It had been a shitty week, to say the least. And not just for me. I know we’re all in this together (alone).
After spending the better part of a Friday morning rearranging my mortgage not to lose my house, my jaw was locked with anxiety. By 11:30, I had a decision to make: start drinking or go for a walk. Strangely out of character, I opted for the walk. The Covid19 lockdown has inspired me to have a hot body (despite a daily hangover).
Normally, cars speed through my neighborhood off of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH to us Angelinos), to get to the next street, Temescal Canyon Road, but not that Friday. It was eerily empty of cars. Temescal Canyon Road is steep, about ½ mile long, and leads to a famous hiking trail with waterfalls and panoramic ocean views. The trail is closed now, like everything else in LA, but I’m ok with that. I don’t want to get sick. These days, I just walk to the entrance of the trail and turn around.
After Friday morning’s stress, I was happy to hike up the steep canyon road and listen to the daily briefing from my future husband, Andrew Cuomo. (Back off, Chelsea Handler! I saw him first.) As is his way, Andrew gave me the straight facts about Covid19. He also shared a story about pretending to cook sausage and meatballs with homemade tomato sauce for his family on Sundays. He was trying to keep his mother Matilda’s tradition alive for his daughters.
I was lost in a fantasy about eating Cuomo’s sausages and sharing shopping tips with my new daughters-in-law when a family beelined it to get past me. The sidewalk is only 4 ft. wide, so to give the people their proper 6 ft. distance, I was forced into the gutter. To make matters worse, my fiancé’s briefing was coming to an end, and with it, my temporary delusion that everything was going to be ok.
The fact is, I was in Pacific Palisades walking in the gutter. Head down, again feeling anxious, I noticed a disturbing abundance of discarded used gloves. The invisible enemy left a visible plastic trail in its wake, just as stark and frightening as the images on TV of the healthcare providers pleading for the very items so grossly tossed aside.
I posted the pictures on Nextdoor.com to give my cosmopolitan neighbors a little reality check; this pandemic doesn’t discriminate based on zip code. We are not immune to getting sick or irresponsible behavior. The next day, a bit less inspired to walk up the steep canyon, I resolved to go back and pick up those disgusting gloves.
Safety was my first concern, but what to wear? What if I ran into a celebrity on my mission? (This is the Palisades, people!) Pandemic attire need not be pitiful. Armed in full PPE Gear – Lululemon stretch pants and sweatshirt, Tokidoki baseball hat, purple dishwashing gloves, a blue face mask my neighbor made for me, and my standard, oversized, tinted YSL glasses – I grabbed a white kitchen garbage bag, a pair of cooking tongs, and set off on my mission. Maybe I didn’t look as cute as I would have liked, but I was protected and empowered. I am woman, hear me roar!
Vibing to a quarantine playlist, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, blasted through my headphones as I headed out to clean up the mean streets. I didn’t have far to go. Two steps in on Temescal and I was already saving the world with the first blue glove hoisted into my trash bag. Princess Warrior Goddess on a scavenger hunt, hawk eyes scanning the gutters for my next glove.
Not even a quarter of the way up, with about 10 gloves in the bag and feeling proud, I spotted a man putting golf balls in the park area. He was what I call a silver fox (probably too old for me now but in a few years…meow). With the Riviera Country Club closed, the fox got creative and brought his balls to the green space (PS: the first balls I’d seen in a while). I yelled out to him through my mask, “Wow! Great idea!”
The man looked to the right and to the left to see if anyone else was around to witness what stood before him: a crazy lady in purple dishwashing gloves and a blue face mask. Waving my tongs, I said, “Well, it looks like you’re having more fun than me. I’m picking up used gloves on the street!” He nodded his head with a dismissive gesture that indicated, “Oh god, please don’t let her come any closer.” I took the hint but thought, “What the hell’s going on here? Have I lost my touch?”
Along the way, I saw a woman with a bandana tied around her face like she was getting ready for a stick up in a Western movie. She was walking smack down the middle of the street, in the suicide lane, not in the gutter like me. She didn’t look in my direction or blink an eye. I got the heebie-jeebies when we passed each other; it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was like I was invisible.
At the top of the road with over 30 gloves in my bag, I wanted to be done with this project. I felt like a freak instead of a good citizen. I was getting depressed about the interactions, or lack of interactions, I’d had with other people, my neighbors who are usually responsive to a friendly smile or a hello. People were judging me, and I was judging them, and we’re all just trying to survive. Struggling not to lose my shit, I reminded myself, there is nothing normal about this “new normal” (starting with my outfit and ending with my headspace).
To my surprise, I saw life on the south side of the canyon. There was the most beautiful field of orange poppies, and a vibrant purple and yellow butterfly flitted from flower to flower. The view temporarily erased the eeriness of people running from their neighbors, and I found myself thanking the butterfly. Out loud, as if she could hear.
Emboldened by her, I headed toward home with 47 gloves in my bag. There was a guy on a beach cruiser struggling up the hill, not the typical hedge fund cyclist in spandex you usually see in our neighborhood. He side-eyed me picking up a glove. Because he was so slow on his crawl, I (finally) had a captive audience, and tried to offer an explanation, “I’m collecting dirty gloves, so others don’t get sick.” He didn’t stop, but casually, like an obligation, he muttered, “Thanks” and continued his climb. So desperate for positive feedback in this bizzaro expedition, I called after him, “Sure. No problem. It’s really disgusting out here. We have to keep people safe.” But I was talking to myself again. He’d already passed me by.
Almost home, the garbage bag heavy on my arm, I saw a hip couple waiting at a light to cross the street. The guy glanced over his shoulder at me with a look of disgust. I thought, “Dude! Wait a minute. I’m hip! Take a closer look. I’m hip; you have no idea.” We all crossed the street when the light changed, the guy pulling his girlfriend ahead to get away from me by at least 9 ft., 3 ft. more than necessary. Message received.
Deflated, I practically tripped over a dead squirrel in the road. He was flat on his back with his legs and arms spread wide open like he died sunbathing and drunk in Tahiti. Right near his lifeless body, I plucked up my 64th glove and tossed it in the bag with 3 N95 masks and a pair of goggles.
So many have lost so much already in this war. The gloved ones are trying to save our loved ones, and for that, I’m unspeakably grateful. Standing outside my house, I was stunned by a realization. I haven’t lost anyone yet, but on that walk to collect the gloves in the gutter, I lost a part of myself; I lost my superpower.
People couldn’t see my smile, and they couldn’t see my eyes. I never felt so isolated. There was no way to build trust. Why would they trust me? I wouldn’t trust anyone whose face I couldn’t see.
One little smile or one glove changes everything. If those people I’d passed had seen me smile or the look in my eyes, maybe they would have joined me on my mission. But I was discarded, “alone in this together” on Temescal Canyon Road. This “new” normal sucks, but like Gloria Gaynor said, I Will Survive. WE will survive, too, but only when we get back to the real normal and can smile at each other again.