Canceling Summer

[See original post here]

As we look forward to what promises to be an unusual back-to-school season, we can reflect on what was certainly a unique summer. 2020 proved the summer of canceling, and on both sides of the political aisle. In May, Mat-Su School District attempted (unsuccessfully) to cancel The Great Gatsby, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Things They Carried, Invisible Man, and Catch-22. Since then, progressives have taken up the canceling mantle; they attempted (successfully) to cancel Woodrow Wilson, Cops, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Teddy Roosevelt, Kriner’s Diner, and, for a hot minute, Gone with the Wind. Hamilton and Mount Rushmore still await their fates.

For the free speech advocates out there, cancel culture is a threat. For those of us harboring dictatorial tendencies, however, it’s an opportunity. I hereby participate in cancel culture, seize complete power, and you all can consider the following books, movies, and other entities officially banned:

  1. Iron Man, sometimes known as Tony Stark: He’s too beloved. I cancel him first as a show of my power.
  2. Les MisérablesThanks to Broadway and Hollywood, this story is well-known. Those of you who did not read the unabridged version in 10th grade English, however, missed all of the real misery found in “The Miserable Ones.”

The novel is overly long – nearly 1,500 pages. A significant portion of these pages bear no resemblance to a plot. For example, there is a 100-page tangent describing the Battle of Waterloo in detail. The battle takes place well before any incident in the story and has absolutely no impact on subsequent events. There is yet another 100-page tangent on the history of the Parisian sewers. The first 100 pages of the novel take a deep dive into the background of a character who appears early in the book and is never seen again. Finally, central, beloved character, Fantine, croaks on page 200, making it through just over 10 percent of the page count; realistically, Fantine has an outsized influence on pop culture, considering just how little of the story she endures.

To this day, I resent the fact that we read this particular opus, as opposed to say, a different Victor Hugo vehicle. If we really must, why couldn’t we read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, at a tightly paced 900 pages?  And why, oh why, did we have to read such a massive, meandering, French novel in a class entitled, “English Literature?”

  1. Martin Van Buren: As a gal who prefers more of a clean cut look, I find Van Buren’s choice of hair stylings personally offensive. I am triggered by all photos of his shaggy, shaggy locks.
  2. Game of Thrones: I’ve tried. I’ve tried twice. Both times I made it through Season 1, Episode 5. I’ve never felt the need to go back for Episode 6. I tuned in for the last season just to triple confirm I wasn’t missing out on anything. Confirmed.

And while we are at it—

  1. Dragons: All images, iconography, or other interpretations of dragons must go. Their fire breathing ways are out of touch with our currently warming planet.
  2. The GatekeepersEvery year in high school, we read a requisitely depressing bit of non-fiction. The Hot Zone, Nickel and Dimed, Fast Food Nation, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air to name a few cheery tomes. The Gatekeepers was about how unlikely it is any student will be accepted into the college of his or her choice. As an anxiety prone eleventh grader who lived my life under intense self-imposed grade-related pressure, my school telling me I was never getting into college was not psychologically beneficial. Given the Great College Admissions Scandal of 2019, I hazard a guess this academic mania has only increased in the last 15 years; ambitious young zealots are being driven to further extremes by their teachers telling them they will never amount to anything.
  3. Oh, the Places You’ll GoThe fact that children are being taught they can go anywhere in life except to their first-choice college is cruel.
  4. DuneLocations are called names like, “The Minor Erg.” I’m out.
  5. Zachary Taylor: For such a tough guy, his death was unceremonious. He was taken out by food poisoning courtesy of a bunch of cherries and a glass of milk. Such a weakling must be struck from the annals of our glorious history.
  6. Puppies: The intrusive little buggers steal all of the attention at parties when people should otherwise be listening to me with rapt, undivided, attention.
  7. Romeo and Juliet: Talk about your teenage hormones. The cringe inducing moments were augmented when my teacher specifically called on me to read the sexy bits aloud during English class. We did get to watch the 1968 film version after we finished reading the play. Juliet has a topless scene. That got the ninth grade’s attention.
  8. Any book where the protagonist speaks at length about his or her changing body.

Given the oodles of media I’d leap at the chance to ban, I look forward gleefully to my career with the FCC.

Sarah Brown sometimes goes by YDL (“Your Dear Leader”). Should you care to reach her, prostrate yourself on the floor, and summon her politely at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Groundhog Days

[See original post here]

There is a Facebook prompt going around that brought me a welcome respite from the otherwise angry political, mask, and/or election messages.

“Can you describe your favorite movie in as boring a way as possible?”

Responses were admirable:

  1. “A group of short men spend a long time walking. They end up throwing away a piece of jewelry.” (The Lord of the Rings)
  2. “A teenage boy doesn’t want to go to school, so he picks up his girlfriend and hypochondriac friend, and they drive around Chicago.” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
  3. “A number of people go to an amusement park where the attractions are not working as intended. The power goes out, and after a day or so the people leave.” (Jurassic Park)
  4. “A woman falls for her boss and his kids. They go for a hike.” (The Sound of Music)

And my personal contribution –

“A guy drives south and is arrested for murder. He’s saved by his cousin.” (My Cousin Vinny)

This got me thinking. In a year where every day seems to be a repetition of the previous day (Groundhog Day), why don’t we reflect on our daily activities in as exciting a way as possible? For example, my days were always action packed, and COVID-19 has only heightened the mayhem.

The day starts when I bound down the hallway, fire up my computer, and glance through my work emails. There is an offer for me to appear in CEO Today Magazine, for the scant price of 1,500 British pounds. This is the fifth such offer in two weeks. I am not a CEO, and I am not British.

