Would you like more curfew with your lockdown?

Philadelphians join nation wide Anti-Police brutality protest

I was jawing with Swamp Rabbit when my phone started making those strange emergency alert noises. “Only essential personnel allowed outside,” the text read. WTF? We figured a tornado was coming, or maybe a nuclear attack.

In fact, the alert was to announce an 8 pm to 6 am curfew to help Philadelphia weather the wave of protest that has rocked American cities since we all saw the video of white cops slowly killing an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.

It was a racially diverse crowd of protesters in Philly, as it was in many other cities. Most of them were peaceful but a rowdy contingent was trashing shops and restaurants in Center City, a long way from my shack in the Tinicum swamp but close enough to be distressing.

“We’re screwed,” I said. “A lot of those stores were closed for months because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Now they’re being looted. The one-two punch could knock them out for good. The city might never recover.”

“Don’t blow your wig,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “It could be worse. There ain’t no shootin’ going on.”

The next day, Sunday, I dragged myself out of the swamp and biked uptown to see the damages. Walnut Street still smelled like smoke. Workers were sawing off chunks of plywood to seal up some of the trashed storefronts. Swamp Rabbit was right — no shootings, and the destruction could have been much worse.

But it wasn’t over. Later that day looters hit other retail spots, including the 52nd Street business strip in a mostly black neighborhood where renewal efforts have been going on for a long time. I told Swamp Rabbit that the looting of small businesses there was sickening.

“Not as sickening as them cops murdering George Floyd in broad daylight,” he said. “Or them white-collar looters using that stimulate package to steal billions that should go to poor peeps.”

“You mean stimulus package, rabbit, but never mind. Maybe these protests are the tipping point. When tempers cool, we can…”

My phone started squawking with red alert sounds; it was curfew time again.

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At times, history rhymes

trump bible

“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’”
Halford E. Luccock, 1938

The “how low can he go” question came up again yesterday. This time Dear Leader had the cops use tear gas to chase peaceful protesters so he could pose with a Bible for a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, not far from the White House.

Swamp Rabbit was reading over my shoulder. “What’s up with the Bible?” he said. “Everybody knows Trump don’t read no holy books. He don’t even read them morning briefings from his cronies.”

“His base likes when he uses props — Bibles, flags, churches, whatever,” I explained. “It makes them feel all warm and hateful inside.”

“But that’s such an old trick,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You’d think the peeps would get sick of evil guys waving flags and Bibles by now.”

I shrugged. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, rabbit. Especially if the old tricks still work for him.”

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Why no editorials urging Trump to exit?

right thing 3

I think we will look back and ask why people weren’t more furious… Where was the outrage?
— Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer

I reminded Swamp Rabbit that all the mainstream news outlets are dropping the ball the same way: They constantly present evidence that Donald Trump is a danger to the country but refuse to call for what the evidence seems to demand — his resignation from office.

“That’s crazy talk,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump was impeached and didn’t resign. I’ll bet he don’t leave the White House even when he loses the election, not unless them palace guards drag him out.”

You’re missing the point, I told him. Of course Trump won’t resign, but it’s important for all democrats, small d, to go on record as having demanded he quit, because he has repeatedly demonstrated he isn’t fit to hold office.

“The election’s less than six months away,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Why not just wait and let the peeps decide?”

So I told him. For starters, Trump extorted a foreign power for personal gain, obstructed justice during the Mueller probe, and ignored the coronavirus pandemic until it was too late to prevent many thousands of avoidable deaths. With each passing week he becomes more dismissive of the laws and so-called norms that supposedly govern presidential behavior.

This week he took action to discourage Twitter from policing misinformationhis misinformation — on its site. Does anybody think he wouldn’t silence all those who challenge his lies if he thought he could get away with it?

“A lotta presidents did dirty deeds,” Swamp Rabbit countered. “Are you saying the media should have called on them all to resign?”

I reminded him that many major newspapers in the country called on Bill Clinton to resign when all he did was lie about a blowjob.

“But that was the old days, before the Internet started siphoning the regular media’s power and influence,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Most of them newspapers are dead or dying now. The survivors are scared they gonna lose what little pull they got left if they stand up to Trump in a big way. Why should they?”

“Because it might persuade some people to not vote for a would-be dictator,” I replied.

