Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jury Duty-ing in the Pandemic Times

The last time I was called for jury duty was twenty three years ago. This is how it worked:

I showed up for my week of service. This was in Memphis, Tennessee and the courts were downtown and all of us in the jury pool were gathered closely together in one room, waiting to hear if we would be called onto a jury. No internet access back then. I don't remember anyone having laptops and no one had a smart phone. People had newspapers, magazines and books. The chairs were the plastic, uncomfortable kind. 

The people in charge yelled at us. Don't even think about trying to get out of this, they yelled. Unless you're dead, don't live in this county anymore, or are presently in jail. Any questions?

A few people tried to get out of it anyway. They owned their own business, they said. They had young children at home. Are you dead, not living here or in jail, they were asked again. No? Well, then, tough luck. 

Did I mention I was eight months pregnant? I had to pee approximately every forty five minutes. Also, I was diabetic and needed to eat snacks at regular intervals. I made it through one very excruciatingly uncomfortable and boring day and then begged the people in charge, privately, to let me go. 

Surprisingly, they did. But let me tell you, the walk past the others through that large room, as they jeered and shouted at me was one of the most surreal and scary/funny moments of my life. 

Cut to:

Jury duty twenty three years later.

This time I am in Columbus, Ohio and we are emailed instructions to wear masks, bring our own food and beverages and snacks, but don't worry, hand sanitizer will be provided. I admit that I am majorly stressed out about this service. For the most part, except for weekly visits to the nearly empty grocery store at 8 am, I have been in a bubble. Now, I will be in a crowd of strangers, indoors, with possibly not-circulating virus-infused air. 

I pack my bag as if I am going on an overseas trip. And it does feel like that because when I arrive at the courthouse, I have to go through security, all of the potential jurors lined up, socially distant (there are stickers on the floor reminding us where to stand), masked. 

Before we file into the room, our temperature is taken, and then we are led, individually, to a chair, each chair in rows, six feet apart. We are all quiet, looking at laptops or phones. 

I am wearing an n95 mask and a homemade one over that. I have no idea how I will keep these on for eight hours without wanting to tear them off, but I am resigned to it. No one yells at us. Instead, we watch an introductory video about the importance of jury service and then a judge comes in and thanks us for showing up during these strange times. I feel a surge of patriotism and love for our country as he says this because here we are, strangers, all of us dutifully masked and performing our civic duty, and this time, no one's even yelling at me about it. 

There have only been two jury trials since they've resumed the courts in June, the kind judge tells us, so the likelihood that we'll be on a jury is very small. 

An hour later, my name is called. 

Tune in next week for The Trial. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Anxiety Dreams in the Pandemic

Last night I dreamed that I went with a friend to a program at the library and everyone was walking around bare-faced, strangers mingling, a table of refreshments, an ordinary event like a thousand events I've gone to over the years, but something felt off,


and then suddenly it dawned on me that we should all be wearing masks. Panicky, I put one on, but I was the only person. A new form of anxiety dream, apparently.

Pre-pandemic, my anxiety dreams centered around me running around and feeling like everything is out of my control. I'm a waitress again, for example, and the hostess seats all of my tables at the same time and I have to try to take everyone's drink order.

Or, I'm a teacher, and I can't remember the names of my students and no one will listen to me, and inevitably, a kid will climb out a window.

This actually happened to me once. It was my first year teaching, age 23 in a classroom of 16 and 17 year-olds, the period about to end and all of the students clamoring to leave before the bell, when someone said, Look, Ms Casella, Tim is running up the hill.

And sure enough, there was Tim, the quiet kid who sat in the far back corner, who'd apparently just climbed out the window and was presently fleeing the school. The class looked at me expectantly, wondering what I was going to do, but of course I had no idea. Kids climbing out windows hadn't been covered in my training, and anyway, the truth was, I sort of wished I could join Tim in his run up the hill.

Just thinking about it made me laugh, because I could picture it. The general chaos of the classroom, the students talking while I was trying to teach or the kids half asleep on their desks and who cares about the symbolism in the Scarlet Letter, and wouldn't it be funny if I just walked to the back of the room, opened the window, and climbed out?

Anyway, the next day I had a talk about it with Tim in the hall before class, asking him why he'd climbed out the window, and he explained that I'd never told him he couldn't, which made a kind of weird sense. I told him he couldn't from now on, and he agreed and never did it again, and so all was well,

but still, over the next five years that I taught at that school, whenever I was having a rough day, I'd think about Tim running up the hill, about myself running up the hill,

and immediately, I'd feel better.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

(Not a post about covid)

Okay, I am lying. It is a post about covid. How can it not be, when it's pretty much all I think about-- when I'm not reading about it or talking about it.

My daughter has had enough. On the chalkboard in the kitchen where we keep our family To-Do list (paint the porch, for example, and make a Tic Toc video) and the running Bananagram family game night total (I am winning, comfortably, thank you very much), our daughter has written Days w/o Talking Rona. 

The tally for that is always Zero.

(Note: I am "M")

It's all me,

I fully admit to this. Back in March I started writing the cumulative case total every day. And then, the death toll in my planner, the same way I used to write my daily writing word count. It is sobering to look back at the first day, March 13, with five cases in Ohio and zero deaths, to July 13-- 62,913 cases and 2807 deaths. These are not numbers. I know some of these people.

