Day 380

My mother’s parents spend winters in Hawaii and usually return to the mainland in the spring. That wasn’t really an option for them in 2020, so they’ve been out there since the fall of 2019.

After getting their vaccinations with no side effects, they’ve decided it’s time to head back here. Their flight is in early May, by which time everyone in my family will also have been vaccinated, including my 24-year-old son, as vaccinations in our state are now available to anyone 16 and over.

The flight to Hawaii is long, but has the advantage of crossing timezones in reverse; it’s like gaining time. Coming back, however, and losing all that time is one giant bowl of suck with a side order of bleh. And being in a small enclosed environment with not-so-great circulation for over half a day is hardly a comforting proposition when there’s a deadly virus floating around.

My in-laws will continue to be cautious, and knowing how much family means to them I’m not going to argue with their decision. But I’m going to be anxious when their long journey back begins, and probably won’t fully relax for a couple weeks after they return.

***

Just when infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates had seemed to be consistently trending down, those numbers all picked up again this past week.

While broad dissemination of vaccines has undoubtedly been helpful, it also seems to have spurned another round of premature relaxation. People are gathering in large crowds again; the disciplines of social distancing and mask wearing have broken down. (I’m deliberately not writing about states that have lifted all restrictions, or the sizable percentage of the population that refuses to vaccinate, because writing on either subject will make me furious.)

To use a term from American football, many of us have spiked the ball before getting into the end zone, while others have decided to leave the field while there’s still time on the clock.

I really do wish I could end this ongoing journal, but COVID-19 remains too large to ignore, even for those who can’t be bothered to pay attention to science.

Day 372

At 10 AM last Tuesday, I received a call from my manager at the grocery store where I work. The store pharmacy had three openings for COVID vaccinations, and if I got there by 1 I’d receive one.

The store is two miles from my home. I was there at 10:15.

My appointment for tomorrow is no long necessary and has been cancelled. Second and final shot has been scheduled for April 13. Since it takes two weeks after the second shot to develop full immunity to COVID, I have 4/27 marked on my mental calendar as the day I can resume my communal physical activities — returning to the gym, the Pilates studio, and most important of all, the fencing club.

In May, my wife will receive her fourth shot in the vaccine lab study she’s enrolled in. It’s a double-blind study, where one group is given two shots of a placebo at the start and the other receives the vaccine; two more shots are administered a month later, with the group roles reversed. She’ll either be vaccinated by the end of May, or find out she’s been vaccinated since March.

She asked me the other day if I’d feel comfortable going to a restaurant once we’re both fully inoculated. I told her I could do it with outdoor seating, but being indoors with the pandemic still in effect, without knowing whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus, doesn’t sit well with me.

***

We also received our COVID stimulus checks from the federal government last week. Unlike the previous two payments, this time college-aged dependents were included.

My elder son is home after graduating in December, and is working as a delivery driver for a pizza chain. He took on extra shifts last week because order volume was higher than usual — a result, he was told, of the stimulus checks.

Americans get money from the government and splurge on fast food. Sometimes the jokes write themselves in this country.

Day 365

It would be over in three months, I hoped. By the end of summer, at the latest. Those were my thoughts on how long the COVID-19 pandemic would disrupt our lives when I began this journal a year ago. I certainly didn’t think I’d write a post marking this plague’s anniversary.

There’s cautious optimism now that, with case numbers steadily declining and vaccines increasingly available, this summer will look closer to 2019 than 2020. Concerts in the park? Sitting in the stands of a ball game? Outdoor dining at restaurants? All those routine enjoyments still seem distant, perhaps because it’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed them.

***

After weeks of frustration, I was finally able to schedule a vaccination. My first shot will be a week from tomorrow, and the second should be scheduled at that time a month later. Doctors advise waiting two weeks after the second shot before being more active socially.

That means in early May I’ll return to the community gym and fencing club, still wearing a mask but relieved to reclaim some of my lost freedoms. Fencing will be especially important, as it’s not only my favorite form of exercise but also where I’ve found many of my closest friends. Hanging out at the club and weighing the value of a popular Netflix show, ridiculing the latest conspiracy theory, or just finding out what’s going on with all my buddies… Zoom is great, but it can’t replicate those types of breezy social interactions.

