Candid Camera

Early on in the pandemic, various meeting leaders—whether Zoom or Teams—asked participants to put on their cameras.  The point was that, missing seeing other people at the office, the video feed was psychologically reassuring.  I get that.  I began working remotely before the pandemic broke out and I’m still reeling from being ahead of the curve for once in my life.  Does it always feel this giddy?  In any case, we’ve got to the point where many people simply do not put on their cameras, even in small meetings.  Since we are trained for diversity we know that some people simply don’t want us to know how they look on a certain day (or perhaps how cluttered their background is).  And that’s perfectly fine.  It does make me think how artificial work in the office is.

At least you could see this kind.

You put yourself together a certain way to be seen by other people.  In fact, we sometimes even put “dress codes” together for work.  I even had an employer once say dress was “business casual,” only wrinkles were unacceptable.  I don’t iron my clothes, so I guess that particular employer was warning not to let them sit in the clothes basket too long after taking them from the dryer (or clothes line).  In any case, now that we’ve come to realize we may not always look our best, we have an option to leave the camera off.  How many days commuting into the office did we feel this way but were given no choice?  Since leaving academia I’ve never had an office at work.  I was a midlife cubicle denizen.  I never liked the idea. Who looks their best after getting out of bed at 3:00 a.m.?

Being on view isn’t the same as working productively.  The pandemic has also taught us that going into the office is often not necessary at all.  If they supply the tech, which we’d need anyway, we will do our work without Big Brother watching over us all the time.  We’ve become, it seems to me, more humane.  Turning the camera off is a way of perhaps admitting I didn’t sleep well last night.  Or something’s really bothering me and I don’t feel like smiling falsely.  Or any number of other things that might put us in the place of wanting some space.  For once now we have it.  It is my hope that once things start to get “back to normal” that we will have learned some lessons.  We can treat people more like humans want to be treated and still contribute to the bottom line.  It’s amazing how much people will do if they’re treated like human beings rather than cogs in the capitalist machine.


The Heart of Memorial Day

The Memorial Day will be a somber one for the many people who’ve lost someone due to Covid-19.  Even as those who know that science can help to bring a pandemic under control have been vaccinated,  it is too late for millions who didn’t make it.  Memorial Day weekend, for many of us in northern climes, has been unseasonably cold.  Around here it’s been rainy too.  The official kick-off to summer seems to be a memorial to the long winter of 2020 and ’21.  It’s also hopeful, because things are starting to get better.  Having an organized national response helps, even as the Fascist Party is gaining strength.  “Memorial” means looking back.  Remembering the past.  I’m saddened, shocked, and distraught that one political party has refused to look at how insidious fascism is, and how it always starts under the guise of righteousness.  Remember this.

We tend to think of Memorial Day as a play day.  Indeed, the number of boats being towed as I’ve been out driving attests to the plans of many.  We’re ready for life to return to normal, but even that involves memory.  Remembering what was normal.  We have never been a fascist nation.  That’s not a memory but a sick future dream.  Those who attempt insurrection and then block any investigation into it can’t have the good of the nation at heart.  It should be a play day.  It should be frolicking in the sun.  Instead I’m wondering how we’ll ever stop this apparently inevitable evil that has taken over a country formed as a democracy.  Has it stopped raining yet?

Although I wasn’t close to him, my father was a veteran.  He fought for the cause of liberty, at least as it was understood before Trump’s America.  He was, according to his family, never the same after seeing war.  Bureaucrats, fat from the monies they pocket from special interest groups and lobbies, seem to have forgotten.  They’ve forgotten the frighteningly large national cemetery at Arlington.  They’ve forgotten that we fought to stop the very thing they are now promoting in their own country.  I’m sorry, Mr. Lincoln, these dead may have died in vain after all.  I had hopes of warm days and leisurely outdoor activities as the end of May rolled along.  Either that, or at least being able to get out and take care of all the yard work that’s been piling up over the past several weeks.  I wonder, will it stop raining today?


