Jul 20

There’s audio here and I would be appreciative of your listening

No Phoebe and Poseidon on Monday? No. We had other cats to feature. I also had to do my work in the actual building on Monday. And the world has gone mad.

I was going to make that joke. But the local world has actually gone mad. There’s a banner on an overpass right now that says “A man was almost lynched” because a man here was almost lynched. There’s a video of the confrontation. A putrid, two minute and several seconds video of it.

So, last night there was a demonstration downtown about this troubling weekend event, as you might imagine. Someone chose to drive a car through some people. One or two people were hurt. One of them apparently mildly. The other was treated at a local hospital and released with a reported head injury. I’m also hopeful they’ll address arresting the driver of the car that did this terrible thing.

There’s certainly evidence. But there’s evidence of both, isn’t there? You can see it. I’m not putting any of that here, but it is out there if you want it, and it is all repugnant.

This is the thing about video: someone will always say “You don’t see what happened before the video.” And that’s a true and powerful insight you have there. What a keen legal mind you have. This is the real thing about video: no matter what happened before someone whipped out their phone and got the camera up, no action calls for what is seen before the unblinking eye.

At least one of my students was out there reporting. Apparently eye witnesses say the driver ran several red lights. So, in other words, done deliberate. And I’m really stuck on this part: one of my students was out there.

So vehicular assault in broad daylight, that ought to go somewhere, one assumes. One also assumes that state officials, the appropriate authority for where the almost-lynching confrontation happened, will figure out the threatened or attempted lynching. But they haven’t managed to do that yet, despite, you know, daylight video and plenty of incriminating evidence like work shirts, prominent tattoos and faces.


But the FBI came down to look into the first crime, too. This was announced at this evening’s demonstrations which were, seemingly, much more peaceful for everyone.

So we’re having Phoebe and Poseidon on Tuesday this week.

Poseidon should also get a name for his love of cabinets. Cardea, if I recall, figures into hinged doors in Roman mythology, but I can’t think of anything close enough in the Greek, so we’re giving it to the mighty Poe, who was surveying his kingdom with great contentment here:

Phoebe and three of her favorite pursuits: a spring, a stair landing and the pursuit of belly rubs:

And they decided to sit together on the stove cover of my own design and creation. A rare display of getting along in proximity in their sibling rivalry.

So, yet again, spending a few hours building that little thing one weekend was worth it, I guess.

You know what else is worth it?

I talked to an epidemiologist today. We discussed whether the coronavirus is airborne. We talked about looking at the data and masks and the bubonic plague. We discussed whether I should get a haircut.

We also briefly mentioned the task of getting kids to wear a mask. Of course, she said, her children wear masks. She doesn’t have too much trouble with them, she said. But they are of a certain age now. And, being someone that tracks diseases, she probably brings home terrible images and scares them to death, as would be her parental right.

I’m sure she doesn’t do that. She’s a perfectly pleasant individual and probably her children listen to reason. And if they don’t, both of their parents work in public health, which means they’ve got plenty of adult experts in their lives to scare them senseless while mom and dad are conspicuously working on backyard appetizers.

Anyway, she says wear a mask. And be willing to leave places that have people not wearing masks. Stay distance and stay in well ventilated areas she said.

It keeps coming up: we had the stay-at-home orders handed down to give hospitals a fighting chance. Supplies were needed. Beds were needed. Crush the curve. Remember that, a few months and oh so many outrages and personal inconveniences and national outrages ago? Medicine and science needed time. Well, we gave it a bit of time, and now hospitals are filling up. There are a few more supplies headlines popping back up. And the consumer knows it. Stores are limiting paper goods and cleaning products again.

Let’s say everything about your health, and the health of the people around you. Mortality rates are lower than earlier projections. Thank goodness. Hard, hard earned trial-and-error have been teaching physicians for future rounds of patients, hallelujah. One of those things we’ve learned is this isn’t just about the sniffles, and it’s not just about your lungs. There are big, and varied impacts. One of the things still to be learned is how varied those impacts. Is it your lungs? Some other organ? Your mind? Medical science is still trying to figure that out. Another thing on the board, how lasting can the problems be? You can find nightmarish stories aplenty about that, too. You’re living in a big world of uncertainty right now, friends.

