Tuesday, March 31, 2020


Earlier in the month, I was still skeptical about COVID-19, the disease that has now become America's central focus. Back then it was still far away, and I thought that everyone was overreacting. I was persuaded by the "it's just another flu" argument. The lack of urgency from the federal government kept me pessimistic.

I changed my mind when I looked at the death tolls from Italy. Then my daughter's college announced that students should not return to campus after Spring Break. Instead, students would resume their Spring semester work online. Soon after, the company I worked for announced an indefinite work from home mandate.

Since then, major aspects of American life have shut down: all professional sports leagues, college sports, movies, churches, casinos, restaurants and retail centers. It is stark living out without these non-essentials. I would love to be able to go to the library, to the gym, or to the movies. I think all of us would.

Until then, we are practicing social distancing. We go out for groceries, but not with the same frequency as before. The hoarding and insanity of that initial shut-down weekend seems gone, but being in a supermarket feels risky. The virus is invisible. Is this cart wiped down?

We still enjoy take-out, but picking it up from empty restaurants is disquieting. Our take-out orders are a small way of helping local businesses, but they are absorbing a big economic hit. I wish the country were better set up to help people on the edge. Of late, I've been pondering the brutality of capitalism.

As I write this, we're in this situation for at least another month. I hope that we continue to follow the guidelines so that we can flatten that curve. Next time COVID-19 comes around (if indeed it's seasonal), we'll have a vaccine, more hospital equipment, and way better protocols. Until then, hunker down, America.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Asleep with Cats

I visited my younger brother a few weeks ago, and I slept on his sofa. He has two cats, and as I was settling in for the night I wondered how these cats would react to me sleeping in their space. My brother said that cats are nocturnal. Well, that's good to know.

I had some trepidation sleeping with the cats. I grew up without pets, so I had to work to become comfortable around them. My wife and an old roommate of hers had a dog and becoming friends with that dog helped me overcome my childhood fear of dogs. But cats? I was vaguely worried about getting scratched. Also, my mother-in-law had a cat and I had a mild allergic reaction to it.

One of my brother's cats is shy, but the other one, Soxs, liked interacting with people. When we got home from dinner it seemed that Soxs was seeking my attention. She kept rubbing my legs with her head. When I sat on the sofa, she would climb up to get closer to me.

After the lights went out, I heard the cats padding around. They seemed to avoid me, so I drifted off to sleep. After midnight Soxs climbed up on the sofa and she started gently pawing at my arm. Then she climbed up on my chest and sat down. She was looking off into the dark with her nocturnal eyes. I was awake by then. I liked the feeling of her on my chest, and her demeanor of utter comfort.

She climbed on me a few more times that night, and each time I welcomed it. I told my other brother, another cat owner, about Soxs pawing at me while I slept. "That's really the cat petting you!" Thank you, Soxs, for your evening company.

Soxs (l.) and Brendan (r.)

Friday, January 31, 2020

My 2019 Books and Movies

In 2019, I finished 17 books and 70 movies.

My favorite fiction from the past year: The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen) and The Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead). Both were vivid and dramatic, and I loved them, and I highly recommend them both.

My favorite non-fiction: Guns, Germs and Steel. I'm coming late to this book by Jared Diamond. I remember a co-worker reading this in the mid 1990s, and I had put it on my radar back then. I managed to finish it last year as an audio book, but the material was so compelling I bought a used copy. This is a sweeping book about the key drivers behind the formation of modern societies.

For the movies, my favorite by far was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Humor, emotion, music, and amazing action. But a close second was Incendies, a story that rocked me just like it did the children depicted in this brooding movie about family and history.

Nickel Boys