May 21, 2020

I should have written an accidental plague diary entry last night but it was another one of those nights when I got home from work and felt completely drained of all energy and limp as a dishrag so not much constructive was done. I know it’s just my body and brain reacting to being steeped in the toxic miasma of stress hormones we’re all having to contend with. I’m pretty sure the current era is busy taking time off of our collective life spans due to excess catecholamines bathing our systems but there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. Cat videos on the internet only go so far to rejuvenate the soul.

I am happy to report some good news on the move front. Most of the house is packed and ready to go. Progress is also being made on the painting of the new condo (and what I’ve seen of my color selections on the walls so far makes me think I’ve gotten those pretty right.). On the bad news front, the HVAC at the condo is busy giving up the ghost and my usual service guy has suggested just tossing it off the roof in favor of a new unit. There’s probably HOA rules against doing that. I’ll have to check. I may be able to temporize for a couple of years with a more inexpensive repair and there is a home purchase warranty included with the whole deal which may cover most of it so that’s a good thing. Something else to deal with. Part of the reason for moving was to get out of having to deal with such things. Ah well…

The local numbers for Corona Virus are not looking good. We’re still doing well here in Birmingham with its heavily medical population but it is, as I had feared, beginning to explode in the more rural areas as the state continues to open up rapidly (and likely ill advisedly). A number of the rural hospitals in the central state are overloaded, Montgomery is nearly out of room and the cases keep coming in and will soon be diverted here. As painful as social distancing and isolation may be for all of us, we really do need to stay the course for the foreseeable future. I don’t think anyone will be very happy if the health care system, already strained, starts to collapse around us. I figure I’m spending the summer putting my home and life back together in the new space and perfecting my Xbox skills. There isn’t likely to be a lot of theater for a while. At least I went out on top. There is a lovely virtual musical number featuring a lot of the Birmingham musical theater performers (including yours truly) in the final phases of editing. I’ll post it when it’s done. Hopefully sometime this weekend.

The big argument in the hinterlands continues to be over the use of masks. Masks are not about protecting you from catching the virus unless you’re wearing a properly fitted N-95 medical mask (and unless you’re working around ill people in a hospital setting, I would wonder why you were doing so if I saw you in one due to the shortage of such supplies). Masks are about preventing you from spreading the virus to others as a possible asymptomatic carrier. They don’t do a lot of good unless they’re worn relatively universally at the moment which is why all the ordinances and requests for their use in public. For general socially distanced interactions, the cloth ones folk have been running up on their sewing machines the last few months are fine. I have a number. i keep one in the car, one in my pocket, one on my face if I need to be indoors around others. Today’s features classic Mickey Mouse. As I move around my area of Birmingham, adherence to masks (required by local ordinance) is pretty good. I hear it’s not so good in the suburbs but I haven’t been venturing out there to check.

Bliss Hall – The Lakeside School

I’ve been trying to think of a good story to tell. Part of the bone weariness is a certain mind stasis that prevents me from thinking rapidly and in an entertaining way over my misspent younger years. Besides which, I’ve already written up most of my best stories for this blog over the last couple of years. This last week marked the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington, an event forever entwined with my memories of high school graduation. As most of you know, I grew up in Seattle and I went to the local college prep school, The Lakeside School – a sort of transplant from New England complete with brick, white paint, colonial architecture, and maple trees that looked like it could have been helicoptered in from Andover in the early 20th century. I was the academic of the family and Lakeside was a good match for my needs. I started to realize just how good my education was when I arrived at Stanford and was handed the same Western Civ textbook I had used in 9th grade and a reading list for that course and Freshman English full of titles I had already dissected. Needless to say, i didn’t have a lot of difficulties adjusting to even an elite university. I was class of 1980. This makes me technically a baby boomer but my peer cohort has very little in common with those ten or fifteen years older than us. We came of age in the disco years of the late 70s, not the cataclysmic upheavals of the mid to late 60s.

Mount St. Helens in Washington spews smoke, soot and ash into the sky in April, 1980. The eruption is the first for the volcano since 1857. (AP Photo/Jack Smith)

I had my 18th birthday on May 11th of 1980, which was Mothers Day Sunday that year. I can’t remember if we did anything terribly special as a family although I do remember quite well what my present was from my parents – a suitcase. They were ready for the fledgling to leave the nest. (We all grew up knowing that once we graduated high school, we would be welcome back home as long as we continued our educations but, if we decided we were done with that phase of our lives, we had to figure it out for ourselves.). I had a mild case of senioritis that year and I wasn’t spending a lot of time paying attention to classes. AP exams were over, the diploma was in the bag and it was just a countdown to summer and then on to new adventures in September. The following Sunday, the 18th, the family had a duty call to pay on my paternal grandmother who lived in a retirement apartment outside of Olympia in a large senior life care community called Panorama City. My grandparents were among the first residents there and had bought in on life care contracts so they received whatever services they needed to support them until their deaths at no additional expense. You can’t find those deals anymore, they’re not actuarially sound but the modern senior care industry was in its infancy at the time they moved in in the late 60s.

We were up fairly early for a Sunday and all loaded into the car and heading south on I-5 when my father turned on the car radio and we got the news that St. Helens had blown the top 1500 feet or so off the mountain. it wasn’t a huge surprise as the volcano had been showing more and more signs of life over the previous year but we were a bit apprehensive as we were traveling down the highway towards an active eruption. Fortunately for us, the ash cloud was headed south and east rather than north and west where we were. We kept looking to see it, but it wasn’t visible from our vantage point. We spent a few hours with my grandmother, who was in a serenely foggy state at that time of her life, and then raced back to Seattle to indulge in the TV news with helicopter shots of roiling ash, flattened forests, and mud rivers carrying off stray automobiles.

Back at school the next day and comparing notes, we all found out something interesting. Whether you heard the explosion or not depended on your proximity to water. Those on the lake or on Puget Sound (even some off on a beach hike on the Pacific Coast) head an enormous explosion and raced out to see what had happened. Those more than a couple hundred yards from the water hear nothing. I’m assuming there was something about the physics of the sound waves echoing off flat surfaces involved. The mountain had several minor eruptions throughout that summer and I was lucky enough to be able to see the steam and ash clouds from those from Seattle. For one of them, I was on a boat on Lake Union (I cannot remember why – I think it had something to do with my job that summer working in the water chemistry lab for Seattle METRO – the sewer agency) and had a gorgeous view of this billowing white column towering over the city in the distance on a pristine blue sky day. For the children of the Pacific Northwest, May 18th 1980 will always be one of those ‘where were you days’. And I remember it far more vividly than my high school graduation ceremony which was a couple of weeks later where I marched into the gym between Jackie Durbin and Joanne Dwyer. I still have a bottle of ash collected from the roadside a couple of weeks later when I was down near Portland. My packers found it this week and were somewhat afraid it was somebody’s cremains. They have been reassured. Cremains at my house ride around in car trunks or live in an old shoe box.

Stay safe. Stay well. Wash your hands.

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