A Plea for Reason during This Pandemic

Are you scared? I’m scared. There’s no shame in that. Anyone with any sense right now is scared. And during times of heightened fear, it is natural for us to want to seek out some sort of magic bullet that will save us all from invisible evils such as COVID-19. But I’m asking you to use your head.

In the past few weeks, several friends have forwarded a variety of voice recordings to me. There are many things these voice recordings have in common.

  • The person on the recording never identifies him or herself by name.

  • The person claims to be in the medical field, or claims to have gotten this information from a reliable source in the medical field.

  • The person then goes on to give all sorts of medical advice that has been “proven” to help you avoid getting COVID-19, or perhaps help you recover quickly if you test positive.

Some of the things they have suggested are:

  • Taking large amounts of Vitamin C.

  • Avoiding Ibuprofen, or, specifically (for some unknown reason), Advil.

  • Avoiding cold liquids.

  • Drinking hot liquids, because this washes the virus into your stomach where the acid then takes care of it.

  • Drinking nothing but lemon.

  • Drinking bleach.

I can’t stress this enough:

⇒ ALL OF THESE THEORIES HAVE BEEN DEBUNKED. ⇐

Ask yourself these things:

  • If any of these magical cures actually worked, don’t you think that Dr. Fauci, and the rest of the doctors from the Centers for Disease Control, would be broadcasting it every 5 minutes on TV?

  • Don’t you think that they’d be shouting it from the rooftops?

  • And why would these unidentified, supposed doctors in all these recordings be passing this information on in an unsophisticated way, as if they’re giving you some sort of privileged, insider scoop?

Here are some more myths that need to be busted:

  • The mistaken belief that you can get the virus by eating Chinese food.

  • The insanity that opening a package from China is more dangerous than opening any other package at this time.

  • The outrageous belief that all Asians are somehow to blame for this and deserve to be punished.

  • The dream that this will all be over by Easter.

  • The erroneous idea that most masks will protect you from the virus, when in fact they’re much more effective in preventing you from spreading the virus to others.

  • The conspiracy theory that this virus was intentionally created in a lab.

  • The fantasy that this virus is no worse than the common flu.

I am begging you, pleading with you:

  • Do not pass on unsubstantiated information.

  • Do your research.

  • Don’t simply share things about this pandemic because it sounds plausible and makes you feel better. It’s only causing more confusion.

Next thing you know, they’ll be telling you to sacrifice chickens, while naked, during the light of the full moon. While this might prove to be an amusing break from the monotony, the chickens sure wouldn’t appreciate it. Not even a little bit.

I know it would be nice to have a get out of jail free card during these trying times, but I urge you to listen to the easily identified infectious disease experts, not other people (who shall remain nameless) with an agenda.

  • Wash your hands.

  • Remain socially distant.

  • Stay at home whenever possible.

We can get through this. The vast, vast majority of us will. That’s a fact.

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PLEASE DON’T DO THIS FOR ANY REASON!!!!

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A Group Story to Keep from Going Nuts

If you’re like me, you’re starting to understand why pets try to run out of the house every time the door opens. (I wish I could take credit for that. It’s a meme going around Facebook.) In other words, I’m going stir crazy. Even this introvert is starting to miss community interaction, so recently I posted the following on my blog’s Facebook group:

Write a story with me! Everyone contribute a few sentences at a time. Please keep it relatively PG, and expand and read all comments before contributing. If it works out, I’ll post it on my blog.

I contributed the first sentence and chimed in to keep the story on track here and there, but special thanks to Chuck Christison, Cris LeCompte, Jennifer Dropkin, and Florita Robinson for contributing. This was fun! I may have to do it again!

Without further ado, here’s the story we came up with:

Serenity’s Tenement

In spite of the quarantine, Serenity was able to entertain herself by eavesdropping on her neighbors from the balcony of her crowded tenement.

And then a sound came to her that she had never heard during her daily, and now hourly observation, of the sights and sounds of her very small corner of the place she called home.

This particular conversation seemed to be rather one-sided until a response came in a guttural voice that sounded like the dog replying.

Could it be Mrs. Polliver’s poodle from across the way? Surely not.

