The Times

I saw in the New York Times that a candidate
for mayor of New York advocates bringing
TikTok Hype Houses to New York City.
I was stunned. I had to hurry over to Wikipedia
to find out what language he was speaking.
Just as I’d hoped, it was all irrelevant
to life as I know it. Thank god I don’t live in New York.
Or in DC, where unmasked men
wipe their feces on the walls of government buildings.
Or in LA, where tents line the edge of a pond
in an office park. People with no other place to live
live there. Competing, perhaps,
with the resident Canada geese for koi
and frogs’ legs. This week the elders among them
can get free vaccinations in Disneyland.

Here in Fantasyland I take another sip of coffee.
Yesterday Kevin, who works at the bank,
told me he’d be gone for the upcoming holiday weekend.
A fun vacation, I hope, I said.
Well, no, Kevin said, actually it’s my grandma,
well, she was my grandpa’s companion,
we called her Grandma, she passed away.
She was ninety-three. We all loved her.
I said I was very sorry to hear it.
But in fact he had poked a bright little hole
in the dark drapes of my outlook.
I have a step grandson, I said.
I hope he’ll still love me when I’m ninety-three.
He will, Kevin said. I think he will.

Pandemic Scrabble

The vast Interweb and all its devices and content fill so much of our time during these Stay-at-Home weeks. Every morning I read the digital New York Times and then watch people on TV offer up statistics and prognostications and accusations;  I’ve watched golden retrievers playing catch with wombats, and chickens in trousers trying to cross the road, and naughty cats having fun with toilet paper. The faces of friends and relations and people I haven’t seen in a decade peer out from my computer screen as we drink quarantinis and laugh merrily about life.

But sometimes you get tired of screens and tiny buttons, and one day I just decided I’d had enough of virtualism! Give me physicality!

So I descended to the basement, where my mother’s old Scrabble game lives in a box with my sister’s Monopoly game and the Parcheesi game that my grandmother gave me when I was seven years old, and brought it up to the dining room table.

The little wooden tiles inside clattered happily as I opened the box. There they were, along with the little wooden benches that you line them up on, tactile and tangible and redolent of snowy afternoons in Indiana and rainy afternoons on the Cape. My sister didn’t like Scrabble because she can’t spell, and my father the poet didn’t like it because no one spelled as well as he did, so my mother and I were left to while away the hours grabbing Double Word Scores and hoarding U’s in case you ended up with the Q, which is worth 10 points that get subtracted from your total if you end up unable to use it. We used our own rules for what words were legal, and now and then I casually accepted one of my mother’s wrongly-spelled words, because she was a terrible speller and as the second-best speller in the family I didn’t like to make her feel bad.

In among the tiles was an old scorepad filled with columns of numbers. After I left home my mother played on by herself, and some of the columns were labeled L and R, for Left and Right; others were N and S, for north and south. And apparently, after they retired my father began playing;  on page after page, columns were labeled Me and Don in my mother’s flowy script.  I suppose he found that after a long, wearying day of reading, writing, and staring into space, it can be relaxing to sit and spell.  I hope he knew to overlook her occasional idiosyncratic spelling.

As I leaned over the board and wrote L and R on a blank page, I could almost imagine that my mother was leaning over her letters across from me. She’s been dead for ten years, and although I’m glad she’s not here to experience this scary, crazy time, I also wish she were here. I’m grateful for the many little screens that keep me in touch with, and distract me from, what’s going on in today’s world;  but really, I’d rather just sit spelling – and misspelling – with her, silent except for little cries of ha! when we hit a triple word score.

We’d play game after game, until the afternoon had been whiled away, and it was time to get Dad his drink and start the potatoes boiling.


    The mudroom thermostat was dead.  I stood barefoot on the icy tiles and peered at the dim gray screen; then, as is my wont, I took off my trifocals, closed one eye, and from eight inches away I squinted through the other one to read the blinking digital message: REPLACE BATTERIES.

    I knew it, I knew it. This has been going on since we fell back on Halloween and the smoke alarms began shrieking. Then the dining room clock’s pendulum stopped swinging. And although one night we finally had rain, the weather monitor on the kitchen windowsill had registered nary a drop.

    The landline – no, it isn’t a landline, has nothing to do with the land any more, nor with the thick black cable that runs from the cul de sac through the land into the heart of my basement – the mobile handset refused to divulge identities, not even the unrecognizable numbers of callers pursuing my money.

    The outdoor temperature, as transferred from the sensor outside to the screen of the indoor thermometer in the living room, had gone way out of whack.

    And only when a visitor with ears younger than mine sat perched on my sofa and asked, “What’s that beeping?” did I figure out that the dog had been in torment for God knows how long because the gas fireplace remote had been calling out in a far-too-soft beep.

    It was the assault of the batteries.

    All, all are mortal.

    That morning, the morning of the frigid mudroom, was New Year’s Day. These days, unlike the legal holidays of my long, long-ago childhood, the stores were open.  In a couple of hours I drove over to the Ace, put on my mask and walked inside to buy some double A’s.

    Afterwards I let the dog out of the back seat and we walked down to the water’s edge, which is the edge of Town Cove. He  immersed his nose in the scents of the grass, the dirt, the dry leaves, the other dogs, the coyotes, the airborne particles dropped from the smoke of the old year’s last wood fire in the nearby house, and I looked out at the water.

    Just like our last visit, and the time before that, the five mute swans were drifting at the far side. Those non-native birds are aggressive, and always hungry. They are a beauty to behold.