Locusts. Did we even mention the locusts? | Adobe Stock photo
By Joe Livernois
The start of the decade, back in early January, wasn’t all that bad. There was an earthquake in Puerto Rico, half of Australia seemed to be on fire, the impeachment of our president was moving apace, and a weird confluence of mid-winter tornadoes hit the Midwest.
Odd stuff, surely, but it was all relatively sane. No one knew that something was deeply amiss, that we were teetering on the precipice of … something. Whatever this hot, stupid mess is. But here we are, midway through 2020, survivors of the first year of the new decade. The Roaring 20s. We’ve lived a full decade this year and we’re only six months into it.
But January was fine. Some people were distracted by Harry and Meghan after they announced they were chucking all that royalty stuff. Our president got to celebrate that a whole 100 miles of border wall had been completed, while the rest of us waited for the magical Art of the Deal that would force Mexico to pay for it. And then a chunk of it blew over in the wind. Northern California sports fans were super-enthused about the 49ers’ rush to the Super Bowl.
The pointy heads and the geeks who paid attention to international news might have noticed that China was dealing with a viral outbreak of some kind. No biggie. It was China, after all. Who cared? This information was coming from CNN and it was included in the daily briefings our president was supposed to read, so of course the virus thing had to be “fake news.”
Then, on a quiet Sunday in late January, a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and others crashed into a mountain in Calabasas. That’s when the decade started to unravel.
February rolled around and the Niners lost when they should have won and the Golden State Warriors were getting whomped regularly by the likes of the New Jersey Nets and, even more improbably, the Los Angeles Lakers.
And our president was still around, showing uncanny leadership skills no one knew he possessed, while a swarm of bees attacked first responders in Pasadena. The first 11 cases of coronavirus hit the United States, Kirk Douglas died at the age of 103, a motion picture from South Korea won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and a poodle won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Indeed, the horrors of The Roaring 20s were already building. Everything we thought we knew started to turn inside out. The Boy Scouts of America went bankrupt in February. The Iowa Caucus went screw-hickey. And the first American citizen died of the coronavirus in Wuhan, after which our president told a gathering of deep thinkers that the coronavirus is a hoax.
But we were just getting started, and the decade turned to March.
Hunkered down in March
As the month progressed, our president ramped up his dismissal of COVID-19, calling it a “Chinese virus.” The rest of us were, like, yeah sure he’s a racist jackass, but at least we don’t have to worry about the epidemic. This is the United States, after all.
That was early March, and by the middle of the month everyone was cancelling travel plans, rushing to Costco for toilet paper, and standing in long lines waiting to snatch a facemask. The NBA went on hiatus. Major League Baseball shut down Spring Training, preventing tens of thousands of people from getting drunk in Arizona. Tom Hanks and his wife got the virus. Broadway went dark. The Dow Jones went kablooey.
Everything seemed to go haywire. Even Hamvention, the largest gathering of ham radio operators on the planet, had to cancel in March. The Grand Ayatollah of Iran died two days after testing positive for COVID-19.
Do you recall the controversy when the Grand Princess Cruise ship quarantined about 20 off-loaded passengers in Asilomar Hotel & Conference Grounds? Seems like so long ago, right? But it happened this decade.
In mid-March I had a conversation with two Chinese students who were attending Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey before it shut down. One of the students was originally from Wuhan; she had been attending MIIS for two years, long enough to become familiar with Americans and their proclivities. There’s absolutely no way, she said. There’s no way in hell that Americans will be able to adhere to the restrictions health officials will require to flatten the curve in the United States. China made it work, but mostly because shelter in place was enforced from the end of long rifles. And because people there are smart enough to understand science.
To their credit, Americans did manage to hunker down for a few weeks in March. Millions of people lost their jobs or were furloughed. The unemployment rate jumped to almost 15 percent nationwide. The hospitality industry on the Central Coast shut down completely.
Preoccupied in April
Americans became preoccupied with educating the kids at home, catching up on Netflix binge-worthy shows, baking sourdough bread and watching the federal government botch their responsibilities in ever more comical ways. The commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was sacked because he deigned to bother Navy brass with the notion that his men were living in a Petri dish. The White House delivered daily briefings that more closely resembled conventions of failed carnival barkers. A real expert in epidemiology might get shoved into these briefings, but only so that people who barely graduated high school could whine about him on Twitter.
“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks,” said our president, the lead barker. “And then, hopefully, as the experts are predicting, as I think a lot of us are predicting, after having studied it so hard, you’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.” He said this on April 1. April Fools Day.
Around that same time, our president solemnly promised that churches would be able to reopen in time for Easter Sunday services. That didn’t happen. Of course it didn’t happen. Instead, pastors, rabbis and imams got proficient at Zoom, which allowed millions of worshipers to fall asleep at church, from home, while still in their jammies. In fact, Zoom became The Thing. Family members who rarely talked to one another started biweekly Family ReZoomions. Doctors cranked up their telemedicine outreach. The wheels of capitalism ground onward from Zoom screens everywhere.
