It was a sunlit Monday morning in March, right on the cusp of spring. I woke up late, a little after 8 a.m. I felt a bit guilty lounging in bed, but there was no place go. Outside my window a mockingbird was giving a virtuoso performance, supported by a loud chorus of chirps and twitters of a feathered chorus. The sound was so intense it seemed like they were performing in my bedroom.
That is when it hit me. Beyond the bird song there was nothing, just silence. It was not just the quiet of a Sunday when there is a Monday holiday, but a real silence. Santa Monica Boulevard was silent.
Having lived within a block of the boulevard for most of my adult life, the background noise of Santa Monica was an ever present feature of my existence. It ranged from the low hum on weekend mornings to the screeching cacophony of rush hour, with the rumble of trucks, the sirens and the collective noise of thousands of vehicles. On Friday and Saturday nights it was the celebration of the weekend with the motorcycles, the booming bass of car stereos, punctuated by the occasional gunshot or the fly over of a Sheriff’s helicopter. The lack of noise seemed to jolt my senses. Suddenly I was more attuned to the sounds of the neighborhood and the natural environment. It seemed ironic that it took COVID-19 to make me feel more alive.
It seemed as if the animals sensed it too. The yapping dog across the street suddenly chilled. The cats adjourned to the outdoors to enjoy their naps. The birds, sensing they were being heard, belted their songs out to the back rows. A disoriented possum nonchalantly wandered through my front yard in broad daylight.
Solace from Living in the Moment
Every evening I watched a bit of the national news, which tracked the unstoppable march of the virus. But rather than getting myself worked up about the bizarre rants and ramblings of Donald Trump, I took solace in living in the moment simply because there was nothing else you could do. The pressures from my office largely disappeared. I felt relaxed to a point where it seemed I was moving in slow motion. There is only so much time you can spend worrying about how all this impacts your finances. So, I distracted my elf with cooking and gardening, finally getting around to cleaning out the garage and organizing those boxes.
Driving became a new experience. The streets were largely empty. You did not have to worry about the unpredictable and sudden stops of that Uber driver in front of you. I actually saw someone getting pulled over for speeding along Santa Monica Boulevard, something that has not been possible for nearly a generation. When I had to gas up my car I discovered the price of a gallon of gas had dropped 30 cents in three weeks. It was hard not to gloat about the oil glut. Maybe we would stop fracking.
Now West Hollywood rolls up on the weekends at 9 p.m. as if we are a Midwestern dairy town. The Strip and Boystown are eerily quiet as if they were movie sets, the frantic vibrancy having fled. Walking along the Boulevard around 10 p.m. you’ll find the streets deserted, and you could even hear a Prius drive by. At one point on my walk I was startled to hear footsteps, only to realize they were my own.
While everyone is suffering through the shutdown gay men are particularly hard hit. Even if you don’t habitually haunt the bars and night clubs, you can’t go to the gym. You can’t even get a hair cut. With the sex apps recommending “virtual encounters” I had heard that during these desperate times guys were actually having sex with their husbands.
Go Go Boys Losing Their Six Packs
Go-go dancers have been particularly devastated by the shutdown. They can’t work and can’t go to the gym, so they are just sitting home getting pudgy like the rest of us. I wonder if losing your six pack would qualify a go-go boy for disability? The city should be launching a program to help these hapless victims. My friend Sheila Lightfoot suggested the city hire them to deliver groceries to people sheltering in place. Now that is a constructive idea. It is certainly one that would give West Hollywood another unique constituent service. I guess I’ll have to go to the bank and get a bunch of dollar bills.
I try to get out daily for a long walk or bike ride even though I have not had a haircut since the first week in March. Normally I would be a bit self conscious going out in such a wretched state, but since West Hollywood is suffering from a collective bad hair day I know I am not suffering alone. I tell myself that since I’m wearing a mask most of the time, nobody will recognize me. I remind myself that as a gay man over 60, I have powers in invisibility.
My daily walks are enhanced by the sight of shirtless young men jogging down Santa Monica with their perfect coifs. Obviously not everyone is cutting their own hair. I thought about it but the YouTube videos of people cutting their own hair did not inspire me. A friendly suggestion that my husband cut my hair was ignored (I like my ears.) I was at Chase Bank chatting with an employee who appeared to have a newly minted hair cut. When I tactfully brought up the subject, he confided in a conspiratorial voice that he was going to a barbershop on La Brea somewhere between Santa Monica and Melrose. “You just need to enter through the alley and knock on the back door” he said in hushed tones. I supposed it is a sign of the times that West Hollywood has speakeasy hair salons. It is easier to get marijuana in West Hollywood than it is a hair cut. The priorities of my youth have been turned upside down.
West Hollywood Is Adjusting With a Certain Gracious Charm
We are all adjusting to a slower pace of life. Things like going to the market have suddenly become complicated. The schools, restaurants and gyms that were part of the daily fabric of life are gone. While this is disorientating, West Hollywood seemed to quickly adjust and learn to take life one day at a time. But characteristically West Hollywood is doing it with a certain gracious charm, with people being polite and friendly.
For West Hollywood’s pet population, these are the best of times; walks four times a day, no doggie day care, and long daily brushings. My cats initially seemed to enjoy having us home all day but now Ginger is starting to find it annoying and is wondering when we will be going back to work.
The good news is that the shutdown is working. Fewer people are dying. The fearful carnage inflicted on pedestrians and cyclists on West Hollywood’s mean streets has abated. We have not had a drug overdose. So far, the grim infection and mortality rates predicted by Gov. Newsom have not come to pass. Although we still have a long time to go, if we maintain our common-sense precautions in the coming months we will get through this.
Whatever the challenges you face in these times, remember there is always time for a nap.