Today in May

This May, in the Second Year of Our Pandemic, 2021, was especially long. Certainly, it was a lot longer than May of 2020, of which I have no memory whatsoever.

I do not have any tattoos, but if I were to get a Commemorative Coronavirus Pandemic tattoo, it might be this:

A friend who lives in Europe told me recently they are anxiously still awaiting their vaccine. (Between writing the first draft of this post and publishing, I am happy to report they’ve now had their first jab).

The day before, I saw a Facebook post from someone I know here in New York who complained that “the whole world is brainwashed” above a posted graphic saying, “the unvaxxed have to wear mask to protect the vaxxinated.”

I am disturbed and haunted by it.

I can unfollow this person on FB, but I will still see them in person and regularly in real life. Someone with pets! You know, beloved animal companions, vaccinated for rabies, distemper, and West Nile?

One of my brothers is taking a break from social media; he’s missing out on the vaccine selfies, the proud graduation photos, the puppies, the ads for washable rugs and knitted sneakers, the hot takes, the old memes, and the bad news.

My mother was the sort of old school reader of books about social courtesies who believed that good manners dictate that one not point out another’s bad manners. The 21st Century extension of this rule is that one might abstain from commenting on a bad take.

I try.

The bad take in question had some enthusiastic support from friends and family (insert cringing noises here), and some genuinely concerned replies from mutuals, who hate to see a seemingly nice person humiliate themself on a rude, science-denying, loud, public fart.

I scrolled on, closed Facebook, and tried for days not to think about it.

I have not stopped thinking about it.

The brainwashed believers in a coronavirus pandemic? Includes me, and every other intelligent person I know. Brainwashed people with advanced degrees. Vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. Helping people in their lives find appointments. Anxious to get 80% of America vaccinated. Brainwashing isn’t real, but science is.

The vaccinated people still wearing masks? Me, at times. My husband, too. Out of a desire not to expose people who haven’t gotten their shots yet. Out of habit. In deference to 27,504 hospitalized people in the U.S. Out of a desire not to make anyone else uncomfortable. Out of an abundance of caution. In memory of 594,051 dead Americans. As an example.

The meme they shared? From someone who is getting attention for their contrary takes (with an extra grammatical error to own the libs). From someone who could be themselves vaccinated. Definitely something that we could use a lot less of.

I wish I could stick with my instinct to ignore the post. I record it here for my future self. To remind me of the time when the vaccine was becoming more widely available, when still not everyone had it yet, when it wasn’t something you could just ask each other about, when it wasn’t clear if enough people were going to get on board, when we didn’t know if we were ever going to be getting past some people wearing masks and others disliking it.

My brother who has gone off Facebook is happier without it (for now).

Me? If no one in my life is going to graduate from something soon, maybe I’ll have to make some puppies.

I read the comments

What I saw: comments on my Facebook wall after a blog post last month.

This post is not going to make sense unless you read the original.

Schwartz never reads the comments

What I wore:

Since changing to this format last February, I have included a sometimes brief but other times detailed description of the clothes that I wore. Once in a while, what I wear elicits comments, but usually out of curiosity rather than criticism. I don’t know why I started doing it, and I don’t intend to stop. 

What I did beforehand: 
the post got 31 likes (or hearts) on Facebook, and 19 positive comments. 9 likes on Twitter, more or less. Most of the traffic came from Facebook. But then there was this:

So here’s the official response from the reunion host: we missed you, Maggie, and all your calculating, equine loving, haute couture aspiring, outspokenness! And you would’ve still fit in more than stood out since our high school was and is the educational liberal standard-bearer for a city so gracious as to be internationally known for a monument built to honor those bold and brave enough to actually move away. Please consider adding to your donation list a charity our classmate…told us about.…All that to say, see you at our 40th? [crooked-smiley emoji]

Let me start with “haute couture aspiring.” I realize that the outfit I described in my last post included a fucking gorgeous expensive dress from Barney’s New York that I do not own but would have totally liked to have bought for the reunion. I am guessing that this item, or the rose gold jewelry from Tiffany, inspired the comment. Regular readers know I usually wear jeans; the exact number at the time of the calculations post was 57%. Sometimes I admit I wear dirty jeans to the theater. 

I replied to her comment: now that I’ve stopped laughing at “haute couture aspiring,” I’ve successfully swapped my pajamas for riding breeches (worn once already, wadded up and inside-out on my closet floor, seem clean enough to wear again). Because I put my dirty pants on just like everyone else: one leg at a time. 

