Some Statins, Stat!

Earlier this week, I wrote about my wife’s summer-long ordeal with her bored general practictioner, who spent his COVID Vacation searching through her medical file to find shit to tamper with. I also touched on tipping your servers and hookers. Well, not tipping your hooker, but the economics of prostitution. Although you should probably tip your hooker. And no, not “just the tip.”

Regardless, after living through Wife’s own medical-solution-in-search-or-a-problem, I probably should’ve been more on guard when my own doctor asked to set up a phone call. To be fair, although I’d like to be a writer, a chronicler of the human condition, I’ve never claimed to be all that observant.

Doc wanted to talk to me about cholesterol medicine. Doc’s been wanting to talk to me about cholesterol medicine for quite some time. A few years ago, I went in for something, probably gout, and he pulled a “Hey, I don’t give a flying fuck about what you came to me for, your cholesterol’s a smidge high, so let’s randomly prescribe you some statins.” 

Sure. Why not? He sent me over to the pharmacy and I left with the drugs that very day. On the way home, Wife told me I miiiiight want to look up some of the side effects of statins. Umm, okay. I’m sure I’m not the only person who approaches the medical profession with confused acquiescence. 

Okay, here’s what my robot overlord, Google, tells me are some statin side effects:

They might spike blood sugar. Hmm, I’ve been prediabetic for five years.

Liver damage. Hmm, I’m a borderline alcoholic.

Kidney problems. Well, at least it won’t make my gout worse.

At least I’m at Kaiser. One of the reasons I chose the Kaiser, aside from my love of old-tyme handlebar mustaches and pickelhaube helmets, is that you can see your test results online. Back when I was on a different plan, my doctor would tell me something in my blood was “a little elevated,” which could mean just about anything. 

“So it turns out there’s some extra lead in your system.” 

“Yeah, Doc, I came to you for a gunshot wound.”

But at Kaiser, I can see precisely where I am and, even better, what the standard range. When I got home from the “quick, take these drugs before you ask your wife about it” appointment, I looked more closely at my last blood test. The standard range for cholesterol is listed as anything under 239. My horrible, sky-high cholesterol that needed drugs right the fuck now was a whopping… 219. 

Except, you see, it’s not just a matter of overall cholesterol. You’ve got to look at the good cholesterol versus the bad. Your HDL, or good cholesterol has to be over 40 or else you’re unhealthy, and mine was only at a measly 52. Oh, and that LDL, it’s the bad cholesterol and we should really look for a way to get it under 159. So maybe some drugs will improve my reading of… 150.

I’m not saying I’m the picture of health. But if all of my cholesterol readings are within the range that’s deemed “normal,” it doesn’t seem to be something I should be pumping my body full of side effects for. Sorry, Kaiser Wilhelm, if you don’t want me making uninformed decisions, then maybe you need to not let me see the information.

Why are they giving me pills to fix something that ain’t broke, especially if there’s a good chance it’ll break something else? I mean, if I take these pills to drop my cholesterol from an “on the high end” 219 down to an, I don’t know, 200? While at the same time spiking my blood sugar and losing both my vision and my feet to diabetes, I wouldn’t necessarily call that a “win-win.”

So I came home with the prescription but never used it. That worked for a while. Doctor got his kickback from the pharmaceutical company and I kept my liver. Actually, the next two times I got tested, my cholesterol went down, first to 199 then to 189, despite never touching the statins. Maybe I’m so magical that just convincing myself I needed to lower my cholesterol was enough to do it. It’s some Jedi magic. 

Or else maybe my cholesterol fluctuates inside the normal range. There’s a reason it’s called a range, right?

But eventually they caught onto my duplicity. Not because my cholesterol changed, but because I never refilled the prescription for something I’m supposed to be taking every day. Or maybe they were onto me because my blood sugar didn’t spike enough. “People who take our drugs can’t be as healthy as you are.”

After a year or so, doctor sent me a nastigram that I better take my fucking medicine like a good fucking boy. I ignored him, so he referred me to the big boss. I started getting emails from some random dude, inside Kaiser, listed as “Pharm.” That might stand for pharmacist, but I assume he works for Big Pharm, which is where this entire push must be coming from. My doctor needs to get a new Porsche or something, and the gout medicine people just ain’t willing to cup his balls the way he likes on the reach-around. I mean, if there ain’t kickback going all the way up the wazoo, then why the hell are we not only prescribing cholesterol medicine to people who don’t need it, but actually following up to ensure that said individual is taking said unnecessary drugs. 

By contrast, I also have asthma (hurray, mid-forties!) but I’m really bad about using my inhaler. Not the emergency inhaler. I use that one often. But there’s an inhaler I’m supposed to use every day that will prevent the need for the emergency inhaler. Problem is that when I’m breathing fine, I forget. So that’s another prescription I’m supposed to fill every six months or so but regularly go two years between refills. And not a single email from doctor nor pharmacist nor Pfizer lobbyist. Because if you can’t breathe, meh. But if your cholesterol is normal, well then that’s a problem we need to solve! 

So there I was, foolishly accepting the call from a doctor with way too much time on his hands, knowing full well that he had some drug kingpin breathing down his neck to make sure he gets all his little cretins hooked, and wouldn’t you know it, he doesn’t want to ask me how my breathing’s going with all of the fires going on, like the snazzy new “Glass Fire,” proving that I’m a fucking Nostradamus who nobody heeds. Nope, what he really wants to talk to me about is how important it is that I get my normal cholesterol under control.

This time, however, I was prepared for the statin conversation. I asked for clarification, like why the fuck am I supposed to risk making some of my medical conditions worse in order to fix a problem I don’t have. It turns out that cholesterol medicine ain’t got shit to do with controlling cholesterol. Studies have shown that prescribing statins to people who don’t need them severely lessens the likelihood of, I don’t know, heart attacks and stroke and scurvy or something. 

Honestly! Why, the drug company who has the patent for this drug has run bazillions of tests and, wouldn’t you know it, they all came back proving that their product rivals only the flush toilet and electricity in the advancement of the human race. And the proof is that, when they prescribed it to people who didn’t need it, those people ended up STILL not needing it. It’s kind of like saying that stitches help people who’ve been stabbed by a sword, but our tests show that unstabbed people who were given stitches ALSO didn’t exhibit signs of sword punctures. Stitches greatly reduce your chances of bleeding out in a medieval dungeon.

My doctor assures me that the DHS has signed off on this whole cholesterol-medicine-for-non-cholesterol-purposes thing. And boy howdy, if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that government agencies devoted to our health always know what they’re talking about.  Like when the virus was airborne for, like, an hour before the CDC took it off their website because the president complained. A week later, it was airborne again. Hopefully you weren’t breathing in deeply for that week that the virus was noncommittal. 

And yeah, I know that the Department of Health Services ain’t the same as the Center for Disease Control, but the only reason we’re focused on the latter is because they’ve kept us hostage all year and we’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Even if the DHS whims can’t keep me chained to my refrigerator for the next fortnight, my eyebrow’s still rising over them suggesting what we really need in this world is more random, never-ending prescriptions. Those bacteria ain’t gonna develop antibiotic immunity by themselves, y’all! For all I know, the Orange One has a bunch of stock in the statin company and that’s why they’re now suggested for everything from hemorrhoids to gunshot wounds.

