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.

humor, new old age

Old age isn’t for sissies and comedians

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.

George Burns

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I like to laugh and “the new old age” is among my favorite topics. I’ve written about sex advice for seniors, Social Security, and an embarrassing mishap with my hearing aids. I don’t mind laughing at myself.

Unfortunately, people with much bigger megaphones than mine are still making fun of oldsters the way they used to target people of color, women, and those who are LGBTQ. The stereotypes are even coming from NPR, which wouldn’t last five minutes without older folks’ money (and whose founders, btw, are no spring chickens in the network’s 50th anniversary year).

Last month, the comedy quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” took up the story of the 19-year-old woman who unintentionally moved into a senior living community. As reported by This Chair Rocks, the panelists cracked about older residents’ frailty, hearing problems, and memory loss. One said, “I’m just wondering how many gifts she gets from people who think she’s their granddaughter.”

Such sophisticated wit. Nobody would’ve laughed at that when my mother and my wife’s father were slowly dying of dementia. I’ve been coping with tinnitus and hearing loss, sometimes being driven to despair, since I was about 50, barely old enough for AARP. So why is this acceptable when anti-gay or anti-Black “jokes” would never get on the air? On the network where people probably blathered for hours about the wonder of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday?

I’ve told my local station I’m through listening to the show. Please consider raising the issue with your station. If you want to send a message straight to the source, here’s the NPR contact form.

This isn’t canceling. If anybody laughs in my face about my hearing or my mother’s memory, their face will get rearranged. You don’t cross that line. “Wait, Wait” sure as hell did.

coronavirus, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Greatest hits

Two young women jumping in the air with beach sunset in background.

May 15, 2021

We’re not there yet, still have miles to go before we sleep, but the news that vaccinated people can go without masks in most places is the clearest signal yet that we’re heading toward the finish line. That led me to think about how we got here, all the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the last fourteen months, so I put together a roundup. (Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com).


March 25, 2020: I’ve hardly been out of the condo for three weeks. Except for my wife, my last offline human interaction was five days ago with a grocery clerk. Every time I wash my hands, which is often, I feel like Lady MacBeth: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” But I know I’m one of the lucky ones and hope everyone understands that yes, we are in this together.


April 17, 2020 (after a trip to the grocery store): At home, we wipe everything down with disinfectant before stowing it. Some of the experts say this isn’t necessary but as long as grocery workers are getting sick we’re not taking any chances, however small. The people at the local Kroger’s are always helpful, polite, and understanding. One of them told us he’s an out-of-work actor.


May 13, 2020: I deeply miss non-virtual contact, concerts, theaters, salad bars, dive bars, parks, haircuts, handshakes, barbecue, beach sunsets, and much more. I realize this doesn’t mean a damned thing when millions of us are missing food on the table and an untold number are missing the loved ones they’ve lost. The problems of a person like me don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.


June 30, 2020: I hope everyone who reads this wears a mask, but if you don’t mind looking like a ’50s sci-fi spaceman, there’s another option: a face shield. I’ve been giving one a shakedown cruise for the last few weeks and plan to stick with it. (Update: I ditched it after a few months. It turned out to be cumbersome and no safer than a mask.)


July 22, 2020: My shoulder hurts again. The pain flares out from the joint, up the side of my neck, almost to the top of my head. I can’t take Tylenol because I already took some for my other headache, the one that comes from not sleeping. I was half-awake most of the night, dreaming of disjointed voices and images. I should get my shoulder looked at, but even though they take plenty of precautions, I’m nervous about risking a visit to a doctor’s office.


August 4, 2020: In less than 24 hours last week I learned that two friends have the virus, one in a hospital, the other recovering at home. I worry about these good people and can’t do much for them except hope. I knew it was only a matter of time before the monster struck inside my circle. Even so, there’s an extra trace of fear and uncertainty in my gut, an ember that won’t burn out.


September 1, 2020: When you’re staying home on Labor Day weekend with no football, it helps to have music that resonates in the heart. This includes the Allman Brothers’ cover of “The Weight,” with a blistering guest vocal by Susan Tedeschi. Never has this song felt more like the truth: the plague has put the load right on everybody, Crazy Chester is in the White House, and the Devil is walking the countryside in a WalMart camo suit. But Judgement Day is coming on November 3. 


