Scenes From a Pandemic: 30

26 10 2020

by Nadia Maria Mohamed

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

(photo: Nadia Maria Mohamed)

Something’s Happening Here

Jersey City, New Jersey

Our diasporic family lives between three places, at least figuratively: the United States, Ecuador, and Egypt. Ecuador was hit hardest by the pandemic in regions where migrants had returned home from Spain, bringing the virus with them. Images of dead bodies deserted in the streets of Guayaquil made my mom’s anxiety about Covid-19 soar. For weeks, my parents would not even walk Pechochito, their feisty Pomeranian, around the block. And so, I did what any loving (and newly unemployed) first-generation daughter would do: I took care of their grocery shopping and their business; I became an interim landlord.

When I collect the rent at their walk-up buildings in the Heights, I use my staccato Spanglish and the smattering of Arabic phrases I am likely butchering. I try to make small talk with the tenants. How are they doing? Some are willing to chat, others not. Not everyone wears a mask when they hand me cash, which I am terrible at counting. Sometimes they look at my gloves with a smirk. Can they see the uneasy smile that’s hidden behind my mask? Does it show in my eyes? Does it matter?

My first day on the job, a tenant I’ll call Eduardo told me he could pay April but likely not May, and from there, who knows? He lost his job at a local restaurant, and his wife, a few months pregnant with their first child, had also been laid off. When he handed me a wad of cash—singles, 20s, a few 50s to count—I asked him first if they had enough for food. He assured me they did, for now.

* * *

My parents met while learning English in the 1970s, beneficiaries of the 1965 Hart-Cellars Act, which lifted longstanding racist quotas on emigration from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. My Ecuadorian mom swore my Egyptian dad was Puerto Rican and too proud to speak Spanish, while he thought she was Filipina. He worked as a busboy at Knickerbocker restaurant; she, as a secretary at a ribbon factory. Barely 20 years old, they married secretly within a few months’ time, much to my abuelita’s chagrin. They managed to learn a second language together without sharing a first. And over 40-plus years built a family, and a few small businesses—between, around, and through those pregnant pauses anyone using a second language knows well.


My immigrant parents started out with a greasy spoon restaurant, Our Place, which would be hurting in this crisis. Now they are landlords to small businesses like it, and to the people who work in them — a step (or staircase) removed from the front line of this economic crisis, but a part of it no less. Since Covid hit, it’s been my job to collect the rent.


Our Place was one of those businesses, a greasy spoon that never knew the luxury of a separation between work and home life. Regular customers like Ralph and Neil would scoop up my siblings from school and walk them to the back of the restaurant, where I entertained myself in a makeshift playpen while my parents served up generously portioned meals for $5 or less. Our Place would be hurting in this crisis. The response of local and federal governments to protect the small immigrant-run businesses that are the lifeblood of Jersey City has been anemic. Many have closed permanently.

Now, we are the landlords of those small businesses, a step (or staircase) removed from the front line of this economic crisis, but a part of it no less. My parents became landlords after experiencing the powerlessness of being displaced tenants. A new landlord didn’t renew the lease to their restaurant, a coffee shop in New York City called Straw Place, on 23rd and Lexington. They never wanted to be in the “pocket” of a landlord again—so they became one, eventually, where it was more within their means: Jersey City. There’s empathy that comes from similar lived experiences. It informs how my parents have handled the peculiar profession of owning and managing the property where other people make their homes and livelihoods.

* * *

Eduardo started working again. His wife—call her Amelia—is due any day now. She mentioned that Christ Hospital, which is within walking distance, is no longer accepting maternity patients because of Covid concerns. She said she’ll have to go to the Medical Center instead. I gave her my phone number in case she needs a ride.

Some of our tenants are essential workers at tiny produce shops. Others have been on Section 8 or disability as long as they’ve been our tenants, and the pandemic has yet to affect their ability to make rent. Others are furloughed or, worse, unemployed. Not all are eligible for government support.

For those who’ve had trouble making rent, we’ve set up payment plans. Some people have used their security deposits; and are set to pay that back, little by little. Others are getting by with help from their family or friends. Thus far, everyone has been managing with this piecemeal solution to a systemic problem. And if it at some point it stops “working,” it means that we can’t pay our insurance, property repairs, taxes, or incomes.