If “going back to normal” means resuming the lifestyles we enjoyed in 2019, then I don’t think we’ll see normal again for some time. But normal and happy are not synonyms, and one can exist without the other. The days ahead are going to be better than the 365 that came before it, and while those days will have their difficulties I look forward to them anyway.

Day 357

I’ve written before about the journal I’ve kept since sophomore year of college. That journal served as inspiration for a literary project I’d like to pursue someday.

Yesterday I read the entries from my month-long trip to Britain and Ireland in the spring of 1989. I’d planned and put off that journey for years, and it finally happened at the end of a very difficult year for me. I was a frustrated graduate student with no clear plan for the future. (teach? write? get an editing job?) My grades were good, but I felt my intellectual respect among my instructors and peer students was lacking. I was lonely as well, so desperate for a girlfriend that I stumbled into a pair of disastrous and fortunately brief relationships. I had recently stopped taking an acne medication known to cause mood disorders, but I was still prone to lengthy bouts of surliness. My soul was a dumpster fire of anger and despair, but my spirits rose somewhere between the train ride from London to Cambridge. Being away from the source of my pains allowed me to make a dispassionate evaluation of my circumstances. I realized life wasn’t so bad; many problems I’d identified seemed wholly chimera now that I was half a world away, and I also realized how those that were real had been exacerbated by my foul disposition.

And yeah, I met this gal… but the story we wrote that weekend will be solely ours forever.

Why am I writing about this in a COVID journal? Because I want, need, to have a similar journey, both physically and spiritually. My family and I have been far more fortunate than many, but a year of being mostly confined to our home has been emotionally taxing. I’m not as emotionally damaged as I was back in ’89, which is a good thing. However, I could use a break, and my wife needs one even more. We need to get away from everything for a while, catch our breath a moment after a year of mostly holding it in.

Of course, in a time when the only way I can partially satisfy my wanderlust is to run errands, when my wife and I can’t even cross state lines for a midweek getaway, I’m not expecting to book any flights in the near future. And as I mentioned before, I realize how much better off we’ve been compared to many. Until we can finally take that long trip to a foreign land, it’s best for us to not complain so loudly about our plight.

Day 353

Next week, our state’s COVID vaccination program will be extended to everyone 60 years or older. People with certain diseases and workers in certain professions will also receive the vaccine.

I still won’t qualify.

Thinking about the vaccination rollout makes me frustrated and angry, so before I write something likely to cause regret later I’ll let the three asterisks mark the end of this topic.

***

The Pilates machine my wife and I ordered arrived in early December, and I’ve been on it a couple times most weeks. We have a subscription to an online Pilates site that offers training videos. I’ve found a couple that move at a pace that’s comfortable for me, and I follow along with them half the time and go at my own pace at other times. If I also get on the recumbent bike twice, that’s four workouts a week.

Any exercise is better than no exercise, but the work I do at home doesn’t compare to what I did before COVID numbers got really bad in November. I need to get to the community gym and use their treadmills and weight machines. I need to return to a Pilates studio and work with a live instructor. I need to return to get back to my fencing club and get that adrenaline rush I haven’t been able to find elsewhere.

None of that’s going to happen until I’m vaccinated. Since it will likely require two shots spaced out over a month, and current guidance is to wait two additional weeks after the second shot before being more sociable, I don’t expect to get back into my pre-COVID exercise routine until May. Yeah I’m going there again. Time for three more asterisks.

***

I really want to end on a positive note, so here’s to one of the few benefits of this past year.

Online writing workshops have blossomed because of the pandemic, and I’m hoping this trend to virtual sessions continue once we return to “normal.” I’ve attended more and appreciated my time within them more.

I’m writing more than I ever have, and yes, the enforced extra time at home has been a contributing factor. I’d rather be living in a world free from the contagion and its restrictions, but life is about making do with what you have. And for all the mistakes I’ve made these past 12 months, I think I’ve done OK.

Day 349

A few weeks ago, I thought I was on the verge of getting a COVID vaccine. I now have no idea when that will happen.

***

A little over a month ago, my manger asked if I was interested in being vaccinated. I answered yes quicker than a politician accepting a bribe. She had no information on when the doses would come, but with doses coming into the state on a regular basis I hoped the wait would be weeks rather than months.

