The best and worst parts of an extremely cursed year

I’m still alive so there’s that

I keep trying to read about what’s actually in the relief package and then I see some section about business lunch expenses or whatever and a protective shield deploys over my brain like an armadillo rolling into a ball and I close the article. Guess I’ll never know.

Nonetheless the boys on the line down at the Consent Factory have assured me it’s adequate so I guess I’ll just trust them.

Today’s main thing below is a bunch of Hell World readers telling us about the best and worst things that happened to them this year. But first some of the usual shit.

Over the weekend I sent out to paying subscribers eight short stories or poems or whatever that I wrote. I’m going to leave it open to anyone for a bit longer today in case any of you want to read them. They’re “fine.”

Subscribe if you don’t want to miss shit like that when it goes out.

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I mentioned in the issue of Discontents going out today that I’m sure there were things that delighted me this year but I am having trouble thinking of any of them at the moment besides this.

And this:

Ok now here’s some shit to look at and get pissed off about.

A lot of people who like these type of stories also say shit like “fast food isn’t supposed to be a career.” In fact I’m making up a guy in my mind who did this just now and I hate his guts!

Pennsylvania tenants and homeowners missed out on roughly $108 million of $175 million in federal coronavirus relief because state programs distributing the funding made it too hard to access, Spotlight PA has found. The remaining money will be redistributed to the state’s Department of Corrections…

…The $150 million rent relief program was meant to help both landlords and tenants, covering up to six months of rent for those who had fallen behind because of the pandemic. The money was paid directly to landlords, who had to agree to take part.

But the program was hindered by a cap on the assistance each applicant could receive, $750 a month — significantly less than the median rent in some parts of the state. The program also required that landlords forgive any other outstanding rent above that amount. As a result, many refused to participate.

Furthermore, tenants had to prove that they had become unemployed, or lost at least 30% of their income, since March 1. Many struggled to provide the required documentation, including pay stubs, from employers that had shut down or gone out of business.

On the bright side when any of these people get thrown in jail for assaulting their landlords the facilities will have plenty of money to house them.

“Start spraying the fuckers,” says one officer, wearing camera X81416368, at 1:21 a.m. UTC on June 1. (Times are set for UTC on the cameras referred to in this story—five hours ahead of Eastern time.)

Over and over in the videos, police officers are seen deploying plumes of pepper spray at demonstrators, often without warning or provocation. Crowds of protesters with their hands raised are regularly attacked and sprayed by officers on bikes and on foot. At times, demonstrators are rushed by surprise by officers spraying at will.

… The officers appear enthusiastic about using the chemical weapon and unconcerned with whether to arrest demonstrators. In one clip, timed at 1:52 a.m., officers advancing on a crowd are pushing one young man standing with his hands raised.

“We gotta start spraying more,” the officer wearing camera X81417350 says.

“You out?” he asks another police officer offscreen, holding up a can of pepper spray. “I got a little left.”

“I want to hit this asshole,” he says, gesturing toward the young man being pushed back. “I’ve used two of these already—I’ve got a little left, I want to hit this kid.”

The photographer, who has asthma and three kids, left with her assistant before the night was over. Her exit was tense. The wedding planner said it was the most unprofessional thing she’d ever seen. Bridesmaids accused her of heartlessly ruining an innocent woman’s wedding day. She recalls one bridesmaid telling her, “I’m a teacher. I have fourteen students. If I’m willing to risk it, why aren’t you?” Another said everyone was going to get COVID eventually, so what was the big deal? The friend of the bride who’d spilled the beans cried about being the “worst bridesmaid ever.”

Anyone who has a big wedding needs to go to jail immediately. Not just during a pandemic I mean at any time.

And here’s a story via NPR about a woman in Texas who thought she was going to be protected from being thrown out of her home by the “CDC eviction ban.”

