Sunday, April 19, 2020

Einstein was right.

Einstein was right. Covid-19 proves it.

In his theory of special relativity, he looked at “space-time.” That’s where the three dimensions of space are linked with the dimension of time in the space-time continuum. So, we don’t just live in a place and we don’t just live in a certain time; we occupy “space-time.” Then, in his theory of general relativity, he realized that gravity could cause distortion in space-time, that it would warp space-time. Think of it as the weight of something pressing down like a marble on a blanket of space-time.

I study Time. I read physics books about it, science fiction about it, watch movies about it. But on some level, it’s non-intuitive. You just can’t wrap your head around it.

Until Covid-19.

My days used to begin, proceed, and end in a very linear path. (That’s called the Arrow of Time.) I woke up, did things, and ultimately went to bed. Many times, with my always-disrupted sleep cycle, things re-started somewhere around 11 p.m., but they still moved. Linearly. One minute after another.

Until Covid-19.

I still wake up (thank goodness!), and I still walk downstairs to my computer. Somewhere around the ninth or tenth news story – or maybe it’s the fourth or fifth review of the peak Covid-19 projections by state or the map of cases around the world or does the size of the dose of the virus make a difference and what about serum antibodies – time starts to leak. Or warp.

For a while, when I was researching the best prototype of face mask to sew – elastic or fabric ties or T-shirt ropes? with or without a pocket for a filter? pleated or form-fitting? – time actually disrupted. Ruptured, the physicists call it, and it’s what a black hole does.

When two black holes collide, they send gravitational waves rippling through space-time. I think the black hole of Covid-19 news updates collides with the black hole of Facebook and distorts my space-time. You probably know this scientific phenomenon as a “time sink.”

Because next thing I know, when I go upstairs – when I move my gravity-weighted body upstairs – it’s like a whole different day. I’m not quite sure where the day went.

Because I’ve bent space-time.

So maybe I’ll do something noteworthy, like go skiing. That used to be one thing in a day of many things. Now, I’ll come back from skiing, take a shower, and the whole day is gone!

That’s what happens when there’s an actual event – skiing. Many days, I’ll come upstairs and … the whole day disappears! I have so warped time that it just … folded in on itself. I am living in a Star Trek wormhole.

I’ve tried looking at the clock to see if it’s still moving at a regular pace (which is sort of pointless because Einstein said it was all relative anyway), but when I look away; whole hours pass.

In fact, some days Thursday happens before I’ve ever had Tuesday and Wednesday!

I’ve been narrowing it down a little. If I have a Zoom conversation at 10 a.m., Time holds steady for a while: Zoom keeps track and does a 40-minute countdown. But around 11 a.m., it suddenly becomes 3 p.m. The wormhole must be in there somewhere.
There’s external evidence, too. Before Covid-19, we ran the dishwasher maybe once a week. Now, we eat the same number of meals – even re-use mugs and dishes – and the dishwasher needs running every other day. Having soup each night just adds a few soup bowls; that shouldn’t explain it. Time is warping.

Passover was eight days. I don’t think so. I’ve never finished eight days with leftover chocolate macaroons, but there they are. I even loaded up and had three yesterday. (Was that yesterday?)

I can induce a total time warp. I can actually cause a black hole collision and a total rupture of time by simply pulling out a jigsaw puzzle. Time stops for jigsaw puzzles … but then it suddenly accelerates when you look up at the clock.
I wonder if Einstein did jigsaw puzzles.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

More than a Vegetable Quest

Somebody on Facebook said he realized what he misses are non-essential businesses and touching his face. I miss browsing vegetables. I miss grocery shopping.

It’s hard enough saying goodbye to the farmers’ markets in the fall, those luscious, healthy, green and orange and red and gold vegetables in all their glory. But at least I could go to the grocery store and see my vegetables up close. I could observe them, evaluate them, choose them.

But now I’m supposed to use the free pickup service, to send in my list and have some stranger decide which bananas to give me. Would they be the just right greenish-about-to-ripen ones, neither too big nor too stubby? And what about asparagus – would they choose the young, skinny ones or the old, fat, stalky ones? If the eggplants were no good, how could they revise the menu I’d planned and skip the mozzarella if they didn’t know what meal the eggplants were for?

Obviously, this is a control issue. In our upside down world where we’re losing control over so much – seeing friends, teaching students in person, being able to travel – here I am, fretting over being able to pick my own vegetables.

My friends say, “Stay inside.” My friend Margie says, “Adapt.”

She’s right. This is just my own personal stumbling block. I have to get over it.

So I do. I go online to the Fred Meyer website and am pleasantly surprised by the range of selection: they have photos of everything, detailed descriptions of brands, and even a whole catalog of things I’ve purchased in the past. I’m so relieved, I don’t even freak out about how much Fred Meyer and Kroger know about me.

I place our order, but pickup is five days out. Although I’m still just cooking dinner – same as what I did Before – it’s now a much bigger process. I don’t cook meat, so I rely on vegetables. But now I have to plan meticulously, maximize my resources without any waste, get what I need because I can’t just dash out if I forget something, make sure I use all the spinach before it goes bad. It feels like a strategic operation, a battle plan. It takes way more time.

