Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Is the smoke clearing regarding the Covid-19 lockdown?

Yesterday Stew and I went to Querétaro for a doctor's appointment and a quickie visit to Costco. In the pre-virus era, we might have combined a Costco raid with a movie and dinner at the Antea shopping center, coffee at a Starbucks, or a walk-through one of the department stores. In other words, a somewhat touristy visit to the big city.

Now, with rumors about road checks on the way to Querétaro, we packed face masks and hand sanitizer, prepared a detailed shopping list to avoid needless meandering around Costco and took other precautions. Fear of the virus seems to have turned these innocent trips into a bit of chore.

But if yesterday was any indication, much of the fussing was for naught. Traffic was light and there were no road checks, so we zipped into Querétaro in about 35-40 minutes.

Costo's parking lot was half-empty and we found a spot near the entrance. Inside, large chunks of the store, presumably offering non-essential items, were cordoned off. Only masked cardholders were admitted, and red circles on the floor, instructing people where to stand, prevented pile-ups at the pharmacy or the checkout lanes.

We realized that, despite the precautions, the light highway traffic and the quiet, non-bustling atmosphere at Costco, made our trip a pleasant experience. I thought, "If this is the 'new normal', I could get used to it."

Except life is not really normal yet and we don't know when it'll be. Judging by the smattering of just a few cars on the parking lot, Antea is still closed and so is the Cinepolis multiplex. On Monday, Liverpool was closed at Antea, but open in San Miguel, the latter supposedly planning a barn-burner sale to bring customers back.

Precautions, precautions. 
Many of the other smaller shops at our modest Luciérnaga shopping center, though, are still shut or empty, and I suspect many may never come back. Radio Shack, one of the few such stores left in captivity, after the chain called it quits in the U.S. years ago, looks like it's gone for good.

Down the street from the shopping center, AutoZone still seems to be firing on all cylinders, unaffected by the lockdown or virus fears. I've always thought that AutoZone in Mexico is one of those indestructible operations that, along with cockroaches, will survive even a nuclear attack.

What remains abnormal about life in San Miguel is a queasy feeling of apprehension, caused by alarming media reports and lack of definitive direction by the local authorities.

Just today, Stew had his temperature taken by a cop at a roadblock, who asked where he was from and where he was going, and at the bank and the Soriana grocery store.

Some friends are resuming their social lives, albeit cautiously, while others remain cloistered in their homes, waiting for a final green light from someone.

We are gradually relaxing our quarantine routines, though not fast enough for Stew, who at times seems frustrated, like a dog straining at the end of its leash.

I don't feel quite so constrained, as I have slipped into a new routine of home projects that keep me busy. This morning the thought crossed my mind that, in fact, I may be starting to enjoy the isolation.

Truth is that, if you factor in all the unknowns and unknowables, we'll probably will be living under a form of quarantine through most of the summer. Certainly, neither Stew nor I is likely to abandon quarantine precautions as a political statement (to whom? for what?), or as a late-life outburst of machismo.

In San Miguel, we're supposedly at Phase 0 of the opening up of San Miguel, but what does that mean exactly? Some restaurants, displaying a Seal of Approval by the local inspectors, are quietly re-opening, particularly those out of town like El Vergel or Mamma Mia, with outdoor dining, tables spread out and waiters wearing masks.  Yet even the main streets in San Miguel remain noticeably empty. Some non-restaurants are open, some not.

Starting this weekend, there are checkpoints, or filtros sanitarios, at the entrance to San Miguel, coming from Querétaro and Mexico City. They waved us through on Monday, but Stew had his temperature taken and was questioned at the same checkpoint today.

Security seems to have increased following a report last week of the first coronavirus death in San Miguel, and a near-doubling of confirmed Covid-19 cases, up to about 20. If the infection curve flattening out, or dropping to zero, is the all-clear signal, we're not there yet. Just the opposite, it seems.

The victim was a 37-year-old man, from Guerrero state (home to Acapulco), who arrived in San Miguel the previous week, apparently already infected. No report yet on who he was in contact with  and may have been infected as a result.

Now there's a bit of a kerfuffle between San Miguel and Querétaro, about who is infecting whom. Over the weekend there were some media reports that Querétaro health officials were blaming a spike in new cases and deaths there, on people visiting San Miguel on weekends. Over 120 people have died from the virus in Querétaro.

San Miguel officials argued it was the other way around, and so they plan to extend the lockdown of hotels and other venues that might attract infected out-of-town attract tourists. But how long that will be in effect is not clear. I've heard end of July or August, which seem rather distant deadlines.

Bottom line, and the frustrating aspect of this lock down, is that no one knows for sure what to do.

I sense an increasingly more relaxed atmosphere among my friends, but that unfortunately could be quickly upended by news of a new outbreak of infections or fatalities. Indeed, we may be living in a proverbial one-day-at-a-time period.

P.S.: The number of Covid-19 cases in San Miguel has risen to 30. The man who died was from Veracruz.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Trump, you ain't no Churchill

One unexpected, and welcome, outcome of the Covid-19 lockdown, under which we've been living for almost three months, is that it's given me time, and permission, to do some uninterrupted reading, and also let my mind wander, to fantasize even.  

And so, two weeks ago I finished Erik Larson's "The Splendid and the Vile," a 500-plus-page tome about how Churchill led Britain during the Nazi blitz. This book was the third Larson hand-me-down from Stew, who before that had read his "The Devil in the White City,"  "Dead Wake," and "In the Garden of Beasts." Both Stew and I seem to be Larson fans. 

Reading about Churchill got me to thinking about what made him such a great leader as he faced challenges that would have crushed lesser human beings. 

A couple of days ago, I also read David Brooks' column in the New York Times, "If We Had a Real Leader," in which the conservative columnist analyzes how President Trump has failed to lead the country, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. 

Comparing the leadership qualities and accomplishments of Trump and the legendary Winston Churchill would strike most people as ridiculous, though a few of Trump's most fervent admirers have tried.

In 2017, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee attempted just that and was pilloried for his efforts.


Just this year, Nick Adams, a "motivational speaker, life coach and business innovator," pushed the frontiers of fictional hagiography with his "Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization," a 224-page book with a foreword by Newt Gingrich.

Adam's thesis is that Trump could be for the twenty-first century what Churchill was for the twentieth, both valiant reshapers of contemporary history.

Stew burst out laughing at the notion, but you shouldn't so you can go on reading the rest of this post.

Defining leadership is not as grandiose a task as it may sound at first; it's mostly common sense. 

