There’s a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story’s one more than I can stand
Just once how I’d like to see the headline say
“Not much to print today, can’t find nothin’ bad to say”, because
Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today
— 1983 hit sung by Anne Murray
The country was just starting to come out of what I called the Reagan recession in the early 1980’s. I had covered some of it in the outer counties of Maryland, just beyond the DC metropolitan area where unemployment had reached roughly 10 percent. Then, I spent the summer of 1982 traveling the country and finding farm foreclosure sales, riverside hobo camps and men on the move looking for work. I came home to write “Recession Journal,” which filled an entire Washington Post Sunday Business section. Interviewed on a radio talk show, I noted that within our “inside the Beltway” cocoon the desperate jobless I had seen were invisible.
Today, with the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression, worse even than the 2008-2009 Great Recession, the jobless are everywhere, and the country’s pain is palpable, economic and medical related to the coronavirus and Corvid-19. In what was to me a remarkable turn of events in the early 1980’s, Reagan emerged unscathed, winning re-election in 1984 over a former Democratic vice-president, Walter Mondale. Will history repeat itself?
And where is Anne Murray when we need her?
As I write, it is the day after V-E Day, the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. But unlike on May 8, 1945, there are no jubilant crowds in Times Square—or anywhere. Even the Russians have foregone their traditional “Victory Day” May 9th parade.
Instead, we mark the day and each day by the number of Covid-19 deaths, now close to 80,000 in the United States and sure to grow, the soaring unemployment figures (banner headlines in Saturday’s New York Times and Washington Post), and watch helplessly as the man in the White House “reopens” the economy, health experts notwithstanding, to help his reelection prospects, whatever the human cost in tens of thousands more deaths.
In the weeks and months ahead, expect the censoring of death toll numbers in many states, in order to give Americans a false sense of security as they venture outside the safe distance guidelines the president reluctantly endorsed before signaling an all-clear.
There is, also, legitimate concern about the upcoming fall election. With the administration’s attempt to hobble the postal service, will it even be possible to have nationwide mail balloting? Citing the pandemic lockdown, Poland’s government has postponed the country’s presidential election. In the United States, another form of voter suppression tied to tampering with all-mail balloting could taint the results, if we get to vote at all.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, a quote Barack Obama was fond of repeating. But does it, really? In 2012, many Americans were outraged by the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin for the crime of walking while black. Now, in 2020, Ahmaud Aubrey was murdered for jogging while black, also in Georgia.
Is this “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” or is it “Mad Max”? Will there be an epiphany, a time when good people come together in peace and harmony? Or are we entering a post-apocalyptic phase, where police beat citizens for violating social distance guidelines (NYPD) and a Family Dollar security guard is murdered (Michigan) for insisting a customer wear a face mask?
We sure could use a little good news today.
Lest We Forget
With the obits full of short and long biographies of Covid-19 victims, it’s easy to forget the lives and deaths of others unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic. But lest we forget, we remember:
Maybe a month ago, weeks into sheltering in place, fire trucks and police cars suddenly appeared on our street in front of our next-door neighbor’s house. It turned out there was nothing nefarious to merit the police presence. There was just death, non-coronavirus related. Leslie Hicks, 92, retired professor in the Howard University department of psychology, had passed away.
Professor Hicks, as I always addressed him, was a wonderful neighbor, an erudite person of surpassing modesty who was also fun to be with. Even after he technically retired, he would continue to teach at Howard and, having lost his reserved parking spot, leave early to drive his black Lexus to the campus and get a space. He did not respond to emails, preferring instead to meet with his students in person during the office hours he continued to keep.
A 1945 graduate of the District’s Dunbar High School, the elite academic institution for blacks in segregated Washington, Leslie Hicks had grown up in the Kingman Park section of Northeast Washington, now an increasingly white gentrified neighborhood. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Howard and, at the University of Wisconsin, was one of the first African Americans to earn a doctorate in physiological psychology.
As the years wore on, we became friends as well as neighbors. On my visits, he would recall as a boy watching the Senators play from the bleachers in old Griffith Stadium. His intellectual interests were eclectic, reflected in the wide range of books that filled his home office shelves. We became close friends, too, with his significant other, who also taught at Howard, and still are.
A memorial service “will be announced to the University community once scheduled,” according to a Howard press release. “The Department of Psychology will also conduct a ceremony in honor of Dr. Hicks at a time to be scheduled in the future.”
Last October, we lost another neighbor and very dear friend, Elanor Cato.
We were still grieving the loss of George Cato, her husband and my closest friend on June 24, 2018, when Elanor died. She had taught four-year olds for 44 years at Beauvoir, the feeder school for St. Albans and National Cathedral high schools, alma mater to many of Washington’s white elite. Elanor, 66, from a large, working class family in Long Branch, New Jersey, was not among those “elite,” though her impact as an African American woman in this bastion of white privilege certainly made her one. She was a voracious reader and something of an introvert, but she also had a wry, sharp sense of humor, and, like her husband, she did not suffer fools. At work, she nurtured the likes of Luke Russert, the grandchild of Madelaine Albright and the offspring of many other Washington notables. As a testament to her, more than 800 people packed the pews of the National Cathedral at a memorial service last Nov. 15. Her son Paul gave the eulogy, with our son David standing by his side at the pulpit. The Catos lived three doors down from us, and our boys grew up together. We were all one family, and I was helping Elanor with George’s estate when she very uncharacteristically failed to show up for work one day and I found her. After the interment of her and George’s ashes at Grace Episcopal Church here in Silver Spring, the repast was at our house, and we are trying to help their two millennial sons as we all grieve, alone together. Elanor was with us last Mother’s day, her first without George. It’s been seven months now since Elanor died, but it seems like yesterday. God, how we miss her.
The lives and deaths of Leslie Hicks and Elanor Cato went unreported in the Washington Post, our hometown paper. They will not go unnoted here.