Then again, I’m just now realizing that the DHS is the British single-payer system. Shit, is my doctor running my blood tests in metric? Maybe that’s why my numbers don’t match what he’s saying.

Or maybe he’s talking about the other DHS, the American one that likes to look at your browser history. In which case I better get me some statins, because unlike some mamby-pamby doctors and pharmacists, you DEFINITELY don’t want to ignore the suggestions of the water-boarders. 

Then again, if it’s the Department of Homeland Security, then they need to update their sales pitch.

Lower your cholesterol! Avoid heart attacks! Now with fewer anal probes at the airport!!!

Sold!

Pandemic Pill Pushers

I worry about all the professions who are suffering during COVID, workers who can’t go through their normal day-to-day routines.

We hear a ton about the Uber and cab drivers, although I’m sure they’re all getting bonus shifts with Doordash. What about those retail cashiers, the restaurant servers? Am I the only one who struggles with what to tip for takeout orders? Look, I waited tables for most of my twenties. I know those servers get paid shit and rely on their tips to survive. My standard tip is 20-25% and you have to be phenomenally shitty to get less than 15%, but the most “serving” you’re doing on takeout is grabbing the bag, already prepped by the line chef or expediter, neither of whom are likely to a sniff of whatever tip I left. Is that worth 15%? I didn’t get my iced tea refilled once!

I still tip, but only as a nod to solidarity. And taxes. Did you know your server has to pay taxes based on what the government thinks you should’ve tipped him? If the bill is $100, the government is adding $15 to his W-2. Think about the next time you stiff a server – he actually lost money by serving you. 

But for takeout? I don’t know, man. I usually err towards 10%, enough to cover the stiffers and the IRS, but not enough to work as a dialogue about quality of service. Yeah, I feel a tinge of guilt, but I figure I’m not taking up one of his tables for an hour. He should be able to burn through 30 or 40 orders in an hour, as opposed to five. 

But then the restaurants are going to twist that little guilt knife by only giving me “pre-filled” options of 15%, 18%, and 20%. So now I have to write in my 10% number, making me go out of my way to stiff my server. Who isn’t really serving me. Shit, I bought donuts the other day, and she did that thing where they swivel the tablet around so I can select the tip, but then I had to tell her what the tip was and she would select it, so the customers don’t have to touch the screen. What the fuck am I supposed to say? “Write in 10% for yourself” or “No, I don’t think you deserve a tip”? So I told her to select 15%, the lowest option and now I just tipped more than I tip for takeout to a lady who only put six donuts in a goddamn box!

Donut-shop swindlers notwithstanding, making people write in any number below 15% probably results in more people paying zero.
“Skip” is just as easy to hit as “20%.”

I’m not here to talk about the servers though. At least they’re on most people’s radars. Some of them were probably laid off and reaping the rewards of the bonus unemployment before Congress yanked it away after a heartfelt and impassioned debate about the long-term consequences and short-term tradeoffs associated with paying people more to not work than they would make working. Ha ha, just kidding, politicians never articulate arguments for or against their actions, preferring the more nuanced “nan-nah, boo-boo.” Democrats wanted a $3 trillion bailout, which Republicans wanted $1 trillion, so they settled it like adults and made it zero. Maybe somebody should’ve given them a “$2 trillion” button.

So the Uber drivers are probably thriving and the servers will find a way to muster through. But what about the prostitutes? 

Meh, the prostitutes are probably fine. At least the illegal ones. For once, they’re economically better off than their legal counterparts in Nevada. I assume the brothels are shut down, but the place of business behind that dumpster on Broadway remains just as accessible as ever. It’s always on Broadway, right? Doesn’t matter which city, the whores hang out on Broadway. 

Plus, it’s not like their johns are overly concerned with health and cleanliness. I have a friend who’s a deputy DA, and one of the hookers she used to prosecute on a regular basis charged extra for sex without a condom. So I can have sex for twenty bucks, or I can have sex AND chlamydia for forty? What a bargain!

 Plus, you’re not allowed to kiss a hooker, right? So might as well keep that mask on.

So maybe the prostitutes are okay. But what about the drug dealers?

And before you tell me that pill pushers should be in the same boat as hookers (that ain’t a boat, it’s a yacht, baby!), let me clarify that I’m not talking about the same dealers you’re thinking of. The guys pushing meth and heroin are probably fine. I’m talking about doctors and Big Pharm.

You would think that primary care physicians would be overworked and malnourished during a medical emergency like we’ve faced the last six months, but it might turn out to be the exact opposite. Sure, those ICU Units are filled to the rafters, but the guy or gal you go to for the sniffles or tennis elbow is stuck twiddling their respective thumbs. After all, we’ve been told that all non-emergency situations don’t matter and are wasting the medical community’s valuable time. I went three months without allergy shots, and I don’t think my allergy doc was being drafted into front-line duty. So sorry about your pancreatic cancer, Grandma, but Aiden once drank a Corona, so you need to give your hospital bed up to him.

So now none of us are calling those doctors who normally take Grandma’s temperature long enough to refer her to seventeen other “specialists,” thereby maximizing insurance premiums whilst minimizing efficiency. Now those general practitioners are bored, and the news is doing their job for them, cause ain’t nobody questioning that 20% increase in insurance premiums this year. And just like a teacher who decides that the only time to clean the house is the day before grades are due, when doctors are bored, they find shit to meddle with. And since they’re probably not allowed in the Admiral’s Lounge with all the cool ICU doctors and patients, they fill their time consulting those nanobots they placed in our bloodstream the last time we peed in a cup.

What? There isn’t supposed to be blood in my urine? And I’m not supposed to put it back in my body when I’m done?

My wife got hit with BDS (Bored Doctor Syndrome) first. Her blood has always tested positive for a clotting risk. But her “askew numbers” have pretty much stayed consistent since her early twenties and she’s never had blood clots. It was certainly something we kept an eye on during her pregnancy, but if anything, overreacting to her bleeding risk is probably what caused them to radiate her after delivery, subjecting her to seven hospital trips over the first six months of Daughter’s life. So maybe sometimes we shouldn’t tinker with phantom ailments. 

I run into this all the time while I’m curling. We time the delivery to determine where the rock should end up and whether or not we need to sweep it. But you still have to watch the rock, walk alongside it. Sometimes the ice is frostier on one route than another. You gotta be ready to start or stop sweeping as the reality on the ice amends what your stopwatch told you. You can’t just say that it’s blood platelets was 3.6 seconds so the diabetes will end up right on the button.

Sorry, mixed my metaphors there, but you get what I mean. And in normal times, the doctors understand this, and don’t go out of their way to fix problems that only exist in the data.

For the most part, Wife’s blood issues are like a birthmark – always there with no discernable affect on her life. If the numbers had gone up as she got older, or if she ever experienced any of the many symptoms listed in the brochures, we would’ve done something. The health issues she does have, like some lactose intolerance that leads to some nasty IBS after a Starbucks trip, has nothing to do with blood clots. But obviously they aren’t concerned with that, because IBS isn’t covered by most insurance plans. Somehow that’s considered a “quality of life” issue like a boob job. Unlike boners, which are TOTALLY covered by insurance. Because, I suppose, senators have trouble getting it up. But let me tell you, needing to visit the toilet every five minutes is every bit as destructive to the libido as a little flaccidity amongst friends.

