"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Down by the River

     One byproduct of self-isolating is often weight gain, since we're stuck at home with not much to do except sit around and be a couch potato while we watch a screen, read a book, send emails and texts, cook and eat . . .  and then do it all over again.

     Still, most of us are probably trying to get beyond these sedentary activities, since they do get old after a week or two. We try to figure out ways to not only pass the time while we self-isolate, but also to do something reasonably refreshing, meaningful and healthful.

View of New Hope from the bridge

     I have not yet come up with a better idea than to take a walk -- practicing, of course, safe distancing all the way.

Looking down the river ... Philadelphia is about 40 miles south

     I live in a small city in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. But a few miles to the east is the even smaller, but better-known town of New Hope, PA, located on the Delaware River.

Crossing the state line midway on the bridge

     The other day I drove over to New Hope and took a walk around. I actually went across the river and parked in the sister town of Lambertville, NJ, then walked back across the bridge to New Hope.

French pastries
"Moo" Hope ... get it?
     New Hope is usually crowded with people. But today the stores were closed. Only a couple of restaurants were open, offering take-out only. The streets were not completely empty, but they looked bare compared to the usual buzz of activity.

Restaurant in old church

Sign in restaurant
      The pride and joy of New Hope is the Bucks County Playhouse which hosts live theatrical performances, occasional music programs, poetry readings and other events. Last fall B and I went to see Sally Struthers in Always ... Patsy Cline. Yes, Sally Struthers from the old sit-com All in the Family. She is much older now. But she was hilarious. She still has her comic chops.

Bucks County Playhouse

     New Hope has a lot of history. Washington crossed the Delaware only a few miles south of here. Back then the village was called Coryell's Ferry.

House from late 1700s, made of characteristic Pennsylvania fieldstone

     But now it's better known as a funky, artsy place that draws tourists, day trippers, and motorcycle clubs from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and other parts of the Northeast. And there are at least a few attractions aside from the bars and restaurants -- a children's museum, an historic railroad, several parks and a host of art galleries.

Acupuncture, of course
Irish pub
     There's also a canal that runs along either side of the river, one on the Pennsylvania side, one on the New Jersey side. They were once used to haul coal barges. Now they feature a walking and biking path.

    And so on the way back to my car, instead of walking through town, I cut along the canal tow path for a few blocks. I noticed a duck paddling along . . . practicing, of course, safe distancing all the way.

Duck enjoying the canal

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Best Foot Forward

     I must admit I have an ambivalent attitude toward nature. Of course, I want to see us save the rain forests. And I love the cute animals and pretty flowers -- especially the daffodils that harbinger the warm weather to come.

     But I don't much like house flies and mosquitoes; I don't want squirrels or skunks in the attic. I used to like deer, but that was before I had Lyme disease. And I certainly want no part of the Coronavirus.

     To avoid being exposed to the Coronavirus, like most people, I've been self-isolating at home, looking for things to do. But there's no reason why we can't go out for a walk, as long as we practice "safe distancing" from other potential carriers we might meet on the path or sidewalk.

     So the other day I decided to look on the bright side, to put my best foot forward, and go for a walk into town. I tried to focus on the beautiful side of nature, which is not hard to do in the springtime. The first thing I noticed was the forsythia in my neighbor's yard.

     Myrtle was peeking out from under the winter leaves.

     Lots of people had beds of little yellow flowers blooming in their front yards. I don't know what they are, but they sure are pretty. 

      One older home had a front yard lined with hedges that were just budding with tiny red flowers.

     I had to go in for a closeup of these pretty pink and purple flowers.

     At the First Church of Christ Scientist a row of Andromeda bushes lined the driveway.

     On the way home another of the daffodils caught my eye. I guess the daffodils are my favorite. I hope you, too, can enjoy some nature, wherever you are. In the meantime, be safe, be well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Views of the Virus - Part II

     Like everyone else, my wife B and I are mostly staying home these days.We read books, watch Netflix. Our big event of the day is going outside for a walk, making sure to give a wide berth to anyone we meet on the street.

     The weather has been pretty warm where I live in eastern Pennsylvania. Spring is arriving early. The forsythia is coming out. The trees are budding. The daffodils are blooming.

     So I've spent some time outside cleaning up the garden beds, cutting back the hedge by the fence. I was raking up some leaves in the front yard on Saturday afternoon when I saw Ryan, our next-door neighbor, walking his two babies. They are very cute, identical twin girls, five months old.