Or maybe it was Mr. Pratt, that old guy who always smelled of cheap booze and cigarettes. They say he used to be a Negro league baseball player of some import. He even knew Jackie Robinson when he was a kid.

He did have a guttural voice, there’s no denying it. But he was a man of few words, once you got past all the Jackie Robinson stories.

Serenity didn’t think it was him though. He is only happy when his small social security check comes in and he can stock up at the bodega. Otherwise he doesn’t say much as he is slumped on the front stoop. It’s god awful hot and humid and people in these parts don’t have any cool air.

People were getting restless from the heat and the fact that they couldn’t leave their homes. Arguments were breaking out throughout the building. But this particular conversation didn’t sound like an argument. It sounded much more sinister.

It was the funniest thing to watch Ms. Shuller and Ms. Lopez argue while leaning out their windows. Serenity was not sure what it was about, but all that “red in the face” , hand waving and yelling must have been about something. She was really afraid they were going to fall out of their 3rd floor windows and splatt on that concrete.

Serenity wished those old biddies would shut up, so she could hear the machinations going on below.

She loved that word “machinations”. She heard it on TV, Jeopardy, she thought. Always lot of big words on that show. There is that sound again. It didn’t sound natural.

It sounded like a cross between a bagpipe and Mr. Tolliver’s typical after dinner belch, but sound tended to echo in this alley in unpredictable ways.

But then Serenity heard Ms. Lopez say to Ms. Shuller, “You shouldn’t have taken that package off of his stoop after he went back in to get more cigarettes.”

Ms. Shuller replied, “Nonsense. He’ll never miss it! Let’s see what’s inside!” Intrigued, Serenity peeked over her balcony railing. Could the package be where the strange sound was coming from?

The package was wrapped in brown paper with a ton of tape. Covered with a colorful mass of different size stamps all in symbols I didn’t recognize. Sure wasn’t English.

Ms. Shuller noticed some holes punched into the side of the package.

As Ms Shuller peered closely at the holes, she realized she heard a scratching sound from within the package. What could it possibly be?

And then the stench hit her.

It smelled like a combination of curdled milk and rotting asparagus. “Ugh!” Ms. Shuller screamed, and she tossed the package as far away from her as she possibly could. It landed squarely on Serenity’s balcony.

And then it moved.

I’ll repeat that in case you didn’t hear it the first time. It. Moved.

Suddenly the quarantine felt like the least of Serenity’s worries.

So Serenity thinks to herself? “Self? How bad could it be?” Summoning her inner explorer, she took out her trusty well-worn pocketknife, a gift from her grandmother, and started in.

But then she had second thoughts.

Serenity shrieked and jumped to the corner of her balcony. Now what?! She did not dare open the package. There is a 2 meter social distance, remember?!

So she grabbed a broom, and holding the knife in front of her for protection, she flipped the package over her railing. It landed squarely on the lap of Mr. Pratt, who had been passed out on the front stoop. He said…

“What did you get from Borneo?” He slipped into a chatty high pitched language as he rattled off the price paid, where it came from, and a story of being marooned with pretty local girls during that Typhoon in ‘46. He was just getting furloughed from the merchant marines and he was flush with Yankee dollars.

“Beats me,” Serenity shouted down. “It’s your package. Ms. Shuller stole it off you when you went in for cigarettes.”

“Did not!” Ms. Shuller shouted.

As his cloudy eyes focused, a sense of knowing came over him. He straightened up with an air of long lost tenderness. “Oh , Suni my dear?” His gnarled hands traced the exterior of the box gingerly that were splashed with his tears. “How could you ?”

Suni had been a surprise when Mr Pratt returned to Borneo eighteen years after his visit in ’46. It was quite something to discover he’d been a father without knowing all those years.

He had loved her instantly like any father would have. Alas, he could not obtain the visa to stick around. As a parting gift, he had gone to the local market and gotten her a Spectacled Flowerpecker. She had loved that bird and named it Phinnius, after her father.

When Mr. Pratt finally managed to cut the tape on one corner, he could see a single black eye looking back at him, Staring right into his psyche.

