On the late unpleasantness


This week, my mom had to go get her car serviced and she shared a story with me.

While she was waiting in the lobby — everyone sitting an appropriate distance from one another — a man came in and started sharing the benefit of his vast intellect with the room, as loudly and obnoxiously as he possibly could.

He talked about how this whole coronavirus thing is just ridiculous. He said the flu kills more people than coronavirus. He said that these restrictions on air flight are stupid. He said the government doesn’t have the right to tell us what we can and can’t do. He paused and looked up a bunch of information about the flu pandemic of 1918 on his phone, and then announced to the room that during that pandemic, people stayed isolated and washed their hands and millions of people still died, so what’s the point in trying to do anything?

There’s a scene in “Pulp Fiction” that I think about a lot. Vincent Vega, as played by John Travolta, is telling another character about how someone keyed his pristine Chevy Malibu. “It’d been worth him doing it,” Vega says, “just so I could’ve caught him doing it.”

This is how I feel about Dr. Brain Genius and his Sermon from the Honda Dealership. Since I wasn’t there, however, I will instead use this space to offer some perspective — and hopefully a little comfort — in these trying times.

First things first: What we’re facing in America right now is the greatest public health crisis in most people’s living memory. That is simply a fact. I’ve heard a lot of people attempting to downplay it, saying that the flu kills more people than coronavirus. That is not merely comparing apples to oranges; it’s more like comparing last year’s apple harvest to this year’s oranges. In truth, we don’t even have a firm grasp on the mortality rate of coronavirus yet, but we do know that it is highly contagious, and the older someone is, the more severe the consequences seem to be. If you don’t believe me, I highly recommend visiting www.cdc.gov; it’s an excellent resource with plenty of hard data unfiltered through the lenses of media.

Now, you might say that all of this is extremely upsetting, and I agree completely. I think a lot of people who downplay the severity of coronavirus do so out of fear. They have my sympathy. This is a scary time.

On the other hand, we can also take our fear in the opposite direction and let it consume us. If you want to know what that looks like, it looks like a two-car garage filled of $13,000 worth of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

We have to be smart about this. We have to exercise caution, but at the same time, we have to maintain our sanity.

Smart; cautious; sane. I’m pretty sure I’m at least one of those, so I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing. I’m working from home. I’m not going out except to buy groceries for my folks and my grandma. I’m buying groceries for about a week at a time, and I’m not hoarding anything. Even in northern Italy, where the virus has hit exceptionally hard, you can still go the grocery store and the pharmacy; they’re essential services. I’m keeping to myself, because it’s possible for people to have coronavirus and not even realize it. If I get it, statistically speaking, I’ll probably be fine, but if I gave it to my older friends and relatives, their chances are not quite so good. That’s a burden I’m not going to bear, and neither should anyone else.

You might be reading this and thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, but all of this is still a huge overreaction. I don’t want the governor telling me what I can and can’t do. Everything should still be open.”

In an article I read recently, a school superintendent made the following observation as he justified closing the schools in his district: If this is a huge overreaction and this thing goes away in a month, we may never know if our actions helped it to go away. However, if we don’t take precautions and it turns out that we should have, then we’ll definitely know, and we’ll deeply regret our lack of vigilance.

For now, we all need to be cautious. We need to step in and help our older friends and family who are most at risk. We need to help all those individuals with medical conditions that leave them susceptible to adverse effects. We need to stay home as much as we can to prevent the spread of this virus.

What’s so bad about staying at home, anyway? I like hanging around my house. It’s where I keep my stuff.

In the meantime, I will continue writing humorous columns about the dumb things I have done. I hope you enjoy them, and when this strange moment in history finally recedes into our collective rear view mirror, I’ll be the first to arrive at the party.



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