Dispatch from Portland, Oregon
NOTE: Throughout this article, I will refer to Trump as WC, which stands for War Criminal in the White House. I will refer to the corona virus as CV. I will refer to my husband as Steve.
My husband Steve comes home from work [with a state agency that controls liquor and cannabis sales in Oregon], pale as a fish belly, his brow furrowed as deeply as a sinkhole, or White House lies. Two of his co-workers, who live together, had come into his workspace that afternoon, once an office, now a cubby, to report possible exposure to the corona virus [hereinafter called CV]. He asked them to BACK UP. The man’s ex-wife was the nurse for a seventy-year-old man in a veterans’ hospital, who came in with severe flu-like symptoms, which later turned out to be the CV. [He also turned out to be Oregon’s first fatality.] Since the co-worker and his ex-wife share custody of a young son, they had had contact with each other over the weekend, passing off their son from one to the other. Steve, president of the agency’s union, tells the two to go home and stay home for 14 days. They say they don’t have enough sick leave to stay home for 14 days. Steve and the administrators of his agency begin to scramble, cobbling together a plan for workers who become sick or have contact with the sick. It is not a smooth process at all, due to security issues, layers of bureaucracy, lack of precedence, etc. [Oddly enough, March 10 is also the birthday of my two worst boyfriends–they almost destroyed me.]
I post the news of our quarantine on Facebook. I joke that I will be checking in with Matt Gaetz and Ted Cruz, who announced the same day they were quarantining. Only a couple days before, Gaetz was seen wearing a gas mask into the Senate chambers, no doubt thinking it was hilarious. I don’t like Matt Gaetz. I send him a snarky Tweet with the image above.
Steve calls Kaiser to see if he can get tested. They say there is no testing unless people are hospital-level sick. Kaiser seems confused, no real policy in place.
My local friends seem mildly concerned about our possible exposure, but frankly seem more concerned about the rumor circulating that liquor stores and cannabis stores might close. I tell them liquor and cannabis sales are through the roof, smashing records set during the holidays. The stores begin to regulate customers, as well as to allow curbside pickup.
As with any major crisis, there is a kind of warped excitement. A friend’s son says he didn’t realize his lifestyle was called “quarantine.” I laugh and agree. Staying home with a couple bouts of exercise during the day is my normal.
Later that day, after watching “NBC Nightly News” and being once again shocked at the chaotic shitshow from the WC, I post the following:
If it doesn’t kill us, is this virus going to save us from this GOP zombie hell we are in by outing their gross incompetence, greed and inexplicable membership in such a heinous club of sycophants?
I also mildly guilt-trip a longtime friend who says she is not going to change her lifestyle, except to wash her hands and wipe down surfaces. Then she adds that she probably shouldn’t have gone to that large meeting earlier that day. I am reminded of my badass attitude during my first pregnancy 33 years ago. Epidural? Forget about it! Pain? Forget about it! And then about 10 hours into labor, I was begging the nurse to shoot me up, which she did, after explaining that if she missed, I might be paralyzed or die. Who cares? I said. Just make the pain go away.
That evening, three teaching jobs scheduled for April are cancelled. It’s okay. I am lucky. I have Social Security and a small pension from teaching special education for 12 years in the local school district.
That night, however, after watching the news, I am again filled with shock and rage. I post:
I realize that people who are not allergic to money like we are, people who live to earn, are probably doing smart money-making things like buying as the market bottoms out so they will make huge profits when it goes high again.
But when I hear mortgage rates are radically dropping, in the one and only smart financial move I’ve ever made, I contact our mortgage broker and we are able to refinance. Incredibly, our timing is impeccable and we are able to lock in a rate 1.4% lower than what we have. Dude.
It snows! This is very rare for Portland, contrary to what you’ve heard, especially in mid-March. The daffodils and tulips are already up. I post: A confused daffodil.
I retweet Amee Vanderpool [writer, quipster, wonk)] To be clear, Trump bailed out Wall Street in a matter of seconds with trillions while we all have been waiting months for lifesaving COVID-19 tests that are essential to slowing contamination. #MaralagoVirus
And my rage continues to blossom, especially later when in a press conference, Pence absolutely fawns over WC. Coincidentally, the next day is National Blowjob Day, according to Wikipedia. I post: I guess Pence was celebrating National Blowjob Day early.
I post: Are people sick out there–I mean, your friends and family? So far, I actually haven’t heard of anyone officially diagnosed in my circle of people.
I receive several angry responses that assume I am not taking things seriously. I later edit the post, adding: This does not mean I’m not taking it seriously. I’m just asking, doing research.
