Tag: COVID-19

Boosters and Dr. A’arqueAngel: A Halloween Tale

jack o lantern
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I recently got my COVID-19 booster. I headed to the local Safeway appointment and vaccination card in-hand. The process was easier than the original vaccination. Gone was the paper form I needed to fill out for the first two shots. I was able to complete the form online and had only put my signature on a printed copy that they had ready for me at the pharmacy in the back of the store. No need for a waiting room. No need for a group briefing of what to expect. I sat in a chair and before I got comfortable the injection was in and out and I was on my way with some new scribblings on my vaccination card indicating that I’d been boosted.

Then the countdown began for the side effect. I had meticulously tracked these after my 2nd vaccine dose in April. But the booster was mild in comparison. A few aches, some hotness behind my eyes, tossing and turning at night, but nothing more. I felt back to myself relatively early the following day. Now, we are just waiting for word that we can schedule our 5-year old and 10-year old for the vaccine. When that’s done, I’ll breath a little sigh of relief.

Coincidentally, as I waited in the Safeway, I sat reading “appreciations” of Frank Herbert in my leather-bound Masterpieces of Science Fiction Edition of Dune. Ray Bradbury, who I had the great fortune of meeting on December 12, 1998, had an appreciation. Harlan Ellison, who I had the equally great fortune of meeting on too many occasions to recount here, had a longer appreciation. Interestingly, both their appreciations centered around the same event: Bradbury, Ellison, and Herbert were on stage together lecturing, and started batting around a story idea. They all agreed to write it, but only Harlan kept the bargain, writing a Faustian story titled “The Diagnosis of Dr. D’arqueAngel.”

I have a lot of Harlan Ellison books, many of them signed. (I have quite a few Ray Bradbury books, as well, fewer signed.) I’ve read a lot of Ellison’s stories, but I couldn’t remember reading this one. Perhaps I had, but it was lost to the occasionally emptying of the recycle bin that my brain does from time-to-time. In the programming world, we call this “garbage collection.”

I found the story (and so can you) in Ellison’s collection Strange Wine. It is, fittingly, the final story in the collection. Without giving too much away, the eponymous Dr. D’arqueAngel has an innocuous for death itself. Like most vaccines it requires the injection of very small amounts of death to build up the immune system. And once built up, the treatment must be boosted from time-to-time.

I returned home with a (slightly) sore arm and the hubris of Vaccination in my blood. I pulled Strange Wine off the shelf from its place between Deathbird Stories and Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled, and sat down to read the yarn. So should you. But wait until after you’ve been fully vaccinated.

Happy Halloween!

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Weekend Guests!

For the first time in forever, as Princess Anna might sing, we have weekend guests. My sister and her family have come down for a weekend. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited to have company. After all, it has been forever1 since we last had guests. The guest room was feeling neglected.

I generally lean more toward the introvert side of the scale, but even I have enough alone time. Yesterday, the Little Miss had a friend over and when her dad came by to pick her up, I chatted him up for half an hour just because it was another adult in the house to talk to. Kelly was impressed.

My sister and her family arrived last night. I stayed up past my bedtime just to keep chatting with them. Indeed, I would have stayed up later if it wasn’t that everyone was tired (except the kids, of course). We all went on a leisurely hike this morning, and then grilled some hot dogs and veggie burgers for lunch. Everyone left for the Little Man’s soccer game, while the Littlest Miss and I stayed home for her nap. They’ve been gone less than two hours and I am pacing the house awaiting their return so I can have more time with our guests.

It was an added bonus to wake up this morning and see that the county we live in has enough vaccinated people to be listed as “moderate” risk for COVID after months of being listed as first “very high” and then “high” risk.

All of this is to explain why I didn’t have a post up first thing this morning, and why I decided to push the post I’d started to write until tomorrow. I’m just so happy to have guests again that I felt the need to tell the world about it. Things feel like they are getting back to normal. And that normal doesn’t feel normal at all–it feels wonderful!

