Non-Toxic Love Challenge: Six Feet of Self-Control

My neighbor across the fence has held backyard gatherings two weekends in a row. First, with just four people, but Sunday, about ten, standing close together, tossing a ball back and forth, mingling.

I felt the bile rising in me, so I raced to finish planting my new trees and get inside. Five Thuja Green Giants, promised to be very vast growing, positioned to block the blazingly bright backyard floodlights he keeps on all night, every night, glaring directly into my living room. That’s odd, because my house is on a little hill, a bit higher up than his. It seems almost intentional, how those lights invade our evenings. Couldn’t they be adjusted to point down into his yard a bit more?

Monday, I put on a double-layered mask made from a t-shirt and ventured out for what I hope will be my last trip to the grocery store for several weeks. I didn’t get up in time to get there right when it opened, and it was uncomfortably crowded in the afternoon. A young man of what appeared to be about college age was striding around the store, no mask, no cart, seemingly uninterested in buying anything, just in making sure he breathed an unmasked breath in every aisle.

The bagger at checkout had a mask on, positioned below, not over, his nose.

As I was leaving, I passed a tall young woman, no mask, followed by a masked someone who appeared to be her mother. The young women laughed as she entered the store, “See? He’s not wearing one!” I held my breath and scurried past her with my overloaded cart, out to the car.

As I packed my groceries into the back seat of the Subaru, a man got out of a car one parking spot away, wearing a mask below, not over, his nose.

If there is one thing I learned from my long and challenging relationship with my late husband Mike, it is that I cannot control another person’s behavior. Noncompliance was Mike’s modus operandi, and “don’t tell me what to do” his motto and his battle cry.

Were these mask malfunctions intentional, or just misinformed? Were the backyard parties acts of defiant noncompliance, or just ignorance? Why do I care, when I can’t control any of it?

I’m disappointed in myself for pointing out to the nose exposers that the masks don’t do anyone any good if they don’t cover the nose. I’m irritated that I spent energy being  pissed off at my neighbor. There were older people there at his party, possibly parents or other relatives. I worry about them. I worry about everyone who was there. But they chose to gather, and there’s nothing I can do about that. The floodlights and the gatherings are enough for me to know that asking for accommodation would be fruitless.

I have a front patio now, and it is a very pleasant place to sit on summer evenings, so I’ve learned to pivot. We’ve altered our summer evening routine for few summers already now. I put a lot of work into that front patio garden, and it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds by design. I can work on my vegetable garden and enjoy the back deck in the early morning on the weekends, before his parties and his backyard construction project involving a loud Bobcat baby bulldozer and what appears to be a makeshift concrete mixer resume (a firepit? another patio? whatever it is it will be across the fence in the farthest corner of my yard, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to be annoyed by it anyway.)

I try to take comfort in pastoral reassurances that arrive via email or Facebook live on Sunday mornings that staying home and staying in counts as doing something. It counts as an expression of love and concern for my fellow citizens, even when they’ve made it painfully obvious they aren’t concerned about me.

I’m learning to step aside. Somewhere long ago, I read that turning away from aggression dissipates its power. Declining a fight is sometimes the most effective form of self defense, it seemed to say. If someone in the store won’t stay six feet back, I’ll go around the other way, or let them go ahead of me in the checkout line.

There are things I can control, and things I can’t. The image above has a caption, but I can’t seem to resize it properly to show the words that say, “some fruits are always in season.”

My Thuja Green Giants are evergreens. When they grow taller, I have a feeling they’ll nourish my inner orchard of patience, self-control, love and peace.

My your garden be filled with always-in-season fruit. Looking toward summer, I remain,

Your counting-to-six-and-taking-the-long-way-around-the-grocery-store-and-the-neighborhood,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by bknis from Pixabay

The Isolation Age: The Great Toilet Paper Relay Edition

Four texts, three people and a truck, for eight rolls. And after all that, it turned out I didn’t need them that badly after all.

Allow me to explain.

My employer values company culture very highly – we help each other out, we have each other’s backs. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by what happened when, during a twice a week video “coffee chat” I mentioned in passing that I was a little worried about running out of a certain “essential” item. I’m just inside the gate of the “higher risk” age group, but that only means I do what everyone is supposed to do – I go out only to fill critical needs like food, prescriptions, cabin-fever busting, socially-distant walks around the block, and to obtain – um, paper goods.

The dynamo who organized that morning’s video chat jumped on my remark right away. “We got you!” she said. I stuttered and stammered, “oh, that’s really nice, you don’t have to do that, I have to go to the store tomorrow anyway – I’ll go during “senior hours” and they said a truck is coming tonight…” She lives at least thirty miles away from me, and I really didn’t want anyone to go that far out of their way.