But somewhere in her medical file bored doctors were thumbing through, it said that Wife has clotting potential. So they called her up and told her that, you know, what with all this COVID stuff… 

I didn’t really see the connection, seeing as The ‘Rona attacks the lungs, not the blood. But you’ve heard the media reports. Everyone who dies is either old or had a pre-existing condition. What they don’t report, however, is whether that pre-existing conditionis in any way related to COVID. Hey, did you hear about that 25-year-old who died two days after catching the ‘Rona? Yeah, but he broke his arm as a teenager. And that teenager who got it? Her orthodontist said she had braces.

So whatever. Wife decides to play along with their blood-thinning regimen. But then she sliced her foot on a boat prop, so she had to wait a week. Seems a pretty big loophole there. All she has to do is cut herself once a week and she won’t have to go on blood thinners. Then again, if the shit they’re about to give her is going to turn her into a hemophiliac, maybe it ain’t worth it. Unless we get some medieval duchy out of it.

Instead of following my advice and becoming a cutter, Wife finally goes on the blood thinners. In addition to pills, she must give herself shots in the stomach. What the fuck kinda home remedy is that shit? I get allergy shots every few weeks and never once have I been expected to plunge that shit in myself. Aren’t there trained professionals who can give shots? Or are they too busy going through old medical boxes next to the Ark of the Covenant to sell Nefertiti on some meds?

Every few days, she gets her blood tested again. Fortunately they don’t make her take it out herself. On her first test, she overshot her mark. The number that used to be too low is now too high. This could be a great time for them to step back, realize Wife knew what she was talking about, that these were phantom numbers to begin with, an anomaly that remained consistent with no symptoms for twenty years, and that they were trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist, quite possibly creating a new problem, whereby my otherwise healthy wife now has to steer clear of a wall corner lest it break her skin and cause her to bleed out on the floor with nary a Russian orthodox month in sight to cure her.

Or, you know, they could just cut her down to one shot a day, then test again on Thursday.

So for the last month or so, Wife’s been heading to the lab to get her blood taken every three days. They adjust her dosage, rinse, and repeat. The good news is she doesn’t have to give herself shots anymore. The bad news is she’s never gotten down into the “healthy” range. Again, they’ve made her less healthy. Or maybe they’ve just made her equally as unhealthy, but on the other side. She’s gone from having slightly viscous to slightly runny blood. No big deal.

Except that all of those blood tests have her bruised up like a heroin junkie. She’s always had this problem where the technicians can’t find her veins. Sometimes they need to stick her three or four times before they get the good stuff. Add to that the fact that they won’t go in where the earlier bruises are and it wasn’t too long before they had to take blood out of the back of her hand! I’m a blood-giving pro. I don’t give two shits about getting shots, but holy hell, that sounds excruciating. Especially if it isn’t doing jack diddly to improve her health or quality of life. And since they haven’t done anything about her IBF, she still has to wipe with those hands!

So I should’ve been on guard, a couple weeks after Wife’s regimen started, when my doctor wanted to set up a phone call. 

Check here to hear about my own frivolity. At least I won’t bruise ya!

Stop Naming Fires!

Remember L.A. Story? The Steve Martin and Sarah Jessica Parker rom-com was hilariously funny to this SoCal kid when it came out during my high school years. It might as well have been my life. 

Except for the fact that I never touched Sarah Jessica Parker’s boobs. Or fake boobs, in general. Heck, I’m 45 years old now and I still haven’t touched fake boobs. Seeing as how Wife is naturally endowed, I doubt I ever will. Unless you count when they’re skewered into my back like steel girders on a crowded BART train. If anything, those encounters probably played into my utter lack of desire to do anything more with them.

And sure, sure. Those are only BAD boob jobs. Whereas your expensive boob job are wonderful. Like vegetarian bacon.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, L.A. Story. I doubt it stands the test of time, but at least it predicted text message abbreviations.

What got me thinking about it was the scene where Steve Martin realizes the date, which means it’s open season on L.A. freeways. He pulls a gun out of the glove compartment and everybody starts shooting at each other. Hilarity ensues.

Ah, the good old days, when Mother Nature sat idly by and watched while we all killed each other. Nowadays any human-to-human violence takes a smoke-filled back seat to the orange-skied behemoth smothering us all.

In case you’ve missed the stunning visuals, the entire state of California is on fire right now. As it was last year. And the year before. As we shout into our Zoom calls through COVID-infected lungs: It’s Fire Season, motherfucker!

Although to call it a “season” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s pretty much half the year. In 2018, for instance, my Camptathalon was cut short when we were evacuated due to the Donnell Fire, which razed our campsite less than twelve hours after we left. That was in August. Also in 2018, many school districts canceled school the Friday before Thanksgiving due to smoke from the Camp Fire. Not to be confused with a campfire, which we had to douse when we evacuated the campsite back in August. Or the Carr Fire, also in 2018, which had nothing to do with an automobile.

Incidentally, I looked up the Donnell Fire to verify its name. I googled “Dardanelles fire” since Dardanelles was the resort that burned down. More on the naming of fires in a bit.

According to Wikipedia, “The Donnell Fire was a wildfire that started on August 1, 2018 due to an unknown cause.” Bull fucking shit. That fire, like many others, started as a “controlled burn” that got out of hand. I have photographic proof, from a few days before our camping trip, of a perfect ring of fire, something I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in nature. Check it out, complete with timestamp.

I’ve never understood why they choose the height of fire season to do these controlled burns. I assume it has something to do with foliage being too wet in April to clear out enough of the debris, but April would seem to prioritize the “controlled” part instead of the “burn” part. A couple weeks ago, with half the state burning and every firefighter elsewhere, we drove by signs reading “prescribed burning ahead, do not report.” When we woke up Sunday morning, smoke was on the horizon. Shocking.

I mean, it’s no gender reveal party, but it’s disconcerting that the professionals are setting fires, too.

Hey, what kind of names do you think they’re considering for the fetus who burned down the whole state? Since the orgiastic pyrotechnics were blue, it’s clearly a boy, so I doubt they’ll go with Fyre. Or whatever Drew Barrymore’s character was named in Firestarter. Would Sparky be too on-the-nose? How about Forrest, to appease the gods?

Turns out Drew Barrymore’s character was named Charlie. An androgynous name! Perfect!

Dumbass professionals and pregnants aside, I really don’t know what’s caused this sharp uptick in fires recently. The Democrats in my newsfeed swear it’s climate change. The Republicans in my newsfeed swear it’s that we’re not allowed to clear underbrush and make fire roads anymore. I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. As usual, the problems we ignore are only exacerbated  by the problems we attempt to fix. So instead of a breathable climate with firebreaks, we’re left with a sweltering hellscape, complete with kindling!

But whatever. To butcher a Jimmy Buffett line, I ain’t tryin’ to reason with fire season. Like taxes, smarmy Amber Alert signs, and a governor who thinks he’s solved COVID-19 by changing “Phase I, II, III, and IV” to “Purple, Red, Orange, and Yellow tiers” (I wonder if he dropped the mic after that stroke of brilliance), if I want to live in the only state where teachers make enough to buy a steak a month, I’ve just got to make peace with six months of fire each year. 

It’s like hurricane season, only twice as long and with substantially more certainty. Even if my house isn’t specifically in danger, I’m still trapped inside. I think the air outside has more ash than oxygen. When I opened my door the other morning, it smelled like I was camping inside a BBQ. Except if I was at a campsite or a BBQ, I could be drinking at oh-dark-thirty. Whereas that would be frowned upon at work.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m teaching from home. Nobody would know except my laptop screen. I actually lectured after a couple beers for the first time in my professional career last week. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a live lecture, but I remembered at about 9:30 Labor Day night that I hadn’t recorded the instructions for the next day. Oops.

