Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 19

The question of how to continue educating and organizing for communities during this public health crisis is burrowed in my mind, and I am moving forward with more vision. Today, I am announcing the launch of an official website for Who Is Your Neighborhood/Quien Es Tu Vecindario in East Hollywood, Los Angeles, primarily written in Spanish, which will serve as a tool and resource guide for las familias in the neighborhood to learn about grassroots efforts to support our community during the pandemic.

The fact of the matter is that before the coronavirus swarmed over each walk of life, JIMBO TIMES was only getting started with bringing together the vecindad; two consecutive Back to School Parties and two Open Mic Nights for youth and families in East Hollywood were just the beginning. This year, before the shuttering of L.A.’s schools and libraries, there was already a 3rd Open Mic Night scheduled at local Cahuenga Public Library for this April 9th, replete with another flyer by The Think Farm. That event is of course now cancelled, and it’s a question as to whether there can be a 3rd annual Back to School Party this August 2020, but I do know this: there is no need to wait until summer to rise once again for the uplifting of our communities.

Indeed, there is already a community at work each day with or without any organization making a formal commitment to it. There are neighbors speaking with their neighbors, daughters dialing their mamas, friends texting, emailing, and face-timing each other, bloggers passing on the latest to subscribers, and more.

Even so, I know it’s not easy for many of the humble gente still carrying this wondrous city on their backs while quartered at home, whose kids rely on school meals, and whose work relies on the good will of many they’ve now lost touch with; people who don’t quite have the time to read the L.A. Times reports–even if they’re en Español–and whom also therefore still have much to learn to get through these times still better prepared for the future rather than not.

For these reasons, the new site will seek simply to build upon what their voices and manos have already taught this blogger (or is it blogero): to be honest with our intentions, graceful in our learning, and ever ambitious in our will to go the distance no matter the depth of the road.

We can do this, Los Angeles. Or is it, si se puede!

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 18

Even without the familiar road, there remains so much work to do. Life at home is only life with one’s long list of to-dos up closest to our periphery.

There is food to put on the table. And there are dishes to clean. There is fresh coffee to warm up. And there is old coffee to throw out. 

There is sweeping to do, in every room you can find. There is mail to sift through. Mail continues coming in each day. 

There is opening up this mail, the most important-looking one first.

There is mulling over the response, leaving the inconvenience for another time.

There is checking the phone, visiting the usual pages, refreshing them, then getting pulled into their warp for another minute, then another minute, then one more. 

There is putting the phone down, recalling life outside of virtual reality. There is taking a deep breath, then musing over what’s next.

There is a second meal to prepare. The more substantive, consequential, and by extension more costly meal.

There is opening the fridge, gathering what can be found, then recalling what’s missing.

There is a trip to the store to consider. There is checking the wallet. There is recalling what else is supposed to be saved for this week. There is checking the news. When will that stimulus check come again?

There is that other form in the mail again. The one opened yesterday and which was supposed to have been responded to by today. There is putting it off for just a minute longer.

There is the missing ingredient that still needs to be sought after.

There is putting shoes on.

There is putting a sweater on.

There is putting a face mask on.

Finally there is getting ready to head out the door. But then there is suddenly needing to visit the bathroom. There is stalling at the bathroom.

There is growling bubbling up, dryness stiffening, impatience taking root.

There is finally heading out the doorway, locking the door, then opening the gate and locking the gate behind. 

There is the openness of a new day outside to take in.

Then there is a rush we are reminded of. There is hurrying up to the store, finding the tomatoes firmly in reach, wrapping our bags around them, then heading into line.

There is the line to wait through, carefully, cautiously, acceptingly, if possible.

There is mulling over whether or not to check the phone again while waiting in line. There is deciding otherwise.

There is listening to the side-chatter, the registers opening and closing, and watching the traffic outside swerve by. There is wondering if life might always be this way from now on, steeped in uncertainty, or if it’s only been this way and it’s just that we’re now far more aware of it.

There is our turn at the register. There is exchanging our greetings, waiting patiently but also cautiously for our change. There is wondering if the change is worth the wait and risk. There is taking the risk and placing the change into the wallet.

There is getting back home again, locking the door behind us, then placing our things down and rushing to the bathroom to wash our hands.