But before I finished my text telling her it wasn’t necessary, she texted me that the first guy she was going to send had been switched out for another guy, and that she had dropped off a supply at his house – my boss’s boss’s house, and he was already on his way. Within the hour, eight rolls of the precious commodity were deposited on the little end table on my front porch for receiving deliveries. I put a laminated sign on it that says, “please put deliveries here, thank you!” with a really dreadful (I’m sure) Spanish translation and an apology, “lo siento, mi Espanol es de internet!” I barely got the chance to wave a thank you to my team lead’s leader before his truck was leaving my driveway.

I gratefully took the shopping bag inside, to sort out its contents the way I ordinarily do, doling out this many rolls for downstairs and this many for upstairs. I went to pick up the plastic wrapper of the previous supply to throw it out. It was crumpled and deflated and just sitting there in the breezeway.

That’s when I discovered there were still 7 rolls bundled down in the bottom of that package.

So, three colleagues had gone out of their way at 5 p.m. on a weeknight to get me some TP that, as it turned out, I didn’t really need.

Cue full-blown OCD meltdown.

“What if one of them gets sick because of this? GAAAAA! What’ll I do???”

Confess. Face the music. Take the responsibility and accept the blame.

The next morning, the first thing I did was send the two of them a chat promising to spend the rest of my days wearing a hairshirt and flogging myself bloody if either of them got sick.

Predictably, the response was along the lines of “no problem! happy to help!” I rationalized that their kindness will keep me from venturing out on a multi-store scavenger hunt, possibly all the way to April 30, which is as long as our present stay-at-home order is in place.

I meant it when I said I had to go to the store – we were running out of other stuff that I forgot to get last week. I got home and spent half an hour unpacking groceries – and discovered I still forgot something – this time because I didn’t put it on my list in the first place. But we’ll be just fine without that particular type of tea, and I can cook the rack of lamb that has been in the freezer since last year for Easter next Sunday. Angelic Daughter will want something else, anyway.

Now that we’re finally all supposed to be wearing non-medical masks outside, I took some inspiration from YouTube and made myself one out of an old t-shirt. Before I went to the store, I knotted my new droplet-distribution prevention device around my neck and at the top of my head.

And then, I kid you not, I actually thought for a few seconds about what shirt would best coordinate with my mask.

Hoping your masks are colorful, coordinated, stylish but most of all, effective (mine is not), I remain,

Your I-have-never-spent-that-much-money-in-one-trip-to-the-grocery-store-in-my-life, purple-t-shirt mask and absurdly color-coordinated purple turtleneck and sweater wearing, trying to maintain a good attitude while staying at home and staying out of the way, technically at higher risk,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by lyperzyt from Pixabay

The Isolation Age: Absurdist Edition

I was going to shop the “senior” hours at my local grocery tomorrow. But I figured the thunderstorm this morning would keep attendance low. With Mike’s scarf as my “mask.” I gambled and went out, hoping the scarf would stop any hovering pestilential droplets from penetrating my nose.  I thought I was clever to bring the (sanitized) reacher along, but it just got in the way.

Staff were in the aisles, restocking.  I took a spin around the store to get all my other stuff before I circled back to get my organic lettuce. The masked produce guy was unpacking it as fast as he could.

Through dairy toward yogurt, a tall young male store employee let fly a huge, not-very-well-covered sneeze, in the general direction of his elbow, but certainly not into the crook of it.

Then he wiped the back of his hand slowly across his face, right under his nose.

That would be gross on a regular day.

“You might want to go wash your hands,” I said, mimicking his hand-across-the-booger-face gesture.

When he went to the back to complain to his coworkers wash his hands (I hope) I dashed in to grab the yogurt.  Just as I finished, a few other staff came out of the double doors, closer than 6 feet away. I did a quick 180 with my cart and got out of there.

Over to meats.  Picked up salmon, then plotted a route toward the bacon that kept a 6 foot zone around me.  Rounded the corner just in time to see the barehanded butcher pinch his nostrils and return to loading meat into the cooler.

Look, these grocery store workers are heroes, along with everyone in healthcare and  essential businesses. They keep going out to work every day while privileged worriers like me work from home, emerging only for furtive missions to obtain fresh foods, because larders are already stuffed with frozen, canned and dried things.  Most store workers were gloved and sanitizing their hearts out at the check out counter, behind newly erected plexiglass (that had an uncomfortably large gaps in it, for passing receipts through, I guess). The store had helpfully marked 6-foot intervals on the floor, in line.

