Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Waking Up Asleep (on my endless adventures in attempting to get a hip replacement)

waking up asleep

by Douglas Messerli

For the past year and a half—with the duel patterns of mass isolation due to the world-wide invasion of the virus COVID and its variants—perhaps the most shattering international tragedy since World War II*—and the absurdist transformation of US politics in which a formerly troubled but seemingly sane nation suddenly woke up to discover that the other half of the population had apparently gone stark-raving mad (and presumably that represents the situation for both sides of the issue)—I have the feeling that I have been living in some vast dream: a nightmare at times, a comic and even absurdist farce at other moments, but overall simply living in a world that doesn’t seem to be logical, in which no matter how hard I try I can’t quite reach  out of the others who seem to be sharing their own versions of this dream.

      The utter isolation—in California we were appropriately ordered to a semi-lockdown and have never completely abandoned the requirement of wearing masks when we come into contact with other human beings (I often just long to catch glimpse again of my friends’ full faces)—has been made even more queer in Howard’s and my case simply because of our own bodily frailties. Beginning about this time last year Howard started to show signs of what appeared to be something akin to Alzheimer’s disease as he retreated to the couch, found it difficult to even stand, and begin to forget everything he once attended to so very capably, including paying bills, shopping, cooking, and cleaning the house, all tasks which I gladly took over while being terribly worried by his abandonment of them. I masked up and darted out to grocery stores and carry-out restaurants, cooked our home meals, wrote out our checks, and helped him to the bathroom and shower, while he began also to show signs of something more serious in his abdominal area.

      Indeed, it was quite serious. I pulled out our old walker and forced him to the hospital emergency room, after a stop by our excellent gastroenterologist, where he was diagnosed as having an acute gall bladder infection which was discovered during the operation to be gangrenous, almost costing his life. His behavior was soon explained by the long-term effects of that infection.

Had he become ill just a few weeks later, after the second wave of COVID sufferers of December and January 2020 which filled the hospitals to capacity, he might not have found a hospital bed and would surely have died.

      So Howard returned home and to normal health after a period of recovery, during which we bonded in an even further sense of isolation, as recovering couples do since there is no way to completely explain to others the effects of such a near-brush with death.

      Both of us were also recovering in other ways as well, since I had stopped drinking, cold turkey in June of 2020, and Howard stopped the day he was hospitalized. We remain sober despite so many lovely temptations to tilt a cocktail glass to toast our survival.

      But hardly had Howard fully recovered but I began to have difficulties, arthritis of the hip striking so quickly that what first appeared to be a simple sprain or illogical bruise grew day by day to a limp and then a dull pain that over the weeks grew sharper and sharper. A trip to an orthopedic specialist led to a diagnosis of severe loss of hip cartilage, with my hip bones rubbing rawly against one another.  A steroid provided some months of improvement.

      The pain, however, began to return, this time even more severely, and another visit to my orthopedist indicated that it was time, finally, for a hip replacement.

       Once more we hunkered down in a time of international hunkering to prepare for my operation. Howard returned to his role of shopper, home chef, and nurse as I grew increasingly more lame, hardly even able to make the long trip downstairs in our vast condominium complex to check the mail, let alone to travel out—except of course to further doctors necessary to prepare for the surgery, planned for more than month away since medics in this time of despair were so very much in demand.

       The pain increased. Even though I had always thought of myself as being highly pain tolerant, if I was grading it on a 1-10 scale I would describe it as a 7 or 8. I called to see if they might move my surgery just a week or too earlier, which they were able to accommodate.

       Like a sleep-walking soldier I marched to my primary physician to pass a series of blood tests, an electrocardiogram (EKG), a chest X-ray, and hundreds of questions repeated so many times over the past several months regarding my state of health with regard to COVID symptoms that it has almost replaced the US Pledge of Allegiance or the Star-Spangled Banner in my memory bank.

I gave up my daily aspirin, my fish-oil pills for cholesterol, and some of my vitamin supplements that are all incompatible with surgery.

        Yet there was yet one more hurdle which had never before been set up in my path: because of my age (terrible words the doctors invoke to remind you the miracle of your having survived all of these years only through their hard work and medical knowledge) I would need to undergo a “stress test.” Of course, most such tests involve asking the patient to run for a while on a treadmill in order to raise the heartbeat so they can check if everything is going smoothly when the body is functioning full force. Obviously, since I could barely walk, let alone run, the treadmill was an impossibility; but nowadays, they can inject chemicals which bring up the heart rate without any motion.