The first trait that came to mind was honesty. Effective leaders are not afraid to tell the people the unvarnished truth, based on facts, reality and principles. And likewise, most people don't like being lied to, even though millions of Trump supporters don't seem to be bothered by it.  

A fearless truth-teller, Winston Churchill warned the British in 1940 to expect nothing but "blood, toil, tears and sweat," as the country faced "one of the great battles in history," after Hitler's hordes had gobbled up most of Western Europe. 

Churchill did not offer any quick solutions or try to dismiss the danger Britain faced, as a minor skirmish somewhere in France, that would sort itself out once the weather warmed up.

Second, after honesty, is the ability to rally people, to unify them to fight a common enemy—as in "we're all in this together." FDR did that during his Fireside Chats during World War II, and more recently, George W. Bush, immediately after 9/11, when he extended a hand of friendship to the American Muslim community and condemned any retaliation against American Muslims. It was a moving speech, as was the one he delivered to Congress nine days later.

That only makes sense. Fracturing the American public with divisive, partisan squabbling and scapegoating is not the way to solve any crisis that, after all, affects us all. True leaders don't trivialize crises by using them as political ammunition.

Third quality that came to my mind is compassion, that is, a leader's ability to empathize with citizens at a moment of deep pain and uncertainty—to project that he or she "feels his or her followers' pain."

Profiles in empathy (again): Trump (in El Paso, 
following the shooting that left 22 people dead); 
Obama; Bush; and New Zealand Prime 
Minister Jacinda Ardern.
During WWII, Churchill, in some eyes the epitome of a British stiff upper lip, was not afraid to be seen crying when visiting victims of bombing raids, as related by Erik Larson.

Perhaps the best image of compassion was Barack Obama's eulogy at the black church in Charleston, S.C., where nine parishioners were murdered by a white supremacist in 2015.

As one British newspaper put it, on that day the "President's job was not just offer solace to the people of Charleston, but to the nation." Obama's amazing speech concluded with his own hesitant rendition of "Amazing Grace." (Read Obama's speech here)

Empathy indeed is an essential quality in a leader, regardless of his political position. Lack of it hinders his credibility and along with it, his ability to lead.

In his column, Brooks writes, "[A] real leader steps aside his political role and reveals himself uncloaked and humbled, as someone who can draw on his own pains and simply be present with others as one sufferer among a common sea of sufferers."

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump's leadership—some would rather call it rabble-rousing—and more recently following the murder of a black man in Minneapolis by a policeman, has been anything but empathetic, as he has chosen, instead, to stoke racial and political flames of suffering and discord with a daily doses of lies, incitement and baseless accusations.

I would disagree with Brooks, however, that empathy and concern for others emanate principally from a solid education and "other spiritual or historical resources to draw upon in a crisis."

I believe that a certain degree of empathy, be it for the deaths of 100,000 people who have died as a result of the Covid-19, and their relatives, or at the sight of a helpless person lying under the knee of a policeman, is a built-in emotion in normal human beings, not something you learn in college.

It may sound incongruous, but I also added humility to the list of required traits in an effective leader, even if we think that hubris is essential for running for president or other high office. Being humble is not necessarily a reflection of personal insecurity, self-effacement or inability to make decisions.

On the contrary, "(h)umility benefits public officials by increasing openness to different ideas. It encourages individuals to freely reconsider beliefs when presented with new information, which is a requirement for good policy-making." 

That necessarily involves tapping others' views and expertise. For instance, Churchill delegated good chunks of his management of the war effort to people like Max Beaverbrook, whom he put in charge of warplane production. Beaverbrook performed brilliantly and doubled production. 

The flip side is being so enamored with your own abilities that you're unable to delegate or recognize expertise in others that you might lack, and which could lead to better policies. Such narcissism is a self-defeating stance for the leader—and for his followers.  

So, woe is us if we should find ourselves in the midst of a period of racial chaos and a lethal pandemic, being led by a person who is dishonest; unable to put the public good above his self-interest; lacking in compassion for those suffering around him; and narcissistic to the point of being unable to factor in opinions from people who may in fact be better qualified to deal with a national crisis.

Woe is us indeed. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

This pandemic of fear

Fear is one of the principal threads running through the story of the coronavirus pandemic, and so is the reluctance of many of us to articulate and deal with our fears. 

Fear induced by the pandemic engulfs the mighty and the lowly, from President Trump down to the working-class John and Jane Does.

One suspects that the president's frequently unhinged reaction stems from his fear that his reelection, once considered a near-sure thing, now looks like anything but, cracking under the weight of the death toll of the pandemic, soon to reach 100,000, and the cratering economy. 

For John and Jane, the fears are more immediate: Fear of losing their home, of getting sick without health insurance, or just going broke, all practically overnight. Some of John and Jane's panicked responses might be as irrational as the president's: To hoard toilet paper or, at the other extreme, to say 'the hell with it' and defy stay-at-home and other precautions.

A friend in San Miguel recently complained, and I sympathized, that pandemic fears have contaminated all aspects of her daily life. Going shopping for groceries used to be an innocent pastime, an occasion for  friends to exchange hi-how-are-you's and idle gossip by the coffee bar. Now "going to the Mega" involves a gauntlet of face masks, spritzes of hand sanitizer and waving at acquaintances from a safe distance. Those feeling most vulnerable, and afraid, just have groceries delivered and never leave home.

Safety first, even while protesting safety measures. 
Some try to hide their fears with bravado, with pretend-indifference to the general alarm, though they still make sure to take their N-95 masks, purchased months ago, when they venture outside their home. Just in case.

Also, just in case, protesters against anti-lockdowns and other government-imposed precautionary measures, took to the streets in Miami, wearing face masks, gloves, and one carried a spray bottle (of hand sanitizer?).

I savored the irony, though to some extent, also sympathized with these folks' impatience at being cooped up in the house for weeks on end. In a sense, they are attempting to deal with their fears through angry defiance.

In fact, the stay-at-home environment soon can become an echo chamber, magnifying our anger, frustrations and fears. Rational thinking can give way to catastrophizing, as our imaginations run wild. 

Fear is one of the most basic human emotions. The refrain "do not be afraid" appears hundreds of times in the Bible, exhorting us to confront our fears by putting our trust in God.

Buddhists suggest that we deal with fear, and the attendant suffering, by mindfully focusing our attention on the moment, rather than obsessing, or clinging to, the past, which cannot be revisited  much less edited, or the future, which is equally beyond our control.

During these long weeks, nay, months, of isolation from face encounters with friends and family (for which Zoom "meetings" are a poor substitute), I've been forced to focus on my fears and how to deal with them.

