Have you ever tried to talk a 19-year-old into taking an online history class over the summer?
Even I wasn’t convinced by my argument. Sean’s mother asked me to speak with him and as I looked at his puckered cherubic face over Zoom, I felt bad. He’s been attending college online for over a year on WebEx, Teams, whatever until his eyes bleed.
He presented his half-hearted counter argument, to which I responded with a question. Now this is a smart kid; he has an answer to everything which sounds good, but without much drilling down is, as in this case, somewhat hollow. This response was the equivalent of: “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear….etc.” I nixed that and we got to the truth. The truth was he needed a break from sitting in his home office day in, day out and taking some heavy classes. This semester was: Linguistics, Psychology of Language, Philosophy of Ethics, and Developmental Psychology.
What does Kant have to do with all this? Well, he came up in the Philosophy class which was taught by a fresh-faced young woman from Scandinavia. Sounds good right? The syllabus for this class was beyond depressing. I was told that no one ever participated and never put their cameras on. Can you blame them? Here’s a sampling of the cheery topics: famine, casual sex, euthanasia, killing and eating puppies, abortion, sex and lies, casual sex again, rape, prostitution, addiction. All in the context of Utilitarianism, Hedonism, Cultural Relativism, Aristotelian Ethics, deductive reasoning, and last but not least the Kantian approach.
Now all we need is a safe word and we have a party!
There was a group project — something about marijuana and jail sentences — and it needed to be framed within these theories. Sean ended up being the group leader pretty much by default amid the semi-comatose. While assigning sections of the presentation (yea, a live presentation) he asked the quietest, least motivated, and seemingly most withdrawn student in the group, and she replied: “The Kantian Approach.” The hardest one. Full of Teutonic gravitas.
I found this all rather amusing. For some reason the Kantian Approach sounded like a chess move to me like the Luzhin Defence or the Queen’s Gambit. I was thinking about Kant’s Categorical Imperative (look it up!) and was wondering what would that chess move be? You lay your king down, walk away and hope the noise in your head subsides?
I could go on. There was a truly bizarre conversation on a class module about how lying to get sex may be regarded as a form of rape. Okay. I’m just wondering who will be left walking around, not in jail, after they round up 99.9% of the population.
I could hear Sean silently screaming, “Get me out of this!” This history class includes: the Enlightenment (okay), the surge of nationalism (yuck), imperialism (uh oh), World War I (double uh oh), totalitarianism, and to top off the summer: World War II.
We released him from this sentence. Instead Sean is working as a barista at a chic café in our uber-burbia. He’s delighted by the job.
After a day of work and loads of caffeine, Sean said to me, “Don’t ever give me cocaine!”
There’s an old monastery near me where I hike. The friars are long gone, but the acres are still there to enjoy. It’s a lovely tract of land and it has…wait for it…silence.
Last week we had a spectacular spring day. Off I went, and since it was a weekday no one was there. Only rabbits, turtles, geese and other sweet creatures. While I was on a remote wooded trail, two huge dogs came running towards me. Massive exquisite animals about 100lbs. or more.
Good thing I’m not afraid of dogs. I said, “Hi guys!” and their tails wagged and we were good. I think they had Great Dane, Rottweiler…maybe Doberman in them — I couldn’t identify the breed exactly. Both were dark-colored and one was brindled. They hung around with me as we enjoyed the woods, my new friends moving beautifully in tandem. After a while it occurred to me that there was no owner in sight. Unaccompanied minors!
I’m going to try and keep this short because it’s taken me several days to get this done. I saw the dogs a couple more times and I wound up my jaunt. As I was getting into my car, a Mercedes station wagon pulled up near me. A pleasant upper middle lady of a certain age got out and smiled at me (and I to her). She took two suburban-pampered-rescue-virtue-signaling-whatever Greyhounds out of the back. We exchanged inconsequential polite noises and I thought to alert her to the two dogs running around unattended. She was nice, thanked me, and then she irately said, “You know, I saw two intact males on Kimball Road!” Per usual, I had no idea what she meant; I think I was distracted because I was registering that she just had a close encounter with her inner Karen.
We wrapped it up; she went for her dog walk and I got into the car. It was then that it dawned on me what she meant. Intact males! She meant the dogs — maybe! I burst out laughing.
My family always had dogs, large ones and male. We never “fixed” them — interesting term. They had a lot of land to roam on and they were perfectly happy and healthy and lived to ripe old ages. Our last dog was a little more “humpy” than the others, so my mother suggested that we have him neutered. My father absolutely forbade it; he was pretty upset over the thought of it. I’m wondering if his primary concern was that he didn’t want my mother getting any ideas. My father had his way and the dog kept his testicles. The end.
