The Before Times

In your home, right now, you can probably look up from your device and see objects that you have invested with meaning: the anniversary picture on a wall, the family heirloom on a bookshelf, the concert or game ticket tacked to a bulletin board. Your eyes skim over them frequently on the way to looking at something more compelling. But if you look and linger, you sometimes find yourself feeling what you felt when those objects came into your life, remembering what they represent.

The BBC recently asked people to share the last “normal” photo on their cameras, taken before the virus crisis began. The picture at the top of this post is mine. It was taken on Sunday March 8, when The Mrs. and I were in Minneapolis to watch the Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team.

It was the end of a busy week. The preceding Saturday, February 29, was my birthday; Sunday March 1 was the first birthday party I’d had since I was eight. Wednesday the 4th I traveled to Minnesota for what was supposed to be a three-week trip; on Friday the 6th, Ann came up to join me for the hockey weekend, a trip we’ve made several times in the last few years.

We knew about the virus by then. We were already washing our hands umpteen times a day. But we didn’t fear crowds yet. On Saturday the 7th we pregamed in a bar where people were shoulder-to-shoulder (pictured), and we postgamed at places that were equally crowded. After the game on Sunday we drove an hour up the road to where I would be teaching on Monday; Monday morning we had breakfast in a restaurant with whiteray and his Texas Gal before The Mrs. headed back to Madison. That night after class, I sat elbow-to-elbow with fellow barflies in a brewery taproom. On Tuesday the 10th, I had dinner in a crowded restaurant, once again at the bar. By the next day, the United States was starting to shutter. On Saturday the 14th, I taught what turned out to be my last class. The next day I went home, my trip cut short; my final dine-in restaurant meal was breakfast at a McDonalds by the interstate. I would work a week of radio after that, but since Wednesday, March 24, I’ve been on lockdown.

Back on the Friday of the hockey weekend, while waiting for me to get to Minneapolis from rural Minnesota, Ann went shopping, and she bought me a couple of sweaters. On March 1, to decorate for the party, she got me a bouquet of birthday balloons. On February 29, when we visited Madison’s Working Draft Beer Company, I put a brewery sticker on my phone case.

I find myself wearing those sweaters a lot more than my other clothes these days. One of the balloons, pictured here on April 26, stayed aloft for over two months. It has since sunk down behind the TV, but it’s still visible from where I sit in the living room. The sticker is still on my phone case, and I find myself fingering the edge of it while I use the phone. Like the pictures in this post, they are artifacts of the Before Times, when life was what life always was, before it started on the way to whatever it will become.

The sticker will fall off, eventually. The deflated balloon will have to be tossed. The sweaters will be put away until fall. New objects will come into my life and yours, and they will have new meanings. In the After Times, we hope that there will be new pictures to take and new tickets to tack up. But when—or whether—that will happen, we don’t know.

We just don’t.

Lots of people believe that the After Times are here, that states “reopening” this week means that the virus has been beaten and that normalcy is returning. But there’s little or no evidence for that, other than fairy tales told by self-serving policitians, and our own fond and forlorn wishes.

These are still the Before Times.

We are still a long, hard road away from whatever we are one day going to be.

“How Can You Run When You Know?”

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(Pictured: Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, 1970.)

The 50th anniversary of Kent State just sort of slipped by last week. I didn’t even find time to listen to “Ohio,” one of the most powerful artifacts of that time.

The story of “Ohio” is in this excerpt from Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne (which you should read in its entirety). Neil Young wrote it on May 19. It was recorded in two takes on May 21, sent immediately to Atlantic Records in New York, and first played on stage at New York’s Fillmore East on June 2.

I don’t know who played “Ohio” first, but KPOI in Honolulu, WMCA in New York, and WIXY in Cleveland first charted it during the second full week of June. In mid-July, “Ohio” spent two weeks at #1 at KADI in St. Louis, and a week topping the chart at KINK in Portland, Oregon. Although many influential stations charted it, some of the biggest did not, including WLS in Chicago, WABC in New York, and KHJ in Los Angeles.

