A Modest List of Things to be Thankful for in 2020

“Thanksgiving Spread” by CarbonNYC [in SF!] is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Off the top of my head, a list of catastrophes that have occurred in 2020 include:

  1. Global pandemics;
  2. Wildfires in Australia, California, Washington, and Oregon;
  3. Tornadoes in the Southern United States. These also struck roughly one month after COVID-19, which frightened everyone away from the designated tornado shelters;
  4. An invasion of murder hornets;
  5. A jet plane collided with a bear;
  6. And, of course, the death of James Bond.

With all of this upheaval, Thanksgiving may be subdued. In such times of tribulation, will Americans feel gratitude? State and local governments might even prefer citizens not give thanks, taking it upon themselves to restrict the number of guests permitted per Thanksgiving feast. Enforcement measures remain unclear; it’s hard to imagine even the most officious mid-level bureaucrat will want to be the designated government representative to knock on neighborhood doors, verifying the number of approved party guests.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving may be raucous; perhaps Americans may count their blessings more generously than usual.

I believe we continue to be blessed, despite what President-elect Biden has dubbed “a dark winter” ahead. In a quest to prove the point, I conducted some market research. Based on an anonymous survey, respondents consider themselves thankful for many items:

  1. “I’m grateful for chips.”
  2. “I’ve forgotten what work pants feel like. I’m grateful for that.”
  3. “You know what I’m grateful for? I discovered I can still somehow manage to be late for work. Even though I don’t commute. Nothing is impossible for me!”
  4. “I’m thankful that Costco installed checkout lines for shoppers with only a few items. I only ever have a few items.”
  5. “I’m grateful for Grubhub. Not even a pandemic can get me to cook apparently.”
  6. “I’m grateful I am not married. Explaining 2020 to a Quaranteen would be rough.”
  7. While limiting Thanksgiving dinner sizes struck me as churlish—“I’m thankful that I have an excuse to not go to Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t stand listening to my family argue about the election.”
  8. “I’m thankful for masks. I like the anonymity.”
  9. “I’m grateful the toilet paper shortage is over.”
  10. “I’m grateful for the toilet paper shortage. I finally learned how to use my bidet.”

I personally have much to be thankful for. The second season of Haunting of Hill House was released on time on Netflix without incident. Also, grown adults have finally learned how to wash their hands.

I am also thankful for the endless insights into the lives of other people, which I can glean through Zoom. One particularly memorable Zoom meeting early in the pandemic featured a participant with chains hanging from his walls. He happily sat on a meeting with fifty strangers, seemingly unaware that his choice of decor could be considered a tad radical.

I am grateful that the world has finally embraced the wonders of telemedicine. I’ve been a frequent user of Teladoc ever since I discovered that I no longer have to physically go to the doctor’s office to have my rashes examined, or pervasive pink eye diagnosed. I’m pleased to welcome everyone else to this new, glorious, shame-free reality.

Finally, I am thankful for the downfall of makeup generally, and Big Lipstick specifically. I have not worn makeup in eight months, thus gaining hours cumulatively back into my life. For years I resented the extra minutes per morning I was expected to spend painting on a face. In particular, I found lipstick to be insidious in nature; the constant application causes your lips to become addicted to all of the added moisture. Without lipstick, your lips soon become egregiously chapped.

No longer will my lips be slaves to Big Lipstick! I’ve broken my addiction lo these eight months, and will never go back.

I’m not alone. A study from late July proclaimed the death of the “lipstick index,” an economics measure previously used to measure how women spend money during lean economic times. My fellow sisters in arms have also broken free.

Count your blessings folks, including what may be the most significant blessing of all –  that it is almost 2021!

Sarah Brown is a grateful person. She would be so thankful should you choose to contact her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Groundhog Days

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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.

Northern Exposure

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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.

The Young and the Redemption

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

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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

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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.