Sunday, March 29, 2020

Get on with it

With the Covid-19 pandemic seemingly spreading as rapidly as a California wildfire, I find some of the measures to slow, or mitigate, the virus' damage to be somewhat perplexing.

The other day, I ventured to a local small specialty business, only to find the door locked to customers even though the building was staffed. I knocked on the door and an employee answered, asking how he could help. But he told me what I wanted was out of stock and likely would not be filled anytime soon.

I understood completely. I liked that the business was trying to protect itself and its customers. Good job.

Moments later, I was in a grocery store. It was open to all and, indeed, there might have been 30-40 or so customers inside, doing their best to keep a physical distance from each other.

In this case, I salute paranoia.

But I'm still trying to reconcile how one business attempts measures to contain the virus with restrictions while another business just minutes down the road functions as if we are living in normal conditions.

I don't have an answer.

We are about to live with statewide shelter-in-place mandates, which distinguish between essential and nonessential businesses. The nonessentials will be closed until further notice – some have already – putting their futures in jeopardy.

Grocery shopping seems to be the weakest, most vulnerable link in this chain. We need food. We need to get food. We need to venture out. There's no real choice. I suppose there could be online shopping, where a store employee fills out a shopping list for you. But not everybody has access to a computer, or owns a debit card, and not every store can offer online shopping. Or delivery.

So I guess we do the best we can. I've tried to stay at home as much as possible, but maybe I have to tighten my own restrictions on myself. Not so much to protect me but to protect you.

Wash my hands more. Sanitize more. Lower our risk as best as we can. Flatten that curve. And, in the crap shoot we now find ourselves in, roll the dice and take our chances.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Stir crazy

I don't think I've ever enjoyed weeding my garden as much as I have during these past few days.

I mean, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where restaurants are offering take-out only, where social distancing puts an unusual arm's length (or more) between you and your closest friends, where once teeming cities – and the entertainment options they once offered – are now ghost towns, and where mostly being shuttered inside is the new normal, weeding the garden is a nice distraction and no longer a chore.

Especially when the sun is out and the temperatures are spring-like, which is a good thing for Spring.

It's good to get outside and breathe the fresh air.

It's an escape.

In my case, I have to take an extra precaution or two. I'm still just a few weeks out from two major surgeries since last September, and lifting 25-pound bags of mulch or weed and feed are not good ideas for me just yet. Fortunately, Kim has stepped in and does the heavy lifting. You should see her biceps.

But mostly, I'm inside. I watch even more television, if that's possible. But now, instead of live sports, I'm watching movies on HBO or TCM. Most of them are obscure. Many, on TCM, are in black and white.

I'm having a hard time watching replays of sports championships. I know who's going to win. It seems kind of pointless.

Sometimes I surf the Internet and try not to get into arguments on Facebook. This is not a time for arguing, I reckon.

All of this is a by-product of cabin fever, I guess.

I usually try and allot myself a couple hours every day to read. I always have. Reading takes my mind to places where other modes of transportation cannot. But even the library is now a take-out service. I can't peruse the shelves of books, which is part of the total library experience for me. I like when a book jumps off the shelf at me and shouts, "Read me. Read me."

The good thing about weeding – which I limit to just an hour or two per day – is that there's so much of it to do. And the weeds keep coming back, so there's stuff to do for, well, perpetuity.

 It's time for coping.

And wash your hands.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A world without sports

My reflexive instincts told me that, on this particular Saturday afternoon in March, to turn on ESPN to catch somebody's – anybody's – college basketball tournament.

I've done that for as long as ESPN has been televising sports. Years. Decades. That's what sports junkies do.

That's all changed with the expanding coronavirus pandemic. Everything requiring a crowd has been canceled. No NBA. No MLB. No NCAA. No NHL. No NASCAR. No MLS. And, soon, no Masters.

We've entered a different kind of March Madness.

When I did turn on ESPN, I got 24-hour coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship: sweaty bald guys with beards and tats mostly wearing black boxing shorts and knocking the poop out of each other while using mixed martial arts.

Kinda like hockey without the puck.

But, no thanks. Not for me.

Curiously, my Spectrum guide was telling me this televised coverage was new, which suggested that if it wasn't actually live, it was recently taped and never aired before. And it was originating from Brasilia, Brazil. Odd. Wasn't President Trump recently photographed with a Brazilian presidential aide who ended up testing positive for coronavirus? Hmm.

Anyway, it looks like we're going to have to suck it up for a while. I suspect the MLB network will show endless loops of Field of Dreams and Major League ("The American Express card: Don't steal home without it.") and the Golf Channel endlessly airing Tin Cup and The Legend of Bagger Vance.
But I'm OK with that. Gives me options.

