Notes from the Start of a Pandemic
Ralph Nader has no sense of direction; and I never played backgammon with Lucille Ball
“The Rona”, as comedian Dave Chappelle calls it, has kept us in its steely vise since mid-March. We had no idea back then how serious the situation would become; in fact, I spent a good deal of March and April worrying, but also at times making light of the situation we all faced. When things started to look serious, and then dire, I needed to do some venting. Just watching cable news wasn’t doing it for me.
I started keeping a Covid Journal, of sorts. Not much to marvel at, but I’ve learned a lot about the crisis, and about myself, looking back nine months (my first online entry was March 18) at my state-of-mind at that time. I was still making jokes about quarantine and, for sure, blaming those in charge for the predicament in which we found ourselves. And, when necessary, I avoided the obvious, hoping that things would improve.
Using the gift of hindsight, I’ve taken a look at some of my early opinions, and have expanded on them, in an effort to add some levity to the bizarre circumstances that not only led to my extended time at home, but also the routine now of wearing masks, arming ourselves with hand sanitizer, and hanging out in my daughter’s backyard for most gatherings (her front yard, too, on occasion) instead of in her living room or in her kitchen. See, Ella Numera Una goes “out to work.” Moker and I, if you really must know, are considered members of a “vulnerable” population.
I don’t know about you, but I always thought my age, and possibly my wisdom, too, would be a benefit to those younger than I. Never did I ever think that I would be considered at-risk. I still feel like I’m 30. Or, at a minimum, 45. It’s only when I look in the mirror that I see my Mom in her later years staring back at me that I’m a tad shell-shocked.
At any rate, many of the following online memes, if you’d like to call them that — a delightful digital hybrid of a comment and some simple graphics — feature just words in a large box. I couldn’t tell you why some are black, some are orangey red, some are salmon and some a weird shade of teal. If I had a psych degree, perhaps I could delve further into this mystery. What I do know is that a lot of them are responses to too much reading of popular periodicals, and some just a startled reaction to what I just saw on the TeeVee — my indictment of cable be damned. Current events, of course, infuse the bulk of these missives as well. I wrote a few of them just to pass the time.
What is a meme? The Interwebs tell me it’s a form of imitation; a “fad” or popular style or action spread digitally across the techno-verse. The name is derived from the Greek word “mimema,” or “imitated thing,” according to Wikipedia.com. This abbreviated fashion of communication, of course, is pronounced “meem”.
I didn’t always offer context at the time I dashed off these thoughts back in the spring, so I’m attempting to do that in this essay. Some of this is humorous, some silly, some just matter-of-fact. I did not, and I do not, however, intend to make light of the virus, or the 300K+ Americans who have now died because of a bungled response. Two of my extended family, in fact, are part of that death toll. I realize that we — including Moker, my kids and I — are the lucky ones because we are still healthy, and I’m hopeful the arrival of the “cavalry,” as Dr. Anthony Fauci calls those who have developed a vaccine, will keep us that way. Some people cope by eating chocolate. And while I often fall into that category, I also cope by writing. So here we are.
Collected — and analyzed in a crackpot, laptop psychologist kind of way, for the first time are my musings, comments, observations, reactions, and more from the first six weeks or so of our National Ordeal, and with the addition of more than a few thoughts written eight or nine months later after looking through the lens of experience. Make what you will of them. And just know that I’m reliving all of this as I compile and react. Don’t know if that’s a good thing, or a very, very bad one. Most of my musings, I assume, need no explanation. Just laying it all out there, folks.
March 18, 2020
PJs became my uniform of choice at the start of the pandemic. Often, in the early days, I would wake up, eat breakfast, putter around the house, shower, and then don another set of PJs. In fact, I still do that on occasion. I applauded my fashion choices then, and am only slightly appalled by them today. Sometimes I upgraded after a shower, and put on sweatpants. That’s where I believe I was when I scribbled the above. Notice also that I employ the hashtag (for decades, I thought it was a symbol for a number. Now # apparently means something in the digital universe) #socialdistancing, when in fact I probably meant #quarantining. We’re still all learning as we go, I guess.
