Week 21: Cancelled

August 18, 2020

I cannot get used to this time we are living through. I’m trying to refocus and recalibrate and reconfigure — my life, my expectations, all of it. But 2020 keeps throwing me off balance, no matter how flexible I attempt to be.

Tomorrow, we are supposed to take Liam, our 21-year-old, back to his fraternity house in Berkeley (I would say back to college, but the campus is closed). That plan is intact. I can’t imagine what would cause that to change, short of a literal earthquake. The guy is determined to return to his friends and whatever semblance of a collegiate existence he can muster.

The following week, Eli was supposed to return to Michigan State, which had opened the dorms and was planning on a hybrid learning experience. Then, at around 3 p.m. today, the university’s president sent an email that announced:

It has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus. So, effective immediately, we are asking undergraduate students who planned to live in our residence halls this fall to stay home and continue their education with MSU remotely.

He ran into my bedroom, where I was about to take a nap, yelling that it was all off, he would be home, school was over. Kind of with a wild look in his eyes, hair ruffled, glasses askew. I sat there for a few minutes, absorbing that news, wondering if my fall was about to get emotional in ways I hadn’t managed to predict despite all my attempts to predict every possible fall scenario. I mean, I’d figured he’d at least get a few weeks in the dorms before they kicked them all out, you know? I guess the news about UNC yesterday did it.

Anyway, I sat there for a few minutes, thinking all this, then I went down the hall to find him. He shooed me away, on the phone with his friends. I went back to my room, locked the door and tried to fall asleep, because I was really very tired. It’s been a long week around here, helping my mother process her grief and planning a Zoom memorial service for her longtime partner, Richard, who died of cancer a week ago. We still don’t have a funeral date, because he was a veteran and will be buried at the National Cemetery, on Wilshire Boulevard, and they appear to be backed up. But everything connected with the funeral business seems backed up these days. The mortuary can’t even cremate the body for ten days. There’s much that’s unsettled, and it has a wearing effect. Plus, Richard’s gone, and we all miss him.

So despite the drama, I fell asleep. When I woke up a half hour later, Eli was buzzing about a new plan. He and three other friends would head out to Michigan anyway, and rent a place off-campus. There’s Emma, the bass player from Sacramento, and Andrew, the pianist from South Dakota, and Juan, the sax player from Florida, and Eli, who plays trombone. They are all finding it increasingly challenging to focus on their music after months of being disconnected from each other and their music program. At least, they thought, if they were together in Michigan, they could feed off of and encourage each other.

Students are vacating East Lansing apartments right and left today, opting to stay home rather than take their chances with a pandemic. But a household of four musicians would not make great apartment neighbors. They wouldn’t even make great townhome, or duplex neighbors. To ensure they don’t get banned from practicing at all hours, they need a house.

There are exactly two houses left that fit their need. One has 23 other applicants on it. The other one … well, they’re crossing their fingers.

I thought I had mastered this pandemic thing. But that’s an absurd idea. It’s the nature of this time to throw us curve ball after curve ball.

Meanwhile, I’m nervous about this road trip tomorrow. I also went to college at Cal, and the campus and its surroundings are one of my favorite places on Earth. One of the things I’ve always loved about Berkeley is the people — so many people. A crush of people. A cascade of characters. Berkeley is fun, exciting, invigorating, always fascinating. But I’m scared that tomorrow, I’ll just find it depressing.

Eli was supposed to come up with us, mostly so I didn’t have to drive home on I-5 alone on Thursday. Now he’s too busy trying to figure out housing 2,500 miles away. But it’ll be okay. I have an audiobook downloaded to my phone, plus an endless supply of podcasts. I figure as long as I don’t stop in the Central Valley, a Trump zone where the residents apparently don’t believe in masks and the virus is running rampant, I should be fine.

I just wish I could make this year okay for Eli. I wish I could make a house appear out of the ether. I wish I could do something as simple as providing him the tools he needed — at this point, money for tuition and rent — and let him use them to build a bridge from childhood to adulthood. But thanks to the coronavirus, I may not be able to do that.

Twenty-four hours ago, I had two sons going away to school this month. Now I have one son going and the other in limbo. Oh, and my daughter started 11th grade today, online. Then promptly got a migraine and lost hours of the afternoon to it. We’re all kind of reeling around here. At least we’re not alone. It feels the rest of the nation is spinning right along with us.

Week 15: The Fonz

July 2, 2020

It’s late at night, and I’m thinking about an old friend.

