Day 297

I ran some errands today. A year ago, I wouldn’t have taken as much joy out of the experience.

Began with a haircut appointment. As she always does, my barber wore a mask the entire time, as did I (it’s the only time where I find over-the-ear loops preferable to back-of-the-head ties), and we were the only two in the salon at that time. Needed cash, so I drove up to an ATM and made a withdrawal. My wife had an order ready for pickup, so I ran out to that store in between going to our local butcher and shopping for groceries.

Simply getting out of the house was the most rewarding; I love my home, but occasional excursions make me appreciate it more. No word yet on when the library will reopen, and returning to the gym or fencing club won’t be an option for some time. Running errands is one of few opportunities I have to seeing these familiar walls.

There’s also the feel of the road. Cruising down a smooth path of asphalt; feeling the power and appreciating the sophistication of the machine at my command; hearing the soft hum of the engine under the radio’s music. Today’s experience reminded me of the long car trips I like to take in the summer and fall, excursions that stopped once the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Being able to satisfy my wanderlust will be one of the signs that lets me know we’ve returned to normal.

And I like being helpful. It feels good to be needed, even for small tasks. Getting several errands done at the same time also feels like the right thing to do in these inconvenient times.

I was out and about for only an hour and a half, and drove about fifteen miles. A year ago, running today’s errands would have felt like an intrusion. Today, it felt like a liberating holiday.

Day 288

Not much new to report this week. The infection, hospitalization, and death rates for COVID-19 have come down some since peaking early this month, but those numbers are still staggering. Vaccines have begun to be administered to healthcare workers and at-risk populations, with no word yet on when more widespread distribution will occur.

Resistance is as fierce as ever. A recent commercial produced by my state’s health department features a series of nurses staring into the camera and sharing stories about the virus’ effect on their patients. It ends with them begging viewers to wear masks, stay home, be safe. If you want to lose your faith in humanity, read the comments.

I think we’re headed for a two-tiered system of recovery. Those who believe in science will get vaccinated, continue to follow social distancing guidelines, and resume something resembling their old lives probably around the coming summer. But there will be a large number of people who will refuse the vaccine and ignore public health recommendations. must… not… write… what… will… later… regret… With plenty of hosts still available, the virus will continue spreading well into 2022, at which point there could be talk of booster vaccination shots.

In the coming year, COVID-19 might not command our attention the way it has these past ten months. But it’s certainly not going away.

***

My staycation enters its second and final week, and I’m enjoying the time off.

Work life for me will be largely unchanged when I get back at it next week. Tutoring at the community college will continue as an email/web meeting service. All of my technical writing is done at home, with the occasional site visit. I still work one day a week for the curbside service at the local grocery store.

In the fall we remodeled one of the boys old bedrooms into a studio for my wife, who now sings for her Friday shabbat services from there. Her cake decorating business has slowed, due more to her desire to step back than to the pandemic. After conducting some very successful Zoom classes on cake pop making, she’s looking into further developing that line of teaching.

Both of my sons will be entering the workforce this year, and it’s unclear at this point what the job market will be like. It’s likely that at least one, if not both, will be living with my wife and I while we all work from home in the coming year. They also could be just living here because there’s no work for them and they have nowhere else to stay.

Everyone’s glad to see 2020 end in a few days. I just hope the coming year offers a little more hope.

Day 281

Around this time each year I travel with my family out to Maui for a couple-few weeks of doing nothing in particular. That’s not going to happen this year because of COVID-19. While the state of Hawaii is now allowing visitors who’ve tested negative up to three days before arriving, none of us will risk any chance of infecting my in-laws, who are in their upper 70s and aren’t in great health.

So no sockless feet for me this year.

I’m not going to complain, given how many people in this country and around the world are suffering from this pandemic and its associated disruptions. But it’s not healthy to ignore this disappointment.

So yeah, not going to Maui this year really sucks.

It’s possible my wife and I will go out there in a few months, if the vaccines are widely distributed and proven to be as effective as testing indicates. Once my in-laws are inoculated, and my wife and I get shots, that could happen. But then again, given the horror stories I’ve read about air travel during this pandemic, maybe we’ll wait a little longer.

***

But if I can’t go to Hawaii, I can still enjoy a staycation.

Last Sunday I completed my last major writing task for 2020. As of yesterday, I’m taking some time off from work and my fiction. Sometime next week I’ll post a detailed review of what I accomplished this year, but I’ll say now that I got a lot more done than I expected, especially in the fourth quarter.