My gaze shifts to one of my many other browser windows currently open, where I read about the recent Twitter hackings of high-profile accounts. Such victims include former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, probable 2020 President-elect Kanye West, and likely alien Elon Musk. I am elated I have not yet fallen victim to Twitter Hacker, Cozy Bear, or his associate, Fancy Bear. Fancy Bear is now what I call my mother when I wish to annoy her.

An Outlook Calendar Reminder pops up; it’s Five-Minutes-to-Zoom. I dial in, and am admitted to a meeting with other industry professionals around the nation. One company’s representative does not realize his mic is on. He is speaking to someone off camera.

“Go in the corner and clean up that poop. That poop. That poop there in the corner. We can’t have this place looking like a garbage dump.”

His pets, presumably, were at it again.

At noon, I step onto my front porch for a breath of fresh air. My neighborhood is often a source of whimsy, and today is no different.

One of my neighbors is painting bloody handprints across the front of her house. She completes this pastiche with a giant red “X” on her front door, and then drags a seven-foot-tall red-rimmed cross for display next to the street.

A line of cars starts to congregate outside of her house. The neighbors all get out to gawk at her handywork, and whisper to each other. A middle-aged woman on a bicycle wearing a helmet and backpack begins taking frantic photos from the opposite side of the road.

The posse of neighbors confronts the woman. While her initial reaction is to shout back at them in an even louder voice, she eventually recognizes she is outnumbered. She backs down and drags the cross back into her garage. She leans it gingerly against the wall, and then hurls the entire contents of her municipal garbage can out onto her front lawn and into her driveway.

In a final crescendo, she places a giant handwritten sign in her front window. It reads, “We love.” The “o” in “love” is a smiley face.

I watch the property value of my home evaporate.

Chased away from the fresh air out front, I return to my home office, where I open my window. Perhaps I can enjoy the breeze from out back.

I am immediately treated to the high-pitched shouting of the man who lives next door.

“I am triggered whenever I watch The Shining!”

(“A family moves to a hotel in the off season, but goes back to Denver in the middle of winter.”)

“That’s when it happened! It was at the chalet in Switzerland when I was two! That’s why I stopped eating fruits and vegetables!”

Whatever made Next Door Man forever forsake plant-based food products must assuredly be traumatic. Feeling ethically compelled to respect his privacy, I begrudgingly shut the window, and finish out the day working in a stuffy, hot room.

At the close of the workday, I sit on my couch and look for something to watch on television. Crimson Peak is running (“A girl falls in love with a guy and moves to his house. The house is condemned, but she gets some help from its prior residents”).

I stare at the screen hypnotically until the credits roll. 

That night, I have a number of nightmares about living in a sinking house in the middle of nowhere. In one dream, I wander around the house, watching red matter seep out of the walls. I don’t really panic, however, until I put all of my clothes into one of the house closets. I am unable to locate the closet again, and thereby lose all of my clothes.

I wake up sweating, and turn on the fan in my room.

It was a thrilling day indeed.

Sarah Brown is a folk hero. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

For the Love of Kanye

“Kanye West @ MoMA” by Jason Persse is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

[See original post here]

I love Kanye West. He is my favorite celebrity. That is, I will take time out of my day to read any news story, or watch any television clip, in which he features.

Given all the cumulative hours I’ve spent researching Kanye, I know a bit about him. For example:

  1. Kanye once spoke uninterrupted on Ellen for nearly eight minutes. Topics included Picasso, bone density machines, shoes, Leonardo DiCaprio, bullying, being likeable, and the universe. He concluded by apologizing “to daytime television for the realness.” Ellen watched on the sidelines.
  2. Kanye once asked Mark Zuckerberg to give him $50 million. Mark Zuckerberg did not respond.
  3. Former President Barack Obama has called Kanye West “a jackass” at least twice.
  4. Kim Kardashian suggested Kanye (her husband) hire a Board of Directors to approve his Tweets. To my knowledge, said Board was never hired.
  5. In a ranking of 1 to 100, Kanye West once rated his own album 100.
  6. Kanye invented leather jogging pants.
  7. Kanye famously protested Taylor Swift’s win for the best video award at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on stage in the middle of her acceptance speech. Following his public demonstration, he wrote her an apology song and issued a series of apology Tweets. As far as I know, while Taylor Swift did accept his apology, she never performed the apology song. He later took back all of these apologies in 2010.
  8. I confess, I don’t know why he sometimes goes by Yeezy.
  9. Kanye was, at one time, perhaps the world’s unlikeliest Trump supporter. The two, he said, “are both dragon energy.”

Kanye has long been featured on many of my dating profiles. In the world of dating apps, conversation starters can be tricky. But Kanye has never failed me with this classic: “Who is more outrageous? Kanye West or Charlie Sheen?”

Healthy, sometimes even heated, arguments would break out. Rarely would they result in dates, but they have certainly enabled me to hone my debate skills.

I always knew I found a kindred spirit when they would give my question the intellectual consideration it justly deserved.

“Did you know that Kanye once spoke uninterrupted on national television for eight minutes?”

“That’s… just damned impressive.”

“When was the last time you spoke on national television for eight minutes?”

“I blacked it out.”

“Ever watch the tape?”

“No, it’s like when you’re drunk. Best not know what was said.”

Of course, this week we all know that Kanye announced he is running for president in a scant four months. Kanye made the announcement via Twitter in a historic virtual mic drop. But, much like a mic drop, he has not quite followed through. For example, he does not appear to understand, or otherwise care, that he must file to run as president with individual states in order to appear on their respective ballots as an independent candidate. The deadline for much of this has already passed. But perhaps I’m wrong to count him out; Elon Musk has
already endorsed him, along with a minister from Wyoming.