I still appreciate the workers who need a little refresher training about how sanitizing and glove-wearing does no good if you stick your finger in your nose or rub your eyes. Fortunately, the lady who loaded my car sanitized her gloves before putting the bags in the back seat.

The store limits purchases to two of any item, so I was astonished to find the toilet paper aisle empty. We’re a two person household, and Angelic Daughter has learned not to waste. We bought one jumbo TP package about two weeks ago, and we’re still fine. I was looking for paper towels, but how do people use that much toilet paper? Why are people so obsessed with toilet paper that they are still clearing the shelves? I was so stunned I forgot the paper towels, but I think they were out of those, too.

On to canned goods. Angelic Daughter loves corned beef hash. I think it’s vile, but I let her have one can a week. They were out of it. Seriously? There are enough people out there who eat it that they actually run out of it?

I adjusted my scarf as another shopper approached, and noticed that I accidentally touched my nose. What’s the point of dressing up like an amateur bandit to protect myself when all I do is touch my nose anyway?

Ridiculous woman.

I spent twice as much as I usually do, because I don’t want to go back until the peak is over and the curve has flattened. When I unpacked and sanitized non-porous packaging, I found that despite repeatedly checking my phone’s checklist, I forgot at least three things we’ll need in the next few days.

Sigh.

I know there’s nothing funny about this pandemic. The toilet paper thing might be because people are sick and suffering and really need it. I thank God every day for every deep breath I’m able to take, and for Angelic Daughter, who is well and doing her best to help out, stay busy and keep her spirits up, stuck at home with boring old me.

I hope this experience changes us all for the better. I’ve been trying, and often failing, to become a more compassionate, less fearful person since Mike died. May the absurdity and the fear and sacrifices and the lessons of these days stay with us through future, more ordinary days. And may ordinary days return to us, soon.

Hoping you and your loved ones stay well, I remain,

Your disinfecting, socially distancing, cabin-fevering, weight-gaining, aspirationally exercising (I’ll do it today, I will, I will),

Ridiculouswoman

The Isolation Age

I can’t explain why I started crying when Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out” came on my Spotify. Friday was the last day of my first full week of working from home (or “WFH” in my company’s shorthand – honestly, it took me a while not to see that as something naughty) and it’s going OK so far. For me, anyway.

We’re under a shelter-in-place order.  All “non-essential” businesses are closed. We’re to stay home except for absolutely essential errands, like picking up medicine or groceries. Most people in my community were already voluntarily practicing social distancing. But elsewhere, there were still the people who think they’re invincible, and don’t consider the impact their non-compliance could have on others. The Governor of Florida left it up to local officials to close beaches, and only announced that “the party’s over” on Thursday.  He still didn’t issue a statewide order to close beaches, but he did finally close bars. Somewhere along in there, the mayor of Miami and a senator from Florida both tested positive for COVID-19.

The poster child for hubris is going to be the kid who was quoted as saying, “If I get corona, I get corona. It’s not going to stop me from partying.” Well, you do that, dearie, if you want your Grandparents’ last words to you to be, “you killed us, you selfish little punk.”

Meanwhile, back at the the Ridiculous residence, I grew bored with my classical radio (and it takes a LOT to bore me with classical music) and a little too lulled by “Lute Music for Alchemists” on Spotify. So I clicked on an Eagle’s playlist.

The days of my youth rushed back – songs I played over and over without ever getting bored. I lived and breathed Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Dan Fogelberg, Emmylou Harris and the Eagles back then.

“The Load Out” is a song about what happens after the concert – when “the roadies take the stage” to pack up and get the band and the equipment moving toward the next show.

Some lines in the last verse go,

“People you got the power over what we do
You can sit there and wait, or you can pull us through…

The song moves right into “Stay,” with David Lindley coming out from behind his hair long enough to sing in falsetto, just like the original by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Look it up.

Over the years, I’ve thought about that last verse. I’ve even imagined that it’s possible Jackson wrote it partly because of me.

Allow me to explain.

When I was in high school, I somehow scored third row seats for a Jackson Browne concert. I took my friend Mich (you remember this, Mich, I’m sure) and we sat there, two self-conscious teenage girls, mesmerized, unmoving and not singing along, through the whole concert. In our defense, the entire crowd was pretty subdued at a venue that was notoriously strict with rock acts. But we were paralyzed by proximity to the real, live Jackson Browne (look at that hair!)  The YouTube version up there is from 1978, probably just a year or two after we attended that concert. I spent a good part of high school trying to belt a verse of “Stay” like that amazing background singer. Wish I knew her name.

I haven’t been to a concert since without making a jackass of myself singing along, loudly, often in harmony. In three decades, I’ve only run into one band that seemed to disapprove. (click on “singalong). Oddly, it was an Eagles tribute band.

