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.