Oct 042020
 

October 4, 2020 —  Earlier in the week, I walked into our kitchen in the afternoon to find my husband in his pajamas, eating lunch.  I wore the pink flannel nightgown I had slept in the night before.  Two p.m.  I noticed that husband Herman was eating clam chowder out of a saucepan.

“We’ve completely deteriorated as human beings,” I said, “We’ve become animals.”

Herman said, “I did this because it’s one less dish for you to wash.”

Honestly, I couldn’t argue with that.

We’ve now been in quarantine since March 6.  Eight months? A hundred months?  What day is it?  Who am I?  How did we get here?  And like my life in 2020, there’s no narrative arc in this piece, just some ramblings and observations from where we are. We both fall into the high risk category.  He’s the shopper.  I only go out to doctor or dentist.

I know that I am beyond fortunate to have a roof over my head with enough space that my Beloved and I don’t drive each other crazy.  He is now fully retired, having completed his 32-year-career at a  local university.  And just in time, as the chaos of the world hits everyone, including small, private universities that struggled before the pandemic.  Herman has an online antiques business (www.randysgallery.com) and it keeps him busy enough that I get the free time I’ve learned to appreciate since my retirement three years ago this month.

We are cautious, but this week we made a six-hour round trip to a park in Greencastle, Indiana, to meet my father, my father’s girlfriend, and my baby brother.  We had not seen them since January 11th when we celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday and retirement.  My Dad will be ninety in December, God-willing.  In the months since we’ve seen Dad, he is more frail and his short-term memory is somewhat diminished.  But we’ve been quantaintining and he has been doing the same, so we enjoyed two of the best (masked) hugs a father and daughter could enjoy.  I cannot find words to express how joyful it was to see him.  He cried when we left, and my heart hurt.  But I am exceedingly grateful that my brother drove them to the park.

Even on a Tuesday in the middle of October when the park wouldn’t be crowed, I made sure we had shelter. I rented a shelterhouse. There was a sign on the shelter that MY NAME had reserved it..  But when we arrived there were about 10 or 12 elderly women having a Bible Study.  Oh, this could be delicate.  What would Jesus do?  Jesus would kick them out, as I did.  Actually, I gave them the option to stay in the large shelter.  But, they left almost immediately.  Was it the way I looked?   I wore my hot pink Heidi hat, the one with two braids that I bought in Iceland.  I had on clip-on, pop-up sunglasses on my purple, rhinestone-laden, new cateye glasses,  fingerless, arthritis gloves, and an oxygen tank strapped to my back.

This time, and possibly henceforth, I was wearing appropriate Foundation Garments. Now, you must be a woman of a certain age to get what I’m saying here.  This is what your mother or grandmother  call a bra.  Women of a certain age and of a certain size called it a Foundation Garment.  It’s what keeps The Girls of a certain age in line, shall we say.

I have known to refer to my rack as the “boobal region.”  For most of my incarceration in suburbia, I have gone without Said Foundation Garment, and this has caused unfortunate consequences.  I am now back wearing the blasted thing which keeps The Girl in their rightful place, because of the following event.

Last week I went into the kitchen to make a simple turkey and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise.  I put two slices of bread on a plate and covered one piece with mayonnaise.  On the other side, I placed a piece of Swiss cheese and turkey breast. I reached over the sandwich fixings to take out a handful of green grapes to eat with my lunch. At that moment, I created a work of art so fine that Jackson Pollock would likely rave about it.

The creation was a result of my not wearing what I should be wearing and something on the counter that shouldn’t be on the counter.

I have learned my lesson.   I’m moving forward, my career as an artist over.

All three of these incidents happened earlier in the week.  Every day I’ve sworn I was going to write about them.  But in this universe of horror, time flies by so quickly and escapes me.  Today, I said, today is the day, but as someone who wears oxygen for pulmonary issues, I got all caught up in the story about whether POTUS had dips in oxygen.  It’s not often this is talked about and I was interested.  It made me wonder what my daytime oxygen was, so I checked it and it was 89.  Damn, I thought, that’s pretty bad considering I’m on three liters of oxygen.  I did my pursed-lipped breathing and I checked it again, and it was only 92.  Then I started to get upset and worried about it.

At my last visit, my pulmonologist increased me from 2 to 3 liters.  These numbers were freaking me out.  I went out into the kitchen to check on a stew I’m making for dinner.  I passed Big Tanko (the 40-lb machine that I’m tethered to in the house) and noticed THAT HE WAS NOT TURNED ON.  Yes, this is a cautionary tale.  I am slowly losing my mind, but I’m fully dressed, oxygen saturation at 99% (just checked in) and grateful that those are my biggest problems. -30-

 

 

Sep 092020
 

September 9, 2020 —  I huff and puff up white marble staircases of the Doge’s Palace, over-the-top gold ceilings high above. Even on a rainy day, the gold-leaf reflects a shimmer in the mighty stairwells.  We cross over the Bridge of Sighs and see Casanova’s home in captivity, a lightless cell where he likely contemplated his conquests. The tour of the Palace is over, and we want to return to our hotel on the other side of Venice.