I was only pretending to find it funny; I thought it was intended as a barb. The kind of mean thing that women and girls say to each other about their appearances. The kind of funny/mean thing that reminds me of how we all interacted back in high school. The kind of funny/mean thing that told me that the real reason she missed seeing me at the reunion is so she could remark about my appearance.

Who went with me: when we were in high school, we belonged to a class of about 90 students. I’m not sure that the event’s host, who I will refer to as “SiM,” short for “Stayed in Missouri,” and I ever had a class together, other than like gym. We had a couple of close, mutual friends. I remember SiM as good-natured, upbeat, funny, and well-liked, though perhaps not one of the most popular girls. I went to a private suburban school in the late 1970s, and teasing and clever name-calling were a social currency of great value, though less than the ability to score cheap or free booze or drugs. I do not deny that making fun of people was one of my cherished high school pastimes. But I liked SiM, even if I was afraid of her and all the other girls I didn’t really know.

Why I increased my donations:  I think probably SiM is still good-natured, upbeat, funny, and well-liked. She seemed to have been trying to say I’m entitled to my opinions, though since everyone else agreed with me in the comments, she also told me that she didn’t agree with my politics. Because everyone else was basically saying, “Amen.” (See also, “Things that were funny/not funny”)

Things that were sad: I also didn’t get the part about “you would’ve still fit in more than stood out.” I never said I didn’t go because I didn’t think I’d fit in. What I said was, “the last time I went, I got creeped out by a couple of guys from my class.” So. Maybe SiM was trying to be nice here; she’s a mom, and it’s the kind of thing you might say to your kids. Ok. But does what she didn’t address bother you? I said I wouldn’t go because last time men in our class said or did something inappropriate, and either she didn’t read it carefully enough to catch it, or, she thought that was something she couldn’t do anything about. Even as the hostess. As hostess, shouldn’t she have reassured me that she would keep me safe from harassment? Whose responsibility is it to see that my former classmates behave themselves? Mine?

Things that were funny/not funny: next, the exchange then went to direct message on Facebook.

SiM: I get the joke now about “aspirational!” A classmate had me google your husband – HE INVENTED XBOX?! You were probably looking through your closet, not catalogues! 

That’s right. Now we’re transitioning to a chummy, private conversation because she found out my husband is “someone.”

Readers, if you come to my blog because you’ve discovered that my husband is “someone,” allow me to assure you that I don’t write about him very often, and when I do, it’s not about his professional life. Let me also say that I am, actually, a person. 


SiM went on to say, “And I’m so sorry about the “libtard” troglodyte. Gross.” She tried, right?

My mother insisted that it was bad manners to point out someone else’s bad manners. But my mother is dead now.  I think that given that SiM made me feel patronized, made fun of, and unimportant, and adding to that how bad I feel about this week’s unthinkable presidential election result, I am going to make additional donations to most of the organizations listed in my original post.

What I saw on the way home: the Monday after this Facebook exchange, I took another load of the Bacon Provider’s shirts to the cleaners. The owner of the cleaners has a daughter who rides, so we always talk horses if I’m in riding clothes. On this Monday, she mistakenly called me, “Mrs. Roosevelt.” 