* * *

My father may sell one of the buildings. The other day he led interested parties up the long narrow stairway, leaning on his cane for support. Nearly every tenant opened the door and exchanged niceties with him, but they refused to allow the prospective owner in.

Sometimes, my dad is direct about his desire for me to take over the family business. Before the pandemic, I had never seriously considered it. I had preferred to observe, to make films, to protest, to write and fundraise for social justice nonprofits imagining alternatives to the rat race that is late-stage racial capitalism. That’s how we make change, right? By raising awareness? I had never considered myself to be a responsible party, an agent, someone to be held to account. Yet, what becomes more possible when we bring ourselves into the frame?

Arundhati Roy urges us to understand the pandemic as a “portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” Families at the front line of this crisis are taking urgent direct action to protect themselves and their loved ones by organizing rent strikes and occupying vacant homes. The calls to cancel the rent continue.

As Jersey City edges further toward the unaffordable, violent blandness synonymous with gentrification by the Trumps and Kushners of real estate, it is the mom-and-pop landlords who, at their discretion, keep the city vaguely affordable for working-class immigrants and people of color. Systemic solutions to the speculative market and displacement, like community land trusts, are sorely needed.

Now, I wonder: for those of us with a modicum of privilege and power, what’s our place, our cross-class contribution to opening this “pandemic portal”? Which “dead ideas” will we try to shoehorn through? What new can we grow in the shell of the old? Can we apply the imagination we often only talk about, and usher in a new phase in our relationship to land and ownership? What can we make of our labor and legacy?

Nadia Maria Mohamed is a Jersey City–born and –based media maker. She participated in Kopkind’s 2019 camp on the theme of democratizing the economy. This is her first published article.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared October 21, 2020, on The Nation’s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Photograph From West Virginia God Is on the Ballot

(photo: Tina Burns)

Mary Lewis, who has been Kopkind’s chef, creating beautiful meals for most of our summer sessions since 2011, sent us the picture above, which a friend took, of an ad that covered a full page of their local newspaper in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Mary’s next message, a day later, reported that someone had unlatched her front gate, stolen her oppositional political sign, and smashed her fall tableau pumpkin.

Martinsburg, Berkeley County, is in the state’s eastern panhandle. Across the river from Wheeling, on the western border, is Ohio, where shifting politics and demographics inspired this interesting pre-election analysis from our friends at Working-Class Perspectives.





Scenes From a Pandemic: 29

19 10 2020

by JoAnn Wypijewski

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

(photo: JoAnn Wypijewski)

Buffalo, New York

In memory, my Aunt Dolor is a big woman. Big hair, big sunglasses, big jewelry, big bold colors, with geometric shapes in the 1960s and ’70s especially, when our families saw each other most. Her husband, my mother’s brother, called her Doll.

We buried her this week. She came to an ordinary end in this now-ordinary time: sick from Covid-19 in a nursing home, alone and aged, with a disintegrating mind, transferred to a hospital, dead within hours. We can’t know what she really knew of her circumstances or condition in the lead-up; whether she understood the peril of the time or recognized her youngest daughter waving from the car when she looked out her window; whether she registered, on her last day, that it was this daughter’s voice coming from the space-suited figure whose gloved hand held hers in the hospital as she expired.

Everyone has heard this story countless times since the pandemic descended. I have heard it countless times, usually without the gloved hand, the small mercy of this particular death, which came too late to be included in the latest Covid data reported by nursing homes to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network: 58,481 residents dead as of September 27; 245,912 confirmed cases; 141,744 suspected cases. It becomes terribly familiar after seven full months, this raking of the old, the infirm, the enfeebled—about 8,354 nursing home deaths from the virus every month since March.

Naturally, perspective shifts when the number being contemplated is one.


Since my aunt’s death, I have thought about all the women whose work is not recognized, and who themselves are socially invisible in nursing homes, counted in bulk as “vulnerable populations” or “victims of the virus”—as if they had never labored to produce a generation, loved difficult men (or women), invented themselves when the space for that was narrow.


My aunt came of age when a woman’s ordinary destiny was marriage and children. And so she married, and so she had children. And moved to the suburbs, to a ranch house with a reinforced and well-equipped fallout shelter. The children had a collie and a big back yard, and then one of them died.

