COVID Year in Review

[See original post here]

March marks a full year that COVID-19 has moderately to significantly impacted my life. Rather than a “Calendar Year in Review” in December, I am opting for a “COVID Year in Review” in March.

March: Anchorage is introduced to former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order which, as summarized by Andrew Jensen, is “a stay-at-home order, but if you want to take a walk, they’ll allow it.”

All of my usual activities are replaced with stockpiling paper products and canned soup, and eating chips and salsa.

April: The chips and salsa snacking is replaced with consuming family-size packages of sour gummy worms. Knowing this will all inevitably catch up with me, I start exercising furiously. I delight in building muscles from scratch.

What with all the restaurant closures, I figure now is the time to embrace learning to cook.

I confirm a long-held suspicion that I hate cooking.

I break down and order a pizza from Uncle Joe’s. It is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

May: I debut my COVID-perfected, knock you on your rear, margaritas. The recipe remains proprietary, such that I can keep friends around.

Brown’s Close launches its website. We are immediately followed by fifty magnanimous Facebook friends, and three bots.

June: I attempt to buy a new bike, as my current bike is 17 years old and wheezes whenever we round corners. Anchorage’s stores are completely sold out, as is Facebook Marketplace. I turn to Marketplace’s older, grungier associate, Craigslist. While there are bikes listed on Craigslist, they are all obviously stolen. Some of the inventory still has the broken bike locks on them in the pictures, and others, chains. One adult man is selling what he claims to be his bike. It is pink, floral, and large enough for a six-year-old girl.

July: I go camping for the holiday. On the drive home, the car more or less calls it quits on life. I grind to a halt on the highway, walk a mile to cell phone service, and find one tow company open on the Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Given how busy the road is on the holiday weekend, and what with no offers of assistance from passing motorists, I am forced to conclude that chivalry is dead.

August: The town erupts in very strong opinions on Kriner’s Diner, a restaurant that I can’t imagine has ever seen the kind of publicity that its standoff with the mayor garnered, not to mention those hefty $15,000/day fines.

September: Learning my lesson from my bike-less summer, I purchase used cross-country skis at Play It Again Sports. The lettering on the skis is electric blue, and the boots are satin red and gold. The boots prove to ultimately give me blisters, but pain is weakness leaving the body.

October: Photos of Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s pimply back appear. Though meant to be seductive, they have more of a medical quality.

November: I teach myself how to cross-country ski and become accomplished enough to participate in Alaska Ski for Women, and the Tour of Anchorage. Alas, I am dressed inappropriately for both events. My parka and snow pants are too bulky for the Tour of Anchorage, where current and former Olympians are dressed in spandex. My attire is similarly not bulky enough for Alaska Ski for Women, where participants are dressed as strawberries and blueberries, and wear neon pink wigs.

The politics of masks come to a head when Alaska State Senator, Lora Reinbold, has a midair confrontation with the “Mask Bullies,” also known as Alaska Airlines.

Senator Reinbold has not stopped there. A Google search of “Lora Reinbold masks,” yields 3,060 results as of the time of this writing.

December: Our office Christmas party takes place virtually at ten in the morning. I annoy an entire Zoom breakout room with my passion for Die Hard.

January: Capitol rioters reveal many Americans have closely held beliefs about the existence of Lizard People.

February: Two men shoot Lady Gaga’s dog walker and make off with her French bulldogs. Most media coverage, and Lady Gaga’s reward offer, focus on the safe return of the dogs, and not so much on her critically wounded employee.

March: Bitcoin reaches its highest value ever. I have friends who’ve sextupled their initial investment with Bitcoin. However, when the currency is explained to me, it just sounds made up. For example, there is what is called “The Halving,” which takes place at predetermined times. This ceremony “halves” the number of “Bitcoins” that “the Bitcoin Miners” receive when they “Mine a Block” after “solving a Hash Puzzle.” After that, there’s “The Reaping,” where teenagers are taken from their parents to fight to the death in service of “Bitcoin’s glorious future.” Only after both “The Halving” and “The Reaping,” can there be “The Quickening.” It is at this point that the “Final Bitcoin Miners” battle it out to ascertain who will become the “God of all Bitcoin.”

April: Next month, I’ll get to see my brother for the first time in 16 months. We will use this precious time to catch up on an entire holiday seasons’ worth of family political debates.

And thus, in the words of modern poet, Maria Athens, “Have a great Friday, you motherfu****!”

