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.

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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 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.

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.

Coronavirus Lands in East Hollywood, Silver Lake

It’s official. According to the L.A. Times tracker, which began releasing known information about infected areas as recently as a day ago, and which at the time of this writing was last updated at 1:32 PM PST this March 29th, there are now five (5) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in East Hollywood.

In the adjacent neighborhood of Silver Lake, there are fourteen (14) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for the disease.

Nearby, Hollywood has thirty-eight (38) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for the novel coronavirus, while West Hollywood next door has fifty (50) caseloads on its records. According to the L.A. County Department of Health–last updated at noon this previous March 28th–L.A. County now has a total of at least 1,809 known cases of the virus.

Even these numbers, however, should be considered an under-count. Despite two weeks of the stay-at-home-orders in Los Angeles, the fact is that widespread testing for COVID-19 is still out of the picture for the foreseeable future. According to L.A. County’s leader in charge of testing, Clayton Kazan, the major hindrance has been a simple but fundamental item that’s been missing:

The number one shortage item that the labs talk to me about is swabs. Number two is reagent and materials for running the tests. So, on the existing machines where they can do it, they’re lacking some of the different raw materials that they need. But number one is swabs: the simplest piece.”

Dr. Kazan also notes that the current process of sending swabs from testing for results out of state is grossly inefficient at this time:

We need a massive scaling locally. As long as we’re having to ship our labs out of state, and we’re having to compete with all the other states that are struggling with their own outbreaks, then we’re going to be struggling.”

An additional problem, of course, is simply whether you have adequate access to healthcare at your fingertips; of the people who have been tested, reports do not show which are insured. In East Hollywood, made up predominantly of Latino and Asian communities, but also Armenian, Black, White and others, the median household income is estimated by Census Tracker as in the range of $39,562 USD.

While I’m not aware of specific data showing how many of the neighborhood’s residents are insured or not, it’s safe to infer from other available data that the majority of them–surviving on (and below) the minimum wages typically paid to their demographics–do not have adequate coverage at their fingertips.

Here, the words of Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of L.A.’s public health department, resonate loudly:

“There are thousands of people in our communities who are positive but who have not been tested.”

Readers are advised to increase their level of precautions, and to reach out to loved ones–safely–on further steps to ensure and maintain their health and well-being in the upcoming with this public health threat.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 10

I saw recently an advisory that the World Health Organization actually recommends checking on updates for the coronavirus only once or twice a day. I very much appreciated seeing that advisory; I heeded their advice and took a reprieve from my laptop and the usual applications for this Saturday–not to mention the rate of my ‘updatedness’–and am likely do so once again through Sunday. Over the last two weeks, I’ve steered the galactic ship that is JIMBO TIMES towards optimal attention to updates on COVID-19 in an effort to relay the information to as many others in the blog’s network as reachable as soon as possible.

It’s made for a transition that’s been nearly seamless for the blog; I’ve very much enjoyed publishing the new word of the day, as well as publishing bulletins or announcements for the people regarding the latest on COVID-19 from our elected officials–not to mention these blogs–but as with all events in the observable universe, they’ve not been without their costs–or trade-offs–in exchange.

It’s required marked discipline from me to write each night before my deadline. And it’s worn my eyes slightly more than I might have anticipated, among other things.

At the same time,J.T.’ has always been a “trade-off,” although the “t-word” isn’t the most accurate term to describe what the process has entailed.

Many years ago, during another great seismic shift of the norm in the good ole USA, a close friend and I had a very brief exchange about another ‘downtime’ or major change in America, which, short as it was, I’d never forget:

“You know,”
I said, “the Great Depression wasn’t bad for everyone.”

I didn’t fully know if this was the case or not, but somehow took a leap of faith wide enough that my observation was fairly accurate that it sounded confident enough to register with my friend once it left my trachea.

“That’s right,” my friend said. “There were some people that actually really got rich after that,” he exclaimed with conviction.

Maybe we were both on to something that was quite more true than either of us could have speculated to be at the time. In any case:

In 2020, after much consideration and observation, at this precise juncture of time and space, it’s an honor to note that the blog has never been more positioned for success than it is currently; business is better than it’s ever been.

