1.109 shopping fail, novel, conference call

Friday, 3/20/2020

Today’s big adventure was to drive to Safeway in Menlo Park to pick up my online order (for laundry detergent, peanut butter, and lo-cal sodas). Following a cheerful, clear email from Safeway, I looked for a “Drive up & Go” parking space. There were none; no such signage.

I went into the store (noting big posters advertising “drive up & go” service) and found the customer service desk. The person there said she was sorry but due to demand “all the on-line stuff has been canceled.” Thanks, Safeway, for letting me know.

My next thought was to go ahead and buy the stuff, but looking around the huge store, I saw many, many people, not observing any kind of “distancing”. So I decided to go instead to a store I trust, Piazza’s. There, I found people who were taking some pains to keep apart. The queue for checkout was nicely spaced! I couldn’t get the Tide detergent I wanted but got another brand. No bread, no paper products of any kind. No Skippy PB but I got a jar of another brand.

As I had planned and prepared, I wore latex gloves while shopping. Still gloved, I took each item out and wiped it down with a bleach solution I had prepared. And wiped the door handle and steering wheel and discarded the gloves.

Back home, there was a new cheerful email from Safeway with details about my pick up order, how they had substituted some things and some things were out of supply, and the total was $36.10, and my pickup time was now. Just as if there was no problem! So I called their customer service line, where I sat on hold for 55 minutes before it told me there was a problem, please try later, and hung up on me.

Safeway — boo, hiss.

Next was more work on an agent for the novel. I found another directory of agents and added a couple of names to my spreadsheet. Two of these said they want a “synopsis” as a different item than a “query letter”. Hmmm. Not sure about the difference so I need to research that. But I set out to do a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and in the course of that, noticed that some chapters were longer than others, so did some breaking and joining.

That killed time until 4pm when I dialed in to Rhonda’s conference call. Here are the notes I took as she (the CH CEO) talked and took questions.

Since 2/28 we’ve been dealing with a vast quantity of guidance from Santa Clara county and many other agencies including our licensing agencies. As a result we have in 20 days, changed the way we do just about everything. Staff reorganized in management teams. Two from each department are splitting the schedule so one manager for each team is on site 24/7 (facilities, housekeeping, communications, business etc)

We’ve acquired a supply of “personal protective equipment” PPE supplies (masks, googles, gloves, gowns) and we have set up isolation rooms. We have set up a room with rollaway beds for staff napping if staff needs to sleep over. We are planning to deal with COVID if it gets past our barriers.

Staffing: we have staff shortages, staff who are self-quarantining with various symptoms, and staff with child-care problems. We ask you to not visit staff in person; our offices are closed and we can handle most things by email or phone.

Facilities: have been very busy with things like the new washing facility. Some projects on hold.

Fitness: there will be a schedule later today for virtual fitness classes and a method of checking out fitness equipment.

Hand washing. Tired of hearing about it? It is so important that we do a weekly training with staff again and again. Leave the water running; scrub for 20 seconds including your fingernails. Get one paper towel, use it to turn off the water, discard it. Get another paper towel and dry. If you get a tissue out of your pocket to wipe your nose, wash your hands again.

Meals. The new process: it takes one full-time and one part-time person to tally the menus each day. Just turn in one menu per day, by 2pm. Don’t bring back your paper bags, recycling is nice but returning a bag to the dining room is an infection control issue. The bags can be composted with your meal trash.

Housekeeping: staff is concentrating on public areas, e.g. disinfecting wherever any stranger enters the wellness wing.

Finally: plan on change. The one thing we are sure of, there will be more changes. Facing shortages in paper products like paper bags. All facilities like ours are serving food in disposable products and there are shortages. Some types of food are going short, like fresh fruit, which comes from California where nobody is working. We expect more staff shortages. We expect we can adjust to these things.

In the Q&A: Kim Krebs is now our question czar, direct questions to her by phone or email.

What will change if we get a case? Rhonda: decision will be made by SCC health. At a guess, we will start delivering your food to your apartment. You may be able to leave the building but not visit any common rooms.

Deliveries: when UPS and Fedex arrive, they leave boxes outside. We then spray them with a disinfectant spray before bringing them into the building.

Debate about whether it would be good or not, to have volunteers who make runs during the early hours, to grocery stores, on behalf of multiple residents. Fewer people going out to stores but exposes volunteers to multiple exposures.

Food delivery from a store or restaurant? In a box we’d spray the box. We’ve not been spraying bags of food for fear of spoiling the food. Later: SCC health has issued guidance to restaurants, doordash, uber, on how to handle food delivery, so it should not need disinfecting.

