coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Family, life

A pandemic diary: Last call

May 18, 2022

Pint of beer on bar.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Booster number two is in. Unlike the other shots, this one brought no particular sense of relief, hope, or civic duty. Instead, I had short-lived but tangible side effects: a sudden lethargy and weariness in my bones, which sums up how I feel about the pandemic in general.

Two years on, the federal government – the one I voted for – has no idea how many cases are out there. The money to replenish vaccines and treatments is about to run dry. While deaths have remained relatively flat in the current wave, we’re still losing more than three hundred souls a day and will soon hit the ghastly milestone of one million. The “authorities” sound like the flight attendant who comes on the intercom when three engines have fallen off the plane and the fourth one is on fire, and says “Please do not be alarmed. We will resume our beverage service as soon as possible.”*

I’m not waiting to resume anything. This doesn’t mean dropping my mask or partying with superspreaders. I’m just making the most of what I’m lucky enough to have right now, which is plenty. A comfy home office with a view of the birds and the trees. Dinners on the deck in the quiet spring twilight. Time to write the stories that find their way into my head. A hard drive full of music my wife and I have loved and collected all our lives. Each other.

Some call this attitude “romanticizing your life,” and say it started with Covid, but for me it’s a return to the ways I learned from my parents. They were blessed with Midwestern grit that got them through a flu pandemic, a depression, and a world war. They were grateful for simple good times and didn’t waste them quaking in fear about the future. As my mother always said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

This is the last chapter in my diary, at least for now. I’ll certainly go on blogging about other important topics (like football). I just don’t have the energy to keep plunging into these waters and wouldn’t want to give y’all a half-hearted effort. I hope it’s been useful. Take care and be safe.


*This is an inexact version of a line from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I couldn’t find the original.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Minority report

April 27, 2022

I’m a straight white guy, yet belong to what may be the biggest minority group in the country: those who’ve never been infected with the coronavirus.

According to new data based on tens of thousands of blood samples, almost 60 percent of us have caught Covid at least once. That figure is up from 34 percent in December, prior to the surge triggered by the Omicron variant. It’s also more than twice the official case count. Among children and teens, the infection rate is as high as 75 percent.

It’s conceivable that I had an asymptomatic or mild case, as many people in this new metric apparently did, but with all the precautions I’ve taken it’s not likely. I still wear a mask though lots of folks around me in Atlanta are shedding theirs. I avoid crowds, too. If I were a Washington journalist like I used to be, I wouldn’t go near the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

To me this is just common sense, even if Dr. Fauci is right when he says we’re out of the full-blown pandemic phase. Like our last president’s lies about the 2020 election, the virus keeps mutating, reinventing itself in every corner.

The 60% may not have natural protection against new infections. Over three hundred Americans still die of Covid every day. I don’t intend to join them and hope none of y’all will either. Take care and be safe.

CDC chart of U.S. Covid deaths.
Source: CDC 4/27/2022

Covid 19 pandemic, Fiction, new old age, retirement, Writing

Stopping the real steal

April 16, 2022

Iced tea glass and sandaled foot on deck table.

Time, time time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please

– Paul Simon, A Hazy Shade of Winter

In Tony Hillerman’s spellbinding mystery “A Thief of Time,” the thief is one who loots artifacts, pieces of the past, from a Native American burial ground. I respect the dead, especially since I expect to join them someday, but I wouldn’t mind if an enterprising gonif* heisted a few choice bits of my back pages.

Let’s start by unloading the hopeless hours I spent chasing softballs and soccer balls in gym. Better yet, take all three years of junior high, and I’ll throw in college chemistry! Don’t forget my misguided career moves, like the ones that landed me in a radio studio spinning Muzak on the midnight shift. Hangovers that could’ve sunk a Russian warship, speeding tickets, textbook bad dates, various social goofs and gaffes, bell-bottom pants, and sooooo much more. Grab it and go!

The real crime is theft of the present and future. It’s been a while since I launched my personal Great Resignation, aka “retirement,” and lately it’s been a battle to keep the golden years from turning to lead. Some mornings when I get up I could swear my feet are full of the stuff.

I’m writing fiction, which I always wanted to try and hope y’all enjoy reading. I’m luckier than many of us because I haven’t had Covid or a financial crisis. But when you’re a high school senior, you graduate. What happens when you’re just a senior?