Come Together

When’s the last time a commercial made you cry?  Well, made you cry for joy?   A colleague sent me this commercial for chewing gum that left me nearly blubbering.  Go ahead and give it a watch, I’ll wait.  You see, I’m in the waiting period after my second vaccination (even scheduling that, it turned out, was difficult) and we’re waiting for everyone we know to reach that state where being together with strangers, unmasked, will become safe and normal again.  We’ve all been under enormous pressure for the past 14 months.  The absolutely directionless response of the Trump administration prolonged the agony in this particular country, and some places in the world are still having a difficult time of it, but there is a light.  There is a light.

Even we introverts are social creatures.  Like cats, we suffer in prolonged, enforced isolation.  We’ve been through difficult times.  It’s been the deepest hope of mine that we would come out of this pandemic better than we went into it.  The commercial, although clearly shot with humor, shows a more inclusive, completely accepting society.  As the couples separated for months reunite the only concern is that they have fresh breath.  It’s not what some other couple is doing.  It’s not who makes up that couple.  It’s simply that we are all ready to be back together instead of divided.  It’s about love, not hate.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

The most deadly poison of the Trump years was the normalization and acceptance of hatred.  We are already, and we have been from the beginning, a diverse people.  Like some mythological tower, we were divided because of fear.  There was nothing really to be afraid of down here.  Those at the top of the power structures (many of them sociopaths) want to protect their privilege.  It’s far easier to do that when the rest of the people are at one another’s throats.  Is English God’s own language?   Can people not be taught to pound swords into plowshares?  Perhaps when the time comes we’ll burst from these doors ready to accept those who are different as fully human.  Perhaps we’ll not judge them for who they love or how.  I don’t know why this commercial hit me so hard.  Perhaps it’s the Jim Steinman power ballad, perhaps it’s the quality of the acting, perhaps it’s the welling emotion that’s been suppressed alone in shadowy corners for over a year, but this particular commercial hit a chord.  And I don’t even chew gum, if that’s what it’s advertising.


As Nature Directs

The news about the “stampede” in Israel last week is tragic.  People like to gather in large crowds once in a while.  Religious events are sometimes such occasions (although not so much the case among mainstream religions anymore).  In this case the celebration, largely among the Ultra-Orthodox, was Lag BaOmer, a festival with unknown origins.  It has to do with counting the omer, a measure, in a biblically based instruction regarding grain offerings.  Since it’s based on the lunar Jewish calendar, it doesn’t fall on the same date of the solar year every time.  To be honest, I’d not heard of this celebration before the tragedy that occurred last week.  Having been confined for over a year, many religious groups are anxious to be back together in numbers.  Nothing reinforces belief better than having the size to be taken seriously.

A few years back, if I recall correctly, it was Muslim faithful at Mecca who experienced a tragic uncontrolled panic.  Religious ideas bring people together, but they can’t always control the results.  I’m reminded of what a Protestant clergyman told me many years ago: after a Billy Graham crusade came to town, the regular ministers were ill-equipped to handle the large numbers of emotionally charged members who normally sat still in the pews.  Religion stirs people, but its psychological nature shows when it leads to tragedy.  No particular group is immune since we are all emotional animals.  One slip on the stairs, one panicked individual, and those nearby can be infected.  Already emotional from the event itself, nature takes its course.

Stampedes are an evolved flight response.  Herd animals, when perceiving a threat, begin to run.  Others, not even directly aware of the threat, join in.  Other animals, not aware of their “herd mentality,” seem to handle this more naturally than do people.  Indeed, our religions often instruct us not to think of ourselves as animals at all.  Our religious events are often removed from our familiar surroundings.  I suspect that may be one reason people don’t find “Zoom church” very satisfying.  The emotion of religion is more easily spread in person.  In a place specifically designed as being outside the norm.  You take your hat off in church.  You sit quietly, reverently, in church.  You do not use coarse language in church.  In a pandemic you try to join in while physically in the environment where the rest of everyday life occurs.  When we gather again, we must do it while being aware of our nature.  Being part of nature itself can often be, if well thought out, cause for celebration.  We mourn those who fall victim to it.


One, two, three

The danger of statistics is that they turn an individual into a number.  A few days ago an article in the New York Times addressed the rare blood clots that some women develop after receiving the Johnson and Johnson covid vaccine.  The response of the cited physicians was telling.  Many praised the decision to halt use of the J&J vaccine immediately.  Others, however, point to the numbers.  If a vaccine is halted many more could be exposed to and contract Covid-19.  It is better, they aver, to take the statically smaller risk and use the vaccine.  While I understand the logic here, I do wonder if the side effects occurring primarily in women has anything to do with the reasoning.  Why not save this vaccine for the men instead?

