A Special Message from James Bennet

Hello there! James Bennet here. You may know me as that fun-loving xenophobic paycheck man who, despite never taking a meaningful moral position in my entire life, fell upward thanks to my vanilla background to oversee the op-ed pages of the New York Times! I’m living proof that, if you’re a sycophantic 54-year-old Yalie who bobs his mouth up and down on the throbbing member of the Establishment on a daily basis, you too will never be fired or rebuked by top brass! Because here at the Times, we’re not just about celebrating the Stuff White People Like or ensuring that David Brooks can fulminate right-wing drivel under the false cover of inclusive intellectualism. We’re not just about refusing to modulate or adjust our voice from our hopelessly dowdy upper middle class roots. We’re also firmly committed to being inexorably puzzled by strange cultural figures like Lizzo, Childish Gambino, Big Sean, Boots Riley, Rungano Nyoni, and Mariama Diallo! And we will continue to deny column-inches to anyone who enjoys these strange dark-skinned people!

Thanks to my cowardly sensibilities, I ensure that the New York Times continues to publish all the affluent Cacuasian opinions fit to print! Aside from a few token individuals who are trending heavily on social media (we do, after all, need your subscription dollars to keep the lights on!), you won’t find many brown people or black people among our guest columnists here! Nor will you find any of those sketchy pinko socialists. No, sir! Not on my watch. I’m so committed to reinforcing fascism and putting our African-American staffers at risk that I’m even willing to publish a racist and authoritarian article by a Senator named Tom Cotton! (Get it? Cotton! Ha ha! Yeah, I chuckled over that little joke too.)

They say that opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and most of them stink. Well, if you’re the overlord of opinions, as I am, then you can only imagine the kind of asshole you’d have to be to swim in a sea of fuming anuses and earn a living at it! Instead of being a writer’s writer or a journalist’s journalist, I’m an asshole’s asshole! My spineless timidity and willful capitulation of my soul have been the secrets to my success!

Here at the Times, we publish the kind of family-friendly white supremacy that gives the Amy Coopers and the Svitlana Floms of our world all the inspiration they need to use their privilege to sic the police on innocent black people with false accusations! I’m very proud of my work. I wake up every day, smile in the mirror, and, just before I splash a few drops of Clive Christian No. 1 upon my neck and prepare to scarf down $60 strips of Norwegian salmon for breakfast, I say to myself, “Goddammit, James! Look at you, you magnificent white bastard!” Not a streak of melanin in my skin, my friends. I take pride in my work. I take pride in my skin color. Not white power, but white pride. There’s a distinction! Still, I have to say. Ain’t being white grand?

However, I do want to explain why we published the piece today by convicted murderer Harold Bailey, former grand wizard of the KKK and, for many years, a prominent dot on the hate map published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yes, it’s true that he filed his column from a maximum facility cell at the Red Onion State Prison, where he is serving time for raping forty-five black people. Nevertheless, Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments. And it remains my firm belief that a dangerous criminal screaming obscenities and making deranged sculptures from his own fecal matter in a padded cell is capable of thinking along the same lines as a policy expert. After all, that’s democracy!

When Mr. Bailey wrote at length about why he wanted to shove a pineapple into my wife Sarah Jessup’s mouth and tie her down with rope in a chair so that she could watch helplessly as he sodomized my two children, I didn’t flinch one bit! Obviously, most people in our society are opposed to this assault and trauma. And that is fine. But we are in the business of recklessly publishing any diseased opinion we can find. It fits right in with the tacit acceptance of white values that we hold dear to our hearts. And sometimes it’s vital to understand the careful nuances of why someone would be driven to such a violent act of abuse. “But what nuances exist in publishing such an explicit essay?” you may ask? Well, it’s not my job to suss these out. Use your noodle! Think about it!

We understand that many readers find Harold Bailey’s argument painful and even dangerous. We believe that this is one reason why it requires public scrutiny and debate. However, if you look deep enough into anything, such as an unblemished wall that has been freshly painted white or a graphic description of my two children being violated, you will find great shining beauty that you can turn into exciting cocktail party banter!

