We know what the silence means this time

The Last Normal Day Part 12 by Aisha Tyler

If you missed The “Best” 45(ish) Songs of 2020 from the other day check it out. It’s “a pretty good list.”

Lot of self-referential link backs in this one sorry about that if you’re a regular reader but there’s always new people showing up especially when I have a great guest contributor like today so I have to act like a server at a restaurant who thinks their concept is too complicated for an idiot like you to understand. Have you folks dined with us before?

Speaking of guests all of my work here and from my lovely Hell World correspondents is made possible by you guys so throw a few bucks in the tin if you have any to spare please and thank you.

Living in America should be a round robin where everyone has to move to the next state over every couple years and we rotate around like that to see how we do fighting against each region's weird shit. It sucks I'll never live in Tennessee or Utah. Not because I imagine they’re especially wonderful but they are simply not here. And all those people will never really get to see…fucking… Rhode Island.

Or at least we need a federal exchange student type program. I want to live in Arizona or New Mexico for a year. Yes I know I could move there but that's not the spirit of what I mean here.

You ever think about all the places you dreamed of living someday like California or Japan or Germany or Scotland or wherever and then eventually realize you just won’t you’re just gonna live where you were born. Hahah haha. :/

Guess I’m not really upset about missing out on Staten Island though.

Dan Ozzi put his native borough into context for us all in this recent Hell World.

“Staten Island is an isolated little land mass where the people are getting dumber, politicians are getting meaner, and Covid numbers are getting worse at a rapid pace. It’s like America’s little game of Sim City where all the speed controls have been turned up to the max,” he wrote.

The (First) Last Normal Day

by Aisha Tyler

I remember the feeling I had that first last normal day back in March as one of eerie disorientation, almost a form of déjà vu. I love post-apocalyptic fiction, so some silly little kid part of me recognized it somehow —the virus from Contagion made real, Skynet finally coming online. As the sun set and the lockdown order went into effect, the streets of Los Angeles were already eerily quiet, deserted in a way I had never seen them, devoid of traffic or pedestrians, office buildings vacant, a plastic bag blowing down the middle of the street like a hackneyed motif in a b-grade movie. The silence was cinematic, fascinating, something to be marveled at, like “No way. You ever seen the city like this? Fucking surreal.”

I decided to walk to the store with a companion, propelled forward by breathless news stories that the world was running out of tuna fish and toilet paper, that we would be cold-cocked by a housewife at the store over the last canister of disinfecting wipes. The news made it seem as if it was unsafe to step outdoors, but we peered out at the darkness and decided to chance it: running out of toilet paper was more unthinkable than a scuffle with a lady in ill-fitting Lululemon. As we masked up and stepped into the night, I felt a strange sense of calm — it was almost beautiful, this stoppage, this interregnum —the world dark and motionless, no far-off whoosh of traffic white noise, no clods of half-dressed twentysomethings veering from bar to bar. We could have walked down the middle of the street for a half hour without encountering a car, but I’ve seen too many sci-fi movies — I know the minute you step off the curb, a post-apocalyptic doom tank with previous victims scrawled on its side in chalk is going to careen around the corner and crush you into zombie food.

We shambled through the darkness, expecting the worst: a ransacked store, baleful manager shrugging at the lack of staples. Instead we found the opposite. The dairy shelves were full, there was plenty of produce, stacks of frozen pizzas, the cake aisle piled high like they were expecting a party. There had been no run on our neighborhood supermarket, as if everyone knew that it would be shitty to deprive a neighbor of a cream roll when we were all going to be stuck indoors for a while. We shopped, taking only what we thought we needed. I grabbed four jars of pasta sauce, then put two back because I didn’t want to be a marinara dick. People tiptoed down the aisles, maybe a bit more hushed than usual, but also more considerate of others. There was no Donnybrook over the hand sanitizer, no shouted soliloquy about personal freedoms and mask conspiracies. It was civilized. And there was toilet paper, and plenty of it — poop crisis averted. We carried our groceries back and made dinner. Made plans to watch all those movies we’d been meaning to, to read those great novels, to knit, to learn to do the splits. It was only going to be a few weeks. Wash your hands, wear a mask, be considerate. How hard can that be? What were we all so apprehensive about?