What has happened? Where did we go? Hypoallergenic dogs, countless unspoken rules, the suburbanization of all viewpoints, make things “safe,” controlling every aspect of our lives so that no one draws outside the lines. WTF?
Good tidings to all! I thought I would change up the collage (above). I really like how the other one turned out, but the weather has been bleak, and I think we all needed some color and hints of spring. At least I did.
While I was gathering images, the poem “Spring and All…” by William Carlos Williams came to mind to accompany the theme. I haven’t read it since college, and was pleasantly surprised at the full title which I did not recollect — on the road to the contagious hospital. I did, in fact, remember that Williams was a doctor. Seems fitting for the current whatever.
I think I will put the full poem below for your pleasure. Sir Philip Sidney, the Elizabethan poet, lent the title for this post; we are in agreement about the necessity of poetry. I, perhaps, take a more hedonistic view than Sydney’s solid Protestant one. That’s what makes a horse race my father would say. I think we would both agree that when all else fails, turn to poetry…or song lyrics. They are, essentially, the same thing. Or close kin. So here goes:
Spring and All [By the road to the contagious hospital]
By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines—
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches—
They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind—
Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined— It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of entrance—Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken
Yesterday was four years since I started Phantom Noise in Ordinary Time. It been a great ride and I am so thankful to everyone who stops by and reads. And, I want to thank my friends who help me keep the site looking pretty. I will write more later. I must go to work, but I didn’t want to wait longer to post our milestone. Full gallop onward: braver, louder, bolder!
I was going to write about the above — and perhaps I shall still. Certainly, it involves a bitch of the redheaded (bottle) and old (truly) variety. A quality moment to be sure and worthy of filing under “no good deed goes unpunished.” We have a delivery, two dames, and a what would be viewed as a crime only by the paranoid.
Okay, maybe we’ll do it like this; a paragraph on the nonsense and a little about life back on the planet, which I regret to see as I write this on a beautiful Sunday morning on the last day of May, is not looking too well. Nature is happy for the respite, but mankind is losing its collective mind. America is drowning and burning and I can’t help but think this is a deliberate evil plan orchestrated by monsters.
Perhaps this is where these two seemingly unrelated topics intersect. The redhead, a neighbor, let’s call her Mary since that’s her name and we only protect the innocent. She (and what happened) is a microcosm of the present situation. She is a monster. And like all good monsters, she doesn’t look like one. The old lady thing is a genius cover. She’s aggressive, bullying, insincere, devoid of empathy, a liar: like her larger counterparts who make the news.
This morning brings more footage of protests and strife in major cities. There is a great deal of assigning of blame and righteous anger. I get it. I also can’t help but wonder if this is precisely what “they” want — to have us at each other’s throats, to start a civil war in the midst of a “horrific pandemic” that winnows people out. I pray to God that was not part of the plan…
To return to Micro Mary: she utilizes the same methods – blame, pitting people against each other, dining on the drama of other people’s pain. What happened was that I, by accident, received her delivery of groceries, which I returned to her once it was sussed out whose they were. Here we can bring in a giant of industry: Jeff Bezos who owns Amazon and Whole Foods. The groceries, inside and out, had nothing to indicate whose they were. There was just the Amazon “smile” and the Whole Foods logo. Top secret. I opened the bags to see if there was a receipt with somebody’s…anybody’s name on it. Not even a number for Amazon/Whole Foods. Oh, I forgot…we should have that memorized or on us at all times. Anyway, who cares right? I certainly didn’t. The deadly delivery was sorted out in minutes.
Yet, in this sad pokey grocery order were — wait for it — pantyliners! Again, I don’t care. But I do think it was these pantyliners and the sad pokiness of Mary’s things that revealed too much of her miserable self to me, which is what led to her lashing out a day later. For monsters, controlling the narrative is of the utmost importance. By the way, the resemblance to Pennywise is not much of an exaggeration.
The secrets, lies, the fragile ego under all the brash — sound familiar? Seems like just another day in America. And, having the goods on people. I don’t mean merely a Twitter storm; I mean the real goods. Can’t appear weak — God only knows what would happen. People might think you’re human. So, these crafty monsters deflect and maneuver.
The next morning, before I began remotely working, Mary calls me. I have to say framing the accusation by positing a hypothesis was quite skillful. She begins by saying that she was up all night wondering about the grocery affair. People are dying all around us — terrible painful deaths — and this is what keeps her up at night. I won’t bore you with the details but she indirectly accuses/blames me. I ask her what she’s getting at because I want her to come out and say it. Coward. Did I mention that characteristic of all of these monsters? She says, “You take care.” Which I know is, “Fuck you.” Fine.
