coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: The kids will be all right

Little girl with nurse putting band-aid on her arm.
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

The word that young children will soon get Covid shots reminds me of when I received my second and final round of polio vaccine. I had the Salk type, the first one approved for the US, when I was too little to remember it. I suspect I didn’t care much for the needle, but that wasn’t a problem in the 1960s with the more effective Sabin, which was given orally on sugar cubes. No red-blooded eight-year-old would turn down one of those.

My mother drove me to the closest vaccination site, where a local radio station happened to be doing a remote broadcast. A smooth-voiced man with a microphone asked me a few questions while a record was playing, then repeated them live on the air. I don’t recall what I told the listeners of WKZO-AM, “590 on your dial,” or the moment I swallowed the cube. (I had no idea I’d someday make my own career in radio either.) The event was simply no big deal, for me or any of my friends and classmates.

Of course, by that time the frightening polio outbreaks of the 50s had ended. We didn’t need masks or social distancing. There were no closed restaurants and theaters, no broken and upended lives, and no debate about whether vaccination was necessary and proper. None. Ever. Zero. Bupkes. Period.

Anybody who claimed “freedom” or “personal choice” as an excuse for sending an unprotected kid to school would’ve been run out of town. There were safety problems with badly prepared batches of Salk, including deaths, but they didn’t stop us from trying to wipe out the disease. People could decline the drug on religious grounds. The congenital loudmouths could write letters to the newspapers and that was about all.

I’m not a parent. I’m not telling anyone how to raise their kids. But I’m damn glad that when I was one, we were sane and civic-minded about public health. If we’d had MMR in those times, my folks would’ve made sure I was first in line. In my childless but humble opinion, the decision should be equally easy now. Take care and be safe.

birthdays, Clinton, life, Politics

The memories I wear

October 7, 2021

Back in the 90s, I spent some time truckin’ around the country reporting on presidential politics for the Voice of America, trying to make sense of our quadrennial circus for a radio, TV, and eventually online audience all over the world. The gig could be fun but was far from cushy and was often demanding (try explaining the Electoral College to people overseas who don’t learn about it in school like we do).

Along with a few extra pounds and the ability to function on zero sleep, I picked up a ton of memorabilia: buttons, press badges, coffee mugs, and t-shirts. The shirts acquired holes, shrank, and languished in a drawer – until my wonderful wife turned them into the best birthday present I’ve received in all my years.*

She scanned the graphics from half a dozen of these relics and combined them into the extremely cool new garment I’m wearing above. It’s a visual diary of the times, spanning Republican and Democratic campaigns, nominating conventions, and debates. Most of the shirts were made by the parties, though the one with the Bill Clinton caricacture was done by an NBC crew under the title “Camp Pain,” which was a running joke among the press for several election cycles.

Those days were so hectic that the who, what, when, where, and why are mostly a blur. However, this gift brings back memories, especially of all the great VOA journalists who helped me along the way, even the editor who kept me up half the night rewriting a debate story that didn’t meet our standards. He’s gone now, but is probably looking down and hoping I’ll get this one right. (I’m working on it, Jack.)

Between the pandemic and the reminder that I’m getting older, I’d been feeling a bit blue about my birthday. No more. Next time I’ll tell you about the workday on the campaign trail that began in a mob of screaming kids and ended 23 hours later amid the fragrance of a paper mill. Take care and be safe.


*A classified number. Let’s just say I’m too old for Paul to serenade me with, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

Shirt back with slogan Journalism Maintains Democracy.
You better believe it!
coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Boosted

September 27, 2021

Confirmation screen for Covid booster appointment.

That was easy enough. Instead of heading across town to a mass vaccination site, I drove five minutes to a drugstore and came away with my third and hopefully last dose of Pfizer. Nobody thought to put this event on live TV, but it was definitely worthwhile. Everyone waiting in line was patient and courteous, chatting with each other about kids and sports, just normal things. Some of us, probably most, remember how to be civil.

Because I’m a couple of years past 65, the decision to get the booster was easy too. As you know, there’s a lot of debate about how much the vaccines’ effectiveness declines several months after the initial shots. With the case count and death toll as high as they are here in Georgia, I’ll take any protection I can find. Not surprisingly, some of the worst outbreaks are hitting families with school-age children, and even vaccinated parents are coming down with breakthrough infections.

