Opinion: Savoring Silence and Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

A quiet day outside (and inside) The Abbey on Robertson Boulevard.

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.

  1. Wow, I can’t imagine Santa Monica Boulevard being quiet.That must be pretty weird with no noise from the street.I expect that from my quiet rural home ,but not from Santa Monica Blvd.Maybe this will give people ideas on how to change and make better the environment they live in.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful missive. I live 1/2 a block from Santa Monica Boulevard for 14 years now; I can see SMB from my bedroom window and on October 31 my view usually shares the last stage on the Halloween festival route with the revelers in the street and the DJ. There is a kindness now among the locals that has not been evident For a long time. We’re all seeing now who really lives here and we’re sharing words for the first time, running into the same people whenever we venture out and giving support to those we had never meet before but have seen in the peripheral. And then there is the actual quiet. Amazing. Satisfying. A wonderful surprise and disconcerting too. I worry about my bartender friends, my restaurant worker friends, my service giving friends… I hope West Hollywood can come back, and come back stronger. For all the residents I’ve met that I didn’t know before, one of the things we all share In common is that West Hollywood is our Camelot and that’s why we ended up here. I hope Camelot can survive this and we can all dance together again soon (even the pudgy go-go boys).

  3. Good one, Steve, a primer on enjoying oneself with minimal contact with the rest of the world. In a recent LA Times piece on remote ranchers in Nevada becoming more remote due to fewer contacts, one said he welcomed the opportunity “to go deeper into myself”. Self-realization promotes greater enjoyment of the world we have. But, this morning at 6:45 the rumbles of dirt-hauler trucks ruptured the lovely silence and overwhelmed t the birdsong. However – one day at a time…

  4. lets all adapt to a geriatric way of life because the older generation can not keep up and they can not let go, instead they gloat and lightly mock and make fun of the younger generation that are being robbed of life experience , i am glad it makes you happy and relaxed that others are suffering . like always the older generation has to make it about them their wants and needs the rest of us should just adapt so you can be relaxed and happy. you know why you cant stand Trump because he exposes how self centered your generation really is. spare me the clap back because ill take your approach and not really care about your thoughts and feelings

    1. If it weren’t for the older generation, your generation wouldn’t exist! Take a chill pill. It hasn’t been that long and you haven’t been robbed of anything except disease and death.

      1. Millennials have survived 9/11, multiple wars, the financial crisis, and now dealing with covid-19.
        To suggest the millennial generation needs to “chill” is a very boomer thing to say.

        1. I wonder how you would have dealt with the AIDS crisis of the 80s? And how about Vietnam? The assassinations of the 60s. The automobile gas shortages of the 70s. I do not gloat or mock any generation. One of my closest friends is 29, while I’m old enough to be his grandfather. And my oldest friend is soon to be 94. Dissing another generation serves no constructive purpose. Rather than throw shade, let’s engage in meaningful dialogue.

      2. “Boomers” went through the early days of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s which makes this pandemic a picnic in comparison. That may have been the time they learned how to write using capital letters and punctuation.

        Adapting to adversity is a good thing. It’s what adults learn to do. And when it comes to adapting to adversity, “boomers” are lightweights compared to the generations before them.

  5. Great observations Steve.

    Here are my TOP TEN things I like about the pandemic.

    10-No more handshaking
    9- No more awkward hugs
    8-No more loud music from the Factory building (oh, it’s been torn down)
    7-No more visits to the ATM because cash is no longer king.
    6-No more pants for business meetings.
    5-I can’t go to the gym.
    4-No more paying 20% tips.
    3-My plug-in Prius never kicking into gas mode.
    2-More Amazon deliveries.

    And the #1 thing I like about the pandemic-

    Other than that, this pandemic really sucks.

  6. I still think it’s a great idea to have my groceries delivered by a cute guy in Speedos and a Mask – it would brighten my day now more than I ever thought at the time I mentioned it! And… I’ve been gratefully tipping much more than a handful of dollar bills to guys in sweatshirts and baggy jeans.

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