Two thousand and twenty was a terrible year — perhaps I should say has been instead of was, since a lot can still happen these next nine days, especially with The Fraud still in office. I can’t say I’ve made lemonade out of lemons as there’s been a serious absence of sugar and hardly any water, but if nothing else I’ve kept myself busy these past 12 months. Busy enough to allow myself a couple weeks of relaxation, even if I have to wear socks.

Day 273

Some good news, finally. The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in our state today, and health care workers are in line to receive the first shots. This likely won’t slow the spread of the pandemic — the number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is worse than ever — but it should provide some needed relief to the doctors, nurses, and staff who’ve been asked to work at great personal risk.

I don’t expect to receive a vaccine for at least a couple of months. That means I’ll need to keep wearing a mask in public and avoid going out as much as possible during these long and cold winter days.

***

One of the simple pleasures I most look forward to resuming once this pandemic ends is eating at a restaurant.

There’s a Brazilian steak house about 20 minutes away from my home that my family and I used to enjoy a couple times a year. After the pandemic began and restaurants re-opened after the initial lockdown in the spring, my wife and I would order take-out from there a couple times a month. The quality of meat is still very high, but serving ourselves out of plastic containers is hardly inspiring. There’s something to be said about having people come to your table with skewers of sizzling beef then taking a long knife and slicing a serving onto your plate; you can’t replicate that feeling at home.

We ordered from there again last week after our younger son came home from college for winter break. He offered to pick up our meals this time, and when he came back he reported how horrified he was at seeing how many people were sitting at actual tables. I’d noticed this as well when I made the carryout run, which is why I got the hell out of there as quickly as I could each time. My son, though, spent more time looking around. He said the interior of the steak house looked exactly like he remembered, other than the wait staff being masked. At one group of tables there appeared to be at least twenty guests celebrating a birthday party.

There are too many people around us who don’t believe the virus is dangerous, or simply don’t care. Most of them will probably decline to be vaccinated, thereby allowing the virus to continue living among us.

A friend of my wife has gone on Facebook several times and called for a way to identify the non-believers and bar them from receiving medical treatment. I trust he’s being sardonic, but this pandemic has produced all kinds of wild beliefs. Remember when The Fraud wondered whether injecting bleach could be a cure? Maybe he was joking, maybe he wasn’t. I’m just looking forward to having him out of the most powerful position in the world in a little over five weeks.

Returning to the ostensible topic of this journal, I know I won’t be vaccinated in five weeks, nor will I be eating at a restaurant. It’s going to take some time before this pandemic is controlled enough for me to feel comfortable engaging in simple pleasures once more.

Day 266

My tone in this ongoing pandemic journal has been decidedly pessimistic for quite some time, at least since infection rates began climbing again over the summer. There’s plenty reason to be concerned, and I’m pessimistic by nature. But I still get up in the morning, work three part-time jobs while volunteering and writing. Want to spend some time today identifying the reasons that keep me going.

(Most of my comments are going to be specific to not only my country but also where I live and my own highly fortunate position. Expectations in other countries and other parts of the United States could be far different.)

Help is on the way. Highly effective vaccines are about to be released, and the infrastructure for their widespread delivery is intact. It could take a year to get everyone inoculated (at least those who want to be… more on that in the next paragraph), but we’re going to get there.

Smart people may not be as loud as the deliberately uninformed, yet they are more numerous and powerful. The number of people who don’t believe COVID-19 is serious and/or will refuse to take the vaccine is astonishing. Fortunately, they won’t be able to stop those who believe in science and public health from doing what’s necessary to stop this pandemic.

Bust-and-boom is pretty much the economic standard. We’ll have to wait until The Fraud leaves office next month before we get an accurate assessment of the financial mess we’re in, and the truth that finally comes out will be very ugly. But I’m old enough to remember chronic stagflation during the 1970s, Black Monday in 1987, the S&L crisis of the early 1990s, the dot-com bubble bursting at the turn of the century, the subprime mortgage catastrophe in 2008. At the risk of sounding smug, I gotta say I’ve seen this movie enought times to be confident in its ending. This recovery could take longer than usual, but it’s going to happen.

Needs to be said again — I’m writing from a privileged position. Thanks to beneficial roles from the genetic dice, wise and generous parents, and several good decisions, my wife and I are going to get through these hard times pretty well, as will our extended family. Not everyone will be as fortunate, and it’ll be up to people like us to lend a hand.