Yesterday, I started bawling on the line “just be sure you’ve got it all set to go, before you come for my piano…” That sent me right into the wayback machine.

I spent hours at the keyboard as a teenager, wailing songs by all the above listed ’70s artists.  But now, Angelic Daughter can’t take it.  She wants to sing by herself. Sometimes, in the car, I get away with harmonizing with her on “Brave.” We sound great together.

Maybe it was something about being stuck at home, unable to let off steam by singing and playing some of those oldies. Or maybe it was just knowing that I probably wouldn’t remember how to play them anymore, anyway.

HA! “The Load Out” just started on my Spotify daily mix. Cue lump in throat.

I believe in positive thinking. I believe in the force of will. So I’ve prepared a new “27 Things” list about what I like about working from home.

Grateful that I woke up this morning, and sending positive thoughts to you, to health care workers, to everyone who has lost a job and to every essential worker still going to theirs, I remain,

Your nostalgic, (quietly) ’70s singing,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

When I Dreamed of Working From Home, This Isn’t Quite What I Had in Mind

I just attended my first online church service. The sense of community was as strong as ever, although the congregation experienced each other’s presence as words on screen in the comments column rather than handshakes of greeting in the pews. To me, it was every bit as comforting as a live service, and good to feel the virtual presence of “church family.” As usual, our pastor came through with a message of love, kindness, common sense and respect for science, that comes from the brains God gave us, to think and take care of one another.

So, first, gratitude. For health care workers on the front lines, and for everyone doing their part by practicing “social distancing,” hand washing and taking care of themselves, which in turns reduces the risk to others.

Gratitude that, although Angelic daughter is tired and sleeping a lot, she’s ok. I think the sleep is a manifestation of her exceptional emotional radar – she picks up on the anxious vibes, and how they come from worries about illness.  That goes straight to the core of her grief and worry – if Dad got sick and died, and now lots of other people are getting sick, what’s going to happen to Mom and me? Are my Uncles and my friends and my pastor and my church family OK?

I’m trying to be a source of calm for her.  I’m OK, so far. I’m allowed to work from home starting tomorrow. I filled the freezer two or three weeks ago, stowed bins of canned and dry goods and some olive oil over the last week. I already had enough toilet paper stashed to give some away to a home in need. I keep hand sanitizer around the house anyway. I keep reminding myself to be careful, not to cut or sprain anything, because the ER won’t have room for me right now.

Then I get on Facebook and see local bars and restaurants urging people to come out for St. Patrick’s Day and making unsupported claims about alcohol and coronavirus.

What fresh hell is this? What madness, what impenetrable level of science denial, could possibly be behind people actually encouraging others to go out and infect themselves, so they can merrily move on to infecting others? Is it fatalism, or just stupidity? I understand business owners who fear losing their businesses altogether, but are you really willing to put the economic survival of a bar or restaurant above actual survival of human beings?

At least the message about “flattening the curve” has reached a lot of people. Why bars and restaurants haven’t been ordered to close yet is beyond me. Must I link to op-eds by medical professionals pleading with the public to stop buying masks, stay home and stay the hell out of the way?

OK, I guess I must:

Young and Unafraid of the Coronavirus? Good for You – Now Stop Killing People

Boston Doctors Plead Don’t Be Cavalier About Coronavirus

In my area, good ideas about how to support local businesses have circulated – things like buying gift certificates online, etc. One local business has figured out a way for patrons to make a donation that they will then use to purchase gift certificates from other local businesses and to hold a place on a list for a future “all clear” party.

Hate to break it to you, guys, but as far as I know (and I’m not a doctor or scientist – but docs and scientists, chime in here – oh, wait, you won’t have a spare second to do that until at least September) there is no such thing as an “all clear” on a virus, until an effective vaccine is ready and everyone has been inoculated. Or until everyone who is going to get the virus gets it, and most survive it and become immune, thereby conferring “herd immunity” on those who remain. If you have the medical credentials, please correct me if I’m wrong about that.

So where does that leave us? All I can say is where it leaves me:

I’ve been a germ freak for years. So I was already really into washing my hands, and giving dirty looks to people who don’t cover their coughs and sneezes.

Then came the caregiving years – I found myself performing previously unimaginable personal tasks for my parents and my husband. Gloving up and sanitizing for them, not for me.

So now this: I feel reasonably calm. If I learned anything from losing Dad, Mom and Mike, it’s this: “in the end, only kindness matters.”

The sun is still there, behind the shadow. Sending love and hope and prayer for strength, safety and stamina for health care workers, affected families, and those at greatest risk, I remain,

Your uncharacteristically calm,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Jan Haerer from Pixabay