There is returning to the kitchen, rinsing the sink, then taking out everything we gathered earlier, and finally placing the tomatoes alongside.

There is turning on the stove, placing the pot over the flames, filling it with water inside, then cutting up the tomatoes, the onions, and the celery. There is placing them all inside.

There is looking through the window, hearing the tunes of the birds, recalling that we’re still alive again.

There is taking a deep breath again. There is another chirping sound again.

There is friendship on the other side, reflecting another tenderness through the times. 

There is gratitude gradually shifting the whole being. 

There is the scent of boiling onions, celery, and tomatoes filling the air.

There is recalling that form in the mail, with a minute after all this time.

There is filling out the response, at long last, filling it out. 

There is still placing it into the envelope, finding and placing the stamp on the envelope, then placing the envelope out for pickup, and other work to do.

But first, there is the second meal again.

The longer-prepping meal, but by extension also longer-filling meal. The more rewarding meal of the day. Ahead, there is still another day just getting started.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 17

The city of Los Angeles’s strength lies, as for most cities, in its workers. Its strength lies in its creative sector. Its strength lies in its entertainment and food, and in bustling competition within each of these “sectors.” But that does not mean that these sources of strength are not in need of support or themselves. I think mostly of the workers.

One question I’ve not heard asked of mayor Garcetti or governor Newsom yet is the following: once the crisis is through, what’s the city’s–and the state’s–plan for the millions of workers currently staffing cash registers, stocking store aisles, cleaning and disposing of our garbage, and more? As in, how do Los Angeles and cities across California plan to protect these most essential workers not only at this moment, but from here on out for their critical part in supporting our communities’ daily movement?

In the mayor’s final update for this week, he noted that Trump’s $2 trillion dollar stimulus package will serve as the main engine for supporting small businesses in Los Angeles, with just one discrepancy: the money will be overwhelmingly distributed in the form of low-interest, “forgivable” loans, even though details about which businesses may qualify for “forgiveness” are unclear, and even while such loans should be zero interest; small business owners are not at fault for the health-care crisis. The U.S. government, on the other hand…but let’s not digress:

Garcetti’s address also noted that $50 million dollars are on the way from the Housing and Urban Development department for the crisis.

However, in Los Angeles, $50 million for housing is the equivalent of finding a couple of nickels under the vending machine at the laundromat; though it’s an addition to your pocket, you don’t get much added value. Just consider what Governor Newsom’s $50 million at the start of California’s shutdown was allotted to: some 1,300 travel trailers and under 1,000 leases for hotel rooms in which to place the state’s unhoused population. There are an estimated 150,000 unhoused citizens in the state, nearly 20,000 of whom lost their housing or started living in their cars just in the last two years.

In other words, in California the state’s response to the coronavirus is increasingly highlighting a greater, far longer-term public health crisis: a lack of affordable housing for millions of the state’s workers, taxpayers, and other essential contributors. The situation remains crucial in Los Angeles.

But after COVID-19, there should be no more bus drivers in Los Angeles who can’t afford to live in L.A. County, nor anymore grocery store clerks, restaurant chain employees, sanitation workers, veterans or youth, elderly and others without options for affordable housing, adequate access to health-care, and on.

As UCLA’s professor of epidemiology and community health sciences, Kim-Farley, recently noted:

There is life after COVID-19.

I’d say the time to start discussing and planning for that life is now. In Los Angeles, we can look to the city’s past for some instruction.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 16

L.A.’s streets in the early evening are curled into misty shadows. Once again I walked through the city, moving to the drum of its dimmed pulse. I know this is a privilege that not just everyone gets to enjoy. I am thankful for what I have, and hopeful that by sharing that through this blog, I can still make a difference.

A friend asked me earlier today how I’ve been getting through the times, and I responded that I’ve been reading, and writing. Then repeating. During this process it’s become more clear to me how over the course of these last few years, as I’ve picked up my smartphone more frequently, I’ve picked up my paperback and hardcover books less and less.

This has been obvious enough of a case for most everyone, but through the course of the quarantine season, I’ve seen only more clearly how work and school and the rest of my time dashing through time and space have been divided in so many different directions, and how the smartphone became a bridge to connect these things.

