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, Family

A pandemic diary: New nightmares and old memories

July 17, 2020

So far, the flood of new cases hasn’t affected the way my wife and I live. We wash our hands religiously (not just at Christmas and Easter), stay home for days on end, and when we go out we wear masks, like we have all along. We’re sure as hell not letting our guard down anytime soon. We’re still healthy and we know we’re lucky.

Even so, the jitters and paranoia are creeping back into my brain whether I’m conscious of it or not. Restful sleep is wishful thinking; this morning I woke up feeling like a truck ran over me in my dreams. And though I’m not a parent, I used to be a kid, and I worry about the ones who may soon be back in school.


Dave and his grandmother on brick porch.
My grandmother and me,
a year after the measles

When I was growing up, long before MMR and other vaccines, the measles, mumps, chickenpox, and rubella were considered routine. But when I caught measles, I got pretty sick. It happened when I was seven, almost eight, and my parents and I were visiting my grandmother in Springfield, Illinois during my summer vacation. We’d planned to stay for two weeks but it took three before I was well enough to leave.

Instead of playing at the nearby park or fishing at the lake with my dad, I spent my time on the couch in the living room, which in the August heat was cooler than the bedrooms upstairs. I was weak, feverish, achy, and generally miserable, but between my parents and my grandmother I had the best “care team” in the world. I remember my dad sitting up with me all night when the rash was first breaking out and I couldn’t sleep. I knew I’d get better, as I had with chickenpox and mumps. I was never scared.

Now imagine being seven again. You’re coughing and running a temperature, your throat hurts, and you’re throwing up. You’ve had colds and earaches before but never, ever felt this bad and you don’t understand what’s wrong. Worst of all, you’re alone in a hospital, surrounded by machines and strange people. Your mom was with you at first but the nurse says she can’t come in any more because now she’s sick too.

Everyone in the hospital is wearing a mask, all the time. The doctor says it stops the virus from spreading. You wonder why all the people outside don’t wear them.

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coronavirus, Fiction, Florida, Pandemic diary, Writing

A pandemic diary: Independence

Beach at sunset with waves and people on sand.

July 7, 2020

You had the perfect Fourth. Everything was great – the beach, the weather, the fireworks, and most of all, just hanging out and being normal again. You’d almost gotten used to the six-foot bullshit, and the mask when you absolutely had to, but no more. From now on you’re free.

Just like old times, the weekend fell into place. Ashley got an awesome deal on a condo right on the beach. Your special restaurant, the Captain’s Cabin, had reopened and you sat on the porch eating grouper and shrimp, all the outdoor tables full, everybody drinking and laughing. The server, Rosa or Rosita or whatever, didn’t look happy, though. She probably made more money from unemployment than working.

Your old UGA friends Chris and Beth were at their place up the coast, and Ashley’s friend Sarah had come down with her husband Jason, so you threw a party. Beth’s sister came, Jason brought a couple of his golf buddies and their girlfriends, and you invited the two couples staying next door, so there must’ve been a dozen, maybe fifteen people. It got a little crowded in that small living room.

So what? Everybody was young and like Sarah said, if it was that dangerous we’d all be dead already. People didn’t even talk about it much except when one of Jason’s friends, who was pretty hammered, said he didn’t wear a mask because he wouldn’t take orders, “from some Black Lives Matter mayor.” The room got quiet but then came the pop! of the first fireworks, and everyone headed for the deck and that was that. Actually, he seemed like a nice guy.

And Beth. Damn, she looked so, so great. It’s been six years, she’s with Chris now and of course you’re with Ashley, but when she walked in, right away you felt the old spark. Later, after the fireworks, you drifted out to the deck and there she was in the corner, no one else around, her eyes telling you she felt something too. You grabbed each other and started kissing really hard, her hands in your hair, yours around her back, pulling her close, only for a minute but unbelievably hot. You tried not to think about her when you and Ashley went to bed, and almost succeeded.

*****

It’s Wednesday and Ashley’s running errands. You’re in the home office, wishing your Zoom call was over because you’re congested and feeling crappy. This happens sometimes during allergy season but it hasn’t been this bad all summer. Your throat’s a little scratchy and your usually mild sinus headache is more like a migraine.

Your phone buzzes. You don’t check it until the Zoom session ends and you’ve finished the report that’s due by COB. You play the message and hear Beth’s voice.

It’s me. I got your number off Chris’s phone. I– oh God, I can’t believe this. I’ve got it.

