Friday, June 26, 2020

COVIDiary: The Masks

"Tonight's tale of men, the macabre and masks, on the Twilight Zone."

A famous Twilight Zone episode entitled "The Masks" deals with four very selfish relatives of a dying man. It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans, and the old man requires that each of them wear masks that supposedly represent the opposite of what they truly are if they want to inherit his estate. They kick up a fuss and refuse to wear the masks, but they want the money so they end up  indulging the old man's request.

I think of this episode every time someone complains about wearing a mask. Science (not an old dying man, I hope) tells us to wear a mask - not to inherit an estate, but to protect others from a global pandemic. These 21st century selfish whiners have the exact complaints that the mid-20th century Twilight Zoners had: "This is ridiculous!" "I can't breathe in this thing!" "You can't make me do this!" and so forth.

Put on that mask.

You can breathe in the mask. If I can do it, you can do it. No one is more claustrophobic than I am, but I've learned to be comfortable in my mask for hours at work and when I'm in public spaces.

The mask has to cover your nose and your mouth. Always. 

You don't have to take off your mask to talk to someone. Hands off. Others can hear and understand you just fine.

Wash your mask every day.

Have a spare or two. Keep one in the car. Keep one in your pocket or purse. But don't forget to put it on around other people.

The lesson here? If you want the inheritance - in this case life for you and those around you, you have to wear the mask.

Now there's plot twist in that Twilight Zone episode (it's the Twilight Zone, duh) and the faces of those mask-wearers are changed by the masks they wear. Those hideous masks were outward signs of the selfishness they carried inside.

And your mask actually reflects who you are on the inside. Unlike the Twilight Zone, the only way your mask will affect your facial features is that it should put a smile on your face.

Don't be stupid. Don't be selfish. Don't be ugly on the inside. Wear a mask.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Why Samuel L. Jackson Didn't Go To My High School

Last weekend, Liam and I were watching The Phantom Menace and when Samuel L. Jackson appeared as Mace Windu, I said, "You know, he grew up in Chattanooga, and he's just a few years older than I am."

"Did you go to school together?" he asked.

And so our conversation began. About white schools and black schools and the was it was way back when. Yes, in the middle of Star Wars.

I started high school in the fall of 1966. That was the first year that Chattanooga schools were integrated - twelve years after Brown v Board of Education. Twelve years. So after years of sinful foot-dragging and instilling silly fears in our young minds about integration, we finally got to experience it for ourselves.

Honestly, I don't remember feeling the least bit nervous about going to school with black students. There were too many other anxieties about going out of my neighborhood and across town to Chattanooga (City) High School, trying to negotiate new hallways and schedules, and worrying whether my clothes were cool enough.

For me, that momentous shift from segregation to integration proved pretty unremarkable. Turns out, they were just like us, with all the teenage craziness and brains and awkwardness and talent - just kids. But I can't even imagine what it was like for Deborah and Edward and Sandra and Rosa Lee and Ann and the other black kids who chose City High over one of the two black high schools in town. My hope is that they felt welcome, that all they really had to worry about was negotiating hallways and wearing cool clothes. I suspect that was not the case. It must have been so hard.

But of all the black students who opted for City, Samuel L. Jackson wasn't one of them. He had just graduated from all-black Riverside High (which was actually the old City High before the school moved to a new building across the river and up a steep hill) and was starting Morehouse College in Atlanta in the fall of 1966. He never had the option to go to my high school because desegregation hadn't kicked in yet in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

But whenever I see him in a film, I do wonder whether he would have chosen City over Riverside if he'd had the chance.

And I think about the black kids who did decide to make their way up that steep hill, where they were greatly outnumbered by us pale kids. And I think, wow. What courage. More courage than even Mace Windu.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

COVIDiary: Back To Work. Sort of.

Almost three months to the day I returned to work on-site at Atlanta History Center. My hours are greatly reduced, but I'm not complaining.

When I finished my shift on March 11, there was talk - nothing definite - about closing down for a while because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus COVID-19. We'd spent a trepidacious month, handling money and credit cards without masks, gloves, or shields, though we tried to separate ourselves from visitors as much as possible, wash our hands like Lady Macbeth, and furiously wipe down surfaces of the most touchable surfaces like hand rails and door handles.

We knew this thing was different. We knew it was coming.

The center shut its doors to staff and visitors on March 13.We re-opened the 33-acre grounds and gardens Monday, June 15, to members and paying customers who we hoped would enjoy the chance to explore our historic outdoor spaces.

Armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and plenty of clever signage that reminded guests about safe-distancing, we opened the doors. No on-site ticket purchases keep us from handling cash or credit cards; everything must be reserved online beforehand. No paper guides or information to hand out, as maps must be accessed via QR codes on phones. We even offer an outdoor pop-up gift shop and an indoor cooling station for hot days.

What I like most about the new system is getting to rotate around the various guest experience stations around campus throughout the day instead of just working the front desk or Cyclorama all day. So I might spend an hour or two at the shop, then move to the Swan House or Woods Family Cabin or one of the normally unsupervised open entry points like the Arbor or upper Swan Coach House drive. The day goes very fast.