1.108 whatever

Thursday 3/19/2020

I intended to go for a run this morning. Then I realized I had filled out the menu form for a breakfast today. (The alternative, if you don’t want a meal, is a big X through that meal’s panel on the triptych menu sheet.) Which meant I couldn’t, as I usually do when I run, eat a meal replacement shake in my room and head out the door at 7:30. I would have to wait for the assigned 6th floor slot, 8:15.

Well, I can be flexible in a national crisis. I stayed around, finishing my read of the internet, until 8:15, then went downstairs, meaning to pick up the breakfast box, go back and eat it, and then run. But there had been “a disaster in the kitchen” of unspecified type, and they were running half an hour late.

So I just headed out the door on my run. Which went great. Felt good. Passed maybe 5 other people. Back at CH, I went through the hand-wash ante-room and there was my breakfast box, not quite the last one on the table.

The staff continues to implement changes. Today at lunchtime they were setting down a trail of footsteps, 6 feet apart, for us to follow on emerging from the elevator, on the way to pick up our meal boxes.


Also, Wanda, my housekeeper, had left off my bag of fresh linens. As I noted a couple of days ago, housekeeping is now only cleaning rooms monthly, because of staffing shortages (people needing time for child care, and extra sanitation of public spaces). So here’s my linens and my lunch.


So after lunch I made my bed, and returned by bagged used linens to the collection point in the lounge. We are very self-sufficient here.

At supper time the meal service was finally operating on all cylinders. You come out of the elevator during your floor’s time-slot. You queue up on the happy-feet symbols. As you get near the washroom, a staff member grabs your menu selection page from a pile and hands it to someone who takes it to the kitchen. By the time you come through the hand-wash room, or a short wait later, a server comes out of the kitchen with a paper bag containing your food order, and the hot foods are still hot. Here’s my supper.


Jicama and cherry tomato salad, barbecue turkey breast, mashed potatoes, 2% milk, some kind of cobbler.

All of the containers are compostable. When done, you just put everything in the box, and the box into a biodegradable plastic bag. When full, put it out in the hall for pickup and transfer to the composting dump. The amount of planning that the CH staff and the Sodexo crew have done in a few days is just staggering.



1.107 new meal service

Wednesday 3/18/2020

Today was the last time to enter the dining room for breakfast, and only to choose takeout. And to pick up the menu form for tomorrow’s meals; please return to your lounge by 2pm.

I idled away a lot of the morning; then went for a walk. At lunchtime they implemented the first meal of the new system. You go to the lobby in your floor’s appointed 15-minute slot; you wash your hands (full hand-washing replaced the little bubble-sanitizers three days ago — a monitor puts a sticker on your shoulder as you exit the washroom); you stand around with others (maintaining 6-foot distances, and yes, a staff person is watching to enforce it) until they call your name and hand you your takeout box, packed with what you asked for on the form yesterday. Back to your room.

So that was another day of alternately reading Query Shark (my gosh that is a deep archive, I’m starting to skim) and fiddling around on Zooniverse.

At supper time there was a surprise. Over the last three days the facilities gang has converted what was a small, rarely-used staff dining room into a full hand-washing station, with counters, plumbing, and four basins with soap and automatic paper towel dispensers! To pick up your meal now, you go into the hand-washing room, and exit from it directly into the (sadly deserted) dining room, where to-go packages are arrayed on a table and yours is handed to you.

Have I mentioned how proactive and imaginative our staff has been? They’ve completely upended the dining service to make an assembly-line takeout system, they’ve installed a completely new washing facility, they’ve organized pre-printed menus, they’ve got the temperature-taking station at the front door staffed full-time. It’s quite amazing.


1.106 novel, quarantine

Tuesday 3/17/2020

I started the day with a run. Didn’t time myself, but went the usual pace and felt good.

For most of the rest of day I alternated between reading bad query letters at Query Shark, and further polishing my own.

In mid-afternoon came the email from Rhonda: further interpretation of the county’s shelter directive shows that we can no longer have the dining room open for eating, even with the current restrictions. Tonight you will select what you want for takeout. You will also get a menu form to fill out for tomorrow’s meals; please leave it in your floor lounge by 11pm.

In the tab next to my email I have the Johns Hopkins Corona virus dashboard, showing confirmed cases worldwide and by country. Top left corner, the total, which only updates if you refresh the page. I try to refresh it only once or twice a day. Today, 187,000.