       Again because of COVID and the stress of isolation and politics, I might guess, cardiologists are very much in demand. And the only appointment they could schedule, despite my doctor’s prescription of the test’s urgency, was the day before my operation. I knew from the start this represented a dangerously close hurdle over which to leap before I landed in my hospital bed.

       Meanwhile, I received calls at least once a week advising me of the logistics, reminding me what pills to stop taking, what foods to remove from my diet, and when to start fasting, as well as testing my aged memory by requesting over and over for me to repeat the daily pill regimen, my name, by birthdate, my phone number, and the capitol of Afghanistan. Perhaps I am confusing the outer world with my inner, something that happens perhaps to all of us in these days of mass catatonia.

       During the long wait, moreover, I was losing more and more power over my bodily motions. To bend down to make the bed with Howard, a daily morning ritual, was an increasingly impossible series of actions. To use the toilet was a torture since it involves moving into a near squat position, putting intense pressure upon the aching hip bones and increasingly exhausted leg muscles which have been asked to substitute for activities the hip might have previously facilitated.

        I rarely left the house during these days except for another visit to the surgeon for several more detailed x-rays, since, I was told, the fit had to be absolute and the artificial replacement was molded particularly for my personal hip abnormalities.

        As I described it to Howard, I felt that each day brought about new capitulations to age and death. I now could only put on and remove my pants by sitting on the bed. I could no longer bend to put on socks. Howard purchased me a new pair of downy-lined slippers to serve as my shoes. Nervous and irritated by my increasing sense of aging, I snacked on childhood favorites. I gained weight, which obviously was helped along by difficulty in getting any exercise. Finally, I was forced to rely on a cane.

        It was the day before my surgery when I finally entered the door of the cardiologist’s office to take my stress test. As they put the injection into my system they asked if I’d taken my blood pressure medicine that morning. I had, I told them, since no one had told me not to and the procedures I’d had in the past all required a fairly normal blood pressure. “I took it very early, at 2:30 that morning,” I responded. But they were still dubious. Beta blockers work against the very goal of this test. As expected, my blood pressure rose higher and higher while by blood rate barely inched up. The doctor was called in, and the test cancelled.

        I was angry, frustrated as all my doctors reported back that the surgery would have to be cancelled, and I would need to get in line, after another stress test, to make yet a appointment for my hip replacement.

        The next morning I apologized to my primary doctor for demonstrating that frustration and was about to call to make an appointment for another stress test when she called me, gracefully accepting my apologies, but also announcing she was now asking that I consult with a cardiologist. Now, I realized, I had gone even one step back since I would have to visit the doctor before having the test before, if I passed the test, I could begin to make another appointment for hip replacement surgery. The first time I could get an appointment with the new cardiologist was another month in the future.

       For that month, predictably, I continued my decline in my walking abilities. The pain had reached an imaginary number 10 on my little scale. I walked about the house winching in occasional tears. I wondered whether I might ever walk normally again.

       Fortunately, I was living in the nightmarish dream the entire nation was suffering. Soon everyone remembered the name of the capitol of Afghanistan. People who had confused their medicines with politics were dying as if it were the normal result of such fervent beliefs. Politicians didn’t seem to mind sentencing entire state-wide populations to suffer a murderous disease if they could get a few more votes by arguing against medical advice. So I was not going to join them by further arguing against my now several doctor’s maxim: “It’s better to find out that something is wrong with your heart before having a heart attack on the surgeon’s table from which you might never wake up.”

       When, I asked over and over, might we all wake up? This dream was now beginning to look like Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. But not as pleasingly exotic, just strange and frightening. Fires were burning hundreds of acres across the Western states.

        Another month passed and the very young and extremely knowledgeable cardiologist recommended a new blood pressure prescription and arranged for another stress test, this one including a nuclear component where they followed a small radioactive trail through your veins after having chemically set your heartbeat into full motion. Everything seemed to go well, even though my worst nightmare came true, since I suffer from claustrophobia, when they required my body to completely enter a narrow camera chamber for a five minute wait—twice. But the news a couple of days later from the cardiologist himself was not so good.

