Culinary Miscellany

I didn’t set out to blog about food; it’s almost certainly a sign of these extraordinary times. COVID-19 has both prompted me to minimize trips to the grocery store and impressed on me that not everything I want will be on the shelves when I want it. I’m not talking about seasonal produce here (my freezer is always well stocked with whole cranberries, which are only available in the fall); I’m talking about staples I take for granted because they’re always there — or used to be.

I haven’t been much affected by the fact that these days you can’t get a sit-down meal in a restaurant: I don’t have an eat-out income, though it does allow for the occasional breakfast with friends at the Black Dog Café and fairly frequent stops for a cookie on the way home (when Tam’s with me, he gets a Black Dog biscuit). Several places are open for takeout, however, and when I really need a break from my own cooking, I plan to indulge.

I just started preparing to make a quiche. The ball of dough that will become the crust is refrigerating. Eggs and cheese are working their way up to room temperature. No chorizo or linguiça in the fridge but there was half of a half pound of bacon, which I’ve just fried up crispy. If I don’t eat it all (with some help from Tam), there’ll be enough left to put in the quiche.

Late yesterday afternoon I made a Red Beans and Rice recipe I found in the Washington Post. Having never had or even seen the New Orleans original I have no idea how authentic it is. Judging by the comments on the recipe it isn’t, but it’s effing delicious. I was so hungry when it was done I didn’t even cook up the rice. It’s great.

Shopping the other day I realized I was buying two of things I usually just get one of. Not hoarding really; just trying to minimize my trips to the grocery store. Earlier this year I joined the MVY Co-op. Have already noticed that some things that seem hugely extravagant at the grocery — honey, cashews, pecans, dates — seem reasonable as part of my co-op orders, which are smaller and less frequent than my trips to Reliable or Cronig’s. I’m also getting better at figuring how much to order of what. Not everything I want is available in every order cycle, so — order more than usual. I just sprang for 10 pounds of oat groats and 10 pounds of long-grain brown rice: things I can’t stand to run out of.

My culinary repertoire includes mostly dishes that make enough for several meals and freeze well: chilis, soups, and stews. Several of these are bean-intensive, and I’ve been trying lately to start from dried beans instead of cans, so in a fill-in-the-gaps Cronig’s run, I was looking particularly for the kidney beans and black beans that go into my current favorite chili. To my surprise, the bean section was mostly bare, of both dried beans and canned. (The bulk bins have been banished for the duration.) Navy beans were plentiful, and there were garbanzos to be had, but I didn’t need them. I was lucky enough to find, lurking way back on a bottom shelf, a can of kidneys and a can of black beans — enough for my next round of chili.

There was no brown rice to be had either. White Uncle Ben’s, white Minute Rice, and some sort of white rice in transparent plastic containers, but that was it. Eventually my co-op order for long-grain brown will come in, and meanwhile I’ll make do with the boxes of Near East rice pilaf (various flavors) stashed in my cupboard.

On my most recent trip to Cronig’s, I noticed that lines had been drawn on the floor to mark six feet of social distance from the cashier, and signs urged us to keep six feet from each other. In the aisles this often isn’t possible, but where in the past I would have squeezed by someone who was studying the selection before her, now I’m more likely to wait — especially when the other person is wearing a mask. (Why? Not sure, but my hunch so far is that mask-wearers are more conscientious and/or more nervous than I, and I respect that.) Most of the staff were wearing masks, and more shoppers than on my previous trip, but mask wearers were definitely in the minority.

Quiche is a dish-intensive project, and lacking a dishwasher, I wash my dishes in the sink and stick them to dry in an ordinary dish drainer, but one quiche = six meals so I’m not complaining. The bowls, skillet, plate, egg beater, and measuring cup benefit from being washed once in a while, and Tam (like Travvy before him) thoroughly enjoys pre-washing the skillet and the egg bowl.

I’ve never frozen a quiche, by the way, but it keeps long enough in the fridge for me to finish it off.

And yes, I have washed my hands several times today . . .

 

 

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March License Plate Report

map of US with states colored in

I spotted Illinois in very early March and was looking forward to a good, solid March until COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders skewered that expectation. I was on the road even less than usual, traffic was way down, and from the governor on down summer residents were being explicitly urged to stay home rather than risk overtaxing our limited-capacity hospital. Still, it was a bummer watching the month draw to a close with only one new sighting on the map . . .

Then yesterday, March 31, I was heading home from a round-the-island supply run, about to make the right turn from the Edgartown Road to Old County, when what should I spy heading in the opposite direction but Nevada.

I was thrilled. Not only does Illinois not have to stand alone, but it’s accompanied by one of the harder-to-get states. Nevada isn’t exactly rare, which is to say that I get it most years, but it’s not as common as Texas or California either.

Speaking of which, I’m wondering where North Carolina and Washington state are keeping themselves . . .