But what exactly is business?

I have decided that business is not just my consistency with the people, but that it’s consistency with myself. Take a day off all of it, Los Angeles. You’re going to need it for the days still ahead.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 9

At the time of this writing, the L.A. Times reports that the number of cases in California has grown to nearly 5,000, with 102 known deaths. Between yesterday and this Friday, the number of recorded cases more than doubled. If the trend continues, according to Mayor Garcetti:

A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.”

Except that there is a discrepancy to point out; California has lagged far behind New York in testing–by about 65% according to the SF Chronicle–which means that the spike in cases shouldn’t be read as representing the rate of the spread of the virus, but only as representing the increased rate of California’s testing for it.

In other words, we can’t yet say for sure if we’ll be at New York city’s level of crisis without sampling or testing more of the population first.

But that’s where the trouble lies. Unlike New York, the state of California actually doesn’t have a federally approved test for COVID-19; instead, the state developed its own test for the virus. That’s where a bigger problem lies: the sluggish testing in California is also due to a shortness of staff and materials to administer the screening.

This underscores why the state’s leadership is panicked. It’s, of course, a serious failure on both the part of the 5th largest economy in the world and the federal government.

But what’s also true is that comparing Los Angeles to New York City as if they are basically twin cities on opposite coasts is simply misleading. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Los Angeles is a city of just under 4 million people, while it estimates that New York City is twice as large at just under 8.4 million.

But more important than the size is how differently these cities run. The density of New York City, where people are far more reliant on public transportation, far closer together at bars, restaurants and tourist locations, and where people are housed exponentially right on top of each other, shows why the risk of spread is greater there.

By contrast, California, the city of Carmageddon, is a city where millions of people already quarantine themselves on a daily basis en route to work each morning. There is density and clustering, but it’s far more sequestered. Think downtown L.A., Venice beach, or Hollywood. These are obviously hot-spots, where the risk of spread is just as great as anywhere else in the world, but the majority of the city is not as densely concentrated as downtown, Venice beach, or Hollywood. This is where the shutdown of L.A. was key.

It was the right step to close the schools and limit the amount of travel as soon as possible. And as Garcetti and Newsom have both noted, the vast majority of Californians have complied with the stay at home orders, which is a good sign.

Now the only problem is access to the tests, though. Once we can get more of our people screened, we can have a better projection of where to allocate our maximal resources, what areas to screen off, and where people can “get back to normal.”

Of course, “normal” is a stand-in for work. If not for nearly 40 million workers, how else could California rank as the 5th largest economy in the world, behind only Germany, Japan, China and the U.S. itself? The golden state’s wealth is formed daily not just by those millions of people in traffic authorized to work, but just as much by the millions of unauthorized workers whose hands also contribute to create its riches.

Con paciencia, mamá. Todo pasa por una razón.’

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 8

Today I awoke to the news that over 3.3 million people in the United States filed for unemployment benefits over the past week. When I mentioned this to mom, she gasped. She then pointed out to me that the number doesn’t even include the informal economy, comprised of nannies, tamaleras, small business owners like herself, and countless more.

At the same time, the number of cases of Coronavirus found in L.A. County topped 1,200 today, with the figure reaching over 4,000 for the golden state overall; I realize that the figure is just the tipping point if Californians don’t heed the warnings to stay home and minimize travel down to the essentials. As well as if the professionals don’t have the personal protective equipment they need to reduce the risk of becoming infected by their patients.

But most signs point to the fact that people have stayed home as ordered thus far. In my own community, I’m surrounded by humble, God-fearing citizens, who, as working class people, largely play by the rules set up for us daily anyway for fear of reprisal otherwise. I know that las familias have been home, led overwhelmingly by mama, that is, and that for many of them the shutdown has even been a reprieve, especially for the laborers among them who wear their backs daily with brittle bones undergirding them to bring the day’s bread home.

We are a people as humble as angels peering down from their portraits as if weighed down by their wings. And something tells me that if Jesus himself walked through Los Angeles today, he’d smile deeply on meeting our glances for our still looking up through yet another storm. Perhaps he does. We are the people of the awakening. Tomorrow it’s my turn to bring back some more bread.

J.T.