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.
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
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.
Among the current flood of bad news is the word that a few fully vaccinated people are testing positive. According to this widely-cited study, their most common symptoms are headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and loss of the sense of smell.
I got my second dose of Pfizer in March. I haven’t been in a big crowd since I went to the clinic for that shot. I know the vaccines are highly potent against the raging Delta variant, which is why 99.5% of the people dying are unvaccinated. I still wear an N95 in public places.
Unless we’re talking about University of Michigan football or basketball, I’m a pretty rational guy. Colleagues used to say I could keep a steady hand when things were falling apart. And except for the loss of smell, the effects of my seasonal allergies are almost identical to the Covid symptoms above. So why, when I woke up the other day with a congested nose and a mild sore throat – exactly the kind of allergic post-nasal drip I’ve had for years – did fear grab my insides while I ran to look up those symptoms?
Though it was probably wishful thinking, I thought I was done with pandemic heebie-jeebies. My anxiety went down several notches after we stopped sanitizing groceries and quarantining mail. When the first jab hit my shoulder, I felt real relief and hope.
What probably got to me is the roller-coaster effect: a terrible winter when cases soared, followed by a hopeful spring and early summer, normalcy popping out like the leaves on the trees, and now we’re hurtling backward. Again. A leading vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic says this about Delta: “Don’t be deceived that ‘I got this far and I am OK.’ This is a very different variant. It will find you. This virus will find everybody who is not immune.”
Even though I have as much immunity as anyone, I’m recalibrating. From now on I’m following the doctor’s lead and masking up in all public spaces, indoors and out. However, I will not grind myself down with paranoia. Again.
Doing rational things (and writing about them) helps keep the neurosis at bay. A cold shot of vodka on a hot summer day doesn’t hurt, and neither does some good old rock ‘n roll by the Kinks. Take care and be safe.
Silly boy, you got so much to live for So much to aim for, so much to try for You blowing it all with paranoia You’re so insecure, you self-destroyer — Ray Davies, “Destroyer”
It’s official: #CovidIsNotOver, not with that hashtag and the picture above suddenly trending on Twitter. I knew the pandemic was still with us, but am feeling whipsawed by the confusing information and “guidance” coming from everywhere, and suspect I’m not the only one. Let’s see if we have all this straight.
The super-contagious Delta variant is now causing the majority (51.7% as of July 9) of U.S. cases.
Cases and hospitalizations are both rising, especially where the vaccination rate is low. (Here in Georgia it’s only about 25% in some spots.)
Studies in Israel indicate Pfizer vaccine is significantly less effective against Delta, even with two jabs.
The CDC says schools should fully reopen, and fully-vaccinated students and teachers don’t need masks inside buildings.
There’s no vaccine for kids under 12. In some states, the rate for those 12-18 is abysmal. (2% last month in Alabama. That’s two, not 20.)
After sixteen months, it’s depressing to realize how much we still don’t know. It’s equally disheartening and infuriating to think how little we’re willing to do in the name of collective safety.
The CDC is not recommending that schools require vaccination for students and staff. What happens when an unmasked, Trump-loving, vax-hating teacher infects a classroom? Meanwhile, do we pause or reverse other reopenings, like dine-in restaurants, offices, theaters, bars, concert halls, museums, hair salons, gyms, bookstores, and life?
I’m okay with keeping my head down and my mask on a while longer. It’s still getting awfully damn old, friends. Take care and be safe.
We just bought a fresh batch of N95s. We’re not making travel plans. Takeout remains the order of the day (pun intended) and “eating in” means our own table. Actually, we often dine on the deck, looking out on a leafy street with bluebirds flying around and the temperature hovering in the 80s, which is unseasonably and pleasantly cool. But I digress.
What I’m getting at is that my wife and I are diehards when it comes to safety and are perfectly comfortable that way. Yes, we’ve been jabbed. We’re playing it cautious until we’re certain the virus has been beaten down. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, people, and it ain’t over yet, not with the Delta variant spreading faster than voter suppression. According to this article, “In early April, Delta represented just 0.1 percent of cases in the United States…As of a few days ago, the estimate hit 20.6 percent.”