Talking with Stew the other day, over our first cup of coffee in the morning, I said: "You know, this is pandemic thing is scary." Stew acknowledged his own fears. We each talked about the prospect of the pandemic going on indefinitely, and how it might affect our physical and mental health, plus other what-ifs. 

Explicitly acknowledging one's fears, whether by talking with someone—or even talking to yourself—has to be the first step to deal with fear.

Yet, our first impulse, particularly among men, is to avoid the subject. Don't be a chicken. Don't be a nervous Nellie. What kind of a pussy are you?

Besides, talking about one's fears can turn morbid, as our apprehensions intertwine with someone else's, sometimes resulting in shared anguish rather than resolution or clarification. Who needs that?

Who's worried about Covid-19?: Taking advantage of the lockdown
of a village in Wales, a group of wild goats went for a stroll in the
 downtown shopping area, and ate some of the flowers. 
Perhaps that's why most people I talk with just say they're "fine, fine, fine," when I ask how they are holding up under "house arrest," and quickly change the subject.

But another San Miguel friend, admitted that lack of social contact is making him feel very uncomfortable. Should he wonder why he's so afraid to be by himself?

Avoidance or denial, though, is hardly the most productive way to deal with fear. Maybe most of my friends are indeed fine and carefree as they navigate through the present crisis, but I doubt it.

When I've tried to confront my own fears, getting sick, and dying, as the result of the coronavirus or of any multitude of maladies than can fell a 72-year-old, immediately rises to the top. 

I take infinite comfort in the loving company of Stew, and the good fortune of living in a nook of the world where the impact of the pandemic—so far—has been relatively mild.

Still, instinctively reaching for the face mask, along with my wallet and phone, is a reminder of the potential risks lurking just outside the gates of our small ranch.

I'm growing impatient with all the government-imposed restrictions too, but not quite enough to ignore them.

A few kilometers from us on the way to town, in the mud hole of a place called Los Rodríguez, three cases were diagnosed this weekend. No one knows where the virus came from, but a Mother's Day fiesta is suspect.

Closer to home, in the village where Félix lives, the locals this weekend held horse races, the crowded festivities no doubt lubricated with plenty of beer. What pandemic?

I also wonder if throwing open the doors of restaurants and bars in San Miguel, as essential as that may be to the local economy, may not increase the risk of contagion, as hordes of tourists arrive from Mexico City, where the Covid-19 infections and fatalities are widespread.

How long before the coronavirus comes closer to us, safely isolated as we think we are? The answer is, who knows?

I've become convinced that with regard to the pandemic, there is such a thing as too much information. We're swamped with unfiltered news and reports, a great deal of it idiotic conspiracy theories (is Bill Gates responsible for the pandemic?) and plain garbage posing as "news." All this feeds into the atmosphere of fear that permeates the current crisis.

First Draft News is a project, founded in 2015,
"to fight mis- and disinformation online."
Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright, once said that "[T]he truth is rarely pure and never simple." Wilde would be pleased to find how true his admonition still rings, 120 years after his death.

If you're really diligent, along with news reports you could visit fact-checking sites, such as Snopes.com, especially its "Coronavirus Collection,"  or the Washington Post's Fact Checker, before you believe anything you read.

You'd be astonished at the blizzard of lies and misinformation triggered by the pandemic crisis, and the fact that, although most of it comes from right-wing sources, including the White House, the liberal-leaning media is not at all immune from publicizing stuff that is either wrong or sensationalized speculation.

If you're lazy like me, however, the most practical filter might be to limit the intake of news to one hour a day. I prefer mornings with the New York Times or perhaps a couple of magazines like The Atlantic or the New Yorker, and avoid television news channels of any stripe.

That news diet is not going to completely placate my natural fears, by a long shot, but at least it won't feed into them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

May 20, 1902: Cuba's unresolved independence

Twenty years ago, when I worked for the Chicago Tribune, I maintained contacts with a few genuine Cuban communists, in particular a comely young couple who fervently believed everything Castro had ever said, thought or done. Any attempt at debate with them was about as pointless as arguing with one of Trump's disciples today.

Once they invited me to a cocktail party at Cuba's Mission to the United Nations, an imposing if dilapidated building on Lexington Avenue in New York, where we excitedly waited for the Maximum Leader to appear, and say a "few words," a long-shot promise, given his legendary loquacity. Asked about tomorrow's weather Fidel would ramble on for three hours about how Yanqui imperialism had ruined the earth's climate. He never showed up that night, and I left around one a.m.

Cuban Independence in exile.
My young communist friends also invited me to the Cuban embassy in Washington, an impressive, if dowdy, Beaux Arts building big enough for a country four times Cuba's size, and equipped with a huge ballroom to match. During the glory days before Castro, the embassy hosted New Year's Eve blowouts that, supposedly, were one of the hottest tickets in town.

When I visited, the lobby was decorated with plaster escutcheons symbolizing Cuba's six original provinces. But alas, in 2011, Castro re-configured the island into 15 provinces, but apparently there wasn't enough money to update the embassy's lobby in Washington. 

In a ham-fisted attempt to spur après lunch conversation, I once asked my friends how the embassy celebrated May 20, Cuba's Independence Day. There was silence. And as soon as the words left my mouth, I could see them landing on the middle of table, like a glop of pigeon shit. Uh-oh.

The young wife, swallowed hard and then politely explained that May 20 was not Cuba's real independence day. The real deal was January 1 (1959), she said, when Cuba attained true independence, finally freed from the yoke of Yanqui imperialism, and became the "Free Territory of America."

A few more seconds of awkward silence elapsed. Coffee, anyone?

In fact, Cuba can claim two independence days, both dubious.

The war of independence against Spain began in 1895, and quickly attracted the attention of the U.S., where the insurgents gained favor with both, American business interests and religious groups, the latter concerned with Spanish atrocities in its drive to quash the rebellion.

Tensions between the U.S. and Spain exploded, literally and figuratively, when the USS Maine blew up in Havana's harbor on February 1898, and the U.S. declared war against Spain. To this day, no one knows for sure who was responsible for the blast. In August, the Spanish-American War came to an end, and the U.S. gained control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

In 1899, the U.S. formally occupied Cuba. A constitutional assembly was convened. However, the U.S. demanded that a poison pill be included in the constitution—the Platt Amendment—that in effect gave the U.S. the right to intervene in the island's affairs whenever U.S. interests were endangered, as so defined by the U.S.

With that footnote in place, on May 20, 1902 the U.S. ended its occupation and Cuba gained its independence.

