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 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.

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.

I Wanted School to Be Over

Many students (high school seniors, I’m talking to you!) constantly share one common wish: for school to be over. As seniors, we have put up with nearly 12 years of schooling, have gone through twice as many teachers, met 5 times as many annoying-ass kids, and just wanted our final year to be a breeze. Do we still want that?

When we said, “UGH! I want to get out of here already!” we meant that we wanted the school year to go by fast, unnoticed. However, fate and life (and some may even say God) enjoy toying with us, and like making a wish at a magic genie booth at the L.A. County fair, we actually got what we wanted, just in the most undesirable way possible.

COVID-19 has every school in the major Los Angeles area closed with a very high chance that they’ll remain closed until the upcoming fall. Suddenly, all of us students have been forced into online schooling, with every teacher trying to host a Zoom session at the same time, with many teachers assigning homework every single day, and with some teachers still having no idea how to use technology. This is not the end we wanted.

Suddenly, it seemed our introverted lifestyles were becoming a law and a survival guide: don’t go outside, don’t interact with anyone, avoid direct contact, only leave to get food. Finally, our binge-eating and binge-watching routines were no longer taboo, but being encouraged by the leaders of our state. In a nutshell, it can seem ideal. Living in it, though, has been a serious challenge.

Be careful what you wish for. You don’t know the value of what you have until it’s gone. These are sayings that are kicking everyone in the ass at the moment.

The vast majority of people always complain about the insipidity of their daily routine; we’re always asking for a change. It’s only now that we start to realize how dependent we are in our customs. Think about it: you’re sitting on your couch, watching something random on Netflix for background noise, eating your 5th Cup Noodles this week, and daydreaming about how life was perfectly normal a month ago (though you were probably complaining about it then too).

Many of our lonely souls just want this to be over because we miss our friends. We miss making plans we probably weren’t going to show up for. We miss rolling our eyes at the kids in the halls who take their sweet ass time walking to class. We also miss seeing that one teacher that remembered what being a high school student was like. Some of us are even questioning if we’ll still remember our social skills once this is over. Will we remember how to say “hi” properly, or how to hug our friends?

No matter what kind of person you may be, you probably miss the times that seem like forever ago too. Every day lasts 72 hours now, and there is apparently nothing to do. We all want this to be over, and soon. But what can we do? Be awesome and listen. That’s what. Also, remember to wash your hands and practice saying “hello” at home whenever possible.

(This blog was originally published on the new LA Voice Blog by José Ocampo)

JQ

José Ocampo is an 18 year old Senior high school student in Los Angeles who will be studying at the University of San Francisco as a Psychology major this upcoming Fall 2020. He loves writing about the world, and sharing his mind with as many people as he can. Please check out and subscribe to his new blog, the LA Voice, immediately during this quarantine season!

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 7

Today it dawned on me that what’s more likely about the proximity of the coronavirus to my community is not that it’s on its way, but that it’s already here, somewhere in the vicinity, albeit undetected.

When I think about that, I realize just how much I’ve got in common with millions of other Americans who’ve little to no access to basic healthcare services. In one of the last estimates, the Wall Street Journal notes that the “average” test or screening for coronavirus can run a patient up to $1,464.00 USD. According to the statistics, more than half of American households–which is to say somewhere around 165 million people–don’t even have an emergency savings account.

While Congress passed legislation to make screenings for coronavirus free of charge earlier this month, healthcare systems all across the U.S. are notorious for still billing people who can’t afford thousands of dollars in fees relating to pre-screenings or other costs that can accrue in a last-minute visit to the hospital.

In turn, even if the stock market surged earlier today in lieu of a stimulus package making its way through Congress promising $1,200 USD to Americans impacted by COVID-19, the fact of the matter is that the check is a one-time payment that’ll barely cover rent for many when it’s due next week. After that, where is our country to go?

Four years ago when the president launched his campaign, were millions of Americans who were out of work and on the verge of eviction, for which his administration would promise only a one-time payment to, as if to bid them good luck and farewell, was that his idea of making America great again?

In the meantime, at least Governor Cuomo in New York has put in place a statewide ban or eviction moratorium for New Yorkers unable to pay rent through the next 90 days due to a lack of income. Governor Newsom, on the other hand, has yet to announce any such plans for renters here in California, of which there are more than 17 million, or nearly 43 percent of the state’s total population.

In Los Angeles, the L.A. City Council canceled meetings for the rest of March a day before a scheduled vote on expansive orders halting evictions. If not for an executive order issued by Mayor Garcetti placing a temporary ban on evictions of people affected by COVID-19, L.A. tenants would have virtually no protections during this time.

