The Tuesday morning work from home isolation Omicron blues

Early in the Covid, someone posted on a Facebook comment that I have work from home privilege. Though the comment irritated me at the time, it’s true. Over the last two years, the only time I’ve worked from somewhere other than my at-home office is because I’ve chosen to do so.

In some ways, it’s been awesome. Since early on in the pandemic, I didn’t worry much about losing my job. I’ve rarely had to worry about the Covid. If it enters our house, it probably didn’t enter through me.

But the isolation is hard.

I’ve never been a guy with reems of close friends, but I need to be around people. Since the first week of February 2020, I’ve been to the office exactly once. Since the first week of December, my only regular non-work contact with others is a weekly Zoom call on Wednesday nights.

I wear a mask everywhere I go. It’s so tight that it ought to come with a latex-clad woman wielding a whip.

Put your mask on. NOW!

It’s so hard to put on and take off that on the rare occasion when I go two places, I keep it on in the car. That’s right, I’m one of the people who wears his mask in the car.

It’s making me bitchy. And it’s making me notice negative news more than I should. Last week, I read a piece in The Atlantic that said regardless of the numbers, the worst of the Omicron variant is yet to come. Although I’d love to dismiss it as pandemic theater, the author laid out a compelling case. When the numbers drop, the bulge in hospitalizations will linger long after the wave passes. In other words, don’t party like it’s 1999 just because the numbers are going down.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy mirrors that news, saying that the next few weeks will be grim.

Happy Tuesday everyone.

My house is nice. I have a great set-up in my at-home office. Three monitors, even. Although there was an overturned slipper on the way from my bed to my desk, my commute lasts seconds. I spend nothing on gas.

There’s an overturned slipper in the hallway. You might want to consider the stairs as an alternate route.

Most important, from my point of view, I’m doing the right thing right now.

But I’m tired of it. I’m tired of all of it. I know I’ll make it through six weeks or sixty. And I know that, for me at least, pulling back for now is the right thing to do.

But holy <insert string of swear words here>, I’m over this.

I know people who have it a lot harder. A friend went back to being a doctor because of the Covid. She wears a mask and a visor all damn day. Part of her job is working with people who’ve seen enough suffering and death to cause them nightmares for as long as they live.

Another friend has been sick two weeks. Her whole family is sick. She went to the emergency room this weekend with what may be a related illness. (She’s okay, relatively speaking.)

I know I have it good.

But I’m just so over this.

I never have to wonder if I’m the next Philando Castile

I joke that I’m whiter than Drew Carey. I like a nice roast beef or pizza dinner on my way to watch Cheers, Magnum, P.I., or Burn Notice on whatever streaming service hosts them. I prefer U2 to Dr. Dre. To the best of my recollection, there were exactly zero people who weren’t white in my middle school and high school classes. (And there are exactly two black people in the shows I mentioned.)

In short, I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color.

But I think I got a glimpse from by fair-skinned, blonde-haired daughter.

She doesn’t feel comfortable running at night. Too many bad things can happen. If she runs, she confines her running to daylight hours, when she can see what’s out there, and when other people are around.

The closest I can get to understanding what it’s like to be black is to translate that to going into a store. My daughter doesn’t feel safe running at night. Some people of color don’t feel safe going into a store. They’re followed around because they might steal something.

When I get pulled over by a cop, my biggest fear is that I missed something, accidentally ran a light or forgot to update the sticker on my plate. I’ve never had to wonder whether I’d leave the scene in a body bag.

Statistically, the overwhelming majority of traffic stops of black people end the same way as for white people. The majority of cops aren’t bloodthirsty racists, looking for a way to kill a black man.

The majority of guys at college parties aren’t looking to date rape women. It’s still good parenting to tell your daughter to keep her thumb over the top of a beer bottle or walk away from a drink if you turned your back on it.

If you have that discussion, then you’d probably have a similar discussion about traffic stops if you’re black.

As a white person, when I get stopped, I never wonder if I’m the next Philando Castile.