As we are spoon-fed propaganda and bread and circus, those in power don’t seem to care too much about the death toll, the hate, the anger and destruction. I noticed yesterday afternoon that they launched a rocket. Courtesy of Elon Musk who is another very important monster from another planet. The timing is interesting, isn’t it? Good way to distract people, if only temporarily, from the fighting in the streets to watch money go up into space. And it worked. SpaceX it’s called. For a soi-disant genius that’s not the cleverest name for whatever all this is.
Regarding Mary and the other big fish: I swing from fury, resignation, and disgust. A dear friend tells me to write it down — but just the facts. Don’t editorialize. My brain has a hard time with that one.
Here goes nothing. We’re being duped, and while being duped we are dying, our society is crumbling, monsters are stealing us blind, the very rich are getting richer…but I do believe we can rehabilitate the world and ourselves. However, that’s a lot more work than tearing it down.
Mary, well she’s a malevolent c*&t.
And that’s a fact — Jack!
Images: Laura, Mad Max franchise, Gretel and Hansel, Stephen King’s It, and Mickey Spillane’s pulp crime novels.
We have our first guest contributor! This essay came to my attention this morning. It’s written by a young woman I know. I will say more about her at the end, but I will let her words speak. I hope you enjoy.
Being an Essential Worker by Shirley N.
A job that never seemed important. That is how a cashier sometimes is seen. Like many other jobs, being a cashier does not require going to school to get a certificate, a degree, or an advanced degree. It is just simple, but overall it is essential and important. Unfortunately, it is not seen in this way all the time or by everyone. I have been working as a supermarket cashier for about two and a half years, and it is not a simple job as many would say. We have to be careful with customer’s groceries, be patient, be polite, and sometimes pretend not to feel the offenses of people. For example, one day a lady went to check out her groceries with one of my co-workers. My co-worker is in her 40s. She does not speak English well. The lady noticed that, and she started telling the cashier that she should not be working there because she does not even understand and speak English. The cashier seemed very sad, and another lady behind her started calling the manager really loud because she said that the lady was abusing the cashier. This is an everyday occurrence at a supermarket. Sometimes people just want to make us feel down because we are “supermarket cashiers.” When the pandemic (COVID-19) started, we were not simple cashiers, we started being essential workers.
When schools, restaurants, bars, and malls closed, pharmacies, hospitals, and supermarkets remained open. My health, my goals, and my life were in danger. During this time, working to serve people who do not appreciate our work did not make sense. That is how I was feeling. The week my school closed, I worked four days up to the weekend and during my spring break week. That week and a half was something I will never forget. The first day, March 4, the supermarket was incredibly crowded; it took just a day to have empty shelves and people fighting each other because of food. Everything was unreal for me. Before the pandemic, people used to complain about every single thing. They always want to have things at the cheapest price and they bought in less quantity — but not this time. They tried to get as much food as possible. They did not care about the price anymore. It felt like the end of the world. After that Wednesday of work, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep and be ready for the next day because I knew it could be worse.
The next day, March 5th, other schools, and businesses were closing. People were losing their jobs and scarcity of supplies began to happen. That day is unforgettable for me because I was not scared about the virus and everything that was going on. However, it is sad how everything can just disappear. I remember a few months before looking for a job at a bookstore in the mall because I wanted to work somewhere a little slower than a supermarket, but for some reason I did not get the job. That day, I felt grateful that I didn’t, because even though I was in danger, I had work. I would still be able to help my family in Ecuador, and that made me feel blessed. I thanked God once again for what I had.
The next day of work was also hard for me. I have to deal with a lot of people, and in my mind, there was always the question: might he or she have the virus? My co-workers seemed scared. I heard them talking to each other about what they heard in the news, what people were saying, etc. For a few, it is something that they would have to face and only God knows what would happen to them. For me, I thought this experience was something that will make us become better people. However, this did not seem to be on everybody’s mind. For those customers who think we “the cashiers” are useless people, putting my life in danger and giving them service did not seem worthwhile. For instance, there was a guy who came to my register with a bad attitude. For some reason, he pushed one of the items of the customer in front of him and brought it closer to her. The lady did not like him touching her stuff and getting too close to her. I told him very politely to stand where the sign indicated where the 6 feet distance was. He just looked at me and muttered to himself. When it was his turn to be checked out, he started yelling at me to put an item in a bag. I knew that was my job, but certainly, he was trying to give me a hard time. I called the manager because as I said I am a supermarket cashier, but I am not less than anyone. He also treated the manager really badly. Other customers were calling him nasty.
This kind of situation is something that I am used to facing. Being a supermarket cashier for these years has taught me customer service skills when dealing with this kind of person in a real-life situation that most of us have faced or will face. Another thing I will take from it is to not be this type of person because every single job position needs to be respected and valued. Also, advocating for myself is another thing I have learned. Even though I am young, I am able to defend my rights and not let anyone drive over me. This is one of the things that people like me have to know in order not to be put down as many people would like to do to others. Sometimes, it is not something I wish I have to do, but in real life, it is what we must face.