I met Steve K. in third grade and saw him — for the last time I can remember, anyway — in sixth grade. That would be (gasp!) 40 years ago this month. It’s not much time to make an impression on someone, especially not after so much time has passed.

But four years when you’re twelve is one third of your life. And we were part of a group of 20-odd kids, at a public elementary school in the San Fernando Valley, who traveled as a unit through third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. So I knew the guy. But more than that, he was part of the fabric of my childhood.

I had a pretty vibrant childhood. If I had spools of thread and got to weave said fabric myself, it would be a rainbow of colors. The red thread would be for Steve.

He was a short kid, with a shag of straight blond hair and a bridge of freckles across his nose. He had a smile like trouble coming and a twinkle in his eyes that promised it would be fun. The main thing I remember about him is that for the longest time, I thought he bugged the living daylights out of me.

This was the late ’70s. One of my biggest claims to fame at the time was I had an AYSO soccer coach who was also a well-known LA radio D.J., called Charlie Tuna (I kid you not). Charlie (I don’t remember his real name) was so well-connected that he had access to the ultimate VIP experience: a taping of the TV show “Happy Days,” and one day, at the end of the season, he took me and his daughter and the rest of the team to see the show filmed. I came this close to shaking Fonzie’s hand, but got overwhelmed at the last minute and ducked away.

All this to say, the Fonz was the very image of cool when I was in elementary school, and Steve used to try to fling around phrases with the same aplomb as Henry Winkler, who played the leather-jacketed dude on the small screen. He’d call after us girls, “Yowsah yowsah yowsah!” on the playground, and I thought this was a form of expression just short of caveman. For a while there, he claimed to have a crush on me. But honestly, I was never sure. Sometimes, I thought it just gave him another excuse to flip his would-be Fonz switch and yell “Yowsah yowsah yowsah!” over and over and over again.

Kind of harassment-y, yeah. But these were the 70s. We had dads who worked in aerospace and moms who stayed at home, unless our parents got divorced, which was its own kind of pandemic in those days, and then our moms scrambled for whatever jobs they could find, which sure as heck didn’t provide the same kind of paycheck as those Dad jobs in aerospace. And there was disco, and sometimes it seemed like sex was everywhere and nowhere at all, and abstinence was a word no one ever, ever mentioned.

We were so not-woke.

So, no, I didn’t love getting cat-called at four-square. But it was done with such a lack of guile, and with such genuine enthusiasm, that it was impossible to get mad at him. Eventually, by the time we got to sixth grade, two things happened simultaneously: Steve relinquished the Fonzie persona, and he got cute. I never developed a full-blown crush on him — too many “yowsahs,” still too fresh in my head — but I realized that somewhere along the way, I’d come to like him, and we’d become friends.

After we graduated elementary school, a lot of the kids went on together to the same junior high. But it was the busing era, money was draining out of the public schools like water from a burst pipe, and my (wealthy) parents were nervous. Consequently, I was ripped out of my beloved rainbow fabric and dropped into an elite private girls school, where I knew no one, and where I spent the next six years trying to decode behaviors and patterns that had little to nothing to do with the aerospace dads and single moms and four-square games and Fonzie imitations of my previous existence. The new world swallowed me whole, as new worlds did in those days before the internet and social media. I hardly saw any of my former classmates anymore, and when we did run into each other … well, we were 13, 14. It could get awkward fast.

But today, not only do we have the World Wide Web and Facebook. We also have Zoom, and a pandemic. Since I can’t meet anybody new anymore — can’t even easily engage in forgettable conversation in line at the grocery checkout — I’ve decided to go deep, instead. If I can’t fling myself forward, I’ll lean back. Plus I’m bored.

That same high school class, the once-new world now another sepia-toned memory, started having Zoom reunions and to my surprise, they’ve become a highlight of my quarantine. So I thought I’d try to organize a similar Zoom session for the elementary school crew. I began with a Facebook page, and added the half dozen or so people I’d already friended online. Then we began a search for the rest of us.

We’re at about 15 now. It’s looking like some we may never find, particularly women who changed their last names when they married, or men with common names who’ve avoided social media. But Steve’s last name isn’t a common last name. And he wasn’t hiding somewhere off line.

“Hi Connie,” my friend Sloane wrote me in an email, “I don’t like conveying terrible news but I noticed a while back, when I had checked onto fb, that someone posted that Steve K___ has died (back in 2017). So hard to believe.”

