Covid-19 

by Chad the Husband and Father


A young father cradles his newborn son for the first time. Beaming with pride, he admires the tiny baby in a snugly wrapped blanket. He vows to protect this precious little one from harm.

Over the years he discovers he’s incapable of shielding his child from all of life’s pains. He stands by as his son battles ear infections, suffers the loss of a pet, and experiences the sorrow surrounding the breakup with his first love. Although hard to witness, these are all part of what a parent signed up for. What is scary is the uncertainty surrounding a once in a lifetime event like a Pandemic. There’s nothing one can do in times like this except pray, offer advice, and worry.

When the Coronavirus hammer dropped, it affected my family in a variety of different ways. My first worry concerned all four of our children’s financial situations. Would they be able to pay for life’s essentials (food, shelter) with everything going on? Our oldest son and daughter were both furloughed from their jobs with no clear word when they’ll be hired back. Fortunately, they both qualified for unemployment which was further supplemented by the federal government’s extra weekly $600. This has allowed them to stay in the safe zone. My middle son works for the city of Fargo and not only is he still employed, but he’s been putting in massive amounts of overtime. He is doing fine.

Our youngest son is a full-time college student with a part-time job at an engineering firm. He moved to distance learning for college and distance working for his job. He’s doing fine financially, but I still worry about him. Not because I’m afraid that he’ll contract COVID-19 but because he’s with his girlfriend in Iowa. I guess it could be worse, he could be in Wisconsin.

No parent can go through a pandemic without worrying about his or her child’s health, no matter their age. Although it’s been preached to us that COVID-19 is much more likely to affect the elderly, that doesn’t stop a parent from worrying. Just like most people, the initial fear surrounding the virus has gone from worry to a more relaxed take on things, but this still doesn’t mean it isn’t a threat. Some younger people have died from this dreadful disease. Statistics tell me they’re safe, but being a parent still allows me to be a little nervous.

My job as a high school teacher was turned upside down once schools were shut down. My last three-plus months have been spent at home teaching via the internet. My wife’s job never missed a beat. She was deemed an essential employee from day one and still goes to work every day. It was good that neither of us had to worry about unemployment and it was great that we weren’t quarantined together day after day. I spoke with one couple locked down together and they told me they could understand how the Tiger King’s villainess Carole Baskin might have considered feeding her husband to one of her big cats.

Working from home has given me unlimited access to food. If I’m hungry or maybe not even hungry, I can walk over to the kitchen and grab some vittles. This is much different than working at the school where it’s uncommon to pour a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and start eating any time my heart, or stomach, desires. I finally took steps to regulate my eating habits, otherwise, I was going to need to install one of those double doors like they have at Wal-Mart just so I could leave the house. I didn’t want to look like Winnie the Pooh trying to leave the rabbits house after eating too much honey. Or even worse, I was going to have to buy a pair of Spanx to try and hide my new found circumference. I took the daring move to weigh myself yesterday and instead of gaining the dreaded Coronavirus 15, I was only up a single pound. I feel I’ve earned those 16-ounces.

Speaking of food, I noticed when the initial run on groceries occurred that gluten-free options were left alone. This was a good thing for me since I have Celiac’s Disease, but it also made me think that if there were a zombie apocalypse and people had the choice of being gluten-free or cannibal that most people would choose cannibalism.

One of the federal government’s actions to help keep the economy alive was offering stimulus checks to people under certain income levels. My wife and I were fortunate enough to qualify for this but finding out when and if we were going to receive payment was a true feat in itself. I think the Japanese had better odds of breaking Navajo Code Talker messages than the average citizen had navigating the IRS website initially. That website shot out more error messages than a senior citizen’s iPhone while she tried retrieving a message. Coincidentally, there were a lot of retailers offering online sales for the miraculous price of $1200. I’m sure it was purely by chance that Costco was selling an 82-inch Samsung TV with free delivery for that exact price.

Plenty of acts of kindness have occurred during the last few months. Locally many households placed cut-out hearts in their front windows, many have put up support signs in their front yards, and some even left the Holiday lights up and turned them on at night. Nationally, and internationally, many cities yelled and banged on pots in support of the healthcare workers who were battling the Coronavirus in the front lines.

