Monthly Archives: March 2020

Coronavirus calculus

I went to the supermarket over the weekend. I was looking for a reason–and I came up with a good one: at this point, going to the supermarket tomorrow will be riskier than going today. As long as the curve rises, that’ll be true.

My wife’s in a risk group. As the risk goes up, my decisions are increasingly governed by one question:

If the worst happens, do I want to spend the rest of my life wondering if I was the one who caused it?

To be fair, if that happens, it probably won’t be my fault. She has an essential job that includes limited access to other people. If it happens, it’ll probably come from there.

Probably.

The weight of asking that question the rest of my life scares me more than dying. This tweet scares me more than dying.

This guy’s in Orlando, a quick drive away. Married 21 years, he’s maybe a little younger than me. I can identify with him a little. If the worst happens, there’s a decent chance he’s already said his last good bye to her. That’s enough to make you pause.

Now add in the question of whether you’re the one who did it.

You shouldn’t be asking yourself if you have the Constitutional right to go praise God together. Or whether this is an overblown threat that’s not really a threat.

As yourself if you can carry the load if your answer is “Yeah, maybe I did.”

Inevitable as it’ll be, I can’t wish that load on anyone.


God, hubris, and what comes next

Yesterday, the Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow announced that he expected to be able to manufacture 50,000 N95 masks a day by the end of the week. He then went off script in praising President Trump’s reponse to the pandemic and urging Americans to spend time in the Bible and pray.

President Trump and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell

The part about the 50,000 masks a day didn’t make the headlines. The urge to prayer and genuflecting to the President. And the usual suspects lined up on the usual sides of the usual arguments.

In the same news cycle, Tampa pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for defying Hillsborough County’s “Safer at Home” edict by holding services for 500 people on Sunday. Hillborough County Sheriff Chad Cronister said that Howard-Browne would not respond to requests from the Sheriff’s Office to discuss holding his services.

Tampa Pastor Rodney Howard–Browne

It’s great that a US company is stepping up to make the masks that are required. Lindell should be applauded for that move. Urging people to pray isn’t such a bad thing, either.

The message at our church this weekend was that when times are tough, turn to God.

But when you turn to God, your efforts should point to him. You should turn to him and hold him up as the reference point.

Lindell’s misstep was holding up President Trump as the reference point. “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” doesn’t point to God. It assumes God mandated a certain outcome in the last Presidential election. It almost assumes predestination in Donald Trump’s election.

Holding in-person services during a pandemic because of a misreading of the First Amendment doesn’t point to God. It points to one man’s hubris and his refusal to see this irresponsible gathering as less than the criminally negligent homicide it seems to be.

When you contrast these actions to growing number of stories exemplified in the following tweet, you can be forgiven if you think Jesus might be weeping over this man’s wife, more than celebrating over the words of Mr. Lindell and the actions of Pastor Howard-Browne.

People are afraid right now. People who are afraid do irrational things. Things like pronouncing an election result as God’s holy will. Things like holding services and putting about 1000 people, followed by the multiplier, at risk. Things like ignoring the fact that a company plans to create 50,000 badly needed masks a day by the end of the week.

To be clear, I’m no model when it comes to amplifying God. In some ways, I deal with my own human arrogance every day. And God still wants me to turn to him. That’s the real miracle of God’s grace, not an election result.

Mr. Lindell’s remarks are annoying. His offer is worthy of praise. Pastor Howard-Browne angered a lot of people. I can’t imagine the weight of knowing in a couple of weeks that he may be partially responsible for deaths in his church and maybe in his family.

When you mess up, you have to live with it and own it. And that can be a very heavy weight. I carry my share and you probably do, too.

It would be good if we all considered not adding to that weight as we navigate the apocalypse.


Man casts out son; everyone else misunderstands

A man in Nanuet, NY has a 21-year-old son who’s going to college for Sports Management. He’s in the news because when his son and his friend returned home from spring break at South Padre Island in Texas, his father refused to pick them up at the airport.

