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My so-called Shelter-in-Place life


Gus is afraid of Zoom.

It’s surprising, because no other sounds bother my chill dog in the least. In the ten years we’ve been together, fireworks, garbage trucks, backup beepers, other dogs barking and howling—he sleeps through it all. He might glance at me if there’s some particularly loud and concussive noise, but it’s only to see how I’m reacting. When I tell him there’s nothing to worry about, he contentedly drops his head back on his paws, and pretty soon he’s snoring.

But Zoom! My improv troupe has been on it since March, for both regular classes and Friday night performances. Gus doesn’t like it. I’ll be at my desk, in front of the computer, sitting in my swivel chair, and as soon as we start Zooming Gus is on the floor, wedging his head in between my legs, the signal of his distress. I scoop him up—he only weighs 13 pounds—and place him on my lap, the place he’s comfortable and secure. I don’t know what it is about Zoom that disturbs him. Technology, I suppose, is as disruptive to our animal friends as it is to us members of the human tribe. The surprise is that, in four months, he hasn’t grown used to it.

But in those same months, my shelter-in-place life has achieved a certain regularity. With the gym closed, I need some way to burn calories and stretch my muscles, so I take a long walk every day—well, almost every day; it’s important to rest the body too. I live in the center of Oakland, and there being four directions to strike out in, I’ve explored most of them, out to about 3 miles (making for a nice 6-mile round trip). I walked once to the West, towards the Bay. Surprisingly, in my 33 years here, I’d never been out that way, along West Grand Avenue. I wasn’t missing much: block after block of now-emptied industrial buildings, until you finally reach the Freeway, beyond which is the old Army Base and San Francisco Bay. There, along the Frontage Road, for miles is nothing but a vast, ugly tent compound. The streets are heaped with garbage piled two feet high. It’s dreadful that Oakland has let things get that bad. I won’t walk west again.

Southbound my walk takes me through downtown Oakland—now largely plywooded up from the riots—thence to Chinatown and, ultimately, Jack London Square. This is a good, long walk. The days are warm now, but the Square, on the estuary, is reliably cooled with breezes, and I like to stop by my new favorite dumpling shop in Chinatown, Ming. Their chiu chan (pork and shrimp with peanuts), or the pork and shrimp dumplings (larger, doughier) and Shanghai dumplings are irresistable. These days, everything is “to go,” so I carry my little bag to Jack London Square, where, in the restaurant district (Bel Campo and Farmhouse are the best), they have outdoor tables that are pretty much unused these days. I’ll find one in the shade (if it’s hot) or in the sun (if it’s cool), unpack my dumplings, pour a little soy sauce on them, and chopstick through, enjoying being near the water (always refreshing to me) and glad for the (relative) quietness.

The walk north takes me through Oakland’s up-and-coming Temescal District towards the Berkeley or Emeryville border. I wouldn’t mind living there: an exciting neighborhood of restaurants and cafes, bars, coffee shops and little shops. I might stop at a little Vietnamese place on Telegraph Avenue to get fish cakes to go. Then, I loop over to Broadway for the southbound route, cutting along Piedmont Avenue on my way home. So sad to see all these places shuttered, or just doing curbside activity. I wonder how many of these bookstores, boutiques, bars, cafés and coffee shops will go out of business.

The one direction I haven’t walked so far is to the east, so I might do that today. It’s hilly, and mainly residential: not much to do or see, but then, there are far fewer people around, so the risk of infection is less. My main walk, the one I do most often, is a simple, 3.2-mile loop around Lake Merritt, which is “the crown jewel of Oakland,” a beautiful park with the namesake lake at its heart. But so crowded has the park been the last few months that I find myself having to dodge people who aren’t wearing their masks.

This topic, or controversy, over masks has reached a fever pitch here, and nowhere is it more apparent than on the social media site. Oh, you wouldn’t believe the arguments! People get really upset over everything these days. You could post “Isn’t it a beautiful day today?” and before you know it, there’d be 50 comments, half of them assaulting you, with the commenters feuding with other commenters: more heat than light. It’s dreadful, and is the main reason why I’m avoiding getting into things on nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter.

Happy Fourth of July!

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “nowhere is it more apparent than on the social media site” That’s amusing, because there was recently an exchange about masks on my local ND site. There were a couple of people who said it was all a hoax. It wasn’t clear if they meant Covid-19 was a hoax, or that requiring mask wearing was a hoax. I asked one person if it was a hoax, who was behind the hoax, and what was their motive. He gave some absurd answers, and I let it drop.

  2. Of course, these people who believe in “hoaxes” lack what we called in grad school “critical thinking skills.” It’s much easier to believe in something you heard Tucker Carlson say on Fox News, than to actually take the time to investigate facts and science. That has become the difference between Republicans and Democrats: superstition vs. rationality.

  3. Bob Rossi says:

    “these people who believe in “hoaxes” lack what we called in grad school “critical thinking skills.”” What’s funny (sad?) is that one those people said that people should exercise “critical thinking” instead of just blindly following orders to wear a mask like sheep.

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