down the stretch

(NB: most of this post was already in the can on March 27. I just tacked today’s thoughts on the end. As always, life is what happens while you had other plans.)

Giving up alcohol for Lent was pretty straightforward, thanks to Athletic Brewing’s selection of non-alcoholic stouts, browns and porters. That’s always the trick anywhere: finding craft beer that isn’t IPA, hoppy lager or 15% imperial death stout. Besides, it’s not like I really have any occasion to have a drink other than on Sunday pub nights any more.

And that’s another thing: how long until pubs are a thing again? Or bars? We’re just now getting to the point where bars can open for outdoor service again, but when was the last time I was in a bar? Quick drink from the hotel lobby last March? Or in a hotel near Epcot in January 2020? I think there’s a non-zero chance that I haven’t had a quiet pint in a non-hotel establishment outside the house since December 2019. In that time I’ve gotten so acclimated to going up to the office, plugging in the string lights, and putting some pub ambiance video full-screen on the iMac that an imperfect interpretation of the real thing down on Murphy or Castro – with the added inconvenience of other people – might not appeal that much.

This spring feels like a nodal point, when things are going to change in a lot of ways, and that’s not always a good thing. Once you’re pushing 50, change generally means that your options narrow and that things are more likely to be taken from you than given to you. You lower your sights to a small and realistic aspiration and then even those things go missing. I sure as Hell don’t want to go back into the office at this job, but even that might go away despite the fact that we’ve been every bit as productive as we could have been if forced to sit in a windowless basement forty hours a week.

Maybe things will pick up. Maybe we’ll have minor league baseball this year, despite MLB’s determination to kill it. Maybe we’ll get to visit Disneyland before it’s overrun with everyone again. Maybe the vaccines will actually get into enough arms that we can get back to something resembling ordinary life. Maybe we can go to London other than through YouTube.

I did like Sheryl Crow said. I tried to stop getting what I wanted and start wanting what I got. And then they started taking that away a piece at a time. There’s got to be more to come than reconciling yourself to circling the drain gracefully. My father-in-law was still ordering components and looking up Arduino specs on his iPad until the last two weeks of his life. My mother-in-law went to the Rose Parade and the Metropolitan Opera, and enjoyed lunch overlooking the beach two weeks ago, and watched Rachel Maddow assiduously even as she planned for a kidney operation she knew might turn out badly.

The Grim Reaper is undefeated. But instead of climbing on the cart and going quietly, you can make the son of a bitch come and get you. If there’s one lesson for me to take away from this fourteenth month of the pandemic, it’s that.

the end of march

But you speak of Master Gandalf, as if he was in a story that had come to an end.’ ‘Yes, we do,’ said Pippin sadly. ‘The story seems to be going on, but I am afraid Gandalf has fallen out of it.

-JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers

There are electronic components that will never be fitted together. There are video clips that will never be combined into a funny movie. There are phones and iPads patiently sat on chargers, waiting to be picked up. There are email accounts diligently receiving messages from one list or another, some vendor or campaign or notification that has no one to read it now.

Death, even prepared for, leaves a shadow. The clock ticks on, the rest of the world proceeds, but there is a hole shaped like your loved one that you know will be there forever. How big a hole, and how you maneuver around it, and how far you fall into it, is largely a matter of chance and timing. By the time you’re 83, there are (or ought to be) wills and durable powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives and DNR orders and the like, and if you are recently pre-deceased there may even be a spreadsheet and a Google Doc that can be duplicated to start the checklist anew.

Sometimes you have a couple of years to work up to it, and the pre-grieving renders the moment itself almost a relief, that your loved one is at peace. Sometimes you know it can’t be far, that it’s a known risk, and that the loved one is prepared for the moment and not unwilling to go, but it turns out you were unwilling to let them in ways you didn’t realize. And you didn’t leave anything unsaid that needed saying, but you wish you’d maybe had a couple more years of saying it. And you tell yourself it isn’t fair and they deserved better, and both are true, but fair is where you go to see the pigs. The days are slow, the years are swift, and life has a way of chivvying you along when you try to linger too long at any given moment.