What I'm not getting is the vilification of the media in its pandemic coverage. Everything I know about coronavirus has come through the media. I know to wash my hands frequently with soap and water and to keep measured, social distancing in gathering places. Makes sense.

I have no fear of restaurants, which now might be the cleanest spots on Earth (which raises the question, why weren't they before this? Nobody I know of was disinfecting menus before this outbreak).

I don't see how the media is responsible for the tanking stock market. The stock market is capitalism at work, responding to the events of the day. That pretty much makes the virus a real concern. So is the shutting down of major leagues, collegiate sports and other entertainment options. There's big money out there, and even greedy capitalists don't want to endanger that cash cow, so they correctly err on the side of caution while taking in worst case scenarios. The media, to me, is serving its purpose by disseminating information from health care specialists and government officials. But it's a two-way street. It's up to us how we process that information. A case in point: No media outlet that I know of has suggested hoarding toilet paper for what is essentially a respiratory ailment. Where did that absurd panic come from?

Clever little memes on Facebook suggesting that the best cure for coronavirus is to shut down the media for several weeks smacks of fascism. Shutting down the media is really a way to keep the populace in ignorance.

The media is an easy, non-moving target and always has been. The media is historically a whipping boy for people looking for someone to blame. And yet, can you imagine a free society without a free press?

The pandemic (a designation as declared by the World Health Organization and not the media) will eventually play itself out, deadly enough as it apparently has been, especially for the older population. Maybe we should consider this event a practice run for the next pandemic, which could be even deadlier.

We really are in this all together. We ought to act like it.

Sunday, March 1, 2020


Now that the rapidly spreading (and apparently highly contagious?) coronavirus has reached the West Coast of the American continent (if not elsewhere), has your level of concern been elevated?

It has for me. I mean, there's no vaccine yet, and it could take up to a year or more to develop one. And what happens if the virus mutates?

I'm trying my best to glean the best possible information that I can – mixed in with what I consider to be a little logic – without making major lifestyle changes. So while there are no reported cases of coronavirus in North Carolina (that I know of), I'm making conscious efforts to protect myself and others.

Consider it practice.

For example, hands. I'm not going to shake your hand anytime soon. Handshaking is probably one of the most likely avenues of spreading germs. People cough into their hands. They sneeze into their hands. They do God knows what else with their hands. I recently went to a roundtable meeting where several of my friends extended their hands to me in greeting, which was especially gratifying after my recent return from gall bladder surgery. But I said, no, let's do this: elbow bumps. And guess what? Nobody laughed. One or two of my friends actually said that that was a better idea, so we elbow bumped.

As a corollary, I try to cough or sneeze into the crook of my left elbow (I elbow bump with my right elbow). As a child, I was taught to turn my head and cover my mouth whenever I sneezed, but that almost always meant reflexively using my hands. It's a lifelong habit that's hard to change. I started sneezing into my arm a few years ago, and I think I'm turning that corner now without having to think about it first.

I'm also washing my hands a lot more these days. I've been informed it's not using the hot water and soap that gets rid of the germs on your hands so much as it's the actual scrubbing, and that you should scrub for at least 20 seconds. My wife tells me to sing "Happy Birthday" while I scrub, since it takes about 20 seconds to complete the song. As for me, I silently count "one thousand one, one thousand two, etc" until I reach 20.

I'm thinking about carrying a few packets of hand wipes with me wherever I go. I've been told that the wipes should contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

So far, I haven't considered wearing a face mask in public. I've been told that the masks you see most people wearing on TV are probably not that effective, although I guess anything helps. What we should be wearing, if it comes to that, is something called an N95 mask, which filters out 95 percent of the particulates you inhale. I don't know how much they cost or how available they are.

I suppose it would be smart to avoid large crowds, although I'm not sure we're there yet. We ate in a restaurant yesterday. We're going grocery shopping today and we plan to go to a concert in an intimate venue in a couple of weeks. Until told otherwise, life pretty much continues on as usual.

I just turned 69 years old, so I'm already in an age group more susceptible to catching a virus than somebody 30 years or so younger. So every sneeze or cough – mine or yours – is going to raise red flags for me.

This is all basic hygiene, of course. It's stuff we should be doing on a regular cultural basis anyway.

It's just that now, it appears evident that we should be doing this more than ever.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Goose and the Monkey

Three, six, nine
The goose drank wine
The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line
The line broke
The monkey got choked
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat

It never ceases to amaze me when small-town entrepreneurs bring their vision to the community. I can't imagine the gigantic risks they must be taking – financial, emotional, sweat equity and otherwise – to bring their plans to fruition.