October 22, 2020: It’s Thursday afternoon and the pandemic has got you down. You need a break from the loop of bad news, a slice of normalcy, a little fun. If any of that sounds familiar, go to Facebook or Instagram at 6:00 p.m. Eastern for “It’s 5 O’ Clock Somewhere: A Musical Social From a Distance,” an hour of music and good times hosted by the amazing John Pizzarelli. (Update: The show is still on.)


November 22, 2020: Thanksgiving my ass. Square one and ground zero is where we are, for the third bloody time. We’ve ridden the roller coaster of pain and poverty, death and despair for nine months, but there’s no delivery, no blessed event in sight. People in our part of Atlanta are good about wearing masks, and the Georgia case counts are a fraction of the appalling numbers in the Midwest. But they’re rising. Again. And we’re stuck inside. Still.


December 15, 2020: My wife and I have had to postpone something we’d been looking forward to: a visit to Florida. We’d planned to head down to Cape Coral, which is known for canals, manatees, and nature preserves, just the ticket for a plague-weary pair like ourselves. We booked a nice place on a canal, then looked at how the case numbers have exploded and realized Christmas and New Year’s could trigger another surge. The only sane thing to do is put off our trip.


January 27, 2021: A wet, grey winter morning turned downright grim with the latest news about how bad the pandemic is in Atlanta. According to a nationwide breakdown, published by the New York Times and based mainly on state data, my county is at “an extremely high risk level.” We’re advised to avoid all indoor activities, events with more than a handful of people, and nonessential travel. I’m waiting for that text that tells me I can get vaccinated.


February 17, 2021: As of last week, I’m among the ranks of the half-protected, a lot luckier than many of us because I didn’t have to scramble for vaccine. Elated and slightly anxious, I drove through the rain to the vaccination site, a former department store in one of Atlanta’s countless malls. My nerves hit the roof when I walked inside and for the first time in nearly a year found myself in a big indoor space with a crowd of people(!). Everyone wore a mask and the staff kept us distanced, but it still felt strange.


March 8, 2021: My second dose went in just fine. I didn’t feel anxious about being in a crowd at the clinic, like the first time. Best of all, I dodged the onerous side effects that sometimes come with round 2: no chills, fatigue, fever, or muscle aches. My arm itches a little but isn’t sore. I feel very blessed to belong to what’s still an exclusive club.


April 22, 2021: Call me what you will: I’m amazed that we’re hardly even discussing mandatory vaccination. I know you can’t make the horses drink, but still: we had measles under control until anti-vax and religious fanatics opened the door to fresh outbreaks. Now Connecticut is moving to end the religious exemption to vaccinating kids for school, as other states have already done. If that’s a public health threat, what about people who deliberately leave themselves, their families, and everyone in their communities at risk of a terrible death?


May 11, 2021: First actual handshake in fourteen months? Check, and it felt great. Unmasked conversations with other vaccinated people? Check. Go face-naked outdoors? Check. Feel a lot less paranoid about doorknobs, mail, packages, keypads, and waiting-room furniture? Double-check! Toss the hand sanitizer altogether? Nuh-uh. For the moment, this also goes for indoor dining, theaters, and live music, even with distancing and reduced capacity, but it won’t be long. Take care and be safe.


Covid 19 pandemic, depression, life, new old age

State of the (re)union

Though we’ve just plunged into 2021, I’m already musing about an unwelcome milestone coming in 22: my fiftieth high school class reunion. I have no intention of going, yet it’s looming on my mental horizon like a lake freighter with a cargo of memories, most of which I’d just as soon forget.

That period wasn’t terrible, because I learned a lot and went on to a great university. It wasn’t “Happy Days” or “The Wonder Years” either. My father died during my last semester of junior high (the 1960s-70s version of middle school), and I began high school depressed and shaken, always waiting for the next catastrophe to strike. Those emotions must have been written on my face because some wiseass in gym started calling me “Smiley.” All this was on top of adjusting to a new place and starting to think seriously about college. (I know I’m dating myself: today they probably hand out Harvard brochures with the apple juice in preschool.)

Eventually the black dog left my side, but I was still light years from being a cool kid or BMOC. Naturally shy, bookish, and hopeless at sports, I would’ve been a nerd or a geek if those words had been invented yet. I was even in the chess club (second from right, with more hair than I’ve had since).

Dave watching chess match with club members and faculty advisor.
Any future grandmasters here?