What’s most important about publishing opinions is to realize that they are just that: merely opinions. It’s my job to deaden your soul and to rob you of your moral compass so that you can look upon the world with a clinically detached eye, remaining flip and casual about the unfolding horrors and staying on the sidelines as these uppity revolutionary bastards lose hope and are pecked off one by one by an authoritarian police force. I mean, if I don’t bat an eye when Mr. Bailey writes in adoring detail about the fantasy of committing vicious crimes against my family, then there’s no reason why you should either! If you don’t raise a stink about Tom Cotton’s column, then his views will become more normalized. And when that happens, it creates a stable world in which you too can worship at the altar of unwavering normalcy. And isn’t that a lofty goal for our society? To walk out into the world, knowing that nobody feels anything, and proudly slam down two dollars and fifty cents for the morning edition, only to read opinions that you once considered horrifying and that are now absolutely the norm. That’s why the Times keeps me, James Bennet, here at the top!

I’ll admit. We did push the envelope a bit with the Cotton and Bailey essays. But the only way to unite this nation is by inoculating the population from horrors and systemic abuse, ensuring that they never feel outrage, and creating a population in which nobody has hope. And with protests and a pandemic happening now, and a Second Great Depression just on the horizon, we’re nearly there! All of these exciting developments make me prouder than ever to be white, status quo, and dead inside.

Agents Provocateurs in Minneapolis? Who Are the Umbrella Man and the Pink Shirt Pizza Guy?

As someone who spends a lot of his time creating realistic illusions for the ear, there was something incredibly off about a white man dressed in black, donning an umbrella, wearing a gas mask with purple-fringed nozzles, and deciding to hammer the windows of an AutoZone store in Minneapolis. By all reports, the protests that emerged in the wake of George Floyd’s death were relatively peaceful. The mysterious Umbrella Man — as I shall now call him — behaved like an undercover cop or an agent provocateur, with some people online claiming that he was a cop in St. Paul. The St. Paul Police Department denied that the Umbrella Man was working for them. There’s also flimsy and unsourced evidence — the kind of material that would never hold up in court or in journalism — floating around that features alleged text screenshots from the St. Paul police officer’s ex-wife. But this was easily debunked. I did a public records search for the police officer in question Minnesota Official Marriage System and there’s no record that matches up to the information that has been promulgated on social media. It’s possible that the officer and his wife married in another state. But if he was operating as a cop in St. Paul and the ex-wife identified his boots and mask, surely they would have married in Minnesota. I am inclined to believe that the St. Paul cop identified is not the Umbrella Man.

Nevertheless, the Umbrella Man’s behavior is quite suspect . There was also another man spotted around Minneapolis wearing a pink shirt and sometimes holding a pizza box (hereinafter referred to as “Pizza Guy”). Additional investigation on Saturday afternoon has revealed the Pizza Guy to be a benign Minneapolis activist belonging to a peerless group known as A Mother’s Hope. The Pizza Guy’s identity, which I am withholding unless he offers his consent, and his impeccable background has been corroborated with four people in Minneapolis. We still do not know what he and the Umbrella Man said to each other as they walked around the AutoZone building. And I have extended an open invite to the Pizza Guy through the organization to clarify any and all details of what transpired.

What follows is a methodical dive into all the videos and resources that I have been able to locate so far. Because if the fiery Minneapolis riots were instigated by these two men, then they are at least partially responsible for the shift from peaceful protest to the destruction of property — a transition that, as of this writing, has now erupted in cities around the United States. The incident at AutoZone changed the tone of the protests. The motivations of the Umbrella Man are unknown. In assembling this piece, I’m simply going to stick with facts that we can corroborate and isolate specific details that point to why the Umbrella Man and the Pizza Guy behaved as they did. If you are reading this and you have additional videos or details on either of these two men, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch with me so that we can carry on this investigation until we discover just who these two men are and what agency they were working for. Again, I am interested in facts, not conspiracies. And I will be as methodical as I can in this investigation.

1. The AutoZone Glass Smashing

The original video featuring both the Umbrella Man and the Pizza Guy was shot not far from the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct, near the AutoZone that was vandalized by the Umbrella Man. I have also provided an accompanying map. The line on the map follows the camera movement during the one minute and 40 second clip. At Position 1, the Umbrella Man hammers the windows of Autozone. At Position 2, there is an altercation between Umbrella Man and the woman shooting the video with her phone. Here is a summary of the events:

0:00-0:04: The cameraman helpfully identifies the police station of the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct.

