Friday, March 12, 2021

Pandemic Anniversary

 Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," looking back on a year of living minimally! I'm the inmate, Anne Johnson, number 031159. Today, on this anniversary of the first lockdowns, I will look back briefly on what my year has been like.

New Jersey locked up on March 15, I think. At least I know that Friday, March 13, 2020 was my last day with students in my classroom.

The quarantine was supposed to stop the spread of Covid-19, so we all thought it would last two weeks, at which time we would all reconvene at school. I gave my students paper assignments. Imagine that!

But between March 13 and March 30, all Hell broke loose in this country, and the Hellhounds have not even been collared even now.

I live with an obese senior citizen with breathing problems. This was terrifying from the get-go. Mr. J had already been hospitalized with pneumonia in the final days of December, 2019. In hindsight this was probably good, because he took the virus very seriously and was happy to comply with the quarantines and mask mandates.

In those first weeks I only ventured from home every 14 days to buy food. I spent $500 at the grocery store more than once, and used two carts more than once. And nothing went to waste. We were preparing and eating three meals a day, seven days a week. And lots of home-baked cookies (when I could get ingredients), because what else was there to do but bake cookies?

So in the spring I sat in online classrooms, fruitlessly waiting for students to turn in assignments. I cooked. I stayed home, home, home. I did not see my daughters, except to briefly drop off lilacs to The Fair on her birthday.

In May The Fair came with her cat and stayed with us 8 weeks. Tensions had gone through the roof in her rental. It was great having her around, and healthier for her to be out of the city. She worked from our house. Her cat is adorable.

In July The Heir came for a long weekend and wound up staying 10 days. During both daughter visits we observed social distancing and masks until a week passed without any symptoms. During the time The Heir spent with us, she purchased the most wonderful car, her first. It's a low mileage 1994 Ford Escort station wagon, refreshingly free of the bewildering computerization found in today's machines.

At the end of August I had the Monkey Man over for a porch supper. He was the last visitor of 2020.

When fall came I returned to school but taught my students online. I have not gazed upon my students' faces even now. Going back to the building meant that I could no longer see my daughters. The fall was long and dreary, and I increasingly felt unsafe at school. When I saw a security guard who I knew to be a Trump supporter wearing his mask wrong right outside my classroom, I got a doctor's note and stayed home.

Thanksgiving, it was just Mr. J and me. The family Christmas celebration consisted of the four of us gathering on The Heir's front porch for a short chat and gift exchange. No Mummer's Parade on New Year's Day.

When the cases started spiking after the holidays, Mr. J and I went into strict lockdown again. More big hauls of groceries, more days spent completely indoors. Working at home, staying home, watching the Capitol attack on t.v. and the briefings from Governor Murphy on Facebook.

It is now March, and we have been in our bubble since December. Shortly I will be returning to the classroom with live students again, but many kids are being kept home by wary parents. I don't blame the parents. My students don't even qualify for the vaccine. They are too young.

Mr. J and I got our first shots on February 24.

2020 was a year where I felt that I wasn't me anymore. My exuberance has faded. I look older. I feel like the social parts of my brain have atrophied. Literally, I feel more stupid than I did when this started. I've gained 10 pounds from cookies and being lazy. No festivals, no parades, no drum circles, no Pagan gatherings, no flowers on my grandmother's grave, no travel. Anywhere.

I have become so concerned about my atrophying brain that I did two things to boost it: I took two courses offered by John Beckett that were very helpful. And then, in desperation, I turned to the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, where egos go to die.

If you do something enough, you get good at it.

I hadn't done a cross stitch project in 30 years. I did a whole jacket and a fine display on another. I finished a huge baby quilt.

If you were to ask me what my finest accomplishment was in the whole year of 2020, I might say two things:

*getting a license and registration for The Heir's car -- in New Jersey, in a pandemic, with the notorious DMV.

*This ...

I did this without a chart, only using a photo. I was able to track the artist down and compensate her, which was awesome.