  1. Well over a year, anyway.

Log from the Sea of Pfizer, Dose #2

(See here for the first dose)

Friday, April 16

  • 11:00 am. Arrived at the pharmacy for Pfizer dose #2.
  • 11:15 am. Jabbed in the left arm with the vaccine. Sat in the waiting area for 15 minutes reading Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum. Was the only one reading.
  • 11:30 am. Felt fine, not even any pain in the injection site. Collected my things and headed home.
  • 12:00 pm. Took a photo of my completed COVID-19 vaccination record card.
  • 12:20 pm. Received an email from my doctor’s office inviting me to schedule my first Moderna vaccine before April 30.
  • 3:33 pm. Called my doctor’s office to thank them for the offer, and let them know that I’d already gotten a better one. Could they, by the way, update my records to indicate I’ve been vaccinated. Was asked which vaccine I received and the dates.
  • 4:00 pm. Received message from doctor’s office asking for dates of vaccination. Sent them again.
  • 4:12 pm. Received message from doctor’s office asking which vaccine I’d been given. Send it again. Asked if they actually read the messages they received.
  • 5:30 pm. Noticed first signs of feeling “off”. It’s the feeling I get when a fever is coming on. It almost feels like it emanates from the base of my neck. Try to ignore it.
  • 5:45 pm. Eat a bunch of wings for dinner. Kelly has been in bed all day today (her second dose was yesterday) and if I am tomorrow as she is today, I wanted to at least eat something tasty first.
  • 7:30 pm. Felt a definite stiffness in my neck, upper back and shoulders. Still no pain whatsoever at the injection site. Headed out for an evening walk to get some fresh air.

Saturday, April 17

  • 12:30 am. Woke with symptoms similar to flu. Aches in neck, back, arms and legs. Fever. Fever dreams. The only thing missing was the stuffy head, runny nose, sore throat. It was odd because I expect those symptoms when feeling this way.
  • 3:30 am. Lots of aches and pains to say nothing of the fever dreams. They involve some complicated rules for sleeping out out by the Royal family, while at the same time, I find myself adrift on a fishing boat in the sea of Pfizer, part real life, part video game.
  • 3:35 am. Took some Advil on the hope of quelling the dreams. But they resumed as soon as I returned to bed.
  • 8:15 am. Woke to sunshine. Other than feeling tired, every single one of the symptoms is gone. No aches and pains, no fever. No soreness at injection site. It appears to have all run its course overnight.
  • 9:00 am. Went for my morning walk with no effects of last nights fevers. Maybe I will be able to get in a full day of working after all.
  • 11:00 am. After working for an hour or so, the chills started again, and that tingling, sensitive feeling across my skin started up again. I took some Advil to head it off at the pass.
  • 12:00 pm. Chills and sensitivity is worse despite Advil. Made some lunch with the idea that I’d be going down for a nap with the Littlest Miss shortly after lunch.
  • 1:50 pm. Napped with the Littlest Miss and feel better than before, but still not 100%. Aches and chills are gone, but a lingering haziness remains.
  • 4:20 pm. Neck and back pains creeping back in. Suspect the Advil is wearing off.
  • 5:00 pm. Took more Advil. Then went out to the shed to get the deck furniture which I had promised myself I’d get setup today no matter how I felt. It took a while, and I was worn out afterward, but I got it done.
I got the deck furniture setup late this afternoon.
  • 7:07 pm. I think I am through the worst of it. About 32 hours after the injection, and just under 26 hours after feeling the first symptoms.

On April 30 I will be through my 2-week post vaccination period. That would be a great weekend to hang out with other vaccinated friends, but I have a big rollout happening that weekend and so I will be working. Maybe the weekend after that?

Post-Pandemic Party Playlist

I’m not what you’d call a particularly social butterfly. I have no trouble in a crowd and often have fun. But I also have days when I don’t feel social. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming of a post-Pandemic party. We have this huge deck which we haven’t really taken advantage of, as far as parties go, thanks to everyone being isolated for the last year.

A few days ago, I began to put together what I call a “Post-Pandemic Party Playlist.” Just a bunch of fun songs that I imagine playing in the background while we have a bunch of friends over, the grill fired up, a cooler full of drinks on the deck, and food scattered about the house. I imagine some people downstairs playing pool or ping pong in the family room. The kids might be in the game room playing Xbox with their friends. The grownups are all out on the deck, or hovering around the food in the kitchen.