I’d be the last to claim that the license plate game has any redeeming social importance — as a long-ago Martha’s Vineyard Times colleague used to mutter whenever the subject came up, “Get a life!” — but thanks to COVID-19 I did use it as a source in several Facebook posts this past month. How? I’ll try to keep it short:

The year-round Vineyard has a complex, mostly under-examined love/hate relationship with “summer people,” a category that includes second-home owners, regular seasonal visitors, tourists, and pretty much everyone who swells the island’s population from less than 20,000 in the off-season to well over 100,000 in the height of summer. So when rising anxiety about COVID-19 was compounded by stories that summer people were fleeing here to their summer homes, some of the latent hostility spilled onto social media.

On Facebook hostility rarely stays latent for long, and misinformation spreads like, well, a highly contagious virus. (The figurative expression “going viral” didn’t come out of nowhere.) When the two interact, as they inevitably do, things can get ugly pretty fast. Sightings of New York license plates in supermarket parking lots were touted as proof that summer people were swarming to Martha’s Vineyard. The more polite comments on this focused on the hospital. The less polite charged that the incomers were importing COVID-19 to the island, which (presumably) could escape contagion completely if only those people would stay home.

It didn’t help that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on the Vineyard was a guy from New York who came here to close on a house.

Anyway, I could go on, and probably will in another post, but here’s the license plate connection: I pointed out that I spotted license plates from 25 different states in January, that this was par for the course, and that plates from New York, New Jersey, and all New England states were plentiful all year round. Others backed me up on this, and we tried to inject as much reality-based info into the discussion as possible, noting especially that people come and go from the Vineyard every day all year round, to work, to shop, to visit friends and relatives, etc., etc. Most likely the #1 reason that no one early in the month had tested positive for COVID-19 was that here, just like everywhere else, testing was inadequate and often being limited to those showing symptoms.

I’m still not claiming “great sociopolitical import” (thank you, Janis!) for the license plate game or my inferences from my very non-scientific statistics, but if I got through to some people that not every vehicle on the island in the dead of winter is sporting Massachusetts plates, that’s something.

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Walk, Drive, Remember

Tam and I walked to the post office yesterday afternoon. In my backpack were a handful of postcards urging Wisconsin voters to vote for Jill Karofsky for the state supreme court. The election is April 7, and one of the three required message items was recently changed to encourage voters to vote early. If you’re reading this in Wisconsin, Jill’s website will tell you what to do.

My postcard for Jill Karofsky. I use Avery labels and templates to create the card, then do my writing on the back.

And speaking of Postcards to Voters, there’s no time like the present to sign up to write postcards to help support Democratic candidates and get out the Democratic vote. I’ve blogged several times about PTV, like for instance here, or you can check out the Postcards to Voters website.

When Trav and I walked to the PO, our route led us through the yard of a house that was conveniently vacant for years. That house is now occupied, so Tam and I are improvising an alternative that involves a little bushwhacking before it hits a well-worn path into the Island Farms subdivision. The rest is easy.

In the subdivision, we encountered two little boys, almost certainly brothers, playing on the dead-end road. They admired Tam, Tam made friends with them, and Tam and I went on our way down the dirt road.

I tied Tam to the wooden bike rack by the bus stop where I used to tie Trav. To my surprise and pleasure he seems to be OK with my going out of sight when he’s tied outside. When I walked into the PO, Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” was playing on the PA. This is one of my favorite songs of all time, so I took this as a blessing, not least because I’d just read about devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the city of New Orleans, accelerated by the Mardi Gras festivities at the end of February.

The version playing in the PO wasn’t Steve. I don’t think it was Arlo Guthrie either; Arlo introduced both Steve and the song to a national audience (Chicago already knew them well). Steve Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, age 36, and this wasn’t the only great song he left behind. Plenty of people know the songs without knowing who wrote them, so here’s Steve singing “City of New Orleans”:

My next venture out was to the beer store, properly M.V. Wine & Spirits. It’s at the airport and just over the line in (wet) Edgartown, but it feels like having a liquor store in (mostly dry) West Tisbury. That’s a bit far to walk unless one wants to make an afternoon of it, so I took Malvina Forester, and Tam rode shotgun.

COVID-19 and the towns’ recent stay-at-home orders have made some changes. My last trip was business as usual, but this time customers congregated outside and staffers came out on the porch (veranda? deck?) to take our orders, go back inside, and return with the goods. I wanted two cases of Tröeg’s Perpetual IPA (current fave, along with Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo and Wash Ashore Beer Company’s Maya Mae) but they were out of cases so I settled for two six-packs of Perpetual and a four-pack of Maya Mae.

The redemption machine was, not surprisingly, closed so I brought my empties home.

The experience threw me back to my childhood. Self-service grocery stores and supermarkets were much the norm by then, in the late 1950s and early ’60s, but my mother got meat from Lamont’s in Auburndale. Lamont’s was also a small grocery where many of the nonperishables were stored on high shelves above the counter and the grocer (Mr. Lamont?) would use a hook on a long wooden rod to deftly separate the packages you wanted from the ones you didn’t.