We lost Tom on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We lost Marge today. We miss them terribly.

hanging out tuesday’s wash


* Silly Con Valley has become a vast engine for the laundering of unearned wealth. If you don’t believe it, look at the meteoric rise of the Non-Fungible Token. You don’t actually own anything, don’t actually have the exclusivity of anything, but you can say you do, for a fee – and in the meantime you have all the same eco-nightmare of Bitcoin mining. Meanwhile, the entire world of cryptocurrency remains in the field of “speculative investment bordering on gambling” rather than “stable medium of exchange” – and it’s hard not to get the sense that we’re in last call for the get rich quick schemes before the Biden administration brings in a tax regime that basically says that if you have enough money to spend on NFTs, you have enough to pay Uncle Sam the cost of covering the COVID-19 recovery plan.

* It turns out that for all the talk by Phony Stark and his amen corner of anime-wanking Snyder Cut supplicants, the mass exodus from San Francisco is actually to…the rest of the Bay Area. And the exodus from the Bay Area is to…the rest of California. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because places like Austin and Miami and Nashville are located in red states with climate-change issues and anything-goes governments. A lot of techies might not want to pay taxes, but they might also have qualms about bringing their kids to places with open carry of unlicensed firearms and textbooks vetted by Baptist Tabernacle. I’m pretty sure that the only way you’ll see me establishing residence outside the West Coast for the rest of my life would be if I were tragically widowed and had to have a permanent address somewhere else for tax purposes while aimlessly wandering the country in my A-Team van and slowly bleeding my retirement savings dry. Other than that? California, California, the hills send back the cry, we’re out to do or die…

* Places aren’t real anymore. After a year on lockdown, mostly, things like Disneyland or London seem to be figments of imagination, something I see on the Watched Walker feed on YouTube. Then again, when you’ve spent most of your life as a person without a place, it’s kind of a wash. I am happier than I ever thought I could be living in a small bubble where I can walk out to the deli, the taqueria, the 7-Eleven, the coffee shop, and color-code permitting, the barber. There are trips to dinner at my mother-in-law’s, occasional runs out to collect medicine or get a shot or go through a drive-thru – but after a full year, I am genuinely starting to wonder if I’ll ever feel the need to fight a crowd again when I can go up to the office, plug in the string lights, put some background media on the iMac and read while sipping my pint.

* Speaking of which, this is the Lent in which I finally gave up alcohol. I have been subsisting on the products of Athletic Brewing, a maker of non-alcoholic craft beer whose products have turned out to be mostly acceptable substitutes on pub night. I bought their extra-dark stout, which despite a slightly-too-strong licorice note is very passable, and then ramped up to a case of their dark sampler, which includes a cherry-chocolate stout (good), a maple brown (also good) and a coffee porter (absolutely delightful). And then added a six-pack of their Irish red ale so I would be okay for St Patrick’s Day. It turns out you can get through a lot of this stuff if you don’t have to pace yourself.

* WandaVision was very good, I thought, even if the ending was a little weak. I do hope they run with the “buy the ticket take the ride” approach and let the consequences of actions spin out to their conclusion, especially given the post-Blip world and what a mess things would obviously be at this point. The avalanche of new Marvel content this year should go a long way to answering what happens after you mostly roll back the end of the world, although I doubt they’ll go as far in depth as they should. After all, given how crazy things got with a pandemic, you can’t realistically think that disappearing half the world – and then bringing it back five years on – wouldn’t make a Hell of a dent in what we think of as civilization.

* They’ll be catching back up to real time pretty soon, though, given that most of Endgame and WandaVision and Far From Home all seem to take place in 2023. Which makes me think that we’ll need some hard and fast answers about how Shang-Chi or the Eternals fit into the timeline.

* And speaking of timeline, I know the posting here has decelerated substantially. I don’t know when or whether it will ramp up again. The pleasantly boring nature of having Biden in the White House and quiet competence from most of the government means there’s a lot less to worry about, and I’m trying to luxuriate in that rather than fretting about how it’ll all be shot to Hell in the 2022 elections (and that date still sounds like the far future rather than next year, just because every month has had 300 days for a while now). 

* Spring weather makes me think of when we had meat and peppers on the grill, longneck beers on the table, and My Buddy Vince working his magic with the Weber outside a building at work. It pains me to think those days were now officially a third of my life ago. I don’t know where the time has gone, but all I can say is that in retrospect, my 40s were not well spent.