. Although I’m not a healthcare worker, I do feel that I’ve made the ultimate sacrifice these past few months. I’m not talking about my role as an educator, I’m talking about going without a haircut since February. Now that barbershops and salons have finally opened up, I have an appointment scheduled for Friday, June 12th. Looking around I can see I’m not the only one in need of a trim and a razor’s edge. I haven’t seen this many mullets since I was in high school or this many bowl cuts since I was in elementary school. One side note: I did think it was funny that dog groomers were able to go back to work before barbers.

Many parents struggled with distance learning especially if they have multiple children competing for the internet or their parent’s attention. I saw a video by an urban mother screaming obscenities… “I don’t care how much it costs. Get my kids back in school!” She then went on to say she felt her kid’s teachers should make more money than Lebron James.

When things eventually get back to normal and I am once again teaching in person, it’s going to be difficult on my pets. My two cats are going to miss having me catering to their every meow. Our female cat, Bardot, is going to end up with type-2 diabetes if I don’t end up going back to school in the fall.

I have to admit there were some days which were difficult for me. Fortunately, I had friends and family to lean on during tough times. I am grateful for every one of them. I feel for those who are isolated and alone. I challenge everyone to be compassionate and call someone who is battling the pandemic alone. Frankly, if I would have had to go through this alone I’m afraid I would have ended up like Tom Hanks and started talking to my volleyball.

____________________________________________

I was a fortunate recipient of the East Central Regional Arts Council (ECRAC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant Program for Artists.  The funding for this grant program comes directly from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and was distributed by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund.  #ecrac  #ArtsLegacy  

The grant includes my producing four separate essays about COVID-19 from my perspective in different avenues of my life: 50-year-old, teacher, entertainer, and husband/father.

_

I was a fortunate recipient of the East Central Regional Arts Council (ECRAC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant Program for Artists.  The funding for this grant program comes directly from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and was distributed by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund.  #ecrac  #ArtsLegacy  

The grant includes my producing four separate essays about COVID-19 from my perspective in different avenues of my life: 50-year-old, teacher, entertainer, and husband/father.

 

 

COVID-19

by

Chad the Teacher

 

When Governor Walz announced all Minnesota schools were closing for two weeks so teachers could get ready for distance learning due to COVID-19, I was a little nervous. I would say most people don’t like change, and this wasn’t a small change, this change was sweeping.

I was probably more nervous about the thought of distance learning than I had been my first day as a student-teacher. At least student-teaching involved face to face contact. How was this even going to work? Was I up to the challenge? Making things worse, this was the start of a new trimester so I would be meeting my students for the first time…online. Of my 140 trimester three students, I previously knew 10 of them.

The following day the teachers at my high school were directed to meet in our Performing Arts Center which can host an audience of 800 people. We had 70 faculty members scattered throughout the auditorium under the newly announced social distancing protocol. One person sat in one section of seats, while another sat a distance away. We resembled fans at a Minnesota Timberwolves game; large auditorium… small crowd. Once we were seated, our principal explained what our “new normal” was going to look like.

In my wildest dreams, or nightmares, in this case, I never imagined things getting like this. In February, one of my students asked me if I thought the Coronavirus would make it to Minnesota. I reassured her everything was going to be fine and added how I’d lived through past bouts of media fear-mongering… SARS, Ebola, and Mad Cow Disease. I then told her the Coronavirus wasn’t going to be any worse than the previous sensationalized, undelivered pandemic of the month. A couple of weeks after everything went down, I was able to apologize to her during an online chat. I felt bad I’d misinformed her but there’s no way I could have foreseen all of this.

I spent the next two weeks getting virtual lessons ready for my students. Navigating the right recipe between overwhelming or underwhelming the students seemed about as scientific as bloodletting. How can one predict how much content to cover and how much work to assign when this is uncharted territory. My peers were all in the same conundrum and none of us had the exact formula; this was going to be a time of trial and error.

The first day of distance learning followed a night of nervous sleeplessness. Uncertain of how things would go, I faced the “new normal” head-on. I was working out some last-minute details during my first hour prep period, when I was greeted by a text from a co-worker which read, “Down goes Schoology.” It Turned out with all the increased usage around the nation, our learning management system crashed as soon as students from California signed onto the system. Online learning companies simply weren’t ready for the increased bandwidth use those first few days. Many other learning programs weren’t working during those first few days, either. It seemed nobody was ready for national distance learning. At this point, I could empathize with the band members on the Titanic who played their instruments as the ocean liner sank. Fortunately, we were able to stay afloat those first few days.

