Last Friday, the Good

Woman in mask at vaccination center

Last Friday, April 2nd, in the Second Year of Our Pandemic, 2021, was Good Friday, and also a good day.

The night before, of course, I had a stressful dream about how my friend Allison and I narrowly escaped the flood, freed the refugee children from her attic (but abandoned the elderly people), and tried to organize everyone into two large rowboats. I woke up when Allison climbed into the boat I was supposed to row, pushing her half of the crowd of children out into the floodwaters without an adult or a second oar.

I got up early to make my Today is watercolor.

I am very excited by painting with watercolors right now, and have nearly used up an old block of watercolor paper that I received as a gift when I was in junior high school. I am even using the backs.

Then it was time to do the pet feeding dance. Schwartz and Eggi are easy these days (although Eggi is on a bit of a diet because bitches have hormone cycles and boy, does she). Captain had a sour tummy in the morning so I was pressed to add something delicious. Fellow was away for the weekend at a dog show.

cat sitting on yoga mat
Schwartz has his own mat

Then I had pilates with the cat.

Then we had a riding lesson which was very amazing (I mean, riding horses is very amazing. Prehistoric people probably would have eaten all the horses if they hadn’t figured out how to use them as engines, and together we went on to invade almost the whole earth, and then about a hundred years ago we quit on the horses and switched to gas-powered internal combustion and heyo, I guess, sorry about the greenhouse gasses to the whole earth and all its inhabitants).

Then I came home and changed out of my riding clothes and printed out an appointment ticket I found lurking in my email and headed to The Bronx.

One thing about living in Bedhead Hills is that it is 1977 here, so in order to get to places like North Dreadful, where it is 1957, or New York City, where it is 2021, you must also time travel. I do not know precisely why, but going backwards in time is easier around here, and you can do it in your car, but going forwards in time usually requires taking a train. Otherwise, the length of your journey can vary from an hour, to many hours.

I took the precaution of listening to a fully dramatized Hamlet in the car, so there were ghosts and a mad scene and the clang of swords on the Hutch.

I should probably say that New York’s Governor for Life Andrew Cuomo announced that people over 50 without pre-existing conditions were eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in the state in mid-March, but at first I wasn’t able to find an appointment for a shot within two hundred miles. Eventually, I took an appointment that was about a hundred miles away, and then, checking and refreshing the Am I Eligible page on the website at odd hours of the day and night, was able to improve my arrangement, finding something both sooner and closer. And despite the fact that people I know all over Westchester County have been able to get appointments at local pharmacies or at the mass vaccine event being held in White Plains in the convention center, the best I could do was a senior center in The Bronx.

When I arrived in The Bronx, I found myself in the car dealerships/car repair/window tinting/tires neighborhood, where the streets are wide but crowded with rows of double-parked cars, so a driver must proceed like Alice, at the beginning of her adventures in Wonderland, where she follows the rabbit (who is late) down the hole and begins to fall, very slowly, and for a long time. I passed the best parking spot and had to tootle around the block looking for another.

It was then so easy to find a parking spot I walked away thinking that it might not be a legal space to park, but if my car was getting towed, so were several other even larger cars. And owing to the length of the trip, and the time travel, and the meander past the weaving cars requiring new tires and window tinting, I was on the verge of running late myself. It was easy to see where the entrance was, with Stand Here circles on the sidewalk, two ambulances, and a police officer. As I approached the entrance, a very man came from the other direction, striding and swaggering in such a way that even the molecules of air moved out of his way, and as he got closer, his legs got longer, his stride lengthened, and he got even taller, or maybe I got shorter, or maybe both, and, but, so that when we reached the policeman at the same time, I was practically invisible and the much larger man went first.

As the large man stepped to the doors, I was confronted by a surprised NYPD officer, who hadn’t seen me approach, and demanded my ID and appointment ticket. My Westchester friends have relayed tales of going early to their appointments, but in The Bronx there are large signs out front making clear that you cannot be early; you must be within 30 minutes of your appointment.

I followed the enormous man into the building and startled another screener, who let the man go but gave me a stern but muffled lecture about keeping my ticket handy. A man stopped me and took my temperature, and gestured that I was to proceed onwards. I followed the arrows on the floor. A woman with a clipboard said something I did not understand, so I wandered forward and sat in an empty folding chair. A woman at a desk with a computer asked me for something so I produced the ticket. She didn’t want it. She wanted my ID, and she kept it on the desk in front of her while she furiously typed.

