washington over the holiday and made it out alive and unscathed, consider yourself one lucky dude, dudette or non-binary celebrant.

I myself felt relatively safe in Los Angeles this week, despite all you maybe have heard about our uptick in crime.   They might have guns, sure, but they’re not free to carry them anywhere.  At least not by law.

… and I’m never leaving

Besides, they’re mostly looking for Rolex watches and I was never big on expensive jewelry.

But that’s the way I, and we, live now.   At least here.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Because it was exactly six months prior to Thanksgiving that 19 small children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX and the only thing that changed were the lives of their relatives and friends.

Lana Del Rey – “Looking for America”

How To Do Nothing

I’m enjoying not doing much of anything.

This is not as easy as it sounds.  In fact, it’s taken me a lifetime to get to this point.  I’m not sure how long it will last but, boy, I’m hoping it doesn’t end any time soon.

And if I work real hard and am real lucky, it won’t.

At the height of self-quarantine in early April I had a routine appointment with a doctor whose office is located in a hospital.

Admittance into the hospital required a temperature check at the door and when I was told mine was a little over 101 degrees, well, imagine my surprise.

Definitely channelled my inner Maya

I had a headache, which is not unusual for someone with severe seasonal allergies such as mine, and that was about it.  But after several more temp checks and a call to my doctor on the inside I was told a COVID-19 test was ordered and I was to return later that afternoon.

Some hours later I was driving down to the hospital’s lower level parking lot where about 20 hospital workers, dipped in what looked liked head to toe HAZ-MAT suits, with long plexiglass shields around their upper torsos, stood at tables on either side of me in my car.

Their hands were weaponized with small plastic test tubes, synthetic clipboards with official looking paper lists and Q Tips the size of the twelve-foot ruler I hadn’t seen since my elementary school days,

It looked sort of like a scene from Alien or Star Trek crossed with a yet to be filmed Tim Burton movie about mass corruption in the medical establishment.

Roughly what I saw from my car

Nevertheless, I soldiered through, weathered the teacher’s measuring stick far up my nose, was told the next day I was negative and then soon after was diagnosed with a bad sinus infection.

It took a while to get better, both physically and psychologically.  I mean, there was something about the Q-Tip ruler up my nose that still gives me the willies despite NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s very apt demonstration last week on TV that it was nothing to be afraid of.  (Note: Good for him.  And notice they didn’t show his face in close-up).

Notice he’s smiling… BEFORE the swab goes in #notpleasant

I also had a lot to preoccupy me while I was healing.  There were four 2-3 hour Zoom sessions per week with college writing students now dispersed all over the country I was supposed to be teaching meaningful skills to as well as reassuring.  Not to mention, dozens and dozens, and still dozens of their pages to read and type feedback to.  On the more personal side, there was also an endless loop of food prep/food buying that included literally HOURS of wipe downs with chemically smelly products that can’t, in the long run, be good for your you OR your food.

In addition to ….well, a  TON more.  I mean, it’s only been this last week that I began to master the art of mentally measuring what it means to really be six feet apart from anyone while walking my dog.

Of course, I still haven’t mastered the art of wearing a mask with glasses.  For a while I thought the advice of washing your specs in soap and water before going outside would prevent the mask from fogging up but that proved to be as effective as stopping the hiccups by having someone scaring the life out of you.

I’m going to have to look this stupid, huh? #signmeup

Yet since I handed in my grades earlier this week after reading 352 screenplays and TV pilots in 14 days (Note:  Okay, not really, but still A LOT), and having increased my speed in disinfecting, distancing, zooming, prepping and cleaning, I do find myself with…..idle time.

Yes, I’m one of the fortunate ones to not be working on the front lines, not have any friends or loved ones fighting for their lives against COVID, and not in immediate danger of being thrown out of my apartment or deprived of my next meal because I can’t meet the rent or afford the grocery bill.

And so are many of you.

Also known as Twitter

Yet there is this strange restlessness, anger and resentment in the air I can feel amid the aforementioned MANY I am lucky to be a part of.  People are climbing the walls, screaming at the TV and complaining endlessly about being sentenced to life at home with their computers, televisions, phones and loved ones by their side or a zoom chat away.

Boo-hoo.  Boo, boo, boo, boo, HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!

Adopt the ruthlessness of Sally Draper

Believe me, I get it.  I don’t like to be trapped or idle either.  And before you go ballistic, I’m not speaking about people who are freaked out because they can’t work and fear they’ll lose everything, or whose very small children are driving them up the walls they probably wish were padded by now.

Instead, I’m speaking of the millions of the rest of you in MY group who, really, just need to hang out for a little while longer and calm the f-k down.

I’ve NEVER been good at not having a plan to give me control over a situation.  I’ve also been the ambitious type, spending my life plotting the next project that will move me forward in my life, my career or in my relentless search for the answers to all the nagging existential questions I’ve had about life and human existence since I was a wee child.

Me, in third grade

The latter might seem silly to you but it’s been both a motivation and an anxiety-ridden plague to me on and off for decades.  So if you can’t relate to it as an example simply substitute anything you try to balance away by activity that you know can easily grind you into the ground if you let yourself get too carried away with it.  These could include love, alcohol, food, work, shopping, crime, sex, gaming or your undying love of all things cyber.

Now that you’ve been ordered to endure some additional self-isolation for a few more months (Note: At least by those who know best) those of you in my very privileged group this summer can start to deal with this by simply saying to yourself and your over active minds/egos….

STOP.  Like, full stop.   You have ZERO reason to be freaking out over what you’re NOT DOING and instead take the time to enjoy NOT DOING anything.

Don’t let those “somethings” tempt you

Human nature being what it is, you have nothing to worry about because pretty soon, you will do something.  Maybe it’s checking in with a friend, being of service to someone less fortunate than you at the spur of the moment or, I don’t know, baking your first loaf of bread.

These activities, none of them, need be IMPORTANT or building towards ANYTHING at all.  They only need to keep you in the moment of just how freaking fortunate you are to be stuck at home with no end in sight without any PLAN or PROJECT for the immediate future.

Oh, something will occur for you to do everyday – many things and many of them mundane – until they’re not and then they are again.

Enjoy it, and then REALLY enjoy it, while you can.

Bruno Mars – “The Lazy Song”