I just went looking for Lamont’s on the web, not expecting to find anything, so imagine my surprise when I discover that Lamont’s is now on the National Register of Historic Places as a “rare example of concrete block construction.” I don’t recognize the only photo available — not only is it obscured by trees, it’s white! — but there it is. I do recognize the neighborhood, though: Norumbega Park, which was home to an amusement park when I was a kid, and the area off 128 (that’s I-95 to you 😉 ) across the Charles River from the park where we’d go to feed the ducks, and the Middlesex & Boston bus yard where “Comm Ave” (aka Route 30, or South Avenue in my town) and Charles Street forked. My school bus in first grade was what the older kids called an “M&B crate” but after that it was yellow buses all the way.

I still remember my parents taking me and my next younger brother to watch the Riverside Recreation Center burn to the ground. My recollection is that I was seven at the time, which I might have been: an online history of Newton and the Charles reports that it was “destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1959.” If it burned before June 8, I would indeed have been seven. My clearest memory is crossing railroad tracks in the dark with loads of other people, holding my father’s hand, and watching the flames across the river. Hardly anyone knows why the ramp you take off 128 to get to 30 is called Recreation Road, but I do.

All this sent me back to “Philadelphia,” a wonderful song about living in different decades, or even centuries, at the same time. Lyrics by Rudyard Kipling, setting by the late, brilliant Peter Bellamy, performance by Tony Barrand and John Roberts. Naulakha Redux is one of my favorite albums. Who knew a visit to the beer store would set me on the road to “Philadelphia”? or that a walk to the post office would include a ride on the City of New Orleans?

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The COVID-19 Chronicles, Continued

A few takeaway points from the national news:

  • The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise nationally and in Massachusetts, along with the number of deaths. The number of confirmed cases on the Vineyard has risen to two, of whom one has reportedly been hospitalized. The case numbers everywhere are almost certainly low thanks to the (dare I say) criminal lack of testing equipment across the country. In most places only those with obvious symptoms get tested, though exceptions seem to be made regularly for the likes of Sen. Rand Paul, who was out and about for several days before his test results came back positive.
  • In places where testing is more widespread, several studies indicate that many testing positive for COVID-19 show either delayed symptoms or no symptoms at all. A survey in Iceland suggested that this may be as high as 50 percent. Asymptomatic people can spread the virus, which by all reports is highly contagious. If this doesn’t argue persuasively for (1) widespread testing, and (2) social distancing and “shelter at home” advisories, I don’t know what does.
  • Republican officeholders are showing their true callous, short-sighted, and/or ignorant colors. Rand Paul is right up there, but so far the guy who takes the cake is Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas. He believes people should get back to work, and if that raises the mortality risk for older people (as it almost certainly would), older people and presumably their friends and relatives should be willing to make the sacrifice. Since Patrick is about to turn 70, the Texas Monthly aptly headlined its story “Dan Patrick to Dan Patrick: Drop Dead.” He and his fellows readily justify this by invoking the interests of their children and grandchildren, but since many of them are climate-change deniers I can’t help wondering what they mean by this.

Closer to home, five of the six island towns have issued stay-at-home orders; the sixth town, Aquinnah, has approved the order “in concept” but hasn’t actually enacted it. West Tisbury’s order went into effect at noon yesterday, March 25, and continues till noon on Monday, April 7. It makes reasonable exceptions, like buying groceries, seeking medical care, and enjoying the outdoors as long as social distancing practices are observed, and those staffing essential services can still go to work.

Malvina’s 2017 inspection sticker. March is a good month to get inspected. August is not.

Malvina Forester is supposed to be inspected this month, and of course I hadn’t got around to it yet, so I wondered if vehicle inspection was considered essential; IOW, would I be risking a $1,000 fine to take Malvina to Kenny Belain’s inspection station? (Kenny’s garage is literally across the street from the town hall, but no, I was not seriously worried about getting busted.) A quick visit to the Registry of Motor Vehicles website assured me that the deadline has been extended 60 days for all non-commercial vehicles due for inspection in March or April. State government workers are paying attention to the workaday details of all this. Whew.

Speaking of which, both the federal and the state tax-filing deadline has been extended 90 days, to July 15. This probably means that my appointment with the tax preparer next Monday will be postponed too. Gotta check on that.

Governor Charlie Baker (R) is pushing back against the island towns’ stay-at-home orders, which are more stringent than the advisories issued by the commonwealth. According to the Martha’s Vineyard Times story, this has something to do with the need to maintain a unified statewide front during an emergency, but it’s also clear that one sticking point is whether construction is an essential service or not: the town orders say no, but the commonwealth says yes. Do we suspect that some heavy-duty lobbying is going on around this? We do indeed. The comments on that M.V. Times story are worth skimming for the range of local opinions on this.

I’m no fan of Charlie Baker’s, but I do have to say that he’s doing much better than most Republican governors and elected officials. So is Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio, but DeWine pulled a typical Republican trick by declaring abortion services non-essential. Like pregnancies are going to stop advancing till the stay-at-home order is lifted? When all this is over, or we’re at least on the downward curve, it’ll be interesting to see to what extent government action, popular compliance, and access to adequate health care affected the spread of COVID-19 and the mortality rate.