This raises once again the specter of consciousness.  Statistically the odds are small that a woman will develop a clot.  What if you are the woman who does?  This dilemma always bothered me while camping in the woods.  Statistically black bear attacks are rare.  How does that help you if your tent is one that looks like a candy wrapper to a bear of little brain?  You become a statistic instead of a living, breathing, feeling, blogging person.  Statistics.  There’s a reason some of us identify with the humanities, I guess.  I can imagine what it would be like to have your doctor say to you, “Sorry, this is rare, but look at the bright side—you now become a statistic!”

Photo credit: HB, via Wikimedia commons

The fact is we’re all statistics to strangers anyway, the government above all.  We are vote-bearing numbers to be gerrymandered and prevented from voting.  Beyond that we’re merely annoying.  This pandemic has introduced Stalin’s accounting with a vengeance.  542,000 is a big number.  Unless you know one or more of them personally.  Then the statistics seem to melt.  Life is full of risk, of course.  We’ve barricaded ourselves in our homes for over a year now, eating things that are likely more dangerous for us than a rare complication.  The virus, and perhaps some vaccines, are among various killers on the loose.  Nobody can declare with any certainty the correct course of action.  Actually doing something about the virus when it was first a known threat would’ve helped, of course.  We find ourselves on the brink, it seems, of getting Trump’s disease under control.  Would that we all could do so, without having to worry about lying down to be counted.


Lines and Silver

If you’re thinking about silver linings, here’s one to ponder: waiting in lines has, with certain exceptions, disappeared during the pandemic.  Yes, some people waiting in line to be tested, others to be inoculated.  Early on lines were long to buy toilet paper.  By and large, however, waiting in lines has ceased for many of us.  For me that’s a silver lining.  Even from my youngest days I’ve found waiting in line problematic.  Not that I think I’m more important than other people—not at all—my mind keeps itself pretty active and standing in line has been one of the more difficult times to keep it engaged.  I generally keep a book with me.  The lack of mass-market paperbacks in the categories I tend to read, however, makes having a book in your jacket pocket difficult.

People standing in line are often surly.  It’s not always a great place to strike up a conversation, to improve your mind.  It is the epitome of wasted time.  Not just for me, but for everyone involved.  Learning to live mostly at home has greatly reduced that wasted time.  Interestingly, many people have reported being bored with their extra time.  Others of us find this small windfall just enough to keep in place as we continue sprinting along.  Regardless, the line waiting absence has been one silver lining.  When I was a student I used to call waiting in line a theological problem.  What I believe I meant was that time should not be wasted and your options were severely limited by standing in a queue.

For many people, I suspect, the smartphone has addressed the issue even before the pandemic came.  My smartphone has never been that much of a comfort to me, when it comes to time.  Although I’m on social media I don’t spend a whole lot of time on it.  It can easily become yet another way of spending time I don’t have to squander.  Reading ebooks on a small screen doesn’t really lead to any sense of accomplishment for me.  Perhaps I think about it too much, but it seems that real goals are met in the real world.  Ah, but this is meant to be a silver lining post, the lack of lines.  As the pandemic slowly dies down, queues will return.  Books won’t have grown any smaller in the meantime.  Perhaps I could use the time wisely by learning to explore the wonders of the universe in my pocket.  Just after, however, I finish this book in my hands.


Not Out Loud

I’ve been thinking of funny things lately.  Literally.  You see, while many of us are waiting for vaccines or any sign of hope, it’s natural to try to cheer oneself up.  I try reading books with the reputation of being funny.  I try looking for movies that IMDb tells me will make me laugh.  One thing I’ve discovered is that what’s truly funny is a matter of taste.  Some comedians make me laugh.  Others, well, don’t.  Books that I’m told are LOL (“laugh out loud”) funny often turn out to give me a snicker or two as I wend my way through the pages.  The “out loud” part remains elusive.  But it’s the movies that get to me most.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that made me laugh from beginning to end.  “Sophomoric” is the word my wife used to describe most of the movies on online comedy recommendation lists.

