Thanksgiving Week.

No full-scale stay at home, don’t bother going anywhere close everything lockdown, just a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am lasting a month, hopefully to take the impact away from the Winter surge of the pandemic. Nobody is paying attention, because fatigue has set in.

It’s eight months since the first lockdown and it seems that in that time, five years of events have occurred. From constant denial of the severity of the virus by the current administration to increased activities by hate groups, none of this activity is positive- unless you’re fond of the idea of the dystopia that we’ve been promised through Scripture, science fiction and video games. I’m not.

When I returned to work following a mystery ailment, I fell in love with the deserted streets and freeways that resulted from the lockdown. places that were normally thronged with rush hour traffic at eight in the morning were deserted. See for yourself: This is J Street, Downtown’s main drag.

I was standing in the lane on a green light.
Deserted airport AM/PM

Above is the AM/PM at the Sacramento Airport. It’s open, but there are no patrons, because no one is flying.

It’s late November, and traffic is up to levels that are close to pre-lockdown, and it looks like another stay-at-home order may be coming.

Sigh. so done with this year.

November.

Jenny was at the store last night, looking for bed monitors for her mother, who has now been moved back to the care facility a block from our house. The Rite Aid didn’t have monitors in stock, so Amazon it is.

“Could you pick up some Just In Case candy?” I asked over the phone. She was next to the grocery, so it’s just a few steps over to grab a bag of candy. In years past, it’d be two or three bags and we’d almost be out of treats at the end of the evening- I’m a generous hander-outer. Many times especially at the end of the evening, I’ll hit bags twice, or offer seconds to revelers walking back down the block. Any leftovers go to the top of the fridge, taking up residence…well, here:

Raisin Bran has a half-life, right?

The boxes of bags in the bowl are cunningly placed to discourage casual attempts at snacking. Or maybe I just need to clean the top of the fridge.

I’d have picked the bag with Snickers.

This is the Just In Case bag, and you can see that it has barely been touched. 2020 hasn’t been good to group celebrations of any sort and Halloween is no exception. While I was driving through the streets leading to my house after picking up the pizza that I ordered, I saw only one family group, a couple of parents and some toddlers. There were also a couple of tables set up, but mostly the street was quiet. The houses, save one mid-block, were undecorated. For the past five years, our neighbors across the street and we have set up tables and chairs on our opposing driveways to enjoy the usually mild late October night and the costumes and the company of our friends. Scott and I would be on one driveway, while Eileen and Jenny were on the other. We’d set up our decorations in about thirty minutes, strings of lights, tables holding bowls of candy and our drinks. Some years it’d be beer and wine, but recently it’s been sparkling water or something non-alcoholic.

I was excited to see that Halloween was setting up to be very special in 2020. A Saturday, the annual resetting of clocks to give us an extra hour of revelry…my scheduled day off followed to help reset whatever overindulgence I may have committed. Then covid came, cancelling pretty much everything, including my anticipated overindulgence. I had one bottle of Old Rasputin, some pizza, then bed. I was looking forward to the costumes, from the toddlers with the Disney themes to the angsty teens dressed as plague doctors to the folks that dressed in sports kit who dragged in later, and had to prod their shy children up to the the ferocious looking old guys handing out the booty.

Nope. Covid has put the kaibosh on anything fun. Fuck Covid, and fuck 2020 in particular.

Jenny and Eileen spoke briefly about setting up for Halloween, but owing to Eileen’s conditions, and the recommendations of public health authorities, they decided against. I’m good with it.

So here it is, the second of November. I’ve just wrapped up the frustrating claim form for my late father’s life insurance policy, and finished my ballot for tomorrow’s Election. Jenny’s still working, and once she’s done and walks her commute from her desk to the T.V. room, she’ll vote as well, then we’ll take our ballots and drive over to the drop-off box a few miles from our house. California has had permanent absentee voting for years, and it works. Jenny just authorised me to drop her ballot, so I’ll dash over to the Raley’s to drop it off. To secure things further, we residents of Sacramento County can register to see where our ballots are in the voting process. I just signed into mine, as did Jenny, and we’ll get updates whenever our ballot changes locations.