March 28, 2020
One of the ways in which I got out of my head space in the early months was by hanging out in the kitchen. And I baked. And baked. And continue to bake, at least once a week. Banana bread, several different kinds of chocolate chip cookies, more banana bread, a box cake — or two, or three. But don’t worry, not sourdough bread. Never sourdough bread. And as the spring turned to summer turned to fall, zucchini bread — out the wazoo. I also cooked my family’s favorite foods. And by “family,” at this point it was just Moker and me, but I extended my emotional reach to the two kids, who weren’t right there but would have appreciated my efforts had they dropped in for dinner.
On this particular morning, I had just started mixing the fixings for banana bread when the machine quit on me. I turned to the oven, and noticed it wasn’t pre-heating as originally planned. The bad news? Power was cut to half the house. No way I was going to go one single pandemic day with no power. Moker started making calls, and wouldn’t you know, every electrician on our list could get to us soon — like next week.
The good news? My nephew, the master of all things electrical, noticed my post from all the way over there in Northeastern Wisconsin, and diagnosed the problem from 1,500 miles away. He said he was pretty sure this was a public power issue, not a private one, and we probably wouldn’t have to pay to fix it. We called Dominion Electric. After digging several ditches in our backyard and stringing all kinds of cable, the guys fixed it for us a few hours later. The even better news? Neither they nor my nephew charged us for their services. And I finished two loaves of banana bread. Pandemic win!
March 29, 2020
In these early Covid Days, I felt the need to communicate with the outside world on the regular. So I was writing these Covid Updates on consecutive days, sometimes, and often more than once a day. This particular item also points to my state of mind, as we all learned the best way to navigate perilous seas ahead. And I still scrub my hands incessantly, and employ excessive overkill with frequent dollops of hand sanitizer, because I love my people.
March 30, 2020
Another state-of-mind post, in the form of a quasi-humorous Breaking News variety. Dark humor. Very, very dark humor. But my fashion selection was also quite comfortable. Friends Down South, who were already enjoying balmy temps in the 70s and 80s, questioned this choice. But Northern Virginia can stay chilly through Memorial Day, so I stayed comfy in my new sweats. And I eventually became vigilant about which way I put my pants on — to be able to make use of the pockets, and all. It’s always best to be fashion-forward, even when one looks like a high school softball coach.
March 30, 2020
I know. Two posts in one day. Both making use of the shades of black and white. What can I say? I’m a former reporter, and the need to tell the world what just happened helps, in a way, to let me know that others view the occasion in the same bizarro-world fashion that I do, I guess. The prez had just started his daily Covid updates and I, like I suppose millions of other Americans, was scared enough to think the guy was trying to be some kind of a leader or something. And then the My Pillow Guy. In the Rose Garden. Guess the joke was on me. Or on the collective “us,” as in the entire country. And, because we were just beginning our Pandemic Journey, that guy’s appearance in Jackie Kennedy’s Rose Garden just led to so many more questions than answers.
Was Mr. My Pillow there because he was a small (but not tiny) businessman? I think he rakes in millions because of who he is and what he manufactures. Was he making an appearance because he was some kind of public health expert who could give us a clue about what Covid was up to? Highly unlikely. Was he a presidential buddy, whose advice guided the big guy to make wise decisions? Gosh, I sure hope not.
March 31, 2020
We had already put our plan to move to North Carolina in motion. Purging was a great way to start. You can imagine that 27 years of flotsam and jetsam really can accumulate. Side note: Even though we ended up making 25 trips (yes, I kept track) to the dump between March and September, we eventually did make the move and we still have too much junk in our new domicile. And I had to put my donations on hold in March, because the thrift stores were not taking any at that time. Closed for Covid, you know. And boy was the line long to drop stuff off when the Salvation Army re-opened in June.
It’s good to know, though, that one of the few positives of this national emergency is that we spend a lot more time at home than we used to. And we got rid of more and more accumulated crap, slowly but surely. Maybe someone can use some of this stuff.
April 1, 2020
Living in the Mid-Atlantic for going on four decades, I know from hurricanes. Hurricane season lasts roughly from June 1 til November 1, although 2020 proved all the experts wrong, because we spent November immersed in the dregs of several more storms that blew through after the National Weather Service’s deadline was long over. The U.S. suffered so many hurricanes in 2020 that we went through all the choices in the Roman (sometimes called the Latin) Alphabet and pretty much ran through the Greek Alphabet, too. I’m surprised there is still TP on the grocery store shelves. I wouldn’t be surprised if we faced a couple gully-washers in December. You know, 2020.