Though there aren’t any kids in my circle, I’m uneasy about even being around them in public. Only about 45% of the people in this state are fully vaxxed, which is ten percentage points lower than the nationwide number, which is still not high enough either. Why take a chance?

Needing a booster doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the drug. I get a flu shot every year and recently had one for shingles as well. All of this is standard practice. Vaccines generally don’t last forever (unlike, for example, the treasonous Republican effort to undo the last election and rig the next two).

If you’re eligible, please think about a Pfizer booster dose, and keep alert for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson info if that’s what you had before. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression

A pandemic diary: Still a man’s best friend

September 18, 2021

I said I wouldn’t get paranoid about the virus again. I lied. Yesterday I almost walked into a restaurant without my mask because I’d distracted myself worrying about other Covid problems. I wake up most mornings exhausted from dreams where I’m struggling against some nebulous, formless foe.

I’ve always been the anxious type. I remember being spooked by a grade-school teacher’s warning that the Russians were about to “bury” us as Soviet leader Khrushchev threatened. In those Cold War days, we had air-raid drills in which we sat on the floor in the hall holding books over our heads: not as bad as active-shooter drills, not exactly reassuring to a kid either.  

Though the early days of the pandemic were far more harrowing than my childhood, the rush of activity — finding masks, learning to work on Zoom, relentless hand-washing etc — helped to calm the nerves. Even if things like wiping down groceries turned out to be wrongheaded, it seemed there were concrete, productive steps we could take.

Now that I’m vaccinated and masked, there’s nothing more I can do. Everything else depends on events and forces far beyond my control, leaving me as powerless as a grain of sand on a stormy beach.

Since I’m over 65 and got Pfizer I’ll be in line for a booster before long. I’d trade that for the knowledge that all of us are committed to fighting this nightmare together, rejecting hatred, making intelligent choices, and looking out for each other. Until that day comes I’m living by the words of John Cale. Take care and be safe.

Darkness warmer than a bedroom floor
Want someone to hold me close forever more
I’m a sleeping dog, but you can’t tell
When I’m on the prowl you’d better run like hell
You know it makes sense, don’t even think about it
Life and death are just things you do when you’re bored
Say fear’s a man’s best friend
You add it up it brings you down

Covid 19 pandemic, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Useful terms

September 9, 2021

Limbo. The word originated with the Latin limbus, meaning boundary or border. In Catholic theology it’s the place between heaven and hell, for those who die in original sin but aren’t among the damned in the underworld. It has nothing to do with the dance shown below, though it feels like the pandemic has forced me into similar contortions.

Hell. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, it’s other people. It’s also the realm whose hottest, most painful spot should be reserved for WHOEVER INVENTED THE BLOODY LEAF BLOWER THAT’S BLASTING OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. But I digress.

If J. P. had to navigate this country right now, he’d amend his definition to “unvaccinated, unmasked other people and the shitheads who lead them on.” (That’s connards for all you French purists.)

Smart. What jam-packed football stadiums are not. Kudos to LSU and the other schools that require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Mandate. Formerly a bureaucratic buzzword; now radioactive. Not to be confused with mansplaining. However, the rabid anti-mandaters are often overbearing, bad-tempered men, while the nurses who hold their hands in their last moments are almost always women.

The Fish Cheer. If you’re too young to remember Woodstock (or got so stoned that you forgot you were there): This was when Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish yelled, “Gimme an F! Gimme a U!” etc., from the stage and the crowd yelled the letters and the word back at him.

In those times, f*** never appeared in print or on the three TV networks we had. Today’s culture has freed us to use all its variations and forms: “Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks.” Imagine 100,000 people screaming that. Maybe at an LSU game!

Take care and be safe. I’ll be saying this for a while longer, but not forever. I mean it, too. Gimme a T!

Fiction, football, hometown, life

New season, new story

Dead mule with legs in the air.
Southern fiction needs one of these!

Just in time for the season, my latest short story is a parable about football. “Bobby Dean Goes Viral” appears in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, which published another piece of mine last year.

In the South, the game is inextricable from faith and life. Of course, there are fiercely devoted fans in other places too, including the Midwest, where I grew up and went to college. You have to be dedicated if not mildly insane to sit in the stands for three or four hours when the mercury plunges below freezing and snow is swirling in your face.