One thing weird about delivering online lessons is the lack of verbal response from students who mute their microphones to avoid communication lag, not to mention many others simply don’t want to speak out in front of 30 peers. It’s hard to know if students are listening at all when you say something, funny or not, that is followed by complete silence. The comedian in me finds the silence unsettling. Some students will type their answers on the chat page much like texting. This is very annoying when you’re trying to move things along and you have to wait for a typed response.

Another oddity in the virtual classroom world is that you don’t know what your students look like. Participants must avoid video mode to avert crashing the system. Therefore, all students have an icon representing their online presence. Some have a photograph of themselves while others may have a photo of someone else (a friend, a pet, or a celebrity), an anime character, or simply a capital letter representing the first letter of their name. This type of learning can be very frustrating for the teacher when you can’t see or hear your students. At the risk of being slightly politically incorrect, I think I have a feeling what it would have been like for Helen Keller if she’d been a teacher.

Eventually, technology caught up to the demand but by then many students had lost their initial enthusiasm for this new learning format. Assigning online lessons and doing virtual hangouts isn’t anywhere near the same as in-person learning. One huge problem for many students is they miss seeing their friends. A few students thrived under the “new normal” but a certain percentage of the kids were depressed and a vast majority were in mourning. They mourned the lack of socialization. One nice by-product of the pandemic has been an increased amount of family time, but this is a double-edged sword for teens. It’s a natural social stage for adolescents to begin moving away from their parents and wanting to spend more time with people their age. If this wasn’t the case, they’d never leave home.

This imposed 24/7 stay-at-home confinement has been very difficult for many. Add the loss of extracurricular activities, hanging with friends, and fun things like prom and it’s become downright miserable for some. Both of Cambridge-Isanti’s High School’s girl’s and boy’s basketball teams qualified for the state tournament this year. The girl’s team was lucky to play two games in the tournament before it was canceled. The boy’s team also qualified by winning the sectional tournament and then everything was canceled. This will lead to a lifetime of thinking about “what if…” for everyone involved in the basketball program.

I feel the worst for the Class of 2020 who are missing out on many of life’s milestones. They weren’t even able to gather as a class one last time. And a commencement ceremony is a rite of passage for graduates to be shared with family, friends, faculty, and the entire community. Although there have been some creative, alternative ceremonies developed in these unprecedented times, it’s still a rotten deal for these kids. I know there were three members of this class at my high school that were born on September 11, 2001. Entering the world on that day and exiting high school this way seems to designate them as people of destiny.

After a few days, just like anything, a routine developed. I wake up… post the daily assignment… grade any work handed in overnight… host google hangouts with each class to introduce new assignments… grade some more homework… prepare for tomorrow… host virtual office hours…go for a walk… rinse and repeat. That was my daily grind. After three weeks it got to the point where I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day. My life consisted of the same events day, after day, after day.

The hardest part for me was losing the best part of teaching (the interaction with students), while one of the least appealing parts of teaching (correcting homework and grading) was prevalent. This whole thing feels like one bad Black Mirror episode.

In time, some students began falling behind for various reasons. Some don’t have home internet capabilities, so their assignments have to be sent to their home causing a delay in the process. At times it appeared like smoke signals or the pony express might have been a faster mode of communication since there was a week-long lag between sending out homework and its return.

Others who had gotten behind simply needed some TLC from their teachers, counselors, and a variety of other support staff; while some others simply aren’t able to function in this setting. In the past few months, I’ve had numerous conversations with students and parents. Sometimes the conference spurs them on and other times it doesn’t. It’s easier for students with problems to confide in educators they have built a relationship with. It’s much more difficult to develop relationships online than in person. It’s not impossible, but it’s much harder. Helping suffering students during these unprecedented times has been challenging, yet essential.

One lesson I’ve learned through all this is that it’s hard to teach history to kids who are worried about the present… and the future. It’s a good reminder to me that sometimes life’s lessons are more pressing than any lesson plan I can create for the classroom. From the first day, we dove into distance learning our principal stressed compassion to our students and ourselves. It’s easy to beat one’s self up when you feel like you aren’t covering all of the content you’d like to cover, but under these extreme circumstances that just isn’t possible.  

