Stir Crazy: Life in the Time of Quarantine
WTF is WFH?
For us old geezers, the world is a dizzying cornucopia of new technology, hermeneutic emojis, and online lingo. We’re expected to work on Canvas, teleconference on Zoom, and message our kids on TikTok when it’s time to come home for dinner. It’d be nice if they messaged us back in complete sentences or at least coherent words. But communication these days usually consists of acronyms and capitalized initials. Just call me a “covidiot” (LMFUAOWRITM) but the current lockdown hasn’t helped. Recently, I was introduced to a new text-term: WFH or Work From Home.
Working from home is the new normal for many of us, for those of us lucky to be working. But since we’re all under house quarantine, we need to acknowledge the other things we’re doing from home. For instance, there’s IPITBTNBTOWGBFH. Translate: “I pee in the bathtub now because the old way got boring from home.” Or, LFITBYAATNTJUFH, which I’m not going to touch except to say it involves the neighbors and, yes, it’s being performed “from home.”
Then there’s HFFH or Having Fun From Home. And that’s what the focus is here.
Hopefully, everyone is settling into this whole life in the time of COVID thing. Is it Week 6 or Week 27? I’ve lost count. Many of you survived your first COVID haircuts. (Perhaps, we can devote a future episode of Stir Crazy to “Hair Bands of 2020.”)
Then, there are the COVID uniforms that we’re all adopting. Please send pics!!! I’ve seen a few already: The tighty whities and flip flops. (My fave is tighty whities, flip flops, and a Superman cape… on a mini-bike.) There are those who recycled their summer wardrobe of 1987. (No one’s watching anyway, so who cares?) There are those who are wearing their spouse’s old clothes. (I keep telling my buddy, “If you’re gonna mow the lawn in your wife’s stretched out halter top, at least wear steel-toed boots…and a Superman cape.”) The possibilities are endless.
And when we’re not aiming for haute couture and other fashion statements, we’re finding new ways to entertain ourselves: Family 5 o’clock dance parties. For some “how to” videos, tune into Joey Harris of the Beat Farmers’ Facebook page every afternoon. My friends at Maxwell’s House of Books in La Mesa are conducting classes on how to speak Carny in case you’re interested in running away and joining the circus. Proprietor Craig Maxwell even has a book for sale on the subject.
And, then there are the arts. Remember those? …when we used to go to concerts, gallery exhibits, and poetry readings. Well, they’re still going on, only now everything is done “from home.”
WHO’S PLAYING ONLINE?
Here’s one: San Diegan Matthew Rothenberg started a Facebook site called Who’s Playing Online? It’s a platform for musicians and other artists to live stream, post band videos, give short lessons, and interact with their fans. There were even some cooking instructionals on WPO a couple weeks back:
“COVID-19 has forced working performers—musicians, actors, dancers, and more—off tours and out of the live venues that support them,” says Rothenberg. “Lots of these creative people are setting up live streams to entertain fans and raise money to live on. I wanted to create a place where performers and fans could get together to make this lockdown more livable for everybody.”
Many will recognize the Rothenberg name in relation to Jerome Rothenberg, who taught at UCSD for many years. “Poets are getting into the act as well. My dad, the renowned poet and anthologist Jerome Rothenberg, gave his first-ever, virtual poetry reading in early April via Zoom.”
A TIME FOR PARODY
In these times when fact is truly stranger than fiction, musicians are stretching their songwriting limits beyond what they previously thought possible. As occurs in any time of deep social stress, cultural production, especially music, is the answer. And some very beautiful, tear-jerking, envelope-pushing music is being written in locked-down houses around the world.
However, for you musicians who’ve written your 34th torch song or dramatic ode about the Corona Virus and the first responders (heroes all), there’s always the Parody Song.
Weird Al Yankovic brought parody to the MTV generation. Tom Leher “poisoned pidgens in the park” in the 1960s. Now, San Diego musician Chris Maddox, who bills himself as “The Crisis Crooner,” is getting into the act.
“I’m a Carlsbad dad, business exec, and currently out of work artist dealing with our times,” Says Maddox. “I used to play the Belly Up, Music Box, San Diego Fair, Wineries et al, but we are all taking a necessary break.
“I started making funny parody songs and posting them online. I’ve been getting so much positive feedback and 5K+ views per post. To help with our situation, I’m pushing viewers to donate to our great sandiegofoodbank.org .