Two dogs, one chair
When The Graduate visits, the dogs greet him like they were waiting specifically for him since he was last at the farm. Maybe it was a week and maybe it was a month, but they bark and leap and lick and wiggle. When he is getting ready to leave, they watch him pack, their brows furrowed, their ears drooping down the back of their necks, their bodies curled into impossible knots of worry, their long legs sticking out at strange angles as they both try to be on the same wingback chair. They know.
After a year and a half of living at the farm, the dogs know the property. They know where the fox lives, where the latest deer carcass is, where the best corners for marking their territory are. I usually walk them in the afternoon, when it’s warmest. We walk the perimeter, a just-under-three kilometer route, with a hill. I take leashes, just in case, but generally let my dogs run ahead so they can be dogs.
We got snow last week, and then a day of rain followed by some cold nights.  The snow is no longer fresh, and it has an inch-thick frozen crust. Anywhere we have walked, our old tracks are icy from the compression.
Some days, we go counterclockwise, up the hill and then down, and around and up again. Other days, we go clockwise, down the hill and across and up and then down a ways. If the timing is right, I pick clockwise hoping to catch the beginning of sunset at the top of the hill. Dogs don’t care about sunsets.
Cherry is 12 now, and quite white in the face but still willing and interested in running. The icy snow has made it painful for her starting out some days this week; she seems to tiptoe around, her four feet clenched into teeny tiny paw-fists, her steps short and her back roached. She once stopped to complain, and I told her that her feet would be numb soon enough, and I was right.  She galloped ahead of me once she forgot to be upset about her cold paws. We are only ever out for a half an hour, an hour at the most. I make them wear jackets below 40F, and two layers below 20F. I am aware that she could wear boots, but if I buy dog boots I have to make the dog accept wearing dog boots.  Snow is temporary.
So we tough it out, and Cherry copes, staying on top of the snow and leaving only the tightest little prints in the surface of the unbroken snow.
Captain gallops along, full-throttle, his feet spread out wide. Those paws are webbed, for swimming, and make excellent snowshoes, and he’s so relaxed and happy outdoors that he slaps along the cold snow like it’s the best thing to run on. He loves to run on grass, too, of course, and on pavement, as well. He runs uphill and down, through the woods and over the trails, down the marked paths and the unmarked, diving into the bushes and emerging covered in ticks in all seasons except this one. Sometimes I find thorns stuck in him. He is so happy to be running outside, he just doesn’t care.
I pick my path with care. I stick mostly to the path of the day before, putting my steps not into the footsteps of yesterday because they don’t fit, end to end, or front to back. I’m constantly trying not to fall, looking for the best route, but I trust what I did yesterday; I didn’t fall yesterday, I can walk that path today. I fit my feet in the spaces between my tracks from before. Cherry picks her way around. In the iciest patches she walks behind me, in my footprints. Captain’s footfalls leave holes and after a day are great frozen paw prints, sunk down in the snow, like a marker of his impact. His prints are much bigger than his paws ever appear to be. He runs ahead and around and has to be called back.
The snow should all be gone tomorrow. We are expecting a front with warmer temperatures and lots of rain. There will be mud. Perhaps more snow will come again in another week.

Today, I had a Facebook message from an old friend who’d emailed last week and not heard back. My oldest friends use my oldest email, and I never remember to check it. It is always so full of junk (here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here), I avoid it. If she hadn’t used Facebook, I might not have known for another month. It’s not that I’m hiding; I’m just retracing my steps.

What Sun-Faded Signs Don’t Say

They stood together, angled to enclose me like a pair of blonde parentheses. “We feel like we know how great you’re doing because we see you on Facebook,” said one.
“I look at all your pictures,” said the other.
I wanted to tell them the verb people use for that is “creeping,” as in, “I creep on all your pictures.” I didn’t. I wanted to tell the other one that what people see on Facebook is only the good stuff. Facebook is for graduations, job promotions, new babies, softball tournaments. Facebook is not for rehab, dropping out of school, cancer scares, incompetent bosses. It’s like a roster of all the delicious desserts you’ve gotten to eat, and none of the disappointing frozen dinners.
By way of being honest with old friends, I said, “My constant presence on social media is a reflection of my loneliness and isolation.”
This elicited light laughter. It wasn’t unsympathetic laughter. It was appreciative, and only a little uncomfortable.

My husband and I had come a long way, back from New York, for the wedding of a mutual friend. Since we moved from Seattle, our friend had bought a farm, moved her business there, and rescued a bunch of animals. Now she was getting married, having planned a big wedding, marrying her best friend of a number of years. It was a circus-themed affair, and because of who it was, we weren’t scared away by a circus-themed wedding. Maybe somewhat hesitant, but we were going anyway.
Getting to Vashon Island had included a ferry ride from West Seattle. Our morning had been gobbled up settling a monetary crisis for another friend, but we had thought we had enough time to park, walk on the ferry and be met by the shuttle bus. The Washington State Ferry system is a glorious relic of the days when government was big and had an important role in getting people and goods from place to place. People voted for that, and paid for it with their taxes. The white and green-trimmed ferries are huge, with several decks for cars and trucks and other decks for passengers. There is never enough parking at the smaller, neighborhood ferry terminals, but we followed the lead of other cars parked on the street. Though the neat, small clapboard houses near Fauntleroy Dock look just like the rest of West Seattle, the streets are painted with special striping, and the street signs erupt with multiple placards of all sizes and colors, facing the street in erratic angles. The signs we could see and read described the many times that parking was not allowed, during the week, overnight, but we felt we’d found legal parking for the day.