 


 

 

 

COVID-19 by Chad the Entertainer

“Ten million comedians out of work and you’re trying to tell jokes,” was the standard line my high school friend Erik Grande fired off anytime someone unsuccessfully attempted to say something funny. It wasn’t enough to let the wannabe comic hear silence, his one-line retort let them know they bombed. Well, thanks to the Coronavirus, there really are ten million comedians out of work, and that’s not funny, either. Because sadly, it comes at a time when people need to laugh.

Ask a person about their first kiss or first beer and they’ll more than likely recite vivid details surrounding the event. Just like how I can tell you where I was when I heard the news the first twin tower being hit by the airplane; I can tell you where I was when I told my first Coronavirus joke I told on stage. It was my opening line at the Gilbert Minnesota VFW show on February 29th. “I asked the bartender for a Corona and he coughed on me.” That got a big laugh from the crowd. I remember the joke so distinctly because it’s the only Coronavirus joke I’ve ever told on stage. After all, that was the last time I performed. Although it seems like an eternity, it was only two-and-a-half months ago.

The government eventually injected the term social distancing into our everyday lexicon. When I first heard people were being encouraged to remain at least six feet apart and avoid all physical contact, I sarcastically suggested the whole thing was a scheme by housewives sick of their husband’s frisky advances. This line predominantly evoked laughter from men and head nods from women.

Both of these early Coronavirus related jokes aren’t all that funny 75 days into a pandemic. Both were eventually churned through the social media meme factories which strangled any semblance of humor out of them. How many times have we seen a variation of someone saying they’re vehicle is getting three weeks to the gallon? That made me laugh at first, now I just scroll on by. The internet has made comedy very hard to make fresh commentary because people post and re-post things… what else do we have to do when we’re quarantined? There are only so many times a person can quaranstream the Tiger King?

Due to overexposure, COVID-19 topics have become what the comedy world labels as hack which means the joke’s premise is too obvious or it has been “borrowed” from comedians in the past. Some internet jokes have been passed around more than the immortalized 99 bottles of beer on the wall. It was humorous the first time I saw a Facebook post with someone wearing a mask asking how their bank teller was going to react when he showed up wearing a mask. The eightieth time I saw this, it lost a little of its novelty.

My half pug, half-French bulldog, Antonio even dove into the Facebook posting frenzy. Yes, that’s right, my bulldog has his own social media page. Don’t laugh, he’s got more followers than the Minnesota Viking’s Kirk Cousins, and slightly less than convicted felon Joe Exotic. One post featured Antonio standing next to a Corona beer can we found in the park with the caption “What’s all the fuss about?” Another post featured him wearing a mask stating he was following Dr. Fauci’s recommendations unlike Bryson, his Malamute brethren. There was even a photo of him serving a timeout at the dog park for violating the social distance policy with the unwanted humping of a puppy. Nobody wants to be violated by Danny Devito’s spirit animal.

Joking helps people cope with tragic events they’re unable to make sense of. Using humor to deal with the enormity of certain events is nothing new. It’s happened throughout history. “Ring-a-round the Rosie”, which is a song about death, psychologically helped people deal with the uncertainties surrounding the plagues of the Middle Ages. When the Spanish flu ripped through the world a century ago children made up this song:

I had a little bird

Its name was Enza

I opened up the window

And influenza.

During more recent times there have been numerous jokes dealing with disturbing subjects including the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Jeffrey Dahmer’s food choices, and even 9/11. I guess one good thing about Coronavirus jokes is they finally put an end to the memes featuring the angry Madonna look-a-like and the white cat.

My stand up comedy career started in 2010. I’ve gotten to the point where I can work just about any weekend I want from November to April. Summers are fairly slow because, as we all know, nobody wants to sit inside when the weather’s nice in Minnesota and outdoor comedy venues aren’t always ideal with the multitude of distractions.

This second job not only supplements my income but it allows me to do something I enjoy… making people laugh. My bookings were strong this year but by the end of February news of COVID-19 creeping toward the Midwest became viral… (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

I began hearing rumblings from nervous promoters about venues contemplating shutting down shows. Then on March 16th shows started dropping faster than the price of a barrel of oil. I lost eight shows that day. To paraphrase the words of Howard Cosell, “Down goes comedy. Down goes comedy.” At least I still had storytelling

… right?