“Oh, Suni,” he said. “How could you?” Because gazing up at him was the very bird he’d given his daughter so long ago. In the package were its favorite foods, milk and asparagus, both long since spoiled. The creature was ravenous.

Then Mr. Pratt took a closer look and realized that it wasn’t his namesake, Phinneas the Spectacled Flowerpecker, after all. It was a Magpie Robin, and it needed a veterinarian who would not tell the authorities that it had made it from Borneo to the States without detection. And it needed some insects to eat. Whatever that stinky mush was in the bottom of the box, it wasn’t asparagus or milk….

Mr. Pratt was relieved that it wasn’t Phinneas after all, as he couldn’t imagine what he could have done to Suni to make her reject that gift. Then he noticed that there was a card inside a plastic bag at the bottom of the box. He had to wipe the stinky mush away to get to it, but he’d done worse in his time. He carefully opened the card. It said…

“Dear Dad, I know that you blame yourself for being absent in my life but I wanted you to know I forgive you. You did the best with what you had”. I hope this gift makes it to you and ……”

…and the rest of the sentence was blurred out by the stinky mush that had gotten through the plastic! Mr. Pratt whipped out his cell phone and called Suni in Borneo. “Suni,” he said,…

But Serenity couldn’t understand the rest as it was in another language.

While the words in the note were trashed, his eyes were drawn to the picture. The childish drawing of a stick figure tall man and a smaller stick figure child with a heart and a sun

And as the cheap booze-addled brain began to clear, he recognized that picture as being similar to the ones that Suni used to draw with worn crayons and scrap paper to leave in his lunchbox before he went to work. Many days of toil were broken by her sweet pictures. The emotions came flooding back as tears filled his eyes and poured down his weather worn cheeks.

“I love you, Suni,” he said. “Stay safe during this quarantine. Wash your hands.” His tears flowed as he hung up the phone.

Seeing this, Serenity wanted to hug the old derelict, but in these times of quarantine and social distance, she knew she couldn’t do so. So instead, she lowered a bag of birdseed down on a string. “For your new friend,” She said.

She then stuck her tongue out at Ms. Shuller, the package thief. Ms. Shuller went inside and slammed the window shut. But everyone knew she wouldn’t sulk for long. It was too hot to sit inside.

Mr. Pratt took the seeds and poured them into his cupped hand as the Magpie Robin began to peck at the seeds. After several minutes of frantic feeding it stopped. The bird looked up at Mr. Pratt and made eye contact. At the very moment he felt as if he had been transported to Suni’s side. He felt that wave of contentment flood over him and he closed his eyes to take it all in as it washed over him.

Even in this time of social distancing, there are ways to reach out.

Serenity looked at all the people on the various balconies and realized that each one had a story. And somehow that brought her comfort. We are each unique, and yet we are all in this together. As the bird began to sing, she felt as though she might survive this quarantine with her sanity intact after all.

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þetta reddast

It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to live in Iceland. Harsh winter weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, severe storms, avalanches, isolation from the rest of the world, and days with only 4 hours of sunlight are just a few of the challenges that Icelanders have faced. According to this article, the country’s founders arrived in open boats in the 9th century, fleeing Norwegian slavery. With no maps or navigational devices, they braved the harsh North Atlantic, and their descendants have thrived.

After enduring so much, it’s really impressive that their unofficial motto is þetta reddast, (pronounced thet-ta red-ust), which means, basically, everything will turn out okay.

Are they foolish, cock-eyed optimists? Not exactly. They just have confidence that they can fix things, combined with a capitulation to the fact that so much is out of their control. It’s a comforting phrase that helps them get through the harshest conditions. Perhaps we all need to adopt this attitude during these trying times.

Once we realized that our trip to Italy had to be cancelled, we considered Iceland. That was in the early days. But at the time of this writing, Iceland had reported 890 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. I’m sure by the time you read this, those numbers will have increased. May their positive attitude see them through.

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Ranting Just Got Harder

I like to keep this blog positive. I like to write about amusing observations, fascinating things I’ve learned, and great places to visit. But about ¼ of the time, I’d say that my posts are full on rants. Politics. Environmental concerns. General stupidity. What can I say? I’m nuanced.