Instead of a Hollywood fairy tale where the ugly ducklings soar, high school was a slog, like a visit to the DMV or a stomach virus. Once I got to college, though, the bad vibes faded fast. At freshman orientation I partied, played Frisbee on the football field, and began to find my new self. I kept in touch with a couple of old friends for a while, but we soon went separate ways. I never made it to the tenth, twentieth, or any other reunions.

So why am I preoccupied by this one? I’m on the far side of 65, when we tend to think about the past and our mortality, especially now. I’m also reminded of those I’ve lost, including three classmates who died long ago, one from HIV, two by suicide. I realize that this reunion is my last chance to be with those who are left. I also know that some of them would look at my name tag and still see only the geek. I’m not going halfway across the country for that.

The best thing I took from high school was “Our Town,” and its message about life: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?” and, “Once in a thousand times, it’s interesting.” I won’t waste a minute reliving a past I never wanted anyway. I wish everyone a happy time; I just won’t be there. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: All roads lead nowhere

December 15, 2020

Map of Cape Coral and Ft. Myers Florida.

It means very little in the big scheme of things, but my wife and I have had to postpone something we’d been looking forward to: a visit to Florida. We’d planned to head down to Cape Coral, far enough south to have balmy winters yet only a day’s drive from Atlanta. It’s known for canals, manatees, and nature preserves full of birds, just the ticket for a plague-weary pair like ourselves.

We found a nice place on a canal and booked a week in mid-January. Then we looked at how the case numbers have exploded since Thanksgiving, and remembered Dr. Fauci’s warning that Christmas and New Year’s could trigger another surge. To make things even more dire, this part of Florida is heaven for snowbirds, most of whom would arrive around the same time as us.

Having grown up in Michigan, I know how desperate these people are to escape the Midwestern winter. I’m sure they’re also eager to escape social distancing, masks, and other flashpoints of tyranny that were forced down their throats by Communist despots in Lansing, Columbus, Madison, and St. Paul.* Between the out-of-state crowd and the locals, we could wind up in the middle of a hotspot.

This threw our “What if” machine into high gear: What if I break a leg or have some other medical crisis and all the hospitals and ERs are full? Or the grocery stores run out of essentials? Or don’t have enough staff to manage curbside pickup? Or things get so horrific that Georgia starts blocking northbound traffic? If you think I sound like Chicken Little, read what Maryland just did. These are, unfortunately, possibilities we have to consider, especially since being over 65 puts us at high risk by default. There’s no getting away from it, not now.

We decided the only sane thing to do is put off our trip until April. Assuming we make it, it’ll be our first travel in more than a year. We hoped to celebrate our 20th anniversary last spring on the Panhandle beach where we married, which of course became impossible. But I turned my disappointment into a story called “High Tide” that has a happier ending and was published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.**

That’s all any of us can do, play the hand we’re dealt and keep looking ahead. I’d like nothing better than to celebrate our 21st anniversary with a jab of Pfizer or Moderna. I hope y’all get yours very soon. Take care and be safe.


*Irony and sarcasm. In case you couldn’t tell.
**Yes, that’s their real name. This site even requires a Southern Authenticity Statement from all contributors. Mine invokes blues, Faulkner, and Alabama barbecue. Y’aaaiight with that?

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, new old age, Politics, Trump

A pandemic diary: Fear and loathing and more loathing

November 21, 2020

Street with piles of debris from hurricane.

Thanksgiving my ass. Square one and ground zero is where we are, for the third bloody time. We’ve ridden the roller coaster of pain and poverty, death and despair for nine months, but there’s no delivery, no blessed event in sight.

As I’ve written before, my wife and I are among the fortunate (and grateful). We’re well and have a full fridge, health insurance, and no children, grandkids, or aged parents to sweat over. People in our part of Atlanta are good about wearing masks, and the Georgia case counts are a fraction of the appalling numbers in the Midwest. But they’re rising. Again. And we’re stuck inside. Still.

At our age, we’re at high risk by default. No movies, social bubbles, or dining out, because the stakes are too damned high. We don’t go anywhere except to the doctor or the stores with no-contact curbside pickup. Meanwhile, the physical and emotional side effects are piling up like debris from a hurricane. For me, that means more and louder episodes of tinnitus, which goes sky-high when I’m stressed.

I’d be less stressed if I could stop getting mad, but I’m fuming at more people than I can count. This includes the entitled little bastards at my school who refuse to give up parties, and the university president whose half-measures jeopardized the whole town, where I spent seven years and still have friends. Don’t even mention the boobs who insist on holding their usual big-family, Martha Stewart-perfect Thanksgiving. They might spend Christmas standing around a grave in a Midwestern winter.

