Editor's Note Weekend Whirl

Pay to Pee

I do not care about the rented studio for the Secret Service; keeping the First Family safe is important enough that agents who do it deserve a decent, convenient place to work and pee. Kudos to the business owner who rented it to them for making a deal that was within the market price but not exploitive (I’m sure the GSA had something to do with the rent amount). While I’m very glad that family has lost the prestige and power of the White House, I do not wish violence upon them.

Part of my non-reaction to the Toilet Flush of 2021 is likely because I remember not being able to access bathrooms freely while teaching and also remember the experience I had at a curriculum training when I worked as a teacher for LA Unified. We were sent to a hotel that had meeting rooms, adult-sized chairs, and coffee but was by no means fancy. It was three full days of intensive work that made me feel respected and professional. Also I got to pee in a clean, well-lighted public restroom instead of the converted closet at the opposite end of the hallway from my classroom.

A month later the LA Times revealed that the district had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at hotels on these trainings. Every elementary school teacher in the district -had- to do them to ensure that the program was delivered properly, dozens of experts had been flown in to provide the training, and the training expenses had been included when the district chose it. Yet apparently, all of us with full-time jobs teaching were also supposed to give up nights and weekends so we could get trained when the school facilities weren’t in use.

Those who complain about public servants and professionalism might keep in mind the message sent when they also complain about the conditions under which we serve.

Unexpected Thoughts

It’s Time to Scale Up to 3D Cubed Bingo

Twenty-Twenty is the year that requires more than a single page of squares. We are about to enter our eighth month and already we have passed through our Goals Bingo, Super Bowl Bingo, Pandemic Bingo Week One, Quarantini Bingo, and Pandemic Bingo Weeks Two to Eternity.

Now it’s time for 3D Cubed Bingo, and I don’t mean bingo for people into cubing, although this video of blindfolded Rubik’s Cube world record holder Jack Cai is a fun peek into that subculture.

Nope, 3D-CubedBingo is necessary to survive a year filled with murder hornets, tool-wielding baboons, and the irony of Walmart having to ban people for offensive face-covering fashion choices, as opposed to all the other weird things people do there.

It’s kind of telling that applying bingo card labels to a Rubik’s cube and then solving for a full side of bingo sounds less frustrating than navigating our current situation, but at least we’re not attempting multi-dimensional, multi-lingual, multi-reality mahjong, yet.

Image by DomenicBlair from Pixabay

Unexpected Thoughts

Limes, Listerine and Lysol

(Sondheim probably wrote a tune that matches this. Or else it’s from Hamilton. Whatever Broadway tune it is escapes me, but hopefully these new lyrics will amuse you.)

Limes, Listerine and Lysol.

Limes, Listerine, and Lysol.

Limes. Listerine. Lysol.

We need three things. Just three things.

Limes. Listerine. Lysol.

One to eat, one to rinse, one to clean.

None to inject.

All three disinfect.

Limes. Listerine. Lysol.

Limes. Listerine. Lysol.

Did I type them in the app?

Do I see them on the list?

Are they hiding in the trunk?

Can you find them in the house?

Limes. Listerine. Lysol.

We need three things.

Just three things.

One to eat, one to rinse, one to clean.

Do we have them? No!

Can we get them on the go?

Find them somewhere

I don’t know but I feel…




Three things.

I need…..

Unexpected Thoughts

Nurses Will Migrate to Mars Without Us

Nurses appreciate applause, free pizza and siren parades, but really, what they want is for everyone to wash their hands properly and stay home. If we truly believe that modern nurses are both superheroes and saints, we cannot simultaneously think that injecting bleach is a good idea.

An integral part of every nurse’s training is reading the patient. They look at our bodies, our reactions, and our environments to know what treatment and empathetic care we need. A nurse can take one glance at you and know your state of mind, your favorite color, and whether you’ve done number two lately. Right now, when they look at America, nurses are not pleased.

Nurses do not like having to choose between working covid floors or not working at all because their hospitals can’t restart other lifesaving procedures until everyone stops hoarding N95 masks and agrees to wear underwear on their face while grocery shopping. Oh, wait. You don’t have to wear an underwear mask. There are several other styles and recommendations for non-medical plebes, but you think the N95 is a more sexy and slimming choice than looping a handkerchief over your ears. C’mon people. Saving lives is not a style choice.

