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5/21/20

Singing Those Stay At Home Covid Blues

     Betsy and I have been mostly following the latest version of the required and/or suggested stay-at-home-shelter-in-place-if-you-don’t-want-to-die policies since this whole thing started, either in February or 3 years ago, one or the other. Most of it hasn’t been too hard, but we did experience a few unintended consequences with the online ordering thing that eventually took over most of our daily activities.  She ordered, for example, the requisite face masks online but didn’t notice they came from China and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 apiece shipping costs, and we got 100 of them. They arrived after about 4 weeks, which wasn’t too bad considering where they came from, but they were sort of lost in the flurry of deliveries that soon became a flood. We live on a gravel road that is essentially one way with no room to pass, so the UPS and FedEx trucks found themselves meeting each other coming and going, and there were occasions where words were exchanged between drivers and a fistfight or two was narrowly avoided by me negotiating a coin flip to see who would back up and allow the other truck to enter or leave the only access road to our driveway. It was pretty cool to watch the trucks radiator to radiator as one of them backed skillfully at 30 mph or so along the twists and turns of the half mile one lane gravel road so the other guy could enter or exit, dependent of course, on the result of the coin toss. After a few days of traffic jams  I solved this problem by installing, right where our gravel road meets the paved road, a red light/green light system activated by an infrared sensor so when one truck or the other was on the way or returning to the pavement from our house it wouldn’t meet another one bringing yet another delivery. In addition to solving the traffic issue, this also provided, for those trucks waiting for the road to clear, a few moments to get out of their trucks and socialize with the other guys in line and already waiting. There were sometimes as many as 3 or 4 delivery trucks waiting for their turn for the light to turn green so they could enter our one lane road.  An enterprising young kid from the neighborhood set up a small shelter just off the pavement with a few chairs and donuts and soft drinks and coffee.  He recognized a business opportunity when he saw it. I think he’s raising money to help his parents support his Call of Duty habit, but regardless of the reason it’s nice to see capitalism at work in the young.

     Our iphones have received a good bit more attention than usual and I think the dog is beginning to get jealous. When one of us picks up a phone, she sniffs disdainfully, looks away and goes to another room. I’ve also noticed that both of us respond like Pavlov’s dogs when the little “ding” announces a text or message. Neither of us can let the notice go unnoticed, and pick up the phone to see what’s there, even if the other one is in the middle of a sentence. When that happens I can hear my Mom in the back of my head saying “hmmmm” which means “don’t ignore another person to look at a telephone.  It’s rude.” She’s right, but it’s an easier habit to get than to break.

     We were a little concerned that the grandkids were not really getting too much out of their online lessons, and offered to help their parents out by conducting “school” at our house - with appropriate social distancing of course - for one day.  The class went fine for about 30 minutes until the snacks ran out, and then the students became surly and uncooperative...or maybe that was the teachers.  Either way, the math lessons quickly deteriorated into a knot tying class that never made it past the knots on my fishing rods because there were several and they all needed new lines and swivels and stuff.  We took the kids home after lunch and wondered if they would ever get out of their current grade level. I reassured Nana that our parents once thought the same thing about us, and that sometimes taking a class 3 or 4 times could be, in the long run, beneficial in many ways.  After that experience I read where the homeschooling experience had resulted in a rather sharp increase of reports of teacher intoxication and the inappropriate use of profanity during class. The report failed to mention whether the profanity was from parents, students or both.  I predict significant raises in both status and pay for teachers in all grades as soon as this thing is over and schools open again.

