Archive for the 'Diary' Category

Vignette: Why did the writer avoid becoming a traffic casualty? Thanks in large part to an unknown driver’s vigilance

July 9, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 9, 2020

Something really scary happened to me around noon on Tuesday as I was returning to my parent’s house from one of my daily walks.

I was moving along the generically named Smith Road. I was on the two-lane road’s southern side, walking west against eastbound traffic. A pickup truck coming down the hill toward me was making a snapping sound. I wondered if something was wrong with one of its wheels. Perhaps a nail had gotten stuck in one of its tires?

I peered at the pickup as it approached, even though I figured that I was unlikely to be able to detect a problem with the wheel at the speed the truck was moving. It soon emerged, however, that I was able to determine the source of the noise.

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Whither America? The nation marks its 244th birthday in troubled circumstances

July 4, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 4, 2020

As America celebrates 244 years since it declared independence from Great Britain, I find it hard to be optimistic about the state of the union.

I find it hard to be optimistic when the United States has been ravaged by Covid-19, sustaining more infections and deaths than any other nation. The country’s novel coronavirus infection rate is higher than that of any other developed nation and its death rate is sixth among major economic powers, behind the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Sweden and France. (Notably, the U.K. initially adopted, and Sweden has largely maintained, a lax attitude toward containing the virus.)

I also find it hard to be optimistic about the nation as long as it’s led by the feckless Donald Trump. He is, granted, trailing by significant margins in presidential polling, but the incumbent still maintains the support of more than a third of American adults. It’s hard to imagine his base dropping much from current levels because of the intellectual stranglehold that conservative media — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing broadcasters and websites — has on millions of devoted audience members. These outlets have prevented support for the Republican Party from plummeting to near zero, even as the Trump administration has taken multiple steps to deprive Americans of health care — a service that may be as vital today as it has been in a century.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 16

June 29, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 29, 2020

At some point in 2021, there will no longer be any cause for anyone to fear the novel coronavirus. If, that is, the promised Covid-19 vaccine materializes on schedule, can be manufactured to scale and is distributed efficiently. And if the number of reactionaries who refuse to be vaccinated isn’t large enough to prevent society from achieving herd immunity. And if the vaccine’s effectiveness doesn’t wear off, because this disease is so tricky…

If and only if those conditions are satisfied will it truly be safe for everyone to resume the things we used to do: Congregating with other people on mass transit, or on city streets, or at a fair or concert or play or movie; eating in restaurants and lounging in coffee shops; seeing friends in person.

I’ve largely been keeping myself to myself since March 15. I’ve gone inside stores just 10 or 12 times. The only person I’ve spent significant time indoors with since mid-March has been my Parental Unit. I don’t want to get sick for selfish reasons; I don’t want to infect P.U. or anyone else for altruistic ones.

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Cheeps and Chirps for June 28, 2020

June 28, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 28, 2020

Man, I haven’t done one of these posts for the blog in a reallllly long time

Coronavirus, Donald Trump edition 

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Covid-19 diary: Part 15

June 27, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 27, 2020

Last month, I wrote the following paragraph about my May 5 trip from the New York metropolitan area to North Carolina:

One feature of this brave new world is that electronic highway signs now carry public health messages. A number that I passed displayed variations of “Stay home. Save lives.” Signs in the Garden State and the Old North State advised me to check websites for information on the pandemic. Somewhat jarringly, a display around the spot where southbound I-295 merges with 95 stated that “NY-NJ-CT TRAVELERS” were subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

I’ve seen the road signs change a bit as I’ve made the odd north-south or south-north trip over the spring and early summer. This week, seemingly every Maryland electronic sign displayed the following plea:

IF OUT AND ABOUT
DO YOUR PART
KEEP SOCIAL DISTANCE

I didn’t notice any roadside notices about quarantines on my most recent trip, but they were certainly on my mind. This week, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut imposed a mandatory, albeit voluntary, quarantine on travelers from eight states where coronavirus infection rates have spiked.

