The New (Temporary) Great Depression

I lost two clients in the last two hours. It was a sizable hit. Nothing I did. I’m an easygoing professional who cracks jokes and turns around sharp and witty copy fast. But this is our present epoch. Nobody is immune. Not me, not you. They’re going to can you. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that they have positions of power — largely the ability to give you money for your hard work — and you don’t. The pandemic is now becoming a dog eat dog world on meth. If you’re living in New York, you’re only a paycheck or two away from being out on the streets. I readjusted my finances yesterday so that I would be able to last through this apocalypse for six months, assuming the worst case scenario in which I wouldn’t have any income. Because not having income is very much the reality for a good third of Americans right now.

I’m not sour about what went down today at all because I realize I’m one of the lucky ones who has this option. I’m not sour because this thing is bigger than me. Many can’t or won’t be able to survive. And I’m not talking about the virus. I’m talking about economics. I’m talking about the mass firings. I’m talking about the people who will lose their homes once the evictions and foreclosures are allowed to happen again.

Even the roti stand guy in my neighborhood who I have a long-running comedy routine with isn’t cracking jokes anymore. He told me sad stories about the Prospect Park Concourse being completely devoid of people. I went to the liquor store a few nights ago and people were bragging about the part-time work they were able to land. It was fairly easy to understand that their three day stints weren’t going to cover their rent or their bills and that they have no savings. But they had to find pride even as they are being thoroughly shafted by these evil Republican bloodworms. And that is enraging. I mean, goddammit, to not have the power to protest the streets with every fiber of our being over this. But, of course, that’s impossible right now. Not while we’re trapped in the quarantine bubble.

Because there’s also another part of you who realizes that staying calm and pro-active is the only way you can survive this. Small wonder that people who are buying and drinking copious quantities of alcohol — myself included — to help cope with the fact that our lives and our livelihoods are essentially fucked right now are trying to find solace in a form of math that still leaves them in the red. Pride cooks the books as swiftly as a Bernie Madoff scam. But, dammit, we need it. Even when it is a lie.

This is the conversation we aren’t having right now. I can’t stop thinking about the people who are suffering. The ones who will fall into terrible mental illness spirals that they can’t easily escape from. The ones who may commit suicide. Will there be more deaths from suicide than from Coronavirus? I have a feeling there will be. I had to talk at least one friend off the ledge because she doesn’t know how she’ll pay rent next month. And I sent her money, knowing it wasn’t enough and knowing it was more than I should have given. But what the hell else was I supposed to do?

I went for a stroll this afternoon, maintaining my social distance. Because people tend to enjoy my affable presence, they often tell me things. And what they’re not telling you right now on the evening news is that people who have no money are stealing a lot of food from the stores. What they’re not telling you is that nearly everyone who works in retail is terrified. Infection. Some justifiably desperate person freaking out.

Our government isn’t going to provide for us. That much is clear. There isn’t going to be work for a lot of us until we’re allowed back in the bars and the restaurants again. You can’t hope your way into survival. We are enslaved to cruel and self-serving beasts who only care about the rich and the corporations and saving their own skin. This could radicalize the American public in the long run. And while most of us will find ways to survive, I can’t stop thinking about the many we’re leaving behind and how we can’t even hug them right now.

So if we have no way to fight this right now, let’s at least stick together in the ways that we can. Let’s talk with each other. Let’s crack jokes. Let’s write everything down. We need to share all of our experiences with total candor right now so that we can completely flip the system once the time has come to leave our homes and there’s time to storm the streets and humiliate these fuckfaces with the same unprecedented and unpardonable way they wish to decimate us. We must vote these bastards out of office with wide margins. We must, once it is our time again, strike without pity. Because they don’t give a fuck about us. They’ve got us right now. But it’s only temporary. They won’t have us forever. The pandemic will pass. Humanity will thrive again. And they’re going to be very sorry they left us in the lurch like this.

