The Los Angeles Central Library on West 5th Street
The Los Angeles Central Library is an impressive structure. In 1926 the original structure was designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in a combination ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival style. In 1986, there was an arson fire that destroyed some 400,000 volumes, or 20% of the library’s holdings—as well as causing damage to the structure. Fortunately, the library was rebuilt and restored to much of its original splendor. It was only three years ago that I started going to the library, only after the Expo rail line from Santa Monica to downtown LA was constructed.
Thanks to the coronavirus, however, I cannot go inside the library. But I can put books on hold and make an appointment to pick them up at the 5th Street entrance. This I did, showing up at 11:15 am and calling inside with my cell phone to give my name and library account number, whereupon a librarian came out with the books I ordered in a blue bag, accompanied by a complimentary LA Public Library deck of cards.
Unfortunately, one of the books I had put on hold, Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano, was in the original French. I put a hold on the French edition by mistake. The book’s name is the same in English and French, so it was an easy mistake to make.
The big problem with going downtown during the plague is twofold:
- Finding a place to eat
- Finding a rest room
Thanks to one of the library cops (yes, they have their own police force), I found out that I could go across the street to the City National Plaza (formerly the Atlantic Richfield Plaza), eat at one of the few restaurants still open on the ground floor (Lemonade is pretty good), and get a free token to use the public restroom.
We’re All in This Together, or Are We?
There is a nauseating saccharine imagine coming down to us from corporate America of everyday heroes in the struggle against coronavirus. The word “hero” is being bandied about … a lot! But when you come to think about it, it doesn’t cost much to employ people in hazardous work without making much of an effort to guarantee their safety. You see, if you call them heroes, you open up the possibility that many of them can make the ultimate sacrifice and become martyrs. And we know that martyrs are heroes that can no longer fight back. Very safe from a corporate standpoint.
I have become very suspicious of this type of unanimity from U.S. corporations. But it’s not just an American trait: During the Chernobyl disaster, dozens of Soviet citizens were fighting toxic radioactivity with nothing more protective than brooms and shovels. Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich wrote a book of interviews with people involved in the disaster. It was entitled Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. I am not trying to imply that the coronavirus is like a nuclear accident, but it certainly shared a similar awfulness and magnitude.
SNL Takes on Three Mile Island
While on the subject of nuclear accidents, I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. The title of the skit was “The Pepsi Syndrome.” The reaction of the bigwigs was to send Garrett Morris dressed as a maid with a broom to clean up the radioactivity.
It is in the nature of power to make the innocent pay the price. The whole hero thing is nothing more than soft soap, and during this epidemic, we certainly have had enough of soft soap, haven’t we?
Does Trump Really Want to Kill Off His Supporters?
With the coronavirus rising again, especially in the Southern states that have formed the core of the president’s base, I seriously wonder if the Donald is trying to kill off his staunchest supporters? While eating lunch, I happened upon an article by Fintan O’Toole in the May 14, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books entitled “Vector in Chief” from which this quote is excerpted:
We must bear in mind that Trump’s “real people,” the ones who make up his electoral base, are disproportionately prone to the chronic illnesses (“the underlying conditions”) that make Covid-19 more likely to prove fatal. A 2018 Massachusetts General Hospital study of more than three thousand counties in the US reported that
poor public health was significantly associated with the additional Republican presidential votes cast in 2016 over those from 2012. A substantial association was seen between poor health and a switch in political parties in the last [presidential] election.
For every marker of the prevalence of poor health (such as diabetes, obesity, days of illness, and mortality rates), there as a marked shift roward voting for Trump. Trump has acted in relation to Covid-19 like the God who tells the Jews to mark their homes with a sign so that the plague he is inflicting on Egypt will pass by their doors—with the malign twist that he has marked out his own chosen people for special harm.
How ironic! Following the example of their Great White Hope in the Whitest of White Houses, the voters attending his rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix are mostly not masked, and sneezing and coughing and shouting streams of coronavirus throughout the crowd. So far, Trump appears to be immune, but that is helped by the fact that he is a germaphobe who washes his hands incessantly with hand sanitizer.
Giorgio De Chirico Landscape with Train in Distance
It was in a survey of impressions of the global coronavirus outbreak tin the April 23, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books hat I saw this remark by Northern Irish Poet Nick Laird:
The prophecies arrive: hundreds of thousands of dead, trillions of dollars spent, millions and millions losing their jobs, their health care, their homes. Soldiers on the streets. Each graph, each blank statistic. Each talking head. Stick a fork in the ass of civilization, it’s done. Don’t be silly, this is a blip. I don’t think so. In the stream of news the poems sit like stones, lambent under the surface. Auden’s “Gare du Midi,” where the man with his little case alights from the train, and steps out “briskly to infect a city/Whose terrible future may have just arrived.”
And here’s the poem to which Laird refers:
A nondescript express in from the South,
Crowds round the ticket barrier, a face
To welcome which the mayor has not contrived
Bugles or braid: something about the mouth
Distracts the stray look with alarm and pity.
Snow is falling, Clutching a little case,
He walks out briskly to infect a city
Whose terrible future may have just arrived.
Covid-19 Still Rages in Latin America
I was disappointed to hear that Latin America is still considered a global hot spot for the Coronavirus, particularly Brazil, Peru, and Mexico. According to a bulletin issued yesterday by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City:
The number of confirmed and suspected cases is still increasing daily in several regions of Mexico. Mexico City, Tabasco, Sinaloa, Aguascalientes, and Yucatan currently report the highest incidence rates of active cases (incidence rate is the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days). Hospital occupancy rates are also increasing, with the highest levels in Mexico City, Mexico State, Guerrero, Morelos, and Chiapas. Mexican health authorities have reiterated calls for people to stay home during this time.
