Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dystopia-lite





It seemed that nothing could be weirder or more fraught than the 2016 election and subsequent presidency.  We are on the brink already and grit our teeth counting down the days and praying that we can withstand four years.   And then BANG! a catastrophe more seismic than that giant shake commencing in November ’16.  The most popular search on Google is, “What day is it?” It takes me a beat to name the month.  I try to teach on-line for 3 hours a day. I watch a lot of TV but less news than before. I walk a couple of miles almost every morning. I cook. I overeat. I plan classes. I take a couple of online education courses.  I scour the internet for yeast. I do a lot of crossword puzzles. I play Zoom Scattergories. I tidy, but with diminishing dedication.

Sequestration, I guess has aroused a bit of the superstition I’m usually able to tamp down.  Usually I fully accept that sometimes odd stuff just happens.  But this is un-usually.  I am very not good with rodents.  Living in the hills, we suffer for years until the Rat Lady comes and rat-proofs, resulting in a peaceful decade, sans infestation.  We look up from dinner and the cats are batting around a rodent.  Spuds says it is a mouse, but I think he thinks that I will be less hysterical about a mouse than a rat.  Sort of true but I’m pretty sure this is a rat.  And later there is an event so disturbing that I cannot write about it.

A few days later I am on the road to rat (I’m almost positive that it wasn’t a mouse) recovery.  I wake in morning and see that the bathroom that we share with the cats is bloody.  At first, I think that Himself has had a nosebleed but then I see that there are bloody cat paw prints all over the tile floor and also spatter on the walls and the cabinet and bowls where cats dine.  Was IT eating while bleeding?  Or was IT eaten as an amuse bouche to Fancy Feast and Meow Mix?  Downstairs, Spuds reports having cleaned up a lot of blood from the kitchen floor.  There are blood drops on the dog’s water bowl and the biggest splatter of all is on my pillowcase.  None of the cats has a wound.  Himself has assured me that he has scoured every nook and cranny of the house in search of remains. 

Finally, there’s the buzz.  It’s a high-pitched hum that makes the dog tremble and cower pathetically.  It seems to emanate from the kitchen but sometimes it sounds like the dining area or downstairs.  We remove all of the batteries from the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors (which I hope are replaced by the time that you read this).  It often happens in the early evening while I’m teaching but sometimes, I hear it in the middle of the night.  I read online that it could be a digital meat thermometer, even if it isn’t turned on.  We pull the battery from that but a few hours later, the beeping starts again.  It sometimes stops for a few days and then we hear it a couple of times a day.  It conjures Chuck McGill on Better Call Saul.

But I want to be equal opportunity superstitious.  There is unusual April rain and now unseasonal heat.  I’ve yet to see the large flock of parrots at the top of Mount Washington but with the lack of traffic it’s wall-of-sound birdsong.  The lupines are almost gone but there’s still mustard dotting the shimmering green hills. Blue and purple Pride of Madeira.  Poppies.  Nasturtiums.  Voluptuous blooming natives that I can’t name. I look down from Kite Hill to the freeway and skyline. They look fake.  A retouched postcard. Please let the blood and the buzz things just be flukes and the view from Kite Hill be the real omen.


Himself, a professor at a technical college, has been teaching a portion of his course load online for some time so his transition is more seamless than my own.  He is relieved of a long commute time.  He eats at the table and not a cubicle desk every night.  He watches TV with me on weeknights. His life, except maybe for increased TV, is bettered.  The human contact prohibition is the icing on the single slice of cake that he’d prefer to eat alone.

My teaching schedule is 3 one hour Zoom sessions a day, four times a week. Participation is low.  Some of my students can’t afford their cell service anymore.  Sara, my best student, texts me that there is no physical place in her house where she can sit and concentrate on English.  The rest of the non-participants have legit excuses too.  Florencia though, has never missed a session.  She has one of the Chromebooks that district provides for her kid. He sits with her and corrects Mom’s English.  Most of the other online students use their phones.  It’s tough to make out the lessons when I share my screen.  Their internet goes in and out. 

I am unsettled a bit by the intimacy.  Rooms.  Kids.  Cooking.  Eating.  Drinking. Flushing toilets. Dogs. Benjamin logs on from his car. My life is open too.  Opie barks at anyone with the temerity to walk on the public street in front of our home.  Demanding attention, Larry the cat taps my face or pesters the other cat.  Himself wants his dinner.  Spuds grabs a beer. The first time I zoom I get dressed and put on makeup.  Now they see me as I am. 


I’ve accepted that if there is a future, it will be predominately digital.  There is something to be said about seeing students where they are, but nothing will replace breathing the same air in a classroom.  Spuds has commandeered by office, so I Zoom from the living room.  Home distracts me.  The dishwasher needs unloading.  That painting is crooked. The dog barks at the mailman.  When the school bell rings in my classroom though, nothing exists but the instruction of English.  Online there is no assurance of presence or focus.  But, except for the guy in his car, we see each other’s homes.  My laptop is too old to do one of those Zoom backgrounds. I teach from the same sofa that I’ll pass out on in a few hours.

What’s next? The school district has plunged into debt and adult ed is always the first to go.  But what if we do resume in August?  If we are to socially distance, a classroom, that we now cram 45 students in, would likely max-out at ten.  At present, I connect with fewer than 20% of my students digitally.  There is talk of providing Chromebooks but the available free wi-fi is pokey. Even if we are able to assure that each student has a reliable device and connection to digital classes, I wonder how many students will enroll.  My reaction to the events is not insubstantial but, we are paid as teachers and there’s a lot of food in the pantry.  Many of my students are undocumented and unable to work in restaurants, clean houses or babysit.  And kin in their nations of origin also depend on my students for subsidies.  Will these crashing worlds lead to abandoned studies?


Prior to the significant event, Himself and I research immigrating to Ecuador, lest the 2020 election go badly.  This feels trivial now that there is no assurance that this, or some other virus won’t wipe out every species on the planet.  I know that Himself will want to puke when I proffer “teachable moment.”  But this forced pause makes so much so clear. International cooperation is the best prophylactic to total annihilation, which would naturally be preceded by some pretty shitty stuff. The current suffering crystalizes a course to correct a litany of wrongs.  I hope it’s the view from Kite Hill and not the bloody pillowcase.


It’s unchartered territory for my psyche. We count “Alone Together” headlines and groan at the syrupy “There will be better days,” commercials. Some say that the Spring of 2020 will fade into a blur.  Will I really forget, standing six feet apart from other masked seniors in a Trader Joe’s line for an hour and praying that there is flour?  I’m lucky that day.  It’s one to a customer, but still. Generally, I’m serene (consciousness altered, and on the couch).  Jewish girl’s luck is that the day before the nail salons are shuttered, I score a manicure and eyebrow wax. Maybe another good omen is that my nails still look decent, even after six weeks.  When I look in the salon mirror, I note that my brows have whitened much more gradually than my hair.  This week, catching my reflection, I see that my brows have turned nearly snow white.  An unusually heavy application of sunblock I think. But scrubbing is futile.