And everyday I read the latest updates in the newspaper, follow the conversation of epidemiologists on Twitter, what they know about the virus, and what they still don't know, all of this unfolding in real time, which makes the reaction of some politicians and weirdo anti-maskers/science deniers baffling to me. Why don't they get how dangerous this is? Why would they think, for example, that it would be okay to send kids back to school?
But then, I do understand. Because it's scary, all of the Unknown, the world we thought we knew and understood shifting out from under us, the world where you could dash out to the store without donning a mask, where you could meet up with a friend for lunch inside a packed restaurant, go to a concert, travel on a plane--

Even as much as I read about it and think about it and talk about it, I realize that I need the number on the chalkboard to occasionally say One.

So here is a story that has nothing to do with it:

Last year when we first moved into our house, I took long meandery walks with the dog, both of us nosing around the new neighborhood, admiring (or in the case of the dog, peeing on) the lovely unfamiliar front yards. One place we both liked to stop had these large, absurd-looking flowers, huge balls of blooms that seemed like they were too large to stay on their stalks upright without tipping themselves over.

But they didn't tip over and I was obsessed by the physics of them, the bees always buzzing around nearby. So one day when the owner of the flowers came out to water them, I struck up a conversation with her. She told me they're called Cleome and then she did one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me: she dropped off some seeds.

This year in April at the height of our lockdown I planted the seeds, first in small pots, and then transplanted the seedlings in several places around our yard, and then thinned them, which broke my heart, but you have to do it, and then stood back and watched them grow.

This week they are just beginning to bloom those absurd blooms. My plants are smaller than the ones up the street, but I have high hopes that they will grow bigger. Now, as I sit outside on our front porch writing, I can see the patch of cleome I planted and a woman walking by with her dog, stopping to take a look.

She moved past before I could offer her seeds, but next time, I promise.

And just for today, a promise to my daughter and long suffering husband:

1 day without talking Rona.

Friday, July 10, 2020

I am obsessed with the plants in my yard

The world feels like it's on fire and all I want to do is draw a map of my yard. Label the plants and flowers.

But this is harder than I thought. Weeks later and I am stuck, only the bare bones of the map filled in. The problem is I don't know the plant names. Some, okay. I do know by sight. The black-eyed susans, for example, which seem to be growing in clumps all over the place. Also, coneflowers. The orange lilies. Ferns and hostas.

I never realized how hard it was to identify plants. And why is it so important to me? I could draw my map without names. The Purple Thingys. The Green Stalky Ones with No Flowers Yet. 

Every morning after I read the news and despair over the state of humanity, I go outside and see how all of them are doing. Who has flowers today. Who has bugs eating them. I want to take care of these things better, but for that, I need to know their names. 

Mystery Purple Thingy

My plant snap app is no help at all, and here, I'd been counting on it as solution to all of my plant-identifying questions. Just take a pic of the plant and within seconds it's supposed to tell you what it is.

Orchid, it said, about my mystery purple thingy.

Even I know that's wrong. I search for clues online. I snoop around in the neighborhood on my walks. Some gardeners around here have helpful sign labels by their plants. But I can't find a match. It hits me suddenly that there are books out there on plant identification.

I order some from my library and pick them up in the curbside delivery. I can't find the Purple Thingy, but I learn that the orange lilies are pointless. 

Pretty, and yet, pointless

Each bloom lasts for only one day and then it shrivels up. Worse, bees and butterflies don't want the flowers. Bees do like the purple mystery plant though. Turns out it's called Loosetrife. The answer didn't come from an app or a book or online, but from my next door neighbor, who tells me it's invasive.

I like it though. So it stays. 

But there are more mysteries.

After much research in my books on perennials, I realize it's not a perennial! It's an annual called Love in the Mist.

And this one is not a perennial either. It's a bulb. Crocosmia.

Who names these flowers? Should I thin them? Replant them? Water, and how much? Should I tear out the pointless orange lilies and replace them with native plants that the bees like? I still don't know what the Green Stalky thing is. There's a weird beetle-y looking bug on it chewing on the leaves and turning them brown, which has me worried. 

But I am worried about everything. The virus. Racism and police brutality. Schools going back in session and putting students and teachers in danger. The heat rising every day and didn't I read that the Arctic is melting-- 

I can't look at the news anymore. And still, my map's unfinished even as the flowers, named and unnamed are blooming and/or shriveling.

Okay, I was going to end this here, 

but I have to tell you a story first. A few weeks ago. I got into a conversation, socially distant and masked, at the farmer's market with a farmer who was advertising that he had praying mantis egg sacs for sale. This was fascinating to me because why would someone want to buy praying mantis egg sacs? I mean, gulp. Are you supposed to eat them? 

But no. The farmer told me that the egg sac, which looks like a thumb-sized version of a bee hive and comes attached to a stick, is something you poke into your garden for insect control on your plants. I bought three, because I was immediately thinking of where I could poke these things. Near my zucchini plants and by the peppers of course. But also, by the Green Stalky plant, which was looking more and more insect-eaten.  

Another side note: it was funny getting these little egg sacs home. Supposedly, each one contains over 100 praying mantises and the farmer said, jokingly, I hoped, that he was sure I'd make it home before they hatched. I had visions of them hatching in the car, but luckily they did not. I poked them in the garden, and then I waited. 

Not sure, for what. 

But look. 

This morning, just now as I went out for my daily petting of my plants, both named and unnamed, I found my Green Stalky one looking lush and beautiful, and on one leaf,