In 1998 I learned there was an entire realm of storytelling out there for adult audiences. Before this, I imagined storytelling consisting of performers competing against mimes, petting zoos, and clowns specializing in balloon animals for spots at kindergartener’s birthday parties. After visiting the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, I knew differently and I was hooked. In addition to being a comedian, I wanted to be a storyteller.

Thanks to helpful grants from Minnesota’s East Central Regional Arts Council I was able to secure mentorships with Minnesota’s world-renowned author and storyteller Kevin Kling and master performer and author Rose Arrowsmith-Decoux. Kevin helped me develop my one-person show, “Speaking Filley-Sophically.” and he even brought me as his guest at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, further developing my storytelling passion. I watched performers from all over the world, numerous Southern yarn spinners, several American humorists, and storytellers from just about any American ethnic group imaginable. I did notice there weren’t any Scandinavian-American storytellers at the festival. With my Norwegian heritage and my passion for storytelling, I began to think this might be a niche I could fill.

The second grant allowed me to strengthen my stage techniques under the tutelage of Rose, and to research at different County Historical Society archives to look for stories featuring Scandinavian Immigrants. This project opened several doors for me including a slot at a Midsummer Scandinavian Festival in June. Unfortunately, all storytelling events were also struck down by COVID-19.

It was depressing to see live, in-person performances being canceled. If there’s ever been a time when humor was needed, this is it. If laughter truly is the best medicine then most Doctors (and bartenders) would prescribe a dose of laughs with a chuckle chaser. Some comedians have filled the entertainment void with virtual open mics and shows, podcasts, and one comedy friend is hosting a nightly round of karaoke, but is this an equivalent substitute to in-person events? As an eleven-year-old, I learned substitutions don’t always work out when I added baking soda instead of baking powder to my homemade pizza crust recipe. That substitute left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Initially, I wondered if anyone was watching these shows, then it struck me that viewership wasn’t the point. Instead, these homebound shows are cathartic for the performers. It allows healing for these people who’ve lost their audience. And who’s to say, some performers might even find a new audience in the process.

People constantly tell me how lucky I am because “You’re probably getting all kinds of material during this.” Yes, there’s definitely lots of comedy fodder out there, but truthfully, it’s hard to feel funny during a pandemic. There’s been a lot to laugh about right now, but some of those same things could just as easily make one cry.

To deal with the pandemic I’ve chosen to compare it to the crib mobile model. When people are in the midst of a crisis it feels like their whole world is slamming around aimlessly much like you would if you were hanging onto a single piece of the child’s mobile. Now if you step back and look at all the pieces of the mobile you can see how things are interconnected and how all the pieces function together. People need to step back and analyze everything that’s going on during rough times. It’s much easier to handle things if we understand the big picture rather than concentrating on our own topsy-turvy piece of the world.

Taking my advice I decided to stop looking for the funny (or lack of it) in my life and concentrate on the overall situation. I decided to utilize the gift of time I’ve been given and decided to spend more of it writing… no matter the content, funny or not. I’d much rather come out of the shutdown having accomplished something productive instead of being disappointed in myself for binge-watching or internet surfing all that time away. This is why it doesn’t matter if the internet comedy shows aren’t making the performers famous. What matters is they are using the time to better their craft. 

 

I was a fortunate recipient of the East Central Regional Arts Council (ECRAC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant Program for Artists.  The funding for this grant program comes directly from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and was distributed by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund.  #ecrac  #ArtsLegacy  

The grant includes my producing four separate essays about COVID-19 from my perspective in different avenues of my life: 50-year-old, teacher, entertainer, and husband/father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19

By Chad the 50-year-old

I was a fortunate recipient of the East Central Regional Arts Council (ECRAC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant Program for Artists.  The funding for this grant program comes directly from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and was distributed by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund.  #ecrac  #ArtsLegacy  

The grant includes my producing four separate essays about COVID-19 from my perspective in different avenues of my life: 50-year-old, teacher, entertainer, and husband/father.