It’s been almost a year, and somehow we are right back where we started, and worse. Los Angeles just issued its second safer-at-home order. Restaurants and bars have been shuttered once again. And somehow the neighborhood is quieter than it was the first time, maybe because we know now how tough it was to shut down, what it cost, what we lost. We know this lockdown will likely last much longer than promised. The last three-week shutdown lasted five months. It cost billions of dollars and millions of jobs. Businesses that dotted my neighborhood and made it the weird, dynamic, bristling place it was are gone forever. There wasn’t a grand apocalypse, but there have been lots of little tiny ones: cataclysmic losses that have shuttered businesses, relationships, families, lives. Here’s the thing: an apocalypse doesn’t have to be a global event. All it has to do is alter your life irrevocably. We will eventually recover from this pandemic. We will rebound. The world isn’t going to end. But for so many families, it already has.

That’s the difference between the last time and this time. The silence then was novel, something temporary to be marveled at — a scene in a movie, the opening panels of a comic book. This time the silence represents things permanently gone, blown and expired, cavities in the patchwork fabric of this rugged city, unmendable holes in the fabric of lives. We know what the silence means this time. We know what it portends.

Maybe this time, we’ll get it right. Maybe this time, we’ll save the world.

Aisha Tyler is an actor, director and New York Times bestselling author. She also founded a company that sends premium cocktails directly to your home, if cocktails are your thing: courageandstone.com.

The Last Normal Day:
Part 1 by Samantha Irby
Part 2 Zaron Burnett III
Part 3 by Luke O’Neil
Parts 4-5 by Chris A. Smith and Shane Ferro
Part 6 by Kim Kelly
Part 7 by Julieanne Smolinski
Part 8 by Josh Gondelman
Part 9 by Jeb Lund
Part 10 by Joe Keohane
Part 11 by Linda Tirado

Cada de es domingo. Cada dia es triste vivir.

Please read some of these letters to Santa from children around the country below and if you would like you can “adopt” some of them through the USPS Operation Santa program here.

Dental care in this country is a fucking joke and a nightmare at the same time.

A while back I collected readers’ stories of dental catastrophes. If you never read it you should if you want to ruin your day.

  • Last week I had to cut my gums open to remove bone spurs. They had been sticking out, as solid as an actual tooth, like broken glass while they horribly gouged the bottom of my tongue. Deep lacerations on my tongue would remain open and constantly keep my mouth full of blood. I couldn’t talk or eat properly because the pain was unbearable. My extreme depression and anxiety fueled the shame, while no insurance ensured that I’d be living with it. I could no longer take it and sterilized my pocket knife. I pulled three sharp little pieces of broken bone out. I can’t go to the dentist and it’s been severely personally damaging. The holes will heal now.

  • I used a textbook and the internet to teach myself to repeatedly drain a dental abscess, over the course of two years, when I was in college. How I didn’t die is beyond me.

  • I haven’t been to the dentist since I was in college about four years now. The last time they told me I had seven cavities. I haven’t had coverage since. I’m not in pain yet but there is something terrifying for sure happening to my end teeth in the back because I can see the discoloration. I’m supposed to have “full coverage” dental insurance from my job but I tried to use it and I would have to pay for anything and everything up front in full and then wait anywhere from three to nine months to be reimbursed in pieces.

Our man David Roth is characteristically good on the denouement of the Trump administration this week in The New Republic. “This is Trump going out exactly as he governed—by telling someone whose name he’d soon forget to fix a problem he didn’t care enough about to understand, and then watching television to see how well he was doing.”

If Trump seemed confused about where to go with this tantrum, it was likely because his television had not yet told him. Trump uses Fox News like a Human Centipede to generate the furious confusion that powers his politics; his anxieties and curdled impulses simultaneously fuel, and are fueled by, the programming he so hungrily devours. The singular imperative of cable news is less to inform viewers than to keep them twitchy enough to sit through all those commercials for catheters and reverse mortgages for the next hit of outrage. After sufficient immersion in this media dynamic, viewers do not reason through the information they receive so much as respond to changes in tone—to the sour sound of Laura Ingraham’s sneer, say, or the whistling teapot of Tucker Carlson’s stagy perplexity. Trump, like many of his fellow cable news casualties, watches television in the same blank and fulsome way that dogs might be said to listen to music.

As I mentioned the other day if Ron DeSantis — and Trump for that matter — had been enlisted as sworn secret agents of a sentient alien coronavirus invasion hellbent on bending the country and the earth to their will there probably isn’t much more they could have done to speed things alone while still maintaining their cover is there?