She sent me a link to his obituary in the L.A. Times. There was the same bright smile. He’d had a wife and two daughters. “Steve was a constant jokester and loved to be funny and loved to laugh,” read the obit. “He was the life of the party and made friends wherever he went. Steve loved all sports, reading the paper, and pop culture. He became a die-hard University of Alabama fan when his oldest daughter started college there and was so excited for his youngest daughter to join her sister in Alabama this fall. Steve was beyond proud of his girls.”

It’s been 40 years since I last saw Steve. Almost as many years since I last thought of him in any sustained way. But there I was, staring at the computer screen, thinking no no, please no, no, no…

I knew that the odds were high that not all of us would have survived these four decades.  I don’t know which of us I was prepared to lose. No one, I guess. Certainly not him.

It’s going to be a bit of a juggling act, organizing this reunion. Some of us refuse to have anything to do with Facebook, which of course complicates the matter. But we’ll get there, we’ll get there. And when we do, I’m sure it will be a mind-blowing experience, seeing people leapfrog from twelve to 52 years old right before my eyes. But it will be lacking something. That narrow, bright, red thread.

And, you know, damn. The Fonz is always cool. The Fonz is always young. The Fonz is not supposed to die.

We’ll miss you, Steve. Heck, we already do.

Week 14: How to Clean a Home

June 23, 2020

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I just want to preface this slide show with the sad, but in retrospect unavoidable, result: this did not succeed.

A few weeks ago, I spent half a day of my weekend — those precious 48 hours when I try to stay as far away from my computer as work and household bill paying will allow — working on a PowerPoint for my family about how to clean the house. It wasn’t my idea, mind you, to create a PowerPoint in the first place. I didn’t even know how. But Liam, our oldest, has been having Zoom PowerPoint parties with friends, wherein they make up slides about silly subjects and present them to each other. He’d been trying to get our family to have our own PP evening, and for two weekends in a row, I’d avoided participating.

Meanwhile, Liam entertained us with a presentation on who should play different members of our family in a biopic of Liam’s own life (we do live in L.A., after all). Eli compared jazz greats to different characters in the Avengers. Sarah took us through a tour of Harry Styles’ hair dos. And Bill analyzed three different bike brands, only to discover, to his shock and dismay, that they were all manufactured by the same company (it was a lot funnier in person than it sounds, written out like this).

Finally, it was my turn. As usual, I was stewing about the state of our housekeeper-less house, and the ease with with my offspring lounged about the furniture while I scrubbed toilets and their dad mopped floors. So I created a PowerPoint that I hoped would begin to solve my problem. The good news? The kids loved it. “It was so informative!” Sarah said. “Now I know all about which cleansers to use.” The bad news? I just had to point out to Liam that he may think he cleaned his bathroom, but there’s still work to do when I can see and feel the grime on the faucet. Ah well…

Anyway. On a day when I have a ton of work to do, not a lot of brain space left beyond it, and a house I wish was cleaner, I present to you:

Day 53: Driving

May 19, 2020

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

As I wrote yesterday, I’m finding this quarantine brutal, not only in the big ways I first imagined, but in the small ones that pile up like pebbles forming a hill.

Therefore, I’m trying to count my blessings.

Here’s one: I am no longer a chauffeur.

This was my secret joy when the world shut down in March, but as the weeks have gone by, I’ve dulled to it. It is no small matter, though. I am freed of the carpool. I am liberated from the slog of taking my daughter to dance; to her driving lessons; to her friend’s house all the way across town in Echo Park, because one of her dearest chums is, naturally, a kid who lives 60 traffic-choked minutes from our home.

There’s no more slicing up a Saturday night with a “quick ride” for Sarah to Sawtelle, which is not at all quick because so many other people are making the drive as well. She doesn’t go to Jewish teen events in Malibu, or Simi Valley, or at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the driving back and forth of which can transform half of my day.

She doesn’t go anywhere.

I recognize this is sad for Sarah. It could even be called tragic.

But we’re not talking about Sarah here. We’re talking about me.

I now have time. I have time to write daily on a novel that for years has been more of a theoretical than an actual project. I can write this blog, which was never a goal of mine, but life surprised me.

I have time to have surprises in my life.

I’m watching a TV show here and there. TV and I have not had a viable relationship in years, but we’re inching our way back. I’m Zooming here, Zooming there, reaching out to old friends on the phone, walking (masked) with neighbors, banging pots and pans with others to celebrate birthdays on our street. I may not be able to hug anyone, but I’m keeping in touch.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the invisible labor of women — the feeding of babies, the corralling of toddlers, the supervising of children’s homeschooling. To this list, I would like to add the driving of the middle- and high-school set all over the bleeding town. I try to frame it for myself as quality time. Look, I’m talking to my daughter! When else would we get to have these intimate conversations?