Yesterday in a Facebook thread about the sometimes drastic changes that COVID-19 is making in our lives, I wrote: “It’s like the tide has gone out and everything below the surface is exposed for all to see, and (I hope) remember when the tide comes in again.” Some specifics, off the top of my head:

  • Many of the workers who are putting themselves at risk day in, day out to keep us supplied with groceries and other essentials are considered “low-skill” or “unskilled” and are paid not much more than minimum wage (if that). A $15 an hour minimum is not too much.
  • It’s workers and consumers who keep the economy going, not billionaires and corporate executives.
  • Schoolteachers do much more than teach.
  • Libraries do much more than lend books and DVDs.
  • On Martha’s Vineyard as elsewhere, the quality of many people’s lives depends on the volunteered time of “older” people. Meals on Wheels, for instance, are delivered not just to older people but mostly by older people. It does indeed “take a village” to raise a child, not to mention keep a community going, and a goodly proportion of those villagers are grandparents or of grandparently age. Dan Patrick (see above), take note.
  • Universal access to affordable health care benefits every single one of us, and the lack of it harms us all.
  • Elections matter.

More TK! (That’s publishing lingo for “to come.” 😉 )

I stuck this photo in because it combines libraries and voting. That’s Susan Phelps (right) and me at the voter registration table, West Tisbury library, June 2018.

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Saturday Out-and-About

Last fall a back molar broke (twice!) and started me on the road to an implant by way of extraction. The implant part was done two weeks ago, and I was scheduled to have the stitches removed at 8:45 yesterday morning.

I did have the stitches out right on schedule, but plenty had happened between one appointment and the other, so things were a little different. Early in the week Dr. Samuels’s office called to remind me of my appointment. No big deal, but the office person also asked me to cancel if I had any flu- or COVID-19-like symptoms, and she assured me that patients were being scheduled so there would never be more than one person in the (small) waiting room at a time. (Dr. Samuels, a periodontist, comes from off-island several days a month to practice at the dental office at the airport.)

I was in and out of there in five minutes, feeling grateful to everyone who’s willing to take the risk of dealing with “the public,” most of whom they do not know much, if anything, about.

When I made that appointment, btw, I chose 8:45 a.m. because I expected to be at the Howes House (Up-Island Council on Aging) to help set up for West Tisbury’s Democratic town caucus, to elect delegates to the MassDems convention on May 30. As noted in an earlier blog post, the MassDems have suspended all caucuses, promising that if “this temporary suspension must continue for an extended period of time, the Party will develop a replacement to the caucus process.” No word on that yet.

From the dentist I headed to down-island Cronig’s, where I rarely venture because I do my grocery shopping at Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs and fill in the gaps at up-island Cronig’s, which feels more like a grocery store than a supermarket and besides is a 20-minute walk from home. But up-island Cronig’s is closed for the duration.

It takes me longer to find everything I need at down-island Cronig’s, but I was happy to see the familiar faces of several up-island staffers — and once again I murmured my gratitude to all the workers who are taking the risk of dealing with “the public” in order to keep essential services operating, like, for instance, food deliveries. Here’s hoping everyone who thinks the minimum wage is high enough realizes that it’s relatively low-wage workers keeping the economy going right now, not goddamn corporate executives and politicians.

There was a sign up urging shoppers to take the now-expected precautions and to keep a five-foot distance from other people. This was pretty much impossible, but the store, though busy on a Saturday morning, was not crowded. I minimized my own contact with produce (bananas and apples), i.e., the ones I touched went into my basket, and quickly found milk, which was what I really needed. (I didn’t even notice if there was toilet paper or any of its obvious substitutes available. A few, very few, people were wearing masks. All the ones I saw were women.)

I did check out the little half-price meat cooler over in the corner (I know where that is), not expecting much, and true, the pickings were slim but a half-pound package of “reduced sodium” bacon had my name on it, which was especially fortuitous because I planned to make French toast for breakfast. I’m happy to report that reduced-sodium bacon tastes as good as the other kind, and that Tam likes it too.

That pretty much wraps up the out-and-about part of my day. After I got home, I learned of the statement that the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the Nantucket Cottage Hospital released late Friday, urging summer residents to stay home to avoid overtaxing the respective hospitals’ resources. Everyone has a lot to say about this, including me, but I’m going to save it for a separate post because Tam and I haven’t had our morning walk yet and it’s half past noon already. So — more later.

Meanwhile here are some resources for those who need help and those who have help to offer. Please pass them on to anyone who could use them (and thanks to ICAN, the Island Climate Action Network, for compiling most of this info in their newsletter).

Resources for Vineyarders

Many of those who need support or assistance may be out of the social-media loop and not adept with the online world. Keep an eye out for friends, neighbors, and relatives who may need help contacting these resources. (For elders, your town’s council on aging is a good place to start.)

The Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund grew out of the huge (14K members) Islanders Talk Facebook group. It’s totally grassroots and can often reach islanders in need who aren’t plugged into the usual networks, and often aren’t online. They don’t have a website but checks can be sent to Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund at P.O. Box 9000, Edgartown, MA 02539.

