Lockdown: Who are the trusted?

David Letterman took some time off from The Late Show in March 2003. I was nearing completion of my first year teaching at Assets, still young enough to stay up for Letterman and be among the first teachers on campus early the next morning.

Letterman had a stye or a cyst or one of those eye ailments I only know the names of from doing crossword puzzles. While he was out, he had different fill-in hosts each night, something he did a few times. I thought it was best when Paul Shaffer was the host, and Bruce Willis did a great job on almost no notice the night Letterman’s son was born.

Second best fill-in (sorry Bruce) was Elvis Costello. He was the host and the musical guest on March 11.

We were in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, a military action I was opposed to from the beginning. I swear I took this position long before Farenheit 9/11. I could sense it on September 12, actually, that America was gunning for a war when I was still teaching at HBA, and changed my voicemail greeting at work to “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

We talked about the impending invasion of Iraq in my tenth-grade homeroom. There were a few pro-invasion students, a few anti-invasion students, and a few who didn’t care much. They were high-schoolers. I tried to allow as much free exchange as possible. I made my position clear, as did my MIT-grad homeroom co-teacher, but we let students have most of the conversation.

The United States invaded Iraq on March 20.

On March 11, Elvis Costello introduced himself as the musical guest on Letterman. I thought it was pretty cute, the intro. Look at the first minute or so of the video.

“Please play ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding,'” I said aloud to my television.

And he played it.

He was at a different place in March 2003. That month, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in May, he would announce his engagement to Diana Krall (tangent: nicely done, Elvis). He was no longer the young, skinny, irony-spitting, racist punk he was in the 70s. He released his cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” in 1978 (a B-side, believe it or not), half his life before.

I needed Elvis to bring it back. I wanted to be assured that under the years of success and the nice suit and straight teeth was still the punk. Not the racist; thank God he grew out of that.

And he did, and while the performance is not as ironic as Elvis’s original recording, something took irony’s place: desperation. Listen to him sing it here. The punk is still there, screaming to get out, right around the 3:06 mark. I sang it with him, with as much desperation as Elvis seemed to communicate.

Elvis performed with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra on March 31 and April 1, 2005. I bought two tickets to each show. It was a pops concert, and Elvis alone was singing with the orchestra, not playing his guitar, and not accompanied by his band. He was in kind of a jazzy standards period.

I tried to convince R to go with me. I think she was offended. She was dating that guy, or possibly engaged already; I can’t remember which. I was stupid enough to think we could still do things as friends, and I knew she’d love an Elvis concert.

I was working on my master’s then, and I took a woman from my cohort, Willow, to the first show. Then Penny, my reliable concert buddy, to the second.

The shows were great. Nearly identical sets. He didn’t do his rockers, explaining he was “in a different place,” as if I didn’t already know. He did sing “Alison” and “Watching the Detectives,” which fit perfectly into the format.

But I could see it, because of his Letterman performance. The punk. It was still in there. And he was ready to unleash it if he needed it.

I write all this to say that “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is bringing me some amount of peace on this Wednesday morning as I write about my Tuesday. I encourage you to hit PLAY on the video if you could use a little bit of comfort.

As I walk through this wicked world
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred
And misery?
And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

I woke up after just a couple of hours of sleep and took advantage of the hour to make a run to Long’s. I would have hit the supermarket but the first two hours after opening at five are for seniors and other people needing time and space. Grabbed enough Diet Pepsi to tide me over and picked up a few other supplies. Strangely, I bought some cookware. From the drugstore. It was there. A small non-stick frypan, an 8×8 Pyrex baking pan, and an 8-inch Pyrex pie pan. Not for pie. For eating. I love the rimmed edge for regular dining. I have another such pan somewhere else but I can’t find it.

I struggled to get up for work Tuesday morning, but I got rolling as soon as I got to my desk. Returned emails. Took notes. Set myself up to write one of my stories, based on the emails I received overnight. Posted a story on the website. The web posting is going much more quickly now, and I’m sticking to a certain standard I’ve set for myself. The social media stuff takes as long as it always has.

Then I asked for the second half of the day off. I was more sleep-deprived than I could handle. And stressed. So I took a nap, left the TV off, stayed off social media (mostly), and did a few chores. Met with the NaNo Skype group and banged out 2100+ words. I decided sometime in the evening to take advantage of one of my built-in laundry cushions, pushing the chore off until Wednesday night.

This let me take care of some stuff without rushing to bed, including making some kind of abbreviated grocery list. Which I’ve yet to do as I type this.