I suppose funny is a matter of buying into lowest common denominator culture.  Education, if we’re honest, can knock the sense of humor out of you.  Besides, most movies have a story to tell and few stories are funny every step along the way.  During a pandemic you might well need something like that.  Of course you couldn’t go to the theater to see it if it came out.  There’s some fun stuff on the internet.  People I know will sometimes send me things that make me chuckle, but I’m guessing I need to step away from horror movies for a while to reacquaint myself with what’s funny.  I got so desperate the other day that I sat down and tried to make a list of the funniest movies I ever saw.  Then I looked at the lists I found online and saw little overlap.  Where to go for a good laugh?

Our sense of humor must have roots in our youth.  I really got into religion then, and I became a very serious teen—we’re talking eternal consequences here.  So much so that I had a conscious epiphany one day that I no longer laughed.  I needed to rebuild my sense of humor.  I tried buying funny books (which wasn’t easy in a town with no bookstores).  I tried to catch up with the others in school who were always talking about this or that funny movie they’d seen.  Of course, anything crude scandalized me then, so it had to be clean fun.  Now it’s a matter of trying to see if anyone gets my sense of humor.  After a year in lockdown we could all use a good laugh.


Who Says Suez?

“Where was Moses when the lights went out?”  That’s one of the few sayings I remember from my grandmother.  She lived with us when I was a child and she’d say that when someone came in too late to help with something.  I always thought it a strange expression since Moses didn’t do miracles on demand, but I still remember it—kind of a miracle in its own right.  The expression came back to me when hearing about the MV Ever Given in the Suez Canal.  This massive cargo ship, buffeted by high winds, has choked the canal that links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean for days.  This shortcut means ships don’t have to round Africa to get to European and American ports.  While the problems of this one ship play out, over 150 others are waiting to pass through and goods could be delayed for weeks around the world.  I’m glad we have toilet paper.

Image credit: Ten Commandments trailer, via Wikimedia Commons.

Now Moses was known for have a role in the dividing of the Red Sea.  Of course, the name of the body of water is debated.  The Good Book actually says “Reed Sea” and nobody’s really sure where that is.  Besides, the miracle isn’t really credited to Moses.  God did the deed through, well, a strong wind.  If the waters could be divided perhaps present-day crews could figure out how to free the ship.  Photos of a bulldozer that looks like a Tonka next to the colossal freighter give an idea of the scale of the problem.  People building things so large that they can’t control them.  And the forces of nature seem happy to remind us that we’re not in control, right, Moses?

And everything, we assume, will go smoothly if left to its own devices.  How often do we really worry about the Suez Canal?  Or large ships, for that matter?  Theses things should go just as clockwork, we suppose.  Until our order from Amazon is inexplicably delayed.  The pandemic, Post Office troubles, and unexpected bad weather have caused major shipping delays around here over the past several months, and now we have no Moses when we need him.  According to Exodus, God lives right next door on the Sinai peninsula.  That’s where Moses first met him.  If we had a true prophet these days (let the reader apply wisdom here) there would be no concerns for something as simple as a wedged ship.  But we can’t even find Moses when the lights go out. 


Taxing Thoughts

Tax season has come with a new fear this year.  We had to visit our accountant’s small office to sign things.  We managed to get last year’s taxes filed before the pandemic became evident.  This year I spent weeks worrying about the upcoming appointment.  Sitting in a room with a man I both respect and fear.  Our government loves its paperwork, and although you can file electronically you still have to pay any amounts owed (on the state or local level) with actual paperwork.  That paperwork has to be signed.  To do so you need to meet an actual person who has some inkling of how this all works.  Ironically, the technology exists for taxes to be done automatically by the government.  Groups like Intuit, the owners of TurboTax, lobby the government not to make it easier.  Intuit would lose its income stream.

I don’t mind paying taxes.  I did chafe a bit the past four years, knowing I was supporting an evil government, but overall I understand that we all need to contribute in order for things to continue to run (somewhat) smoothly.  The thing that frightens me is being in a room with someone who might’ve been earlier talking with someone who had a dread disease.  Last week marked the one-year breaking point.  My wife and I agree that March 12 was the day the news turned utterly ominous.  Although the Trump administration knew about the disease, it had decided simply to ignore it.  Now, with more than half-a-million Americans dead, we’re still paying our taxes to try to undo the damage that one man did.