That is, until now, when in lieu of these most recent events, my phone has become less of a necessary bridge. While I still need to set my reminders, I don’t need to rely on the screen for them. And while I still have appointments, I take them one day at a time.

In these times, Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller has been the more necessary bridge–my daily reminder–or my way to not only remain connected but to become even more ensconced withing my community and culture.

Since so many of my daily treks across the road have vanished, I’ve gotten back to my reading goals in a way that seemed virtually out of reach only a month ago. In the first week of the shutdown, at long last, I finished Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace. Today, during this third week, I finally got past 600 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Almost in celebration, I published an “early” review (or is that a critique) of Infinite Jest on the site, the first review in months for J.T.

At this rate, if I’m able to continue my sudden return to the classics, maybe I can finally get back to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, not to mention W.E.B. Du Bois’s Reconstruction. These are books that have sat on my shelf for years now, but which at this particular juncture, for all intents and purposes, I can see and pick up again with refreshed eyes.

But after two weeks, I’d say I’ve gone on long enough about myself. What are the people of L.A. reading? And what might they recommend for yours truly to review on the site? At least for the time being, time appears to be just enough on our side for the matter.

J.T.

Five Times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS (Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 15)

In an effort to write about something other than the Coronavirus for a moment, even if it’s just one moment, I’m now on page 592 of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. This means I’ve got just a little less than 400 pages to go before completing the late author’s famous magnum opus. If I can keep up with my reading schedule, I should spend no more than two weeks from today finishing the legendary novel.

David Foster Wallace was a brilliant writer and thinker whose non-fiction I really enjoyed before his fiction, but I’ve actually got quite a few issues with Infinite Jest. The vast majority of reviews hail the work as pure genius, but today it’s clear that such reviews are of a different time, and mostly written by white generation X-ers like Mr. Wallace himself. This makes it so that as a millennial Latinx blogger from Los Angeles, I’ve got a different take to share. So here are Five Times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS:

1. When the book is highly unreadable. Sure, the epiphanous literary oases that make up each “chapter” (or Sierpinski triangle) of the novel read musically for book-worms or lovers of Dead Poets Society everywhere, but at some point they tend to muddle the author’s point more than clarifying it, and this is not helped by the author’s titanic footnote excavations or “side-explanations.” As a result, it takes nearly 400 pages into the novel to get a firm sense of who’s who and just where the characters of Infinite Jest may be going. And I get it. Wallace wanted to challenge his readers in a critical way, demanding their full and undivided attention during what he rightly saw as an era of mass distraction. He was prescient for seeing how reductive and repetitive American pop culture was becoming in its numbing of attention spans everywhere, but how much did he really need to pontificate about aerodynamic theories as divulged at elite institutions like his book’s Enfield Tennis Academy’s? In 2005, during Wallace’s famous speech at Kenyon College, at one point during his lecture the author skips through his own lengthy descriptions, saying “etc, etc., [I’m] cutting stuff out because it’s a long ceremony.” At many moments throughout Infinite Jest, it feels exactly like one of those “long ceremonies” that could use some cutting out.

2. When the book is totally White and from the Mid-West, meaning that yes, it frequently enjoys throwing racist jabs at minorities. The year was 1996. Nirvana and MTV ruled the billboards, ratings, and t-shirts. Black superstars were either “latchkey” kids from New York or South Central L.A., while “Latinos” were basically Mexicans “randomly” spread throughout the states (according to the dominant pop culture). Infinite Jest, despite frequently being called “ahead of its time,” offers virtually no alternative reading of these groups’ contributions to American culture, instead relying on stereotypes as much as any other novel during our beloved 90s era. But ask these types of groups today if treating their culture as such was as grossly reductive then as it is today, and yeah, it totally was then too, and is only more so now.