Later that day I take a walk in my neighborhood, as is my routine, and see all of the nearby restaurants filled with people, people with gray hair, old people. I can’t believe it. I even see a friend who is a two-time cancer survivor. I glare at her. What are we? Georgia? Florida?
I post on Facebook: I really don’t get why so many people are ignoring the suggestion to self-isolate when symptoms do not need to be present to spread this thing. [Yes, I know this 17 days before Kemp.] NE 28th filled with people eating in restaurants. Old people. 368 people died yesterday in Italy. Someone explain this to me. I mean, if you’re scared a restaurant is going to suffer, buy coupons.
But then one of my old students from the residential treatment center, perhaps the most intelligent student I ever had, now living off the grid in Southern Oregon, says I need to remember that there are many people who don’t even have refrigerators. And that food-service workers will not benefit from coupons. I tell her, after much thought, that I’m not willing to risk my life or Steve’s to save a waiter. I feel like a selfish schmuck, but…
That afternoon, as conspiracy theories abound, I post: Is this a millennial plot to off boomers?
Later that day, I digitally yell [capital letters] at a friend from elementary school who says she will not postpone a big party she is giving that afternoon in a large restaurant. She says Newsom is over-reacting. Yes, she is a Republican, but says not a supporter of WC. It irritates me. Then two hours later, Newsom orders those over 65 to stay home. I don’t rub it in, exactly. But I do find data that shows the variances in Americans following shelter-in-place guidelines by political party. GOP members are ignoring the guidelines based on Fake News, I mean, Fox News. I post the data, but then remove it when I am guilt-tripped by another friend who says I shouldn’t politicize this crisis. A video from Italy goes viral in which a variety of Italians warn Americans to take self-isolation guidelines seriously. The Italian death toll mounts and mounts. 600, 700, 800 daily. I post the video, hoping my friend from elementary school watches it. [And feels shame.]
Another hometown friend posts that she will not be ordered around and will not be staying home. I comment that I don’t get why she is being so irresponsible when so many people are dying. She tells me to shut up. I tell her to shut up. [We are apparently in grade school again.] I recall a few months earlier, she’d posted that Colin Kaepernick was a spoiled brat. I’d replied that I didn’t think any black man in America could really be a spoiled brat–except maybe Kanye or Jaden Smith. In July, at our 50th high school reunion, she avoids me like I avoid my face.
Later that day, the media tells us that at least 100 million Americans will get the virus. Even Mitch McConnell reportedly tells GOP senators to pass the damn relief bill and stop messing around.
I take a walk and photograph flowers.
Later that day, a friend posts: Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined from the plague. Isaac Newton invented calculus and began his academic career in quarantine for two years. Introverted geniuses, now is the time to do the thing you always said you’d get around to but never did. Use the time wisely my friends! Much love to everyone. 🦠❣️🦠
It is a great inspirational post, but my focus is shot. I really just want to stoke my rage watching MSNBC. And I do.
Later, I take a bath and try to breathe. I post: There is always trying to be tranquil–even if you messed up your eyeshadow.
The senators are wrangling over the relief bill. As usual, the GOP wants to give billions to the rich, pretending that it will trickle down, while the Dems want to provide for the people who are hurting. Rumors abound. The first vote is taken and Senators Sasse, Blackburn, Paul, Inhofe, Lankford, Johnson, Lee and Scott vote no. I post this image on Facebook and Twitter and send a tweet to Marsha Blackburn telling her to stop shaming womankind with her zombicity.
Later that day, an image from Kimberly Kohler Philip of an empty toilet paper roll in a glass of water as if an avocado seed waiting to sprout goes viral. Everyone loves it. It shows up everywhere. I post it along with my clown.
It is now Day 10. We have only seen our daughters, who live here, and our granddaughter via Zoom or WebEx or FaceTime. And gawd, my husband and I look horrible. I find out that a person’s nose actually looks five times its regular size on these screen chat programs. And I post a picture of Karl Malden and say it is my screenshot. Later a friend asks me if a person’s neck looks 20 years older on video chats. I say yes. But as my husband and I, Day 10 of our quarantine, are about to bite into salmon pan-fried in ghee and herbs, the skinniest sweet potatoes I have ever seen, more like carrots, and a green salad with golden raisins, roasted cashews and honey crisp apples, my younger daughter, age 29, calls sobbing. The distancing is wearing us all down. We are used to hugging and seeing each other at least once each week for Sunday brunches. I say I wish we could all be tested and then feel okay about being together, but everyone else vetoes that idea. They are worried for us–especially Steve, who has asthma.
