The Alternative Calendar’s Tale

My longstanding practice is to put things on my work calendar as soon as I plan them, even if they are not going to happen for months.  It’s not unusual for me to have deadlines and appointments on my calendar a year in advance.  In my experience, I’m just less likely to create a scheduling conflict or double-book myself if I keep my  calendar current.

0frjo3qnmby6xfgkoNormally, there’s nothing strange about this.  The planned dates and deadlines arrive, the appointments and conferences and meetings happen, and the calendar pages turn and fade into the past.

Of course, in 2020 nothing is normal.  In 2020, all of the appointments and meetings and trips that were planned were cancelled — but they have remained on the calendar because there’s no point in going through the effort needed to delete them.  As a result, each week I get notices of what I was supposed to have been doing if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t thrown us all a gigantic curve ball.  I’ve gotten reminders of haircuts missed, dinners that didn’t happen, performances that never occurred, and business and personal trips to places like Austin and Chicago that simply vanished on the wings of the wind.

Looking at those calendar entries that I made long ago has been a very weird experience.  It’s like unexpectedly catching sidelong glances of yourself in a mirror, where your reflection is reversed, or getting a glimpse of my life in one of those parallel universes that have been fodder for so many Star Trek episodes and sci fi novels, movies, and TV shows.  And, because all of these things were actually planned, they are far more plausible than the scenarios where the Nazis won World War II or an evil empire controls the galaxy.  If anything, the reverse is true:  Alternative Bob’s life seems a lot more plausible than one where the United States shut down for months due to a virus.  In fact, the sudden emergence of a virus causing the world to close its doors seems like a pretty contrived plot device.

I’ve been following his exploits with some interest, and I can tell you that, so far, Alternative Bob has had a heck of a 2020.

Sketchy Stuff First

When you’re stuck at home by governmental edict and need to be mindful that you can’t simply go out at your whim to replenish your supplies, what is your approach to how to address the available resources?  More specifically, do you consume the good stuff first, knowing that at the end of your shut-in period your future self will be dealing with the dregs and cursing your present self for total selfishness, or do you hit with the sketchy items first, secure in the knowledge that your future self will be reveling in the good stuff later and thanking you for your foresight and sacrifice?

I always adopt the latter approach — which is why, last night, I tried my first few cans of “hard seltzer.” 

I’ve seen younger people trying this stuff, but had never been tempted myself.  A global pandemic and mandatory isolation periods have ways of imposing their will upon such preferences, however.  A few cans of the stuff were in the refrigerator, and since I wanted to preserve our limited supply of beer and wine, I decided to give it a try.  Last night I sampled the “ruby grapefruit” and “black cherry” flavors.

In looking at the can, I can see why people might drink this stuff.  It’s low carb, and low calorie.  It’s also low taste — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about an over-the-top flavor like “ruby grapefruit.”  I braced myself for the first few sips, thinking that it might be horribly cloying.  Fortunately, the folks at White Claw took a more subtle approach.  It’s still the flavor of grapefruit (not exactly the taste I’m going for in an alcoholic beverage) but at least it’s not at the pungent, hit you over the head level.  That said, in my view the black cherry flavor was more potable — although it still isn’t a flavor I would choose for an adult drink, and reminded me more of the kind of beverage you’d get as a kid at an amusement park.

Flavors aside, the hard seltzer is definitely a light and refreshing beverage, and as someone who’s gone the low-carb route before in the desperate twilight struggle against unnecessary pounds, I can see its appeal from that standpoint.  It’s not going to replace a cold beer in my book, but it’s not undrinkable.  Once we get out of the house and get a chance to hit the grocery store, I might actually try some other flavors, and stock the refrigerator with a few cans in anticipation of the next global pandemic.

Dandelion Wars

The battle is on, already.  It’s an eternal, never-ending battle, like good versus evil or modern Americans versus encroaching obesity.  Except this battle is for the highest stakes of all:  a nice, grassy yard come summertime.

The enemy is the dandelion.  Sure, there are other weeds in the yard — lots of them, to be honest — but the dandelion is the undisputed leader of the weed brigade.  It sits there in the yard, flaunting its bright yellow flower, putting on an act of innocence.  As a child, you might have have gathered a fistful of dandelion flowers and brought them home to Mom.  You certainly picked and blew with delight on a dandelion puffball — blissfully unaware that, in so doing, you were scattering nefarious dandelion seeds to every corner of your yard and unconsciously aiding the ultimate lawn care enemy. 

But with adulthood came the realization that dandelions had to be defeated — in fact, they had to be wiped from the face of the yard at all costs.  You understood that dandelions, with their wicked sawtooth leaves and spreading roots, were killing off the grass and opening the way for other, prickly weeds to quickly turn your nice, soft, barefoot-friendly lawn into a ugly, painful, weed-infested disaster. 

