I’m going ‘round in circles!

No, I don’t mean that maddening activity of starting one thing but picking up another before the first is finished and then jumping ahead to the a third or fourth or fifth but having to backtrack to the second or first in some fashion. Know what I mean? Don’t we all have days like that?

This blog’s merry-go-round, meanwhile, feels more like a spiral.

The circles I’m looking at this morning are much calmer.

Let’s start with the fact I haven’t been getting much exercise this autumn and winter. It’s not like pre-Covid, when I was swimming laps in Dover’s indoor pool. Up here in Downeast Maine, the nearest such pool is in Canada, and the border’s essentially closed. I used to joke that I swam laps to keep my doctor happy, and my new one has been concerned about my current blood pressure level. Does that sound familiar to any of you? So back to the lack of exercise and maybe a rising intake of salt.

After learning earlier this month that the high school gym is open weekday mornings for walkers, I’ve started venturing forth (it’s only eight blocks away, no need to drive) and begun circling the basketball court briskly in full comfort for an hour or so, switching directions about 30 minutes in. It’s nice not having tree roots, rocks, mud, or inclines to deal with, too. Frankly, even when they’re not snow covered, the local trails can be pretty challenging, not just where they’re along bluffs dropping into the churning ocean, either. There’s some pretty rough terrain around here.

As for the gym? I’m the only guy showing up so far, the rest are all women. Make of that what you will.

Guess the indoor track is gonna be the anchor of my new routine into spring, likely with pickleball thrown in somewhere during the week. (So far, I know nothing about said sport, other than what I found on the Web and that a couple of guys here have told me it’s a gas and I should try it and it seems to be the big social activity through the depth of deep cold. At least the avid players have a Facebook page here, and I’m kinda signed up, when the next round of newbies get introduced. Please stay tuned!) I do miss swimming those laps and some of the social connections I had many miles and months ago. Could that be a fine substitute?

That said, being back in high school, even it’s only a building, stirs up its own mixed feelings. I did resist an urge to deface a sign, TAKE THE SHOT, by altering one letter. I would be a horrible student if I had to do high school again. For instance, those PA announcements that interrupt the calm of my stroll really could prompt comedy. They’re unintelligible, far as I can tell, but they do have sound effects. BLARROOM! BLARROOM! Seriously. And you wonder that those kids aren’t learning anything? I think back in antiquity we relied mostly on bells, but I do vaguely recall that “come to the office” demand from a speaker box above the escape door.

In a more leisurely circle of activity, another highlight these days is the Eastport Arts Center’s Sunday afternoon free soirees through April. This coming week is some guy who’s invented a lot of instruments, starting with hubcaps, and is renting a U-Haul truck to bring them all up and perform. Some solid musicians insist it’s a revelation. I’m game. And last week was a discussion of dramaturgy. Hope I spelled that right. Well, how many other community theater companies do you know of that came out of the Covid shutdown with a Brecht-Cocteau double bill? By they way, I did know a fifth of the cast of their last production, Almost Maine, and a same proportion of the band. How’s that for a newcomer to town?

What anchors your life, week to week or even day to day?

My favorite big cities

I always wanted to live in a big city, the kind where big things were happening, and even when I was in high school, people were telling me that’s where I should be. But, oh my, my life’s gone in quite another direction!

So here are ten I’ve experienced, all in North America.

  1. Boston: For more than three decades, I lived an hour to the north and came to know it well. The fact it’s so pedestrian friendly makes it unique, in my mind. Much of it has a small-town feel, especially when you add in all of the suburbs that retain their original, Colonial-era, village roots. Besides, even I have come to appreciate that Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins regional identity.
  2. San Francisco: One visit, and it’s still love, though way out of my budget these days. We had a cheap place where we slept in sleeping bags. I now think of it as being somewhat like Boston, in a hip West Coast incarnation.
  3. Baltimore: I lived there for three years and know it can be Charm City, with a character all its own. It took me a while to readjust later to Boston.
  4. Cincinnati: A great place for classical music. Still is, from everything I see. Other than that, not quite so big as I remember, though Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, and Kroger are all headquartered there. I grew up an hour to the north, where everybody was a Reds’ fan.
  5. Chicago: Let’s start with the art museum, with all of its muscular heft, matching the city. Or the two years I worked for the Tribune, out on the road, and came in for conferences at the paper. Yes, I have stories!
  6. Seattle: For four years, it was my closest metropolis, back when everybody was worried it was going to go the way of San Francisco and lose its intimate charm. These days, I doubt I would know it all.
  7. Cleveland: For three years in my life, this was two hours away in one direction. Despite being the butt of a lot of bad jokes, the city was once the home to some of the nation’s leading industrialists, John D. Rockefeller among them. The art museum is definitely one of the nation’s top five, and admission is free. For genealogists, the Western Reserve Historical Society’s library is a mecca. The town as a whole has made quite a turnaround, though the Browns are another matter.
  8. Pittsburgh: And this was two hours away in the other direction. We usually headed for the university district.
  9. New York: I lived Upstate for a few years, plus a few more out in the Poconos, and during that time most of my friends were from The City. I’ve even spent the night in all five of the city’s boroughs, often in a sleeping bag, something few of the natives can claim. I know there’s a lot more than Manhattan.
  10. Washington, D.C.: Living up the road in Baltimore gave me repeated opportunities to zip down for a few hours, especially since one of my best friends lived there. There are still tons of the big attractions I never quite visited, though. I can tell you about the genealogical files at the National Archive, however, or the greenhouses at the National Cathedral, that sort of thing, and I still admire the subway system.

