Archive for the ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ Category

WALKING AND CHEWING

Last March, a longtime reader asked me to remove her from my email list. With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc, she couldn’t take getting “bad news from the universe.” I deleted her name. But she missed out on a very critical concept.

True, the universe—in its broadest sense—sent us the virus. But failure to adequately contain its spread in the United States is very much a human issue. We have the power to mitigate it. Yet as simple a matter as wearing a mask became a major political issue starting with Donald Trump, who refuses to wear one and thus motivate his supporters to do so.

No question, the pandemic, economic collapse and social upheaval take an emotional toll. Going ostrich and sticking our heads in the sand is tempting. But whistling in the dark won’t shed light on solutions.

People create or worsen many of our problems and only people can solve them. Greed, envy, lust, ignorance and sheer stupidity are human traits, not those of the universe. Inattention can weaken our will and erode our capacity to tackle our challenges.

We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Don’t want to check the daily pandemic death toll? (I do.) People will continue dying in alarming numbers. Can’t bear another bizarre story coming out of the White House? The mess regarding Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan will likely gain traction because it impacts our intelligence processes and national security. Ignore the rest of the ongoing and destructive mess in the Oval Office? That won’t bring on a Joe Biden victory in November.

Alarm and anger augmented by knowledge and perspective occupy critical places in a healthy society.

That said, entertainment and laughter form part of the mix enabling us to get through difficult times with our sanity reasonably intact. That’s why Carolyn and I, like so many Americans, check the news and also watch TV.

Right now, we’re very much into National Theatre Live from Britain. We attend plays at the National’s showpiece facility on the Thames whenever we’re in London. There’s great theater in America, but the Brits set the standard. That’s why Carolyn trained in two summer programs at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

A week ago, we saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, meticulously videoed in the new Bridge Theatre on the south side of the Thames near Tower Bridge. We howled. The cast included Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), whom Carolyn met at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a few years back, and Hammed Animashaun as a fabulously funny Puck. All and director Nicholas Hytner made the comedy accessible and added to it. Purists may decry the brilliant contemporary touches. Not the audience. It loved them. So did we.

We’re also watching the German sci-fi series Dark on Netflix. Deep mysteries. No idea what’s going on. Love it.

Some people may feel guilty about expressions of joy and laughter in a time of sadness. I suggest that we’re better off both facing our burdens and indulging in all the humor—and drama, music, food, wine and Zoom get-togethers—we can.

If we refuse to walk and chewing gum at the same time today, we’ll end up unable to do either tomorrow.

Happy Fourth! Let’s honor the best this nation stands for. It’s quite a lot. And let’s correct its misdeeds so that the American Dream applies to all.

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DEATH, POLITICS AND GUILT

I have bad news, good news and more bad news. Also an apology.

The initial bad news: The COVID-19 death toll of Americans stands at 124,000.

The good news: Last Sunday, American daily deaths dropped to 275.

More bad news: Daily deaths rose to 833 on Tuesday and 766 Wednesday. Yesterday, Johns Hopkins University charted 2,467 deaths, although this includes figures from New Jersey of indicate COVID-19 deaths previously not recorded. Also yesterday, a record 40,000 infections were reported.

My apology: Sunday’s plummeting death toll left me disappointed. I’ll explain.

The occupant of the Oval Office is so perverse—and his Republican enablers so selfish and malicious—that only a continuing high death toll might convince enough Americans of the incompetence and lack of humanity defining Donald Trump.

Last Saturday, the president told a rally crowd “filling” a third of Tulsa’s BOK Center, “I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’” Talk about magical thinking! Fewer tests equate to fewer infections—if you lack commonsense and decency.

Several of Trump’s senior advisors stated that the president was joking. Believable—if you lack commonsense and decency.

Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman, stand aside. Donald Trump can now claim to be one of the nation’s premier stand-up comics. For example, he hails the novel coronavirus as the “kung flu,” emphasizing its origin in China. Even presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, champion of alternative facts, found “kung flu” offensive—in March.