Friends told us not to come to Venice.  The Grand Canal, they said, is so dirty. We laughed, reminding them that we live a mile from the Ohio River, with its coffee-colored water that contains everything toxic from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and down river to us. Today is our third and last day before we go to Lake Como.

It’s raining as we step out onto the walkway to St. Mark’s Plaza along the seawall.  There’s a slight October chill in the air, a reminder that colder weather isn’t far away. My husband opens his black umbrella and covers both of us. Bluish-brown waves from the Venetian Lagoon crest over the wide sidewalk, forcing tourists to cling to the ornate outside wall of the Palace. Moored vaporetto’s and gondolas whack against the seawall, boats covered tightly with tarps sealed like plastic wrap over leftovers.

We fan out once reaching St. Mark’s, tourists scattering in all directions for safe places, hotels, restaurants, Harry’s Bar for the original Bellini. The pink lamps – five on a post – cast a spell on the plaza in the light rain.  Did Lord Byron see these same lamps in the rain? Where was his safe place to get out of the weather? Seagulls perch atop each lamp, as if arranged in advance, one bird to one lamp. The plaza itself is devoid of the usual crowds.  Tables are shoved to the side, their accompanying chairs upside down on them, puddles coagulating around each grouping.  A growing mist settles from the lagoon over the plaza, fingers of dampness reaching into dozens of little streets in three directions.

My husband has a headache, and we need to find a Pharmacia.  Which street will we choose? We quickly ascend steps in the rain, steps by now slippery. Most of our fellow tourists have disappeared.  We pass little restaurants, shops selling elaborate masks, crystal-colored rhinestone, and maroon feathers—no Pharmacia.

We cross small canals as we chart our course for the hotel, hoping to find headache relief along the way. We find ourselves near the Rialto Bridge.  Haven’t we crossed this already?  Are we walking in circles?  Asking directions with a language barrier is fruitless.  We follow the signs to the bridge over the Grand Canal nearest our hotel. Weren’t we just here? Three-hundred bridges in Venice, and to us, they all look the same, except for the famous Rialto with its distinct shape.  We find ourselves in a more touristy area – there’s a Hard Rock Café.    Ugly Americans in business also as out of place as the Starbucks at the  Louvre. Why are my expectations for Europe so different from our much younger America?

We find a Pharmacia, and my husband and the pharmacist negotiate his need for headache relief.

Finally, something looks familiar, a big bridge over the Grand Canal.  But we’re on the wrong side. We cross and believe we are getting closer.  A turn and another right beside a smaller canal, and the Hotel Papadopoli is ahead, sanctuary on a rainy day.

 

Aug 312020
 

August 31, 2020 –  A strange parallel exists for the years 1968 and 2020.  Much was written two years ago for the 50th anniversary of that seminal year, marked by assassinations, upheaval in the streets, and a contentious presidential election.

Our grandparents bought us a new RCA Victor color television set for Christmas 1967.  The set had four legs and a 26-inch screen.  Television programs on the three networks began broadcasting in 1965.  How excited we were to watch The Flintstones and The Jetsons in living color!

The excitement was short-lived.  In January, the North Vietnamese began escalating the war in Vietnam with what would later be known as the Tet Offensive.  In just two days at the end of the month, 232 American GIs were killed as the Communists took over Saigon.

Our family watched Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on the NBC news each night. For the first time, we saw the brutality and blood of this unpopular war, all in “living color,” as proclaimed by the NBC peacock.

Anti-war protestors marched in the streets in many cities and college campuses, especially after the “My Lai ma

ssacre,” where ground troops from Charlie Company killed about 500 Vietnamese villagers, on a tip that Viet Cong was in the area[1].

Several weeks later, Lyndon Baines Johnson announced on a nationally-televised evening speech, “I shall not seek nor will I accept your nomination for President.”

Four days after this speech, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. He was visiting the city to support a sanitation worker’s strike and shot and killed by James Earl Ray.  Rage rose throughout the country.  In Indianapolis, the capital city of my state, Robert Kennedy spoke to the  crowds who came into the streets after the assassination of King.  Kennedy’s healing words likely kept the protests from becoming riots.

RFK made several trips to Indiana for the May primary. On one trip, his motorcade traveled up to Indiana 9 from Indianapolis.  For reasons unknown, the motorcade pulled over near Duck-Creek Boone Elementary School in rural Madison County.  My husband, a fifth-grader, and his classmates shook hands with Robert Kennedy.  Kennedy was shot the night of his victory in the California primary, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.  He died the next morning, June 6.

With Kennedy out of the race, Hubert Humphrey, the current vice president for LBJ, moved forward as a candidate.  According to a reporter from New York Magazine, Humphrey was approached personally by Anatoly Dobrygin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, with an offer of support in his campaign.