And speaking of which, Moker just came upon the remainder of our Pandemic TP supply in the garage. So we’ve got that going for us.
April 2, 2020
I never did apply for that trademark, but if y’all find my musings interesting enough, maybe I will. And I introduced Moker to the wonders of Costco — so he’s in charge of Big Box store runs now. In fact, he’s over there now, getting a new prescription for his glasses, so he can go to the DMV and acquire a North Carolina driver’s license. Hope he picks up some burgers (pack of 40 patties) and perhaps brats (I prefer Kirkland to Johnsonville — go ahead, Badger fans, fight me).
April 3, 2020
A consecutive grocery store post? In the middle of a pandemic? Must have been fixated, or something. Go figure. This was after my carefree, pre-pandemic days of showing up at the store when the muse hit me, and before starting the game of online grocery ordering roulette.
I know, things have straightened themselves out for now (although warnings of increasing Covid spread and nationwide shortages are starting to circulate again), but in the beginning of our pandemic journey I switched from in-person shopping to online ordering mighty quickly. I often had a choice of picking up supplies from the grocery store 10 miles away from me or at the one out near the airport. I had a perfectly decent commodities emporium right down the street, but the mavens of the online ordering world always got there ahead of me, bumping us to more far flung locales.
April 5, 2020
I’m sure this was some kind of online challenge or something. Are you ready for an explanation?
Lucille Ball: At least four decades ago, I was doing my travel writer thing in Manzanillo, Mexico, and she was there for a backgammon tournament. Word quickly spread after that trip that I had played backgammon with Lucy. Not true. I did talk to her for a good long while, though. Among other things, she told me backgammon was her favorite pastime. And I told her that I loved her. Get it? I Love Lucy. I’m sure she’d never, ever heard that before (face-palm emoji).
Andy Warhol: Another right place at the right time kinda thing. SMU, in my native Dallas, was hosting an exhibition of his work. Moker and I went, hoping to at least see one piece from the Campbell’s Soup series. We ran into the artist himself, who had not been billed for the event. And got his autograph. He was very tall. And his white hair was something else. Oh, and we saw multiple ginormous soup cans, too. A groovy time was had by all.
Stephen Stills: I’ve always been in love with Mr. Stills, so imagine my shock and awe when he stopped me on the street outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco, where the Democratic Convention had just convened. He asked me for directions to the rather large edifice looming right behind us. I think he said something like, “Do you know where the Moscone Center is?” I turned around and pointed. Duh.
Ralph Nader: The well-known consumer advocate also apparently had difficulties with directions. About five minutes after my encounter with Mr. Stills, Mr. Nader asked me the same question. Moscone Center? Still looming right behind us. Double-Duh.
George H.W. Bush: I met President Bush several times, both in D.C. and in Texas, and when he was both Veep and President. Moker and I even had our picture taken with him — more than once — when he and Bar (Mrs. Bush) threw their annual Christmas shindig at the Vice President’s Residence, and then again at the White House. Moker actually knew President Bush very well. He — Moker, not the prez — was a member of the Texas Press Corps in D.C., known during the Reagan-Bush years as “Texas on the Potomac.” I can report that both Bushes were gracious, humble and fun to be around.
A quick story: We were still living and working on the Hill, and Moker was a political reporter. He covered Congress, the White House, and especially Bush 41. He’d been on the campaign trail with H.W. (W, his son who would become Bush 43, was his dad’s campaign manager) more times than he could count; up to Kennebunkport, Maine, at the Bush Compound; and to countless receptions, rallies and down-home Texas barbecues with the man who would succeed Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office.
One summer, relatives from Wisconsin came to town. Don and Norma were from Moker’s hometown, and he offered to show them around. They met up at the U.S. Capitol, for a tour only an insider like Moker could deliver.
He took them down the wide hallways and by secret unmarked “hideaway” offices, where politicians take care of the people’s business behind closed doors. As they approached the Capitol Rotunda, a tallish man in a blue suit popped out of one of the private enclaves.