But the truth is, I think we would have them, somehow or other. And when we did, I’d be a lot less harried, if for no other reason than my back wouldn’t ache so much from sitting in that car so much.

Sarah turned 16 in February, and would’ve had her license right now except she broke her big toe in January and had to take a break from lessons. She healed right about the time we went into lockdown. I’ve promised her that when she wraps up her school year, we’ll get back on the practicing.

I bet she’ll be there the minute the DMV reopens for driving tests. She can hardly wait.

Me too.

Day 48: AP Exams

May 14, 2020

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

This post, in a slightly edited format, is now live at Grown & Flown, a wonderful website and blog about parenting older kids. You can find the post here.

Two weeks ago, my daughter’s AP Calculus AB exam looked like it was over before it had begun.

Sarah had barely cracked a textbook since school shut down on March 16th. Her public school calculus class wasn’t meeting on Zoom, so there wasn’t an imperative to show up at her computer screen on time. Sometimes, Sarah would log onto Khan Academy, the free learning site, for instructional videos.

Meanwhile, she made and watched TikTok videos. She FaceTimed friends and decorated pages in her journal. Come 11 p.m., she and her 10th grade crew met up on something called Netflix Watch Parties, which could and often did stretch on until 4 in the morning.

She’s usually a straight-A student who puts intense pressure on herself to do well. So when I walked by her bedroom and heard giggles, I just smiled and kept on going. I assumed she had it under control. Plus, she had this awful, hacking cough which could be heard through closed doors and hallways. I have the unfortunate tendency to focus on one crisis per child. So I worried about the cough.

Then, one Sunday night (or maybe it was Monday… or Tuesday… they all flow together), she started to sound like a modern-day Paul Revere. Only, it wasn’t the British who were coming. It was the A.P.s. It was like she’d woken up and discovered that she’d signed up for three Advanced Placement classes this year; the exams were about to attack; and our army was asleep in bed.

Quarantine has been taking its toll on our entire household, in ways that only seem predictable in retrospect. For Sarah, who always battles a tendency to procrastinate, the school days that barely existed, the calc teacher who couldn’t be seen, the classrooms she no longer inhabited — it all felt unreal, like something that could be put off, just one more hour, or perhaps one more day.

Or maybe it wasn’t her perception at all that was at fault. Maybe we adults expected too much of our 16-year-olds this spring. We figured they knew how to do this distance learning thing. But they had no idea. How could they? We didn’t. Many of us still don’t.

Anyway, there we are, just as April is turning to March, and my daughter is hysterical. The A.P.s are coming! The A.P.s are coming! And she’s surely going to fail them. How did this happen, she cried. How did this happen?

There are many possible reactions to this realization. Here’s the one Sarah chose: she doubled down. She cut out the late nights and the sugar. She added running and began her days with strawberry-banana-kale smoothies. And she started studying. Morning, noon, night. Weekdays, weekends. When she couldn’t figure something out, she called up her friends. When they all couldn’t figure it out, she dragged her brother, the college junior, out of his lair. He took two years of calculus in high school; now he was recruited back into action.

By Tuesday morning, she was ready. Somehow, she said, she’d learned it. She thought she might just pass this thing.

“Good luck, Sarah,” I said as I sat down at my computer to do an interview for an article.

“Good luck, Sarah,” said the college junior as he took off on another one of his bike rides.

“Good luck, Sarah!” the trombone-playing brother said, vacating the office-turned-music studio to give Sarah privacy and quiet. She arrived a half hour early, set up, logged in. In the dining room (me), and the family room (trombone boy), and out on the bike trail, and over at the hospital (her dad, working), we all said a prayer for our hard-working calculus student.

Dear reader, if you’ve gotten this far with me, be assured that she finished the entire exam. She even felt like she slayed the damn thing. But when she went to turn it in, the computer wouldn’t accept it.

She started trying to turn it in with four and a half minutes to spare. For four and a half minutes, Sarah tried everything she could think of to get the College Board, which administers the test, to accept her uploads of her work. That’s required to pass the exam. But the site refused to take it. And refused. And refused.

Then, after four and a half minutes, it shut her down.

The College Board says this has happened to 2 percent of all AP test takers this spring. But from what Sarah can see, among her friends and on social media, it feels like more than that — especially for this calculus exam, because it demanded uploads of handwritten calculations.

Yes, she raged. Of course, she cried. She questioned her technical capabilities and despaired at the time and effort sacrificed for this empty result.

