2020 – My Year in Review: Annus Horribilis
What a year.
I knew, going into 2020, that it was going to be a tense, traumatic year. After all, it was an election year, and the thought that Donald Trump – the sleaziest, slimiest, most vile and corrupt president in the history of this nation – could be re-elected already guaranteed a high level of stress. Little did I know what other events awaited us all.
The year started out well. In January, I traveled to Ghana where I met up with an international team of volunteers to vaccinate as many dogs as possible against rabies.
This was my second time working with Mission Rabies. (I volunteered for them in October 2018, in Goa, India.)
The project in India was a life-changing event for me, and the Ghana project continued where Goa left off.
Once again, I met amazing people, made lasting friendships, and helped reduce the prevalence of rabies by vaccinating hundreds of dogs. The Ghanaian people, especially the children, left an impression on me that will last forever.
I returned to New York in February, just as the coronavirus pandemic had started to really gain attention in the U.S. It had already been ravaging China. There was a lot of talk about it amongst the Ghanaians while I was in Ghana, but the virus hadn’t gotten there yet. There were a few cases in the U.S., but nobody really knew what was to become of it. Trump was telling the press that the U.S. had 5 cases and that the number would soon go down to zero. I knew right there that we were in trouble, because every word out of his mouth is a lie. Well, you know the rest of the story.
The pandemic affected my life, but it didn’t upend it, and for that I am very grateful. I was already retired, so there were no job issues for me to deal with. Mark, however, suddenly found himself working from home, like millions of other Americans. This actually turned out to be a pretty good deal. Pre-pandemic, his alarm clock used to go off every morning at 5:15. He’d shower, iron his shirt, get dressed, and then walk 14 blocks to the location where a van took him and a few other co-workers to his office in Bridgewater, New Jersey, an hour and 15 minutes away. At 5:00 pm, he’d leave the office for the same nasty commute on the way back. Now, working from home, there were no morning alarms, no ironing, no commuting. I do not miss hearing that alarm go off at 5:15 a.m.
As a retiree, I’d gotten very used to having the apartment to myself during the day. Seeing Mark at the dining room table with his laptop all day was a major change. Fortunately, he and I get along very well. He’s a quiet, no-drama, low-maintenance guy. I have to admit, I like having him around every day. He loves cooking and he’s good at it. Now, because he has no commute home, he has much more time to plan and cook dinner, and I’ve been the beneficiary of that.
Being almost 11 years older than him, it was expected that I would retire before him. I had wondered what it would be like when we both eventually retired and were home together every day. Now I know. It’s great.
Like everyone, I was riveted to the news during those first few weeks of the pandemic. The stories from the hospitals were riveting. Watching and reading reports of people losing jobs, or trying to adapt to working at home while suddenly having to homeschool their kids was painful. Seeing long lines of cars at food banks was heartbreaking. Seeing shelves empty of toilet paper was surreal.
Again, I’m so grateful that I don’t have to contend with issues involving work, school, kids, or making ends meet. In March, New York became the epicenter of the pandemic, and when Governor Cuomo warned us that, according to the graphs they had charted, the upcoming week was going to be the deadliest for New Yorkers, it was truly frightening. New York was seeing over 800 deaths a day. I was terrified to leave the apartment. I feared pressing the elevator button or touching any door knobs. Shopping for groceries was a nerve-wracking ordeal. It was crazy. It’s hard to believe that 9 months later, the virus is still running rampant through the U.S. and the rest of Europe, and that we’ve surpassed 320,000 dead in America. I hope that the development of an effective vaccine finally gets this under control.
International travel comprised a major part of my retirement, so having it curtailed was depressing. Mark and I had booked a June tour to Machu Picchu and were greatly looking forward to the trip. Of course, it was canceled. I have an apartment in Amsterdam that I used to visit regularly, but corona put the kibosh on that. I was hoping to participate in another Mission Rabies project later in the year. Not surprisingly, those projects have all been canceled as well.
Things got a little better as the summer approached. Although the citywide lockdown sidelined my former main sources of retirement entertainment – movie theaters, museums, Broadway shows, libraries, sidewalk cafes – I developed a new hobby, photography, that only required the city streets, an iPhone, and enthusiasm, the latter of which I had in abundance.
I had always appreciated photography, but it wasn’t until after my trip to Goa that I decided to really pursue it as a hobby. I took a course in iPhone photography and got pretty darn good at it. Then I took a course in iPhone photo editing and my photos began to look even better. I put these skills to the test in Ghana, with some very satisfying results.
When I got back to New York, I wanted to continue developing my skills, but the cold weather and the pandemic held me back a bit. In April, as the weather warmed up, I really plunged into the photography, with the city parks and beaches as my stomping ground.