Yet Brent Moore and his wife, Ashlee, seem to be standing on the cusp of something quite remarkable for Lexington. On Saturday night, after a couple years of ups and downs, of near misses and an historic fire in 2018, the Moores gave us a soft opening of their new business: Goose and the Monkey Brewhouse, located on 401 S. Railroad Street in the Depot District.

In the world I come from, soft openings are generally limited affairs, usually by invitation only to the guests and a chance to iron out any potential grand opening kinks (on Feb. 29) by the employees.

Guests mingle among the stainless steel storage and fermentation tanks.
 Last night, by contrast, was amazing. When Kim and I showed up shortly after the appointed hour, the place was packed shoulder to shoulder with invitees and their friends. I'm guessing several hundred people were milling around, exploring, tasting the craft beers that will be brewed and served there and simply enjoying themselves.

It was the hardest soft opening I've ever seen, and I mean that in a good way. Everything, it seemed, went smoothly. Wowser.

One of the conversations I heard last night, and repeated several times over, was how special this moment was. It wasn't that long ago when folks had to drive across the Yadkin River – and the county line – to purchase a six-pack. Now, Lexington has its own brew house, located almost catty-corner to the Bull City Ciderworks. And both places are within easy walking distance of the Breeden Amphitheater. Who could have thought that something like this was ever possible just a decade or so ago?

The building itself is a former warehouse for the Lexington Home Brands furniture plant that borders the right-of-way for the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The Moores, in their vision of re-purposing the place, put up a south-facing wall of windowed garage doors facing the tracks, which is a huge plus for all of us train geeks who like to see Diesel engines rolling by. It's a nice touch.

The Moores, actually, did a lot of the physical work themselves during the renovation and restoration of the building: grading, patching, moving stuff from here to there.

 Another nice touch are the sliding metal fire doors, now displayed on a wall inside, that helped save the building from the historically massive fire that consumed much of the defunct and vacant Lexington Home Brands plant. The warehouse was on the periphery of the fire as the blaze engorged upon itself, and the fire marshall closed the fire doors to try and protect the property while hosing down the building with uncounted thousands of gallons of water. It's little doubt why we have a Goose and Monkey today.

If the soft opening is any indication, there's clearly plenty of interest for a brew house in the gradually developing Depot District. So cheers to that.

But I am still a little curious about the name Goose and the Monkey. Ashlee has explained several times over that it comes from a hand-clapping nursery rhyme that she sang as a child. It's kind of obscure. I never heard of it prior to this, and it took me more than a little time to find the verse on Google and with which I led this story.

But maybe that's the point. Goose and the monkey. It's unusual. It's distinct. It kinda makes you want to see what it's all about.

Now if somebody can only explain the logo to me...

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Abdominal hell

For three straight nights this past week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – I suddenly felt ill in my stomach.

Oh, please. Not another 24-hour virus. This time, it was about eight hours each night for three consecutive episodes.

I went to the doctor on Wednesday, where basically it was a heads up notification for everybody. Take Gas-X if it's a gas bubble, but if it continues, come back.

Well meaning friends also were telling me it could be acid reflux. Or gall bladder. Or diverticulitis. Or stomach ulcer. Take your pick. Ain't self diagnosis great?

As a precaution, they also did a blood panel on Wednesday, which eventually showed nothing except a slightly elevated white blood count, which I figured meant I was fighting off some kind of infection.

On Thursday, after an especially relentlessly painful Wednesday night, I went back to the doctor, where I was promptly sent to the hospital for a CT scan. Never had one of those before. They slide you into a machine that looks like a giant doughnut and fill you with a saline solution to collect the images.

And they found the culprit: Gall bladder. Bingo.

At first, I was somewhat relieved. Sure, it meant even more surgery for me just six months after my colon resection, but this time, it would be outpatient surgery – in and out, two hours max. I could handle that.

That, of course, only happens in my dreams. Easy is never peasy.

Because now it was back to Davidson Surgical Associates, those very nice people who did my colon resection back in September. It was there that I met my surgeon, Dr. Mark Smith, who filled me in on the details of the laparoscopic surgery that was scheduled for Saturday because I had to wait an extra day to get off my blood thinning Eliquis.

There seems to be this assumption that gall bladder surgery is relatively simple, and maybe by comparison to other abdominal surgeries, it is. As it turned out, the presumed one-hour surgery turned into a nearly three-hour event. Dr. Smith told me why: there was a marble-sized stone blocking the bile ducts, which was inflaming that particular end of the gall bladder. After removing the bladder, they stapled the intersection to the bile ducts shut to eliminate future problems,

What these guys can do inside the human body with a laparoscope is astounding to me. I think they must be something akin to a rocket scientist who is also an artist and who is incredibly blessed with the grace of God in his hands.

