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Nothing Like a Quick Quarter-Century

. . . to drive home the truth that our time on this earth is so very fleeting, and gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Christopher is 25 today. It seems the mere blink of an eye since he arrived—calm, alert, curious, with an early, prolific vocabulary that would startle people.  

The pandemic put the kibosh on celebrating his 25th with him. However, this is a simple inconvenience in a time when so many have lost so much more.

We’ll miss the ritual cake and presents, but will concentrate instead of being thankful that we savored every second with him when he was little.

Which Side Are You On? Election Day 2020 Playlist


Here we are, people, days away. How will you monitor election results? To avoid newscasters’ self-important jawboning, I’ll watch the returns with the sound off. Here’s a partial playlist of the music I’ll listen to instead.

May the best man and woman win.

Patti Smith                          People Have the Power

John Lennon                      Power to the People/Just Gimme Some Truth

Public Enemy                     Fight the Power

Judy Collins                         Bread and Roses

Michel Teló                         Ai Se Eu Te Pego

The Pogues                        Sunny Side of the Street

Black 47                             Funky Ceili

John Philip Sousa             Stars and Stripes Forever

Bob Dylan                           Chimes of Freedom

John Prine                           Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven


Rosanne Cash                    Crawl Into the Promised Land

Pete Seeger                       Which Side Are You On?

Bruce Springsteen           Philadelphia

Gil Scott-Heron                 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Common                             Glory

Odetta                                  Oh Freedom

Staples Singers                  People Get Ready

Mario Rojas                        Cross That Line

Creedence                          Fortunate Son

Billy Strings Dust in a Baggie

Kenrick Lamar For Free?

A Grim Pronouncement

“Seven weeks from today.” That’s the first thing I said to David this morning.

He considered me for moment before he said, “You’re not going to make it.” I had to laugh in spite of myself.

Yes, I’ve been just the slightest bit worked up about the election.

But to keep from disintegrating from sheer anxiety and to prove David’s dire prediction untrue, I’ve been chipping in every payday to the Arballo, Biden/Harris, Gideon, Harrison, Kelly, Mangone and McGrath campaigns.

Phil Arballo and Kim Mangone are running for Congress in California to unseat toadies Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, respectively. Sarah Gideon faces Susan “I’m Concerned” Collins in the Maine Senate race, Jaime Harrison is gaining ground against the fawning Lindsay Graham in South Carolina, former astronaut and Gabby Gifford’s spouse Mark Kelly is taking on Martha “Build the Wall” McSally in Arizona, and Amy McGrath aims to deny “Moscow Mitch” McConnell a seventh Senate term in my native Kentucky.

Oh, and we’re counting on Biden/Harris to decontaminate the White House after four years of Agent Orange.

Have a few bucks to spare? Chip in to the candidate of your choice today. No donation is too small.

I’m sending postcards to voters, too.

How about you? What are you doing in the run-up to the election to stay focused, calm, and hopeful?

I Was a Stranger

Here are the boarded-up front doors of St. Barnabas Catholic Church in our neighborhood. According to our local Next Door site, homeless people were sleeping on the steps and there was a report of someone with a knife, (which I could neither confirm nor prove untrue).

The sight of the boarded-up doors shocked me. Didn’t anyone think through the incongruity of the chirpy “Welcome!” sign posted on the barricade?

More important, what happened to Matthew 25?

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Was barring the doors the only solution?

Before leaving St. Barnabas in 2007, I spent 16 years in the parish as an RCIA sponsor, lector, parent board member and facilitator of the weekly Scripture study group. If I were still involved, I’d speak up about these horrible optics and suggest a special collection for hotel vouchers, clothing, and food instead of plywood.

But as an outsider, I can only feel appalled by the hostility and small-mindedness represented by these closed doors.

Long Overdue

I drove to the Michelle Obama Library today for “contactless pickup” of books I’d reserved months ago and to return the passel of books we’d checked out just before all the libraries shut down in March.

My new books:

  • The Actress by Irish writer Anne Enright, which I’m very excited to read.
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, another writer I like a lot.