Should Kanye run and presumably vote for himself, it will be his first time voting. Expected to file as a candidate for the “Birthday Party,” he recently announced that he decided to run for president while taking a shower. He went on the record as planning to use “the Wakanda management model” to run the White House. I cannot weigh in on the practicality of the Wakanda model as a leadership theory because I slept through Black Panther. I can confirm I have a storied history of falling asleep through a number of similarly loud movies, including Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And, yes, these were all on dates.

I don’t know Kanye West. I don’t know whether he is a good person. I don’t know whether he is faithful to Kim Kardashian, or a decent father to his four children, North West, Saint West, Chicago West, and Psalm West. But I can unequivocally say I am glad someone like him exists, and he lives life unabashedly as himself.

Sarah Brown is a narcoleptic Fan Girl. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Northern Exposure

[See original post here]

Since the onset of the coronavirus, families have lost jobs, childcare, and all semblance of schedule. Barriers are broken, boundaries eviscerated. Days bleed into one another. Friends earnestly text each other, “Happy Friday,” and then ask whether Friday is something we still celebrate.

Most of my fellow Americans have given up decorum. Kids burst into the room and enthusiastically participate in client Zoom meetings. Women pick their feet and noses in the virtual presence of friends. Men pee on conference calls.

All of this, I suppose, was to be expected. Societal structure evaporated overnight. I am certainly not immune. I’ve worn pants with snaps exactly four times in the past three months. Instead, I now do laundry loads consisting only of gym shorts, sports bras, and sweatshirts.

I was mentally prepared for my new casual life. I’ve worked from home for several years as it is, and I live on a quiet cul-de-sac in West Anchorage. The location is perfect. I’m seven minutes from either the airport or Kincaid Park. New houses spring up regularly. There’s talk of another school someday and a fire station. Aside from jet airplanes seemingly landing on my roof every Thursday at 2:30 in the morning, it’s really idyllic.

As quarantine and hunker down recommendations have persisted, however, I’ve noticed distinct changes in my neighborhood; my fellow residents have not taken well to quarantine. Unaccustomed to working from home, they have not built up the discipline to maintain societal codes of conduct during a pandemic.

My first hint that something was off was on my daily stroll to the mailbox at eleven in the morning. I approached the duplex seven doors down from mine.

A large man with a lot of wild hair was standing naked on his balcony holding a chihuahua under his arm.

If the stark contrast of the size difference between the dog and his master didn’t complete the astounding sight, the man was attempting to flirt with the hot mom next door. She was at street level, fully clothed, walking her large yellow lab, and gazing up at him with wide, concerned eyes.

“Aren’t we a funny pair?” he grinned hopefully. “I’m a big man with a tiny dog, and you’re a tiny woman with a big dog.”

I hated to break it to him, but in no universe would he and the hot mom ever be a pair.

I assumed this particular gentleman just had no sense whatsoever of propriety. I shrugged off the encounter as a unique story of life in my cul-de-sac.

That was until the second incident – the lady in the house across from mine began regularly parading around topless. She’s flagrant about it, leaving all of the interior lights ablaze. She lives with a baby and a husband, and neither seem to mind.

I wish I could be that free.

As March faded into April, April into May, and now May into June, I noticed this behavior more and more. There’s one guy who now rubs his nipples vigorously every time he mows his lawn. Another runs around outside his property in his bathrobe and underpants every week on trash day; everything from his clothes on down to his body parts flaps enthusiastically.

I reached my breaking point the day the couple a few doors down threw a wild, and very noisy, party at midnight on a Tuesday.

Having reached peak curmudgeon status, I pulled on my jacket and my mask, and tramped angrily down the street in my pink pajama bottoms, giant eyeglasses, and my hair teased on top of my head.

The door was wide open, and I burst in.

“Hey! Who owns this place?” I shouted over the music.

I received glowering looks from several young women dressed in heavy eye makeup and nothing but their underwear. More guests flitted through the entryway, similarly undressed.

We all regarded each other for a few moments, me in my oversized clothes, and the party goers in their undersized ones.

“Sup?” One young man greeted me insolently.

“Look, I have to work in the morning. I have –”

I paused and spoke the word reverently.

“—A job.”

“Sorry, we’ll keep it down,” he muttered, and turned the stereo down three tenths of a decibel.

I clumped home, and prepared to relocate to my parent’s house. Their neighbors were all over sixty-five years old, and had long since stopped seeing the fun in parties where all you wear is your underwear.

I went up to their house the following evening for dinner, and sat outside on their deck, bathing in the luxury of peace and quiet. The only other humans around were my parents’ neighbor and her friend, both sitting in a hot tub on the neighbor’s deck.

It was a hot evening, and the neighbor reached her hot tub limit in short order. She stood up, hopped out of the tub, and wiggled around the deck looking for her towel.

She was completely naked, and in full view of all of the residents of my parent’s street.

She grabbed her towel, and began pulling it vigorously back and forth, drying her nether regions.

I stared, dumbstruck, for perhaps longer than was polite. What was most perplexing however, was not the prancing naked neighbor, but her friend. The friend was dressed modestly in a bathing suit, and hot tubbing with her nude friend.

I tore myself away, walked inside, and rinsed my eyes out with chlorine.

God willing, COVID subsides this summer. Else, the Municipality may have to declare itself an official nudist colony. Granted, this would give me a legitimate reason to finally live out my fantasy of bunker life in Oklahoma.

