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.

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.

Happy May Day! Boycott Amazon, Whole Foods Target and Instacart

On May 1, 1886 a coalition of American labor groups organized a general strike in support of an eight hour work day. Today, 134 years later, we can honor the memory of those who gave their lives for better working conditions by supporting Amazon, Whole Foods, Target and Instacart workers and not crossing their picket line.

Workers at these dystopian corporations are walking out during their lunch break to ask for protective equipment, hazard pay, paid sick leave, cleaning supplies and contact tracing. Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker fired from his job for complaining about conditions tweeted, “It’s time to join up! Protect all workers at all cost we are not expandable or replaceable enough is enough TAKE THE POWER BACK!”

Life in a Pandemic

One of the things I’ve noticed about my neighborhood’s reaction to our stay in place orders is that both kids and adults are chalking the sidewalks. It’s the first time anyone has ever done this here and I like the gesture. It reminds me of the sort of collective neighborliness of the Portland City Repair movement.

With time on their hands people are de-cluttering, deciding which objects are important in their lives and which ones are not. One of my neighbors set up a temporary rack to give away clothes.

And our neighborhood’s little library is overflowing with books. Someone even put some rolls of toilet paper and rubber gloves in the box.

At the same time, it’s easy for comfortable people like me to get isolated and out of touch with what many in the world, facing sickness and financial uncertainty, must be going through.

Pope Francis had a reminder tweet for those of us in the comfortable class:

Responding to this crisis responsibly is an act of solidarity with other people, particularly with the elderly. We’re sheltering in place not to protect ourselves but to protect the vulnerable. Many people are also still working, risking their lives and the lives of their families to bring us comfortable folks our food and electricity and treat us if we get sick. Then there’s families with young kids at home wondering how they are going to hold down jobs while providing 24/7 childcare and unexpected homeschooling.

A callous disregard for the elderly (open up soon to save the economy!) shouldn’t be surprising in a culture that values individualism and the cultivation of a personal entrepreneurial self while, at the same time, not providing enough support to people who now can’t work. Insidiously, many who have legitimate concerns about not being able to work also are victims of an ideology that says it’s lazy to accept help. We have plenty of resources in the developed world but we have a system that can’t seem to put things on hold when our survival depends on it.

The elites don’t help matters with cringy responses like this:

And this:

I’ve also noticed a subtle media bias towards coverage of the folks who are comfortably sheltering in place like me. It’s not surprising. Most journalists, writers and podcasters are more likely to be sitting at home so it’s not surprising that we don’t hear as much about what life is like for those who live in fear and uncertainty.

We don’t know what the future holds. There are simply too many variables to know what will happen in the coming months. Will we have another wave infections? Will governments bail out corporations or individuals? Will we have a recession or depression? Will there be a revived interest in urban homesteading or will we go back to shopping and consuming? I’m wary of suggesting a silver lining in this crisis. For many, around the world, it will just be awful.

I’m curious how you, our readers, are doing? Leave a comment and let us know what your situation is and your thoughts about the future.

Random Covid Thoughts

  • Here’s what we all need to do right now: If you can, stay home–not for your own sake but for the health and safety of vulnerable people. Here’s a short paper by Nassim Taleb that explains why.
  • Call people who are alone and have a chat.
  • Worrying about being productive isn’t productive. It’s okay to be anxious. Do the two things above and that’s enough for the day.
  • We need to support, in any way we can, those that have to work right now. If you’re using a delivery service tip generously. And I keep thinking about this essay in The Baffler by Lizzie O’Shea “We Keep You Alive” that debunks the idea that “unskilled” labor is, in fact, unskilled. I’m grateful for food service workers right now.
  • It goes without saying we also need to appreciate and support anyone who works in the medical profession.
  • Some people don’t understand non-linear systems and risk.
  • I’m mad with Charles Eisenstein. Releasing a podcast, at this time, skeptical of the benefits of quarantine in the midst of a pandemic and then going on with a guest to denigrate vaccines is irresponsible. Yes, I’m one of those people who are “triggered” by vaccine and quarantine skepticism. I’m triggered because the stakes are high. Eisenstein’s skepticism (and I mean this in the technical, philosophical meaning of the word) is a symptom of the type of person who spends too much time speaking and writing and not enough time working with their hands. Find some balance brother Charles.
  • An opera fan friend of mine let me know that the Metropolitan Opera has dropped (as the kids say) free Wagner all week. Last year I watched the Ring Cycle on YouTube in its entirety (the amazing Boulez version) and worked it into so many conversations that Kelly begged me to shut up. If you’ve got 15 hours to spare (and most of you do) you can begin with the Met’s version of Das Rheingold today. Note the instructions for how to access them for free. Yes, Wagner was a terrible person. No, he was not a proto-Nazi (the Nazis loved Puccini). The Ring Cycle is a profound meditation on ecology and industrialization and the hope for a better world. The music is breathtaking.
  • Speaking of a better world, the DSA-LA has a Zoom meeting this Saturday
  • I’m noticing that this “urban homestead” lifestyle thing sure is handy right now. Wish I had some citrus growing but I’m grateful for the eggs and avocados.
  • Lastly, I used a sprayer to paint Kelly’s shed interior yesterday. I didn’t pull up the hood on my painting jumpsuit all the way. When I came into the house and looked in the mirror I had gone prematurely gray. Counting my blessings that this is the only problem I have right now.