If you’re one of the solipsistic bastards who isn’t thinking beyond himself, rest assured that we will remember you. And we will make your lives difficult. You may have fucked us for the next six months. But we will tell the stories of how you treated us when you had the upper hand and you had the opportunity to help. And these stories will endure for years. It is you who will be hurt in the long run, not us. We will remember how you treated us when we had nothing. You may think you have something right now, but it’s not going to last. The world’s going to correct itself and it’s going to take out your smugness and your selfishness along the way. And we’ll be the ones popping open the champagne.

But let’s not forget the ones who do us solids. The ones who looked out for us as we looked out for them. They are the good people. They are the ones on our side. They are the ones who are fighting for the common good.

In the forthcoming weeks, we will really learn who are true friends are. So why not keep a ledger?

The Temperature Stand: A Way to Contain the Coronavirus

You can’t find a thermometer anywhere. It took me three days to get two thermometers and I’m usually very resourceful. I mean, if I can’t find one fast, nobody can. Pharmacies and the stores are all cleaned out. If you try ordering a thermometer from Amazon, you’ll end up waiting a month for it to be delivered. And right now, as the Coronavirus escalates in the States, we really need a way to be able to detect it as early as possible. The early signs involve fever. And with COVID testing proving to be outside the grasp of anybody other than the affluent, the only real way for us to know if any of us may have it is to check our temperature. But if we don’t have the tools, then how can we know?

Enter the temperature stand, an idea inspired by Lucy’s lemonade stand in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. Schultz had the right conceptual idea. What if a lemonade stand, which serves the community, were altered for medical purposes? What if we set up a network of temperature stands around the nation? Free temperature tests. No questions asked. Along with a few jokes and friendly banter just to make people feel safer and happier. The temple thermometer I have takes just three seconds to register that my body is running normally at 98.4. What if we enlisted volunteers to take the temperature of everyone in the neighborhood?

I really want to set up a temperature stand. I left the house today to talk with a pharmacy in my neighborhood about setting one up in front of their store. The pharmacy advised against it. So did a local cop. Why? Because there are now stringent edicts in place, along with a heavy police presence (many of the cops in my hood are wearing facemasks). So I can’t do this — even though I very much want to help people in my neighborhood. I’ve already started taking people’s temperature on the sly, dabbing my thermometer probe with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol immediately after. A guy at the bodega who comes into contact with perhaps a hundred people each day, grateful to know that he didn’t have a fever, offered me a free six pack of beer for doing him a solid. I politely declined. That’s not the way a temperature stand should work. Taking people’s temperature really should be free and ubiquitous. Think of this as a kind of healthcare volunteer squad, united by a common code rather than a common cold. It also feels incredibly strange to be an outlaw in the interest of public health. But, hey, if heading out into the city with a digital thermometer and a balacava and a secret name in the dead of night is the only way for me to help people, I’ll do it.

I’d set up a temperature stand it in a heartbeat, but I now know that I would be immediately shut down. Honestly, temperature stands make total sense. We need to be able to find and quarantine anyone who has a fever so that they don’t spread the virus.

I’m writing this quick dispatch to get this idea out there. To see if we can make something like this instantly happen.

Expert epidemiologists have informed us that the reported number of Coronavirus cases represents only a fraction of the total — perhaps as little as 13% of all cases. So it’s vital for us to have ways to collect data.

But if we have a way to take people’s temperatures, then we would stand a stronger chance of cutting down the number of cases. We’ll also have a way of flattening the curve while bringing our communities together.

So who’s with me? If we can’t keep a temperature stand in regular operation, then let us become masked avengers of the night — with a digital thermometer becoming the most valuable tool on our Batman utility belt!

I can tell you this much. I’m not leaving the house again without my thermometer. Not for me, but for other people. “I have a thermometer. Would you like me to take your temperature?” will now be added to my usual “Hello, how are you doing?” as long as we’re dealing with this pandemic. If you run into me, I’m more than happy to take your temperature.