~*~

I still recall Montreal with wonder, from a trip back in the early ’60s. Someday, I hope, I’ll get back. And there are the repeated tastes of Philadelphia, enough to know I’ve missed much.

~*~

OK, your turn to tout a big city. What’s your favorite? Or one I’ve missed?

Our glorious dawn is much more than just sunrise

Except on overcast or stormy mornings, the early light of day in Eastport is amazing. Campobello Island in Canada blocks the first rays of the rising sun from striking us directly. Instead, the beam is deflected from the ocean into the air to become an ethereal rosy radiance, sometimes against a dark bank of clouds hovering off over the neighboring Fundy islands. And then, with that doubly-illuminated sky mirrored in the two-mile-wide channel separating Eastport from Campobello, the overhead color spreads out below as well.

Often, this scene is accompanied by the faint puttering of commercial fishing boats venturing out from the port.

When the sun itself finally swells into view, the blaze is nearly blinding, winter or summer.

Note to self: Keep sunglasses at hand.

The turmoil’s turned up, blowing the lid off simmering pot

Let’s take a look.

Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a range of economic jolts that seem vaguely related to the worldwide Covid outbreak, though I’d say the virus only precipitated troubles that would have been inevitable even without it.

The pandemic simply turned up the heat, as it were.

Among the headlines:

  • Soaring prices of houses, many of them going to buyers from California or New York, sight unseen. Who can afford these mortgages? None of us in our old neighborhood could have moved in today.
  • The relocation from big cities to small towns, for those whose jobs can be done from home. Will they stay or fit in? What will their impact be, especially in places that have been economically struggling?
  • A retail apocalypse in the face of rising online shopping – what’s the future of downtown or the malls? (If you’re “going to work” on Zoom, you don’t need to dress up in new clothes, for one thing.)
  • Superrich and corporate takeover of American farmlands – and mobile home parks. Another blow to the middle and lower classes.
  • Systemic problems in the nation’s health-care system, including the uneven distribution of medical services. A fourth of Americans, mostly rural, have no primary physician, and many others are afraid to use the system because of serious past racial abuses. (These appear to be the leading reason many people have not been vaccinated.)
  • The failure of “just-in time,” including the supply-chain issues that have plagued retailers and manufacturers alike. It’s also exposing the vulnerabilities of offshore sourcing to places like China and Indonesia, as well as looming national security weaknesses. (I blame the Walmart influence in shuttering American factories.)
  • While automakers have shut down assembly lines because of the unavailability of computer chips, what we found most striking was all the empty shelves during a run to IKEA, the home design line built on its international flair and savvy. Row after row, empty. So much for our shopping list and research.
  • Inflating food prices. Fuel and weather are only part of the problem. (Well, we should note climate change somewhere in here, though it has nothing to do with Covid.)
  • Customer and voter nastiness, no doubt intensified by the isolation and resentment.

~*~

More telling is the shift in the workplace, with all of the help-wanted signs for jobs that go begging. It’s not that people are lazy, but rather they’ve realized the positions are demeaning, or meaningless, and it costs them more to work than they’re paid. It’s time to admit that minimum wage is insufficient. Many apparently discovered during Covid that their jobs were costing more than they were earning, once child care, transportation, and related costs were factored in.

Add to that the fact that a certain percentage of the populace is, candidly, unemployable – in the old days, you could give them chores around the farm, but even those have been mechanized. So what can they do to still be contributing members of the wider society?

