March 13, 2020 – The Day America’s Classrooms Stood Still

Last year at this time, I was still teaching in a classroom with my students.  An ordinary event that only now a year later seems extraordinary.

I marvel at how that final week of me as a classroom teacher after 31 years transpired.

I find it fascinating how the last day of real school was a Friday the 13th.  If you wrote that for a movie, it would seem cliched.

Where I worked, it was the last day of the third quarter, a shortened day ending around 12:30 p.m., right before the start of a one-week spring break vacation.

For the past couple of days, rumors were flying that schools would stay closed an additional week or two, and that schools would not resume until early April.

Two unusual events happened to me during that last week.

On Tuesday, March 10, I had two guest speakers from Cal State Northridge give a one-hour presentation to my 10th grade English students about an upcoming concert that some of them were going to see.  “Violins of Hope” was a traveling exhibit from Israel which was coming to the West Coast for the first time.  Dozens of violins saved from the Holocaust and restored by a master violinmaker would be on display and, more amazingly, played in live concerts around the Los Angeles region.

One of the guest speakers was a violinist who played during the presentation on one of those rescued violins.  It was quite an emotional moment for my students and I.

What made the proceedings surreal was that a city official was invited to watch the mini-concert, and as he came close to me to shake my hand, I temporarily hesitated thinking about the news reports flooding the airwaves about the importance not to shake people’s hands since this new coronavirus spreads through contact.  Yet, shake his hand I did, more focused on not embarrassing him than my own health concerns.  As soon as I could, I sterilized that hand yet still worried throughout the day that I may have caught Covid.

Two days later, March 12, Glendale Unified held its last official school event, the Scholastic Bowl, where five-member teams from all four high schools compete in a game show-like setting on stage in a school auditorium answering questions from an array of academic categories.

I was the coach of Hoover’s team and, like another Hollywood moment, my students won the competition to cap off my 12-year run as coach—what a send-off.

However, a pall was over the two-hour proceedings because the district had announced that no one would be allowed to watch the Bowl in person due to virus concerns.  Only the parents of the students were in attendance to add their sparse applause to the cavernous auditorium.

Less than 16 hours, “have a nice spring break” would be the final words I would ever say to students in my classroom.

Now that is not a Hollywood ending to a 31-year career.  But who knew what was to transpire?

Hope of 2021, One Person at a Time

Hope springs eternal—so goes the cliché—but truer than ever as we finally reach the finish line of 2020.

We have a lot to look forward to in 2021.  The Covid-19 vaccines will be widely available.   It seems that by the time June arrives, we should have a better idea of how much of the pandemic is behind us.  It may seem like a long stretch, but we have already survived 9 and a half months of dealing with this contagious virus; another 5 and a half months is doable.

Let’s hope that many of those who lost jobs will return to full employment.

Let’s hope that restaurants will soon reopen, at least outside, as well as gyms and other businesses.  Could people return to sports and concert venues by the end of the year?

Think about how special next holiday season will be to celebrate with families in person.

One thing the pandemic shutdown has done is given each one of us the time to look inside ourselves and see what type of people we are.   Some can see more gracious and generous spirits, while others may have doubts on their ability to show selfless concern for their neighbors.  Unfortunately, it is during trying times when both the best and worst qualities in humans are on display.

I highly recommend the new Pixar film “Soul.”  Inadvertently, it speaks to the times in which we are living.  Its theme revolves around the meaning and purpose of life, quite ambitious for a cartoon.  Kids won’t get it, but adults will.  Maybe some will even learn from its moral.

A new year always offers people the possibilities of improving themselves.  Losing weight and exercising more are typical resolutions made.   More importantly would be for each of us to wake up each day and think how we can make not just us but others around us better in our families and our communities.  

There was a time back in the 1960’s when songs like “Let There Be Peace on Earth” were sung on TV variety shows often by a children’s choir composed of all ethnicities.  When I was younger and heard that song, I dismissed it as pollyannish and contrived.  Now that I am much older, the song resonates as a simple yet doable anecdote to the divisiveness in our country which is a worse contagion than the coronavirus.