I remember when California’s most famous natural disaster was our earthquakes. People who live in Tornado Alley or Hurricane Avenue or Locust Boulevard would comment how they couldn’t possibly conceive of living where there are earthquakes.

The great thing about earthquakes , though, is by the time you realize we’re having an earthquake, it’s already over. We don’t have to build an underground earthquake shelter or pack up all of our shit three times a year to drive 1,000 miles away on the chance that this might be one of the bad earthquakes instead of the mundane ones. 

Instead it’s, “did you feel… wait, is that… are we having an… whew, glad that’s over.” Unless you happen to be driving on the lower level of a bridge.

But with fires, we get to experience the looming dread that the rest of the country has always faced. When it gets too windy or too still, or too humid or too dry, we look at each other and know that we better stock up on the N-95s. And that’s before we knew that the fertility gods are now requesting sacrifices of scorched earth.

But whatever. Much like the Gales facing the Kansas twister or the Florida meth whores peddling their wares during Hurricanes Neal and Bob, we’re adjusting to life in Fire-geddon. Hell, it’s 2020, if the world isn’t literally crumbling to embers in your corner of the woods, just wait a week. Oh sorry, “corner of the woods” is probably an offensive statement here in Fire State. Every corner of every woods in the state is now an ember.

The problem that I’m having with the last five years isn’t the fires themselves, but rather our incessant need to come up with quippy little names for said fires.

I never understood the penchant for naming hurricanes. Sure, it helps to distinguish one from another, but that can be done without proper names of real human beings. There’ve been studies about people not taking female-named hurricanes as seriously as male-named ones. I can’t say for certain that Hurricane 2020-B would be any more or less effective. At least then they’d only get useful monikers once they’ve become something we should give a shit about. 

As opposed to our current classification system, where they get their fancy pre-selected name as soon as one drop of rainwater hits the Atlantic Ocean. It starts as Tropical Depression then it’s Tropical Storm, and because it has a name, we’re kinda rooting for it, right? I had a tropical storm named after me a few years ago, and I was really hoping it would head to New Orleans, hang out on Bourbon Street for a while, maybe drink a hand grenade because hurricanes are so gauche. 

It never became a hurricane. Insert sad-trombone noise.

It could be worse. I could be named Katrina. Or Andrew. Sucks for those people. We all want our named storms to peter out around a Category I, right? Worthwhile enough to be noticed, but nothing that’ll be reviled throughout time.

But hey,  the worst two hurricanes have one female name and one male name. And beyond those two, we’ve got Harvey and Sandy, Ike and Maria. Huzzah for gender equality!

At least when they’re naming hurricanes, they do it ahead of time and try to pick non-specific names. Now that they’ve decided to start naming fires, all bets are off. They name it after the fact and try to be as cutesy as possible. I guess all those out-of-work military planners had to get a job somewhere. Remember Operation Enduring Freedom? Good thing we didn’t take a left at Fallujah or we might be calling it Operation Turgid Nipple.

I’ve already listed some of the fire names above. The Carr Fire and the Camp Fire. Really? Oh what giggles must’ve erupted about the command center when those names were posited. “Sure, the town of Paradise is burning to the ground as we speak but, follow me here, guys. Camp Fire. Get it? Campfire? Oh, I’m so clever.”

They come up with some bogus bullshit about the fire starting near Carr Road or Camp Farm or whatever, but it’s clear they’re just trying to be clever. Hey, let me see if there was a Homeowners’ Ass. anywhere near the conflagration and I can call it the Ass Complex.

I perused the Cal Fire website while writing this. Check out some of the names: Oak Fire, Willow Fire, Lake Fire, Valley Fire, and Creek Fire. Clearly somebody was watching Animal Planet recently, because we’ve recently added a Bobcat Fire and a Sheep Fire. There’s also a Schoolhouse Fire. 

“Good thing all of our schools are canceled because of the plague, right boys? C’mon, up top!”

There’s a fire called the Lightning Fire, which may or may not have been caused by lightning. I say “may not,” because there were a lot of lightning fires (we had thunderstorms in mid-August) so it seems odd to name just one of them Lightning Fire. And we’re obviously not naming these fires after their causes or else we’d have “Dumbass Hipster Fire” and “Uncontrolled Control Burn Fire.” There’s an “August Complex Fire,” too. I have learned that a complex fire are when two or more fires merge. So the “August Complex Fire” mentions it was formerly known as the “Doe Fire.” Animal Planet Dude strikes again.

The problem with these names is that they’re confusing as hell, and when I want to check and see if anything is contained or if I’m ever going to see blue skies again, I first have to guess what clever name they’ve come up with. For instance, the county next door to me, bordering Sacramento, is named “El Dorado County.” The “El Dorado Fire,” meanwhile, is 500 miles away in Riverside County.

Imagine if the hurricanes were only named after they had already struck, and then were named random shit like “Cloud Hurricane” or “Wet Hurricane.” Or “Beaver Hurricane.” Then add in that “Texas Hurricane” just ravaged the coast of South Carolina.

I understand that, when there are twenty fires raging at any given time, there’s got to be a way to classify them. But guess what? Those of us living through this shit have come up with a much better classification system. The city that’s getting evacuated becomes the classification for the fire. Camp Fire, my ass. It was the Paradise Fire. Just ask Netflix.

Here’s the conversation I had at work last week.

“It was starting to clear up, but now it’s back. Is this smoke still from the San Jose fire?”

“No, I think that one’s mostly contained. I think this new smoke is from Fresno.”

“Really? Fresno’s an awfully long way away.”

“Whatever happened to the Auburn Fire? Wasn’t that blanketing you house last week?”

“No. Turns out the Auburn fire was minor. I thought it was that, but I was getting Vacaville.”

Super tough, huh?

Although I bet the forthcoming Cougar Fire will be nice and caliente.

You’ll Never Believe How I Play Animal Crossing! #713 will amaze you!! Plus X-Men and GoT!!!

Welcome back to my foray into the time- and mind-suck known as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, including the use of the clickbait titles required when writing about said game.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Sophie Turner starred as both a “Game of Thrones” character AND a Marvel character. I should probably post a picture of her. Meh, you can google it.

Oh, and I think last time I promised I’d tell you what new critters are available in September. Let me check my Critterpedia. I’ve see some salmon and some crickets. A snazzy red dragonfly is  out, but only during daytime hours. And something about acorns?

Dammit, I should’ve buried this at the end of the blog. With a shit-ton of “Next” buttons en route. I’m as bad as a Nigerian prince at this.

Last time, I wrote about my family’s journey from one to three Switch Lites, along with three copies of Animal Crossing. But at the tail end of that post, I was still managing to fight the temptation to hang out with passive aggressive animals. But eventually, I reached the point I always reach with Civilization games. Easy levels are too easy, hard levels kick my butt. If the damn game’s gonna last ten hours, I want it to be just hard enough to beat. The only thing worse than wasting ten hours on a game you’re kicking butt on is to waste ten hours only to lose. 

So some time in late June, I finally busted out our third copy of Animal Crossing and created the island of Buffett. Because Wife had already nabbed Copacabana and Margaritaville is too many letters.