The more immediate problem is how to survive getting those tax papers signed.  Ironically, I can oversee the acquisition, editing, production, and sale of a physical book without ever having to touch a piece of paper.  It’s a marvel, really.  In fact, many of the books I acquire I don’t see until months after they’re published.  For taxes, however, we still need to send the physical paper in.  The alternative is TurboTax.  They add on so many fees that we ended up paying them as much as an actual accountant last time we did our own taxes.  I’m happy to pay a human being to do them, and I even like our accountant.  It’s just that it doesn’t feel safe to go inside somebody else’s space right now.  It’s a little too cold and wet to stand outside and sign the papers with trembling fingers.  Perhaps next year we’ll be able to do our part without fear.


Space and Time

Keeping up with movies could be a regular vocation.  Until it is, however, I will always be running behind.  Seven years ago I planned to see Interstellar in the theater.   Seven years ago we had not dreamed of Covid-19 or a planetary pandemic.  I can’t see now how I would’ve possibly been too busy to have missed it.  If any movie, however, forgives the time-challenged, it’d be this one.  Apart from perhaps being the ultimate father-daughter movie, it plays with time like Inception plays with space.  Or space like it plays with time.  Einstein gave us the laws of relativity, and if they hold up when we finally get to interstellar travel (which has already happened on the space-time continuum somewhere), this is perhaps not at all unlikely.

Back in my teaching days I used to tell students that if they didn’t read at least one book during the summer or winter break that didn’t challenge their worldview then they’d wasted that break.  It was something I did my best to live up to.  Informing yourself—challenging your views—is a feature of education at which we seem to have failed.  Movies like Interstellar are examples of such challenges, albeit in the guise of fiction.  I’ve come to trust Christopher Nolan over the years.  His movies are cerebral yet moving, making us look at things from angles we didn’t know had existed.  I grew up watching not just horror, but also science fiction.  While I gravitated toward the former, I never lost my appreciation for the latter.  Especially when the latter made me think.

Much of Interstellar is, like the best of movies, is informed by previous films.  The influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey is pretty clear, as is that of Contact.  The idea at the center of Interstellar is that love drives the five dimensions in which Cooper finally ends up.  The love of a father for the daughter he had to leave behind and her love for the father that had to abandon her to save the world drives the entire plot.  To me this seems the right balance between science and spirituality.  Love is humanity at its best while science is some of our most advanced thinking at its best.  To recognize the strength of the former is important in a world increasingly driven by technology.  It took me, it seems, a full hour on the water planet to find the time to watch Interstellar.  It is time I won’t get back and I could have used some of it wisely by watching this movie sooner.


Weird Dreams

It’s almost like we’re all part of a huge experiment, perhaps orchestrated from outer space, to see how we react to being caged.  The pandemic and its associated lockdowns have held us in place for nearly a year now.  Long enough that I’ve started to dream about it.  For the longest stretch of time my dreams remained in “normal mode.”  That is to say, people talked about the pandemic very little and it was represented only by the occasional dream anxiety that I wasn’t wearing a mask.  I have yet to recall a dream wherein people are wearing masks.  Recently I dreamed that I had to start commuting again, and I climbed on the bus only to remember I’d forgotten my mask at home.  It was like one of those showing up to school without your pants on dreams,  only scarier.

Dreams are an antidote to the sameness of our days, I suppose.  I’ve watched as stable folks I know start to show signs of isolation stress.  I’m sure that I’m showing them too, but the thing is we often don’t see such things in ourselves.  We’re social animals and we’ve been kept in separate cages for a long time now.  I used to go to zoos and feel sorry for the obviously neurotic animals bored out of their skulls, isolated from their species.  Even as we were being told that animals don’t think and don’t have emotions, it was clear that their having interactions with our species was like us having nothing but Zoom meetings to keep us in company.  It’s artificial, but since the zookeepers have us in separate cages we try to act as if it’s normal.