Discussions about privilege make me profoundly uncomfortable. I feel like I’m on trial and that it really doesn’t matter what I do, think, or say. I’m guilty of privilege because I’m a white Christian straight guy–perhaps the most privileged of all. And in some shorthand, privilege is a chip shot away from evil.

It doesn’t really matter what I do, think, or say.

Profoundly uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing sometimes. If you don’t shy away from it, it makes you think. It makes you reconsider things a little differently.

My employer gives us today off. I intend to do some writing today. My body blissfully allowed me to sleep until 7 this morning. But part of the reason we get today off is to consider what it’s like. To maybe walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

It bothers me that my daughter doesn’t feel comfortable running while it’s dark. It shouldn’t be that way. But I’ve never had to tell my kids–in particular, my son, how to react if you get pulled over.

It bothers me more than people have to have that discussion.

That’s why we need to have the bigger conversations, the ones that create profound discomfort for guys like me.

There are a lot of first-person references in this post, on a day when we should be thinking bigger than ourselves. But it starts with introspection.

So maybe today, you don’t march in a parade or perform public service. Maybe you sleep later than normal. Maybe you drink coffee and write and enjoy a day without Zoom meetings and irritated customers.

Maybe a little discomfort wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.

Before you raise hell at school board meetings…

It’s been a few years now, so I might get the details mixed up. At some point, my daughter’s teacher told her that Columbus discovered America in 1692. That would’ve made him a scourge on the native population about 30 years after the first people settled in what is now Schenectady, NY.

I corrected my daughter and left it at that. Within a year, we moved to a place that had a better school. If I remember the story correctly, that was wrong of me. Instead of bemoaning the education system, I probably should’ve gotten more involved at the time.

My wife did most of the parent-teacher conferences, mostly because it matched her work schedule better or because she worked at the school where the kids went. Also, our kids were high achievers who didn’t get in much trouble. The conferences I went to were short and happy.

But the 1692 story always comes back to me when I hear about parent protests at school board meetings. A friend of mine–a liberal Democrat friend (gasp!)–posted the following on her Facebook feed.

Who says no to Paid Time Off?

Unless you’re working a lot of jobs to keep the bills paid, it’s a valid point.

If education is teaching our kids that white people all hate everyone with skin darker than a new baseball, that’s worthy of opposition. If they’re teaching that this country is inherently corrupt because it was built solely on the backs of people of color, that’s worth debating.

But if they’re teaching about the Tulsa Race Massacre, or the Tuskegee study, or the conditions that led to the destruction of the Central Avenue district in Tampa, I don’t have a problem with that. We never learned stuff like that in school and we should’ve. If you don’t know what those things are, Google is certainly your friend.

Aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre

It’s not a lie to say that we’ve treated people of color like crap in this country, from Tulsa, to reconstruction, to separate-but-equal, to death threats against Hank Aaron for daring to hit home runs.

Threat received by Hank Aaron in 1974.

It’s a relatively minor point, but it was 1989 before the NFL had a black head coach (Art Shell). Fritz Pollard was the first black man to play in the NFL, in 1920, but after his career, there wasn’t another black man until 1946. In the 43 years after that injustice, not a single black player had the right skill set to coach an NFL team? That’s wrong. It’s not America-bashing. It’s not woke-ism. It’s fact.

Art Shell became the first black NFL head coach in 1989. 1989.

Before concerned parents scream their heads off at a school board meeting because of whatever Tucker Carlson said, they should review what’s actually being taught. Then they should see if it’s actually true.

All white people don’t suck. And this country is as good as any other country, and better than many.

But before we run screaming down to the school board meeting, we need to do our homework. We need to be open to the fact that some of what gets taught these days might be new and uncomfortable.

If your kids are being taught that their great-grandparents put their foot on people of color, even if they were still in the old country, you have a legitimate complaint.

But you should check first. And maybe you should look for some of the things we weren’t taught in school, but should’ve been.

Maybe they’re just really ugly

A screenshot of a requirement to wear masks on Zoom calls is making the rounds is peak 2022. It’s satire. For now.

In case you missed it, the following image has been making the rounds of the Interwebs the past few days.

The boss in the email, Ashleigh LeighAnne Davidson-Greene, sent the request after a co-worker, Mackenzie Mariegh, said that she doesn’t feel comfortable in the presence of unmasked people. That action was taken, as you can see, to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable.

I happen to know some of the backstory here. After receiving a number of complaints, typically referencing freedom!, Ashleigh LeighAnne reached out to Mackenzie Mareigh, and asked if she would keep her eyes shut during meetings. I haven’t been able to find out whether Mackenzie Mareigh has accepted. But I will say that safety is its own reward.

I’ll also say all of this is satire, created by a Tiktok user named @zactokz. The satire isn’t too far from some, uhh, requests to make people feel safe and comfortable.

When I went to look for an image of people wearing masks on Zoom calls, I found a few, including some from government officials trying to be leaders by wearing masks while they’re alone at home in a situation where no one should be encouraged to wear masks (unless you have someone with the Covid living in your house). In short, they look stupid and they’re doing more harm than good.

It’s been a while, but we’re probably due for this to make the rounds on the socials.

Emphasis added

For reasons I’ve discussed, I’m holing up more for now. I’ll eat at restaurants, but outside but not inside. And I won’t go to my favorite bagel place on days I don’t have calls in the morning. I like to get out of the house when I can.

I’m making this decision for my own comfort. But it’s also based on data. Covid infection numbers are through the roof. I’m a fully vaccinated booster person and hospitalizations and ICU stays aren’t up nearly as much as they were last winter. That’s my comfort zone and it doesn’t impede others.

It’s my decision. I don’t expect you or anyone else to do (or not do) anything to make me comfortable. (Welllll….a backrub would be nice, but I digress.)

I will never wear a mask “to make everyone feel more comfortable.” That’s a stupid reason to impose on people, especially the N95 masks. Yes, I know healthcare professionals wear them all day. And the first second they can take them off, they do.

But wagging your finger in my face about it has me on the verge of thinking you’re right about everything and have been since the bat soup days.

Data and science are good reasons to wear a mask. The rights of a business or person whose home you’re entering are a good reason. To make someone holed up in their house comfortable coming outside? That’s giving them license to dictate anything to accommodate their comfort.

Finally, I’m one of Mackenzie Mariegh’s coworkers. We all look like we got beaten with the ugly stick. That’s the real reason for the masks.

About Amy Schneider (who used to be a [gasp!] dude)

More than James Holzhauer, I’m enjoying Amy Schneider as reigning Jeopardy! champion. Holzhauer had swagger. He was going to bury you and it was important for you to know that going in. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way.)

Amy Schneider just shows up, dominates the game, and goes home. Holzhauer seemed to dominate from the time Alex Trebek walked across the stage. With her there’s often a point early on where the game’s in doubt. Then she goes on a run and by Final Jeopardy, she’s mathematically eliminated everyone two or three times over.

There’s precision in her approach without the I’m gonna tear everyone’s hearts out vibe I got from Holzhauer.

Oh, and she used to be a dude.

For some, that should be the lead. This is a great step forward for trans people in America. If I were trans, I’d lead with that, too. It’s more than just seeing someone who’s like you do well. It’s seeing someone like you taking a step toward changing the conversation.

Personally, I don’t care that she used to be a dude. I don’t root for her or against her as a result of that fact. I admire her skill and ability and it made me happy for her when she crossed the million-dollar barrier.

More to the point, I don’t think God cares that she used to be a dude. I don’t think when you show up at the pearly gates, St. Peter’s gonna look at you and say “yup, you check all the boxes, and you didn’t get your parts changed. Come on in.”

And she seems happy. Happy people tend to treat themselves and others better. That’s the part God cares about.

It’s none of my business that she was born a dude. In a free society, if you want to change sexes, you get to do that.

That should never be an excuse for violence and hatred. If people want to celebrate you for that, they get to do that. If they want to say they don’t care for that, they get to do that, too. But they don’t get to hurt you or intimidate you into obscurity.

For me, she’s just a likeable Jeopardy! contestant who shows up and beats your ass with an understated confidence that makes you realize how smart you have to be to dominate on that show.

I’m enjoying her reign and part of me will be a little sad when it’s over.

We’re like that kid from Poltergeist, at the end

In the 1982 movie Poltergeist, a little girl, Carol Ann, is abducted by spirits who manifest themselves initially in the television. The movie deals with her family’s efforts to get her back. They’re confused by apparent experts who aren’t sure what they’re doing. Their neighbors think they’re weird. And they go through a protracted period of hell where it seems like they can’t trust anything.

Then it’s over. The threat is gone. They’re wiser and wearier and they’re moving on. And then, as it starts again for the movie’s finale, Carol Ann looks at what she seems doomed to relive and says, “Not again.”

The closet mouth to hell, otherwise known as this decade so far.

I normally don’t identify with fictional six-year-old girls in forty-year-old movies, but in this case, Carol Ann’s simple “Not again.” captures my position perfectly.

This is my choice. No law is forcing me inside. But I have reasons. And it’s been a long two years. The feeling of being bottled up away from people again brings a fatigue that weighs a lot more than it should.

Rationally, I should be able to handle this. In six weeks or so, it’ll be over. Barring another variant from hell, we should be able to get on with things. And this time, as fully vaccinated booster people, we feel safe to eat outside. It’s just not that bad.

But this isn’t rational. None of this is rational.

The unwritten rules of life have been vaporized. It’s scary and apocalyptic. It’s something few of us have experienced. And it comes at a time when our trust in anything has gone out like the tide. And now it’s ba-aack.

Hi. I’m Omicron.

That’s why people reject masking and vaccines in spite of the statistical evidence that proves their effectiveness. That’s why they’ll take anything other than the vaccine to combat the Covid.

It’s also why others have taken on the role of mask prosecutor and judge. I find you guilty of mask violations. Yes you wear a mask and you wear it correctly, but it’s a fabric mask and as I’ve said from the very beginning, you must have an N95 mask or you’re effectively a murderer.

Us. Now.

We’re all Carol Ann sitting in front of the stupid TV set (or computer), saying “not again.” We’re emotionally impacted and bitchy.

And tired.

It’s a heavy load. Much heavier for some than others. But we’ve all been through a crap-ton of hell the last two years.

We get to be tired. If we accept those truths and understand that others are just as freaking tired and irritable as we are, maybe we can get through this (God help us) last major wave without biting each other’s heads off. Or worse.

Finally, a first step against higher-ed price gouging

Although we debate endlessly about student-loan forgiveness, few have talked of the outrageous rate of inflation when it comes to tuition. My kids went to George Washington and Syracuse. I’ve had some insight into the costs piece of the debt puzzle.

The following meme is typically used to decry healthcare costs or CEO salaries, but based in its numbers, the cost of college has increased at almost twice the rate of medical care.

In any other context, price increases like this would be considered price-gouging. But universities are reliable supporters of Democratic lawmakers, so they won’t object. And conservatives are too busy railing against content to be concerned about the cost of higher ed. So we don’t talk about it, and costs escalate at a Covid-like rate.

This, more current set of date, shows a slightly higher rate of increase, more than five times the rate of inflation

If a new lawsuit succeeds, that may change. Five students are filing a lawsuit in federal court against sixteen of the country’s most elite (read expensive) universities. According to a Forbes article, the suit accuses the institutions of price fixing by colluding by “sharing a methodology for how much financial aid would be awarded to prospective students.” The suit says the schools of eliminated financial aid as a point of competition, which resulted in higher prices for students.

The schools are part of something called the “568 Presidents Group,” which has developed a common approach to determining a family’s ability to pay for college. According to the suit, nine schools considered the student’s (and their family’s) ability to pay when making admissions decisions, favoring wealthy families.

That would be like going to your local car dealer and knowing the cost of the car only after they figure out how much they can bleed you for. We don’t accept that from car salesmen, but somehow it’s okay for colleges to do it.

By increasing costs and favoring wealthy students, the schools have reduced the options for lower-income (often minority) and middle-class students. In a world where college degrees are required for many jobs, you need to take on the debt to get where you want to go. And while no one is forcing students to go to higher-cost private institutions, in many cases, that’s were the best networking occurs. And that networking helps you get to the higher-paying jobs (except not everyone who went to an expensive university can get one of those jobs).

To be fair, the meme above doesn’t break out costs by private and public institutions. Many state schools have seen funding cuts, so an increase in cost is required. But that’s not the case everywhere, and it certainly doesn’t cover private institutions.

If this suit can become a class action, more than 170.000 former undergrads could be eligible to join.

If it succeeds, maybe it’ll add the cost component to the student-debt discussion. If we pay off the loans without doing anything to control costs, it’s merely an invitation for a higher rate of increase and even more debt to be paid off.

Learning how to live more effectively with Covid isn’t selfish. It’s necessary.

It started when I saw this tweet.

WhileDr. Walensky could’ve been more artful with her words, in a world where 75% of deaths occur with people with at least four comorbidities, maybe those who don’t have comorbidities don’t need to wear a mask to go to the mailbox. While vaccines are important, maybe the majority don’t need to push to the front of every vaccine and booster line. Maybe once the Omicron wave subsides, we shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the stupid, cockadoodie disease.

For most of us, this news is encouraging. Even if I were one of the people with multiple comorbidities, it would be encouraging. I’m not fond of living a tiny life and that’s why I wouldn’t want others to live it. Not when they don’t have to.

If we factor what we’ve learned into treatment plans and protections, we can take care of the most vulnerable while not impeding those who don’t need it.

The real selfishness is continually expecting everyone else to curtail their lives for the sake of a relatively small number of people. It’s demanding that everyone do something–or not do it–just so some can feel secure. It’s expecting a no-questions-asked approach to going back to distance learning when Surgeon General Vivek Murthy just spoke about a mental health crisis among the young.

Covid isn’t going away. And most people, those who mostly tried to follow the rules, are tired of it. Especially if the science and data say they can safely live their lives. That–and forthcoming elections–is probably why you don’t see certain governors not saying, ” we don’t believe in the pre-pandemic mindset.”

In a fit of pessimism the other morning, I said, “Deltacron is right around the corner and then who knows what?” (Spoiler: It’s not, but that didn’t stop the red-letter headlines.) I attend a writer’s conference every fall and it’s been cancelled or held online two years running. The people in charge have done a wonderful job pivoting.

But I’m not sitting in front of my laptop this fall when I want to be sitting at a bar with friends I get to see once a year. I’m just not. (Though I will stay home if there’s no conference again…duh.)

This October, I’m sitting at this bar and drinking a little too much with other writers and the Covid can kiss my ample white ass.

I’ve stayed in, masked up, felt like crap for a combined seven days after vaccines, even worn paper masks too small for someone with a 7 3/4 hat size. I’m done.

It’s not fair to expect the vulnerable to hunker down while the world goes on. That’s an undeniable truth. But expecting everyone else to do it so there’s no confusion is even more unfair.

Using the limitations of the compromised as the baselines for public policy delegitimizes that policy. While I disagree with the anti people in general, some of their stances are based on valid grievances.

Self-righteously proclaiming those who don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach as moronic ghouls doesn’t help. For every pinhead screaming at a flight attendant about masks, there’s a bitter woman sitting at a keyboard lighting up the internet about the guy who wore a (gasp!) cloth mask to the store. What an imbecile! Everyone knows that wearing a cloth mask is like eating a giant Covid sundae.

The ice cream, the sprinkles, the whipped cream, the cherry? All Covid! And you’re a stupid ghoul if you say different!

When’s the last time you convinced someone about something by calling them a stupid, selfish creep?

I’m thrilled that we’re learning more about this. I’m excited that we can identify the people at greatest risk. Why pester fit 25-year-olds about the most recent booster shot when obese 50-year-old with underlying conditions are at greater risk?

We can either go forward, learn, and adjust to this, or we can hunker down some more and wear masks forever just to satisfy the intellectual and moral masturbation of people like Matthew Cortland (they guy from the tweet).

I have no problem with intellectual masturbation. Free country and all. But some things are better done in private.

The loss of Bob Saget

Bob Saget came at the wrong time in my life. I’d clearly aged out of the target audience for most of his TV work. The kids that would watch something like that were few years in the future for me. TGIF was going to a bar at that point. As for the videos, you can only watch a guy take a golf club to the groin so many times.

So while there was a tiny jolt that the guy who made ABC so much money in the early 90s died yesterday, mine wasn’t the reaction some would have.

For me, he seemed awfully young. Sixty-five isn’t that old when you remember the last days of the Nixon administration.

For a younger generation, the reaction was different. Bob Saget was the level-headed, understanding, perfect dad who made you feel everything would be okay if only for half an hour every Friday night.

He led a household filled with caring adults who guided the kids–and you–through the apocalyptic crises involved with growing up. He rarely yelled and never lost his mind. He never brought home and devoured a six-pack after a really tough week at work. And he never stood in front of you blank-faced when a new, enormous problem came up.

For some, he never beat them, belittled them, or screamed at them until a vein started to throb in his temple. He was a vision of a world that might be possible and might give you hope for adulthood.

Every generation has them, TV dads from Hugh Beaumont to Robert Reed to Tom Bosley. To Bob Saget. Even his name (and his character name) seems to say boring normalcy. (Unless you took your kids to his stand-up, which was enormously raw.)

For most of your life, boring normalcy isn’t a bad thing. And as you start to edge into the life were excitement is better, you still relish the fact that boring normalcy exists. When you have kids of your own, it means a night without a kid’s activity somewhere. When you reach my age, it means things aren’t a pain in the ass.

Bob Saget represented that in a world that seemed, at the time, scary and unpredictable.

In a world where half of all marriages end well before death, he symbolized what family could be to a generation (even if the mom died). He held it together and made childhood a safe time.

That impact is important. And when you lose a piece of that, it can hurt.

Freedom at the barrel of their guns

I was hoping to find burning coals to (metaphorically) pile on the heads of people who celebrate the deaths of anti-vaxxers. What I found was far more troubling. The threat of the QAnon-based cult cannot be overstated. They intend to rule this country through fear and force.

Cirsten Weldon, known in QAnon circles as CirstenW, died Thursday from the Covid. She wasn’t vaccinated and took no precautions. She’s become popular in conspiracist circles to the point of interviewing Roseanne Barr. who’s doubled down on the insane rhetoric that got her fired from the Roseanne reboot.

Cirsten Weldon, known in QAnon as CirstenW.

Weldon called for Anthony Fauci to be “hung (sic) from a rope,” and referred to people who’ve been vaccinated as gullible idiots. After her death the usual people their usual grave-dancing, which was sickening.

The rest was worse.

When deniers are hospitalized, to keep the narrative alive, QAnon followers claim they’re sick from something else. When they die, the medical staff killed them. Their death might be the result of negligence–as they weren’t given ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, or whatever other unproven remedy happens to be popular at the moment.

Or it might be outright murder, as the deep state feels the need to silence those who would dare speak against their plan to install Biden and make us a Communist nation–or whatever conspiracy happens to light their lamp.

We can’t let it be us. It must be (dun dun DUNNNNN) murder.

As if that weren’t enough, they’ve started to target medical staff. Another QAnon follower, Scott McKay, whose online name Patriot Streetfighter made my inner thighs tingle, is threatening to dox the staff that treated Weldon.

He wants to “put the fear into these medical professionals.” In a Telegram post, he called for their execution, saying, “If it’s not done in a military tribunal then it’s going to be done in the street eventually.”

Freedom means when you dislike someone’s actions, you give them the choice of execution by the military or murder in the streets. Take a second to digest that.

No quarter given. They’re preparing for war. Like the Klingons, they don’t take prisoners.

The policies of people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Gavin Newsom, and George Gascon will eventually cause this country great harm. They’re starting to now.

But the death threats against medical staff for not providing untested remedies points to a far more immediate threat.

Freedom is never lived out at the point of a gun. Yet an increasingly powerful plurality sees no trouble with killing anyone who doesn’t bow down to their wishes as if they were deities.

They’re telling us who they are; we need to believe them.