Or was it "independence"?

In 1903, Cuba ceded 45 square miles to the U.S. to install the Guantánamo naval base. From 1906 to 1909, the U.S. re-occupied the island to suppress an insurrection, and in 1912, American troops put down a rebellion by Afro-Cubans in Oriente province, that was threatening U.S. property. And from 1917 to 1922, the U.S. moved into the island again, to sort out a disputed presidential election and armed rebellion.

Indeed, overt or indirect U.S. meddling has been a fact of life in Cuba's history, most recently with the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, followed by economic embargoes, and attempts on Castro's life, my favorite being the CIA's plan to kill him via an exploding cigar.

Truth is, Cuba's "independence," and its march toward any semblance of democratic government, has been a stumbling, uncertain affair, like someone trying to do a rhumba on a dance floor littered with banana peels. It hasn't been pretty.

I've lost touch with my two communist acquaintances who by now must be in their late forties and ensconced high up in the Cuban nomenklatura—or selling real estate in Miami.

As for me, I fly the Cuban flag on May 20. It doesn't mark the arrival of perfect independence and democratic government in Cuba, I grant you, but it's a hell of a lot better than what came after Castro took over on January 1, 1959.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Adjusting to the new abnormal

We've been in shutdown mode for almost two months, and recently I was reminded of how this weird situation might be getting to me: I couldn't remember which day of the week it was.

Being confined at home, except for a few outings to the grocery store and a restaurant once a week, hasn't been terribly hard for Stew and I. We haven't lapsed into fits of anger—we haven't tried to kill each other—or suffered bouts of insomnia or ongoing depression, as some friends report.

Yet the humdrum-ness of this new routine is becoming onerous. We're surviving alright but feel as if someone has put our lives on "pause" indefinitely, leaving us unable to make plans beyond what are we going to eat tonight. Our lives seem truncated.

San Miguel street life seems to be stirring a bit more. Or is it my imagination? Are we just unconsciously adapting to—"normalizing"—such oddities as shopping for groceries wearing a face mask or getting squirted with hand disinfectant every time we turn around, even at the hardware store?

Even our mail from the U.S. gets a pfft of disinfectant before it's handed to us by Luz María, who dons gloves and a face mask, as if our parcels were radioactive.

Despite it all, last week we had a bit of good news from our young lawyer Javier, that the other side seems eager to finally negotiate an agreement to the land dispute that's been simmering for the past two and a half years. That break has felt like a gust of fresh air in our otherwise cloistered existence.
Of the two of us, I seem to be coping a bit better, thanks to my unfocused fidgeting, which I call  "hobbies," but others might view as a form of ADD.

I've been reorganizing my computer photo files, a task that should take me until the Second Coming; selecting and loading music into our car stereo system's hard drive; looking through books and magazines for gardening ideas, writing blog posts and such.

Stew does the cooking, a serious responsibility, now that the option of going out to dinner on the spur of the moment suddenly is not available. He's good at it and enjoys it most days.

Other days, he seems bored and grumpy, the banging of pots and pans signaling not so much the joy of cooking, but a bit of frustration, almost as he were seasoning his creations with a dash of resentment.

I mostly stay out of the way, except for occasional grilling on the terrace, and definitely cleaning up, which can be a challenge on its own, even with a dishwasher, in the wake of Stew's more complex creations.

Many restaurants in San Miguel have launched take-out menus and some deliver, but neither one of these bennies is readily available to us living ten miles or so outside of San Miguel.

Limited as our dining out options have become, we are lucky compared to some of our friends with chronic pulmonary disease or other health problems, who are terrified to leave their homes. That would be a tough regimen for us to follow, and we feel comfortable that, with due precautions, we're not in danger of contracting the virus, by visiting a restaurant once a week.

Watcha you lookin' at, Tucker?
Meanwhile, our lives here just mosey along. Nothing as exciting, or ridiculous, to report, as the political sniping going on in the U.S.

Félix is busy spreading wildflower seeds, and we pray for rain.

Last week, amid much rumbling from the skies, some rain fell, but hardly enough to measure. Stew and Félix have installed a weather station, complete with a rain gauge waiting to make its debut.

My photo-organizing marathon goes on for several hours each day. So far I've reached 2011. I have about 30,000 photos in my computer, if only about 10-15 percent of are memorable.

But I'll never know what I have until I go through them.  This morning I ran across a cute picture of a baby rabbit Félix rescued a few years ago, and which appears on the upper right-hand corner of this page.

I'm the cuter one of the two, by far.
And at night, God bless Netflix. We've been watching "Crash Landing on You," a South Korean soap opera consisting of 16 episodes, each about 90 minutes long.

It's the perfect quarantine entertainment: there's romance, snapshots of the politics and history of North and South Korea, comedy, action, martial arts and very attractive lead actors. Best of all, it's a fantasy that takes your mind away from the dreary news from the U.S.

We also were lucky to catch "Unorthodox," about a girl trying to break away from a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, and HBO's "The Plot Against America," a dystopian drama that depicts the fate of a Jewish family in New York, under U.S. President Charles Lindbergh, who installs a pro-Nazi government in Washington.

The latter show was excellent and chilling, specially its eerie similarities to the political climate in the U.S. today.

Beyond that, we have a box of DVDs friends have lent us, and our own collection of classic dramas and comedies. We might maintain this rhythm even after the quarantine is lifted, whenever that is.

One beneficial aspect of the quarantine is that we've given up on television news, regardless of political bent. No Rachel Maddow, Judge Jeanine, Don Lemon, or Fox News' Tucker Carlson, whom a female friend regards as "cute," but who reminds me instead of a constipated groundhog. My apologies to groundhogs.

Stew and I just read the New York Times and Washington Post in the morning, get all riled up about the news for about an hour, but it all blows over after breakfast.

Compared to some of our anguished friends, we are coping fairly well to life in confinement, except for the present open-endedness of the quarantine, the uncertainty.

As long as the COVID-19 virus keeps its fat finger on the "pause" button, it's impossible to make any plans beyond next week. That's the worst of it.

Will our trip to England in October actually happen? When do get to visit friends in San Antonio? Will Jimmy and Robert reschedule their wedding in Las Vegas?

All we can do is wait.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Covid-19 forecast for San Miguel: Hopeful but with a chance of storms still ahead

This year, the vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring, fell on March 19. And by an odd coincidence, on the same day the mayor of San Miguel announced a sweeping lockdown of the municipality, to go into effect the next day, that banned most public activities indefinitely, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

And if the latest numbers are accurate—a big if—the city's proactive and strong response may have effectively stopped or slowed down the spread of the contagion.  As of yesterday, only nine cases had been reported in San Miguel, and everyone recovered.