She pulled it briefly together, to request a makeup exam in June. Then she got the trombone brother to take her to frozen yogurt, and over to a friend’s house, where the girls sat in the backyard and, six feet apart, Sarah nursed her wounds.

She’s got two A.P. exams next week — A.P. Biology and A.P. World History. It’s hard, she says, to get motivated to study for them.

This quarantine, folks. It’s a shit show. Old people, young people, middle aged ones like me — none of us are spared its slow, draining drip. But I hate especially the toll it takes on kids. To be a child is to hope and to dream, to have wild enthusiasms and mad determination, born not out of experience but the lack of it.

Of course, adolescence can be dark. But we adults, watching from the far shore, hope that the joy of this seemingly endless possibility, of what looks at 16 like a limitless future, can shine a light sufficient to banish the gloom. Probably not all the time, but often enough to make these years endurable.

This is the rub of quarantine. Possibility doesn’t feel easy to come by. The future seems to have disintegrated one dreadful week in March. We are left in a today that stubbornly refuses to become tomorrow.

It is challenging enough for me, with 52 years of experience under my belt, to create a satisfying existence out of these subpar materials. How much more difficult then, for someone with only 16 years behind her, a girl just starting to step out on her own, at a time when the path is so hard to make out.

I know the people at the College Board are trying. What happened to Sarah is exactly what they wanted to avoid. So I’m not mad at them. But I am mad. We both are mad. All five of us are mad about this. Mad, with nowhere to put it.

And so, we carry on. Pull out the next Barron’s Study Guide, Sarah. Bio’s on Tuesday.

Day 45: Butterscotch Lollipops

May 11, 2020

A few minutes ago, I was scrolling through my emails, thinking I’d forgotten about something today, when my eye alighted on the clock in the bottom right corner, and it hit me — I hadn’t written this blog.

Not only hadn’t I written it. I hadn’t even thought about it, all day long.

I’d felt adrift this afternoon. Maybe this was the reason why. Or maybe that’s the kind of times these are. Times when the minutes float into hours, and the hours melt into entire afternoons, and we fail to notice, because we’re drifting along in this fuzzy quarantine dream.

My calendar is full these days. A Zoom call tonight, a Zoom writing seminar tomorrow, another Zoom call on Thursday. And yet, it feels as empty as Venice Boulevard on lockdown. I don’t know why this is. Not only am I seeing the same people as usual. I’m actually seeing more of people I don’t usually see that often. But virtual meet-ups… well, they make me think of those Dum-Dums lollipops that used to fill my treat bag on Halloween. Sure, the cherry ones taste good. So do the grape. Butterscotch was always my favorite.

But after awhile, you want a real cherry. An actual grape. A butterscotch sauce or pudding that doesn’t sport a chemical aftertaste.

So, yeah, that’s my social life these days — a Dum-Dum lollipop. Butterscotch flavor. But still.

There’s many moments when the world itself feels virtual. I see so little of it these days. I must trust that it’s still there. I have to believe that there’s more to life than my house, its inhabitants and the coronavirus. But forgive me if I wonder: do I still have to worry about climate change? Peace in the Middle East? Whether Meghan and Harry can make it on their own without the Royal Family? (Of course I know I have to worry about Trump — he is The Inescapable Man.)

I wonder if I’ll look back on this with nostalgia one day. “Imagine– we didn’t go anywhere or do anything,” I’ll tell my grandchildren, and I’ll sigh. “It was so simple then.”

I hope I’ll remember that simple can be boring. And perplexing. And so fuzzy around the edges that sometimes, in the slow tick of the minutes, entire days slip through your fingers.

Day 32: Monday

April 28, 2020

One day, this will be over. Right?


And I’m going to want to know how these days went. As in, what were we doing, and when? How did we get through them?

With that in mind — for whatever it’s worth, to future me and current you, here is how I spent Monday.

Rolled out of bed around 6:30 a.m. and caught up on the life contained in my iPhone — overnight emails, top news on the New York Times app, birthdays on Facebook.

By 7:15 a.m., Georgie (the dog) and I were out the door. Because we did a no-incline walk to the park, and I didn’t talk to anyone, either in person or on the phone, I didn’t need much oxygen and could virtuously wear my mask the entire way. It’s light pink with darker pink dots and didn’t clash with my black outfit. I bought it for $16 from the guy up the street who used to make a living selling Crossfit straps to exercisers around the globe. Now Nicko sells masks to neighbors. I also have one in sky-blue with Day-of-the-Dead grinning skulls on it, and another one with Superwoman cartoons set against a royal blue background. He sells them out of his garage. I can browse, make choices. This is deeply satisfying.