And as I walk on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted
So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony,
Sweet harmony?
‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away
It just makes me wanna cry
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

In addition to the Skype time with fello NaNoers, I texted with Sylvia about her old position no longer being listed on our website. Too late to turn back now! I sorta taunted. There was brief election talk in the Suzanne-Cindy-Julie group text. Melody texted for the first time in years to ask if I knew who won the mayoral race. It was only 8:30, and although I had only peeked in on social media, I knew that people were still in line to vote, so the printout would be delayed. Jennifer sent me a link to an article about the Oxford comma. I’ve seen most of them but I hadn’t seen this one. I only skimmed it because I was still working on my NaNo goal.

Oh yeah. Breakfast was McD’s. On my way home from Long’s (and just before a short return to bed) I had a Local Deluxe platter AND an Egg McMuffin AND a hash browns. Eating my feelings again.

Lunch was leftover Portuguese bean soup. I skipped dinner but I did have a slice of apple pie and more than a generous helping of Lay’s kettle-cooked jalapeno chips while I wrote. Writing is so fattening.

I seldom drink alcohol when I’m doing creative writing. The depressive effect on my already morose personality doesn’t lend itself well to the energy required for putting sentences together quickly. So far in these first three days of NaNoWriMo, however, I’ve been stirring little mixed cocktails between bursts of writing, and they’ve actually done the job. I have too many nearly-finished bottles of spirits in my cabinet and I need to make room, so I’m trying to retire these soldiers and lay them to rest.

The first night I had some Suntory Toki, which I’ve written about. The second night it was Monkey Shoulder, a Scotch whisky I really don’t care for on its own and am not too impressed with as a mixer. It was decent, though, for writing. I added bitters, simple syrup, and lots of ice. Last night I finished off a rather old bottle of Jonny Walker Black, with ginger beer, bitters, and lots of ice. It was sort of a horsefeathers cocktail without the citrus. I had a lemon in the fridge. Wish I’d thought of it. It was nice to toss the bottle!

If mitigation anxiety or election anxiety have you feeling a bit disconnected, I’m here for it. Leave a comment and I’ll send you my info. I don’t know if I can text you down off the ledge, but I’ll keep you company up there.

Lockdown: Skype’s the limit

I’m writing about Monday at 11:26 in the evening Tuesday, so the details may be fuzzy. My vision certainly is, as I type through bleary eyes.

I didn’t get to work until about 9:45, tired as heck. This is going to be a long NaNoWriMo.

I was pretty productive, though, emailing several people to set up interviews or to actually send interview questions. I multitasked the heck out of my day. I had a phone call with my supervisor to talk about one of the donors I was interviewing. At 3:30 I put the football game on the radio, and it was good accompaniment as I went through my tasks.

I spent the time between work and NaNoing doing a little bit of reading, then catching up on the conversations at the NaNo website. I set up the group Skype session after a public announcement on the site, and was joined at 9:00 by Jen, Mary, and Darrée, three long-time NaNo friends from NaNos past, and Rachel, a newcomer. We had some good conversation and some productive word wars.

I hit 2088 words for the day, slightly ahead of the 1667 needed daily to hit 50K by the end of the month. I’m enjoying the writing, mostly, and think the characters are developing nicely, but I haven’t decided yet who the murderer is, and I need to decide on a character flaw for my narrator very, very soon.

It’s a cozy mystery set on a public school campus in Honolulu. Kind of fun to write. I had a little whisky cocktail, a kind of impromptu old-fashioned, with Suntory Toki, bitters, simple syrup, and ice. It was pretty yummy. The Toki is a thin, insipid whisky that drinks really easily, so it mixes well. I played my six-song Pearl Jam playlist on repeat for my soundtrack.

Then I did a stupid thing and stayed up kind of late reading. I think I was trying to put off going to bed, where I knew I wasn’t going to sleep well. I think I got to bed at 2:30 or so.

I had leftover Portuguese bean soup for breakfast and lunch. A slice of apple pie for a snack. A couple of hot dogs and the last of my manapuas for dinner.

There was very little texting Monday, and I barely noticed it. Sylvia asked if I have any advice for brown gravy and I told her I’m terrible at gravy, so my advice was to purchase some gravy mix. I sent Crush Girl a text to see how her weekend was, and got a short reply. And that was it!

It was fine. I was a bit absorbed in work and my NaNo activities. The Skype session probably helped a lot, too. Very good connection there with people I like a great deal.

I didn’t do any serious decluttering this week, a huge disappointment. It would have taken more planning ahead, with all the NaNo stuff I’ve added to my day, and I didn’t have it in me. I did throw a few things into the trash before I wheeled the bin to the curb, some things I knew I was going to get rid of and were just taking up space in my kitchen, so I felt good about that, but it was a token effort. I didn’t put a dent in the stuff I really want to get through, and this is not good.