I returned these seriously overdue books—all late fines suspended—that had been on our shelves so long that it felt like we owned them:

  • The 20th Century in Poetry, editors Michael Hulse and Simon Rae. This chronological collection of more than 400 poems from 1900 to 2000 sustained me early in the lockdown, when I had trouble concentrating. I could pay sufficient attention to read a few poems every night. The editors’ notes on historical context made otherwise inaccessible poems jump into sharp focus. Along with reading old favorites, I was pleased to discover poems that were entirely fresh to me.
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei. Wonderful graphic memoir of Takei’s childhood in WWII internment camps. Takei noted recently that he hears more whining about wearing masks today than he heard altogether about anything while he and his family were imprisoned.
  • The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. If you haven’t read this brilliant first novel set in Bangalore and in a remote Kashmir village, do.
  • Nutshell by Ian McEwan. I read this novel narrated by an unborn child a few years ago. It was David’s turn this time, and he loved it.
  • Secrets of the Savannah by Mark and Delia Owens. Yes, that Delia Owens of Crawdads   This one, like Crawdads, was meh.  Don’t @ me.
  • The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong. I liked Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth better than this one.
  • Before and After by Judy Christie and Lisa Wingate. Stories of orphans who survived the corrupt Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Wingate’s novel, Before We Were Yours, is a fictionalized account; this is the real deal.
  • Inland by Téa Obreht. Who knew there were camels in the Wild West? Inland didn’t hold my attention like The Tiger’s Wife did, but that was likely due to my diminished powers of concentration, and not the book.
  • Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui. Great history of “chop suey” restaurants in Canada. Made me hungry at a time when I can’t eat anything.
  • The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff. David and Christopher read this one. Apropos, as Christopher returned to San Francisco today to restart his new life there after quarantining for almost three months with us.

What are you reading? What, or whom, are you saying goodbye to these days?


Lentils, Military Weaponry, and a Meltdown

queen eliz

Fifty-nine days ago, I pinned a quote from Queen Elizabeth’s speech about coronavirus on the refrigerator: “I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to look back with pride at how they responded to this challenge.” At that time, we were already 26 days into the quarantine.

I’d managed fairly well up until this point but today the frozen lentils took me over the edge. In this ghastly week of protests, curfews, looting, the military gassing its own citizens, and the horrible echo of George Floyd’s last words, strange that mere legumes would be my undoing.

Overheard as I worked in my home office at 1 p.m. today:

“That’s a disaster waiting to happen. If your hand slips . . . .”

I should have stayed put, but went into the kitchen to investigate.

A clump of frozen lentil curry the size of a soccer ball lay in a glass bowl on the counter. My son was attempting to stab it with his KA-BAR knife, a Marine Corps weapon capable of lethal damage.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to cut this apart.”

“Stop,” I said irritably. “Just heat all of it up.”

My son stubbornly insisted that no, it was too much.

My husband observed from the dining room, a one-man Greek chorus.

When I stepped forward to interfere and take the glass bowl, my 6’5” son body checked me and blocked my reaching it.

That’s when 85 days of stress, worry, confinement, overwork and anguish burst forth. I bellowed “STOP” at full throttle, picked up a weighty cast iron skillet and brought it down violently on the counter, making a godawful clatter. By this time, my son had ducked, perhaps fearing that I was going to hurl the skillet. I wasn’t, knowing the Queen would have drawn the line at that.

I wasn’t finished, however. “I’m trying to work,” I screamed. “When I say, ‘stop’ I mean stop!” At this point my husband was advising that perhaps I should be the one to stop, but I was not to be deterred. “Have some respect!” I roared at both of them.

It should be noted that while yelling, I was transferring the frozen curry into a pan, adding a bit of water, putting it on the stove, and setting a low flame so it could defrost and heat slowly.

The rituals of feeding the family are reflexive, even during a collapse.


Ignorance on the Beach

HB eejitsI felt a surge of anger and despair when I saw the images of  a packed Huntington Beach over the weekend, which made national news. My thoughts:

  1. Well, I can no longer feel smug about what a good job California has done in mitigating coronavirus compared with states like Georgia and Florida that have hastened to reopen prematurely.
  2. Who are these people? What are they thinking? Their recklessness and aggressive disregard could spike illness and death, and prolong the quarantine for all of us for weeks or months.
  3. The selfishness of these cavalier beachgoers is a direct slap in the face to nurses, doctors, firefighters, EMTs, and all health and hospital workers who place themselves at risk to care for COVID-19 patients every day.
  4. I get it that 90-degree temperatures made sheltering in place even more unpleasant, but this health emergency isn’t about personal comfort or ease. Our response demonstrates whether we care about collective protection and a greater good for all.
  5. Yes, it’s no fun to be cooped up on hot days, and separation from family and friends is increasingly tedious after nearly seven weeks. But picture yourself in the ICU on a ventilator. Worse, envision someone you love in the ICU on a ventilator, and the agony of being unable to visit that person, be at their bedside, speak to them, hold their hand. Imagining such torture makes me shiver.
  6. I hope no one on that beach works in a nursing home or assisted facility or, more specifically, in the facility where my 90-year-old mother-in-law, who has cancer, lives.
  7. I’m proud of how the city of Long Beach has handled the outbreak, issuing a shutdown order even before the statewide decree and instituting strict measures that include closing all beaches, trails, parks and bike paths. It’s been difficult, but for the most part my fellow Long Beach residents have complied. We’re lucky to have strong leadership from Mayor Robert Garcia, who has been visible and articulate about what has to be done to save lives in our city. When I saw the Huntington Beach photo I thought, “I hope a lot of people from Long Beach aren’t there.”
  8. Huntington Beach likes to promote itself as Surf City, fun, hip. The heedless, arrogant display over the weekend blights that image, replacing it with a bleaker underside of poverty and ignorance. After all, it was only a week ago in Huntington Beach that this snarling apparition brandished her sign, ready to lay down her life for Jamoca Almond Fudge.


No Spring Chicken

Last week we sent Christopher out to forage for food. David and I had been eating from the cupboard but when Christopher arrived to wait out the rest of the quarantine with us, he flatly declared, “I’m not eating beans and rice.”

He went to a fancy market in Long Beach that we never frequent. He sported the N95 mask he got during the terrible fires in Northern California in 2018. He returned with pricey comestibles, including a package of chicken breasts that said, “raised, fed, and harvested in the U.S.”


I guess you can feel comfortable eating a “harvested” chicken. No so much one that is slaughtered.  Plucked from the chicken tree?  I thought perhaps from a vine. Christopher piped up, “Vine-ripened chicken,” which made us laugh.

Generally I eat very little meat, but I did share the vine-ripened chicken with the family last night.  What about you? Have you cooked or eaten anything surprising during the pandemic?

Splendid poultry

In Lieu of “Hamilton”     


Our son gave us tickets to “Hamilton” for Christmas and wrote in the card, “You’re going to Hamilton on April 1 — no joke!”

Here’s what I’m doing today in place of our plan to leave work early, get dressed up, and see “Hamilton” at the Pantages.

  1. Concentrate on the thoughtfulness and generosity of Christopher’s gift.
  2. Empathize with friends whose sons’ and daughters’ high school and college graduations will not happen this spring.
  3. Be thankful that so far, no one we know and love is ill with COVID-19.
  4. Appreciate my sister-in-law Connie, a nurse, who drove by and tossed out these festive masks that she designed and sewed herself.

2020 04 01 COVID Masks (2)

Taking the Cure

My grandmother told the story of surviving the 1918 Spanish flu with whiskey.  She would have been about 24, with a 1-year-old child. She taught elementary school in what was then called the Germantown section of New York City. Her students were poor, and if they had a coat or sweater to ward against the cold, they pinned it closed, buttons likely being too expensive.  The children gave her the pins for safekeeping when they came into her classroom.  “Miss Taylor, don’t lose my pins,” they’d say.

No, my grandmother wasn’t a lush. But she told the tale of being deathly ill with Spanish flu, saved by her brother Jack, who sat by her bedside and fed her spoonfuls of whiskey. She didn’t succumb, far luckier than the 30,000 in New York City who did. The whiskey, she claimed, saved her life.

My grandmother is long gone, so I can’t press her for details of this family lore.  How, for example, did her brother escape becoming ill if he was sitting that close to her? Where were her husband and 1-year-old when this crisis was going on? There is so much I wish I knew now.

I’m not convinced that science supports the notion of whiskey being healthy, but I’m going with it temporarily. I’ve taken to pouring a bit of it in the evening and calling it medicine.

And you, how are you coping?

MTQ and TMQ 1915

My grandmother, Mary Taylor Quinn, honeymooning with my grandfather, Thomas Murray Quinn, in Atlantic City in 1916, two years before the Spanish flu nearly took her life.