When they got to the house, the father refused to let them in the house. He pointed to his son’s car, which was loaded with groceries and had an envelope with $300 in it.

To borrow a phrase, they don’t have to go to their college apartment, but they can’t stay here.

Gratitous 90s song lyric reference

The father’s parents are in their 80s and live in the same house the son wanted to come home to.

The New York Post wrote about this, using the headline Coronavirus-panicked dad locks son out of house after spring break trip. The headline, as you might expect, is misleading.

The father begged his son and their friends to come home. In return, he got pictures about the ruckus they were causing, and complaints about how the cops seemed determined to ruin the fun.

Clearly the Post, which is in the business of selling newspapers, hoped to stir up it’s own ruckus with the headline. To my surprise, even tough it’s 2020 and feelings, every response I read on Twitter backed the father. Some of them with hell, yeah overtones.

Gratuitous 80s movie reference

I have a 22-year-old son who graduated last year with a degree in Sports Management. He’s working now–or was–until sports shut down.

If he were so selfish and fool-hardy as to go to spring break, stay there, send back pictures, and complain about the police, I might lock him out, too. And he might not get $300 and a car full of groceries (his mom would probably Venmo him the money).

But there’d be no “Hell, yeah.” If I were doing that, it would be with the full knowledge that while I had no choice, really, this one decision could end our relationship.

There’s going to be a lot of tough choices ahead. Choices made by medical professionals, by governments, by employers, and by fathers with wayward sons.

In this story, it’s easy to put yourself in the place of the father. But the truth is, too many times, I’ve been the son. As a result, I can call the son’s actions stupid and shortsighted. I can want to knock some damn sense into him. But I can’t condemn him. And when this was over, I’d be looking every day for him to come home.

Rembrand’s Return of the Prodigal Son

In a way, the father didn’t make the decision to cast his child out. The child made that decision. The father’s actions weren’t angry or delivered with wrath, glee, or gusto. If that were the case, there’d be no groceries, no envelope of money. No offer to take a leak in the bushes.

The father begged his child to come home where it was safe. The child refused. And now, though the father wants the best for his child, there’s really no other choice.

That’s never a cause for chest-thumping or celebration.


What will get us to the other side

I’ve kept this blog positive recently. There’s enough fear and anger out there without my adding to it.

But I’d like you to read the article I’ll link to in a few sentences. It’s a hard read. I teared up a couple of times. But it’s a necessary read. It’ll feel oppressive when you go through it, and might double down on your hopelessness. So I’d like you to read it, then come back and read the rest of this.

Here’s the link.

All of that said, there’s one word that jumps out of that article: love.

The people doing this work are just as human as anyone else. Saints. Assholes. People who bounce back and forth like they’re pinballs. But you can’t do that kind of work, take that kind of risk, put yourself through that kind of emotional meat grinder, without some level of love.

Collectively, these people and the ones who work with them, will win this war. It’s not Cuomo or Trump or even Dr. Fauci. It’s the people in the hospitals. The ones risking their lives, minds, and souls for us.

Love is what should keep distanced. Help us retreat into our homes and apartments. Some people love so much that they retreat into a solitary existence because they live alone.

Love is what keeps us looking after each other, even if it is via text, phone, or Zoom.

Love will win this war, more than any other fight we’ve endured.

So as the numbers increase, and they will–and the tide creeps closer, as it will–look first for love.


Some joy I’d like to share with you

We’ve lived in our current place almost three years now and until yesterday, the walls in my office were bare. Laziness, it is.

So after work last night, I finally put stuff up. It’s much nicer now. I’d like to share some of this stuff with you because it brings me joy. And joy, like some other thing everyone’s talking about, is infectious.

This picture is of my grandmother’s crucifix. It has a candle and stuff inside it and I put it over the bed because that’s what you do. Her faith was simple and very deep, something I can’t manage to duplicate, but not for lack of trying. Maybe I need to try less and trust more.