Not funny: Tuesday, Trump said he wasn’t kidding.

More unfunny: A day earlier, Trump tweeted that the upcoming presidential election is “rigged.” He claimed that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others.” I didn’t bother putting this in all capital letters as he did. I will bother to inform you that Trump VOTES BY MAIL.

Let’s get serious: Trump is setting up an excuse for defeat. The prospect of voters turning him out cannot, in his twisted thought processes, be possible. But a recent Fox News poll—Fox!—showed Trump trailing Joe Biden by 12 points. A recent New York Times poll put Biden’s lead among registered voters at 14 percent. Polls can be sketchy, particularly this early. But if Biden wins, Trump will deny responsibility for defeat.

More threatening, Trump’s tweet recalls the line in the 1964 film Beckett based on the play by Jean Anouilh and spoken by Britain’s King Henry II. At odds with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett, Henry asks his barons: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Media-savvy for his time, Henry could claim he never ordered Beckett’s assassination. Just thinking out loud.

I’m thinking that Trump is dog whistling his followers to disrupt a “corrupt” voting process. Gather with guns near polling places. Damage collection boxes. Delay the proceedings of the Electoral College.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down. Southern and Western states that rushed to reopen their economies and resisted mandating face masks see infections spiking at alarming rates. While Election Day is more than four months off, it may be that even if Trump-stoked violence arises, the pandemic and our continuing economic meltdown will result in the president’s very legal removal from office.

How sad that it might take 150,000 or more dead Americans to disinfect the Oval Office.

Just before I posted this, Vice President Pence held a news conference during which he praised Trump’s and the administrations efforts to control the pandemic. He didn’t wear a mask. One of us inhabits another dimension.

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DRYDOCKED

The Boat sits in drydock at Clement and Fifth Avenue far from the waterfront. Its captain is giving up the helm. But someday—soon, I hope—it will set sail as it has for 38 years.

Jesse and Roberta Fink opened the Toy Boat Dessert Café in 1982. Carolyn and I had been living in San Francisco for eight years and were settled in a flat on Twentieth Avenue, then with two kids. A terrific new brand of ice cream had been introduced to the City—Double Rainbow. The Toy Boat served it. (Jesse’s brother Steven and his partner Michael founded the ice cream company.)

Given that the Boat offered so many flavors plus pastries plus coffee plus a mechanical horse for the kids and so many cool toys for purchase, we found our way there. After we moved into our house on Fifteenth Avenue late in 1983, a third child now part of the family, we walked to the Boat with some frequency.

In 2004, I moved my office home from downtown and went out to lunch every day. That meant a sandwich, wrap or salad at the Boat once or twice a week. Jesse, whose family once had spent time with mine at the Calistoga Spa, became a friend who’d sit down and talk about—anything.

The Toy Boat long has been a fixture on Clement Street. The desserts and toys—Pez containers, pink Spaldeen rubber balls and stickball bats like we played with as kids (Jesse’s from Brooklyn) and a variety of tin and, later, plastic super-hero figures—may have drawn people for a first visit.

Jesse kept them coming back.

Whether his customers were locals, the legendary Robin Williams, people from across town or visitors from across the country and, indeed, around the world, Jesse schmoozed with everyone. The Boat became a social gathering place. As host, Jesse asked where you were from and what you were doing and made you feel like the center of the universe.

I, a functional introvert, couldn’t have done what Jesse did. “I’m not sure I’m an extrovert,” he says, “but I am outgoing. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to others over time, so in the store, I wouldn’t be nice to someone simply for business reasons.” Outside the store, he’s much the same person.

Jesse long served as what I termed “The Mayor of Clement Street.” But the COVID-19 pandemic put retailers in a bind, especially small ones, which make up almost all the Richmond District’s stores and restaurants. When the City proclaimed its first shelter-in-place order, Jesse closed the Boat on March 16. “I figured we’d be closed only for a week or two.” The City kept extending the order. Jesse let go most of his staff. He gave thought to retiring.