       Evidently my veins suffered from a great deal of calcification, which presumably is what is meant by “hardening of the arteries.” And I would have to undergo a hospital angiogram with the possible injection of a stent or two, which, since that would require another month or so of an aspirin regimen, would postpone any chance of finally getting my hip on the way to better health for two to three further months, moving it from August 1 to possibly November 2021, a year to the date after Howard’s hospitalization—that is if they had not by that time had to cancel all elective surgeries due to another wave of COVID infections.

 *    

I woke up this morning, September 1, 2021, feeling as if yesterday had been a dream within a dream, a strange personal space carved out of the large mass hallucination under which we all are suffering. I even asked Howard if yesterday had not been a dream, half seriously.

      It had started on Monday. The appointment for my angiogram had been scheduled for Friday, September 3rd and today I was scheduled to get a Cedars-Sinai COVID test. But on Monday my new cardiologist specialist, Mamoo Nakamura, had his assistant call to see if I might be able to switch my angiogram to Tuesday. The assistant began by suggesting the appointment would be at 2:30 in the afternoon, but quickly cancelled that, since she had still to arrange for a COVID test that morning and the time might change depending upon whether they had received the results of that test. She called again a short while later, saying that she’d made by COVID test appointment for 11:30 a.m., but that I should just wait around in the car to hear when they might be able to make the actual procedure time.

      Explaining to her that we lived only 6 minutes by auto from the hospital and that neither of us had cell phones on which she might call us** that it would be better if we returned home, she agreed, promising that the doctors would call me after the test to tell me of the actual time I should be back at the hospital.

      Tuesday morning I awoke early at 1:45 a.m. (another strange aspect of my dream days involve the fact that my schedule has radically returned to my childhood days when I used to go to bed after supper and rise early for my newspaper route before going to school). I had been fasting since 3:00 on Monday, and had had no water since 6:30 that afternoon. Amazingly, after swallowing one of my two daily painkillers I felt strong enough to waddle downstairs to check the mail.  

      All of my close friends know that in these mad days I have taken up an ever madder venture. Inexplicably just before COVID descended upon the globe, after nearly a lifetime of Howard and I living a very gay-removed lifestyle (see my essay “My Queer Cinema: A Prelude”) I have suddenly decided to re-engage with my LGBTQ roots, determining to write a multi-volume work, My Queer Cinema: LGBTQ Films Coded and Explicit 1887-2000 in which I have undertaken to write pieces on all and any film between those dates which pointed to or involved LGBTQ behavior. The inclusiveness of this volume is it’s defining feature, which gives a far broader perspective that ever before of just how important—despite all of the restrictions and film codes against representing homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and others—this minority was to filmmaking.

      Accordingly I wrote two essays (I have been, on average, writing 1 or 2 such essays each day), determined not to let my physical difficulties stand in my way. By that time it was necessary for Howard and I to ready ourselves for the quick trip to get a COVID test. I took the test without any difficulties and returned home to wait for their call.

      I answered several Email and Facebook messages and began to watch another movie, but still no telephone call. Howard was beginning to panic, but I reminded him of their promise to call and the fact that if I attempted to call to the office (which I eventually did) I would only get a recording which would not allow to do anything but to leave a message, unable to contact any real human being.

     I grew disinterested in my film and time was clicking away without a call back. Finally at 2:20, after increasing impatience with what he perceived as my great calm, I agreed that we should quickly return to the hospital to at least see if they were expecting me.

      We arrived, quite miraculously, at 2:30 on schedule, checked in and discovered that indeed I had an appointment. Soon I was upstairs in the waiting room and a few minutes later I was called in for preparation, where they undress you, hook you up an intravenous tube and to a machine that randomly checks your blood pressure, heartbeat, temperature, etc. They ask you the standard questions again, about COVID obviously and about who you are, when you last ate, and if you can recall your name, your birthdate, your telephone, your medical pill regimen, and the capitol of Afghanistan. I now quickly answered their questionnaire, but discovered rather startlingly that I had lost 10 pounds from my weight check in the cardiologist’s office and that my blood pressure was near perfect. It seemed too good to be true.




