I am in quarantine because of my son’s COVID-positive status, so naturally I am hyper-sensitive to the possibility that I could get the virus and die in just a few days. This morning I woke up to a cough, headache, and sinus drainage that immediately set off alarm bells. Time to start living my last days on Earth…. again.
But I have been thinking about canceling the Pubby subscription I bought before the free ten-day trial period ends tomorrow and they charge my bank account for the whole year. So, before calling an ambulance prematurely and setting the house in a panic, I checked Pubby. One of the two reviewers I thought were both going to stiff me on a review I had earned came through and posted a review. And it was a very literate and convincing five-star review. I was basically thrilled and felt vindicated enough that the other nagging worry felt better too.
So, then I took my temperature yet again and got 37.1 degrees Celsius. 37 C is, of course, normal, a fact that I had to look up and then convert to Fahrenheit myself just to be sure. So, I have not had a single instance of fever since long before the quarantine began. And, I was also able to discern that these are the exact same symptoms I had at the end of June that made me go get a COVID test that proved I was negative for the virus after the doctor assured me that taking the test was only a precaution, and I didn’t really have coronavirus symptoms. I still have medication for the allergic reaction I had last time, I remembered trying to do the same clean-up yesterday that I had done the first time I had that reaction.
Since we are on a watch for severe symptoms anyway, I decided to wait until I have a fever or shortness of breath. Exactly what the doctor would tell me to do anyway with the situation whether a test came back positive or negative. I am saving money for the doctor’s phone-call consultation, and saving myself another long trip and long wait in a long, long line. Especially when I don’t feel well enough to drive, and don’t want to risk a healthy family member to drive me. So, while I am sealed in my room waiting to die, I will continue to write and read and try to get more books reviewed. This may be my last day alive. But I am happy and the world looks good even though the Republican National Fear-fest continues to threaten a Trump-family dictatorship.
Oh, and I am continuing to scan artworks as my scanner has temporarily forgotten once again how much it hates me after tax time.
My number two son is coronavirus positive. All four of us who live in the house are now under quarantine for fourteen days (at a minimum). I have six incurable diseases, three of which; diabetes, hypertension, and COPD, the virus uses as the window to climb in and assassinate you.
We are not supposed to share a bathroom with the ill person, which is hard to do with only one bathroom. Nobody is seriously considering peeing outdoors.
We are all now wearing masks in the house. Well, except for my wife who insists she can’t breathe with a mask on all day (though she does it for her job as a Texas school teacher.) And she is a diabetic too.
What are the chances that I will still be alive in two weeks? Well, I am proceeding with the idea that I have a zero percent chance myself. I will do what I can to swim with the current. Like a good Taoist, I will not try to change the natural order of things. I have been retired now for six years, not by choice, but because of health problems. I am actuarily supposed to be dead five years ago. Heck, I had the H1N1 virus twice (both strains). The fact that I am still alive now means that I am very hard to kill.
So, I am expecting to die soon, but doing everything in my power to paddle the boat to safety in the raging river of Doom, Gloom, and rumors of Boom.
But my regrets are few. It has been a very good run. I have had a lotta laughs over 64 years. I taught for 31 years. I have written 16 novels and one book of essays. I am about halfway finished with my next novel.
My next novel is called The Wizard in his Keep. It is about three kids who are orphaned by a car wreck, then rescued by a family friend. Their weird “Uncle” Milt Morgan has been helping to create a virtual-reality computer game called The Legend of Hoodwink. He takes them to live inside the game world. And there they discover that things have gone terribly wrong for the computer game and the company that designed it. And it’s possible that the game has been contaminated with real magic somehow. And there may no longer be any way out of the game ever again.
This book may well be my own Mystery of Edwin Drood (the last, unfinished book by Charles Dickens.) It is somehow perfect, then, that this novel was inspired by The Old Curiosity Shop, and has many Dickens references in it.
Yes, I use that picture to illustrate the character Milt Morgan, but it is actually me. I drew it from a school photo from grade school. And yes, that means a color photo from the 1960’s. I am now 54 years older than I was when that picture was originally taken. Being that old… not ancient, but a senior citizen, means I am not as far from the day I will die as I am from either the day I was born, the day this picture was taken, the days I graduated from high school and college, and even the day I got married. Especially since I am ill with 6 incurable diseases and conditions and living in the midst of the 2020 pandemic with anti-health President Trumpalump still in the White House.
