4/20/2020: Birthday in Pandemic

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My son Laszlo turned seventeen so I gave myself the day off from running Favor in honor of his birthday.  I did, however, go for an actual run.  As has been my routine of late I jogged around the golf course then headed south towards Eastwoods Park.  I walked around the park, wandered over secret bridges, watched a kitten play.   Then I walked home slowly, enjoying the sun on my legs.

On a street called Liberty I passed two children, a boy and a girl, playing a game.  They looked to be about five years old.  The little girl was parked on one side of the street, sitting obediently on a small scooter (“staying in her vehicle,” I realized).  The boy was on the other side, and had set up a little shop, with various items placed on the seat of a chair.

“Do you have any paper towels?”  the girl called across the street.

“Let me check,” the clerk responded.

Curbside delivery, of course.

Every year I bake a cake for Laszlo’s birthday and ask him how he would like it decorated.   One year it was Mordor, another it was a hammer and sickle.  This year he was understandably lacking in enthusiasm. “I don’t care,” he mumbled.

So he gets a COVID cake.  We will eat it in the backyard with a friend he hasn’t seen in person in a month.  I am terribly grateful to her father for permitting this to happen; it is the only thing Laszlo really wanted.

 

 

The Runner Diaries: April 19

Some stores have plenty of toilet paper, others have zero, the now familiar empty shelves, grubby in appearance despite rampant sanitization.  Some stores have only toilet paper that seems to have been imported from Mexico, four-packs with splashy logos involving bubble letters and exclamation points.  Oddly, they are always scented.  Manzanilla!  Lavanda!

I keep Googling “how to cut a shaggy bob”.  As with cooking, I read the recipes but don’t really follow them.  It’s more of a snip here, snip there, every few days approach.  Some days are more successful than others, but I suppose that could be said regarding much beyond my hair.

Yesterday’s Running was dullsville.  Groceries for seniors in the morning, fun food for twenty-somethings in the eve (sushi, Mexican).   Driving around the city last night, passing apartment complexes where I’ve dropped off food, re-noticing the same street names that took me by surprise the first time I noticed them weeks ago, watching the families on bikes, the couples walking, the lone teenager bouncing a basketball, watching the sky change from afternoon to dusk it all began to feel like a dream, repetitive, unreal.  I listened to the news in the morning but switched to music in the evening.  I was tired of listening to podcasts in the car, tired of reading articles at home.  Tired of other people’s thoughts; I wanted space to think my own.

My older son experiences bouts of depression.  One of his symptoms is feeling unable to read books.  An activity that used to sustain him and bring joy becomes a trigger, a foe.  This is how music has started to feel to me: frivolous, distracting, impossible.  But yesterday it somehow became possible again, and it did bring me joy.   Uninterested in the tedium of making decisions, I turned Spotify’s Early Alternative playlist, which pleased me.  Stuff from the 90’s mostly, some earlier:  a mesmerizing cover of “Lola” by The Raincoats, some Cocteau Twins, some Sugarcubes.  Johnathan Richman, John Cale.  Kate Bush.  Television.

Recollections from past Runs floated through my mind.  The grocery delivery to a fancy house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a gated community on the lake.  As I drove down the street, I realized my destination was next-door to a house my friends live in.  Their teenage daughter’s bright blue Prius, parked in their driveway, indicated her presence there, sheltering at home; her California college campus shut like the rest of them for the remainder of this school year.  I despise that house, it’s obnoxious, enormous and ugly, but the people are lovely and warm.  I recalled parties I’d attended there, kids swimming, sports on the giant-screen TVs.  Adults picking at catered hors d’oeuvres and bellying up to any one of the specially outfitted bars, standing dangerously close to each other–  touching, even, as they waited for another plastic cup of Chardonnay.

