Musings

Back to School, Sort Of

 My school district is threatening to start school up again in a few weeks.

Yes, I used the word threaten. I don’t think they intend to go through with it. I think it’s a negotiating strategy, an “I WILL turn this car back around” opening gambit. I don’t know who, exactly, they think they’re negotiating with. The teachers union, the parents, the media. Probably a mixture of all three and more besides, considering their scorched earth approach.

IF Y’ALL WON’T SIGN UP FOR DISTANCE LEARNING, WE’LL INFECT ONE STUDENT PER DAY UNTIL OUR DEMANDS ARE MET!!!

I’ve been involved with many school districts in my life. Between the districts I’ve worked for and the ones teachers and admin I know have moved on to, plus throw in the fact that my daughter is (allegedly) starting first grade in less than a month, I have understanding of the inner workings of upwards of ten different school districts. 

This might shock y’all, but school districts are a fucking mess.

The average district office is an awkward mishmash of former teachers who couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom and lifelong bureaucrats who are most comfortable when articulating the subtle differences between form 47(f) and 72(q), and don’t forget to write hard enough for the goldenrod triplicate and page twelve requires two initials and a signature. Add into that mix the Board of Education, a group of would-be politicians who aren’t savvy enough to win a competitive election like, say, dogcatcher.

So it’s no surprise the the average response of the average district is to put their heads in the sand and hope that the issue de jour blows over before there’s any blow back. Which isn’t to say they don’t spend money. They spend shit-tons. We get guest speakers for some fancy new fix that’s going to have all third graders solving differential calculus. Then we move onto another fix the following year, long before we get any data about if those now-fourth graders can do any third-grade math, let alone z-axis graphing. 

Most districts think that REAL education occurs far, far away from the classroom. If you’ve never encountered a child, you’re probably the best educator in the world. After all, those fucking students fuck up all of our well-laid plans. During the budget crisis a decade ago (returning soon to a school district near you!), my district laid off close to fifteen percent of the teachers along with about five percent of the district staff. After all, a teacher with a class size of forty is a minor issue compared to an assistant superintendent cutting down to ONLY two secretaries. How the hell can she get ANYTHING done?

Here a good example of how my district meanders its way through the average “catastrophe”. After Sandy Hook, the federal government sent a bunch of money out for security improvements. My school wrote out a proposal for keyless (badge) entry to our buildings. The proposal was approved. Everything was set to be installed over summer. When we came back, we had the same shitty doors. The district decided they would “test run” the keyless entry at the district office. Because, you know, it’s EVERY DAY we’re bombarded with horrific stories of school (district office) shootings. We all know those horrific stories of the admin assistant who quietly ushers all of the NCR paper into a closet seconds before…

Even better, they only gave badges to district office employees. Why the fuck would teachers want into the district office? We are inconsequential in the business of running a school district. We have to check in through the front door like the rest of the riffraff.

The badge system worked so well that they added a second one to the elevator. Personnel and Benefits are on the bottom floor, they argue, why should any teacher need to know what’s going on up there on the second and third floor? If we really have legitimate business there, we can (I shit you not) call whomever we’re supposed to meet and they can go send the elevator down to us.

Here’s another example: During that budget crisis, we negotiated a reduction in the school year. We got rid of the two bullshit “teacher development” days plus five student days. That way, we could say we agreed to a two percent pay cut while actually taking an eight percent pay cut. When the recession was over, they gave us back the seven days and added three more bullshit days. But not the two percent pay cut.

The bullshit days don’t have to be bullshit days. But they’re always bullshit days. You see, the year we negotiated the days back, the school year calendar was already set. So we just threw the now five extra non-student days on at the beginning of the school year with the idea that we’d move them around the following year. That was back in 2013. Want to guess where the bullshit days fall on the current calendar?

If we were serious about using these days as development days, which is what they’re called, or if we were interested in legitimately following through on whatever we’re working on the first day, we’d spread them out throughout the year. Have two of them at the beginning, then check in at the beginning of each quarter to check progress and reassess. Instead, we go to six hours of meetings for five straight days. By the time we see a student, we’re fucking exhausted. And any bright a-ha moment we had on day one has been lost behind a fog of tardy policies and dress codes. Come mid-October, somebody in the lunch room will throw out a, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be doing something with vocabulary this year?” and none of us will the slightest idea what the fuck he’s talking about. 

So remember that these institutions are the ones responsible for reinventing their entire industry in the span of a few weeks.

I hear you saying, “a few weeks? Haven’t we been shut down since March? What the hell have they been doing since then?”

And the answer is, mostly, twiddling their thumbs and hoping everything was going to be better. 

My district ran fourth quarter in a “no-harm/no-foul” mode. If you liked the grade you had when we shut down, you can keep it without doing a fucking thing! Distance learning where everybody gets a trophy. The result was predictable. The A students continued to do work, because they’re A students. Some B students did, if they were bored. C and D students didn’t do a fucking thing, because what if they do an assignment and it lowers their grade? Even though we set the rules that, not only could your end grade not be lower than it was in mid-March, no SINGLE ASSIGNMENT could lower your percentage at all. So if you had a 76% in my class and you sent me a picture of feces, congratulations, you just got 16 out of 20 on that assignment. A few F students did enough work to get up to a 60%.

But it’s okay, because by August, we’ll have licked COVID and everybody will be excellent at social distancing and wearing masks and washing our hands. Movie theaters and sporting events and restaurants would be alive and well, right?

Oops.

To be fair, we’ve had a whole bunch of meetings over the summer. My department chair is part of the “High School Task Force,” so he’s regularly come to the rest of us with updates and to ask for suggestions. We’ve come up with alternative schedules whereby only 25% of the students are on campus at any given time. One batch comes Monday AM, another on Monday PM, then two more on Tuesday before we cycle back to the Monday peeps on Wednesday. Friday’s an “all distance learning” day, which is also a teacher catch-up day, because if I only have my students in my class one hour a week instead of one hour a day, I’m going to be spending most of my time in front of the classroom. I can’t exactly give them seat work so I can update my blog like usual.

Of course, this schedule wouldn’t work for younger students. High schoolers can legally stay home by themselves on the three days they’re not at school. I don’t see that working for elementary school kids. I’ve been faced with that option for my daughter. We could send her back full time or two days a week. But what will we do with her the other three days? Send her to daycare? Isn’t that pretty much the same as sending her to school, only without the education? Her school is also offering a full distance learning option. But again, where would that distance learning happen? She’d probably be sitting in my classroom with teenagers getting a whole DIFFERENT type of education. Daddy, what’s a fucktard?

But it doesn’t really matter what our task force or the middle school or elementary versions thereof came up with, because the district replied with a nice, resounding hell-to-the-no. Comically, the Board of Education isn’t even involved with the negotiation, and they weren’t there when we negotiated the shutdown back in March. They just told the superintendent to figure out the minor stuff while they focus on the important educational stuff like, I shit you not, spending millions of dollars on a fence around the district office because one time there was a homeless person nearby. The fence would only be passable by people with badges, which the teachers don’t have. Not sure how we’ll get to personnel or benefits now.

Oh, and on the same board agenda as the gate was starting to look into pay cuts for teachers next year.

What the district did decide on was a two-fold approach. Parents have the option to sign up for 100% distance learning for the entire school year or 100% live instruction for the entire school year. No switching from one to the other after you’ve made the decision, which they gave parents one week to ruminate. Who needs more time than that to decide such a minor thing?

Now the numbers are in. Clearly I’m not the only parent who went with the “what the fuck am I supposed to do with my kids when I’m at school?” option. Not that my district offered a hybrid option. Still, the results are informative. In my largely low-income, two-worker family district, only six percent of parents opted for distance learning. In my daughter’s district, where there are a shit-ton of stay-at-home parents and lots of personal computing devices, not to mention a hybrid option, only ten percent opted for some sort of distance learning.

So yay! Only 94% of my students will be in my class on a typical day. So now my class of 40 students will have… 38.4? Super easy to socially distance those 38!

And all of that was before the COVID spike. Now districts are scrambling.

Last week, Daughter’s district blanketed us with phone calls and emails about our county potentially being put on Herr Kommandant Newsom’s “watch list.” Great name, Gavin. You know we were already putting your face on the principal from The Breakfast Club, right? Like you can keep this up all weekend? And your response is to come up with a “Watch List.” Only it’s not a watch list. Because once you’re on the watch list, you’re already shutting down. If you’re saying, “this county will probably go on the watch list the day after tomorrow if x, y, z doesn’t change,” isn’t that county already being watched? 

Anyway, when it was reported that my county might go on the watch list, Daughter’s district alerted us that, even if we opted for in-school instruction, we might still be starting the school year at home. Be prepared, they told us, for a kooky, crazy school year where we oscillate between in-school and at-home based on how many COVID cases we have and how many of Herr Kommandant’s hairs are out of place. Just kidding, none of his hairs are ever out of place. Have you seen that guy? Only person in America who stayed groomed during the entire shut-down.

Meanwhile, my district, which is in a county that’s already on the watch list and has been surging like a motherfucker, shrugs and says, “what’re you gonna do?” Even on their FAQ, they claim that social distancing is only a suggestion, not a requirement. Kinda like flossing twice a day. So they’re going to jam us in like sardines and just give a vague answer to the dentist. The good news is some of us will start dying off, which should relieve the overcrowding issue. Unless it’s the teachers, which’ll cause the classes to become even more crowded. Because if I die, they’ll need to combine my students with somebody else’s. I doubt they’re going to have a ton of success hiring a sub to go into the classroom where the last teacher caught COVID and died.

Speaking of catching COVID, we’ve been told that if any of our students test positive, we need to quarantine ourselves for two weeks. If that happens, we have to use our own sick leave. We get ten sick days a year. So after we burn all of our sick leave on the first quarantine… 

But as I said at the beginning, I think this is just a negotiating tactic. The district broke off talks with my union saying they couldn’t meet again until the week before we report for the five bullshit days. My inner Nostradamus can predict exactly how that conversation will go”

“We can’t open. Our teachers will die!”

“We’ll give you distance learning for a five-percent pay cut. After all, you won’t need to buy as many school supplies, etc, if you’re teaching from home.”

Or not teaching from home. The latest I heard was they didn’t like giving us that much autonomy. If there is any distance learning this year, they want us doing it from the classroom. 

And that’s pretty much the only thing that’s been “fixed” about distance learning. All that stuff you’ve heard about teachers being trained to do it better this year? Ain’t happening. It’s going to be another big shrug and “figure it out.” 

So my union will probably agree to the pay cut in order to not have any students. Which is great, because then my district can finally build that moat around their fortress.

Yosemite, COVID Edition

Just got back from a couple days in Yosemite. This trip was quite a bit different from those of the past.

I’ve been going to Yosemite since before I was cognizant. Probably been there around forty times total. This was Daughter’s third trip and she just turned six. So if there are two things I know in life, they’re probably Yosemite and being a snarky asshole. The latter I’ve done far more than forty times.

Used to camp there with my family every summer, when it was still possible to get reservations. They used to sell them through Ticketmaster (or maybe Ticketron?) on a rolling basis, whereby tickets became available eight weeks before the date of travel. So some would be released every day. My dad used to camp out at the local record store to get in there the minute they went on sale. 

Nowadays they release an entire month’s worth of reservations online at the same time. If you take the time to consult your calendar six months out to ensure that day isn’t somebody’s birthday or something, you’ve already lost them to somebody else. And whereas it used to be first-come, first-served as to which campsite once you got there, you now have to pick the specific numbered site when you reserve. The one time I tried to reserve, I went off to find a campground map to make sure I wasn’t getting the one right next to the shitter, and by the time I came back, it was taken. I guess next time, I’ll learn to love the vault toilets. 

So ever since the age of twenty or so, it’s been day trips. I used to live a couple hours from the park gate. Nowadays it takes a solid three/-and-a-half hours to get to the valley floor. That necessitates a bit more planning, usually a stay over the night before or after. Because the last thing I want to do after four hours in a car is the 2,000-foot elevation gain hike up to Nevada Falls.

Last year, it was just Daughter and I who went. Wife had an excuse called “having to go into work.” Clearly that’s not a thing anymore. I packed Daughter in the car shortly before her bedtime and drove through the night while she slept, because three hours in a car with a five-year old is torture for her and I. We stopped at a B & B in Groveland around 10 pm, and we were in the valley by 10 am the next morning, “hiking” up to Mirror Lake. If you’ve never been, the walk to Mirror Lake is literally on a road, a leftover from when they allowed cars more places. The road is also still usable if you have a disabled placard. The hike is 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of a whopping 100 feet. But this was enough for Daughter to ask “Are we there yet?” fifteen times and bloviate about the horrific workout I was forcing upon her. That’s about the time I scrapped the whole Vernal Falls idea. 

The Vernal Falls hike was a rite of passage for me. From when I was about my daughter’s age, my dad would hike us up to the footbridge, the first spot you can see the actual falls. The following year we went a little further. The first time I made it to the top, we took the back route, but my dad showed me the infamous Mist Trail. It’s effectively a staircase made out of misshapen granite that’s slippery as shit because you’re under a constant deluge of splash from the falls. You’d think it’s rain. My dad didn’t think I was able to ascend the Mist Trail that year (good call – at forty-five, I’m still a klutz), and promised we’d attempt it the following year. The following year we went to the Grand Canyon. And Zion the following year. Bullshit! Three years later I made it up. 

The only problem with making it to the top of Vernal Falls is you then realize it’s not even the cool waterfall on that hike. Nevada Falls, an extra two miles and another 1,000 feet up, after already going up 1,000 feet in the last mile-and-a-half, is one of the quirkiest waterfalls in existence. It’s crooked like Bill Clinton’s penis. I might’ve been in junior high by the time I conquered it. Nevada Falls, that is. Not Bill Clinton’s penis.

After that we found a cool trick. Get up to Glacier Point and take the Panorama Trail DOWN instead of up. Of course, that’s when I was a teenager. Nowadays I feel like going downhill is worse than going up. Not as strenuous, but it moves muscles in ways they’re not supposed to move.

