May Hooray 4

They say if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. So it’s great to have comics around anytime, but especially in troublesome times like we’ve had in 2020. I would imagine that the “comedy” genre in services like Netflix and Amazon Prime has seen an uptick in searches since this whole pandemic began.

Not long ago, blogger Badfinger20 listed his favorite comics, which generated no small amount of commentary. Thank goodness we have so many people who are funny, and try to keep us laughing!

My sense of humor is quirky. One stand-up comedian who always makes me laugh with his dry, deadpan delivery and metaphysical jokes is Steven Wright. Not a week goes by that I’m driving somewhere and see someone pulled over on the side of the road and I remember his line : “I got stopped for speeding the other day. The cop comes over and says, ‘hey don’t you know the speed limit is 55 miles per hour here?’ and I said ‘yeah, but I didn’t want to be out that long.’”

The show Saturday Night Live in its prime (to me, the first half of the ’90s with Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Victoria Jackson, Dennis Miller etc; to my older brother and his cohorts, the Eddie Murphy-led early-’80s) was hilarious week after week with its sketches and “Weekend update” but many times my favorite section was a little series of bizarre Hallmark-moments gone wrong that led into commercials, entitled “Deep Thoughts.”

Lots of people have been stepping up to try and cheer up the rest of us lately, and I salute them all and leave you with this one from a British (usually) photography website.

Keep laughing and have a great day!

May Hooray 2

Another silver lining of the pandemic, if there is such a possibility, is that it’s giving us extra time to watch old favorite TV shows, or perhaps find new favorites. Every evening not spent shopping could mean three or four episodes of a New Classic! Now while I don’t want to suggest everyone become couch potatoes and do want to remind you it IS OK to get outside and move around a bit, as long as we’re not in crowds, sometimes a bit of time with good “friends” on screen can be a boost.

For me, this spring I’ve discovered two new series that have appealed to me. Both reflect my love of romcom films like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail.

The first is the familiarly-titled Four Weddings and a Funeral. The title itself was taken from a popular British 1994 movie starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell and follows them and their on-again, off-again trans-Atlantic love affair as they attend mutual friends’ weddings and funerals. The TV version was a 2019 remake of sorts from Mindy Kaling. The 10-episode miniseries delivered on Hulu borrows the name and the overall gist of the movie, but isn’t simply the same story with new characters, lest you wonder. This confused me a little at first, but once I accepted this was a new story and took it for what it was, it worked.

Like the movie, the show follows a romance between an American woman, Maya, and a British guy, Kash and how they interact through mutual friends in London. The film borrows readily and blatantly from famous scenes in romcom movies like Love, Actually and Notting Hill and while a little long-winded, a little heavy-handed in its handling of gay characters and overly PC at times, it still has its charms. By the end you’re cheering for the leads and their romance.

The other new show I’ve fallen for is a current network offering… and that’s not something that happens every year for me anymore. NBC’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a romdram, if you will. Part romance, part drama and an exuberant return to Hollywood musicals of the past. Rather a new, grown-up version of Glee, in the early years of that show before it jumped the shark and took Jane Lynch with it, casting her essentially as Lucifer and forcing the writers to turn themselves inside out finding convoluted reasons to have the group of university types keep coming back from across the country to hang out at their old high school.

Zoey is a nerdy millennial gal who works in a trendy software company and has to deal with office rivalries, family stresses and isn’t sure which way to turn when confronted with two decent but flawed suitors. Oh, and through a freaky MRI incident, she’s blessed with the ability to at times hear what others around her are thinking… in song. So the story line gets driven by big musical numbers of songs ranging from “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by REM to Billy Joel’s “Lullabye” to  The Beatles “Help,”  Tears for Fears “Mad World,” and a rather somber take on “American Pie.”

It’s an entirely odd concept but it works better than it should, thanks in large part to solid writing and the charisma of Jane Levy as Zoey. Season one wrapped us this past weekend and probably singly increased the demand for Kleenex by about 50%.

If you like romance stories or comedies with a bit of a dark underbelly, both shows might work for you. If it’s not your thing, that’s fine too… don’t be afraid to take a bit of the time this pandemic is keeping you from being out in groups from looking for new faves of your own… but don’t forget to take time to keep on top of the real romances in your own life be they at home or far away!

May Hooray 1

May is a cheery month, I think. Or at least it should be one. It’s bright, the weather’s getting nice, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, baseball is a quarter-way through the schedule and getting interesting (well, most years!), we’re able to shed our winter clothes. If you’re a student, the end of the school year is almost upon you and if you’re at work, we’re getting to the time of long weekends and summer holidays. May should be a fine month which uplifts us all.

Of course, this year is a bit different. “Covid 19” and “Social distancing” are running neck-and-neck for the most used new entries into our lexicon and both can make us nostalgic for ones which popped into popular use in recent years… things like “Gangham style.” Even “impeachment” see downright warm and fuzzy by comparison.