From the magazine, “In 1968, Moscow feared that the staunchly anti-communist Richard M. Nixon would be elected. To forestall that, the Kremlin decided to reach out to Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey. As Anatoly Dobrygin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, revealed in his memoir, “In Confidence,” two decades ago: “The top Soviet leaders took an extraordinary step, unprecedented in the history of Soviet-American relations, by secretly offering Humphrey any conceivable help in his election campaign — including financial aid.”[2]

The Republican in the race, former Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, was Richard M. Nixon, who ran on the “law and order” ticket.  With Nixon’s election came a new breed of Republicans, those elected through the “southern strategy,” a successful attempt to wean southerners away from traditional Democratic leanings.  Many southerners were unhappy with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and began to vote Republican. During his campaign, Nixon refused a query about how he would handle the war, stating that any comments on his part might undermine the current president.

The Democratic convention in Chicago was upstaged by violence outside its doors.  Thousand of college students and anti-war protestors came to the Windy City, only to be met by Mayor Richard Dailey’s violent police response.  The TV screen was filled each night with bloody scenes, as groups like the yippies, the Black Panthers, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) marched in the streets against the war.

I remember the convention clearly as if it happened yesterday. Because it was in Chicago, only a few hours from home and a place we frequently visited, it felt close. Humphrey was ultimately chosen, only to be defeated by a jubilant Nixon, likely because of the war in Vietnam.  (History tells us that Nixon didn’t cut back on the war and that his “Vietnamization plans” and peace talks were ineffective.  Many more young men would lose their lives before the fight ultimately ended years later.)

Two young medal winners at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommy Smith, and John Carlos, were thrown off the U.S. Olympic team after bowing their heads and raising a black-gloved fist (the Black Power symbol).  Their silent October protest, which today might be seen differently, made them heroes in the black community and shunned by everyone else.

If Americans watched evening television in the 1960s, most were limited to three network channels.  My family lived in a rural area served by the UHF band and three network channels.  No PBS channels existed yet.  And our service depended on a functioning antenna, stuck high on the roof of our home.  So, we watched political speeches, the conventions, and the Olympics, and we would watch the election night coverage when Nixon beat Humphrey.

Finally, though many people don’t even remember it, there was a pandemic.  The “Hong Kong” flu was derived from the Type the flu that still sickens many people each winter.  More than 100,000 Americans died.

Fifty-two years later, cable and streaming offer watchers multiple options. Americans don’t view the same three voices I heard as a child., ABC, NBC, and CBS.  Though the year 1968 may offer parallels to our current year, we perceive our current year through entirely different lenses and many more voices.

So many terrible things happened in 1968, and many naive American eyes were opened by witnessing violent activities and their aftermath.  Yet, for many Americans of color, this did not represent a change.  Persons of color had experienced Jim Crow, the burning of Tulsa, and the Colfax riots, and lynchings, and horrendous injustice.  Just this week, the New York Times featured the Colfax events in Louisiana.  In 1873, 150 men were murdered by a militia, ignoring the 13th and 14th Amendments and the Civil Rights law of 1866.[3]

The years offer parallels, but what lessons can we learn?  Does violence accomplish anything but beget more violence?  I must admit I’m terrified as we move into the last third of the year, as our discourse and actions become more unhinged.  I was 11 years old, a fifth-grader in 1968, and now I’m a near-senior, retired, and white-headed, still watching “in living color.”

I can’t look into a crystal ball and predict what the future will hold.  But, by looking at the past, we can gauge some clues.  Today we look at the Vietnam War period as a blemish on our history, an unnecessary war where 55,000 primarily middle class and poor Americans lost their lives.  The “law and order” president ended up resigning, and many of his aides and assistants went to prison.

I remember one more moment about 1968, another television program where the world came together.  But, this time, it wasn’t to watch bloody American carnage. On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut read from the Bible, the Book of Genesis, as he looked back toward the earth, on a trip around the moon.

To see the earth as Borman and his crew, William Anders and Jim Lovell must have been a fantastic, life-changing scene.  And due to technology, we who are earth-bound shared in the glorious moment.  Years later, in Florida at a hospital fundraising event, I heard Lovell speak of his gratitude that he was on that trip. He describe the emotions and the colors of seeing earth from where no man had seen our blue planet, frp, 180,000 miles away.

For the 11-year-old viewer, watching on the RCA color television, the view of earth from above was mesmerizing. Do you remember?  Did you watch it live?  Did you feel the smallness of our blue orb and the largeness of the universe?  Did you feel more connected to fellow earth-riders?  I did, and I never looked at the world the same again. Today we have the Hubble telescope, and we can see universes beyond universes, but in 1968 Borman’s “Earth Rising” meant for the first time, the world saw itself as it is.  In our living room, we have a poster made from a Hubble picture, of endless stars stretching into an endless universe and universes beyond.

Can we see ourselves today as we are?  Can we honestly look at our planet and know that we’ve done our best?  Think about these things as you cast your vote in the presidential election.  What will you leave for your children and grandchildren?

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/my-lai-massacre-takes-place-in-vietnam

[2] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/10/1968-election-won-by-nixon-still-haunts-our-politics.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/28/opinion/black-lives-civil-rights.html

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