Sunday, June 28, 2020

Passing The Time In A Pandemic

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 1, 2020] ©2020

February 2020 almost seems like a lifetime ago.  I will look back on it as a time when you could have a preferred brand of paper towels, when reaching for your mask when you got out of your car wasn’t second nature, and popping the trunk for your re-usable grocery bags was. I’ve mastered smiling with my eyes now, not that anyone can see them through my fogged glasses.

In early March, after reading an article predicting that 85% of seniors would contract COVID-19 and 30% would die, I emailed our kids telling them to not even consider coming here if either Olof or I succumbed to coronavirus.  You couldn’t have funerals now anyway.  I advised them to wait until things calmed down then to have a little service in the front yard at sunset with suitable adult beverages and hurl our ashes around.  Important to be safe.

Given my family’s fondness for gallows humor, I should have known better.  Henry replied that if that many seniors expired there wouldn’t be individual cremations anyway.  They'd do us in big batches so he and Rory wouldn't even know which ashes were ours hence he might as well just bring some from their fireplace.  At least he’d know where they came from.

Actually, the subject of cremation has come up before.  My sons had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely unspecified death with the 65 photo albums – an entire bookcase - that I have amassed over the years.  I just love taking pictures, and might possibly have been (over)compensating for the fact that my parents probably took a total of 20 out-of-focus off-center black-and-white box camera photos of me before I was 18.  My children’s lives would be documented. 

But the kids had a point about the albums.  So I decided to make culling my photo collection my Official Pandemic Project.  I’ve tossed a lot of photos but have regularly been mailing off padded envelopes to unsuspecting friends and relatives with the stated hope that they will enjoy re-living the moments that were captured here after which they were free to do with them whatever they wished (other than send them back). 

At the mailing place, the clerk would look at my packages and say, “Let me guess.  Photos.”  Adding, “we’re getting a lot of these.”  I’m guessing that before the pandemic is over, the nation’s photo albums will have all shifted one house counterclockwise. 

When I brought in two envelopes containing some 500 photos all going to the same address, I asked when she thought they might be delivered.  “I need to know when to stop answering my phone,” I said.

I was always the (self-designated) family photographer, the absolutely most thankless job in the world.  With every picture I looked at in my albums, I could replay the sound track of whining that went into getting everyone to pose for it.  The irony, of course, is that years later, friends and family would look at these pictures and ooh and aah over them with delight.  

My younger son just turned 40 and managed to squeak in the last birthday party in America in March before everything shut down.  I provided a selection of photos of him and various high school friends who were attending that I had taken over the years and got back rave reviews from the guests (and even Henry).  So it made up for my about-to-be daughter-in-law’s comment in 2007 when she wanted some photos of Henry growing up to use for a wedding slide slow and I pointed to the bookcase.  “I hope this isn’t hereditary,” she said.

Olof, meanwhile, continues in his own pre-pandemic project, a frenzy of sourdough baking, now branching into crackers, naan bread, and raisin varieties.  But he has now also decided to re-live his Air Force pilot days by acquiring an actual flight simulator with 42-inch screen, instrument panel, joy stick and head set, only just delivered.  Where all this is going to go in our tiny house I’m not sure, but it will allow him to fly pretty much any kind of plane anywhere.  Presumably, if he’s flying a 747 to Paris, he’ll have to put it on autopilot over Greenland to go flip the English muffins.

Meanwhile, the aloe vera gel I ordered in March to make my own then-unavailable hand sanitizer has finally arrived by slow boat from China. Not needing it for hand sanitizing, I looked at the label, clearly translated using a 1995-era auto-translator, for other suggestions for its use and was advised it was good for repair the skin after basking and then to promote healthy and smooth.  First take proper amount and then paint the harmony with right massage action until the nutrient absorbed good for common use. 

Actually, I can’t think of better advice for our times than that. We all need to paint the harmony with right massage action. 

 Slowly working my way through dozens of photo albums

 Typical example of my parents' non-existent photography skills
(me at top, sister on bottom)

Olof decides to relive his pilot days by acquiring a flight simulator
(cheaper than buying an airplane, but not by much)

Monday, June 22, 2020

OCD Nation

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published, June 23, 2020] ©2020

I have to confess that I wasn’t initially all that worried about coronavirus.  After all, I’ve lived through scares for SARS, MERS, avian flu, and swine flu.  I even contracted polio when I was a child. 