Later that day I take a walk and see a woman sitting at an outside table at a hot dog stand with a stack of toilet paper. She says she got it at the Whole Foods a block away. The next morning at senior hour, my husband is able to buy 4 individual rolls. This brings our TP roll total to 9.
I get a text from my daughter saying her boss’s friend’s goldendoodle has had puppies and would we want one. The puppies are in Kansas, but the boss will be flying out to pick one up for her mother and could pick one up for us, friends and family rate. We receive this photo. I say YES! We will call her Ruthie, short for RBG. I love that she looks studious AND progressive. And I’m sure she believes in science! I am just worried that the whole thing could fall through considering this new reality. I write the owner in Kansas who tells me to Praise Mary and have faith not fear. That is almost enough to make me cancel the whole thing, but with advice from less reactive family members, I don’t.
That morning, in my usual Saturday Morning Post, in which I piece together significant historical events of the day, I see that in 1349, 3000 Jews were killed in a Black Death riot in Germany. I’m sure you’ve heard they are also responsible for the CV. To lighten the load, I post:
But surprisingly, I don’t have a sweet tooth, even though the freezer is filled with ice cream. I hope this isn’t because I’ve lost my sense of taste. Maybe I have the virus! Maybe I’ve already had it. Hard to tell with the pollen count off the charts around here. My nose runs, my throat scratches. Is it the virus? Is it? I hear Steve constantly clearing his throat, breathing hard when he comes back from senior shopping hour at Whole Foods with two large bags of groceries and six bottles of Italian red wine. Yes, we sterilize the groceries. I spray bleach water on everything, soak the produce in soap. Wash my hands with everything–soap, bleach water, alcohol water and Dr. Bronner’s. They look like the desert.
I take a walk and photograph white. Note the heart in the clouds. I think the sky still loves us!
And later I post: This is what happens to tulips who do not follow the self-isolation guidelines.
I awake so sick of words, I want to spit. I’m not sure I can hear or read another word today. I can’t read The Hill or the Daily Kos, warning us that with the primaries being delayed, the Dems road to the WH is in big trouble. I can’t read that WC’s approval ratings are going up, which I don’t believe. I can’t read about the horrendous death tolls in Italy and how they are having trouble dealing with all the dead bodies. I can’t read the rare MAGA posts that manage to sneak through my feeds, praising the WC’s greatness. I can’t read about how that heinous blob Barr is trying to steal our constitutional rights. And I can’t read another snarky message from the Bernie supporters about Biden or the Biden supporters about Bernie.
Last night, my son-in-law’s aunt died. She went with her husband for a long weekend in Florida, came home, got sick, and died. She was in her 50s, a smoker, but beyond that, had no apparent underlying conditions. She died alone while her husband was awaiting test results. A few days later, the test results come in negative, but everyone agreed it had to be the CV and that the test was faulty–which, it appears, it probably was since they say at least 30% of the tests are incorrect.
I take a walk and photograph red. Then come home and make a gluten-free apple/raisin coffeecake with lemon/vanilla glaze.
Later that day, our neighborhood Starbucks closes. There is just a sign in the window that says they’ll open as soon as they can. Is one of their darling servers sick? Steve bought two coffees the afternoon before. Was there virus on the lid? We panicked all evening, clearing our throats, secretly gargling with hydrogen peroxide.
I take a walk and photograph orange.
It is revealed that Rand Paul has the virus. I’m glad, although I do not state it publicly, still attempting some semblance of grace. Others do state it, of course. Others openly say they want him to die.
Fake news abounds about why the relief bill hasn’t passed, blaming the Democrats for attempting to tack on strange laws about abortion or solar panels. Oh, please.
I post: UNBELIEVABLE GASLIGHTING GOING ON.
And tweet to McConnell: BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT.
I awake ready to fight. I see several posts: Where is Joe? Where is Joe? I reply that like Bernie, he is remaining quiet, respectful, in the face of a global goddamned pandemic, unlike WC who would campaign at his son’s deathbed.
I take a walk and photograph pink:
I awake again overwhelmed again by my rage but decide to stay away from the news–at least until dinner time. I post: #noragetoday #nonewstoday and take a walk and photograph purple:
I argue on Messenger with an old student about hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle. And then around 3:30, I break my #nonews #norage vow and look at my phone and hear WC’s comments about everything being fine by Easter when the beautiful churches will be packed and how he loves beautiful Easter. My RAGE squirts out of me like lemon juice. It begins to hail–frogs and locusts. I post: I am drowning in the hypocrisy.
I take a walk and photograph yellow.