Listen carefully, because we are on notice: use your brain, or nurses will leave the planet without you. There is a huge difference between acting on every random, anxious thought and channeling your God-given free will to contribute to society during an unprecedented worldwide emergency.

You are being asked to stay home, work differently, and teach math to your children. These things are surprisingly difficult, but only the math part requires Olympic level marathon training and dedication. Take a deep breath or twelve, and stop panicking or a nurse will intubate you to shut your mouth and improve your brain function.

The next time you share that meme about how nurses are saving the planet, take an extra two seconds to remind your elected officials that medical professionals still need PPE. Then listen and think about nurses before you hold a house party. Otherwise, they will all hop a rocket to Mars in search of intelligent life.

Random Thoughts Unexpected Thoughts

7 Definite Conversation Stoppers

Advice about how to start conversations is everywhere. Google reports 49.5 million results on the term “conversation starters” and there’s an entire subset of the greeting card and stationary industries dedicated to “convo cards,” those cute little playing decks with leading questions and provocative themes that adults use when trying to avoid the three verbotens of friendly conversations. Since we’re not allowed to talk about things we care about like politics, religion or when the DC football team will get a clue and change its name, we talk about inanities suggested by strangers.

These strangers optimistically compile lists of “225 Quality Conversation Starters,” apparently based on the assumption that if you need these suggestions, you have no friends and plenty of spare time. Surely these fine questions will lead to long and interesting conversations and perhaps even greater understanding and world peace.

Much overlooked by etiquette experts and conversation specialists is the need to end a conversation before it even begins. The following scenarios will ensure that everyone within hearing finds something else to do and someone else to do it with:

  1. I’m writing a really interesting white paper at work and just finished the outline which I would like to share with you now.
  2. You know, I think people are way too hard on meteorologists. Weather stations have only existed here since the 1850s so I believe the science will harden into a precision prediction machine sometime later this century.
  3. Please don’t share this with anyone, but I got a hot stock tip today via email and I know you will want to buy in with me.
  4. Just between you, me, and the ceiling, there’s something wrong with the cheese and I’m horrified.
  5. I need a new manicurist but I’m afraid to break up with my current manicurist first because of a very complicated situation.
  6. There’s vomit on my shoe from either one of my children or my mother’s cat and I just do not have the time for this.
  7. Quality of life and time of day are totally interrelated for me.

Even easier than remembering these seven topics are the three themes of the list. You cannot fail to repel thoughtful, empathetic people by talking about outlines and theories, illegal insider trading, or making blanket statements that reveal your total inability to cope with life.

Since the key to starting a good conversation is to show genuine interest in people and demonstrate active listening, then your tactic to escape human contact must involve the strategic deployment of words that invoke horror or narcolepsy. Good luck.

Unexpected Thoughts

5 Things We Really Don’t Need Anymore

As our daily world shrinks to four walls, a computer screen, and occasionally the sidewalk, it turns out that certain economic categories and philosophic frameworks are more expendable than ever expected.

  1. Oil. More specifically, fuel. At this point, we need petroleum by-products for personal protective equipment far more than we need fuel to go anywhere. It turns out that there’s a 50-year backstock on the most useful petroleum by-products, so oil producers are scaling back production and paying speculators to take oil nobody wants right now in the hopes that someone will want to to go to Timbuktu again someday. By the time this is over, though, I’m quite certain one budding genius or another will have invented solar-powered flying cars in her backyard.
  2. Schedules. Turns out, an occasional online meeting is all some of us need to convince our bosses that we’re actually doing the things they pay us to be doing. Interestingly, no one seems to care about timestamps on emails anymore, and response times of 2-4 hours are now acceptable when 2-4 minutes was previously the average.

    Of course, certain people are leaving the house on a regular basis to do totally essential things like remove our garbage, restock grocery shelves, and reiterate that we can reopen when the data says so, not somebody’s intuition. Even these people have discovered that traffic no longer makes the commute to their essential job unbearable and lunchtime lines at Subway are avoidable thanks to the app. So many apps.