A bit more from that Orlando Sentinel piece:

As I also mentioned at the time Democrat leaders have not exactly bathed themselves in glory either. Since then at least three more prominent mayors have been caught doing the exact shit they’re scolding their own people for doing. This first one concerning Austin mayor Steve Adler — sadly not the former drummer of Guns N' Roses — is literally a Mayor Quimby bit from The Simpsons.

Please read this piece by Jeremiah Bourgeois in The Crime Report on the scourge of solitary confinement.

Prisons in this country are dehumanizing as a rule. Still, most prisoners in general population can participate in rehabilitation programs, have contact visits with loved ones, spend hours exercising in the gymnasium or outside on the yard, and socialize in the dayroom.

In contrast, solitary confinement is the prison within the prison, as a jail is to city residents.

Once there, men and women spend 23 hours a day alone languishing in a cell—often without a book, radio or television to occupy their minds and distract from the sense of loneliness. Often it is a nightmarish kaleidoscope of prisoners constantly yelling as others rhythmically beat on their desks, while others struggle “to sleep as someone kicks their door all night and into the morning.”

Throughout my 27 years of imprisonment in the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) I spent years in solitary confinement enduring what I describe as this “cacophony of madness and misery.”

All too often, the punishment was imposed over petty incidents rather than for serious misbehavior or acts of violence. These experiences lend themselves to understanding the control model of prison management and the mindset it engenders in prison staff.

Prisoners are commonly perceived to be little more than law breakers and rule violators whose misdeeds stem from their refusal to accept authority and the mores of society. Therefore, ratcheting up misery is believed to be the most effective deterrent available in a prison setting.

For more on solitary confinement see these previous issues of Hell World:

Here’s a fun story from WBUR about the way prisoners are being treated during the pandemic.

The attorneys pointed to the deaths of two prisoners who were granted medical parole only after they were hospitalized with COVID-19. In both cases, the men died less than a day after they were granted medical parole. The granting of parole formally removed the men from DOC custody, so the deaths may not be included in the state's reporting of COVID-19 prisoner deaths. It further appears that the men were no longer considered to be in custody, as neither death was reported to the state medical examiner — a requirement for when any prisoner dies.

Milton Rice, a 76-year-old prisoner at MCI-Norfolk, died on Nov. 25 in a local hospital where he was taken after he tested positive for the coronavirus two weeks earlier. Rice applied for medical parole back in March, writing "with my underlying health condition and compromised immune system issues, should I contract the COVID-19 virus it would more than likely be fatal for me." His attorney said he was granted medical parole the day before he died. The DOC confirmed Rice was released from its custody as of Nov. 24. The cause of his death is listed as COVID-19 pneumonia.

"I think that the reason for granting medical parole, as far as I can tell, would be to avoid having to report another COVID death of a prisoner within the Department of Correction," said Lauren Petit, an attorney with Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts who worked on Rice's medical parole case. "I don't see any other way to interpret what happened. The request was denied and only granted once the person was on life support, and his circumstances hadn't changed at all."

I’ve written in here before on how prisons do all sorts of shitty little loophole tricks like this even during normal times where they “release” inmates with serious medical issues to go receive care elsewhere so that way if they die it’s not technically on their books. A really cool side effect of this is since the inmates aren’t for-realsys under the care of the state during this time any medical care they get they might then be billed for.

An investigation by KJZZ in Arizona has found at least a dozen inmates in the state who are being billed for their medical care provided through Corizon. I’m not sure if you know this but when you’re in prison you’re not supposed to pay for your medical care that is the responsibility of the state. You’re only supposed to pay for things like phone calls at $10 a minute.

One woman named Ashley Wilkeyson was playing softball on her prison team when her ankle snapped in half. She was brought to the hospital and had the ankle set. In the meantime she was sent back to prison to wait for surgery when she started receiving bills in the mail. One was for almost $3,000 she said.

Inmates aren’t supposed to pay for their health care in Arizona. They pay $4 to be seen by the health care provider for their first visit, and all services after that are performed, contracted and paid for by the state’s contractor, Corizon Health. The state pays Corizon $15 per inmate per day for a total annual contract worth $188 million.


Here’s the full cover of my new book.

“Probably not as good as the last book but definitely shorter.” - Luke O'Neil

OK that’s all for today goodbye.