Casting A Long Shadow

One thing about the coronavirus:  you can’t really get away from it.  At least not for long.  You think about it as soon as you wake up and automatically consider what you’ve got going that day.  You feel it when you sit at your home office and work remotely.  You see news stories about it dominating every news show and website, and you notice it, again, in the absence of the baseball games and basketball games and hockey games that you would normally be following and the fact that ESPN is showing footage of decades-old sports event.  You see its fine hand, again, in the absence of any social events to look forward to on your calendar.

And even on something simple like a morning walk on a fine, bright spring day — and thank God for us all that we are still allowed to take those, incidentally! — the specter of the coronavirus looms over everything, like the shadow of a giant beast that has crept up from behind and is getting ready to lay waste to a group of stupid, oblivious teenagers in a bad scary movie.  I find that I am acutely aware of the spatial orientation of every visible car, pedestrian, jogger, and cyclist, and am constantly calculating and recalculating the clearance vectors and paths around trees and cars so that I can safely pass everyone else who’s out.  I find that I get a bit anxious and irritated when somebody gets too close and, even inadvertently, invades my now-extended zone of personal space, although I haven’t called out anyone for that, yet.  That’s a big and somewhat unsettling change for me, and I’m hoping it’s not permanent.

And there are things that I used to do that I wouldn’t do now if you held a gun to my head — like petting a friend’s dog, stopping to chat with a cluster of people gathered on the sidewalk, texting while I’m walking and losing immediate cognizance of where everyone else is during those moments of distraction, or picking up a piece of blowing trash to keep our neighborhood looking neat and clean.  Now I not only won’t pick up random debris, I probably wouldn’t pick up a $50 bill — at least, not without thinking pretty long and hard about it.

It’s bad enough that COVID-19 had wrecked school years, and college visits, and spring breaks, and long-planned weddings, and has prevented people from gathering for funerals or concerts.  The big issue will be whether the coronavirus will continue to cast its long shadow after the curve has been flattened and the case counts stop dominating the daily news.  How much of the changes in our daily lives will become a permanent feature, and how much will vanish like the wisps of that rapidly receding nightmare? 

38 Special

Today is Kish’s and my 38th wedding anniversary.  We were supposed to be in Austin, Texas to celebrate with Richard and Julianne and watch a performance of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, but of course COVID-19 quashed those plans.  It will be our first anniversary since the kids were little that we haven’t celebrated by going out to dinner or to some musical performance.

number-38_2227-93438 is one of those random numbers that wouldn’t seem very special by itself.  It’s not a prime number, or a multiple of 10, or even a multiple of 5.  It’s not one of those anniversary years that’s supposed to be marked by a gift of silver or china or some other substance.  And yet, I’m quite sure we’ll always view number 38 as very special — the year we celebrated our anniversary at home in German Village by direct order of Ohio’s Governor as part of the effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.  In fact, I’d wager that we’ll carry around more vivid memories of this anniversary, and the days directly surrounding it, than any other.

I’m very thankful and grateful that I’ve got such a wonderful person to share our snug little shelter in place during this terrible global pandemic.  We’ve developed new routines during this shut-in period, and I’ve really enjoyed our lunchtime walks together to get our daily allotment of permitted exercise while maintaining social distance from everyone else.

We never could have imagined, when we got married during the early years of the Reagan Administration amidst snow flurried in Vermilion, Ohio, that 38 years later we’d be dealing with such issues.  But that’s life’s unpredictability for you — and also a good reason to find that right, special someone to face the fates with you.

Keen To Clean

Every year, I feel an urge to do some spring cleaning, and thereby officially heralding the arrival of a favorite season.  This year, being cooped up and working at our kitchen island for days now really brought out the spring cleaning spirit, in steroids. 

I’m not sure if it was feeling guilty about watching a lot of TV during this shut-in period and wanting to compensate by doing something that made me roll up my sleeves, or the fact that I’ve been using the kitchen as my ersatz office so much that it really did need a good cleaning, or perhaps a sense that, with all of the hand-washing and sanitizing going on in the battle against the coronavirus, a good kitchen cleaning might aid the cause, just a bit.  Whatever the reason, I tackled the task of cleaning the kitchen with gusto: scrubbing the sink, the cabinets, the countertops, the stovetop, the oven, and the refrigerator, wiping down our appliances, sweeping the floor, and getting the windows, too.  I tried to clean every crack and crevice, and even emptied and wiped down the crumb tray in the toaster.

When I finished I felt good about my efforts, as I always do when I do a household chore.  The kitchen looked clean — for now, at least — and I could almost feel Mom’s spirit hovering in the air, nodding approvingly.

The smell of ammonia in the air — sniff! — smells like victory.

On Mom’s 90th

Today would have been Mom’s 90th birthday.  She’s been gone for a number of years, now, but I still think of her from time to time — and I find that I recall her, and inwardly hear her distinctive voice, even more frequently during this curious period.

