Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The masked society


   I went out to the movies on Saturday afternoon.  This would usually be a pretty mundane statement, no big deal, but in this case, it’s pretty momentous.  This was the first time in thirteen months – thirteen months, mind you – that the cinema was open and that I wasn’t watching a movie in bed. 

   For a long time, I wasn’t sure that I would return to going to the movies right away when theaters opened.  But one day recently, I thought, “Fuck it” – I’m vaccinated, and I can’t hide out forever. When I went on Saturday, after seeing that Minari was playing, it felt strange and wonderful, like I was waking up after a very long sleep, not sure if I wanted to get out of my warm bed even as I was eager to move on.  I did feel quite safe; I had a (rainbow) mask on, and there weren’t many people, although I’m not one to hang out chatting in crowds anyway.  (There were a number of people, a few unmasked, hanging out in the plaza out front, but all the tables had been removed, except at the restaurants, presumably to discourage too much hanging out.) I also felt unexpectedly quite emotional, like I was seeing a very good friend or lover after months or years.

   I was also reminded of a couple thoughts I’ve had about masks and the wearing of them. 

   Yes, there are those who don’t wear masks, and, yes, that may be more of a problem as we try to make our way out of this pandemic.  That being said, I wonder if there will be a significant number of us who will continue to wear masks in public, even when the pandemic is over.  As weird and kind of upsetting it is to see people going around with masks covering their faces like in some sci-fi movie, a vision of a future dystopia, I can see us being more like a Asian country like China or Japan, where, in addition to concern about bad air pollution, there is an emphasis on community rather than the individual and where, hence, mask-wearing is common. Although masks aren’t 100% protection, as was tragically evident when COVID-19 first proliferated in China, I’d like to think that, for one thing, wearing a mask is why I haven’t gotten any contagious illnesses in the last year.  I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that mask-wearing will be good for us. 

   Maybe one reason I think this is the way young children – and also teens – have taken to wearing masks.  For a long time, I have found it striking, exciting, even moving when I see young children out and about with masks on.  As far as I’ve seen, they do not seem to mind wearing the mask; they do not fiddle with it or whine about wearing it.  (Things might be different when they are in school for hours and especially when they are out at recess.) What excites and moves me is how children have adapted to mask-wearing, how natural it appears for them to wear them.  I don’t know what they have been told about COVID-19 or the pandemic or if some were told that the mask-wearing is like a game or something.  Whatever they’ve been told, it gives me hope, it excites and moves me, that these kids will grow up thinking not only of what they need but also of what’s best for others and the community. I am hopeful that, unlike those that don’t wear masks and protest against mask-wearing and vaccines, they will mask up and really care about our society.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Whose park is it?


   Echo Park is in an eclectic neighborhood with Mexican-American families and hipsters that shares its name and isn’t far from Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.  The park features a large pond with a big fountain and swan boats that people like to go for a ride in.  It is a pleasant spot, popular with families and those out for a stroll or a run. 

   It has also been a pleasant spot for about 200 homeless people who have been camping there for the past year.  Not a bad place to ride out a pandemic.  Not only that, but the encampment became something of a community, with a kitchen, a garden and at least an attempt to keep things clean. 

   This all ended last week, when police in riot gear booted the people out and the park was closed for renovations. A number had willingly gone to hotel rooms that the city (L.A) provided through its laudable Project Roomkey program, which is all very well and good, but there were those who didn’t want to be cooped up in a room with perhaps a curfew, etc., who didn’t want to give up the community and who didn’t want to leave.  A bit of a scuffle ensued, with some people, including journalists, detained, although there was nothing like a riot, and I think two of the homeless people ended up getting arrested. 

   I read about all this in the Los Angeles Times, which had a number of stories about the encampment leading up to the eviction and which has long shown much empathy for the homeless, and I have found myself with mixed feelings (and also wondering what would happen if this happened here in fairly liberal but also pretty white and uptight Claremont). 

  On the one hand, I feel very much for the homeless, and I admire these folks for forming a community in a safe and also pleasant spot, and I hear those who didn’t want to give this up. I also don’t like the way the eviction went down, with little and somewhat confusing, perhaps downright murky and not truthful, notice and with a heavy, almost militaristic, police presence. 