He was 67. When he put the Boat up for sale, he’d been home with Roberta for two months and enjoyed their time together. And, he confesses, he’d been thinking about retirement since January. The pandemic sealed the deal. “My mother used to say, ‘Moments of decision choose themselves.’”

Jesse hopes that the new owners will maintain the Boat’s uniqueness. Me, too. As he says, “Like the Grateful Dead, we weren’t the best at what we did. We were the only ones.”

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MY HAIRCUT

COVID-19 has taken its toll. Now, people are getting back to some familiar routines from working to dining out. But new opening-up regulations don’t compel us to do so. Witness my haircut.

I, too, was getting scraggly. I had my last haircut on March 12. My particularly oily hair badly needed trimming. I can’t see my stylist, Regina, yet. But I have a pretty good substitute at home.

Monday, Carolyn cut my hair. Two weeks earlier, I’d ordered clippers with guides. Watched videos. (What isn’t on YouTube?) I relayed what I learned to Carolyn. She was a natural.

Okay, I prefer Regina cutting my hair. Pre-COVID, I visited her salon every four weeks. Looked great and maintained neat hair until next time. But during a pandemic, the “other woman” is your wife.

We set up in our bathroom. I covered myself with an old poncho. The fun began.

No, not that kind.

I attached the adjustable guide and set it to #10, the longest, to avoid mistakes. Then I started trimming the sides of my head to show Carolyn how the clippers work. Bingo, she was on it. Finished the sides and went to the back. Then the top. Fine-tuned with scissors. Used the clippers to clean my neck.

I admired her handiwork. Then I used the clippers to touch up a spot. Naturally, I cut a bit of a hole in my right side. Doesn’t look bad. Not too. No more of that. Why cut your own hair when you have a talented semi-pro at home?

Don’t think our relationship—in September we’ll be married 51 years—is a one-way street. Despite movie, TV and commercial production being shut down until today, June 12, Carolyn’s had more—I repeat, more—auditions than ever. All self-videoed or self-recorded. Audio, Carolyn handles in a studio set up in our guest room closet. A small closet. I put in the sound-dampening panels.

For videos, I usually get cinematography credit. Using Carolyn’s iPhone, I frame the shots, move the camera when needed and, on most occasions, feed her the other characters’ lines. I also offer tips on reads and pieces of business. Why not? I wrote, produced and/or directed a lot of radio and TV commercials in my day. Disclosure: That day is long past.

Another disclosure: Carolyn and I are not rushing into San Francisco’s reopening. I’ll be 76 in a month. My health is great, and I’m uncommonly fit for my age. But as a physician wrote a few months ago, organs that have been around for 76 years are 76 years old. Now, reports have emerged of a correlation between type A blood and higher COVID-19 death rates. No, correlation is not causation. Yes, I’m type A.

Fortunately, our lives are comfortable. I write. Carolyn takes online acting and singing classes, does auditions. We both watch TV and read. We also walk in nearby parks, take in fabulous views of the Pacific and Golden Gate. Mountain Lake is two blocks away. And we bring in meals from a great Turkish restaurant, Lokma, Clement and 19th Avenue.

If we’re cautious, you can understand. I’d like to be 77 in a year. Hopefully, I’ll celebrate with my favorite chocolate cake and a haircut outside the house.

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THREE IMAGES, MANY QUESTIONS

A Minneapolis cop kneels on the neck of a black man, George Floyd. Peaceful protestors kneel on pavement. An unidentified young African-American woman carries an armload of bras out of Victoria’s Secret. How do we make sense of these images?

Last Saturday, my friend Ira asked: Doesn’t Judaism have anything to offer about the racism endemic in America? Yes, it does. Start with Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this “simple” verse raises complex questions.

Love: A general good feeling about others or a commandment to take action when others face difficulties or injustice? (Cain kills Abel then asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”—Genesis 4:9).