My original plan was to try the Vernal Falls footbridge this year, then start Daughter on the same Trial by Hike my dad put me through. Except this year, the shuttles aren’t running as a result of COVID. Which is the impetus for this post. Obviously I can wax nostalgic for thousands of words about Yosemite, but that would be exciting for an audience of one. I know it usually seems like I only write this shit for myself, but it’s not entirely masturbatory.

After closing for three months, Yosemite opened to the public a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw they were reopening, I jumped online to get a reservation. We planned to go up Sunday morning, stay overnight near the park, then go back in Monday before driving home. As an added bonus, Yosemite was limiting entry! Yosemite without visitors is about as close to heaven on Earth as it gets. Just like John Muir intended. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had that same notion. And those rat bastards were parked EVERYWHERE!

Obviously they weren’t limiting entrance too much. They were aiming for half of the usual summer crowd. So the trails and meadows weren’t super full, but without the shuttle buses to get us around, we were on our own. Usually you drive to one of two or three parking lots and then ride the bus around everywhere. This time it was find a spot and walk as far as you have to.

When I heard there’d be no shuttles, I grew curious about a bus-only loop at the east end of the park. On it are two main attractions, the Mirror Lake “trail” I mentioned earlier and Happy Isles, which is where the trail to Vernal Falls, et al begins. Surely they can’t block those spots off, can they? Or are they going to make me walk the mile from Camp Curry just to get to the trailhead whence I have to hike another couple miles straight up? I mean, I’ll happily climb the 1,000 feet in elevation gain over a mile and a half trail, but adding on an extra half-mile of flatland? I think NOT! 

Our first day there, a Sunday, before we parked at Camp Curry, we drove ahead to check out the bus-only loop.. It was now car accessible. Sort of. We could drive to Happy Isles. Tons of cars were parked there. But we couldn’t get all the way to Mirror Lake. Not surprising. There’s plenty of space at Happy Isles for a makeshift parking lot. I don’t know how they’d do that at Mirror Lake. We went the other way on the loop and found the farthest we could get was North Pines/Stables, which is how far you can drive under normal conditions. 

Okay, no problem. It was late in the day by then. I was mainly using Day One to figure out what was open, what was closed. Make some plans for tomorrow when we could hit the ground running. And maybe, if we could drive all the way to Happy Isles, but not Mirror Lake, this would be the year we tackle Vernal Falls, after all. Start Daughter on the same rite of passage as me.

Except when we came back on Monday, the road to Happy Isles was closed. What the fuck? And naturally, the parking lot at North Pines was jam packed. So back to Camp Curry we went. At least there was a yummy-looking food truck there the day before. Its version of chicken & waffles was served in a waffle cone with a maple drizzle. Delightful. We passed on it because we had picked out a dinner spot near the hotel, but we were looking forward to it for lunch the next day.

But sure enough, that shit was as closed down as Happy Isles on Monday. What the fuck, people? It’s COVID time. Nobody’s working. There shouldn’t be huge differences between Sunday and Monday. The taco truck was open both days. But when you’ve got your heart set on chicken tenders in a waffle cone, carne asada ain’t gonna cut it.

Perhaps we could get around the loop on wheels. I had the brilliant idea to bring Daughter’s scooter about the eighth time we stopped on the way to Mirror Lake the year before. But we forgot to pack it. Oops. So we looked into renting bikes. Twenty-four bucks each for a half-day. Okay, so seventy-five bones for the three of us? It was a distinct possibility. After all , it’s not like we’d be spending money on scrumptious lunch options. Only one thing dissuaded us. The extra five bucks for her to rent a helmet. It wasn’t the cost, five bucks is excessively reasonable after the exorbitant cost for the rental itself. But something about putting something that’d been worn by every other kid on the face of the earth seems a bit too far these days. 

Ironic, I know, since under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have cleaned that shit since last century and it would be filled with colonies of every head lice ever invented. This time, they’re probably disinfecting it every night. And yet…

In the same vein, Sunday night was the first time we’ve been in a hotel since the beforetimes. It felt weird. The one thing going for us was that, while Yosemite was closed, this hotel was either closed or getting very little action. But I never realized how the carpeting in a hotel room looks straight outta 1979, which was probably the last time it was cleaned. That’s probably Jack Tripper’s chest hair down there.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing that the feces and DNA left behind by previous guests are no longer my primary concern. Go ahead and bring in a black light. Spooge splats are fine as long as there aren’t any Mexican-beer-drinking viruses in the man batter.

After discovering that there was no parking close to Happy Isles or Mirror Lake, we parked at Camp Curry and walked through one of the empty campsites to the river. There’s only one campsite open in the whole park. Man, if I had been one of the lucky few to reserve one of the other sites back in February, I’d be pissed. That’s like winning the lottery only to find out that you won the wrong lottery and the money’s going to somebody else. 

I don’t see why they only open one campsite. If they’re trying to encourage social distancing, shouldn’t they open half of two different campsites? Then again, as I’ve opined before, camping is about as socially distant of an activity as we’ve got in this world. Especially if we’re to believe the newest reports that it’s very difficult for the virus to spread outdoors. True, Yosemite camping isn’t as socially distant as most campsites. Even though there is zero campsites available when you try to reserve, they jam ya in like sardines once you’re there. When I camp there, I actually have to pee IN THE BATHROOM! The Horror! 

Just as John Muir intended.

Speaking of which, halfway across the abandoned campsite, Daughter decided, as six-year-olds are wont to do, that this time, and no other time, was the proper time to vacate her bladder. But it’s cool, even if the campsites closed, they can’t be locking the bathrooms, right? Turns out that yes, they can. Could she make it across the street to the open campsite? Maybe three minutes? If you’ve ever encountered a kid in early elementary school, you know the answer was a resounding no. 

Of course, this was also the moment that a few rangers were walking through the campsite, checking it for, I don’t know, viruses and such? So we took Daughter behind a tree to hide from them, which probably was doing no such thing, and it was off to the races. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to peeing in public. I’m a guy, the world is my urinal. But that’s why I usually camp out in the middle of nowhere. It’s crowded at Yosemite. If I randomly whip it out, I’m liable to splash on hundreds of people. But I guess society is a bit more forgiving of a six-year-old than a mid-forties dude. 

When we finally made it through the campsite, I finally had that “passing it on” moment. We were standing on the rocky bottom of the frigid Merced River, throwing rocks and sticks into the current, and Daughter absolutely loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Sure, my feet were slicing and dicing and turning into icicles, but Daughter’s eating this shit up. And I’m reminded of all the times I walked across or laid down on an inflatable tube or mattress, with nary a thought of internal temperature or why the fuck couldn’t they put some goddamn sand at the bottom of this stream as John Muir intended.

It’s such a rare feeling, that I’m doing this parenting thing right. Sure, I might’ve exposed her to spooge marks and COVID the night before. And sure, I let her play on her Nintendo for all three hours both ways. But dammit, we gotta take the wins when we get them, right? 

She even said she’s excited to go back to Yosemite next year.

I’m sure that’ll change once I make her hike Vernal Falls.

My Top Ten Albums

I usually try to avoid whatever pointless social media challenge is trending. You know the ones. Post your favorite elbow pictures. Or random movie quotes. Or thirty days of humblebrags posed as “things I’m thankful for” but are really “reasons I think I’m better than you.”

You know those ones?

But Wife tagged me in one and it was about music, and y’know, it’s not like I have other things to occupy my time with here in the 2020 hellscape. So I guess I can cut and paste some album covers. 

If you’ve been of Facebook recently, you’ve probably seen the one I’m talking about. There are actually two of them, one about movies and one about albums. But I’m not big on movies, so I decided to only play the album one.

You’re supposed to pick ten albums that, I don’t know, are good? That define you? That were important? That you got laid to? Maybe that’s another reason to not do the movie thing. Nobody wants to know which scene we got our freak on to in Jurassic Park

(Nature finds a way…)

But here’s the kicker. You’re not allowed to say jack shit about the album itself or why you chose it. What the fuck? That’s like having a therapist say, “So your father abandoned you? Don’t tell me any more. That’s plenty.”

It’s the teenage girl or the male pick-up asshat version. Stay mysterious. Don’t let them see the real you. Just put some albums out there that you think there will be consensus on. Don’t tell anybody what makes you click, just do it for the likes. But if my favorite album is the audiobook of “Mein Kampf,” read by the author, shouldn’t that come with a little explanation?

So whatever, I played their stupid game. And now I’m here to expand upon it. 

A couple of explanations. First, you can call me grandpa, but to me an album is an entity created by the artist and should be listened to in order. One song leads into the next. So unlike virtually all of my friends, even my wife who challenged me to do this, I refused to put any greatest hits compilations on my list. Those are horseshit, and are only used as a cop-out way of saying “I like this artist.” Don’t fall for it! If you really liked that artist, you’d try to appreciate why they made a certain album the way I did. eg Let it Be was created by non-musician Phil Spector, and should not be confused with a Beatles album, even if it’s got some of the greatest Beatles songs.

I did almost put a live album on my list, but Wife said live albums are effectively greatest hits albums. I disagree because, again, the artist is making choices over what order the songs go during a concert. For instance, Paul McCartney sings “Jet” second in both Wings Over America and, fifteen years later, Tripping the Live Fantastic.  And I think he did it one other time. He REALLY likes that as a “sit the fuck back down” song. However, the live album I was going to use was 24 Nights, which was recorded over, you guessed it, 24 nights. So fine, if it’s not the actual lineup from the actual concert, then maybe I shouldn’t use it.

Secondly, these aren’t supposed to be the greatest albums of all time. Nor are these the dreaded “Desert Island Discs,” meaning the ten I would want if stranded somewhere. Let’s be honest, Desert Island Discs SHOULD be greatest hits. More bang for the buck. This list isn’t even my ten favorite albums, because then I’d probably just throw in four Beatles, three Mumford & Sons, and “24 Nights” and be done with it. It’s supposed to be the formative albums of your life, whatever the hell that means. I was using it, as with my weenie friends who used greatest hits albums, as representative albums of various genres and artists. 1. Abbey Road. The ultimate no-brainer that is anything but a no-brainer. If an album is an intentional conglomeration of songs in a specific order, then there is no better barometer of this than an album whose entire second side is one long medley of songs that flow together. Although the same could be said for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Blub Band and maybe even Magical Mystery Tour. Hell, Revolver is a damned fine album, too. In fact, I’ve probably listened to Revolver more often than Abbey Road. Pretty much any list of definitive albums, either in my life or in the world, should have a steady stream of Beatles. Hell, even their earlier shit was pretty avant garde for the time. But yeah, as far as albums go, ya gotta pick Abbey Road. Have I mentioned we named my daughter Abby Rose?

2. Travelers & Thieves. From one of the most well-known albums of all-time to one you’ve probably gotta google. I’ll save you the effort – Travelers & Thieves is Blues Traveler’s second studio album. And if you bought it back in the early 1990s, like I did, it came with an extra live disc, “On Tour Forever,” which only has four songs because Blues Traveler tend to play 20 minute long songs. I once went to a festival where they were playing with Allman Brothers and Phish. I don’t quite remember which of the three bands was playing when some hippie dude came up to me and said, “I hope these shrooms last as long as that last guitar solo,” but you get the point.

If you’re not a Blues Traveler fan, you haven’t heard any of the songs from Travelers & Thieves. Their two big hits, “But Anyway” and “”Run-Around,” come from their first and fourth albums respectively. Travelers & Thieves might not even be my favorite of theirs. Although, let’s be honest, second albums are often the best. If I were to rank the best Blues Traveler albums, I’d probably pick Bridge, their sixth album and the first one after their bassist died. While they aren’t as good of a band without Bobby Sheehan, a fact I’ve mentioned in one of my concert write-ups, there was something cathartic about that album.

But this list isn’t the best albums. This list is the albums that defined my music tastes. And when eighteen-year-old me heard the introductory track, a building crescendo reminiscent of “A Day in the Life,” delivering the listener into the driving bass line (we miss you, Bobby) of the first real song, I was hooked. I was running down to The Wherehouse to buy myself a copy of this godsend before I even made it to the first John Popper harmonica solo.

3. Babel. As with Travelers & Thieves, my first reaction when I heard Mumford & Sons was, “Holy shit! You can do that with music?” I suppose I had a similar reaction to Abbey Road, although I was probably too young to articulate it as such. 

Unlike Blues Traveler, I first heard Mumford on the radio. I don’t know how much “I Will Wait” appeared on my radar. I think I enjoyed it, but it didn’t do much to separate itself from a lot of the other songs coming out in that era. If you made me separate Mumford from, say, Of Monsters and Men or The Lumineers or Vampire Weekend in 2011, I don’t know if I could’ve done it. 

But the first time I heard “Little Lion Man,” the Lumineers had to step aside. It also helped to separate “I Will Wait” from the other songs of the previous few years. I did something crazy, something I hadn’t done in years. I went out and bought two albums. As in the physical CDs. Fortunately my car at the time still had a player.

And if you think about it, Babel is even more impressive than Travelers & Thieves because of my age when I encountered them. Eighteen-year-olds are supposed to find new bands, new genres of music. There’s a reason it’s called “College Music.” You’re not supposed to find new bands in your mid-thirties. You shouldn’t be wowed by what the kids are doing with their musical instruments these days. By God, if it didn’t exist when I was twenty, then it’s just noise. What? Bands have webpages now? Whatever happened to sending out a Christmas 45?

That’s it for the Big Three. I mentioned it on Facebook, and I’ll mention it here. Everything from here on is nitpicking and hair-splitting. Album number four might as well be album number fifteen. But the big three are on an island by themselves.

4. Pay Attention. I never really got into the brief ska phase in the 1990s, but Mighty Mighty Bosstones is good enough to be mainstream. I could also throw Reel Big Fish in to that regard. But I don’t see myself ever owning any Reel Big Fish beyond their greatest hits. Whereas I own three Bosstones albums.

Truthfully, it was kind of a toss-up between Let’s Face It and Pay Attention. The former has “The Impression That I Get” and “Rascal King” on it, which are their better-known singles. But I’ve listened to Pay Attention far more often. It’s got a greater variety of songs, many of which wouldn’t work as singles, but are as invigorating as hell. “High School Dance,” for instance, is written from a school shooter’s perspective, so maybe it hasn’t aged well. 