Coronavirus Report from Brooklyn

The panic hasn’t quite kicked in, but there is a muted and funereal despair in Brooklyn. You can now more easily spot someone who is under the age of 35 from a distance. They jaunt down the streets with the carefree pep of kids who believe they are immune to COVID. But for the rest of us, there is a slowness, a cautiousness, sometimes a sadness, in the gait. For every stranger could be a carrier. I was received with more looks of suspicion than the norm, with people not only staying physically away from me, but saying nothing in response to my cheery hellos. But for people in the neighborhood that I knew in some capacity, including a guy who works the roti stand who I have a long-running “we’re in a steamy relationship” gag with, there were jokes and friendliness and hellos. The people you know are the ones you can count on. But strangers are increasingly stranger.

The reason I was out was not because I wanted to be, but because, like many residents of Brooklyn, I do not have a washing machine in my building. And I am a big believer in changing your underwear on a daily basis. It took me two days before I worked up the nerve to bundle my dirty clothes. I was out for about 90 minutes, longer than I had been out in the last four days combined. I felt that staying inside the laundromat was akin to playing a respiratory version of Russian roulette. So I decided to go for a wander, keeping my social distance.

Some of the restaurants were shuttered. The ones that remained open — takeout only by city edict — had removed all of their chairs. I observed a long strip of yellow police tape cordoning off booths at a fast food franchise. None of them appeared to be doing any business. And this was lunch hour. But there were kids still working behind the counter. I asked a guy on the register, whose name and restaurant I will not divulge in order to protect him, how he felt about working in these risky conditions. He told me that his boss would fire him if he didn’t work his scheduled shifts and that, on top of this, he was getting some overtime. He needed the money and, like many Americans, didn’t have any savings.

The thing that kept surprising me was how quickly social distancing had turned into a habit of not saying a word to a stranger, almost as if you could catch the Coronavirus by speaking a few words. When I went out into the world to stock up on provisions a few days ago, I encountered an old woman with a sad look, stumbling forward on her walker. I stayed about eight feet away, but I said, “Be careful. And you have a very happy day!” She smiled and told me that I was the first person she had spoken with in three days and she thanked me profusely. I wanted so badly to give her a hug and to let her know that she was not alone. But of course, I couldn’t. Our world is already in the casually cruel practice of letting the old die on their own. The increased and justifiable fear of passing along the virus to someone over the age of 60 has only hardened this habit of isolating ourselves from the truth of our inevitable fate.

The man who ran the laundromat had reduced his hours and placed many signs warning people about the virus. He wore a facemask. I noticed that his family wasn’t there, as they often were. It was just him, doing his best to keep his small business running. When I took out my laundry, I was sized up by a few nervous people who also didn’t want to sit there. Aggressive glares. Don’t come near me. It was quieter than usual, as most of the city now is, with only the television blaring warbling news from the wall. But it was the beginning of a new way of life. Don’t trust strangers. You don’t know what they have. The devil you know is better than the angel you don’t. In this new and unprecedented time of staying inside and self-quarantine, how many people will suffer not from a deadly flu but from loneliness?

Facebook Censorship: “Violating Community Standards”

I have received multiple reports tonight of Facebook stifling the rights of regular citizens to report on developments related to the Coronavirus, claiming that any user who shares helpful and objectively inoffensive information is somehow “violating community standards.”

This is, in short, an obscene violation of the First Amendment — especially because the “offensive” content being shared is often reasonable. Here are some examples of how Facebook is going out of its way to prevent people from having useful discussions:

I’m personally offended by this. As a dedicated rabble-rouser who often goes out of his way to write about the ineffable and the offensive, I have somehow not been hit by this weirdass algorithm — even though I went well out of my way to publicly declare on Facebook, “Mark Zuckerberg should have his virgin tight rectum violated by a flock of lambs jacked up on Viagra. Mark Zuckerberg will never know how to find and stimulate the clitoris – even with his many billions of dollars.”

Where the hell is my violation of community standards, Mark? I feel that I’ve been left out of your censorship party!

