It’s been two weeks…

So, it’s been two weeks since gleefully getting my second jab in hopes that my body would learn to treat COVID like a mild annoyance rather than a deadly virus. It’s been two weeks since my Saturday of discontent when three layers of wool wasn’t enough to make me feel warm. It’s been two lingering weeks waiting for what the virologists say is the time it takes for a body to build up full immunity.

Not being a virologist myself, I’m in a position of largely just needing to trust what they say is true, which is fine since it’s what I’ve been doing since the beginning of the Great Plague. I mean in a contest between believing politicians and believing people who have spent their entire careers working in a particular, demanding field of study that calls for them to be, by definition, highly educated, I’m not sure why anyone would default to believing politicians.

The number of new infections is now heading back up – utterly predictable when the politicians used the decline following the winter surge to make a few long steps towards “business as usual.” If I had to guess, it looks like the trend will settle somewhere above what we adorably considered the “peak” back during the second wave. Hardly a good news story, but whatever. People, or a large portion of them, seem to have lost interest and are ready to play the odds.

In the absence of a test to confirm that my blood is swimming with antibodies, I suppose I’m playing the odds too, but it feels like I’m doing it with more reasonable justification and likelihood of success than if I were doing it purely “because I want to.”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a book buying binge of monumental proportions coming on… but there’s no part of me that regrets waiting for it to be legitimately safe for me to take on that project.

A more tolerable gamble…

So here we are heading into the end of March. It’s been a full year since I made the last grand sweep through my normal haunts in search of just a few more books to top off my shelves. Not knowing when I’d get back into the shops – or whether the shops would be able to stagger through closures and restrictions – I risked a last book buying binge when COVID-19 positivity in the region was first taking off. Since then, I’ve limited myself to what I could find online not listed at absurdly retail prices.

I’m happy to report that this week, I’ve shuffled in the paperwork for the first bit of vacation time in 2021. I’m still trying to hold back most of my leave this year for after the inevitable Operation Return to the Office, but burning off a day to reacquaint myself to scouting books in the wild fells like time well spent… and just about the only reason I could gin up enough interest to leave the house with or without the Great Plague. 

I think this preliminary outing will be a bit of relatively close to home scavenging. There are (or at least there use to be) five or six spots in a 20- or 30-mile radius that regularly produced quality finds during the Before Time. That should be sufficient to scratch this very specific year-old itch for the time being. I’d like to go on a real ranging tour of some of my favorite shops, but that will probably have to wait until I have a bit more time built into the schedule. June and July will offer plenty of blank calendar space for searching out some of those more far-flung destinations.

I promise, this post isn’t doing justice to how thrilled I am at the prospect of once again pawing through shelves and containers of cast-off books. Yeah, I’ll still be bothered by the mask, but expecting people to stay at least six feet away from me is the kind of new normal I’d be perfectly fine hanging on to forever, so it’s a bit of a tradeoff there. I could have been out doing this all along, but shlepping out for books, didn’t rise to the level of essential business in my estimation. Much as I love spending time in whole buildings full of books, the possibility of being strangled to death by my own lungs was more of a price than I was willing to pay

After giving my booster the requisite two-week soak time, though, I’m willing to test my luck. Risk of minor illness is a far more tolerable gamble from my perspective.

On vaccines, people, and general irrationality…

For eight or so hours on Saturday, I felt like absolute shit. There’s no two ways about that. In return, I got the comfort of knowing that in two weeks my chances of being hospitalized or experiencing severe symptoms due to the Great Plague will have plummeted to something negligible. That feels like a deal well worth making.

“But,” some would say, “You don’t know what they’re putting in your body.” That’s a factually correct statement. I don’t know the chemical compounds that make up a bacon cheeseburger, either, but that doesn’t stop me from jamming them into my mouth with abandon. 

I’m neither a chemist, biologist, not medical doctor. I have, however, been well vaccinated over the years – against diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, flu, and now COVID-19. I was given and took those vaccinations because people who are chemists, biologists, and medical doctors advised that they were beneficial.

After a year of people bitching about businesses being closed, not wanting to wear masks, schools being virtual, and general angst about what they think has been taken away due to the virus, I hope you can forgive me for being perplexed by why the same group is displaying what’s being charitably called “vaccine hesitancy.” It seems that the group loudest about wanting to “open up” and “get back to normal” would also be agitating loudest to get vaccines in their arm faster as that’s the key to getting from where we are to where they want to be.