He was her youngest, her only son, 8 years old. They laid him out in his white communion suit. His skull was fractured when a car plowed into the side of his father’s Buick, and the child’s head was dashed against the inside frame of the backseat. I think it was a Buick. My uncle and the oldest daughter were in the hospital in traction with broken femurs for months without proper healing. Then they had surgery and body casts, and lay for weeks in rented hospital beds set up facing each other in the family room.

And there was Aunt Dolor suddenly in charge, laden with grief and the needs of two who were incapacitated, striving to be cheerful for them, nursing them once home, cooking and cleaning and dreaming up treats, comforting the other child, the little girl who was scared and sad and who decades later would be with her as she ran out of breath. A child myself at the time, riveted by death and injury in the family, I didn’t fully appreciate all that this cost my aunt. She bore it with an often comic sense of fate, as she did her own multiplying health problems as the years progressed, reaching for joy in the service of love, making “a life of abundance every day,” as her granddaughter said—“Grandma Doll.”

Dolor, Dolores; the name means ‘sorrow.’

Since her death, I have thought about all the women whose work is not recognized in “Those We’ve Lost” newspaper features. Women who spent down their hours home-making, as it used to be called, and who themselves are socially invisible now that they are 80 or 90 or more, in nursing homes, counted in bulk as “vulnerable populations” or “victims of the virus”—as if they had never labored to produce a generation, loved difficult men (or women), cared for aged relatives, mourned a child lost or mutilated, invented recipes and entertainments, invented themselves when the space for that was narrow, had their hand on history’s wheel simply by being.

It isn’t death that’s so terrible; it’s the eclipse of the courage and creativity of living. “At least she didn’t suffer,” people have said, learning that my aunt died within hours of reaching the hospital. It’s what people often say about death, shortchanging the immense undertaking of life.

JoAnn Wypijewski is a co-founder and president of the board of Kopkind. Her book What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About #MeToo: Essays on Sex, Authority & the Mess of Life was published earlier this year.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on October 14, 2020, on The Nation’s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: If You’re Wondering About QAnon, Wonder No More

Jeff Sharlet, a terrific journalist and author who has been a mentor at Kopkind (2005), guest speaker, friend and supporter, has just published a riveting story in Vanity Fair about Trumpism’s transition to belief that pedophiliac cannibals are trying to control America. Below the beginning, excerpted.

(photo: Gregory Halpern/Magnum Photos, detail)

She saw shadows. She always had. She was spiritual, not Christian—she’d left that behind when she’d left Waco, in her early 20s. She got into Wicca, “super witchy,” says a friend. “She was fun, happy, a little wild. Just a normal girl.” I’ll call her Evelyn, because she’s in a sense a hostage now, a captive of her beliefs. There are Evelyns everywhere. This Evelyn was in Austin. She worked when she could, sometimes she danced, stripped. She had a boyfriend who took care of her. She’d never had much luck holding on to a job. She’d bounce back and forth between her family in Waco and her friends in the city, right to left, red to blue. She was bright—a good listener, says one friend, a liberal lawyer whom Evelyn called “freedom fighter.” She was gullible, says another friend, the one who introduced Evelyn to QAnon not long into the pandemic, “for shits and giggles.”

Which is how Evelyn came to believe that the shadows she’d seen within Wicca as the nuances of life were actually the satanic forces that Q—thought by devotees to be a government insider “dropping” cryptic clues via chat forums about Donald Trump’s decades-old plan to destroy the deep state—believes control the Democratic Party. She “followed the white rabbit,” as QAnon believers put it, she “went down the rabbit hole.” 

Click here to read on: “How QAnon Crept Into the Mind of Donald Trump and Turned Conspiracy Into Reality”.





Scenes From a Pandemic: 28

14 10 2020

by Matthew Gossage

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

Matthew Gossage with his new baby. (photo: Abby Batko-Taylor)

Something’s Happening Here

On the Road, Austin to Metro DC

Before. “Nope. You’ve now just infected your other clean hand with germs,” my wife’s OB/GYN dryly instructed. She then put on her own latex gloves and demonstrated how to put them on and take them off while keeping your hands sterile.

We were in my wife and newborn son’s hospital room the day after his birth, on Leap Day, February 29. CNN, muted on the TV above us, was showing the same three b-roll shots of ambulances in front of a nursing home in King County, Washington, outside of Seattle; over and over again.

My wife had given birth to our son a week before all hospitals in Austin closed to visitors. I had been able to be in the delivery room and attempt to sleep in their room with them. Our doctors were on daily calls about the pandemic and preparing for it: Get ready. This is going to be serious.