The clock next to it doesn’t work any more, but a writer friend gave it to me. We’ve drifted apart, but I still value it–and her. The clock doesn’t work any more, but I like it, so I kept it, even though it’s still broken.

The sand painting came from Utah and the best vacation I’ve ever had. My wife had wanted to show me Utah and I fell in love. I’d move there now, but the commute for her would be painful, considering she works at a middle school in Tampa.

I thought I’d moved past needing a working clock. After all there are clocks on every damn device. But, the way my office is set up, I can’t see the clock on the cable box. And sometimes my laptop or a device isn’t handy.

Fortunately, my sister got me one for Christmas a few years back. It’s a Mets clock because I am a masochist.

Below the clock is a painting we got at a store in Roatan. The locals make stuff and they sell it at the store. We make a point of going there if we cruise on Norwegian to Roatan, because it helps the locals a lot. Last time we bought a uniform for a local kid because, although there’s a school, the kids need uniforms to attend.

There’s a lot of stuff in the next picture. I’ll point out the boomarang, which my aunt and uncle brought back from a trip to Australia. It was decorated by an aborigine. I suppose it works, but it’s for showing, not for throwing. My aunt and uncle really changed the scope of what was possible. After a failed shot at working in the New York State legislature, they offered to let me live with them while I learned how to program. If not for them I wouldn’t have met my wife and my kids wouldn’t exist.

The dreamcatcher came from Utah. I was uncomfortable buying it. It seems pagan-ish to me. But the more I think about it, the more I think that if God is as big as the hymns say, there have to be different ways of knowing Him. I can’t dismiss another culture’s way because it’s different than mine. If you love the Lord, as you perceive him, with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself, all the law and the prophets are wrapped up in these two commandments.

The bottle of Dom came from 2015, the Hardest Year Ever. My work partner and I joked about getting a bottle of Dom when we finished, so I did. She doesn’t care for champagne, but she liked the Dom. It shows that everything ends, and that if you stick it out the sun comes out again. She’s moved on and I miss her a lot. It’s very likely I’ll never have another work partnership like that one, and that’s okay.

The Mets stuff is from 1986, the year I graduated college. Things seemed so certain then. Cheers was good every week. The Mets were good and Vin Scully called the games. Gas was like 65 cents a gallon at the Atlantic station on Broadway in Saratoga.

I was out of college and trying to figure out what came next. I was young and impatient and too consumed with the next big thing to understand it was a great time.

This is kind of my wall of honor. The letter in the upper right was given to me by a guy I worked for in the mid-90s. His signature is faded, but that’s okay. He was a kind, lovely man and he told me I would be better than I was at the time. That I’d calm the unforgiving voices within, but it would be work. For a lot of years, I didn’t believe him. But I kept the letter and then it happened. And it was a lot of work.

He died less than a year after he wrote that. I was back visiting and called to see if he was working so I could say hello. Our collective boss broke the news. That is among the sadder days. I wrote his wife, whom I never met, a letter a while later and told her what he meant to me. She wrote back–I might still have her letter. My letter to her is one of the better things I’ve written.

Next to it is a plaque I got as a technical writer. My assignment was to write a user’s guide, but they couldn’t install the software on my computer and I couldn’t interview the developers. I had to figure it out. So I did. I used the software on the dev computers after the developers were done. The manual was supposed to be a prop, but what I wrote was the final product–and it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

It took me too long to figure this out, but the value of that plaque is to trust myself. When something impossible comes along, I’ll pick at it and with some combination of Divine intervention, stubborness, and shear dumb luck, I’ll find the least awful solution. Dumb luck, after all, is the residue of design. Branch Rickey said that.

Which brings me to the Brooklyn Dodgers stuff. If you saw 42, Branch Rickey is the guy who signed Jackie Robinson. Harrison Ford played him brilliantly, though I don’t think it was a stretch for him to play an aging crumudgeon. Mr. Rickey invented the minor league affiliate system. He used it to build the St. Louis Cardinals teams that dominated the 40s. He moved on to Brooklyn, where the Dodgers were known as the Daffiness boys.

