Daily Archives: April 10, 2020

The Things We’re Missing

I’ve never really thought of myself as a “man about town” type, but in the last few days, I’ve realized how much time I used to spend just… running around. And how much I’m currently missing that lifestyle.

I find myself fantasizing in vivid detail about roaming a mall I used to hang out at when I was in my early 20s, Cottonwood Mall over on the east side of the valley, a mall which no longer exists.

I want to go for a pizza, but not just any old pizza. I want to go to a pizza place called Gepetto’s, a funky old relic of the early ’70s that was built into an old bank, a place where I went on countless dates with Anne when we were young and pretty. A place where the house salad dressing was as remarkable as the pizzas. It’s not there anymore.

I picture myself browsing a bookstore I used to frequent back in college, a converted house called Waking Owl. Later, it was a CD store called Graywhale. The house is still there. Waking Owl and Graywhale aren’t.

I want to browse through a bin of bargain-priced DVDs and check out all the latest movie-related toys at Media Play. Or maybe Suncoast. Remember Suncoast? I can’t recall if there was a Suncoast at Cottonwood Mall, but there was one at Crossroads Mall, located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. I loved Crossroads when I was a teenager… five stories high, with a food court and a movie theater at the bottom of a central atrium. I liked to ride the escalators to the topmost floor and stand at the railing looking down that atrium through the center of the mall, feeling that little zoom of vertigo. I saw E.T. in that theater. The theater, the food court, Suncoast, the atrium, even Media Play… all gone now.

There are so many movie theaters where I saw personal landmarks… I can picture them all in my mind and I want to revisit them all right now. I saw The Black Hole at the Fashion Place UA; Tron at the Regency on Foothill; Lawrence of Arabia and Dazed and Confused at Trolley Corners — I really loved Trolley Corners, which had a massive mural of the artwork from the original Star Wars painted on one wall, left over from when the film played there in 1977, and glass panels with portraits of various classic stars hanging from the ceiling. Then there was the Family Center Trolley, where I saw Superman II as a kid and a re-release of The Terminator in my twenties. The Creekside 5-6-7 (Star Trek IV). The Sandy Starships (Mother Lode, Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club). The Cottonwood fourplex (most of the rest of the Star Treks, through Insurrection). The Star Wars trilogy at The Centre, then again decades later in an all-day marathon at The Villa. So many films at The Villa. Alas, The Villa is now a Persian rug gallery and all those other theaters have either been remodeled into office buildings or ground into the dirt.

I’d like to grab a pint at Port o’ Call (gone) or a martini at Green Street (gone), or see a blues band at the Dead Goat Saloon (gone) or any other kind of music at the Zephyr Club (closed nearly 20 years ago, the rotting hulk of its building demolished just this week).

More than anything, I want to sit in a restaurant booth with cracked vinyl seats and a sticky tabletop drinking shitty coffee into the wee hours of the night. A place with translucent-orange plastic dividers between the booths, the height of fashion in the 1970s but old and tired by the ’90s. I can’t find places like that anymore.

Notice a theme in any of this? As we sit at home in this time of crisis, hoping the plague passes by our door like the flowing green mist in The Ten Commandments and feeling the restlessness growing in our hearts, what I’m missing the most isn’t just physical places I can no longer go, but a time that’s gone as well… specifically my young adulthood, my twenties, the 1990s. A time that was fraught with all kinds of insecurity and anxiety about career and love and life decisions that I never did get around to making. But also a time of possibility and irresponsibility… a time when the existential threat of the Cold War was behind us and we all knew that we’d never face that kind of crippling fear again. A time when I was old enough to do adult things and young enough to not think too much about them. The whole world was out there in front of me and I couldn’t wait to grab hold of it and see and do and feel all of it.

Now the whole world is out there and we’re hiding from it. And when all this is over, things are going to be different and we can’t yet guess how… only that a lot of what we took for granted will be gone. Just like the things I used to take for granted: malls and restaurants and bars and theaters. The ones I really loved were all older than me. They’d been there forever, it seemed, and surely they would always be there. And then suddenly they weren’t. Same as the world we had only a few months ago. Before the virus. Before COVID-19 and “social distancing” and “self-isolation.”

And the world we had 20 years ago, before 9/11. We were frightened by the world then, too, and we never did fully recover. I’m not sure we even partially recovered.

I hate the 21st century. I really, truly do.





You want to know just how far we’ve tumbled into this awful parallel universe that’s like a distorted funhouse-mirror version of the place we’re supposed to be? Far enough that I’m actually finding wisdom in the writing of David Frum, the man who gave George W. Bush the phrase “Axis of Evil.” That’s how screwed up everything is. So screwed up that I’m not only listening to the propagandist who helped Dubya bamboozle this nation into an unjust, endless (and endlessly expensive) war, but that I’m nodding in agreement with him.

Frum’s breakdown in The Atlantic of Donald J. Trump’s catastrophically incompetent response to the COVID-19 plague is exhaustive, irrefutable, and frankly pretty damn nauseating. Given how quickly events have seemed to move and how quickly we’ve lost track of all the contradictory statements and back-and-forth dithering — a fog of war that I believe has been quite deliberately promulgated by the Con Artist in Chief — it’s well worth your effort to wade through, to remind yourself. But everything that the history books will really need to report is contained in the opening paragraphs:

That the pandemic occurred is not Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.

The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.

For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.

Today, Friday, April 10, 2020, my religious friends are all engaged in a day of fasting and prayer to heal the world of COVID-19. I don’t believe this will do any good. I’m not a religious man, and if there is a God, I don’t believe He or She or It troubles themselves much with what happens down here on this lowly speck of cosmic dust. But even I have reached a point where I just can’t think of much else to say except… God help us.