“Yeah, you should probably just stay home and not leave the house,” the OB/GYN recommended in her usual inconclusively sarcastic tone, which previously had always been reassuring.

Three days later, people at the supermarket glanced at my purple latex gloves, not wanting to make eye contact afterward. He’s brought the germs. Or maybe my hands were simply another reminder that unforeseen change was coming. Ordinary life was unraveling. Or fleeting.

There were no reported cases yet in Austin. Yet the sense was It’s coming…

It was 3 AM, and the grocery store was busier than a Saturday afternoon. Going to the store at that hour had always been so relaxing for me. I had been able to take my time, getting stoned beforehand and going slowly through the aisles. This night carts were everywhere. Family members and college roommates yelled at one another across other carts.

“They got baked beans.”

“Yeah! Get ’em all.”

Freshly printed signs from the customer service desk were Scotch-taped to some shelves: Limit 2.

I had a detached perspective, still ecstatic over the healthy birth of our second son.

No diapers. OK.

No wipes. OK.

My family had entered a nurturing and joyous bubble that was about to overlap with a global and collective bubble of sickness, hundreds of thousands of deaths, a foreseeable yet unstoppable economic depression, disruption, and anxiety.

I strolled down the aisles away from the shelves that formerly held canned goods and pasta and toilet paper, and tried out the produce section. I crossed paths with a fellow bemused middle-aged man, and we shared a smile.

“Time to get creative,” I said as we both looked on a large shelf with nothing but cucumbers.

* * *

(photo: Matthew Gossage)

The composting toilet got here! Another brown box had arrived on our porch.

Months into the pandemic now, I felt I should be getting an honorary mention from Jeff Bezos for doing my part to get him to $200 billion in wealth. (I know he’s been busy, so a Christmas card would be fine.)

I opened the Luggable Loo ® box and put the portable toilet in our “Front of moving truck” pile in our moving staging area. It shared a plastic bin with gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, and granola bars, so it wouldn’t get mixed up with our stuff that would be packed into the back of the moving truck.

We were leaving Austin after 15 years, moving outside Washington, D.C., to be close to family who could help with our domestic chaos, which had yet to become normalized. To minimize “sharing germs” (as our oldest son, a 4-year-old, understood this new world), we planned our driving route to avoid going inside, anywhere.

* * *

Well, there are some unintended benefits to this now. Somewhere between Texarkana and Little Rock, this crossed my mind as I sat with my pants down at my ankles, using our new toilet in an empty parking lot behind a permanently closed Mexican restaurant: There are a lot of closed businesses now to privately take a shit outside of.

I am not alone in finding time on the john to be one of the more relaxing and thought-provoking daily activities. (In this case, the john is a seat on a bucket, with a bag, which you seal and then keep in the bucket until it can be disposed.) It was an unseasonably cool afternoon. A thunderstorm had passed, and I watched as a portly raccoon stumbled out of the dumpster across the lot from me. Maybe the place had just closed…

The swirl of recent events went through my head again on that toilet outside the restaurant. A new healthy son, a global pandemic, shutdowns, working from home with no day care for our oldest son, a cross-country move with no one helping, so my wife and I could try to stay healthy and be able to take care of young children.

After I had my turn on the toilet, it was my wife’s turn, and I took over holding the baby. I thought of the people we knew and worked with in Austin who had had Covid-19 already. A young woman with two children had just come out of a fever that kept her on the couch for days. Her oldest son is 12, and had been taking care of the baby while the mom lay prostrate. He kissed his mother on her forehead when she got up for the first time. “I thought you were dying,” he told her through tears.

I kissed my son’s forehead, then his cheeks, knees, and belly, I said to him, “Well, I knew we were heading for interesting times,” before handing him back, packing up the Luggable Loo®, and buckling up for the drive.

Matthew Gossage is a documentary filmmaker and media consultant to nonprofits. He participated in Kopkind’s camp for journalists and activists in 2013, and in the Kopkind/CID Film Camp workshop in 2009.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on October 7, 2020, on The Nation’s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Love Song…

Anyone who wasn’t paying close attention might have missed that 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the success of the womens suffrage movement. ‘Oh, you know, Covid…’ somehow doesn’t feel satisfactory as an explanation for the diminishment. Patty Carpenter and Verandah Porche, our friends and neighbors in Guilford, Vermont, have written a new song called Precious Right (Vote).” They call it a love song for voters and a musical appeal to people who feel disenfranchised, not included, or alienated from the electoral system.They ask you to share it as widely as possible.

