Ten things to look forward to in ‘normal’

To put the U.S. coronavirus crisis in perspective, consider that its toll has surpassed the 58,220 deaths of American servicemen in the Vietnam war. And to think, it would have been much worse if we hadn’t hunkered down, even as the virus continues to multiply.

Yes, I know it’s premature to expect our social lives to be returning to “normal” anytime soon, but let’s keep the hope alive.

Here are ten things I’ll say we’re missing.

  1. Worship. Gathering together, not just solo meditation. Followed by hugs and handshakes. Even weddings and funerals are on hold. Don’t overlook regional board meetings, annual sessions, community suppers, or big festivals, either.
  2. Live public events. Let’s start with concerts, theater, dancing and dance, sports of all sorts, both as players and fans. Add festivals, graduations, political rallies, public lectures, governmental meetings. The things that bring us together as a community.
  3. Swimming and the gym. For me, this includes the daily banter with fellow swimmers I’ve come to know and the lifeguards, too. It’s like workout partners and trainers at the gym, so I’ve heard. Long walks just aren’t the same.
  4. Eating out and meeting for a drink. Let’s throw in catching up with a friend over a cup of cappuccino or stopping off somewhere while off on that stroll. A phone call is a poor substitute.
  5. Shopping. Yes, we can still go to the grocery (kind of), but many other places are closed. As for yard sales, where we find some of our best stuff without them? I’ll put banking in person here, as in being able to walk into the lobby.
  6. Beaches, parks, playgrounds. I couldn’t even harvest seaweed for garden mulch this year. Seriously.
  7. Health care and grooming. How much can we put on hold? OK, I don’t need a barber these days, but my cardiologist would like some blood work at the lab and our rabbits need their nails trimmed, which has been happening at the high school’s animal sciences center, or was.
  8. Travel and transport. As I posted about not going to Boston recently or noting friends stuck without cars (and we can’t really offer them rides, either). Add to that airlines, not that I was planning on flying. But we really would like to get away from the house for a weekend breather.
  9. Libraries and museums. Special sanctuaries.
  10. Community care. Things like the soup kitchen and fundraisers. And places with public restrooms when I’m out on those long walks.

Schools I’ll set aside as a whole special category.

What are you especially missing these days?


Does Covid-19 spell the death of local newspapers, too?

Jack Shafer of Politico magazine recently aired his argument against including newspapers in stimulus aid for companies hurt by what he calls the coronavirus apocalypse. As his title says, “Don’t waste stimulus money on newspapers. You wouldn’t put a dead man on a ventilator, would you?”

It’s a harsh assessment, coming not from a right-wing fanatic but someone who values the experience of reading the news on paper. He knows all too well the precarious state of the news industry even before the Covid-19 devastation, and I hate to admit I have to agree with him.

If you want to see my take on some of the deep systemic financial problems, just turn to my novel Hometown News, available as an ebook.

For a little perspective, you have to realize you can’t even purchase blank newsprint for the cost of your local paper, and that’s without anything on it or delivery to your doorstep or favorite store or the box on the corner.

Shafer is not talking about the handful of national papers that are thriving, thanks to a surge of online subscribers during the Trump nightmare. He’s talking about the local papers across the country, many of them now owned by hedge funds and similar short-view gaming investors. The kind of enterprise that has gone from family ownership with roots in the community to a global conglomerate that sees money in liquidation, as in who-are-you-all-anyway and why-do-you-matter when it comes to the locals.

Well, with oil companies lining up for relief aid, newspapers definitely should be higher on the list. But I digress.

In some ways, the papers are a canary in the mine shaft, or a dinosaur looking into the eyes of an approaching train, if you care to mix metaphors. Remember what happened to the railroads, after all, when the Interstates were built … with public money. Again, I digress.

The biggest question for me is what happens to local communities if and/or when the local papers expire.

First, of course, is that the public loses an essential watchdog on grassroots level politics. Believe me, local officials act differently when they know they’re under scrutiny. It will cost you dearly when they’re not.

Covering their meetings and the impact takes time, knowledge, ability, and courage. If you’re simply blogging in your spare time, you can be bullied or miss the follow-up phone calls. ‘Nuff said there. We’re facing a threat to ground-level democracy, OK? How many of us can really afford a lawyer?