Sarah Brown is a Never Nude. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

In Defense of Females Over ‘Fur Babies’

“170219-106” by waferboard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Unlike our forefathers, Millennials do not get married or have children. Rather, we move in with our significant others, eventually move out again, and engage in brutal custody battles over our pets. 

Indeed, in evaluating potential mates, Millennials skip over having human children, and jump right into establishing pet relationship history.

On dating apps, the questions came daily. 

“Tell me about your fur children.” 

“Do you have any fur babies?”

No, no, I do not. And unless you have supersonic genetic material which instills a freakish level of hair on your offspring’s person, neither do you. 

Dogs are treated better than humans in other ways too. Coffee shops offer free dog treats. Where’s my free treat? I actually spent my hard earned wages on the coffee. Dogs poop with wild abandon on the sidewalks. Their owners fastidiously encase the poop in a delicate plastic bag and leave it by the side of the path, ensuring it is protected forever from the elements. Where’s my caretaker to gift wrap my poop as such, gleefully leaving it as a present for my fellow joggers?

I am allergic to dogs. I am also a Millennial. In today’s dating climate, being allergic to dogs is treated with the equivalent level of skepticism as someone with five children from previous relationships, all from different men. 

My would-be suitors rub it in. 

“I couldn’t live without Georgie! Georgie is life!”

To emphasize the point, Georgie would inevitably be brought on the date. Granted, this wasn’t always a bad thing. If the conversation stalled, we could just watch Georgie bother our fellow patrons at the appointed coffee shop.

My suitors sometimes take my dog allergy as a personal attack. One portentous sweetheart leaned towards me and looked me earnestly in the eye. 

“Rocky and I are a package deal. Rocky and I were together long before I met you,” he spat accusatorily. 

What this man did not realize was I had no intention whatsoever of separating him from Rocky. Instead, I was actively seeking a means of separating myself from the date.

“Well, of course. Isn’t that nice,” I looked around wildly for a route of escape. “Aren’t dogs the best?”

We were in the parking lot, and I inched backwards towards my car.

“Rocky’s in my truck! We go everywhere together. Wanna meet him?”

Not really.

“Why of course!” 

Date opened the door to his truck, Rocky jumped out, jumped up on Date, then jumped up on me, his tail wagging frantically.

The man pronounced the whole performance a test. “I want to see how you do with Rocky. Rocky and I are a package deal!”

I didn’t know what to say. Rocky and I are a mutually exclusive deal.

My allergy to dogs frequently outweighs my positive attributes as a partner in life. I have impeccable hygiene. I have nice hair. I’m a sparkling conversationalist. But alas, being allergic to dogs trumps all. My potential matches eventually move along.

Having extensive experience navigating this particular deficiency, I hereby offer moral support and courting tips to my fellow animal allergy ridden sisters at arms:

  1. Make your affliction known as early as possible in the dating process. On your dating profile, put the words “MASSIVE BAGGAGE” IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS – “PROCEED WITH CAUTION. DAMAGED GOODS. DOG ALLERGY. CAN NEVER LIVE WITH A DOG.” That way, any dog fanatic matches can move along to other, better, girls. You will inevitably earn fewer matches on apps, but your heart will be protected from the ultimate break of being sidelined in favor of an animal.
  2. Play up your weak nature. Alas, as a fragile female, your poor sickly lungs cannot abide being exposed to dog allergens on a constant basis. Your body is such a finely tuned machine, one alien particle throws it off its usual ticker. Surely you need a big strong man to help you navigate your daily existence.
  3. Launch a social movement. The dog people have been winning the public relations battle for years. It is time we invalids assert our rights. The next wave of feminism must avow the value of a human woman over the value of an animal.

A dog, while loveable, is unable to bring home the bacon, unless such bacon has been stolen from a neighbor’s porch. Some portion of the glory we have afforded to dogs must be reinstated to more productive beings. 

Sarah Brown is a social pariah. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

The Young and the Redemption

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

[See Original Post here]

While I was hoping the next report would be from the other side, alas, I’ve enjoyed eight full weeks of quarantine here in West Anchorage. This is largely due to my own sense of caution; the Municipality of Anchorage is well into Phase 2 of reopening.

On the first day that restaurants were open, I stepped out onto my front porch and into the brilliant sunshine. I took a tentative step forward, breathing in the fresh air. As detailed in Episode 1, my main source of entertainment over the last eight weeks has been my daily hour-long walk through my neighborhood; my cardio stints come from the quick weaves and dodges to avoid my neighbors.

But the day restaurants opened, well that porch stepping had the added significance of being the possible first move into the world beyond my neighborhood. I could actually go to some destination, should I so choose.

The man in the next driveway was climbing into his car, and I cheerily waved at him. While not one to normally greet anyone, least of all my neighbors, I was overflowing with the spirit of goodwill for my fellow man.

He waved back, and promptly coughed.

I dropped my hand, scandalized, and scuttled back into the dim recesses behind me.

Every day now, I peer eagerly out of my windows, awaiting news of either devastation or recovery.

Nevertheless, this is the third installment of series sponsored by COVID-19, preceded by “The Young and the Restless” and “2 Young 2 Restless: Covid Drift.”

