President Trump had been impeached and was awaiting trial, China was making progress taking the environmental leadership role from the U.S. by banning all single-use plastics and Venezuela was in the throes of political chaos. In other words, everything seemed normal.
President Trump had been impeached and was awaiting trial, China was making progress taking the environmental leadership role from the U.S. by banning all single-use plastics and Venezuela was in the throes of political chaos. In other words, everything seemed normal.
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There is a photo making the rounds on the internet. It’s a scene from the 1985 movie “Back to the Future” where the eccentric professor, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is giving instructions on how to control the destination of the time machine to Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). The wild-eyed professor seems to be dispensing his sternest warning as the caption reads, “Whatever you do, Marty, don’t ever set it for 2020!”

2020 was a great year. Not great as in Great Lakes or great outdoors, but more like Great Depression, or Great Chicago Fire. The year slipped by so fast, as years tend to, and yet not nearly fast enough.

Politically, economically and socially we were dragged through the mud, mud thick with dreadful events and used face masks. Then there was the torture of the controversial concepts like the real or fabricated pandemic, a fair or stolen election or the reality of climate change. Our routines have changed, our work and financial picture have been transformed, our children still don’t call enough and our own country has been polarized by the very leaders that we counted on to keep us together.

We could list the highlights of 2020 but every highlight would be like a pin stuck in that voodoo doll your ex keeps tucked away for those special times. There were stabbing and terror attacks, plane crashes, political unrest, protests, growing violence, federal internet sites hacked, the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash and U.S. military bases targeted. And those were purely January highlights — oh yes, along with the news that China reported 139 cases of a strange pneumonia that seems to be caused by a novel strain of the coronavirus. The news was bleak and brutal.

To look back, I’ll take you on my own time travelogue so you won’t directly re-live the pain inflicted by 2020. Remember what Mel Brooks said: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” I’ve written a travelogue or two but never one where we travel through time — until I did next week when I finished this piece. Instead of examining each month, we’ll take it one quarter at a time as my accountant does. That way she only scolds me four times a year instead of 12.

Q1

Let’s go back in time to the first quarter of that final, full year of the first Trump administration. It was a quarter two-thirds full of action and movement, a whirlwind of pre-pandemic gamboling in a troubled world.

President Trump had been impeached and was awaiting trial, China was making progress taking the environmental leadership role from the U.S. by banning all single-use plastics and Venezuela was in the throes of political chaos. In other words, everything seemed normal. My wife and I decided to travel before we’re too old to deal with perilous travel situations like encountering a type of toilet we’ve never used before. We decided a most-of-the-winter getaway to visit our daughter, who conveniently lived where February is the middle of summer, would be nice. Inconveniently, she lived near Sydney, Australia.

We planned a 42-day trip. (Travel tip: that’s crazy. Don’t go on any 42-day trips. Too many complications.) But if England could get it together to leave the European Union in 2020, surely, we could leave Down East for Down Under.

January found me busy tinkering with well-water treatment methods and splitting firewood. The House and Senate were busy with impeachment. I don’t know what was more important: drinking clean water and staying warm or listening to 24-hour coverage of the events in Washington. Impeachment, however, gave us a break from listening nonstop to Brexit coverage.

Packing for our trip was painful. We wanted to bring everything but were restricted to taking hardly anything. At one point, we didn’t want to take each other but we worked all that out and I got to pack my tin of Impeachmints to share with people along our way.

The plan was to travel to Australia by train, but the Los Angeles to Sydney segment was just not going to happen on Amtrak this year. We were forced to fly that leg of the trip.

There were major wildland fires in Australia. Sydney was choked with smoke when we left, so we tried to buy surgical face masks; first in Maine, then Massachusetts and at other points along the way. Curiously, there were no masks available to purchase anywhere. People must have suspected something was up — and not just the stock market.

January, by the way, was the hottest on record since keeping records of global temperatures started 141 years ago. I’m not calling that climate change but that’s not climate consistency either.

We arrived at the Sydney Airport where, curiously, all of the Asian passengers were wearing surgical masks. It was the same day that President Trump was acquitted of any indiscretions. My criminal friends in Australia wanted to know how a Republican-controlled Senate could find a Republican president anything but innocent of wrong-doing. Could they expect the same kind of treatment when extradited back to the States? I said it depended on whether or not they could get elected president with their criminal record, but, of course, anything is possible in America.