    Our children have gamed out the ruse of schedules and planning. School-age children rouse themselves to log in to their online classrooms, post their assignments, and then wander into our online meetings to proclaim their boredom or announce that the microwave exploded. Toddlers lurch between playing contentedly for hours with an empty box and knocking over drinks to get our attention. We are all rediscovering what babies already know, which is that clocks are irrelevant to meeting life’s essential needs, namely eating and sleeping.
  3. Specialists. Dentists and certain doctors are suddenly shocked to discover that they are temporarily expendable. There is no place more empty than a plastic surgeon’s office right now. I haven’t been to my dermatologist in something like 89 months, but they sent an automated message to assure me that they care and can safely review any skin spots or other “areas of concern” either in person with a physically spaced appointment or via telehealth. Orthopedists and podiatrists find themselves in the same state of bewilderment. Of course, they will be very busy when we emerge from our cocoons, but until then their type A personality is completely bent out of shape.
  4. Individualism. The frontier-driven philosophy of doing it all by and for ourselves turns out to be a bit dangerous in the midst of pandemics. Something is seriously askew when the taxpayers of Los Angeles have to pay their police officers to babysit adults by parking in soccer fields in order to prevent grown men from continuing to play soccer games that are clearly forbidden.

    Suddenly, conservatives and libertarians are looking at Sweden with awe and admiration for staying open. They fail to take into account that as a nation, Swedes tend to follow the rules and consider the collective good, while Americans pride themselves on the opposite.
  5. Standards. It turns out that standardized testing is not essential to educational progress. Actually, no testing whatsoever can take place when some children are learning from broken Chromebooks while hiding in their closets and others get designated learning spaces in the living room and the lucky few can retreat to their parents’ third-floor solarium. Naked inequity is a very unattractive thing.

    Professionally, many middle managers have quietly given up on quarterly evaluations while coping with more concrete issues. The definition of “grows in professional expertise and shares it” has been downgraded to mean “teaches teammates to Zoom properly.” Nobody cares anymore how many spaces come after a period or whether the latest corporate announcement about the response to the pandemic is flawlessly worded. There will be another announcement tomorrow or the next day, and best practices evolve hourly.

    Unfortunately, now nobody knows what anybody knows and instead of merely checking off benchmarks and goals, we’re going to have to have actual conversations moving forward. That is the most frightening outcome of all. What if we actually learn something?

All These Experts with their Fancy PhDs

Have you noticed how all these economists and psychologists get to call themselves Doctor just because they wrote a paper long enough to be a book?

That doesn’t mean they know anything about everything or everything about anything. It usually means that they know lots of things about one thing or one thing about lots of things. But for some reason, we keep asking them questions about everything, when there’s no such thing as a Doctor of Philosophy in Everything.

As any marketing expert will tell you, a specialty in everything is a specialty in nothing. Marketing experts don’t bother with PhDs because marketing is not science, philosophy or art. It’s just a thing that has to be done like flossing and oil changes. Marketing is a necessary lubricant to economic and social life, but it’s not an essential business, according to other experts who never buy anything but have PhDs in something.

If we have learned nothing else during this pandemic, it’s that some people know some things and other people will never know anything. Other people think they know things, but the things they think they know aren’t actually true. For example, it’s impossible to keep people home in Georgia because they were told at some point that being an adult means that math is optional after high school and no one can tell you what to do anymore.

It’s possible that they are choosing an alternative math, one that looks at bank balances instead of hospital beds and that is a perfectly valid thing to do. It turns out that even hospitals need banks.

However, the only good time to gamble with people’s lives is never, plus or minus two weeks which is why Las Vegas is re-opening tomorrow at midnight. The high rollers table now offers custom-fitted masks and a lifetime supply of hand sanitizer as the top prize.

Even if Covid-19 turns out to be no worse than the seasonal flu, it is clearly the great equalizer. All the experts – every single one of them – say drastic things must be done to save modern life from its unbalanced, thoughtless teenage self. Yet there’s no agreement at all on anything about moving forward, perhaps because PhD is synonymous with “I beg to disagree.”

Editor's Note Expectations

Make Your Hand Soap Fart and 5 Other Ways to Amuse Yourself While HandWashing

Step One towards a good handsoap fart is a farting soap bottle. To achieve this, you must violate every rule of obedient consumerism and put REGULAR SoftSoap handsoap into your FOAMING SoftSoap handsoap dispenser. Yes, we know that violates your license and breaks your warranty on the increasingly rare and ever precious name brand dispenser, but do it anyway. The auditory delights are well worth any monetary loss.