“Other San Diego acts are joining me. Cash’d Out, the Johnny Cash tribute band, performs (remotely) with me on ‘We’re for Hire,’ a riff on ‘Ring of Fire.’ I’ve got singers who have recovered from Covid joining me too. So cool!”
All of Chris’s songs can be found here and some are on youtube. (Remember to donate to the San Diego Food Bank):
SINGING FOR YOUR SUPPER
They say that comedy is no laughing matter. Neither is making a living as an artist. Here is how several San Diego musicians and artists are utilizing online technologies to keep their craft and trade going:
Cindy Lee Berryhill (San Diego singer-songwriter, “Anti-Folk” musician)
“I’m teaching a lot via Zoom and FaceTime and I’m busier than ever. I could even be busier but haven’t pushed for new students. I think people are clamoring for outside interaction and music lessons via the computer are a stand in as we quarantine. I’m grateful to keep my job, knowing not everyone gets to. I’m also grateful to bring a little bit of musical joy my students. One of the things I learned from my parents is when the going gets tough, play music. I teach through the Giacoletti Music School in Oceanside, mostly private but I still have one small group to teach on Zoom.”
Jack Butler (San Diego musician, Thee Dark Ages, Glory, Bratz, Private Domain)
“I give slide, lap steel, normal guitar, bass, and piano lessons online, using Zoom. I bought the paid version of Zoom, which works well. I did learn that using WiFi is a bad idea even though many people prefer that using their mobile devices. For real-time interactions, both parties should use ethernet cabling, wired up. The paid Zoom Pro version allows me to extend lessons past the 40min limit that the free version gives people. And students do not have to buy it to get hour-long lessons. Despite Zoom having drawbacks, such as security, privacy, and encryption concerns, it’s still the best option for lessons. If you set up a password on your meeting, no stranger can pop in and “Zoom-bomb” your lesson. And, of course, do not include anything on your Zoom session that could get you blackmailed by internet trolls!”
Matt Taylor (drummer, musicologist, lecturer)
“I’ve been teaching online for three weeks now. I’m set up with the best camera angle I can manage to give a view of myself and my drums. I send my kids PDFs of pages I want them to play and we’re off! I miss being able to play along with my drum students on my rickety, old piano. And sometimes it’s hard for them to tell my kick drum from my snare drum. But we are managing and I am very grateful for being able to stay involved with their development in whatever way I can. I would imagine it’s a good respite for the parents as well. Lessons are mostly via Zoom but there’s also FaceTime and Facebook messenger. I set up billing using Venmo and PayPal.”
Ed Piffard (painter, visual artist, garden designer)
“I’m an artist doing a broad range of custom work from murals to traditional oils. Recently, I completed painting portraits of each of a client’s collection of 13 rare, classic cars. One facet of my work is doing illustrations for television shows. Wipeout was the biggest one. Normally, I have to meet with clients and sketch out the initial ideas with them standing over me, directing what they want. Now, using Corel Painter, email, and a cell phone, I never have to physically be in the same room with clients when doing an illustration. Words spoken over the phone are clumsy and confusing by themselves. But using Corel Painter, clients can see what I’m doing in seconds, without also seeing that I haven’t shaved. I’m actually busy! I can’t believe it.”
Patricia Herrington (dancer, dance instructor at the Renegade Bar in Flinn Springs)
“My first attempt was Live on Facebook. I didn’t know that “they” could hear me, so it turned into a bit of a comedy. I was giving the lesson thinking no one could hear me. I was wrong! The next two lessons went much smoother. I also had to learn to Zoom with the help of my daughter, Michelle Hackett, who teaches yoga with Zoom and is doing well. I’m using a dance floor in my barn, so now I have a proper place to conduct my classes. I’m teaching belly dancing and line dancing for the Grossmont Adult School Center online. The first lessons were mostly everyone learning which buttons to push. We all laughed, chit-chatted, figured it out together, and then had a great time dancing!”
Working from home is a challenge. But working period is the biggest challenge for many in these tough times! So be grateful if you’re waking up to a job and a paycheck. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to spend your down time and find entertaining, life-enriching things to do until the world yells a collective “olly olly oxen free” and we all emerge from our hovels, with our COVID haircuts and COVID clothes, to begin resuming our normal lives.
In the meantime, if you’re into films, videos, and DIY online “content,” there’s enough to keep you busy for the next 17 pandemics. Good old fashioned books are another way to go. I’d like to recommend anything by poet, Beat scholar, and L.A.-area activist Lewis MacAdams, who passed away recently. I used MacAdams’ Birth of the Cool for years to teach my college students about American counter culture. And MacAdams’ recent passing reminded me how much we need to create a new counter culture now more than ever.
