Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Pandemic punishment

   “Lack of coverage has forced Marrs to forgo asthma inhalers and dental work on a molar she said was broken in a domestic dispute.
   ‘I’ve been living on Orajel,’ she said.”
   It’s bad enough that last week was, seriously, one of the last weeks in this nation’s history.  On Wednesday, America reached a tragic milestone with 100, 000 COVID-19 deaths.  In addition, earlier in the week, George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis was killed, murdered, when a white police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes as 3 of his fellow officers watched.  This lead to protests and then, tragically, sickeningly, destructive violence, still going on, all across the county, which with surely lead to another wave of coronavirus infections and more stay-at-home orders and economic hardships.  Also on Wednesday, Larry Kramer, the fiery AIDS activist who wrote the heart-wrenching, blistering The Normal Heart, died.  (It is poetically, sadly ironic that Kramer, whose ranting and railing helped get treatment for AIDS patients, died, although of different causes, during a pandemic and days of rioting.) There was also, as always, Trump and his way of not helping or making things worse, when he should be doing and we desperately need the opposite – but that goes without saying. 
   As if all this wasn’t enough, a knee to all our necks, the above quote from an article appearing in the Los Angeles Times a week ago makes clear that some states – red states - have made life even harder for some folks.  The article compares Texas, which chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and which is where the unfortunate Ms.  Marrs lives, with California, known for generously expanding healthcare coverage.  This difference has become all the more stark during the pandemic, when having no medical insurance is even more dangerous. 
   From the Los Angeles Times article:
   “Texas became the epicenter of Republican resistance to the Affordable Care Act. State leaders blocked Medicaid expansion, leaving more than 750,000 low-income Texans without access to coverage. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, a quarter of working-age Texans lacked health insurance.
   “The state also refused to establish its own insurance marketplace and dropped quality-improvement initiatives funded by the healthcare law.
   “Today, Texas heads an effort by 19 GOP-led states and the Trump administration to get the Supreme Court to invalidate the whole law. That case has continued despite the mounting toll from the pandemic; the justices will consider it in the fall.”
   It’s hard not to feel like this is some sort of punishment for being poor, if not black or brown. It’s hard not to feel this isn’t a punishment for not pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, for not having bootstraps to pull oneself up with.  That’s what it sounds and feels like. 
   Here’s more from the article, quoting Ms.  Marrs about her life in Texas now that she is on her own after leaving her abusive husband:
   “’I had to decide if I was going to stay in a really bad situation to keep my insurance or leave for the sake of my safety and the safety of my kids, knowing I’d lose my insurance,’ she said.
   “’It’s crazy.’”
   There was also the sheriff of San Bernardino County, literally down the street less than a block away from my house, that I read about in the Los Angeles Times a month or two ago (I’m very sorry I couldn’t find the story in the useless search engine on the Times’ not-impressive website.) He had no sympathy for prisoners, for whom being in jail puts them in great danger of getting sick with the coronavirus.  When asked if non-violent prisoners should be released, as is happening in most counties at least here in California, the sheriff said “nope” and essentially said they should have thought about that when committing their crimes (never mind that there was no pandemic several months ago when most of the crimes were committed).
    “I don’t deserve to die,” said a prisoner in a unrelated story regarding being locked up in unhygienic, close quarters during this time of coronavirus.  Too bad.  Especially when the president labels the protesters “THUGS” and says, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The politics of mask-wearing

   Lately, after an unusually chilly early Spring here in sunny So. Cal. (at least for me now with my neuropathy), I have been venturing out on my own in my chair.  I have been delighting in these independent excursions around my neighborhood and a bit beyond (during the stay-at-home orders, we are allowed to go out for walks). But I have to say that, when I forget to have my mask put on when I go out, I feel naked.  And not in a good way. 
   Perhaps it’s weird that this is how I feel.  They say we are to wear mask to protect others, to not spread germs to others, not to protect ourselves.  Not only is it highly unlikely that I have the coronavirus, as isolated and careful as I’ve been, I do not encounter many people on my outings and do not get close to those I come across. 
   But, as superficial and shallow as it sounds, when I don’t wear a mask on my strolls, I feel I’m sending the wrong message (I can hear my dad saying I was making a statement in what I wore – usually overalls – and/or with my hair – shaved, long, braids, mohawk, dreads, whatnot). In short, and again at the risk of sounding shallow and superficial, I feel like, when I don’t wear a mask when out, I’m saying I support Trump, who never wears a mask when on television, and what he says. 
   This isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.  The sad, crazy fact is that wearing a mask – or not wearing a mask – has, as with way too many things these days, become political.  Indeed, as my dad might say, wearing or not wearing a mask is now a statement. 
   It is reported that, in general, most Democrats wear a mask when out, and most Republicans don’t wear a mask, or don’t support wearing a mask, when out, perhaps following their leader’s example.  But this is apparently more than a simple red state/blue state thing. 
   It’s said that men are more unlikely to wear masks, likely thinking that it’s unmanly to do so.  (I have seen families out walking, with all but the father wearing a mask.) Furthermore, evangelical Christians are also reported as less supportive of mask-wearing, probably with the belief that their faith or God or Jesus will protect or save them. 
   I know. Wow. 
   When one thinks about how not wearing a mask is selfish, putting the rest of us in danger, perhaps mortal danger, and maybe causing the stay-at-home orders to go on for longer, some of this fits right in.  It makes sense that a macho man thinking he can tough it out or an evangelical Christian believing that Jesus will pull him/her through or a person like Trump, who is just out for himself, would think that wearing a mask is stupid, wrong, humiliating, even if it protects or saves others. This is pretty much the subliminal or not so subliminal message from those anti-stay-at-home protesters with their guns and confederate flags and anti-vaccine signs and even those gathering to have fun and a good time, despite all, in large crowds at the beaches. 
   As a liberal, gay man with a severe disability which may be an underlying condition making me more endangered by COVID-19, I don’t want to be a part of this.  I don’t want people thinking that I buy into this.  I want to be seen doing the right thing, really to encourage others to do the right thing.  I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  This in why I feel naked, in a bad, shameful way, when I find myself out without a mask. 
   Now, as for the mask that I wear, I am making a statement, as my dad would say, and I encourage others to do so as well. I currently wear a rainbow (gay pride) mask, and I’m trying to get other cool – colorful, perhaps tye-dye or batik) – masks.  If we have to wear masks, and we probably have to for a while, I figure, why not have fun with them?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Requiem for a sitcom

