Simon Says Snitches Get Rewards

Our very recent future was a blank canvas on which opportunistic politicians projected gleeful doom scenarios. Speculation was served up as certainty.  Grim was not dire enough a term. We needed a whole new vocabulary to do justice to the unfolding horror to come.

A last will and testament from my father in Mendocino County landed in my inbox, outlining protocols for his when they put me on a ventilator end of life choices. Ten days ago the county health commissioner predicted 1800 deaths, from a rural population of 100,000, when there were two cases in the entire county. Want to know how many there are today? One. Zero hospitalizations.

Our present is a War Against Facts in which the Clerisy, very much enjoying wearing the shoes of power, have doubled down on their edicts, extending them into June and enlarging their scope to include travel between residences, the closure of all parks and trails, stepping into the sunshine without a mask, or arresting paddleboarders alone on empty waves…and doing so as though the original predictive model remained valid.

In New York harbor, epicenter of Wuhan virus,  the hospital ship USNS Comfort sits nearly empty, as does the 2500 bed makeshift hospital at the Javits Center. Total patients seen as of yesterday: 118.  Last week was the peak of the bell curve.  Discharges outnumbered admissions. Thankfully we did not come close to running out of ventilators. There was no ICU care in the hallways, no triage under a tent in the parking lot.  The high-water mark was reached and the levees held with room to spare.

Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London, the Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow of viral prognostication, posited 2,2oo,ooo death in the United States.  Ferguson had a history of erroneous publicity-seeking disease modeling but this didn’t deter the media from airing his claims or lead to questioning governors in the U.S. who used his charts, the exact same chart for every state, to serve as a visual backdrop for shelter-in-place orders.

So we are now at 19,000 deaths in America, and will probably top out around 40,000, well within the range of a bad flu season.  Wuhan never really took off in Los Angeles with, blessedly, only 242 fatalities in the county.  Sprawl and auto dependency worked in our favor for once.  It’s also possible the virus is not as lethal and more widespread than assumed.

Prudence: postponing Coachella
Caution: closing bars and restaurants
Folly: shutting down the economy

The running tally on the cable news chyron doesn’t differentiate between recovered cases, asymptomatic ones, those who have the flu, and the very small percentage who will need hands-on medical care.  The hospitalization rate is the key metric, but one has squint to find it the furious gloom.  A run on the hospitals is the only medical and politically justifiable reason for shelter in place. Once that threat passes we need to re-open the economy with all deliberate speed.  In most areas of the country, it should not have been shut down to begin with.

Instead, we are treated to governors and mayors and functionaries declaring themselves regent, in an escalating competition of Simon Says, both in what they demand and how long they intend to demand it.   This is not being conducted in a spirit of shared sacrifice, for those insisting on months-long lockdowns are not doing without a paycheck.

We have arrived at an inflection point in Democracy, amputating our arm to cure an infected fingernail.

The willingness of my fellow Angelenos to succumb to hysteria thus far is disheartening to me.  There is a difference between Law and tyranny and good citizenship is knowing the difference.  Stop wearing a mask when you go on a walk, people. We are not sheep.  The more healthy folk are out and about, the sooner we develop herd immunity.  Staying inside is only prolonging matters.

This Good Friday, instead of turning in our neighbor, let us celebrate resilience. When you get back out there, cough on someone. Do it for America.

Things To Do In The Valley When You’re Not Yet Dead

Here’s something you can do. Queue up at Whole Foods first thing in the morning and consider the novelty of economic martial law…only to find the bread aisle empty.   I have rather pointed thoughts as to the motivation of the hacks who diverted my beloved Los Angeles down this road.  In the spirit of shared sacrifice and heeding the counsel of Mrs. U, I am putting my inner Tom Paine to the side for the time being.

Shorter UpintheValley: Toilet paper is the new bottle of wine.

Instead, let us consider the glory of homemade bread.   Did you know you can make an entire batch of dough for $2?  I didn’t.  One batch = three or four loaves. Shape to suit your whimsy. Warm bread fresh from the oven tastes like nothing else, and for 65 cents a loaf makes the house smell like nostalgia for a childhood memory you never had.     Why didn’t we always do this? Free Time, our abundant new houseguest, that’s why.

Maybe overall health will improve, she said optimistically. Perhaps people will get tired of empty calories and consume less processed food from the market.  Maybe they’ll model reading for their children and both parents will tuck them in at night. 

And he replied: People will continue to be themselves, only more so, and in a righteous mood.

You can also do this:  rent a 20-foot bin, break out the sledgehammer, the pick, and the prybar and dig up your asphalt driveway.   House arrest is the panacea for long-postponed projects. Taxing on the lower lumbar,  restorative of the animal spirits.

You can take to the mountains with the dogs to discover five hundred other people were inspired to visit the same trail at the same time. Maybe I should try baking a banana cream pie, you hear a woman announce to her husband as she passes. No, you really shouldn’t, he replies.  I promise I’ll eat it, you butt in, to collective laughter, and for a moment our metropolis is a curious polite little village where everyone lives six feet apart.

You can read and read and read. I wanted to get back into John Le Carre but the Los Angeles public library has him under lockdown, so I’m settling for E.M. Forster, who has not aged as well as the film adaptations.

You can watch and watch and watch, and soon enough Narcos: Mexico and Mindhunter are done, and then one is left thinking of Nemesis and Hubris and their role in our self-inflicted moment.

Yeah, this guy. Mr. 56%. But that’s a whole other essay I promised I wouldn’t write.

The Distance Between Us

There are, as of yesterday, 39 Wuhan Coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.  Twenty-two were in a single nursing home in Kirkland, WA.   The median age of victims: 80.  Most had correlated health problems. But now you can’t buy canned soup or bottled water in Van Nuys.  There is no rice left at 99 Ranch market.  Our answer to the long odds of infection is consumer-driven scarcity.

Since Wednesday:
-Broadway
-Disneyland
-MLB spring training
-and the NCAA tournament have gone on hiatus.
On Monday, LA Unified is joining them, setting the table for an unprecedented child care crisis among hourly wage earners.

We are in the grip of maximal measures.  We won’t be using any more toilet paper should the virus reach the San Fernando Valley than if it didn’t, yet we buy out every roll in the store anyway because it feels like we are doing something.  We are under the sway of cable news, where catastrophism prevails, everyone is a Fake Expert for Five Minutes, and all roads lead to the Oval Office, as though there was a special button underneath a desk called Pandemic Wing Attack Plan R, press here to release whup-ass.  

Wash your hands.  Cover your cough. Stop touching your face.  Settle in for some binge-watching.   First principles, from actual epidemiologists, now arouse scorn. That’s all?  There has to be more to it than that!   Don’t tell me about washing!  What’s happening? Who do we blame?  

Mrs. UpintheValley just poked her head in the door, greatly agitated, to announce the LA Public Library system will be closed for the rest of the month.  She gathered the books on the coffee table into her arms like Diego Rivera’s flower girl, assessing by touch if they were sufficient to last the duration.

This just in: MacLeod is no longer serving peanuts.   Social distancing has officially begun in earnest.

That looks to be about six feet apart.  Like contented canines let us disappear inside our homes…for the places we normally gather for solace are now off-limits. Let us use this crowded fortnight, after the diversions of wine, fornication and Netflix are exhausted, to consider how isolated we have become from one another. Maybe this contagion can be repurposed.