Just about every horror movie starts with a television or radio station playing in the background foreshadowing an upcoming disaster. These prophetic reveals can range anywhere from zombie attacks in Zimbabwe, to missing children in Maine, to scientists warning of an upcoming pandemic which started in China. These ominous warnings are always ignored by the movie’s cast for a variety of reasons… “It’s too far away from here,” or “That could never happen here,” or “That’s just the media hyping things up one more time,” or “I doubt that’s even real.”

Well, as surreal as the last few weeks have been, ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t a movie. In mid-February, I was flipping stations on my satellite radio while heading to a comedy gig in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, when the correspondent began talking about the genesis of the Coronavirus. A doctor being interviewed by the journalist explained the virus either escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China; or it spread to a human who’d eaten a bat he’d purchased at the live animal market in Wuhan. Either way, they were talking about how deadly this virus was, its high rate of transmission from person to person, and how it could easily spread to other parts of the world.

The social studies teacher in me listened with interest but I wasn’t worried because “It’s too far away from here,” and “that could never happen in the United States,” and “It’s probably just the media hyping it up,” and “truthfully, I wonder if it’s even a real.” So I figured I could discuss what I’d learned during current events on Monday in class and went on with my life. But the news reports kept coming in the following days.

A week or so later I watched a television news report on COVID-19 (which I discovered stands for Corona Virus Disease starting in 2019) and that was the first time I saw a magnified image of the virus. The microorganism is a light-blue, circular entity with red spikes that coincidentally reminded me of some sort of mutant Crunch Berry. It’s hard to fathom this breakfast cereal lookalike is a runaway germ from a lab in China when it looks more like some crazy Cap’n Crunch concoction crafted by Quaker Oats. I’d even believe it was an ill-fated attempt gone haywire by the Cap’n’s generic, wannabe competitor Berry Colossoal Crunch. The news story warned things were getting bad in Europe and the virus might eventually make its way to the United States.

Although alarming on the surface, I had discovered one promising tidbit of knowledge… The Coronvirus rarely affects the young. This gave me a sense of relief knowing someone young like myself would be okay if the virus crossed either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Once the program ended, I turned the television off, slowly got out of bed hoping to avoid tweaking my sore back, and limped to the bathroom (solely because my feet were aching from a long walk my wife and I had taken earlier in the day).

“Okay, maybe I am getting a little older, but I’m still young…right? I’m only 52.”

I looked at myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth and couldn’t help but notice my hair and beard have taken on a little more gray since last analysis. (At my age, self-examination is a little less frequent then when I was in my twenties). My investigative scan discovered the circles under my eyes were a little darker than usual but I’m just tired. It’s late after all.

I glanced at my cell phone which read 8:06.

“I’m not old… I’m just tired.”

I was worn-out but not enough to go to sleep. No, instead I spent the next hour and a half reading internet articles about COVID-19, discovering it’s much more likely to harm people in the 90s, 80s, and 70s. (See, I’m not old!) My research uncovered that a large majority of people contracting the virus are either asymptomatic or simply develop a varying range of flu-like symptoms but, most importantly, they eventually recover. This comforted me and besides COVID-19 wasn’t even in the United States at this point. And more importantly, “It’s still too far away from here,” and “that could never happen in the United States,” and “It’s probably just the media hyping it up,” and “truthfully, I wonder if it’s even a real.” These sentences gave me some degree of comfort until I remembered I’d had a headache a couple of days ago and my throat had a slight tickle, and I did cough earlier in that afternoon… it was right after my wife sprayed her hair spray, but it was still a cough. Was I infected with Coronavirus? Are these just signs of the normal allergies I battle every spring? Was I feeling the ill effects of exposure to her Agent Orange scented, Ozone busting tonic? Was it all in my mind?

The media definitely began giving COVID-19 more and more coverage which is typical with the newly fashionable scare topic. Remember Y2K, the ebola virus, and the ever threatened switch to the metric system… none of them panned out to the degree the media forecast. Just when I thought I’d heard everything imaginable about the virus, major sporting events began canceling. The NCAA scrapped its men’s and women’s college basketball tournament and the NBA suspended its season indefinitely. Within a couple of days, all major sporting leagues and concerts were shut down. It was at this point I realized the Coronavirus was the real deal. When billionaires are shutting down their cash cows, you know it’s a genuine problem.