The Island Food Pantry anticipates increased demand due to the dislocations of COVID-19 and emphasizes that it needs monetary contributions more than food donations. They’re also looking for volunteers who are “low-risk, healthy, and comfortable doing so.” If you need food, you do not have to be on MassHealth, SNAP, or any other government program; you’ll be asked to fill out a registration form on your first visit, but that’s it.

More resources for those who need help with food.

The Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard has set up an Emergency Response Fund to support the non-profits who are on the front lines providing relief to those affected by COVID-19.

M.V. Community Services (MVCS) updates and contact info

If your organization needs volunteers or if you want to volunteer, MVCS has started an online clearinghouse to match people up.

Dukes County Social Services and Vineyard Health Care Access Program offers help to people who want to apply for SNAP (food stamps): socialservicesATdukescounty.org or infoATmvhealthcareaccess.org. (Replace AT with @ in these email addresses.) You can also apply directly at https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov.

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Tam Lin Is ONE

March 15, the Ides of March, was the first anniversary of my Travvy’s passing. I remember that day for so many reasons, but especially because when I messaged Lori, Trav’s breeder, to let her know he was gone, she messaged back: “I know that this offer is way too soon but I want to let you know that we are expecting a litter tomorrow so if you decide that you need to fill the void in your life please let me know.” I didn’t know what I was going to do next, but I took this as a sign.

As it turned out, Mama Anuk kept everybody waiting till March 20, when she produced four pups, three boys and a girl.

The pups at four weeks. I think Tommy/Tam is 2nd from left, with sister Crow climbing on top of him.

“Wait! Wait!” you cry. “Today is March 20. Someone turns one year old today? Could it be one of those puppies?”

Well, yeah. Tam Lin, my Tim-Tam-Tommy-O, formally Masasyu’s Tam Lin, was one of those puppies. I brought him home in mid-May and he’s pretty much grown up on Facebook.

Which is why he now has his own Facebook account. It used to be Trav’s, and all of Trav’s photos and stories are still there, but I think he’d be OK with passing it on to the next generation, along with the toys he didn’t manage to destroy. (Tam is easier on toys than Trav was; this is why there are so many of them underfoot.)

Here are some pictures from Tam’s first year. You’ll notice that he’s grown a bit, but lucky for both of us he seems to be approaching “full grown” — he weighed about 75 pounds a couple weeks ago, and that was only 5 pounds more than he weighed two months earlier. If you want to read more about his early months on Martha’s Vineyard, put “Tam Lin” in the search bar on the right. If you want to read more about what we’re up to now, keep coming back!

puppy on green grass

Tam checks out the grass and dandelions in front of the Super 8 we stayed at on our way home from Canandaigua.

Susanna and puppy Tam in the woods

One of my favorite photos: Tam and I met Bert Fischer on the trail near his house, and Bert had his camera with him. May 25.

Once Tam couldn’t squeeze under the log, he had to scramble over it. (Now you should see him jump!) June 5.

Tam and his friend Ziggy from next door. Tam is now at least twice Ziggy’s size. June 19.

puppy and soccer ball

At 3 1/2 months Tam was beginning to look more like a young dog and less like a puppy. He still loves playing soccer in the yard. July 3.

When I restrung the clothesline, Tam wanted to help. August 1.

Walking at Sepiessa. August 24.

Tam’s got much better with his separation anxiety, but when I come back from the bathroom, this is still what I see at the top of the stairs. September 6.

See what I mean about soccer? October 3.

Tam had only been home a few days when he went to his first demo. He’s been to several since then and plans to do some campaigning this year. October 13.

Tam’s first snow. Unfortunately we had very little of it this winter. December 3.

At Lambert’s Cove. December 27.

Out on the deck. February 16.

 

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Keeping My Distance While Going Out

My usual habit is to gang my errands so I spend as little time as possible driving back and forth between West Tisbury and Vineyard Haven, West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs. (My treks to Edgartown and Chilmark are almost entirely for library events, meetings, and social events, all of which are off for the duration.)

This habit is serving me well in the age of social distancing. We’re supposed to avoid non-essential travel, but “essential” is a somewhat slippery term. I deemed two of the items on my to-do list as essential, so on Wednesday afternoon off I went.

First stop was the West Tisbury post office, where I picked up mail and gave silent thanks to the valiant post office crew who are on duty serving the public. I noticed that the handful of people in line to pick up parcels were not exactly six feet apart, but these are close quarters and I trust my townsfolk to wash their hands when they get home.

Next stop was the air machine at the gas station in Vineyard Haven. Malvina Forester’s right front tire has a slow leak so the low-tire-pressure light comes on every couple of weeks. The nozzle must be touched by multiple hands in the course of a day, so of course I would thoroughly wash my hands when I got home — and not rub my eyes or stick my finger in my mouth between now and then.

Truth to tell, I don’t know if I touched my face in any way between “now” and “then” because (like most people) I do this without thinking several times a day. I’m trying to be more conscious of this, but I’m not there yet.