I don't know if such auspicious numbers will hold, but for the moment feel relieved, as if the end of siege by an enemy we can't see or hear, but can kill us anyway, may be in sight.

The much larger city of Queretaro, about 45 minutes away, has reported 130 confirmed cases of the virus, of which 30 are still active, 87 have recovered, and 13 people have died. Alarmed by those mounting figures, city officials last week tightened restrictions on non-essential public activities.

Querétaro road checks.
Skeptics may argue the pandemic might still reach us. Hundreds of San Miguelenses, for example, travel daily to jobs in Queretaro's industrial parks, possibly setting up a conduit for transmission here.

Also, in the absence of widespread testing for the virus, the exact number of cases, some asymptomatic, remains in flux. Someone's complaints about a gripa, for example, may be an undetected case of the virus.

And although most commercial establishments are still closed, there are signs of increased foot and automobile traffic, and other signs of public impatience with the restrictions.

Just this past weekend, for example, an informal horse race took place near us, attended by several dozen spectators. Few, if any, face masks were seen at the event.

But feeling optimistic today, I prefer to think that San Miguel may have beat the Covid-19 rap, not a small feat, given the large number of over-65 expats here, and the number of dirt-poor colonias and rural communities around the city.

Among my acquaintances, there seems to be general compliance with the stay-at-home mandate, ranging from people who haven't stepped outside their homes for as long as 54 days, even for a walk, to others who have remained at home but with occasional trips to the grocery store and other errands.

Stew and I have adopted a bit of a quarantine-light and have ventured to eat at the local French cafe Marulier and at a Texas BBQ joint on the road to Dolores Hidalgo—both venues with very few customers and outside seating—and Tacos El Pata, a national chain that just opened a restaurant here.

There were only a handful of customers at El Pata, and the waiters wore hairnets, vinyl gloves and face masks, as if impersonating surgical assistants ready to bring you a bowl of tortilla soup (good) or yank out your gallbladder.

When the curve for new cases and fatalities will level off is impossible to tell. Mexico's health minister said on Tuesday that the curve for the rate of infection seems to be flattening, a positive sign, but added the pandemic is far from over.

Mexico releases an eyeful of graphs and statistics daily, tracking the spread of the virus and the number of casualties. Brew yourself a strong cup of coffee before you try to figure them out.

I also feel grateful that, so far, in Mexico the pandemic hasn't turned into the grotesque clown show it has become in the U.S., where some gun-toting zealots, some dressed in camouflage outfits and wielding military-grade weapons, have turned a public health tragedy into a spurious debate over "personal freedoms."

I believe it was the famous American jurist Anonymous who once wisely observed that "your freedom ends where my nose begins."

Applied to the present situation it means that a few extremist wackos have no right to flaunt flout common-sense measures, designed to slow the spread of a pandemic, in the name of a cockamamie crusade about "personal freedom."

If by doing so they risk infecting others around with a virus that has killed 75,000 Americans and counting, that is no longer a question of personal freedom, but of public safety.

Monday, April 27, 2020

What is this? Summer, spring, early rains or what?

We haven't had any significant rain here for months, and that, in addition to a heat wave for the past couple of weeks, is making me doubt my own propaganda about San Miguel having the "perfect climate."

It's been pretty miserable indeed, temperatures up in the low 90s. Not Baton Rouge, Houston or Phoenix miserable, mind you, but uncomfortably hot nevertheless.

Early-bird pomegranate
The worst of the day comes in mid afternoon, when even the slightest wisp of a breeze vanishes, and the sun doubles down. A couple of days last week we took pity on Félix and sent him home early. I told him he was looking darker than normal, más moreno que nunca, and about to faint.

Around San Miguel there are vast farm fields, on which you can spot distant silhouettes of men, women, and I suspect, even some children, hunched over in the blazing sun, picking broccoli, garlic or whatever. Don't know how they can stand it.

Yesterday morning, however, as if someone had flipped the channel on the TV, we woke up to cool breezes, clear rather than hazy skies, and predicted highs of only 80 degrees for the rest of the week. Is spring here?

The night before, around nine o'clock, the wind had begun to blow fiercely. The curtains in the living room billowed and blinds in the bedroom banged against the windows. Some windows slammed shut. The ominous rattle and roll made it sound as if the house was about to come apart.

Outside, the row of five slender cypresses in the front patio swayed rhythmically, as if dancing to a samba only they could hear. The wind caught a patio umbrella on the back terrace, trying to rip it free from its mooring, and once again, send it flying. One time a few years ago, a garden umbrella went flying over the house and landed on the front yard.

Baby cherries, the first ever.
Then, beginning in the east, the skies suddenly darkened. I swear I could smell dampness in the air. Maybe I was just imagining.

Stew said a nearly imperceptible drizzle was falling, the kind of almost microscopic droplets Mexicans call "chipi-chipi," and usually precedes some real rain.

"Rain?" I asked, expectantly.

"Rain!" Stew replied.

And then nothing, just a sudden, and welcome, 20-degree drop in temperature.

Last night we had the same teaser. Darkening skies and the banging of kettle drums of thunder coming from behind the mountains south of us.

Rain? Stew got up to check and this time there were some wet spots on the flagstone on the terrace, but not enough to tamp down the dust.

Today, it's starting to warm up again. Summer may have returned. I'm not going to guess again which season we're in right now.

However, eagle-eyed Felix picked up a couple of auspicious signs around the yard. Two 10-year-old  cherry trees which had never even shown symptoms of fruiting, suddenly have several bluish fruits each.

This surprise might have been caused by our recently installed system for recycling rinse water from the clothes washer and dumping it on the trees outside the garage. A full load of laundry can use 15 or 20 gallons of water per full cycle.

Shazam! Who would have guessed?
Félix's visual acuity, by the way, is really annoying. About eight or ten years ago we had to take him for emergency surgery to repair the retina in his left eye.

The public hospital wouldn't pay for the surgery, so we paid the $500 dollars for the laser surgery at a private hospital.

After such near-miss you wouldn't expect him to see that well, but in fact his vision is better than ever, and so is his hearing. I swear, that guy can spot the hole on a bee's ass.

Vision good enough to find the new fruits on the cherry trees, hidden by the foliage, or hear a mockingbird and then spot its nest two-thirds of the way up an 30-foot-tall evergreen tree.

