Posts Tagged ‘Coronavirus’

WALKING AND CHEWING

Last March, a longtime reader asked me to remove her from my email list. With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc, she couldn’t take getting “bad news from the universe.” I deleted her name. But she missed out on a very critical concept.

True, the universe—in its broadest sense—sent us the virus. But failure to adequately contain its spread in the United States is very much a human issue. We have the power to mitigate it. Yet as simple a matter as wearing a mask became a major political issue starting with Donald Trump, who refuses to wear one and thus motivate his supporters to do so.

No question, the pandemic, economic collapse and social upheaval take an emotional toll. Going ostrich and sticking our heads in the sand is tempting. But whistling in the dark won’t shed light on solutions.

People create or worsen many of our problems and only people can solve them. Greed, envy, lust, ignorance and sheer stupidity are human traits, not those of the universe. Inattention can weaken our will and erode our capacity to tackle our challenges.

We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Don’t want to check the daily pandemic death toll? (I do.) People will continue dying in alarming numbers. Can’t bear another bizarre story coming out of the White House? The mess regarding Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan will likely gain traction because it impacts our intelligence processes and national security. Ignore the rest of the ongoing and destructive mess in the Oval Office? That won’t bring on a Joe Biden victory in November.

Alarm and anger augmented by knowledge and perspective occupy critical places in a healthy society.

That said, entertainment and laughter form part of the mix enabling us to get through difficult times with our sanity reasonably intact. That’s why Carolyn and I, like so many Americans, check the news and also watch TV.

Right now, we’re very much into National Theatre Live from Britain. We attend plays at the National’s showpiece facility on the Thames whenever we’re in London. There’s great theater in America, but the Brits set the standard. That’s why Carolyn trained in two summer programs at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

A week ago, we saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, meticulously videoed in the new Bridge Theatre on the south side of the Thames near Tower Bridge. We howled. The cast included Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), whom Carolyn met at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a few years back, and Hammed Animashaun as a fabulously funny Puck. All and director Nicholas Hytner made the comedy accessible and added to it. Purists may decry the brilliant contemporary touches. Not the audience. It loved them. So did we.

We’re also watching the German sci-fi series Dark on Netflix. Deep mysteries. No idea what’s going on. Love it.

Some people may feel guilty about expressions of joy and laughter in a time of sadness. I suggest that we’re better off both facing our burdens and indulging in all the humor—and drama, music, food, wine and Zoom get-togethers—we can.

If we refuse to walk and chewing gum at the same time today, we’ll end up unable to do either tomorrow.

Happy Fourth! Let’s honor the best this nation stands for. It’s quite a lot. And let’s correct its misdeeds so that the American Dream applies to all.

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“CURLY”—A SHORT-SHORT STORY

“Yul Brynner,” said Norman, while his wife Stacy stood open-mouthed after releasing a small scream—squeak, really. “He was the king in The King and I and the Cossack chieftain in Taras Bulba. Remember those movies?”

Stacy remembered Yul Brynner’s shaved head. He wasn’t bald. He’d shaved it and stayed with that look. It worked. On him. But Norman had all—almost all—his hair after 75 years. What now? “Baldy,” she managed to utter. “People will call you Baldy. Your name is Norman.” Not Norm. Never Normy. And God help anyone who called her husband by a nickname.

“How about Curly?” Norman asked. He liked the humor of it. The irony. “There was this basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters, the comedy team. Curly Neal. The dribbler who could control the ball maybe an inch off the floor. No hair. We saw him in Oakland. Maybe the Cow Palace. He died recently.”

Stacy’s hand shot to her mouth. Death was not up for discussion. Not during the COVID-19 pandemic. Okay, she and Norman were sheltered in place about as safe as you could be. Food delivered from Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh. Walks in their quiet neighborhood, including the Presidio National Park a block away. An occasional drive to see the ocean, keep their cars’ batteries up. “Why?” she asked.

“Beats a crappy haircut,” he answered. He’d had a hair-clipper set delivered by Amazon. Plenty of guards for different lengths. Foolproof. He even watched a few videos on YouTube. But nothing was foolproof. After going down to the garage, setting up a mirror, covering himself with a garbage bag and going at it, he wasn’t satisfied. His hair was shorter but the cut was patchy, uneven. Maybe not bad for someone sheltered in place, but—. Then inspiration hit.

He had visions of Telly Savalas, TV’s bygone Kojak. Michael Jordan. Cate Blanchett once went bald.

“Why can’t make a statement?” Norman asked. Stacy’s face didn’t so much betray confusion as broadcast it. “That you’re suffering a late-life crisis? What’s next? A sportscar? Or are you looking for sympathy? People should think you’ve had chemo for some terrible cancer?”

“It’s more a life-affirming thing,” said not-Norm. “We just celebrated Passover and the deaths of the Egyptian first-born. Holocaust Remembrance Day is coming up. And the news. Every day, it’s how many people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, how many people died. All those deaths and memories of deaths create fear. Not necessarily unjustified but not the best road to travel either. So I took my own road.”

The thing was, Norman assured Stacy, hair was a renewable resource. Like grass. Like the sun. “The sun goes down, it also rises.” Yes, it came up on a world reeling in pain. He was no Pollyanna. “Still, it’s a win-win thing. I look cool or my hair grows back. Like I have faith that the country will come back. Not without loss. Not without grief. Not without struggle. But because we refuse not to go forward.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” Stacy said. “Hopefully from more lips than mine. Than ours,” said Norman. “Reminds me of my favorite quote from Torah. Deuteronomy. Two words.” He ran his right hand over his cue ball-smooth scalp and smiled. “Choose life.”