I don’t have time to write a novel, as you can plainly see. This is the whole reason NaNoWriMo exists, and it’s why I’m here for it. Nobody has time to write a novel. So we may as well write one in November.

Hang in there, wherever and whoever you are. Things don’t seem to be getting better, but as long as you’re not contributing to their getting worse, you should feel okay. And if you need some connection, leave a comment. I have bandwidth. Let’s connect.

Lockdown: Swap meet and curry meat

I slept a little better than usual Saturday night but it still wasn’t very good. I set my alarm early, not to hit the beach this time (I think I’m just going to avoid weekends there altogether) but to hit the swap meet.

It’s probably the most juvenile thing I do, but I realized some years ago that I like wearing black t-shirts, so much that when I’m not wearing a black t-shirt, I wish I were. I feel weird not wearing black. So I have some nicer black t-shirts I save for certain occasions (most of my concert tees are black, so of course I wear them to concerts) and some cheapo — but not necessarily unattractive — black tees I wear every day. The everyday shirts I get at the swap meet.

There are a whole bunch of shirt vendors at the swap meet, spread around the permiter of the stadium, who mostly carry the same stuff at the same prices. A certain higher-quality shirt brand lately goes for $5 a shirt, or five shirts at $20. They feature Hawaii-themed, multicolor designs on the back, with a smaller identical image on the front left, where a breast pocket might go.

When you wear the same ten shirts every day, they don’t last very long. Most of them hold up well structurally, but they fade, get a little thin, and sometimes stretch. Still wearable, but slovenly-looking after six to eight months.

Since nobody sees me these days, I’ve been wearing the most recent shirts for quite a bit longer, and it looks pretty terrible. When I drove to my parents’ house Saturday, a sign in front of the stadium announced modified hours for the swap meet: open at 6:30 on Sundays.

I figured it would be pretty easy to dash in, grab ten shirts, and dash out without encountering too many people at 6:30. So I did, and I did, and I did. Ten new black tees are in my car now waiting for a first launder, and I’m quite pleased.

Then I ran a couple of errands related to paying my rent, and dropped off Penny’s birthday gift. Then went to the office for my weekly in-office work.

It all went swimmingly. Got home at about 2:00 to catch the ends of the Seahawks-Niners and Bears-Saints games, then put on the Cowboys-Eagles game, took a nap, did some chores, and thought about NaNoWriMo.

Around 9:45 I got started on the novel, a cozy mystery set in a Hawaii public high school. The working title is Finals Resting Place. I was joined on Skype by my longtime NaNo friend Jen, and we did a couple of ten-minute word sprints, both of which she beat me in. But by 11:45 I had 2023 words, a few hundred more than the 1,667 words per day one must write to meet the goal by November 30. A nice start.

I texted a bunch of people Sunday to ask if they were familar with the term “dead week,” and only Suzanne had heard of it. At HBA when I was a student, we called the week before finals week Dead Week. It was the week when no field trips or other extracurricular activities were allowed, so we could all focus on reviewing for exams. When I was a teacher at HBA, we no longer called it Dead Week.

But I Googled it, and I know it’s not specific to HBA in the 80s. It’s a thing. Just not a thing any of my friends have heard of.

I wanted to go with Dead Week for my working title, darn it. A little bit of brainstorming with Ali led me to Finals Resting Place and I think it’ll do for now.

The writing partner and I texted a little about our projects. She’s not doing NaNo, but was interested in what I’m working on. Sharon asked me for some advice on what to buy for Japanese curry. I actually had an educated answer about the cut of meat she was looking for.

Breakfast, eaten at my desk in the office, was from the Taco Bell drive-through. It was great. Lunch when I got home was a manapua left over from Saturday. For dinner I tried to eat leftover Korean veggies from last Sunday but they tasted a little strange to me so I ate several bites and threw them out. Took me that long to decide I just didnt’ know what I was eating. Sometimes with certain sour foods you can’t tell if the sourness is normal or spoilage. It’s too bad because I could have used some veggies.

So I just had another leftover manapua and a couple of hot dogs with sauerkraut, ketchup, and mustard.

I’m due for a trip to the grocery store Monday night, but if I don’t make decent progress on leftovers, I may have to just go in for a week’s worth of stuff. Fridge is getting a little cramped but I’m down to my last two Diet Pepsis.

One problem with trying to make new dishes is you end up with opened, unfinished bottles of oyster sauce and mirin which are too useful to throw out but which you never used much before you made the one dish. I may give myself two weeks off from new dishes and just work my way through some of these half-consumed ingredients in some way.

NaNo’s going to be a challenge this year, but I’m interested in seeing if I can put something decent together with stuff I learned from previous attempts at cozy mysteries.