I realize he's exactly 40 years younger, but still, it bugs me when he points out things I can't hear or see. Sometimes I feel he's rubbing it in, just for laughs.

Flower of a very common prickly pear cactus.
Other findings, during a walk in the cool morning air today, were the wondrous flowers of a homely, gangly hanging cactus called Lepismium cruciforme (photo above). Not trying to impress with my botanical Latin; I just don't know its common name.

This customer is not very attractive; it essentially consists of a thick bunch of leafless tubular branches that keep reproducing and lengthening in all directions.

But then, one day, giant, complex, bell-shaped flowers, vaguely resembling those of a hibiscus plant, emerge from the thorny branches.

The beauty of the flowers is totally incongruous with the homeliness of the plant, but that's what often happens with succulents and cacti.

Also coming on line is our volunteer pomegranate bush outside the garage. We have no idea where it came from, and we don't quite what to do with the avalanche of fruit, except squeeze out the seeds and put them on salads.

Also, the prickly pear cacti, of we have several varieties, are not waiting for the rain and spring to arrive, and have been flowering for a few weeks now.

I hear thunder-like noises. The skies are darkening outside. Is it finally going to rain?

I'd go check but I'm not falling for that ruse again. I'm off to a quick nap.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Trump jests while Americans die

Several people had asked me when my next blog post would appear, and I wasn't sure. But after Trump's Thursday night press briefing, in which he suggested people could shoot bleach or disinfectants as a cure for the coronavirus, a blog topic fell on my lap: L'affaire Clorox.

Torrents of words have been written by newspaper and TV commentators trying to figure out what goes on in Trump's head, but that's like attempting to decipher a hieroglyphic that keeps changing daily. Is he a narcissist? A pathological liar? A sociopath with no moral bearings or empathy for fellow human beings? A wannabe medical doctor? All of the above and then some?

To that long list of possibilities we can now add "comedian," although one with such recondite sense of humor and sarcasm, his punch lines likely will leave most listeners stupefied rather than amused. 

Manufacturers of Lysol and Clorox immediately implored people to forget about injecting disinfectants. And so did the Federal Drug Administration, and state and local agencies running poisoning hotlines.

Kayleigh McEnany, the hapless White House press secretary who gets to explain Trump's constant excursions into Fantasyland—a job as thankless as cleaning up after the elephants at the circus—said that it was the media's fault for acting "irresponsibly" and taking Trump's remarks "out of context."

Emily Litella for White House
 press secretary. 
Let us pause here for a second, and at the count of three, let's all shout, "Fake News! Fake News! Fake News!"

Except Trump himself made clear his remarks were accurately reported, but that he had made them "in jest."

Video of Thursday's briefing, didn't record any stifled laughs or even discreet tittering. It showed Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, sitting nearby, at times clasping her hands and looking at the floor. Later she offered that Trump's remarks were deliberate, but reflected an "unorthodox" thought process.

How that's different from out-and-out lunacy, she didn't explain.

 L'Affaire Clorox, though, shows at least two salient characteristics of Trump's disordered personality.

One is his dishonesty, which he has demonstrated time and again, during the series of press briefings related to the coronavirus pandemic.  He lies constantly, casually, needlessly, almost compulsively. Does he do it for fun? To get out of answering questions his stable genius mind can't handle?

Profiles in compassion: Trump at a photo op in El Paso,
where 22 people died during a mass shooting; Barack Obama and
George W. Bush, as "consolers-in-chief"; and Prime Minister
 Jacinda Ardern comforting relatives of victims of a massacre
at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, last year.  
But talking about his dishonesty, or fact-checking what he says, is a tiresome endeavor.

What intrigues me most is his lack of empathy or compassion, even in situations where a furrowed brow or look of concern, a quick hug, would go a long way to comfort  people who are suffering or mourning the death of a dear one.

In this specific case: Why would someone make a joke during  a press briefing about an epidemic that has killed almost 54,000 fellow Americans and more than 200,000 people worldwide? 

How can a human being be so emotionally clueless? Whatever the answer to that might be, I can't imagine there'd be anything funny about it.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The quarantine is depressing the hell out of me

Not the most felicitous or inviting headline, I'll grant you, but that's how I'm feeling right now.

Since this self-quarantine—house arrest, social distancing, or whatever you want to call it—began, when? 21 days ago?, I've tried really hard to convince myself that our situation here at a small ranch in Mexico could be worse.

Yea, much worse, I keep repeating to myself. Still, I'm running out of positive thoughts.

I could be living alone, like many people I know, instead of with a wonderful companion and human being. That's a big gratitude for me, and I hope for Stew also.

Or we could be stuck in a fourth-floor walkup in Chicago, where, for Chrissake, it's supposed to snow tonight. Or in New York, Covid-19 Central.

Yes, if given a choice, we'd rather be in Mexico than in any place in the U.S. There's always a "safe" place north of the border, such as WTF, Montana, but at the pace the virus is spreading, I'm not sure anyone is immune anymore. And life at WTF, I hear, is really depressing, even without an epidemic.

Our finances could be precarious, too, as in the case of business owners, and people laid off—by the millions—in the U.S., who don't know how they are going to feed their families or pay next month's rent or mortgage.

Then we read of all anonymous tragedies in the U.S., where, each day, people are dying by the thousands, and turning up infected with Covid virus by the tens of thousands. So far, Stew and I are healthy. We know people here with chronic pulmonary or other serious health issues who are, understandably, terrified to step outside their homes.

And the number of infected people in San Miguel stands at three, all of them showing only mild symptoms and being treated at home.

And yet I'm getting increasingly depressed, almost despondent about the present confinement. From reading newspaper columns and commentaries, it sounds as if I'm hardly alone. Or as a blogger from Louisiana, who lives alone, put it in a recent post, "Staying home sucks."

Why?

One is, naturally, the physical isolation from other people. Stew and I always felt we were pretty much loners. Turns out those dinner or movie dates with friends, or meeting other people at a church service on Sunday, are small joys we didn't quite appreciate.

A "service" on the Zoom app, with tinny audio and jigsaw puzzle of faces juggling on a laptop monitor, doesn't count as a spiritual encounter. Likewise, the face of a minister—even Pope Francis!—talking into a camera or preaching to a handful of people in an otherwise empty basilica, doesn't bring comfort to my soul.

Praise be, though, to all those church volunteers who wrestle with Facebook or Zoom software every week, to keep in touch, at least. But I still long for the real thing.

I'd never thought I was one of those "people who need people." I've realized of late I'm in fact one of them, though I'm not feeling very lucky right now. Sorry, Barbra.