On the way to Oak Bluffs, I cruised through the hospital parking lot in search of new license plates. Not only was there nothing new, few of the frequently seen exotics (e.g., Louisiana and Montana) were there either, and my impression was that there were somewhat fewer vehicles in the various lots than usual. I did see a Tilton Tents truck and workers setting up a small tent outside one of the side entrances to the ER.

There were definitely fewer vehicles parked on Circuit Ave. The lower end, where the bars and eateries are, was mostly vacant. I found a parking place in front of Reliable (not unusual this time of year). Inside, there were noticeable gaps on the shelves and in the coolers, especially where the non-perishables live. The only thing on my list that I couldn’t find was frozen chopped spinach, which I use when making quiche, but I’ve still got one package in my freezer and besides I can make quiche without it.

On the way out of town I passed Good Dog Goods and wondered if they were open: Tam could use a limited-slip (martingale) collar. (After I got home, a post from GDG noted that they would take orders by phone and deliver the merchandise curbside. They didn’t have quite what I was looking for so I’ve retrieved Trav’s limited-slip, washed it, and hung it out to dry. It fits Tam perfectly.)

On the way home, we swung by the dog park, which is back in the woods and big and uncrowded enough that it’s easy for people to keep a reasonably safe distance. Tam’s been really good with a variety of other dogs up to this point, but not this time: he got into a dust-up with another dog who, like him, is an intact male. We separated them with no harm done, I took Tam into the (vacant) small dog area so he could chase tennis balls and interact through the fence with the other dogs, but I’ve been looking for a sign that it’s time to get Tam neutered and this might be it.

Back at home I did indeed wash my hands very thoroughly. Hand-washing does not come naturally to me. In my horsegirl days, someone might bring pizza or treats to the barn and we’d all chow down, never mind we’d been grooming horses or mucking stalls a few minutes before. My vet says that when she was in school they’d be eating donuts during anatomy class and that was worse. I can imagine . . .

 

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Technophobia in the Time of COVID-19

I had a strong hunch three days ago when I posted “Life in the Time of COVID-19” that this was not a one-post topic. It’s not. Since I’ve been working from home as a full-time freelance editor for more than 20 years, and since temperamentally I’m inclined in a social-distancing direction, my routine hasn’t been seriously interrupted — yet. However, the changes are already noticeable.

My library, shortly after the renovated, expanded building reopened in March 2014

For instance, I just picked up a book I requested through CLAMS (the Cape & Islands regional library network) from the Commonwealth Catalog (aka ComCat; the statewide version). Ordinarily I would go into the library, retrieve my book or DVD from the “hold” shelf, and check myself out with my CLAMS card. Thanks to COVID-19, the library is closed — but they’re doing curbside pickup for requested materials. So I drove up and tooted my horn, then a staffer came out (in the rain), asked my name, and retrieved my book (William Harris’s Lebanon: A History, 600–2011, in case you’re interested). I showed my CLAMS card, she passed the book through the window (under Tam’s nose), and off I went.

Turns out I was lucky: ComCat shut down as of yesterday, many libraries are closed, and that’s the end of inter-library loan for the duration. Returns aren’t being accepted either, so everything checked out is in your care till “the duration” is over.

I had a dental implant week before last. The dentist’s office called yesterday to remind me that I’ve got a short appointment Saturday morning to have the stitches removed. That much was routine. The caller asked me not to come if I had any symptoms (I don’t) and assured me that patients were being scheduled so that there would be no one else in the waiting room. That was new. OK, I’m ready.

I made that appointment for 8:45 a.m. because I expected to be at West Tisbury’s Democratic town caucus when the doors opened at 9:30. The doors won’t open at 9:30 because all town and precinct caucuses have been suspended by the Massachusetts Democratic Party (aka the MassDems). As yet we have no idea how we’re supposed to choose delegates to the state convention on May 30, and who knows whether the convention will go on as scheduled.

My car is supposed to get inspected this month. Are they still doing inspections? There’s a weird rattling noise when I start the car that goes away after a few seconds — is my mechanic’s shop open?

I’ve got an appointment with a tax preparer on March 30 — is that still on? Are taxes still due on April 15?

A Smith College senior was coming to interview me on Friday about my history as a lesbian and feminist activist, and about gay/lesbian life on Martha’s Vineyard. She texted yesterday that she couldn’t come in person, her college is moving to online instruction, and could we set up a virtual interview for next week? Sure, I said, and asked if Zoom would work. It would; we’ll schedule a date and time later.

I’ve done plenty of online meetings, workshops, and webinars with Zoom and other conferencing apps. In a couple of hours I’ll be attending one on “Concentrated Power & Coronavirus” set up by The American Prospect (to which I subscribe) and the American Economic Liberties Project. I’m no expert, but the technology is familiar to me and I’m confident in my ability to make it work.