Then a National Guard solider in a desert-camo uniform and cap, crisply creased pants tucked neatly into pristine tan boots appeared with a small plastic tray. A nurse in navy scrubs took two syringes, and two cards from the tray, one for me and one for the next person.

The nurse told me to take off my sweatshirt, which I did, and she reached for my right arm. I asked if we couldn’t use my left arm. She asked me which arm I wanted. I said left. She reached out and grabbed the deltoid on my left shoulder, pinching it hard, and told me to relax the muscle, which I attempted to do and no sooner had I made that attempt there was already a needle in my arm and it was done. It didn’t hurt at all.

She slapped a bandaid on me and was gone in a flash

The woman with my ID completed her furious typing and examination of the object of interest. She placed a sticker on me with the time I was free to leave written on it, and with my license gave me a sticker and the precious white card with the details of my Pfizer shot. A sticker. I got a sticker.

I rose with my winter coat bundled in my arms and went to find my way to the waiting chairs, following more arrows and stickers on the painted concrete floor. There, a woman in a traffic safety vest with a lanyard and ID badge wandered through the grid of chairs, singing volubly. She held a gigantic bottle of spray sanitizer, which she applied to chairs after people left.

“You can sit anywhere,” she said, with the same sing-song cadence to every person who emerged.

An older man circled the chair in front of me, and was encouraged by Safety Vest to have a seat anywhere. He sat. They must have exchanged other words, but I was a little lost in my own head. The ceiling was very high, with frosted glass panels set into a frame, so the enormous room was filled with natural light. I wondered what the enormous room of the senior center was normally used for; table tennis? Safety Vest told the man in from of me, “Jesus is my boss.”

He replied, but I couldn’t hear him, and she said, “I’ve been singing and dancing my way through my whole career in New York.”

When it was my time to leave, Safety Vest came to me, looked at the time on my sticker, and said, “If you feel ok, you can go.”

I looked her directly in the eye and burst into tears. I had to explain that I was fine, just emotional. A year ago, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would be, and vaccines were something people talked about as something hopeful, something possible, but a big if. I’ve felt so much worry about when the vaccine would be available to us, and so frustrated with trying to find an appointment, that here I was, crying tears of relief. “We’ve had a lot of that today,” she said, and went back to singing.

I exited just behind the every tall man I entered behind. His great strides slicing through the air had gotten him his vaccine only a moment before I got mine. On my way back to my car, I saw a big pile of poo in the grass, and I do not think it was from a dog.

On the drive home, Hamlet was captured by pirates.

Today in February

This was the longest February of my life. I ordered four too many jars of dijon mustard from Fresh Direct because someone else keeps putting the groceries away while I keep trying to replace what I could not find. I am sorry to say I had to decline eight or eleventy-seven and a third invitations to Zoom events, because I knew I’d forget to join anyway. I stared for many hours blank-eyed into the void of space between me and the pantry, scrounging together dozens of meals with listless resentment. I stood barefoot and amazed by the hundreds of snowstorms that rolled through Bedhead Hills this February, and the dogs enjoyed most of the thousand mile marches on snowshoes through our speck of woods. There were ten thousand and one migraines for me, and a hundred thousand interminable Tuesdays, and of course I was ever so busy ignoring eight hundred fifty three thousand spam phone calls, deleting a million and six unwanted emails, vacuuming up twelve million thirty two thousand five hundred of those dead orange ladybugs, and I do not exaggerate about making ninety-nine million attempts to check the New York State covid-19 vaccine portal all resulting in no appointments available, unless you are willing to travel 400 miles for one, life-saving shot, and then do it again a few weeks later.

Oh, and the other thing is I kept up with the daily coronavirus data, and made one of these every day.

Lemme know if you need some dijon mustard.

Covid 19.21.3

Every day still blends into every other day.

It is Monday. The cat is hollering. I have pilates. I go upstairs to the room that has space for the yoga mat, but I forget my computer. I’ve forgotten to wear socks. I am scrolling through my email from the instructor looking for the Zoom link. I am late. Two days later I have pilates again. It is still as if I never left the room.