The second issue sapping my spirit is the uncertainty. Epidemics are by nature unpredictable. One can't predict where they start or end up, and how many dead bodies they'll leave along the way.

The quarantine in San Miguel could end at the end of April or, continue almost indefinitely, until July or August. When will we know, or who will tell us? Can we stand to be cooped up inside our homes for another six weeks, as if waiting for a hurricane to arrive?

And friends keep telling me we've barely just begun to serve our house arrest sentence.

Wars or comparable catastrophes too, often bring out leaders who through their honesty, trustworthiness, and empathy bring people together to face the crisis, to lift their spirits.

I'm crazy as hell!
But instead of a Churchill or an FDR, America today has someone that reminds me of the red-faced Howard Beale in the movie "Network," a TV character becoming more unhinged before our eyes, in this case threatening to close Congress one day, promising to "open up" the country by Easter or who knows when, and who claims to rely more in his intuitive "genius" rather than expert opinion about whether his schemes are legal or medically advisable. 

That type of daily reality show is not anything to calm my nerves or improve my mood. I'm going to try ignoring it.

Living in Mexico, a thousand miles away from the barrage of news, about the political mayhem that envelops the U.S. right now, offers some relief, but we can't completely escape it. Online news reports, and our own curiosity, won't allow it, as much as we try to direct our attention to non-news articles, about a lost city in Colombia, and every "B" movie Netflix flings at us.

Tonight, "Madama Butterfly" is on tap, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, though Stew says he's damn tired of Pinkerton and all those geishas demurely shuffling around. I think Stew is getting impatient too, living in this state of suspended animation.

Tomorrow we will tell the housekeeper not to come to work until the beginning of May. She travels here in a crowded bus that, in these contagion-obsessed days, seems like a Petri dish on wheels.

So it will be my turn to clean the house and do the laundry, which, from previous experience, I expect is going to be a  real pain. I'll have something to do alright.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Uneven compliance with coronavirus preventive measures may be a bad omen for San Miguel

Despite stringent, almost draconian, directives by the municipality, for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, substantial sectors of the population seem to be carrying on business as usual. More worrisome still is that those seemingly oblivious to the lockdown are poorer sectors of the populace most likely to be affected by the epidemic if, or when, it reveals its full lethal face to us in San Miguel.

During an early morning visit to town yesterday, mostly to get groceries, the different responses were noticeable.

At the Don Pedro hardware store, where we stopped for about five minutes to fetch a PVC connector, our hands were doused with sanitizing gel when we came in, all the employees wore face masks and the cashiers constantly sprayed and wiped the counters and even the register keyboards. The place seemed to be rehearsing for "Coronavirus: Armageddon."

It was the opposite scene at the fruit market down the road, next to a butcher shop. The place was quite mobbed by customers and suppliers unloading crates of fruit and produce, but except for a young cashier, and Stew, no one wore masks, gloves or any other precautions. Instead, this was a carefree scene from "Pandemic: What Pandemic?"

Our next stop was Mega, San Miguel's largest supermarket, which took us back to the other extreme. There were so many warning signs, bottles of hand gel, and masked and gloved employees, the place looked more like a sanatorium than a grocery store.

The coffee shop, where we would pause to double-check our shopping lists, now only sells bags of coffee: no more cappuccinos or sweet rolls; even the ten small tables have been removed.

No more elderly baggers, either, which is too bad because those poor folk really need any extra change from tips.

But even here, it was noticeable that, among the customers, only foreigners wore face masks. Mexicans didn't seem concerned, or perhaps thought the gringos, with their masks made from cloth napkins, worn bandannas or random pieces of fabric, just looked too ridiculous, pandemic or not.

The public street market I visited briefly on Saturday to buy birdseed, was mobbed, and just like the fruit store, nobody seemed at all concerned about the virus, pandemic or preventive measures. An accordion player and a singer serenaded the customers.

"Death Valley Days" with hand-sanitizing station.
Most peculiar was the sight on the way toward San Miguel's only shopping center, La Luciérnaga: A police car straddled the two lanes of traffic, cruising exactly at the speed limit of 50 kph, like a pacer vehicle. What was that about?
La Luciérnaga, was a scene worthy of "The Twilight Zone" or "Death Valley Days." Liverpool, the department store, was closed, and so was Radio Shack, the Cinemax movie house, and just about every other store. The Telcel customer service storefront advised customers to come in only as tellers became available; everyone else was to stand outside, six feet apart, on spots marked with yellow tape.

Even my barbershop, the world-renowned "Rock n Rolla" hair salon is closed. So I'm left with a worsening condition most rare among guys my age—my hair is growing rapidly and leaping over my ears. I could visit Félix's barber, a woman specializing in the five-minute, $80-peso Mexican buzz cut, but I'm resisting.

One more table to wipe, again.
Stew and I had a coffee and a biscotti at the Italian Coffee Company's outdoor cafe, which was deserted. One of the two employees, a young skinny guy, fully geared with a facemask and blue gloves, went around spraying and wiping the four or five tables, pausing briefly to check his phone for messages, before another round of spraying and wiping.

The McDonald's across the way was doing only take-out business and of the six tables outside, three were cordoned off by yellow police tape, presumably to keep proper distancing between the few customers, but at the cost of giving the restaurant the look of a crime scene.

What's most disconcerting to me is the lack of current, or reliable, information about the status of the pandemic in Mexico or in San Miguel. It's the uncertainty.

The government publishes figures, but absent widespread testing of the population, one cannot help but doubt their accuracy, and suspect the numbers might be seriously underestimating the number of infections or even deaths.

The question of the moment seems to be: Is the COVID-19 pandemic going to largely spare San Miguel, or are we experiencing the calm before the hurricane?

The eerie calm and light traffic in the city, and so far, few infections, point to the first, and more optimistic, scenario.

But the apparent lack of compliance with even basic preventive measures by the poorer sectors of the population—precisely those who might be most medically vulnerable—leads me to fear the worst might be yet to come.

I'm not taking any bets on either possibility.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Music meets memories during the quarantine

Judging by the increase in Facebook postings, most pretty lame, and in the number of newspaper advice articles on how to cope with "self-isolation," the coronavirus prevention campaigns may be driving people batty.

Folks complain of insomnia; being unable to focus and grievingexcessive drinking leading to domestic violence. Some couples are even talking about marital problems. Other people fear a slide from boredom, to anxiety, to outright depression.

None of these symptoms are caused by an existential ennui of the kind you can thrash out with a fellow penseur at a Paris sidewalk cafe. We are talking about people bored out of their gourds, especially when they remember this self-isolation drill might go on for several more weeks, if not longer.