     Like most Americans, we have increased our television time significantly and originally thought we might improve our knowledge base by watching interesting documentaries or educational shows, but that hasn’t happened. We discovered that Betsy and I have radically different tastes in television. She follows local and national news religiously, and is an expert on all things COVID, at least until the next day’s report has new facts that prove the old ones false.  She also watches reruns of Shark Tank and every house show ever made, and finds herself telling the contestants “you’re gonna be sorry you didn’t finance that kid” and “any idiot can see there’s no room for entertaining in the 2nd house.” I despise news shows of any type and refuse to watch, and generally limit my television to Civil War documentaries. I keep hoping McClellan will send in his reserves at Antietam or that Lee will finally listen to Longstreet on the 3rd day of Gettysburg, but find myself forlornly humming bits and pieces of “Ashokan Farewell” when the result is always the same.  Both of us enjoy Andy Griffith, and we’ve watched all 8 seasons of Andy so many times we find ourselves using quotes from the show in almost every conversation, and both understand exactly what the other means. “Thelma Lou, I believe you’re trying to change me!” one of us will say. “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!” replies the other. “Aunt Bee, call the man!” or “It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T” or Andy’s signature “I’ll see ya” usually ends the conversation. Neither of us thought Eleanor Donohue a good match for Andy.

     I was a little hesitant about my first 2 or 3 post-lockdown trips to the grocery store, but I did feel better when they blocked off every entrance but one and a guy with a face mask and an ipad was keeping track of the number of customers that entered and left.  I never saw him stop anybody or say “hold on, sir, we’re at capacity until someone else leaves” but maybe I was there at just the right -or wrong - times.  I wore one of the masks from China and put sanitizer on my hands at every opportunity and ended up finding about half the items on my list but got 4 or 5 times the quantities I had written down.  I did not feel the temptation to buy cases of toilet paper because I had not heard anything about diarrhea being one of the primary symptoms of the virus, and was pretty sure TP wouldn’t freeze well, but I did get enough canned food and dog food to last us and the dog for a while. We don’t normally eat a lot of beans, but that was about to change for the next few weeks, anyway.  There were long empty spaces on shelves where the TP and Lysol and hand sanitizer used to be, but there seemed to be plenty of canned food, fresh vegetables, meat and poultry and ice cream, so we were good, and had all the basic food groups covered.  Betsy always wears  her full biohazard gear, carries extra sani-wipes in every pocket and pretends to sneeze every time someone gets within her imaginary 10 foot circle. She still goes with me once a week or so to continue her futile search for Lysol aerosol or sanitizing hand wipes. It may be awhile before we see those again.

     I had an extensive list of recipes from my Mom and Betsy’s Mom but stuck pretty much to soup and banana pudding for our daily meals since one of us decided they might be vegan.  She will eat chicken from time to time, as long as it’s been baked and finely shredded and I don’t remind her it’s in there. Most of the soup recipes I’ve made from Food Network turned out to be a one time event because it doesn’t seem to matter how you fix kale it’s still kale, but we have fixated on chicken and rice and taco soup as our two favorites, and are hoping we don’t get tired of them before all this is over.  Don’t let anybody fool you, though - sugar free pudding mix does not mean calorie free pudding, especially when you use most of a box of vanilla wafers and 3 or 4 bananas per bowl.  We had to stop that after a couple of weeks because we had already spent our summer vacation allowance and our stimulus money (plus a good bit extra) on things we really needed; clothes for the grandkids, crimson clover seed for the front yard, a new sax mouthpiece, several orders of wrinkle cream (my suggestion to buy it in bulk for a reduced price was not taken well), self-help books, wildflower seeds, repainting most of the interior of the house, recarpeting most of the interior of the house, replacing the upstairs A/C, around 250 new picture albums and some new fishing gear - all done online, of course - and at a pretty significant savings, I’m told; and couldn’t afford new clothes for us without another mortgage or another stimulus check. I’m not sure what we’ll do financially if the grandkids’ travel ball seasons suddenly start back up in July and we have to start traveling again. 

     I mentioned the new picture albums - Betsy has always said that one day she would gather up all her photographs she has saved in the 8 or 9 steamer trunks stored in my closet and organize them and place them in chronological order in photo albums.  The first 3 weeks of isolation she made great progress, and emptied 3 of the trunks and immediately filled them back up with the completed albums. I can’t wait for her to complete the other 5 or 6 trunks and fill those back up with albums too. The bad thing is they all have to go back in my closet because the upstairs room and the garage are full of furniture from her parents’ house.