While we walked, I listened to this story from the New York Times, about a restaurateur who had to close her place, Prune, in the East Village, due to the pandemic. I was in tears by the time I got home, not because I was so sad, but because I was so grateful that someone so artistic and true lives in this world.

I had to be at my computer by 8 a.m. because that’s when I log into Zoom and say hi to my friend, Deborah. She’s in Silverlake. We catch up for about five minutes, then hit mute and write for the next two hours. During that time, I live in 2010, in a world of people I control. Best two hours of the day, no contest.

Time for a workout. I used to go to the Bar Method studio on Sawtelle, near La Grange, twice a week. Then I got sick, just as we went on lockdown, and I could barely make it around the block, much less lift weights. Now I’m working my way back up.

Afterward, I showered and changed and straightened up the house, and headed out to look for dishwasher detergent for my 81-year-old mother, whose finicky dishwasher only tolerates powdered soap. But this is one of those items that simply cannot be had in late April, 2020 in Los Angeles. I hit Ralph’s and Staples and Rite-Aid on National. I looped through Vons and CVS on Sepulveda. All that stood on the shelves, between vast expanses of empty white, were packets of Powerballs, little rounded cubes of gel and detergent sealed in plastic. Has our obsession with plastic really come to this, that we must seal detergent in it rather than figuring out how to measure it ourselves? Can no one approximate a tablespoon’s worth just by eyeing it?

Of course, I wasn’t merely entering and leaving stores. I wore an N-95 mask. When I got back to the car, I wiped down my hands with hand sanitizer, then pulled a generic-brand, Clorox-type wipe from a blue plastic tube (just like the guy said in “The Graduate,” the future [much to our detriment] is in plastic) and wiped down my purse straps, my glasses, anything else on my person that I inadvertently touched in the stores.

After the last stop, I ripped open a packet of M&Ms caramels I’d purchased at CVS, and practically poured half of it into my mouth. This is the only possible reaction to visiting five stores in one hour in April 2020.

Came home. My middle and youngest children were ordering poke on Postmates, out of their own funds. If I ordered for me, I’d have to pay for it, and that didn’t appeal. So I made scrambled eggs with tomato, basil and orange bell pepper for lunch. Pink sea salt. Yes, it was good.

I’m in between work assignments, so since nothing was screaming at me, I started to balance our checkbook on Quicken. But soon came 3 o’clock and the Puppy Party down the street. My neighbor brought an 8-week-old puppy home over the weekend, a few weeks after her elderly dog died. My mom, who has hardly seen anyone except her live-in boyfriend since the lockdown began, loves dogs. So she drove in from Westwood and my daughter and I walked over from two houses away and we all stood in my friend’s front yard and cooed at the puppy from six feet apart. In case you were wondering, I sported the Superwoman mask. The puppy’s name is Ziggy and the world is new to her. She had to be scooped up when she mistook pebbles for food.

I had picked up some gel detergent at CVS, in the hopes it would work for my mom, but she’d since read online that it would ruin her dishwasher. We gave it to the neighbor instead, and I called our nearby Whole Foods. They had powdered detergent, not in a box like my mom and I like it, but sealed in plastic pods. “You could just cut the pods open if you wanted,” the manager pointed out. Ahh, we said. Right. We decided we’d drive over there in separate cars. I’d go in and get it for her while she waited outside.

But first, she needed a mask other than her N-95, which she’s come to detest because of its bulk and awkward fit. So we walked up the street to Nicko. Out of all the masks he had — at least three dozen varieties, maybe more — she picked the same one as my daughter did, light blue with white piping. Genetics.

We went to Whole Foods and I stood in a ten minute line and the entire time, no one talked to anyone else. We are all angry at no one, tense about everything.

They had the detergent in the plastic pods. Hallelujah. I also picked up two tubs of Bananas Foster ice cream with caramel swirls, one for me and one for my mother. Because I don’t leave stores these days without some form of caramel in my bag.

Waved Mom goodbye. Came home, finished up the blog post I’d started the day before, and posted it. Got on a Zoom call with three girlfriends who live right around me but who I now only see on screens once a week. I found out two of the three of them may be furloughed or laid off entirely at the end of June. What do you say to that? There’s no adequate response. The other two of us don’t have that problem — because we’re both freelance.

Off the call. Back to the kitchen. Made one of my favorite recipes, Greek chicken soup with lemon, using up leftover rice and chicken, and called everyone in to eat. That’s when I remembered that when two of my three children decide to order lunch out, they should ALWAYS check with their missing sibling to see if he wants some too, even if he’s out on his bike, and it seems like it might be dangerous for him to pick up the phone. Otherwise, guaranteed, there will be a fight at the dinner table.