(There’s a chart from KWHP in Edmond, Oklahoma, dated June 1 that would make it the first station in the nation to chart it, but it’s dated June 1 through July 8. I’m sure that “June” is a typo, and the chart is actually from the first week of July.)

“Ohio” debuted on the Hot 100 at #58 during the week of June 27, then went to #49 before debuting in the Top 40 at #30 on July 11. (That July 11 chart is the one used for the first episode of American Top 40 during the July 4 weekend; Casey referred to “Ohio” as “heavy.”) It went to #26 and then 18-17-14 (its peak, during the week of August 8), then 21-24 and out, gone from the Hot 100 for the week of August 29, 1970. Its swift arrival and departure is fitting, in a way. In its time, “Ohio” was not so much a song as it was a news story, and while the news cycle didn’t move as swiftly then as it does now, it still moved.

I used to be a political blogger and I remain an amateur historian, so we’re going there, on the flip.

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Life on Lockdown: The Middle of the Night

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(Here is a picture of a puppy and a kitten, because I need one and so do you.)

(Life on Lockdown is a regular Tuesday feature, which I write because it’s therapeutic for me. It will continue until it isn’t therapeutic anymore, or until I run out of ideas.)

If I’m going out of my house and there’s a chance I might meet some of the other humans, I wear a mask. I’m terribly self-conscious with it on, it’s hot, and it steams up my glasses. When I get back to the safety of my car at the conclusion of my errands, I can’t rip the thing off fast enough. But I’m not wearing it to protect myself. That’s not the main reason masks are being recommended now. It’s to protect other people. Even though I don’t feel sick today, I could be COVID-19 contagious without knowing it. And I don’t want you to get it from me.

I am not interested in the rationalizations of people who think they’re Batman or Rosa Parks or some kind of freedom fighter by not wearing a mask. What’s applicable here is the adage that says your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The Mrs. ticks more boxes on the virus vulnerability list than I do. And you do not have the right to endanger her health, or anyone else’s. Your freedom does not extend that far. It just doesn’t.

The hard-nosed “realists” who have been preparing for the end-times since Obama was elected can’t handle an apocalypse that requires not superior firepower but empathy, patience, and bad hair. I have nothing more to say to those people, and I’m not alone. As Kayla Chadwick put in a Huffington Post essay in 2017, one that deserves recirculation these days: “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.”

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Have Yourself a Merry Little Lockdown

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Life on Lockdown is a recurring Tuesday feature. As with everything else on this website, you are not obligated to read it.

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Did You Know That We’re All in This Together?

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(Pictured: Deadwood cast members Timothy Olyphant, John Hawkes, Ian McShane, Kim Dickens, and Robin Weigert at the 2019 movie premiere.)

Here in Wisconsin, we’re still on lockdown . . . for now. We’re waiting to see whether the governor’s Safer-at-Home order, which he extended last week to May 25, will be allowed to stand, or whether the 80 percent of us who favor the order will be forced to yield to mob rule. A tiny, unrepresentative group of protesters is noisily demanding that the virus crisis be declared over and the economy “reopened.” The legislature’s GOP majority is wedded to a single principle—that whatever the governor wants must be thwarted—and is taking a challenge of the extension to the state Supreme Court, where its 5-2 conservative majority is in the pocket of the state’s biggest business lobby. It doesn’t take a genius to guess the likely outcome.

The GOP’s April 7 murder election has already affected our virus curve, although the curve is still under control. A premature reopening of the economy will explode it. Well done, everybody.

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Living in the Country

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(Pictured: the original Getty Images caption says this farmer is “plowing alternating fields.” Those are called “contour strips,” and that’s a corn planter. Once a farm boy, always a farm boy.)

Here’s another edition of Life on Lockdown, a regular Tuesday thing we will do until A) we aren’t on lockdown anymore or B) we run out of things to say.

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