It is snowing. It is sunny. It is rainy and windy. The power goes out. It takes two days to come on again. We panic about the propane. It is sunny again, but very cold. We walk in the woods and see fox footprints. There are two piles of fresh dog shit on the side of the road and they aren’t ours. My bag is full, but I pick up one with the end of the bag, above the knot, and then try to get the other, carrying it awkwardly and spilling it in the road. We dance around it.

Captain

Our neighbors at the Tennis Party house have a huge new generator. I have never met them. Maybe someday they will introduce themselves to my husband, who looks like he is someone. I have reached the age of invisibility.

My other neighbors are back. They were in Florida for a couple of months, but now I can hear their children playing in their yard. Then they are gone. Maybe they are just inside.
It is still yesterday.
It is almost tomorrow.
It is again today.
In April I asked, “How far are we from the end?” I am embarrassed by this question now.

The Wednesdays of January were rather extra: insurrection, impeachment, inauguration, investor revolution. Now it is February but it’s like still last March.

It is Monday, 3:30 pm. I see school buses out on the roads and I want to scream. How many more people have to die for us to do what it takes to stop spreading the virus?

It is Saturday.  It is 10 am. It is quiet. I believe it wasn’t always this quiet but I don’t really remember. I am thinking about eating, not because I am hungry, but because I am bored. It feels like I am in 4th grade, and I am alone in the kitchen, standing barefoot in the pantry, looking at the food. I will eat three bowls of Cap’n Crunch.

I am in the sewing room at 10:45. I’m not really doing anything, but I am sewing little strips of fabric together. I might keep going, and I might toss it in the bin. The clock in the sewing room is stopped. It isn’t really 10:45. It is always 10:45. I can stay in there as long as I like, because time never passes in the sewing room.

Forever 10:45


Airplanes pass overhead and I think about the people inside, drinking plastic cups of diet soda and going on ski vacations.

It snows again, and this time the storm lasts two days and it’s enough to snowshoe in. The dogs sink in the deep snow, up to their chests. I refill the bird feeders and do it again two days later. My efforts to keep the steps clear of snow are another joke.

It snows again. I dig out the gates and take the dogs for a walk in our woods. The wetlands are frozen over, ice buried under two feet of snow. We can explore areas that are normally too wet to get through, and scramble over the dry stone wall. We stop and watch a single car drive by on the road. I call the dogs and we head back up the hill.

It is Thursday. I have a dentist appointment at 1 pm. I get a ride to the station and take the train into the city. There is almost no one on the train, but everyone has a mask on. I am wearing a (washable, homemade) cloth mask over a (precious but disposable) N95 mask. I make eye-contact with a man who reaches into his backpack and adds a second, fabric mask to his N95 mask. I am for a moment not invisible. If one more person decides to start wearing two masks because they read this, because they—like me–wanna stay uninfected until it’s their turn for the vaccine, then this blog is worth my effort.

At Grand Central, they’ve put up lot of scaffolding and there are people but no real crowds. Even when you know why it’s so quiet, it seems too quiet. At the dentist they have a device to shower my masks with UV rays while they clean my teeth. My teeth are ok. Nothing seems ok. The dentist and I agree that everything seems so weird. I take the train back to Bedhead Hills

I sit in the kitchen listening to the sounds the dishwasher makes. The unusual bottle-filling noise. The spinning noise. The noise like towels in the surf. The noise a griffin would make as it puked up a hairball. The oven timer goes off. The bread is ready.

It is Sunday at 1:30. I can’t find the new gloves I bought. You know the ones? The ones I put a hole in, the first time I wore them? I don’t know where they are; they’re in a pocket, in a trans-dimensional jacket, in an other-worldly closet, lying in a heap on the floor, tangled with singleton shoes. I find other gloves. We walk. 

It is Friday around 7 am. I feed the dogs and then the cat. The cat has a dining nook far from the kitchen so he can eat in peace. On my way back to the kitchen I grab the paper from the front walk. In the kitchen I do the KenKens and then I write down what day it is. I look up the latest coronavirus data and write that down, too. Then I take a picture of it, and I post it on Twitter. The same four people “like” it; they don’t like it at all.

Back in April I thought it was remarkable that there were about to be a million known cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., and the next day there would be almost 60,000 dead Americans. It might have been remarkable. But it wasn’t. Now there have been more than 27 million cases and almost 470,000 dead Americans. Back in April people were talking about what song lyrics you could sing so you washed your hands long enough. Back in April people were looking forward to kids going back to school in the fall. Back in April the CDC was unclear about whether people should be wearing masks.

