Watching the news, as some of us compulsively do, is hazardous to my optimist health. The virus may be in retreat here, but death and destruction overseas overshadow all.
Still: sunflowers in shop windows, blue and yellow everywhere. Flags, banners, whatever anyone finds. Two women, one in a blue coat, the other in yellow, walk arm in arm just ahead of me. A friend with an overseas relief nonprofit says everyone she knows is putting in 18-hour days — without complaint.
San Francisco City Hall has gotten into the act. From Symphony Hall across the street, I listen to soaring music before walking back into the blue and yellow glow. Optimism survives.
As a public service, I have begun a trial regimen of the medication reported to be an answer to today’s needs. In case you have not yet taken such a step of your own accord, I am reprinting, below, the instructions and some minor cautionary details that came with my supply:
Enclosed please find your 30-day supply of Perfecto99. Taken as directed, Perfecto99 will improve your overall energy level, brain function and ability to achieve life goals.
Common side effects may include muscle pain, headaches, nausea and diarrhea. Do not take Perfecto99 if you are or plan to become pregnant..
Clinical trials have shown Perfecto99 to be as good as, or better than all similar supplements currently awaiting FDA approval.
Call your doctor if you have problems urinating, or if you notice involuntary or uncontrollable muscle movement, as these can be permanent.
Perfecto99, now the global leader in extending average life expectancy, has been shown to improve activity and longevity among Caucasian, AAPI, Black and LatinX populations. Even a few Swedes.
Perfecto99 can cause intestinal problems, serious abdominal pain and sometimes fatal bleeding. Also, occasional burning, crawling, itching, numbness, prickling, “pins and needles”, or tingling feelings have been reported.
Don’t drive, attempt to stand on your own or operate heavy equipment within 24 hours of taking Perfecto99. Just stay in bed and feel sorry for yourself.
Before starting Perfecto99, we recommend a thorough examination by the physician(s) of your choice, including but not limited to bronchoscopy, endoscopy, colonoscopy and cross-check by a qualified podiatrist.
Get help right away if you experience swelling of the face, mouth or tongue, or if you notice a rash appearing on extremities. In rare cases, severe upper respiratory tract and chest infections leading to death have been reported.
Perfecto99 contains alphanomaic acid, which has been shown to offer immediate relief for listlessness, joint pain and stressful family arguments.
Do not take Perfecto99 if you are allergic to its ingredients, or if you have Guillain-Barré syndrome, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Bell’s palsy, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or long-haul Covid. We may have left something out here.
Our trained Perfecto99’ers stand ready to take your calls at 999-888-7220; simply follow the prompts and do not despair. If you are dissatisfied in any way, a full refund will be promptly sent to you or your survivors.
Wisdom is afoot. Well, actually, underfoot. Celebrate peace, seek justice. Make love, not war. Be here now. Those are three of my favorite etched-in-the-sidewalk messages so far. They may not cover everything, but it’s a good start.
A confirmed cloud freak, I am constantly staring at the sky. But in between sky-watching episodes I like to study the sidewalks. It may have started the day I noticed, etched into the California Street concrete, this cryptic message: I love you anyway. How many stories could be written around those four words? If the sidewalk and its message had not shown the wear and tear of many feet over many years I might have been frantically knocking on doors for the full story. Why was someone kneeling over wet concrete, carefully carving those four words into eternity? What went on between the two of them?! Or were there others involved here? And is he or she still loved, anyway? Maybe there was a happy ending. One wants to believe.
Most of us have seen or done the traditional sidewalk declaration – two names encircled within a heart. Or “Jamie 12-14-08,” – whatever child happened to live in the house above at the time of new sidewalk installation. Tiny handprints or footprints immortalizing some now teenager. It happened in front of my new old (1905 Victorian) San Francisco house in 1992 and 1993 as renovations required tearing up and replacing sidewalk squares. For the record, the San Francisco property owner whose pipes are being replaced, or whose tree roots have buckled the concrete bears the cost of the new squares. In 1993 that came to $50 per square. Therefore, when the concrete people told me to stay away from their smooth surfaces I smiled politely and reminded them of how much this job was costing us. And as soon as they drove off we went to work. My two eldest grandchildren, then about two & three years old each contributed a toy (dump truck for the grandson, horse for the granddaughter) to embed beside their footprints. We sold the house in 2013, but the memorial sidewalk squares remain. They are carefully supervised by the current owner, whose three children have now scratched their own names into nearby sidewalk sections.