Updates to key dramatic subplots are included below for your convenience:

  1. Workouts – I’ve joined three fitness challenges through work. I’ve got seven blisters and two biceps to show for it.
  2. Karate – Someone circulated a rumor that my karate sensei trained the Karate Kid. This story soon evolved into he trained the guy who trained the Karate Kid. Latest version is that he may have seen the Karate Kid once. Bottom line, the sensei’s life continues to remain shrouded in mystery.
  3. Speaking of karate – I am due to test for my “yellow-orange” belt at the end of the month. Logistics remain uncertain and I am not sure whether a virtual test will be easier or harder than an in-person test. Most students advance to black belt (i.e. master ten belts) in three years. At my rate, I can expect to become a black belt in twice that time. I advance through life at half the speed of a nine-year old.
  4. Television – I determined it was time to tackle a movie with slightly more gravitas than Alice and Wonderland (the last feature film I watched in quarantine). Netflix had The Shawshank Redemption on rotation. I’d never seen it, had no idea what the plot was, and sat down to watch it with no advance research. Upon viewing, I became unduly morose, and spent 48 hours worried about whether there was any reasonable likelihood I would one day have to stage a prison break through a hole in the sewage piping.
  5. After a few comforting episodes of Parks and Recreation, I started Hollywood on Netflix, thinking it would be a cheerful cartoonish reimagining of post-war California. It is not; I’d say the early tone of the show is cynical at best. I watched the central character’s employment struggles for about fifteen minutes, became unduly morose, and went back to Parks and Recreation.
  6. I thought a third venture was warranted, and went back to that tried and true genre of British period soap operas. Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame debuted a new show over the Easter weekend and I tuned in. Sure enough, the first episode had a surprisingly affecting death scene, after which I became unduly morose and swore off new content for the foreseeable future.

Reports from the front lines both locally and nationally are promising, but with an added dose of whimsy. Women can return to beauty parlors, but cannot have their hair blown dry. Nail salons may take customers, but manicurists must wear the equivalent of a moon suit to protect themselves and their customers. Gyms can hold classes, but only outside.

In a nutshell: businesses may take customers, but customers should stay home.

Drawing courage from the relatively tame scene locally, I stepped onto my front porch for the second time a few weeks following my neighbor’s assault.

Again, I blinked my eyes against all that new bright May light, and glanced down at my phone.

Per the news, giant murder hornets have arrived in the United States.

I retreated again.

The Egyptians understood plagues, and darned if I wasn’t going to follow their hunker down example.

Sarah Brown delights in the outdoors. When she is not frolicking in nature, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift

Courtesy Netflix

[See Original Post here]

Today we view “2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift,” the sequel to “The Young and the Restless.” In case you missed Episode One, you can catch up here, and view updates to key plot points below:

  1. As described in our first installment, I am unable to consume any television shows with even a modicum more plot than a typical twenty-minute sitcom. The one exception to this rule is Tiger KingTiger King has every possible plot mashed together into one show. So far, I count polygamy, cults, murder, animal rights, arson, blood feuds, a woman with a mysterious past, magic, illicit drug smuggling, and illicit animal smuggling. Granted there may be more; after all, I’m only on Episode Four.
  2. I stopped watching The Office towards the end of Season Five. It is at this point that layoffs become an all too real plot point. I was watching The Office for the express purpose that nothing bad happens, and no character’s actions have any material consequences. Layoffs, however, are bad and are real consequences.
  3. I started watching Parks and Recreation in place of The Office. I’ve never watched it before and am halfway through Season Two. The show is about local government. This guarantees there are no layoffs, and no consequences.

And now, we continue with “2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift”

  1. I’ve consumed more chips and salsa in the last three weeks than I have in the last five years combined. Sodium intake is reaching medically concerning levels.
  2. For about two hours, I contemplated doing my first ever juice cleanse. Before this pandemic, a juice cleanse never sounded remotely appealing. These days, however, a juice cleanse would just be another new activity. 
  3. I began researching any steps and needed materials to embark on a juice cleanse. It turns out, juice cleanses are either very expensive, very labor intensive, or both. I went back to eating chips and salsa. 
  4. I find myself fantasizing about the other forms of self-improvement I will be able to do post-quarantine. Waxing my legs suddenly seems like an excellent use of time. Much like a juice cleanse, waxing my legs has never held any pull before now. It always appeared time consuming, costly, and painful. Also, much like a juice cleanse, now it’s an activity.
  5. I’m grateful for my foresight in obtaining a quarantine haircut prior to the Municipality of Anchorage shutting down. Else, I would be mightily tempted to experiment with giving myself a haircut.
  6. My brother got a puppy. Now I want a puppy. This is new as I am allergic to dogs.
  7. I’ve added thirty minutes of daily internet puppy video viewing to my schedule. 
  8. When I am feeling otherwise bored, I take my temperature.

Clearly, in my nearly four weeks of isolation I’ve formed many bad habits. I have, however, also made a few notable improvements. For the first time in my life, I am cooking every day. My weekly menu consists of a rotating schedule of scrambled eggs, tuna salad, oatmeal, fruit and cheese, and frozen salmon. Much like my sodium intake, my mercury, cholesterol, and omega fatty acid levels are unsurpassed.Advertisement

In addition to cooking, I’m now exercising. My usual fitness classes are broadcast via Zoom, and all have added daily sessions. I am now not only working out every day, I’m working out every day, twice a day.

My Pure Barre classes with other Millennial women via Zoom are significantly more orderly than my beginners’ karate classes with children. None of the children know how to mute the microphones on their parents’ computers, so the classes are conducted amid loud shrieks of delight, making it difficult to hear the instructor. Periodically, a noisy family squabble breaks out in the background. During the last session, one girl tripped over her dog. The instructor more or less gave up on teaching us new material and instead had us kick at the wall for a few minutes.

While we Alaskans share much anxiety about the future, we also share a stalwart commitment to an isolated misanthropic lifestyle. Stay safe fellow cabin people. 