0:09: The cameraman is disrupted by sounds of tinkling glass emerging from the Autozone behind him. We see the Umbrella Man, donning an umbrella on a perfectly sunny day (and thus presumably using the umbrella for cover), systematically taking out the windows.

0:15: The Pizza Guy approaches the Umbrella Man. Notice that the Pizza Guy is holding the pizza box like a regular person here.

Various activists approach the Umbrella Man and the Pizza Guy, shouting, “Hey!” Even the cameraman remarks, “Those cops will come from you if you’re pulling that crap.”

The Pizza Guy follows the Umbrella Man. At 0:35, there is a break in the source video. And I believe this to be a second video shot by a woman. The Umbrella Man is now seen alone, with the Pizza Guy following behind him. There is an unknown scream behind the wall at 0:40, along with cries of “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” It remains unknown why the Pizza Guy is following the Umbrella Man. The Pizza Guy is then seen smoking some form of blunt (or claiming to). The second cameraman observes, “This guy just came with a hammer and smashed the windows.”

At 0:54 (Position 2 on the map), the Umbrella Man turns around and confronts the Pizza Guy.

UMBRELLA MAN: If you find me, I’m going to fight you right now.
PIZZA GUY: You, you want to go? What’s up?

The Pizza Guy then takes a hit on his blunt in a fairly theatrical manner, looking directly at the camera in the manner of a self-conscious performer.

PIZZA GUY: Someone hold my blunt.

The Umbrella Man then attacks the second camera person.

PIZZA GUY: Hey, hey, hey!

Someone then screams at the 1:08 mark, “Are you a fucking cop?”

The Pizza Guy then follows the Umbrella Man to the far end of the AutoZone building. What’s particularly interesting about this exchange is that both men raise their voices knowingly, almost as if this is a staged dispute for the camera.

2. Umbrella Man and Pizza Guy — Thick as Thieves

In a video posted by James Nurden on Twitter (source unknown), the Umbrella Man and the Pizza Guy return, starting at the 0:07 mark. Using Google Street View, I was able to identify the same bus stop and building in this video. The two men are moving along Minnehaha Avenue, just north of the AutoZone building. This video appears to have been shot just after Video #1. I have also attached a Google Maps screenshot, tracking their movement.

There are a number of things to observe here: (1) The Pizza Guy is now holding the pizza box under his arm rather than in front of him. Additional research and interviews on this story have revealed that the Pizza Guy was carrying around the box after offering it for lunch to his group. (2) We see the Pizza Guy being incredibly friendly with the Umbrella Man. The two are talking with each other as if they know each other. Minutes earlier, they were about to put on a fight. The exact reasons for this are presently unclear. We also see the Pizza Guy smiling, almost in the manner of an actor who had some fun putting on a performance.

3. Staged Intervention from the Pizza Guy?

In a moment that appears to have occurred sometime after the AutoZone incident, our friend the Pizza Guy — putting his palms up into the air — returns as protesters are throwing rocks at the 3rd Police Precinct station. He emerges at the 0:17 mark, saying, “Hold up! I’m trying to calm them down.” The three officers firing at the protesters never turn their weapons on the Pizza Guy. Then the Pizza Guy disappears with a jarring finality, walking off with a head shrug.

4. Interview with the Pizza Guy

In one of the more promising leads on the Pizza Guy, Stephania Dube Dwilson of heavy.com tracked down an interview that was conducted by journalist Emma Leigh Fiaja. The video date is identified as May 27th. Dwilson has also kindly served up a transcript. One of the particularly key moments in this video is this:

This does not matter if we just shut up after a month. This does not matter if we be quiet and we don’t respond if something doesn’t happen. We have to continue. So all of this is great, but where are all these people gonna be in two weeks, in three weeks, in four weeks, in two months? Where are these people gonna be at? Y’all fighting, y’all moving in anger, that’s fine. We need something to mobilize.

The Pizza Guy is not violent (and refrains from using profanity, using “eff” instead of “fuck”). Additional investigation has revealed that this was a good faith attempt to intervene with the police.