Rickey changed that, and the structure he built before he was pushed out carried the Dodgers through their glory days in Brooklyn and their success in LA through the early 80s.

When I started my fascination with the Dodgers, Gil Hodges was my favorite because of the Mets and because he reminded me of my grandfather, who may have been my favorite person ever. Like Hodges, he died way too young of a heart attack in the early 70s.

I don’t remember much about him any more, except that he seemed stern, but almost personified love to me. It hit me hard when he died. When you’re in first or second grade (first grade, I think), you don’t completely understand that.

As time’s gone by, though, Jackie Robinson has supplanted Hodges. I’ve read a lot about the Brooklyn Dodgers. If anything, 42 severely minimized the abuse Robinson took. Baseball in those days was a tough sport, played primarily by rural shit-kickers and returning World War II veterans. They were tough guys and the played the game that way.

A lot of them were from the south, so there was a lot of overt racism. It was a meaningful moment for Pee Wee Reese, a southerner from Kentucky, to go up to Robinson during warm-ups at a Reds game in Cincinnati, just across the river from Kentucky, and put his arm around him. It muted some of the heckling.

My son got a Jackie Robinson replica jersey he gave me. I got to wear it last year on April 15, Jackie Robinson day, at a Rangers game in Arlington. I’ll probably wear it on April 15 this year, too.

So that’s the tour. These things, and several others, bring me joy. It’s a nice respite, looking at these things and bathing in that joy a little. I hope it rubbed off.

May a good thing to do while you’re stuck at home is to take a similar tour.


One more hard thing to do

You’re probably managing a fair piece of stress right now. Maybe your job is hanging by a thread and you know a few thousand dollars from the government isn’t going to make a difference. Maybe the mortgage is due next week and while you can pay this month, it’ll clean you out. There’s no more money and none coming.

You want April 12 to be the Day American Comes Back more than you’ve wanted anything in your life. Because it’s your job to provide for your family and your kids are picking up in the tension. They don’t understand why you and their mom got into it last night, but they understand enough. They’re picking up on the fear and they’re scared.

You’re scared, too. More scared than you’ve ever been. You’d cry, but that won’t help and you need to at least pretend to be strong.

It doesn’t help when someone implies you’re a greedy, soulless ghoul.

Or maybe you’re a little over 60 and you haven’t seen the grandkids in a couple of weeks and it kills you to Facetime with them because you want to reach out and hold them. They live just ten minutes away. And they don’t understand why you haven’t come to see them.

But you’re at risk because you’re diabetic and you did a boatload of running around just shy of two weeks ago. And it might be allergies–that heaviness in your chest and that dry cough–but it might not be. The worst thing you can imagine is infecting that little bundle of joy.

The second worst thing you can imagine is dying the way you’ve read people die of this damn thing. Slowly succumbing to pneumonia, all alone on a stretcher in a hallway of some commandeered motel. Alone and helpless because no one can visit and there aren’t enough doctors or equipment to go around.

So when you see the story about the Lt. Governor of Texas implying that people like you should gladly offer up your life for business to resume, you get so angry you start to tremble. And when the man you’ve loved since high school says he has a point, you start to wonder if you’ve been living with a monster all your adult life.

It all feeds the rage. Outrage is easy right now. It feels reasonable. The end product of fear and uncertainty. The only way to feel any sense of power and autonomy in a world careening off the tracks into God knows what.

You’re outraged because you are paying attention. And because those soulless inhuman bastards who disagree don’t have the humanity to see things the way you do.

To be sure, some of them don’t have that humanity. Some of them are so wrapped up in The Right Way that they can’t see the cost of their absolute certainty.

But some of them are feel just as afraid and impotent as you do. They want to see a life where people can do what they used to. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight closer than what we have now.