…But on Nov. 5, Robinson's landlord told her that she and her family had 24 hours to gather their belongings and get out of the apartment. Either that, or the sheriff's department would evict them.

Because she had filled out the CDC form, Robinson thought it might be a bluff. But she was worried enough to file a complaint and plea for help on the state attorney general's website.

"I have nowhere to go. I meet all the criteria for protection," she wrote. "I have three kids who will be homeless tomorrow morning if I can't stop this. This is wrong."

But at 9 a.m., two men and a woman showed up at her door. They were neighbors from the same apartment complex who, she assumes, were hired by her landlord.

Robinson said they took sheets and blankets off the beds, spread them out on the floor and piled them with electronics, lamps, clothes, kids' paintings.

"Everything from the room, in the comforter, tie it up like a knapsack"; then she says they threw the bundles off the second-floor balcony and down into the yard below.

While all this was happening, her 12-year-old son was doing remote schooling in his bedroom until they yanked the Wi-Fi system out of the wall.

After all that here’s one beautiful thing.

I asked readers what the best and worst parts of this extremely cursed year were for them. Here’s what they said.

Oh god, I really didn't want to send this because even the highlight ends up being a bummer. The absolute best month of my life was February. I had been working for the Bernie campaign in advance since September, traveling all over the country and putting on rallies. It was incredible. I was basically just in New Hampshire leading up to that primary. Because I'm from Massachusetts, it was very easy to get there. And the two weeks leading up to February 11 were literally the busiest of my life, up and out from 6 am to 2 am, and then getting up and doing it again. But it was the first time I ever really felt a part of something, so I was ready to keep running myself down like that for the rest of the year. And hell, then we had a rally in Boston! I was the guy that turned the music on and off! It played off my laptop! Whoo!

Then everything went to shit, and March was basically the worst month of my life. Like they say, life really does come at you fast.

The added worst part was that if I didn't miraculously get that job on the campaign (I got fired from my job as an engineer in July, a job I was going to quit in August) I was planning on traveling internationally for a while. I was supposed to be in Vietnam in March. The country with one new case today. I almost got a job there in September, too, but didn't feel right leaving in the middle of ~~~all this shit~~~

Low: My insanely healthy friend Chris (and my favorite bartender) died in August from Covid out of nowhere. At the time, I reported on his passing and had people yell at me for two weeks that he didn't die from coronavirus and I was trying to politicize his death for my own gain(?) Anyway, outta nowhere earlier this week Dr. Anthony Fauci brought up Chris' death in a press conference. The question was about whether anyone in his family had died from Covid, and he said that the biggest loss they experienced was Chris. Chris' brother was dating one of Fauci's daughters. (She came to the funeral and was nice.) I wasn't expecting to have Chris brought up outta nowhere, on a national scale, on a Wednesday afternoon in December, and it hit hard all over again. But also, I mostly want to yell at the randos that thought I was somehow making this all up. Fuck them. Eat shit. Rest in power, bud.

High: As editor of a citywide alternative paper, most of this year has been reporting on the incredible good that the city has done, from the helpers that are stepping up to the businesses that went from like... making restaurant menus to producing face shields for hospitals. A lot of that has also been pulling back the curtain on, like, did you know that we could all pivot to shit that actually helps/saves people and it still works out even under capitalism? Kinda hope a lot of these small companies never pivot back. Anyway, as a blackpilled cynic, the good folks stepping up this year seem to have outnumbered the bad in my community, and it's been uplifting.

Re: worst of 2020. I would say the realization that any idea of solidarity within professional unions (and my own position within that class) is so atrophied as to be useless. During the lead up to reopening our local schools, I expected our teachers union to take strong stands against measures that would end up hurting the most vulnerable students we serve. Instead I got a frontrow view of the fact that a significant portion of our membership identified more closely with the restaurant owners clamoring for tourist dollars than they do with the people actually working at those restaurants. (A bunch of our kids have parents working in the service industry, or are in it themselves, and a bunch of teachers seem to identify more with the guys who own things than the kids working for those owners. Teacher as prison guard metaphor and all that.)