There will always be a small subset of the population that legitimately can’t take a vaccine for medical reasons. For the others lined up in the “don’t wanna, can’t make me” camp, I honestly have no idea what’s driving you towards generalized irrationality. I can make an educated guess or two, but I’m quite sure I couldn’t do it without being considered unspeakably rude.

Ascension…

In preparation for this historic moment, I feel like I’ve run the gauntlet, secured the Books of Ascension, performed the ritual dedication, devoured the contents of the Box of Gavrok, and made every preparation for the Old One, Olvikan, to return. I even looked around, unsuccessfully, for a meddling volcanologist who might have needed to be knocked off.

So begins the 14 days until my ascension… or until the Moderna vaccination reaches its peak effectiveness. Assuming my plans aren’t foiled by a bomb in the library or other unpleasant side effects. 

I’m not sure what the proper name is for what this moment feels like, but ascension gets awfully close to right.

A full plague year…

A year ago tomorrow the World Health Organization proclaimed COVID-19 a global pandemic. With more rapidity than I would have imagined possible, the global economy ground to a near standstill as those who were able hunkered down amidst the uncertainty of a suddenly unfamiliar world.

As this anniversary approaches, news sites and blogs are filling with posts about the loss, suffering, disruption, and dramatically changed lives of the plague era. Some of the stories are quite dramatic. Many others focus on tales of boredom and isolation.

For as much of a traditionalist as I am, I’m the first to note that many of my life choices lean towards vaguely unconventional. I like the part of the American Dream with the house in the distant exurbs, a stretch of lawn, the dog, and the cat. The wife and 2.4 kids was never a bit I felt particularly dawn to. Where others have spent a year missing social engagement, I’ve barely realized it was missing. I assume it’s this non-standard approach to ordering my life that hasn’t left me feeling as if I missed much of anything over the last 365 days. I’m also aware that my situation is reasonably unique and not likely shared by most people who have been riding out the plague with a spouse and a couple of kids knocking around the house with them. As with most things, individual experiences may vary, subject to personal choices and a bit of pure dumb luck.

Shopping for groceries and other in-person essentials at times when shops are least occupied, having meals packaged for carryout, maximizing Amazon for delivery of a wide range of things I can’t find locally, and spending the lion’s share of my time tinkering about the yard or in the house weren’t concessions to the Great Plague so much as how I’ve conducted business for most of my adult life. Add in the unexpected bonus of working mostly from home and making only periodic forays to an actual office and the whole thing seems almost idyllic… if you don’t let the idea of random death spread through the air bother you too much.

Spending Christmas and other holidays apart and not schlepping through every book store I pass by were the only pronounced changes in how I do things, though in both cases those were conditions I imposed on myself rather than ones imposed by others. Both will likewise be resolved (probably) a week or two after I’ve gotten my second jab. 

We’re a year into the Great Plague of 2020 and with vaccinations ramping up and states slowly (or not so slowly) rolling back their plague restrictions. The new battle cry is becoming “return to normal.” History will decide if we’ve been judicious or if it’s simply a case of people deciding they’ve had enough and wanting to go their own way. Personally, I wouldn’t shed a tear if many aspects of this new normal stuck around well past whatever date we select to string up a banner and declare Mission Accomplished. 

The great unmasking…

Thanks to Texas and a bunch of deep red states deciding that government-imposed mask mandates are no longer required as part of the response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the question “When should we stop masking?” is an apt one. Everyone has an opinion. This happens to be mine…

In general, I’m mostly opposed to broad, sweeping government mandates made under the guise that “we know best.” Then again, I’m also philosophically opposed to assuming I know more than people who have spent a lifetime studying virology. That said, the imposition of masking in public hasn’t felt like a grave threat to my personal liberty. I’d be hard pressed to devise an argument that wearing a bit of cloth in an effort to prevent the transmission of a deadly and previously unknown virus somehow violates any right protected by the Constitution. Most of the positions staked out by people who have made such an assertion, sound more like teenaged whining than well-reasoned logic.

A fair number of people who aren’t part of the small, but loud “I won’t wear a face diaper” contingent, are fairly reasonable. Their response to questions of when does it stop is often “not yet” or when recommended by the CDC or other competent medical authority. There are a few, the true pro-mask outliers, who want to keep their masks on forever. 