On one of those other Facebook games many a year ago, we had to write down ten bands and make people guess the one we HADN’T seen in concert. Nobody guessed mine. Everyone guessed Sarah McLachlan. Nope, seen her three times. Even my wife responded with, “You haven’t seen Mighty Mighty Bosstones? You listen to them all the time.” I should probably get on that if concerts ever come back.

5. Altered Beast. Matthew Sweet had three solid albums in a row and then a whole lotta nothing. Or maybe I just graduated from college so I can’t “get” his later music. Anyway, solid album. It also is distinct in that the album came out in four different colors. Same cover, just different colors. I had purple, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve also discovered that creating a Matthew Sweet channel on Pandora is the best way to drill down into the music I listened to in college. I can’t think of any other band or musician that isolates a certain sound and a certain time period. It’ll give you some Lemonheads, some Gin Blossoms, Dinosaur Jr. If you ever watched “Alternative Nation” with Kennedy on MTV, trust me on this one. Pandora’ll play shit you haven’t thought about in twenty-five years.

6. An Innocent Man. This is the first one I posted that received arguments back. And then, I don’t know, am I supposed to engage in said argument or does the “without comment” instruction extend beyond the initial posting of picture? Anyway, many of my friends were incensed at this particular iteration of Billy Joel. What about The Stranger? To say nothing of Glass Houses. Or Storm Front… Or… Or…

Says a shit-ton about Billy Joel, huh? The album with “Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl,” and “Keeping the Faith” gets poo-pooed as hardly deserving to be in his top five. 

Sure, I could’ve picked any of those others, but An Innocent Man was the first CD I ever bought, not to be confused with Hall & Oates’ Private Eyes, which was the first album I ever saved up my allowance to “buy.” I bought An Innocent Man with my own money, almost as an afterthought. My sister’s friend needed bail money, so he sold me a used (or maybe stolen) CD player for $80, which was a hell of a deal in 1989. Then I realized I had no CDs, without which said CD Player wasn’t so great of a deal. So I went to the Wherehouse after school to pick one out. I wanted one with a lot of songs I like. Couldn’t have a repeat of that mistake I made when I was eight years old and only liked one other song on Private Eyes. What a waste of weeks of allowance!

So yeah, I stand by An Innocent Man as my Billy Joel album of choice. Besides, The Stranger and Glass Houses don’t have any songs co-written by Beethoven, do they?

7. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. I needed a Clapton representation, but it’s tough to pick one. The problem with Clapton is most of his iconic songs are on different albums. If you want, say, “Tears in Heaven,” it’s a throw-in at the end of a movie soundtrack. Although that movie soundtrack, all by Clapton, is one of the greatest acoustic guitar albums of all time, even if it was hard as hell to find. I can’t tell you how many times the local CD bar thought I was asking for the new Rush album, not the soundtrack for the movie “Rush.”

So let’s see. Timepieces is way too early in his career to be a proper greatest hits. 24 Nights (see above) works better. Journeyman (see below) is probably the one I’ve listened to the most. 

This Derek and the Dominoes album, then, is about as solid, front to back, as it gets. When I first bought it, it was only for the title track, a la Hall & Oates. I actually thought the rest of the album was a little boring. A little slow. I was expecting rock and I got blues. How does the greatest song in rock history find itself as the thirteenth track of a blues album? But I’m not fifteen anymore. I now appreciate music that isn’t balls-to-the-wall. Having two of the greatest guitarists of all time (and those other three band members weren’t slouches either) find their inner Duke and Satchmo is pretty fucking awesome. 

Some of the songs grew on me after hearing other versions. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” was released as a single from his Unplugged album and “Bell Bottom Blues” came from 24 Nights. I don’t know that he’s ever re-released “I Looked Away” or “Key to the Highway,” but he ought to.

But seriously, go listen to Clapton bend the string on that “Bad Love” solo on 24 Nights.  Possibly the greatest single guitar note of all time.

8. But Seriously. Hey, great segue. This album is a bit of an anomaly on my list. I can’t 100% be sure this is my favorite Phil Collins album. No Jacket Required has “Sussudio” AND “Don’t Lose My Number.” And somehow Phil Collins clearly had a time machine when he wrote that album. How else do you explain the following lyric: “I’ve been sitting here so long, wasting time, just staring at the phone.”

Nor would I say But Seriously is the best album of the year it came out. Which leads me to my conundrum. 1989 was, in my opinion, one of the best musical years ever. I know everyone thinks the year they turned fifteen was the greatest musical year ever. But hear me out. 1989 represented the last gasp of many of the classic rockers. They were all moving into their late-forties and started to write about hardening arteries and such. In 1989, they could still have a little bit of drive. 

Oh, and I turned fifteen in 1989.

Here’s only a partial list of albums that came out in 1989. I’ve tried to cover each of them in other spots on this list. 

Full Moon Fever: Probably, objectively, the best album of the year. See below. 

Journeyman: if I didn’t have Clapton on this list already, this would’ve been my 1989 pick. This was his last rock album. 

Flowers in the Dirt: Maybe not one of Paul McCartney’s best, but it was on continuous loop on my CD changer.

Spike: Great collaboration between Elvis (the musically talented Elvis, that is) and Paul on this and “Flowers.” 

Storm Front: See Above.

Oranges & Lemons: XTC listened to Sgt. Pepper nonstop when they recorded this album, and it shows.

Best Shots: I know I said no greatest hits, but as greatest hits go, Pat Benatar is a pretty solid entry. And a great title, considering her most well known song.

9. Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1. This was a weird one. It took me a while to think of it, but as soon as I did, it was like, “Holy crap, that has to be in there.” If Derek and the Dominoes is great because it has two of the best, how about a group with five? This album is so good, and it gave me cover to avoid tabbing Full Moon Fever as my Albome de 1989. Because Full Moon Fever, while technically a Tom Petty solo project, had a number of the Wilburys playing on it. It is, effectively, Volume 2, which helps answer the question of why they skipped from Volume 1 to Volume 3. Also because they were having fun. They picked different pseudonyms and everything on Volume 3.

Volume 3’s a solid effort, but it’s just not the same without Roy Orbison. His voice added a magic that, say, Bob Dylan’s voice doesn’t. And hey, who would’ve guessed that we’re one Jeff Lynne mishap from Dylan being the last surviving member of the Traveling Wilburys? Good thing I didn’t make that bet back in 1988.

10. Armed Forces. This was a last minute addition. Similar to Traveling Wilburys, when I was listing the albums in the running for 1989, I realized that Elvis Costello was completely missing from my list. And really, I could probably pick up to five of his albums that deserve mention. If the all acoustic “Rush” soundtrack sounds up your alley, try Elvis Costello singing in front of a string quartet in The Juliet Letters. Of course, I’m partial to his back-to-back collaboration-with-McCartney albums, Spike and Mighty Like a Rose, because they both came out when I was in high school. 

But I admit that true Elvis Costello should be earlier in his career, when he was in full “& the Attractions” mode. Blood and Chocolate might be one of the coolest-named albums of all time, and it’s solid, to boot. King of America is a good entry, as well. But in the end, an album that starts with the lyric, “Oh, I just don’t know where to begin” sums up what an album is supposed to be as wonderfully as the Abbey Road medley.

Honorable Mentions:

Americana Deluxe. If I wanted to go with the late-1990s swing blip instead of the late-1990s ska blip, in lieu of Bosstones, I could’ve gone with this Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album, which I always assumed was named “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” until I just googled it. Maybe that’s a good reason to not include in my list. Plus, while Voodoo Daddy burned brighter, but the Bosstones stuck around for longer.

Tower of Power. This was album number ten until the Case of the Missing Elvis began to haunt my dreams. And yeah, I just checked that the album has the same name as the band. Now I’m gun shy. 

Father of the Bride. This Vampire Weekend album came out in 2019. It’s a strong late entry. Except I don’t own the album. I only listen to it on YouTube or else I tell Alexa to play Vampire Weekend and I get a smattering of all four of their albums. That’s what music is in the twenty-first century. Everything’s a greatest hit album.

Black Parade. Ditto this My Chemical Romance album. It’s great. Title track might be one of the best songs ever written. But I’ve only listened to it on YouTube. If I don’t own an album, can it be one of my definitive albums?

Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years. No greatest hits, but if I were allow myself a greatest hits, there isn’t a better one than Frank Sinatra. And really, I think Sinatra pre-dates albums, so it could be fair game. This album isn’t really a greatest hits, it’s just a sampling of a few years he was at Reprise Records instead of Capitol. What’s the difference between a Sinatra album and a greatest hits, anyway?

So there you have it. Maybe I’ll return next week with my favorite uses of mayonnaise. Not counting that one scene in Jurassic Park.

Camp with no Tathalon

Camptathalon, that annual bacchanal of fart jokes, was supposed to happen last weekend. It did not. So those of you tuning in to see timestamped musings of whether or not anal sex counts as social distancing, unfortunately you won’t find that here. Nor in February, when I normally get around to jotting down said timestamps.

There was some camping this weekend, which in and of itself is a phenomenal bit of normality in these apocalyptic times. But because 2020 can’t do anything without a nice fuck-you roundhouse to the nuts, the camping was neither in the expected place nor with the expected crew. Nor with toilet paper.

For those who think a roundhouse kick cannot connected with testicles, I might’ve agreed with you before this year. Now I’m not so sure.

We picked this weekend way back in January. Like good conscientious citizens, we reserved and paid for our preferred campsite. Then the COVID hit. In case you weren’t aware.

When the entire world shut down, so did camping. Not that most camping spots were open in March. If you read last year’s Camptathalon, which I typed up ten months later, you’ll note the campsite we went to last year was opening the weekend we were camping and we had to wait till they chopped down some trees before we could get in.

This year it’s been a pretty temperate winter, so there wasn’t much reason to delay opening until July. Well, except for that whole social distancing thing. 

Honestly, I don’t get that. I understand keeping Yosemite closed, because that place gets so crowded in the summer that a visit to Camp Curry usually requires swimming through a morass of other people’s buttsweat. You have to stand on the bus with another guy’s crotch up your butt, and not in the social-distanced loving way.

But the types of campsites my friends and I frequent aren’t the ones that most of the city slickers flock to. We’re polite enough to know that if we’re going to be talking about and engaging in shenanigans, we probably don’t want to be camping next to family of four venturing out into the outdoors for their first endeavor. Three hours out of town and 6,000 feet elevation are usually minimums for us. This past weekend was 2.5 hours and only 3,500 feet. Might as well have been flat land. 

In mid-May, we got a notice from our campsite that they would not be opening until July 1. They didn’t cancel the reservation, per se. They didn’t give us our money back, because, after all, the Forest Service is a government entity and they’re holding on to every dime until they legally have to return it. And if they have a chance to change the law between now and then, they might not have to legally do shit. Regardless, we started to look for other options.

Our original campground, called Running Deer on the picturesque Little Grass Valley in Northern California, is one we camped at a few years ago. Next door was a campsite named Little Beaver, leading to all sorts of jokes about parole conditions and being that close to a little beaver. Ha ha, fucking hilarious. Since then, we’ve tried to return to Running Deer twice and been shit out of luck both times. Last year it was still snowed in, this year it had the ‘Rona. Little Beaver 2, campers 0. Take that, motherfuckers!

Also, for those keeping track, the one time in the last four years we didn’t try for Little Grass Valley, our campsite burned to the ground four hours after we were evacuated. Little Beaver up 3-0!

When we looked at what other options were available, we couldn’t find much. As late as the third week of May, the cupboard was bare. The first-come, first-served sites were all still closed. The reservable spots were both closed AND booked, a double whammy that does not comport with social distancing.

Look at how adult I was to pass up the first-come, first-served joke. But I couldn’t in good consciousness let a double whammy go by.

It was about this time we lost the first of our potential seven contestants. He’s a city slicker, through and through, who’s been threatening to come to Camptathalon for years, but has never come. He’ll only come under the best possible circumstances, and a Camptathalon where the first event is breaking into Little Beaver probably doesn’t fit that description. He would also need to fly up from Southern California, so not being sure what awaited him on the other side, that flight credit might be better used elsewhere. 

While a couple of us pored over the various websites that show camping sites, one of our group who was on a job site in a national forest asked some rangers what they knew. Of course, we could’ve changed our plans, pushed it out a month, whatever. But we’re all middle-aged dudes. Changing our plans would be tantamount to asking for directions, an admission of defeat our suburban upbringing  from baby-boomer fathers and greatest-generation grandfathers ensured made no imprint on our DNA.

Luckily, one of our ilk knows all the out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-path, Ted Kaczynski-esque “dispersed” campsites. Basically, dispersed means no shitter. Sure, they also don’t have tables or firepits or garbage or water pumps, but let’s be honest. We can bring water and tables, we can throw together some rocks to make a fire ring. 

But the no shitter thing definitely gives pause. Sure, I can dig a hole or, if the flat we choose is wide enough, we might not even need a hole, just a long walk. But Jesus, I’ve got gout and am out of shape and half the time my shit is runny as hell, especially if I’ve been living off of Doritos and beer for the past two days. How the hell am I supposed to squat and not get it all over the heels of my shoes?

It should come as little surprise that we lost our second camper shortly thereafter. He blamed it on the COVID. His wife’s parents have the sniffles. They might have the Virus. Of course, this was still ten days out and a lot can change in ten days and he wouldn’t be able to visit them in the hospital anyway, but sure, sure. Stay home and comfort your wife. I’m sure her parents will be as fine as all of my students’ grandparents, who magically die every time a term paper is due. How many fucking grandmas you got, kid?

The five who remained spent the second part of May preparing ourselves for the inevitable. We made a tally of folding tables and ez-ups and extra chairs. We re-thought chili as the Friday night dinner plan. We opted for canned beer instead of bottles, the easier to pack-out what we packed-in. Five years ago, this would’ve been a no-go, but now you can get good beer in cans, too.

On May 22, some campsites started to reopen. Not many, but a few. All were first-come, first-served. The following week, a handful of others opened as well. On May 29, the guy that made the reservations got another email from the Forest Service. Running Deer still closed, reservation still not canceled. But whereas the first email said they didn’t foresee opening until July 1, this one didn’t specify a date. Hope springs eternal. Perhaps everything would open up again on Monday, June 1. Because if this virus has taught us nothing else, it’s that nature really loves to follow the Gregorian calendar. I mean, shit, the first of a month AND a Monday? After months of viruses and impeachments and murder hornets, 2020 was finally giving us a break.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. The first of June came and went and we still couldn’t come within ten miles of Little Beaver. 