3. When the book treats women in its plot really, really badly. In 2020, three years after the rise of the #metoo movement–and despite nationalist white guys in tandem insisting otherwise–treating women in pop culture as objects serving mostly for men’s barbarities is by and large fundamentally unacceptable, worthy of the utmost scrutiny. As with the part about minimizing Black and Latino characters in its story to “n-words and spics,” this is another area where Infinite Jest was actually not only NOT “ahead of its time,” but waaaaay privileged and condescending. This really demonstrates the first point about the writing “going on and on” in a way that’s not only unnecessary, but downright obnoxious. A case in point, in one sequence of Infinite Jest Wallace describes an abortion for one of the many side-characters in truly harrowing detail, presumably to give us “an example” of his Ennet [Rehab] House’s many dysfunctional characters. But what purpose does the detail serve? Is it supposed to be like gore in a horror flick? It comes off as indulgent. Moreover, the fact that treatment of women throughout the novel in this way is almost never discussed in the vast majority of the book’s reviews also speaks to the “trade-offs” overlooked when reviewers praised Wallace’s literary genius.

4. When the book enjoys ridiculing disabled people. Readers need to look no further than the constant reminders of Mario Incandenza’s difference from from others as the prematurely-born and oddly figured member of his family, which tend to run on in a way that aren’t just expansive, but which border on sadist. Take the following passage, for example, when Wallace describes the one romantic experience of Mario Incandenza’s life:

“[A girl] was trying to undo Mario’s corduroys but was frustrated by the complex system of snaps and fasteners at the bottom of his…Velcro vest [which supports his disabled figure]…it was when [Kent] wrapped one arm around his shoulder for leverage and forced her other hand up under the hem of the tight vest and then down inside the trousers and briefs, rooting for a penis, that Mario became so ticklish…”

As a reader, on the one hand, I know that Wallace wants to endear readers to Mario’s extraordinary physical makeup, which in spite of its difference, doesn’t keep Mario from having a strange sexual interaction like any other teenager out there. On the other hand, idunno, it feels like Wallace is–as in other sequences–exploiting the character’s “defects” too. I’m not sure if it’s Wallace just doing Wallace, or if he’s being humorous at the expense of someone else’s “deformity,” which brings up another question I don’t recall being posed to Wallace by popular reviewers: why so many “disabled” characters? If Wallace was in an editing room today, I’m sure he wouldn’t get off as easily with such literary devices just because at the end of the day the writing is simply so witty.

5. When the book blames poor people for their own damn problems. Although the “middle class” kids who make up the Tennis Academy’s student body are all grotesque personalities in their own way, they mostly get away with this for being young and really smart. By contrast, when it comes to say, a Randy Lenz, who’s got issues that go way back to his (Lenz’s) working-class background, when Wallace makes psychoanalytic exhibitions of these types of characters’ experiences with such things as incest, rape, child abuse and other issues that tend to face people in poverty, it doesn’t come off as “just witty,” but as narcissistic, and not in an ironic or ‘gotcha’ kind of way. This makes it so that at many points in Infinite Jest, Wallace seems to view urban Boston as just another petri dish of lost or abandoned characters the way just another white kid in a Michigan basement would view “dirty city-life,” his literary prowess notwithstanding.

(5. Continued) But what about, say, white-collar types who are also addicted types and not far off from the city, exploiting those same “lost or abandoned” types in their own grotesque ways when they aren’t promulgating pop-culture to keep the American population dormant to America’s inequalities? Why not expound on the idiosyncratic mannerisms, of say, an Alan Greenspan or Bill Clinton? Wallace does NOT achieve a “fair-share” of doling out his psychoanalysis even with say, “President Gentle,” who is only a “background” character, the descriptions of which only make him a shallow political figure and nothing else, even though presidents in American history tend to play a major role in “shaping” pop culture. And Enfield Tennis Academy–for all its cruel, elitist tendencies–does NOT come off as an “equal” counterpart to Ennet House’s “trashy” makeup, so the book falls short of juxtaposing these groups for Wallace’s larger point about American culture’s wayside decline.

Okay, even with these gripes, is the massive 1,100 page book still worth reading? If you don’t count the footnotes, the novel is not that long, weighing in at more like 981 pages. And yes, it’s still worth reading. Despite these and other shortcomings, Wallace’s writing still challenges readers to imagine finer, more complex prose as a form of expression. And no matter what verdict different readers might give Infinite Jest, it’s worth pointing out that rather than breaking the rules, Wallace’s book bends them, expanding the bandwidth of literature overall to elasticize the reader’s ability to imagine different ways of expressing ideas.