It is Tuesday at 10:30. I take Eggi to dog class. I bring three pieces of string cheese for her and only use two. I eat the other one in the car. I think about stopping for gas, but there are two many men at the gas station and the only one with a mask is wearing it around his neck. I drive on.

Last fall, I read somewhere that the prediction for New York was a wet winter but no snow. In the past week we’ve had a spectacular amount of snow, and more is expected. We already live like we’re snowed in: every grocery order includes staples, so we are always prepared.

Eggi comes into season and we have to send Fellow away for a few weeks. While he is gone the older dogs sleep and sleep and sleep. When he comes back, I take pictures of the pets all together to make a valentine.

I send valentines to girlfriends in five countries.

Two rooms away the Bacon Provider is working. Long hours, all on calls and video calls. Even with the doors closed I can hear how it’s going. I creep around like there’s a room full of high school juniors in there, taking the PSAT. I sneak in with a fresh cup of tea, placing it next to him and taking away a half-empty mug. Captain slides in behind me, and settles on the office couch.

It is Tuesday at 5:45 pm, and I get a text from a friend with pictures of freshly baked bread and a question about rye flour. My experience with sourdough goes back a few more years than many people, who picked it up during the pandemic. I am happy to offer advice. I light the candles on the kitchen table for dinner and use the last match in the box. Tomorrow we will realize we are out of matches, and go through the pockets of coats in the closet in search of matches from restaurants we went to in 2019.

It is 2 am. I dream the war is ending. We are just trying so hard to keep everyone together. There are still bullets flying from time to time, but if you crack open the door and call out, real loud, “Hey! Be cool! It’s over; it’s over! Stop shooting!” they do stop, for a few minutes anyway. But the thing is everyone is so used to shooting and being shot at no one knows how to stop and stay stopped.

 It is today. It snowed again last night. I wake up with another headache. It is a new day, but it feels like the same headache.

Some Time Travel

 

teevee1986
This was one of the first pieces of furniture we owned, and our TV, with antenna, showing a broadcast re-run of the Addams Family. Note no cable, no VCR, and no CD-player, just an amp and a turntable. The Sony Walkman Pro is on the bottom shelf.

In the mid-1980s I was a broke, over-worked graduate student at the University of Utah and it was here that I discovered Dr. Who. The local PBS station played two of the old, serialized episodes at 10 pm, and it was the one hour a day I allowed myself as a break in my studies. My first Doctors Who were Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. I’ve enjoyed all the doctors, though.

When I saw the recent news that the next regeneration of the doctor is to be played by a woman, it was on Twitter, from the BBC. I cried. We’re not talking misty-eyed, either—I had tears rolling down both cheeks. Until I saw the announcement I didn’t realize it meant anything to me.

And then I saw a re-post of the news that the creator of Dr Who wanted a female doctor back in 1986.

MUofU1987
1987, University of Utah

In the parallel timeline where the new doctor in 1986 is a woman, I decide to stick it out at the University of Utah, despite the lack of any female professors or half-way decent mentorship. In that world, dammit, I bust my ass, got my PhD, and finish by 1992.

Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 2.58.44 PM

After that, my first teaching position is at a small liberal arts college in New England, and we move there with our two cats. My husband starts his own software company.

We don’t have our first kid until a couple of years after that, and my husband never joins Microsoft. He works for himself. In this timeline, the Xbox is never invented.

By the early 2000s, I’m teaching someplace else. I’ve dutifully been publishing articles in algebraic topology, but I take a year off to have a second kid and write a middle-grades science fiction novel. My husband takes his enthusiasm for the potential of new, more powerful mobile devices and changes the focus of his business. By the time Apple introduces the iPad, his company is on its third generation of tablets.

When Twitter launches in 2009, my publisher suggests I establish a presence there. I’ve written two picture books and four YA novels by then. I’m very busy with teaching, advising, and book tours. I tweet about my black cat Hilbert, and my two vizslas Rágógumi and Káposzta, but not every day. Only careful readers of my books know about my love/hate relationship with cooking, because the characters in them fumble the eggs, burn the toast, and serve creamed chipped beef on toast which no one eats. I do not invent the hashtag ragecook. And while Káposzta, called Kápi for short, is photogenic, I’m still packing lunch and driving to piano lessons, so I don’t have time for a daily photo of him.