But everyone eventually made up. My husband had them all laughing by the time I left for yet another Zoom call, this one with a different group of friends who also live nearby, whom I now also see regularly on my computer screen. We shared our favorite quarantine books and TV shows. One woman, though, was quiet. Finally, I asked her if she had any recommendations. Turns out she wraps up her day by watching Trump’s coronavirus briefings. Weeks in, and they still boggle her mind. Sometimes she throws in Governor Cuomo for variety. This would be my personal recipe for insanity, but to each her own.

Here’s how I wrapped up my day: scrolling through the NYT app, reading about how home schooling is driving parents bonkers, how ‘quarantine fatigue’ has people heading outdoors, and how Trump is now back at his coronavirus podium after a weekend away. Then I curled up in bed to finish a marvelous novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, and lights out just before 11 p.m.

If you’ve read this far — thanks! And a question: what about you? How are you spending these days?

Day 21: Rhythm

April 15, 2020

It’s amazing, the things a person can get used to.

I remember when I first heard about the lockdown in six Bay Area counties, back in mid-March. My neighbor’s daughter was still up there at college and my only reaction was that they’d better get her down here quick before — I don’t know — they built a wall around the place and threw away the key? It all seemed so drastic.

Now we wear bandannas to walk the dog, masks to go to the grocery store, and otherwise, we’re confined to the Great Residential Indoors. It was distressing when it started. I didn’t know how I would live this way. But I figured it out, just like everyone else. The days now have their own, quarantine-dictated rhythms. Zoom has become the anchor of my social life. I feel a renewed connection to my 1950s O’Keefe & Merritt range.

Last night, we learned my husband would have to self-isolate and wear a mask around the house because of possible COVID-19 exposure last week in the hospital. I was gripped again by that same senseless fear I had when I was sick in late March. You wonder what is coming. You realize it’s out of your control. You don’t know if you’ll be able to handle it. Like, really don’t know. Like, it’s possible what is coming will shred you into long, twisted pieces that you will never untangle.

But today, he’s just a healthy guy in a mask doing telephone visits with his patients from a desk in our family room. Nine days down, five to go. And life goes on.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have our schedules.

Our oldest, age 21, leaves the house around eight every morning and heads for the hills on one of his dad’s bicycles. He’s been to the West Valley, Malibu, Benedict Canyon, and even Pasadena. Afternoons, he’s home on his computer or going grocery shopping for us or my mom, who lives in Westwood. He goes to college at U.C. Berkeley, but when this pandemic hit, he was on an abroad program in Ghana. The University of Ghana has been slow to put its courses online, so his homework situation is minimal.

With every day of bike riding, his frame seems to get a little leaner, his face a bit more angular. He looks more like his dad every day. I envy him the time and energy he has to bust out of our neighborhood and travel up and down the empty streets of this, my beloved city. I can tell it’s a wonderful thing from the smile on his face every day. I’m quarantined. Him — not exactly.

Our 19-year-old burrows down in my home office, which he’s turned into his music studio. Apparently, he keeps the space heater turned up to 79 degrees, and is assembling a tippy tower of empty La Croix cans. The floor and all the surfaces are strewn with sheet music. His older brother tells me it stinks and warns me to keep away. But the neighbors behind us, with whom we share a back gate, thank me for the jazz trombone concert constantly in progress in my garage. “It’s such a treat to enjoy live music,” Norma says.

This one’s happy, too. He tells me he’s buried in school work from demanding professors. But the other day, on a Zoom call, I stared at him when he told friends that he’s got a pretty light academic load. So I don’t know what to believe, and who knows what’s actually going on out there?

Our daughter stays up half the night. I’m told 16-year-old social life peaks at 2 a.m. these days. There are group Facetimes, something called Netflix Watch Parties. In the daylight hours she manages to grab, she keeps up with her classwork. Now that she’s given up her bedroom to her quarantined father, she’s discovered that she studies best in her parents’ bedroom. Good Wi-Fi. She promises she’ll leave if I want to take a nap.

As for me, lately I’ve been doing a Zoom call with a writing friend every morning at 8 a.m. I work on my novel. She works on hers. When the rest of our lives call, sometime between 9 and 10 a.m., we say goodbye, and she sends a Zoom invite for tomorrow. Then I work on my freelance articles. I walk my dog. Putter around the house, straightening up so it doesn’t look like a great and powerful wind just swept through it. Eventually, I hear the local children riding their bikes around on our street, and I know it’s time to start writing this blog. By the time they go in for dinner, it’s also time for me to wrap up and hit my kitchen. The O’Keefe and Merritt awaits.