      I should insert the fact that through my experience of several dozen of these hospital preparations (for various operations including prostate cancer and knee preplacement) and procedures (regular esophageal procedures for Barrett’s Syndrome and numerous colonoscopies) along with a few other such visits that the nurses at Cedars-Sinai are all human saints, thoroughly capable, filled with good sense and humor, and able to make you feel like you’re their only patient despite the dozens of others sitting in separate sheeted cubicles nearby. The escorts, bed-rollers, lab and operating room nurses, anesthesiologists, and doctors are equally excellent. Over the years doctors such as Jay Stein, Sean Rajaee, Merije T. Chukumerijie, Raena Olsen, and now Nakamura have been described to me by the nurses as the equivalent of the “rock stars” of their profession, the doctors they go to when they have problems. A couple of these saved our lives. So once I’m settled into the confines of the hospital I generally feel safe and well taken care of.

      This time was no different. Even the woman who rolled me into the procedure room had me laughing as she told stories about how she has utterly no sense of direction and had even gotten lost on her way from her house to her high school prom, only a short ways from her home which she had traveled five days a week for years.

       They were able to enter my veins from my wrist, and, after giving me a mild sedative which in no way that made me feel mentally impaired—I was awake and alert for the entire procedure and felt no pain—although the tests ended so quickly I may have lost my sense of time. The doctor, speaking a few inches away from my face, told me that all my veins were fully functioning, there was no blockage of blood, and I had only very minor calcification.

       They rolled me back to the room, fed me a chicken salad sandwich and cranberry juice, attended to my wrist wound for a little more than an hour, and invited Howard to help me dress. Soon I was up and whisked off into a wheelchair with wonderment. Everything that stood in the way to my hip salvation was now over so suddenly I hardly had time to let out a grateful gasp!

       Today I’ll call to see when I might be able to make another appointment. Stay tune to further adventures. Perhaps we will all soon wake up, vaguely able to recall all of these awful dream-like days. 

*The World Health Organization estimates that the total of deaths to date due to COVID are close to 3 million. With the Holocaust and military and other civilian deaths, from 70-80 million people were killed in World War II. The Korean Way is estimated to have killed about 3 million, but of course COVID has apparently a long ways to go before being eradicated.

** Howard finally broke down a purchased a cell phone just for my hospitalization, but has been having difficulty in getting it to fully function. I do think they called him in the lobby during my procedure yesterday.

Los Angeles, September 1, 2021

Reprinted from Green Integer blog (September 2021).

 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Douglas Messerli | How to Explain the Misfortune (on Jean-Jacques Viton)

how to explain the misfortune

This morning I awake to hear the news that French poet Jean-Jacques Viton had died (born in Paris in 1933), dying apparently yesterday, Sunday, March 14th in Marseille.

     I did not know Jean-Jacques as well as I knew his wife the poet and fiction writer Liliane Giraudon, but I did attend a reading of his at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California, and afterward we invited Jean-Jacques, Liliane, Rae Armantrout, and her husband Chuck  Korkegian back to our house for dinner. Howard took a long time to prepare the meal, and I recall Rae being anxious for the hour since they were still intending to drive back that night to San Diego. I’ve mentioned this fact elsewhere, but today I truly comprehend her consternation for such a late-night drive. I believe Howard and I would have chosen a hotel in which to spend the night, but Rae and Chuck did have, after all, a young son waiting at home.

     I don’t remember anything else about our conversations, alas. I do recall that Jean-Jacques, probably because of the language differences, was mostly quiet. And Liliane also did not speak English well, as I later realized when I dined with her, Henri Deluy, poet Joseph Guglielmi and others at Deluy’s house in the suburbs of Paris. What might have Howard prepared given that Liliane herself is an excellent cook? Perhaps basil and pasta, which we often served our unexpected guests in those days.

      This morning I wrote a poem for Jean-Jacques, using the devices I often use to write through the work of other poets: small accidental choices of word units, association, repetition, and rhyming and punning, obviously in this case, on the English-language translation by Aaron Kunin and Anne Kawala. I also often dive into the original poem as well to re-translate phrases or to apply English rhyming-words to the original French text.

      It may be useful to see Viton’s original to see if any remnants of his own poem have made it through the complex associative and linking process.

