Our Covid House Rules and Strategies

I once had a wood shop teacher who was fond of saying, “always have a plan.” This sage advice lives in dialectical balance with Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Working class people, “essential workers,” small business owners, health workers and the elderly have taken a lot of punches in the face during the Covid crisis and will take some more in coming months. People in the “Zoom” class such as us, have fared better. I’ve been struggling for a metaphor for our times this week and settled on the idea that we’re in for a multi-year version of the Fyre Festival. While I was working on this metaphor over the weekend Kelly let me know that a not very good Washington Post editorialist beat me to it. While the Fyre Festival analogy doesn’t work all that well, there’s a sense in which we’re all stuck on the beach waiting for Blink 182 to show up but knowing that they never will. And isn’t it pathetic that we’re waiting for Blink 182? Why can’t we have better music?

While, for now, we have our styrofoam packed cheese sandwiches and bottled water we probably shouldn’t expect Ja Rule and that entrepreneur dude to keep us fed. We’re going to have to improvise. And the virus guarantees that our lives will be consumed by a tricky ethical calculus that changes on an almost hourly basis. I felt the need this week to write down some game rules for the next few months. We’ve figured that Kelly may be in a risk group for this disease. And relatives that she is responsible for are also at risk. So here’s what we came up with as of ten minutes ago.

Minimizing trips to the grocery store
Many restaurant distribution companies have pivoted into home delivery. Johnnie at Granola Shotgun blogged about a Bay Area service he tried. We tried it this week via  The Chef’s Warehouse. It worked great. The food was delivered in two days. Quality was decent. Some things are available only in huge quantities but you could easily split stuff with friends and neighbors. If you’re in Los Angeles here’s a list of restaurant wholesalers now selling to the public. We also tried Vons’ parking lot pickup service. It worked okay but they were out of some items. And our local farmers market has a new app for pre-ordering produce that we’re going to try. Yesterday we ordered some takeout from a local restaurant we like and picked it up instead of using those parasitic delivery apps.

Seeing other people
We’ve decided that, for now, we’re not going to hang out with other people even if we’re all outside and everyone is wearing a mask. This is not just for our sake but to help stop the spread of this disease. For many of us the impact of Covid is out of sight and out of mind and it’s easy to think that it would be okay to start to go back to normal social practices. We’re just not there yet and I’m expecting another wave of infections. Travel is out of the question right now, in my opinion, and I don’t think it’s cool for city people like us to go out to the country and put people in rural areas at risk.

Building maintenance and construction projects
I’m attempting to follow the advice of my wood shop teacher and plan before running to go get supplies. When it comes time to get stuff for a few of the projects around the house that need to be attended to I’m going to patronize the sort of lumber yard that caters to high end professionals rather than big box stores. Generally these places are not as busy and you always get better service. This would be a good practice even if we weren’t in a pandemic.

Mental health
I’m trying to slow down and focus on details. I feel there’s a need to pay attention to the news but not get immersed in it. I’m attempting, not always successfully, to limit exposure to social media and news sources. I’ve been doing a few solo bee removal jobs and this has really lifted my spirits to be able to get outdoors and do something useful.

Community resiliency
We have a weekly Zoom call with our neighbors to check in, chat and see if anyone needs anything. Our church has a program to call and check in with people. Several months ago, after my volunteer work with the Bernie campaign ended, I joined the Democratic Socialists of America and have participated in book clubs and online organizing.


Masks

It’s sad that this has become so divisive. Wearing a mask is a common sense way to respect other people. There are many other cultures in this world (such as the Tuareg tribe of the Sahara desert and folks in many parts of Asia) where facial covering is an old practice and no big deal. While I have no evidence for this, I suspect that mask wearing coincides with cultures that have greater respect for elders. Here in the U.S. and, I’m looking at you Sweden, old people are disposable.

Areas for improvement
I’ve been bad about exercising. I’ve got Zoom fatigue. I want to see other people but know that we’re not there yet. I need to construct storage for bulk goods. The crisis has caused me to have a short temper that I have to be vigilant about. I feel like I’m really out of touch with the people who are risking their lives in low-paid work.

Non-conclusion conclusion
We’re lucky. We’re thankful to have a roof over our heads, a garden to tend and a backyard to enjoy. But I’m also trying to be realistic. Our comfort could end. A lot of people are suffering. Far worse things than Blink 182 could be slouching towards Bethlehem. But if I’m wrong and Blink 182 does show up and is less pathetic than I remember at least we’ll have a better bulk goods game and a few less weeds in the garden.

The Brown Derby Cocktail

Recipe for a Brown Derby Cocktail

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup*

Combine ingredients with ice and shake. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
*To make honey syrup combine equal parts honey and water. Stir. You don’t need to heat it up unless the honey has crystallized.

Now there you have it. You’ve got a cocktail and I can pat myself on the back for inverting the all too common internet formula of endless paragraphs of nattering before posting the damn recipe. You got the recipe first and now here’s some brief chatter.

This cocktail sounds like an odd combination of ingredients but it works. The honey balances out the bitterness of the grapefruit juice and the bourbon broods over the face of the waters.

The cocktail’s origins are cloudy. A version of it appears as the “De Regueur” in the Savoy Cocktail Book. Some say that bartenders at the Vendome, a popular delicatessen on the Sunset Strip in the 1930s, did a slightly readjusted version of it that ended up being named for the Brown Derby restaurant.

Allow me to digress. If Steven Pinker tries to sell you on his hustle of how things are sooooo much better than they used to be just show him what happened to the Vendome:

The Brown Derby got minimaulled too:

At least we still have the cocktail.

Welcome to the Crappening

Still from Children of Men.

There’s no nice way to put it. Here in the U.S. we live in a failed state. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong but it looks like were in for chaos.

As Nassim Taleb suggested on the Twitters, “Do a total reset professionally, economically, personally. Treat this thing as if it were here to stay & make sure you can do with it. If it goes away, it will be a bonus but remember that the shadow of the following one will be progressively built into the system.” The fatal flaw of “crapitalism” is that these crisis are baked into the system and each one is worse than the last. Even if we skate past this one there’s another crisis coming.

On top of household level adjustments we need to work with our neighbors, friends, faith communities and associations to deal with this crisis. I have no patience for right wing leaders whose Ayn Randian, individualist ideology makes the ancient Romans seem compassionate. But neither do I have any faith in centrist, neo-liberal Democrats who were part of the failed response to this crisis and who are only too happy to push for austerity measures.

I feel especially bad for people who live in states that are opening prematurely and forcing people back into dangerous working conditions. The real strategy here is to kick people off unemployment benefits.

As a household we’re going to map out a plan that combines many of the skills we’ve profiled on this blog over the years with a more engaged community involvement. We’re baking a lot of bread and we plan on volunteering for Nithya Raman who is running for city council and offering a real alternative to the corrupt status quo. Until we see the numbers going down here in Los Angeles, we’re minimizing trips to grocery stores and eliminating non-essential activity. I want to see 14 consecutive days of declines in cases before changing our plans. We do this both for our own health and for the health of vulnerable people. We’re fortunate to not have to worry about housing or income right now. But the days of casually going out and doing stuff are over for now.

If, in the end, I’m being alarmist the worst that will happen is that we’ll be more engaged with our neighbors and know ten different ways to cook oatmeal.