So since we’re all quite probably stressed about the virus, about our health and the health of the economy, this May looks a bit darker and drearier. But there’s still lots of good out there, lots to enjoy,so this month I’ll try to put out a few thoughts on things which we can be thankful for, or enjoy even in Pandemic Times. It’s an idea that’s not altogether new to me. In 2015, I put out a book (Thank Goodness – 101 Things To Be Grateful For Today) designed to do the same – make one see the good all around them every day.

So let’s start with a simple one…we can still spend time with our families and the ones we love at home. People are finding ways to have fun with their kids. Some families might even be re-discovering forgotten pleasures like playing board games together or running through their library of favorite old movies. And while many, like me, are missing pro baseball and the kids can’t play organized little league that doesn’t stop everyone from having a little fun on the diamond, like this father and son:

Try to enjoy your day, and if you have little ones, remember any day can be a special one.

Time To Be Like A Crow

A CNN headline grabbed my attention this week – “Birds that learn new behaviors less likely to go extinct.” Being a birder and environmentalist, I  was hooked. I read it and found that a study by people at McGill University in Canada found that birds which adapted their diet or hunting techniques to the situation they were in did better and were less endangered than ones which didn’t. It cited examples like crows, which have been known to pick up nuts and drop them on roads so cars would run over them, with the birds eating the innards when the coast was clear, and cormorants which would follow fishing boats in hopes of getting some of the catch the boat would drop or throw away.

My first reaction was “duh!”. My second was “how do I get in on research money to do a study like that?” Maybe I could spend a few years getting paid finding that “people prefer cuddly kittens to feral rats for pets” or “people prefer a nice breeze to tornadoes ripping the roof of their houses.” I mean it seems abundantly obvious enough, doesn’t it?

Maybe I felt a bit jealous. Not to toot my own horn… oh, OK, “toot toot”… I said exactly the same thing about five years ago in my first e-book, The Mockingbird Speaks. In that, I suggested that many life lessons could be learned by watching Mockingbirds and one in particular was that the adaptable thrive, be they birds or people. I pointed out that the birds were expanding their range and increasing in numbers at times when many other birds were becoming scarcer by the year. Mockingbirds eat almost anything – I’ve personally seen them consume everything from wasps to wild cherries to millet seeds at feeders and records show they won’t turn down cut up oranges, baby lizards if they find them, suet, and almost any kind of berry known to man or Mother Nature. They’ve learned to live in our city gardens, the edges of forests and along the weedy right-of-ways along rail lines. That’s adaptable.

Similar success stories are birds like the Cooper’s Hawk and Pileated Woodpeckers. The hawks have skyrocketed in population since DDT was banned in the 1960s partly from that helping their health but also in part due to a sudden change in habitat. The bird-eaters used to live almost exclusively in dense woods. In the last thirty years, they’ve somehow come to realize that they do equally well in suburbs. Feeders and populations of city robins, sparrows and pigeons ensures them a steady food supply and as long as there are a few big trees around for their nests, they seem to thrive. The Pileated Woodpecker is similar in that they’ve somehow changed from needing vast tracts of forest to living in and feeding in neighborhood trees in green towns and cities.

Contrast that with well-known endangered species like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker or Kirtland’s Warbler. The woodpecker, a larger version of the Pileated, lives – or lived – in dense, old southern swamps eating pretty much just one type of beetle found in decaying trees of a certain age in only certain floodplain trees. When most of the forests that fit the description were felled, their populations crashed and now a record, even if accompanied by grainy video, is viewed with a lot of skepticism.

The colorful little Kirtland’s Warbler is similar. For whatever reason, they seem to only eat select insects that inhabit only Jack pine forests of a certain age. That type of forest only occurs in a small area of northern Michigan and a few hundred acres in Ontario. One large fire could potentially wipe out the species. The individual birds, I’m sure aren’t being obstinate or dumb… they aren’t making a conscious choice to only eat one type of bug and saying “I’d rather die than live in a different variety of tree”… they were just dealt a bad genetic hand.

The implications, to me, were obvious. Birds which adapt do well, those which didn’t were not much better than doomed.

By extension, the message carries over to us. As I put it, yesterday’s expert typewriter repairman is today’s chronically unemployed person. We need to adapt to changing times and situations. If a type of food becomes scarce, we need to be able to substitute something else for it in our diet. If our employer goes belly-up, we need to be able to take our skillset to new ones. Needless to say, the more we can learn and adapt our skills (be they job related or personal ones), the better off we are. It was a message that made sense in 2015. It’s imperative now.

This pandemic is challenging all of us, and I don’t think anyone is liking it much. Maybe it’s doing your 9-to-5 at a bedroom desk, maybe it’s getting shopping done before work instead of late at night. Maybe its shopping less and being less picky about what brands of soap or toilet paper we’ll accept. Even when this eventually calms down and we go back to a new “normal”, adaptations may be called for. Dr Fauci already suggests that business meetings won’t be opened by everyone shaking hands in the future. Some stores won’t throw the doors open again after Corona virus is a distant memory and maybe the person coughing and sweating away across the corridor from you at work won’t be considered an admirable example of work ethic and rather, a selfish sickie down the road. It’s hard to say.