Yesterday I woke up with my left arm numb, a sharp pain in my left armpit, a heaviness and pain in my chest, and a throbbing in my temples.
Yes, I know. I promised my family I would go to the ER if I had those Heart-Issue symptoms again.
But the last time I went to a doctor on a Saturday with those same symptoms, my EKG sent me to the ER, who charged me two hundred dollars out of pocket and sent me directly to the hospital. After more than a week of tests, drugs, and worry… no heart indications, stress test passed, and the general consensus among specialists that it was the arthritis in my rib-cage and the arthritis in my neck, near the spinal chord that caused both the anomalous EKG and the numbness in my arm. They got the same heart-warning EKG readings while I was hooked up to a machine that showed I was definitely NOT having a heart attack.
So, yesterday I gambled with my life. I stayed home. I finished my book of essays and published it on Amazon. (At least, if I died, I would leave behind one more product of wit, wisdom, and autobiography from a total idiot.)\
This morning I was better. It is not a hundred percent certain that I won’t drop dead from a heart attack or stroke, but my pains yesterday were definitely from sleeping for too long on my left side with an arthritic rib-cage. Arthritis doesn’t kill you by itself. Only when it masks the pains of something more deadly and disastrous.
So, I lucked out. And I have another finished work. It is Laughing Blue, a book of essays from this goofy little blog. Along with illustrations that I feared wouldn’t all be compatible with Amazon’s file-size limits. I appear to have been 100% victorious on that gamble too.
The book is now live on Amazon. Whether you can actually buy it or not, I don’t know yet. So, I will wait to post a link until I am sure.
Teachers are not supposed to fall in love with students. Of course, when the school district tells you that, at the beginning of the year, they are talking mostly about high school students, and they are talking exclusively about romantic love. I have never had a real problem with that rule. Romantically, little half-brained and totally immature middle school students are downright icky. Especially the walking, talking, and sometimes farting middle school boys.
But schools, even though they can’t really say it, and some administrators don’t believe they want it to be so, they want teachers to have “teacher love” for students. That means, in a vaguely defined way in administrative brains compatible with the real meaning of “fully funded,”that they want teachers to become surrogate mothers and fathers to students, the kind of love you have for an orphan you have adopted because you can plainly see they need someone… anyone… to love them and care for them… no matter how ugly they might be on the outside.
“To be a good teacher, you gotta learn to love ugly,” Head Principal Watkins said to us all for the two years he managed to love our faculty. And he meant it. I was not the only teacher I heard him tell, “You are a wonderful teacher because you care about kids.” And he meant it. Not like most principals.
But when you see a picture of David, the way he was back then, you can see he was not ugly. Just his situation was ugly.
He was one of six kids that lived with his single mother in the housing project for low-income families. His mother had, at the time the principal called me into his office, been cited by authorities twice for neglect of her children.
“Mike, I know you have mentored and helped several kids outside of school. And we have a boy coming into your seventh grade class that we would like for you to help out however you can. We know you went through the whole social-services and foster-parent training from San Antonio. And David Gutierrez could really use a bit of a boost from you,” the Head Principal told me behind closed doors.
Boy, was that ever an understatement. I was spending considerable time hanging out with the pretty blond reading teacher. The first time I cooked for her, fried hamburgers and instant mashed potatoes, David had a plate already at the tiny table in my little apartment. And, skinny little thing that he was, he ate three quarters of all the food I had badly cooked. Annabel didn’t mind. And not because the burgers were burnt and the potatoes were runny… I am still not a great cook. She would become David’s second mom for those next three years. She gave him as much if not more “teacher love” than I did.
He was not a good student in any of his classes. But he was an adequate reader, and he actually improved noticeably in the time he was hanging out with us.
But he gave us a turn during that first fall when he got sick. He had the seventh grade History teacher first period every morning. And one day in October he reported to class all listless and red-eyed, And Mrs. Finch was a sharp and capable teacher, knowing what drug problems looked like, and what they didn’t look like. She sent him to the nurse. It was a fever of one-hundred-and-three degrees. The parent was called, but the parent didn’t answer. So, immediately after school Annabel and I took him directly from the nurse’s office to the doctor. And after it was determined he had a bad sinus infection, we took him to my place and put him in the spare bedroom (all apartments on North Stewart Street were two-bedroom, but there was only one of me.) Annabel stayed with him while I filled the prescription for antibiotics. We got him dosed and rested at least before his mother returned from her cleaning job in Laredo, sixty miles south. We told her everything that happened. And she took him home. His two older sisters took over nursing duty.