Neighbor: Family and friends only? A religious congregation? Co-religionists only? Those who live near our home? And whom can we reject because of their race, religion, politics?

Yourself: How many of us truly love ourselves, are happy with the kind of person we are? If we consider it obvious that each of us engages in self-love, why does our society endure so much alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide? Can you love and mistreat yourself at the same time?

That said, do we define Leviticus 19:18 to our own liking and use it as a pretext for creating out-groups whom we have no obligation to love? What if we believe that the Bible instructs us to subjugate all who are “different”? What if cherry-picked verses, bent to our own purposes encourage us to forcibly convert others to our own religious and political practices or remain perpetual second-class citizens? Or take their citizenship away?

Slavery is a blot on America’s collective conscience, but some Americans still believe that slavery treated black Americans better than freedom ever has or could. Before and after the Civil War, any number of Christian ministers extracted from the Bible verses they attributed to God advancing the cause of separation of the races. Isn’t that a euphemism for oppression?

Black Americans—all Americans—have both a right and a duty to protest racism directed against anyone and seek meaningful changes in our society. Most protestors have peacefully exercised that right during what has also been an incredibly violent week while COVID-19 deaths continue. That said, I’m still overwhelmed with questions:

Will the violent minority hijack the cause of the peaceful majority? In November, will voters on the fence turn to Donald Trump as their Richard-Nixon-law-and-order candidate? Will others pass on voting for Joe Biden because another Democratic candidate isn’t the nominee? Or will they engage in a pragmatic electoral protest against an intolerable racial situation and a president whose Attorney General had tear gas and rubber bullets used to clear space in front of Washington’s St. John’s Episcopal Church for his boss’s photo op holding—but not reading from—a Bible?

Will a new president make a difference? Can changing laws also change hearts?

Walking/running/driving/birding/breathing while black can never be considered criminal or even undesirable. Can we as a nation find the strength and will to keep our eyes on the prize and work to end the racism that pollutes our society? Are we willing to fall short of a perfect solution?

Here, the Mishnah (Pirke Avot 2:16) offers guidance: “You are not required to complete the work, but you are not free to abandon it.”

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REALITY REDEFINED

As a kid, I played sports. I also was a fan. And, having a vivid imagination, I created my own sports reality. America’s doing the same. It could lead in unexpected directions.

I loved board games played with dice or spinners and based on actual player statistics. Later, I created my own generic baseball, basketball and football games. I ran my own leagues. Today, pro sports are shut down, but the hunger for games remains. Video and board games satisfy that.

Moreover, the media, particularly newspapers, need stories. The San Francisco Chronicle briefs readers on the Giants and A’s during Strat-O-Matic’s simulation of the 2020 baseball season. The Chron co-sponsors APBA’s series between all-time NorCal and SoCal baseball players. In game two, the Giants’ Barry Bonds (NorCal) homered twice off legendary pitcher Walter Johnson (Washington Senators, 1907-27).

It’s like following baseball before television. Even during radio days, most Americans never got to major league baseball parks. They experienced the national pastime in their heads.

Literature understood. In 1968, Robert Coover published a fascinating novel, The Universal Baseball Association: J. Henry Waugh, Prop. A lonely man lives through his dice baseball league—teams and players his own creations. One roll of the dice presents that most rare phenomenon—it happened only once: Cleveland’s Ray Chapman, 1920—a player struck by a pitched ball and killed. J. Henry Waugh faces an agonizing decision. The player is a young star, who has renewed his lagging interest. Should he let him die? If he rolls the dice again, he negates the game’s integrity. We could go on and on about God’s role in history.

Actual baseball, basketball and hockey may resume by July, football in September as scheduled. As with baseball now in South Korea and Japan—and German soccer; English soccer’s coming soon—no fans will attend. Games will be staged for television. Of course, professional sports originated and grew with paying customers filling seats in ballparks, stadiums and arenas. But gate receipts, important as they are, lag behind TV dollars. TV presents reality at a distance, but sports fans long have embraced that.