Second, though, is the loss of local identity. I think most newspapers have fallen down here, failing to raise distinct columnists you just have to read first thing in the morning, but that’s not the only problem. How important is your neighborhood and the general area to you, anyway? Do you even know your neighbors?

A third problem involves the local economy. For one thing, there’s been a huge shift in local retailing, from mom-and-pop stores to the big-box intruders at the mall or Miracle Mile and then online, as in Amazon. The mom-and-pops are the lifeblood of newspaper revenue. Those glossy inserts pay next to diddly. And when’s the last time you saw anything from that monster Amazon or even Craig’s list, which is killing the classifieds?

The obvious shift would be from on-paper publication altogether to online presence only, but no newspapers have figured out how to manage this. It requires subscriber-paid content. Web users are way too used to getting everything for free.

By the way, I hope television and radio are not included in the assistance packages. Yes, they, too, are suffering loss of ad revenue and audience. Rotsaluck. Their news coverage, meanwhile,  often rips off a lot of newspaper stories and then act as if they actually had reporters there. Who will take up the slack? Again, rotsaluck.

Which leads me to one more thought. Sports radio. That once hot-in-the-ratings screaming format that pushed broadcasting from music to talk and then to professional, mostly, athletics – with regional loyalties and identity. What’s happening there, now that nobody’s playing?

Where are you getting your community news?

Crisis ventilation added

Our local hospital, Wentworth-Douglass, is now a subsidiary of Boston’s famed Mass General, even though we’re in New Hampshire.

When coronavirus alert went into effect, these eerie additions soon showed up facing busy Central Avenue. Who knows how long they’ll remain.

These exhaust tubes look like something out of science fiction. My guess is that they’re to create additional isolated intensive care units.
And then these two appeared a week or so later.

As the supply chain breaks down

First, it’s chicken, as we discovered trying to reserve thighs for the local soup kitchen. Our usual supermarket can’t guarantee us it can have them for Thursday.

(Let’s not start a run on the stores, though. They should be smart enough to be limiting purchases to one per customer or so by now.)

Next will be pork, apparently, followed by beef.

Blame the Covid-19 outbreaks out in the big-producer lands. Workers too sick too work.

I’m wondering about eggs, though many of those are grown locally. I hope.

What do you suppose those protesters out in Michigan are going to do about this?

The latest buzz … or lack of it

A local beekeeper group reports that 47 percent of its members’ hives died off over the winter, something largely blamed on a virus I’m dubbing Cobeed-18.

Alas, ours was one of the ones that didn’t make.

Uncertainties over the human Covid-19 outbreak, meanwhile, puts repopulating the hives in question. New colonies are trucked north from the Deep South, and who knows how long before things in that regard are back to normal.

Everything’s up in the air, except that some things aren’t.

Two more years of THIS?

We were wrapping up yet another committee session on Zoom and trying to look ahead to our next one when one member made an unsettling comment.

Said he, “I don’t expect to be out of this (self-isolation) for another two years, not until they have the vaccine in place.”

He’s a retired medical professional, and the other (now unretired) one in our group didn’t correct him.

It’s a gloomy prognostication, not just personally, I’ll admit as senior with a pre-existing condition, but as one considering its dire social consequences as well.

I was going to say the quip hit like a ton of bricks, but considering that the emotional impact had more of a slow motion effect, I’ll say like a ton of hay (hey, a ton is a ton, right?).

So much for dashing our hopes.

I think I’ll go listen to “Casey at the Bat” again, the poem with the phrase “but there is no joy in Mudville.” As if we’ll ever again have baseball, either.

Your turn to whine! I’m all ears.

Finally hitting ‘real’ time

In this self-isolation during our Covid-19 outbreak, I no longer have weekly Meeting for Worship, regular committees or social gatherings, rehearsals, or daily indoor lap swimming to define my daily schedule. Even for an introvert like me, their absence can be disconcerting.

It does alter my awareness of aligning myself with the outside world. I mean, it’s been ages since I’ve watched television, so knowing what’s on any particular night is irrelevant.

What happens is an alternate awareness.

For example:

It was Saturday afternoon, no doubt in my mind.

No, it’s Friday, my wife asserted.

No, it’s Saturday. I had the number of the date in my head, thanks to the little numerals in the corner of my laptop screen earlier in the day. But the name of the day didn’t register. A Saturday would explain the number of people I encountered out on the trail in the woods along the Isinglass River.