Preparing to witness the worst wildland fire season Australia had ever experienced, we were instead met with a turn of events where some of the most severe rainstorms and flooding ravaged parts of the country.

This was not lost on the Australians who had posters, pamphlets, and video messages all over the country educating people about climate change. Even graffiti had an environmental slant, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much.

It wasn’t until February 11 that the World Health Organization gave an official name, COVID-19, to the disease caused by the new coronavirus. We were eating in restaurants sitting shoulder to shoulder in packed venues. No one thought that this scene, like hand sanitizer, medical ventilators and toilet paper, would become scarce within a month.

In the middle of the first quarter, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy. These are the “be prepared” people! At first, I thought it was for moral bankruptcy as they pledge themselves to be trustworthy, kind, courteous, helpful … you know, all the humanitarian values that are in short supply throughout America. But no, it turned out that it was a result of a different kind of moral bankruptcy. Would 2020 spare us no grief?

By the second week in March, we had flown back from Australia, taken a train from Los Angeles to Seattle and then flown to Boston while being chased by major pandemic outbreaks all the way. This was the week our lockdown started in Maine. It may have wreaked havoc on the economy but the flip side of that coin found us saving money on gas, recreation and eating out.

We were very lucky people. We have a home, a yard and plenty of space. We can be in different rooms when we have to be in different rooms. Millions of others were not so lucky. They had rent to pay, no job and, most likely, no savings. On top of that they had to confront their spouse every day, sometimes at very close range, sometimes all day long.

We took to working at home and had Zoom meetings on our computers, which freed us from wearing pants to work. Some of us even enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay between meetings. Really, did I say glass? I meant bottle.

At the end of the quarter, President Trump signed the stimulus package sending most Americans $1,200. This was very useful for those who lost jobs, closed their businesses, couldn’t feed their families or pay their rent. For the very wealthy, who made record profits from the pandemic or stock market, it was nice too.

By the way, the last two months of the first quarter were the second warmest February and March on record. Just saying.

Q2

The second quarter opened with the news that the governor of Massachusetts, unable to get help from Washington, made a deal with China for a shipment of 1.2 million N95 face masks and then got the New England Patriots to send their jet to pick up the supplies. What’s wrong with this picture? If you’re thinking that this humanitarian mission didn’t help them win the AFC East title, you may be confusing football with religion.

Soon afterwards, President Trump cut funding to the World Health Organization (the organization that helped stop polio, eradicate smallpox and fight on the front lines against Ebola), for mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic and not jumping in when Massachusetts needed face masks.

If the first quarter was full of action and movement, the second quarter was an exercise in sitting still and hardly breathing, especially on anyone else. We didn’t go anywhere except for groceries and to forage for toilet paper. Our town was eerily quiet.

Theaters, restaurants, churches closed. There was no going out to dances, concerts or parties. Thursday night cock fighting, which is not an event I would attend or know anything about, was canceled. Even the midnight bouts. To keep an insurrection from taking hold, liquor stores remained open, but you had to keep your distance, buy your alcohol and get out. Any spirits over 140 proof made great hand sanitizer, and, if you wanted to take it internally, it was a safer bet than bleach.

Confined to quarters, we had to do something. My wife and I planted gardens. The fact that we are not farmers became more apparent as the summer wore on.

Finally, starting to think clearly about all this staying at home, I decided to dig up the septic tank at the building next door. This was my wife’s retail shop that she decided not to open for the summer because she didn’t want to sanitize behind customers — who were supposed to be staying home anyway. I mean, who wouldn’t want to dig up a septic tank? Usually there is no reason to do so but I had to connect a pipe from the building to the tank so the opportunity was there and I jumped in with both feet, or maybe I should say I jumped at the chance.

One thing led to another and soon I was installing a perimeter drainage system around the building and then building a porch. When we don’t go anywhere, the projects multiply. You could say the fun never stops but I wouldn’t go quite so far.

Our traditional dining out for Mother’s Day brunch was a challenge until we discovered that McDonald’s drive-through was open for business. We dined in the car and had a very fine meal indeed. Well, we dined in the car anyway.