Twelve days later I’m in the library (which had just re-opened to patrons — one step closer back to normal) when I receive an incoming call from an unknown number. Another automated call about my car’s extended warranty? I let the call go to voicemail, and was surprised a moment later to see a message had actually been left. Needing to return home anyway, I listened to the message on the way out of the library.

The pharmacy in the grocery store said they needed to talk to me. No other information was given… but could this be a call about vaccination?

I drove the ten minutes back home, heeded nature’s call, unpacked my backpack, grabbed a soda from the fridge, then took out my phone and called the pharmacy back. Why yes, I’m ready for my shot.

The pharmacy asked for my name. I told them. They put me on hold.

A moment later, another voice came on. “What was your name again?” After providing the information again, the speaker then informed that I had indeed been put on a list to be vaccinated that day.

However, because I had not responded within 15 minutes of being called, I had lost my place in line.

Gee, maybe you could have told me about that 15 minute time limit when you left the message?

***

Since then I’ve asked my manager, the pharmacy, HR, the store manager, about scheduling a vaccination. All I’ve heard is a series of You need to talk to…

The pharmacy got a shipment of vaccine when I worked last Friday, and I weaved through a line a couple dozen deep most of the day. The only information I got about employee vaccinations was that if extra doses were available at the end of the day — “spillage,” they called it —workers would then be contacted. I imagine they’d have 15 minutes to respond once more.

So much for being an essential worker.

One of the reasons I left a good-paying job with excellent benefits two and a half years ago was to escape from bureaucratic incompetence and stagnation. To be faced with it again, in the midst of a public health crisis, is discouraging to say the least.

Day 336

Society might not be ready to return to anything resembling pre-COVID normal, but my workload has certainly returned. My tech writing job will keep me occupied full-time for the next three weeks, and I have to work in a half-day of tutoring tomorrow plus pitching in for my wife’s home business. I actually look forward to my Fridays at the grocery store; punching the time clock at the end of my shift marks the end of each busy week.

I’m also in the middle of a month-long abstinence from alcohol. I do this every year, often but not always for the shortest month of the year. It’s a reminder that I can do just find with booze, and proof that I have at least some control over my vices. And it’s also a statement that COVID isn’t defining my life. I may not be able to go to the gym or return to my fencing club, but I’m not going to be defined by my limitations.

It’s close to midnight after I’ve put in a ten-hour day among all my responsibilities. Tomorrow I’m getting up at 5 to work on my fiction, because I don’t want to put off that part of my life during this busy period.

I’m tired. Man, would I like a drink.

But I’d like even more to continue proving that there’s more to my life than this damn pandemic.

Day 324

COVID numbers saw a dramatic spike immediately after the holidays. The number of people who insisted on continuing the tradition of large family and community gatherings, despite the urgent pleas of health professionals and the clear evidence that the pandemic was getting worse, was both staggering and unsurprising.

The numbers have been coming down in recent weeks, but this weekend’s Super Bowl may cause another spike. Because, you know, football is more important than health in America. I’ll be morbidly curious to see if the COVID numbers in Kansas City and Tampa become significantly worse than the rest of the country by the end of February.

My state isn’t near to either city whose teams are competing on Sunday, so I’m somewhat hopeful our COVID numbers will continue to improve. With no public holidays until the end of May and vaccinations taking place, maybe we’ll have a decent summer after all.

***

Every Friday morning I report at a local grocery store for an eight-hour shift with the curbside ordering service. What began as a perhaps misguided attempt at helping out in a time of crisis has turned into not such a bad way to end the work week.

The work is routine. I retrieve customer orders on a handheld scanner, which identifies the aisle and shelf position for each item and arranges the items in aisle order. I push a wheeled blue cart the size of a large bookcase that comes to shoulder height; the cart has six compartments, each holding a green carton of sturdy plastic. Linked to the scanner is a portable printer which produces a barcode label for each green carton used on an order. I joke with friends that the only thing I do while working is shop, but it’s absolutely true — most times I go to the item location identified by the scanner, scan the item’s barcode, then place the item into an appropriate green container (separate containers are used for ambient, refrigerated, and frozen items). After scanning the container’s label, I then proceed to the next item.