     We got talking, and it soon became clear that Ryan's attitude toward the virus is more like my wife's casual approach than my ultra-cautious view. I asked him if he was working at home. He said he probably could, but didn't really want to. He works in Montgomery County (which has seen 20 "presumptive" Coronavirus cases, compared to only three in our county, meaning people have tested positive but the results have not been confirmed), but he believes the whole thing has been overblown. So he's not worried.

     He couldn't understand the run on the grocery stores. "What are people doing?" he wondered. "And why are they buying up toilet paper? That makes no sense at all."

     I agreed with him about the toilet paper. This is not a virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract. So why does anyone need extra toilet paper?

     B had been to the store earlier in the day. People have been told to stock up on ten days worth of food in case they have to self-quarantine, which is what authorities are recommending for anyone who doesn't feel well, who has been in contact with a suspected Coronavirus case or been overseas recently. Ten days worth of food? That's a lot of milk and orange juice and cereal and dinners.

     But B and I agreed we could easily get along on spaghetti pretty much every night, if we had to. For me, breakfast is simple. It's cereal. For her it's usually a banana and peanut butter.

     At the store the raisin bran (my favorite) was sold out. She got a half gallon of orange juice, because all the quart bottles were gone. She bought a bunch of six bananas -- any more than that and they'd just go rotten. She did not buy any toilet paper, because we have a supply from Costco down in the basement from before we went on vacation. But she did buy more pasta.

     "Was it crowded?" I'd asked her.

     "Oh, yeah," she'd said. "It was crowded."

     Anyway, my neighbor Ryan is in his 30s. I suggested to him that maybe he didn't have to worry too much about the virus, but it is much more dangerous for older people. Deaths in the U. S. have been in people over 60, and most of them had underlying medical issues like diabetes or heart disease. Many of the deaths have occurred in assisted-living facilities.

     I do not live in an assisted-living facility. And to my knowledge I do not suffer from any underlying illness. But I am definitely over age 60. And by the way, I don't want to have it explained to me that . . . oh, what do you know, it turns out you do have an undiscovered underlying medical issue, just as they're hooking me up to a ventilator.

     I joked with Ryan that I'm beginning to think the Coronavirus is a plot against senior citizens. "You Millennials are behind it," I said. "You want to get rid of us Baby Boomers so you don't have to pay our Social Security."

     He laughed. But it's no joking matter. That very evening I found out a national emergency has been declared. Our schools are closed. The libraries are closed. The parks are closed. Our governor has decreed that all non-essential stores, including bars and restaurants, are to be closed. I guess Ryan will be working from home after all.

     I saw an article at Time online called Here's Why Americans Are Hoarding Toilet Paper. It explains that the disease makes us feel helpless, and so we try to regain some control in our lives by doing something. Toilet paper is primal. It's a basic need. And since we are social beings, we're afraid to be seen as unclean or unwell which may result in our being shunned. "Our panic buying," says psychologist Mary Alvord, "represents one thing we can control. In an uncertain moment at least it's something."

     So I'm embarrassed to say, I ducked down in the basement, just to make sure. I counted them up. We have 33 rolls. Think that's enough?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Different Views of the Virus -- Part I

     I got the email Thursday night:

     HARRISBURG, PA: Gov. Tom Wolf announced additional statewide measures to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus.

     The Wolf administration said it "strongly encourages the suspension" of large gatherings, events and conferences of 250 people or more.

     Recreational activities like gyms, movie theaters and trips to shopping malls are also discouraged. Religious leaders are asked to "exercise discretion" in order to slow the spread of illness, which now has 21 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania.

     And then the cascade began . . . an email saying the author appearance at our local bookstore was canceled, another announcing our Saturday night dance was off, and one from our local Center in Learning for Retirement saying classes were shut down for the rest of the spring semester. Then the County Theater sent out an email saying it is closing for two weeks.

     My wife B was still undeterred. "We should all go out and get the virus and get it over with," she scoffed. "People are going to suffer more because they lose their jobs than they will from the virus."

     B feels invulnerable, almost immortal, because her mother lived until age 103. So her worry is not that she will die, but that she will live too long. And maybe she will.

     But maybe she won't. And I'm pretty sure I won't. So I'm much more concerned about the Coronavirus than she is. If the governor tells us to stay home, I will stay home. I bought some disinfectant. I've been washing my hands religiously, almost obsessively. I've been out; but I haven't shaken anybody's hand for a week.

     Maybe it's just a matter of how we each deal with the uncertainties of life. Some people just figure, whatever is going to happen will happen, so get on with your life. Others think that what they do matters. They have the idea -- perhaps an illusion -- that they have some control over events.

     On Thursday night, as B was planning her social events for Friday, despite the warnings to avoid crowds, I gave her this analogy. On a normal day, there about about 100,000 airline flights in this country. So, if 2,000 planes crashed every day, would you feel comfortable getting on an airplane? That's a 2% death rate, which is what they're talking about for the Coronavirus.