Normally, I find these kinds of parties to be fun, but I’m an early bird, and am ready to wind things down by 7 or 8 pm. But in my imagination recently, I picture these parties going on well into the night. I picture a lot of joking and laughing. I imagine a kind of release and relief. No one is talking about the Pandemic. For a few hours, we all pretend it never happened and just enjoy the fact that we can be out with friends, having a good time again.

Kelly and I are both scheduled to get our second dose of the COVID vaccine later this week. Maybe such a party isn’t too far-fetched sometime in the not-too-distant future. We have a Karaoke machine. I think we’ll have to include that in the party as well.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering what’s on my playlist. Here it is. I listened to it a couple of times today while spending most of the day writing code (yes, working on a Saturday). It made the time go by quickly.

  1. Thunderstruck by AC/DC
  2. Strip Adam Ant
  3. Love in an Elevator by Aerosmith
  4. Lonely People by America
  5. Blame It on the Bossa Nova by Annette Funicello
  6. Love Shack by the B-52’s
  7. I Want to Conquer the World by Bad Religion
  8. Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys
  9. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
  10. Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan
  11. Wild in the Streets by Bon Jovi
  12. Let the Day Begin by The Call
  13. Tubthumping by Chumbawamba
  14. Viva la Vida by Coldplay
  15. Tessie by Dropkick Murphys
  16. Pump It Up by Elvis Costello
  17. Vacation by The Go-Go’s
  18. There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York by Louis Armstrong
  19. Be Good Johnny by Men at Work
  20. Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
  21. Feelin’ Love by Paula Cole
  22. Goodbye-Goodbye by Oingo Boingo
  23. In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
  24. Supernatural Superserious by R.E.M.
  25. I Love L.A. by Randy Newman
  26. Freewill by Rush
  27. On the Loose by Saga
  28. Come on Eileen (cover) by Save Ferris
  29. Spam by Save Ferris
  30. Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
  31. Jump by Van Halen

I imagine this list will continue to grow until this imagined party actually takes place. Listening to it gives me hope that this party will eventually happen.

The COVID Vaccine, Episode 1 of 2

Friday, March 26, 2021

I got the first dose of my COVID vaccine today. Being a writer, I thought I’d write about the experience, so I took notes. Kelly scheduled our appointments last week when they became widely available in our area. She scheduled her appointment at the Safeway just down the street from our house. When she finished that she schedule one for me–except that they were all gone. She tried the next day (today) and found one at a Safeway 15 minutes away. Beggars can’t be choosers.

My appointment was for 11 am. At 10:30 I was deep into some Groovy coding. I gave it five more minutes to wrap up, and then headed to the car to find my way to this unfamiliar grocery store. I listened to a book on the way. I happened to be in a “hackers” phase and had just started Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software by Nadia Eghbal. That kept me entertained while I made my way to the store.

I arrived at about 10:50 am, found my way to the pharmacy and checked it. I had a feeling that maybe I really didn’t have an appointment. As I walked to the window, I imagined the person there looking at me, looking at their screen, and saying, “Nope, we don’t have you down for an appointment today.” But they had me. I handed over my driver’s license and insurance card, and then took a seat in an area where several other people had gathered.

A few minutes later, someone from the pharmacy returned my license and insurance card, and handed me my completed COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, which told me I was getting the Pfizer vaccine. The confirmation email I’d received said we’d need to make an appointment for a second dose using a link after we’d received our first dose, but I was told that they made an appointment for me. It was listed on the back for April 16, same bat time, same bat channel. Indeed a few minutes later, I got an email confirmation.

I was a little thrown by the fact that they gave me the completed card before the vaccine, but no one else seemed bothered by it. I waited.

A few minutes later, someone came out an gave our cohort (there were six of us) a brief talk on the vaccine and what to expect. The woman sitting nearest me was nervous. “I’m more nervous about the shot than COVID,” she told us. A few of the group were here for the second dose; two of us were there for the first one. They didn’t call us by name, they just asked who wanted to go first. I wasn’t in a hurry and I imagined other people where anxious. So I waited.

When it came round to the last two of, it was me, and the nervous woman. I asked if she wanted to go, and she insisted I go first.

The process was quick and no more painful than a flu shot. The only difference I noticed was that the person administering the shot kind of pinched my muscle to pull it out before inserting the needle.