Step Two in handsoap farting is proper lathering. Lately, we’ve received innumerable encouragements on the subject of what to lather (answer: everything) without a commensurate amount of attention on how to lather. The proper ratio of soap to water will result in a noisy concert from your hands. The challenge is that the ratio varies based on the size of your hands, the speed at which you rub them together and the synchronization of your motions with the soap/water mixture. The only answer is experimentation, and fortunately, you will have approximately 47,389 opportunities to wash your hands between now and Memorial Day. Start practicing now to win the Hand Soap Farting Olympics at your family’s virtual barbecue.

Step Three is recording the hand soap farts… because if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen. After years if not decades of denying any fart noises emanating from your body, you must overcome your shyness and turn your bathroom sink into a TikTok set without making it look like you tried very hard, staged your hand towels, or otherwise had a second thought about your efforts. Second thoughts are not authentic, but elaborate audio/video equipment scattered across your bathroom countertop is totally normal. Just remember that it’s the farting noises that count, not the sound design or the OscarTM caliber of your cinematography. Do not be distracted by the wrong kind of excellence.

Obviously, steps four, five and six are related to sharing your hand soap farts, pretending not to care about the social media reaction, and then demonstrating your technique on a larger, live platform like Drinking Live with Kelly Ripa or the later hours of Today, Again With a Drink.

(I’m so grateful that public health officials are way too busy to fret about the amount we are drinking).

Not everyone can win even a local edition of the HandSoap Farting Olympics, but every person disinfecting their fingers and palms can partake in the growing body of HandWashing Amusements… these serious cultural contributions should not be overlooked by critics seeking meaning in perilous times.

Obvious contenders are the early wave of memes and videos matching popular characters and songs to the so-called New Directive. Many people were shocked to learn that a hand-washing directive was needed but apparently a sad majority of humans don’t worry about dirt they can’t see and exit bathrooms without performing any abulations. Those people are pioneers in contagion bingo, and also dead.

To stay both sane and also not dead, we recommend switching out all those tiresome memes, songs and refrains in favor of the following entertainments while handwashing:

  1. WhirlyGiggles. WhirlyGiggles involve closing your eyes and rotating your head in circles while vigorously rubbing your hands with soap and water. Again, your personal speed and preferences may vary, but if you do it right you can achieve the same delightful level of dizziness and fear that none of us will experience on a Whirli-gig at the state fair this summer.
  2. SwordFights. Washing your hands with the elegance of fencing and the dynamic power of imaginary steel swords. Finally, an opportunity to live out all your medieval fantasies with all the pleasures of modern plumbing.
  3. LightSaberLancers. Yep, same as above, but better sound effects.
  4. KnotsBerries. For anyone who has overindulged in either fruit or crafting (and who among us is not guilty of both these diversions). Instead of merely rubbing your fingers and palms together, explore the various ways they knot together.
  5. ChurchSteeplePeople. This is really the only way you’re allowed to have a gathering. It falls just under the limit of 10, and incorporates that innocent chant from earlier ages, “Here’s the church… here’s the steeple… ” In addition to the amusements promised therein, you earn a plenary indulgence.

It is our humble hope that these small entertainments will offer some sense of the minuscule effort it takes to protect everyone from viruses versus the insanely complicated measures required by even a mild case of Covid-19.

Please do participate in any one of these HandWashing Amusements. You might win a prize, but also, you get to live and so do other people, which is the point of all this madness.

Editor's Note Expectations

Someday, We Might Wear Shoes Again

Recently on Facebook, I posted Alexandra Petri’s excellent fashion advice, which encourages us to dress appropriately for our quarantine meetings, if the meaning of appropriately has been skewered by pandemic cocktails to suddenly require a costume director to live in our closets:

I always put on pants. For video calls, I put on a full tuxedo. It is important to show a minimum of respect to your interlocutor, and that is why I always don full evening dress, a top hat and a set of cuff links, before hopping on to a Zoom conference. If it is a particularly important conference call, I put on a full Prussian army uniform dating back to the time of Frederick the Great, so that my colleagues know that I value them. Respect! That is the word! For work-related socializing, I reserve my ermine robe, chain of office, and a spangled garter.