As play resumes, athletes face real health concerns. They also pose a major expense to franchise owners. Might they and their salaries be replaced with avatars—digital fictions? J. Henry Waugh created his own players, including detailed biographies. They were as authentic to him as the actual Henry Aaron and Mickey Mantle, both 1968 baseball all-stars.

Sports leagues could eventually use holograms of faux players while filling stadiums with real crowds. The action, based on advanced algorithms, would be as exciting as it is now. Outdoor games might be rained out but be played in-studio and on TV. Seasons would avoid interruption by labor strife and—pandemics. Over time, as long as the software remained uncompromised, would anyone miss flesh-and-blood athletes?

Today’s Zoom business meeting, worship service, classroom and family get-together create a new—at least different—sense of reality. What if the people we see and speak with on our devices, not just athletes and entertainers but family members—the ones we wish we had—also were digital fabrications? What if we had a role in creating them? Would we perceive them to be any less real?

Would wefeel any less real?

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SADIE’S DILEMMA

Two-and-a-half-year-old Sadie, granddaughter of my friends Les and Sheila, lives in Singapore. Recently, she had a run-in with a monkey. It deserves our attention.

Sadie lives in a ground-floor apartment with a patio abutting a rainforest. The family was outside, Sadie holding a banana. A monkey snatched it. It was a bit upsetting. This could not have taken place in San Francisco—not because wildlife doesn’t encroach on the city but because we don’t have monkeys. Coyotes strolling our sidewalks when few people are out? Yes.

We humans, especially in cities, think we’re safe from “wild animals.” Our fear is normal. Humans have had to defend themselves from lions, tigers and bears—oh my—wolves, wild dogs and others whose habitats we invade.

The Torah notes how human dispossession of animals creates a fragile environment. God tells Moses, leading the Israelites to the already-populated Promised Land, “I will not drive them [the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites] out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply to your hurt” (Exodus 23:29).

As humans spread out, animals’ territories shrink. Often, that drives both closer. Residents in rural areas find bears rummaging through their trash or breaking into their homes. In suburbia, deer eat up gardens. Let’s not even talk raccoons.

The coronavirus pandemic also has shifted the balance. Media stories report wildlife roaming tourist-deserted places in national parks, and salamanders in the northeast swarming roads at night with traffic almost nonexistent.

Sadie and her family face a dilemma. How are they to live close to wild animals and coexist? Having a patio next to a forest and taking a banana outside invites monkeys to do what’s natural: go after a convenient food source. Sadie’s parents can control this to an extent by not taking food outside. They also have to be careful about opening doors, since monkeys have invaded their kitchen.

We see firsthand that civilization imposes a veneer on nature and a thin one. Monkeys grabbing bananas represents the least of our worries.

Humans living together in groups larger than family size do so based on norms and ethics, civil and religious law, customs written and unwritten. In times of stress, people tend to panic. Our innate need to survive often impels us to trample laws and customs previously held to be inviolable. We take an “us versus them” stance, bare our teeth like the animals we are, howl defiance to defend our families—even when we’re not under attack—and often provoke others to prepare for, even use, violence in their own defense.

As the COVID-19 pandemic established itself, gun sales in the U.S. rose.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo, highlighting his state’s mental-health programs, encourages people to ask, “How are you feeling, really?” Rote displays of wellbeing can be misleading. Most people are scared. Many respond not by expressing their fears but through hostility. They find enemies in other groups and in the governments, national and local, that seek to limit the pandemic’s spread and protect community health.

Sadie’s dilemma can be solved fairly easily. America’s dilemma—the potential breakdown of civility and restraint, a permanent fracture in the political system—requires great vision and effort. This demands seeing each other as part of the solution, not the problem.

To the spirits of those who gave their all to defend the nation (thinking of you, Howie): Rest in peace, may your memory be for a blessing. And may this Memorial Day offer us much to think about beyond the family backyard barbecue.

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UNITED HOW?

I’m a citizen of the United States of America but have trouble defining United. As—when—the coronavirus pandemic winds down, how will Americans define the word?