When it was over, I sat chatting with the other members of the group for 15 minutes and then headed home.

Ten hours later, the injection sight is a little sore, but not as sore as after getting a flu shot, and not nearly as sore as after getting a tetanus shot. Otherwise, I feel perfectly fine, no other side-effects, so far, which is good, because tomorrow (Saturday as I write this), I’ve got a day of driving ahead of me.

We “pre-registered” with the local county, but hadn’t yet heard from them when these open appointments became available at the grocery stores. In an amusing irony, late this afternoon, both Kelly and I received a notification from the county saying that we could now register for our vaccine. The email provided links for registering. Too late!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

When I woke up, most of the soreness in my arm was gone. Indeed, the only lingering side-effect I felt was some weariness. But this may not have been related to the vaccine. Instead, it may have been due to driving for 10-1/2 hours, 2 hours of which were in stop-and-go traffic. Vaccine or not, that will wear anyone out.

So for me, the 1st dose of the vaccine had minimal side-effects, which mostly involved a slightly sore arm. Other than that, I feel fine.

Stay-tuned for Episode 2, coming in about 3 weeks.

The COVID Vaccine and the Check Ride

Me, after passing my check ride in 2000.

We are scheduled to get the first dose of our COVID vaccines this week. Kelly gets hers on Thursday and I get mine on Friday. I haven’t been stressing too much about it, knowing that I’d be getting it eventually. But some interesting mental gymnastics took place once I had an appointment scheduled: part of my brain felt relief; part felt a renewed vigilance, as if I needed to walk on egg-shells between now and Friday to be sure I don’t accidentally contract COVID. This seems extreme, since I’ve managed to go a year without doing so.

It reminded me of one other time I felt such extreme vigilance. This was on April 3, 2000, just before 5 pm Pacific Time.

I took my private pilot practical test (my check ride) on that that. After the oral exam, which was easy–my examiner mostly talked about screenplays he’d written, and my instructor taught me well not to volunteer information and answer only the question asked–we went for my check ride. This was a nearly 2 hour flight out of Van Nuys airport during which I was tested on just about everything: take offs, landings, diversions, unusual attitudes, steep turns, short and soft field takeoffs and landings. Finally, as we approached Van Nuys and I’d been cleared to land on the long 8,000 foot runway 16R, I was tested on emergency landing procedures. The examiner had me glide to a landing and then said, “Make sure you are off the runway at the first high-speed taxiway.”

I did all of this, and I knew once I was on the taxiway that I’d passed all of the tests. Because of the emergency simulation I couldn’t land long and the FBO that I flew out of was at the far end of the airport. This mean I had a mile or so of taxiing to do. This was when that vigilance kicked in. I was suddenly very aware that I had an entire mile of slow taxiing in which I could screw things up after performing so well on the practical flight. So I was very careful, I did everything by the book, and eventually brought the plane to a stop at the FBO, turned off the engine, and took a deep breath.

The examiner pointed off toward the building where his office was, “See that rubber tree,” he said, “I planted that tree back in 1955.” He paused and said, “Nice flying. I’ll write up your ticket. Meet me in the office after you get squared away here.” Not long after, I held a white piece of paper that certified I was a private pilot — single engine land aircraft.

I’m feeling that same sort of vigilance now. And it occurred to me that on Friday, after I get my first injection, I will come home with a similar piece of white paper, this once indicating that I have received the first of two doses of my COVID vaccine.

I think I liked the pilot’s license better.

Journals of the Plague Year

As we passed the year-mark for the pandemic, I went back to my journals from early 2020 to see if I could find when I first mentioned the coronavirus. As best as I can tell, it was on February 24, 2020 when I mentioned, at the very end of that day’s entry: “Stock market down 1,000 points on coronavirus fears.”

On March 5, 2020, I wrote, “I’m not sure what to make of the coronavirus . There is so much conflicting information that I find myself relying on a combination of common sense and my knowledge of science.” I noted that there had been 11 death from the virus thus far. “I keep drawing mental comparisons,” I wrote, “to the outbreaks of Yellow Fever and smallpox during Revolutionary times.”

I typically fill a 100-page volume of my journal (written in large Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbooks) in 5-6 months. But I filled an an entire volume in the period between February 6 – June 25, 2020 alone, the second shortest period after the very first volume of this incarnation of my journal. And much of what I wrote was about the virus.