 

Cher donc qui ? ( - cher toi sûrement, vieil appareil

 talkie-walkie déjà daté de la conversation

1921 – 1971

 

j’aurai retenu

une suite de fables que je repasse au sas

tu en feras ce que tu voudras

quant à moi bien entendu

le courant peut parcourir le haut et le bas

mais il faut que tout change

mauvais genre sans apparence histoire brève

ça cache une désolation

il règne ici sur l’eau desséchée

tout au bout d’une voix qui chante soprano « malgré tout »

une grande faille quotidienne

on ne peut pas l’écarter avec la main

il faut pousser l’espace pour faire du vide

avec ombres récits brefs illustrations

sait s’y prendre qui prendra le dernier

contra         ste de faux amis imbroglio

quand tout va mal le pire

peut encore arriver

période artificielle dite nouvelle saison

avec oiseaux rapides en fuite

vaches aplaties dans des recoins d’herbe

comment expliquer que le malheur s’abat comme ça

 

      My poem, dedicated to him, reads as follows:

 

OF LATE IDEAS WANDER

for Jean-Jacques Viton

 

A consternation explains the misfortune.

Who can move it aside, push space into emptiness

without a little imbroglio? Artificial time

is called a new season, and it reigns here

in this parched land to create the beginning

of what we can only hope might be filled.

 

At the far end of a soprano’s voice there are

illustrations of what comes next, the imbroglio

in the seraglio’s palace where everything inevitably

must go wrong. A consternation explains

the shadows, the flattened cows against the glass.

A fast bird is on the lam.

 

I might have kept the row of false fables

to dine upon. I might have drank from the

parchment under water. I might have spoken

to all those false friends. It is called a new reason

to tell you why everything came crashing down

into the recesses of the necessary explanation.

 

In the seraglio the women come and go.

The man outside is waiting for the water

to return to its vases. The castrato sings

in his soprano’s voice, calling out for the consternation

to end.  He pushes aside the emptiness

and enters on the lam into the imbroglio

 

Falling in the dismay of his embarrassment.

The time has come to admit the season is no longer

real. The palace doors have closed, and the harem

has escaped. The cow’s faces are pasted upon

the surface of the grass. The bird flies quickly

off.  The friends flee, faced with the end of the fable.

 

Los Angeles, March 15, 2021

Reprinted from Facebook (March 15, 2021).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"A Study in Contradictions" by Douglas Messerli

A STUDY IN CONTRADICTIONS
by Douglas Messerli

Jean Genet The Criminal Child: Selected Essays (Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman, translators) (New York, New York Review of Books, 2020).

Jean Genet’s The Criminal Child, selected essays recently published in a wonderful translation of Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman by the New York Review of Books, is a study in contradictions, however beautifully expressed.
     Although readily admitting to his criminal childhood acts—which consisted mostly of stealing books and sexual acts as a child prostitute—Genet, naming many another such beings (Saint-Maurice, Saint-Hilaire, Bell-Isle, Eysse, Aniane, Montresson, Mettrayé)—admittedly meaningless to the rest of us, that these children, sentenced often for a prison period of 21 years (the French system was not a palliative one), writes:

           These children are committing an (intentional) error, the tribunal
           having passed a judgment such. Acquitted for having acted
           without full awareness, and entrusted to the reformatory until
           the age of majority….” But the young criminal immediately
           rejects the indulgence and concern of a society that he has, in
           committing his first offence, revolted against. At fifteen or
           sixteen or earlier yet, he has attained a maturity that other may
           not even reach even at sixty, and he scorns their munificence.
           He insists that his punishment be unsparing.

     I am certainly unsure that all teenage offenders quite felt the way Genet portrays them, but then Genet, despite his moral indulgences was also a highly moral being determined to react to the school-boy discipline that “strike a gentle soul as severe and pitiless,” while yet to remaining true to French church teachings that would be infused in his radical theatrical and fictional works to the end of his life.*
     It is clear, even in these early essays, that Genet was always torn between societal values and his own radical reaction against them.
     His ballet, “’Adame Miroir,” for example is a performance about mirrors, which reveal the class differences between a handsome sailor, who “has no past,” and whose life “beings with the choreography, which utterly contains it. He is young and handsome. He has curly hair. His muscles are hard and supple: in short, he is our of the ideal lover,” and The Domino, who represents death, a coupling performed in the interior of an extremely sumptuous palace, “the hallways covered with beveled mirrors.” In short, it is a slightly later version of Querelle of Brest.
     Although it is quite clear that he loves the work of fellow French director Jean Cocteau, he also describes the famed author-director as writing a work that is a “curious fragment, brief hard blazing, comically incomplete.”

          That is how Jean Cocteau’s work seems to us, like a light, aerial
          stormy civilization hanging from the heavy heart of our own. The
          very person of the poet adds to it, thin, knotted, silvery as olive
          trees.