After a short wait in the small terminal, we bought two $5.20 tickets and walked on. We climbed the stairs to the front of the ferry to spend our short crossing as we knew we had always loved to: in the wind and sun.  It was so much as it had always been, engines thrumming, waves slapping, gulls circling that we had not so much a sense of nostalgia but one of stasis, that Seattle was unchanged and unchanging.
The gloss on our feeling of expertise dulled when we walked off the ferry and saw no shuttles anywhere. We wandered around for a bit, and the Bacon Provider called for a cab. Vashon Island isn’t really the kind of a place with cabs per se. There was just a guy you could call, his name was on the Internet, and he’d send someone to get you. Our driver refused to charge us the agreed-upon $25 fare, accepting only $15, but taking the $20 offered her anyway.
So we were late to the wedding, though we didn’t feel late, but we missed the ceremony in the mossy, wooded grove of giant Douglas firs where the beloved old dog was buried, and missed the entrance of the bride on horseback. So be it. We were greeted first by one old friend, and then another. People were happy to see us, asked after the kids. It was easy and pleasant.

The farm is wooded and lush, presided over by tall firs and carpeted in moss and ferns. There is a trim house and neat barn and the circus-themed decorations were joyous rather than jarring. There were too many people to catch up with and not enough time. I spoke to the pair of blondes, toured the property with another friend. Someone mentioned a small nugget of real gossip, but then explained to me, in a whisper, “Another time, over a beer.” It was as close as I came to a real conversation, and it ended as soon as it started.

After the trapeze act finished, the dancing began with a samba dancer wearing a tiny costume consisting of three green sequins working the room. Then, the whole barn crowd from our Seattle years reassembled outside for a group photo. After the photo, one of the blondes confronted me again, this time with the question, “So do you miss Seattle?”
Looking away I said, “Almost every day.”
“What do you miss the most?” she pressed.
I did not answer her.
Later, when we got off the ferry, our rental car was still there, but it had a parking ticket on it. Apparently one of the illegible, sun-faded signs said, “No Parking Weekends or Holidays.” The ticket was $47. We saw it and both laughed: cheap parking by New York City standards.

Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message #4

This appeared in my inbox yesterday. How unlikely for Mark Zuckerberg to have a Hotmail account! What an opportunity! Yeesh.

Dear Friend, 

My name is Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook. We have recently partnered up with Apple regarding a one-time test project today, we are finding people who can test the upcoming Apple iPad3 and keep it for free. Apple mackintosh want to make their product perfect before going public. We select users from our system database randomly and you have matched with our latest drawing. 

We are operating this project for one-day only. All you need to do is CLICK HERE to check out our web site made for this project and fill out the short survey to obtain your chance of test an iPad3 and keep it for free. Simply make sure you enter your email so we can locate our records to guarantee that we have reserved one for you. That’s it! 

If you have any question or concerns, feel free to e-mail me back. However, you need to claim 1st to ensure one will be set-aside for you before the deadline ends. We do understand that you may not receive this e-mail until after the deadline, but, we suggest you check out the web site to see if we still have yours on hold, which we often-times do because others may haven’t claimed theirs in time. 