During Congregation Sherith Israel’s Zoom Shabbat service last Friday night, Rabbi Jessica Graf asked what will our country be like post-COVID-19. It’s a good bet we’ll be facing a great many changes no one could have imagined as we rang in 2020.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Over the near-244 years of our national existence, some Americans have interpreted United as the bond between semi-sovereign states joined mainly by the need for a common defense. After all, the British returned to our shores in 1812. Beyond that, they see fifty states marching to their own drummers.

United still inspires debates about the Constitution regarding the extent of powers granted to the federal government and those not and so left to the states. States’ rights advocates long have sought to tilt the balance from Washington to state capitals. Their political ideology supported segregation for a century after the Civil War until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many states’ rights advocates continued to resist Washington’s imposition on their “way of life.” Many still do.

Other Americans take a broader view of United, promoting legal and ethical standards that transcend state boundaries. They want to give Washington increased latitude, particularly to protect minorities.

The coronavirus pandemic has heated up this conflict. Responses have varied from state to state. That’s understandable. New York City, population 8.3 million, is not Deaf (pronounced Deef) Smith County, Texas, population 18,700. In a nation as large and diverse as ours, state and local initiatives proposed by people who know the territory may work faster and better. But guidelines put out by the White House then ignored by the Oval Office in its zeal to open the economy should still be something that, forgive the pun, unites us.

The pandemic will end. Many people are, or soon will be, proposing specifics either to retool America or leave it the way they found it. Or take it back to the time of their grandparents. Any discussion must first address our interpretation of United.

Does our cherished freedom—if we know what that means—demand that states go their own way even when, in many cases, they ignore sound public health policy or privilege some citizens over others? Should states refuse to follow directives from Washington not because they’re wrong but because they fear the “slippery slope” leading to the erosion of “freedom”? If so, can states match the power of the federal government to anticipate and mitigate public-health challenges, stimulate the economy and support the unemployed?

In essence, are we “one nation under God”? (Does God have anything to do with it?)

I’m skeptical that enough Americans will pull together rather than separate themselves by region, state, county, city or town, even neighborhood. As the late House speaker Tip O’Neill (1912-94, Dem.–Mass.) famously remarked, “all politics is local.” I get that.

But as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen recently wrote, “To bet against the human tendency to relapse into old bad habits is foolish. Tragedy tends to foster expressions of idealistic unity that prove fleeting.” I get that, too.

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BACKFIRE

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft aglay.” The language requires a bit of interpretation, but the statement is clear. The best of intentions can—and often does—go wrong. Last weekend, I saw first-hand.

Saturday, Carolyn and I took a post-lunch walk out Lake Street west towards the Palace of the Legion of Honor 1.7 miles away. At Sea Cliff, where mansions overlook the Golden Gate and Pacific, the stroll goes uphill to the fountain in front of the Palace. You enjoy spectacular views and get a nice workout. What could go wrong?

Plenty. A few days earlier, San Francisco closed tree-lined, bike-laned Lake Street to through traffic. No hardship there. People in the neighborhood can drive California Street a block south and traffic, while increasing, is still light.

Understandably, the concept of closed city streets is popular. People can walk, run and bike free from motorized impediments. In a non-COVID-19 world, that’s awesome.

In a situation calling for social distancing, that’s foolish.

The policy backfired because the crowd on Lake Street was way larger than any I’ve seen since San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order took effect on March 16. I walk three times a day, every day. Heading west on Lake isn’t my only route, but I take it at least daily—and at different times. My sense of the volume of people using the street is pretty reliable.

The problem? Keeping at least six feet from someone requires what I call slalom walking. No way can you just set out in any direction and walk in a straight line. Some sidewalks are too narrow or blocked. On wide sidewalks—which describes most in my neighborhood—people often stroll two or three abreast even when they see others coming. Staying to the right and briefly walking single-file seems too much bother. Also, most people don’t wear masks. So you duck out into the bike lane or into the street.