1.105 shit gettin’ real

Monday 3/16/2020

Was going to go for a run this morning but woke to wet streets and drizzle. Plan B was to wait until the green pixels moved off the radar map and then go for a walk.

I used that couple of hours to start writing my agent query letter for Pelajis. I mentioned building a list of possible agents. Now I have to craft a query letter. The agent query letter is a peculiar literary form; it is as tightly compressed as a sonnet, aiming to describe the plot and the excitement of a book well enough that a jaded literary agent will be intrigued and request the full text to read. On Reddit I got a pointer to a great site, Query Shark, where for a decade a working agent has been critiquing people’s queries. She’s brutal about it. The directions for submitting your own query for dissection include, you must have read all the archives. That’s something like 300 posts. Well, I’m starting to read them. But this morning I also wrote a query letter, which I think stands up pretty well. However, I will keep reading all the archives for a while.

So, off on a walk, where I changed my plan twice. My first plan was to walk down Middlefield to Piazza’s market, pick up some peanut butter, and buy a pound of coffee at Peets. However, a short way into the walk I pictured walking into Peets, standing in line, with people around me. Sneezing germ-laden people. Do I really need this?

You know, I thought, I bet Peets sells online. Still walking, pull out phone, open Safari, tappy tappy uh-huh. Not only that but they are encouraging online sales in the current situation. OK, so I won’t go there. If I don’t go there, I’ll just go as far as Safeway and get peanut butter.

Same line of thought. Do I really need to go into Safeway? I bet I can get Skippy Super Chunk from Amazon Prime. So now I have no destination. I circle back via Embarcadero and Alma, stopping briefly at Ace Hardware to get a phillips bit to replace a worn out one. Also not necessary and I probably should have skipped that too.

Later in the afternoon came the announcement that all five Bay Area counties are mandating “shelter in place” for everyone. Closing restaurants and bars except for take-away. All non-essential businesses work from home. A cascade of emails follow.

  • From Channing house: until we have a case of COVID-19, which we don’t yet, the dining room remains open. However, housekeeping will now distribute linens and toilet paper weekly to your door, but will only clean your room once a month. The housekeepers are needed to do extra sanitation work.
  • From FOPAL: we’re closed, don’t come by.
  • From Sutter Health: you have a non-essential appointment coming up (eye exam), please reschedule it. I canceled it, since I think rescheduling short of September would be a waste of time.
  • From Channing House: we need volunteers to help housekeeping distribute linens to doors, and to make beds for residents who can’t make their own. I sign up.

I check Amazon. Huh. Skippy Super Chunk is out of stock and it is not known when it will be back. Damn hoarders.

Later in the day, an email on the internal list reminding that several groceries offer delivery or pickup. I go to the Safeway link and aha, I can set up a pick-up order for Friday morning (earliest available) for that peanut butter. Well, I have to put at least $40 in the cart, so I add a few other things. Friday morning then, I will take the car out for a 2-mile round trip. Which will be the first time this week, probably.


1.104 FOPAL, novel

Sunday 3/15/2020

For the first time in decades I did not walk out to a coffee shop for my Sunday morning paper and nosh. I was going to; and then I asked myself (actually I kind of was hearing Marian’s very grounded, practical voice), “Can I really justify exposing myself to coffee shop servers and customers, for that?”

The thing is, however small the risk, I don’t take it on my own behalf. When I expose myself to possible infection, I am in a real sense, exposing my 240 Channing House neighbors also. If I was still living alone at Tasso street, fuck yeah I’d go. But things are different now. If–or should I say when?–the virus gets in here, people are going to die. If we can make it with no illness through the year to a vaccine, it will be a major triumph for the CH management and residents. It’s not likely, really; but as long as our streak maintains, I don’t want to jeopardize it.

So from a boring breakfast in the dining room I went to FOPAL. I was the first person there, and the only one as long as I stayed, which was 2-1/2 hours, to 11:30. I did a bang-up job if I do say so, sorting at least 15 boxes of books, carrying 12 filled boxes out to their proper sections; and to top it off, at the end I got out the vacuum cleaner and cleaned the pig-sty of a floor in the sorting room. Turned out the lights and left, imagining the surprise and pleasure of the next volunteers in: open floor space and clean and tidy.

This work is I think, pretty virus-safe. Latest I’ve read is that live virus can survive on cardboard for at most a day. So all those boxes and books that have been sitting for at least a day (mostly for weeks), to be sorted, are virus free. I wore latex gloves just the same, and sanitized my hands when I left.