She’s voted!
Registering to track my ballot.
The drop.

The Raley’s that I dropped the ballots at was a ten minute drive from our house. It was the most accessible, being open until 2300, where the locations nearest us closed at 1600, since they were in County and State buildings, and I really didn’t want to hazard polling places tomorrow, since this election promises to be at the very least, interesting.

Two months left. I should be more anxious, but I’m not. I’m tired, burned out and fully expecting a visit from either Godzilla, Cthulu, or something stranger, like the killer bunny rabbit…or herds of the infernal beastlets nibbling the heads off of unsuspecting passers-by.

Let’s see how tomorrow turns out.

Grief.

I’ve not been interested in much lately, at least since pops passed. I go to work, I do well, I come home, nap, make dinner, sleep and repeat. I’m not reading much and this is the first writing I’ve done in a while. Like many who are grieving, I’ve had dreams of my father, one where he told me to have his mail stopped. I also saw this:

That’s pops, in his natural habitat.

I looked up the address of the house, went to street view and there he was, puttering in the garage. This was probably taken around ten or so years ago, when pops had his late brother’s Honda and his own BMW.

The BMW was long gone by the time that dad died, replaced by a Camry that my niece drives. The Honda had preceded the Bimmer, totaled in a left turn accident.

The grief caught me unaware and surprised me. I’ve been feeling anhedonic these past few days, uninterested in my normal diversions of reading and similar amusements. Sleep and work are my only distractions, and I need to accept this as normal for a while. All this against the backdrop of the mother-in-law’s own waxing and waning while in the confines of a care facility.

I guess if you were going to choose a year, 2020 would be it for all of the parental exits. The year is awful already, so why not add a little grief into the mix?

Pops.

Brawley, California is an eight hour drive from Sacramento, at least according to Google. We all know that with most cars, that’s about three tanks full of gasoline, maybe a splash into a fourth tank at 582 miles.

Pops’ parents.

No one up here has really heard of Brawley or know that it’s a 45 minute drive to Mexicali, Mexico, or that it’s right next to the Salton Sea. See for yourself . All I knew of Brawley as a boy was that my gravel-voiced Great Uncle of Falstaffian Aspect, Faustino and his always impeccable wife, my Tìa Connie, lived there.

I’d forgotten that Pops, as we kids called him, was also born in Brawley. 1938 was the year that the birth certificate listed. Maybe I asked him once in the middle of a hot summer afternoon in Delano, standing on the driveway of my grandmother’s house, pretty close to the fields that he worked in as a young man, those fields that gave rise to a farmworker’s movement in the early sixties, fields that were by then over a couple of decades behind him. I must have forgotten, because I thought he was born in Earlimart, eight miles North of Delano. I blame the Delano heat.

He went by Jack, because it was easier for Anglophones to say than his given name, Joaquin. He was the eldest of four siblings. The other three, in order: Edward, Robert, and Olivia. My Grandfather, Joaquin Sr, was a still operator at the Perelli-Minetti winery in Delano, while my Grandmother Raquel worked at the Woolworths in Delano.

Pops was fortunate enough to have come of age during a rare period of peace, doing a short stint in the Marine Corps Reserve, where he wheeled around in quite possibly the oddest bit of mobile artillery ever devised, the Ontos tank destroyer. After the reserve duty, he took an associates degree in Criminal Justice from the College of the Sequoias. The Central Valley that he grew up in didn’t have much in the way of opportunity for him, so he moved up to Sacramento.

He worked at the then California Intelligence & Investigations, which became something else, but it wasn’t important because he’d hired on with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, whose academy was held in a park. William Land, maybe? He was also working part-time in the hardware department at Sears and amassed a tool collection that set abnormally high standards for cleanliness and organization.

Growing up on a farm as pop had, you learn to and do a lot with little and to repurpose things. He kept a stash of things under his workbench in old grape lugs, each lug marked on the end as to contents. Electric motors, wires, pipe fittings, the lugs numbered about twenty. Many cool things were constructed from the contents of those lugs.

