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VOL. 44 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 27, 2020

Ride it till the wheels fall off? We’re past that

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Sign of the times. There are some things you just can’t give up for Lent.

As an early-warning coronavirus screening, Kayne tested our new temporal thermometer on my forehead for evidence of a fever. Initial results – 87.6 degrees – showed I was apparently freezing to death

The Rogers household is woefully unskilled at dealing with this rapidly advancing health threat.

However, heeding guidance provided in song by Monty Python, I choose to always look on the bright side of life: With tanking investment accounts we probably won’t be able to afford to live deep into old age anyway.

Therefore: Carpe diem! Seize the day!

But, given the new dystopian reality, seize it how?

Precautions are still in order, obviously, vigilance the recommended response. Our friend Mack reported on the basic steps he and his wife, Teri, were taking.

“We’re homebound except for a daily walk when we cross the street if anyone comes our way,” he emailed. “We went to the supermarket on Saturday, wore gloves and managed to stay clear of most everybody, washed all packaging and produce when we got home.”

Sound procedures, probably. Wearing gloves to the grocery store has occurred to me, too, considering the place is a petri dish for all manner of pathogens even in the best of times. Who knows how many other people have handled this broccoli? Those apples?

Fortunately, many shelves are bare, eliminating whatever threat they may have held. Strawberry jam, our preferred peanut butter accompaniment, has been missing for days. So, for that matter, has peanut butter.

Apparently, though, not even a pandemic can force a run on artichoke hearts.

Open-air walks are still on the list of approved activities, and many folks in our neighborhood are taking advantage. Mack and Teri’s example notwithstanding, I still nod and amiably greet those I pass on the sidewalk, even though they are all potential killers. What the heck, so am I! Social niceties still apply, even in times of social distancing.

Social distancing, by the way, comes pretty naturally to a pair of introverts who don’t work outside the home and live with a pair of paranoid cats who have always modeled the behavior.

Mindful at my age of approaching decrepitude, however, I do feel the need to maintain some sort of physical regimen, so I’d been continuing my regular trips to the Y. I asked the fellow behind the counter the other day how much longer he thought they’d be able to stay open.

“We’re going to ride it till the wheels fall off,” he said.

They fell off later that day.

Subtracting that goodly chunk of activity leaves even more time to fill. I have found, however, that the appeal of some household projects decreases in direct proportion to the time available for them.

For instance, now is probably the perfect opportunity to convert all our CDs and DVDs into computer files, thus freeing up several feet of shelf space for … something else. But the prospect strikes me as dreadfully dull.

More to the point, I should probably be digitizing my hundreds of vacation slides, using the copier Kayne gave me for Christmas. But a preliminary survey of the task indicated it called for technical expertise beyond my meager helping.

It would be a handy time to be handy. I could repair that mysterious hole some critter pecked or gnawed through the screen on the back porch. I could hang a much-needed new door on the porch, as well.

Alas, I am not handy. I pay other people to be handy. But is it wise to invite strangers onto the premises? The screen and door will wait.

Reading, it seemed, would be safer and more entertaining. The library has temporarily closed, but there are plenty of books in the house. I started with a volume of short stories by Somerset Maugham.

So far, one guy has bashed his wife’s head in, another has blown his brains out and a missionary in Pago Pago has slit his own throat. Maybe Maugham wasn’t the best choice.

Social media is not an option for passing the time, since I’ve given it up for Lent. But that’s probably just as well. The temptation to make snide political comments about pandemic preparedness could be overwhelming.

Being something of a current events junkie by profession, even in retirement, I am of course drawn to reports of the news. The majority of which, these days, pretty evenly divides between dire health predictions and calamitous economic forecasts. Words like “confusion,” “disruption” and “paralysis” figure prominently.

“The World We Once Lived in Has Vanished,” one New York Times headline gloomily advised recently. “Who Gets Care When Hospitals Fill Up?” asked another. Yikes.

Margaret Renkl, a Nashville-based columnist for The Times, advised the ultimate comfort food, cornbread, as a palliative in these trying times. We’ve found carrot cake does the trick. And it makes an excellent breakfast.

Normally at this time of year I’d be tuning in to the start of baseball season, but there is no “normally” now, and no baseball or any other sport of consequence. I came across a listing of 250 Netflix movies for diversion, which at first struck me as overmuch, but then I wondered, will that be enough?

Some estimates put the possible duration of all this at 18 months. That’s certainly depressing. But I’m still looking on the bright side:

My hands have never been cleaner.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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