August 2020 Criminal Waste of Space – Another Journal of the Plague Year

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

By now you’ve read 674 accounts of people coping with the COVID-19 world. You are doubtless sick and tired of reading about illness and fatigue. If the words “stir crazy” were part of a drinking game, you’d be dead from cirrhosis by now, and the virus would never have had a shot at you.

This column is your reward for all that suffering. It’s Number 675.

You’re welcome.

As near as I can determine, I have maintained the tenuous grasp on sanity you’ve come to know over the thirty-nine years I’ve filled this space. In fact, my mental health may have improved somewhat.1 I’ve been reading mostly history and self-help books and have decided to stop talking to goats.

I know this may not sound like much to you, but it’s clear to me that others have not fared as well. Take Elon Musk and his life partner Grimes.

(For the benefit of those of you as old and out-of-touch as I, Grimes is the name chosen by Claire Boucher because . . . well . . . because . . . hell, I don’t know. Because she chose to choose it. She’s a singer/songwriter and names like Joni Mitchell2 and Carole King and Alicia Keys no longer hit the right note, so to speak.)

Anyway, Elon, either a genius or a madman depending on the day of the week, and Grimes, whose album covers will give you nightmares that will make absinthe look like lemonade, had a son. They named him X Æ A-12. That seems to be the entire name. Not X Æ A-12 Musk, or X Æ A-12 Grimes, or X Æ A-12 Grimes-Musk. Just X Æ A-12.

This was in early May. Home confinement appears to affect some people more—and earlier—than others.

But it turns out you can’t do that. The California Constitution forbids the use of numbers in names.

Go ahead. Read that sentence again. Read it over and over until you’re sure it says what you thought it said on first reading.

That’s right. The California Constitution, which is longer and less interesting than the collected works of David Foster Wallace, includes a prohibition on the use of numbers as part of a name.

I am not making this up. Article III, Section 6 of our state constitution declares English to be the official state language. The California Department of Public Health interprets this to mean all names must use “the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language.” Those characters do not include numbers.3 Ergo . . .

This came as a revelation to me. My birth certificate identifies me as William Wiley Bedsworth, II. All this time, I’ve pronounced this, “the second.” But since the Constitution prohibits numbers, and since my name was accepted by the State of California, I guess I should have been identifying myself as “William W. Bedsworth, Aye Aye.”

So Elon and Grimes renamed their child X AE A-XII. So far as I know, they provided no pronunciation guide for this name, so I don’t know whether they’re going to flaunt the law as I have done by calling the child “twelve,” or whether they’re going to call him Ex-Aye-Aye.4 But apparently the Department of Health, which oversees baby names, accepted the new formulation. This is the kind of thing going on as we rappel down the back side of the Plague Year.

I’ve just about come to the conclusion there’s a mental health facet to the COVID-19 pandemic that is not being fully appreciated. There was a time when being cooped up and forced to watch every episode of Tiger King would have been considered an Eighth Amendment violation. Now it’s standard operating procedure.

Exhibit B on this point: There’s a plastic surgeon in Florida offering drive-thru Botox injections. Honest.

He says Botox injections are “really ideal,” because they eliminate wrinkles in the forehead and the corners of the eyes, “exactly the parts of the face that aren’t covered by the mask.”

Okay, let’s deconstruct that just a little bit. Don’t just read the words, picture the procedure. You drive into the guy’s parking lot and he and his nurse (I’m assuming) come out to your car with a tray of instruments. Like plastic surgery car-hops.

You roll down your window and he fastens the tray onto it. Then he wipes down your forehead, injects the little bacterial de-wrinklers, and skates back to his office.

Surely they’re doing this on skates, right? If car hops can do it, I’m confident medical professionals can. Surgical gowns, surgical caps, masks, and roller skates. That’s how it goes down in my mind. Yours may be different. (Don’t you hope.)

But seriously, if not for the entertainment value of the skates and surgical garb, why do this? Why, if you’re in the midst of a lethal pandemic and old enough to have wrinkles (and therefore in one of the endangered classifications), would you decide you wanted to have paralytic bacteria injected into your forehead?

Is this some kind of triathlon for your immune system? “After this we’ll see if we can’t find some salmonella to wolf down and go for the hat trick.” Forget “stir-crazy,” we’re entering the realm of just plain “crazy” now.

And it’s only going to get worse. If you think drive-thru Botox is about half a bubble off of plumb, and if you think Elon, Grimes, and XII are crazy as a soup sandwich, wait till I tell you about Switzerland.

Switzerland is now trying to deal with a problem we don’t have in this country: what to do about sex workers.5 And from all appearances, they’re just not cut out for it.

Years ago, I wrote a column about a huge brothel in Spain, just across the border from France. This brothel was to bordellos what Saddleback Church is to storefront churches. It was a mega-brothel, so big it was causing all kinds of traffic and border problems for France and Spain. In this country, traffic enforcement outside brothels is not the problem.

But Europe deals with the question differently than we do. It’s a checkerboard of differing attitudes ranging from Amsterdam to Vatican City. And now they’re all trying to figure out how to pandemicize their laws pertaining to sex workers.6

So help me, according to The Week magazine, this is how Switzerland is handling it: “Switzerland formally cleared sex workers to reopen their businesses, while maintaining the official prohibition against ‘close and constant contact.’ ‘I am well aware of the bizarre aspect’ of the decision, said Health Minister Alain Berset.”

Say what!? I went without a haircut for three months because we didn’t want to risk people touching my hair, and Switzerland is allowing COMMERCIAL SEX under the same rubrics we purport to be following? How does that work?7

Switzerland! The country the word “staid” was invented for. A country of 8.57 million, of whom all but twenty-three are bankers. A country that made smiling illegal in 1952. Of all the places you’d expect rational thought . . . of all the people you’d expect to be able to keep their heads while those all around them were getting theirs Botoxed . . . the Swiss have gone stark, staring bonkers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two completely opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Switzerland seems determined to test that theorem.

And if a country whose baseline is lucid and sober can go flying down the tracks on one rail, what can we expect of California, whose baseline is Lucy and Desi? What can we expect of a state whose constitution outlaws numbers in names?

Tune in next month and we’ll see.


  1. It could hardly get much worse, now could it?
  2. Joni Mitchell lived with Leonard Cohen for awhile in what would have been the most amazing songwriting duo since Rodgers and Hammerstein. But Cohen broke it off after a friend asked him, “What’s it like living with Beethoven?” Unable to deal with the idea of being the second-best songwriter in the relationship, he moved on.
    I, on the other hand, am probably the third-best lawyer in my family and perfectly comfortable with it. But, then again, I don’t have Cohen’s talent.
  3. They’re right. I sang the alphabet song just to make sure, and there are no numbers in it.
  4. May I suggest Axel as a nickname?
  5. Oh, we have a problem figuring out what to do about sex workers, but it’s an entirely different problem.
  6. All right, maybe not all of them. I doubt much sleep is being lost in Vatican City over this problem.
  7. When I wrote that, it was a rhetorical question, but now the New York City Health Department has advised single people wanting to have sex to “be creative” with “physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact.” I just don’t even know where to begin with that.


William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.