Not long after this, I saw a news story featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci instructing viewers on the art of handwashing. I thought it was precious seeing a hybrid of my grandfather and Yoda talking about scrubbing our mitts, but he made his point. Subsequently, I began washing my hands several times a day. So much so, that my hands became more chapped than Arthur Fonzarelli’s lips at a kissing booth.

Soon the Coronavirus pandemic began infecting social media, so much so it became nearly impossible to read about anything other than COVID-19… except for posts about people’s cats. People bragging about their brown tabby having a stripe pattern resembling the Shroud of Turin or how Chairman Meow has a larger working vocabulary than Ozzy Osbourne will never go away, no matter how bad things get.

In early March several states along both coastlines began shutting down as infection rates rose. Once it became clear Minnesota might follow suit, I traveled to Wal-Mart to stock up on dog food… It was Friday. As I strolled toward the pet section I noticed aisles of fully stocked shelves contradicting media reports of people getting into fistfights over toilet paper. Really, butt wipe is what we’re worried about with a pandemic on the way? Come to think of it toilet paper is never mentioned in post-apocalyptic television shows and movies. These shows always concentrate on gathering food, medicine, and weapons but that’s fictional. Evidently, it comes down to he who stashes the most bathroom tissue rules the world. Getting back to reality, nothing like this could ever happen here because we’re “Minnesota Nice” which means we’re just simply too civilized to hoard rolls of Angel Soft. Plus, “It’s still too far away from here,” and “that could never happen in my state,” and “It’s probably just the media hyping it up,” and “truthfully, I wonder if it’s even a real.”

Then Governor Walz announced all schools would be closing for distance learning and it appeared like Minnesota might issue a stay-at-home order. Two days later, I went back to Wal-Mart to get another bag of dog food along with a few other necessities. Seeing numerous empty shelves that had been fully stocked 48 hours earlier surprised me. And toilet paper… well, that was as scarce as common sense at this point.

With many food aisles emptied, I decided to buy a gallon of milk. After grabbing the white jug, I headed toward the pet section and a woman saw me and screamed, “Oh my God, he’s got milk!” She then turned toward the dairy section and sprinted off almost tipping her cart over on its side. Her Gumball Rally stunt reminded me of the opening episode of Fear of the Walking Dead when mass panic had set in. People in the midst of uncertainty begin to hoard items. I hate to admit it but I later scrolled through several Facebook posts desperately asking for charitable Charmin handouts as their family stash began getting dangerously low bringing to mind George Costanza’s “Can you spare a square?” conversation. This dilemma even brought forward many questions of why Americans use toilet paper when 75 percent of the world cleans using other methods. Sales of bidets even shot up…sorry, bad pun.

Then came the Governor’s stay-at-home order and the shutdown of gyms, theaters, restaurants, bars, and just about everyplace else people want to go. This has affected families in ways I never thought it would. Never in my fifty-two years did I ever think I’d see families taking evening walks together, playing catch in the yard, and spending quality time together. This isn’t the case for everyone. A friend of mine saw a man buying several cases of beer at the liquor store. He told the clerk, “If I have to spend 24/7 with my family, then I’m going to need this.”

I recently saw a Facebook post by a man worried his favorite restaurant might close down after all of this is over. Many echoed his concern and others even commented on how stupid the shut down was. Although I hope the named eatery can weather this unprecedented storm, I also hope my elderly neighbors down the street survive this global pandemic. It’s unfortunate that even the pandemic has become politicized. One side claims it’s our duty to obey the shut down to prevent the spreading of the disease and the potential killing of the vulnerable. Others say the Coronavirus carnage is inevitable and we should face it head-on, develop herd immunity, and try to salvage our already vulnerable economy despite the potential human loss. The basis for both arguments is taking care of people. One school of thought strives to take care of society’s less healthy: the elderly and those with underlying health or immunity complications; while the other side wants to take care of pandemic survivors by ensuring a semblance of the pre-pandemic economy when it’s finally over.

The differing ideologies play out in many avenues: whether to social distance, whether to stay at home, or whether or not to wear masks in public. Some claim being forced to wear masks to enter a store is squelching one’s constitutional rights and psychologically it reeks vulnerability. Mask proponents believe adherence to these safeguards shows societal unity in times like this.

The hardest part for everyone to accept is the loss of choice. Americans like to make their own choices and losing this ability is hard on everyone… including this fifty-two-year-old.

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