   On the other hand, these people shouldn’t have been camping out at the park.  Yes, I said it.  This is a public park, not a campground.  It belongs to the surrounding community, to the families and walkers and joggers who have enjoyed it, to everyone.  The nearby residents were rightfully upset about the park being taken over, about this encroachment on their space, about the human feces and used needles under their feet and the smell or urine that they have had to put up with. 

  I feel for everyone in this case.  Indeed, this is a tragedy, above and beyond the tragedy of there being homeless in our rich society. The homeless deserve to be sheltered where they feel safe and comfortable, where they can pursue the life they want (and preferably with the services they need).  But the nearby residents – and the rest of us – also deserve to live safely and at peace, with public spaces, meant for all to enjoy, not encroached on, taken over by any one group of people. 

   Why can’t the city find empty lots, perhaps including parking lots, that the homeless can camp out on or at least sleep in their cars on overnight.  There are always empty lots available, at least temporarily, or parking lots that can be used overnight.  Or better yet, as has been shown in another area of L.A, the city can provide inexpensive “tiny houses,” which have become popular in the general community, on these empty lots.  Shipping containers have even been used to construct small, attractive shelters. 

   If the city – any city, including even Claremont – really cares and puts some effort and, yes, money into it, this doesn’t have to be so much of a tragedy.  And it would be far less of a tragedy than having tents lined up on and blocking sidewalks and under freeways, much less a public park. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Back to mass shootings as usual


   In my last post, I wrote about how I am worried that we’ll go back to business as usual after the pandemic.  I said that I hope that we’ve learned some valuable lessons from the pandemic, about slowing down, about having more quiet time, about being kinder and gentler with each other. 

   It doesn’t look like this will be the case, at least not recently.  Just as we’re seeing our way out of the pandemic (hopefully), just as things are looking up after a long, horrible year of illness, deaths and isolation, there have been two mass shootings in the last week or so.  One was at massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, leaving eight dead, and the other was at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, in which 10 were killed. 

   The quiet in the last year was noticeable – and no illusion.  Unlike in the previous ten years, there were no mass shootings, defined as an incident in which more than four people are killed, during this first year of the pandemic.  A blessed rest.  (Although I did read that there were 1400 gun deaths – average, run-of-the-mill, not newsworthy fatal shootings – last year.) For whatever reason – fewer busy public spaces (schools, churches, etc.) during lock-downs, not many mental health services available during this time, pent-up frustration after such a year – the quiet has been shattered. 

   And we’re back to the way things were before the pandemic.  We’re back to business as usual, back to our normal.  We are going from the COVID-19 pandemic to, or back to, the gun violence pandemic (not to mention the pandemic of racism, which often combines with the gun violence).

   As it was teased for a 11 p.m newscast, “we’re back to our violent ways.”

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Contemplating the end (of the pandemic)


   There is perhaps more than a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.  COVID-19 cases are down, as are hospitalizations and, thankfully, deaths, at least overall and relatively speaking.  More and more people are getting vaccinated, although the roll-out has been bumpy in several ways, and there’s literally a race to stay ahead of the variants that are popping up.  (I got my second Pfiser shot last week!) Although it may be too early to say so, the pandemic, which is just about a year old, may be finally coming to an end.  One can practically hear a huge, general sigh of relief. 

   But I have to say that my sigh of relief is somewhat stifled.  Yes, I’m happy that this lock-down and isolation, this worry that anyone may bring me sickness and death, is coming to a close, but I also have anxiety about it.  I have lots of anxiety about the pandemic ending, about what will happen when it is over.  Sometimes, in fact, a part of me doesn’t want the pandemic to end. 

   A very small part of me, mind you.  Like I said, I do want COVID to end.  It’s not that I wish that it would go on.  But I do worry about what will happen when the pandemic is over and things can return to normal, the way things were. 

  There are three reasons why I’m anxious about the pandemic ending.

   The first reason is that I’m not so sure that we want to return to “normal,” to the way things were.  There are valuable things that have been learned during this time, and I hope we don’t forget them, leave them behind. I hope we don’t go back to our go-go-go, energy-draining normality.  I hope we remember the value of having some quiet time, some down time, and some time alone and just with our loved ones.  I hope some of us continue to work from home and even have some online gatherings, resulting in less traffic and pollution.