Swamp Rabbit groaned. “That’s really weak, Odd Man.”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “How about this — They should call on him to resign because it’s their job to speak truth to power, pardon the cliché. What good are they if they can’t do that?”

Update: Here’s Trump threatening street protesters (via Twitter, of course) following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” As always, very presidential.

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Betting on a sure thing (COVID-19)


Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer Victor Cortez asked me if I wanted to bet against his bet that COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. would hit 100,000 by Memorial Day. (The death count as of today was about 95,000.)

“That’s tasteless,” I said. “You are the ultimate degenerate gambler.”

He shrugged. “All the ballgames have been canceled because of the lockdown, so I’m betting on the virus. What else is there?”

I told him to bet on the stock market, investors are doing well now that they know the big corporations are being bailed out. The more workers get laid off, the better the market does. At least it seems that way.

“The stock market is a roller coaster,” Victor said, laughing behind his face mask. “Better to bet on death, it’s a sure thing.”

I tried to tell him he wasn’t in his right mind, none of us were. Unemployment might soon be as high as it was in the Depression. An orange hog monster is in the White House, doing a disastrous job of leading the country out of its worst public health crisis in a hundred years.

“You’re like most of us,” I said. “You feel adrift in unsafe waters, hoping to be rescued before the sharks get to you.”

He rolled his eyes. “Very poetic, but where’s Swamp Rabbit? I dropped by his shack but there’s nothing there but empty liquor bottles. Drinking is a parole violation in his case. I’ll bet he’s not wearing his face mask either.”

“Can you blame him?” I said. “The hog monster doesn’t wear a mask, and he’s supposed to be setting an example for the whole country.”

I told Victor to leave Swamp Rabbit alone. Take the day off. Watch a rerun of an old Super Bowl on ESPN.

He pulled his mask down to his chin. “You can’t bet money on a game that’s already been played.”

Then he said, “Are you sure you don’t want to bet on Memorial Day?”

Footnote: Back in April, a pro gambler in Nevada bet 10K that COVID-19 would claim 100,000 victims by Sept. 1. It was his way of focusing the public’s attention on fighting the virus. Then he turned another 10K bet into a way to raise money for the homeless. Check it out.

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Channel surfing through lockdown

**FILE**  SpongeBob SquarePants is shown in this handout provide

My neighbor Swamp Rabbit knocked on my door and let himself in when I didn’t open it.

“Why don’t you quit tweaking that thing?” he said, meaning the short story I was writing. “I bet you ain’t changed ten words in ten hours.”

I shrugged. “We’re in a lockdown. I’m sheltering in place. I’ve got all the time in the world.”

He turned on my TV, which he likes to watch when he’s hungover. Then he picked up the remote and got into a channel-surfing rhythm, pushing past cable news and a couple of miniseries on HBO. The sports channels were showing a very quiet game of baseball in South Korea (no fans in the ballpark because of social distancing rules) and a Phillies game from 1992.

I’m not a major fan of Bruce Springsteen, but I couldn’t help thinking of an oldie of his called “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On).”

“Why don’t you get your guitar and play that song you wrote about the COVID-19?” I said.

“I need my TV fix,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “If all else fails, there’s always some new show about Hitler. He ain’t never goin’ go out of style.”

“No politics,” I warned him. “No orange hog monster.”

Snippets of TV shows from another century appeared one after the other — “Gilligan’s Island,” “Perry Mason,” “Friends.” None of this stuff felt good for my eyes, not to mention my mental health.

After a while I told Swamp Rabbit to settle on something and he narrowed the options to three movies and a cartoon show. I read the titles and plot summaries on the TV screen.

Invasion U.S.A.: “Slavic mercenaries with bazookas hit Florida at Christmas, drawing an agent (Chuck Norris) out of retirement.”

Song of India: “A prince of the jungle (Sabu) frees beasts trapped by zoos for callous Indian royalty.”

X-Men: Dark Phoenix: “During a rescue mission, Jean Grey is hit by a cosmic force that makes her infinitely more powerful but far more unstable. The X-Men must unite to save her soul…”

SpongeBob SquarePants: “SpongeBob and Patrick must save Mr. Krabs when he gets trapped in the bank.”

“I’m gonna pass on them movies,” Swamp Rabbit said. “What about a psycho-killer biography or one of them shows about peeps in jail? You know, real lockdowns.”