Sidewalk etchings combine the historic with the enigmatic: Everything will be OK, for instance, will remain a favorite of mine – as it certainly was on walks throughout the pandemic. Across the country from that one was an all-caps query that took up almost one entire sidewalk square: IS THAT SO? it asks. On that same visit to our nation’s capitol, I paused to do a selfie with Black Lives Matter stretching across the plaza behind me. But it’s my walking-shoes-clad toes that appear in the majority of the other photos in my Sidewalks album. Including the philosophical: If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way. That one took a lonng time, as anyone who’s ever worked in wet concrete can affirm. Someone also spent a long time on the careful scripting of Love Thy Neighbor plus a few hearts etched onto a downtown city sidewalk where a lot of homeless neighbors currently live.
With the advent of colored chalk, sidewalk wisdom took on a bright new life. On one San Francisco block, where the lack of rain guarantees a fairly long sidewalk-shelf life, a collection of drawings and slogans appeared virtually overnight. It had to have been a group effort – a group advocating for reproductive rights, adoption, contraception and peace, in no particular order. But as the peace signs were prominently scattered among symbols for ovaries and women’s rights, this group doesn’t seem to want to go to war over the issue(s.)
But San Francisco’s “Slow Streets” campaign brought things to a once unimaginable new level. The campaign closed multiple blocks of streets throughout the city to vehicular traffic (excepting bikes and skateboards and assorted other people-movers.) This opened up miles and miles of pavement to kids of all ages. Presumably the illustrations that quickly covered long stretches of macadam are mostly kid-driven (the skill level seemed roughly third grade; I hope I’m not hurting any community feelings here,) but adult-supervised just in case. Whatever the age, these 21st century street decorations skip all efforts to preach, argue, convert or grumble and go straight to optimism: hearts, smiley faces, love, joy predominate.
I am absolutely positively over Covid. I have reached the maximum exhaustion level where, as far as can be determined, everyone else in the U.S. also stands. Or lies, among those who are squashed flat under a purple cloud of weariness. We are all suffering from Covid Exhaustion.
Covid Exhaustion, the national condition, is not unlike Covid Fatigue, the diagnosis. Not having had Covid the accursed actual disease, all I can attest to are these symptoms that the WebMD people list: chronic tiredness or sleepiness; sore or achy muscles; slow reflexes or responses; poor decision-making skills; moodiness and irritability; short-term memory problems; poor concentration; inability to pay attention to surroundings or the situation at hand. Yep, I qualify, and I am not alone.
Things around the U.S. Capitol are “testy,” reports the New York Times. Well, yes, there is a certain amount of testiness loose in the land. And with the addition of testiness to exhaustion, that purple cloud is pretty much squashing us all. So in the public interest, this writer has compiled an Exhaustion Protocol. The following is not FDA approved.
WALK. When I reach the screaming stage with Covid Exhaustion, I walk out the door. And just keep going for two or three miles or more. You may not have San Francisco’s agreeable walking climate (or hills & views & destinations) but wherever in the world you are, there is something therapeutic about entering the outside world and slamming the door behind you.
SLEEP. All the answer sites for Covid Fatigue (which I consulted just to feel authentic about this) advise getting plenty of sleep. Since part of Covid Exhaustion involves regularly waking up at 3 AM worrying about the news, getting enough sleep requires creativity. Just think naps.
EAT. Most advisories about exhaustion recommend things like avoiding sugar, fats, alcohol etc, just about everything good. I say eat cookies and donuts, burgers with fries, salted caramels, shrimp tempura; drink white chocolate mochas and coffee milkshakes. You’re on your own with alcohol, which I quit a few decades ago, but I suspect martinis are probably good for Covid Exhaustion.