I just would chill on all the boundless praise that earlier reviewers have tended to give the book, but would still recommend readers to be challenged by its virtuoso achievements. I would also say it’s an especially approachable book during these times, when literary oases have never more been needed to get away from the news. Speaking of which, that’s enough of a retreat. Let’s get back to our coronavirus woes.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 14

The sunshine was only stronger above Los Angeles today, beaming radiantly across its limestone sprawl. As my feet navigated past glowing concrete underneath I wondered for a moment just how many times the earth has soaked in sunny days like today over the course of its lifetime.

Although I’ve learned to think of my life as the center of the universe, in actuality, I’m only one part of a larger existence.

Even this time, as extraordinary as it may be during this moment, is itself encompassed in a grander expanse of time.

One day, someone else will waltz through the same roads I’ve walked, and absorb the same sunshine I’ve wondered at to make their own meaning of it all.

I only want them to know, that even in spite of all the gravity of this particular moment for so many friends, families, neighbors, and more, there was still much boundless life and love and beauty to be found and enjoyed.

There were still delicious cheeseburgers to pick up, oozing with mouth-watering grilled cheese atop charbroiled patties. And there was still spaghetti, elegant in its dance around our silver forks. There was still scrumptious cereal, groveling to the silky tune of cold almond milk. And more than anything, there were still our fellow human beings out there, not far at all even if separated from us by land and sea and many winds.

For me today, there was the city of Los Angeles, roaring with might in its brightness as if to remind me, as if to insist to me, that no matter the darkness it’s seen–and which it will continue to–it’s still got many, many days to love ahead for us.

I felt extremely lucky. The sunshine flooded out any gloom which may have parked itself within me the last few days to lift every other whim up towards a smile. I am still here. I may even get one more day after today. I reflect the sunlight and am terribly thankful, Los Angeles.

J.T.

JIMBO TIMES Salutes LACCD Students Going Back To School This Week

Notwithstanding this most difficult time in our country and around the world, I’ve been fortunate to not only be able to continue with the favorite pastime of my blog, but to do more with it than ever before. When I think about others like myself who are also finding their way through these times, I am grateful for one pillar of support nearby: the community college.

This week, community college students in L.A. were called back to classes–through distance learning–by their chancellors, presidents and counselors. JIMBO TIMES salutes this return to learning, and wants to encourage all students to give this Spring 2020 semester more than a shot, but every effort they’ve got in their queue.

For me personally, it was at community college where, more than anything, I gave myself an opportunity to pursue my skills and interests in writing and storytelling at precisely the time when a world of professionals were ready to support me in that pursuit. They were the professionals daily present at my CC.

Over ten years since I enrolled in my first ever college class at ‘CC’, I now use the voice I learned to harness there daily as a young professional for people in my community all across Los Angeles.

Now, I know this: going to community college is about more than educating yourself. It’s about preparing to serve the needs of your community for the next ten years. And if there’s one thing this public health crisis makes certain, it’s that the next ten years in L.A. will absolutely need professionals from its communities to step up.

To every student (and professor and counselor and president and staff) this week and in the weeks ahead who choose to continue their work for our communities’ education despite these most recent challenges for our communities: you are taking more than one step for yourselves, you are taking a great leap for learners everywhere for generations to come.

It’s an investment of leaps and bounds. Let’s make every second count!

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 13

In lieu of brighter skies and calmer winds, the city of Los Angeles felt more alive today, yet it was still yearning to live, with more than half of its population nowhere to be seen. I know that this is what cities across America have looked like these last few weeks, but there was something different about today; whatever hope might have been taken from the sight of clearer sunshine felt marred by a great “settling in” of the fact that the emptiness will hold well into the foreseeable future, until this crisis is through.

I know that where business was already dreadful, it became only more barren. And I know that where the feeling was already somber, it fell still further to approach resignation.

The heaviest of the days are yet to come, but it already feels like the end of not one, but many Americas.

If feels like after decades of minimizing the issues of warfare, incarceration, and poverty and addiction in America as if they were simply the costs of running America, our way of life now screeches to a halt being entrapped by all of these costs at once. They have come to collect, to take us for everything we’ve got.