Sarah Brown is still a shut-in, but not a hoarder. If you must, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

The Young and the Restless

Courtesy Hughes Entertainment

[See Original Post here]

Like many of my fellow residents of the Municipality of Anchorage, I am currently living under a state of quarantine, social distancing, and general loneliness. It’s been difficult, mostly resulting in me chewing on my leg out of sheer boredom.

All, however, is not lost. Thus far, I have accomplished the following tasks:

  1. I’ve made it to Season 5 of The Office. Any show with even a mite more plot is proving too overwhelming in this chaotic time.
  2. I’ve compared quarantine snack choices with anyone who will entertain the question. We’ve concluded peanut M&M’s and popcorn are the most popular snacks. Curiously, one survey participant said oatmeal was his favorite snack; he was mildly crushed to hear that Quaker Oats is selling for $30 per unit online.
  3. I’ve disinfected my television remote three times.
  4. I obtained a quarantine haircut. Prior to complete isolation, I had my hairdresser cut my hair into a nineties style bob. I’m good on haircuts for the next four months. My brother’s hair, on the other hand, is now long enough to be tied back with a rubber band.
  5. I’ve purchased canned vegetables and baked beans for the first time in my adult life. When this is over, canned food drives will be more bountiful than in any prior decade.

Aside from my little triumphs, my community and its residents are fighting back, overflowing with self-improvement. For example, everyone I know has turned into a public health expert. I am pleased how much my Facebook friends have improved their scientific knowledge, seemingly overnight.

No one, however, beats out newly minted epidemiologists, and my beloved parents, Fred and Ann Brown, for coronavirus pandemic preparedness. Fred and Ann Brown are currently quarantining their mail.

It is encouraging to see how seriously businesses are taking this crisis. Businesses of all sizes have a coronavirus task force, regardless of the applicability of said task force to any particular business’ industry. Thus far, I have received coronavirus protocols from the credit union where I opened my first bank account at age eight, Groupon, Ollin Tea & Café, Nordstrom, and the Whistler Film Festival (which is not currently scheduled to take place before December).

While I find it comforting that Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union has a coronavirus task force, I’m really much more curious what United Healthcare intends to do about all of this.

Small business owners are finding ingenious ways to keep their customer base intact. For example, prior to the Mayor’s order closing all bars, restaurants, and sites of recreation, my gym sent out sweet, optimistic, daily emails describing how the floor was antimicrobial, how management was capping class sizes, how staff were increasing cleaning regimens, and how instructors would no longer touch the students. Pure Barre on 36th and Old Seward was determined to remain a sanctuary for the women who faithfully frequented it.

Post mayoral mandate, this happy little community disbanded for all of three days. Not to be gainsaid, they surged back, offering online streaming classes.

Come what may, they will lift, tone, and burn.

My daily online workouts require some adjustments as I do not have a complete supply of gym equipment at my house. For example, my hand weights for these online classes consist of two giant jars of baby dill pickles from Costco. Magically, the weights are getting lighter as time goes on. I must be getting very strong indeed.

I attempted to get Fred and Ann Brown to take these online classes with me. I did one class with each parent. Afterwards, they opted for the workout regimen prescribed by The Wall Street Journal for “The Aging Athletes.” Exercises consist of pushups against countertops and rising up and down on your tippy toes.

The highlight of my day is usually an hour long walk around my neighborhood. Since schools closed and most businesses sent employees home, the streets of my neighborhood are more crowded these days than they used to be on a typical weekday afternoon. My neighbors, to their credit, are very respectful of my space; they regularly run to the other side of the street whenever they see me approaching.

Apart from my neighbors, however, everyone else I know has gotten abundantly chatty. Before the pandemic, the only person who would call me on FaceTime was my brother. Now, FaceTime requests have increased 5,000% and I am very rarely camera ready.

Anchorage’s Mayor is pleading with citizens to cease hording behavior. Until this time when the mania ends, may there be a paper towel in every kitchen, and a roll of toilet paper in every bathroom.

Sarah Brown is a shut in. She can be reached any time, day or night, at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Teaching, and the Darndest Things

“National Engineering Teach Ins” by Savannah River Site is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

[See Original Post here]

I began volunteering with an organization that teaches financial concepts to children. Recruited by a friend I’ve known for twenty years, I trusted her judgement.

“Hey! Want to help out?” she plied me over wine at Kincaid Grill. “We go into classrooms and teach kids about economics and financial literacy!”

It’s hard to argue with that cause.

I agreed to spend one morning teaching fifth grade. The lesson plan introduced the concepts of globalization and business entrepreneurship, and not in a scary way I might add. There were no discussions of the collapse of American manufacturing, or how robots were taking our jobs. Instead, the course encouraged students to pursue careers in science, technology, and math so as to maximize relevancy in the 21st century.

Heck yes, I’ll teach kids why capitalism is awesome.

Once at the designated school, it only took a minute to remember how small objects in elementary schools are, and why there are separate adult bathrooms; one does not wish to squat with one’s knees in one’s ears.

I greeted the fifth grade with enthusiasm. Children are the future.

“How many of you like money?”

Twenty-three hands went up. One girl’s hand faltered as she studied me, trying to figure out if this was a trick question.

“Yeah, me too!” I plunged my hand into the air. “I love money. Money is the best!”

“Yeah!” a chorus of voices rang out.

“I’ve always wanted a never-ending allowance!” a kid to my right shouted.

“Me too,” I agreed, “but in absence of that, we need to start businesses.”

A student in the front row raised his hand.

“What do you do?”

That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

“I bundle and pay for surgeries.”