5. The Umbrella Man Returns!

In a tweet posted by WCCO photojournalist Dymanh Chhoun that is just outside AutoZone (specifically, the door with the graffiti that reads “FREE SHIT FOR EVERYONE ZONE”), the brave Chhoun reports that he has been hit with tear gas. But the Umbrella Man, who initiated the broken windows in Video #1, can be seen at the 0:22 mark.

We are left with a number of questions. Assuming that the tear gas was fired at Chhoun and others after the AutoZone smashing and the police precinct building vandalism, why would the Umbrella Man return to the scene of the crime? And why would he commit the vandalism so close to the 3rd Police Precinct building?

We’ve seen that both the Pizza Guy and the Umbrella Man didn’t wander that far from the corner of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. But they did both spend a lot of time close to the Minneapolis Police Department’s precinct building. Was the Minneapolis Police Department the entity that had the Umbrella Man on its payroll? And if there was another covert entity involved, did the Minneapolis Police Department work closely with it? (I tried making phone calls to the Minneapolis Police Department to hear its answer. I was told that there wasn’t a designated representative who could confirm or deny this question.) Organizers who attended the scene informed me that they were unaware of who the Umbrella Man was.

6. The Pizza Guy and the Umbrella Man Hanging Around the Police Precinct Building

In the last video I have been able to find, we see our pink-shirted friend, The Pizza Guy, calmly walking up to the 3rd Police Precinct building. He appears to be surveiling the scene. Note that, unlike Video #3, in which we see the Pizza Guy actively begging the police to back down, he does not intervene in the destruction — except for one moment at the 0:27 mark, in which he grabs a barricade held by a protester and throws it down. He wanders around the building near the front and he appears to be taking in details. It seems likely that the Pizza Guy was acting quite confused in the struggle.

Oh, and our friend The Umbrella Man, is also there.


Both the Umbrella Man and the Pizza Guy were spotted numerous times near the corner of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. Umbrella Man, in particular, was clearly videotaped inciting the urge to turn a peaceful protest into one that involved the destruction of property. While details about the Pizza Guy’s conversation with the Umbrella Man remain nebulous, we now know from people in Minneapolis that the Pizza Guy was acting in good faith. Perhaps the two men bonded in some way, with Pizza Guy unaware that he may have been talking with an agent provocateur. Umbrella Man’s deliberate vandalism of the AutoZone store is almost certainly the actions of an agent provocateur of some sort. We have learned over the course of this investigation that the group that the Pizza Guy was with was acting in good faith.

Serious questions must now be put forth to and answered by the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minnesota State Police, and any other law enforcement agency in the region about what connection, if any, they have had with the Umbrella Man.

[11:45 AM UPDATE: New information has come to light suggesting that there is some evidence that Pizza Guy may not be an agent provocateur. Pizza Guy’s pink T-shirt is associated with a group called “A Mother’s Love,” which has been profiled by FOX 9 and North News. I have amended this post to reflect this new information and am presently trying to get in touch with the organization to get more answers.]

[12:20 PM UPDATE: This story has been updated to correct a small error concerning the St. Paul police officer’s name.]

[1:15 PM UPDATE: After several interviews, I have identified the Pizza Guy, but I will not name him here unless he gives me his consent. Needless to say, he is a devoted member of A Mother’s Hope and he is not an agent provocateur. This article has been edited to reflect this new information.]

[5/31/2020 6:15 PM UPDATE: A reader named Eric points to this useful thread, which posits some information about the Umbrella Guy and a Maserati he may or may not have used to drive into Minneapolis.]

6/3/2020 8:00 AM UPDATE: Elijah Easley has released a video outing himself as the Pizza Guy:

[6/4/2020 11:15 AM UPDATE: In the comments thread for this post, a wonderful user by the name of doikster has offered an incredibly helpful time-stamp breakdown of the Umbrella Man’s activities. For those interested in a deep dive, I highly recommend doikster’s links and observations. I did, however, want to dispel one speculation that doikster brought up concerning a construction van. I spoke this morning with Tara, formerly of LeBlanc Construction. LeBlank has been out of business for two to three years. The owner has retired. And it’s pretty much Tara left. When the business dissolved, LeBlanc sold its van. And this is the van that is in the video. Presumably, the current owner of this van moved to the Minneapolis area, but never bothered to remove the “LeBlanc Construction” decals. So it was not a mysterious out-of-state van driving into Minneapolis, as has been suggested.]