     Genet’s wonderful essay on the artist Alberto Giacometti is just as fraught with contradictions.
On one hand, he recognizes Giacometti’s work as representing a kind of nostalgia:

           It is Giacometti’s body of work that make our universe so un-
           bearable to me, so much does it seem that this artist knew how
          to remove whatever impeded his gaze so could discover what
          remains of man when the pretense is removed.

     Yet, clearly, he is entranced by the sculptures, for him an truly sensuous experience.
          
           I cannot prevent myself from the touch the statues: I turn away
           my eyes, and my hand continues to discoveries alone, the neck,
           the head, the nape of the neck, the shoulders…Sensations
           flow to my fingertips. Not one that isn’t different, so that my
           hand travels through an extremely varied and lively landscape.

     But it is the last essay of this book, “The Tightrope Walker,” that most intrigues me as a kind of metaphoric statement of Genet’s own writing and sensibility. For him, the dance, the acrobatic on the wire is everything—in short it is the performance of the art that is even more important than the writer/performer.

            Give your metal wire the most beautiful expression, not of
            you, but of it. Your leaps, your somersaults, your dances—
            in acrobat slang, your pitter-patter, bows, midair somersaults,
            cartwheels, etc.—you will execute them successfully, not
            for you to shine, but so that a steel wire that was dead and
            voiceless which finally sings.

     This short volume of essays by Genet reveals volumes about his art, as contradictory as it may be—but then that was what Genet himself was!
      After finishing them over a few days of quarantine, I wished I might read them all over again.

Los Angeles, May 5, 2020
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (May 2020).
          
*I need to again mention that at about the age of 15, visiting a University of Iowa bookstore, I stole the only book that I ever have or will: which just happened to be Jean Genet’s The Blacks. I knew absolutely noting about Genet, and had never read his work, and certainly did not at all know that he had been arrested for doing the same thing; but the book just called out to me and I had to have it, despite the fact that I had little money, and was allowed to visit the stores for a short while before my other family members would be delighted to take in the Hawkeyes’ football game.
      Strangely I never felt guilty about this one-time act, but when I relayed it, after I myself had become a major publisher, to the bookseller from that same bookstore, he seemed shocked, startled by my revelation, and surely ready to have me arrested for my childhood crime.  

Friday, May 1, 2020

“My Crickets: A Little Decameron #37”

So, so quiet—except for the endless drone of the television's CNN, which I haven't yet dragged over into my personal space.
      No mourning doves yet.
      Despite the reported return of natural life into our slightly departed world, it seems quieter this May 1st than Rachel Carson's description of it in her 1962 book Silent Spring.
      O, just one dove, at 5:45, has begun his early call. But then, like my cricket, suddenly stopped. Do these sentient beings realize our sudden abandonment of their world? The dove never returned to his cries.
      I read in yesterday's The New York Times that New Yorkers' were getting up later. Same thing here in Los Angeles. Some of our neighbors seem never to even see the day-light, with their blinds endlessly drawn, with no lights. Yesterday, I saw only one person from our complex, the Russian again airing his blanket upon his railing.
     In my look into nature, am I also losing contact with the humans with whom before I daily came together within space? If we were so busy rushing around previously that we hardly recognized one another, now we appear to be trapped within our own fearful nightmares, alone and desolate.
     I ran down to the check the mail early today, with my mask on, just to not have the encounter the lurking people around the corners, waiting for me to quickly leave.
     I've realized these past weeks just how much Howard and I do truly love and need one another.
     My cricket was busy for most the night, but I awoke him early this morning with a shower at 4:30, and he closed down his communications. Moreover, I forgot to give him his nightly tribute of impossible to eat food and water. His fortitude simply amazes me. Tomorrow, if he survives, will be the beginning of his 9th week sheltering in our house.
      Despite our best intentions, we retreated last night to a diet of Welsh rarebit, this made with a lovely Welsh cheese on Thomas' muffins.
      Yet neither of us was pleased with the meal, and we mutually agreed to lay off the unhealthy dish for a while--despite its luscious taste.
      Maybe tonight some Rao's chicken soup or Marie Calender's Roasted Turkey Breast and Stuffing? Neither is great cuisine. but I don't want to have Howard make a journey into the unknown for better and fresher ingredients.
      The pool lights just turned off. So quiet. So very quiet.