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Spring 2020 computer catchup, part 3

June 16, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 16, 2020

Last month, I mentioned that I’d purchased a replacement for my old scanner. It works fine, but…

My Xerox Duplex Combo came with two pieces of scanning software. One is Visioneer Scan Utility, which is pretty straightforward. It works fine; my only big complaint is that it doesn’t let users save different configurations of scanner options. If I want to scan an oversized item using the flatbed as opposed to the document feeder, I have to change the settings; then I have to remember to change it back for regular-sized documents. By comparison, the (outdated) software that worked with my old scanner easily let me switch between clearly labeled different settings. The inability to choose among configurations in Visioneer Scan Utility is unfortunate, but it’s not a tragedy.

The other piece of software is a different story altogether.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 14

June 15, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 15, 2020

I returned to Durham on June 9. On Sunday the 14th, I walked around part of the Duke University grounds for the first time since my return.

It was a sunny late spring afternoon and the temperature was in the high 70s. I came to West Markham Avenue, the northern bound of Duke’s East Campus, which is ringed by a walking path. It was pretty busy, to my chagrin.

I’ve been wearing a mask when going inside a public facility since my shopping expedition of April 9. However, aside from my visits to the veterinarian’s practice, none of which involved stepping inside the office, I generally haven’t worn a mask outdoors.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 13

June 11, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 11, 2020

I was a busy boy on Monday.

It started in the morning with a visit to the grocery store, I believe my sixth such errand since March 15. This is still an arduous experience for many reasons. You have to wear a mask, which will probably never be entirely comfortable for me or most people. You have to look for and follow the one-way-only arrows in the aisles, even when that’s inconvenient. You — or at least I — have to bite back criticisms of people who aren’t following the traffic directions or wearing their masks properly.

(Hint: If your nose is exposed, you’re not wearing your mask correctly.)

Still, I’ve grown increasingly accustomed to shopping during the pandemic, and it’s become a little less onerous. Part of the reason is that I only wash items that require refrigeration or freezing or are fresh produce. I’ll put other packaged items aside and wait three days before handling them. That can make things a lot easier.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 12

May 31, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 31, 2020

One of the problems with having a scatterbrained lout like Donald Trump lead of the free world is that he does so many mendacious and malicious things that it’s virtually impossible to keep track of them all.

I realized recently that my catalog of the inadequacies and missteps of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic had inadvertently omitted perhaps the biggest misstep of all: The self-proclaimed Very Stable Genius’s April 23 “joke” that injections of bleach and/or internal doses of sunlight could cure Covid-19.

As humor, this is on a par with Trump’s famous “joke” of July 27, 2016, which is worth quoting in full: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens.”

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Dream diary: The apartment complex and the unexpected transit system

May 30, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 30, 2020

This morning I dreamed that I lived in an apartment complex. I had a nice place on the fifth floor of one of the buildings.

One morning, in this dream, I felt restless, or perhaps I had an errand to run, so I took the elevator downstairs. I wandered around the lobby for a bit. It was a well-appointed but (I thought) not stuffy place with large rooms and public lounges, all with high ceilings. I found a small group of 20-something people doing something loudly — playing video games, or maybe some kind of physical game. I was a little annoyed but decided not to say anything.

I decided to go back to my apartment, so I made my way to the elevators. There I found a family — say, two adults and two or three kids — who seemed to be coming back from the pool or maybe a beach. I waited for a few minutes, wishing I was back in my place.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 11

May 27, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 27, 2020

Lucky, my parent’s lovely aging yellow Labrador retriever, has a chronic condition that requires regular veterinarian visits. After a 14-and-a-half-day stint in Durham, N.C., I drove back up to my parental unit’s house in the greater New York metro area on Wednesday, May 20. The trip took about eight and a half hours, with two stops. I gassed up twice and used the bathroom once; there was also a detour to avoid traffic on Interstate 95, which I probably could have avoided altogether if I’d used one of my phone’s navigation apps after the second stop.