If you haven’t played Animal Crossing, the main plot of this game is revolving debt. I assume they sell it as “building an island paradise amongst creepy animals with personality issues,” but really, it’s about the never-ending, crippling debt that defines modern America. Plus doing other people’s work for them. 

The stage is set with your very first task, which is to place not only your own tent, but the other two tag-alongs’ tents, too.  That’s right, they sell you on the whole “deserted island” motif then, Bam! give you two neighbors, one of whom is “snooty,” and three staff. Seems suspiciously like one of those “hour-long” timeshare meetings. 

You then spend the next month chasing Tom Nook, the crazy cruise director’s, dream of packing said island to the rafters with other residents until you can get a Fyre Festival concert going with an artist whose name sounds suspiciously close to an organization that one should not want to be too closely associated with. My heart skips a beat every time Daughter exclaims, in that echoing voice of a six-year old not yet aware of “inside voice,” that we have to get home quick so she can attend the K.K. rally.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

After you’ve picked out the island, placed three tents , and promised to bury your first-born child into a glowing hole that will grow into a three-baby tree, they stick you with the bill. You owe fifty grand in moving expenses!

Not to worry, though. Like any good cult leader, he’s gonna cut you a deal on your first batch. All you have to do is use his phone app to get frequent flyer miles and drink his Kool-Aid on a regular basis. However, as soon as you pay it off, he hits you with another loan, and this one needs honest-to-goodness money to pay off. 

Sure, I don’t have to take out that second loan, but dude is a somewhat persistent used-car-that-runs-on-snake-oil salesman, “Hey, good job paying off that piece-of-shit tent,” he says. “How about manning up and getting a fucking house like the rest of society?” So you acquiesce and upgrade to a studio apartment, then a one-bedroom, then two. Eventually you add an upstairs. Each time, he builds it for you right away, then makes you pay off the loan. And he won’t let you forget about it either. If you chat with him about anything, it comes across as, “Boy, I really wish I could get my favorite Aryan singer to this podunk place. And hey, no hurries, but about that little loan I floated you…

“But seriously, go build some bridges and paths and campsites and shit, because this deserted island ain’t gonna turn into a five-star resort by itself.”

It’s not just the Jim Jones guy in charge, either. EVERYBODY on this fucking island wants you to do all of their work for them. In a Trumpian show of nepotism, Tom Nook’s little nephews want to set up a shop on the island. Only thing is that you have to collect all their supplies. Then, in a classic boss-versus-worker-bee twist, once they open the shop that you built for them, their hours are shorter. When they were working out of resident services, you could buy and sell from them 24 hours a day. Now their shop is only open 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. It’s like that old joke where the MBA guy finds a villager who fishes in the morning and drinks cervezas on the beach the rest of the day. The MBA tells him that he should expand his business, invest in a fleet, work hard for thirty years so he can enjoy a retirement of fishing in the morning and drinking cervezas on the beach the rest of the day.

The Nook boys will accept items for sale after hours, but then they take a 10% cut. About what you’d expect from dudes who relied upon their uncle for the plot of land and a random stranger for all the materials. I guess they’re too busy sipping cervezas on the beach. They certainly aren’t fishing, because that’s what they need me to do to keep their business afloat. 

Eventually, your island will grow to 10 other residents who might help the various Nookses with their get-rich-slowly schemes. But, hoo boy, those other residents su-uuuu-uck. The can’t fish. They can’t catch bugs. They can’t bang rocks. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one shake a damned tree. Not sure why these people (or animals, I suppose) decided coming to a deserted island, with no OSHA or ADA or left-turn signals. This sure ain’t one of those libertarian islands where you’re expected to fend for yourself.

Watch one try to catch a bug some time. It’s hilarious. They stalk up to it with their net raised and then they just stand there like Paul Giamatti trying to talk to a woman in “Sideways.” Pull the trigger, mother fucker!

At some point later in the game, you’re supposed to build bridges and inclines. I guess the game manufacturers thought people would feel used and abused by that point, so instead of paying for it all yourself, you place where it’ll go and then everybody on the island can contribute to its cost. Unfortunately, “everybody contributing” usually ends up equating to 197,572 bells from you and 428 combined from the other ten residents combined. True socialism at work!

But their slovenly ways aren’t nearly as annoying as how damned smug they are about it. They really should’ve named the game “Passive Aggressive Crossing.” If you talk to them more than once in a day, they not-so-subtly remind you that you’re wasting their time. “Wow, we keep running into each other” or “Hey, I have an idea, let’s see how many times we can talk” or “Didn’t I just talk to you?” But then if you go a couple days without talking to them, they remind you of that, too. 

This is probably why it’s a kid’s game. Daughter doesn’t understand social cues or sarcasm, so if somebody snidely says, “We should play a game where we keep talking to each other for no reason,” she’s like, “Sweet, a game!” Meanwhile, I return their own passive aggressiveness with a healthy dose of my own. The museum owner loves fish, but hates bugs. So I make him tell me more information about bugs, but whenever I give him a fish, I pull the “Sorry, I’m really busy.”

It only takes one look at our various islands to note the different ways we play this game. Wife’s island is meticulous, well-manicured trails between perfectly-segregated flower gardens. She even decorates the areas around each resident’s island with different motifs, giving each of those slackers their own flower beds. Daughter’s island is filled to the brim with lots of colorful knick-knacks. Instead of meticulous flowerbeds, her whole fucking island is one giant flowerbed. There’s probably some rhyme or reason to it, but I can’t discern how to get from point a to point b, much less the aesthetics of a six-year old. 

My island, meanwhile, has random shit dropped wherever. There’s usually some method to my madness, but I couldn’t give two shits about how it looks. My exercise bike is by some sort of fish-drying rack. I think there’s a lava lamp by my topiary. I do a good job of cleaning up all of my ersatz building materials, my rocks and wood and what-have-you, into neat little clumps of thirty. But then I put those clumps of thirty on the ground, whereas Wife puts them in storage. Why did I put all the shoes and cans out on the beach? So they’re out of the way! Sure, I coulda put them in front of Agnes’s house, but what would that accomplish? 

At least you can get around my island. Daughter’s island has so much random shit it’s a fucking maze. While Wife’s island has neat little flower beds of complimentary colors and varietals, Daughter’s island is one giant smorgasbord of every flower in existence. Oh, and fences. I visited her island last Sunday morning to buy some cheaper turnips from the disgusting, snot-nosed Daisy Mae, and Daughter informed me I had to go through the “secret passage” to get to the other side of the island. Said secret passage ended up being a zigzag of fences through a flower field, between two houses, and onto a bridge.

My flowers, by the way, are as haphazard as Daughters, only less prolific. When I get the quest to plant three flowers, I plant three flowers and nothing more. Then I drop the remaining seed packets there, so the next time I get that quest, I only need to pick them up and plant three more. So its more of an amorphous blob.

Daughter probably interacts with the other residents as the game designers intended. When given the choice (task!) of where to put their houses, she started by putting them as close to hers as possible. When that became untenable, she made carefully constructed neighborhoods, even paying to move some of their houses to live close to others they’re likely to get along with.

Me? I put those fuckers as far away from me as possible. I signed up for a deserted fucking island, dude. It’s bad enough these lollygaggers want me to do all their work for them. They want me to talk to them, too?