Back home, ready to prove my wife wrong, I turned to the wall calendar. The date fell under a Friday, not a Saturday. How could that be?

The jolt left me feeling a bit wobbly. You know, Rip van Winkle mode. I felt I’d lost a day, like a pair of missing socks, maybe. Well, actually, I had gained one, but it didn’t feel like finding a 20-dollar bill. Something still felt hollow.

But then, something also felt healthy, as in being more fully focused on the little things I’m taking on.

It’s been a long time since I experienced that, probably nearly a half century, back when I was living in the yoga ashram, distanced from the daily affairs of society. There, every day was full and special. Yes, we had some connection with the weekly calendar – guests arriving and departing on the weekends, especially – but there were few other demands that required knowing the names of the days. Instead, it was more Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday.

I came to consider that living in “real” time, rather than externally defined hours and days and their nights.

So here we are. Yes, I still need to consult my weekly planner. No escaping that.

And my daily to-do lists remain important.

I know things will change when we all get back to normal, whatever that will be at the time. The fact remains that what we’re encapsulated in now is unique.

I’d love to take a train ride but …

My wife mentioned that she’s seeing a lot of deals from Amtrak, and that had me thinking how overdue I am for a trip on the Downeaster to Boston or the other way up to Portland, Maine, or beyond. As a senior, I even get to ride at half-price.

Of course, Covid-19 came into the picture, and I started flashing through the factors.

If the train’s not crowded, I’d have plenty of social distance. I could also carry hand sanitizer and even wear my colorful homemade mask to reduce risk of exposure.

I’ve been wanting to go to a Boston Symphony concert, finally see their new music director in action, but then I paused, realizing all of those concerts have been cancelled.

My considerations moved on to a visit at Harvard’s famed Fogg art museum, which had reopened after extensive renovations. Well, reopened is the wrong word. For the time being, it’s closed again. Hope the renovations hold.

Ditto, too, for a fine meal, maybe even in the North End’s Little Italy a few blocks from North Station. Forget that during the coronavirus shutdowns.

So it looks like that getaway is off, maybe till autumn? Or sometime next year?

This is getting boring. Or something like that.

Just a friendly reminder

The creators of the homemade mask (at left) pose with the creator of the sculpture (right) at this landmark along Interstate 495 north of Boston.

This whimsical public sculpture in Haverhill, Massachusetts, has always brightened our trips down I-495. I don’t know why the dog-bone cutout works so well, but it does, perhaps suggesting that Rusty (or whatever its name) has happily ingested a big treat. The playful open shape even allows opportunities for seasonal additions like a row of pumpkins every October.

So I get this attachment from a favorite funnyman in my life, acknowledging that he’s not the only comedian in the family. His wife and daughter, above, have been sewing Covid masks like crazy and, as dog lovers, they got an impulse to do more.

Look at it as inspiration, either to make your own masks or to make sure you wear one in public.

Ciao and bow-wow!




As the random blahs kick in

So this general shutdown or shelter-in-place or self-isolation, call it want you want, is dragging on and will likely do so. Any novelty’s worn off. I miss my old routine and acquaintances. Can I assume I’m speaking for everyone?

My wife and I are lucky to live in a big enough old house so that we’re not always tripping over each other except in the kitchen. (Not that you care.) We have a big yard, too, which this time of year is beginning to demand gardening attention, getting me outside in the dirt and, well, mud. We also have access to a lovely carriage trail we can follow through a nearby woods to the top of a hill, giving us some decent exercise almost daily.

But I’ve definitely reached the state of blah, even when it’s not one of those dull wet deeply gray days. No, as I draft this, it’s partly sunny outside my window.

So here I am, up in one end of the third-floor attic, while my wife’s “working from home” with an online meeting on the first floor. I hate to walk through that. You know, the little square showing her face in the upper right-hand corner? Anyone else know the feeling? I’d move her to another room, but she’s comfortable in that particular spot. We try to adjust.

I can’t imagine being cooped up in a tiny apartment, much less with kids, though I’m sure that’s the case for many. Even a mobile unit in a trailer park would be way too confining.

What’s shut down goes beyond much of what most of us are seeing. Look, it even includes playgrounds! The one around the corner saved my sanity with the younger one more times than I can count. Let me sympathize with every parent during this duration.

But let’s try to be aware of the wider impact.

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