We zeroed in on a couple of first-come, first-served campsites. Instead of heading up Thursday evening, a couple of us would leave earlier. In-charge guy checked the sites out the previous weekend, as they aren’t far from his in-laws, and they looked fine. The sign for one of the turn-offs was missing, but it was our back-up plan and we were heading up super early, so no problem. And hey, shitters!

Turns out the shitters didn’t have toilet paper, but whatever. Take what you can get. Canned beer leaves more room for toilet paper.

Around this time, we lost two more of our ilk. You’ll note I mentioned the impeachment and COVID and the murder hornets. But those references are SO mid-May. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve had something of an eventful last couple weeks as well. One of the guys didn’t feel right leaving during the unrest. He had to go away overnight for work once (when he spoke to the ranger) and when he came back, his wife and kids were feral. Two to three nights just wasn’t an option.

Then a guy remembered, a few days before we were set to leave, his anniversary was that weekend. Okay, I’ve blamed a lot of this on the shitshow that is 2020, but I think in this case, COVID and BLM and the Iranian air force can take a pass. He maybe should’ve been a little more on the ball. His wife told him it was fine with her if he went camping, but we all turned into instant Admiral Akbars on that one.

So our seven had become three. We’ve done Camptathalon with three before. But only two of the three going this year were what we might call regulars. Of the eight Camptathalons, two of us have been to all eight, one guy has been to seven, and another has been to six. Nobody else has been to more than one. The third guy who still hadn’t canceled this year, this would’ve been only his second Camptathalon, and his first one was canceled by fire. Come to think of it, maybe he’s the weak link, not Little Beaver.

Plus, we really didn’t want to do the Butter Toss. Didn’t want to look at a single sliver of butter if it could be avoided. So the two of us who have been to Camptathalon every year, but who also don’t mind camping for the purpose of camping, made the executive decision to cancel Camptathalon. This trip would be tathalon-less. 

Good thing, too, cause I don’t know if the city slicker-types would’ve even been able to find the campsite. Our first one was all full. It was not much past noon on Thursday, and all 30 spots were taken. I guess that’s what happens when you only open ten percent of the usual campsites.

Three or four of the “taken” spots were bogus. One had nothing but a chair and a lantern. Others had a “paid for” receipt on their post but not a single item to denote occupation. I assume the people in the sites next door nabbed these spots for friends coming up later. Bullshit, if you ask me. First-com, first-served does not mean you get to hold seats for your buddies.

But with reservation spots and hosted campsites still closed, we’re in the wild, wild west. So it was onward to the next site on the other side of the lake. And we hoped the fact that the turnoff sign was gone would have kept it hidden enough, because we were out of cell range and had no Plan C. 

Or I suppose we were on to Plan D now. Plan A had been our reservations, Plan B was the dispersed site. I expected all sorts of “morning after” jokes if it had been a legitimate Camptathalon, complete with journal. But when we went beyond Plan B, I wondered if anal sex might might be Plan C. It requires a little more forethought, realizing you don’t have a pill for the following morning. Now that we were on to Plan D? What, a handjob? Not nearly as fun as the first three options.

Fortunately, our final option became an actual option. Only three or four of the eighteen spots were taken. The third guy was in a different car, leaving at a different time, and he missed the turnoff. He had to double-back a half-hour to get into cell range to reenter the coordinates into his Google Maps (which does a damn fine job of tracking you through places with no reception), but he showed up a few hours later. We settled in for an extended weekend of relaxation and kayaking and reading, but surprisingly few fart chokes. Trust me, if this had been a true Camptathalon, the journal would’ve been a snoozefest. Something along the lines of:

11:35 Started Chapter 5

11:47 On to Chapter 6

11:56 Everyone up for a round of cornhole?

True to the new normal, even this second-choice, off-the-beaten-path campsite was almost entirely full by Thursday night. Everybody was pissed about the taken-not-taken spots at the first campground. I bet if I wanted to, I could’ve raised an army to march on the fat cats. Who said we left all the rioting back on flat land?

We picked a big campsite with a mini campsite next to us. We thought about paying for it, in the same vein as the assholes at the first site, just like upper classmen hazing those behind them. Except we would have actually occupied it. We woulda manspread all out like German lebensraum against their Sudetenland. It had maybe enough room for one tent, although I actually think that spot belonged to our plot or theirs. I was going to pitch my tent to dissuade latecomers, but decided to do the other side of our site since there were already people there. Face the enemy you already have instead of the one who might never materialize. They were a big-ass family of twelve or so, taking up two spots. Their license plates said Washington and they talked about the Seattle Mariners. Shit, I thought we were taking a gamble coming all the way from Sacramento without reservations. Imagine if they’d driven twenty hours only to find the campground closed or occupied.

The people who finally “camped” in the mini spot, the last one to be taken in the campground, didn’t have tents. I fucking hate camper people. If I don’t have a tent it’s because the weather’s going to be good enough for just a cot. If you’re sleeping in a car, it ain’t camping. 

Speaking of the weather, it turned to threatening Saturday morning. Half the campground went home. We were prepared. We put up tarps, knowing full-well that if we didn’t, it would rain, but if we did, it wouldn’t. Took us a half-hour or so to get everything secure. It never rained, although we did hear some pretty ferocious thunder in the hills. 

One other ritual we couldn’t observe this time was the greasy spoon for breakfast on the way out of Dodge Sunday morning. The first place was closed. The second place was take-out only. So we bought breakfast sandwiches instead of the usual bacon grease covered in gravy. Ate them in the parking lot and said our good-byes.

Camptathalon still might happen. The usual brain-trust is sorting through potential dates. So if everything goes right, there might be an Official Camptathalon 2020 Journal, after all.

But given the way this year’s gone so far, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Still Editing

I’m still editing.

Editting? Meh, I’ll have to fix that on the rewrite.

I may have used that joke the last time I wrote about editing. But right now it’d take too much damned effort to double check. Kinda like when I really don’t want to look up how I described this character 20,000 words ago. So if it’s the blond she was gonna fuck and the brunette she was gonna marry, then oh well. At least we know she was always gonna kill the redhead. While Rick Astley played in the background.

I still don’t know if I’m technically editing or writing a second draft. Sometimes those are used interchangeably, other times not. I think editing is where you get rid of adverbs and sprinkle out some cliches. Find them crutch phrases and fuck them right in their nose-holes.

Nostrils? Nah, nose-holes has more panache.

I’m not to that part yet. Where I’m writing, there’s nary a nostril nor nose-hole in sight. What I’m doing right now is closer to, “see if you can find your five worthwhile words in this chapter of drivel and then burn the rest of it to the ground.”

I know a number of real authors say they add 10-20,000 words in their second draft. Add a little foreshadowing now that you know how the story will end. Maybe add a red herring. Or make the redhead that we didn’t know she’d kill in chapter 20 back into that party scene in Chapter 2. Ooo, can the redhead be a red herring?

That’s not how I approach my second draft. If I’m not cutting 1,000 words from a chapter, then it’s probably still too goddamn verbose.

I just cut 2000 words from a fight scene. That shit was originally 5000 words. Because, you know, when a trained king’s guard is swinging his sword at you, it’s a great time to have three paragraphs of physics. What the hell was I thinking?

Actually, I know what I was thinking. That I suck at writing action scenes. But 500 words a day, yo! So let’s see, the bad guy started swinging his sword yesterday and I’ve got to move the book along today. If I can equivocate for 490 words, I only have to advance the arc of that sword for 10. The POV character, after all, is in heightened adrenaline mode. Time slows down. We notice everything. When else would he be likely to notice the morning dew condensing on a beautiful chartreuse lily? Then maybe tomorrow, a gentle will-o-the-wisp shall flitter across like a… like a… I’ll figure it out later.

Crap, will-o’-the-wisp only counts as one word. He must encounter a rare Will O’ The Wisp. The O’ the Wisp family certainly has a penchant toward a certain fist name for their male children.

I’m aware of my tendency while I’m writing. It’s the only way I ever get on with the scene. When it’s been a week and I’m still thinking about that goddamn sword, I’m like, “Okay, today I’m going to write where he rolls out of the way.” This happens on non-action scenes, too. Oftentimes at the beginning of a new chapter, especially after a major scene shift, I have no friggin’ clue how much set-establishing to do before getting into the real shit. On the re-read, the answer might actually be none. Does the reader really need to know every detail of the alleyway between dude’s apartment and the pizza place if all he needs to do is order a pizza? Come to think of it, can’t I just start the chapter off with pizza already in hand? Will my non-existent readers be tweeting me screaming, “WHY? What was his internal motivation for procuring a slice of pizza. How can I identify with him if I don’t know how many shakes of crushed red pepper he likes?”

Actually, the red pepper shakes might be some good character info. But not the number of cracks in the pavement outside. And he can still shake the pepper after the scene starts with slice in hand.

Astute readers might note that I first wrote about editing this book back in July. It’s been almost a year. How the hell am I still on the second draft? Aren’t those supposed to take, like, a couple weeks? I thought so too!

In my defense, it took me about five years to write this book, so maybe one year on the rewrite is par for the course. And during that time, the other book I was stuck on got unstuck a couple times. Of course it did. Anything that’s not the story I’m currently working on sounds super easy right now.

And no, I didn’t finish that other book when I abandoned my editing for its sultry seductions. I just made it a couple chapters longer. Chapters that I’ll probably cut in the second draft.

Hey, you know something I’ve learned from this process? One of the things all the professionals say is to let your first draft sit for a while before re-accessing it. That way you won’t remember what you were writing and you won’t be as emotionally vested in it. If you approach it as “this was written by someone else,” you’re more capable of tearing it apart and making it better.

Okay, obviously those people didn’t take five years to write the first draft. Because I totally could’ve gone back to page one the day after I finished page last. It wasn’t fresh in my memory.

But on the flip side, I totally remember writing large portions of this. I remember the major plot points. Sometimes I’ll be rewriting a scene and think “Didn’t I make a reference to xyz here?” only to find it a couple chapters later, but still in the same general area. Oh, maybe I don’t remember some of the metaphors or precise language used, but if the whole goal is for me to approach this as if it was written by somebody else, that ain’t happening. I remember precisely why every beat of the story is in there.

Which doesn’t mean I’m super tied to it. Like I said, if I’m not cutting one out of every four pages, I’m not doing it justice.

Maybe it’s because those real authors burn out a book in three months. Whereas I spent a month on this one chapter, so I remember all its nooks and crannies.

Of course, now I’m hearing that the second draft is actually supposed to be shortly after the first draft, and it’s primarily for “making the head match the ass” or “making the drapes match the carpets.” THEN you wait 3-12 month before writing your THIRD draft, which should feel like it was written while masturbating with your left hand.

Wait, I’m going to have to write this AGAIN? THEN I send it to beta readers and they tell me all the things to change and I write the fourth draft. Followed by another drapes-and-carpets run, then let it sit for… Boy, I can’t wait to start the querying process in 2050.

Here’s the strangest thing about this rewriting process though: I’m giving up at the exact same spots.

When I say it took me five years to write, it didn’t really take me five years to write. Even those long slogs of 500 words a day before I finally got on with it happened for maybe only a week at a time. My normal writing schedule was to write 10,000 words in a month or so, usually around NaNoWriMo, then to muddle through another couple months, writing once a week or so, then get discouraged for three months before rinsing and repeating.

I remember the times I walked away. Sometimes it was right before an action scene, other times it was right after. And it wasn’t always in the “this sucks” vein. Sometimes it was a catharsis. Yeah, I nailed that fucking scene. Let me replenish. The book goes through three or four arcs, as did my writing.

When I started this rewriting adventure last summer, I muddled through the same emotions I had when first writing. This sucks. I’ll never be a writer. If I’m bored by this scene what reader in their right mind would ever sit through it? That usually leads to cutting 1000 words. But then there are those times of, “Wow, this isn’t half bad. This character really seems to be earning his level-up. Awww, people are gonna cry when that character dies. If they make it past that super shitty chapter 3.”

When I approached the first major give-up point, I resolved to power my ass through that rewrite. I took out most of the inner-monologue-while-facing-mortal danger that I tend to fill my first drafts with. And you know what? It took me a week, but I finally made it through that fucker.

Then I took the next two months off.

Now I’m finishing the second major arc, and I’m running into the same general malaise I had at this spot during a first draft. I’ve heard it referred to as the mushy middle. I’m once again faced with a general boredom with the plot and the characters and an impostor syndrome that says Stephen King’s first book was Carrie, and even after I’ve fixed half the shit, this drivel ain’t even on the same fucking continent as Carrie.

I was prepared for this on the first draft. I mean, not prepared in a sense of I fought through it. No, I put the manuscript away for a year at a time. But I at least learned from other sources that the impostor syndrome and the mushy middle were things. So at least when I succumbed to them, I knew it was par for the course.

I wasn’t prepared to go through it a second time.

It might be worse now that I know where the story is going, how many more beats it has. Add to that the fact that, the first time I wrote this, the end was where I ran into more and more of those “just get shit on the page” days. I’ve heard a number of authors say they power through the end because that’s when it’s fun again. Not me. The culminating scenes, where I bring all my chickens back to shit in the woods with the Pope, are a fucking nightmare. That’s where I am on that second book that only looks good when I’m stuck on the first book these days.

Both of my “books” start out with crisp 2,000-3,000 word chapters and end with 7,000-word lardasses. And I don’t know if they’ll be any easier now that I’ve made the ass match the face.

The second give-up point is different from the first. This time, I’m going through the “maybe I should change the entire premise of the book. Maybe I should start over from scratch with a different tone. Yep, almost 200,000 words in (120,000 words on the first go through, and 70,000 words through the rewrite), I’m now thinking “eh, fuck it.” I want to make it campier, funnier. I’ve been reading “Kings of the Wyld” by Nicholas Eames. It’s a refreshing take on epic fantasy by merging it with rock bands. Maybe I should do something like that? Something to differentiate myself from everything else that’s out there.