But in all seriousness, this draconian assault on basic information sharing is a calumny against free expression and the abundant need to be honest about the place we’re now heading in. If Zuckerberg has decided to withhold information — especially information that was put together by bona-fide journalists who perform their work with objective standards — then this is, in fact, disastrous to discourse and catastrophic to understanding how the terrible flu is spreading. At the present time, it is essential for us to have the floodgates open. And since 2.5 billion people are now on Facebook trying to make sense of a terrible pandemic, then it seems condign to let them vent in any way they need to.

This patently illustrates that Facebook is very much committed to muzzling free speech and destroying our right to disseminate genuinely useful information that will help people survive rather than die. And right now, it is far more important to have people delineating what they are experiencing rather than having Facebook capitulate to the business-as-usual approach to contemporary life. This is not a time for dishonesty. It is a time for truth.

When the world returns to normal, I hope that people will remember how Zuckerberg’s smug crew gleefully silenced us when we needed to talk. I hope that everyone will remember that Facebook went out of its way to be a dance partner with fascism and to pretend that a pandemic that could kill as many as 1.7 million Americans wasn’t just some fly-by-night trend.

We Need A Guaranteed Income for All Americans During the Pandemic

Nearly every working-class American is one or two paychecks from being out on the streets. And the shuttering of bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues in Los Angeles and New York City — all necessary, but all committed with cruel and thoughtless consideration for the American worker — is going to take a significant and life-altering hit on the vast majority of Americans who aren’t cushioned by savings or a 401k plan that they can cash out to survive during this unprecedented time. According to data, 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. And 45% of those Americans have no savings at all. It is unconscionable and morally unacceptable to leave these Americans without a financial safeguard. Yes, evictions are frozen in New York City. But there isn’t a rent freeze. And when the housing courts reopen, the restaurant workers — who are undoubtedly struggling to find last-minute funds to make rent in the next two weeks — will be left vulnerable to greedy landlords who have been looking for an opportunity to evict their tenants, do a retrofit, raise the rent, and make more money.

Moreover, with businesses circling the wagons right now just to survive, anyone unemployed right now is also left in the lurch. The emergency Coronavirus bill now being worked out by Congress allows for sick leave, but leaves about 59 million Americans uncovered. If you work for a business with more than 500 employees — say a restaurant franchise like McDonald’s — or the government, you’re not going to qualify for paid leave. Some companies, such as Target and Walmart, have stated that they would allow for two weeks of sick leave should any employee contract COVID-19. But this still doesn’t account for the likelihood that, as quarantine measures continue and more venues and establishments close down, the employees who work for these places will not have an alternative income.

The only mechanism that would alleviate this unfair burden upon the unemployed, the working poor, and the middle class would be a guaranteed income granted to all Americans during the next two months. This must be accompanied by a rent freeze, a freeze on credit card interest and late fees, and numerous other pieces of financial legislation to rectify a situation that we could not foresee happening.

This isn’t about radicalism. It’s about democratic humanism. It’s about an empathy for all that should never be a partisan issue.

Because this isn’t just about workers meeting their basic needs. For the estimated 30 million Americans who are presently uninsured — and for the working class population using a healthplan with a high deductible — are going to face significant costs just to get checked out for the Coronavirus — such as the teacher hit with a $10,000 emergency room bill who got checked out after she returned from Italy. (The irony is that the teacher merely visited the ER and didn’t get tested.)

It’s one thing for Governor Andrew Cuomo to end the seven day waiting period on unemployment. But these benefits must be issued at an amount that is realistic to survive on. Is it fair for the bartenders and waiters now out of work to have to use their two weeks of paid sick leave to survive what may be two months of quarantine? It is not. It is, in fact, deeply inhumane.

Unless our legislators relish the destruction of working-class lives — and there is good reason to believe that Republicans and Democrats alike simply do not care — we must issue a guaranteed income at the federal level during the next two months that kicks in immediately. Creating such a financial cushion for everyone will alleviate stress and encourage people to self-quarantine. For how many of these workers are now looking for alternative income streams that are likely unsafe for them and unsafe for the population?