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SICKENING

I almost tossed my cookies in front of the TV Tuesday. No, I wasn’t sick. It’s just that I saw part of Donald Trump’s live remarks to journalists on CNN. Sickening.

The president told the assembled reporters and government officials that he called the COVID-19 problem a pandemic before anyone else did. I’ll repeat that. B-e-f-o-r-e. So let’s take a brief look at Trump’s record, detailed exhaustively by New York Times columnist Dave Leonhardt.

On March 13, Trump announced a national emergency. Good. That freed up federal funds for a variety of sound uses and streamlined various health care procedures to fight coronavirus. But if Trump recognized the pandemic long before, why did he wait?

And wait he did.

Two days earlier, Trump addressed the nation during a special telecast. “I want to speak to you about our nation’s unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak,”he said. Prune-faced, he looked like a man who’d soiled his boxers but was duct-taped to his chair. Unprecedented? That word applies only to ignoring public health advisors and underplaying cases of COVID-19 by not yet declaring that national emergency. Trump wanted to keep the stock market and economic numbers up. And how has that worked out?

But surely, the president had been forthcoming, resolute and far-sighted before that? Well, no. On March 7, Trump stated, “I’m not concerned at all.” Do the math. That’s all of six days before the declaration of a national emergency.

On February 26, three days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic—Trump’s judgment obviously having preceded theirs—he said, “We’re [U.S. cases] going down, not up.” At a February 10 campaign rally and in an interview with Fox Business’s Trish Regan—since dismissed from her show—“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” By next month? Miraculously?

Let’s go back to February 2. Trump banned most foreigners who’d recently visited China from entering the U.S., something he bragged about last Tuesday. He told Fox’s Sean Hannity, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” Which presumed that coronavirus hadn’t appeared elsewhere. Too little, too late? On January 22, Trump said from Davos, Switzerland “… we have it totally under control.”

Our nation’s response to coronavirus says a lot about how we as Americans see reality. Some of it has been, yes, sickening.

A variety of conservative politicians and pundits have linked coronavirus to domestic and foreign plots. At a February 28 campaign rally, Trump promoted their conspiracy theories. He called coronavirus a hoax and added, “The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus” to damage him and his administration.

I’m waiting for conservative Christian ministers to declare coronavirus God’s punishment of a sinful nation allowing a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

I wrote last week that we’ll come through this. To do it, I suggest we replicate the attitude of the Israelites in the wilderness who, in this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, demonstrate the strength of community by all bringing abundant gifts for the building of the Tabernacle.

Our task is to come together and respect fact, science and truth. The big question we’ll face when coronavirus is done: What did we learn? We’ll have part of that answer in November.

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PRECAUTION, NOT PANIC

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote as America struggled to birth itself. Now, we face the coronavirus pandemic. To strengthen our souls, looking back may offer a clearer picture of the future.

Is the sky falling? Gray clouds have gathered and they’re darkening. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “It is going to get worse.” At my age, Covid-19 poses a risk, although my health is excellent. Still, the world won’t come to an end.

Am I a Pollyanna? No, a realist. Major events of my 75-year lifetime provide some perspective.

When I was six, Americans were fighting in Korea—wherever that was. At P.S. 174 in Queens, I joined classmates in duck-and-cover drills to protect from a Soviet nuclear attack on New York. Polio still took a heavy toll on children. A friend survived it but emerged with a limp.

Jim Crow was alive and well in the south and practiced unofficially elsewhere. This, too, was a health scare since African Americans’ health was imperiled by being hung from a tree or shot or burned while at home.

The Cold War produced Vietnam. The American toll in Southeast Asia totaled 58,000, including my friend 1LT Howie Schnabolk, an Army medevac pilot shot down on 3 August 1967. Killed and wounded GIs were just part of the story.

The nation was coming apart at the seams. Nightsticks and dogs attacked civil rights marchers. Martin Luther King was assassinated, which led to riots producing death and destruction in urban ghettos. Political unrest forced Lyndon Johnson to forego running for another term as president in 1968. Which gave us Richard Nixon.

American industry took a header. Japanese cars battered Detroit. Then all sorts of industrial jobs fled the Midwest—soon to be known as the Rust Belt—for the American south and then Asia. AIDS emerged in the 1980s. It took the lives of as many as 700,000 Americans, including three of my fraternity brothers.

In the ’90s, the Dot.com Boom lifted a lot of people’s spirits—until the Dot.com Bust sent them plummeting. On 9/11, the Twin Towers fell and turmoil reigned. The nation rose up yet launched a foolish and costly war with Iraq. The stock market soared again until, in 2008, the financial industry collapsed with the market hitting its low point in March 2009.

Yet even recovery from the Great Recession wasn’t enough to calm a deeply divided America. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016.

I’ve seen a lot, but so did my parents: The First World War, the Spanish flu (1918-20) which killed over 50 million worldwide and more than half a million Americans, the Depression, World War Two.

In time of crisis, I turn to the English writer Rudyard Kipling: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . . you’ll be a Man my son!”

Keep washing your hands. Keep maintaining your social distance. Keep your head on your shoulders and your chin up. Male, female or nonbinary, you’ll be a mensch. And as a nation, we’ll get to sing along with another Briton, Elton John: “I’m Still Standing.”

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