My parent had a doctor’s visit on Thursday the 21st, but I elected to skip it. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the facility wasn’t going to let me into the building. I had a vision of sitting in the car for a minimum of half an hour, needing to use the bathroom and not having anywhere to relieve myself.

The following day, it was the dog’s turn to go to the doctor. Once again, I called the vet’s office from the parking lot. A few minutes later, a tech came out to collect the dog. The tech asked me to remove her harness and collar, which I expected from our April visit, but said it was fine to leave on Lucky’s flea and tick collar, which is usually hidden beneath her fur.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 10

May 26, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 26, 2020

The United States has started to reopen after around two months in which vast swathes of the public have been strongly encouraged to stay home. I’ve looked on this partial return to normalcy with major misgivings.

As of Tuesday evening, according to data kept by The New York Times, the U.S. has nearly 1.7 million Covid-19 cases and nearly 99,000 fatalities; the latter number is almost certainly an undercount. Brazil is second in cases with more than 391,000. The United Kingdom, where government officials initially eschewed stay-at-home orders, is second in fatalities with 37,000. (The U.K. is fourth in recorded cases, after Russia.)

Federal leaders in the United States badly mismanaged the novel coronavirus pandemic, missing opportunities to review or renew planning for this kind of emergency, to ramp up the manufacturing of personal protective equipment, to coordinate the acquisition and distribution of PPE and to encourage state and local government to implement and maintain social distancing and other vital infection-control measures.

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Spring 2020 computer catchup, part 2

May 22, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 22, 2020

Earlier this month, I went online and bought a new scanner, a Xerox Duplex Combo, a lightweight machine that features both an automatic sheet feeder with two-sided scanning and a flatbed that can accommodate larger or irregularly shaped documents. I had it delivered to my Durham residence, where I spent time from the 5th through the 20th.

I let the box sit for a few days before opening it up. Evidence indicates that the chances of catching Covid-19 from mail or boxes that have been contaminated by the novel coronavirus are extremely low, but I’ve been trying to extremely diligent about limiting my exposure.

Setup was pretty easy. So was software installation. I had to fiddle with the software settings a bit, but it was pretty easy to begin scanning with the new machine. This meant that I could upgrade my MacBook Pro’s operating system and still be able to scan documents. I was almost ready to get my computer on board with MacOS Catalina.

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Spring 2020 computer catchup, part 1

May 21, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 21, 2020

I got my current computer, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with retina display, in September 2015. It features a 250-gigabyte hard drive, which seemed rather spacious at the time. Not anymore, my friends.

For perhaps the past year, and certainly the past nine or so months, I have been living dangerously when it comes to hard-drive space. MacOS Catalina, the most current Macintosh operating system, came out in early October 2019, but I put off upgrading from Mojave for a long time because I just didn’t have enough free hard drive space.

Did I try to open capacity on my drive? Yes sir, you bet I did! I offloaded old, little-used documents, photos and audio recordings. But all my efforts barely made a dent in available space. The biggest bugbear by far was my photo library, the main file associated with Photos, Apple’s native image-viewing application. With a lot of work, I winnowed it down from about 96 gigabytes to 88 GB. Even then, it remained by far the largest single item on my machine.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 9

May 7, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 7, 2020

I traveled up to my parent’s home outside New York City on Sunday, March 22. I traveled back down to my home in Durham, N.C., on Tuesday, May 5. It was time to check on the place and see, among other things, what was happening to the accumulated mail.

The trip was fine. It took a little bit less than eight hours.

I took the off ramp for the last rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike to refill my tank, which was down to about a quarter. I figured I might be able to make it the rest of the way to Durham if I refueled in Southern Jersey, which proved to be the case.

But I also liked something about getting gas in the Garden State that I normally find a hassle: I didn’t have to touch the pump.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 8

April 30, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 30, 2020

I traveled up to the greater New York metropolitan area on March 22. Since then, I’ve been out of the house on numerous walks with the family dog. My Parental Unit takes this responsibility most of the time; less often, the two of us go, and every so often it’s just me.