But Zoom was also used for more solemn events. Families had to bid farewell to their dying fathers and mothers via Zoom. Funerals were live-streamed to friends and family members unable to attend due to shelter-in-place requirements.
Meanwhile, airlines announced they were losing billions of dollars. State officials in Missouri sued China for its coronavirus-related economic losses, even as the governor ordered the state to start reopening businesses. Major League Baseball put the season on hiatus, which meant that the people who couldn’t get drunk in Arizona were now unable to get drunk in major league ballparks.
Looking to Washington for leadership, our president promised that tests would be available for everyone in a matter of days. They would be the best tests ever available to mankind. Ever. From any president. And of course the tests weren’t available to anyone for many weeks, but it didn’t matter anyway because by then our president told people who still bothered to listened to him that tests weren’t that important after all. To the horror of health experts everywhere, our president suggested that patients could maybe try hydroxychloroquine. Or bleach. Or shoot light into your innards. Whatever. It’s all a big hoax anyway, so why not treat yourself with some poisons.
Whatever it was our president was trying to say, it was all a bunch of confusing nonsense. But it’s American nonsense, so it’s the best kind of confusion, and it’s what endears him to 35 percent of American voters.
And then John Prine died. So, yeah. April sucked.
Corona-Loonies on the Loose
It was in May when many of us got our first whiff of the pervasive evil bubbling from some of our neighbors. We’ve always sort of known that we live among people who really don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else. But now these people became emboldened to speak their minds, to demand their “constitutional” rights, to show the world what free-dumb is all about.
They are the corona-loonies. They were given the gift of months of quiet time so that they might reflect on what’s important to them. It was an opportunity to take stock of their lives, to reconnect with their families. But they couldn’t handle it. So they freaked out and stormed the castles of government, demanding to be freed from the shackles of science and the treason of reason.
May is when gun-toting protesters started flooding into state capitals to show governors how white manly people get things done. The natives started getting restless when they learned that it was mostly old people who were doing all the dying, so what’s the big deal? It’s not like they were at risk. Our president refuses to wear masks, so why should the rest of the intellectuals?
On Times Square, somebody erected a Trump Death Clock.
And then something shifted. Even as people continued to get sick and die, public health officers at every level started backing away from their health orders. The economy was tanking, after all, so it was time to start easing off. It was time to give the economy a bit of breathing room. Little by little, health officers opened up society, expanding shopping opportunities, just in time for the Memorial Day rush.
It might seem like last decade, but it was also during the Memorial Day weekend that a police officer from Minneapolis nonchalantly knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while three other officers watched.
The Era of Karens
Which brings us to June, a month marked by a flurry of protests, riots, revolution, resistance, dithering, anger, despair, lies and recriminations. The month seemed to unleash the best from among a majority of Americans — and the worst of the creeps. Karens were spotted everywhere. So we’re gun-toting dolts.
A lot of other intellectuals and amateur epidemiologists threw down the gauntlet. In Carmel, the owner of The Tuck Box, which only seems charming on the outside, challenged local cops to send in the National Guard after he defied health orders by allowing people to dine indoors a week or two before the county reopened all the restaurants anyway. The poor bugger eventually backed down and agreed to pay $15,000 in a settlement that will include another $20,000 fine if he engages in further monkeyshines. That’s the price you pay, I suppose, to protect your aforementioned free-dumb. Expensive maybe … but we are talking about Carmel.
Meanwhile, the initial protests over the death of George Floyd induced real “patriots” to reflexively invoke Antifa so that the fire-breathers had an excuse to oppose Black Lives Matter. If our president has learned anything in his first term, it’s the art of inflaming goobers.
Meanwhile, in cities across the country, community activists initiated campaigns to defund police agencies, or at least to reallocate law-enforcement resources.
Again, the world turned topsy-turvy when National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell all but admitted that the NFL screwed up in its handling of Colin Kaepernick. And then NASCAR moved to ban treasonous symbols of the Confederacy from its events. Still, with every positive action, there is an idiotic and opposite reaction blathering forth from our president.
In an act of defiance against science and everything that is right in the world, our president flew to Tulsa and gathered fellow intellectuals in a big arena so he could prove to the world that he is capable of drinking a glass of water with one hand.
In addition to the act of water drinking, June was marked by the politicization of breathing, from the final words of George Floyd, which became a clarion call for the resistance, to the shrill complaints of otherwise comfortable Americans who are inconvenienced by their face coverings.
And the first half of the decade-long year ended with the deaths of Joe Gunter, the Salinas mayor, and funnyman Carl Reiner.
The nonsense will continue, apparently. July opened with a fearless declaration from our president that statues honoring treasonous Confederate losers are sacrosanct. And now local California sea lions are apparently suffering from domoic acid poisoning, which makes them lethargic and disoriented. I know how they feel.
As a friend told me, “it’s been a lifetime of misery crunched into six months.”
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