   I’m sad. 
   I recently finished the six seasons of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, and I’m sad that, from what I hear, there won’t be any more episodes. Really – I’m in mourning over a sitcom.  (Hey, this is a refreshing change from everything else there is to be sad about these days!)
   For a sitcom, Grace and Frankie is truly remarkable, very much worthy of being missed.  When I began watching this show about two older women, prim and proper Grace played by the great Jane Fonda and free-spirited Frankie played by the incomparable Lily Tomlin, who end up living and on ventures together after their long-time husbands, dressed-down Robert remarkably played by Martin Sheen and adventurous Sol played whole-heartedly by Sam Waterston, who are law partners and announce that they are gay and love each other, I thought it was fine enough, but it grew and grew on me as I watched episode after episode. 
   I think this was because this sitcom is truly remarkable – ground-breaking.  For one thing, its wonderful older characters are played by wonderful older actresses and actors (it’s particularly fun seeing Sheen playing a gay man – well – and, as I said, Tomlin is simply a delight).This alone is very unique.  And beside from these principle players, there’s a stunning line-up of older guest stars, including, but not only, Peter Gallagher, Michael McKean, Craig T. Nelson, Estelle Parsons and, all too briefly, the great, great Sam Elliot. 
   All these older actors and actresses are very capably supported by the actors and actresses who play the divorced couples’ adult children who intermingle in various, amusing ways.
   Another way that this sitcom is ground-breaking is the sensitive, smart and funny way it portrays gay men and being gay.  Robert and Sol are new to being gay, as old as they are, and, as they discover in amusing ways as the series goes on, there is more, so much more, to being gay than kissing and enjoying musicals. In one remarkable episode, Robert and Sol get married when Robert is in the hospital after having a heart attack and it’s not known if he’ll survive.
   All this happens in the beautiful, sunny San Diego area, including the wonderfully elegant yet funky beach house – I think it belonged to Frankie and Sol – where Frankie and Grace live and come up with their various ventures, including making vibrators for those who are older and arthritic or perhaps otherwise disabled – another ground-breaking feature, sex and the elderly and disabled.  Sure, there are ridiculous, non-sensible twists and turns, especially with Frankie, but, come on, this is a sitcom.  Overall, the series is amazingly adventurous and clear-eyed.  As with a day at the sunny beach, it is sad to have it be over.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