But wait. There's more. There was a lot of infection and some gangrene leakage also taking place, because gangrene is dying tissue. Literally.

"Could this have killed me?" I asked Dr. Smith. I personally never heard of anyone dying from gall bladder infection. What do I know? That's why I ask questions.

"Yes, it could have," he said.  My eyes watered. My lips quivered. He probably said a few other things, although I'm not sure because in that moment, I was somewhere else in my head. I think he said he thought God wanted me to hang around a little longer and he was glad to be a part of that.

My eyes watered. My lips quivered.

"Thank you," I whispered.

A little later, I called my brother, Scott, who is a teaching nurse in Oklahoma. I sometimes solicit free medical advice from him even though I once told him he was adopted back when we were kids. Hey, it was funny at the time. I told my brother what I asked Dr. Smith about the possibility of dying. So I asked Scott how much time would I have had if I left this untreated.

"That's difficult to say," said Scott. "It depends on the infection. It could have been a while. Or it could have been next week."

My eyes watered. My lips quivered. I could hardly talk to my brother.

OK, so by my count, I've pretty much dodged three pretty significant bullets in the last 10 years. I was diagnosed with AFib in 2011. To this day, if doctors didn't tell me I had it, I'd never know I had it. Never had symptoms. Untreated, I'd be rather susceptible to a stroke. But my meds have already bought me 10 years, and I hope they can buy me 10 more.

Last year, of course, I had the colon resection. A flat polyp the size of my thumb from tip to knuckle had imbedded itself in my colon wall. I'm told that flat polyps are the ones that most likely lead to colon cancer. There were no symptoms. We found it with a colonoscopy, and Dr. Steven Muscoreil, a colleague of Dr. Smith from the same practice, removed a foot of the colon. Luckily, it was benign.

And now the gall bladder.

Life changes when you get older. The bulletproof vest you wore in your 20s and 30s somehow loses some of its Kevlar as time passes. It makes you think.

And just in case I need another lesson, I still have my appendix.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Passport ready, so where to?

Kim and I just completed the final paperwork needed to declare that we are who we say we are, since our actual physical being on the planet doesn't seem to be enough anymore. I guess it never was.

We applied for passports on Saturday, taking advantage of passport day in the Clerk of Court's office at the Davidson County courthouse.

We just recently received our new Real IDs about a month or so ago, which required us to collect all kinds of personal identification, from birth certificates to social security numbers to utility bills (for proof of residency) to voter registration cards. Anyway, some of the identification stuff we needed for our Real IDs also helped with applying for our passports.

We've never had passports before. We never had occasion to leave the country. But recently, I learned that there might be an opportunity for me to go to Normandy, France, to visit the site of the D-Day invasion. As a history buff, this is a very real bucket list item for me, and I ain't getting any younger.

Kim isn't much of a traveler, but we once mulled over the idea of going to Ireland. She's a potato loving strawberry blonde who has both Martin and Combs blood in her, so there's that. And I like the occasional black and tan. Getting a passport will open that door.

Or it could be that we're getting passports for no reason at all. We may never travel; you never know. But we live in strange and paranoid times. Who'd ever think we'd need a Real ID to fly to Alaska? Who'd ever think that we'd build a wall? The time may come when passports are required to cross state lines, who knows? Aren't Real IDs really a precursor to that anyway?

I get antsy filling out applications. Even though I have a college education, applications can be so, so ...  vague. Am I filling in the right info? Do I go to jail if the information I give is incorrect? What do they mean when they ask if I go by any other name? What, what, what?

And the wheels of government can be daunting. I feared there'd be a sizable crowd Saturday morning, and when we arrived at the courthouse at the appointed hour, there were about 20-30 people ahead of us in line.

We sat in chairs waiting for our turn to be called. Meanwhile, Kim overheard a nearby conversation where some guy mentioned that he was on a vacation years ago and who thought he had been drugged because he swears there's a 48-hour blank in his head where he doesn't remember anything at all.

"Where'd you go?" Kim asked this total stranger.

"Puerto something or other," said the total stranger, naming an actual place that I never heard of but sounded as if it could have been south of the border wall.

"Well," said Kim, "we're certainly not going there."

As it turns out, we were in the courthouse for less than a half hour. The nice employee who did our processing – Ashley Potts, if her name tag is her real ID – carefully read and checked every line we filled out. We passed the application test. Whew.

"You should be getting your passports in four to six weeks," said Ashley.

That's good to know. It's good to know I am who I say I am. Now I have the papers to prove it.