But all goes smoothly. A friendly young man delivers the groceries to our car. We get home, stage some things in the garage, wipe down the other things. The bananas are just right, so is the zucchini, the eggplant, the green pepper. But what’s this? Where I’d asked for about four stalks of celery, I now have four whole bunches of celery.

What can someone do with four bunches of celery?

At least it’s not what happened to my friend, Michele: she ordered four chicken thighs and got four PACKAGES of ten thighs each.

My friend Sharon of the 400+ cookbooks went on a research mission to find me celery recipes. I now have jars of pickled celery brewing, but the most promising recipe, the one that could make a real dent in four bunches, called for Half & Half. I didn’t have Half & Half.

So, for the first time since before quarantine, I donned my double-layer-batik-quilt-fabric mask and went into society. I went to Fred Meyer very early. The store was mostly empty. I passed by an enticing, colorful, delicious-looking produce section – oh the temptation! – but raced to the dairy cabinet and grabbed the Half & Half.
The cashier was behind Plexiglas, but afterwards, I felt compelled to thank her for being there, for coming to work, for being so essential to us all. She thanked me, told me to have a nice day. But when I got home, I realized that in thanking her, I was probably beyond the Plexiglas. I’d probably leaned closer, probably closer than 6 feet. I’d put us both in terrible danger!

I thought of the 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco and friends were dying of AIDS right and left. One night, a gay friend called me, totally distraught: he had just had unprotected sex – what had he done?!? How could he have been so reckless?!?

That’s how I felt for starting a conversation with a grocery store cashier.

Unprotected conversation. How could I have been so reckless?!?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

How do you open your mail?

How do you open your mail?

This is a loaded question. Answering this question will prove to be an insight into how you’re dealing with Covid-19: are you current on every little bit of virus news? Are you fastidious in your virus avoidance? Have you become a little bit crazy?

I used to just go out to the mailbox, retrieve my mail, bring it into the house, open envelopes with a letter opener, and recycle the envelope and junk mail.

But that was Before.

My siblings and I have been Zooming regularly. Massachusetts, San Francisco, Berlin, and Anchorage are a lot better connected now. (In Germany, they call hoarding “hamstering.”) We share news blips and hints that usually send one or another of us into a tailspin. Like this...

My brother said, “We have post-it notes on the table downstairs near the garage door: Monday, Tuesday, each day. Mail is put next to that day’s post-it, and we have to wait four days until we can open it. I’m staring longingly at my New Yorker right now.”

Oh, no! We’re not supposed to open our mail?!? Our mail is carrying virus?!?

So I read up on it. Apparently, Covid-19 can last on paper products and cardboard for 24 hours. And someone saw a mailman with … bare hands! So now, we retrieve the mail with gloves and leave it outside on the front doorstep for a day.

About the same time, while I was still in quarantine because I’d returned from out-of-state, I was desperate for books. The library had closed with my holds inside, and I could only catch a couple books before Title Wave bookstore closed. So I put out a call for books.

Betsey came by with a book. I told her through the window to just leave it outside on the doorstep. It was a paperback and needed 24 hours to de-viralize. Connie came by with jig saw puzzles. Mary came by with a great assortment of books and spotted the jigsaw puzzles; could she borrow a couple?

“Sure, they’ve been out 24 hours. They’re cardboard and they’re safe now. I’ll put you in the jigsaw puzzle rotation.”

Then Julie came by with a book and Judiths came by with more jigsaw puzzles. (There are two Judiths in the jigsaw puzzle rotation.) I had to stage them so the de-viralized books and puzzles wouldn’t touch the newly-deposited books and puzzles. And yes, I wipe down the hard cover books with wipes. Things were piling up.

My front doorstep is a Trading Post. I manage it from behind glass.

Meanwhile, I had not received my primary ballot and couldn’t download the one from the Internet because our printer is on the fritz. So Connie (a different Connie, not jigsaw-puzzle-Connie) printed the ballot and Diane delivered it to the front door while I was out skiing. She texted, “You have a bunch of stuff on your doorstep! People left books etc.”

I explained this was all very deliberate, that they were awaiting decontamination. The difficulty was that she’d put the ballot in a plastic bag – which can hold the virus for nine days – so was the paper ballot still free after 24 hours or did I have to get it out of the plastic bag first?

These are the Big Questions of life right now.

I’m the same person who doesn’t understand the people who seem to be disinfecting their house A LOT. Tim and I are the only ones here, we rarely go out, but we wash our hands as soon as we enter the house; so why would we have to sanitize our surfaces every day? We’re the only ones touching our doorknobs.

But this just means we’re all going a little bit nuts in our very own personal ways. For me, it’s mail, books, and jigsaw puzzles. For you, it may be doorknobs.

Or laundry. Or someone petting your dog. Or faucets. Or groceries.

Uh, oh – groceries – that’s another one of mine. Lots of ways to go a little bit nuts here.

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