Of feet and eyes…

One thing I can say for sure is that a year of working from home has not prepared me for a day of standing on a concrete floor. Even my best Docs are no match for a day on my feet.

By the end of it, sore feet wins hands down over the building flooding, last minute briefing changes, and scheduling problems that would have otherwise been contenders for the worst thing about the day.

It’s only Monday. I have no doubt the week will slide further and further from the rails as it trundles on towards Friday afternoon. There’s nothing to be done for it now, but to grimace behind my mask and get through it. Maybe the only good thing about mandatory mask wearing, aside from not passing on the plague, is that it least keeps some of the worst looks safely trapped behind cloth. They can still see my eyes though… and there’s no hiding what’s happening there, I’m afraid.

Back in the world…

I know plenty of people have been far more risk tolerant than I’ve been over the last year. Some have been far less risk tolerant than me. I hope, as usual, I managed to fall somewhere in the middle of the curve – not too indifferent, but not too paranoid. 

Even when the Great Plague started, I didn’t fully sequester myself. I managed to complete regular trips out for groceries, carryout, and whatever I couldn’t live without from Lowe’s. I largely made sure to do those things at times other people would consider “inconvenient.” As often as not, I had entire stores almost completely to myself. 

In making my first trip back into the broader world this weekend, I’m not sure what I was expecting beyond it feeling somehow “different.”

As it turns out, the world is still as full of people as it was in the Before Time… and that makes everything just awful. 

I managed to lose the crowd, or most of it, while I was wandering the stacks peering at books, but as soon as I popped out the end of a row, there they were, slack jawed and milling around aimlessly in the aisles, in the parking lots, and on the roads.

I’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I can tell you now in complete sincerity, the absence of large groups of people in my daily, weekly, and monthly routine has not made me any more fond of them in any way. If anything, the absence of people has had the exact opposite effect on me. 

As the world schlepps on towards returning to “normal,” I’ll be over here coming up with new and creative ways to keep on avoiding the other returnees.  

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Repetitive question syndrome. In my particular area of effort, questions are unavoidable. That’s fine. Nothing I’m tinkering with is overly complex, so the answers generally come easy. The real kick in the junk is when the same question comes from three people who all work in the same office. Maybe sort some shit out among yourselves before blasting away on the email… because, honestly, anyone after the first person from your organization is going to get a verbatim copy/paste response, regardless of what subtle differences they inject into the question. I don’t mind doing the work, but I absolutely mind doing it three times with vaguely different shading.

2. Entitlement. I know this is going to be a hard pill to swallow, but no one owes you anything just because you happen to exist. The level of entitlement I see, particularly on Twitter, is almost breathtaking. I have no idea where people find the nerve to think they’re somehow entitled to the exact job (or societal permission to not work) they want, in the city where they want to live, in a home they shouldn’t have to pay for, with food and healthcare all provided on demand at someone else’s expense. Being a guy who left home at 22, schlepped all over the country to work where the opportunities presented themselves, and made shit tons of sacrifices to build the life I wanted to live, I truly don’t know from where they get the nerve. 

3. Junk email. The longer the Great Plague rages, the more junk email I get from any company with which I’ve ever even thought about doing business. Look, I know everyone is jumping through their ass trying to stay in business, but I don’t need 10 emails a week from the company I bought a watch from five years ago. It’s not going to make me want to buy another watch or really any widget I’m not already thinking about buying. I like the companies I use on a regular basis, but honest to God being regularly spammed makes me want to look at other options… which sadly would just lead to even more pointless email which would fill me with even more hostility. There are about 50 businesses that are one or two more emails way from earning a “send directly to trash” rule. 

Aspect of the demon…

I’ve been a loud and unrepentant fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a long time. Stick with me, though, because this post is only tangentially related.

In the episode titled “Earshot,” Buffy slays a demon. Nothing unusual there. That’s her job after all.

The mouthless demon in question, part of a pair, was able to communicate telepathically – the reason they gave our favorite Slayer such a run for her money. As half the pair is vanquished, Buffy ends up with some of its blood on her hand. It’s absorbed quickly and her hand begins to itch. Concerned, Buffy consults Giles, who warns ominously that it’s possible she could have been infected with “an aspect of the demon.” In this case, Buffy’s “aspect” was being able to read people’s thoughts – a trick that sounds neat at first, but becomes radically less so as the episode progresses.

Through a fluke of timing and availability that really translates to “right place, right time,” I was able to get my first round of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine last Friday. If we all go along with the analogy of COVID being a demon in desperate need of slaying, well, it seems I managed to get my own minor version of its aspect once it worked its way into my bloodstream.

I didn’t get to do any mind reading, but I did develop what I’m affectionately calling a temporary case of narcolepsy. For the better part of Saturday and Sunday, I fell asleep every single time I sat down. Want to watch something on TV? Fall asleep. Want to read a book? Fall asleep. Look something up online? Fall asleep.

As aspects of the demon go, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but I’m glad it seems to be over now. Falling asleep repeatedly throughout the day is a real productivity killer. Hopefully the second round results will be as innocuous and not cause me to sprout an ill-placed horn or wake up as a Fyral demon.