In early March I watched with amusement news clips of people waiting three hours outside a Costco for it to open then running – running! – with their over-sized carts to hurl mega-packs of toilet paper and bottled water into them.

The laugh was on us non-hoarders. Supermarket shelves, overnight, were stripped bare of pretty much everything. (Why were people hoarding celery?) In fact, this was the ultimate market research for grocery store chains.  If a product was still on your shelves on March 15, stop carrying it. Turns out people would rather go hungry than eat gluten-free rice pasta, chocolate hummus, cauliflower pizza, and carrot spirals.

One thing is clear: COVID-19 has been responsible for seismic shifts in people's behavior toward one another even in mundane ways. Dr. Fauci says society should "just forget about shaking hands."  I'm just trying to imagine Americans in the Mid-West substituting "Namaste" with a little bow like Prince Charles did.  And not just because he caught COVID-19 anyway.

The country’s newest pastime is playing COVID Chicken, i.e. who steps off into the street first when parties approach each other on the sidewalk.  (The one who gets hit by a car loses.)

Despite massive hits to the economy, one business that isn’t going to fail during the coronapocalypse is mental health services. This is as much a panic-demic as a viral affliction.

The headlines, updated every five minutes, are consistently terrifying: Pandemic will cause starvation of biblical proportions; Virus pushes U.S. unemployment toward highest since depression; Coronavirus may never go away even with a vaccine; Why a second shutdown may be worse than the first; and even this cheery predictor: Millennials don’t stand a chance.

Netflix, anyone?

But the headline that took the top prize was from the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, on April 5 who direly predicted that the upcoming week was going to be the "hardest and saddest" of most Americans' lives, describing the upcoming grim period of the coronavirus pandemic as "our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment."

Geesh, talk about scaring the bejesus out of everyone.  Those are some pretty big moments he referenced, clearly imprinted on everyone's minds.  Next year, ask people what they were doing the week of April 5, 2020 and I think they're going to scratch their heads and say, "Um, I dunno. Playing the 100th consecutive game of Candyland with my kids?  Was I supposed to remember it?"  Shame on him for terrifying millions of people. I've been alive for 3,770 weeks and this didn't even make the top 500 worst ones.

When this is over (please say it will someday be over), the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders) is going to have at least 50 new categories related to coronavirus, including anxiety disorders like Toilet Paper Scarcity Syndrome or my personal affliction, Fear of the 24-hour News Cycle.

But foremost, we have become an OCD Nation.  No one wants to touch anything. Or breath any air that anyone else has recently breathed.   

I have a friend who wouldn’t even touch the bottle of hand sanitizer I offered without first cleaning it with Clorox wipes.  I am hoping she did not see the June 17 Union-Tribune article alleging that flushing a toilet can release a cloud of aerosol droplets three feet into the air.  Will the CDC now be advocating for the return of the outhouse? Will this be the subtitle for the Covid-19 pandemic: Just when you didn’t think it could get any worse, it always did?

It goes without saying that we are all going to need to undergo Grocery Shopping Retraining. (Will Medicare cover it?)  Systematic Desensitization will be required to be able to go past a display of paper products and not grab a pack, no matter how much we have at home. 

Ditto for touching a grocery item then putting it back. Will we ever be able to fondle avocados again without feeling like a coronal criminal?  

The country is already suffering massively from new depressive disorders like Seasonal Sports Deprivation, Golf Tournament Redux, and Basketball Re-run Psychosis. My neighbor Bob, until the pandemic, always had three big screen TVs simultaneously running sports. We really worried about Bob, especially when he started to call us just to chat.  Say hi.  Ask about the dog.  If Bob is not on medication by now, I’m going to be really surprised. Please let NFL resume in the fall. Do it for Bob.

Me, I just want the libraries to open again so I can actually go inside and visit the books.  I guess that will be one more DSM-5 category: People Who Will Just Not Use E-Readers. (There is no vaccine for this.) 

Fortunately, however, there IS a cure for Fear of the 24-Hour News Cycle.  Stop. Watching.

