Fall has arrived in Georgia in earnest, slowly overtaking the sugar maple and ginkgo trees we planted last year in our yard. Though we feared they might not survive, thanks to the summer rain they’re growing fast, showing us a palette of red, orange, yellow, and still a bit of green.
In a few weeks the leaves will be gone. I’ll miss seeing those colors out my window in the morning sun, but there’s always a time to let go: of objects, emotions, and people. Today it’s musicians, great artists I’ve listened to for years who are, sadly, on the dark side of the pandemic.
Van Morrison has been ranting about “fascist bullies,” and equating Covid lockdowns with slavery. As a result, he’s being sued for defamation by the Northern Ireland health minster, who says Morrison damaged his reputation and is giving great comfort to, “the tin foil hat brigade.” I’m with the minster and not because his name is Swann. We’re not talking about moondances and brown-eyed girls. This is global life and death.
Cutting Morrison from my playlist is no problem because I never cared for his post-70s records anyway. If I still had a favorite album, it’d be “Astral Weeks,” his very first one. Eric Clapton is another matter. I’ve been a fan since the days of Cream and the Bluesbreakers. Fifteen years ago in Atlanta he delivered one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever seen, burning through his catalogue with a killer band. He seemed to be one of the few from his generation who hit bottom, survived, and got better with age.
Now he calls science “propaganda” and finances anti-vax musicians in England. He’s even palling around with the governor of Texas, an anti-vaccine tyrant who signed his state’s vicious, anti-woman abortion ban.
I’m not going near him if he hits ATL again. His next tour also won’t include the great blues singer and guitarist Robert Cray, who played with Clapton many times and says he won’t do it anymore. Sorry Eric, you’ve been Marie Kondo’d.
Of course, this isn’t the first time my heroes have changed their spots late in life. Thankfully, rockers like Gene Simmons have stayed on the side of the common good and common sense. There’s plenty of great music for this moment in time, including a favorite of mine from the 90s by Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis, better known as Sugar. It’s called “Changes.” Take care and be safe.
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.
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
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.
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.
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, not for me, not just yet. This also goes for indoor dining, theaters, and live music, even with distancing and reduced capacity. Though I’m vaxxed and local cases are down, the risk is still there, largely because Georgia is crawling with anti-jabbers who’ll likely stop us from ever reaching herd immunity.
I wish I could stop saying this, but after surviving the last year, I’m not risking my life for a meal or a movie. Not even Gulf shrimp, my favorite food in the world, or an IMAX double feature of “Bull Durham” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” could tempt me into an unsafe space. Speaking of which: a couple of malignant cretins recently staged a rally where a thousand people were jammed into a room designed for 400 to create the image of an overflow crowd. That’s the oldest trick in the political campaign book. Many in the over-55 audience are probably vaccinated. It’s still brutally irresponsible.
Grocery shopping in-store with a cart? Probably never again. Online ordering and curbside pickup save time, and more importantly, spare my aging feet from trudging over concrete floors. I don’t need to stand there pondering fifteen varieties of arugula, especially since I don’t even eat the stuff. (Tastes like grass clippings.)
Go back to the office? I’m retired, but if I had a full-time gig I’d want to WFH as much as possible. My last position was essentially virtual, with colleagues from Seattle to Denver to DC, and we always got the job done. (However, online chat can be more annoying and less productive than the water-cooler kind). Take care and be safe.
On sound advice from the experts, I’m not going to show y’all my Covid vaccination card. However, I see no harm in displaying my longstanding personal vaccination passport, ironclad proof that I’ve got the goods. No codes to scan, no factors to verify. Ready? Okay, scroll down a bit.
That’s it. Me, taken at 2:01 pm on 4/23/2021 (full cellphone camera data available on request). It shows I’m alive and healthy, which I might not be without some previous mass vaccination campaigns, none of which became controversial or politicized.
The most important was for polio, which used to paralyze thousands every year, killing some. The peak polio season in the summer triggered some familiar emergency measures: swimming pools and theaters closed and parents kept their children away from parties and playgrounds. Even in the 60s, there were kids who’d been afflicted and were wearing leg braces.
I got the historic Salk vaccine before I was old enough to remember it, but I clearly recall swallowing a sugar cube containing Sabin, the follow-up version, in grade school. We didn’t yet have vaccines for all the common childhood diseases, and I ran the table. I caught mumps when I was about four, followed a few years later by chicken pox, measles, and two bouts with rubella.
A lot of today’s vaccine-hesitant mopes were probably born late enough to escape all this and take their good health for granted. I don’t. I came through without any long-term damage, but one of my mother’s sisters had developmental disabilities because my grandmother was exposed to rubella while pregnant. From 1958 through 1962, the year before the first measles vaccine rolled out, the country averaged over half a million cases and 430 deaths a year. Hundreds of thousands suffered respiratory complications, even encephalitis.
Call me what you will: I’m amazed that we’re hardly even discussing mandatory Covid vaccination. I know you can’t make the horses drink. 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 New York and several 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?
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.
What does this mean for my everyday life? Not much. The new CDC guidance says certain small indoor gatherings are okay for vaccinated people, which means I could visit my grandchildren if I had any. Long-distance travel, however, is still dicey, so my wife and I will have to scrub our Florida trip again.
Even after I reach full immunity in two weeks, my calendar won’t include restaurant dinners, movies at reopened theaters, haircuts, gym memberships, massage therapy, or live music. The highest protection level the drugs offer is 95% – not 100% – and they may be less effective against variants of the virus, which are everywhere. Cases have plateaued at what the doctors call a very high level. Our Republican governor, who opened the floodgates for last summer’s surge, hasn’t gone full Texas yet but it may be just a matter of time.
Most important, it’s not clear whether vaccinated people can spread the virus to others. I’m not about to risk the life of someone I love – or a stranger – for a cheeseburger. If I meet you on the street, I’ll be behind my N95 and will keep a distance, but for reading my ramblings you already have a raincheck for a handshake and a hug. Take care and be safe.