Sarah Brown is a troubadour, specializing in chronicling local political life. You can reach her at sarah@browns-close.com, or on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. 

Was Socrates a Skier?

“Socrates” by bencrowe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

This COVID winter, all of my usual activities were indefinitely postponed. Typically, I spend the cold months indoors with friends. We go to events around town, the movies, and last winter got into a memorable altercation in a local wine bar with a woman who threw our coats on the floor.

Faced with the prospect of nothing so exciting to do as that sort of direct communication, I taught myself to ski. I bought a pair of used classic cross country skis from Play It Again Sports in September, and in November I went to Hilltop and puttered around the flat landscape.

It struck me as odd that the skiing destination known as “Hilltop” has the flattest land for skiing in the whole city. I was quickly distracted from this thought, however, by the sheer difficulty of cross country skiing. It takes some time to grow accustomed to the movement. One does not walk on cross country skis, or shuffle. One glides.

Going straight from zero to glide proved challenging, but I picked up some tips from YouTube. Try to shuffle-shuffle-glide-shuffle. Move up to the shuffle-shuffle-glide-glide.

By the time I graduated to the shuffle-glide-glide-glide-shuffle, I’d begun to notice some things about my fellow skiers. For example, the fastest way to annoy a gaggle of cross country skiers is to go the wrong way on the trail. Indeed, most loops are one way, and yet the direction is rarely marked. It’s up to the skier to know the direction.

Sadly, as a novice, it is pretty much inevitable I am going the wrong way. Serious skiers, mind you, are not shy about informing you of your mistake, though their corrections could do with a bit more directness. Rather than throwing my coat on the floor, my fellow skiers want to teach me the error of my ways through the Socratic method, trying to get me to reach my own conclusions.

One evening while happily skiing the wrong way, I was stopped by a female on skate skis. She was tall and thin, with her skis and poles making her legs and arms look even longer than they actually were.

She flapped over.

“Is there a moose back there?” Her voice went up at the end of the sentence, and she cocked her head.

I frowned, puzzled.

“No.”

Did she expect there to be?

“Oh. Well, like, you’re going the wrong way?”

Her voice went up again, and she cocked her head in the other direction.

I wondered why she didn’t make it a declarative statement. After all, I was either going the wrong way, or I wasn’t.

In my defense, there really is no way to know whether one is going in the correct direction. Much like the skiers themselves, the ski signs communicate opaquely. Periodically, there will be one way signs with alarming stop signs beneath, clearly demonstrating the way. The trouble is, the stop signs are only at intersecting trails, which necessitate more signs with more arrows pointing to the new trails. Many of these arrows point in the direction of the stop sign, thereby instructing novices like me to disregard the one way.

Like, do you see my problem?

Clear, comprehensible directional signage is not important to the ski community, but signs telling non-skiers they are not welcome on the ski trails are very important. Around Anchorage, it is not uncommon to see trails labeled, “Ski Only in Winter.”

While I do give kudos to the skiers for at least labeling these trails, the syntax is wrong; when else during the year would one be skiing?

The first time I saw such a sign, I was on a walk in the fresh snow at Service High School. I had not yet attempted skiing myself, so I was not fully indoctrinated in the skiing ethos of restricting trails for skiers only.

I read the sign, frowned in confusion, shrugged, and proceeded. I wasn’t sure why Service High School felt compelled to tell me not to bother skiing outside of winter. Perhaps some rogue student went haywire one year, tried to ski in the summer, and caused such mayhem the school administrators took extra steps to prevent similar chaos in the future.

I was promptly accosted by a woman on skate skis.

She, too, questioned me to show me the error of my ways. How else was I to learn?

“Are you taking a walk?”

She pulled the skier head cock.

“Well…yeah.”

“Like, you’re not supposed to walk here?”

I frowned.

“What do you mean I can’t walk here?”

She pulled her head to the other side, and continued to look at me. The Socratic method was not working.

Really, what could she do to me. This is America. I could walk on any trail I wished.

“Are you telling me you don’t want me to walk here?”

She shook her head piously.

I waited for her to offer a bit of helpful information, such as, where she wanted me to walk instead.

After we engaged in a standoff for several seconds, she motioned me to a different trail system.

Many of Anchorage’s skiers are elite athletes, to be sure. Once the city reopens fully, however, they could stand a lesson in direct communication from any number of Anchorage’s bar patrons.

Sarah Brown is direct. Write her at sarah@browns-close.com. Tweet her @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.