When I finally gained the ability to move houses, I didn’t move theirs, I moved mine. Because by then I could get across the river, and option I didn’t have at the beginning of the game. And it’s a skill the others never gain, because if they can’t work a goddamn net, I don’t see them mastering pole vaulting. Fifty thousand bells to cordon off half of the island for my own private compound? Sold!

Although I did also pay to move one of the original residents’ houses. I’d originally placed it too close to the center of a peninsula. When new residents moved in, I wanted them taking up as little space on my paradise as possible, so I moved Agnes’s house over a skosh to jam a new resident in right next to her, like a proper nineteenth century tenement. Slum lord, here I come. If I could put them all to work at a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, I would. 

IT’s not only about where they live, either. Daughter makes gifts for her residents and sends them postcards. She doesn’t at all mind when one of them tells her to “snuffles” or “pronk.” Seriously, she’ll go around the island to collect natural resources, then craft them into finish products, just to walk up to a rando and give it to them when they weren’t even asking. WTF? Doesn’t she know she can get a good deal on that over at Nook’s Cranny?

Of course, then she always whines that Wife and I have more money and more Godzilla monsters than her. Maybe if she learns her lesson now, she can avoid the whole loadie friend stage in her teens and twenties.

So if I don’t make my island pretty and I don’t interact with my residents, what the hell am I doing playing Animal Crossing? Trust me, it’s a question I ask myself on the regular. But, you see, they give you tasks. A never-ending list of tasks that give me Nook miles that I must complete in order to get assigned new ones. In order to get Nook miles that I don’t need, which I redeem for cash and prizes. which I don’t do.

It’s so easy to fall under its spell. All I have to do is cut down a tree and catch five fish? Easy peazy. So why am I, thirty minutes later, still with two fish to go and a virgin forest? It’s just like those never-ending games that I download on my phone.

Except that I had to pay for this never-ending game. Three times, in fact. 

Crap.

Maybe I need to sell some ads to those free-game companies.

Secret Animal Crossing Tips with Marvel Villains and George R.R. Martin!

I’ll be right with you. I have to catch two fish to get some Nook miles. 

Two hours later…

No really. I’ll finish this blog post. As soon as I buy a shrubbery from Leif and talk to one more resident.

I know I’m a little late to the party, but as you can probably tell, I’ve become one of the presumably billions of people who turned COVID-geddon into a non-stop fest of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It might seem silly and pointless to be writing my “review” of a game that came out months ago, but my Google feed suggests otherwise. It’s not quite as clickbaity as “Next Game of Thrones Book Release Date will Fix Major Plothole,” followed by a description of  season six of the tv show. Or maybe “MCU Phase Seven Villain Confirmed,” which links to a list of comic book villains. Really? Doctor Doom AND Galactus are both Marvel characters?

Seriously, near the end of July, I saw a headline for which Animal Crossing bugs and fish would be disappearing at the end of the month. Hey guess what? I can check my Critterpedia, too. In case you’re wondering, cicadas are going away at the end of August. 

And Hugh Jackman probably won’t be playing Wolverine in the Disney Marvel movies.

We were late to the Animal Crossing party as a result of being late to the Nintendo Switch party. Haven’t played many video games since a) child became mobile, and b) phones started adding never-ending games that require you to log in once every 30 minutes to accomplish nothing at all. My PlayStation 3 is collecting dust upstairs, Assassin’s Creed 3 about 15% done and Grand Theft Auto 4 still in its plastic wrap. I thought, briefly, about buying a PS4, until I found out that it doesn’t have backward compatibility. But the PS5 will, so maybe sometime in 2022 I’ll finally conquer Zork.

With the ‘Rona shutting down both mine and my daughter’s school year a couple month’s before her sixth birthday, which allegedly comes with a minuscule amount of hand-eye coordination, I figured it was finally time to splurge on a next generation console before it became a last generation console. Like me.

Unfortunately, the entire rest of the planet also decided to buy a Nintendo Switch in March. And the supply line was already jacked up because they’re made in countries which went through the Shutdown Shuffle thing back in November. 

But because I typed “Nintendo” once upon an internet search, I spent most of April getting all sorts of fancy newsfeed notices about this fantastical new game that looked nothing like Mario. Why, it’s only giant-headed humans on a brightly-colored island. 

But from what I read, and heard from friends who owned a Switch before the shutdown, it was the BEST of times. It’s an obsessive game, they told me. There’s SO MUCH to do on it. Like fishing and catching bugs and chopping trees and… and… that’s about it. Sounded more like farming to me, but a video game titled “It’s Literally Just Lawn Mowing” was in the top ten downloads on Google Play a little while ago. Wow, we’re really looking for a slice of normalcy this year, aren’t we?

I asked one of my friends if it was kid friendly. She blinked at me through the Zoom call as if I had asked if the Pope shits in the woods. “Yeah. Have you seen it? It’s made for kids.” Well sure, I said, but so was Minecraft, but then grown-ups come and destroy everything your child has built. I mean, have you seen what we’ve done with Halloween?

But she assured me that, if I were to ever track down a console, Daughter could keep her island safely secured from other human beings. Sold! Removing contact from other human beings is the whole fucking point of video games, yesno?

I spent most of April and May scouring every virtual marketplace for a console, any console. Except for eBay, because no way was I going to pay $600 for a used console that somebody stuck up their butt first.

In early May, I saw some Switch Lites for sale, but no big plug-into-the-tv Switches. I hadn’t heard of these Lite things before, but I was skeptical. I’m aware the big selling point of the Switch is that it can be plugged into a TV or can be transported and played on its own little screen. As with the Wii and, really, every console including the original NES, Nintendo can never compete with the big boys on graphics or gameplay, so they differentiate themselves with fancy little “let’s redefine what video games even are.” For a span of a couple months in seventh grade, every boy and half the girls in my school were competing and sharing progress and helping each other through Metroid. “Hey, I got missiles last night.” “Dude, I’m stuck on the bats.” “Oh, place a bomb on the left-most doorway.” Hard to believe we did all that without cell phones or cheat boards.

Still, I was leery of the Switch Lite. Handheld consoles always hearken back to Game Boy. And really, isn’t my phone a handheld gaming console? And their games are free! Sure, I have to watch an ad stream as never-ending as the daily Nook Miles tasks, but all the advertisements are just for other free games. How the hell does that work? Seems as bogus an economic system as the hospitals and insurance companies that concoct random numbers because nobody really pays any of those make-believe prices. “Go ahead, add another zero and we’ll just raise premiums, which employers will cover in lieu of raises. Oh, and we can run an ad on Candy Crush with the extra profit.”

But as April turned into May and Daughter’s birthday approached with nary a toy store in sight, those shoddy Switch Lites started calling my name like lite beer during Lent. After watching them show up, then disappear again, on Target’s website, the next time I saw them, I nabbed it as quick as possible. The two games I got with it were Mario Kart, which Daughter’s played maybe five times since early June, and Ye Ol’ Crossing de Carne.

I also bought Civilization VI for Daddy, because I’ve played every other iteration of Civilization, dating all the way back to the first one on 5-1/4″ floppys back in 1991. When Daughter opened the present, we informed her that, while this was her birthday gift, it was a family item. We reserved the right to play on it when we desired.

That lasted about a week.