But when the school contacted the doctor, it was explained that the infection was severe mainly because David was malnourished and dangerously anemic. Of course, that was evidence of neglect and had to be reported.
In order to avoid having to give up custody to the State his mother moved him to Laredo, closer to her work. Both of the older sisters, Bunny and Bea had advised their Mom to give him to Annabel and me. But, of course, we were not married and in no position to become his actual parents.
So, David spent two months in Laredo, calling me every night from a pay phone. His grades in school tanked. He was miserable and lonely.
The problem was worked out in David’s family. His older brother sent money every month to his two older sisters. And Bunny had a job and kept the apartment in Cotulla for herself. So, as a compromise, since Bea was already living there with Bunny to attend high school, David came back to live with them, along with his younger sister. They returned to the school where all their friends were.
Through the rest of David’s seventh grade until the end of high school he was like a son to me. He was constantly at my place, playing computer games, watching VHS movies, and charming my girlfriend. (Annabel had the apartment next door for three of the next four years.) I played games with him. I fought with him about getting his homework done. I basically did the Dad-thing for him, something no other man had ever been bothered to do. In later years he would work as a substitute teacher for me. He would introduce me to new girlfriends. And the last time I saw him, in Uncle Moe’s Mexican Restaurant, he introduced his pregnant wife to me and my wife.
In Hebrew, the name David means, “Beloved.” Hence, that’s the only part of his name in this essay that is real.
Don’t panic. I’m okay. Or if you don’t like me at all, don’t get overly happy in anticipation. I actually know why my ears keep bleeding. It is the skin on the top and sides of my ears peeling off and bleeding because of moderate-plaque psoriasis. I just like the way that title sounds. All dripping with ill omens and horror-movie anxiety. I am not becoming a zombie or anything. I just look and feel like one.
I am feeling a little bit old and pointless, what with the pandemic worsening in Texas, my father’s health deteriorating in darkly concerning ways, and the upcoming decision about whether or not I get to return to Iowa this summer. It’s definitely in doubt this year. My parents are both octogenarians and there is the risk of carrying virus anywhere near them. Not to mention the risk of death the virus presents to me. And I am feeling ill. Not with Covid 19. I have no symptoms of that. But I have a stomach virus. My psoriasis is fierce. And I do not have the physical energy to drive myself all the way to Iowa. The prospect of not being able to go home again for another year is weighing heavily on my soul. That is why I have been busy with maudlin posts about dead movie stars like yesterday’s post.
There’s a certain minimum amount of time needed for re-connection with my roots, my childhood, the people and places that gave rise to me. The picture above is one of my Great Grandmother, Nellie Hinckley. She is one of the founders of my world. A Goddess responsible for giving life to my mother’s side of the family. She passed into the World of the Remembered in 1980, when I painted this picture. Soon my parents will be joining her and my grandparents from both sides of the family in that world where everything is summed up in old photographs. And I shall surely follow soon… if not proceed them. I wonder if anyone will lift a brush to Remember me?
And yet, no matter how it turns out, I have much to get on with. I am not done telling stories. I have had little success in selling my books so far. I can barely give them away. But the work of it gives my life just enough purpose and meaning to keep me alive longer than the insurance industry, my Texas teacher retirement plan, and the mortuary companies of the world would like me to. But, I promise to continue frustrating them further.
It is a Biblical question. After Cain killed Abel, God came asking for Abel’s whereabouts. And Cain stupidly answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Stupid Cain! Did he not know that God already knew the answer?
And stupid God. Why did he ask a question to which he already knew the answer? And why did he ask stupid Cain whom he must’ve already known was stupid?
But the answer to the question in this bit of Biblical moral mythology is supposed to be, “Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.”
So, why am I, a confirmed Christian Existentialist (an atheist who believes in God), trying to tell you something from a Biblical story?
Well, the matter is simple. As I will very likely die soon from Coronavirus (which I am not yet infected with, but, you know, the kindness of fate…), I am trying like heck to impart what little wisdom I have gathered in my life so that I may leave something behind me that has worth.