What’s amazing, according to every doctor and epidemiologist I’ve interviewed and seen interviewed, your best defenses are something so exotic as washing your hands and putting a protective covering over your mouth and nose. As most of us would prefer not to have our quality of life impacted in a negative way, please and thanks.

We didn’t discuss the charts, but we should have. They now have death projections stretching out to November 1st as a status quo, wherein some restrictions are being held and many are being eased, versus mandated mask wearing. And it looks like this.

In Connecticut 4691 – 4551 = 140 lives.

In Georgia 3,856 – 3,403 = 453 lives.

In Indiana 3,400 – 2906 = 496 lives.

In Alabama 3,442 – 1,682 = 1,760 lives.

In Texas 13,449 – 6,442 = 7,007 lives.

In Florida 17,472 – 9849 = 7,623 lives.

Wear a mask. Yeah, it’s itchy, but you can be that kind of hero.

Jul 20

Tigers, fireworks and back on campus, oh my!

We went to the nearby feline rescue this weekend. It was our first time out of the house for anything more than groceries or takeout or exercise since March. The place made at least a passing effort at taking everyone’s temperatures and masks were required. Smaller groups would be preferable, but they were limiting it to 10 people per tour.

It’s hard for people to stay out of each other’s way when they’re gazing in wonder.

Or just, you know, in general.

Anyway, our tour was supposed to last for 45 minutes, but it’s slow out there so our guide let us linger so everyone could get their national geographic photographs. We stayed on the property for just about 90 minutes. They have 150 or so cats they take care of — it’s a rescue and you heard some of the bizarre and some of the sad stories — and a few dozen of them were on display for the gawkers.

And it was a warm day, being July. So there was a lot of shade for the cats, which was nice to see and no doubt appreciated by the animals.

They’re a mixture of oblivious to people …

And oddly curious about you. In fact, they’ve probably seen more people than I have in the last few weeks. And they get their space, too. So it’s a happy little setup, as these things go.

And almost all of the tigers were interested in me.

This guy seemed to know it, and he was telling me RUN!

As in, “No, please, go. I feel the need to chase something down … ”

Here’s a thing you learn about tigers when you’re just a few feet away from them. All the sounds a house cat makes, a giant cat makes too, and they scale up. Just the sound of one of these massive things giving himself a bath gives one a lot to think about.

And the cats really liked me.

Almost all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m a Tiger. Maybe it was something I was wearing, or my animal magnetism, or that I’d slathered myself in chicken juice before we got there.

And, look, I don’t want to question the craftsmanship of a professional here, but when a tiger is casually walking directly toward you, you have a moment to think about the durability of a chainlink fence. There’s just enough time to hope that guy had a good day at the fence factory. No hassles at home, no aching joints, no in-law distractions or musings about his weekend on the lake. Just good, solid, earnest, pride in his work.

You don’t have enough time, though, to consider the plant that makes the nails, whether the second shift was on their game when they made the ones holding the fence against the wood. And, goodness knows when that wood was installed and it may be rotten already. You don’t have time to think about those things, or the team that assembled all of this here in 19Who Knows When.

You become keenly aware of the idea, percolating in your head and not yet verbalized, that all of this would merely slow down a properly motivated machine like this.

I liked how she was sneaking up on me from behind the maple tree. Completely fooled me.

There were two of these on our part of the tour today. Got a glimpse of one, and while I try to avoid the fence aesthetic, it couldn’t be helped here, and I hope you’ll overlook it. How beautiful is this creature?

Anyway, a warm day also allows for the indulgence of a cool bath. All of the tigers have giant plastic barrels. Those big heavy duty things that are in no way a simulation to tender human flesh because the barrels are much more sturdy. They are playthings. All of the barrels are destroyed.

The tigers don’t destroy their baths though. They’ve got this whole thing figured out.

“Wanna come in for a dip? It’s hot out.”

“But it’s so nice in here … ”

Thanks, tiger, but no thanks.

Fourth of July was even more subdued than normal. No big civic events. We almost saw the little parade one of the nearby neighborhoods runs. We rode through the route on our bikes twice. Just missed it both times. We were the beginning, and the end of the parade, then.

We had cheeseburgers and corn off the grill, and cheesecake out of the fridge. Everything was delightful.