Speaking of neurotic, at least around here since Trump’s been mostly out of the public eye people have begun wearing masks.  Nothing demonstrates that we’re herd animals better than the fact that an obvious charlatan was able to convince millions of people that he doesn’t care only about himself.  Funny how people can be used and not even know it.  We’ve been enjoying national sanity for just over a month now and things seem like the meds may be kicking in.  Vaccine production is booming and, apart from logistic issues, many people are receiving the necessary protection.  It’s always made sense to me that other beings exist in the universe.  I’m not so arrogant as to assume that we’re all that special.  Looking over the past year, it seems as if we may all be guinea pigs after all.


Still Standing

Investment.  Time is an investment, and I recently invested in Stephen King’s The Stand.  You have to realize that I made this decision sight-unseen.  More than one person whose opinions I value told me I should read it.  I had no idea it would be 1,400 pages and would dominate my life for a solid month.  Still, I’m glad I read it.  In case you haven’t, and intend to, there may be some spoilers below.  This is one of the King books I read without knowing the plot or the ending, so if you’re in that boat, skip a paragraph or two.

I hadn’t intended The Stand to be plague reading.  It just turned out that way.  The book is about a variety of flu that kills nearly the entire population of the world.  It’s only at the very end that you learn it’s a parable.  The ending also explains some of the apparently unrelated filler that makes the book so terribly long.  In any case, after wiping out much of the world, the story narrows down to several of the survivors and how they end up dividing into two camps: those who want to cause misery (think Republicans), and those who want to reestablish civilization.  Of course there are several unpleasant instances along the way.  The camp of violent ne’er-do-wells settles in Las Vegas under the demonic leadership of Randall Flagg—his identity only becomes clear at the end—while the good guys, under Mother Abagail, choose Boulder.  A confrontation is inevitable and when the smoke clears we learn that Randall Flagg is, essentially, civilization itself.  Perhaps Christianity.

Of all of the Stephen King novels I’ve read, this one has the most overt Christian imagery.  In fact, in his introduction to the expanded edition he refers to it as a “long tale of dark Christianity.”  There’s quite a lot of theological dialogue along with gruesome deaths.  The pacing often makes the story seem quite long.  Well, it actually is.  I suspect it was this Christian imagery that had friends recommending it to me.  The idea that evil is essentially our culture that comes around and kills us is both profound and paradoxical.  As well as “Christian.”  All along the good guys want to reestablish the cooperation and comforts of civilized life.  It was “civilization” that unleashed the killer virus, however, and herein hangs the tale.  I’m glad to have read it, and I have to confess that I miss the bleak world King created, after living with it for so long.  And it turns out to have been plague reading both literally and symbolically.


Ode to Snow Days

Once upon a time there were special gifts called “snow days.”  On these special days no one was required to report to school or work.  It was a caesura to late capitalism, albeit a brief one, in which the forces of nature triumphed over making everyone “go out” to work or school.  The pandemic has, of course, eliminated snow days.  Never again will there be the excuse of “I left my laptop at the office,” or “the roads are unsafe.”  The evil monster that enslaved all mortals of a certain class had won.  No brave knight, wearing mittens or not, dared face this great beast, and so nobody lived happily ever after.

There is a moral to this story.  Well, not so much a moral as an addendum.  During snow days we had time for our civic duty of clearing sidewalks of snow.  I begin work before the sun comes up, and consequently I don’t stay awake very late.  Over the past few days we’ve had several inches of snow.  It began falling Sunday morning, and it fell through Tuesday morning.  I had to take time out of my usual work schedule to shovel in the morning.  By that point it was already six inches at least of the kind of snow that’s so heavy that it starts to turn blue beneath the surface.  I hurried back to work since I had a couple morning meetings.  The snow continued to fall.  I normally don’t take a lunch break, but I had to on Monday, just to stay ahead of the snow.  After work, just before dark, I was out in it again.

The snow day, in other words, isn’t just about time off from work.  It’s also about taking care of things that need to be done in a weather emergency.  The idea of remote work being work without ceasing has really caught on during the pandemic.  Without office walls to constrain it, capitalism is free to take over our private spaces—and our civic duties—as well.  The dearly departed snow day was more than just a lark.  For younger couples it meant being home to take care of the kids when school was cancelled.  In other words, it was a day to acknowledge that weather is still in control.  We do need that reminder once in a while.  The snow out there is pretty.  It’s also deep.  More than that, it is even a symbol.