If there were more people doing as the song says that for there to be peace “let it begin with me,” then as a nation we would be pointed in a brighter direction.  Instead of waiting for others to be nicer and kinder, how about each of us polishing those human traits?  Corny?  Perhaps.  But what a wonderful world if those things became contagious.

4:30 a.m. Wake-up: A Sign of Our Times

A green-colored glowing 4:30 a.m. is the first image I see nearly every morning.  No matter how hard I try to close my eyes and not open them, my mind continues to turn its gears. The harder I try not to wake up, the more my mind fights this by accelerating its pistons.  Ultimately, one to two hours later, I can’t stand it and give up and get up out of bed.

Articles have been written about people who have a similar sleep disorder during the pandemic, called Covid-somnia or coronasomnia.

The year 2020 is almost over, and thank goodness.  If you live in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Dodgers each winning a World Championship in October, the first time that has happened since 1988, were two bright spots in a year that will otherwise forever go into the history books as the year of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Congratulations—we are surviving a world health crisis.  This was a golden missed opportunity for people of all political persuasions to come together on a common goal:  diminishing the impact of the virus.  If we had the right president in office, a unifier not a divider, this would have been an enlightening moment for America.   While not as bad as the Great Depression or World War II, this was our crisis test to continue the American tradition of working together for the common good of our neighbors.

Thank God most of us do not have loved ones defending America around the world.  Limiting contact with friend and family to Zoom sessions should not have been that big of a sacrifice.

Sadly, we failed the test.  If people can’t agree on science, then conflict separates us.  Wearing masks, staying at home, limiting social contact were traits on a resume to see if you were Pro-Trump or anti-Trump.

The new surge in Covid cases across the country combined with a President who does not want to leave office continues playing havoc with people’s sleeping habits.

No wonder I keep waking up at 4:00 a.m. each day.  From mid-March to mid-November, 8 straight months and counting, has been the most anxious continuous length of time most of us have ever lived through.  And it will likely be another 8 months before the majority of Americans receive a vaccination.

If you are waiting for normal to return, best to wait it out until 2022 which is less than 14 months away.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself overeating and not sleeping well.  Even the holidays are dripping with anxiety.  Families unable to be together, arguments in families between those who fear the virus and those who ignore it, masks vs. no masks is enough unpleasantness to kill the Christmas spirit.

Besides sports, during this year I have found solace in comedy.  My wife and I discovered “Schitt’s Creek,” the best family sitcom since “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  What makes the show so appealing is its perfect casting from the stars to the supporting cast.  What makes the show memorable is that it treats a family with a gay son as nothing special.  The show is not about messaging about homosexuality.  Its only message is about the love between parents and children.

The other thing I find calming is watching old Huell Howser episodes.  I just finished the one he did in 2005 on Oak Glen with all the apple orchards.  I still can’t believe he died in 2013 at age 67.  He was such a genuine loving human being, with the curiosity of a child and the heart of a saint.  Not a phony bone in his body.

It didn’t matter if he was visiting an old oak tree or an old man with an elephant as a best friend, his ingratiating personality always reacting with a genuine “wow” at discovering something is a salve for today’s times when it seems Americans are fighting other Americans.

It is also something of a curiosity to see how life used to be not that long ago when people shook hands with one another and stood a foot not six feet apart.  In one episode at Oak Glen apple orchards, customers were encouraged to use the their bare hands in sampling free apple slices from paper bowls.  No social distancing, no washing of hands, no masks.  A farmer with his bare hand used a knife, cut off a hunk, and handed it to Huell who ate it and . . . lived without getting sick.

And every person Huell interviewed was decent and nice, something that is missing in so much of our lives these days.

I am worried about the future of our country and world.  There is little connective tissue that we share anymore.