For those who have been following the travails of this Magnum Opus, it’s a world where feudalism never ended, They’re on the cusp of the twenty-first century, but it’s filled with peasants and nobles and an absolute monarchy, nary an industrial invention in sight. Now I’m thinking of moving it from the late 1990s to the mid-1980s and drop in a bunch of real-world eighties references. Maybe all the peasants wear day-glo? A mixture of “Kings of the Wyld” with “Ready Player One.” Aren’t we supposed to use comparables in our query letters?

The problem is I don’t know if I have that book in me. I turned 15 years old in 1989, so while I remember the 1980s, it’s not like I have a font of knowledge of the decade beyond that of a child. I’d have to do some extra research. It can’t be all Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

I also wouldn’t want to go full camp. “Kings of the Wyld” doesn’t. Every time it has a chance to go more “rock band” and less “epic fantasy,” it doesn’t. Most of the band references are subtle. So maybe moving my story to the 1980s rewrite wouldn’t take a whole rewrite. But what fun would that be? If you wanna burn something to the ground, you don’t decorate it with a doily.

Then again, maybe I’m just going through this whole rigmarole because I’m in the mushy middle. My main character is really annoying when he’s still 20,000 words away from finally growing the fuck up and complete his character arc.

God, my writing sucks. Hey, this is pretty fucking good. Back and forth. Back and forth.

I’ll see y’all back here in 2023 when I hit this spot on the fourth draft.

In the meantime, my other book’s making sexy eyes at me, so I gotta go.

Camptathalon 2019

Veering away from the ‘Rona Madness to finally get around to posting the Camptathalon results from last year.

Unlike 2018, no natural disasters ruined our festivities. Unless you count “snow in May” as a natural disaster, because that did put a little hitch in our giddyup this time around. Our campsite was set to open on the Friday of our camping weekend, three to four weeks later than usual. We had reservations for that night. But a couple of us headed up a night early, figuring if the snow wasn’t going to be a problem Friday, how bad could Thursday be? Turns out the campsite needed the official blessing of the Forest Service to be opened. And we all know that nothing expedites a process like a federal bureaucracy.

But hey, I got to see a tree fall in a forest. It makes sound.

For those of you reading your first Camptathalon Blog, we keep a running log of things said and did. Most are intentionally out of context.

What is Camptathalon? Find out here.

Enjoy.

Thursday.
1:00 Campsite closed. Fuck you.
20190614_094949.jpg
1:15 Find some random remote spot. Free. That’s $24 the Forest Service will never see.
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2:49 First sighting of other human beings since we arrived at spot – PG & E Truck
3:20 Water’s fucking cold. Add Polar Bear Competition to Camptathalon? Sparky lasted 37 seconds.
5:30 Relocate to a second site because it has a picnic table and a shitter.
5:50 We fixed your fire pit for you, Forest Service. Is that worth $24?
20190613_181853.jpg6:20 Dinner: Burger & Chips
7:45 “Probably shouldn’t pee in front of that camera.”
“That’s not a camera.”
“What is it, then?”
“I don’t know.”
“We should totally zipline that motherfucker.”
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Friday
6:45 “I brought the coffee grinder because last year you brought good beans and we couldn’t grind them.”
“Oh, I brought ground coffee, because last year I brought good beans and we couldn’t grind them.”
7:40 Shitter’s closed. But the picnic table is nice.
7:50 “I just did something I haven’t done in twenty years.”
“Did you just dig a hole?”
“Nope. I didn’t have a shovel.”
8:40 Pack up camp again. Moving to third site in last twenty hours
9:00 Campsite’s still closed. But the “Road Closed” sign’s moved to the side. Hope?
9:12 Ranger: “It’s still going to be a few hours. I need to look at each campsite. Hopefully I’m done by noon. Please move your cars so I don’t have to come out and explain this to others.
9:22 Filling up ice chests with snow. Saving money left and right.
9:50 Setting up chairs across the street from campsite, like Black Friday shoppers.
9:59 Camp host drives by. “You guys waiting to get in?”
“What gave you that idea?”
10:05 “Hey, Mr. Forest Guy, I’ll give you a Dirty Wookie if you open this place.”
“Which kind of Dirty Wookie?”
(Transcriber’s Note: Dirty Wookie is the name of a beer. On Urban Dictionary, it has a rather different definition. I’ll politely not provide a link.)
10:15 Host and Forest Guy are talking loudly just to fuck with those assholes sitting across the street.
10:22 Host and Forest Guy leave. Sign’s still up.
10:40 Tree chopper arrives.
10:42 “It’s still going to be a while. You guys want to go fish or swim or something?”
“We got nowhere to be, and this is what we’d be doing if we were in our campsite. Except with beer instead of soda.”
10:49 Rick arrives. Now there’s three camp chairs sitting patiently across the street.
10:58 “I won’t reveal the Loser Libation yet, but it is much worse than Bud Ice.”
11:08 Rick has to move his car because it’s in the fall zone. Then they ask him to just block the road.
20190614_110910.jpg11:09 We’re helping. That’s worth more than a Dirty Wookie.
11:12 “You can stop blocking the road now.”
“No way. Now I’ve had the taste of power.”
11:15 Any way we can turn tree chopping into a Camptathalon event?
11:16 Camp Host takes “Road Closed” sign out to road, singing “Signs, Signs, everywhere there’s signs. Do you know what that means? Get the FUCK out of my road!”
(Transcriber’s Note: Camp Host is a late-60’s female hippie, looks like a grandma)
11:21 Did I hear that right? “We’re Open?”
11:31 I must not have heard that right.
11:41 Rick busts out the Fireball on the side of the road.
11:50 Fuck this. Let’s go have lunch at the resort.
12:42 “I’ve heard in religious places like Utah, it’s not good to be a ‘stone’s throw’ from anything.”
12:51 Campsite is OPEN! The watched pot thing came true.
1:24 First beer of the weekend cracked open. Not counting the ten or so last night.
1:52 Cocks flag is up. Wisconsin Lunchbox is hung.
20190614_135346.jpg
2:01 Rick christened the campsite. With urine.
2:45 It’s a quarter to three and I’m drinking whiskey.
3:13 “I’ll warm up your chili for you.”
3:42 Eternal point-distribution debate. 4, 3, 2, 0? 4, 2, 1, 0? 5, 3, 2, 0? Rick says “it’s easy,” wants 2nd and 3rd place to get 3.5 and 2.5. Fuck half points.
3:47 First Score 1989 Baseball Card Pack opened by Sparky. Best Player: Bobby Thigpen, Relief Pitcher, Chicago White Sox
3:48 People move in next door. Hope they’re cool. Confidence is high.
3:52 C-17 Starlifter buzzes the camp.
4:01 Reading 1940 Baseball review. Hank Greenberg. “I believe he was a Jew.”
5:29 Chris arrives.
5:41 “I’m going to pitch a tent. Then maybe I’ll put up where I’m sleeping tonight.”
5:50 The Pube Mixe and the cheese Balls. Still undefeated after three years.
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6:09 Concerned that Chris is the favorite for the poker tournament because he hasn’t been drinking since 2:00.
6:10 Official Opening Toast

6:17 “That’s the best Dirty Wookie I’ve ever had.”
6:21 “I would give Bea Arthur a Dirty Wookie.”
6:26 Chili dinner is served. With beans this time, so it’s proper chili.
7:07 Preparations for poker.
7:15 Chris casts deciding vote to not to reward winner. First place will receive 4 points, second place: 3, third place: 2, loser: 0.
7:20 Loser Libation is…. 32 oz. Coors Banquet Beer.
7:21 Debate over which is worse Coors vs. Bud Ice.
7:22 Toast of Fireball to commemorate fire winning Camptathalon 2018.
7:42 Neighbors left. Couldn’t handle the heat. Or the stink. Buh Bye.
7:43 Blinds raise. An intermission reading from Rimmer.
(Transcriber’s Note: We bought a signed copy of a smut book by Christine Rimmer many years ago for 50 cents. It has no rimmers.)
7:55 The Cheese Balls and Pube Mixe have been open for two hours. Do your fucking job!
8:30 Rick: “I have nothing to live for.” Wins next hand.
8:43 Sparky “wins” the Loser Libation.
9:05 How can I not be betting after the flop? I’m dealing!
9:09 Things have devolved.
9:20 Rick too tossed to play better.
9:30 Rick escorted to bed, still in poker game.
9:31 Sparky: “At least he didn’t do the Loser Libation.”
9:35 First Camptathalon disqualification ever. Does DQ drop to fourth place or still get third place?
9:47 WORST. POKER GAME. EVER.
9:50 Have we ever even raised the blinds?
10:46 Sparky didn’t finish Loser Libation. Party Foul! But he did play Rick’s hands after DQ. Party win?
11:07 Tony bets big and loses.
11:16 Standings after one event: Chris 4, Tony 3, Rick 2, Sparky 0
1:31 Chris and Tony still awake. Sparky stumbles out of his hammock to take a piss. Can’t get back in.
1:34 “You okay, Sparky?” “Yeah, I’m fine.”
1:35 Sparky goes to sleep in back of truck.
1:41 Nighty Night.

Saturday
6:15 Tony: First vomit of the weekend? No. Sparky did last night.
6:16 Black vomit. That’s a new one.
6:30 Sparky jumps in the lake.
7:46 Rick attempts to read what happened last night. WTF is all this??
8:28 Hangover competition: Tony, Chris, Rick, Sparky.
8:40 Chris reveals he’s never seen any Friday the 13th or Halloween movies. His Camptathalon Pass is now provisional.
8:42 Not even 9:00 AM and we’re already talking about jizz.
9:08 Oregon Trail
9:33 Our Oregon Trail names are: Brigham, Ezekiel, Hiram, and Doug.
9:34 First beer of the day.
9:55 Chris dies on 49th card. Outskirts of Willamette and some douchebag hipster probably could’ve helped him but his oxen weren’t organic enough.
10:10 Fuck you.
10:45 Cribbage!
11:00 Travel to the Big Fucking Rock.
12:27 Back from BFR. Growler open.
12:30 “I played with your slingshot while you were gone.”

12:35 Preparation for the Jonny Goudreau Memorial Butter Toss. We forgot a target, so it’ll be Little Debbie’s face on the Nutty Buddy box.
12:45 Sparky butters directly onto Little Debbie’s face.

12:46 Standings after second event: Tony with 6 points, everyone else in a 3-way at 4 points.
12:52 We forgot the golf clubs and bocce balls, too, so this might be a very abbreviated Camptathalon.
12:55 Event three: Home Run Derby.
20190615_130456.jpg1:12 Round One: Tony 3, Chris 2, Sparky 6, Rick 2. Rick and Chris headed to a jack-off.
1:17 First jack-off tied 2-2. They have to jack-off again, just minutes after the first.
1:21 Rick wins 3-2 to advance to second round.
1:29 Second round: Rick 0, Tony 0, Sparky 1 (retired after second out). Rick was tired after two consecutive jack-offs. Not sure Tony’s excuse.
1:31 Sparky explaining the rules of a jack-off while his dick’s in his hand. (Peeing).
1:35 Tony wins jack-off 4-1.
1:41 Sparky wins H.R. Derby 3-2 (with four outs left)
1:42 After three events: Tony 9, Sparky 8, Rick 6, Chris 4
2:04 “Can I mustard you?”
2:22 Draft 80s & 90s hotties:
Draft Order: Rick, Sparky, Tony, Chris
1st rd.  Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Anniston, Bo Derek, Denise Richards
2nd rd.  Rose McGowan, Jessica Biel, Alicia Silverston, Kathy Ireland
3rd rd.  Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Heather Graham, Catherine Zeta Jones
4th rd.  Joan Jett, Christina Applegate, Mia Sara, Selma Hayek
5th rd. Debbie Gibson, Lucy Diekens, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mila Kunis
2:34 “Is Bea Arthur taken yet?”
“It’s the 1980s, not the 1880s.”
2:41 Potential draft topics: Overrated bands, Greatest Sports Seasons (team), cocktails, Fast Food/Fast Casual, Comedies
2:55 Attempting to add Coop to Camptathalon as first-ever team competition. Winners get 4 pts, losers 2 pts.
3:22 Rick and Chris win, tightening standings. Going into final event: Tony 11, Sparky 10, Rick 10, Chris 8
3:38 Comedies Draft
Draft Order: Chris, Tony, Mark, Rick
1st Rd.  Idiocracy, Airplane!, Real Genius, Animal House
2nd Rd.  Office Space, There’s Something About Mary, Police Academy, Caddyshack
3rd Rd.  Mony Python & Holy Grail, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Young Frankenstein
4th Rd.   UHF, Fletch, Major League, Blazing Saddles
5th Rd.  Team America, PCU, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Beverly Hills Cop
3:55 Discussion of honorable mentions: all Vacation movies, American Pie, South Park Movie, Blues Brothers, Waiting
4:07 Final Event: Cards Against Humanity
4:08 But first, another reading from Rimmer
4:52 Chris wins event with “The shambling corpse of Larry King.”
4:53 Chris complains that he won three events, won’t win Camptathalon. Is reminded that he voted to not give an extra point to event winner.
5:03 Tony takes second place in Cards Against Humanity with “Not Wearing Pants.” Wins Camptathalon despite never winning an event.
5:04 Final Standings: Tony 14, Chris 12, Sparky 11, Rick 11
20190615_170844.jpg
5:56 Tri-tip dinner
9:00 Rick is the unofficial Fartathalon winner.
9:30 Made it past sunset. Calling it an early night.

Sunday
6:21 The flag comes down.
6:27 The Cheese Balls used to mock us when they emerged victorious. Now they just pity us.
20190616_063613.jpg7:27 Leave campsite behind.
8:00 Greasy spoon diner has WiFi!
Fin

***No Wookies were dirtied in the course of this Camptathalon***

 

 

Quaran-Geddon Part V: The Re-Opening

I was ready to walk away. My journals were getting redundant. The world was flooded with enough blowhards shouting out of their asses about this Black Death Zombie Apocalypse Shutdown. Who the hell wants to hear from a stay-at-home teacher who used to have too much time on his hands, but is now in charge of implementing remote learning for a kindergartner while also organizing remote learning activities for high-school students? Especially when there are such learned individuals like Hollywood actors and athletes and the president talking out of their own asses, too?