A few weeks ago, I started taking the occasional solo walk for exercise. I think that this has been very good for my mental and physical well-being.

Otherwise, through the start of this week, I hadn’t been out in public areas — or perhaps I should say commercial areas — but for a pair of grocery runs, the first of which I’ve already documented.

On Tuesday, April 28, I did something new: I went to donate blood, and then I went for more groceries. These activities turned out to be like any public excursion during the Covid-19 pandemic: fine but terrifying.

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Dream diary: The Scrabble challenge and the TV producer

April 29, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 29, 2020

From the dream I had this morning before waking up:

I am playing a Scrabble tournament game against a smart young player. He (?) plays FORCE for a significant number of points. It looks good at first glance. But…

Rather belatedly, I notice that FORCE isn’t a legal play. Yes, that’s a real word, and those are the letters my foe put down, and in that order. But these new tiles have been jammed up against another word on the board, thereby forming something that isn’t in the Scrabble lexicon, like FORCECAPE. Or maybe the E in FORCE has been placed above the C in CAPE, making something illegal like EC. Either way, I can challenge it off the board, and my opponent will lose those points!

Yet I don’t challenge right away. For some reason, I’m sweating over what to do next.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 7

April 22, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 22, 2020

It was overcast and breezy with the occasional light drizzle when I set out for Shoprite to get some much-needed groceries on the afternoon of Thursday, April 9. I took a scenic route to the store and arrived right around 3 p.m., which is when I was supposed to be able to pick up the order I’d placed early on Tuesday, April 1.

I wanted to do my best to be protected even while using this relatively safe method of acquiring food. I had a scarf wrapped around my face, including my nose. Over that, I wore the — take your pick: neck covering, neck gaiter, neck warmer, neckup — that I’d had on my journeys to the veterinarian’s office the previous week.

There was a problem almost as soon as I entered the parking lot: I had no idea where to pick up the groceries. I asked a guy who looked like he might work at the store — he seemed to be an attendant for the bottle and can redemption machine, which may not be an official position — but he told me he had no idea. I parked and called the store, whereupon I was told that they didn’t actually have curbside pickup per se and I’d have to go inside.

So be it. I pulled on a pair of disposable gloves, got out of the car and ventured into the supermarket.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 6

April 21, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 21, 2020

This must be the easiest time, and the easiest crisis, in history to have to hole up at home. The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t interrupted vital utilities; electricity, water and sewer are functioning normally, although authorities around the nation have had to caution people not to dispose of wipes in their toilets. Similarly, communications services and broadcast and streaming entertainment options are flourishing, although the surge in Internet usage has put a strain on network providers.

There’s a catch, however. (Isn’t there always?) Because so many people are intent on staying home as much as possible, just about every service that delivers to homes or allows curbside pickup is at maximum capacity.

As mentioned previously, I arrived at my parent’s house on March 22. Within a few days, it was clear that we — by which I mean I — would need to make a grocery run. My Parental Unit had some stuff on hand, but not a ton. Bread, chicken breasts, pizza bagels, yogurt, microwavable breakfast burritos, peanut M&Ms, peanut butter, ice cream, baby carrots, fresh fruit: We were running low on all of these vital commodities. Worse yet, there was no milk or soy milk, nor any jelly or jam with which to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 5

April 13, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2020

As previously mentioned, I’ve been holed up with the Parental Unit since the evening of Sunday, March 22. Yesterday marked my third week up here; it also marked one month since I started staying at home in an effort to avoid Covid-19.

I’ve left this northern abode zero times to socialize. Not counting a few dog-walking excursions, I’ve journeyed into public spaces just three times. The first of those was for a necessary veterinarian’s appointment on the afternoon of Thursday, April 2.

The vet’s office had instructed clients to call the front desk upon arriving in the parking lot; technicians would then come out to get the animals. One member of the duo who came out for Lucky had me remove her collar, harness and leash. The office is obviously doing its best to reduce employees’ and clients’ potential exposure to the novel coronavirus, which I found reassuring.