They worried more about their sons and daughters getting to play tennis than they did about people spreading disease. They believed management when they were told that everything was safe, and said “I hear this is like the flu.” They smelled the wildfire smoke through their doubled-up mask and said “but life has to go on.” They saw people retiring early and said “oh that's a shame.” They heard a bunch of fellow teachers call for a strike and said “but I have a mortgage.” They felt the cold classroom and said “students need to see us in person,” ignoring that all the poor kids stayed home. If none of that bothers enough of my colleagues to do something about it, I worry about what will.

My year has been small and I don’t exactly know what has been good or bad. Of course the world’s tragedies and victories are mine in the ways that they are everyone’s, but I am pretty sheltered as these things go. I was relatively unemployed and itinerant before everything Happened, on account of a breakdown/wisdom-strike last September, so in some ways the word has just got on my level. The people I love and like are ok. I work with disabled kids who, as a class, the school shutdowns have been a disaster for, but it’s been ok for my specific clients actually.

Best: I have gotten back into writing poetry, and have remembered poetry is a genre which I had forgotten for like… 20 years.  I had abandoned writing almost entirely. But all of a sudden the world has no rules and I remembered poetry is kind of the same way and I can do what I fucking want and there are no poetry police (I mean, there are people who think they are).

Worst in my little tight world is my AA meetings going to Zoom. It was exciting at first because I could go to meetings all over and whee! I am in LA, now I am with some weirdos in Ireland, now I am in Denver, whatever!  But ultimately it’s bullshit and I hate it. I’m not drinking so I guess they are working well enough, but the thing I love about that program is that it’s anarchic, political therapy, a thing held together by love and desperation with no authority; a thing that shouldn’t exist. Experiencing the existence of this thing that “shouldn’t” for the last eight years is the spiritual experience it wants me to have and it depends on bodies and stale coffee. Zoom fucking sucks and I miss my church basements. I hate it.

I am pretty blessed in that I have been able to work from home. My partner works in a restaurant and she was out of work from March-July due to shutdowns and will be again starting tomorrow. From a financial standpoint we have been fine during all this. But the year has felt like an avalanche of terrible things happening to people around me, to say nothing of our rotten society as a whole.

In the early/pre-Covid days, a close childhood friend of my brother allegedly murdered his wife before fleeing across the country. Public info is scarce on this point, but there might also be some child kidnapping element to the story. The guy had stopped by my mother's house right around this time trying to get my brother's address in Vegas, so we have speculated (since he got picked up in New Mexico) that he may have been attempting to get to my brother for refuge of some sort. It's all very sordid (e.g. sending fake texts to friends of the victim saying she was dying of Covid) and disturbing and this really was only as Covid was becoming one the year's dominant themes.

I live in New York City, so in late March/early April when it seemed like the country was just getting started on arguing about masks, flu stats, and whether or not the virus was real, it seemed pretty real around me. For example, constant ambulance sirens (more than normal), a funeral home around the corner from my apartment that had a giant refrigerated truck, etc. I said to my partner around that time something like certain idiots just won't believe it until it affects someone they know. I thought when all was said and done almost everyone will have known someone to die from it. Not even a week later my buddy died from Covid. He was in his 50s and worked as a pharmacist. I personally blame Donald Trump, Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio for the death of my friend.

In May, the wife of a friend of mine passed away from childbirth complications 3 weeks after giving birth to their second child; their first child is 5 years old. They are both nurses, he was furloughed at the time and without GoFundMe would be experiencing acute financial distress. Can you even imagine a situation like this?