Tonight, when we sit down to dinner, there’ll be a new decision to make. Where does my husband go? You can’t eat through a mask. Probably, he’ll be exiled to the dining room table, like I was when I was ill. We’ve been here before, in a way. We know the COVID drill.

I know we used to do it all another way. But that life feels so distant now.

How do you get through these days? Have you found a new rhythm?

Day 12: Stiff Drink


Monday, April 6, 2020

Last night, the five of us logged onto the ultimate Zoom call — 54 members of my husband’s sprawling, mutually-devoted Irish-Catholic clan, crowded onto the screen. We usually only see this group once every other year at Thanksgiving in Scranton, Pa., where the original six siblings of my mother-in-law’s generation grew up (though many of them also get together each summer on Cape Cod).

At times on the call, the cacophony grew so acute that our moderator — clear-minded Priscilla — broke us up into separate “group rooms.” Who knew you could even do that? We were in Boston, and Philadelphia, and a phone-in from a cabin in West Virginia where there is no WiFi, and Chatham, N.J., and the Jersey Shore, and Greenwich, Conn., and Lancaster, Penn., and Aspen, Colo., and Syracuse, N.Y., and Seneca Falls, N.Y., and Mar Vista and West LA and Torrance and Santa Clarita.

I learned that all the liquor stores are closed in Pennsylvania but beer and wine can be found at Whole Foods; that you cannot drive from your Pennsylvania home into Delaware to get said liquor, because you will be turned around at the state border; that here in West LA, vermouth is still on the shelves at the City Target at the corner of Santa Monica and Westgate; and that certain brands of beer have stopped production altogether, which admittedly is ironic in the age of coronavirus.

(I learned many other things besides, including that all 50-plus relatives are healthy and relatively happy, given the circumstances, which is the most important thing of all).

These are tough times, and if alcohol didn’t give me migraines, I’d be joining my friend Susan in figuring out, finally, how to make a proper martini. Marijuana, my balm in college, started giving me coughing fits just about the time it became legal in California.

So stone cold sober, I confront the news. The head of the English government is in the ICU. U.S. health officials say this week will be our Pearl Harbor of death and disease. The City of Los Angeles just begged residents to simply stay home. Even avoiding the grocery store, officials say, would be a good idea if you can manage it.

For weeks, I jolted awake at 5 a.m., unable to fall back asleep. That was particularly annoying when I was sick and trying to get better. Now, I can usually manage to sleep until 6:30 a.m., which is a far more humane hour.

My anxiety, instead, has taken a new form. I’ll be talking about disease symptoms, or even watching a show on TV where death comes up in the plot. Suddenly, I have to cough. My breath feels somehow limited. Maybe I’m nauseous. I panic. It’s back! Or, it never arrived in the first place, but it’s here now!

And then I go, Oh. Right. Vivid imagination.

I roll my eyes at myself.

Today, my husband called me from the hospital. I was in the dining room, working on an article, reluctant to pull away and break the concentration that is particularly hard-won these days. But when I heard the tightness in his voice, I turned away from the computer. A patient coded, he said, and it was only afterward that they realized he might have had COVID-19. They weren’t wearing proper protective gear, because they didn’t know, until later.

What do you say to that?

I said, “You know, I think the virus has already been through our house, and you had it but were asymptomatic. I’m think you’re fine. You’re going to be fine.”

I must not have sounded that calm, though, because when I hung up, my oldest son, who was eating a bagel in the kitchen nearby, looked up and asked me, “Does Dad have it?”

So casual, like it might be a baseball he caught at the kind of game none of us attend anymore.

“No,” I said. “He had a patient who might have the virus who coded, and he wasn’t wearing PPE.”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”

It seemed like an inadequately dramatic response. But these are times we live in, it was too early in the day for a stiff drink, and anyhow, as far as alcohol is concerned, I’m the state of Pennsylvania in permanent, reluctant lockdown.

My son returned to his bagel and the Netflix show on his iPad. I swiveled my attention back to my computer and peered at the words on the screen. I tried to remember what I’d been thinking when the call came in and for a moment, the world shifted.

A minute passed. Two. Then I started typing again.

Featured photo credit today to @uttaranatarajan, who is using her COVID-19 downtime in the most productive way I can imagine, recreating art masterpieces with her cat and other reluctant household items. Cat -- he of the truly nine lives -- is Mauricio.