It was about this time that scientists discovered a microbe that prevents mosquitoes from contracting and spreading malaria, as if any of us were paying attention to malaria in 2020. But this is a huge step in the fight to prevent malaria, in case you were looking for any good news about health. Also, because of ongoing, basic scientific research, scientists were able to get a jump start on a COVID-19 vaccine and, by this time, clinical trials were well under way. That bit is for those who doubt the value of basic scientific research.

Compelled to go in for my annual eye exam every 10 years, I found a lot of pandemic precautions in place. They sent in mothers to check if you sanitized your hands, kept your distance and washed behind your ears. Face masks were mandatory even though you had to lower them below your nose so as not to fog up the optical equipment.

As I was getting my eyes examined, U.S. astronauts were being ferried to the International Space Station for the first time in a private vehicle. The launch was delayed when the astronauts called for the ride, as Uber had trouble processing their credit card. Eventually Uber sent the private company SpaceX to pick them up, as SpaceX had the closest available rocket.

Around the middle of the quarter, Black Lives Matter protests erupted in Minneapolis and spread across the country and throughout the world. It was a time for reflection, review and action, but any time that comes around, many people in power see it as a signal to stand their ground, resist change and defend the status quo. Apparently, that’s just how it works.

In spite of being very busy appointing federal judges, President Trump announced that the World Health Organization is a puppet of China and the U.S. would completely cut off ties with the public health agency. This was apparently a move to get the WHO out of the way so that the White House could take the lead in controlling the runaway pandemic. I’m sure it was well intentioned.

At the start of June, former Vice President Joe Biden became the Democrats’ candidate to face President Trump. This is because Bernie Sanders, the only consistent and transparent statesman left in America, dropped out when it became apparent that consistency, honesty and a lifelong, burning desire to care for all Americans do not a president make.

Wondering about that 4th horseman? The end of the quarter saw a locust invasion of biblical proportions in India and Africa, stirring fears of famine. In that same vein, April was the second-hottest on record and ocean temperatures were the highest for April since 1880, when record keeping began. May 2020 was the hottest on record.

Q3

We can just about skip the third quarter. After digging up a septic tank, everything else was anticlimactic. With the ability to attack projects with no interruptions, I started work on a porch and almost finished it within the same quarter. All this while the world and America burned. I was fully expecting Donald Trump to pick up the violin but, to my relief, he played golf instead.

I discovered our small town is an amazing resource for free furniture. On my bike rides, would stop and make photographs of furniture people put out for free. Don’t get all excited, but I plan to make the entire photo collection available soon. Maybe it will feature your past or future settee.

At the end of July, comet Neowise paid a visit but, unless you knew where to look, you would have missed it — unlike airline pilots on their approach to LAX, who on more than one occasion did not miss spotting someone in a jetpack at 6,000 feet flying around a few miles from the airport. This is both disturbing and very cool; sort of like the discovery of the metal monolith in the Utah desert, which has got to be a 2020 high point.

The summer also brought us Elon Musk, you know, the SpaceX and Tesla guy, announcing that a prototype electronic chip had been implanted in a pig’s brain to act as a brain-to-machine interface. Musk’s Neurolink company is working on the project, hoping to enable neurologically damaged people to control computers with their thoughts. Ha, a computer controlled by thoughts. Yeah, like Musk is ever going to get SpaceX off the ground or Tesla on the road.

August brought hurricanes on the East Coast, major California fires, landslides in India, winds wrecking Iowa, storms in the Caribbean and flash flooding in Afghanistan. While back in Vacationland, we were harvesting my wife’s very good tomato crop and my failed corn crop. Never plant corn in the shade, or even the suggestion of shade. We didn’t harvest the broccoli, as the slugs already finished that task, and what grew back, the deer would get.

As September unfolded like a mutant protein, the U.S. Postal Service removed 711 mail sorting machines just so that they wouldn’t be in the way when voting by mail-in ballot started. The Black Lives Matter protest expanded worldwide, COVID-19 continued its rampant run around the world, and in a Texas, pro-Trump boat parade, at least five boats sank due to bigger, wealthier boats creating wakes that the smaller boats could not negotiate. This is some perfect metaphor for our current economic and political situation but I am still struggling to connect all the dots.