I’ve thus got a feeling that more coordinated leadership from our elected officials would be much appreciated by those who’ve financially been hit the hardest by this pandemic. Those people who comprise the community this blog continues to be dedicated to.

J.T.

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Madison Block Loses a Little Brother for the Ages, Fernie “Belok” Puga

It was hardly before 7 pm when my mom heard the shot on her way home from work. She described it as something like a loud thunderclap. She is now sixty years old. The harrowing clap terrified her and forced her to turn her cart back racing the opposite way. The path along the street is one I’ve walked with her over a thousand times throughout the 18+ years that her stand’s doors have opened for the world on Santa Monica boulevard. The newsstand is a fixture, like the sign that marks the name of the boulevard itself, or the lights that guide the road. But mom’s stand is also subject to a window of time. One day, time will close its doors on the stand’s wooden frames too. It will also leave its place as any fixture is destined to do.

When I think back to when I first met Fernando (or Fernie), I remember the hopefulness of his greeting. There was a way that he lifted his whole chin to salute you, accentuating his cheeks and arching his eyes back as he focused them on yours while letting out an unhesitating smirk. This let you know that he was completely in the space with you as a kindred spirit. Fernie’s ability to hear you out was just as affirming. There was a way that you could express yourself with him without fearing that he’d use it against you. In a crowd of many friends–mostly teenage boys–it was difficult to find that. But Fernie was consistent. He was never out to get anyone unnecessarily. He was a loyal little brother to a pack of young men without many fathers to count among the ranks. He was there for you in any case, and was also bold on his own, which he often had to be, without flinching.

Whether you knew it or not, if you frequented Cahuenga Public Library, you were literally his neighbor. Whether you knew it or not, Fernie wore all the goodness of his neighborhood proudly on his chin. His violent loss now marks the end of an era for the community. His pack of brothers are grieving for him, praying to escape from the nightmare of a thousand memories now flowing out in his name. I salute these brothers–and also every sister and mother and father who Fernie leaves behind–and uplift Fernando “Belok” Puga’s name. Whether it’s clear or not, Fernie now walks with each of us as a giant among the stars as we continue past the boulevard on our way to a home which is still our home. A home we have to continue to claim for a community to still survive.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 2

Today early in the morning I left for a drive.

Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti’s orders notwithstanding, I looked forward to some time just between myself and the road. But it was something stranger than I could have anticipated. Although I’d gotten somewhere between five or six hours of sleep before meeting the daylight, which I thought was plenty given the circumstances, I clearly felt out of place and it showed on the highway. My swerving was absent of slickness, and I wasn’t my most precise self as I traded glances between the GPS and the windshield. A destination to anywhere. Away from Los Angeles. Away from the last few days.

I saw through cold mountain tops covered in greenery. The freshness of a few days of rain. The beginning of Spring.

On reaching my destination, an Albertson’s somewhere past the canyons, I was relieved to have made it off the highway in one piece, and relieved that my car didn’t have some sudden breakdown. I could hardly imagine having highway patrol behind me in the middle of all this pandemonium with our state, our nation, our whole way of life and order.

I completed the morning with a breakfast sandwich that was more delicious than I could savor. But I still appreciated it in silence and solitude, even if it vanished within me in less than a minute.

On getting back to Los Angeles, I thought I’d treat myself to some ice cream with some money from work’s final deposit to my account. There was a place up Hillhurst boulevard, Jenny’s Ice Cream, but as it’d turn out, not only was the shop only taking orders online, but pints were priced at 12 dollars a piece, more than I wanted to spend on ice cream.

I decided to visit the Rite Aid closer to home instead, where I picked up a pint of Cookies and Cream for three dollars and some change.

I made it through just a few spoonfuls of the pint, but took comfort in one of my childhood favorite flavors in the midst of so much unfamiliarity.

On returning home, sure enough my parking space for the last few days was taken by another neighbor. But although I missed it, another part of me appreciated knowing that someone else put the space to use.

I’ve come to learn that life is never replaced by the end of life, but only by more life, which is not more of the same, but more of a change. I can only hope to warm up my world, to change enough for those who come after me to be able to do so for themselves when their time arrives, and as they need to do for their environment.

We are living in a time of great change, and I can be grateful for it. I can savor its passing, even if I know there is much adjusting, silence and solitude, before I can appreciate its essentials.

On stepping back inside, I fell into a deep slumber that I could hardly see coming. When I got back up to meet the day, it was a new world again.

J.T.