More recently, another friend had a cancer operation and was in the ICU for god knows how long, and was in total in the hospital as an in-patient for a whopping 52 fucking days! Believe me there was also lots of GoFundMe'ing around this! It was around this time I got some email to donate money to Biden/Harris because they needed DONATIONS to pay for whatever administrative shit was being held up in the transition process when that one lady from a government office I had never heard of wouldn't certify whatever it was to give them office space or something. The only reason (I'm sure) that they even have my email in the first place was because I had donated money to Bernie Sanders. This shit came in right after a GoFundMe update from my buddy's wife about whether or not he could switch to non-IV liquid diet or whatever and I just about hit the roof. These goons who are explicitly against M4A sticking out the donation bowl while I'm fretting about my friend deteriorating away while his wife is stuck running a fundraiser so his friends and current and former students can foot the bill. For some reason this dumbass email viscerally pissed me off more than most of the other constant politics-related bullshit.

Worst thing that happened to me in 2020: Realizing how ugly and cruel our elected officials are. Ever since Obama took my "Hope" and smashed it on the floor there's been a small part of me still pretending that there's gotta be politicians out there who really care about the people. 2020 absolutely poured a gallon of water on that small spark of optimism. The feeling of hopelessness and sadness feels like being smashed in the gut with Pelosi's Gavel.

Best part of 2020: Falling in love with my neighborhood. Going on walks and seeing the slow change of seasons. Not having to stress about commuting and social plans and getting to 1,000 different places at once. As much as this year sucked, I feel I finally got a moment to breathe and really explore and enjoy the space around me.

It's hard to pick a worst thing this year, so I'm not going to try. But Rudy Francisco just released a new poetry collection and while I don't have mine yet, I am going to go ahead and say that it absolutely owns and will be one of the best parts of this year.

Also the best thing about this year for me happened last year when I quit Facebook. My mental health has actually been better this year than the last probably five, which feels awesome but also terrible because of how fucking monstrous the world is right now.

For me, the worst thing that happened ended up being the best. I lost my job — as a writer/editor on a well-known luxury travel magazine — at the start of the pandemic because, quelle surprise, we had zero advertising so heads had to roll. Although it was my “dream job,” I’d discovered over the years the environment was extraordinarily toxic and bad for my mental health, and I had wanted out anyway. In fact it was my big 2020 goal. This forced my hand and it was tough during the 4 months I was unemployed in a country not my own that had zero desire to take care of an expat like me. I went to some really, really dark places mentally. How do I find a job when the whole country is locked down and offices aren’t open because no one can even leave their homes without a permit? I didn’t want to go back to the US, but even if I did, or found that I needed to, I couldn’t because all flights were grounded on my end. I felt hopeless.

Anyway, in the end, after much hustling, I got a very non-glamorous editing job in a corporate office. Making double the salary, and in an environment where people appreciate and respect me. I feel happy. They even say “thank you” and “good job” and all of that sappy stuff that simply did not exist at the media house I previously worked in — which, btw, I hear still has the few remaining staff on a 50% pay cut while they push for all content output to go back to pre-pandemic levels.

Without being in such a dire and desperate situation, I never would have considered even applying for this job; pre-pandemic I was hunting for a hotel/tourism comms job and was resolute about staying in the travel realm. So in a fucked up way, Covid has been the best thing that could have happened to me — and I can’t stop feeling immensely guilty and gross for thinking that.

Before everything went to shit, again, I went to my friend’s bar to get food and have a drink. I’m horribly nervous about all of this but they were doing the best they can. Masks, social distancing, limited seating, etc. I met my best friend there. He said he had a date but she canceled. Turns out she’s an old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in a long time. When she found out I was there she decided to come out. After I left they both texted me about how much they hit it off and now they’re in love and they live together. I’m happy for them. But now I never get to see them and I miss my friends terribly.

That’s probably the best thing that happened. That and my Criterion Blu-Ray of Ghost Dog showed up.

The worst is I had my first panic attack ever. It was horrible and I hated every second it happened and every second for about a week after. I don’t wish that feeling on anyone. But I’m still alive so there’s that.