Bush: “Nelson, how in the hell are you, buddy?” (much hand-shaking and back-slapping on the part of the Veep)
M: “Mr. Vice President, I took some time off today to show these good folks from Wisconsin around. Meet Don and Norma, from Chippewa Falls.”
Bush (acting like meeting these two was the sweetest deal ever in his jam-packed day): “Really? I knew a gunner in the Navy from that part of Wisconsin. Did my service during Dubya-Dubya 2.” (as if everyone and their cousin didn’t already know that H.W. had enlisted at age 18 and flew bombing runs in the Pacific. He engaged the enemy during one run in 1944 and was shot down. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism).
M: “Mr. Vice President, Don here was in the Navy, too. Stationed at the Naval Air Station up in Northwest D.C.”
And so the Vice President of the United States traded war stories with two citizens who were so googly eyed by the end of their 30-minute encounter that touring the rest of the Capitol complex seemed like small change after that. In other words, day made. Every time I see Don, he starts off the encounter by repeating the story of meeting up with his good friend George H.W. Bush.
Bob Woodward: Worked with him for a while in D.C. Taught his seminal treatise on Watergate, All the President’s Men, to high school English students for a couple of decades, too. And you probably already know this, but Woodward looks nothing like Robert Redford, either then or now.
Dan Rather: Met him twice. Once as a journalism newby at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Again about three or four years later at a journo awards banquet (Moker was picking up the bling, not me) in Austin. The man is quiet, but charming.
Sarah Weddington: All I can say is that Roe v. Wade was a Dallas case, and I followed it closely when I was in high school. I was beyond excited to work for the attorney who argued the case before the Supreme Court. And I can truthfully say that while Dan Rather is a modest Texan, Ms. Weddington is not.
Dr. Dean Ornish: Dr. Ornish is known as the “Beverly Hills Doctor,” or something like that. He’s a cardiologist who likes to prescribe lifestyle changes to treat heart disease, and has several famous clients, including former President Bill Clinton. I went to high school with Dean. He helped me with my math homework — more than once.
Stone Phillips: I went to St. Petersburg, Florida, with Stone and his sister (they’re from St. Louis — we picked them up on our way through) and about 10 of my friends one college Spring Break, long, long ago. I hadn’t met the Phillipses before, but they were companionable beach-trippers. He was the only boy in a one-bedroom rental near the beach. He was 19 and I was 20 — both of us college juniors. We ate a lot of Mickey D’s that week, drank a few beers (yes, legally — at that time, the drinking age in Florida was 18), and stayed out in the sun far too long. The only thing I remember about the former 20/20 and Dateline anchor is that he never burned — and was a complete gentleman. And, BTDubs, a complete hunk.
April 6, 2020
Posted this ahead of what would have been Dr. Angelou’s 92nd birthday. She died in 2014, about a month after her 86th birthday, and right in the middle of our AP English Language unit on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I miss Dr. Angelou every day, and I miss unlocking the meaning of her pointed words for the suburban high-schoolers who once were in my care.
Dr. Angelou taught us that we couldn’t control everything. She also is famous for saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I took that lesson to heart the first time I read Dr. Angelou’s Caged Bird, and try to live by that maxim.
She was a poet, a singer, an actress, a dancer, a lecturer, a professor, a playwright, a memoirist, a civil rights activist and a screenwriter. She wrote and delivered President Bill Clinton’s inaugural poem and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. She won five Grammys for her spoken works. Who else but a woman with the fullest of lives could write seven memoirs? The strength of her words is helping me work through this American Covid Calamity.
April 10, 2020
Found a new graphics program, and guess I thought I was being artsy when I uncovered this old Windsor chair, which had been destined for the dump. Long story short, I’m sitting on that self-same chair even as I write this essay in my second-floor hideaway overlooking Southeast CLT. And Moker and I are empty-nesters now. So technically, I am a Mom; and yes, I stay at home. We do have a four bedroom house, but two of those rooms are offices (his and hers), but we have no plans to welcome anyone to our guest bedroom any time soon. That’s the cat’s “office”, where she stretches out on the comfy bed every afternoon. I’m not sure she knows what the ’Rona is, but she’s figured out that quarantine means more quality time with Mom.