I was supposed to wait in the parking lot until the vet was ready to return our beloved canine to me. It didn’t quite work out that way, however. The cardiologist disliked Lucky’s readings and wound up keeping her overnight. I drove home dogless.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 4

April 5, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 5, 2020

Between March 12, when I began quarantining myself in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, and March 22, when I drove up to New York, I ventured further than two or three feet beyond my property line on only three occasions. Two of those took place on Sunday the 15th.

What’s the opposite of daring adventure? This is my tale of cringing semi-normalcy on that not-so-fateful day.

After realizing that I didn’t have enough food to eat comfortably for more than a few days, despite having stocked up sometime in the previous week, I reluctantly journeyed to a grocery store. The first one I tried, the Food Lion by Hillsborough and West Main Street in Durham, seemed to be extremely crowded based on what I could see from the parking lot. There was no way I was going to go inside.

After some vacillation, I decided to visit one of the Food Lions on the north side of town. This one was still too crowded for comfort, but, after sending some text messages, reading some new coverage of the spread of Covid-19 and psyching myself up, I decided to go in anyway.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 3

March 25, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 25, 2020

When I woke up on Tuesday, March 24, I felt slightly feverish. I went to what I still think of as the orange bathroom, even though its colors are now predominantly brown after a renovation in 2018, and again opened the closet. This time, I was searching for a thermometer.

I found what I wanted almost immediately. However, after I pulled the silver tip from beneath my tongue, I saw that it registered my temperature as… nothing.

After fiddling with the thing for a couple of minutes, I determined that, yes, in fact, this thermometer seemed to be entirely out of mercury. Where did it go? Good question.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 2

March 24, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 24, 2020

After about two hours of passing New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway electronic signs referring me to covid19.nj.gov, I was nearly at my parent’s home. I had given a lot of thought to how I was going to get out of my car and into the house safely in this pandemic.

I don’t display any of symptoms of Covid-19. Unfortunately, that seems to be true of many of the people who have been spreading the disease. Still, I could make an effort to avoid bringing in any coronavirus that I might have picked up during my rest stop.

I called ahead and, editing my to-do list on the fly, asked my Parental Unit to confine the dog and unlock the front door. After parking in the driveway around 10:30 p.m., I pocketed my phone, which was already powered down. When I got out of the car, I shouldered my duffel bag and my computer backpack and then walked inside.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 1

March 23, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 23, 2020

On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, I did some shopping at a home-improvement store and picked up a pizza. Then I headed home and went inside, where I would stay for nearly 72 hours straight. With a very few notable exceptions, which I’ll probably write about later, I remained in the house until Sunday the 22nd.

Around 2:30 that afternoon, I started up my car and drove to a nearby automated teller machine. After withdrawing some cash, I hopped on Interstate 85 for the long drive to my parent’s home outside New York City.

In this still-early stage of the American coronavirus pandemic, everything I do outside my home — and even many things I do inside — is worrisome. When I reached to put my ATM card in the slot, part of my bare finger brushed against the housing. I cursed myself, because I’d taken out a pair of disposable gloves prior to pulling up to the automatic teller. I sheathed my hands in order to complete the transaction.

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It’s all fun and games until somebody gets shot: My very short, very upsetting attempt to play pinball early one Wednesday morning

March 19, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 19, 2020

Author’s note: Although this post is not graphic, it involves violence. It also includes some foul language and refers to drug usage. As such, it may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that I started writing this blog post several days ago but put it on hold as concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic surged. I apologize for the delay. MEM

Around 10 minutes after midnight on the morning of Wednesday, March 11, I walked into a Durham establishment that I will refer to as Pinball Oasis. Pretty much right away I noticed that something was off.

A strange grouping of people was arrayed near the high-top tables on the far side of the pinball cluster. Two men were facing each other; behind each, a few people were fanned out. After I showed my identification to a staffer at the front desk, I took a moment to study this formation.

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