This conundrum gets worse when you don’t fit the mold. For me, life in a geezer theme park like The Villages, which the Trumpniks love, would be all nine circles of hell. Then there’s AARP, which acts as if we’re either 50-ish movie stars or Methuselahs who’ve missed out on everything modern since about 1985. Their mags carry ads like, “WOW! A Simple to Use Computer Designed Especially for Seniors!” I started using PCs in ’83, and those early machines were not simple.

I’ve concluded the only way to cope is to double down on boundaries. Lisa McCulloch, a writer who recently turned fifty, aptly calls this the get off my lawn phase of life, when we become territorial about our physical and emotional spaces.

This can be as easy as setting up a few palms to create a privacy shield on the deck, as shown in the photo. The electronic realm is another story. However, when I first laid hands on a computer in the antediluvian 80s I learned a crucial fact that still applies: there’s always an “Off” button. Take care and be safe.


*Yiddish for a thief or dishonest, disreputable person. Such a rich language.

Uncategorized

A pandemic diary: The colors that give me the blues

April 1, 2022

UPDATE / CORRECTION, April 2: It appear that at least part of the local case surge discussed below is from a batch of previously unreported tests administered in January. I’ve changed the text to reflect this info and added a link with details. I apologize for passing along any incorrect information.

According to the brand new COVID.gov website, within ten miles of my house there are sixteen pharmacies that’ll give me a Covid test AND treatment with pills if it’s positive. My wife and I can also check ourselves with the free rapid tests sent by the federal government. We’ll probably pop down to the corner drugstore for our second boosters, hopefully without the side effects reported by a friend, who said he felt “like Will Smith slapped me all over.”

Am I a carefree camper? Have we reached this hazy new normal that people keep talking about, where the virus is a routine nuisance and a matter of personal responsibility?

Cue the fire alarm. That yellow patch amid the green in north Georgia represents a chunk of metro Atlanta, where “community levels” of Covid have jumped from low to medium. The next stop is red, which means “high.”

Some of the increase in cases may be caused by a backlog of unreported ones that the state just dumped onto the rolls, but it’s still worrisome, at least to me. For weeks , the experts have been predicting a second Omicron surge from the BA.2 variant.

CDC graphic showing rise in Covid community levels in metro Atlanta.
Info from CDC website April 1, 2022

After two years, I’m not the least bit surprised. I just hate being the bell cow for another wave, especially since most of the country has tuned out the bells altogether.

Some say they’re tired of criticizing others’ Covid decisions. Not me. As John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, once said, “Anger is an energy.” I’m holding onto mine. I don’t blast it around recklessly, but it’s staying in the tool box with the tests and the N-95. Take care and be safe.

War

From cold to warm and back again

February 28, 2022

Headline: Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions.
Source: AP 2/27/2022

I’m sure glad my wife and I had a safe room built into the basement of our house. We did it because we were worried about tornados and the dangers of climate change, but it’ll make a fine fallout shelter too.

To someone born early in the Cold War, who lived through some of its scariest moments as a kid, headlines like the one above are depressingly familiar. Though I don’t recall the details of the Cuban missile crisis or the Berlin Wall going up, I remember living in a bubble of grownup fear and paranoia.

Nikita Khrushchev.
Remember him?

One day in third grade, my teacher took off on a rant about Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who had threatened to “bury” the West and slammed down his shoe at the U.N. Schools ran “duck and cover” drills with kids diving under their desks, as if that would protect them from a nuclear blast. Textbooks warned that the Communists wanted to rule the world. Newspapers and TV portrayed Vietnam as a crucial effort to halt the Reds at the South China Sea.

Later, when the Cold War seemed to be over, I saw some of its weapons symbolically beaten into plowshares. As the Pentagon correspondent for the Voice of America, I traveled with the defense secretary to a missile base in Pervomaysk, Ukraine, where the new independent nation was breaking down the former Soviet arsenal.

My story from the day is lost in some obsolete archive. The AP’s Robert Burns wrote, “With the U.S. and Ukrainian defense chiefs looking on, soldiers laid to rest on Saturday one more ghost of the Cold War doomsday threat. ‘We are seeing history in the making,’ Defense Secretary William Perry said, a 60-foot-tall SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile at his back. Ukrainian soldiers lifted the giant, gray SS-19 – its warhead already removed – out of its underground silo.”