When I can’t avoid being indoors in close proximity to others, I’ll keep mine on for now. Yes, even after being fully vaccinated… though in all honestly, I suspect I’ll subconsciously be less vigilant once my relative risk of slow, breathless death is dramatically reduced. I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but I’ve always found self-interest to be more motivating than vague notions of “the common good.” 

The real line in the sand for me will be about two or three weeks after we’ve reached the point where everyone who wants a vaccination can get one. That’s the moment, were, in my mind, masks in public places become purely optional and where mine will likely fall away unless there’s compelling evidence to the contrary.

Yes, there are going to be those out there who steadfastly refuse both masks and vaccinations. Frankly, I don’t feel any sense of moral obligation to continue protecting them when they’ve opted not to help themselves when help is readily available. They’ve made their choices, so on their head be it.

Getting Shot…

I was one of the designated red shirts in the office today (and before you ask, yes, I really do wear red shirts on the days I have to schlep over to the office). It’s the Friday before a holiday weekend, so the day is one of those that could easily have gone either way. Aside from a couple of systems I needed to use not working for half the day (which is fairly normal), the day broke towards the better than expected side. Occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised like that.

The big news of the day, though, was the handful of us who got tagged to be “early adopters” of the COVID-19 vaccine. Mostly it went to some of the people who have been here day in and day out since last March. I don’t begrudge them getting to the front of the line in any way. The more of that bunch who roll up their sleeves, the better protected I am on the periodic days I’ve got to spend taking my turn in cubicle hell.

The more subtle undercurrent of the day was the more quiet voices adamantly asserting “No way I’m taking that,” or “it’s unproven,” or “the damned government has injected me with enough stuff already.” I’ve been told we’re not supposed to mock “those with vaccine hesitancy,” so I won’t… not publically, at least. I’m thankful for their hesitancy, too, in a way… because every one of them who turns it down puts me just a little higher on the list.

I threw myself on the waiting list a week or two ago, not really expecting much to come of it. Turns out, either we accidentally ended up with way too much product or way too little interest, because by the end of the day I, too, had some of Moderna’s finest rapidly developed and tested, emergency use approved vaccine racing through my system. Maybe I’ll grow a tail or drop dead from god knows what side effect 30-years from now… but I’m a step closer to getting back to trolling through shops that smell of old paper, and that makes this possibly the best Friday I’ve ever spent in the office.

And to think they say getting shot is a bad thing.

I’m going to get a lecture…

I’ve been successfully avoiding the doctor since this whole COVID-19 dust up started.  Intentionally schlepping into a building designed to cater to sick people didn’t feel to me like a particularly good idea. Sure, my own brand of sickness is killing me slowly and needs attention from time to time, but avoiding the kind of sick that causes swift death from lack of oxygen was more of a priority. 

It’s been a year since my last checkup. I’ve mostly felt fine, or rather anything that’s bothered me pre-dates COVID-19 by a matter of years and been around long enough that it all feels like my version of normal. The doc kept refilling prescriptions on schedule and I was happy enough staying put until the world sorted itself out.  Apparently, though, doc has a philosophical problem with refilling scripts for someone he hasn’t personally seen in a year. That’s fair, I suppose. Inconvenient, but fair. 

I already know most of what he’s going to tell me. I’ve picked up weight during the plague. That’s likely a side effect of working my way through the comfort food cookbook half a dozen times over the last year. My blood sugar is running higher. Again, a result of the carb-heavy cooking and an increased intake of gin and tonic.

I’ve never been a paragon of healthy living. No one knows that more intuitively than I. When you add in my natural predilections and preferences to a world that has steadily condensed into only the pleasures I can find here inside the compound, well, the results shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Trolling through flea markets, antique malls, old book shops, and secondhand stores have all been wholly replaced with the joy of tasty food and drink. It’s not optimal, but it’s what it is.

I’m going to get a lecture next week. I’m quite certain of that. I’m going to get a lecture, but I’m going to get my prescriptions refilled, so it’s probably a fair trade. 

It could be a reset, but “great,” not so much…

Over the weekend I read an article predicting that after the plague we’d see increasing population density in cities, people abandoning rural and suburban living, and abandoning the whole idea of home ownership in favor of multi-year leases on “semi-customizable” apartments.