I love New York in the summer. Enjoying the various city parks was already a substantial part of my retirement, and my photography obsession gave this activity a new purpose. I became fascinated with squirrels as photo subjects, and I nailed some pretty cool critter pics.
Street photography became my genre of choice, and there’s no better place for it than New York City.
The ubiquity of skateboarders in my two favorite parks (Washington Square and Tompkins Square) allowed me to practice some sports action photos, as well as some cool portraits.
Feeling as if I’d taken iPhone photography as far as it could go, I decided to up my photography game and purchase a real camera. After careful consideration, I chose a small camera with a cult following among street photographers, the Ricoh GR III.
It’s an excellent little camera, especially when it comes to black and white photos, for which I have a preference. I also enrolled in a photography class at PhotoUno, a photography school here in the city. There were only two students in the class, and the other student dropped out halfway through, so it was like having a private tutor for most of the course.
The death of George Floyd affected me, as it did millions of other Americans. I spent a fair amount of time attending rallies and marches.
It was a trying time for the country, and for New York City. Stores boarded up their windows. Police cars were set on fire. Sirens were blaring every night. It was surreal.
Whether anything changes in this country remains to be seen, but it was encouraging to see the entire nation acknowledging the inherent racism and social injustice that people of color face every day.
Although international travel was out, Mark and I did manage to take two local trips this year. We went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for four days.
I’d been to Rehoboth a few times back in the day, when I was living in Baltimore in 1997 and 1998, and again once or twice after I moved to New York. The place has good memories for me. We have a good friend, Chris, who lives in Baltimore.
Every year around Labor Day, he rents a big house and invites several friends to stay there. I let him know that we would be there over Labor Day weekend. The house he rented was two blocks from our hotel! We got to see him several times, and we met and hung out with the other guys in the house who were all very nice. Chris insisted on a negative Covid19 test for everyone staying at the house, which was pretty admirable.
I took some nice beach pics with my iPhone.
The other trip we took was to upstate New York, where we visited Woodstock, Kingston, Hudson, and Saugerties. The fall foliage was spectacular, and we loved browsing the cute shops and boutiques.
My high school friend Pam lives in Saugerties. I always enjoy hanging out with her, but I rarely get to see her these days. That weekend, we met up for dinner, and the next night we went over to her very cute house and had tea and cake.
The social distancing measures we’ve all had to follow have certainly affected a social person like myself.
We’ve stopped throwing and attending most dinner parties, and other than the trips to Rehoboth and upstate NY, I’ve been limiting my in-person interactions with a small group of friends: Hal and Lou, Phil, and Robb and Austin. Like everyone, I’ve made the shift to Zoom. My meetup group, The Quiet Gays, used to meet every two weeks in person to discuss our lives and the issues of the day. The host of the group took it virtual, and it actually improved the group and made the meetings more enjoyable. My Binghamton college buddies (seven of us) have keep in touch with each other for years via WhatsApp. We decided to engage in a weekly zoom call, and seeing each other on our computer monitors has added a nice dimension. I look forward to the calls every week. In June, after reading about this pretty cool program in a magazine, I decided to sign up for Sages and Seekers. This is a group that pairs up people over 50 years old (the “sages”) with kids aged 14 to 22 (the “seekers”). The purpose is to foster an exchange of wisdom and advice between members of different generations through the simple, old-school act of conversation. For four weeks, I engaged in a weekly call where I was paired up with a 15-year-old Latina from California. She was pretty cool, and we got along well. I looked forward to the video calls every week and was a bit bummed when it ended. I also was taking part in a zoom call every two or three weeks with several veterinary school friends. These calls allowed us to keep in closer touch with Lisa, a dear classmate whose long battle with cancer was coming to an end. We’d known for a while that our time with Lisa was finite, and our original intention was for our group to get together in person in March, and probably again in May and July. Alas, Covid19 put the kibosh on those plans, of course. Being able to see and hear Lisa during those calls meant a lot to us. Lisa died on November 6th.
Her goal was to live long enough to cast her vote for Biden, which she did. In fact, when her doctor told her that there was no more that he could do for her in terms of her cancer treatment, Lisa sent an email to her friends and coworkers explaining her circumstances, informing us all that she would be going into hospice when the time came, and that she had made peace with her situation. A few days later, her cellphone rang. She wasn’t feeling well, so she let it go to voicemail. Later, when she checked, she discovered that the caller was… Joe Biden! Lisa worked for the Florida Department of Agriculture. Her boss is the Commissioner of Agriculture, and she knows Joe Biden. She contacted Biden and told him of Lisa’s circumstances and that she was a staunch supporter. In the middle of a busy, brutal presidential campaign, Joe Biden took the time out to call someone he didn’t know and leave a sincere, heartfelt message of hope and support. He even gave her his personal cellphone number and said to call if there was anything at all he could do to help. A few days later she called him back and they spoke for 20 minutes. I didn’t need any further reason to support Biden, but this phone call affirmed what I already knew: Joe Biden is a fundamentally decent person, the exact opposite of the selfish, orange-faced Nazi we’ve suffered with for the last four years.