The pandemic has been called an invisible war, which says a lot about our way of processing a challenge, and which is also far from original; see the war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terrorism. Now the war is on every doorstep, and we can hardly touch the knob without fearing its germs will metastasize into a date with death.

The crisis feels like an incarceration. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Lebron James, Donald Trump, or one of the 3.3. million Americans who filed for unemployment these last two weeks. We are all on hold now. Our day in court is still not within range. We need to forget about it for a while.

The shutdown is also a great impoverishment of the whole of our society, like a great darkening where there was once light and openness. But if you were to ask Black families in Chicago whom were forced to make their housing in the ghettos due to the federal government’s Redlining, you may find a haunting similarity between what took place for them then and what’s happening to families in all of our neighborhoods now.

And the pandemic is like coming to terms with an addiction once it’s been torn away from our grasp. Our political landscape has become addicted to polarization, addicted to belittling the other side for merely having the time to do so. Now, reducing the other side with euphemisms is simply irrelevant, utterly wasting time and costing lives. Even the unlikeliest of presidents may be starting to see that.

To be sure, I don’t see this massive humbling of American power as necessarily leading to a re-balancing act, nor do I take any pride in the crisis as some sort of retribution, or–as Malcolm X once said–chickens coming home to roost. But I do hope that our communities can reflect meaningfully on what is at stake here when that time approaches, that is, in terms of what we want to save once we get through the worst it has to offer. I hope we do this not only for the moment, but as if our whole future depends on it. Indeed, I believe that’s just what we’re getting to.

Let’s have a better day tomorrow, even if it takes our damnedest best to get to it.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 12

Because more than one reader has asked, it’s a relief to note that Doña Ana was able to find some toilet paper for herself and her boys not too long after her cuento was shared on the blog. She has been home with her boys the last two weeks, taking the precautionary measures extra seriously. In addition to her duties looking after her sons, Doña Ana also manages her blood pressure for type 2 diabetes; needless to say, illnesses already take an extra toll on her immune system, so she is simply not taking any chances with coronavirus.

All across Los Angeles are mothers sheltering in place with their mijos, watching diligently for their needs by the minute, and rising to meet each call with grace that is also fierceness that is also deep compassion and communication.

Since our report yesterday, an additional five cases have been recorded in East Hollywood for a total of ten (10), while the adjacent Silver Lake area has reported an additional eight (8) for a total of eighteen (18) cases there. The numbers will keep growing through the next few weeks, but there’s reason to be hopeful.

L.A. continues to lie like a ghost-town, and while I know that our officials have to be cautiously optimistic, meaning that they should say little at this point over the effects of the stay at home orders, it’s clear that in Los Angeles–as everywhere else the restriction of movement has been taken seriously–the orders will have a positive effect in slowing the rate of the spread.

Even so, already the city is changing immeasurably. Already it is becoming something that will also take time to unravel from when the winds turn back in the other direction. Doña Ana is looking after her and her kids’ well being with vivacious fervor. She is adapting to meet the moment by taking on a set of new customs given an unsecured environment. These new customs will not simply vanish into thin air once the worst of the coronavirus passes.

All of society can be thought of as a child; once that child is taught a new behavior, the longer the new behavior is maintained, the more it stands to become a part of that child’s permanent character. Humans aren’t born to be afraid just as they aren’t born to discriminate against each other, but they learn these things over time.

I heard recently that a society is based–most of all–on trust, a trust in institutions. When a couple trusts that they can live within a certain area, they take their chances and move in there. When a set of parents trust the schools within their range, they take their chances and allow strangers at those schools to parent after their kids for a while.

With this health scare, however, trust is ebbing out with each day. Trust is changing. And it won’t simply crawl right back in haste. To the science which will show that diseases like the coronavirus are manageable with enough purposeful planning, many people will turn away. To the invitations to socialize with others for the benefit of time as a community, more people will choose to save the hassle and spend time at home instead. To love, people will ask themselves, do I want love, or life?