I listen to Laura Nyro. Coincidentally, my sister in Florida reports she is also listening to Laura Nyro. We are bonding over Laura Nyro. Frankly, my siblings and I have never communicated this much in our lives. Yes, it’s texts, but it has a warmth that is new. I like it.
Later that day, the media announces that America has surpassed China in total CV cases. Of course, who believes China, but . . . ? WC brags about being a war time president and I start calling him War Criminal In Chief. Healthcare workers are pleading for PPE and he says they have what they need, and if they don’t, he’ll only supply the states with governors who kiss his ass. My eyes are rolling back in their sockets. My husband and I scream, “DIE, MOTHERFUCKER! DIE!” Then laugh hysterically. I post the above image.
And Birx continues to nod her head, nod her head in her fashionable, well-wrapped scarves. And Fauci doesn’t show up. And for the first time in over three years, Lester Holt does not mention WC at all during the evening news. The first time.
Lester does report that a refrigerated truck waits outside Elmhurst Hospital in Queens to collect the dead bodies. This is Steve’s childhood neighborhood. And WC’s?
I have an argument with a local progressive lesbian activist. I say Dr. Birx has obviously drunk the Kool-Aid and I haven’t trusted her since the first moment I saw her nodding, nodding behind WC weeks ago in her fashionable, well-wrapped scarves. She says I’m cherry-picking. I snooze her account, take a walk and photograph garden tchotchkes.
I wake up and make a gluten-free Dutch baby. It is one of the most delicious and beautiful things I’ve ever made or tasted. I post the simple recipe and a recommendation for the movie “Unorthodox.” Both go viral, at least among my friends. Everyone starts posting photos of their Dutch babies and comments about “Unorthodox.”
I take a walk and photograph tree trunks.
I wake up stewing in a disgust like acrid broth. The War Criminal in the White House accuses healthcare workers of stealing PPE and selling them out the back door. I decide I now hate him enough to publicly say that, even though I know that is what the MAGA zombies want us to say. I post it. I hate him. [Three hours later, I remove the post.]
Then I take a walk and photograph rocks.
Later that afternoon, the incredible and oh-so-perfect essay by British writer Dan White goes viral, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” I post it and excerpt it here: Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace…Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing…He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is–his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty…His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness…We see it as having no inner world, no soul…He’s more a fat white slug…And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a sniveling sidekick instead…He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless…He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws…God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid…In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws, he would make a Trump. And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: My God… what… have… I… created? If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”
It soothes me. It soothes us all. I share it widely and take another bath–the third that day.
I don’t watch the news until 5:30. I take a walk and photograph grasses that splay:
I start nipping and snapping at Steve. Why does he always talk when the most important information of the day is being shared? I want to strangle him. I post this for a minute but then realize she is no doubt knitting a noose for a lynching, and I delete it.
I take a walk by some good friends’ house and we talk. I stand in the driveway and they stand on their porch. They remind me to watch the 3rd episode of “Plot Against America,” which I do over lunch. I can’t stop crying. The frustration! The outrage! The disgust! And then McConnell is shown blaming the impeachment trial for the administration’s CV response ineptitude. I send Mitch and WC a tweet:
You are so full of shit, I can’t believe you’re still white. #fakechristians #zombieapocalypse
Later that day I hear a reporter say that Trump seemed scared in the press conference and shockingly, I feel empathy for him–for the first time ever. Because fear is human. I think maybe he is human. But my empathy is as fleeting as my trust in Dr. Birx.
And there goes March. Steve and I are not sick, except in our hearts–no doubt like you. We still haven’t seen anyone in our family in the flesh. We’re down to four rolls of toilet paper, but there’s a Whole Foods a block away. Every day I wake up and hope there is a scientific breakthrough because that’s the only way we’ll get through this. Science!! I do believe in science. And I do believe in tap. Did I mention I’m taking tap?
Leanne Grabel, MEd, is a writer, illustrator, performer & retired special education teacher. Grabel will be the 2020 recipient of Soapstone’s Bread and Roses Award for contributions to women’s literature in the Pacific Northwest. Grabel teaches graphic flash memoir to adults in arts and senior centers throughout the Pacific Northwest. In love with mixing genres, she has written and produced numerous spoken-word multi-media shows, including The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression, and Anger: The Musical.” er poetry books include Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Short Poems by a Short Person; Badgirls (a collection of flash non-fiction & a theater piece); and Gold Shoes, a collection of graphic prose poems. Grabel has just completed Tainted Illustrated, an illustrated stretched memoir, which is being serialized in THE OPIATE. She and her husband Steve Sander are the founders of Café Lena, Portland’s legendary poetry hub of the ’90s. ACM publishes Grabel’s workthe second Thursday of the month.