Even so, football here in Georgia, Alabama, and the surrounding states is often part of one’s self, one’s sense of home. That’s why people like Bobby Dean get carried away and…no spoilers! I hope you enjoy my story and wherever you are, have a safe season. PS: Go Blue.

coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Writer on duty. Call now.

August 24, 2021

Row of tombstones in cemetery.
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Friends, have I got an offer for you. Because SEO isn’t my specialty, I’m asking you to share this post with your network immediately. Don’t sweat: I won’t steer you wrong. This is the real deal, but for reasons I’ll explain directly, y’all need to act right away.

Here’s what’s on the table: My services as a writer for that once-in-a-lifetime occasion when a cheap hack or your unemployed English-major nephew won’t do. If you’re the kind of person I’m trying to reach, you don’t want to trust this to the jerks in the MSM either. I’m talking about your obituary.

What makes me think you need one? Well, you swear you’ll never get a Covid shot. You don’t care that the vaccine is now fully approved. Freedom is your middle name. You’d boo Donald Trump if he urged you to get vaccinated, like some of your buddies in Alabama did the other night. Sure, you’ve always been healthy, but the way things are now, with no immunity and of course no mask, you might not even make it to football season. This is the reason for the urgency I spoke of before. It’s time to get this duck securely in the row.

I’m not being morbid. In the news business, where I worked for many years, it’s standard practice to prepare obits in advance for newsmakers, and people like you are in the news every day. If you’re wondering about my qualifications, my LinkedIn profile will show you that I’ve handled all kinds of assignments under tough deadlines (no pun intended).

This is a serious proposal. In the spirit of public service and bipartisanship (since the great majority of you are Republicans), I’ll write your last chapter at no charge. I promise to be respectful and thorough. Here’s a taste of what your loved ones might read.

“(Your name), who loved life, worked hard at his job and even harder at being a great husband and dad, died Wednesday on a ventilator in a jammed Covid ward. He passed moments after his devastated wife said her final goodbye over the phone. He was 34.

Unlike other vaccine skeptics who’ve recently died, he never wavered in his belief, expressed last week on Facebook, that the Lord and a healthy lifestyle would protect him from the virus. Friends said he’d been excited about taking his children, Tyler and Jen, to their first (your school) game next month.

If you think I’m exaggerating or being snarky, here’s a real obit. It used to be said that one’s name should appear in print just three times, at birth, marriage, and death. Please don’t make me write yours too soon. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Family, history

A pandemic diary: Afflictions past and present

August 19, 2021

Gravestone with flower and carving: "Martha Carrier Hanged August 19, 1692."
Martha Carrier’s marker at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial

On this day 329 years ago, Martha Carrier was taken in a cart to Gallows Hill in Salem, where she and four men were hanged after being convicted in the infamous witch trials. A poor woman with an independent spirit, she’d previously drawn the hostility of her neighbors in Andover, who accused her of causing a smallpox outbreak that killed thirteen townspeople. The “afflicted girls” who started the panic screamed in court that they could see the ghosts of the dead. Denounced by the Rev. Cotton Mather as “this rampant hag,” Martha maintained her innocence to the last, refusing to confess to “a falsehood so filthy.

All of this is well-known. What I didn’t know until recently was that among the witnesses in Martha’s trial was Phebe Chandler, who was not quite twelve years old and was my cousin several times removed. Phebe stated she heard Martha’s disembodied voice saying “I should be poysoned (sp) within two or three days,” after which her hand and face became swollen and “exceeding painful.” Later, she said, she was struck deaf during a Sabbath meeting, “and could hear no prayer, nor singing, till the last two or three words of the singing.”

Not everyone joined in the frenzy. Phebe’s aunt Hannah was the wife of the Rev. Francis Dane, who fiercely opposed the trials even after he and his relatives were themselves accused. The family history book that chronicled every Chandler for two and a half centuries is silent about Phebe’s later life, though other sources indicate she married, had three children, and died around 1720.

Though it’s easy to look back on these horrors as a moment in the ancient past, the witch hunt was fueled by ignorance, intolerance, and religious extremism. Which brings us to Cardinal Raymond Burke, not a Salem inquisitor but a present-day prelate and former archbishop of St. Louis. Back in the aughts, he declared that Catholics who voted for President Obama “collaborated with evil.” In 2015, he said gay people and remarried Catholics are as bad as “the person who murders someone.”