My car trunk in the pandemic era:  40 library books I 
can't return, printer cartridges I can't recycle, and 
re-usable shopping bags I can't use

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mourning The New Normal

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 10, 2020] ©2020

A common question that I hear people pose is: what’s going to be the new “normal”?  Actually, it’s only ever going to be “normal” to people who never knew the old normal because the changes are just too vast.

I already envision telling my grandchildren, "You guys were too young to remember, but there used to be these open bins of veggies and stuff called 'salad bars' where people could choose their own food that wasn't shrink wrapped!  I know, sounds crazy! You could take as much as you wanted of just the stuff you liked!  No snow peas or broccoli! You could even pick your dressing!"

I truly wish I’d taken a photo of Gelson’s magnificent salad bar to remember it by; it was my go-to lunch at least five days a week. Now I’m making salads at home but the whole point of a salad bar was to have an instant lunch, totally fresh, no chopping, custom-made to your bizarre tastes. Now you pick from a pre-wrapped selection that has the fewest number of ingredients you don’t like.  But that’s the way it has to be.

I was able to have three of my young grandchildren for the Memorial Day weekend – the first time I’d seen them since Christmas.  Given that I’d missed all their birthdays, I made (OK, Gelson’s made) a big chocolate cake but when it came time to blow out the candles, my daughter-in-law quickly intervened.  In the Pandemic Era, nobody releases aerosols on the cake, even if it’s family.  Maybe especially if it’s family.  We had to wave our hands over the candles until they went out.  Surprisingly this works.  But you have to get it just right – low enough to extinguish the candles but high enough to avoid third degree burns which would take the fun out of the occasion. And we did it with five token candles. I can’t imagine trying this technique for someone’s 70th birthday. May I say, it definitely lacks photo op-ness. But I have to agree it’s the right thing for these times and the times to come.

Still, I’m allowed to feel nostalgic for an era when people could actually blow out candles. All those puffy-cheeked pictures of candle-extinguishing I’ve amassed of my children over the years are now anachronisms. I can see my great-grandchildren looking at them and inquiring with puzzled expressions, “So what was grandpa Henry doing in this picture? And why wasn’t there a plastic shield between him and the cake?”

I predict Amazon will soon be selling self-extinguishing birthday candles instead of the trick ones you can’t blow out.

The great-grands will also be puzzled by photos of people shaking hands.  “Why are those people touching each other?”  And I’ll say, “a man named Anthony Fauci said we had to stop it right now.”

It goes without saying that health care is forever changed.  Pretty much all of our doctors have gone to Tele-Health, even Olof’s cardiologist. I am seriously ambivalent about it.  I really wish someone were listening to Olof’s heart and not assessing his health from a tiny Android cell phone screen.  The problem is, Olof lies. It’s not that he can’t lie in the office but those cardiology people are pretty cunning and they are actually going to take his blood pressure rather than believe Olof’s report of it.  Olof has always had a “do not feed the lions” approach to health care and Tele-Health only enables him. 

In April, our dermatologist texted us that they were now doing Tele-Health examinations. Does that include Tele-biopsies?  Do they instruct you how to excise that suspicious mole with a kitchen utensil? As in: “Dip sharpest kitchen knife into bottle of vodka to sterilize. Bite down on frozen bagel and excise mole.  Drink rest of bottle of vodka.” 

When I got a message from our dentist, I half expected them to say they’d gone to Tele-teeth cleanings but they just cancelled instead. 

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that the make-up industry is histoire.  This whole mask thing can’t be good for lipstick sales.  Not only could no one see what color you’re wearing, but it would get all over the inside of your mask.  By the time you took it off, it would have spread Cherry Passion all over your face, like a toddler who got into your makeup bag.  And it would certainly make the mask non-reusable. I’m thinking the mouthwash people aren’t doing so great either.  Even eye makeup is probably taking a pretty big hit despite the fact that we now have to communicate with our eyes. A friend says that her mask makes her face sweat which causes her mascara to run into her contacts rendering her legally blind. It definitely does not improve her driving

Overnight, it’s become a strange new world to which we’re all going to have to adjust. The candles I’ll get used to but I’m never going to stop mourning that salad bar.

 The new normal: Practicing safe socializing

Is this man headed out for his daily walk,
or the Unabomber's brother about to rob a 7-Eleven?