Some of them don’t like that they feel like that. They try to see another way, but it’s just not there.

When you’re outraged it’s easy to pronounce things, to pass righteous judgement on the infidels who won’t come to the right side. To feel, for a moment, like you have a tiny bit of power.

It’s a hell of a lot harder to listen.

Damn hard to listen these days. Especially when everyone’s in your face shouting.

The pause that refreshes

I’m tired of the facts.

I don’t deny or ignore the facts. I’m just tired of them.

I’m tired of Johns Hopkins and Worldometer. I know that the curve is damn near vertical right now and even if we did everything perfectly starting today, it would stay that way for two weeks.

I’m tired of the Toddler-in-Chief using the daily briefing to thump his chest. Sir, you are not the story here.

I’m tired of the petty bullcrap, like holding the briefings in the evenings to fiddle with the network news. Like calling it Concast or the Deep State Department. I’m tired of him saying business as usual by Easter when there’s no way in hell that feasible. There’s a time and place. The coronavirus briefings aren’t it.

I’m tired of Dan Patrick–the Lt. Governor of Texas, not the good one–talking about how grandparents would gladly sacrifice their lives to get the economy going again. I’m tired of people comparing this to the flu and car accidents.

The good Dan Patrick alongside his tag team partner in happier days.

And I’m tired of the Justice Leag–err, Democrats acting like every reference to the economy is unbridled greed. It’s the old if one life is saved, it’s all worth it argument. As ugly as it is to say, there has to be an acceptable death rate for this. There have to be actuarial decisions made. If we wait for the death rate to be zero, we’ll be on lockdown for centuries.

I’m tired of the feigned self-righteous surprised anger at things that were obviously going to happen.

I’m tired of both sides using a good crisis to tack on goodies. The Republicans want to give corporations a boatload of money with no strings attached. While the rest of us get money we need to pay back. The Democrats screaming bloody murder about playing politics while their stimulus package includes a plethora of campaign promises as riders.

And I’m tired of each side screaming bloody murder at the other while doing exactly the same thing they’re screaming about.

The circus will continue whether I sit in the bleachers or not. And I need some space.

We get to do that. As long as we aren’t hoarding toilet paper, adding risk, or pissing off our cellmates too terribly, we get to do what’s necessary to maintain mental health.

It’s a long season and you don’t have to play every inning of every game. Take a bit of time and refresh yourself from time to time.

Drink Coke or not, but that the pause from time to time.


Things I'll make a point of enjoying when this is over

As we move into the dark phase, when the numbers are horrifying to look at, when the daily briefings become political theater, when we can’t even pass a freaking relief bill because both sides are using it to force unrelated pet projects–we have to believe that there’s going to be an afterward.

These are the things I’ll enjoy afterward:

I love a bar. Not like at Chili’s where there are 803 televisions and everyone’s watching one of them, regardless of what’s on. I like a bar where you sit down and have a beer and you can talk to people you don’t know and they don’t think it’s odd. I’d gotten out of the habit of going to bars. I’ll be sure to do it again.

I’m not a guy who touches people a lot. Part of it’s because I’m kind of big and having a big guy touch you can be off-putting. But there are hugs sometimes and I’ve always treasured them when they happen. I’ll treasure them more afterwards.

I miss going someplace, having a coffee and either working or writing. I’ve always kind of liked that, but for some reason I’d fallen out of the habit. I’ll be sure to do that again.

I like run club and it annoys me when I can’t go, which I couldn’t because my leg’s bugging me. And because we don’t have it any more. Sure, I’m slow. Last month I got lapped by a worm. But I do the work.

I miss wandering around the supermarket because I can’t decide exactly what I want in the embarrassment of choices.

I miss being able to go anywhere, any time. without having to think about whether it’s an acceptable risk. And I miss not having to look back and see if that one thing was the one stupid thing I did that maybe got my family in danger.