Since I would love to re-visit Yucatán and Chiapas, this comes as bad news if i wanted to leave the country for my vacation. More and more, I think I will have several short vacations this year in the Southwestern U.S.
A New Dawn Is Approaching … But Look Out for Storms
Yes, the authorities are gradually releasing us from our long quarantine; but we’re not out of the woods yet. After the 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic, the United States entered into a ten-year period of prosperity, until the Crash of 1929 put the kibosh on that. It would be nice to think that everything will be hunky-dory within a few weeks or so. Fat chance.
Except for one thing: That man in the White House. He was personally responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, and he is itching to send thousands more into the next world. He continues to be supported of legions of bitter-enders who will support him regardless what he does, because he is one of them—a bona fide bad ass. If Trump should be reelected this November, I think the United States is in for it. In the end, I even think there will be another attempt at secession, and maybe that’s what it’ll take in the long run. The bad-asses will want to set up their own New Revised Confederate States of America.
As I look into the future, I have no pollyanna visions of everything coming together in a great cumbia of toleration. The battle lines are being drawn, and they look pretty hard and fast to me.
Boredom Times Infinity
There are a number of stereotypes emerging from our months’ long quarantine: Zoom images of not altogether with it participants, small children, and pets—just to name a few. Being retired and not involved in alcoholism or recreational drugs, I am not into Zoom. There are zero circumstances which would call for a number of my friends and acquaintances being dragooned into meeting with me. Besides, I don’t have a camera on my PC at present. If I decide to get Skype or some other video telephony application, I might change my mind. Otherwise, nyet.
Pets and Babies Do Nothing for Me
It seems that most quarantiners have an irresistible urge to feature their pets and small children. That would have meant something to me decades ago, when I wanted to join that particular club. But having my pituitary gland and the chromophobe adenoma that devoured it removed at the age of twenty-one, I became ineligible to have a baby that looked anything like me. Nowadays, when I think of babies, I think of overfilled diapers. And I become comically allergic when I spend more than a couple hours with a dog or cat.
I would very much like to see my friends, but fortunately I am not going crazy from isolation. It seems that I am well-prepared for quarantining:
- I have a library of several thousand books
- I own hundreds of DVDs of classic movies, foreign and domestic
- My cable TV gives me access to hundreds of free movies each week
- I like to cook
- I have a telephone
So I don’t have to shove pets and poopy diapers in your face, and I don’t need to appear on Zoom wearing nothing below my navel. You might call it the joys of sublimation.
The Los Angeles Arboretum in 2017
Little by little, selected trip destinations are opening up s-l-o-w-l-y and with multiple restrictions. I can now visit the beach, but only if I am actively swimming, walking, or running. If I lie down and try to get a tan, or picnic, or even bring a cooler with me, the police would roust me. And of course, the water fountains are closed, together with the snack bars. Also the parking lots along the beach will be closed.
At the Los Angeles Arboretum, one can only walk on the paved paths in a park where half the paths are unpaved. And, of course, the benches are off limits, water and food are not available. I assume that if you sit down on one of the capacious lawns, you will be asked to move on.
Descanso Gardens is not closing down any of their unpaved paths, but again no benches or food, though water will be available.
The next time we get a heat wave, I will probably take a bus down to the beach and take a walk. I would like to lie on the beach, but I suppose a walk would be good for me.
I have this funny feeling that it will be many months before anything resembling normalcy will be restored to us.
Christopher Plummer in Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades
It was yet another day in quarantine (I am not keeping count). I started by making hot chocolate with the premium chocolate I had purchased in Mexico during my vacation. When produced in a double boiler the chocolate comes out perfect every time.
Then I decided to take a walk to the mailbox on Barry, about a mile east of here, to return a Netflix DVD of two Japanese samurai films I had seen over the previous two days. (I will write more about them in a future post.) I also wanted to stop in at the local Target store, but I had forgotten to bring my face mask with me—something I do about half the time. I notice a lot of people wear face masks all the time. They remind me of people who sleep alone with condoms draped over their jewels.
I returned to eat lunch with Martine. Mine was a couple of Chinese beef buns accompanied by frozen peach slices. While Martine went for her afternoon walk, I watched Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades (1958) starring Burl Ives and Christopher Plummer. There were some beautiful shots of the Everglades and its bird life, and some highly dubious plotting, even if Budd Schulberg wrote the script.
Martine had wanted us to order Japanese from the Aki Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd, so I phoned in an order and picked it up. It was a tasty reminder of when we used to eat our weekend meals in restaurants.
After dinner, I began reading Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013), set during the Chechen wars. It looked like a good read.
Which brings me near to the end of another day. I will watch another episode of “Deep Space 9” and hit the sack.
Masks … Masks … Masks
This is a short post because the Internet has slowed to the speed of a rheumatic snail with bunions. This morning, I had to take my car in for repairs related to A/C and ventilation—especially as it’s about to get hot soon. Then I had to drive Martine for an EKG in preparation for a colonoscopy scheduled for next month. I finished one book (Terry Pratchett’s Jingo) and read most of a second (Tony Hillerman’s The Shape Shifter). Within a few minutes, I will watch on old Deep Space 9 re-run hoping for a glimpse of Jadzia Dax or Major Kira Nerys. Then, bed.