Alas, visitors are very few at this point. I get it. Our biggest draws are the Cyclorama and the Swan House, both of which are closed to visitors right now. There's talk that everything will be opened up - with many safety guidelines and protocols - July 3, but we shall see.

It was great seeing co-workers, getting a lot of exercise (about 12,000 steps in a 6-7 hour shift), and enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous gardens. And it seems while all we humans were in hibernation, a family of foxes has made its home on the grounds and woods surrounding the Swan House - ma, pa, and four babes. I'm not so sure they're glad we're back but I'm hopeful we can respect each other's "habitat" for a while.

If everyone - staff and guests - will stick to the rules, we just might make this thing work.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

A Century Celebration for the Best Daddy Ever

Yes, we're in the middle of a pandamic, racial turmoil, and a dodgy election, but I can't let June 10, 2020, pass without celebrating the 100th anniversary of my daddy's birth.

Born in Nashville and raised as a farm boy in Henrietta, he loved history (something I inherited from him) and Latin (which I did not inherit from him, though he begged me to take it since I had writer aspirations), but he did not love farming. His goal was to attend Vanderbilt, but that was out of the family's league, so a few years after high school, he joined the Navy.

Cutting to the chase, he landed at the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, where he met a vivacious girl from Atlanta, Georgia, who was in the WAVES, and the rest is Frazier family history. So this rather reserved farm-boy-who-didn't-want-to-be-a-farm-boy from Nashville marries into the wild-and-wooly Bully Bartows from Atlanta, and they eventually settle in Chattanooga, Tennessee, midway between their two hometowns.

Along came four kids between 1944 and 1953 - two boys, then two girls - who got to grow up with the best daddy in the world.

He loved to do the grocery shopping and never minded taking us with him for his weekly Friday evening run. We could always talk him into a treat or two.

He let me stand on his feet while he danced around with me.

He would break into "Swanee River," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," or "This Old House" whenever the urge struck him to sing. Brother David was always terrified that the preacher would call on him to sing during a church service. Never happened.

He called Mother "Kitten," and managed to put up with the crazy Bully Bartows for the duration of their 55-year marriage (till death they did part). He did, however, have the foresight to get out from under the Atlanta crowd, moving us to Chattanooga for our growing up years. Aunt Nell said she always admired the hell out of him for doing that. (Okay, yeah, Mother and Daddy moved back to Atlanta after he retired from TVA, but the Bulliest of Bartows was gone by then, so it was safe.)

Our friends loved Daddy because he spoiled everybody with Cokes and Fritos and whatever else was the going snack food of the 50s and 60s whenever they came over.

Daddy was the parent who got up with us in the middle of the night when we were sick. He also taught me how to get to sleep by telling me "Your toes are now asleep, Your feet are now asleep. Your legs are now asleep." And I was usually out by the time he got to my shoulders.

He read to us - lots of Little Golden Books. He made sure we had encyclopedias. When I was in the 4th grade, he built me a bookcase - which I still have - for all my books.

In his later years, diabetes and arthritis caused him so much physical pain. His eye sight failed, which frustrated him because he could no longer read. Diabetes took him in 1999 a couple of months before his 79th birthday.

He was a wonderful man. I'm grateful every day that he was my father. Happy 100th Birthday, Daddy!

Thursday, June 04, 2020

COVIDiary: Path to Normal?

Except for five weeks the end of March and into April, the Atlanta History Center has provided enough remote work to keep me busy and a little solvent. Even the five weeks were covered either with PTO (paid time off) or unemployment, which AHC so graciously files for us. The rest of the time, I've been transcribing video interviews of World War II and Vietnam veterans for the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

That all may be about to change.

The History Center is hopeful it can reopen Monday, June 15. A very limited opening, however. - just the gardens and grounds, not the museum or the Swan House. The hours change. Our duties change. New normal will involve masks, much hand-washing and hand sanitizer, and keeping our distance. Lots of outdoor time, which won't be so bad except it's summer in the ATL, so hot and humid. Dress accordingly and wear a mask.

We were scheduled for on-site training this week, however another employee who had been working in the buildings for a few days tested positive for COVID-19. Sooooo. More online training. More building disinfecting. The hope is that we get in next week to familiarize ourselves with new procedures and reacquaint ourselves with some old ones. Will we open on the 15th? Hm. Maybe.

One thing is certain, and that's that our hours will be cut way back. Fortunately, Human Resources will file partial unemployment for us. Not sure how much that will be, but it will include the $600 weekly unemployment from the federal government through July.

Everything's still shifting sand. And when we do open, will people come? The biggest draws of AHC are the Cyclorama and the Swan House, neither of which will be accessible  in the immediate future.

Everything about COVID-19 is pushing us to think, plan, and act differently. Even when it disappears, work certainly won't go back to old normal. I suspect everything about life will be transformed - maybe a little, maybe a lot.

For now, all we can do is try to find that path to some kind of normal and adjust. Perhaps we can view this as the ultimate spring-cleaning of life. Onward. In hope.