Delta may make victims sicker than other strains, and since vaccination rates in the South are lagging badly, there’s bound to be more of it around here. Fully-vaxxed folks are believed to be well protected, but in our county, that’s only about a third of those eligible. It doesn’t make sense to be in crowds routinely, for no good reason.
Things came into focus the other night when I picked up dinner at our favorite barbecue restaurant. The place was packed to the gills with Republicans attending a campaign party for a U.S. House candidate who’s pushing Trump’s lies about election fraud. Of course, there wasn’t a mask in sight. Needless to say, I grabbed my order and got the hell out of there, stat.
Call me paranoid if you will. I’m content to be a passenger on the slow boat to normalcy, which is a lot better than riding the ferry across the Styx. Take care, y’all, and please stay safe.
My new short story is out, published by Flora Fiction in their literary magazine. The story, “Country Dark,” is about a young woman in an isolated rural home, desperate to escape a violent, abusive man.
The theme of this edition of the magazine is freedom and what it means to each of us. I’m trying to figure out how free I am from worrying about the pandemic, and I keep coming back to, “Not completely, no. Not by a long shot. Not yet.”
It’s true that nationwide case numbers and deaths have nosedived from their horrible peaks of last winter. However, the highly contagious delta variant has gained a foothold, and a big chunk of the country is unvaccinated. A lot of these people think “freedom” means ignoring science and their neighbors’ safety. None of this qualifies as “normal.”
But even if these days aren’t the familiar old times, for many of us they’re better than they’ve been in what seems like forever. Right now I’m looking out my window at a blue summer sky and the young trees in our yard pushing branches toward the sun. That’s plenty for me. Take care and be safe.
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.
I’ve concluded that nature is an ingrate. You drag sprinklers around in the hot sun, spray water (i.e., money) all over the lawn, and end up with weeds and crabgrass. Now, after feeding flying freeloaders (birds) all my life, they’re invading my space. They remind me of cable TV salespeople: Give them an inch and they’ll take a country mile.
The invaders we’re dealing with are barn swallows. The one below is European; the American variety has slightly different plumage. They help keep the bug population down but have the unfortunate habit of nesting in or under the eaves of sheds, barns, bridges, and houses, including mine.
My wife and I saw them swooping around the yard and thought, “How cool!” until we realized they were setting up nestkeeping atop one of the columns on the front porch. The crime was compounded by their choice of building material, which instead of twigs and grass is mostly mud.
Though we truly love birds, we don’t need dirt and uh, excretions on our porch, nor do we want mama swallow dive-bombing us every time we open the door. So before they could lay any eggs, I went out with a hose and washed everything away. By morning they’d reconstructed, so I had to do it again.
If this doesn’t work, the next step is some safe bird repellent. Of course, we’ll have to be sure the delivery person doesn’t get mugged by the interlopers: “Please leave package on front porch. Wear helmet, face shield, and running shoes.” I’m also going to learn everything I can about these critters so I don’t end up like the geezer in the video below.
To keep up with these changing times, I’ve decided to dispense with my mask. Not on my actual face, just the one I display on my “platform,” the amalgamation of social media, writing, and other sites that make up my online brand.
Last year I replaced all my profile pix with new ones that showed I was trying to act responsibly and protect others as well as myself. I’m still doing that, but in keeping with CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people, I don the mask less often. So I’ve gone with a new mugshot. This little gallery shows how my persona has evolved since last March.
I still wear a mask in public spaces even if they don’t require it, out of respect for those who aren’t vaccinated or are understandably confused about the CDC info. I’m confident the science is correct. As a communicator, I can categorically state that the messages were terrible. Nobody seems to have thought about how this news would affect states, cities, stores, offices, schools, nursing homes, etc.
After fourteen months, we should know the importance of speaking clearly and with authority, and not forcing a weary population to muddle through (again). The bottom line is that the news is good. I just hope I’m not putting a mask back on my face or my photos next fall. Take care and be safe.
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.