THINK, but only selectively. Do not think about whatever you just read in the newspaper or glanced in your news feed. Think about (a) lakes and forests, (b) soft music, (c) any of the first three solutions above, or (d) nice people. Which brings up:
VISIT. Friends in parks or parklets – those outdoor eatery places – or any pleasant outdoor space. I’m fine with anybody who wants to go indoors to see nice people, but if you meet them outdoors it is a guilt-free experience, and we try to avoid guilt because it leads straight back to Exhaustion.
REPEAT. If you’re still suffering, you might try rearranging the order of the above. I have personally found that WALK, EAT, SLEEP works pretty well with endless repetitions, as long as a couple of VISITS are occasionally interspersed. And/or, simultaneous applications such as WALK/EAT/WALK, if you strategize for white chocolate mocha along your route.
More than one news source (excluding Facebook, which, c’mon, is an anti-news source) is now reporting that Covid will become simply something we learn to live with. And to treat: add it to measles, flu, etc and perhaps the unvaccinated crazies who are pushing hospitals to the breaking point will get the #%&*#+ vaccine; and eventually we return to normalcy. So I propose the above regimen as a way to get us from crisis to acceptance.
The weary, wobbling American mall is a piece of today’s weary American story that’s hard to ignore. This story is about just one – which is still wobbling a bit, but working to emerge from its lingering depression.
In the Before Days – before pandemic, before economic woes, before Amazon – were the malls. Like Chicago’s Water Tower Place, Atlanta’s Phipps Plaza, Seattle’s Pacific Place or the ultimate mega-consumer destination Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. And thousands of others from the large like these to the small ubiquitous strips.
Teenagers by the millions hung out in malls. Senior citizens speed-walked and exercised in malls. Shoppers even shopped in malls – enough of them to keep retailers happy, from the giant-store anchors to the boutique in-betweens to the aromatic food courts. But after getting clobbered by economic downturns and online shopping, the pandemic delivered what was a final blow to the Mall Era. A few survive, others are struggling or reinventing themselves and others make you want to weep for the desolation – and sometimes environmental disaster – their abandoned parking lots suggest. This is just one tiny glimpse backward and forward into one survivor: my city’s brave and even partly beautiful downtown Westfield San Francisco Centre.
Decades ago, in the 1970s-1980s glory days of malls, I was writing for commercial magazines that included Business Atlanta, National Real Estate Investor and – may it rest in peace – Shopping Center World. If I could resurrect those memories (most of them delightful, some better off dead) I’m satisfied that Westfield Centre would be in there somewhere. Although that would have been in its former life as the chic San Francisco Center, with its grand Emporium rivaling the upscale Union Square emporiums for tourist business.
Today, Westfield is reopened to masked visitors. Anchors Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom are keeping the lights on (a LOT of lights.) A respectable number of small retailers and service shops help keep Westfield from feeling totally deserted. But it is definitely deserted in spots, such as the eastern end on Market Street, where a handful of visitors rest below the carefully preserved dome of the old Emporium. On the Mission Street side of this end is sparkling Bloomie’s though more than one department seems better suited to rolling a bowling ball down the empty space than to browsing the expensive racks.
At the Nordstrom end things are decidedly livelier. Shoppers and browsers keep their masks on (or are reminded to do so by signs and salespersons at every turn) – but there are more small shops with lights on than boarded over storefronts.
A few other random sights remind the shopper/stroller that this is not your yesterday’s mall: Skateboard-carrying teenagers, en route to the empty upper decks of the parking garage across Mission Street, drop them to the marble for a quick joyride along the near-empty hallways. Food court places ask for your phone number so they can text you when your order is ready, even though you’re standing barely six feet distant. Speaking of (social) distances, they are pretty much ignored – until you’re in a line somewhere and X’s mark the spots. Escalator passengers often politely wait an appropriate few stairsteps, which seems a nice touch. Otherwise, the multi-colored masks serve as a perpetual reminder that we’re a long way away from the bustling crowds of shoppers past.
But some things remain sturdy reminders of bygone days. Claire’s, the iconic ear-piercing place, apparently emerged from bankruptcy a few years ago and is back in business on the lower level; this reporter stopped by for a re-piercing job, raising the median client age by about 70 years. And one uniformed guard, standing watch at the Market Street entry for the unmasked, the disturbers of the peace, the lost or the questioning, was asked how long he’d had this job. “Since way before, ma’m,” he said with a weary smile, “way before.”