We are all disabled

   “Ido Kedar, a 23-year-old autistic author and student who lives in West Hills, had no way to communicate until he was 7 and started using a letter board. Kedar said in an email that ‘I laugh thinking that finally my autism is an advantage in life.’
   “‘Yes, my many years being cut off from others makes me used to it, though I can’t say I like it,’ Kedar wrote, explaining that those experiences had made him introverted. As an introvert, ‘we need fewer people in our day,’ he said, ‘but we still need people.’”
   I can relate. 
   The above quote is from an article that appeared this week in the Los Angeles Times.  It is about adults with autism, like Kedar.  I don’t have autism, but, as I said, I can relate to much of what the article says. 
   What the article says basically is that the way we are all feeling now during this pandemic – anxious, isolated, out of sorts, at a loss – is the way many with autism feel all the time.  As one expert says in the article, “All human beings benefit from predictability in their lives. People on the [autism} spectrum crave it because there are so many more stressors in their lives.”
   As I said, I don’t have autism, but there have been plenty of times when I have wondered if I’m a bit autistic or when I feel a bit autistic.  And this isn’t just because I have a communication disability, like Kedar.  (I too have used a letter board and other communication devices.) But the communication disability is no doubt a big part of why I feel this way.  Because speaking, and understanding my speech, is difficult, I tend to find it easier to not speak, to shy away, to retreat. 
   But it goes beyond that. Partly because of this and partly because I rely on attendants who are used to a schedule, a routine, and probably partly due to other factors that I don’t fully understand or appreciate, I am very set in my ways.  When these ways are upset, disturbed, I get inordinately upset. 
   I don’t like this about myself.  Not only am I ashamed of it, but I think it has caused me to miss out on a lot and perhaps, even, to drive friends away.  For example, when I plan to write during the morning, or even just read the paper during the afternoon, I am often not very friendly, not very welcoming, when a friend drops by to chat.  Again, I’m sure my speech disability has something to do with this, but there’s also a inflexibility, a rigidity that is unattractive and costly. 
   Separately, but not completely separately, I have realized that I’m having difficulty with Zoom and other video calls.  For a while, they were cool and fun, but now, although they are still amazing and far better than not having them, they are really, really tiring.  No doubt my speech disability is more evident, although I really like the chat option.  It is also, perhaps more importantly,  difficult, straining, to see and interact with people in real time and not have them there, not be with them.  I agree with all the experts I have read who say that when it comes to Zoom sessions, shorter is better.  
   This is also reflected in the article on people with autism:
   “Maxfield Sparrow, writing in reaction to an article  about people feeling drained as they try to read faces on video calls,  points out that ‘we Autists live with these discomforts all our lives.’
   And Sparrow adds: ‘If you are socially disoriented by Zoom and desperate for the pandemic to be over so you can return to comfortable, easy socializing, please lean into that feeling and remember it later.’”
   Yes, I relate to all of this, as I think we all do in this time of coronavirus.  We are all disabled to some extent, all a bit austistic in one way or another. 
   Again from the Los Angeles Times article, “’People with disabilities are the experts in coping with social isolation,’ said [Hector} Ramirez, who {has autism and] is also a board member with Disability Rights California. ‘Not because we want to, but because we’ve had to.’”

Monday, May 4, 2020

A coronavirus headache

   Everyday it’s something. 
   It’s those people who keep going out and getting together, putting themselves, their loved ones and the rest of us in danger of getting the coronavirus, not to mention extending the time that this stay-at-home business, at least in some areas including here, will go on.  It’s that some of those people who are going out are protesting the stay-at-home orders with American flags, Make America Great hats, assault rifles and signs like, as mentioned in a recent Los Angeles Times article, “Sacrifice the weak – save Tennessee.” (“Weak,” to be perfectly clear, means the elderly, the disabled – like me.) It’s the stories that keep coming out about how much the Trump administration knew early on about the coronavirus and didn’t do anything about it. 
   Everyday it’s something that makes me angrier and angrier.  Not the best thing for staying stress-free and healthy! As if all this isn’t maddening enough, it’s now becoming clear that all this, and especially Trump and his administration’s bumbling, has left us in a gigantic mess, a gigantic hot mess. 
   Yes, all the talk now is about opening up, about lifting or easing the stay-at-home orders and letting businesses, schools, churches, etc., open, about going back to business-as-usual, going back to normal. Yes, we all want to get back to normal, back to how life was just two months ago when, as we were lead to believe, COVID-19 was just something happening in China and we carried on business-as-usual. We all want to not be saying this, as surreal, as nightmarish as it is.  I know I do.
   But – really?  How will this all happen, as much as we want it to happen, as much as I want it to happen?  How will we get back to normal?  Or can we? 
   It’s a lot that has to happen. And there is talk that it may not all happen, at least until a vaccine is found and distributed – not for another year at the very least.  It is said we’ll be wearing masks and not shaking hands and hugging and not going to large gatherings and concerts for quite some time.  
   But that’s the easy part.  Even not hugging! Yes, we talk about opening up, going back to business-as-usual.  But, as much as we all want this to happen, how will it happen? 
   I won’t even begin to get into the weeds on this.  I’ll just mention a couple things that I have been wondering about and that have been given me enough headaches. 
   Okay. When the stay-at-home order is lifted here in L.A County, there will be people who will be raring to go and plenty of others, I suspect, who will be wary.  Will the latter be penalized for not wanting to go in to work or miss out in other ways?  What about stores that open and find that people aren’t flocking in?  Will they still be able to receive aid? 
   By the way, our stay-at-home order here in Los Angeles County is scheduled to end on the 15th, but, with the way things have be going on with infections and deaths here, I won’t be at all surprised if they’re extended to June 1 or later. 
   And what about colleges?  Should Fall semester be online?  What if some colleges are online and others aren’t? For example, what if I was in Georgia, where everything may be open, and a student at Pomona College here in Claremont, which may choose to stay online this Fall?  I suspect I’d be pretty pissed, especially with what I’m paying.  Conversely, what if I was a kid here in Claremont and didn’t feel comfortable going back to school in Georgia? Is it possible for some students to be back on campus while others keep taking classes online? 
   See what I mean about getting a headache?