President Biden (long may he reign) says we should all be able to get together with close family and friends by the Fourth of July. So Mr. J and I just plunked down our stimulus on a rental along the Chesapeake Bay for that whole week. Crabs will be consumed. Mosquitoes will be swatted.

Here's to 2021! I can hope for a parade.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

In Which I Defend Motherhood as a Profession

 I'm old. I can remember a time and place where the vast majority of women stayed home to care for their families. The women who worked were few and far between, and those who did were either school teachers or secretaries. And a lot of the female school teachers were single.

Television -- all three black-and-white channels -- showed happy homemakers like Donna Reed, dressed to the nines making fragrant meat loaf.

Then came the Women's Movement, which basically said, "Enough with the barefoot and pregnant slavery! We want education, good jobs, and fulfilling careers!"

The oligarchy perked its ears.

So women went into the work force in numbers. They dropped their kids at the child care they could afford by working long hours for less wages than their children's fathers.

Motherhood was looked down on as a form of submission. Which of course it was, considering that stay-at-home women worked long hours for no wages at all.

Just recently, Senator Romney introduced the idea of paying women $350 per month per child (up to a point) to help allay the costs of rearing a human being in our modern society. And the hue and cry against it, once again led by the New York Times, is making me so furious I could dine on penny nails and window panes.

I don't only blame the assholes who are saying that giving women money to stay at home and raise children will encourage them to be lazy. I also hold that early Women's Movement to blame for making motherhood seem like an extraneous duty, instead of the crucial one it is.

Let's address this nonsense.

1. No one who has small children to care for is lazy. Even in these days of video games and 2,000 t.v. channels. Kids need to eat, they need supervision, they need baths, they need stimulation. These are the formative years of a human being's life! And yet moms are paid zero, and day care center workers are paid like they're slinging burgers at Wendy's. Paying people to stay home and perform child care might not result in better-nurtured kids 100 percent of the time. But it would improve American humans exponentially.

2. Motherhood is a sacred profession. Many cultures recognize this. There is no more important job than bonding with and nurturing children. Do we have a Goddess of Cubicle? BAMP! No. But all the enlightened religions have Mother Goddesses. Even Christianity venerates Mary. So why is staying home to raise children looked upon as a life lacking meaning? Because the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s declared it to be that way.

I fully support paying women directly to stay at home with their children. If I was in charge, I would give them a universal basic income of $1500 a month and call it money well spent.

"Well, Anne," the oligarch says, "there are child tax credits."

NOT ENOUGH. (And by the way, oligarch? I'm going to eat you as soon as I finish this column.)

There's a difference between a tax credit and a payment. One is buried in paperwork, the other comes to the door and is tangible.

Women should be paid to do parenting. Or men. I imagine a lot of men would love to stay home with their kids. Parenting should be considered a profession, and a noble one at that.

Notice I'm not saying that parenting should be an obligation. If you want a meaningful career outside the home and still want children, you go girl! That $350 a month will help you pay for excellent child care. If you want a meaningful career and no children, you go girl! One needn't measure meaning entirely through raising kids.

So let's put some weight behind this whole "pay the mom" movement. We would be investing in the very future of the nation. The way things are going now, women work long hours for poverty wages (thanks, oligarchs! Pass the salt.), and then they come home to neglected children. Talk about slavery! Might as well be the damn plantation.

Pay moms to be moms! 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021


 In end stage capitalism, the only lives that are important are the owners. The workers matter not. Someone keel over? Replace the slave and move on.

This is driven home by the push to re-open schools fully, before the real end of the pandemic is in sight. Teachers are expendable. Students are expendable. And with no differentiation between a cluster of kindergartners and big, crowded classes of 15-year-olds, there is bound to be a spike in the virus. A big one.

I read the New York Times every day, and for hours on Sunday. I know the works of all the prominent columnists. It was expected to see David Brooks slam teachers for not wanting to be in school. Not surprising. But when Nicholas Kristof offered his slam a week later, well. I thought he cared about low-paid working people.