Another day, I delivered deli sandwiches (pastrami, corned beef, smoked turkey club) to a person I actually know, a man named Louis.  He’s a friend-of-a-friend; I’d been to parties at his house too, and swam in his pool.  In hopes of a better tip, I texted him through the app: Hey Louis, it’s Abigail, Annette’s friend!  Can’t teach yoga right now so I’m running Favors.  He texted back:  Come by later for a swim!  The pool’s heated.  Louis must not have known this, but like normalcy, these texts were ephemeral; our actual phone numbers are masked by fake digits, so the connection with the other human vanishes once the Favor is complete.

 

 

 

 

Running

This morning walking my dog I paused, observed the fat cashier from the grocery store across the street emerge.  The bottle fondler, I thought.  She’d definitely fondled my kombucha bottle …..

thought lost.  new thought:

driving around, it’s like being in a dream.  The streets melt together.

I pass places I’ve already passed, several times.   Like navigating through a dream.

Like in a dream, what is real?

The Runner Diaries: 4/16/20

This was a long and boring day of Running.   Many people wanted tacos.  The elderly  wanted Dover sole.  I phoned a customer from the aisles of CVS, confused:  what is Zim’s Max Free Gell?  “It’s zit cream,” she told me.

“Ah,” I said.  “They don’t seem to have that brand.  Would you like to try CVS brand Maximum Strength Acne Cream instead?  It costs $5.99.”

“I don’t have acne,” she snapped.  “I just have ONE zit.”  Right.

She repeated herself:  “It’s not acne it’s just one single zit.”  The way she spat out the word zit, with such disgust.  I felt a mixture of compassion and slight panic, as if her self-loathing might be contagious.

Later I needed something beautiful so I turned to poetry.  Glancing at the latest episode of the Poetry Magazine podcast at a red light, the title of the current poem seemed to be “They Killed Cows.  I Hate Them”.  I immediately thought of the film 1917, and was jealous of the idea that someone had written a sort of ekphrastic response to the killing of animals in the film by German troops.

I had misread the title, though, the poem was actually called “They Killed Cows.  I Killed Them,” by an Indian poet responding not to a film but to current events. Apparently there’s a growing trend among Hindu extremists to carry out acts of terrorism against butchers and ranchers who raise animals for meat.

So much for beauty.  I delivered another batch of tacos and called it a night.

The Runner Diaries: 4/15/20

In need of a trickle of cash after the yoga studio where I taught shut down due to pandemic, I signed on as an independent contractor with the company Favor.  As the name implies, the independent contractors do favors for the customers, generally picking up to-go orders from restaurants or running shopping errands.  The position is called being a “Runner”, presumably due to errand running, but in light of present conditions it sounds to me futuristic, daring, dystopian.

Today I logged onto the app at around 11:30 after getting my kids settled into their online schoolwork.  They ate late breakfasts, so I was able to spend the busy lunch hours running Favors for others.  It took less then a minute for my phone to ping with an opportunity, which I accepted.   This first Favor of the day involved ordering cookies from a fancy shop I’d never been to, then picking up and delivering to a house an eight minute drive away.

The cookie shop was the sort of breezy, preppy, summery outdoor walk-up counter you might find on Nantucket, or in the Hamptons, or in certain neighborhoods in Houston (in fact, it is the spin-off of a Houston establishment, I learned).  Steely Dan played from speakers mounted under the eaves.  My customer wanted six chocolate chip cookies and six sugar cookies.   It came to nearly $45 for the dozen.  The masked, gloved young woman behind the window handed me a bag that looked as if it might contain an elegantly boxed scarf or bowtie.  I stepped with it into my Kia, rubbed a generous squirt of hand sanitizer between my palms, and began the eight minute drive.

Listening to podcasts while running Favors provides a sense of purpose to the time spent driving around.  On this day I checked in with The Writer’s Voice from The New Yorker, and was pleased to see the two most recent episodes were readings by writers I really enjoy.  The most recent, somehow from an issue of the magazine that hasn’t even come out yet, was by Ben Lerner.  I pressed play and shifted into reverse as Deborah Treisman’s pleasant familiar voice introduced Ben and his story.