     She thought about it for a moment. "No," she finally said.

     But in the morning she was talking about meeting a friend for lunch. I suggested not going to a restaurant, but going to her friend's house, or having her friend over to ours. At least then she would only be in contact with one other person who might have the virus, instead of 40 or 50 strangers at nearby tables, any one of whom could have the virus.

     "Oh, I'd be more worried about the kitchen staff," she said. "They're the ones who can't afford to stay home, even if they're sick. So someone might be coughing into my food."

     She is worried about how poorer people will handle this virus. We don't have to go to work, she says, we can afford to stay home and wait it out. But a lot of people have to go to work or they won't be able to pay their rent or buy their groceries.

     But our conversation was cut off by a text. B's friend was canceling the lunch. She didn't want to go out, after all.

     But B just couldn't abide the thought of staying home all day. So she made a date for later in the afternoon, to go walking with another friend. At least, to me, that seemed like a lot safer activity than lunch in a crowded restaurant.

     "Don't forget to practice safe distancing," I called from the safety of my office as she went out the front door.

     "I get it," she called back. "No hugging."

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Living in the Time of Coronavirus

     It's time for me to report on some doings from fellow baby boomer bloggers. As usual, we Okay Boomers are doing lots of different and interesting things. But it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Coronavirus is on people's minds, especially for us, ahem, older people. I saw recently that the death rate from COVID-19 is virtually 0% for people under age 20. But it's above 10% for people over age 70 who often have underlying medical issues.

     If you ask me, that is pretty scary.

     First of all, on the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita Robison, consumer and personal finance journalist, advises people Don't Fall for COVID-19 Scams. Fraudsters are setting up websites to sell phony products, she tells us, and they're using fake emails, texts and social media posts to take money from consumers and steal their personal information. She offers six tips to avoid falling victim to the bad guys on the internet.

     Then Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit chimes in with Hang On, Bumpy Ride Ahead. In her post she gives us a measured perspective on the disease and offers some legitimate, common-sense precautions that can keep fear and anxiety, as well as the virus itself, at arm's length.

     (Which brings to mind a quip I saw on Facebook the other day, when one wag deadpanned: "It disturbs me to find out so many people think that washing your hands is 'the next new thing'.")

     As if the Coronovirus is not enough to worry about, Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com warns us of another scam. She is currently looking for a new apartment. It's not easy to find an affordable place in Los Angeles (the 12th most expensive city in the country, so it must be even harder in places like New York, Washington, Seattle and Honolulu). In Beware of Rental Scams: How I Almost Got Duped she tells a harrowing tale of how she thought she had the ideal place . . . and then the guy started making excuses. Check out her story, realizing that we can apply the lessons learned to any transaction we plan to make over the internet.

     Not to be deterred by the prospect of catching a communicable disease, Meryl Baer attended a crowded Bar Mitzvah last week. No, she wasn't worried about the Coronavirus. Instead the experience led her to ask: Have you ever felt ignored? She believes the experience is pervasive among the older generation. People admire and pay attention to the young. Not so much to the old . . . especially older women. So attending this milestone celebration, Baer keenly felt her age, which she tells us about in The Invisibles.

     By contrast, Jennifer of Untold and Begin is going solo -- in the sense that she has recently started participating in a photo challenge. It's called Sunday Stills, with a different theme every week, when everyone sends in their photos to share with the group. In How Do I Get Near and Far? Jennifer tells how she struggled with the theme of "near and far" -- until she looked at her bookcase and found inspiration in a particular memory.

     Finally, in Did the Crate Change, or Did Libby? Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles brings us a debate for the ages. Should her terrier, Libby, be allowed to sleep with her and her husband at night . . . or should the Yorkie be made to stay in her crate? Practical people remind Laurie that Libby is a dog. "Don't allow her on furniture of any kind, much less the bed," they say. But then there are the softies. "What's the harm of letting her sleep with you? Dogs need their packs." Meanwhile, Laurie is resolving to do one thing, but often ends up doing the other.

     I know I'll never settle that argument, whether the dog goes on the bed or not. But one final observation about the Coronavirus. I went to an art show on Saturday night. A couple of hundred people were crowded into a small lobby and three rooms. That in itself made me a little nervous. Several Coronavirus cases have been reported on our state of Pennsylvania. I could almost feel the germs hovering in the air.

     We saw a friend of ours, one of the artists showing her work. I went to shake her hand. Instead, she offered her elbow. We did the elbow bump, the new way of greeting people in these contagious times.