Teaching is a profession that has a high percentage of women serving in the basic role of classroom instructor. Most men who enter the profession (including the new Secretary of Education) spend, at most, four years in a classroom while completing their principal certification. The men move up. Most of the long-time classroom teachers are women.

And that means that teachers are expected to martyr themselves for their students.

Don't believe me? Who "saves the day" by getting killed during school shootings? Some poor heroic teacher with a family at home.

Now teachers are being sent back into classrooms prematurely, when the end of the pandemic could otherwise be in sight. I teach high school. This will matter greatly to my students. They are 14 through 16. They and their families will be at risk.

To be fair to my district, they are offering parents the option to keep their kids at home. Those students will go to class virtually, as they have been doing since September. The difference is, teachers will now be instructing in-person classes and online classes simultaneously, while wearing a mask.

The teachers who are already doing this report that it is a massive, overwhelming fail.

My classroom has no air conditioning. In the last 4-5 weeks of school, the temperature can climb to 90 degrees and stay that way. It's global warming in miniature, like a car.

So picture me, Anne Johnson, a teacher of a certain age, working in a stifling hot classroom, in a mask for four hours without a bathroom break. Because that's what I'm looking at, comrades. I have a colleague who will have five hours straight. She's older than I am.

If David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof happened to ring my doorbell right now, I would quickly plug in the cattle prod and give them a good what's for. I never had much respect for Brooks, who is sanctimonious on a good day. But Kristof was one of my favorites. No more. The only way he could redeem himself at this point is to swap jobs with me for the next three months. Then we would see who knows what.

Monday, March 01, 2021

A Year Ago

 Welcome aboard, "Gods Are Bored" mateys! All hands on deck! It's another installment in this vast online diary of mine.

March 1, 2020 was on a Saturday. The sky was completely clear -- that color of blue that you get only in the fall and winter. Temperatures hovered in a comfortable 50s, as I recall.

I remember this clearly for two reasons: One, because it's always memorable when I march with the Two Street Stompers, and two because it was the last social event I would attend in 2020. I just didn't know it at the time.

We were all joking that day about how early the Gloucester City St. Patrick's Day was. Sixteen days before the actual holiday? But we figured it was because they invite so many string bands to perform in that parade. The demand for string bands definitely grows the closer you get to any holiday.

Boy, did I have fun that day! The Gloucester City parade is a good one. The street is pretty narrow, and chock-a-block with revelers on either side. The dancing is universal. And the route is just the right length. Not too long, so we run out of gas, but not so short that we say, "Wait. What? It's over already?"

When we were done parading, there was a big party in a crowded pub, everyone quaffing the spirits, and a double dose of bagpiping in the parking lot. A great time was had by all.

I suppose COVID 19 was on the map by then, but I hadn't started to register much alarm. A week later, that had changed, and I was stacking my house to the plimsol line with every conceivable foodstuff, both perishable and nonperishable. Quarantine did not find me unprepared.

Since then I have been home. Home, home, home.

Here's an interesting fact about this pandemic, here at Johnson Penitentiary.

In an ordinary calendar year, I generally cook two turkeys. One at Thanksgiving, of course, and a frozen one in dead winter -- usually on a snow day.

A whole year has rolled along, and in that year I have cooked four turkeys. Yes, four. And those of you who do it know that's a task.

I cooked the first turkey in April of 2020, because when I took my bi-weekly trip to the grocery store there wasn't any other poultry product except frozen turkeys.

I cooked the second one on Thanksgiving. It was only me and Mr. J.

I cooked the third one for Christmas. It was only me and Mr. J. The turkey in question was one that Mr. J picked up at deep discount right after Thanksgiving.

I cooked the fourth one last week. It was a frozen one I got with a coupon prior to Thanksgiving.

That's four turkey dinners, 12 turkey casseroles, 8 large pots of soup, and a dozen sandwiches. All consumed by just me and Mr. J.

In an ordinary year I would have had four parades instead of four turkeys. I vote for a return to that.