His pleasures were simple and sentimental, Baseball, Football, listening to KNBR while watching the game; these were all things he did as a boy. A perfect evening in his later years was going to the stadium in Elk Grove to watch his grandsons play football, followed by a trip to a pizza joint or to home. Sports was always on at his house, and I could never understand how someone could get so excited for a team with all of the shouting and carrying on.

As with so many other lives, pops’ history could fill a book. Not the life I observed and was a part of but those spaces where I wasn’t present, where he could simply be Jack Jr., fond of good looking cars and prettier women.

He died Tuesday. It was the fifteenth of September, 2020. His body simply gave up after a knee replacement surgery. He wanted so badly to be even a decade younger, to be able to move without thought and to prune the citrus, to mow his lawn, to fuss over things in the garage, to play with his grandkids and great grandchildren. Sis tried to wake him.

His body, even under the shroud of the blanket, wasn’t there. It was a husk of a human, a container for a spirit that had left in the night, passing out through eyes wide open and a final breath that was heard only by all of the Gods of Creation. We four stood witness as the attendants from the funeral home took him away, contours of limbs that lived well and long, a glimpse of his nose, angular feet covered with socks against the cold in the dead of a scorching summer. Smaller, frail, gone.

If anything, he was constant in appearance.

July.

Markochi.

It was about 0130 when I woke from a dream with a near overwhelming sense of dread. The dream was nothing out of the ordinary for me, a bunch of guys, a car- an Alfa Romeo of unknown model in this instance and doom pervading the scene. Our bedroom was unusually dark, perhaps because the yard light that Cecil keeps burning in his back yard 24/7 was out. The radio was also off, and the only ambient light was from the battery charger plugged into the wall of my bathroom, feeding the rapidly aging cellphone battery that I have many copies of, because old phones are power hogs and batteries are inefficient.

I was thirsty, sweaty and overfull from a late meal of tortellini, paired with browned and crumbled sausage, a mozzarella salad and avocados, all of the protein probably responsible for my sleepless night. I rotated my legs off of the bed and sat on the mattress, scratching my head and then wandered into the kitchen, where I had some water. Walking back to the bedroom, I examined my feelings a bit more. It wasn’t dread, but fear.

I’m certain my stuffed-up nose when I woke from the dream contributed, but I was afraid to return to sleep, like a character in a Stephen King story- Once asleep, those malevolent forces could trap me and keep me in their land, where I couldn’t leave. So no sleep. A bit of reading, focusing on my overstuffed belly, wondering why it was so dark, getting up to fill (or drain) water, some casual surfing, worry, fear. I slept for a bit at around 5 a.m., waking at 7. I texted my manager at work; I’d be back Friday.

It’s the 15th of July. Marco’s funeral is tomorrow. He died on the 4th, of cancer. I broke my thumb changing a tire on the 2nd, and the a/c went out over the weekend, the hottest so far this month, naturally. So life hasn’t been at all ordinary this July, all of those events happening against a backdrop of a pandemic that many conservative leaning types feel is a hoax, an incompetent and his flunky crew steering the ship of state, a Presidential contest happening in November and the decline of the Baby Boomers as the dominant social group and the attendant unrest- just your normal societal reset under way, nothing more. No wonder I was afraid to go back to sleep and a bit depressed.

I don’t mourn for my primo Marco, cancer is a bastard, his suffering is done. I cry for his folks, my aunt and uncle, tío y tía. I was a boy when they were married in the church in Delano that my family had a habit of having weddings in. (Some say tradition, I say habit.) Marco was baptized in the Church attached to the school that I took the first four years of my elementary education in. I was never really close to Marco, not as close as my brother and sister were- Suzanne especially, since Marco was 2 years younger than she.