Speaking of politics, I vowed that this year I wouldn’t let the election dominate my every thought like it did in 2016. I managed to compartmentalize things pretty well, however, as the summer approached, I got sucked into the vortex. Much of it had to do with Trump’s vile behavior and frightening incompetence. His mismanaging of the pandemic was pathetic. Those press conferences where he showed more interest in his ratings than the death toll (and where he actually pondered whether ingesting bleach was a viable treatment option). Then his disgusting comments about veterans and the military were revealed. His tax returns were finally leaked, and we discovered just how badly he cheated the government out of his fair share of taxes. Bob Woodward’s book was published, revealing that Trump knew exactly how contagious and deadly the coronavirus was, and how he deliberately downplayed it, to disastrous results. The child-separation policy. Encouraging the Chinese president to put millions of Uighurs in concentration camps. Extorting Ukraine to come up with dirt on Biden. Tear-gassing peaceful protestors outside the White House.
It was one abomination after another. My loathing for Trump reached such a peak that if I woke up in the middle of the night to pee, I often couldn’t fall back asleep, thinking about how he was destroying the country. (When it was announced that he had tested positive for Covid19, I said to myself, “C’mon Covid, you have just ONE job to do!” Sigh. No luck.) Election night was difficult, as the early returns looked scary. But I heeded the warnings that the early returns would reflect the in-person votes, and as the mail-in ballots started being counted, there’d be a blue shift. Sure enough, it happened. Biden ended up with 81 million votes, a full seven million more that Trump.
Although Trump’s constant howling about how there was massive voter fraud is pathetic and annoying, I do enjoy the idea that Trump and his supporters think the election was stolen. I’m sure that makes them frustrated and angry, and I get a perverse satisfaction seeing them seethe. If it eats away at them and keeps them up at night, that’s fine by me.
Now, as this annus horribilis draws to a close, I’ll be spending the rest of it the way I’ve spent most of the year: reading, exploring photography (I just expanded my game a bit further, purchasing a Fujifilm XT-30 mirrorless camera that allows for interchangeable lenses, opening an entirely new dimension), and reacquainting myself with the Dutch language (all of this interest in photography has caused my Dutch to fall by the wayside. I re-enrolled in the Dutch grammar video course and have been retaking the Dutch lessons, even though I don’t think I’ll be visiting Amsterdam anytime soon, given the current state of the pandemic.) In three weeks, I’ll be embarking on my third Mission Rabies trip, this time to Tanzania.
A college buddy of mine, Mike Rosen, will be accompanying me on this trip. He and I get along well, and it’ll be nice to have company on the long flights there and back. We’re both retired, so we’ve tacked on an extra 8 days to the trip and will spend some time after the Mission Rabies project in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. Hopefully, he and I will both come back to a country on the road to recovery, with a normal, non-psychopath president and an effective vaccine available to everyone who wants it. Thanks for reading the blog, and stay safe and healthy.
Addendum: I wrote this review on December 20th, taking the chance that nothing dramatic would transpire during the final eleven days of the year. I should have known better.
Every year for the past few years, Mark and I have had either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner (and occasionally, both) with our friends Hal and Lou. Hal usually hosts this quiet affair at his apartment in Brooklyn Heights. He’s a good cook, and we always have a nice time. This year, we did Thanksgiving at our apartment, as Hal said that it was too much work. But he clearly missed doing it, because he volunteered to host a Christmas dinner at his place, since travel has been curtailed and we would all be in town on Christmas eve. Hal planned a very nice menu, and Mark was going to make a cake and a side dish. On Monday, December 21st, Hal went to his doctor for his annual physical exam and was pronounced healthy. On Tuesday night, he went to sleep. He never woke up.
How a healthy 57 year-old guy could just die in his sleep is beyond my comprehension. I was introduced to Hal by a mutual friend, Ethan, back in 1999. I started dating Mark in 2000, so we’ve both known Hal for over 20 years. He was one of my closest friends. Mark and I are still completely stunned. Lou and Hal have been best friends for about 24 years and were very close. I’ve lost two close friends, Lisa and Hal, in a seven week span. As I said before, this year can’t end quickly enough.
Photo on the Left – Me, Hal, and Mark in our younger (and thinner) party-boy days. Photo on the Right – Lou and Hal.
Spellbound by your words and images, Arnold. And wishing you and Mark, at long last, an annus mirabilis.