If you want some Thanksgiving spirit, watch this, which IMHO pretty well sums up the whole year. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, life, new old age

A pandemic diary: Now it’s personal

August 4, 2020

Map of USA showing covid cases by state.

In less than 24 hours last week I learned that two friends have the virus, one in a hospital, the other recovering at home. I worry about these good people and can’t do much for them except hope. I knew it was only a matter of time before the monster struck inside my circle. Even so, there’s an extra trace of fear and uncertainty in my gut, an ember that won’t burn out.

What’s scary is that I’m running out of ways to escape this thing. Last visit to a store without curbside pickup? In March. Mask and / or face shield? Hell yes, every time I walk out the door. Medical office visits? Only important ones, like a crown for a cracked, aging tooth. Offline contacts besides my wife? A big red zero. I’m about ready to seal off the bedroom, hook up a feeding tube, medically induce a coma, and set the alarm for spring. First, I’d have to mail my ballot for November and set the DVR for football — any team, any level, anywhere — though it’ll probably come up empty.

Being an introvert makes it easier to cope with the loss of social activity. Ironically, it also helps that I went through a similar drought in high school when I was one of the geeks* and parties, girlfriends, etc. were for other kids. Today, college students fear covid will wreck the best years of their lives. I sympathize up to a point, but if they survive they’ll have many years left to enjoy. People my age were in the fourth quarter of life even before the pandemic, and in this game, “sudden death” doesn’t mean “overtime.”

Stuck at home, I’m missing things I’ve wanted to do for years and might not get another crack at because, as one of my journalism school classmates put it, other people’s stupidity is killing us. If you see yourself in that mirror, don’t bother trying to pollute my page with your crackpot comments. They’ll never see the light of day. This isn’t a debate, motherfucker. I told you it was personal.


*Or would have been had the word been used in those days. See also nerd, weirdo, and goon, all of which I remember, and of course, “circus freak who bites the head off a live chicken.”

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, life, new old age, Uncategorized

A pandemic diary: Tell me something

May 20, 2020

It’s confounding how the most ordinary things have become complicated. A misplaced box of screws for a home improvement project means a trip to the store and that means masks, worries about surfaces, and general stress. On top of all that, the elastic on the mask tugs on my hearing aids and I have to rig them just right or they’ll fall out. Nothing that happens beyond the front door is casual.

But I’m not complaining, because just having a home to improve is a blessed condition right now. There’s food in the fridge and those pesky aids allow me to hear clearly, which was a struggle for several months. My wife and I can sit on our porch as the evenings grow longer, watching the moon come up behind the trees. We’re lucky and we know it. That’s more than I can say for plenty of people, and they’re going to hear about it (and RIP Jerry Stiller).

I’m not talking about anybody who’s been sick; who has lost or agonized over a partner, relative, or friend; or whose job, business, or way of life is gone. I mean the privileged cretins who think the Bill of Rights extends to shopping at Crate & Barrel. In the midst of a worldwide catastrophe, they act like it’s all a personal affront to their entitled, curated lifestyle.

Bob Seger, who’s never gotten the recognition he deserves for being a great songwriter, skewered these types way back in 1974 in “U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class).” I want a paid vacation / Don’t want to have to ration / A thing with anyone but me / And if there’s war or famine / Promise I’ll examine / The details if they’re on TV. Yes, eating out again is fantastic unless your best friend or your waitress catches the virus at your table. Yes, I know the pandemic upset your big plans. There’s another word for that problem: Life.

My mother had finished three years of college when the Great Depression brought hardship to the family. Instead of her senior year and a degree, she got a job in a laundry, working six days and 48 hours a week for $7.00 per week. That’s not a typo. “We had to have it,” was all she said.

I made it through the University of Michigan but a week before graduation, the class of ’76 was greeted by this. The gist of it was that we’d been wasting our time and tuition preparing for careers that wouldn’t exist. I majored in broadcast journalism, a fiercely competitive field, and I scuffled around for awhile. This wasn’t the world I’d expected but I kept pushing until I landed my first job, then another, and then a few more, each better than the last. I didn’t waste anything. I sure didn’t expect the universe to grovel at my feet.

Living isn’t stasis. Even when this is over, you’ll still wake up some morning and find that everything you know is wrong. We adapt or we end up like the dodo. Don’t take it personally.