Oi.

Some people try to make their house arrest sentence go faster by undertaking mindless make-work. It's not only a way to kill time, but also an attempt to regain control over a situation that is really out of your control.

Hello to deep-cleaning and organizing projects, from dusting the blades of the ceiling fan, cleaning the wall behind the toilet, or arranging the spice jars alphabetically, and tossing those with expiration dates older than five years.

My own compulsive cleaning-and-organizing blitzkrieg didn't start until Friday, about two weeks after Stew and I formally declared ourselves physically cut off from the rest of humanity—except for the maid and the gardener, who clean up after us.

We don't own piles of random stuff, but instead have medium-size collections of a few items, such as books, photos (inside my computer and in boxes) and music recordings, that haven't been curated for decades, if ever.

I started with music, and in just a few hours, realized it would be a daunting exercise. My failure to organize my recordings in the first place has been compounded over the years by the inexorable march of technology.

I was also detoured by the unexpected: Music recordings triggering memories.

My record collection began circa freshman year in college, with LPs that evolved from high-fidelity, to stereophonic and finally quadraphonic recordings. Then came updates of the amplifiers, speakers and other assorted electronica.

Compact chaos
Sophisticated turntables later paired with tape recorders and tapes, and equalizers. Headphones, running full throttle, magnified the sound which, in retrospect, probably led to the tinnitus and partial hearing loss I began experiencing a few years ago.

Plus wires, many, many wires, twisted in all directions, as if they each, on their own, had picked their destination and purpose.

All that bulky music equipment was gradually pushed aside by the arrival of compact discs and digital technology, iPods, MP3 recordings, the internet, iTunes, TuneIn radio, Bluetooth speakers, and extravagant but helpless car sound systems that require the importation of music sticks that plug into USB ports in order to play your music. Or you can connect to the system via your smartphone. Our 2018 Chevy Colorado pickup has no slot for CDs, which GM must have decided were no longer needed.

Astuff accumulated, along with more wires, each new wave of sound technology didn't replace the previous one, but pushed the obsolete equipment and collections aside, to collect dust. Until a few days ago, the innards of my stereo cabinet looked like a old-fashioned phone switchboard run by  a senile operator who'd lost track of which plug went into what hole.

Wires to everywhere and nowhere.
When we built this house, in a wistful attempt to regain control over all this stuff, we had a carpenter build a stereo cabinet, nowadays called a "media center," to house the TV, speakers, LPs, CVDs, and the amplifier and other noisemakers. Plus the builders ran wires from the stereo cabinet to two sets of speakers outside.

It was an awesome Rube Goldberg creation that I only used for a couple of years. Bluetooth speakers replaced their obsolete hard-wired cousins, and iPods, half the size of a cigarette pack and capable of holding a gazillion recordings, pushed aside my CD collection, never mind the LPs and the turntable. Most recently, our smartphones, with their amazing storage capacity, might displace the iPods, which are not even made anymore.

Are you still with me?
Old LPs, I discovered, can evoke  certain periods in life, some blissful, others hardly so. Or as the title of a Joan Baez album "Diamonds & Rust" (1975) suggests,  images of old lovers can bring memories of diamonds—and rust.

             Well, I'll be damned
             Here comes your ghost again
            But that's not unusual
            It's just that the moon is full, 

            And you happened to call...

            ...Ten years ago I bought you some cufflinks
            You brought me something
            We both know what memories can bring
            They bring diamonds and rust...

            ...Now I see you standing
           With brown leaves falling around,
           And snow in your hair...

Baez is 79 years old.


LUCHA for the people, whatever that is.
There were also politics, antiwar protests, and even whispers of gay liberation, the latter ever so discreet at my very middle-class, Roman Catholic college, whose politics remained firmly grounded in the Ozzie and Harriet Era.

A few Hispanic students formed a group called "LUCHA", which means "struggle" in Spanish though I don't remember what the acronym meant, or even what we were struggling against.

What I remember, though, was Carlos Santana's music, particularly "Evil Ways," and "Black Magic Woman," and that our group adopted his first recording, in 1969, as a sort of marching music.

Then again, it was a confusing time. Some of us thought Santana was Puerto Rican; he's actually Mexican-American. At 72 years old, just a few months older than I, Santana is still touring. I'm definitely not.

There were also wars to be fought and lost, and military draft lotteries to be dreaded, with protest  music playing all the while.

My draft lottery number was a bone-chilling 3, but fortunately I received a 4F deferment because of a physical disability with my feet. (The problem, which persists today, is far more serious than heel spurs, in case you're wondering.)

College buddies with similarly low lottery numbers and I commiserated about our bad luck, and whispered among ourselves, but never very seriously, about fleeing to Canada. Everyone stayed put, though a few, including an Adonis of a football player on my dormitory floor, was sent to Viet Nam and never made it back alive.

Ready for action?
Although I never dipped into pills or hard drugs, occasionally Friday and Saturday came and went in a haze of pot-smoking, pepperoni pizza-snarfing, and faux-profound babbling. At the time, guys my age tended to ponder the "heaviness" of life—as in "that's heavy, man, so heavy"—harmonized full blast by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. All of them remain alive only in my music collection. Drugs were hard on everyone.

James Taylor, whom I, even under the influence of drugs, found insufferably lachrymose, is still around but bald, and still boring after all these years.

About two-thirds of my LP and CD collection, though, is classical music, heavy on piano and guitar compositions, and big-bang orchestral productions, like Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a rattle-the-pictures recording of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra," which was the opening music of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), and a favorite of stoned college students.

Yesterday I thumbed through my LPs, and was surprised by their age, and the range—maybe even sophistication— of my musical tastes, particularly since I don't remember buying many of these dearies in the first place. This is going to take some serious ex-post-facto curating.

Anybody for an LP of koto flute?
Even when pot-impaired, I took very good care of my LPs, which to this day are mostly in pristine condition. I've thought of selling them, but who would buy such a motley collection? Besides, I'm not sure I'm ready to part with those memories.

Today is Saturday, and our mission (I'm recruiting Stew for this) is to bring back to life my turntable, the last component of my music system, and, I suspect, sort out another rat's nest of wires.

If successful, it'll all come back to life today or tomorrow, appropriately enough on Easter weekend. But I will still have to go through the CDs and LPs collection, and if not organize them—that might require another miracle—at least reacquaint myself with what I own.

I've got plenty of time on my hands during this coronavirus lockdown.

Maybe too much, I'm starting to feel.