As someone who is fascinated by journals and diaries, I’ve often considered them to be a source of untapped personal analytics and other data. Before iPhones and FitBits kept track of our movements and heart rates, diaries and journals, letters and other correspondence were a rich source of this (implied and inferred) data. Collective war letters provide a different perspective to war than what a history book might have to say about them, for instance. And so I wonder what kind of data is stored within the journals of people around the globe when it comes to the COVID pandemic.

March 11, 2020: “News of the Coronavirus is getting more serious with ‘social distancing’ the new watchword of the day. It does’t stem the outbreak but it does make its impact on resources more manageable. I think the outlook now is something like, ‘be diligent, but plan on getting the virus.'”

March 12, 2020: “NBA has suspended its season and NCAA will be playing without crowds. MLB has suspended spring training and is delaying the start of the season at least 2 week.”

March 13, 2020: “The most dire predictions of the virus’s spread sees as many as 170 million people in the U.S. contracting the virus–and between 400,000 to over 1 million deaths from it.” On that day, just a year ago, we canceled out planned trip to Florida.

March 15, 2020: an entire page in my journal is dedicated to a list of all of the stuff I bought at the store to stock up on because there were rumors that shortages were coming. The list is 2 columns long.

March 16, 2020: we had our first Zoom call with my parents, brother and sister, something that evolved into a weekly Sunday afternoon affair this is still going on today.

March 18, 2020: all three of our kids began distance-learning, something that continued for the remainder of the 2020 school-year, and, for my son at least, for the 2020-21 school year as well, until just last week, when he finally went back into the classroom for the first time in a year.

I’ve heard of people who say they’ve burned their journals (or will burn them before they die). I’ve never understood that, but I guess people keep journals for different purposes. I think of the information we might have lost if John Adams or Leonardo da Vinci had burned their journals. I’ve always wanted a record of things I’ve done, even the mundane things, so that I could look back on it. For me, my journal is another reference book, like dictionary or almanac. I also thought it would make a fascinating read for my children and their children. I imagine my kids telling their kids about living through the pandemic, the way my grandfather talked about lie during the Great Depression. All I had from my grandfather were some vague memories and axioms about this time in his life. I would have been fascinated to read about what his day-to-day life during those times, if only he’d kept a journal.

This is something at least my kids will be able to do, if they wanted to.

Upcoming Travel

I have an email folder called “Upcoming Travel”. It is one of the few email folders I actually have. Most of my messages just go into an archive folder and I rely on searches to find what I am looking for. But the “Upcoming Travel” folder is separate because that’s where travel plans, confirmation messages, reservations go. Once the trips are over, I clear out those message. I accidentally clicked on the folder this morning, and it was empty.

My empty Upcoming Travel folder.

Prior to the pandemic, this folder was rarely empty. We always had some trip planned. Sometimes it was six months away, but the email related to the trip went into the folder until the trip was over. It serves two purposes. First, it is a convenient way of quickly accessing messages related to the trip. Second, it’s a place I’d look occasionally to remind myself of the trips we had coming up. Sometimes it was just a long weekend trip to a place in West Virginia. Other times it contained reservations for our summer jaunt up to Maine. Occasionally there was messages related to a business trip I had to take. And it almost always contained message related to our holiday travel.

Today, it was empty, and it has been empty for some time. There isn’t much travel happening for us during the pandemic. With the rollout of the vaccines, I am hopeful that it won’t be too much longer before I’ll start filing messages in this folder again. It’s nice to be able to flip to it before bed and see that we are heading for a visit with the grandparents in a month, or have hotel reservations somewhere in central Connecticut for a night on our way up to Maine in the summer.

The Day the Snow Days Died

On a snow day, outside looking into my office instead of inside looking out.
On a snow day: outside, looking into my office, instead of inside, looking out

We are witnessing the beginning of the end of snow days and it has nothing to do with climate change. We had enough snow yesterday (and more projected for today, although it has yet to arrive) that schools are closed. Of course, the public schools here were already closed for on-site students. Distance-learning is the order of the day. The Catholic school that our girls attend, however, is open and we shuffle the girls off to school each morning and pick them up each afternoon. The school is closed for a snow day today, but there are ominous signs that the end of this practice is nigh. As a message from the school read:

Now that we are able to do distance learning, we will only use one snow day at a time.  Any day after one that is unsafe to get to school will be a distance learning day.