I’m due for new running shoes. There’s a place in St. Pete I go to. It’s a pain in the butt since we moved, but it’s a good store and I have a friend who works there. I miss being mildly irritated that it’s so far away.

I miss a lot more, but this is a good start. A list of things I’ll keep in mind to do when this is over.

In the meantime, in the words of the great Sheriff Bart (Blazing Saddles), “Keep the faith, brothers.”

That’s as important as social distancing right now.


Mundane stuff, 3/24/20

12;20 pm. The parabola is coming for us all.

Worldometer numbers

Worldwide cases/deaths: 400,455/17,451
US cases/deaths: 48,778 (3rd worldwide)/588 (6)
Florida cases/deaths: 1227 (7th in the US)/18 (7)

The numbers will continue to get worse and they have to get worse to get better. It was just a few days ago, though, when we got to more cases outside China than inside China. Now China has only a fifth of the cases globally.

There’s a lot of people yelling that we haven’t flattened the curve, but if the things we do today flatten the curve, we’re not going to know about it for two weeks.

The President is looking this through the lens of how he can use it to assure re-election. It’s not just the right using it as a way to tack on their goodies and yell at the other side. It’s a little disgusting.

The Olympics are postponed for a year.

We have those flat light switches and I’m starting to think about using my elbows on them even after this is over. This is going to stamp us the same way the Depression stamped my grandparents. We just don’t fully know how yet.

And yet, most of the people I deal with day to day are managing it really well. It’s impressive and inspiring.

6:30 am. I was supposed to be in Detroit for a meeting today. That got called off so long ago, it didn’t even register until now.

The numbers get mind-numbing after a while. More than the numbers, it’s the spacing of the dots on the graph. The increase is getting steeper every day and it’s not scheduled to peak for another month.

Worldometer numbers

Worldwide cases/deaths: 387,306/16,756
US cases/deaths: 46,168 (3rd worldwide)/582 (6)
Florida cases/deaths: 1227 (7th in the US)/18 (7)

Scarier are the stories that get posted to Facebook. One guy got it and described what it was like. Doctors describing what it’s like. And then there’s the stories that aren’t being told, of people dying completely alone because they can’t have someone with them. This is what China was going through in January and February–while we didn’t really pay attention.


Monday morning in a pandemic

I usually write these a day ahead. So what if it’s Tuesday? The message still applies.

What’s worse than a pandemic? Monday morning in a pandemic.

And please, don’t start in with “It’s a lot worse for the people who are dying.” Or “It’s a lot worse for the elderly and sick who can’t get any visitors.” Or “It’s a lot worse for people who don’t have a job.” Or, my personal favorite: “It was a lot worse for Anne Frank.”

I know it’s worse for them. It’s not a contest. There isn’t a level where you aren’t allowed to be periodically freaked out by Coronapandegeddon.™

I get to have my moments. And quite honestly, telling me about Anne Frank and implying I shouldn’t have any moments isn’t helpful. Part of being strong, is going away, having your damn moment and moving forward.

I get to be freaked out now and again.

So do you.

You get to be stir crazy. You get to feel lonely and afraid.

The Bible says not to be afraid, as if people of the faith have the secret sauce to never be overwhelmed by fear. But it has to repeat that message over and over again.

If God reassuringly tells you not to be afraid a lot of times, he knows that fear is part of the job description.

So be afraid. Be lonely. Be angry. You have every right.

And then come over here–metaphorically, of course.

We can’t hug each other right now. Some day we’ll be able to again. But for now it has to be virtual.

And so here it is, a virtual hug. It’s all your friends and family in one spot. And people you sort of know. And people you don’t know at all. And they’re all together. And they’re feeling all the same stuff you are. And you find someone and hug them and smile. And it feels like home just for a minute. And then you see someone else and repeat it. And so on.

And the edges smooth off and you feel like there’s something good again. And you know that eventually, down the line, it’ll be okay.

You’re afraid. Alone. Angry. But you aren’t alone.