Like yesterday, when I made myself lunch on a weekday — which is highly unusual, of course.  My meal was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple slices.  That’s exactly the kind of lunch that Mom made for me back when I was in elementary school.  Make the sandwich with Wonder Bread instead of whole wheat, add in a Twinkie — individually wrapped, of course — and give me a small carton of cold milk bought from the school cafeteria for 2 cents, and I could easily be an 8-year-old eagerly opening up my lunchbox at Rankin Elementary School.

Or washing your hands.  Who doesn’t remember their Mom lecturing them on the importance of constant, rigorous handwashing?  In Mom’s case, the lecture didn’t stipulate that 20 seconds of washing was required, but the lecture always involved the words “scrub” and “use some elbow grease” and frequently was followed by a post-washing spot check to make sure that hands and face were suitably clean before you could sit down for dinner.

Or being home because of illness.  Sure, I’m not staying home because of my illness — knock wood! — but when you had to stay home from school was when Mom really shined.  Campbell’s Chicken noodle soup and saltines, with jello for dessert, on a TV tray served to you in bed, Archie and Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck comics to review, freshly laundered pajamas, and the scent of Vicks Vap-o-rub in the air — why, you almost looked forward to a little sick time R and R.

And finally, Mom was the queen of looking on the bright side — and there are always things to be thankful for, even during this time.  So far, all of our family members, colleagues, and friends have remained blessedly virus-free, we’ve got food in the cupboards and the fridge, our toilet paper supplies are holding out, with every day that goes by I’m saving money on dry-cleaning expenses, and Kish and I have managed to deal with the work at home process without a hitch.  Mom would say “count your blessings,” so in honor of her birthday I will.

Happy birthday, Mom!     

Once More Into Darkness

I may be the only non-farmer in America who dreads the “spring ahead” point in the year — which happens tonight, in case you’ve forgotten.

Why? It’s not that I don’t like having sunshine later in the evening, for sure. No, it’s because I walk Betty in the morning and we’ve just gotten to the point where the sun peeks over the horizon during our morning walk time — as the picture of one of the Schiller Park aerial sculptures that I took recently shows. With clocks moving ahead an hour tonight, Betty and I will once more be plunged into darkness on our morning stroll. We’ll have to deal with a few more weeks of darkness before the lengthening days give us sunshine at 6 a.m.

Lion/Lamb

My grandmother used to say that the month of March would come “in like a lamb and out like a lion” or, alternatively, come “in like a lion and out like a lamb.”

clements-20181003-lion-and-lambThe idea was that you could predict the end of March — unpredictable, blustery, weird, perverse March — by looking at the weather at the beginning of the month.  If it was cold and dismal when the calendar page turned to March, you could count on a nice end to the month; but if it was warm and pleasant on March 1, March was certain to jump up and bite you in the behind with some crappy, cold, snowy, “oh-no-will-spring-never-get here?” weather come March 31.

This March 1 morning it was a very brisk 22 degrees, with a stiff breeze driving down the wind chill even lower, when I took Betty for a walk.  I’d say by any measure that means that March has come in like a roaring lion, and we can look forward to some warm, meek, lamb-like spring weather in a few weeks.

The lamb/lion issue raises the issue of your choice.  After the traditionally dismal, gray month of February, would you rather get a respite from the gloomy chill with a brief period of warm weather come March 1, knowing that you will inevitably be hammered with some more cold weather in the near future, or would you rather batten down the hatches, deal with the ongoing cold on March 1, and feel warmed by the prospect that spring will be here to stay in short order?

Me, I’m a lion/lamb kind of person, rather than a lamb/lion type.  Of course, that’s assuming that my grandmother was right in her saying.  I feel confident that that is so, because grandmothers are never wrong.

Terrible Towels

Lately Kish and I have experienced a weird phenomenon:  every time we go out to buy towels, the towels we bring home don’t work very well.  In fact, you might say they suck — except that “sucking” suggests a moisture absorbency that these towels totally lack.

Rosie, the waitress from the old Bounty TV commercials, would tell you that the key quality of towels — paper or cloth — is their ability to soak up fluids.  That’s why she was always accosting customers, butting into their conversations to yammer on about the “quicker picker-upper,” and sticking Bounty towels into half-filled glasses of water to show how much water the towels could absorb without dissolving into wet paper nubs. 

But modern towel manufacturers seem to have forgotten — or perhaps they never learned — this essential lesson about what a towel should be.  They make towels that look delightfully warm and fluffy and soft, but that don’t actually soak up water.  It’s as if the cloth has a kind of coating on it that prevents it from sucking up fluids.  So when you use the fluffy towel after taking a shower, you’re just smearing water around on your arms and legs, and your hair stays wet.  The difference between the old towels in our house and the new breed is like night and day — or, most aptly, dry and wet.

It’s absurd.  It’s like buying a pillow that is hard and jagged, ordering a drink that is so brackish it  doesn’t quench your thirst, or purchasing a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t actually suck up dust and dirt.  Modern towel manufacturers consistently produce a product that doesn’t even perform its principal purpose.  How in the world did this happen?