For so long, Americans shared common experiences.  We now live in a time when each person can create his own world.   Some may like this, that they can tailor their music, social media, TV content to their own taste.  But when each person lives in a bubble when it comes to facts, science, and only feeds themselves political views that they have, they can easily vilify those with different views. 

History has plenty of examples where once people look at other people as unequal, we are only a small step away from causing harm to the “others.”  History is full of these stories.  They are called genocides.

Once people like me die off who lived through better times for America, younger people who didn’t grow up that way won’t even recognize the loss.  I’m glad I won’t be around to see what that America will be like.

And that’s why I see “4:30” each and every morning.

Prince Prospero AKA Donald J. Trump

One of the short stories I used to teach was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Prince Prospero decides to hold a masquerade party in his castle high on a hill and away from the town which is experiencing a plague, the Red Death.   The Prince invites special wealthy guests to be safe in his abode and enjoy themselves while the paeans below them die mercilessly.  He locks the doors to ensure that the pestilence does not come in and harm him or his guests, similar an idea that building a wall will prevent illegal immigration.

So what happens at the party?

Everyone dies.

The morale of the story is that no one, not even the wealthiest denizens, are immune to disease.  One can’t lock one’s doors to the plague.  A virus does not know the bank account or pedigree of its hosts.  It’s just contagious.

And now we turn from 1842 when the story was published to present day where we have a President who does not believe the scientists or doctors.  He feels he is immune, above reproach from a disease, from dying even.  Just as he runs away from paying his fair share of federal income tax, he fools the American people not to do anything that could protect them from getting sick from the worst pandemic in 102 years.

Call it karma, schadenfreude, or a simple comeuppance, Trump has the coronavirus.  Is anyone surprised?  What is surprising is that it took this long for him to catch it. 

Just a few days earlier at the presidential debate, he mocked Joe Biden for wearing “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”  For months he mocked Biden for being too old and feeble.  Well, who looks too old and feeble now?

What will be interesting to see is how Trump comes out of this episode.  Will he restart his anti-mask campaign?  Or will he admit he was wrong about Covid?

Don’t expect an epiphany from a family (all of them shunned masks at Tuesday’s debate even when a doctor in attendance was passing them out) who, like Prince Prospero, feel that they are better than us, richer, more privileged, who don’t have to contribute part of their earnings for the good of the country.  How can regular people feel good about that?

To quote another piece of literature, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Roman senator Caius Cassius is manipulating fellow senator Marcus Brutus to kill Caesar.  While faulting the leader for having physical maladies such as epilepsy or the falling sickness, he tells Brutus that “we have the falling sickness” when it comes to doing nothing to rid Rome of a dictator.

In a month, the people will have their once-every-four-year moment to decide not only the outcome of the election, but the direction of this tattered country.  It is in the hands of its citizens, just as the Founding Fathers wrote it in the Constitution.   The question from a 400-year-old play remains:  how many of us have the falling sickness?

Dependence Day–What We Need on this July 4th

It is July 4, 2020.   Independence Day.

But what’s there to celebrate?

In terms of instant gratification, restaurants are closed, firework displays canceled, family gatherings shunned.

Covid-19 does not look at a calendar, sees a holiday and takes a day off.  In America yesterday, 53,000 people tested positive for it and close to 600 people died.  This virus remains untamed not so much in the whole world, but mainly in America.

Remember America?  The greatest country on earth.  The one place where people from all backgrounds can plant their flag and have opportunities nowhere else to be found.   Geographically, it is a land mass of 50 different states.  Kansas is not Hawaii is not Florida is not California.  Yet the name of the country has been the UNITED states for 244 years.

At no time in my lifetime has the United States seemed so divided.  The coronavirus has given a test to Americans:  can they roll up their collective sleeves and tame this malicious malady?  Can they follow basic ways to protect themselves and others by wearing masks, keeping apart and washing their hands?

After four months, the answer is “No.”   The 2020 version of the U.S. is not the 1941 version or the 1929 version where most Americans worked together for a common foe be it a financial collapse or a threat to democracy.  What happened to those type of people that used to be plentiful?

