It’s not often I get to set a new fashion in trendy California. But having emerged from quarantine (yay!) completely symptom-free (double yay!!), Rich and I are now out and about and constantly stopped by neighbors who want to ask about our face shields.
I explain they offer good protection, greater comfort than masks, full facial visibility, no fogging of your glasses, and a look that doesn’t say, “I’m on my to perform surgery and/or a bank heist.” The downsides? Alarming moments when insects fly in for a quick look around. “Shield hair” from the rubber bands serving as straps. Forgetting I have it on and whacking the transparent plastic in a disconcerting manner. As for Rich, when his nose itched yesterday, he slowly, painstakingly snaked his sanitized hand up inside the shield — only to realize he was no longer wearing it.
Masks? Face shields? Social distancing? Party animals in Missouri ignored public health directives while celebrating Memorial Day at Lake of the Ozarks. "We expect residents and visitors alike to exhibit personal responsibility at the lake," said Sheriff Tony Helms. Photo by Twitter/Lawler50, via Reuters
We’re all having trouble staying on track in the midst of so much turmoil. Official health advice is confusingly piecemeal, sometimes contradictory, and often ignored. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Lake of the Ozarks.) Food distribution is no longer a well-oiled machine; shortages are common. And (please don’t panic!) Hollywood is delaying production of movies and TV shows. Many of us can easily live without The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run and Mission Impossible 7, but it’s a shame we’ll have to wait until 2022 to see Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; that one sounded tailor-made for this summer.
But not to worry; creative geniuses around the world are stepping up to fill the void. Check out American Hedgehog Warrior and tell me if you agree Pepper deserves an Oscar for her performance.
I know, right? How did the rest of us get through so many months of quarantine without an athletic pet hedgehog?
If thrilling to Pepper’s exploits whets your appetite for the adrenaline rush of other rip-roaring sporting challenges, stop mourning the loss of baseball, football, soccer, and basketball, and start embracing this year’s hottest competitive event: online marble racing. Like most people, I was totally unaware this sport existed, although to be fair, my interest in most spectator sports is on a par with my desire to sit around watching hand sanitizer dry. But Jelle’s Marble League appeals even to me, with lots of action, practically no rules, colorful visuals, and extremely short games.
Incredibly, the marble league was struggling to find sponsors in these economically challenged times. All that changed when late night comedy newscaster John Oliver decided to step up and bankroll this summer’s races, just in time for the qualifying rounds which start on June 18. Mark your calendar! Rich and I have placed bets with relatives, all winnings going to charities. I’m backing the team Mellow Yellow, which grew a ripe reputation in the Fruit Circuit. Rich is rooting for Balls of Chaos, confident that team leader Anarchy can motivate players Tumult, Clutter, and Snarl to earn more gold medals in the team’s trademark brawling style.
Many of us are turning to homemade fun. My sister Kate, inspired by my post Bar Hopping, Quarantine Style, set up a Zoom Dive Bar Party. Each participant created a funky setting, choosing a theme such as Irish pub, European bistro, or tropical lounge, and going all out with decorations, costumes, and novelty drinks. Brilliant!
Entertainment, once squeezed into the outer margins of our lives, has now taken center stage, recognized as an essential tool for boosting our spirits during these difficult days. Having survived months of anxious confinement, we’re still overwhelmed with grim news, and never more so than this week.
America keeps passing monstrous milestones: nearly two million people diagnosed with COVID-19, more than 100,000 fatalities. You won’t be surprised to learn the hardest hit are communities of color. African Americans have suffered twice the fatalities of white people — 92.3 deaths per 100,000 compared to 45.2 — largely because of economic inequity, says the CDC. With unemployment topping 40 million, almost twice as many black Americans (20%) as whites (11%) have been laid off recently. On top of all that are revelations about the madness of Amy Cooper, aka Central Park “Karen,” and the unprovoked, horrifying murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Small wonder that people are in the streets shouting “I can’t breathe.”
Most of the protesters are peacefully exercising their constitutional right to speak truth to power. But not everyone is showing restraint, and shocking images of this week's looting and burning are seared in our memories forever, calling to mind disturbing memories of other upheavals and conflagrations.
I remember what it was like waking up on April 29, 1992 and hearing the radio announce the acquittal of the four cops who’d been videotaped savagely beating Rodney King. I was stunned, then incandescent with rage. A family story flashed through my mind, the one in which my grandmother, having been profoundly disrespected by her husband, picked up every plate on the dinner table and threw it at his head. A social contract had been broken, and it was the only way she knew how to express the height of her wrath and depth of her pain. That's not the way I express my feelings, but I understood it on April 29, 1992. And I understand it now. I’m not saying that smashing, burning, and looting are appropriate responses, just that I have some small inkling of why they happen.
“Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine,” wrote Roxane Gay in the NY Times, “but black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”
These are heartbreaking times. The number of lives lost and blighted is more than we can bear. The comfort we took from thinking we were all in this together has been shattered. And the only predictable thing about the future is that it’s bound to include yet more shocks and horrors.
So how do we keep from losing our marbles?
For me, it starts with finding ways to be useful. Engaging in a get-out-the-vote project. Writing articles on climate change. Holding Zoom conversations with insightful friends and relatives. Taking long walks and talking with neighbors about face shields. I wish I could add “adopting a hedgehog” to that list, but that hasn’t happened (yet). I did buy Rich, as an early gift for his birthday this Saturday, a marble racing kit that he's spent many happy hours assembling and fine-tuning. Playing with marbles may not help resolve life's big issues, but taking time to share joy and laughter with the people we love is one way to keep our equilibrium as we try figure out how to work for the common good in these turbulent times.
How are you managing not to lose your marbles these days? Let me know in the comments below.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. Right now I'm on a Nutters' World Tour seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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