The scanner has its issues, such as believing pita bread and nan are located in the bread aisle (nosiree, there in a stand by the deli) and that most seafood items are frozen. It also doesn’t arrange produce items in any convenient order, and since most produce is sold by weight I spend most of my time with the fresh veggies and fruits. But overall, the technology makes the job very easy.

After all items on a customer order have been picked, I push the cart into a storage area. Two shelves for ambient containers line the walls, and there are separate walk-in coolers for refrigerated and frozen containers. Every storage positions also has a barcode, which is scanned along with the container barcode. With all the containers stored, a receipt is then printed and taped to one of the containers. When customers call to say they’ve arrived, their orders are retrieved on a separate scanner which shows the storage location for each of their containers. The containers are scanned, placed on a rolling plastic pallet, and the order is carried out to the curb and placed in the customer’s car.

With this entry also running long, I’ll conclude my observations on my grocery store work next. week.

Day 316

Before the pandemic struck I had been working two part-time jobs in my semi-retirement. I added a third when the COVID lockdowns began, and I realized today I hadn’t written about any of my occupations in a while. So here goes.

***

I work the fewest hours at the job that pays the most: technical writing.

A consulting firm about a half-hour south of my home hires me for individual projects, most lasting three or four months for about 20 hours of work per week. One project that began last summer, continued through the end of year, and should resume again in a few weeks involves writing standard operation procedure (SOP) and work instruction documents for the public service department of a nearby community. Water meter readings, garbage collection, snow plowing, filling potholes… all the routine tasks we take for granted and would have difficulty living without.

Aside from occasional site visits, I did all my technical writing from home before COVID. Socially-distanced site visits continued through last year, and I’ve continued working out of my home office, where I’ll certainly remain once we’re past this pandemic.

***

I haven’t stepped foot on the campus of my local community college since March, and probably won’t until the fall of this year.

The Writing Center has continued to operate as a virtual service. Students email us their papers along with the assignment sheet provided by their professors; Writing Center consultants then make comments on the electronic documents and then contact the students by email, phone, or Zoom/Webex. Every consultant believes we are doing more work now, spending more time with each student, than we had when students dropped in at our campus office.

Email is how I communicate with most of my students, at least 80%. I much prefer Zoom/Webex to phone calls, as I’m more comfortable with remote communication when I can see the person I’m talking to.

The major disadvantage to our remote support has been the lack of interaction with other consultants. In between consultations, it was rewarding to share ideas or discuss the latest Marvel movie with my peers. Aside from once a month Zoom conferences, that refreshing kibitzing is gone.

For the spring semester, the college has already cancelled non-essential campus services. No decision has been made yet about summer semester, but nobody has much hope. We have our fingers crossed for fall.

I look forward to sitting down at a table with a student. Hanging out with my colleagues again will be even nicer.

***

I continue working at for the curbside pickup service at the local grocery store. I have a lot to say about that experience, but as I’ve already gone a little overlong already I’ll save that last work experience for another day.

Day 308

I’m finding the best way to keep myself from doomscrolling news of the pandemic and the increasing violence in my country’s capital is to find a project to work on.

One of the faucets in our master bedroom had begun dripping a couple of months ago. Last week was the day I finally decided to stop ignoring the issue. The faucet had shutoff valves at the inlet pipes, which meant I could work on the faucet without having to shut water off to the entire house.

After looking up the make and model from the remodeling invoice three years ago, I downloaded the installation instructions and began working backwards from the last step. To remove the lever I first popped off the decorative index and used an allen wrench to loosen the set screw. The trim cap came off fairly easily; not so for the cartridge lock nut.

It was then time to crawl underneath and remove the lock nut, clamp, and washer from the base screw. With the faucet free from its base, I then detached the hoses from the water lines and removed the entire assembly from the sink. The only bit of work I wasn’t able to do was to remove the hoses from the cartridge, which requires tools I don’t possess.

Now that the darn thing’s all in pieces, I’m working with a contractor to get a replacement unit from the vendor. Not sure how long that will take, but since my wife and I have a double-bowl vanity we can get by for a while without much inconvenience, so long as I remember to rinse the sink after brushing my teeth.

An entire post for this COVID-19 journal that says nothing about the disease. You can’t ignore the pandemic, but not talking about it doesn’t show ignorance but rather a determination to not let it control you.