There’s a long pause as she tries not to cry. Then she says I felt sick Sunday and just got the test results. I haven’t even told Chris yet. I’m not blaming you. I don’t know how it happened, I just – A barely stifled sob. I don’t know anything. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.

Now your head and heart are pounding. Time seems frozen as you sort out all the scenarios. She could’ve caught it from someone at the party. That doesn’t mean you or Ashley did. You try to remember who you talked to and how long you were outside where it was safer. You may be okay. Or Beth might have been sick already and not had symptoms.

As you sit, breathing rapidly and staring at nothing, it registers that you could be the one who infected her — and maybe the whole crowd. You frantically Google Captain’s Cabin and don’t find any news about cases. You know you still have to tell everyone.

You try to console yourself with the thought that you might have gotten the virus even if you and Beth hadn’t made out. You don’t have to tell Ashley about that. It’s not relevant.

But what if Beth tells Chris? He was talking about his guns at the party. He’s always had an awful temper.

You hear Ashley’s car outside.

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coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, life

A pandemic diary: Take me to your leader (if you can find one)

June 30, 2020

I hope everyone who reads this wears a mask, but if you don’t mind looking a bit 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.

Dave wearing plastic face shield.

I decided to try it because when I put on a mask, my hearing aids get all tangled up in the cords and sometimes fall right out. The shield eliminates that problem, covers my eyes as well as my mouth and nose, and is easier to clean. You can sanitize and re-use one of these in a few minutes, unlike a mask that has to be washed and dried. It might look bulky but doesn’t weigh much, and is adjustable like a ball cap.

The downsides: It sometimes gets foggy. If you’re outside in hot weather, it can become uncomfortable after a while, although masks are too.

The experts are divided about whether shields are more or less effective than masks. However, I figure I’ll be all right because even with the shield, I won’t go anywhere near a badly ventilated bar that’s packed to the gills with sloppy drunks. The mostly Republican governors who enabled this horrifying rebound in cases are backpedaling and shutting the saloon doors again. Trust me, we’ll soon have Prohibition-style speakeasies offering freedom from masks, zero distancing, and cut-rate Covid tests for good customers. Nothing like a swab up the nose to sober up after last call!

The pols aren’t the only clueless ones. Today I got an email from a grand old hotel chain, gushing about “getaways” in Orlando, Las Vegas, and Myrtle Beach, which the last time I checked are three of the bigger hotspots. Get away from what?

It’s especially depressing around the Fourth of July, a holiday I’ve always enjoyed and used to celebrate at the beach. But even if my wife and I hadn’t already sold our place in Florida, this would be a down year, probably even worse than the time it rained bullfrogs the whole week. There’ll be other chances. Take care and be safe.

Two American flags flying over beach.

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coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida

A pandemic diary: I didn’t say I told you so, but…

June 17, 2020

Because my wife and I used to own a beach home in Florida, I’m keeping a close and worried watch on the pandemic there, especially the deluge that started when the state reopened. Doctors, scientists, everyone with a few active brain cells warned it was too soon. Now they’re setting records for new cases every day. Bars that just got back in business are shutting down again for deep cleaning.

I hate to see this in a place where I spent so many happy times. But the things that make it special — the beautiful beaches, the sun, and the loose, easy atmosphere — often lead people to shed both their inhibitions and their common sense. The ones who packed the bars and restaurants are like the unfortunate soul who drowned last week, a few miles from my old house.

SANTA ROSA BEACH — A 47-year-old Texas man died Tuesday after he was pulled from the Gulf of Mexico in South Walton County, officials say. Michael Willard Bratcher was in the water just west of the Walton Dunes Beach Access when several bystanders noticed he was in distress, Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said. Double red flags were flying at the time. That means the water was officially closed because conditions were too dangerous, and he went in anyway. This happens all the time during tourist season.

I’d like nothing better than to be back there now, swimming, walking along the shore, sitting under the stars at night, and having a great old time. That is, nothing except living a while longer, not putting anyone else at risk, and enjoying the things I still have, including my writing.

As much as I love a plate of Gulf shrimp and a cold beer, you couldn’t drag me into a saloon in Florida. How’d you like to be one of the sixteen friends who all tested positive, and maybe infected others, after a big night out? The beaches will still be there after we have a vaccine, folks. Take care and be safe.