In the afternoon I read about how to write cover letters to agents. And wrote up a short account of my London trip for the CH newsletter. Which made me imagine riding the Underground when now, two months later, the corona virus is a reality. Brrrrrr.

Later in the day came word that

  • The Vi, a nearby upscale senior residence, has a COVID-19 case.
  • All staff and residents will have their temperature checked on entry to the building. There’s a new temperature check station set up in the lobby.
  • Governor Newsome has issued a proclamation urging all people over 65 to remain in their homes.

I went down to supper at 6:30, but the remaining entree choice was not appetizing, nor suitable for take-out in a box, so I returned to the room and made a cheese and salami sandwich.



1.103 virus closing in, agents

Saturday 3/14/2020

Breakfast in our dining room. Then out for a walk, largely unproductive. My first stop was the site of the Saturday Farmer’s Market, looking for dried apricots and dates; but the parking lot was empty. In the morning’s paper was a list of farmer’s markets open and closed, and this one wasn’t mentioned either way. The Sunday Palo Alto market was mentioned as still open, so I’ll try it tomorrow.

Then across to the bank (SFCU) to deposit a check, the one from IBM Via Benefits. Maybe I should try again (the fourth) to get their direct deposit to work.

Now up the Ave to the Apple Store, where I was going to kick the tires of an iPhone XI again and possibly buy one. But of course, the store is closed. The Apple Genius at the door explained they would be closed for two weeks; he was on duty at the door to help people who wanted to pick up repair orders.

Back to the flat to research literary agents. There’s a great site, AgentQuery, where you can search registered literary agents on all kinds of criteria. I found several who welcome new submissions, AND middle-grade, AND science fiction. Now to read the submission guidelines of each, which are of course all different. Of the ones I thought looked feasible for my book,

  • Russel Galen: “Send us an unadorned, unaccompanied letter as your first step…”
  • Julia Grinberg: ” please send a query letter and the first fifty (50) pages of your manuscript… as a .docx file”
  • Scott Miller: use the contact form below and “include only a paragraph about yourself, a brief plot synopsis and your contact information”
  • Peter Rubie: “send a query letter with a synopsis of your book, your bio, and the first two chapters (no more than 30 pages) embedded in the body of your email” not as an attachment
  • Andrea Somberg: “a short synopsis of your work, an author bio, and the first five pages of your manuscript (pasted into the body of your email, no attachments please)”

After lunch I returned to this. Instead of trying to manage all the different agency sites in browser tabs, I did what I should have done to start, and made a spreadsheet. This whole business of submitting to agents is tedious and depressing. From posts in writer’s forums I know it is typical for them to take a month to a year to reply. Several note that they only reply when they want to see more; “no reply means no”. But it’s a bit hard to distinguish between “no reply” and “reply after six months”. Oh well.

Spent some time, and must spend quite a bit more, crafting that most import little prose passage, the cover letter with synopsis. Many iterations of that to come, as well as some online browsing; I know I’ve seen blog posts somewhere about “how to write a cover letter”.

1.102 novel, virus

Friday, 3/13/2020

In the morning, for exercise, I walked the mile-plus to the P.A. Cafe. I sat outside (distancing) with my computer and continued editing the novel. At 11am I took a Lyft back.

I didn’t mention yesterday, that I had ordered a pizza online from Palo Alto pizza, picked it up from on California avenue, and ate half for supper, with a beer, in my apartment. Today for lunch I had the remaining half. Then I returned to the editing and completed the job. Then I sent the link to the Google Doc to several friends. Here it is. Next jobs with that are to, 1, collect comments from beta readers, to include hopefully some actual middle-graders; 2, prepare a submission package and send a letter and opening chapters to some possible agents.

About 4pm I decided to get outside again. I was out of bread (I keep bread in my cupboard along with peanut butter, salami, cheese and other sandwich makings), so I decided to walk to my local store, the Whole Foods a few blocks away.

The walk was pleasant but the store was not. I didn’t immediately notice the bread shelves just inside the door, and walked the whole store looking for bread. I observed that the pasta shelves were bare. Preppers love pasta, I guess. Everything else was in good supply, except for the bread, when I finally found it. As I walked around I got increasingly nervous. There were lots of people, and which one (or ones) of them was oozing viral particles? I had come into a crowd for no really good reason, exposing myself and not even finding what I came for. I walked out and home again in a bad mood. I felt exposed, and not only washed my hands but took a shower.


