A Sign of the Times


April 3-4, 2020

So, the toilet paper finally arrived. Yes, it is Trump toilet paper. Some time ago—have you lost track of time yet?—we realized we were running out of TP. “Order some,” I asked Robert. And then he told me the sad truth: there was none available. Not on Amazon, not through the stores, even the Hi Ho market on the corner, which had been selling it one roll at a time, was out. I had actually joked about this in the beginning, saying we had enough books in this house to have paper to use as needed, but I wasn’t prepared to actually face a situation where I was wiping my butt with words.

Robert dealt with his anxiety by obsessively checking TP sales on Amazon, and finally he scored some. He ran to tell me: “I got it, but it has Trump on it. “ “Order it, “ I replied. We were at a point in the pandemic when less definitely seemed like more. And then, of course, we were able to order more and better toilet paper, and the Trump paper was likely not seen as essential, so it was delayed, and then it arrived. I wasn’t even sure what was in the box when it came: turtle food? Hay for the tortoise? Coffee filters? We have been leaving all boxes outside for 3 days before opening them, but I thought it might be the frozen turtle food, so I opened it, and there was our president. Strange times.

We started getting paranoid before most people, mostly because of Twitter, but also because we both know about the 1918 flu, and when I started bringing my jumbo hand sanitizer to class, my students thought I was joking. But then I had to go to school with students who were sick with fever, and it suddenly wasn’t funny anymore. Robert has severe asthma, and my mother is very compromised, and I am her main caretaker. So, not funny.

Then I started to realize how this would affect all the people I know and love. I worried for my family first, then Robert’s family, but underneath that all was a surging worry for my students. So many of my students are already living so close to the bone, so tenuously attached in terms of immigration status, finances, food security…I just couldn’t absorb it all or know what I could do to help.

And then came the time of the paranoia. I have already written about fear and anxiety, anxiety and fear on this blog, but I had no idea what a pandemic would do to those states. Now I know the answer: exacerbate everything. We started off with mild planning, ordering food online, tipping everyone, and then moved to our current state. We have a decontamination site on the front deck to clean everything that comes in. I learned to make Olson masks. We are washing our hands, washing our hands, washing our hands.

At first we were still able to hike in the city parks, but then people messed that up by hiking in large groups, so they closed the parks. Driving back and forth to my Mom’s house to feed her cats and make her dinner in the evenings, seeing everyone out and about, I wonder how long we will even be able to walk the dog. Today, the first day after the order to wear fabric masks went out, we saw lots of folks with masks, but the problem was they weren’t wearing them. One Mom was carrying hers, while her husband had his around his chin, protecting us from his beard, I guess. A guy on the corner had his up on his forehead while he shouted into his cell phone. I did notice that the man who looked homeless was actually wearing his, so there is, I suppose, hope.

And we need to walk the dog. Apparently Labrador puppies have some sort of messed up second childhood when they forget all the lessons they learned as little pups and have to be re-taught not to jump and lunge and basically how to behave, so we’re in that stage. We also have Zooming. For those who think I am referring to Zoom, no, not that (although we have that, too)—zooming is a puppy thing when the puppy races around at full speeds. Zooming is very much a thing for Harold, as is eating our furniture. I often try to relax with a book when I have a chance, but the sound of the puppy slowly eating our chair, coffee table, or couch tends to distract me.

Still, we are lucky. Robert took a pay cut and our refrigerator died in the beginning of the lockdown and out main line plumbing went out, but we have jobs, we have food, and we have a puppy. If you are interested in adopting said puppy, please let me know. He has lots of training, all his shots, and I will get him to you fast. Seriously, though, we are thankful that we are not sick, that we have enough, and that we finally have TP, and if we run out of that TP, we have an extra stash of Trump TP, which pretty much tells me that irony is alive and well.

I am reminded of something my father always says when I ask him how he is doing: “As well as could be expected,” he often replies, telling me that this was his father’s stock answer. I guess that’s where we are right now: as well as could be expected. But I am scared, and angry at the response to this, and hopeful, too. I am running a blog for my students (private right now), but they share some inspiring and sad stories. I also notice that when I wake up, instead of hearing the rolling drum of the freeways, I hear one car, one car, one car. And I notice that I can see all the way past downtown to the ocean on clear days. The smog is just not here. And I am with the person I love more than anyone else, so there’s that, too. We saw a honey bee swarm the other day, and the caterpillars are coming out, and the flowers in my mother’s yard are beautiful to see. I remain haunted by two poems:

From T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”:
  April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

And from Walt Whitman’s poem for Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed”

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

It does seem to be a time for mourning as new life approaches, and I can’t help but think of our old house at 190 “Wistful Vista” to use my father’s styling, and the great lilac bushes that grew there in the back yard, so many lilacs I could pick as many bouquets as I wanted, smell their scent and kiss their rain touched leaves, and never, ever run out. I hope anyone reading this is safe and well.

Be nice to everyone, but especially those who are helping us at this time: hospital cleaners, people who make and pick our food, doctors, nurses, any health care worker, grocery store workers, delivery people, teachers, Instacart and Amazon workers (be mindful of labor actions), postal workers, trash handlers, the people who keep the internet on, the people who process our loans/questions/financial business, the man/woman at the corner store/gas station, the folks who restock the laundry mat with quarters—anyone who is helping, anyone who is experiencing this, all of us. There is no list or #hashtag to list all the people who matter. We all matter. November 2, 2020: just a clarification: upon re-reading this, I thought some folks might think I was going for the “All lives matter” thing instead of “Black Lives Matter” but that was NOT my intention. I was just feeling so abandoned by the government, so scared of Covid, so afraid, and so wanting to say that things didn’t need to be this way, that we could all help each other, celebrate each other, walk through this as a “we.” But as the later posts show, I emphatically believe BLACK LIVES MATTER. Trying hard not to be the annoying white lady and be trapped by my annoying whiteladyness is hard, so that’s why I can edit the blog.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lollie Ragana says:

    Love your writing, Jenny. How lucky your students are to have you. Stay safe. Be well. XO


  2. jenny91030 says:

    Same to you, Lollie, same to you–


  3. Bonnie Uffman says:

    I love your stories, Jenny. Always a pleasant surprise when a new one arrives. Hugs.


  4. Jan says:

    I enjoy your blog 🤗 it’s thoughtful and funny


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