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coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Family, life, music, nature

A pandemic diary: Being here

May 17, 2020

Saturday I attended an online meeting of the Atlanta Writers Club, an organization that predates the last pandemic and is rolling with the punches during this one. Sadly, another much-loved Atlanta event has gone dark: a monthly jam session for singers, including my wife. A bandstand plus a roomful of vocalists and fans is beyond social distancing, and Zoom can’t fill the void. My wife misses working with fine local musicians; I miss hearing her sing the jazz standards we both love. After all, no one else ever dedicated “My Funny Valentine” to me (though my frame is definitely “less than Greek”).

Even without the jam, we had a perfect spring day, the kind that’s becoming rare as climate change pushes winter closer to summer. The mercury topped out at around 80 degrees with no humidity and scarcely a cloud in sight. The breeze filled the living room with the sweet, lush fragrance of honeysuckles, which Fats Waller immortalized in “Honeysuckle Rose,” and are like nothing else, anywhere.

It was a day to sit back, savor what we still have, and rest our souls for tomorrow. I’m not the spiritual type but I gotta tell ya, boychik, Ram Dass was onto something when he said, “Be here now.” Where else can I go? Take care, be here, and be safe.

history, Politics, War

How many more?

Fifty years ago (May 4, 1970) I was a sophomore in high school. Everyone was stunned, the atmosphere in the building hushed, uncomprehending. That day or the next, we had an assembly, about which I remember nothing except a girl singing, “Blowin’ In the Wind.” The song below still sends chills up my spine.

Too many had already died before Kent State, especially people of color, and more would die at Jackson State soon after. How many have died in the time it took me to write this? How many more? How can you run when you know? How many more, goddamn it, how many more?

Allison Krause
Jeffrey Miller
Sandra Scheuer
William Schroeder

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, life, Trump, Uncategorized

A pandemic diary: Notes from the bullseye

April 30, 2020

Another grocery pickup today. We found toilet paper with no trouble but didn’t get all the meat we ordered, which is ominous in light of all the recent warnings about shortages. We at least came away with two big fresh whole chickens. Even they might be in short supply in Georgia soon.

Our sanitation protocol goes like this: Gloves on to go through the bags and verify the order. Gloves off before I touch the wheel and the dash. Gloves back on to carry everything to the porch. Gloves off and wash the hands CDC-thoroughly to put the goods away after they’ve been wiped down. Wash hands again. Repeat as necessary and sometimes when it isn’t. This routine drives me nuts, or as Damon Runyon might have said, more than somewhat cuckoo, but of course the alternative is much worse.

There seem to be a few more people wearing masks at the store. Traffic on the roads has clearly surged since the governor started reopening the state against the advice of damned near everybody, even Trump. Sometimes when both sides are on your case, it means you’re doing something right. Not now. All the scientists say there’ll be a second round of infections, and unless we keep our distance it’ll be faster and deadlier.

Think of the plague like a hurricane. One of the eyewalls has just passed over and we’re sitting in the eye where the winds are calm, but the other eyewall is just waiting to blow in. Hurricane Michael (below) devastated the Florida Panhandle and came frighteningly close to my beach house. I’m staying in my shelter.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, humor, life

A pandemic diary: A wild weekend!

April 20, 2020

Have I got plans for THIS weekend! Friday I’m finally going to get that Hell’s Angels tattoo I’ve always wanted — and afterward, once my shoulder stops hurting, I’ll hit the bowling alley. Saturday it’s time for a long-overdue haircut, followed by a massage to work the stress of the last several weeks out of my frame.

Sunday, to keep myself limber and relaxed, I’ll join a gym. Monday I’ll start the week with a bang by eating out for the first time in ages! I’ll probably overindulge, so Tuesday it’s back to the gym to work off the eggs, sausage, grits, and hashbrowns from the Waffle House. (Sorry if I just made y’all hungry.)

All this will be possible because the governor of Georgia has decided to reopen the state, though a lot of mayors warned him not to and he didn’t listen. The businesses I’ve mentioned can soon operate again under “guidelines:” masks, screening workers, and social distancing.

Of course, as quite a few people have pointed out, it’s tough to keep six feet apart in a nail salon. Also, Georgia is near the bottom of the barrel in testing, which all the experts say is critical to avoiding another outburst of illness and death.

I’ll spare you my thoughts about the right-wing goons who are pushing to reopen, their rich backers, and the gutless imbeciles who are pandering to them. Personally, I’m not going anywhere except the grocery store for a good long time. I’m not about to risk my life for a movie, a haircut, or even a double order of Scattered, Smothered, Covered, Chunked, Topped & Diced hashbrowns. Take care and be safe.

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.