1.101 novel, Yosemite

Thursday, 3/12/2020

This morning I resumed editing the novel. Amazing number of typos, but also small tweaks that improve the text, all made visible by putting it in a different format.

I could do that because this week, the Yosemite shift is not a full day, but only half a day, from 1pm. They didn’t say, but I bet the morning is being used for staff meetings on the virus issue.

I went to Yosemite where Dave B., Elena, Toni, Tom and Allen also gathered. We traded virus news, as one does. We nearly completed the sweep of all boxes looking for the lost Ferrante plug-board. Another hour or two will do it.

Back home, to a peculiar email from Stanford Sports, thanking me for my ticket purchase with a price of negative $136. Soon after came the email saying the Stanford had canceled all sports for the rest of winter and spring terms, and they would be refunding purchased tickets. So I presume that -136 represents a refund of the remainder of my baseball season ticket?

Not long after, news that the NCAA had canceled all of the basketball post-season, and other sports.

Not long after, via Reddit I find a link to a Guardian article citing what seems like very credible scientific studies from China and Taiwan, showing that the virus is communicable from 2 to 7 days before symptoms appear. This is very disturbing to me, and should be to anyone. You simply don’t know which healthy-looking person you interact with, is infected and might infect you. And they don’t know, either. Suppose that everyone who had the slightest respiratory symptom, dutifully self-quarantined (and they won’t). It wouldn’t make any difference! Or at least, not much.

If it’s upsetting to me, how must it be for someone who has a job meeting the public? A restaurant server, a store clerk, any kind of public-facing clerk? Every single person they deal with is a potential case of virus.

This makes it entirely credible that, as competent epidemiologists are already saying, a year from now, 60%-80% of the US population will have had the virus. That’s the point at which herd immunity kicks in, when the newly-infected encounter mostly immune people and can’t create new infections. Present “social distancing” efforts will have some effect in slowing the rate of infection, but nothing will stop it from becoming endemic.



1.100 novel, FOPAL, virus

Wednesday, 3/11/2020

Went for a run. Might have finished a minute faster than the previous time, but that could also be due to not having to wait for a traffic light. Anyway I felt strong and healthy, which is good.

Did a bit of paperwork left over from my annual review with the Financial Advisors. They Advised that I should really have $3M of general liability coverage, not the paltry $1M included in my Renter’s insurance policy. So I emailed my agent. Later she replied that I could get such a policy, and then could dial back the liability coverage in my Renter’s and Auto policies to almost make up the difference. So that’s in progress.

Next, I did a copy of the full text (which is 43,000 words) of the novel, and pasted it into a new Google Doc. That took Google at least 30 seconds to digest. I thought it wasn’t coming back, but it did. I started reading through the text, tweaking the format so it looked like a book, not a manuscript, and immediately spotted a typo.

It is well-known to writers that when you reformat something, change the font or the line spacing or whatever, suddenly you will start to see things you didn’t before. So now I have to do a full read and edit in the new format, and of course, have to make the same edits in the “real” document at the same time.

Also interesting that Google Docs has a grammar checker. It has a spell-checker that puts a wiggly red line under words it thinks are misspelled; Open Doc (which I am using for the “real” manuscript) also does that. But Google Docs also puts a blue wiggly line under any phrase that doesn’t look right to it grammatically, and that has already showed me two typos where I missing words. (Like missing “had” in that line.)

At 11am I headed out to FOPAL for my usual Wednesday sorting shift. Did four hours of sorting, as usual moving many, many boxes of books. At 4pm my back was painful; time for the usual “two ibuprofen and a nap” prescription.

But there were new emails from the Channing House Response team. They’ve received guidance from the powers that be: when there is even one confirmed case in the county, all senior facilities in that county should lock down. Santa Clara county has 48 cases (as of yesterday), so at Channing House:

  • No visitors at all, family, vendors, whatever
  • No contact with the contractors who continue to work on the 5th floor upgrade
  • Strongly recommend that residents avoid all unnecessary outside activities that involve groups of any size

Although walks in the neighborhood are fine. I’m thinking hard about my volunteer activities, which are quite limited.

Tomorrow I’m to go to Yosemite for artifact work. That’s a group of maybe 5 people who are smart enough not to show up if they have cold symptoms. Should be OK.

Processing computer books at FOPAL, and sorting books there outside of donation hours, exposes me again to at most four or five other volunteers. I had already been wearing latex gloves while handling books. I may want to quit sorting during donation hours, 2-4pm, when members of the unwashed public come in to donate.