There were times, after a long weed-hunting day out in the yard, when contemplated your aching hamstrings and briefly wondered whether the constant battle against dandelions was worth it, because you seemed to be fighting a desperate rear-guard action against an implacable, inexorable inhuman foe.  You wondered: Would it really be so bad to let the weeds win?  But you quickly dismissed that thought as ridiculous and self-defeating.  You grasped that it was your duty, as a good neighbor concerned about property values and the wrath of other homeowners on the block, to fight the good fight. 

Well, it’s Memorial Day, dandelion fighters!  That means it’s time to get out those tools and gloves, scan for the familiar dandelion signs, and get down on your knees and get back into the fray.  Once more into the breach, dear friends!  

The Mask Factor

I realized the other day, as I was checking my messages while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, that my iPhone facial recognition software doesn’t work when I’m wearing one of my coronavirus masks.  Like a character in a Lone Ranger TV show, the phone was left dumbfounded and asking:  “Who was that masked man?”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The mask covers a significant portion of your face, including some noteworthy recognition-triggering features — namely, your nose and your mouth.  Our identification of a person’s face is based on the eyes, nose, and mouth working in combination, and the masks are covering up two of those three features.  We’ve been trained since birth to pay careful attention to the facial features of the people we talk to and notice any changes.  And think about how much attention you pay to the mouth, in particular, as you interact with people.  Are they smiling?  Frowning?  Grimacing?  Does the combination of the mouth and eyes indicate that they’re angry?

I thought about the blocking effect of the mask when I went to get a haircut yesterday.  Both my stylist and I were masked — of course — after I had gone through a doorway vetting procedure that included having my temperature taken and answering some COVID-19 exposure questions.  As we talked during the happy haircut, she mentioned that she was trying to be more expressive with her eyes, because people couldn’t tell whether she was smiling or not.  It was true, and I realized that she also couldn’t see my smile.  After that, I tried to be more expressive with my eyes and eyebrows, but the eyebrows especially are not designed for nuanced non-verbal cues.  You’ve got knitted eyebrows, and raised eyebrows, and that’s about it.  Trying to communicate much with your eyebrows is like mugging for a camera.

Masks definitely change things, but we’re just going to have to get used to them because they are going to be a requirement for a while.  I’m going to have to work on adding some additional, unmistakable eye and eyebrow communication techniques to my facial repertoire.

And I guess Apple is going to need to come up with a masked and an unmasked version of the facial recognition software.

Demise Of The Inner Long-Haired Kid

My last haircut was on February 24. The calendar tells me that means I’ve had a three-month, state-enforced hiatus from barbering. Even with three months of unimpeded hair growth, though, my hair now is still much, much shorter than it was in high school or college — which tells you something about how short I have been getting it cut these days, and how long it used to be during the ‘70s.

It makes me wonder about my teenage self, and how in the world that person could possibly have put up with long hair. I’ve discovered I really don’t like the feeling of hair brushing against my ears, or on the back of my neck. In fact, right now my whole head feels like I’m wearing a kind of clammy coonskin cap. It’s not a pleasant feeling — but I don’t remember having those kinds of reactions during my my shaggy early years. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true.

And now I think longer hair is a pain for other reasons. I’ve had to break out my comb again to part it and try to arrange it on my head. You can’t just towel it dry — and I’m not going to start using a blow dryer, either. This reality makes me think that I spent a lot more time in front of the mirror in those days, fiddling around with things I just don’t have the patience or inclination to do these days.  Back then I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I do now. 

I get my hair cut on Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to it, masks and all. In fact, this whole experience makes me wonder how much my current self and my 20-year-old self would really have in common — beyond liking the same music and reruns of Star Trek.

Passing The Smell Test

You may have referred to the “smell test” before.  I know I have.  If something seems fishy or sketchy, I’m likely to remark that it just doesn’t pass the “smell test.”  I presume that the phrase, in its original usage, referred to assessing whether food was fresh or not.  If you detected a smell from the meat at the open-air market in your village, for example, it failed the freshness “smell test” and was best left unpurchased.

Little did I know, when I casually used that phrase in the past, that one day I would live through a global pandemic where a “smell test” would be relevant — and the test would be applied to me, besides.

How do you know if you’ve contracted coronavirus?  The CDC website lists a bunch of potential symptoms, like a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and “muscle pain.”  Some of these are pretty ambiguous.  How do you know if that random cough is sufficiently “dry” to be a potential sign of COVID-19, or whether it is just the kind of cough that strikes every spring because your sinuses are reacting to your seasonal allergies?  Is that coronavirus “muscle pain,” or just the creaking bones and joints of somebody in their 60s?  And don’t even bring up weird new symptoms like “COVID toes,” because I don’t want to examine my feet under any circumstances, anyway. 

But there’s one symptom on the CDC website — “new loss of taste or smell” — that seems like a pretty easy test to self-administer.  So every morning as I take my walk I unfailingly take deep whiffs of the air and try to detect the odors on the breeze.  I enjoy the scents of the flowers, but I also feel a sense of reassurance.  If I can appreciate that lovely lilac fragrance, I figure I’m probably okay.