I usually have about 10 blog posts waiting patiently in queue for their time in the spotlight. But here lately, there are some posts that I keep having to push further and further back in line. There are rants that have been waiting to vent their virtual spleens for weeks now. It feels as though I’m throwing a tantrum in a straight jacket.

But honestly, how can I complain about anything right now, with COVID-19 hiding in plain sight? What is more concerning than an invisible death threat? How can I expect you to take other things seriously when you’re worried about your health and livelihood?

I’m spending a lot more time sitting at this keyboard and staring at a blank screen, trying to figure out what you could possibly find of interest in light of the fact that the entire world seems to have been turned upside down. I’ve been writing a lot lately about COVID itself and how it is impacting us, but even I am getting a little sick of hearing about COVID. Except for those of us who are in deep denial, our lives seem to have become all COVID, all the time. It’s exhausting.

The irony is not lost on me. Technically, this is a rant about not being able to rant. I don’t know what else to say.

Wash your hands.

soap-box

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The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Exercising

True confession: I hate to exercise. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I’d sooner remove my kidney with a rusty grapefruit spoon, without benefit of anesthesia, than exercise.

I have never jogged a day in my life. Oh, I used to zoom around as a child, but I considered it to be play, not some form of physical torture in an attempt to avoid the inevitable waltz with the grim reaper. I liked to ride a bike as a child as well. It is the closest thing a minor has to a feeling of freedom. Now it’s a sweaty, uphill slog, all while desperately trying to avoid being hit by a car. Bleh.

But I would like to stick around a while longer. And I’d like to do so with a reasonable amount of quality of life. So, with dread in my heart, I recently joined the local YMCA.

And an amazing thing happened. I learned that exercise doesn’t have to be tedious or torturous. It doesn’t even have to be sweaty!

I discovered the pure joy of aqua aerobics. I do like swimming. And they play great music. And I’m in the pool with a lot of people who are, so to speak, in the same boat as I am. It’s actually fun.

It’s also a workout. You don’t really think about how much resistance water provides. And you can do a lot of exercise without putting any strain on your joints. This appeals to me greatly, as does not coming away all stinky and sticky and overheated.

In fact, I usually leave the Y feeling fantastic. Maybe there’s more to this exercise stuff than I realized. For the first time in my life, I’m willing to find out. (Once the Y opens again.)

aqua aerobics

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Shopping for the Apocalypse

A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.

What a nightmare.

The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)

And yet, I persisted.

When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.

I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.

All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.

I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.

After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.

The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?

While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.

Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.

“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”

That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.

Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.

I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.

Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.

For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.

shopping

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When Does This Stop Being Funny?

Recently I posted a meme on my Facebook page that said:

CDC: To prevent coronavirus, stay home, avoid physical contact and don’t go into large crowds.

Introverts: I’ve been preparing for this moment my entire life.

It’s not the only meme I’ve posted on my page that is trying to make light of this pandemic, but as the schools and libraries and concert venues begin shutting down, and as the number of confirmed cases rise, I’m starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable about these memes. As the death toll increases and as our lives become more and more strange, it stops being funny. Sh*t is getting real.

A friend of mine in Canada told me that his government announced that they are anticipating as many as 70 percent of their population will get COVID-19, and of that number, 3 percent may die. My friend did the math, and that would mean 210,000 dead Canadians. That’s not funny at all. Not even a little bit.

It’s not unusual for people to use humor to diffuse an uncomfortable, stressful or scary situation, but at some point it becomes inappropriate. Where’s that tipping point with COVID-19? Some people will never reach it. They lack subtlety, or they don’t pick up on social cues, or they’re trolls who enjoy shock value. I suspect many of us will get there the exact moment when someone we know becomes infected.

Heaven knows I’m not the arbiter of good taste. I think every one of us will have to decide for ourselves. But we need to take into consideration that people are dying. And they’re leaving people behind who are grieving.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Meanwhile, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Stay calm and stay safe.

I’ll leave you with this quote, which a dear friend reminded me about:

“I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.”

                                   -Klaatu, in The Day the Earth Stood Still

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