These would be futurists foresee a “great reset” in consumerism and the rise of free public transportation, socialized healthcare, higher taxes across the board supporting more “free” at the point of use services, and generally adoption of ideas I’d generously call “the golden age of socialism.”

Who knows. Maybe the authors are right. Maybe the masses are just sucker enough to give up on capitalism. I’ve rarely been far wrong when I expect the worst from large groups of people in the past and I don’t see any reason that wouldn’t continue to be true in the future.

It’s a change program I’ll fight tooth and nail, of course. The capitalist economy took a kid from down the Crick, let him climb the property ladder, live what in any generation would be consider a good life of providing for myself and all the resident animals, and build a respectable retirement savings along the way.

I could be an outlier, I suppose, as I tend to want the exact opposite of what this particular author calls for in his vision of the utopian social order brought about by a Great Reset. If the plague has taught me anything it’s that I can’t wait to double down on home ownership – although maybe I’ll opt for a little less house next time in favor of a lot more land. Never once during the plague did I find myself wishing I was stuck in a 600 square foot box with minimal access to outdoor space, so I admit I have questions about their logic here. Likewise, I can’t remember a time when I wish there was just a little more bureaucracy in anything I was trying to do. The whole idea feels deeply counterintuitive.

The idea of living asshole to elbow with a thousand other people in some concrete and steel tower is my version of hell. If it works for you, have at it, I guess… though I’d appreciate someone explaining to me why it’s anyone else’s responsibility to fund your deluxe apartment in the sky, though that’s probably fodder for a different blog post.

If they’re right and I really am an outlier, I suppose all it really means is in fifteen years or so there’s going to be a hell of a lot of rural land ready to be bought cheap… assuming the wannabe Marxists haven’t managed to strip away all pretense of private property. The article’s authors were happy to hint around at that particular vision of the future, but lacked the academic fortitude to say it directly.

You’re welcome to your workers’ paradise, but I’ll be over here fighting it every step of the way. Call me old fashioned, but I’m still in the corner of the system I’ve seen working for me over the last 42 years rather than the one that’s brought us such interesting moments in history as the collapse of the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s frittering away of a king’s ransom in petro-dollars, and starvation rations under the panned economy of North Korea.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The yawning gap in medical care. I’ve blown off most of my own medical appointments since March but the animals have all hit theirs on time or as needed. That probably says more about me as a person, or at least my priorities, than I’d really like to think about. It’s probably a function of simplicity, too. I can pull up to the vet, hand off the critters for a bit of the old poke and prod, and find a nice shady spot to wait. My doc, on the other hand, wants me to schlep into an office, sit in a socially distanced chair, and wait around with other people who have God knows what plague spewing from their face holes. I’m sure it’s completely irrational, but I’d have to be quite near death’s door myself before I thought that was a good idea.

2. Failure to communicate. I’ve long suspected that the biggest problem faced in dealing with Great Plague is one of basic communication. Given the patchwork nature of our republic (combined with a relentless 24-hour news cycle desperate for things to fill air time), the public is presented with as many as fifty different, often conflicting bits of advice on mask wearing, the benefits of social distancing, and what businesses can be open and how many people they can service. There’s also the discomfiture when schools must close, but bars and restaurants can be open. There may well be fine, scientific reasons for why this is perfectly reasonable, but on its face, it’s a position that feels like it defies common sense.  Add in the fact that science, by definition, isn’t a static and recommendations change based on new data and it’s a recipe for public confusion. Frankly, I’m not even sure that cohesive national-level messaging and policy would do much in the face of how much conflicting “information” is available through every website that proports to carry the latest news or medical advice.

3. America’s Mayor. In September 2001 Rudy Giuliani was lionized as “Americas Mayor” for his grit and determination in leading New York City through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. His steady hand on the tiller and regular presence at press conferences, exuded a calm that almost none of us felt at the time. Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s hard to believe we’re even seeing the same person. From his presser live from the parking lot at Four Seasons Total Landscaping to his performance yesterday in federal court, where he seemed to forget the name of both the presiding judge and the opposing counsel, the mayor appears to be a poor shadow of himself. For those of us old enough to remember him as a masterful leader when we most needed one, it’s an awfully hard thing to watch.