As a nation, we don’t all trust science.  We challenge scientists and doctors.  These aren’t politicians who have agendas.  These are intelligent people who study evidence and come to conclusions.  Too many people think they are wrong.

That’s a problem.  Because if we all can’t agree that Covid-19 is highly contagious, that if you contract it you will be very sick and depending on your biology could die from it, then we can’t agree that the sun is in the sky during the day and the moon appears at night.  Facts don’t exist.

But the most important fact about Covid is that the majority of people who contract it are asymptomatic.  They feel fine, no signs of illness.

That aspect of the virus is the cruelest because it gives people a false sense of security that they can beat this thing or, worse, that it is a big hoax.

When people think of the word “pandemic” they picture millions upon millions around the globe dying.   Thank goodness most people who have it won’t die.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.

Think of a serial criminal that has broken into several homes in your community.  Have you seen the criminal yet?  No.  Do you know anyone who has?  No.  So logic leads you to a wrong conclusion—the criminal does not exist for only one reason—he hasn’t reached your house yet.

Why do people allow themselves to be fooled in believing that if something bad hasn’t happened to them that means it doesn’t exist?

There is a worst disease out there.  It is selfishness.  That seems to be a trait common among many.  Is that how we define “united” these days?   Live one’s life any way you want, to hell with everyone else?   Because that describes many today.

Journalist Damon Linker who writes for TheWeek.com explains what is happening this way:  “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole—of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good.”

Two trends over the past decades have contributed to the decline in people thinking of others:  one, the decline in parents teaching values, two, the elimination in schools teaching citizenship.

The old saying of reaping what one sows is happening in front of our eyes right now.   It has taken years for this to grow and it will take years for Americans to reset and learn not only what it means to be American, but what it means to be human.

 

 

Noble the Nudge

There is someone I know who has had the time of his life during this Pandemic-driven shutdown of life.  His name is Noble.  And he is our dog.

Noble has always been one for deep, unblinking stares that burn your eyes. We have given him two nicknames over the 10 years we’ve had him:  Mr. Intensity and Personality Plus.  Age, despite the old adage, has not mellowed him.  Now with both my wife and I home 24/7, he has turned into Mr. Intensi-TY and Personality Plus Plus.

Lately he stares at me so long, he is probably wondering why I am still at home and not at work.  He can’t believe his great fortune!

He’s my shadow following me from room to room; even when I move from one part of a room to another, he must get up and be close to me.  To an outsider, this may seem loving and adorable, but after a while he becomes a nudge.

When I sit at the dining room table, he lays on my left foot so the rest of his body can rest on the warm area rug not the cold wood floor.

When I sit in a club chair and swivels outside of his sight, Noble moves to find my face.  If I cover my face, he makes anxious noises and swerves either to the right or left in order to find the piece of my face that is not covered.  I swivel, he swivels.  It’s like a one-on-one basketball game:  I’m playing offense and he’s playing defense.

Noble has his own schedule.  He waits for me to wake up so he can get his first of two feedings.

If on the off chance I sleep in past 6:30 a.m., Noble bangs open the slightly closed bedroom door, going to my side of the bed to poke his wet nose into the my body, usually my face.

When he goes outside, he will either bark to be let back in, or his favorite way of communication, an ear-splitting body SLAM against the screen door.

Once my wife wakes and eats her toast, Noble sits motionless like a Sphinx on the area rug in the living room about 10 feet away from the dining room table.  Often he resembles the old RCA Victor dog statue.  If my wife blurts out to him with a stern “leave it,” he comically swerves his head away, but the body remains cement-like.

When my wife gets up, that’s the signal for him to stand ready in the laundry room in case a corner of a crust inadvertently falls from my wife’s hand into his open jaws.

Next on the agenda is the morning walk between 10-11.  He always looks at my wife to make sure she’s joining us.