This weekend I was reminded that this is not true for everybody. My writers group meets every Sunday night. At 68, I’m one of the younger members, and at least one of us is immuno-compromised. So meeting in person, F2F (face-to-face) in current idiom, was obviously contraindicated not only for Sunday night but for “the duration” of the shutdown, lockdown, social-distancing mandate, whatever we’re living with. In an email thread Sunday afternoon we brainstormed ways to keep sharing work . . .

And we got pretty much nowhere. We got pretty much nowhere because our collective unfamiliarity with digital technology verged on technophobia and arguably crossed the line. In our group, each of us each week brings copies of part of a work in progress, we read it aloud (or have someone else read it) while the others mark up their copies of our work, we discuss it, and finally we hand our marked-up copies back to the writer. We could semi-duplicate the experience virtually in several ways. I volunteered to look into Zoom, which would let us come closest to what we do on Sunday nights (minus the wine, juice, and popcorn, of course).

Even through the sterile black-and-white of email I could feel heels being dug in. I backed off. We didn’t have any sort of meeting on Sunday night.

I’m surprised at how angry I was yesterday about this. It’s not that technophobia is new to me, or to plenty of other editors.  I’ve had clients who use their computers like typewriters, spacing five times for a paragraph indent, hitting return (enter) at the end of each line. These are good writers, and I know how to clean up their mss. PDQ. I was angry because the technophobia of this particular group is depriving all of us of something we value, and because there are alternatives, not as good as the real thing, but hey, they’ll do in the Time of COVID-19.

So I reviewed my own personal history with computers. My first encounter was with a TRS-80 (two 8-inch floppy disk drives!) in my D.C. bookstore job in 1983. This wasn’t your usual IBM Selectric. For about two weeks I was afraid that if I hit the wrong key the whole thing would blow up. Two years later, 1985, the year I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, was also the year I bought my first PC (splurged on a 10MB hard drive). Computers have been a significant part of my life ever since.

Venturing into new territory, however, has several times inspired fear, loathing, and procrastination. In 1994, I chaired the jury for a major fantasy/science fiction award. The other four members were in Boston, San Francisco, Idaho, and Melbourne, Australia. I was the only one who wasn’t online. The others ganged up on me. I joined GEnie’s SFRT (Science Fiction RoundTable) and acquired my first email address: s.sturgis2@genie.geis.net. We actually managed to have conversations across that many time zones. I was hooked.

My next anxiety attack came ca. 1998 when I was recruited to copyedit for a major university press. I was just making the shift from WordPerfect to Word (sniff) and I was a total newbie at Track Changes. I was flat-out bluffing when I implied that I could do it: my experience was like, well, none. But I managed, and I’ve been cruising ever since, with lots of help and tech support from my editor colleagues, some of whom are serious techies.

Working from home, living alone, and being very computer-dependent has made me more resourceful and probably more adventurous than I would be otherwise. (All in all, I’m fairly risk-averse — conservative, even. Except in my politics.)

So I’ve pretty much talked myself out of being pissed off at my fellow writers, but I haven’t stopped hoping that if the shutdown, lockdown, whatever, goes on a while, as it seems it will, and if holding F2F meetings continues to be imprudent, my fellow writers might consider trying Zoom, or at least discussing work via text, and maybe even using the Tab key to indent their paragraphs.

Posted in musing, public life, technology, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Life in the Time of COVID-19

Yesterday I attended what will probably be my last meeting for a while. It was the meeting of the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) advisory board; I was there to make a presentation on behalf of the Coalition to Restore Vineyard Transportation, of which I’m a part.

By the end of the day Vineyard schools had closed for two weeks. The West Tisbury library had already cancelled all programming through April 2; now it was closing too, by order of the selectboard (a neologism that’s coming into wider use to get around the awkwardness of “board of selectmen”).

West Tisbury ATM, 2019. 300+ people sitting knee to knee, and probably at least half of us are over 60.

Town meeting season, fast approaching, has been unsettled. Tisbury’s annual town meeting (ATM), at March 31 the first on the docket, has been postponed but not yet rescheduled. The next wave of ATMs — West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown — is scheduled for April 14. No word yet on them, or on the town elections taking place that same week. The candidate forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters are off (most of them are held at town libraries), as is West Tisbury’s pre-ATM info session, which I was looking forward to. [UPDATE: As of March 19, the WT ATM has been rescheduled for May 12 and the town election is ON for April 16, but the hours have been cut to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.]

This past Tuesday, the officers of the MV Dems (formally the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard, of which I’m the secretary) decided to cancel our monthly meeting, which is where I would be right now if it were happening. At the time we were a little tentative: Should we or shouldn’t we? By the end of the week it was a no-brainer. By then the state Democratic Party had suspended all town caucuses, at which delegates are elected to the state convention at the end of May.

In deciding to cancel the MV Dems meeting, one factor for me was that we meet at the Howes House, home of the Up-Island Council on Aging, where events aimed at “seniors” take place daily. Most reliable reports and commentaries on the novel coronavirus, aka COVID-19, say that older people and those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of contracting the disease and are likely to have a higher mortality rate, especially if they can’t get access to treatment.