Precious Right (Vote)




Scenes From a Pandemic: 27

5 10 2020

by James E. Garcia

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

(photo: James E. Garcia)

Something’s Happening Here

Phoenix

In 2010, after the passage of the most punitive anti-immigrant law in the nation, Arizona Senate Bill 1070, I stood up at a meeting of mostly white community and business leaders and angrily lamented: “My people are being hunted.” No one in the room said a word, but I’m sure most knew it was true.

The lead sponsor of that infamous “show us your papers” bill, then–State Senate President Russell Pearce, the self-described head of the Arizona’s Tea Party Republicans, had made it clear that no matter how many immigrant families were terrorized and separated or how much it cost the state’s economy, which relied heavily on the cheap labor of undocumented immigrants, he was determined to get as many of my immigrant brothers and sisters as possible deported and as soon as possible. My wife and I are US citizens, but the insidious nature of the legislation hit home when my 7-year-old daughter, near tears, asked me one evening if we were going to be arrested. I held her and assured her that was not going to happen, though I knew tens of thousands of immigrant parents statewide could not say the same.

A lot has changed in 10 years. Arizona’s SB 1070 and the Trump administration’s persecution of immigrants and refugees have inspired a wave of grassroots resistance here and nationwide that’s helped elect more progressives to Congress and will likely turn Arizona blue in November. But for the time being at least, my people are still being hunted by federal immigration authorities and complicit local police—and now a deadly coronavirus.


In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, about 50 percent of the 141,000-plus Covid cases have been among Latinos. In Phoenix, almost every city block of our Latino neighborhoods, could be dotted with shrines for the sick and the dead.


As of this writing, more than 42,000 Latinos have died of Covid-19, perishing at a rate one and a half times that of whites, according to the COVID Tracking Project. More than 39,000 black people have died of the coronavirus—at an even worse rate, nearly two and a half times that of whites. Latinos and blacks are hospitalized with the virus more than four and a half times times as often as whites, and both communities have been crushed by the pandemic’s economic fallout. Asked at press briefings in early April about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people of color, Trump called it “terrible,” insisted that his administration is “doing everything in our power to address this challenge,” and rambled on about how low unemployment rates were for blacks and Latinos before the pandemic. Over the past five months, the president has pushed to keep low-wage-earning Latinos in agriculture, the restaurant and hotel industry, and in meatpacking plants nationwide on the job.

In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, about 50 percent of the 141,000-plus Covid cases have been among Latinos. (We make up 31 percent of the county population.) In Phoenix, almost every city block of our Latino neighborhoods, could be dotted with shrines for the sick and the dead.

All this comes in a national context, also, of a spike in bias crimes against Latinos in recent years, according to FBI data. The most heinous example of anti-Latino hate came in August 2019 when a white supremacist gunned down 46 people at an El Paso Walmart. The shooter killed 22 people, almost all Latinos. (A 23d victim died in April.) The killer, who confessed, told police he had driven 10 hours from his Dallas suburb to the border to “kill Mexicans” and stop “the Hispanic invasion”—echoing words President Trump had repeated more than 20 times in the eight months leading up to the shooting. El Paso left me feeling that Latinos had gone from being hunted to massacred. Little did we know a scourge was looming just around the corner.

Given Trump’s punishing attacks on immigrants, including a policy that separated thousands of migrant children from their parents, a shutdown of all asylum requests by refugees at the US-Mexico border, and the likelihood that the president’s woefully negligent response to the pandemic will lead to the deaths of another 80,000 to 90,000 people of color by January, I can’t help wondering if Trump’s real goal is to ethnically cleanse Latinos and other people of color from this country. After his repeated refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election, I believe Trump is capable of almost anything.

Still, I believe Trump will lose re-election. His core supporters will stick with him, but most Americans have had their fill of the president’s chaos, bullying, and chicanery. He won’t go quietly, and he certainly won’t shut up once he’s out, but this presidency will end. And despite all that’s happened, the caging of our children, the denigration of our culture, the horrendous death toll wreaked by the virus, I believe the Latino community will emerge stronger than ever from these devastating times.