Marco always called my sis “Doña”, an honorific reserved for Hispanic women of A Certain Age or older, but my sis was in her thirties when he started using that much to her annoyance, so she started calling Marco “mijo” (mee-ho), a term of endearment for a male child. We guys just used the suffix “-bob”, as in Marco-bob, or the diminutive Markochi, Roman-bob, Damian-bob…Bob being short for baboso- thick-headed, or a fool. Terms of closeness and endearment for guys.

Marco’s service is on the 16th. Now today, because I can be a slow writer at times. Because of covid, it’s taking place outdoors at a well-established Catholic Cemetery, masks required, no children.

Death is supposed to go in a particular order: Your grandparents, your parents, you, then your children. Cancer doesn’t care.

Just When You Thought…

It was getting back to normal, with the protests fading to a steady background noise, 45 tweeting his usual inanities, Memorial Day leading us into summer, and California loosening the restrictions…Covid cases climb again. Not only California; cases surged in states that were resistant to early closing and physical distancing measures.

As of today, Arizona, Florida and Texas are the latest centers of the outbreak. Our governor has ordered that bars in seven counties be closed, with bars in an additional eight counties asked to do so voluntarily. Sacramento County ordered its bars to close this afternoon. We were among the eight voluntary counties, our public health chief ordered the shutdown.

Deep inside my cynical soul, I was secretly hoping I could have a Bukowski afternoon again, whiling away the hours in a dark room with cool drinks. That, like so many other things, won’t be happening anytime soon. It’s what put me into a sad mood yesterday and today.

Old normal is gone. No amount of play acting or hoping will bring it back. That saddens me, as well as many millions of my fellow humans, but as I’ve been saying, this is a reset. For not only society, but ourselves. It’s not gonna be easy, but let’s give it a shot, hey?

Despair.

It’s a normal feeling to have when society is in the process of turning itself around. Everyone is confused, angry, fearful, waiting, like I am for things to get back to normal.

Except that the old normal is gone. We’re busy constructing a new normal, with dissent, protest and violence, the disenfranchised among us letting those in power know that they’ve had enough, that what America is evolving to become will include them, because they’re Americans, not some exotic that needs to be observed from afar.

The road ahead will be rocky.

Sitting Here

Overwhelmed with sadness and grief. During the declaration of the shelter-in-place order, I was at home, sick with god knows what. During my two week bench time, I tried to absorb as much as I could while feeling like crap. Emerging from the period, I came into a surreal world of quiet streets, no traffic, shuttered gathering places- anyplace that could help spread the virus was shuttered, except for eateries and bars and grocers. Food is life, booze helps dull the pain some. As the months dragged along, some got restive and blamed the Governor for imposing common sense measures; measures that had the side effect of cratering a robust economy.

About a week ago, this:

The Killing of George FLoyd. (Al Jazeera photo)

In years past it may have gone unnoticed, this crime, but with cellphone cameras ubiquitous and social media always clamoring for content, resulted in the suspension and then firing of the cops involved in this travesty. But like with so many other deaths of black folks while in police custody, an enraged community took to the streets, so much so that the National Guard was brought out. And it wasn’t just in Minneapolis, either- about 100 cities had demonstrations that sometimes stretched for a couple of days.

All of this against the background of Covid. All of this with a childish despot in the White House, propped up by sycophants and toadies. I’m sad, and a little scared because I don’t know where its gonna end.

Let’s hope for the best. Resets don’t always go as planned.

Reverie.

I believe this is a work I found on Reddit. I’m sharing it because it’s beautiful and stirs a feeling, memories of years past. Here’s what I said about it on my FB feed:

 I was struck by this painting because it reminded me of travels, both real and in dreamtime. A younger me could be found driving something cranky and European- my Alfetta sedan or the 105/115 that a buddy and I would road trip out to the coast with, or a 280zx, same. The nights like these, the slow dawn of a fall or winter morning, still wet from the rain that had been drawn with the clouds further inland, coffee still hot from the pot in the market, cutting the sweetness of the apple fritter that I’d bought along with the cuppa…Maybe I’ll do it again at some point, but there’s no recreating magic, no planning for this; This just happens, and the memories are sometimes amplified by a random image one saves.

About sums it up.