Better days are coming, though. And if that doesn’t sound overly enthusiastic, well… that’s going to have to be good enough for these days.

Day 259

COVID is disrupting or outright eliminating many of my usual exercising activities, which makes the coming of winter and reduction in outside activity even more ominous.

I haven’t been to my fencing club in several months. Classes and private lessons are still being offered, but with the requirement to wear a cloth mask under our regular metal face coverings. I’ve heard of studies that have demonstrated masks don’t significantly inhibit oxygen intake while exercising, but I’ve never felt comfortable wearing a second mask while fencing. I feel like I’m suffocating… I believe and respect those who say it doesn’t bother them, but the experience is completely unsettling to me. People need to wear masks, even when fencing. I totally get it. And while it pains me to step away from the sport until the pandemic is under control, I don’t see an alternative.

My wife attends Pilates classes regularly, and at the start of 2019 got me interested in the activity. I enjoyed the strength and flexibility training, and attended a class with my wife one morning a week. After a two-month COVID shutdown in the spring, our Pilates studio reopened with smaller class sizes. Masks weren’t required by all instructors; we chose those who made them mandatory. I didn’t encounter the breathing problem I had with fencing, both because the physical effort wasn’t as great and there wasn’t this large metal shield over the mask. I looked forward to the Wednesday morning class… and then the Pilates studio closed, for good, at the beginning of November. Another small business casualty. There are other studios within driving distance, and while my wife has been making the trip, I haven’t wanted to start over again. Not yet, anyway.

There was still the community gym, also operating at reduced capacity and with stricter masking requirements. After a few weeks of experimenting with different times, I found late mornings to be the least crowded. According to the center’s web site, the building is still open. Yet with last week’s directive to stay at home whenever possible, it doesn’t seem right to be going there.

There are opportunities at home. For several years I’ve been using a recumbent stationary bike in the living room (“you have to put it where you live” — best sales advice I ever received), and have been using it more as outside options began disappearing. I also have a fencing workout area set up in the basement, which I’ll resume using once my enthusiasm for the sport returns. We also ordered a Pilates machine (they’re called reformers for some odd reason) last month that should finally arrive this week; demand for home exercise equipment has far exceeded supply. It’ll take up a good deal of space in the sunroom, but that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.

There’s been talk that many remote workers won’t want to return to the office once the pandemic restrictions are eliminated. I don’t expect the same will hold for exercising. There’s an energy I get when I’m surrounded by people focused on exerting their bodies, and I hope to feel that energy again sometime soon.

Day 252

The year-end holiday season begins this week as COVID-19 cases spike almost everywhere in the United States. Health officials are encouraging people to stay home unless essential travel is required. Holiday parties and large family meals are beloved traditions, but gatherings larger than 10 people are being actively discouraged in our state. Last Thursday, a statewide curfew from 10 PM to 5 AM was implemented, lasting at least through mid-December.

And those difficult decisions I wrote about a few weeks ago finally had to be made.

Our older son came home from his internship program last night. There was no avoiding it, as his time was up and he had to go somewhere; should we have told him to fend for himself until there’s a vaccine? Fortunately he has a basement bedroom with a bathroom in our home, making it fairly easy for us to isolate him for two weeks. When he comes up for meals, everyone will wear masks and we’ll keep properly distanced from him. He’ll still eat dinner with my wife and I, but we’ll be at opposite ends of the table. This is going to be a very awkward time, not being able to hug him for half a month, but this is the world we live in now.

We convinced our younger son to not come home for Thanksgiving. The risk to him and us would be small, given he’d be driving and have less interpersonal contact and has recovered from his case of COVID in the spring. However, his plan was to return after a few days to his apartment just outside his college campus, and then come back here a couple of weeks later for nearly a month and a half. That amount of back-and-forth travelling hardly seemed in the spirit of current health orders.

Thanksgiving in three days could be difficult, with our younger son not at home, my wife’s parents isolated in Hawaii (not a bad place to be stranded, but the ache for family is still painful), and our older son at the far end of the table. We’ll get by, but those vaccines in development better come when expected, and they’d better be as effective as the studies promise.

Day 245

Not even mid-week mini-vacations are safe from COVID.

My wife and I enjoy driving to the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York for the fall. The unique geological makeup of the region, the deep slender grooves carved and flooded by Ice Age glaciers, make it a prime wine growing area. The colors of the wooded hills are vibrant in autumn; the area has a rural yet not rustic feel. It’s a great place to escape for a few days this time of year.