The community’s spirit, resilience, and its more recent momentum in US society is too strong and deeply rooted. There are now more than 60 million Latinos in the United States, nearly 80 percent of whom are US citizens, with an estimated economic impact of more than $2.6 trillion, a figure equal to the GDP of Brazil or Australia. This year, more than 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, an increase of about 4 million people since the last election, and grassroots groups have been working feverishly to register hundreds of thousands of them by November. More importantly, Latinos today are better educated, more politically engaged and influential than ever before. So, no matter what Trump and many of his followers may think, we’re here to stay. In Arizona, our growing clout helped recall Senator Pearce, oust the odious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and elect Senator Kirsten Sinema in 2016. The state’s blue wave, which is being driven in great part by a rising brown tide, will almost certainly help usher in victories in November for Democratic US Senate candidate Mark Kelly, former vice president Joe Biden, and a wave of young Democratic Latino and non-Latino candidates in the state legislature. I’m not a Democrat, but trends like these give me hope, which we all so desperately need, that mi gente, my people, could soon go from being hunted to helping lead this state and, yes, this country out of one of its darkest periods in modern times to better days.

James E. Garcia is a journalist and playwright based in Phoenix. He was a mentor at Kopkind in 2013.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on September 30, 2020 on The Nation’s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Glimpse of 7th Grade

(illustration: Lorena Mondragón, for The Intercept)

Debbie Nathan, an El Paso-based journalist who wrote #1 in our pandemic series, has been virtually accompanying a 12-year-old refugee while the child struggles with online learning in an apartment by herself, often supervising another Latina child, 8, whose mother also works and who has her own school computer with headphones. Génnezys, a pseudonym, is one of the thousands of children who were torn from their parents in 2018 under the Trump administration’s family separation policy and ultimately reunited. What follow are excerpts from Debbie’s observation of pandemic-era middle school, published in The Intercept on October 4. Debbie was a mentor with James Garcia in 2013.

“Know that I see you. I hear you. I’m with you,” one young teacher intoned to the kids right after introducing herself. They had names like Hassan, Rasheeda, Yennifer, and Travis. “Black Lives Matter,” the teacher added. She was met by silence from her new students, and she could not see their reactions either. She asked them to turn on their mics and cameras, but getting them to comply was harder than pulling their teeth.

The kids are alone. They have no books. The only class that resembles normal school is math. As in times past, the teacher writes figures on a board and explains what they mean. The other classes are a mishmash of hyperactive YouTube science videos with men who speak too fast, and a woman with a white coat and test tubes performing experiments — work the students normally would be absorbed with in a classroom lab, but which they can only stare at now from afar, wall-eyed. An art class features hip-hop music, whose teaching intention is muddled, and digital choose-and-drag stickers and emojis. Strange, sci-fi cartoon people in Génnezys’s American History class purport to recount the high points of the antebellum human bondage, the Civil War, and the Black Codes. After that lesson, I asked Génnezys if she understood what a slave was. She still didn’t know — though she did remember the cartoon guy saying that a man named Frederick Douglass had been forcibly separated from his mother. She knew what that meant, from firsthand experience, but didn’t mention it in class. With me, she minimized her experience. She’d learned that Frederick Douglass was an infant when he was taken. “But, um, I was 10 when it happened,” she said. “I was a big kid, not a little kid.”

On the second day of school, a teacher asked, “What is your favorite thing to do?” Amid the mass silence, Génnezys activated her mic and bravely answered: “Play with slime,” she said. . . . “Slime” is a faddish kid product that’s been around since the 1970s. Back then, it was valued by boys for its gross-out appeal. Now it’s prettier, smells nice, and is all the rage among preteen and teen girls. Many make it from a home recipe involving glue, borax, food coloring, and plastic beads from craft stores like Michael’s. . . . “I love YouTube slime videos,” Génnezys told me. The site has a plethora of young girls extolling their slime collections, as well productions with sexy women’s voices doing ASMR routines, and images of long, manicured fingernails digging languorously into the goo. . . . If Génnezys were to activate her camera for her classmates and teachers, they might see her furiously and endlessly twisting, pulling, and punching her strange doughs as she fidgets at the computer and tries hard to do her schoolwork. A few months ago, Wired magazine interviewed a neuroscientist and psychologist who suggested that people might be gravitating toward slime during the Covid-19 crisis to simulate the feeling of touching actual people.