You Should Be Wearing More Pants
Alexandra Petri
Washington Post,
April 23, 2020

As a friendly grammarian pointed out to me, and my beloved seconded, “wearing ‘more pants’ would mean wearing several pairs at once. I think they mean “wearing pants more often.’ ” And it is true, in normal times, that such a headline would not have slid past the wise copyeditors of the Washington Post. However, since these are not normal times, our beloved humor columnist explores the rigors of our new all-consuming work-from-home life and the requirements of Zoom couture. She concludes her satiric refection:

Oh, are you not as productive, working from home, tending to your house and family and strained nerves, as you feel you ought to be? Well, have you considered dressing for the job you are doing? Have you tried wearing pants? Have you tried wearing another set of pants on top of the first pants? Have you tried putting a kilt on top of that? And then, lastly, a third pair of pants?

Just put on pants. Pants will fix all of this.

Nothing will fix all of this, of course, which is why every third joke during our awkward online staff meetings is a variation on wearing pants, not wearing pants, or wearing a costume to fit a theme day carefully vetted by HR to be neither offensive nor interesting.

In our desperation to pretend that our situation is normal, we report our second-quarter sales results in a tone of scholarly seriousness while simultaneously choosing a Star Wars background that clarifies how desperately we would prefer to be on another planet right now. Preferably one with universal health care, or at least herbal remedies for viruses.

There is a deeper reality at the heart of Petri’s comedy and much of our current cultural casserole. Somehow, “quarantine” and “lockdown” have become synonyms for “projects” and “enrichment” when actually they are much more likely to be closer to “weird” and “unpredictable” since we can’t go anywhere and online retailers constantly inform us that everything we ordered will arrive two weeks late only to deliver it an hour later tied with a bow. We attempt to be productive and at the same time maintain a polite awareness that everyone is typing with one hand tied behind their back and the other swatting a cat off the laptop.

Apparently, some of us have an aversion to admitting that a worldwide pandemic changes us. A central lie we have told ourselves is that if we just keep working and shopping, everything will be ok. Now is the perfect time for crafting and cooking… because you have nothing else to do while you are wrangling children into distance learning appointments, arguing with the cable company about the speed of your internet connection and turning three peppers and one sausage into dinner without the use of a knife because someone in your household decided to soak every kitchen utensil in garlic juice as an antiseptic. Why not also hand sew a few dozen masks and finish that quilling project you started twelve years ago?

Actually, always is the perfect time for crafting and cooking if you have materials and food or money. Now is the perfect time for whatever you want. Likely, you want to live, so you’re staying home except for exercise and errands. Even more likely, it feels weird to be home so much and it sucks not to see people you’re used to seeing daily or weekly or just randomly at the supermarket.

You may need someone to talk to who doesn’t live with you and has no idea that you’ve spent the last eight hours playing Toon Blast because you’re determined to be the family champion of a smartphone app. You may just want a game of Uno played with people who show you their cards because it’s the fun of the game and not the final outcome that matters instead of treating it like the SuperBowl of card games.

More likely, you crave the structure of your former life and the security of your work shoes. Reliable daily footwear built for commuting, conferences, and conversation sends a message of normalcy that can’t be achieved with slippers, sandals or flip-flops.

That day will come again.

Until then, moisturize, hydrate, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Editor's Note

A Complicated Life

It’s a tough thing to be brilliant when the world wants to silence you. Yet Dr. Mildred Jefferson persisted, seeking what she believed was her right, an education, and offering others the blessings she had received. Far too little has been written about her, but I suspect that will change over time as people continue to seek new heroines and different narratives. Those future researchers may start at with a collection of her papers at Harvard.

We don’t usually notice the irony that we celebrate Presidents Day during Black History Month while avoiding uncomfortable conversations about how many of our early presidents owed their wealth to slave labor. We also can’t assume that every African American is a descendant of slaves. But it’s hard not to notice that Dr. Jefferson shares her name with one of our most complicated presidents.

I’m intrigued by her life as both a minister and a doctor and look forward to learning more. For now, I’ll start with these oral histories.