Which means, for instance, if schools are closed again tomorrow, the kids won’t have a snow day, but will have a distance-learning day. Instead of getting outdoors to make snowpeople, and sled down the awesome sledding hill that is our backyard; instead of an unexpected day of fresh air and white snow, they will be stuck at the kitchen table, eyes fixed on iPads and Chromebooks, listening to repeated cries of, “You’re muted! You need to unmute!” and “I can’t hear everyone so everyone needs to mute!”

In addition to everything else, COVID has run the death null of the snow day, at least in those parts of the country where snow days are a fact of winter life. I’d predicted as much last spring, and for some reason, Kelly didn’t believe me. At least, she didn’t think schools would do away with snow days simply because they’ve managed to make use of technology and distance-learning. But I’ve been reading more articles in the papers about schools doing away with snow days now that Zoom and Teams allow for virtual classrooms.

Probably my age is showing. I grew up in New Jersey and New England, where snow was frequent in winter, and snow days were a delight. I can remember early New England mornings, laying in bed, listening as the radio announcer rattled off (alphabetically) the school districts that were closed due to snow. We lived in Warwick, so we had to endure nearly the entire list in great anticipation before we finally heard the words, “…Wahwick, West Wahwick…” at which point my brother and I would cheer in glee. It took quite a bit more snow in New England in those days to close schools than it does in northern Virginia today. A bare 3 inches closed schools here. In “Wahwick”, it probably required a foot at least.

It meant that there was a lot of snow for playing in, and on those days, we’d get into our snow suits and, it seemed to me, spend the entire day out in the snow.

This is just what our kids did yesterday when the snow arrived. Almost as soon as they’d finished breakfast, they were in the backyard, making using of our steep backyard hill for sledding. The girls made “invitations”to a family snowball fight, which took place to everyone’s great delight after lunch. They were out again later on, sledding on an even bigger hill at our nearby park. They had a fun, we had fun, everyone got plenty of fresh air. It was a pleasant reprieve from all of the extra screentime the last year has brought us.

Snowball fight invitation
Snowball fight invitation, posted with permission of Grace (the Little Miss)

And now, it seems, the practice, which was falling ill thanks to technology improvements even before COVID, is finally coming to an end. It makes me sad. Each time I think about it, I am reminded of Isaac Asimov’s short story, “The Fun They Had.”

But at least they have the day off today, and from the sound of it, they are planning more sledding and snowball fights, which means a little less time on screens, Zoom, and Teams meetings. From my office I can see them in the backyard, racing down the hill, and hear their sqeals of delight as one or another wipes out.

Even as an adult, snow days are great and I will miss them.

Andy Rooney On Masks

I wonder what Andy Rooney would have made of COVID-19 and the mask situation. I can imagine him at the end of 60 Minutes, sitting at his desk, holding a typical mask that people wear these days. I imagine him complaining about how uncomfortable the loops for the masks are around his ears. “People will call me ‘Ear-ny’ Rooney,” I imagine him saying. But who cares about how you look, he would say. Early in the day the masks aren’t too bad, but as the day wears on, the cloth of the mask gets caught on stubble and can be annoying and painful.

Why, Andy would wonder, do the masks come with those tags that pop out from between the two layers and tickle your cheek? Does anyone really look at those tags? What are they for? Andy would pull out the tag for all of us to see. The camera would pan in on the microscopic writing. “Made in China,” Andy would read. There are a lot of conspiracy theorists out there, Rooney would say, and I’ll bet some of them think COVID is marketing ploy by China to sell a lot of masks.

He would note that most people have to buy masks. They are not something that the government provides. Businesses, he would point out, are cashing in. He’d pick up a baby Yoda mask and frown at it.

Andy would turn his wrinkled, jowly face to the camera and say, “I’m old enough to where I can barely hear someone speak as it is. When sometime talks to me wearing one of these masks, they sound like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoon, “Wah-wah, wuh, wah-wah.” It’s difficult to read the morning papers with my mask on because it is constantly fogging up my reading glasses, Andy would tell us.