Not that Daughter was reticent to give it up. She’s okay with watching us play, to a certain extent, but Wife was having none of it. It started out innocently enough. We figured we should what the hell this game was all about if we were going to use it as a baby sitter while we worked. Daughter had played it a few times, but her reading level isn’t quite up to the level of word bubble after word bubble of Tom Nook’s bullshit. So Wife made a character to figure out if there was more to the game than running around and fishing.

Spoiler alert: there isn’t any more to the game than running around and fishing.

While Daughter was usually okay with limiting her game time, you could only get our Nintendo if you took it from our cold, sleeping hands. Turns out Animal Crossing is precisely the style and speed of video game Wife prefers. And Civilization VI is just as crack-like as the first five. Unfortunately, looking up from the screen and realizing it’s 3:00 am is much more of an existential crisis at 45 than it was at 19. I might as well just stay up until I can call the chiropractor.

The good news is that the Switch Lite has a finite battery, so it gives me more impetus to save and quit than any of the first five Civilizations did. Sure, I could plug it in, but if I’m getting up from the couch, I might as well go to bed.

The other drawback to all of us playing on the same machine was that we all had to play on Daughter’s island, which she named Hawaii, because she isn’t the best at naming things. We’ve adopted two animals from rescue groups over the past year and she kept both random names assigned by the fostering employees. It could be worse. She named the fish Grocery Bag and Shopping Cart.

After about a week of Wife getting her feel for the game, she was checking Target inventory for not only a second, but a third, Switch Lite. A week after those arrived, they were joined by a second copy of Animal Crossing, so the two of them could play at the same time. I repeatedly said we didn’t need a third copy, but allegedly one of the real joys of this game is visiting each other’s islands, which can only be done if we’re all playing on three different machines, with three different copies of the video game.

For those keeping track, my $199 investment in Daughter’s birthday/COVID sanity, has now turned into $600 in consoles plus $180 for three copies of the same game. And yeah, I know we can log in and out of different machines and download it to each one, then log out again. But meh, it’s not like there were many options to waste money on during the lockdown. Hell, without a commute, I’m probably saving that much money a month in gas and oil changes.

Plus, we totally kick ass at the Bug Off now. Did you know you get bonuses if three of you are buggin’ at the same time?

Still, I might need to figure out how to monetize this damn blog to pay off all my bills.

On that note, click here to hear how our peaceful family was taken over by creepy animals with personality issues. Two posts are better than one, right?

By the time it posts, I might be able to tell you which critters and fish show up in September.

Oh, and spoilers about every Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter plotline for the rest of time!

COVID Scoreboard

Am I the only one this happens to? 

I return home from  some socially-distant walkabout, or perhaps I put on my HazMat suit to buy a dozen eggs, and immediately go wash my hands, as I was told might be important back in March, but I haven’t heard one medical or political leader mention since then. But the running water makes me have to go pee. Then I have to wash my hands again. I’m starting to think Bath, Body Works, and Zoom is behind this whole COVID thing. 

Yes, I list Bath and Body Works as two different entities, which I assume merged in the late Middle Ages, like Buda and Pest.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. In that time, the world seemingly ended and then started to come back before deciding that, meh, maybe it needs to hit the snooze button for another six months or so. 

I blogged a fair amount back when it all came crashing down. But then I stopped because every post ended up being the same. Even when I went beyond the COVID stuff, what the hell else was I supposed to write about? A fancy new restaurant I discovered? That new movie that’s become water cooler scuttlebutt? Try as I might, I can’t milk 1000+ words out of washing my hands and then peeing. 

At least not on a weekly basis.

But here on the cusp of a the second full decade of COVID, it’s worth another check in. 

What’s that? It’s only been five months? Regardless, Daughter and I are both heading back to school this coming week, so I guess now is as good a time as any to take the rectal temperature.

Of course, “heading back to school” might not be 100% accurate. We’ve started education via shiny screen, at any rate. In my last post I mentioned my district was bloviating about sending all the kids back to schools and starting teacher death pools as a new fundraising apparatus. Then they said the students didn’t have to show up at school but the teachers still did, because only one of those two variables are important to the educational process and their bottom line. After that, the teachers agreed to let them blame pushing back the start of the school year by a week on us to the parents. As a result, we’re allowed to teach from home. So now I’m live-streaming 12th grade AP right next to Daughter, who is live-streaming first grade. My students are very jealous that we can’t spend a whole day on “how to use crayons” like the other talking head in the room.

I called it, of course. I knew that no school district was actually going to go through with the whole “no social distancing, everybody come back” threat. Wait, what’s that? Georgia, you say? Too bad they suspend people for taking pictures, so we’ll never see what that looks like…

Looking back on my earlier posts,  I was right more often than I was wrong. I thought we were overreacting and, I know this is an unpopular position, but I still think we’re overreacting. Or maybe not overreacting, but focusing on the wrong things. Much like the TSA, half the crap we’re doing is designed to look like we’re trying instead of actually keeping us safe. If there was really virtually no spread at BLM rallies, then half the stuff we shut down didn’t need to be shut down. As another example, in baseball, they have to sanitize the bullpen phone after each usage, even though the bullpen phone is answered by the same person every single time.

And no, I don’t think that’s where the entire Marlins team caught the ‘Rona. Unless there’s a bullpen phone in South Beach night clubs. 

Speaking of sports, I was also right that baseball is a relatively easy game to socially distance. What I forgot was that the owners and the players would rather stick their heads up their collective asses than to take advantage of months where everybody is stuck at home watching Frozen II for the seventy-fifth time. The owners were convinced they were going to lose ALL of their money and then, lo and behold, opening night was the highest rated in years. Imagine if it had happened back in May. Or April, if we’d never shut it down in the first place.

Of course, two teams have gone full COVID. Double digit cases on both the Marlins and Cardinals, which is made even worse by the fact that those two teams don’t play each other. Had they caught it from each other, we might have a good test study. But they’re in different time zones. Again, it probably would’ve been better for MLB to start up in April or May, when the players couldn’t go to bars after the games. But when you hold off for three months because it’s “unsafe,” then say, “Okay, things are safe enough to return now,” then people are going to act as if they’re safe. It’s the lesson that the entire United States learned during July.

That’s why the recent cancellations of most of college football was obvious from a mile away. And the conferences that are still “contemplating it” are only doing it for the optics. College football is a fucking pipe dream. Take all of the problems MLB has had and add in teenagers without millions of dollars on the line. Or proper health care beyond a team doctor who gets paid to say, “Yep, he can play.”

Closer to home, the recreational soccer league we signed Daughter up for back around the time her softball season was canceled after one game seem intent to go on with soccer this fall. With only “slight modifications.” Such as there won’t be any actual games. Only practices. And parents can’t hang out at the practice. But we can’t leave practice. We have to sit in our cars the whole time. How quickly can I opt out?

Here’s what I don’t get: how would putting my daughter on a field with 10 other six-year-olds and a couple of parent coaches be fine, but putting her on a field with 20 others be where the problems come? Yes, I understand the law of averages, but if the implication is that at least one team will get COVID and they don’t want to spread it to others, then maybe they shouldn’t be having team practices in the first place. 

The soccer league is just taking a cue from the general sense of “othering” tied up with COVID. My team is okay, it’s those other teams that we have to fear. I know all of my friends are clean and safe, it’s those OTHER people who are disgusting and COVID-y. Right before my curling league shut down, somebody proposed that we keep our leagues running, because we know all those people, but maybe stop doing Learn-to-Curls, because the GENERAL PUBLIC can come to those. I responded that the members were just as likely to have it as non-members, so we shut the whole thing down.