Our society will feel lonelier as a result of being changed by this collective experience. It will feel traumatized. But it’s perhaps exactly then that we can begin a process of collective recovery inclusive of all of our well being. What a time to a just be a witness for all of it. What an extraordinary time. Here’s to JIMBO TIMES being here.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 11

Although I’ve been able to adapt well to the lengthy silences of so many days in isolation, I understand the same is not true for many others out there. I realized this earlier when on stepping outside for a jog, my first in the two weeks since the shutdown began, I suddenly came across a familiar yet only recently estranged sight a stone’s throw down the street: it was my neighbors. Not the neighbors from next door, but the neighbors from across the vecindad.

I saw the tios, the borrachitos, and the quiet loners who–shutdown aside–have clearly still simply kept lugging their bodies and belongings past the concrete to progress through the days given them.

There must have been nearly 15 of these vecinos, together forming a cluster of shoulders, voices and laughter that only gleamed more brilliantly due to the sunshine of a fresh Spring afternoon in Los Angeles–something that’s been deeply missed after a long winter.

For a moment, I wondered, was I–and all of those like me who’ve spent the last few weeks faithfully following the updates and abiding by their requests to keep hunkering in–was I the one playing the part of the sudden stranger, or was it these compadres? If by chance another stranger–say, America’s esteemed Thomas Jefferson–was also a neighbor, or at least somehow nearby, and I asked him about the meaning behind this haphazard gathering in our community, might Tomas say the men were simply enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

If so I’d be compelled to inform Tomas that during the present moment of COVID-19, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not only not good enough, but quite careless and possibly catastrophic for the general welfare of the society. To his question of why, I’d say because the current big idea is the sense of all of us taking care of each other, not just ourselves.

I’d then point out to Señor Jefferson the conundrum of my situation: that it probably wasn’t fair for me to assume that these compadres got the memo to stay at home just like everyone else. To his question of why, I’d apply the following deductive reasoning:

Exactly when were these men supposed to get the memo? If they were supposed to learn about the orders via the TV, what if a few of them didn’t own a television? And if they were supposed to learn about the orders through their cell phones, what about the few who owned none? And if the men were supposed to learn about it at home or through a family member somehow, what should we expect of the men who owned neither a television, nor cellphone, nor even a rental to call home, and who could claim no kin within range?

I’d then present my central argument regarding these compadres: that while it’s tempting to look at these times as being especially critical for us to exercise thoughtfulness and compassion towards such vecinos by asking ourselves the aforementioned types of questions in the interest concerning the well-being of the whole society, the fact of the matter is that this has always been the case, and that it’s in no small part the refusal of many government policies over many decades following Lincoln’s Proclamation to successfully “bring in to the welfare of the society” such compadres which led to my predicament over what to make of their gathering.

Because even then, I’d emphasize to Tomas, it’s not just the compadres who are still out there, but it’s also Black neighbors in South Central Los Angeles, Immigrants of other tongues across downtown L.A., teenagers on many sides only two steps removed from being placed into the Department of Children and Family Services, veterans, and a myriad of other people our government chose not to “bring into the welfare” of the society long ago.

Perhaps many in these groups have heard of the orders just like everyone else–because they’re certainly capable of being as educated as anyone else on the matter–and are even openly defying the orders to stay home and keep their distance because in their minds they go too far. But even if that were the case, is it fair to expect that these groups, which are really sub-groups, whom in large part have always lived on the margins of our society, is it fair to expect them to suddenly heed the orders of a government which has never concerned itself with their inclusion?

I believe not exactly. Because I’ve learned that governments and societies don’t simply get to “leave the past” in the wake of a new day–coronavirus notwithstanding–which in this case is a past made up of our constantly turning our backs to comprehensive immigration reform, to affordable housing for those who need it most, to livable wages, and more. Now, if some of the people most affected by these absent policies choose to turn their backs on us, it’s important to be mindful of maybe just why.

To the question of what then, then, I’d say, first let’s get this information to the people and then hear what they have to say. I’d then get to my jog around las cuadras, as I did earlier today, and let the rest of the pieces fall where they may, as I also did on returning to the block.

Imagination can run past me sometimes, but I believe this: change is a step by step process. But before we can change anything, we have to account for just what it is we want to change.

So now the question for Los Angeles, is simply what it’s going to be. In my humble opinion, I’d say it’s time to complete Lincoln’s emancipation with amelioration.

J.T.