I received a roomful of predictably quizzical looks.

“But I get to work from home! That’s pretty cool!”

The fifth grade agreed. That was pretty cool.

A probing young man in the second row raised his hand.

“So, you operate on people out of your house? Like, you do surgery on them? That sounds bloody.”

I paused.

“Well, no, I just schedule the surgeries out of my house.”

He frowned at me.

“So, you’re like a middleman?”

Sensing I was losing my audience’s trust–

“What does your dad do?” I countered.

“My dad cuts hair,” he answered promptly.

Darn that was straightforward.

“Well, doesn’t that dovetail nicely into what we are going to discuss today?”

I held up my teacher’s manual.

“We have some vocabulary for you to learn. Who would like to read the definition of ‘competition?’”

Several hands shot into the air.

I called on a girl in the second row.

“I’ve done this program before,” she promptly informed us.

“Oh? Well that’s good!” I encouraged.

She nodded in agreement and read the definition. Competition is a rivalry between businesses that make a similar product or provide a similar service.

“So, if I open a hair salon, I’m in competition with your father for customers,” I directed my comments to my previous challenger.

He stared back, unimpressed.

 “Have any of you considered inventing a product?” I tried to bring the lesson plan back on track. “What product would you invent?”

Program Veteran raised her hand

“I want to invent a saliva bank.”

“A what?”

“A saliva bank. That way, you can know what dog saliva tastes like if you are curious.”

“Huh. Who would be your customers?”

She looked at me pityingly; she thought I was surprisingly obtuse for a guest lecturer.

“People who want to know what other animal or people saliva tastes like.”

There are of course other, sometimes even free, ways to taste the saliva of others. But I neither wanted to broach that subject, nor stifle her creative energy.

“You… sure could do that. Anyone else? Any other products?”

A small boy in the back row raised his hand.

I pointed at him.

“What’s your name?”

“Alex,” he stammered, quickly setting his hand down and launching into his product. “I want to have a hover bar, where I can put my hands on it, and it will lift me up. Then I can hover.”

That seemed more appropriate to discuss with the fifth grade than a volunteer saliva bank.

“Perfect! What resources would you need to make that product?”

We all consulted the worksheet defining natural and capital resources.

“Well, I’d need some metal. And probably electricity.”

“Those sound like terrific resources. Now, everyone break into groups, and discuss products amongst yourselves. Specifically, come up with the resources you would need to build these products.”

The class gamely divided into groups.

“Can I be in Alex’s group?”

A little girl with blonde curly hair came up and peered into my eyes.

“Uh, sure. You can be in Alex’s group.”

She launched into a lengthy explanation.

“I have ideas for more resources for his hover bar. He needs carbon and graphite, and –”

“Yep, yep, sounds good!” I waved her over to Alex’s group, and consulted the next item in the lesson plan.

I had allotted fifteen minutes for the activity, when –

“Can we have snack?”

A tall kid in the back row named Peter pulled on my sleeve.

“Um, sure, we can have snack. Just give me a mome—”

I cast my eyes around for the teacher. She was a substitute, and was currently staring dreamily at her computer, happily indifferent to everything around her. Periodically she would pop her head up to tell one of the back rowers to pipe down.

 I walked over to her.

“What time is snack?”

“Now,” she said vacantly, and a tad unhelpfully.

“Can we have snack?”

Another boy ambled over, looking anxious.

Succumbing to the inevitable, I called the class back to order to finish the lesson. The last thing I needed was for the children to unionize and protest the shocking delay of snack in their working conditions.

“We have time for one group to present their product and resources.”

Saliva Bank’s hand shot in the air. She had drawn a diagram of her processing plant.

I ignored her, and instead invited up a group of first row boys.

“We have invented the Find Me Phone,” the leader informed us, with all the enthusiasm of a small business owner pitching to a venture capital fund.

“Never lose your phone again!” he boomed. “We will insert a chip into your leg, which will be connected to the phone. Then, the phone will levitate and find you wherever you are!”

I paused, considering all of the privacy concerns these youngsters were raising. Everyone universally, however, appeared comfortable handing over their moment-by-moment location data to third party organizations.

Not wishing to crush their dreams of a future police state utopia–

“Terrific. What resources do you think you will need?”

“Metal and electricity,” they answered definitively.

That seemed correct to me. I thanked them for their participation and sent them back to their seats.

 “Can I answer any other questions before we break for snack?”

Peter raised his hand.

“What started the Vietnam War? Was it over oil?”

I took a beat to answer this unanticipated question –

“No. It was the Nazis. They invaded,” the boy next to him answered matter-of-factly on my behalf.

“Well, the Vietnam War was actually started over … politics,” I corrected vaguely.

“So, not Nazis?”

The boy looked astonished.

“No, in this case it was the communists,” I finished abruptly.

It was a new feeling to be treated as an expert on foreign affairs and matters of state. Over a juice box and goldfish crackers, I pulled out my own phone to get up-to-speed on the signature global events of the last seventy-five years. I mustn’t look like an idiot in front of my constituents.

Sarah Brown is a childless professor of economics. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. All names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Civic Entanglement

“Saeimas sēde 2011.gada 17.martā” by Saeima is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

[See Original Post here]

On an average day, I have little to no use for the public. Yet, during the first week of the new year, I was pulled into civic engagement in Anchorage.

I was called for jury duty on the first Monday of 2020. I had no personal experience with jury duty before, but my opinion had long since been formed by my dad who served on a jury for an assault case when I was in elementary school. The case involved brothers Harry, Larry, and Sam. Sam allegedly hit Harry in the back of the head with a two-by-four when Harry refused to make him a sandwich. Harry’s glasses fell off, and he went face first into the table.

