Crowd Noise

The noise hit me as soon as I entered the park. I hadn’t heard that sound since two years before the pandemic, when my widow-brain calmed and I stopped going to concerts and ball games as a way to remember Mike.

The noise stopped me in my tracks. Everyone had been dutifully wearing their masks on the park-n-ride bus, and the staff was amply supplied with masks to give to those who had forgotten to bring one.

But entering the park, I didn’t see any masks on staff or concertgoers, except staff manning concession and drink stands. People were crammed together blanket to blanket, picnic wagon to picnic wagon, folding table to folding table.

And everyone was having a blast.

I went to the “merch” stand (mask still on), knowing Angelic Daughter would expect a t-shirt. I let my mask dangle from one ear, keeping my distance, sipping a beverage.

Then I found a bench to sit on until the pavilion opened, and sat down to read a free magazine, as hordes of people walked by, nearly brushing my knees, in search of an open patch of grass to claim as theirs. There were kids too young to be vaccinated, happily playing and running around and screaming and demanding ice cream, and I think I saw only one of them wearing a mask.

There were older people too–older than I would have expected for these two bands–older than me by a decade or more, some masked and some not.

Starting Monday, people in Illinois will be required to mask up again inside any indoor public space, regardless of vaccination status. Although I’ve been masking up inside ever since the delta variant made its ugly presence and its virulent spread known, I’m doubtful many people who have felt freed of their masks will dutifully don them again.

And, then, God help us, the mask wars will begin again, generating another round of virtual “crowd noise” on social media. And those who resist wearing masks based on some warped notion of “liberty” will continue to get sick and die. Innocent children, too young to be vaccinated yet, are filling up pediatric ICU wards with COVID, even in states with high vaccination rates, and doctors are warning that they’re running out of space to treat other sick and injured kids.

Last week I found an article by Arnold Schwarzenegger, published in The Atlantic, chiding mask-resisters for being selfish and failing to appreciate the historic sacrifices those who have gone before us made to preserve the American way of life. I never in a million years thought I would reference “Ahnold” for anything, much less an article like that one, but he made some good points.

And who could resist a title like “Don’t Be A Schmuck. Put On A Mask.”?

I had chosen a seat on the far aisle with about 12 feet between me and the rail holding back the non-pavilion-ticket-holders. But there was only one seat between me and the next two people in my row. Angelic Daughter had opted for a small gathering of friends instead of the concert with me. I was glad she did–she doesn’t like crowds and picks up on my anxieties immediately with her mysterious internal autistic “vibe” radar.

But in looking around, seeing how happy everyone was, how stoked to see their favorite band (a double bill of Vertical Horizon and Train, with genial partisans on both sides – VH for me) I decided to view the crowd as a resounding vote of confidence in the vaccines. After all, Lollapalooza happened in Chicago, and, probably due to a proof-of-vaccine or negative test requirement, didn’t become a superspreader event, although about 200 of more than 385,000 attendees did get sick.

So I took my mask off and sang along.

Vertical Horizon’s performance was great. Mike introduced us to that band, having discovered them online before they ever had a hit record. Once they did, we used to ride around in the car listening to their CD, Everything You Want.

They did songs from that record, but also one, Forever, I hadn’t heard before, from their next record. Read about (scroll down) and listen to that song, and I think you’ll understand why, after standing and singing along and whooping on the previous song, I found myself sitting down, crying.

I cried because I felt like the song was Mike’s way of joining me at the concert, saying he was glad I decided to go, and reminding me that we do, and will, see each other forever.

Regardless of my skittishness about the crowd, that made the evening more than worth it.


Getting a little teary again, I remain,

Your already-ordered-new-cloth-masks-because-I-knew-this-was-coming, resigned, languishing but trying to look out into the world with love,


Escapism, Realism, or Fatalism?

Escapism: stop watching the news, binge watch movies and TV series you missed in the past, and start reading all the books you should have read by now.

Realism: read the news and figure out what you could do to help, even though you know it’s just a drop in the bucket.

Fatalism: throw up your hands, assume we’re doomed, we’re toast, we’re past the tipping point, and party like it’s 1999.

Any way you look at it, the planet is convulsing. It’s burning, it’s flooding, it’s releasing methane not just from melting permafrost but from the rocks themselves.

What makes an apocalypse?

War (or sword or conquest), famine, pestilence (or plague or wild beasts), and death.

I think we’ve checked all the boxes.

So what do we do now?

I confess I regularly choose escapism. Between binging movies and finishing up comedy series I didn’t have time to watch before, I soothe myself with the unstoppable optimism of Ted Lasso. If you haven’t seen this series, it’s worth every penny and more of the Apple TV subscription.

I love Ted. There are blogs and twitter accounts devoted to his wit and wisdom.  Ted’s the guy who, when asked if he believes in ghosts, answers, “I do, but more importantly, I believe they need to believe in themselves.”

Ted inspires me to try harder on the “always be humble and kind” front.

I try to be realistic about what I can do. I’ve taken steps to reduce the size of my lawn. I planted a pollinator garden 5 years ago, the year Mike died. It replaced a section of lawn and a concrete walk. We had several monarch butterflies flitting about last summer, but only one this summer. Our big bumblebee (we call him our B52) was around for a while, and then, without my consent, someone in our “mosquito abatement district” sent a truck around a 3 a.m. spraying something that took out the mosquitos but is also fatal to bees. I’ve seen just one lonely firefly this summer, flashing his sad, hopeful light in the backyard.

It’s moments like that where I find myself sinking into fatalism. Huge parts of the globe are going to have to perform a “managed retreat” from coastlines and eroding cliff sides, and from island nations that are disappearing into the rising waters of a hotter, less salty sea. Parts of the middle east, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and the American west are very close to becoming uninhabitable.,

The gulf stream is slowing, which is already creating havoc in northeast fisheries, and may portend that “winter is coming” for real for parts of North American and Europe.

And everyone in California seems to be in denial that the California dream they think they’ve been living is over, possibly for a thousand drought-ridden years to come.

The census shows more people moved to Arizona and Texas in the past 10 years. Where do they think they’ll find enough water? They’re sucking the Colorado river dry.

Millions of stinking dead fish are washing up onto Florida’s beaches because of red tides that are happening more often due to heat and agricultural pollution.

Every day this summer, even during long stretches with no rain, or humidity that keeps me in a constant state of sodden sweatiness, I thank God and my lucky stars that I live where I do – within 2 miles of a Great Lake, at the top of the tiny hill on my street, in an area with bountiful trees.

And then I start worrying about what will happen when all the people leaving their there want to make their there here.

A few minutes ago I went upstairs to lower the blinds and make sure the fans were set to “exhaust.” On my way to the stairs I noticed the fuchsia that hangs above our front porch. I managed to keep it alive inside all winter. I set it outside too early, thinking the cold nights were over. When it shriveled, I plucked off its dying parts, sweet-talked the few remaining tiny green leaves, and begged it not to die.

I gave it a little fertilizer (something I rarely use, but I needed it this year because I didn’t have enough compost to fill my new raised beds) and watered it faithfully.

And when I walked past it today, I noticed it had bloomed.

I’ll add “optimism” to my list of “isms.” Maybe there’s hope. If that plant can pull through with a little love and care, perhaps the Earth can, too, with love and care from all of us.

Finding a glimmer of hope in a hanging basket, I remain,

Your alternately news-reading, obsessing, escaping, lawn-reducing, pollinator garden planting, fuchsia saving, minutely hopeful,


Forest fire image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay