For What It’s Worth

People in German Village are getting pretty creative with their messaging. Or, perhaps, they’re just really bored after weeks of work at home and are feeling a need to get out and do something . . . different.  Either way, we’re seeing more interesting forms of public expression around the ‘hood these days — like this effort, which uses the help of a standard issue stop sign to quote some of the lyrics of the Buffalo Springfield ’60s anthem, For What It’s Worth.

You remember that song, don’t you?  After a few bell-like guitar notes, the lyrics begin:

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear . . . .

Apt lyrics for these strange and interesting times.

Breaking The Good News

Recently I wrote about the choices politicians have had to make in breaking bad news about how their states, and the residents of their states, are going to have to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  Breaking bad news to people is a tough job — but in some respects breaking good news is arguably even more challenging, at least under our current circumstances.

And, for the first time in a long time, there seem to actually be some glimmers of good news.  Ohio, for example, has carefully managed to avoid “hot spot” or “potential hot spot” status, and yesterday the state’s number of reported new cases was below the curve of projected COVID-19 cases for the eighth day in a row.  In fact, Ohio’s number of new reported cases was less than one third of projections.

There are also some tantalizing signs that the curve flattening and bending is happening elsewhere, too.  In yesterday’s federal coronavirus task force briefing, for example, Dr. Anthony Fauci reported that recent data from New York indicates that the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, and intubations in that hard-hit state have started to level off, and Dr. Deborah Birx reported that social distancing — the countrywide mitigation strategy that has been implemented on the largest scale ever attempted — appears to be working.

But therein lies the good news challenge.  The curve seems to be flattening and potentially bending precisely because the vast majority of American have taken the stay-at-home instructions seriously and have tried, responsibly, to isolate in their households.  But if you give people good news, might they relax in their precautions and let up a bit in their zealous pursuit of social distancing, thereby increasing the risk of a new flare-up and outbreak?  And if you get people’s hopes up, won’t they feel even worse if it turns out that these preliminary signs aren’t the bend in the curve we are hoping for?

21a9dbf8-44ea-4df2-a49b-28802063afc6In this case, I’m in favor of giving people the good news as it comes out, with appropriate caveats.  People have made a lot of sacrifices during this shut-in period.  Some have lost their jobs — for now, at least — and everyone has experienced disruption and more personal isolation than they would want to experience otherwise.  We all need to know that our sacrifices are making a difference.  And, as Andy Dufresne wrote to his friend Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “hope is a good thing . . . maybe the best of things.”  In this case, there’s nothing wrong with a little hope to leaven our collective spirits during difficult times.

I’ve got a lot of respect for the innate sensibilities of the American people.  For every jerk who has ignored social distancing to party on a beach, there are tens of thousands who have acted prudently and without complaint during this period to protect themselves, their families and their communities.  I’m confident that people will continue to act responsibly if they receive some positive news about how their efforts are making a real difference.  In fact, I think there is a good chance that Americans react to such news by redoubling their social distancing efforts, to finally bring this scourge of a virus to its knees and drive a stake through its ugly heart.

Until The Cupboard Is Bare

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, the impressive Dr. Deborah Birx, is advising that it’s especially important for Americans not to go out to the grocery store or the pharmacy this week and next — unless its absolutely essential.  That’s because the COVID-19 arc is supposed to peak during that time.

At our house, we’re taking this instruction very seriously.  We want to do our part in the collective national battle against the coronavirus.  COVID-19 has had a huge impact on people’s lives, and jobs, and we are eager to do whatever we can to bring it to an end at the earliest possible date.  Really, it’s the least that those of us who, thankfully, aren’t infected can do to help in the fight and to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.  And I admit there’s also a healthy sense of self-preservation involved.  Why run the risk — even if it ultimately turns out to be only a modest one — that a random encounter in the produce aisle on a grocery run that you really didn’t need to make transmits the disease, and you then bring it into your home?  And if fewer of us go to the grocery store, that allows those people who absolutely must be there, for whatever reason, to maintain better social distancing — and also will help to keep the grocery store clerks and checkout people who are doing such important work during this period safe and healthy, too.

So we’re going to eat what we’ve got, until the cupboard and refrigerator are bare.  That means eating every last can of soup, the brown rice that you bought because it’s supposed to be healthier before you discovered its pretty much tasteless, the ramen noodles, the can of stewed tomatoes, the oatmeal and the grits, and every other item of foodstuff odds and ends that you’ve accumulated.  We’re in “waste not, want not” mode, and we hope other people are taking the instruction seriously, too.

So this week, we’ve got Campbell’s bean with bacon on the menu, and we’ll figure out how to make something involving the brown rice, too.  And when our cupboards are bare and this all is over — and it will be — we’re all going to go on the greatest grocery store run in the history of mankind.

“Hunkering,” And Now “Bracing,” Too

We’ve all been hunkered down for a few weeks, and now the authorities are telling us we need to be bracing ourselves for the worst week of COVID-19 data yet.  According to the models, at least, we’re apparently somewhere near the top of the curve on that chart we keep seeing, like the people on a roller coaster who are a few clicks of the chain drive from the top of the first hill, scared about the view from the very top but eager for the exhilarating rush down the other side.

hqdefaultI’m not sure what, if anything, we can do to “brace” ourselves for more coronavirus news.  What does it mean to brace yourself for news of tens of thousands more people who have tested positive and are “confirmed cases,” thousands more who have been hospitalized, and thousands more who have died?  The numbers are so big and so out of context it’s hard to even conceive of them, much less put them into a framework where you can truly prepare yourself mentally to hear more of them.  “Bracing” yourself under these circumstances, for this kind of gush of large-number news, isn’t like readying yourself for the inevitable death of a loved one who has been on a long slide.  Instead, it’s like the old footage of the carnival performer who gets shot in the stomach with a cannonball.  He clenches one fist, spreads his arms wide, tightens his torso muscles, and dons what look like welding goggles, then accepts the inevitable punishing jolt to the system that he knows is coming and is going to hurt.

So, we’ve been “hunkered,” and now we’ll “brace,” too — to the extent we can, at least.  And it seems like “hunkering” is actually a component of “bracing.”  Part of preparing yourself for bad news is thinking about what you can do to deal with it and, hopefully, help the situation in some way.  We might not be able to personally aid the doctors and nurses and health care workers in Manhattan and New Orleans and other hot spots that are dealing with this pandemic, but we can do our part by acting responsibly, staying inside and maintaining social distance when we go outside for exercise, and not adding to the caseload.  That’s how Kish and I are going to “brace,” anyway.

And, because another key part of “bracing” is preparing yourself to move ahead after the bad news comes, we’re also going to look forward to the ride down the slope on the other side of that coronavirus chart.

Casting A Long Shadow

One thing about the coronavirus:  you can’t really get away from it.  At least not for long.  You think about it as soon as you wake up and automatically consider what you’ve got going that day.  You feel it when you sit at your home office and work remotely.  You see news stories about it dominating every news show and website, and you notice it, again, in the absence of the baseball games and basketball games and hockey games that you would normally be following and the fact that ESPN is showing footage of decades-old sports event.  You see its fine hand, again, in the absence of any social events to look forward to on your calendar.

And even on something simple like a morning walk on a fine, bright spring day — and thank God for us all that we are still allowed to take those, incidentally! — the specter of the coronavirus looms over everything, like the shadow of a giant beast that has crept up from behind and is getting ready to lay waste to a group of stupid, oblivious teenagers in a bad scary movie.  I find that I am acutely aware of the spatial orientation of every visible car, pedestrian, jogger, and cyclist, and am constantly calculating and recalculating the clearance vectors and paths around trees and cars so that I can safely pass everyone else who’s out.  I find that I get a bit anxious and irritated when somebody gets too close and, even inadvertently, invades my now-extended zone of personal space, although I haven’t called out anyone for that, yet.  That’s a big and somewhat unsettling change for me, and I’m hoping it’s not permanent.

And there are things that I used to do that I wouldn’t do now if you held a gun to my head — like petting a friend’s dog, stopping to chat with a cluster of people gathered on the sidewalk, texting while I’m walking and losing immediate cognizance of where everyone else is during those moments of distraction, or picking up a piece of blowing trash to keep our neighborhood looking neat and clean.  Now I not only won’t pick up random debris, I probably wouldn’t pick up a $50 bill — at least, not without thinking pretty long and hard about it.

It’s bad enough that COVID-19 had wrecked school years, and college visits, and spring breaks, and long-planned weddings, and has prevented people from gathering for funerals or concerts.  The big issue will be whether the coronavirus will continue to cast its long shadow after the curve has been flattened and the case counts stop dominating the daily news.  How much of the changes in our daily lives will become a permanent feature, and how much will vanish like the wisps of that rapidly receding nightmare? 


To the extent that the pranksters among us are tempted, I’ve got a very strong suggestion:  please, no April Fools’ Day jokes this year.

fof-the-fool-action-shotI’m not much of a prankster, myself.  As a kid I tried a few of the time-honored classics, like the well-placed Whoopie cushion on Uncle Tony’s chair, or the salt in the sugar bowl gag, but mostly my jests involved convincing a credulous person about some far-fetched story.  At the office, I’ve participated in a few jibes, too — including one incident that involved constructing a wall of boxes to block the door of a fellow attorney while he was in his office with the door closed for a telephone call.  This year, though, I’m not much in the mood for gags of the April Fools’ Day variety, and I don’t think that anyone else is, either.

It’s not that I’m opposed to pranks, in principle.  But there’s a time and place for everything, and pranks just seem kind of pointless and childish given the current circumstances.  Part of the idea of the April Fools’ Day jest is that the target will laugh at it, too — which doesn’t seem likely right now, no matter how well-crafted and humorous the scheme might be in a normal setting.  Plus, who are you going to pull the prank on — that person you’ve been spending 24 hours a day with for the last three weeks?  It doesn’t seem like a wise course when you’re going to be spending every waking hour with that person for the foreseeable future, does it?

So, I’m hoping that all of the pranksters among us hold their fire, and let this April 1 pass in a blessedly fool-free fashion.  Next year, perhaps, we all can let our inner pranksters loose.