Seeing his brother passed out with a large lump on his head, Sam felt duly remorseful.

“Why did you make me do that? Why did you make me do that?” he screamed.

At his trial, Sam did not contest his guilt. He did, however, continue to question Harry as to his motives.

Larry did not add much to the proceedings; he was drunk at the time.

My dad chuckled when he told the family about his jury experience at its close. I, however, was appalled that he had been forced to waste his time in this manner.

I grumpily informed my friend that I had been called for my own service.

My friend can best be described as an optimistic, effervescent, rose-colored glasses butterfly

“But you’ll get to do your civic duty! It will be so interesting!” she fluttered.

Nothing sounded less interesting to me than doing my civic duty.

Legally, however, I was forced to acquiesce. I showed up as requested at eight o’clock in the morning on January 6. My fellow jurors were folks much like myself; all looked uniformly peeved to be doing this and not all of the other activities we had each planned for eight o’clock on Monday morning. Most were wearing work clothes, and hang dog expressions. A few looked like students. The man sitting next to me was very old, unkempt, and did not appear to know where he was.

He flagged down one of the court staff immediately.

“Eh, eh,” he protested, waving his hand.

She looked around to see whether there was anything even remotely more pressing for her to do than deal with this man.

Seeing nothing –

“Alright, come this way,” she kindly ushered him into an office.

They were in there for several moments. Then he came back and waddled to his seat. Whatever his trouble was, it appeared that he was still not excused from jury duty.

The courthouse had very thoughtfully provided internet access in the jury room. My mood lifted somewhat; I could still fritter away the morning on Facebook.

“Good morning jurors!” one of the chipper clerks chirped over the microphone. “Thank you so much for serving here today!

“We have a very exciting morning lined up for you!” she continued with all the enthusiasm of a circus master.

A few of my fellow office drones spared her cursory grimaces before going back to their laptops.

I, however, was enthralled. What would it be like to have a captive audience of two-hundred people every day of the week? My stand-up comedy routine would be on point.

As indeed was hers.

She cracked wise about how our employers would most likely want to see documentation of our attendance, and highlighted how we all got free parking.

“So, when you leave, and go to the parking meter and it asks you to pay, you will of course giggle mischievously, as if you are getting away with something. Because you are! You don’t have to pay! You park for free!”

A few polite titters from the crowd. Most of my fellows appeared to wish they could currently be paying for parking somewhere else.

“And now, I am thrilled to introduce our next speaker!” the clerk moved seamlessly through her M.C. duties.

She hauled a judge to the front of the room.

He cleared his throat.

“I do hope you don’t feel like we are wasting your time,” he started.

We do. That’s exactly how we feel.

“Thank you for serving here today. Our tradition of American jurisprudence demands it. None of us could do our jobs without you. All of the lawyers are currently scurrying behind the scenes, making their cases airtight to be heard before you—”

He paused and heaved a sigh of reverence.

“—the jury.”

I looked around, impressed. No one had ever treated me with reverence before.

Apparently, my fellow jurors were all treated with reverence on a semi-regular basis. Many were blatantly ignoring the judge and scrolling through their phones.

“Now there is a saying, ‘Cases are settled on the courthouse steps,’” the judge continued. “You might not make it beyond this room, but you have still served a vital function in our democracy.”

He bowed, and handed the microphone back to our Master of Juror Ceremonies.

“Thank you for that riveting speech!” she gushed. “And indeed, he is right, we had two trials going today, and one of them has now settled; half of you were assigned to that trial, and are hereby excused. I will read the list of names now.”

The atmosphere in the jury room sharpened noticeably. It was the most engaged the audience had been all morning.

She began reading names alphabetically.

Those of us at the head of the alphabet by surname were excused, demonstrating the exact reason I will need to think long and hard about changing my last name if I ever get married.

I was released.

Jury Duty ended up being completely inconsequential; just as the clerk said, I really did feel like I was getting away with something. It was as if I needed to do penance.

My penalty presented itself sooner than expected. Unable to resist the pull of community, I attended the Anchorage Assembly’s Townhall at the Loussac Library later that week.

To the credit of the Assembly and Administration, they did start and end the meeting punctually. This good feeling, however, was undercut by the fact that the Assembly was proposing not one, but two alcohol taxes.

Those who felt compelled to rise for public comment were tax-friendly. They did not, however, adhere to the topics at hand. Rather, one attendee praised the proposed oil tax, which was not under the municipality’s purview. Another audience member called for a toll to be instituted on the Glenn Highway for visitors driving into Anchorage. This would mean the municipality would be taxing a state road, and I’m sure the rest of the state would have something to say about that.

Still a third audience member got up to speak at length about how we should all be taxed, only to abruptly conclude her remarks by saying she was opposed to the Assembly’s taxes.

There was a small group named “Project 20’s” passing out stickers, and the head of the group took the microphone. She spoke at length about how she grew up in Alaska, how her parents grew up in Alaska, and how her child was growing up in Alaska, and yet, I still was not sure what Project 20’s was about.

I checked my watch.

I’d been there for seventy-seven minutes.

I was sitting in the middle of the last row of the auditorium. Rather than disturb half the row on my left, or the other half on my right, I stood up and climbed over the back of my chair in a frantic bid for freedom.

I tripped and stomped loudly to my feet.

Everyone in the row turned to look at me, now thoroughly disturbed.

So much for being considerate of others.

Against all odds, Sarah Brown is considering a career in public service. While she mulls over her decision, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.