Journalists and military officers standing under partially dismantled bomber.
Russian and Ukrainian officers and journalists (that’s me in the trench coat and hat) under a partially dismantled Soviet bomber in 1995

From Pervomaysk, the secretary’s party flew on to Moscow. On arrival, we were greeted by the Russian army band playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” a moment I’ll never forget. During our stay, some of the traveling press found time for dinner and music (below), followed by a late-night walk around Red Square.

Three Russian women singers in traditional garb in restaurant.
A Moscow night

Someday, such things might be normal again, like sitting in a crowded barbershop with no mask and no worries. This time, however, I’m not hiding under my desk (partly because my geriatric bones would complain strongly if I tried). I’m grateful for all the journalists, including those from VOA, who are reporting the truth from the war zone. To them and everyone, take care and be safe.

Flag of Ukraine.

history, hometown

Very sincerely yours, Jesse Owens

February 15, 2022

For Black History Month, I’m unpacking a bit of history from the memorabilia in my closet, a program from a sports banquet and a personal letter to my father Don Swan, both signed by Jesse Owens.

When we lived in Columbus, Ohio in the 1950s, Dad belonged to the local athletic club, the Touchdown Club. This outfit was known for its annual awards dinner where, as the club website says, “the guest list read like a virtual Who’s Who of American sports legends” including Jim Brown, Bronko Nagurski, Bobby Layne, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax. That’s Koufax autographing a program for Don (second from right).

Sandy Koufax signing autograph for Don Swan with two other Touchdown Club members looking on.
Left to right: Touchdown Club president Fred Myers, Sandy Koufax, my father Don, and club member T.C. McDaniel

When the club honored Owens as “Track Star of the Century” in 1960, Don was his host. This meant picking him up at the airport, driving him around, and generally making sure he had everything he needed.

You probably know Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, smashing Hitler’s racist propaganda about Aryan supremacy (yet President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t invite him to the White House). You might not know that because he left a post-Games exhibition tour of Europe to return home and take up some endorsement offers, the Amateur Athletic Union suspended him, ending his career.

For years, Owens struggled to earn a living, at one point declaring bankruptcy, and was working for the Illinois Youth Commission when he came to Columbus for the banquet. The following week, he sent Don a letter that read: Just a note of thanks to express my appreciation to you for your kindness – your time, your patience and your guidance. May I remind you that no one ever had a finer host.

I certainly hope that our paths will again cross, and in the meantime, may God bless and protect you and continue to give you understanding and guidance, and that you may continue to have success during the balance of your life.

Though it’s not part of his legacy as an athlete, the letter tells us that in spite of everything he’d been through, Jesse Owens the man was generous and gracious toward others. It also reminds me that my dad loved people and how he and my mother, who once lived down the street from a former enslaved man, did not judge anyone by their skin. That’s the legacy I’m grateful for.

Jesse Owens.
Photo by Wikipedia
coronavirus, new old age, Pandemic diary, Politics

A not-endemic diary: Unmasking the facts

February 10, 2022

CDC chart showing high community Covid transmission in most US counties.
Source: CDC 2/10/2022

My neighbors love to walk. From my desk in front of the window, I see a parade of them: solos, couples, pairs of women, and lots of folks with dogs. Yesterday while taking my own stretch break, I spotted four people and their pups out enjoying the sun on a Wednesday afternoon.

Many are probably working from home, this of course being one way we’ve adjusted to Covid. Now we’re told we may soon reach the point where the virus is endemic and we can “live with Covid” instead of stomping it flat. As part of this newest normal, a flock of Democratic governors are lifting indoor mask mandates, since people are “fatigued” and “tired of coping.”

Georgia has no mandate. But being over 65, no matter where I lived, I’d hold fast to my N95 and stay out of indoor public spaces. I don’t care if this is no longer the conventional wisdom. I’m sticking with instinct, common sense, and data, which tell me things aren’t rosy yet.

True: omicron-fueled cases are down almost two-thirds nationwide. That’s still more than 200,000 every day. Also true: the sheer volume has pushed the average daily death toll over 2,500, the highest level in a year. True once again: Seniors, especially those 75 and older, make up the biggest fraction of the dead.