This current pandemic is itself a demonstration of the truth behind the claim that I am my brother’s keeper.
I wear a mask everywhere I go now because a mask protects not only me but it also protects others from me. After all, I have no access to testing. I may have the virus and just not know it. Then my exhalations would contain droplets of water that have viruses swimming in it. The mask, combined with six feet of distance, keeps my exhalations from reaching the lungs of uninfected others, and potentially slaying them as Cain did to Abel.
It is because of Texan prejudices against mask-wearing and social distancing that I know I will probably be infected before this pandemic is over. And my diabetes, blood pressure problems, and previous difficulty with bronchitis and COPD insure that I am not part of the 80 percent of people who will survive the virus. I will get pneumonia and die.
When I suggest, however, that we should each take on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, I do not mean that we should become a zoo-keeper, and keep them all safely in cages (the Senator Cruz method of keeping Mexican immigrants safe). You cannot presume to control the thoughts and behaviors of others. You must only adopt the way of love and brotherhood. You put the interests and needs of others before your own. You lead by example, not by decree.
Before you start complaining in the comments about how stupid I am in this essay because I blaspheme against God, and at the same time don’t see people for how they really are, remember that I used to be a school teacher. You don’t do that job because you want to be rich and powerful. You do that job for love of others… specifically, other people’s children. And it is true that everybody has their bad points. Everybody is thoughtless, or wicked, or deeply troubled at times. But everyone also has qualities about them that make them beautiful, or kind, or noble, or selfless, or… well, the list of good things I have seen and nurtured in other people’s children is far longer and more profound than the bad things. No matter who they are, no matter what color or culture or religion they are, my brothers and sisters and their children have worth.
So, here I am, declaring that I am, most definitely, my brother’s keeper. (And unlike Cain, I did not kill him. He and his wife live along the Texas coast, near Houston. And they are not in a cage.)
And here is the question most critical to my survival…
I have been feeling ill for three days now. Every morning I wake up feeling that I must’ve caught the Coronavirus. Head all congested, body aching, chest hurting and giving me breathing difficulty, and possibly fever…
And yet, every day, my head clears, my chest stops hurting. No fever is detected. Who knows? I have lived yet another day.
I have honestly been treating every day as if it were my last. I have been doing that for six years now. One day at a time. I have convinced myself that it is the only way to live. Careful of my fragile mortality, yet savoring the music of every single day.
Who knows if tomorrow will be another day? I will do as I must tomorrow if tomorrow is given, and I am thankful for today.
In my time living every single day as my last one, I have written a number of stories. This is one of the good ones that I cherish. It has nudists and Nazis in it. It has gingerbread men (and girls) in it who magically come to life. There are also fairies. And one old German woman with some stories to tell to children. It is built of the sweet memories and cookies and milk from my own boyhood. And it may offend some people. But everyone who will admit to me that they read it, loves it. I love it. Twitter nudists think it represents naturism well.
And the next book I write, if I can string together enough last days at 500 words a day, will be nothing like it, completely different, and maybe better.
And so, on the chance that today really is the last, here is the wisdom that I would leave behind as my legacy.
Words, if chosen wisely, have meaning. And meaning, applied to life, is a priceless treasure. But only if you give it away when you find it.
All people are worth knowing. The unpleasant ones have even more to teach you than the ones who love you. But do not fail to make time for those you love.
Live in the moment. Sing your best. Dance whenever you can. There’s no time like now. At least until tomorrow becomes now.
Hopefully this gift of wisdom is enough for now. If it isn’t, then may the next day make me wiser so that I will do better.
What we are undergoing right now is actually a part of the process of Evolution. You know, that evil science-lie that the devil created to distract us from the incessant worship of God Almighty. Or as non-fundamentalist Christians who don’t read the Bible as a book of Science might think of it, the theory that Charles Darwin created to explain the observed factual evidence of how living things change over time to fit into new environments and new circumstances. That heretical idea that has been promoted by such heretics as highly trained biologists, environmentalists, geneticists, and other scientists qualified to test and re-shape science-based theories that come about through experiment, recording new observations, correlating new data to old data, and changing the theories to fit the new paradigm, which will also be re-examined and adjusted through the Scientific Method.