Dirty Books

Dirty books annoy me.  Not that kind of dirty book, but books that arrive dirty.  If a book is expensive, particularly an academic book, I look for a used copy.  Since we’re in a pandemic, and also since the books I read tend to be outré, shall we say, getting them in the local second-hand place generally doesn’t work.  Sellers of used books online have to rate them.  Acceptable, poor, fair, good, very good—the scale is somewhat arbitrary.  I don’t like books with writing in them; I don’t want somebody else telling me what’s important.  I think I can find a topic sentence, thank you very much.  Lately I’ve gone down to the level of good with my online buying.  (Have you looked at the prices?!)  When you add that “very” to “good” sticker shock sets in.  Okay, so the books arrive well loved, I expect that.  But dirty?

I used to sell used books on Amazon.  I never sold many, but I always tried to be sure they were dusted off before putting them in the envelope.  I never put a cup of coffee on them.  Nor used them as a plate.  Some people apparently do, though.  I had one book arrive so filthy that I took the 409 to it.  Thing is, it cleaned up nicely.  Is it too much to expect that someone selling used books might go ahead and get some of the gunk off before sending it?  It’s not exactly Antiques Roadshow patina, after all.  It’s someone else’s slovenliness.  Who knows—might not a quick wipe-down improve the profitability by enhancing the condition of the book?

Library builders like yours truly want to afford the best editions that we can.  Books are more than mere objects gathering dust on the shelves—they’re individuals that we get to know.  Those that we meet but don’t really care for we pass along, hopefully to loving homes.  The way someone treats books reveals quite a bit about a person.  Accidents happen, of course.  A hazard of reading a lot may lead to the occasional spilled coffee or dropped bit of food, but treating books with respect not only increases their resale potential, it’s also an acknowledgement of the accomplishment.  Writing a book involves a considerable amount of work.  And although your property is yours to treat as you please, books are particularly vulnerable to damage by water, mice, or neglect.  Add fire, food, or extended exposure to sunlight and you get a sense of their fragility.  Acknowledging the effort a book takes to produce can go a long way towards making sure no book is dirty.  That, and a quick wipe-off before shoving it in the envelope.

Neat as a pin.


Ship Shop

I support the US Post Office.  As someone who still prefers print to electronic, having something actually delivered remains a thrill.  I have to confess, however, that electronic bills are much more convenient.  In any case, with Trump’s war on the mail (he seemed to hate everything), and lack of interest in the Covid-19 pandemic, shipping has been slowed down considerably.  People stayed at home and had Christmas shipped this past year, and, combined with the idiotic cuts to the Post Office budget, things were (and continue to be) delayed.  In this extended season of shipping I’ve had two packages that tracking services have told me had been delivered but, in reality, weren’t.  At least they weren’t delivered to me when the tracking indicated they were.  Of course, package thieves do exist.  I suspect that, if stolen, my items raised an eyebrow or two.

Most recently I had a notice of a Saturday afternoon delivery.  Said item wasn’t there when I checked my mailbox about half-an-hour later.  Someone could’ve idled on by and taken it in that time, I suppose, because the USPS said it was “in or near the mailbox.”  Now, my mailbox is down at sidewalk level.  The porch is a short distance away.  When I went out on Saturday it was in neither location.  Back before Christmas Amazon did the same thing, telling me that a package (small enough to fit easily in my mailbox) had been left in “a secure location.”  So secure that I couldn’t find it.  I even went outside in the dark with a flashlight after watching a horror movie to search for it.  That one, it turned out, had been delivered to an honest neighbor who brought it over after daylight returned.

The tracking notice that says “delivered” means nothing if the package isn’t actually there.  Hide-n-seek instructions simply aren’t helpful.  The way our mailbox is situated the only “near” is on the open ground.  Pandemic life is difficult.  If 45 had had any compassion for the average person needing a lifeline (rather than his self need to be in the spotlight) he would’ve strengthened the Post Office rather than gutting it.  Many people rely on it for the delivery of their medications.  For some of us it’s more a matter of awaiting some token of our preserved sanity.  As it is the tracking notice claimed I had items never received.  This may be a parable for the Trump Nightmare Administration after all.  Then, about two weeks after it had been officially delivered, my package arrived one day unannounced.  Parable indeed.