Mark Zuckerberg 
CEO, Facebook

Why I Hate LinkedIn

Almost without exception, every one of my classmates from business school has a LinkedIn profile.  There is a reason for it: I know someone who added a number of skills to his profile and heard from a new recruiter within 24 hours. The latest wave of people requesting I add them as contacts is a group of young women who were my students in high school; they are now seniors in college, and someone in the career services office is doing her job, directing these soon-to-be-graduates to start building their networks.   You never know which friend-of-a-friend might make you a contact that wins you your next job. My business school peers keep their profiles up to date, and a small handful of them use it to let us know what they’re reading or which professional conferences they’re attending. Allow me to politely stifle a yawn.
Social networks in general are distrusted by some people my age and older, and I have plenty of friends who won’t have anything to do with them. Others perceive that people seem to like it and go ahead and join, only to wonder “what’s the point?” and never get around to turning Facebook into something they use. This is where I am with LinkedIn: I pretty much understand what it’s for, I joined without hesitation, I generally add people who request that I do (assuming I know them), but I don’t go there every day.  I have yet to perceive that I have gotten anything from my membership in LinkedIn. Wait: for a while there was a lot of regular email, featuring the promotions and new jobs of my classmates. I am happy for them, but I found it depressing. I changed my settings so I don’t receive updates anymore.  LinkedIn offers a dizzying array of settings for the annoying email membership will generate, and even if you limit it to weekly updates, it will be too much if you belong to any groups.
On LinkedIn, I cannot have my name appear as I prefer, with first, middle and last; it’s simply not an option. No doubt there are other women and men who find this frustrating.  I am allowed to create my professional “headline,” but must choose from a limited list of industries. What industry do you work in when you left education to get a new degree and are now unemployed? For a while there I used “Think Tanks,” because I thought it was cute.    These days, being unemployed is not very cute.
I do not have a picture on LinkedIn. I do not consider myself photogenic, and I do not have a professional looking headshot. Probably I should get one. I do not have a resume on LinkedIn. I have done a variety of things as an adult, and could easily generate three mostly different resumes, focusing on different aspects of my experience. I tend to need to tailor my resume to the role I’m applying for.   I do not currently have a job, and when I was actively looking, I checked LinkedIn regularly.
Facebook, for all its evils, especially its obvious desire to exploit its knowledge of my personal interests for its own monetary gain, still has enough appeal to me to inspire a daily visit. (If you know me, you know that “daily” is inaccurate, and might better be replaced with “hourly.”)  LinkedIn throws advertising at you, but from what I can surmise from its financial statements derives roughly half of its profits from its hiring services and the rest from marketing opportunities and premium subscriptions.  The platform remains consistent, does not add annoying features, and has not yet proved a breeding ground for dreadful spam postings when members’ profiles are hacked into. In these regards it is much better than Facebook.  Yet I still hate it.
Sometimes, Facebook makes ridiculous suggestions of friends for me, or advertises to me guessing that I am interested in Ugg boots or veganism or over-weight or single or Jewish.  LinkedIn also makes ridiculous suggestions, like to add “Geometry” or “Algebra” to my skills list. Do they also have “good grammar” or “proper spelling” or “biting sarcasm?”  When LinkedIn reduces my profile to a set of searchable key words, I am reduced, flattened, sampled from, and not fully represented. Facebook may violate my privacy, but at least my quilt-making pictures are all there, along with photos of grapefruit, horses, birthday cakes and sand castles.  I can enjoy a small victory on Facebook every time someone “likes” my status.
LinkedIn says they have one hundred thirty-five million members. Here is that number: 135,000,000.  If they can actually help me find a job worth doing, then I will stop hating them.  But I’m still pretty sure I won’t visit them every day.

The Best and Worst Phone, Ever

Last September, I expressed a vague desire to own an iPhone 4. I have owned a lot of different phones over the years, all of them chosen for me by someone who closely follows the latest in hardware, and I have usually been pretty happy. I have had issues with AT&T’s coverage, which has not improved for me since the mid-1990s when I got my first Nokia phone. I could take you on a tour of where I consistently drop calls (405 South and Federal Avenue E, for example), but that might be even more boring than I am willing to be on this blog.
Instead of an iPhone 4, I was given a Sony Ericsson Xperia.  Research had revealed this to be the newest and one of the best of the Android phones.  Reviewers liked its large screen and Sony design quality, and we were still clinging to the idea that we could have cool stuff not made by Apple. I turned the phone on in mid to late September. Probably the most complex and interesting thing I ever did with this phone was install the Amazon app and buy a book while I sat at a coffee shop. It took some pretty decent pictures, but I have to say that a high-end phone that does not take good pictures these days would be hard to find. I was able to read my Gmail account any time I wanted, but my other email never worked properly, requiring me to manually ask it to refresh two or three times before it would download mail, if it would download mail at all.
I put a few apps on it, like Facebook, which lacked a number of editing features that I find really important, like turning a picture or adding a caption. I patiently upgraded the software, thinking it could only get better. If “better” were “hotter,” then it could be called “better.”  I found that if I made even one phone call it needed recharging by 3 pm, which is the one time of day a busy mother needs her phone to just work.  Running out of battery might have been something I could work around if the phone worked well as a phone, but it was hard to answer, hard to dial, froze when I got a text and sometimes dropped calls because the operating system crashed.
Texting may not be your cup of tea, but it is how the busy mother tracks her offspring today. My family got tireder and tireder of SMS gibberish from me, and I don’t just mean auto-correct hilarity.  Texting with this phone requires a kind of patience that modern products no longer require. Opening an SMS conversation with someone I exchange texts with frequently caused the thing to go into a self-reflective meditative state often ending a program crash.  Laggy, buggy and frustrating: who has time for this?
Today, I bought an iPhone 4, with service from Verizon, and started the process of porting my number to it.  The Xperia will go into the pile of other discarded phones, where it will stand out for being the shiniest and most promising in addition to being the one used for the shortest amount of time.  I have a name for things like this, which look like they are going to be amazing, and then disappoint: rubber candy.