The New Normal (And Its Play List)


Image by ITAK_studio from Pixabay

It’s morning in Seattle. My husband has just microwaved the Seattle Times.

His recipe: Remove the paper from the plastic bag. (This is a critical step.) Place it in the microwave for 5 seconds; any longer and there may be a housefire story on page one. Wash your hands while the newspaper sanitizes. Remove the paper from the microwave and read as usual. When I asked him if the microwave really kills the coronavirus, he said, “Well, if it doesn’t, we’re all f**cked anyway.”

Later this afternoon he will microwave the mail.

He also microwaves my library books. At least he did before they shut the libraries down. Today we found a recipe for sanitizing library books in a New Yorker article about plague literature by Jill Lepore.  I haven’t tried it yet, so don’t blame me if you have any mishaps, but here it is:

These days, you can find out how to disinfect books on a librarians’ thread on Reddit. Your best bet appears to be either denatured-alcohol swipes or kitchen disinfectant in a mist-spray bottle, although if you stick books in a little oven and heat them to a hundred and sixty degrees Fahrenheit there’s a bonus: you also kill bedbugs. (“Doesn’t harm the books!”)

Like most of us, I have been working remotely for the past few weeks, but since I earn my living as a writer, I work remotely anyway. However, under quarantine, it feels different. Like, more remote. Like house arrest. One of my coping strategies has been listening to music, even more than I usually do.

Today, I was listening to Kendrick Lamar’s excellent 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly. No, I’m not abnormally hip for a boomer. I just listen to Kendrick Lamar because I love his lyrics. They are so damned literary. (Don’t take my word for it; ask the people who awarded him the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music.) And they are astonishingly original. The album title alone is the most succinct and vivid description of record companies making big money from street poetry that I’ve ever heard.

My daughter Rose got stranded here by the quarantine after she flew from LA to Seattle on March 11, in a move we’re all calling “out of the frying pan into the frying pan.” Her older sister, who has been preparing for the past month to move to Oakland, is now also trapped in our house until who knows when. It’s the first time we have all lived together here in a long time. To cheer ourselves up as well as prevent the spontaneous formation of a circular strangulation squad, we decided to make a COVID survival mixtape.

Of course, we argued over which of our song choices would make the cut, but we managed to edit it down to just over an hour without too much bickering. If you think you will be able to guess which of us suggested which songs by the decade when they we’re recorded, think again. Like my father before me, I have made sure that my daughters grew up familiar with music—both popular and highbrow—that was composed many years before they were born. And they have been educating me about contemporary music ever since they were old enough to have opinions, which as far as I can remember was before they could talk.

Here’s the link to our playlist; enjoy it. In the meantime, the newspaper is cool enough to handle now, so I’m going to catch up on what’s happening in the printed-on-paper universe.

Kathy Cain
Kathy Cain
Kathleen Cain began her career in Seattle writing and producing documentaries and talk shows for television and radio. She hosted a two-hour interview program on the notorious KRAB FM, was a contributing editor for late, great Seattle Weekly, and a writer/creative director at the legendary Heckler Associates for many years before starting her own communications consulting firm, Cain Creative.



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