Oh, and I’ve got to do a Zoom staff meeting this afternoon because clearly my principal has lost his faculties. Shit, I hope he’s more effective at muting the nimrods in this setting than at real staff meetings. Come to think of it, can we add that “mute other’s mic” function to reality when the world comes back? Doubtful. I’m still waiting for the ability to pause and rewind live conversations like I can on tv.

Hold on a second. I need to get my two schools in order. While I’m sure my AP European History students would love to analyze “If You Give a Dog a Doughnut,” I don’t know if Daughter’s kindergarten teacher is ready to analyze the causes and effects of the Irish potato famine.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right! I was walking away. Washing my hands of the ‘Rona. I needed to get on with my blog life. Sorry Virus, we’re done. It’s not me, it’s you.

I prepared a few non-COVID posts. Random thoughts on stuff around the house, some posts I was planning to write before the world ended. Maybe I should finally get around to post the Camptathalon journal from last summer. Especially since Camptathalon might be dead on arrival this year if Governor-Commandant Newsom with his fancy slicked-back hair doesn’t open up the campsites even though camping is about as socially-distant of an activity as exists in the 21st century. But one does not become Governor-Commandant if one is willing to acknowledge nuance and/or listen to the ideas of anyone who’s not currently speaking from more than a nose’s length away the Governor-Commandant’s ass.

And I thought losing Camptathalon to a fire was bad.

But then, just like the victim of an abusive relationship, here I am coming back. You don’t understand, guys. You only see the outward signs. I know I complain about the definition of social distancing, and the constantly moving goalposts, and the toilet paper. But then he does something that draws me back in and I’m all, “WHY CAN’T I QUIT YOOOOOOOOOOOUUUU?”

The Governor-Commandant (I don’t know if this title is official yet, beyond in his own mind, but it’s only a matter of time before it gets snuck into a rescue bill that legislators won’t be given enough time to read but will be demonized for voting no on) called a press conference last week. Because he has to have one every few days or else how will he know if his hair is slicked properly? He doesn’t allow himself mirrors, as a) he can never tear himself away from their gorgeous visage, and b) seeing himself in the mirror might prevent him from holding press conferences where not only he, but his entire fiefdom, is granted the privilege of viewing this modern-day fusion of Adonis and Apollo.

But before I get to what he said, did you see that Stanford study about the COVID? No? Well do you remember when you had the sniffles back in January? Well good news! If you’re in California, you’ve probably already had the ‘Rona and are now immune. The whole state, it seems, might have herd immunity. It doesn’t mean we’ll get to leave the house any sooner, but maybe we can stop scrubbing our hands down to the bones.

Speaking of which, when I was driving in to school to pick up the next few weeks (Honestly, Herr Kommandant, I was out for an essential reason. Not that, in your wisdom, you’ve deemed education as “essential.” Can’t wait till that comes up in our next round of salary negotiations.), the Amber Alert sign said, “Soap and Water will defeat COVID-19. Wash your hands.” Um, Amber Alert dude? Haven’t you heard? Washing hands is sooooo March 20. We gave up on washing our hands long before we could determine something as pointless as if it will defeat the ‘Rona. The only way we can beat it now is by sequestering ourselves for a decade or so. And maybe by extending a governor’s term to life.

I certainly hope the Governor-Commandant doesn’t discover the Deep State rebel in the Amber Alert office or dude’s gonna get canned. Just kidding. I think I’ve written about that asswipe a few times, and I’ll be the first one donning a Brown Shirt if Newsom ensures that those signs are only used for emergency information. Of course, I only support the removal of said employee if firing employees is still the preferred method of removing non-party government officials. If we’ve already moved on to summary execution, I guess I’ll keep being electronically scolded on my commute. If I ever have a commute again.

Although now that I think about it, Newsom seems more of a Mauve Shirt kinda guy.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right. The Stanford study. I remember headlines back in February saying “Coronavirus set to hit what has already been a brutal flu season.” That flu season was BRUTAL, y’all. Why, people were having trouble breathing, with a dry cough and high fever. Then some of them died. Horrible flu season! Oh, did I mention we never actually tested any of these people to see if it was really the flu? Hmm… what else could cause those symptoms…

BTW, I googled “Coronavirus symptoms” to write that last paragraph. I’m sure I’ll be getting a friendly visit from a concerned government worker soon. After all, they’re talking about letting Google and Apple use our cell phone records to see if we come in contact with any of the COVIDs. I can’t think of anything bad that would come from giving the government unlimited access to all of our phone and location data. What’s this? Why is there a speeding ticket in my mailbox because I went 37 in a 35 zone last month?

I didn’t get this “Brutal Flu,” but I know a few people who did, and they all now swear it was the ‘Rona. The people at Stanford agree. They say nothing else explains why California’s infection rate is so much lower than New York’s. I can think of a few reasons. For one thing, New Yorkers do crazy things like come in contact with other New Yorkers. They walk on the very same sidewalks that other people are walking on. At the same time! They also commute in a giant metal tube amongst thousands of their brethren. In California, we drive by ourselves in our cars, like decent human beings. We park in the parking lot and, if you time it right and work in a cubicle, you might never come within “social distance” of another human being for the entire day.

As a result, we also spend a large portion of our time walking through a smoggy haze. It’s tough to breathe through that atmospheric soup. And I suppose if we can’t inhale oxygen, it’s tougher to inhale viruses, too. Except now that nobody’s commuting to work anymore, the air quality in LA’s drastically improved. Not that we give a shit about saving the environment, mind you. California showed its true colors when we banned reusable bags at grocery stores. We love trees and all, but as soon as there’s a 1 in 2,000 chance we’ll get sick, after which there’s a 2 in 100 chance we’ll die from it, then Woodsy the Owl can kiss our collective ass.

That’s right. At this point in California, a state of 40,000,000, we’ve had just over 1,000 deaths, making it roughly 1 out of every 40,000. This, of course, doesn’t count all the people who caught it before March when we were calling it “the flu,” but even so, it’s a hell of a lot safer than driving, which is something, last time I checked, we didn’t tell people to stop going to work over that statistic.

The Stanford study (and there’s another one going on at a Southern California university, too) posits that, since the virus originated in Asia, and a large number of Asian flights land in LA and SF, that like a Snobby Doo villain, if we could unmask that wily villain, the “Brutal Flu” was COVID all along. And he would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for our meddling herd immunity. And just think, we did got through it all while still going to work and grocery shelves filled with toilet paper.

Not sure how this Stanford study will explain Seattle, since the Asian flights that don’t conclude in California gotta be going there. Sorry Portland.

Okay now, where was I? That’s what tha 2020 is like. I can’t go off on my tangents in class anymore, where a discussion about Martin Luther, Jr. posting his 95 Letters from a Birmingham Jail on the door of a Wittenberg church bombing can randomly turn itself into a discussion of how the video for John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Ain’t Even Done with Tonight” is the perfect summation of the Jimmy Carter presidency. Remember gas lines?

So right, I was talking about Herr Obergruppenfuehrer Newsom’s press conference. The one where he totally ignored the Stanford study. What else is he gonna do? The quasi-Marxist probably can’t give credence to those liberal think-tanks.

It was the first press conference I checked out in a while, because he had been meeting with the governors of Oregon and Washington the day before to hammer out “The Re-opening.” Alas, poor Oregon. Working with its two big neighbors, never realizing that when we all secede to start the New Pacific Order, they were doomed to play the role of Poland.

But nope. No reopening in sight. The low numbers, according to Newsom, have nothing do with herd immunity. Want to guess why Californians aren’t “Doin’ the ‘VID”? Because we listened to Gavin. Sure, we were shutting shit down a week before he said boo, but it’s all thanks to him. We heeded his demands!

And dammit, if we don’t keep doing exactly what the fuck he says, he’s going to infect one person per hour until he’s all the way up to the 25.5 million that he promised four weeks ago. What, you didn’t think he was serious? You doubted his ability to do basic arithmetic? Well, the second you head back to work, the CHP will pull you over and plunge a syringe of virus into your arm as soon as you roll down the window.

He set out some guidelines for reopening which make it crystal clear that we will never reopen in our lifetime. He laid out six things that need to happen, and I can guaran-fucking-tee that at least one won’t happen. Schools will need to ensure social distancing.

Now I’m not a math teacher, but I’m curious how I keep 40 students six-feet apart from each other in a room that’s maybe 300 square feet? One option would be to build a bunch of new schools. As in triple or quadruple the current number, with a commensurate addition of teachers and staff. Either that or they’ll turn schools into round-the-clock enterprises. My forty students get chopped into four groups of 10, with one having school at 8:00 AM, the second at 2:00 PM, the third at 8:00 PM, the fourth at 2:00 AM. And unless they’re planning on making the teachers stay there 24/7, they’re still going to need to hire more teachers. And I for one don’t really want to teach 24 hours a day nor take a 75% pay cut.

So it’s never going to happen. We’re never going to reopen. There is no feasible way to build or staff any school at a 10:1 ratio. I hope you’re enjoying home schooling, because that’s going to be sticking around for a while.

Comrade Gavin has made it clear he won’t let us go back to work until he can ensure that no Californian ever dies ever again. Nothing about making public transportation that would cut down on car crashes, though.

Some of Governor-Kommandant’s other “benchmarks” will be coming a lot sooner, though. For instance, his missive for “a data-tracking system that provides an early warning” of future shut-downs. That’s front burner shit for his ilk.

Comrade Gavin wants to figure out a way to go through this whole fuckamamie bullshit again. Because he might need to stop us from going to work again in the future. Not to cut down on car crashes or help the environment, but to remind us of his magnanimity. Stalin and Hitler loved making their birthdays national holidays, after all.

So one more time, but with quickness and pizzazz.

He doesn’t want us getting comfortable. Rights aren’t, you know, natural or anything. They’re given to you by your benevolent overlord.  And he’s not opposed to taking them away again it again if we do irresponsible things like purchase groceries.

And the way he’s going to do it? Why, Yep, we’re back to the whole government commandeering Google and Apple. Although maybe, if they won’t narc on us, he can devise his own system.

Like maybe a two-way television screen on every wall. With his face on it. We’d never leave the house again.

Quaran-geddon, Post IV

The world has seemingly settled into a new normal. It feels like the sparkle is off this journal. But the problem is what the hell else am I supposed to write about? It’s not like I can go out and make pithy observations of my fellow human beings. I can’t regale you of stories about those crazy teenagers in my classroom. Do you want to hear my thoughts on Frozen II? Trust me, I got plenty o’ thoughts on Frozen II.In the meantime, here are more oddities and frivolities from the Great American Stay-Home:1. We’ve been playing restaurant at mealtimes. Evidently we eat out often enough (or ate out, back in the Before Times) that Daughter feels uncomfortable without someone bringing food to the table. So she plays server. She takes our order, picks up our food (which Daddy Chef left on the counter before taking his spot at the table to have his order taken) and brings it to the table. We’ve allowed exceptions for wine and beer, which requires a grown-up “sommelier” to deliver. Not for any moral reasoning or anything, but because we don’t want her sloshing out the good stuff.The first time we did this, I said, “Garcon, coffee!” She just responded with “Okay,” not yet familiar with the proper response of “Garcon means boy.” We gotta wait until at least week four of quarantine before I make my five-year-old sit through Pulp Fiction. So naturally, she thought I was naming her Garcon. That it was maybe printed on her name tag. So now, she asks if she can play Garcon, like it’s some alter ego.She’ll be sitting at the table and realize she needs more water. So she’ll ask Wife or I to ask Garcon for water. Then she leaves the table and, wouldn’t you know it, Garcon shows up. It’s like Clark Kent and Superman. We’re supposed to tell Garcon that our daughter is at the bathroom but she’d like another water. Then when she “returns,” the drink’s there. Just like Mia’s food in Pulp Fiction. I’m tellin’ ya, Quentin Tarantino predicted my quarantine to a T over 25 years ago.She needs to work on her pricing, though, if she’s hoping to stay in business beyond the pandemic. Odd things are included and others aren’t. The coffee’s included, but not the creamer. Cereal’s free, but the milk will cost you. Our breakfast bill came out to $117 the other day – everything was included except for the bacon ($17) and the coffee ($100). I mean, at least she’s got the concept of demand down pat.2. I love all the advertisements and mail circulars I’m seeing that were clearly written before Quaran-geddon started. The first week or two of grocery store circulars were comical. Oh, they think pork is on sale this week? Have they seen their meat section? Good thing they don’t list toilet paper. They understand the concept of inelastic demand.Sorry, I’m a stay-at-home social-science teacher right now. If I don’t point out portions of our history or government or economy, I might just burst.A batch of coupons I received a few days ago came in an envelope encouraging me to tune into the XFL. That league stopped all of its games and canceled the rest of the season weeks ago. Others made reference to St. Patrick’s Day. Or “Get Out for Spring!” Or “Happy Easter!” Is Easter still happening? Can we postpone it for a few months like they did the baseball season?Of course, the obsolete advertising that I’m seeing the most is related to March Madness, the college basketball championship. Then again, maybe some ad exec knew it was canceled, but figured “Get into the Madness” still works perfectly fine.One company that seemed to miss the whole March Madness memo as Great Clips. I was near one the other day that had three postings. The first was a poster of a basketball spinning on a finger that read “This March, we’re getting in on the Madness.” Oops. There were two other sheets of paper on the door. The first, dated March 18, said that the health of their staff was their first concern, so please don’t come in if you’re sick. The second, dated March 23, said they were closed until further notice. Somebody had handwritten in “But don’t cut your hair until we’re back.” Tacky much?That’s what the NCAA gets for picking Great Clips as the Official Haircut of college basketball. Sports Clips actually has TVs where they show sports. Of course, most of the time those TVs are pointless because live sports don’t happen at the same time of the day as haircuts. But during March Madness, that’s a key selling point. But go ahead, NCAA, partner with a business that has no TVs and doesn’t show your product.3. The brewery that I was heading to for weekly growler fill-ups is now delivering beer.I’m going to let that one sink in for a bit: Hand-delivered craft beer.Obviously they can’t deliver growler refills. But two “crowler” cans has the same amount of beer as a growler. And four crowlers, which is what I ordered, equals 128 ounces of beer. That’ll keep me busy for a bit.Technically I live outside their normal delivery radius, but they were willing to extend it for me. Either because I’m a regular customer or because I just ordered 128 ounces of beer. Or because, I don’t know, what the hell else are they going to do?When the guy dropped off my beer, he thanked me profusely for the business. Like, he seriously wanted me to know how much it meant and how he’d be willing to extend their official delivery options any old time I wanted to sit on my ass and get beer.Again, I’m going to let this one sit for awhile. Some dude was delivering beer to my front door. And I was somehow the hero in this scenario!4. “Want me to brew another pot of coffee?” I ask, shaking the empty pot to indicate its emptiness toward my Wife.”Wasn’t that already our third pot today?””Yeah, but it seems too early to switch to beer.””What time is it?””10 am.”5. Thanks to Josh Gad reading bedtime stories on Twitter and Mo Willems doing lunchtime doodles on YouTube and Weezer’s hilarious video for “Lost in the Woods,” where they do a shot-for-shot remake of the scene in Frozen II in which the song appears, complete with Kristen Bell, the real-life voice of Anna, in the place of Anna from the movie, Daughter is becoming more familiar with the actors and writers behind the scenes of her favorite media.This led to the following back and forth.”So Anna’s not a queen, is she? And Elsa’s not either?””Well, they were both princesses. Elsa was queen for most of the movies. Anna was a princess who became queen by the end of the second movie.”(Oops. Spoiler!)”No, I mean that Kristen girl isn’t a princess or a queen, right? So Anna’s not REALLY a queen.””Oh, no. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are Americans. Our constitution says we’re not allowed to take titles of nobility unless we renounce our citizenship.”So, wherever you are, jut think that it could be worse. You could be quarantined with a stay-at-home social-science teacher right now, like my poor daughter.6. Okay, since I broke the seal on Frozen II, here’s a shot of Daughter watching it:You’ll notice she has an iPad next to her with a face on it. That’s her and her friend Facetiming and watching the movie together. And no, this isn’t because the friend doesn’t own a copy of the movie. This is just what they decided to do. Video call your friend, then instead of talking face-to face, turn it around and watch a movie together.Can’t wait to see what generational hang-ups will manifest themselves in 20 years. I’m already prepared for a drop in my high schoolers’ reading abilities in another six or seven years.7. Lots of parades these days. All the teachers and most of the staff at Daughter’s school paraded through our neighborhood. Thirty or forty honking cars, decorated with the school name and mascot and elementary teachers leaning out the window and shouting, winding up and down all the streets in their attendance area. Thank God my school doesn’t come up with some bullshit like that. I’m all for “show the kids we miss them,” but I can accomplish that with a well-timed reference to the Zombie Apocalypse. And explanations of constitutional provisions against titles of nobility.Then all the local emergency services followed suit a few days later. Fire trucks and police cruisers and ambulances, sirens and buzzers blasting. I guess when society shuts down, we don’t need to worry about being on-call for crime or fires or non-COVID patients requiring rides to the hospital. Ha ha, just kidding. Non-COVIDs don’t get medical attention. Sorry, grandma on Life Alert.Allegedly this was for community outreach, but I’m not so sure. I figure their income’s gotta be through the floor with nobody driving. Gone are the revenue streams for speeding or rolling stops or parking violations. And isn’t anyone who leaves their home to see the parade violating a government mandate? I figure they had a whole bunch of pre-written fines and were tossing them out like beads at Mardi Gras. I was a few neighborhoods over when it all went down, and all I could hear were sirens and horns. I assumed every blast was another $100 coming toward our fair city’s coffers.8. Corona just stopped brewing because of COVID-19. Mexico has determined it to be “non-essential.”To repeat: No more Corona because of coronavirus.I don’t think there’s anything else I can say.