But it should be obvious enough to anyone who doesn’t think like Trumpkins and evangelicals do, that the survivors of the Coronavirus Pandemic will have to evolve when the plague is through with us. For one thing, we may have to evolve beyond handshakes. For another, we have to stop thinking of the human race as “Us and Them” and start treating each other as if we were all the same, had the same human rights, and had the same basic value to society. Now that I have thought about it a bit more, I’m not sure we can say that it would be a good thing to turn into Duck-people. That might be a bad move if the next pandemic is another bird flu. But we can’t help but evolve into a species that has developed natural resistance to Covid 19. Natural selection will see to that. Though, you should keep in mind that all natural selection isn’t based on just physically getting ill and not dying of the viral infection. Behavioral adaptations are a part of evolution too. Many will survive because of social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing. I personally hope to be among those.
I really doubt that we will need to evolve the way Johnny did in this old illustration. But I am fairly certain we need to continue to evolve in matters of “Loving thy neighbor”. We have to get out from under the life-shorting notions that profits are more important than people’s lives. We have to do away with a system where power is given to those with the most money rather than those with the most moral character and depth of understanding.
Now, obviously, this was all written as a humor-post, because that’s what I do. But that doesn’t mean my ideas are all hair-brained… or even hare-brained. Yes, the rabbit pictured above is supposed to be me. You are welcome to argue with me, but I believe most of what I have said here is not only funny and weird… but true.
The truth is… this pandemic will not be the end of the world even if it is the end of me.
The truth is… if we don’t learn some fundamental things about ourselves, the whole world won’t survive very long after the pandemic is over. We have only a few short years to get our environmental act straight.
The truth is… the people who are most in control of our world have far more than their reasonable share of the wealth and power in this world, and it is not fair and healthy for our society.
The truth is… too often it is the selfish, narcissistic people of the world who rise to the top, and they have no compassion or regard for the rest of us.
The truth is… we have to change things. And violence is not the most effective answer. But besides extraordinary acts of heroism and ultimate grace from unnoticed individuals, it may be the only answer we have left. The good things Obama tried were mostly shouted down and defeated by the corrupt and greedy among us. The power of the vote may have been completely undermined.
The truth is… wisdom only comes through time and hard experience. If you don’t face hardships, you will never learn how to deal with hardships. That is the gift we are being given by this pandemic.
The truth is… our leader at this moment is a criminal. He has stolen wealth from the American people and wrecked parts of the government that are essential to the American way of life as we have always known it. And in his incompetence, he has done things and failed to do things that have caused people’s deaths in this pandemic.
The truth is… Trump needs to be prosecuted and put in prison once we have removed him from office.
The truth is… if we don’t do something to solve these problems and fix these things, we don’t deserve to survive as a species.
The truth is… the Truth is sometimes a very hard thing to hear.
This is the updated version of my cover for the novel I am writing. Can you tell? The change is a small one. I have now passed 25,000 words and I’m still chugging along full steam. It is like the story is writing itself. That is usually a good sign. But I reserve the right to be monumentally wrong and fatally stupid. Writing this novel could be a mistake. I never wrote a story with this many naked people in it. And it is not erotica nor pornography. It is about nudists, not sex fiends Like the novel The Baby Werewolf, it talks frankly about nudity and mentions sexuality, but there are no sex scenes in the story. Will readers get the difference? I don’t really know… because I’m stupid sometimes.
But I am thinking way overmuch about the Coronavirus too. Like everybody else sequestered in their homes, manacled by worry, and absorbed in Netflix and Disney Plus.
I am definitely watching too much of the news broadcasts from basements and family rooms as even newscasters, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel are staying at home and social distancing.
It has led me to believe that critical things will happen because of what stupid people will do next. Mardi Gras and Spring Break partiers who refused to listen to recommendations from responsible officials are all bringing viral infections back home to infect their loved ones, and their grand parents whom they must no longer love. The Governor of Florida is refusing to lock down his state, and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas is recommending we open up the economy and let old people like me sacrifice their lives so the stock market goes back up.
The solution will be simple too. Stupid and racist people voted Trump into office. He will get them all into churches for Easter. They will all infect each other, and most of them will die. Trump will not get re-elected because stupidity killed his voting base.
But what do I know? I am sometimes very stupid too.