Conversation with my father-in-law: “The mask is not just to protect you, but other people.” “But I don’t have it.” “How do you know?” “Because I’m healthy.”

Which is not to say I’m immune to this othering. Whenever I hear of someone catching it, I ask, “where did they go? What did they do? In what way did they bring this on themselves?” And when they caught it at church, I breathe a sigh of relief. 

Somebody at my wife’s work caught it. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the guy who frequented every bar in the greater Sacramento area the day they re-opened. It’s one of the conscientious ones, my wife claimed. He’s got three kids at home! It’s totally random!

Turns out he went to Tahoe, which is pretty much the hottest of hotbeds in our state. “Don’t have COVID? Well, come on down and we’ll fix that right up!”

Back in March and April, I thought we forced shut down too quickly, before we could see if the distancing and hand washing would help. And masks, although back then they lied to us by telling us masks didn’t help. In fact, masks were probably bad for us. The lie was totally reasonable. One look at the toilet paper aisle was enough to realize that if we thought we needed masks, no doctor would be able to cover his or her face until 2025. 

But the short-term gain from that little white lie came back to haunt the CDC, didn’t it? Might be a teachable moment in there. If we were allowed to teach anymore. Most people (certainly not all, but most) are willing to go along with scientists changing their minds as new evidence comes in. What we’re less thrilled with is the “Oh yeah, we knew all along that you should be doing this, but we didn’t think you could handle it. This time we’ll keep the football down, Charlie Brown.”

So yeah, I still don’t understand why we shut down camping and miniature golf and contactless car washes. Perhaps if we had taken a measured response at the beginning, told people that if they wash hands and wear masks and be careful about how close they are to people, that we can do certain things. Instead they told us we couldn’t do a goddamn thing for two months and then were shocked that we crammed the beach so closely that we were cupping the balls of the dude three blankets away.

Most of us have figured out the measured approach on this second go around, yes? We wash our hands and wear our masks. We let people take out temperature when we go inside. I don’t understand what good that does if the main problem with COVID is how many people we spread it to before we have any symptoms. Once your temperature hits 100 degrees, it’s game fucking over. Last time I went to Kaiser, they didn’t stop me to take my temperature, so I figured they were acknowledging it as pointless. Nope, the nurse informed me, they’ve just gone all Big Brother and are surreptitiously scanning us from afar.

I hate going into Kaiser, because they make me lie. “Have you been experiencing any shortness of breath?” Um, I’m here to get allergy shots, meaning it’s been many weeks since my last allergy shots. And I have allergy-induced asthma that gets worse the longer I’ve gone without shots. So have I been experiencing any shortness of breath? I just assume they mean “more than usual” and say no. 

The mask companies finally caught up and made fancy, fashionable masks so we can accessorize with our favorite sports teams or pop culture references or works of art. We carry our hand sanitizer with us, even if it smells like a noontime drunk. Seriously, I’ve got some alcohol-based hand sanitizer in my car and, let me tell you, if I ever get pulled over after using that shit, I’m going to jail. Granted, it’s 100 degrees on the average day in Sacramento, but that stuff is straight rum coming out of there. Is that how we fixed the supply problem? Hand sanitizer: all gone, Restaurant alcohol: wasting away undrunk. Get me that Bicardi, stat!

I think the biggest failed lesson from the first lockdown was that the lockdowns had fuck-all to do with people’s actions. Herr Kommandant Newsom told us all to stay home and, lo and behold, we all stayed home! He hath spoken and we hath listened! Except that’s not really how it happened. What actually happened was people started hoarding and staying at home and started freaking out about whether or not they were going to go to work. On March 12, for instance, March Madness was canceled and Disneyland closed. And seriously, if those two organizations that put profit ahead of their very souls, are shutting down, then why the fuck am I going to work in my cubicle? 

Seven days later, after we had all purchased enough toilet paper to survive a nuclear shitstorm, Herr Kommandant told us, “Hey, why don’t you stay home? Go ahead. It’s on me.” Then, instead of trying to figure out how it spreads or if masks work or if a bear shits in the woods, he spent the next two months patting himself on the back that EVERYBODY in his state was listening to him and his fancy hair.

I assume they’re separate entities, Newsom and his hair. I only wonder who is the one that’s truly in charge of the symbiotic relationship.

Then people got tired of being trapped at home, so they started going out. And the Governor, not willing to admit people weren’t following his directions, came up with some bullshit about Phases and  R-1s and how if we do our best to watch all of his press conferences and maybe get our Senator put on the national ticket so that next year he can pull a Blegojevich next year, then maybe he’ll let us go to bars, but only if they serve us fatty foods with each drink.

Seriously, at one point everybody went to the beach and he said if we kept going to the beach, he wasn’t going to open anything. Then there was one windy day in SoCal where people didn’t go to the beach and he said, “Since everyone listened to me, you can go to the beaches now. And movie theaters, too.” 

But still no camping. And still, in late May, nothing about masks.

Remember when Georgia had a “Partial re-opening” and it was lambasted as short-sighted and dangerous, while at the same time California had a “phased rollback of restrictions,” which included about 90% the same things, but was somehow lauded as a studious approach based on evidence? Of course, nobody’s saying that about California now as we’ve surged past all the models.

So yeah, I still think I was right about a fair amount. About toilet paper and social distancing and the likelihood that schools would never have on-location education ever again. At one point I said that if we all hunkered down for two months then all returned to the wild, we weren’t really “flattening the curve” so much as “delaying the curve.” I think I get a fucking gold star and a cookie for that prediction, yeah?

But there were definitely some things I could not have been more wrong about. Top of that list is how many people want to burn the whole thing down. I mean, I assume they want to stay in lockdown forever, or else they’d wear some fucking masks, right? 

Seriously people, if y’all put on your masks and stopped practicing fully-clothed sodomy with each other, we could be out of this in a manner of weeks. But today I had some 80-year-old lady crawling up my backside at the checkout counter at the grocery store. Y’know, those carts are almost six feet long, so all you have to do is stand behind your fucking cart and we’re good. And yeah, I know you have to take stuff out of your cart, but this lady stood right behind me and pulled her empty cart in behind her. Then she LEANED TOWARD ME!!!

And now everybody’s trying to follow the letter of the rules without following the intent. Bars are selling a single french fry to go with your drink. Restaurants can serve outdoors, so they’re throwing up giant tents to keep all the COVID trapped around you in a nice moist environment. Others aren’t even pretending to follow the rules. A waterslide park outside of Sacramento recently reopened in violation of a state mandate. They’re being fined $500 a day. 

Five hundred bucks a day. They run a water park in a Trump-voting county where the average temperature is over 100 degrees. I think they make back that $500 in the first twenty minutes they’re open. That’s kinda like making me pay the extra five-cent sin tax on my beer. It’s not really doing jackshit to dissuade me from drinking.

Oh wait, it’s not a sin tax, it’s a recycling tax. I’m supposed to get it back if I recycle. Except all the recycling centers have closed, and that was long before COVID. Probably a topic for another time.

I’ve got plenty of time, after all. With tent dining and opened water parks and a bunch of Anti- Masxxers, to say nothing of the 100 students waiting patiently on a Zoom call to turn a freeze-frame screencapture of my nosehair into a Tik Tok, we’re going to be here for a while.

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.