It’s freaking November. This is insanity. Madness. I can’t believe it.

If you need someone to connect with, leave a comment and I’ll send you my contact info. Don’t go into this month of crazy alone, because you don’t have to.

Lockdown: Lightened by the blinds

Despite loosening restrictions on Oahu, I’m keeping myself away from friends and strangers for two reasons, which I am grateful to say are common among many of my friends and acquaintances: I don’t want to contribute to the spread and if my parents need me, I want to be available without putting them at greater than necessary risk.

Since the start of the lockdown March 19, I’ve seen my parents three times: mothers day, fathers day, and my mom’s birthday. All three times I stayed downstairs, wearing a mask, while they stayed upstairs. We called to each other. The dog came down to say hi.

I saw Penny once. She came out to my car and took half a pie out of the back seat of my car, reaching through the window.

I saw Sylvia once. I handed her some yeast. She gave me some kale. We met in a parking lot, handing the goods to each other through our driver-side windows.

I saw Crush Girl once. We met in a parking structure so I could give her an empty one-gallon water jug. I set it down on the floor between our cars, then stepped away so she could pick it up. We spoke to each other from across our vehicles, for like three minutes.

I saw coworkers John, Alice, Patty, and Aileen in the office. John and Alice were on a Saturday afternoon. I thought I’d be the only one in, but boy was I wrong. That was a stressful couple of hours. We all worked in very distant areas of the office, with walls and doors to separate us, but it was also very early in the lockdown and I did not like being in that space one bit while others were in it too. I saw Aileen about a month ago, when I went in early on a Saturday morning rather than my usual Sunday. That was also stressful. She works in the office on a regular schedule, so she’s used to it. I vowed to avoid Saturday in the office. I saw Patty a couple of weekends ago. She needed to get in for a while and I had my usual Sunday stuff to do, so we were in there together for a few hours, in separate areas separated by walls and doors. Sliiiiightly less stressful because she’s one of my best friends in the office, but still stressful!

So it’s nine encounters with people I know in nine months of the pandemic, or something. I’m not going back up to count them. That sounds like a lot to me, considering how utterly isolated I mostly feel, but I guess one run-in with a friend or family member per month is kind of spare.

My dad emailed me a few days ago to ask for some help hanging new vertical blinds. The blinds in my parents’ house are as old as the house. That’s 35 years. I admit I was a little nervous, but I reminded myself that I keep myself safe and healthy so I can be there if they need me. I don’t consider vertical blinds very important or pressing, but I also have a job that keeps me busy five days a week. My parents are locked away with each other for company and no schedule. If they’re keeping themselves busy with house projects, I’m all for it. I’ve even ordered things from Amazon for my dad and had them delivered there so he could work on some of them.

So Saturday morning I drove over. I picked up a dozen manapuas in two boxes (one for me and one for them) on the way. We got started at about 9:30 on a project my dad predicted would take “a couple of hours.”

We killed that thing. The living room looks fricking great. These blinds are lighter and brighter, so even when they’re closed they make the living room brighter than it was. And it took pretty close to a couple of hours. We took a break midway through, during which I chatted with my mom a bit. My dad and I chatted while we worked, of course. I wore a mask. I tried to keep my distance, but you could tell my parents just weren’t worried about catching something from me. I kept edging away when they got close, but they seemed oblivious and often stepped closer. They were happy to see me.

I was happy to see them too. Seriously, this lockdown has been surprisingly rough in this respect. But dang it, I did not need them to be breathing my germs.

I was out by half past noon. Came home, took a nap, did the crossword, read the news, watched the news. Thought about NaNoWriMo. Vegged.

Strangely, I skipped breakfast (tried to get another 20 minutes of sleep before heading to the folks’ house) and had a couple of manapuas for lunch. Then one more for dinner. I had some chips in between. That was all I ate.

I texted Penny to work out dropping off her birthday gift. Then Jennifer to respond to a bunch of stuff she sent me that I was lazy to check out. But it was all interesting and I saved a couple of ideas for kitchen experiments. Ali and I texted quite a bit about the American Dirt controversy. She’s reading it now. She and someone at work recommended it to me, and I’ve been aware of it for a while because of all the librarians I know and the writers I follow in social media.

I’ve found a groove with cozies, though, so I think I’m going to stay here for a while. Reading as medication.

It’s the last day of October, ‘though you’d never be able to tell just looking up and down my street. This means NaNoWriMo is Sunday. My daily lockdown journals might necessarily be shorter for a few weeks.

But I can still DM and text. So if you want to connect some, please leave a comment. I’ll send you contact info and we can help each other get through these lousy autumn pandemic days.