As of this writing, America is still in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic. And there is little hope or evidence that it is abating. But life does go on as well as it can during an era of restrictions, mandates, and ordinances. Those restrictions often run contrary to basic freedoms and constitutional rights as we understand them. Yet we soldier on and venture out as best we can…because baby needs a brand-new pair of shoes and perhaps a loaf of bread. As a writer, I sometimes feel like I'm little more than a chronicler and observer of the times. And what follows are incidents, anecdotes, and vignettes. Slices of life and scenes amid the pandemic that I see Richard Linklater or perhaps Mike Judge cobbling together for a film.
Meth and tattoos: When the pandemic finally subsides to the point where this nation can refocus its attention on other seemingly intractable problems, we will be horrified and sickened to find that drug addiction had gone from bad to worse. Remember the opioid crisis? It never went away. And while national media had been centered around it, deaths associated with methamphetamine addiction continued to rise. A recent trip to an apparel store provided me the opportunity to see meth addiction up close. There was a couple shopping for boots and at the same time bouncing off the walls, fixtures, and the aisles. They were emaciated, bad teeth, and picking at scabs real and imaginary. One scab the female was picking at was in the middle of her arm – in the middle of a broken heart tattoo and a good luck charm. At least the required face coverings help to hide their identities.
If only they could take that anonymity to a twelve-step program.
Homeless man: Just like drug addiction, we will find out to our dismay that homelessness in America has not only worsened but has proliferated and accelerated. But an encounter I had with a homeless gentleman made clear to me the abject complexity of providing comfort and aid to such individuals. As I was walking across a parking lot, I noticed this guy out of the corner of my eye walking toward me. I surmised he was going to ask for change…or a belt. The pants he was wearing were falling to the point where he was having to hold them up with one hand. My knee jerk reaction was not to offer any monetary aid. My thinking on the homeless issue has evolved over the years to only supporting organizations that are skilled and trained in screening out those who are serious about getting off the streets. Do I enable them to remain in their wretched condition by offering
compassion...and a few bucks? Yes, I do. And so, as I drove away, I saw the man in my rear-view mirror. He was still tugging at his pants while at the same time extending me his middle finger. It was sadly comical. I didn't know whether to laugh...or cry.
Old man and the mask: An old man in his 80's parked his car seemingly a mile away from the grocery store entrance. He got out slowly and began walking in a gait like the Tim Conway old doctor character from the Carol Burnett Show. He eventually made it to his destination before realizing he forgot something. He made the long trek back. I asked him if he was ok. His reply was, "I forgot my mask...that damn mask".
The music man: I was in search of a harmonica, because I needed to play the song Memory from the musical Cats. Well at least I thought I did. I stepped into a local mom and pop music store I hadn't been in for several years. When I entered it wasn't so much a music store as it was a long dark hallway. I vaguely recognized the proprietor. He was much older and not as robust and full of energy as I remember him being. As we talked, I realized it had been a full decade since I visited this shop last. There were a few instruments scattered here and there, pictures on the wall of music superstars he had been associated with, even his own albums from his glory days stacked on the floor. And the harmonicas? Well it is a supply problem, don't you know. The Chinese are the culprits. But if you want a German one (I did) he could get it for me, but it
might take a while. It got quiet. I could hear the sound of bankruptcy. I also expected Rod Serling to pop out any minute.
Loneliness, addiction, quiet and not so quiet despair. It's all here.
And as we fade out, Randy Newman is singing:
I Think It's Going to Rain Today.