I took a detour to the emergency room after splitting my head open falling off the porch I was building. It was an expensive way to learn about our nation’s health care system. This was the day before the first presidential candidates’ debate. I don’t know if there is a connection between the staples in my head, the drugs and the debate appearing to be a circus but I like to think it was the drugs. However, it’s been pointed out that liking to think that way does not make it so.

By the way, July and August were the second warmest on record, and global surface temperature was the highest for September in the 141-year record. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Q4

A large fly explored the head of Mike Pence during the vice-presidential debate and it wasn’t anything like the small bird alighting on the podium as Bernie Sanders spoke at a rally. This is funny because, in Western art, the fly symbolizes decay, corruption and death but Pence was talking about Trump’s support for law enforcement — which has nothing at all to do with decay, corruption or death. That’s why it’s funny.

Following China’s environmental lead, England imposed a ban in early October on plastic straws and other single-use plastic items, reassuring Americans that China really is taking a leading role in protecting the planet. President Trump did not respond to this as he and First Lady Melania were taken to the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. After a few days, Trump emerged victorious, reporting that he feels much better, as he didn’t have to wait in the emergency room and a team of first-rate doctors monitored his every breath. They immediately administered a scientifically proven remedy, Remdesivir, and rejected the bleach and Hydroxychloroquine paths to wellness. The White House did not comment why this scientific reasoning was acceptable to the president. The fate of the First Lady remains largely unknown.

The year brought the fifth consecutive above-average hurricane season to the Atlantic and was the most active season on record. There were 30 named storms, so many that the weather service people went out, got completely under the weather on hurricane cocktails and started using the Greek alphabet to name the storms.

One day in the 2020 hurricane season did make for a great photo from space of five active but socially distant hurricanes: Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, and Vicky, at the same time in the Atlantic. Climate change or Democrats’ fault? You decide.

Finally, Halloween approached and we ventured out to procure treats for the little beggars who would grace our door. We ran out of treats the last two years and I did not want to be caught with my pants down this time. My wife and parole officer insisted on it.

Halloween eve trick-or-treating was sparsely attended. It’s pretty obvious why. People don’t want to taunt death by wearing a skeleton costume in the middle of a pandemic. Fine. More treats for me.

No, sorry dear, I said, “More treats for free.” You know, for next year.

Soon after, the presidential election showed the Democrats were smart enough to throw the national election in their favor, across multiple states, and not leave a shred of evidence to present to any court. At the same time, they were so stupid, they let control of the Senate, almost the House, and many down-ballot candidates go to the Republicans. Unless you go with the theory that the elections were fair and secure, you’ll have to explain it with one of the wildly speculative theories about how the Democrats could be so stupid.

November brought news that at least two vaccines developed to prevent the coronavirus have proved to be 90% or more effective. This is great news except for people who look for solutions from magnets and crystals and not from the scientific method. Everybody knows science should only be used to speed up your internet connection or get you a better cell phone signal.

At our home, our Thanksgiving was celebrated with only one guest. The upside: lots of leftover turkey. The downside: lots of leftover turkey. Downside for the turkey: Thanksgiving.

Just days later, the plucky Chinese planted a Chinese flag on the moon, but no need to worry. In spite of the fact that they brought moon rock samples back to Earth, they probably faked it, the way the Americans faked the moon landing. These theories of trickery and deception come up because it’s easier to imagine faking some great accomplishment than to understand that it really happened. This is because, for many of us, our knowledge is too limited and minds too stiff to imagine a society, even our own country, pulling together to achieve the impossible.

The collapse of America’s Arecibo radio telescope in December may have marked the end of an era, but China took the lead by making operational a radio telescope twice as big as Arecibo, called the China Sky Eye. Now we won’t have to work for it and we can just ask China for the data we need to grow and innovate.

Back home, the Electoral College had spoken and made Joe Biden president-elect but there is still smoke coming from the rubble and too much time before the inauguration in January for monkey wrenches to gum up the works. I hope not to see you on the other side of martial law.

And so here we are, about to welcome 2021 with open arms. Let’s hope we stop testing truth as a concept to the furthest limits, and just do what needs to be done. Remember, never set your time machine for a 2020 destination — and that’s real 20-20 hindsight.

As I said, it was a great year.