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This is one of a series of first-person accounts of how COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders around Monterey Bay are affecting us all. If you would like to share your thoughts about living under the sheltering sky send your essay to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
For somebody who’s always running 75 mph even on weekends, with a full-time job, a volunteer job helping publish an Internet magazine, and a never ending parade of things to do, sheltering-in-place seems like the perfect opportunity to catch up on basics, like cleaning. I have piles of clothes on my corner chair that need to be taken to the cleaners, or need some mending, or need to be put away, or whatever. There’s stacks of papers that need sorting out, there’s books to be shelved, there’s photos from my last family visit that need editing and printing, a photo album ready to welcome the smiling faces of nieces and nephews, sister and brothers, everyone happy at the opportunity to be together.
But the duress accompanying the “shelter-in-place” order has made it nearly impossible to concentrate. How many more cases of COVID-19 do we have? How many people have died? Did we flatten the curb yet? Why are those Florida spring breakers so stupid? Did you know a tiger just got COVID?
I summon all my concentration prowess and manage to pay some bills. Mortgage, homeowners association dues, cable, PG&E, insurance. Heavens, I’m so lucky to have a job. Goodness, there are thousands who are unemployed, including my daughter. My siblings, all minimum-wage earners with no savings, holding on perilously by their fingernails. My mom with no health insurance. And what about those farmworkers, who still need to go out to work but are probably not making enough to cover the rent? Their kids at home with nobody to guide them about how to get online to do their daily school lessons? How long is this going to last?
After three hours and twenty visits to social media, I manage to pay four bills. Time to get another Facebook fix, so I check in. The article I’d posted earlier, “After The Coronavirus Passes, Your World Will Not Go Back To Normal”, has gained quite a bit of traction among my FB friends. Rachel Zentz, a former coworker and one of my most entertaining FB regulars, says the United States will not become a communist nation and we will go back to being the same. I get into it with her: you will be cashing your $1,200 check, right? Another three hours later, I realize I still have tons of cleaning to do.
I go through an old pile of bills (they seem to date back to the time I broke my knee cap– don’t ask) and I find the latest issue of Via, the magazine for AAA members. It’s published four times a year and lately its timing has been impeccable. It featured Big Sur when the fires were raging and made it impossible for anybody to go through; and this month, it features Monterey’s Cannery Row on its cover, “celebrating 250 years of a California classic.” Celebrating tourism has never felt so wrong.
But the cover reminds me of another magazine I just bought: an utterly pessimistic or Pollyannaish-ly idealistic issue of National Geographic — depending on how you look at it. It has two covers, one that reads “How we lost the planet” and the other “How we saved the world.” My idea was to read it so I could later wax philosophical about the changes we need to make right now to ensure we do save the world, so I could finally win the Pulitzer Prize I so richly deserve.
That was before tackling laundry this morning.
Three weeks ago, on March 11 to be exact, I was watching TV and thinking: the world’s economy is screeching to a halt. The World Health Organization had just declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. The NBA cancelled its season. The Dow Jones continued its downward spiral and shed 1,300 points. By the following week, I realized the economy was not just stopping: it was falling off a cliff, and the biggest losers were those industries that have anything to do with either bringing people together or taking them as far away from each other as possible. Restaurants. Airlines. Hotels. But what worries me the most are the workers: the custodians, the Uber drivers, the servers, the bartenders, the musicians, the performers.
We can't live anymore in an economy where hundreds of coastal homes are empty while teachers, farmworkers and other “essential” workers can't afford a decent place to live.
The economy of this country – of the world, really — is so stacked against the working class it’s unsustainable. With rents so high, especially in this part of the country, with the wealth so concentrated in such few hands, it’s really a miracle we have not had an armed insurgency. It does make me wonder if we’ll see one, now that there will be millions with nothing to lose anymore.
Hopefully it won’t get to that, but big changes are desperately needed in the United States, in this society, on planet earth. We can’t live anymore in an economy where hundreds of coastal homes are empty while teachers, farmworkers and other “essential” workers can’t afford a decent place to live. Gig employment is not allowing workers to provide for their families. We need universal health care. And I’m just talking about the changes that are needed at a societal level. We also need big lifestyle changes to help reduce our carbon footprint. We need to stop burning so much fossil fuel. We need to stop mass production of cheap items that end up in the landfills. OK, maybe I’ll write about that. That will be my Pulitzer.
But I have to make some face masks first.
That will be after editing photos. Because truly, I miss my nieces and nephews and my daughter and my Godchildren and my tías and I can’t wait to hug them again.
But first, I have to clean the bathroom and fold the laundry.
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