california

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.

Coronavirus Quaran-geddon Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That might be the motto for this blog, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What? It’s still March?

Fuck!

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Part 2

It’s academic time right now.

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

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

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

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the What is a Spatula?

I felt like a really, honest-to-goodness historian the other day.

There was a disagreement amongst a few of us as to what to call a certain kitchen tool.  In order to settle the dispute, I was able to call up a historical document that proves my side of the argument was correct. Although in all honesty, before I was able to find corroboration from the historic record all the way back in 1989, I was beginning to question my own recollection.

I’ve been living in a Mandela Effect for a large portion of my adult life. There was an object that I always called something when I grew up, but nobody around me refers to it as such. Even worse, they use that exact same word to refer to another item altogether. They’re similar, but not the exact thing. Close, but no cigarette.

Most of this difference in nomenclature probably comes from location. I grew up in Southern California, but moved to the Sacramento region for college and have stuck around ever since. And 400 miles or so can make a big difference on language.

Remember back in the day when social media was new and fun? Before we realized that there were damn good reasons we didn’t keep in touch with those shitheads from [insert city/job/jail]? Back in the long-ago when people’s asinine political opinions only came out at Thanksgiving.

Anyway, back in social media’s nascence, I remember a quiz that guessed where you live by asking you a series of questions about vocabulary and pronunciation. How do you pronounce caramel, and is tote a noun or a verb, and voila! here’s where you grew up. It gave me Anaheim and Sacramento, which was a pretty good guess for the two places I’ve lived.

It makes sense. I remember one of the questions was what you call the road that runs alongside the freeway. I answered frontage road, because that’s what they call them in the central valley of Northern California. But had I lived my entire life where I was born, I would’ve answered “I don’t know a word for this,” because in Southern California, there ain’t no such thing as a frontage road. The road that’s next to the freeway is probably another freeway. Good thing there were no questions about public transportation, because neither half of California knows what that is yet.

So, even though I cringe every time someone gives directions up here and fails to put “the” in front of the number of the freeway, I am at least able to understand that it’s a minor dialectical thing. And I can condescend that it’s because they don’t have very many freeways up here. In SoCal, your directions might say “Take the five to the fifty-five to the ninety-one to the fifty-seven to the sixty to the six-oh-five to the ten to the one-oh-five.” Try saying that last sentence without the word “the”.  If you’re only ever likely to have two freeways in any given instructions, then I guess it’s easier. Although it still frustrates me when people tell me to “take five to J Street.” Take five what? Five minutes? Five miles? Five rabid orangutans?

I also find it amusing that they have traffic on the news up here. There’s pretty much only one freeway going in whatever direction you want to go. There are no alternate routes except for surface streets. In SoCal, they can report, “There’s an accident on the ten. Take the two-ten instead.” In Sacramento, all they can say is, “There’s an accident on interstate eighty. Too bad if you’re going northeast.”

But whatever. I’ve learned to change my directions to say “I-Five” or “Highway Ninety-nine.” It satisfies my need for adding a definitive article to my freeways, and those around don’t seem as bothered as using “the,” which they associate with the water-thieves down south. Even if most of SoCal’s water comes from the Colorado River, which is why Lake Mead looks like a puddle these days.

Regardless, I now know what a frontage road is, so I guess there have to be trade-offs.

Except for this kitchen utensil that seems to broker so much confusion:

Image result for spatula

In my upbringing, I would have referred to this as a spatula. I still, in my heart of hearts, think of it as such. But ever since I’ve moved to Northern California, throughout numerous roommates and families, if I ask anyone to grab me the spatula, this is what they’ll hand me:

Image result for spatula

Sure, they’re similar, but they ain’t the same things. They serve drastically different purposes in the kitchen. If I want to flip my hamburger and I get that flimsy flat thing, the poor burger ain’t getting flipped. At best I can spread a little mustard on it.

My wife refers to my spatula as a flipper or a turner. I suppose I understand that. But her form of a spatula could just as easily be called a spreader. I mean, what the fuck is a spatula, anyway?