At some point it dawned on me that I was one of these people said to be at greater risk. I’m 68. However, I’m also in good health. I’m far less concerned about getting seriously sick myself than about the threat to those who are older and/or less sturdy than I am. I’ve read up on the importance of “flattening the curve” of the pandemic’s spread and can now explain it fairly concisely: slowing the spread of the disease will mean that hospitals won’t be overloaded beyond their capacity (which is what has happened in Italy) and that those who need treatment will be more likely to get it.

“Flatten the curve” made visual. If the spread of the disease can be slowed, treatment is more likely to be available to everyone who needs it.

At the same time, the measures being taken to accomplish this are drastic by the usual standards. They’re causing drastic dislocations in many people’s lives, including the lives of the many people who were already living close to the edge financially, who won’t be compensated for lost jobs or lost work hours, who have little or no access to the health care they’ll need if they or someone close to them gets sick. I can barely imagine the fear, anxiety, and/or anger of those who have no idea how they’re going to get through this.

I’m one of the very lucky ones. So far, the preventive measures implemented to flatten the curve are inconveniences at most. I’ve been working from home full-time for more than 20 years. I have work, I have savings, I’m single, I live by myself, I don’t have kids, I don’t depend on public transportation . . . As other freelance editors have noted, we’ve already been practicing “social distancing” as a way of life for some time now. Maybe this is why I haven’t been remotely tempted to stock up on hand sanitizer, or toilet paper either.

However, I’m only one or two degrees of separation from those whose lives are being disrupted in bigger ways. A production editor (PE) at a major New York publishing house emailed me yesterday that his building would be closed all next week (and possibly longer), he and all his colleagues would be working from home, and the proofs I was expecting next week would arrive straight from the compositor. If the building is still closed when it comes time for me to return the completed job, he’ll let me know what to do.

Meanwhile on Martha’s Vineyard, shoppers are having some trouble finding what they need, especially bread and milk, but resupply is coming through from off-island. Some report that the grocery shelves look like August. At Reliable on Wednesday, I found everything I was looking for except jalapeños and mushrooms, and I got both of them at up-island Cronig’s. BTW, up-island Cronig’s is reportedly closing as of this morning in order to help keep down-island Cronig’s fully stocked and staffed.

There have been reports that the grocery store parking lots, like the shelves, also look like August: lots of out-of-state plates, of which the ones from New York (as usual) arouse the most animosity. This has spawned a resurgence of the island’s equivalent of xenophobia, which blames every bad thing that’s happened in the last three (four, six . . .) decades on summer people. Off-islanders flocked to the Vineyard in the wake of 9/11, maybe in the belief that the island was a refuge from the dangers and stresses of the “real world” — you know, the kind of halcyon, carefree place you go on vacation. (I was not aware of this until they started emigrating a few years later, having realized, I hope, that Martha’s Vineyard is part of the real world.)

Someone even suggested — on Facebook, of course — that these new arrivals should be tested for COVID-19 before they’re allowed to get off the boat. This was stupid on so many levels, most of which were quickly pointed out, not without animosity: (1) The shortage of testing kits is a national disgrace, and even people who think they’ve been exposed can’t get tested. (2) The fact that there has so far been no report of anyone testing positive for COVID-19 on the Vineyard may well be due to the lack of test kits. (3) People come and go from the island all day, every day. They work here, we work there, and there are plenty of other reasons besides work to go back and forth. (4) I spotted license plates from 25 different states in January facrissake.

Fortunately, for the most part, people here do look after one another, and most of us know that if this social-distancing thing goes on for more than two weeks, more people are going to need more help.

What I hope for most of all is that this giant storm cloud hanging above us will turn out to have a silver lining: a deeper understanding that we are all interconnected and that we all benefit when everyone has access to affordable health care, accurate information, and a strong social safety net.

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February License Plate Report

U.S. map

After a strong January, February is often so-so, but not this year. Sure, 6 is a lot less than 25, but what do you expect when the game starts from zero every January 1?

And will you take a look at #4 of those 6: Hawaii! The “where” is even more amazing, because I didn’t spot Hawaii in the M.V. Hospital parking lot (where I have indeed found it in one or two previous years). No — it was parked next to me at the Vineyard Haven dog park, which is in the woods about a mile down a mostly dirt road.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to speak with the driver and get an answer to the perennial question of how vehicles with Hawaii plates get to Martha’s Vineyard. Well, yes, of course they come on an SSA ferry like vehicles with every other state’s plate — the real question is how, and why, they get across the Pacific to the West Coast and then across the continental U.S. to New England.

The car’s people must have been walking in the woods while Tam and I were playing in the big-dog section of the dog park, and they slipped away without my noticing.

Illinois showed up just after the month changed. What else will March bring? North Carolina is late this year, so that would be nice, and how about Michigan, Indiana, Washington state, and Iowa — Iowa so I can complete the stack just to the east of the stack that will probably never be all filled in. I mean, if it didn’t happen in 2019, a rare year that I actually saw North Dakota, can it ever happen at all? Who knows. Watch this space.

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