I day-dreamed this imagined 60 Minutes segment as I drove the family on an unexpected trip down to Florida. In Virginia, where I live, everyone wears masks, they are required indoors, and people seem generally okay with it. I noticed more or less the same in North Carolina, and in the hotel we stayed at outside Savannah, Georgia. Florida has been a different matter. It’s been like stepping back in time a year or. so, when masks were for Halloween, and a global pandemic was the furthest thing from our minds. The people I’ve seen in the stores I’ve gone into aren’t wearing masks. The cashiers that work behind the counter aren’t wearing masks. In fact, you can more or less tell who is out of state and who is local by who is, and who is not, wearing a mask.

I’m not sure what the fuss on masks is all about. I wear a seatbelt even if I find them uncomfortable. I wear “nice clothes” on the holiday, even though I prefer shorts and a t-shirt. I thought it might be hard to breath with a mask on, but I breath fine. I imagine there are some who have difficulties with that. I’ve heard that there are people who believe that masks just don’t work in preventing the spread of the virus. That reminds me of a story about Neils Bohr.

Bohr was a renowned Danish physicist who studied the underlying quantum structure of the universe. He was a scientist, and rationalist, and by all accounts, brilliant. A visitor coming to his office one day found on his wall a horseshoe with the opening tilted up toward the ceiling to catch luck. “Surely, Dr. Bohr,” the visitor said, “you don’t actually believe that horseshoe will bring you luck?”

Bohr shook his head, “No, I don’t believe it,” he said, “But I am told it will bring me luck whether I believe it or not.

My imagined 60 Minutes segment ends with Andy Rooney telling us, “I’ve got a bunch of errands to do this weekend. I have to go to the hardware store to pick up some new washers. I’ve got stuff in the trunk of the car that I need to take to the dump. I need batteries for the flashlight.” At this point, Andy slips on his mask. “I’ll be doing all of these errands, wearing this ridiculous mask, despite its discomforts. I’ll wear because it will help protect you and me from COVID, whether we believe it or not.

COVID Conversations

There is no escaping COVID-19. Not even in casual conversation. I’m a little reluctant to admit this, given how bad the situation is, but I am tired of all of the COVID conversations. It’s enough having to deal with the pandemic in day-to-day life: working from home, with the kids around, and planning to work from home with the kids home when the school year starts; wondering if there will be a vaccine anytime soon; wondering when and if some sense of normalcy will return. Clearly, the pandemic touches every part of our lives. But now, even casual conversation centers around the virus. It’s become common courtesy to ask someone how they are faring. I’m clearly conflicted over this. I get enough from the newspapers I read each day, and from the updates from our state and local municipalities, from the school system, from the recreation system. I hate to admit it, but COVID is the last thing I want to talk about in casual conversation.

When I lived in L.A., all anyone would talk about after an earthquake was the earthquake. “Did you feel that last night?” “What were you doing when the ground started shaking?” “Anything get knocked off shelves in your place?” Completely understandable, but it generally lasted a day or so and then conversation drifted to other things. No so with COVID. The virus is digging in its proverbial nucleic acids and there’s no escaping it. For instance:

  • The baseball season (if you can call it that) started and normally, baseball is a great topic for casual conversation. When the Yankees played the Mets in the pre-season, I was able to say to Mets fan I knew how impressed I was with the Mets; I was surprised that managed to score 3 runs in that 2-game series. But if you talk baseball now, the conversation turns to how strange the season is thanks to COVID, and how stupid major league baseball was for even holding a season. What’s happened with the Marlins was entirely predictable.
  • “What are you doing for your summer vacation?” is a non-starter. Many people are spending their summers looking for jobs that just aren’t there. Talk of vacation leads to talk of the travel industry and how it has been decimated by COVID.
  • “Any good shows you’ve been watching lately?” I’m not a big TV watcher, but I’ve discovered that even television and movies have ben affected by COVID.
  • Ask what someone’s reading and they are likely as not to say John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza.
  • Even the normally innocuous weather will lead to discussions of COVID. In my area, we set a record for the most number of July days above 90 degrees. Pools are closed or limited so you can’t escape the heat in a pool. People are stuck indoors and at their wits end because of the virus.