This poses unanticipated dangers. Counterintuitively, until the street opens to traffic, pedestrian safety is severely compromised.

Hordes of cyclists—no masks, understandably—speed along in both directions. Runners—no masks—whiz by. I ran for decades, so it pains me to say that most cyclists and runners refuse to give an inch, won’t swerve under any circumstances except for an oncoming vehicle. But closure restricts vehicles.

Try keeping your distance, and you take your life in your hands. The normally carefree route, even during the pandemic, has become an obstacle course. Accidents are waiting to happen while opportunities for people to spread the virus to others have increased—unless we’ve been misinformed about social distancing.

Playing it safe, Carolyn and I cut over to California Street. We encountered few walkers and, when necessary, went out into the street. Traffic was light. We made it up to the Palace and back.

Good intentions are insufficient. Theory goes just so far. While weekdays are calmer, weeknights are crowding up. Devil’s advocacy and observation should guide—and alter—our decisions. We’ll have many to make in the weeks, months and years going forward.

I suggest hanging the quote from Robert Burns in every home and municipal office in the nation. As a bonus, we’ll learn a bit of Scots.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. I could write volumes. I’ll restrict myself to two heartfelt words to all those who fought in Europe and the Pacific, and slogged through on the home front: Thank you!

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UNMASKING THE CHALLENGE

You probably saw or heard the news. America’s two highest officials spurned the guidelines they issued to reduce the spread of coronavirus. What message are they sending us?

Tuesday, Vice President Pence visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The clinic has a set policy: Everyone wears a mask. Mr. Pence didn’t. His excuse: He’s tested often and was negative the last time. The lasttime. Health care professionals remind us that someone who tested negative yesterday could be positive today.

Mr. Pence explained that he skipped the mask to look staffers in the eye and express his gratitude. Really? As someone who always wears a mask outside—made by Carolyn for me and dozens of family, friends, nurses and ambulance drivers—I can say it covers my nose and mouth, not my eyes. Also, masks don’t prevent you from being heard.

Here, the vice president aped his peerless leader. President Trump eschews his own guidelines because he seems to think masked meetings in the Oval Office don’t provide attractive photo ops. Their purpose? Not modeling behavior during the pandemic but pursuing politics. So he met with Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis barefaced as was everyone else in the room, and sitting less than six feet apart. The same situation held when Trump met with Democratic Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards.

The president and his fawning VP missed prime opportunities to shore up their chances at the polls this November—if Pence is on the ticket—by setting an example. Still, the foolish posing and disregard for science was hardly unexpected. Trump said on February 10, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” On February 26: “We’re [U.S. cases of COVID-19] going down, not up.” The president also theorized about shooting up on disinfectant.

As of May 1, U.S. coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, have passed one million. Deaths top 63,000. That’s 5,000 more than American troops killed in Vietnam.

Many states are relaxing shelter-in-place. Georgia got a head start, bowling and getting a tattoo being urgent matters. Let us pray. Eventually, COVID-19 cases will go down, testing ramp up. A vaccine will be developed. Researchers at Oxford University in Britain are bullish on theirs. Remdesivir might heal coronavirus patients faster. But how do we improve public health now?

California, New York and other states are planning phased introductions to normalcy but slowly, letting the data guide them. Being 75, I doubt I’ll be eating in a restaurant anytime soon. That’s okay. I fear for everyone else.

The key to America’s resurgence won’t be found in the White House. It will emerge from the American people making critical—and difficult—decisions. Will they follow updated guidelines, wearing masks and keeping social distance? Or will they succumb to shelter-in-place fatigue, reject science and claim a Constitutional right to risk their lives and those of others?

I walk three times a day. If I said that as many as 25 percent of people I see wear masks, I’d fog—maybe crack—the lenses of my rose-colored glasses. And this in San Francisco! Bluster and disregard for others may well spawn a second, possibly deadlier wave of COVID-19. Wishful thinking can’t mask that awful possibility.

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