His afternoon feeding time used to be 3:00 p.m.  Since I’ve been working from home it has receded to 2:30 p.m. due to the elongated stares, and bellowing moans.   I refuse to buckle under the pressure to feed him any earlier than 2:20.

Soon thereafter, the last item on Noble’s to-do list is a ride in the car.  This is his E-ticket.

In fact, this is when he is at his loudest.  The wildest combination bark and howl I have ever heard bursts out of his body in immense exhilaration for what is about to unfold, so much so that he keeps bouncing from backseat to front seat and back again.

Funny how he reserves his loudest barks over the most enjoyable moments of his day:  his feeding, his walk and his ride in a car.

Finally, after sundown and three and a half revolutions on his oval-shaped dog pillow, Noble settles in for the night.

What a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Noble.

 

 

I’ve Got the Covid-19 Blues; Whiteboard Jungle welcomes Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader readers

NOTE TO READERS:  Now that the Los Angeles Times folded the local newspapers, the Glendale News-Press and the Burbank Leader, my column, The Whiteboard Jungle, will continue on my Crosby Chronicles blog.   Thank you to all who read it.  Please send your comments.

It has been 7 weeks since I last taught a class, 7 weeks since we have been in the Stay-at-Home mode.

And in 6 weeks, I will be officially retired from teaching.

With nearly two months of living this way, one would think a pattern would arise, a schedule take hold.   But why hasn’t it?  Because I feel that I am in a holding pattern.

I keep waiting for me to get into some kind of groove.  Instead, I feel aimless, waiting

for . . what . . . the country to reopen, for me to reopen?

There are only a few certainties in my daily life right now:

  1. 6:00 wake up and feed dog
  2. 6:30 walk for 45 minutes
  3. 7:30 post lessons
  4. 8:30 shower
  5. 10:00 walk the dog
  6. 12:00 make lunch
  7. 2:30 feed dog
  8. 4:00 take dog for ride
  9. 5:30 make dinner
  10. 6:30 my wife and I watch our usual “Dateline” or “48 Hours”

The above list may seem that I am indeed on a schedule.   But, quite frankly, the bulk of the time between 9-5 feels empty.

  • I should be doing more writing, but I’m not.
  • There are many parts of the house which could do with a floor scrubbing, but I have not done it.
  • The same thing with our cars. Haven’t washed one, not even vacuumed the inside. That’s 2 months and counting of dirty cars.
  • I finally bought a shredder to start throwing out boxes of old financial records from the garage. I discovered that having a shredder means spending time feeding it a few sheets at a time, and that the resultant scraps of paper take up a lot of space in the trash cans.  Shredding does not mean disintegrating.  So  I am no longer that excited about that little hobby.  It’s faster (and just as safe) to just throw everything out in the non-recycling trash can.

And so, I do a lot of waiting around for the next item on my To-Do list to arrive.  I am allowing the clock to run my life, to dictate what I’m doing, instead of me living my life and occasionally looking up at the clock.  It also means a lot of walking around the house and going into the kitchen, drinking more coffee than I should, eating more snacks (chocolate mainly) than I should.  Even laying down in the afternoon, drifting off for a ½ hour while listening to an audiobook.

I can’t wait for things to return to normal.  At the same time, I have to frequently remind myself that my life is slowly ending.  I now have 7 fewer weeks of life than I did back on March 13.   During the lockdown, that time hasn’t been put away in a bank’s safety deposit box, waiting for me to claim it once Gov. Newsom waves the green flag.  No, the past 7 weeks is just that—in the past.  So if I wasn’t that productive, the onus is on me, no one else.

I am amazed watching my wife who has the self-discipline of the sun sit at the dining room table, our default office, and not budge from her seat.  She even remains sitting when I give her lunch.

I, on the other hand, can’t sit still for long periods of time.  One problem (or excuse) is that I am not totally comfortable doing work at the dining room table because it is slightly higher in relation to the chairs, causing arm strain.  I have no desk in my bedroom, but my sons do.