There has been a serious breakdown in the social contract that underpins democracy. And in the work ethic – or ethics, for those who look closer.

For decades now, employers have demanding loyalty but offering none of their own. Sometimes, there’s even a requirement of noncompete agreements, no matter that the worker has paid for the needed education and career. In reality, in a big company, you work for your immediate boss and colleagues and whatever satisfaction you can find – not the remote layers above. The fact is, nobody entering the workforce today will be at the same enterprise at the end of their career. Maybe public service – especially education – will remain the rare exception.

One of the more shocking reports I saw in the past year noted that only a minority of American males between 18 and 65 hold fulltime jobs – I think the figure was just a third of the total. What are the rest doing? School, prison, early retirement, or – as I’m suspecting – under-the-table ventures. They’re not all stay-at-home dads, are they?

~*~

My new community is an interesting place to watch all of this play out. The place has long been stressed economically, with few adequately paying jobs to sustain families, and that’s led to a population outflow.

Qualified contractors, on the other hand, have been booked out solid, as has been the case nationally. (See above housing sales.)

Our new old house needs tons of renovation, but we’re stymied. As my wife says, “I have money I want to give to somebody but just can’t find anyone to take it.” Well, if we had a crew lined up, there would have been the problem of getting building supplies, and then at prices twice what they’d been just months before.

We’re hoping that will all change in the months ahead.

~*~

These are all things that need to be examined closely in the months ahead, especially in the public arena like the upcoming elections, not that I expect much of it will come coherently from the candidates. The fixes, after all, aren’t easy or painless.

In a way, it’s reflected in the matters of even wearing a mask (or not) or getting the vaccine (or not). I’d say Covid has simply made more obvious the deep polarization at work in our nation – and the wider world.

We all have some important and difficult work to do ahead. We can start with small steps.

 

With pigeons

such gain, left to carry the rubbish after this unsettling and upheaval, all crashing down, the lonely conflagration increasingly desperate for a phoenix in some dawning how often one begins over, take the bookshelves, reorganize religious literature, find that ten-year-old letter initially appearing unopened sent just before the marriage with its Far West a nebulous daydream now I continue in the opposite direction rebounding perhaps keeping time as pigeons return quietly that’s all Thanks and g’day

Why we’re all waiting for the border to Canada to really reopen

Having to wait 72 hours for a Covid test result – but don’t you dare delay much longer – as well as the other current restrictions have meant that the U.S.-Canada border really isn’t open, not the way it was before the coronavirus outbreak.

That’s made for a hard burden where I now live. New Brunswick is very much a part of our community. Just about every long-established family has kin on the other side of the boundary. For almost everyone, it’s meant jobs or services or shopping or even cultural pursuits. There are good reasons our local newspaper covers the two adjoining counties, which share the tidal waters and weather. The virus constraints have devastated the economy of the small city of Calais, to our north, which usually carries heavy truck traffic between the two countries as well as local business at groceries, hardware stores, and other retailers and restaurants; likewise for the town of Lubec, to our south, which has the only bridge connection for Campobello Island. Many folks also have property on the other side of the line, or maybe their boat, or even dear ones buried in cemeteries, and are cut off. You go to the dentist and realize the radio is tuned to a Canadian station, that sort of thing. It’s not all one way, either. I would be back to swimming laps in the nearest indoor pool, for instance, only 45 minutes or so distant. The nearest Costco would be only an hour-and-a-half drive off, rather than eight or nine down around Boston. We’d have some fine dining options available, so I’ve been told, as well as museums and nightlife and even festivals.

The local Passamaquoddy population has long been torn by the international division, especially the differing laws regarding Indigenous peoples. I’ve also heard how the already tightening border regulations have changed other interactions. Guys my age have told me about dating girls on the other side of the water (way back then we were all teens), rowing over to court them and then returning (merrily), something nobody could do today without being detained by the Coast Guard, Customs officials, and who knows else. (Not so merrily.)

It’s also dampened summer tourism, especially by travelers who were hoping  to continue on but couldn’t, or by Canadians who usually boost the crowds at our week-long Fourth of July revels and Pirate Festival weekend.

For me, this has been a lesson in the ways seemingly arcane regulations made in distant places can hit home personally. You know, the kind of thing you might glance over in a news story with a shrug, as I would, not anticipating a trip to Europe or a Caribbean cruise or even a cross-country flight anytime soon.

What unexpected ways have you experienced Covid restrictions?