Coronavirus Diary: Opening Day

Opening Day at Wrigley Field, 1977

On most Major League Baseball Opening Days, I play hooky and watch the Cubs. But on this Opening Day, there is no game to watch and nothing to play hooky from.

Opening Day’s significance lies in the sense of hope it provides. After all, it is the one day that the Cubs are guaranteed to be tied for first place.

More broadly, in terms of hope, Opening Day symbolizes springtime, rescue and renewal from the depths of winter, reward for the faith that hope engenders. Opening Day is another expression of the metaphor contained within Easter and Passover.

On most other Opening Days, we congregate at Clark and Addison, pressed body on body, inching our way toward the gates. Then we enter to the familiar, the sound of the same program hawker forever, the smells of popcorn and beer.

As we rise, walking the steps and ramps, we catch a glimpse of the field and our hearts race. Then, emerging from the tunnel that leads to our aisle, we see a sea of green.

Each shade is different, the ancient scoreboard pale and washed out compared with the rich outfield grass and the deep forest tint of the seats. All those greens mean hope. Even the missing green, the not-yet-grown-in ivy, signals hope because we know those leaves will return soon.

Even with so much hope wrapped up in Opening Day, the loss of today’s occasion to the Coronavirus crisis is no cause for despair. Coming of age and becoming a Cubs fan in the last years of Ernie Banks’ career, I was inspired by his famous, “Let’s play two.”

Enduring some of the worst seasons in baseball history, Mr. Cub still wanting to play two was a clear call to look on the bright side. Cubs fans are optimists. Although Opening Day won’t happen today, it will someday.

Next post in this series: Wolf Pack Ninjas Campaign

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: New Live Sports

The last few days at my running hill at Seal Point Park, I have seen an amazing display of athleticism. After my regular 20-minute HIIT run on Sunday, stretching on the turf at the foot of the hill, I noticed a young woman balancing on one foot, her other leg stretched parallel to the ground, a perfect 90-degree angle. You can see that in most yoga classes, but while in that pose, she was doing resistance band work that surely should have toppled her.

I’d never seen that before, so I watched for a while and soon could not look away, because when she released the pose, she shook and shimmied like one of those undulating tube man balloons in front of an auto dealership, but with no break in the fluidity, and then she flowed into a regimen that showed unwavering strength and precise form – board-straight push-ups on one fist or both, sometimes with a leg lifted – mixed with yoga, dance, runway model struts, stretches, splits, knees-past-her-nose karate kicks, and Cirque du Soleil-caliber contortionism.

It was sheer joy of motion embodied. Her routine seemed at once both spontaneous and choreographed. That impossibility illustrates how the bending body can bend the mind.

Today, answering my request from the prescribed six-foot distance, Lucy gave me permission to shoot video. In these Coronavirus days, this experience is the closest I get to watching live sports and provides new understanding of why that activity is so valuable.

One reason is that in much of the rest of daily life, you pretty much know what you’re going to see. Although some facets of sports are predictable, our games are set up to deliver surprises. Even if the scoreboard doesn’t deliver on that count, the individual instances of improbable reactions and responses of able bodies and minds can still shock and awe.

Another reason to value watching live sports is the admiration, the aesthetic appreciation, of feats we cannot manage but can imagine performing. Even before Sunday, I had tried every single move in Lucy’s repertoire and completed exactly none of them.

You may feel the same about painting or playing guitar or auto repair or wealth accumulation. I’ve never given any of those an earnest try. But when you know how hard it is to do the thing you’re seeing someone else do, and when you think of what must have gone into getting them there, you can’t help but have hope that whatever you put your most into will happen.

Next post in this series: Coronavirus Diary: Opening Day

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Workweek One

Monday, March 16, the Bay Area counties issued their shelter-in-place order to start the next day. Unsure of the restrictions, we ran all the errands we could think of that we might not be able to run the next day. Or for the duration of the order.

Client emails arrived, revising project priorities and timing. Most essentially said, “Stand down.” I submitted an article to Saint Thomas Academy, a revised poetry curriculum to Citizen Schools on the off chance that middle-school students would return to McKinley Institute of Technology this school year, and a draft email for Fit Kids to send as an update to its community whenever the time was right.

Our local Safeway looked Soviet. Lengthy lines wound around mostly bare shelves. I took one look and left, because by then it was clear that the shelter-in-place order set for Tuesday would exempt grocery shopping. On Tuesday, the store was empty enough to quickly shop for the few necessities in stock, but it wasn’t until Thursday morning that I found a package of toilet paper, the last one left.

Fortunately, the shelter order also exempted outdoor exercise. I did my normal HIIT run on the hill at Seal Point Park every day, followed by the stretches prescribed by my clients at Ferox Yoga. This routine seemed more critical than ever to keep depression from creeping up and over me during the Coronavirus crisis.

