by Ken Katz
Allegedly, opposites attract. In which case, my marriage to Ann Botzman is a textbook example. I won’t go into details. Let it suffice to say that sometimes, her yin is my yang but at other times, it isn’t. Despite those differences, although our marriage has thus far survived fifty-one years, as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded and as we continue to shelter in place, this may prove to be the ultimate test of that relationship.
By way of explanation, I should admit that, as an adult, I’ve always been a bit of a germaphobe but, as I’ve learned more and more about the horrific nature of this disease, those inclinations have ramped up exponentially. The last time I set foot inside a place of business was March 16 when I bought a case of beer from Buckingham Wine and Spirits. When that ran out three weeks later, I had another case delivered to our door. I continue to obsessively wipe down groceries and packages and, for a while, totally ignored my mail which I ultimately realized was unwise when I went to Lin Jia Asian Kitchen to pick up a to-go order and Marcia politely informed me that my credit card had been rejected. For the record, the good folks at Bank of the West got me back in MasterCard’s good graces in record time.
In all fairness to Ann, standing in line last month for a full hour at the Safeway on Grand convinced her to follow my super-cautious lead, but more recently cracks in the armor have been appearing. She’s spoken longingly about friends our age who go shopping weekly and haven’t fallen ill. She reminds me that no one we know has had the coronavirus, so we needn’t worry quite so much. And I, in turn, insist that, tragically, it’s only a matter of time. I was pleased when she made fabric masks for all our family but less pleased when I realized that wearing a mask has emboldened her to attend neighborhood street gatherings and take long walks with friends while not necessarily practicing social distancing since they’re “both wearing masks.”
Not me! I’m continuing to hunker down and use all my newly available free time to catch up on delayed yard maintenance, while also getting better acquainted with my new phone/camera with which I captured the above images of a California native Mimulus, a Euphorbia, and a fasciated branch on a Pride of Madeira that was totally hidden from view. I’m willing to settle for these simple pleasures while looking at the longer-term picture and doing my best to avoid the almost unthinkable short-term consequences.
In my mind, the dynamics the two of us are experiencing is a microcosm of what’s happening worldwide – the forces arguing for continued vigilance arrayed against those who want to get back to work and to play. To be clear, these two options are not necessarily universal. Low-income workers (especially the immigrant community and a disproportionate percentage of people of color) don’t have the luxury of sheltering in place long-term – and they are probably less likely to avail themselves of home delivery service for groceries and meals. In addition, those individuals deemed to be providing “essential services” are, by definition, required to show up for work. To them we owe a huge debt of gratitude, with special love reserved for the EMTs, doctors, nurses, and hospital support staff who are in the heart of the maelstrom as well to those who are keeping us fed.
The other variable in the equation is, of course, one’s age and health. If I were twenty years younger and weren’t dealing with medical concerns, I’d be out line-dancing at the block party on Friday with the best of them … or, at minimum, just being sociable. My point is that, if you’re in similar circumstances, do whatever you possibly can to stay safe. If you need assistance with shopping or other errands, contact Oakland at Risk. If you’re one of the socially isolated seniors Joanne Devereaux writes about in this issue, don’t turn away from friends, neighbors, and family who are there to provide support. Most importantly, stay safe and start focusing on the November election when we need EVERYONE on board to vote and to help get others to do the same. In the longer term, we also need to be thinking about the future of this planet. In the conclusion to my “Giving Thanks” essay in last month’s News, I wrote:
We can only wish that the very worst projections for this COVID-19 tragedy turn out to be unfounded so that we can soon return not just to normal but hopefully to a better, more equitable, more caring world.
In retrospect, I’d argue that a much stronger case can be made for a far more drastic course. As consequential as the current pandemic now seems, it may be a harbinger of what’s yet to come. Like the “hundred-year” floods, fires, and hurricanes that now ravage this planet on a regular basis, other plagues may be looming on the horizon. Still further down the road, my granddaughter’s generation is going to be facing the true consequences of climate change with drought and rising seas causing economic and political upheaval worldwide.
One of the few glimmers of hope arising from the COVID-19 crisis is the evidence that, when push comes to shove, radical change is feasible. Our experience in Oakland is matched in various locations throughout the world. The skies are cleaner. We hear birds chirping, maybe because they’re happier or maybe because the constant drone from Highway 580 that drowned them out is substantially diminished. We also see people reclaiming the streets – biking, walking, running, skating, playing frisbee – not to mention the presence of wildlife as graphically illustrated by this “Deer, Deer, Me!” video that I shot a couple of weeks ago.
Stay healthy. Stay safe while remembering to support your local neighborhood businesses.