I need a break from it. I don’t mean to suggest I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend the virus isn’t there. There’s no way to do that. And I don’t mean to suggest that other people should give up talking about COVID just because I am sick of it. But I’d love to have a conversation about something other than COVID. Each time such a conversation begins, a part of me is crestfallen. How many times can I repeat the same things over and over again? I know that people like to gossip and commiserate, but for me it has reached Groundhog Day proportions of repetitiveness.

Maybe what I should do is create an FAQ here on the blog, and have little cards printed up with a QR code and URL that I can hand out when the conversation inevitably turns to COVID.

The New Baseball Season

Major League Baseball should do everyone a favor and forgo the 2020 season. I say this as a lifelong baseball fan, a former player (as a kid), and a student of the history of the sport. There are three reasons why baseball should take a deep breath (wearing a mask, of course) and forfeit the season. There’s only one reason that they won’t.

Let’s start with why they should forgo the season:

  1. The baseball season is a marathon, which is part of the magic of the game. Whether its the current 162 games played in regular season, or the 154 games played in an earlier era, it is still a long road to the playoffs. Each game is itself a marathon, being played without a clock, and 162 of those clockless games are packed into 6 month regular season. The entire dynamic of the game is centered on this stable arrangement, like planets orbiting a star at the center of a solar system. Change those dynamics and chaos ensues. Planets fall inward to crash into the star, while other are flung out of the system entirely. We’ll see this in a 60 game season:
    • A 10 game win or loss streak can have a disproportional effect on the outcome of a season for a team.
    • Batting records will be skewed by the shortened season. Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak went 56 games, which is 4 games shy of the entire new season.
    • Being hot and being in a slump take on new perspectives in a grossly shortened season. With “hot” hitters, we could conceivably see much higher batting averages from we are used to. It’s even conceivable that for a period of 60 games, a batter could hit .400. The opposite is true of batters in a slump.
    • If your teams wins the series in a 60 game season, is that something to celebrate? Or, like Houston’s dubious win a few years ago, it is something to be humiliated by?
  2. The entire 2020 record book will be one big asterisk. Meanwhile, I can’t imagine anyway really believes that the stats produced in a 60-game season will have any meaning or value in a record book where the average season length over 120 or so is between 154 and 162 games. If a player does finish the season at or about .400 in hitting, does that show up without a note in the almanacs? Is such a feat deserving of an batting title? Does it even make sense to award batting titles, Cy Young awards, Golden Gloves and the like in a 60 game season? With nearly every stat and achievement from a 60 game season questionable when compared with a season that has 2.7 times as many games, I can’t see the value of the record book for 2020. I imagine that sabermetricians will find ways of attempting to compare apples to apples, the way they do with “field effects” and different era comparisons, but still, really?
  3. The draw of the season will be about the novelty not the game itself. I suspect there will be a fair amount of interest in the games played in 2020, but not for the games themselves, but the novelty of the situation. Managers can’t bump umpires–you have to keep your 6 feet of separation; batters hit by a pitch can’t charge the mound. But will they? The novelty of the situation will keep us watching more than the games themselves, which is a shame. Baseball is an elegant performance to watch, but we’ll miss the performance in lieu of the theater in which it will be played.

The reason that baseball won’t cancel the 2020 season? Come on, you already know the answer: money.

The real question for me is: will I watch any of the games? I don’t know. Late in the winter, I get this eager feeling in my belly. Spring is just around the corner, and I can smell baseball in the air. The first games of the season, when the air is often still chilled, are fun to watch. The players are easing back into things. Any one game doesn’t matter that much at that point. Now, the spring is behind us, and the players will start playing in the heat of summer. Each game will matter more than in a regular season. Indeed, each game will matter 2.7 times more than normal, and that will put pressure on the players and change the way they perform.

I suppose the real winner in all of this is the Houston Astros. Remember what happened in the offseason after Houston was caught cheating in the World Series? I can imagine Houston players were looking forward to road games, especially road games in Los Angeles. What they needed was a major distraction–and that is exactly what they got. What pitcher is going to make his displeasure known by throwing inside on an Astros batter, when getting tossed from a game means sacrificing 1 of the 10 or 11 starts you’ll get this season–assuming your aren’t suspended for hitting the batter?