Fighting depression won’t be easy, knowing how many people the Coronavirus afflicts and bracing for the day that number includes people I love. It will be a challenge to balance watching enough media to stay informed but not enough to be overwhelmed.  It will help when that media consumption offers posts like this from one of my Wolf Pack Ninja clients, Travis Brewer.

Next post in this series: Coronavirus Diary: New Live Sports

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Weekend One

In the days before the baby shower we were hosting on March 14, we started receiving reverse RSVPs. Some of the 40 friends and family who had planned to attend changed their plans.

Shaky voicemails wondered whether we might cancel, some concerned for everyone’s health and safety, others perhaps wanting off the hook from making their own decisions. Sometimes my view of human nature veers toward darkness.

Anyway, the show went on. After all, we had plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Some of our guests brought their own. Hand sanitizer, that is.

As each guest arrived, we did a strange dance, negotiating in body language from hug to elbow bump to foot-five. We altered or abandoned the traditional baby shower games that would have involved touching or even passing objects hand-to-hand.

Still, love filled the room, in keeping with the occasion. Conversation remained cheerful, though we sometimes heard worried murmurs. As the shower wound down, our closest friends and family couldn’t help but hug.

The next day, the Ides of March, with Val’s gym closed, she invited her Zumba instructor to lead class on Facebook Live from our living room. When five classmates showed up at our door, I ventured out into the rainy morning.

My stops included a bookstore for a copy of Hanif Abdurraqib’s “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest” and then a walk through the mist past the masked faces, their eyes suspicious of my uncovered mouth and nose, to Cheesecake Factory. There, a Mexican soccer match with no fans in the stands played live on TV.

All the men in the restaurant watched, knowing this could be our last look at live sports for who knew how long. Most, including me, had no idea which teams were playing or any of the players’ names. But it was sports. Live. So we watched.

Afterward, I hit a neighborhood bar our daughter had recommended. The door was locked. Through the windows I could see a few people having a silly string fight. The notice of closure taped to the window mentioned local government’s unofficial reaction to Coronavirus, effective about the time I’d left Cheesecake Factory. I started back to my car.

“Hey,” I heard over my shoulder, “yawanna drink?”

Chasing me through the drizzle was a woman so cartoonishly silicon-and-collagen-inflated that I wondered if she was real at all. “We’re officially closed, but we just finished our staff meeting and decided any customers who stopped by would get free drinks.”

Sold. An NCAA Tournament game from about 15 years ago played silently on the TV. But my attention stayed with the friendly bar owners and employees. We made our connections – talks of travel and sports and ways the neighborhood had changed – and had a few laughs. Soon after Val texted me the all clear, I slipped a twenty onto the bar and stepped out.

“Hey,” I heard over my shoulder. She was running toward me again, this time clutching the twenty. “We can’t take this.”

“You sure?” She nodded yes and held out the bill.

“OK,” I said. “I’ll spend it here whenever this Coronavirus crisis is over.”

Next post in this series: Coronavirus Diary: Workweek One

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

My Adidas arrived by FedEx on Tuesday, just as the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order took effect. Ordinarily, I would have been watching the “First Four” games of March Madness, but the tournament was canceled, supplanted by serious madness and sadness.

The new Dame 6’s — left out front without a doorbell ring, reducing risk of infection — would replace my Dame 2’s, whose four years of mileage and worn tread worsened the chronic, morbid soreness in my knees, anles and feet. Of course, this is nothing to complain about in the age of Coronavirus, but it signaled to me that, as Cardi says, “Shit is getting real!”

Every March that I can remember, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has inspired me to ball as much as possible, and that heats up even more with the start of the NBA playoffs. Whether imagining myself as Norm Van Lier, Butch Lee, Dr. J, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or now, Damian Lillard, the fantasy fuels me.

This March, the confluence of tourney time, my friend Willie’s invitation to join his gym’s over-55 run, and Dame’s dope drop delivered cosmic reassurance that these new shoes would carry me into the next, and probably last, phase of my basketball life. But the night of March 11, it became apparent that televised basketball was ending. Two days later, Friday the 13th, Willie’s run ran its last even before the shelter-in-place order.

In troubled times, since childhood, I turn to family and friends, basketball, and writing. Without basketball, as long as friends and family stay fine, more time and energy will go toward writing. It’s the best way for me to process the Coronavirus crisis and maybe the only way I can contribute to anyone else’s comfort.

That’s what I’ll do here most days – writing about sports or even more important personal and professional topics – at least until the return of Dame Time.

Next post in this series:

Coronavirus Diary: Weekend One