So I’ve spent most of my adult life living in this weird spatula world. For a long time, I didn’t notice the discrepancy. It’s not like we cooked a lot in college. I might’ve heard people say they did odd things with spatulas, but I ignored it. Could I use my form of a spatula to spread frosting on a cake? I guess so, if i were in a bind. And if I got any odd looks when I talked about flipping something over with my spatula, I didn’t notice. Maybe they thought I wanted those eggs to be over hard, anyway. Or under hard. Is that a thing? Why can’t I have under hard eggs?

By the way, the Great Californian Spatula Split clearly isn’t just a golden state thing. You see those pictures I posted above? Of a flipper spatula and a spreader spatula? You know how I got those? I ran a Google image search for “spatula” and those were the first two responses I got. Evidently both of them can be spatulas? Which, in reality means that neither of them are spatulas. There’s no such thing as a spatula! Did I just blow your mind?

This doesn’t happen with other utensils, does it? If I Google knife, I might see different styles of knives, but they all do basically the same thing. In the same manner, even. I’m not going to get a picture of scissors with a shrug of, meh, they both cut.

But after years of incomprehensive looks, and after Wife refused to cowtow to my spatula definition, I finally convinced myself that a spreader is a spatula and I was just wrong before. Like Stockholm Syndrome or Big Brother teaching me that 2 + 2 = 5, I’d learned to ask for a spatula when I wanted to spread things. Otherwise I’d ask for the turner while thinking in the back of my head that it’s a fucking spatula! But I never said it aloud, and like any totalitarian regime will tell you, once you stop saying it out loud, you’ll start to doubt the veracity of your own thoughts.

But recently the wool was removed from my eyes. Two people were talking about spatulas in different regards. They didn’t understand each other. One person shrugged and said they’d always thought of spatulas as the things that flip something over.

“Oh my God,” I said. “Thank you! That’s what I always thought was a spatula, but NOBODY backs me up on that!”

Others looked at us like we were cray. Whatever. I’d seen the outside of Plato’s cave. Sorry, Robespierre, but I remember what Sunday was. And two plus two is four!

The naysayers were still saying nay, that is not what you do with a spatula. Spatulas are flat and flippers are bent, and never the twain shall meet.

But the floodgates were open on the shitshow sieve that is my brain. Because now that I’d had someone remind me that Nelson Mandela was alive the whole time, I’m remembering other references to spatulas. A movie that documented the rightful and truthful definition of a spatula. All I have to do is whip it out to pown all of the spatula deniers. And I shall strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy…

Sorry, wrong movie. I’m not going to debate whether or not Big Kahuna makes a tasty burger. What’s more important is that said tasty burger was turned over by a fucking spatula.

Five years before “Pulp Fiction” came another instant classic from a legendary writer and producer. I’m talking, of course, about Weird Al Yankovic and his seminal masterpiece, UHF.

If you’ve forgotten the intricate plot of this Lawrence of Arabia-esque epic, Weird Al played a guy who inherited a TV station. He filled the airwaves with various spoof shows. Or maybe he filled it with shitty shows but dreamed about spoof shows? Not sure. It wasn’t much on plot. But it is where Michael Richards got his start. A few years before Seinfeld and much longer before calling out ethnic minorities in his audience. And there was an Asian dude who turned “Wheel of Fortune” into “Wheel of Fish.”

Like I said, a little short on plot. Surprising for a guy who normally only needs to fill three to five minutes of satire at a time. But the spoofy parts were really funny. At least when I was fourteen.

But one of his spoofs was a commercial for a spatula store. “Spatula City: We sell spatulas, and that’s all!”

This “commercial” showed rows and rows of spatulas. Rubber spatulas, metal spatulas, silicone spatulas. Yellow, blue, green. Slightly-bent spatulas and fully-bent spatulas. But you know what it doesn’t show? A spreader.

Check it out:

You see that? Every spatula looks the way I always thought spatulas were supposed to look. Evidence that I’m not crazy!

Suck it, NorCal. You’ve been wrong all along. I now have evidence that I’m not crazy! Google should probably just get rid of half of its images searches. Once Al Yancovic has spoken, there’s really no reason to get into particulars. After all, if a worldly figure and diplomat, an honored cultural statesman like the esteemed Weird Al can properly identify what a spatula is, then why is there even a debate?

Wait a second, where did Weird Al grow up? Downey, California? Why, that’s only thirty miles away from where I grew up. Meaning… meaning…

Dammit, social media language police! You got me again!