I Do Not Like America Right Now

9 May

I had a discussion with Joe and Jack outside Belle Cora early this evening in North Beach.  Jack mentioned having more time to spend on his art with the shelter-in-place policies in San Francisco.  I could appreciate that sentiment.  Consider the output of this blog over time and you will understand that the blog is a luxury and the time available to enhance the venture has been practically nil.

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Be that as it may we do what we can to live.  I make a living.  I work for a wage.  Unless you are one of Trump’s welfare recipients sitting this pandemic out on a yacht making a living is rather special.  Sample Anneken Tappe’s “Record 20.5 million American jobs lost in April. Unemployment rate soars to 14.7%,” CNN Business (https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/08/economy/april-jobs-report-2020-coronavirus/index.html; accessed 05/08/2020).

Stella Pastry & Café decided to close at the beginning of shelter-in-place in San Francisco.  Recently someone with a marker wrote the words you see above on the shop’s window pane, covering the paper sign the shop had originally posted from inside.  A defacement with what, certainly provocative, meaning?  I’ve noticed nearly one-third to one-half of the local population not wearing masks in my neighborhood on any given day.  Earlier today on the bus I listened to a man in a wheelchair in his 80’s rail against the use of masks.  His litany touched on several aspects of how his life has been impeded: why he can’t breathe!  But it was the last item on his list that truly astounded: he wants women to be able to see his face without a mask!  No one in particular was being addressed; we were all hostage to his words.

Why are we allowing this travesty to take place?  Wearing masks to help stem a pandemic!  No!  Surely not!  Ahoy Huntington Beach!

But if the I-need-my-nails-and-hair-cut-now-this-is-freedom crowd is making too much noise the rational keep-the-state-afloat managerial class tempers that by letting us know that we can afford to allow some people to die.  It’s in the budget that we must save.  Whose budget accounted for 1,322,163 confirmed cases within the United States as of now with 78,616 deaths? (see ncov2019.live for these figures, and they will change!).

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Fnnch is a local artist for whom I do not have an opinion but of whom I am well aware.  His spray painted images of the signature honey bear, as you see above, or flamingos or lotus flowers dot the landscape.  You cannot think of spray can art in San Francisco without including this artist.  Be that as it may, the above image is a work on paper adhered to a postal relay box located on Columbus Avenue near Broadway.  This particular bear did catch my attention two weeks ago because the artist had added the mask.  It also caught others’ attention — with tags “STONER”, “5G”, and “FUCK ‘YO’ COUCH” —  and obviously someone who did not like the message behind the mask.  I had to ask a friend what “5G’ referred to.  She explains that this is reference to a theory gaining popularity that the virus is caused by cell phone towers.

People nonchalantly strolling the avenues mask-less is as much a designer statement as people wearing newer hand-crafted three-layer cloth masks.  There is a smugness to those mask-less strollers.  They have more important things to do than be bothered with the common good.

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But what is caring for the common good to capitulation?  This work on cardboard, which I could have nonchalantly stepped on as I strolled today, was part of a soft tide of garbage drifting across my path.  Look how it shouts for attention!  This handmade sign lifts the AIDS epidemic-era slogan of SILENCE=DEATH from a visual campaign originally created in the 1980s by concerned citizens in New York City and members of ACT-UP, who could see that a pandemic seemingly affecting only gay men was being totally ignored by the rest of America.

And I do remember those days.  When we gathered in private homes to assess the coming storm we were asking each other how to care for individuals suddenly fraught with an unknown disease.  There were no institutional parameters to look to.  There was no governmental concern nor support.  No, there was absolutely nothing.  Yet, America would be nothing today if not for the bravery of men and women who reached out during the AIDS pandemic.  Now we have the institutional and governmental structure to address pandemic because of AIDS.

People gripped with economic uncertainty or job loss must certainly be acknowledged (see my post from May 3rd regarding meatpacking plant workers).  But the lack of empathy because of assumed self-righteous claims to  constitutionally guaranteed personal freedoms or latched-on conspiracy theories surrounding cell phone towers is a mentally sick vacuum that shows us who we truly are.  We are not the brave souls who addressed AIDS.  We are a morally bankrupt people.  I do not like America right now.

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