Our trip this year seemed especially important, after half a year of lockdowns, social distancing, having to wear a damn mask everywhere, and general pandemic anxiety. Throw in violent protests across the nation and an ugly election… yeah, we needed a vacation.

Drive out Monday night with a hotel reservation. Tour the wineries the next day, return home Wednesday with a few cases in the trunk. Enjoy some long conversations in the car.

But five days before our reservation, the governor of New York re-instates travel restrictions. Any visitor to the state is now required to quarantine 14 days.

Time to cancel that reservation.

Many more people have been inconvenienced, hurt, even killed by this virus, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time brooding over not being able to buy a few bottles of wine. And I understand the reason for the travel restriction. We’ve been too lax with our safety; if people aren’t going to do the right thing, they need to be given no other option.

But then again, I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen, or that I don’t care. I wanted to walk through the woods, drive through the late fall foliage. Be somewhere other than my home for a little while.

I’m not sure when we’ll be able to enjoy such small pleasures again.

Day 238

On the same week our attention was focused on election results, the United States had its worst COVID-19 numbers.

When the major news networks called the election four days after the last ballot was submitted, those same networks showed celebrations in cities across America. There was little social distancing in the crowds, but at least everyone was wearing masks. Well, most everyone. Until they started drinking, and noticing all the cameras watching them.

For reasons having nothing to do with the pandemic, The Fraud had to go. It will take years to undo the damage he’s caused since 2016. And while having new leadership in the White House won’t lead to any quick fix, we can at least expect decisions on national health will be made based on science rather than politics, by doctors instead of sociopathic narcissists.

Yet I won’t be surprised to see our numbers increase two to three weeks from now, after last weekend’s revelry. Then it’ll be holiday season. Extended family gatherings for the first time in a year; shoppers flocking to stores, encouraged by desperate retailers; sharp increases in all forms of transportation.

By the time we have a new President sworn in, our country’s healthcare system is going to be on a respirator.

***

Encouraging news the last few days on developing a vaccine. Could have it by spring. But the initial supply will likely be limited to at-risk populations. Perhaps my in-laws can be in that first wave, and if all goes well they could fly back home for the first time in almost two years.

My wife and I have volunteered for a vaccine test study. The study has already received a flood of applications, so we might not be chosen to participate. It would feel nice to have made a positive contribution to this crisis.

Day 231

Posts for the same topic on consecutive days. An unusual decision somehow appropriate for a time that’s hardly normal.

I wrote extensively about the last presidential election in the United States four years ago, and I’ve been intentionally avoiding the topic this fall. I made some predictions back then that turned out absurdly incorrect; there will be no prognostications about tomorrow’s election. And I’m even more disgusted by The Fraud than I had been. His handling of the COVID-19 crisis has brought out all his worst qualities, and demonstrated his managerial incompetence. And given his bluster over the past week, should he lose tomorrow he’ll battle the decision in the courts well into December. Everyone in America wants this damn election to be over; we might not get our wish.

Instead of blogging about the election, this fall I decided to play a small role. Inspired by one of my recent readings, I fought against the racist policy of voter suppression by making phone calls for a a nonpartisan voting rights organization. To reduce trolling, volunteers have been asked not to reveal the organization’s name on social media. Volunteers were encouraged to keep a tally of their calls; here were my results starting in week 3:

Total calls: 330
Not home: 153, 46.36% (no answer after six rings, or voter wasn’t available)
Left voicemail: 87, 26.36%
Number disconnected: 40, 12.12%
Wrong number: 16, 4.85%
Busy signal: 10, 3.03%
Hung up or refused to talk: 6, 1.82% (a surprisingly low number)
Fax machine: 2, 0.61%
Voter deceased: 1, 0.30%
Spanish speaker: 1, 0.30%
Actually talked to the voter about registering or voting: 14, 4.24%

Our organization considered a contact rate (live conversations plus voicemail messages) of 20% average. At 30.61%, my contact rate was considered high.I estimate making 70 calls my first two nights before I started keeping track, with about the same results as above. About 400 initiated calls over eight weeks.

Voter turnout has been robust this year; early and mail-in ballots have already exceeded the total number of votes from four years ago. I lack the chutzpah to claim I helped inspire this civic enthusiasm, but I will enjoy taking part in this large movement rather than sitting and watch it happen.