The neighbors, who have been working on their ballistics and trajectories for several days now, put on quite the impressive display. Had to be the better part of a mortgage payment. Anyway, this isn’t how you properly record fireworks, of course, but this is how I always remember them, fuzzy and dreamy. ‬

There were just things exploding every which direction. And neighbors elsewhere were launching things from decks. Here’s to prevailing winds and sensible precautions and the good old American technique of eyeballing flammable projectiles. But the big show was still going on. And it went on and on.

This was the fourth of five finales. They had a good time, and many of the neighbors approved. It was festive when there were few festive things taking place out of sensible precaution. How he managed to keep the really big explosions out of the woods that were just feet away is a mystery.

And, to his credit, they stopped promptly at 10:30. It’s a decent gesture and makes sense. He had to get up early the next morning to clean the debris.

(He did not.)

Back to work today. It’s my first time working in the building since mid-March, 116 days for me. Everything else has been work-from-home, which we are both fortunate enough to be able to do. I’ll be back off and on campus sporadically for a while, in the hopes of having a semester. And then, if things go according to plan, we’ll have an oddly structured semester. A lot of things have to go right for that, however, and while that is the plan and the hope, it’s easy to be skeptical about it.

But! Yet! We are still a considerable ways removed. It is impossible to say from this vantage point what our reality will be in August, September and October. Why would you want that sort of certainty in your daily routine, anyway?

So today, we moved furniture. Large rooms will stay the same size, but their capacities are considerably reduced. Our commons, which would seat 50 something is down to 17. Our largest classroom has a fire code of 72, or thereabouts. It has a covid code of 21. Our standard sized rooms will seat eight plus an instructor. It’s going to be a strange school year, to say the very, very least.

So after this morning’s bike ride I got cleaned up, donned a mask went to campus and got sweaty again flipping tables and stacking chairs. When this comes up I like to smile and say “This is why I went to college. And grad school!”

Also, today, Harvard went entirely online. And the U.S. government said “If your school goes entirely online and you’re an international student, you must go home.” It’s going to be a strange, sad school year. We’re going to be a hybrid institution. I’ll be doing a lot of my work from home, and I am incredibly fortunate in this respect. That’s been a lesson for a lot of us this year, hasn’t it? You can be both in a fortunate situation and still not in an ideal situation.

But tigers!

Jun 20

Stand over there, well away, wash your hands, and …

I took the rare trip out today for a few important grocery supplies. I noticed pretty quickly how everyone’s mask estimation game is so popular. I noticed how pretty quickly, and throughout my brief trip, how I keep wondering if people are judging one another.

I wonder who should aggravate me more: the person not wearing a mask, or the person wearing a mask to protect their throat and chin. A lot contender to consider there is the person wearing a mask over their mouth, but not their nose.

The circulatory system, it seems, is a mystery to some fully grown adult human beings who are capable of otherwise sustaining themselves.

Anyway, I needed groceries. I still need a haircut. You need to wear a mask.

Look! It is easy being green.

A friend made this one for me, because she’s awesome. I’d brag on her by name, but she might not want the advertisement. Now I owe her a dinner one of these days when we can safely do those normal sorts of things again.

It’s not the time to let up. It’s the time to reconsider your habits. What we’ve done these past few months, we must continue to do again. And the best way to get back to normal, is to be diligent today. Part of looking out for yourself is looking out for each other. A big part of looking out for each other right now is to take a few simple precautions. Wear your mask.

May 20

I apologize for the rant below

Today I ran four miles. Fourth run in a week, following almost four weeks of not running. So this, I guess, is brought to you by the number four. It’s interesting how quickly you can come into and out of phase with running. And I am not, by nature, a runner.

Or a model. Or a photographer. But my hair game is on point.

Last weekend I noted that the night before I celebrated the 45 minutes where my hair was at it’s most presentable peak of long-short. Now we enter into the short-medium phase which lasts an inordinate amount of time and offers no good looks. But you’ll wish for those days when medium-medium arrives, should it come to that.

Yes, I too need a haircut. No, it isn’t really bothering me that much at all. Mileage varies, and I’m fine with that. We can all roll our eyes at one another, which is a great way to take in the grandeur of our sans-haircuts, our home-haircuts and our “I just couldn’t wait another minute to see my barber/stylist” contemporaries.