Covid quarantines are giving us a new appreciation for jail time. Me, at least. Personally, I just would not make it. Going to jail has always been low on my list of reasons to obey the law, but lately it has risen to the top. I do not handle isolation well, to put it unreasonably mildly.
Early on in the pandemic, when the geezer house in which I live was totally shut down, I had a doctor’s appointment. On my return I was told, by management people who without prior notice had been transformed into wardens, that I would need to quarantine in my apartment for the next two weeks. Maybe this had been posted somewhere before I left, but it had missed my notice.
“TWO WEEKS?” I shrieked. “In this very apartment? No quick trips to the outdoor restaurants? No walks in the parks? For TWO WEEKS?” It was not a pretty scene. Five days later the warden revisited to tell me I was cleared to leave the premises. During the interim period I had received three meals a day delivered to my door, done a good bit of pacing and totally caught up on emails and writing projects. But I had also felt myself going a little nuts. In five days. To clarify this absurdity a little further, I have a lovely 1600-sq-ft apartment with a balcony looking across San Francisco to the San Bruno Mountains, and a western view of extraordinary sunsets – something few jail cells boast. Still, I feared for my sanity throughout five long days.
Half the people I know are self-quarantining somewhere or other for up to two weeks, for the pleasure – or often the necessity – of traveling these days. For the most part, they seem to be suffering in silence, and I appreciate the fact that they are doing this to protect you and me. It’s slightly less common now, unless you’re doing international stuff; but because the Covid virus, in one variant form or another, is likely to be with us for many months ahead, quarantining is also likely to remain.
As I wimped my way through five days of isolation I experienced at least a half-dozen of what the Mayo Clinic identifies as symptoms of anxiety, including tension, restlessness, nervousness and “having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.” This was the worst moment of all: an ice cream truck set up shop on the street below, midway through a warm afternoon. Almost pushed me over the edge – or off the 7th floor balcony. That truck was just below my eyes, and I was forbidden to go downstairs and buy a popsicle. It would not have helped to think about people in prison who don’t see ice cream trucks outside. I survived by remembering I had a Haagen Dasz mini in the freezer.
If you suffer from anything similar to the above, I strongly recommend against visiting Hong Kong. A young friend of mine, an American who has lived and worked for four or five years in Hong Kong, recently came to the U.S. for a visit with friends and family. When we met for a brief reunion I asked if she would face quarantine on her return to Hong Kong. Whew. She will be escorted from the airport to a hotel not of her choosing, where she will spend 21 days in a room with bath. She will wear a bracelet tracking her every move, and if she leaves the room she will be faced with huge fines – and possibly worse. She will be able to order food and necessities but they will have to be left outside the door because no one will be permitted to enter the room. She will do her laundry in the sink. “Does the government foot the bill?” I asked. “No,” she said; “it will all be at my own expense. Travel is considered a luxury in Hong Kong.”
My visiting friend did mention, as we urged her not to leave her cellphone on the far edge of the outdoor table, that she is not the least afraid to walk home alone in Hong Kong at 4 AM. Autocracy has its privileges.
But I’m going nowhere near there. Or anywhere else, without my KN95 mask.
The delta variant, no surprise, is felling our fellow citizens left and right and here we are back in the middle of the mask mess. Full disclosure: this writer is fully vaccinated but still pretty freaked about the possibility of becoming a break-out victim. That I probably won’t die is small consolation; the variant is seriously messing with my life.
Because I’m unlikely to get the virus from someone wearing a mask I have compiled my ten best arguments for masking up. Set aside the small detail that infection and death rates are going up at the rate of about 100% every week or two, most of which could be avoided if everyone were simply to get vaccinated and wear a mask. That seems not to matter to the unvaccinated and unmasked. So herewith my arguments:
1 – Why not? It’s just a piece of paper or cloth. Some of them are pretty nifty.
2 – That brings up the fashion aspect: today’s masks can be downright elegant. I have one that’s studded with faux rhinestones; putting it on equates to getting dressed up.