Last year, he spread the conspiracy theory that Covid vaccine advocates believe “a kind of microchip needs to be placed under the skin of every person, so that at any moment, he or she can be controlled regarding health and regarding other matters which we can only imagine as a possible object of control by the state.” He also criticized church members for not believing Christ would protect them, calling God “the ultimate provider of health.”

Someone besides God must have provided the ventilator that’s keeping Burke alive. If he survives, he probably won’t be spat on in public like Mather was after the hysteria ended. But years from now, the anti-vaxxers and haters will be remembered the same way as the mob that cheered while Martha Carrier died.

List of victims of the Salem witch trials and the dates they were executed.

coronavirus, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: At the crossroads

August 10, 2021

I have some big choices to make: Compassion or fury? Hatred or empathy? Resilience or hopelessness? Depression or mere frustration?

If you haven’t guessed, these are the emotions and impulses rolling around my brain like surfers on a big wave, in light of the ghastly upsurge in Covid cases, hospitalizations, and now deaths. Most of the time I’m mad as hell at the willfully stupid unvaxxed. Not those who are uneasy because the vaccines are so new or the working people who can’t take time off for side effects or the Black people who remember Tuskegee. I mean the ones who put lives in danger for purely political reasons and the legion of cretins who cheer them on.

The impact of these people’s selfishness ripples far beyond their own families and friends. Right now a lot of Atlanta hospitals are so overrun with Covid cases that they’re being forced to divert emergency patients elsewhere.

Chart showing covid patients overwhelming hospitals and emergency rooms.

If I have a heart attack or get hit by a car, I might not get treated quickly enough to save my life. Because people won’t take a vaccine. Just like the ones that wiped out smallpox and polio and still save millions of kids from measles, mumps, and rubella.

Meanwhile in Florida, where I used to make my home, the governor wants to cut off the salaries of school administrators who mandate masks for children, most of whom have no vaccine available. Let that sink in.

It’s no wonder I’m PO’d. However, as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) once said, “Anger is an energy.” It helps me write, which in turn keeps my head level, and allows me to cope with disappointments and burnout.

I’m determined not to fall into the pit of hatred and bile. I take no pleasure in seeing anyone sick and dying, not even anti-vaxxers. However, it made my day when one of the most loathsome was suspended from Twitter. Take care, mask up, and be safe.

Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.

John Lewis, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, football, Politics

A pandemic diary: Un-unmasking

July 28, 2021

My daily life won’t be affected by the disheartening but necessary call for vaccinated people in many places to wear masks indoors again. I never stopped using an N95 in public areas, both out of respect for others and to extend my personal shield as far as possible.

I take no pleasure in knowing I was on the right track. The warning is driven by the finding that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can carry as much viral load as the unvaxxed, which means they may spread it to others. I’m not at all surprised that the CDC reversed course. I wish like hell that they’d done it before now. According to the New York Times, six weeks ago (June 14) my county in metro Atlanta reported 12 new cases and a seven-day average of 27. Yesterday we hit 282 cases with an average of 208.

Some accuse the CDC of flip-flopping or inconsistency. IMHO, the guidance should apply nationwide, not just where cases are surging, but it changed for a good reason: the data changed. This is natural. In my lifetime, there were serious people who claimed space flight was impossible because there was nothing up there for rockets to push against. You might recall that weather forecasters don’t keep predicting tropical-storm-force winds after the storm blows up into a hurricane.

Forget science: I’ll put this in the language of the least vaccinated part of the USA, the South or more precisely the the Southeastern Conference, stretching from Columbia, Missouri to Gainesville, Florida.* This language is football.

Let’s suppose Alabama’s new quarterback lights up the Florida secondary in the first half but in the second, the Gators’ edge rushers get into the backfield and he’s running for his life. Does Coach Nick Saban stick with the same blocking scheme? If you think so, you haven’t got the brains God gave geese, and he didn’t give geese much. (Nothing personal, y’all.)

Of course, we wouldn’t need masks if more of us got the jabs. That’s why, as a retired federal employee, I strongly support the vaccination mandate for the government. Like members of the armed forces and all civilian feds, I took an oath to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This virus is our enemy but we can win. Take care, mask up, and be safe.


*The home of those Gator fans who never call. But that’s another story.