In my everyday work, now there was something different. First, we started using gloves. I did not like the idea because we did not have hand sanitizers to disinfect the gloves. Second, we were obliged to wear masks. Then a second mask, the kind that is clear plastic and covers the entire face, was offered but not compulsory, yet it was an extra safety precaution for us. After the masks, they put up plastic partitions so we would not have direct contact with customers. It stood like that for a while. What did not stay the same was the freedom of buying whatever people wanted and the amount they wanted. Since the shelves were emptying and deliveries were delayed, the store had to make decisions about how they would be able to address people’s needs. Therefore, the limit on chicken, beef, rice, frozen vegetables and fruits, paper towels and bath tissue, etc. was one of those decisions. Again, this was something that made people go crazy. Every day, work is an argument with customers about the limits on food. On sunny days, people come to the store and try to get a lot of packages of meat to do BBQ. It is sad, but it seems that people still do not get what is going on.
After work, it feels like I survived another day, but at the same time, nothing is the same. I feel scared of wearing the same pair of jeans twice, my shoes can not be inside of the house without disinfecting them. Life is not the same, out there many families have lost their loved ones, and even though we are all facing a different situation related to COVID-19, it is not easy to assimilate it. At the supermarket, I continue to experience all kinds of situations. For example, a few people try to relax with a case of beer, others try to get a lot of meat to have for weeks, others buy only what they need, and others’ jobs are to shop for others. This is a really interesting time to me.
I have been experiencing a lot, and I can not stop thinking about how incredible life is. Becoming a doctor requires a lot of studying and many years of interning and residency. Other people make videos and become famous social media influencers and society sees them as important. The reality is different. I am out there making it every day providing an essential service. I never thought I would be in this position carrying this craziness on my back.
After three weeks, the supermarket provided additional protection. Now, we have a plastic curtain that protects our backs. I feel that nothing really would completely protect us, but it is worthwhile to try everything that might help. Staying motivated is also another thing I have been facing because it is sad how the world has changed, but many people’s minds have not. For example, supermarkets went back to using plastic grocery bags so that we do not have to touch people’s bags that they bring from home. However, it is really sad how people are taking advantage of it. They try to take as many bags as they can home. I still do not see the point of this. This is not always the case. There are also people who have tried to thank us for our outstanding work. They have been making signs to make us feel how important we are to them and to the world. I am pretty sure that there are more people who thank essential workers than people who think we are just being paid to do a job, and that our work also includes hearing their insults
Overall, being part of the essential workforce is a role that today is one of the most important. My everyday job is to serve people while exposing my health and my family’s health. Not only that, but my goals, dreams, and feelings are out there with me. I am able to support myself, be a full-time student, manage two jobs, send money to my family in Ecuador, be a daughter, a sister, cook, and wash my clothes every day after work. Throughout this time I have noticed how being essential requires strength, courage, and patience. It is now about two months and a half since people’s everyday lives have changed. Being outside is not joyful anymore. Every day something different and unexpected happens. My job may not be considered important to many because we are still seen as simple supermarket cashiers even though we are the ones who help to keep this world moving forward. For others, we make the difference and that motivates me to continue.
Shirley is 20 years old. She loves mathematics, environmental science and Albert Einstein. She hopes to attend Princeton University where her idol taught. I, for one, applaud her every step of the way.
How is everyone’s 2020 going? We’ve had an almost war, impeachment in the Senate starts tomorrow, and on the Martin Luther King Holiday there’s a Second Amendment rally in Virginia. Which is okay, I suppose, since the First Amendment entitles us all the right to assemble. How heavily armed to the hilt is what I am wondering. We’re riding the whirlwind that’s for sure.
In the micro, it’s time to open up a big can of whup ass. My ambitions for a new template have not yet been realized. This penning would have been under a new menu – working title – “Quick Cuts.” At the moment that new website – and menus – exist only in my imagination, while certain people are absent from the task. I hope you’re reading this! And another person of my acquaintance owes me $40. Not a big sum, but needed all the same. I hope you’re reading this!
On the lighter side, it’s a beautiful frigid day and I’ve had time to read: Dostoevsky, Mishima, social psychology and anthropology. Joy! I have also been decluttering and am appalled at the amount of nonsense I keep. Satisfying work.
Despite the madness and frustration, I shall take the wider view. My octogenarian cat wants to play, have treats and guilt me into opening another can of food. A buffet on the kitchen floor.
None of this should stop me from writing, except the fact that the latest update of this template is counter intuitive. That’s a nice way of saying I f’ing hate it.
In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The writing will continue. I hope you’re reading this!