Listening to podcasts while running Favors requires patience due to constant interruption.  The navigation tool telling me, in stilted words, when to turn, what lane to get into, etc.  The Ben Lerner story was a little hard to follow anyway, and after getting chopped up by Siri it came across as extremely odd, disjointed, even surreal.  I was surprised and slightly disappointed by his voice.  I was sure I’d heard interviews with him before, that this was not the first time I’d heard his voice, but he read this particular story in what I think of as “poetry voice.”  A self-serious style of reading, a certain cadence, a predictability that I try very hard not to affect when reading aloud my own work.

When the magazine arrives, I will read his story in print, and I will probably think it wonderful, as I do most of his work (maybe all of his work?).

The second Favor was the type most common these days, a grocery errand for a senior citizen.  Favor was bought by a large Texas grocery chain called HEB, and they have a deal to help seniors not leave their homes by using Favor Runners to shop for them instead.  It means that at HEB or Central Market (the upscale version) I can flash my Favor order and Favor debit card and skip the line, rock star style.

This also provides me a chance to do my own shopping without waiting in line to enter the store; as I shop the Favor order I put aside a few items for my household, then perform separate transactions at the register.

George Saunders was my second listen, en route to the grocery store, from the store to the customer’s home, then back to mine.  His story was called “The Love Letter”.  It was easier to follow than Lerner’s, even with the chop, and I enjoy Saunders’ voice.  I used to play a video of his 2013 Syracuse University convocation speech (“On Kindness”) to the middle schoolers I taught, back when I was a teacher.

The elderly couple I shopped for were very organized with their list, placing produce together, pantry items together, etc.  The woman, Marion, was delighted that I was familiar with Finn Crisps, and that Central Market had all three types of fish she wanted in plentiful stock (no ground chicken, though).

It was a stunning afternoon.  Many people were out walking, biking jogging, some in family groups, some solo, some with masks on, some without.

The Saunders story ended at the traffic light at Lamar and 45th Street, so I drove the remaining few blocks home in silence, enjoying the sunlight, savoring the peace.

Notes from a Pandemic

Professionals are advising we may never return to the custom of handshaking.  My Macho Bullshit dislikes that prognosis!  My Macho Bullshit loves delivering a good firm handshake, the sort that places the shaker in the Alpha spot of that binary situation.  A firm shake, a steady grip, a calm gaze into the eyes of the recipient.  Oh, how My Macho Bullshit will miss such dynamics.

My Macho Bullshit wonders for a moment whether fist bumps will be re-permitted, but doubts it.  Physical contact, probably a no-go.  MMB was stellar at fist bumping, could bump fists with the best of them, and could really out-bump most of them.  A strong, solid, on-target bump followed by a spectacular disaster of finger fireworks.  No one any  better at this, truly, than MMB.

MMB detects a sensation.  Is this a feeling?  MMB considers reaching for a Scotch but remembers that Scotch no longer does the trick, in fact plays other tricks, rather nasty ones involving headaches and lost time.  Hmmmm.  Feel the feeling, MMB tells itself.

This is a time in which to release, in which to let go of the stuff we no longer need.  Memo received; MMB is on it.  MMB is participating.  MMB has taken bags to Goodwill, back when Goodwill was still open!  MMB is letting go the veils of illusion: pedicures, a slim waist, white teeth, urinating in the correct places.   MMB is on board!

My Macho Bullshit is undergoing an existential crisis.   Is the thing that needs to be let go… is it… my macho bullshit?

Instructions

lie down on your belly in the grass

let it be uncomfortable, wish for what you wish

that grass isn’t going away until you rot it with your corpse, so–

breathe

deeper

deeper, come on, like you mean it

mash the grass

with love, with breath, with love