One day I realized that, despite my lights and my green screen and everything else my webcam still shoots at a pitiful 720, and that meant that slightly longer hair and formerly nice shirts with tiny spots on them were back in play again. That’ll do for now. I’m not even ironing the shirts. Oh, you see wrinkles? No, my wifi is just seizing up.

Besides, no one is looking at my hair, they’re concentrating on that typo from my last email. I dashed off a note last night related to one of today’s Zoom calls. I consulted it this morning to make sure I had the meeting topic well in hand. And that’s when I found the typo. It was one of those where there are two words that sound the same, but mean wholly different things and when you use the wrong one you look feral and uneducated. Never mind that I was still corresponding at 8:01 p.m. There was an obvious error and it will now shame me for all of my days.

I talked with a history professor who has built out a food program at the university and, this summer, they’ve collaborated on creating a meal and delivery service. There’s a lot you can’t get to in an interview like this, but if you look up Carl Ipsen‘s research interests this all make sense.

And it’s a small scale effort, relative to these big food banks staffed out by the National Guard. But the man brought two or three different units of the university together, even as it scaled down in a pandemic. And from that they created an effort that feeds 70 or so meals a day, and counting, to members of the campus community? That’s something.

People doing things, like the famed chef who’s creating that menu that Ipsen talks about, the people preparing the food, the drivers bringing things in from farms and food plants … people taking the initiative of the moment and making it productive, they’re going to be the unheralded glue of all of this. We’ll talk nurses and doctors and truck drivers and shelf stockers, and we should. There are also a lot of other people doing a lot of good, big and small. We’d all do well to acknowledge them.

That’s much more inspiring than the tiresome binary argument over Covid etiquette.

Decency is not in short supply, the mention of it just doesn’t get the lift that jerks do. This is not a new phenomenon, and we’d do well to think of that, too.

May 20

The usual much ado

All of that sun on Sunday was so nice and lovely, but the passing shadows told the tale. When I stopped taking pictures of the birds it was because the sun had scooted beyond the houses and was focusing on something else. A chill took over from the sun. Because that’s going to be the natural conclusion of things around here in May. I went inside because I was shivering.

And yesterday, Monday, I went on a bike ride and shivered some more. It remains the second week of May and jackets are required.

It was a quick and short ride. Today, a short and slow run. First time out in a while, dashing off a casual little 5K:

Because if you asked me to actually work through a 5K right now I could only laugh at you.

We talked the performing arts! Dance! Theatre! Musicals! I mentioned a classic Italian and sounded learned:

Of course, it is a conversation with the chair of a high quality program, so we know who the real learned person was. These conversations are fun, but here soon, as the reopening begins, or continues, or begins to continue, we’ll have to start thinking about some of these are framed. Which is just as well. We’ve had about 15 of these sorts of episodes now and a little change of pace is called for.

Which is why it’s cold, and I’m shuffling on slow neighborhood runs. See? The pace, she changes.

I’m getting to the point where I could do for some change. Thursday will mark nine weeks at home. That’s a lot, and I’m a homebody. One mustn’t complain overmuch. We have our health, and the health of our loved ones. We are still working. And sure, we have missed out on some activities, but those are relative inconveniences. It is easy to get caught up on the personal inconveniences. It should be easier, still, to maintain one’s perspective. I read that story about cruise ship crews and I think of the few I’ve been on, and the gracious and kind people who spend their lives working hard and working long hours for small amounts of money to make sure people have a wonderful experience, and this is happening in their office. It’s a terrible thing. My office is all-but-closed and we’re working from home offices. And, if that gets too stuffy, I move to the living room, or the kitchen island, or the deck as I did one day, or the front porch as I did another day. So I’ll stay quiet about what I need. My chief complaint, then, is the weather, which is out there while I’m in here. What I can complain about is inconsequential at the moment.

I sat on the deck all afternoon Sunday, I had a bike ride yesterday, a run today, and tomorrow it will be cold again. I’ll have a Zoom meeting or two. We’ll read about something sad that has happened somewhere, and something sweet and endearing that took place elsewhere. I’ll probably watch something I have had in a queue for a while. It’ll be Wednesday. (Or so I’m told.) And it’s all downhill from there. Patience and grace.