Season 2 of The Gray Area Has Been Released!

A lot of people have been asking me about the second season of my audio drama, The Gray Area — namely, when in tarnation is it going to be released? Well, I’m pleased to report that after two and a half years of toiling on the second season — working seven days a week, often twelve hours at a time, recording more than 300 hours of audio, writing and coordinating 120 speaking roles on nearly 1,000 pages of scripts (yup, I wrote it all!) — the premiere, “Living Creatures,” has been released as of today. It’s a cheery tale set in a Wyoming chicken diner — one inspired by Patty Hearst and Pulp Fiction — that involves animal rights, truckers, and a lot of swagger. This is the first of nineteen new episodes.

I was forced to leave Brooklyn about two weeks ago because of the pandemic and a few extenuating circumstances. (No, I’m not on the lam. But I’ll tell you the story if I run into you after the bars open up again.) So I improvised a laptop editing rig, hastily copying the contents of my many drives onto a 10 TB external hard drive. In some cases, I had to recreate the wheel. My original plan of going out into a crowded New York City and recording numerous location tones for authenticity was kiboshed by Corona. And so, in each case where I didn’t have a location tone to work from, I painstakingly built fifty tracks from scratch, compartmentalizing every known human behavior and action that I could. I had thankfully recorded all the actors before the pandemic hit. And I, rather stubbornly and in open defiance of this evil virus, exhausted myself in the last two weeks by readjusting the release schedule so that I could deliver finished versions of the nineteen episodes. So as of today, the first one is released. And starting on April 21st, you’ll be getting a new episode for free every two weeks on Tuesdays.

It remains my firm belief that, during these rough times, new stories help everyone to stay sane and strong. There are many people out there who are struggling right now, and I really wanted to make sure that you could have a new episode every other Tuesday — at an uninterrupted schedule — for free.

Now while all of these stories can be enjoyed independently, there are many connections to Season 1. This is a program that rewards careful listening. And by the end of the second season, you will see how all of these many story strands are related to each other! But you can also experience these sonic tales as enjoyable yarns. We have a number of very fun and wildly ambitious tales lined up — including a space opera set a few decades from now and an epic seven-part love story set in two parallel universes that takes place from 1994 to 2023. We’re even going back in time to 1912 later in the season! This season has a bit of everything! Demons, demon hunters, eccentric engineers named after screwball comedy film directors, love stories, doubles and Doppelgängers, revolutionaries arguing about breakfast, dragons, a touch of film noir, time travel, absent-minded professors, fierce librarians, technological intrigue, AI, laser battles, a mysteriously exuberant figure known only as the Receptionist who is fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, a wild interdimensional beast named Chester, and a great deal more! We’ve even composed and performed just under a dozen original songs.

I am also initiating an experiment. For Season 2, we’ve introduced a Season 2 pass that — for one flat fee of $20 — will give you instant access to all episodes ahead of release (as I finish them), as well as the scripts, and a special behind-the-scenes podcast called Inside the Gray Area featuring commentary and interviews with the actors. The first batch of five episodes (along with the supplemental material) is now available at the premium site. We’ll be releasing a second batch of eight Season 2 Pass episodes around June, followed by a third and final six episode batch sometime in August. But don’t worry! Your season pass will be good for the entire duration of these three release phases. And all nineteen episodes will still be released on the free feed from now through December 15, 2020. To give you a sample of what you get with the Season 2 pass, I’ve also released the first episode of Inside the Gray Area on the free feed with “Living Creatures.” A Season 2 pass not only gives you a lot of extra goodies (similar to DVD special features). But it will also help to support independent audio drama. We have a four season story plan in place. We pay all our actors. And we want to make sure that we can keep on producing this wildly unique and highly ambitious audio drama.

If you are a member of the media interested in advance review copies or anything else, please feel free to get in touch with me.

So that’s where we’re at. Art in the time of Corona. Let the record show that I didn’t let a pandemic stop me from seeing this highly complicated project through. I hope you enjoy it.

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.