     I’ve tried to imagine how our parents would have reacted to the current pandemic, and how they would have handled not going to work and being at home every day with the kids.  All day. I’m pretty sure the answer would not have been homeschool, since both of my parents worked at what they considered essential jobs; essential because there was no money coming in if they didn’t work; and they didn’t take off for much of anything.  If one of us was sick we got the old “go on to school and you’ll feel better later” speech.  At the most we got mercurochrome and a bandaid on a cut or scrape and Daddy might say “rub a little dirt on it and it will probably stop bleeding after a few minutes.”  Since Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet at that time, online lessons would not have been possible, and I don’t see my teachers doing party line calls on the phone to make sure we were keeping up.  My guess is we were going to school and were going to stay there until the final bell rang, and when we weren’t in school we were expected to play outside. Nobody was taking off to come pick one of us up during school unless there was a fire or part of an appendage was missing.  I heard there was rioting in our town in the late 60’s, but we never got a day out of school because of it, and in addition to riots we had smallpox and measles and flu making the rounds every year but schools were open regardless of how many kids were out. It was probably because we were so much tougher than today’s kids because we had to walk 5 miles uphill to school and 7 miles uphill back home.  In the snow.  In short sleeves.  Carrying our lunch. 

     My Dad and Betsy’s Dad were WWII veterans. My Dad spent a couple of years repairing B-29’s in Fairbanks Alaska and Betsy’s Dad was a POW survivor after being shot down over Germany.  Both experienced social isolation but of a much different type than what we experience now, and would have - I guarantee it - refused to participate in more social isolation of any type. I can hear their arguments now. You probably can too, so I don’t need to repeat any profanity other than both of them adding at the end of the discussion “and I ain’t wearing no damn mask.”

    One of my brothers feels the same about wearing masks, and says he’s read doctors expressing both pro mask and con mask opinions, and, after reading both sides, decided that if doctors couldn’t present a united front he wasn’t wearing one either. I  reminded him that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class, at present I couldn’t tell if they were all in the pro mask or con mask group, so statistically they must be spread evenly in both so his decision was more or less supported by medical opinion. Sort of. I usually wear a mask just because I like to make other people feel better if not necessarily safer.

     While none of us wants to be the cause of another getting infected with Covid, I’ve decided that the only thing more infectious than the disease itself is the fear of the disease these guys doing the news have manufactured.  That fear seems to be a major part of every “news” story now, and none of the networks every really goes back and says “well our original estimates of worldwide population reduction of 25% may have been a little overblown,” they just continue with more dire predictions that we are all going to die tomorrow unless we do what they tell us to do. Now the narrative is “well sure infections are slowing down but just wait for the spike.” After there is or isn’t a spike then there will be something else, then something else after that.  I’m not sure a whole lot of them know exactly what to tell us other than “be afraid, be very very afraid when we tell you to” and that just doesn’t work for most Americans. It seems their real concern is not for America or Americans but for the continual manipulation of their audience to greater and smaller degrees and to hell with the consequences.  

     Remember the Great Virus Scare of 1967? Me either, but evidently the Marburg virus had an 80% fatality rate and was a pretty big deal at the time, and apparently bats were once again the culprits there. How about the Bird Flu scare of 2013? The mortality rate was around 39% but I don’t think we closed the country. I remember a little about SARS in 2002, but didn’t know the mortality rate was 9.9%.  I don’t remember school closing for that one, either, but here we are with a virus that seems more contagious but less deadly but is more of a threat to modern civilization?

     Go back and look at the daily crises that were the lead stories over the last 4 weeks and how many actually happened and how many just went away on their own.  The same thing happens, albeit on a smaller scale, with the weather when every storm is predicted to be “devastating” and every tornado watch now makes even Toto and Dorothy cringe with fear and trepidation and want to hide in the bathroom. I don’t know about you but it’s a hard sell to convince me to wear a mask after being told to wear a mask by a bunch of guys that don’t wear masks while they’re telling you it’s a requirement to wear them because they said so even if masks don’t work. That’s why people are going back to work, that’s why more and more people are taking charge of their lives again and that’s why a lot of people aren’t waiting for an official “resume your lives” order before they decided enough was just too much. I’m pretty sure many of you can see this too...except for my dog.  She just sniffed and turned her head away.  She doesn’t understand why any of us would ever want to leave the house in the first place..


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