Los Angeles, May 1, 2020
Reprinted from Facebook (May 2020).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

“My Crickets: A Little Decameron #36”


Two serious calls today, one absolutely wonderful: Howard's niece Stephanie had a baby, which she beautifully named Alice Rose (after Howard's grandmother's and mother's name).
      The other quite tragic, a dear Washington, D.C. friend is nearing death, after an exceptionally long time of surviving with a number of serious illnesses. Hospice has finally suggested that he be removed from his ventilator for pneumonia (after he strangely did not prove positive for the COVDID-19 virus). Does it truly matter? A dear friend is now dying. I'll soon send out our news about one of our very dearest friends. We all cried together on the telephone this morning.
     The other night we received a late-night call and weren't able to get to the telephone fast enough. Neither of the calls were from them, but Howard now keeps the phone under his pillow.

Los Angeles, April 30, 2020
Reprinted from Facebook (April 2020).

“My Crickets: A Little Decameron #35”


My little cricket is still well, singing throughout the night. I fed him tiny bits of fish (which wasn’t tasty) with his water last evening. I do believe that perhaps the small ramekin of water was moved a bit, but I also think this might be delusional thinking on my part, and just a result of the shake of my hands.
       Now 61,005 US citizens dead. Throughout the world, 3,218,430 have contracted the virus to date, with 228,625 international deaths. When more than 30 million citizens apply for unemployment insurance, what can you say? How do doctors expect you to stop touching your face when tears are streaming down both cheeks?
      And now the Los Angeles City Department of Health has completely closed down our pool and jacuzzi. The tiny bit of human recognition we have left is now gone. No Ukrainians, no anxious parents or their children will be witnessed: just the plastic owl and the mostly closed umbrellas and our Russian family’s rug and towels, which they’ve begun to hang over their second-story balcony railing.
      Yet, just now, a little bird, which I describe as a finch, perhaps a purple finch since his forehead was slightly bluish, flew into our patio to inspect it. When I attempted to get a better look, he/she flew off, but soon came back. Hard to see in the gloomy Thursday morning light. And a crow just darted through the garden. And another, larger one, just flew across my view, with another behind. Heckle and Jeckle again I suspect. They’re now terribly busy cawing, evidently for food and territory.
       At least, Los Angeles County has now promised to allow free testing for the virus to all of its millions of citizens. A brave act. How they will have enough testing kits and how they will offer them is still not clear. But it’s a start toward normalcy, and maybe will result in an even clearer notion of just how many were affected by this terrible disease.
      Howard keeps getting thinner—something that begin long before the pandemic—and today, I observed that the t-shirt Elsa Flores Almarez had given us celebrating her artist-husband Carlos—whose image generally peeks out over the belly—has now been buried into his pants.
      Well, today, I’m watching Sacha Guitry’s 1937 film Désiré, a comedy for a change. I need it.

Los Angeles, April 30, 2020
Reprinted from Facebook (April 2020).

“My Crickets: A Little Decameron #34”

My cricket is already, at 4:02 p.m., communicating with the world.
     Howard, unfortunately, is not, sleeping for the first time in years for about 2 hours with very ruddy cheeks. Worried about him.
     Checked his forehead, not fever that I could detect, but not totally coherent, accusing me of throwing away two small ramekins which I do not use for my crickets.
     This happens in stay-at-home families. Things that are clearly not true become reality.
     The crows, Heckle and Jeckle, came again to visit us, spending a few moments on our patio railing.
     The mourning doves have been basically quiet.
     Only one child in the pool. The Ukrainians came to visit the pool only for a few moments. It's been overcast in Los Angeles most of the day, but that is usual in May and June gloom—as we generally describe this season in the city.
     Howard did make his wonderful red potato salad, thank heaven. We have only to warm up the fish fillets, as bad as they might taste.
     Just looked into the mirror. My cheeks look shallow, not red in the least. Don't know which of us is more or less healthy.
     These questions are the issues that our pandemic brings up. But it is he who goes out to grab up our food, such as it is. How can anyone who cares not worry?
      I emptied some of the unnecessary leftovers in our refrigerator, something Howard normally does. I'm not criticizing him, just wondering, as our roles have suddenly shifted.
     The wind is up, and I mean this literally, not as a metaphor.

Los Angeles, April 30, 2020
Reprinted from Facebook (April 2020).