Coronavirus Quaran-geddon Part III

I’ve got a shirt that reads “It’s all fun and games until the beer runs out.”

I usually wear it when I’m man camping or doing some other weekend-style, fun-time activities.

When I threw it on the other day, however, it took on quite a different meaning. The beer running out seems far more imminent a threat now than when I’m out golfing or rafting. And when it runs out, it won’t just be a temporary message that maybe I need to cut back.

That’s a lot scarier than the toilet paper situation, if you ask me.

We’ve shut down all of society to stop the spread of a disease that might kill one percent of the people who catch it,. But it probably kills substantially less because that one percent relates only to those showing enough symptoms to warrant a test. When they started testing more people in South Korea, it seems a lot of people have it but show no symptoms and probably aren’t dying. So maybe the death rate is closer to, I don’t know, one-tenth of one percent? One-hundredth of one percent? That sounds like a good estimate. That would mean that only one out of one hundred who have the virus fit enough of the tick boxes to get tested, and of those, one in one hundred die.

It isn’t so much the death rate, the experts say, as the contagion rate. Each person infects three people, whether they’re on quarantine or washing their hands or whatever. You could lock yourself in your house and that virus will jump out your window and knock on your neighbor’s door. Then those three people will infect three other people. Whereas the flu, which only infects 1.3 people, will grow to something like 14 people, the exponential rate of Coronavirus, they say, means that one infected person will infect 59,000 people by the time you’re done reading this blog post.

At least that’s how it’s being reported.

We’ve had just over 6,000 cases in California, so I guess we only started with 10% of one infected person? We’ve also had 33 deaths, in a state with some 40,000,000 people. Am I prepared to have that number double? Triple? Quadruple? When all it takes to stop that death toll is by shutting down the entire state. I mean, who cares about an extra 5,000,000 unemployed if it can save 20 lives? It’s not like being unemployed and homeless has a high mortality rate or anything.

Although, to hear those in charge, those people are losing their jobs and it’s not even helping. Nothing we’re doing is working. Otherwise why would they continue to change the rules every day? Closing all the bars and restaurants didn’t seem to work, because the next day, we were stay at home and the day after that we were shelter in place. It couldn’t just be that Newsom and Trump love nothing more than seeing themselves on tv, and people might stop tuning in to their press conferences if they aren’t making up some cockamamie new rules. f they’re we’re need to have a new press conference every day. To get eyeballs, they gotta ban something new. Gotta double down on what we did yesterday, regardless of its effectiveness.

Maybe I’m coming at this from a different angle because of where I work. In California education (and I assume education across the country, but California education burns through a lot more money), we continually jaunt and jump from one “fix du jour” to the next. Somebody at the district or county office finds somebody who’s written a book or has a website about how education can be fixed and they pay him or her $10-20,000 to come present to teachers at a specific school or district. One year we had some lady from Georgia who yelled at us about using academic language. I don’t think she intended to yell, but maybe volume modulation isn’t part of academic language. Then we had a principal from a Newsweek article who raised test scores up 100 points. At the end of his presentation, he said maybe if we followed all of his directives (and paid him an extra $100,000 to visit more often), we could be on the cover of Newsweek, too. Of course, after raising his school’s test scores 100 points, they were still 60 behind us. And since he’d started spending more time promoting himself than them, they’d dropped back down, so we were about 100 ahead of them. But tell me again how we can get on the cover of a news magazine? Another time it was a woman who said that she felt sorry for her daughter’s teachers when she goes into parent-teacher conferences, because she knows that teacher already knows who she is and that she’s such a better teacher than they are. It must be daunting. Shocking that the room full of teachers that she said this to didn’t all jump up and applaud, huh?

But I’ve sat through all of them. Sometimes we pretend to follow the new directive for a whole year. Most of the time it’s forgotten by Winter Break, because somebody at the district office has found the next manna from heaven. Or, more realistically, has found the next kickback from the next dude who’s getting $100,000 from us. Sometimes they still give lip service to the previous fix, but usually they don’t even bother. After all, this new thing is a panacea, so who gives a shit about academic language?

We never see any of these things through, even if the presenters themselves say it’ll take a few years to see quantifiable results. So at the end of the year, our test scores go up or they go down or they stay the same. But what caused that change or non-change? Who can know? Ten things changed and maybe one of them had an effect or, meh, maybe it’s just a good/bad batch of kids this year and next year, it’ll be completely different. And if it’s not necessarily a good batch, but rather something we tried for a year back when they were in third grade, then who the fuck cares? We’ll change something again next year to even it out.

That’s what this Coronavirus shut-down has felt like. Every day they come out with new things that they’re shutting down. But there’s never any data to back it up. There’s never any discussion about if anything we’ve done has been effective so far. And how can there be? We barely test anybody, and if we did, it would take too long to get the results. Any numbers they give us now are the people who felt sick two weeks ago and got tested a week ago. They were probably sick before we even started washing our hands. But who needs data?

“We shut all the schools, but there’ve been ten new cases, so now you can’t go to restaurants. We shut the restaurants, but there’ve been five new cases, so now you have to stay at home. Goddammit, people, you’re not listening to us. We’re up to one hundred sick people! Fire every single person from every single job!”

The governor actually took the nicer approach. He commended us for doing what we’re supposed to be doing before saying that it isn’t working, so we’re going to do more of it.

At least we’ve determined that education isn’t “essential.” I guaran-fucking-tee my district will use that as their opening salvo the next time we’re negotiating a raise.

I assume the reason they did this piecemeal was because they couldn’t go for the whole pinata at the beginning. If they told us to shut down on day one, we would’ve said no. So instead they told us to wash our hands and then told us that wasn’t enough, despite no evidence to back that up. The real reason we’re on lockdown now is because Newsom and Trump saw that everybody went along with it, no questions asked, then took the next step.

Great and all, if you buy their rationale, but that’s kinda what Hitler did before World War II, too.

Newsom said if we don’t follow his orders, 25,500,000 Californians will contract the virus. Despite the fact that only 500,000 people worldwide have had it. Think about that. For every one person worldwide, an extra fifty-plus people in California will catch it. And that’s evidenced by the 3,000 or so in the state who already have it.

Now he needs another 50,000 hospital beds for “the surge in cases.” What surge? Where is the evidence of this surge? The few times I drive out, isolated in my car, nobody is out anywhere. Airplanes are flying with seven passengers aboard.

Every day we’re being bombarded by reports of who has it now. Two players from a hockey team. A senator. An actor. A member of a rock band. And each one of them is treated like an HIV diagnosis in the mid-1980s. It’s a surefire death sentence. If the NHL ever comes back, how will the Ottawa Senators field a team with two dearly departed, and I’m sure the rest of the team will have it soon, too. And poor Tom Hanks will never be able to make a movie again. And the Senate… Meh, fuck the politicians. But how dare he go to work when he didn’t know he had the virus? Talk about non-essential…

My local Kaiser has stopped taking non-emergency medical conditions, so I can’t get allergy shots anymore. The last time I went in (the day before shots got shut down like I was Indiana Fucking Jones grabbing his hat as the door dropped) they greeted me at the door with soap and asked me what I was there for, then sent me around to avoid any contact with anyone. But that wasn’t enough, so they shut the shit down. My primary care physician sent a mass e-mailed saying don’t come it unless it’s an emergency. And chances are, any non-COVID emergency will be told to shelter in place. We don’t give a shit about your terminal cancer, fuckface, this county has 50 Coronavirus cases.

Wait, did I read that right? My county currently has 50 cases. Two deaths. So they shut down the entire medical facility for 50 people? How big is this hospital? The good news is that I know of a doctor and a facility that’s more than ready for Gavin Newsom’s 50,000 phantom victims.

Flatten the curve. I get it. But are we really flattening the curve? It seems to me that if we’re just pushing pause on life for three to six weeks. Then we’ll go back to giving hugs and everyone will catch the virus anew. We’re delaying the curve, not flattening it. Okay, maybe the curve will have 50 fewer people in my county.

Unless washing our hands works. Too bad we didn’t bother doing our due diligence to find out.

Maybe we’ll reopen society in stages. We could do some businesses, then the others. But how would we decide who opens first? There doesn’t seem to be gradation in essentiality. You’re either essential, in which case you’re still open, or you’re not. So then maybe we should have every business reopen with only 25% of their staff. We can have a lottery. Then, once those 25% all turn into zombies, we send them home, wait a week, and pick the next unfortunate saps. That would flatten the curve. And it worked really well in World War I. I mean, aside from the whole 60,000 British casualties on a single day of battle.

I know, I know. Y’all don’t come here for the vitriol. You come for the pithy. So let me put away my tinfoil hat and come up with some of my more run-of-the-mill observations. To wit:

– We’ve been doing some spring cleaning. What the hell else are we supposed to do with all of our time? Get to know our family? So I did a really good job of going through some of my old books to clear some space on the bookshelf. So did Wife, and even Daughter okayed a few hand-me-downs.

But what the hell were we supposed to do with these books now? All of the used bookstores are closed and something inside me cringes if I have to throw a book away. It seems so wasteful. And it takes up vital trash space for all the plastics.

Fortunately, we have a Free Little Library. If you aren’t aware of these, people build little wooden mailbox-sized houses with clear doors out where people walk. If there’s a book in there you want, you just take it, and if you have a book that you are done with, you can leave it there. Great. I can just dump all of these books there. Except its got limited real estate, and I notice that it’s filled up recently, probably because every other household in the neighborhood’s doing the same thing as me.

So now I’m like Andy Dufresne taking rubble out to the prison yard in his pants. I’m taking one or two books each day and trying to slip them in. At last check, seven of the thirty or so books came from this house. And I’ve still got a stack ready and waiting. Come on, neighbors, read the shit I’m putting out there.

That might be the motto for this blog, too.

– We’re trying our best to support places that are still open. We’re doing takeout. We’re doing drive-throughs and curbside. I keep going to my favorite brewery to refill my growler. On one trip last weekend, I ran into the Sprouts (a grocery store that doesn’t have the same foot traffic as the behemoths) while Wife did curbside pickup at Joann’s. Then she did curbside at Target, which is super fancy. You don’t have to call them or anything. Just open your app when you’re in the parking lot and Big Brother heads right out. Then I went to the BevMo to pickup my online alcohol order. They’re not quite as high-tech – I had to call somebody to meet me at the front door with my booze – but really, I was picking up booze that I had ordered online, so who the hell cares that they weren’t to Amazon Prime delivery yet. I keep wondering to myself if those in charge would’ve been so ready to shut the whole shit down if we weren’t already living in the future.