   My second concern about the pandemic ending doesn’t really have anything to do with the pandemic but feels very connected to it, part of what’s generally referred to as the trauma of the past year, and is widely viewed as being amplified and encouraged by pandemic or, rather, the lock-down and ensuing attention and restlessness.  I’m talking about the protests after the brutal police murder of George Floyd and the invigorating of the Black Lives Matter movement, and my concern is that this will fade away, and we’ll go back to brutal racism and injustice being business as usual, just another thing we hear or don’t hear about on the news.  I hope that, again, we don’t return to normal, the way things were, when police killings of Black people and other blatant racial wrongdoings are business as usual.  I really hope that the fact that many White people took part in the protests, after having been pretty much a captive audience to Floyd’s killing while stuck at home and despite the risk of getting (and spreading) COVID, and that the protests were peaceful for the most part and weren’t just another riot, per se, contributes to this being so. I would hate to see all the angst of last summer be for naught. 

   Finally – and this is the hardest and took me a long time to realize and understand – I worry that when the pandemic is over, when things go back to normal, back to the way things were, I will be left behind. During the pandemic, with everyone having to stay at or close to home for the most part, I’ve had the sense that everyone has been in the same boat that I now find myself in since my spinal surgery four years ago now.  This has been a comfort to me.  I love going to plays, movies and concerts, and I hate it that we haven’t been able to do these things, but it is now hard to get out and do these things, although I was, and, to be perfectly frank, it has been much easier, it has been nice not to go out.  It has been nice to watch movies on my television or plays online or even on Zoom – and all the more so when I’m lying in bed! Yes, I’ve gotten lazy, and I’ve liked it that it’s been okay for me to be lazy.  I’m anxious that the time is coming when it won’t be okay for me to be lazy, when things will go back to as they were, and I will want to, will be compelled to, be driven to, get out and go to movies, concerts and plays like everyone else, as hard as it now is for me. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

How selfish we've become


   I can’t find the post, but I remember writing about visiting the Rosie the Riveter National Monument in Richmond while in the Bay Area a year or a year and a half – or was it two years? – ago.  I remember writing about how I had a morning to kill and how I decided to check out this attraction that I had noticed for years pointed out on a sign on the 580 freeway. 

   I remember writing about visiting the small museum hidden in a dock area and about how it felt weird as a pacifist Quaker to be visiting a place dedicated to warfare.  Another thing I’m sure I wrote about was how, in viewing the exhibit on the war effort “at home,” particularly the Bay Area, during World War II, I was really struck by how everyone at home pulled together in this effort. 

   The effort, of course, focuses on women who famously went from working at home, raising the children and cooking and making everything nice, to working in factories, making supplies for the war among other things.  But it also shows how everyone was involved in helping in the war efforts, in growing food in victory gardens, in rationing, etc. Everyone sacrificed and put their personal desires on hold to come together in community to achieve victory. 

   I was struck by this, enough so that I think it’s why I wrote about this little side trip.  It is even more striking today during this pandemic.  I had no idea then how this little exhibit’s message of sacrifice and coming together to conquer would become so painfully relevant.

   When I see people walking around without masks, getting together for holidays and the Super Bowl and now indoor church services and even protesting at and disrupting vaccine sites like Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the sacrifices and efforts made in this country during WWII seem so far off, if not a joke.  A bad joke, as hospitals are jammed with COVID patients, doctors and nurses are exhausted and getting sick and thousands of fellow citizens are dying. 

   Imagine if everyone stayed home as much as possible and wore masks when they did go out for a month, say, for just a month.  We could whip this virus like other countries have.  But no.  Unlike during WWII when everyone came together and sacrificed and did what they could, many people in this country today are just thinking of themselves.  They are too selfish to do a few simple things – much less than during the war years – to help out the community, the country. 

   It is interesting that the comparison is to a time of war.  Perhaps the reason why we have become so selfish is that, without a draft, we are used to wars being far away and not being involved.  Many of us don’t have a relative or friends in the military, off fighting and in danger of being killed or injured.  In fact, there’s another interesting and unfortunate war comparison.  Many in the military now are Black Latino and low-income, just as Blacks, Latinos and the poor, as well as Native Americans, make up the majority of who is getting and dying of COVID.