I have no sympathy for members of my generation who refuse a life-saving vaccine because of politics, misinformation, or plain stubborn stupidity. However – and call me a bitter old coot if you will – it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a lot of younger folks, including politicians, don’t really care how many of us die. They’d rather go out to dinner than keep their communities and their own relatives safe. They’re the ones the governors are pandering to.

At best, throwing out mandates is premature, as the CDC and many epidemiologists have warned. At worst, Democrats are doing the very thing they rightfully blasted Trump for by elevating politics above science and the public good. A lot of vulnerable seniors and their families will remember that come election time. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic

A pandemic diary: Covid and tinnitus update

January 29, 2022

Man's ear.
Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Last spring, we began hearing about Covid patients who were suddenly afflicted with tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in one or both ears that sometimes persisted after other symptoms went away. Others who already had tinnitus found it had gotten worse.

Like a lot of things about the pandemic, the connection wasn’t well understood at first. Now, researchers have learned that Covid can infect the inner ear. It’s not clear how the virus reaches this area, but it probably comes in via the nose, not the outer ear. In addition to tinnitus, the patients whose cases were studied experienced hearing loss (ranging from mild to “profound”) and sometimes vertigo.

The researchers say hearing tests should be routine for anyone diagnosed with Covid. The American Tinnitus Association or ATA (which I belong to) has more info about what to do if you’re having symptoms. You can also call 800-634-8978, ext. 3 or 6, or email tinnitus@ata.org.

Among those who suffered severe post-Covid tinnitus was Kent Taylor, founder and CEO of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain. The company is raising funds for the ATA through the end of March and on February 7, National Tinnitus Awareness Day.

I know the noise in your ears can be maddening. But remember, there are treatments, and you’re definitely not alone. Take care and be safe.

2020 election, hometown, U. S. Capitol

A face in the mob

January 5, 2022

Insurrectionist mob attacking the U.S. Capitol.
Photo by Tyler Merbler / Wikicommons

Years ago I knew a kid named Mark. We both belonged to the youth group at our Methodist church, and the summer after my senior year, a bunch of us traveled to Kentucky on a service project, helping people fix up their houses.

Mark was a couple of years younger than me, a big, good-natured guy and very dedicated to our mission. Like everyone in the group, he worked hard to raise money for the trip and equally hard during our week in Kentucky. I remember the two of us cleaning windows, him scrubbing away on one side, me on the other. He had a strong, caring faith, offering a prayer one evening for a local boy whose family was facing hard times.

I lost touch with him and the others after I went off to college. I never heard his name again until my hometown paper reported that Mark Finchem, a former city police officer, was now a far-right state lawmaker in Arizona and among the insurrectionists at the Capitol.

He says he didn’t go inside, but he may have been closer than he’ll admit. He described the riot as, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.” (He also called the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally, “a deep-state psyop.”) Trump endorsed him in his race for secretary of state. If he wins, he’ll be running the election in Arizona in 2024.

Needless to say, all this came as a shock. I don’t know how Mark got to this point. What I can’t get over is the contrast between his present self and the kind of Christianity we learned and did our best to practice back in the day.

When we made the trip, we were following in the footsteps of the Rev. James W. Wright, our senior minister, a powerful voice for equality and justice as well as a friend to the needy. A church member recalled in his obituary that, “He always had a love for people who were down and out. He lived the Gospel.”

In one sermon he said, “With the vision God gives, a better world is possible. Our place is not on the sidelines sighing over the woes of the world or the failings of our fellow men. We are not called to be spectators. As Christians, we are called to be participants.” Those beliefs may have been shaped by his service as an Army chaplain in World War II, which included the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Buchenwald.

My mother used to say, “He makes you feel like he’s talking directly to you.” I can hear him now, telling us to love each other, lift up those who are struggling, and resist fascism with all our might. Take care and be safe.

Fiction, Writing

New year, new story: From The Moon To The Earth

January 2, 2022

Crescent moon over mountains.

The moon man is a legend in a small mountain town. He’s been around for years but is only seen at night. He might be a homeless person, a thief, or an apparition. To the young narrator of my new story, “From The Moon To The Earth,” he’s someone to fear.

Thanks to Sledgehammer Lit for publishing my work. Check out all the great writing on the site, and read my other stories on my author site at davidsswan.com. Happy New Year, take care, and be safe.