But there are other businesses that I want around after the shitshow who aren’t quite as conducive to supporting while in quarantine. There’s an Indian place with a wonderful lunch buffet. Sure, I could order from them a la carte, but that just seems wrong. Why pay for one entree when I’m used to having ALL the entrees. Plus I probably should’ve been paying closer attention to which dishes I like all those times I partook. But then, what’s the point of a buffet if not mindless scooping?

Another favorite that doesn’t have a to-go option is Mongolian BBQ. Perhaps I’m being obstinate with the Indian food, but with Mongolian, I really don’t see how it’s feasible. You have to stand in line and put your grubby paws on the same food that other paws have already grubbed. Even if I could put that into a Doordash order, there’s no way the chef’s going to know the proper number of spicy versus sweet versus salty sauce scoops. I don’t even know. It’s a touchy-feely things, like those old grandma recipes that said q.b., short for quanto basta, meaning “How much is enough” or “as much as needed.” But I don’t think Doordash has a q.b. option.

We need restaurants or businesses like this to establish Patreon accounts. I’d be willing to send them some money to keep them around. And if they want to make it good for a meal when this thing is done, great. But if not, consider it a much better pay-it-forward than buying that fat fuck behind me’s Frappuccino.

Sure, I could get gift cards in the meantime, but if the business doesn’t have an updated website (and let’s be honest, the Mongolian and the Indian restaurants aren’t likely to be the most technologically savvy), that means I have to go in. But are they even open?

So they just need to establish a Patreon. If it’s good enough for podcasts, which don’t even give me an egg roll on the side, it should be good enough for brick-and-mortars.

-The grocery stores seem to be restocking some of the staples. Bread and ramen still seem a little sparse. Meat is still hit or miss, but it’s better than all-miss, as it was a week ago. It’s almost like, follow me here, our economy produces enough for us to consume, as long as we don’t freak out and try to buy the whole goddamned store.

I’m reminded of FDR’s first Fireside Chat, after he’d closed all the banks. Well, he didn’t close all the banks, he only declared a bank holiday that ended up lasting the better part of a week. Back then, can you imagine, presidents and the government actually thought there were limits to what they could do, who and what they could command to stay indoors and close their doors. So when the banks were about to reopen, he got on the airwaves to tell the people to not be numbnuts the next day. Banks, he explained, only keep enough cash on hand to cover normal withdrawals and the rest is tied up in mortgages and shit like that. “[A]n amount which in normal times is wholly sufficient to cover the cash needs of the average citizen.” But if all ya numbnuts go and try to get your money at the same time, it won’t be there.

The same could be said for tortillas and ground beef and pasta. If we had all bought what we needed for, say, one or two weeks worth of isolation, instead of six months, there’d be plenty to go around. Unfortunately, our current commander-in-chief doesn’t seem quite as concerned with calming and quelling the populace. His fireside tweet would probably go something along the lines of, “Go Fuck yourself. Pull my Finger!”

-Somebody posited that the run on flour wasn’t so much hoarding as it was a byproduct of most Americans baking at home for once. Makes sense, since the flour that goes to bakers and restaurants is probably direct from suppliers. I don’t think Krispy Kreme is heading the the Piggly Wiggly each day.

But what does this say about the toilet paper? Are we finally shitting at home instead of work?

-Has everyone else lost track of what day it is? Holy crap!

I was thinking about buying a Nintendo Switch to introduce Daughter to the joy of video games, and possibly Wife and I to the joys of a moment of goddamn peace. Sure, Daughter’s watched me murder some nasty Brits in Assassin’s Creed III on my fancy, high-tech PlayStation 3, but maybe it’s time for her to learn of the existence of non-violent games.

Turns out there are no Nintendo Switches for sale, like, anywhere. Not available on Amazon, no Target or Best Buy or GameStop (before they closed) within 200 miles of me had one in stock. I did a little research and discovered that this shortage was coming even before people were going to be shut in for months. It was just sped along by the Quaran-geddon.

All is not lost, though. Amazon might be able to get some once they end their moratorium on non-essential restocking. The article I read suggested mid-April. No problem, I thought. Why, mid-April must be coming any day now.

What? It’s still March?

Fuck!

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Part 2

It’s academic time right now.

As I write this, my daughter is sitting next to me, working through a store-bought “Kindergarten skills booklet” that appears to have been written for kindergarten skills back when I was in kindergarten (Which is edible: paste or vegetables?), not what they’re doing now. So she’s burning through these. After all, if she can burn through a Dr. Seuss book, I don’t think having her trace the a at the beginning of apple’s going to vex her much. We’ve limited her to one page a day in some books, but we still have to give her enough busy work to get through the recommended one hour of morning Academic Time before our magical robot overlord, Alexa, tells us it’s time to move on to our next time allotment.

Such is life in what I’ve dubbed Quran-geddon(tm).

Is that how trademarks work? Can I just throw a ™ after something and now I get paid if anyone else uses it? In whatever quid pro-quo replace US Dollars in the sportless future when Alexa finally tells us it’s okay to go outside.

But just bear in mind I occasionally have to help my daughter with some of these things. So if I suddenly write, “no, baby, it’s six, not five,” assume I just gave Daughter instructions that included the “fuck-stain shit sickle” intended for this post.

I haven’t checked in since last Friday, back in the nascence of this Brave New World. I picked up Daughter from daycare and told her that her school and softball and dance class were all canceled, along with that little trip to Disneyland we had planned for this week. Then she and I spent about 72 hours in line at the grocery store in order to buy seven items, because the rest of the world was purchasing the entire store. The only thing they weren’t buying at that time was corned beef. So I figured I’d wait and come back after the weekend to buy that.

Oops.

To be fair to the hoarders, that’s totally on me, and I should know better than to wait until March 16 to buy corned beef. Although usually there’s a shit-ton of it, even on the 18th when I can buy it on sale.

My second foray to the grocery store showed some some through-lines from the previous trip and some anomalies. There seems to be a run on meat, in many ways the most perishable of items. My local store has filled up most of their meat refrigerators with salami packs, spread out so as to appear like there’s variety, in lieu of the normal beef and chicken and pork.

People are fucking horrible at hermitage. Why aren’t they buying the stuff that doesn’t go bad after a few days? They probably think they’re living off the grid by running a VPN while having their Google Maps giving them directions.

Bread and tortillas also seemed to be in shorter supply on Monday than they had been on Friday. Flour was gone, but sugar was there. Thank God there doesn’t seem to be a run on coffee or beer. All the beans were gone, too. Not sure if that’s a great idea for people with limited toilet paper options.

My family made it through the rainy weekend, but only through inertia. You know it’s bad when the parents are begging the child to watch Frozen II just one more time and the child’s not having it.

We broke the not-then-official quarantine both days. In fact, I’ve left the house for something or other pretty much every day. Usually it’s just a visit to a store or to get some take-out, and it’s substantially less than it would’ve been on normal stay-at-home days. Saturday we hit the bookstore to get the aforementioned workbooks. I also found a cool Marvel Comics 1000 dot-to-dot book. That’s for Papa while Baby works on her minuscule 20 dot-to-dots. Holy crap, they take a long time! “Daddy, I’ve already done, like, five and you’re only at, what, three-fifty?”

We also went to a furniture store to finally buy a desk we’ve been eyeing for a while. The vulturous salespeople there are annoying on a regular visit, hovering behind a nearby pillar at all times, ready to pounce with a “Can I help you with anything? Would you like to borrow my tape-measure? Here’s my card. You can call me even though I’ll never be more than six feet away.” They knew social distancing long before social distancing was a thing.

We knew going in that, with both the rain and the Quaran-geddon(tm) diminishing the quantity of customers, the salespeople would be even more omnipresent than usual. We braced ourselves and it still wasn’t enough. We finally glommed onto one just to ward off the other vampires. But their pheromones must not be working, because when she went to go check on something, they descended. Her tape-measure did nothing to ward the hordes off. All is fair in love, war, and commission jobs right before an economic meltdown.

Sunday we went to Michael’s to get more things to occupy Daughter and Best Buy to look at laptops for me. I thought about buying a Nintendo Switch, but they were sold out. I almost bought a PlayStation 4, but I’ve held out this long and the 5 is on the horizon. Fortunately I held firm, although I’m still wavering because “MLB: The Show 20” might be the only sport action I’ll be seeing for a while.

As an aside, I’m worried that MLB is one of the arbiters of when we get to go back to normal. The last time we shut down sports was for 9/11. The NFL canceled its games the following Sunday, and baseball dithered about when it should start up. One week later? Ten days? Then the NFL said they’d return the following Sunday and MLB followed suit the next day. Unfortunately, there is no NFL to act as the leader this time. Maybe the NHL will start up for the playoffs. But if not, it’s all on the MLB, and they aren’t known for being proactive. Last I heard they’re looking at June. That’s totally going to fuck up Mike Trout’s chance to win the all-time WAR title by the end of his career. I know: priorities!

Why isn’t MLB playing? It’s the only sport where players don’t regularly come in contact with each other. Social distancing? Take a look at the real estate between the average right fielder and center fielder. The only time they’re close to each other is when they’re in the dugout, but if there are no fans in attendance, they can just spread out in the first three or four rows of the stands. And they could play all day games because it’s not like any of us are at work. They’d make a killing on TV ratings.

Back to the present, I just had an argument with my daughter about an orange crayon. Because the first orange crayon I gave her to circle all the fucking words that start with an s wasn’t orange enough. It was too yellow. Looked orange enough to me, but that’s coming from a high school history teacher, not a kindergarten teacher. When did World War II start? Kinda sorta 1939, if you’re counting the main European conflict, but it wasn’t until 1941 that all of the major actors came in, with Operation Barbarossa in the summer and Pearl Harbor in December. Of course, the Pacific Theater could have been going on as early as 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

So don’t ask a fucking history teacher what “orange” is.

This has been my life this week. We’re using one of those charts that have been circulating online. One hour of “academic time” followed by one hour of “creative time.” There’s some outside time sprinkled in throughout the day, plus breaks for lunch and chores and quiet or reading time. I usually try to engage in whatever she’s doing, both for solidarity’s sake and to help stick to a routine myself. Of course, I don’t know if what I do counts as academic or creative. Most days, it’s probably neither. But the online time charts don’t put time aside for masturbatory self-flagellation.

It’s not like I can lesson plan during academic time. Well, I could, but by the time the hour was up, it would already be obsolete. The governor says schools are closed for the year and, I shit you not, I received an e-mail from my district the following morning saying, “That’s certainly his opinion.” And now it looks like the AP Test that my students have rightfully been freaking out about is going to change as well. Two separate test dates and they won’t cover anything from the twentieth century. So all of that nineteenth century remote learning I was working on can be stretched out. Plus the AP test will be online now, which means the motivated kids will spend the next six weeks trying to devise ways to cheat instead of studying for the exam. So there goes my pass rate.

I also liked how quickly the e-mails changed over the course of last weekend. Up until Saturday, it seemed like every company wanted to tell me how clean they were. They’ve been scrubbing every surface inside every business. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer might be things of the past, but there’s enough Lemon Pledge for every company, and then some. And when I say “every company,” holy crap! I didn’t even know I had done business with half these guys. How do they have my e-mail address? Has the government just provided every company with everybody’s e-mail address? It’s not like there are civil liberties or privacy anymore, so who cares what the government with our personal information?

Then on Sunday morning, all of the e-mails quickly switched from “look how clean we are” to “hey, we’ll deliver!” My favorite 180 came from Twin Peaks. If you aren’t aware of it, it’s one of those “breastaurants” whose main reason for existence is to see scantily-clad women. Oh, and maybe get some food. Think of Hooters and then take away 60% of each server’s clothing. Although to be fair to Twin Peaks, their food is substantially better than Hooters.

On Friday, Twin Peaks wanted me to know that all of their bikini-wearing servers will be on their hands and knees, polishing knobs during each shift. Wait, that might have come out wrong. They were cleaning everything, is what I meant to say. The message didn’t make me feel much better. In a standard restaurant, I only have to worry about the servers’ hands being clean. At Twin Peaks, ninety percent of their skin is touching everything. Fortunately, they did the economy-wide switch on Sunday. Turns out they deliver. But again, the food’s not their selling point. Customers aren’t missing the french fries, but rather the French maid outfits. And if the Doordash dude shows up wearing bikini bottoms, those fries aren’t going taste very good.

My county wasn’t on stay at home orders until yesterday morning. Then last night, the governor, who thinks he’s the most wonderful specimen of humanity and way smarter than everybody else, put the entire state on lockdown. A dictatorship is okay, after all, if the dictator is dashingly handsome and, let’s face it, better than you. Silly me, thinking we had freedom of assembly.

There seems to be some sort of distinction between “Stay at Home” and “Shelter in Place.” I’m not sure which is which, but the cities and counties have tended to start with one and then go to the other. Maybe one of them is a suggestion and the other is a mandate? I also have no idea which one the state of California is doing. We can still go to get food or medicine. And the good news is that beer is considered food.

I’ve actually taken my growler to my favorite local brewery to be refilled once, and I’m planning to go back. We’re also eating takeout for lunch more often than we need to. Because I’m on salary and I want these places to still be in business if we ever come out the other end of this. What’s the point of the checks that the federal government’s going to send out if there’s noplace left to spend it? Maybe that $1,000 will go to purchasing one roll of toilet paper on eBay.

Can’t wait to see the effect these lockdowns have on things like probable cause. Can a cop pull me over because I’m driving on the freeway? Do I have to make up some “essential” business I’m on my way to? I can’t give him the real answer, which is that that I’ve been stuck teaching academic time to a five-year old and wanted to listen to a grown-up podcast, which I’m way behind on because I don’t have a commute anymore.

We’re also allowed to go out to walk the dog or get exercise. If I don’t have a dog, can the cop arrest me if I don’t seem to be getting my heart into the cardio zone? “Come on, pansy, you call that exercise?”

Scratch that. The cops don’t need to catch you. Sacramento County just came out with an edict to call 311 if we see other people breaking their stay at home orders. Neighbors ratting out their neighbors. Getting more and more Stalin-y by the day.

I’ve got other things to say, but I think I need to flesh out a few thoughts. Better to post it here.

At least the rain isn’t coming back till Monday.