Cotton-candy existence

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Photo by Joe deSousa on Unsplash

Daisy the ever-faithful hound lies beside me, her chin resting on the hardwood floor, little sticks and pieces of redwood bramble stuck in her tail and in the feathers of her coat.

I took her on the mountain this morning. I made sure it was the first thing I did after waking. I’m getting bothered by how slothful I’m becoming in our locked-down world. I feel the need to force a little structure to the routine so I don’t find myself in pajamas at 2 p.m. It happened last weekend, and it wasn’t a particularly good feeling.

I feel like I’ve been on a cotton-candy diet. We cook a lot. We bake. We make (and eat) frosted layer cakes (two in one week, in fact), pies (blueberry-rhubarb, twice), galettes (almond-rhubarb), cookies (flat and chewy chocolate chip), and sundaes with bittersweet chocolate melted in the double boiler and cream shaken in the mason jar and almonds or walnuts toasted on the mini cast-iron pan over a low flame.

We listen to the Jazz Oasis on KCSM most nights, but that’s nothing different. We watch movies. A lot of movies. That is different. I finally saw Taxi Driver, which was amazing. Good Fellas. I saw the inimitable Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club again. It was just as great a second time. We finally saw Bombshell. And on and on. See what I mean? Cotton-candy diet.

It occurs to me I could be using this time better.

And I haven’t even mentioned cocktail hour. Virtual happy hours. Virtual cocktails with the ladies (moms with whom I raised my kids, two of whom moved away to much tonier neighborhoods). Last night, I made a cocktail called The Hummingbird (isn’t that sweet?), which called for elderflower liqueur and a nasturtium blossom and leaf “tucked between two ice cubes.”

Cute, no? It was indeed very pretty. It gave me great satisfaction to venture out in these Covid-19 days looking for a sprig of nasturtium which would include both a prettily-shaped leaf and a brilliant orange flower bud. And pretty did it taste.

See what I mean?

Yeah. Not sure I’m showing a hell of lot of backbone during these plague days. We could be learning new skills. Catching up on serious reading. I could certainly be practicing tango. Learning all the great tango orchestras. Translating the lyrics from the classics of the golden age of tango. Etc.

Why am I not?

I’m not sure.

In my defense, I AM gardening fit to beat the band.

I mean, I am really gardening. I am in the dirt, down and dirty, pulling weeds every two days just like a real gardener, something I always wanted to be, but never had the confidence, time, or gumption to actually do.

Yesterday, my daughter and I ventured out to a nursery in Richmond called Annie’s Annuals. I was surprised to learn they were open. We probably shouldn’t have gone. There were kind of a lot of people. They stood roughly six feet apart in line to pay for their baby plants, but in the aisles while perusing rare flowers and the like, we were definitely passing within two feet of each other, if we were lucky.

We got out quickly, with a tray full of flowers, including some rare kind of Chinese shrub which captivated my daughter. It sports white blooms with red centers and nuts that taste like sweet chestnuts. We planted it today, as a determined rain misted down.

It’s dreary here today, but that helps me “shelter-in-place.” It makes it easier to turn inward and ignore the world.

“Due to the current health emergency… we had to reduce our staff…” drones Kathleen Lawton’s voice from my favorite jazz station. The shows by these die-hard jazz geeks that are normally on are not any longer on. Braver souls are showing up, or maybe they are simply playing re-runs from years or decades past. I don’t know.

This morning, I went to the bakery, Fournee, the relatively new bakery near the Claremont Hotel, which is closed.

There was a long line out the door, with folks obediently spaced about six feet apart. Some wore masks over their noses and mouths. I stayed in the car. Daisy was in the seat behind me, pushing her velvet snout into my hand. I watched the line for a few minutes while I listened to a depressing program on NPR about Jair Bolsonaro’s success mining the Amazon of its remaining gold, giving miners tacit approval to simply kill indigenous peoples in their way.

Another car pulled up so I swiftly slipped from my car to get in line. As I was crossing the street, however, I noticed the line that I thought ended with the woman in the red vest on the corner actually snaked around that corner and… more than 3/4 of the way down that block to the next corner.

It was laughable. And bizarre. “You people need to learn how to bake,” I thought arrogantly as I turned on my heel, jumped back in the car, and went home.

I made coffee cake from the New York Times Cooking site. Coffee cake with creme fraiche and pecans and cinnamon. It did the trick.

Now I have lamb stew on the oven, Spanish lamb stew in fact, with smoked paprika and tomatoes and a brilliant red bell pepper.

I spoke with one of my tango partners on the phone, who described how droplets from our breath hang in the air for fifteen minutes after we speak. Speak, mind you. Not sneeze. All this time, I figured I was safe because no one was sneezing or coughing around me. Of that, I was sure. Then Frank has to tell me that we can simply enter a room where an infected person had been, and breathe in the virus. That is not good.

I read last night how the singer-songwriter Adam Schlesinger — who wrote Stacey’s Mom and Way Back Into Love from my daughter’s favorite childhood movie Music and Lyrics — died two days ago from Covid-19. He was 52. He was on a respirator for a week.

I will be 52 in three weeks.

This gives me pause.

I’ve been obedient and careful. But not to the degree many are. My son is worried. He says, “Mom. Stop shopping. Stop getting groceries. We don’t need to go to the store every time we run out of bread. Stay home.”

Of course, he is right. I suppose he is right.

I read today in the New York Times how I should think about and express to my family my wishes should I end up suddenly needing a ventilator. Because, as the article so kindly imparted, by the time I need a ventilator, I’m seriously ill and will suffer permanent damage to my lungs and other organs as the doctors try desperately to calibrate how much oxygen to feed me through the machine without damaging my other organs.

The article said to think now about our wishes. Do we want to go on a respirator? For how long? Do we want to remain on a respirator when our kidney’s give out, and we’re also on dialysis? For how long? Etc.

Sobering indeed.

Which is why I think I’ll keep making my Hummingbird cocktails and eating cakes and watching whatever the hell I want on the various channels I have available to me.

Sure, I could be learning Arabic or training to do 100 pushups, or learning the history of jazz, or God forbid, trying to help others, like the young woman I saw at Safeway today with the soggy cardboard sign saying, “Please help. Trying to pay rent.” I did send B.’s barber some money. And I’ve paid Josefina for a month though she no longer comes to help me in the house.

We are doing what we can. But we are also scared and feeling careful. If the entire economy tanks, it will affect all of us.

My son says we should have bought a gun.

I don’t subscribe to that notion and don’t believe it will get that bad. But the situation does underline, with a bright line, how fragile our society is, how tenuous our existence. I don’t have a cow or chickens. I don’t have a vegetable garden. Just a few herbs. I’m depending on the “market” to keep it together. I’m depending on our police force to not all fall ill. We’re all depending on society to keep functioning.

And it will. I’m sure it will. But it does make you wonder… what kind of blow will be needed to knock everything off course? And when it does, how will we survive? What will be needed?

My son, who is 22, is already talking about how he will need land. He’s talking about self-sufficiency.

We are tied together, all of us, in a delicate web. You pull one thread, and a portion of the web breaks or sags, dumping its clinging denizens.

What do we need to do now to secure our lives, our existences, for the next time? To take care of one another? This crisis does raise some important questions that were too easy to ignore until now.

But, for now, I’m content to watch the brilliant Matthew McConaughey’s latest. It think it’s called The Beach Bum.

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