Son number one’s desk is unusable because it is hard to locate it with all the stuff strewn on it including clothes and phone charger cables.  Son number two’s desk is better since it is orderly and I do use it occasionally, but the window faces me as I sit there, meaning the backlight bothers my vision.

And then there is the constant laser eyes of my dog starting around 9:00 a.m. and lasting until 7:00 p.m.  He probably can’t believe that his Alpha Male pal is around all the time all of a sudden.  If he is not staring at me as I eat, he is laying on my left foot underneath the table.  Often, he barks to be let outside, then a running slam against the screen door alerts us he is ready to come back in.

I hope that I can get more done with the next several weeks until the economy reopens in a new-normal world.   More worrisome:  what will the new-normal of myself look like.

 

Living through a Pandemic

Incredible how our lives teeming with jobs, errands and recreation can be instantaneously wiped clean, filtered down to only one concern:  “Do we have enough toilet paper to get us through the week?”

Going to work and school, eating out, attending movies and concerts, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, observing religious traditions—all halted.  Freeze frame life as we know it.

And the places that remain open such as grocery stores are scenes from a bad end-of-the-world Netflix show.

My son and I have traveled to market to market to cobble together meat, eggs, and peanut butter, standing in lines, standing apart.  We drove by two gun stores in Burbank, each with a line of people outside.  Just what kind of world are we living in?

One where terms like coronavirus, COVID-19 and social distancing have been added to our existence.

It is dizzying to think how much has transpired in the past week.  Gov. Newsom said on Tuesday that schools are unlikely to reopen this academic year.

Funny how the last school day was Friday the 13th.  At that time, it was clear that schools would not resume soon after spring break.  As my students left, I joked to them “Happy Fourth of July!” not knowing how prescient that was.

State testing has been cancelled, the College Board plans on administering Advanced Placement tests online, and graduation ceremonies—well, who knows?

Never before will so many people have to rely on technology to keep them connected to their work and their loved ones.

Glendale Unified teachers scheduled to return to work on March 23 most likely will remain at home, watching webinars on how to design online lessons to salvage the remaining weeks of the spring semester.

A life without doing whatever we want is unchartered territory for all but those old enough to have lived through World War II and the Great Depression.   They remember rationing of tires and sugar, meatless meals and gasless days.  It was not uncommon to ask Americans to sacrifice for the greater good.

The closest most people alive today can relate to any kind of sacrifice would have been the rationing of gas during the oil crisis of 1973 when drivers were only allowed to buy gas based on the odd/even last number on their license plate.

So the idea of giving something up even temporarily is a habit alien to most.  That partially explains why some people, mainly young ones, are not heeding the advice of government officials to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

While we want to believe that during a crisis people’s better parts rise to the occasion, toilet paper hoarding proves otherwise.  How many 24-packs of toilet paper do people need?  Thinking of other people is an ancient practice it seems.

There is a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” when the stock market crashes and people run into the Bailey Building and Loan to take their money out.  George pleads with his customers not to drain the limited bank’s money supply, but to only ask for small amounts to get them by in the short-term.  While some take all of their money, others think about George and other customers by limiting their withdrawals.

That’s the kind of neighborly attitude we need right now.

If we are to get through what possibly may be the worst pandemic since 1918 when over 675,000 Americans died out of 103 million, we all have to sacrifice for the greater good.

As I tell my students, the one comforting aspect when studying disasters in history is that we know when they ended.   Yes, the Civil War was horrible, but it was only 4 years long.  But those alive in the 1860s had no idea how long that tragedy would last.

Not knowing how long the current health crisis will last creates anxiety in us.  We don’t know what the coming months will bring.

The one constant that has helped my family cope with this health crisis has been our dog Noble.  He doesn’t care about COVID-19, only that his bowl has food, he has a walk, goes for a car ride, and plays with rope toys.   How delightful to be blissfully ignorant of the dramatic changes we are all enduring.