Here’s a link to MacAdams’ obit:
For those who want to begin writing as deep-seated thoughts, memories, and emotions pour forth in these strange times, I’d like to recommend trying Flash Fiction. (You don’t have to finish a novel or feature-length screenplay!) Flash Fiction consists of short pieces, from six (yes six!) to 1,000 words. But the idea is to create a complete story. Here are a couple of mine that recently emerged:
“It’s like Halloween, Mommy!” The little girl in line reminds me of Shirley Temple with an abundance of curls, her polka dot dress like something little girls used to wear and her matching polka dot COVID mask. Maybe she has a grandma who sewed them both by hand. “Just like Halloween,” her mom says nervously, her eyes scanning the other nervous shoppers, all observing their recommended six feet of social distance.
Everyone wanted the line to move faster so they could get out of the store. Almost everyone wore a mask. A startled old man jumped out of the way when a woman with a shopping cart said “excuse me” while cross-cutting the line that stretched back from the cash register. She continued down her aisle, pushing her cart to the other end of the store.
Of course, there was the cavalier one, the 50-year-old surfer dude, a twelver of craft beer under his arm. He bobbed and weaved, invading the six-foot rule of those around him. He laughed and joked and enjoyed the fact that he was the only one who wasn’t tense.
After leaving the grocery store, I went to an AM/PM to get some gas. The streets were deserted for a Saturday evening. “Kind of like Halloween,” I thought. When we were kids, the streets would fill with hordes of El Cajon’s misfits, me included, as waves of groups jay-walked and rushed to the next houses on the next block, our pillow cases gripped like upside-down ghosts, ready to be stuffed with candy.
Now the streets are nearly empty on Halloween. The kids don’t trick-or-treat like they used to. Families go to private parties. Or the parents drop their kids off at a baby sitter with a once-a-year Halloween horror movie to watch. The parents then head off to their own adult-themed parties to drink and play the Naughty Nurse, the debauched priest, the private detective with “nothing under my trench coat.” Wink, wink.
I go inside the AM/PM to pay. There are four of us in line, standing on floor markers to keep our social distance, three out of four wearing masks. Of course, there is the 50-year old surfer dude, not the same one as before, who bobs and weaves, invading everyone’s space, a twelver under his arm, joking about the nervous comedy unfolding around him. “Don’t be so uptight,” he says to me, almost sympathetically. “What are you supposed to be? Darth Vader?” he asks the guy with the black mask in the back of the line. “And you,” the surfer dude points to the younger short kid wearing the bandana. “What are you supposed to be? Billy the Kid?” The surfer dude forms an invisible pistol with his hands, mouthing the words, “Bang! Bang”
“Actually yeah, cocksucker,” says the kid with the bandana, pulling a gun from his pants. “Empty the box,” he shouts, pointing the gun at the cashier’s head. “And you three,” he motions to us, “Back up slowly toward the Slushy machine. One stupid move and I’ll blow your fucking heads off.”
He Called Me “Dad”
“Dad, pick up the phone,” he said, “Wake up.” It was 3am.
His first words were “Da-Da.” When he was in Day Care, he wore an oversized baseball cap… and a bow tie. “Sofia, there’s my Papa. There’s my Papa,” he’d tell his friend when I picked him up. In 2006, when he was four years old, he played harmonica in the Grossmont College talent show and got a standing ovation. I followed him through baseball and BMX, guitar lessons, bass guitar, drums, and U.S. history. We scoured the swap meets and garage sales for presidential campaign pins.
But, something changed. “All teenagers fight with their parents,” someone said. That was five years ago. First, he started calling me by my first name, mispronouncing it as others do. Then he just called me “him,” especially when I was standing in the room. He compared me to his friend’s dad who worked at another school. “He’s a college dean and you’re just a teacher.” Soon after, he moved into the garage and we stopped speaking altogether.
Then, yesterday morning, he called me. “Dad, pick up the phone. Wake up. There are gun shots outside.” I looked out the window to see where the noise was coming from just as “a fireball shot 60 feet into the air,” according to the local news. Rat-a-tat-tat. The heat ignited a pepper tree, which popped as it burned, then some eucalyptus trees and a propane tank, which popped as they burned. Sirens poured into the pre-dawn sky around us.
I picked up the phone, telling him that they weren’t gun shots but to be on alert in case we had to evacuate. “It’s another house down the street,” I said, “going up in flames.”