You say there’s some mistake
You didn’t get your break
You don’t see the magic in the moonglow
You’re on a one way street
Your life is incomplete
Well, tell me something that I don’t know

Mose Allison, “Tell Me Something.”

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coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, life, new old age, retirement

A pandemic diary: Our daily bread (but not hot sauce)

April 17, 2020

My wife and I are lucky because we can afford to keep ourselves fed and haven’t had too much trouble finding the essentials. Still, “going to the store” is nothing like it used to be.

First off, we never go inside. Too many people won’t keep their distance. Every week, we put together an online order and arrange a pickup time, which is getting tougher because the slots fill up fast. We park in a designated spot, pop the trunk, and a staffer loads the bags — no up-close contact required. If we’re buying beer, like we did today, we leave a driver’s license in the trunk to confirm we’re a few years past 21.

The weekly load

Sound easy? It’s just the start. A few weeks ago, we got home and found we didn’t get everything we’d paid for, so we had to go back to the store (twice). Now, we drive across the road to an empty parking lot and sort through all the bags to be sure the contents match our list. Except for toilet paper we haven’t run into many shortages, though we haven’t been buying large amounts of meat, and today for some reason we couldn’t get Tabasco sauce.

Finally, at home we wipe everything down with disinfectant before stowing it. Some of the experts say this isn’t necessary but as long as grocery workers are getting sick we’re not taking any chances, however small. The people at the local Kroger’s are always helpful, polite, and understanding. One of them told us he’s an actor who was thrown out of work when everything shut down. Now he has one of the most important jobs in the country, and one of the risky ones.

At least the delivery people had sun and mild temperatures to work in today. In the Chicago area, where my photographer cousin lives, schlepping beer and milk around the parking lot would be no fun at all. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Family, life, new old age, War, Writing

A pandemic diary: Lessons from the last world war

March 25, 2020

I’ve hardly been out of the condo for three weeks. Except for my wife, my last offline human interaction was five days ago with a grocery clerk. Every time I wash my hands, which is often, I feel like Lady MacBeth: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” But I know I’m one of the lucky ones and hope everyone understands that yes, we are in this together.

The notion of a common enemy and shared sacrifice is simply foreign to most people in this country. Though the Cold War could have wiped out the world if it turned hot, and a few hard-core preppers even built their own fallout shelters, it generally didn’t affect daily life. Vietnam turned us against each other. Some compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, but except for the armed forces and their families, most people didn’t need to do much except take their shoes off at the airport. (Watching “Rescue Me” was optional.)

A collective effort of this magnitude hasn’t been asked of us since World War II. I know some of y’all are about to click away from yet another tribute to the Greatest Generation by one of its boomer children. History is made up of small stories, not big names. My dad’s story offers a few examples for today.

Don Swan in Army uniform with his mother in 1943.
My dad on leave in Elgin, Illinois with his mother

He joined the Army in the spring of 1942 and was assigned to the Air Corps, which was part of the Army then. At the age of thirty, he was considered too old to fly, so he was sent to clerical / administrative training in Colorado, then to an air base in Salt Lake City.

When he wrote to his family back in Elgin, Illinois, he always emphasized that he was fine and, “there are a lot of worse jobs in the Army.” He used his great sense of humor to ease the strain of separation, telling his sister how the Colorado post was built in 1888 and still had a regulation that said, “…it was positively against all rules and stuff to shoot buffalo from the barracks window.” He added, “Being in the Army isn’t as bad as a lot of people seem to think, though I wouldn’t be mad if I could get into my blue double-breasted pin stripe suit again.”

What he wanted most was for my mother to join him in Salt Lake City, even if it wasn’t like their old home. “It will be swell having her out here, or wherever I am, and although it won’t be like the place we had, anything will do until this thing is over,” one letter said. “Practically everything we have is in cold storage, furniture, car, boat, everything except dreams…if we can keep those out we’ll be okay, and I don’t think we’ll have any trouble doing that.”

A couple of weeks later he wrote to his parents, “There is an awful big show going on, and I’m glad to be a very very small part of it…All of this, like everything else, will come to an end some day, and if sitting here in this office pounding a typewriter all day and part of the night will help to bring that end about, this is where I belong, and I wouldn’t get out for anything, even if they’d let me.”

There’s not much I can add to that. Be safe and look out for each other even if you can’t hug each other. Don’t forget to laugh. This will pass. Take care.

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