3 – Plus, the mask is today’s easiest way to make a statement (Go Green! Vote for My Person! Etc)
4 – I deeply regret the politization of the whole business, but some current opportunities for expressing yourself via mask are still pretty good. I recently passed a stout gentleman whose mask read “Because I’m keeping you from getting sick and possibly dying. What’s your reason for NOT wearing one?”
5 – And before I retreat from politics here, masks seem to offend Rand Paul. Offending Rand Paul is reason enough to mask up any day.
6 – Fall and winter are just ahead. Masks keep noses warm.
7 – You might want to make plans. Or at least not interfere with others’ plans. My poor niece, a doctor in a major urban hospital, has postponed her wedding multiple times. If her patients had been wearing masks they wouldn’t have become her patients, and she would not now have covid – and looking at possible postponement once again.
8 – Also, you might be protecting yourself against all manner of invisible evil. One scientific study estimated that the air we breathe contains some 1,800 bacteria. This was before the coronavirus joined them.
9 – Masks are today’s contribution to history. Sort of like the flapper dresses of the 1920s, history will look back on the 2020s as the Mask Age. Unless, that is, those pathogens and their viral colleagues carry us all off before the 2120s. Which brings us back to
10 – Why not? People are needlessly dying, every hour of every day. If we all just put on a mask maybe a few of us will survive to remember them.
We’re still here. The Optimists of the World Society may hold its annual meetings in ever-smaller closets, but it is a relentlessly ongoing – optimistic, you could say – society. Here are a few steps with which you can guarantee continued inclusion.
Faith. For example, I live in a 12-story building with two elevators, both of which currently operate on faith. Oh, they are reportedly safe – a nice touch – but the electronic system involved with button-pushing has spun into its own inscrutable non-pattern: the Up or Down button may or may not light up, or both buttons may have already been pushed by some passing ghost. This is the current passenger system: If an elevator stops at your floor, you get in. Say you want to go from Floor 7 to the lobby, but the elevator decides to go Up. Not to worry. When it gets to 12 it will eventually go Down. If you’re lucky it will make fewer than 11 stops before attempting to deposit you in the Garage, but hang on, it’s likely to go straight back up to the lobby, which is where you wanted to go. There are very few enthusiasts about Kone Elevators in my building, but we are nothing if not patient. Which brings up the second step –
Patience. I know, I know. Still, just as the elevator will eventually come, your turn in the phone queue will too. This morning I was informed, after finally getting through a dozen or so menu options, that I was #14 in the queue to speak with a person who might cancel my account. Speaker phones are good for this step, as they allow you to put the thing in a far corner until you find yourself at position #1. Position #1 will drive you to a chat, which often leads to a solution. In this particular instance, my patience led to a happily cancelled account.
Kindness. Always works. Will conquer pessimism, even when malfunctioning elevators and phone menus have rendered you temporarily pessimistic. For instance – speaking of pushing buttons – those buttons in drugstore aisles that say “Push for Customer Assistance”? These require patience and kindness in the extreme. Unlike the elevator buttons which summon no elevator, they summon the Assistant to your precise location – – eventually. Sadly, the Assistant tends to be a grumpy little guy in a rumpled blue jacket who answers any question by saying, “Just tell me which one you want!” He probably just got yelled at by the last customer. Try to be kind. Once he unlocks the little shelf, just pick any one of the 17 varieties of medication on which you wanted his advice. They’re probably all about the same.
Perseverance. See above. The elevator will eventually get you to the right floor, the scammer will give up and the drugstore Customer Assistant will unlock the shelf so that you can pick one of the medications whose 17 varieties had so bewildered you. If you persevere.
And last but not least –
Hope. That business about faith, hope & love? That’s a given with optimists, who tend to love people/times/circumstances largely because it’s easier than hating. But with some people/times/circumstances being so thoroughly unlovable these days, one is left only with hope. Hope that the anti-vaxxers will wake up before they nurture new variants to come after us all, if they don’t get covid and die first. Hope that the rains might miraculously come before drought and wildfires consume the west. That members of Congress will decide to get together and do stuff rather than pointing fingers and playing power games.