He surfed past a few hundred more channels. The Hitler shows were all reruns. In the end he went with SpongeBob, for obvious reasons. (Cue up Springsteen video.)

Footnote: Actually, TMC is good sometimes, and there’s always Netflix.

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Don’t worry, it’s only a movie

last man2
Here they come, a squad of chubby Sandinistas wearing black surgical masks. Better cross the street. Oh no! A tall, skinny diva walking her tall, skinny dog. All I can see are her eyes, and they’re glaring at me. Better put on my mask and run in the street, at least until I get halfway back to my shack in the Tinicum swamp.

Easier said than done. On the block up ahead there’s a party going on with music playing and a Happy Birthday sign in the window of the corner house. None of the partiers are wearing masks, and they’re not in a social distancing mood. They’re teenagers. Probably more worried about running out of beer than catching the plague.

So I stay in the street and run harder and put my mask on whenever someone gets too close. And after awhile there are no pedestrians and I feel like I’m in a movie playing the sole survivor of an attack by aliens that left all the buildings intact. That’s it, I’ll pretend it’s a movie.

Barnes & Noble is closed. The restaurants have shut down and the schools and gyms and arenas and retail stores and bars and theaters and coffee shops. It’s not as if everyone just took a few days off and will return next week. Some of the storefront windows are boarded up.

When I get back to the shack, Swamp Rabbit shows me an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

… It’s already clear that our habits have been profoundly altered after just a few weeks of home confinement. Many people have grown comfortable working in their dens and basements and having life’s necessities brought to their doorsteps. The longer the closures go on, the more likely that Center City’s struggling retailers will finally succumb to the delivery economy.

The rabbit is rattled. He downs a shot of whiskey and says, “What if them office workers you dissed last week don’t come back? What if everybody starts living indoors all the time? If Center City dies, what happens to us peeps in the boondocks?”

I shrug. “In the boonies we’ll live like second-class citizens, same as before, except the taxes will be a lot higher. Uptown, the office workers will return, at least for awhile. Center City will make a modest comeback when the infection rate falls to near zero.”

“Yeah, but what happens if there’s a second wave of virus, and a third, like with that flu back in 1918?”

“Have another drink,” I said. “You don’t even want to think about that.”

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The loneliness of the long-distance office worker

We took turns reading a Philadelphia Inquirer story about possible psychological damage suffered by office workers who, for their own safety’s sake, must work at home for as long as the COVID-19 disaster persists.

In suddenly empty offices all across America, idle water coolers stand as memorials to a workplace culture that has virtually disappeared during the coronavirus epidemic.

For millions now forced to labor at home, the casual collegiality symbolized by those gurgling office gathering spots has given way to seclusion and uncertainty, possibly exacerbating what ex-Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called ‘America’s epidemic of loneliness.’

Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “Them poor water coolers. I’ll bet they ain’t gurgled in weeks.”

I pretended to smack him upside his head. “It’s not funny, dude. Forced solitude is taking a toll on our mental health. Where would we be without the casual collegiality of the office workplace?”

He raised his mangy head and looked me over. “You’re putting me on, Odd Man. You don’t like office work.”

I failed to suppress a laugh. “Let me put it this way. I never worked an office job that didn’t make me feel like I was trapped with people who, with very few exceptions, weren’t scheming backstabbers or hopeless drones.”

“They probably felt the same way about you,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You ain’t exactly fun to be around.”

“That’s my point, rabbit. Why should office workers have to put up with each other? We’re talking mostly about bullshit jobs — writing ad copy, public relations and so on. Why not just use the Internet to do the work from home?”

“I don’t know, Odd Man, it can get pretty lonely at home.”

“You mean lonely like the loneliness of the long-distance runner? It’s a lot worse being lonely in a crowd of dead-ass office workers.”

We’re reading a bullshit newspaper story about bullshit grievances, I told him. These people are getting paid to work from home and therefore have little to complain about, especially compared to essential workers who get paid next to nothing to risk infection every day.

Swamp Rabbit told me to calm down, he agreed with me, but why did the Inquirer run a story that tries to make us feel sorry for at-home office workers?

“Because office workers are their audience,” I said. “Who else would have the time or inclination to read such crap?”

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