What isn’t hard to say is that we need to be flexible. Need to be able to adapt like a crow. Or Mockingbird.

I’m off to round up some fuzzy little kittens and angry rats…

The Trouble With Normal (Is It Always Gets Worse), Part 3

What will the new normal be when things finally revert back? Perhaps that’s the biggest question of all these days, even more than “when”.

I’m far from unique in pointing out that when things went back to “normal” eventually after the 9/11 attacks, we found that “normal” was different than had been on Sep. 10, 2001. It doesn’t take much imagination to suggest that Corona virus will be similar in that eventually, when it fades into the background or even disappears, things will be different. What does take imagination though is to figure out just how they’ll be different.

There will be some negatives for years to come, of that we can be sure. The economy’s already taken a major hit worldwide and we’re not even close to wrestling this illness to the ground. The “stimulus” package just passed in the U.S. is said to cost some two trillion dollars, and guess what – that’s got to come from somewhere. Yes, that’s probably very necessary to help out people losing their jobs through no fault of their own, temporarily at least, and having to pay unexpected out of pocket expenses but is also about $8000 per taxpayer country-wide. Expect either tax increases or cuts to other government services for years to come. Likely both.

Obviously, some businesses that are closed now may not come back. Many non-essential retailers are shut down for the time being in the name of public safety, and for some that are already teetering on the edge of oblivion, it may be too much to ever come back from. I’d be surprised to see an open Sears or JC Penney store in the future, personally. Same goes for Pier 1 as well. That company just closed about half of their whole chain just before this occurred, and I wouldn’t bet on the remaining 450 stores or so in the future. After all, the chain was already nearly completely bankrupt in good economic times; nice but expensive imported pillows, wall hangings and tableware may find an even smaller market in tough times that will follow. And yes, tougher times will follow.

People are going to lose their jobs, not only in companies like theirs which will probably go under. Right now the tourist trade is taking a beating, understandably, and while the beaches of Florida, the Eiffel Tower, Disney World, the pyramids of Egypt and so on will always be draws, if the economy shrinks, they may not draw as many people. It’s unlikely the government’s going to let major airlines or hotel chains fold entirely, but not unlikely they’ll shrink. Fewer tourists means fewer jets in the air, fewer pilots and flight attendants, fewer hotels needed. Not to mention fewer restaurants and bars near those attractions, fewer gas stations along the way.Hence fewer jobs.

I wonder too, if many businesses still operating but operating differently won’t choose to opt for the new ways. For instance, many stores have cut their hours (that made no sense to me in the case of supermarkets, which were already busy and seeing a jump in sales) … neighborhood “24 hour” Walgreens now close at 9 PM in many cities and it’s rare to find a supermarket or Walmart open before sunrise now. If they find people still find ways to shop during the reduced hours, will they revert to the old, longer hours that require more manpower and electricity down the road? Less all-night shopping, and thus fewer retail jobs may emerge from Corona. On the other hand, shopping online may become even more dominant than it has been up to now.

With many offices doing all they can now to get the majority of their staff working from home to prevent the spread of the illness, it’s not hard to imagine that if that goes without too many snags, they may not be anxious to bring their whole roster back to the home office five days a week. A lot more people may be telecommuting in the future, good for the bottom line of the corporations (less office space means less rent, electricity etc.), good perhaps for our environment (imagine the savings in gas for just an ordinary worker not driving perhaps ten miles a day to work… now multiply that by millions) but perhaps not good for socialization or for the real estate market.

Speaking of real estate, if the economy flounders for some time as a result of this virus, tough times may befall real estate agents. But it could be a bull market for Lowes and Home Depot, as well as books by those “Property Brothers” or Gainses of Fixer Upper fame as people decide to just “spruce up” the existing home instead of looking for a bigger and better one to move into.

Let’s hope though that some good things will arise from this mess. For instance, people are now hyper-vigilant about washing their hands and not standing near people coughing or sneezing. Perhaps that will become more of a habit down the road, and we’ll all be a little bit healthier in years to come. Same goes for staying home when you’re sick, which might become even more ingrained into our consciousness if more employers offer sick days as a result.On a bigger scale, perhaps governments, American especially (but others as well)  will see a positive aspect to perhaps spending more on defending their population’s health, even if it means spending just a little less on defending borders with space-age jets and missiles.

People are getting by without going out to the malls for recreation right now; while we don’t want to see large chains go out of business and people losing thousands of jobs, our society might do well by having some people realize that shopping is more a necessity from time to time than a daily recreational activity. If our society becomes even a little less consumeristic and more people-oriented as a result of Corona Covid 19, it could be a bit nicer, and less wasteful world to inhabit.

The U.S. has a way of looking rather narrowly at the world and seeing itself not only as the Center of Everything, but as a bit of an island. (An example which comes to mind to me, as a Canadian, is how most American publications will refer to American records as the only ones… when they speak of “best-selling albums of all-time” for instance, they almost invariably are referring only to U.S. figures, ignoring the ones sold to the other 6.7 billion people elsewhere) If people come to look outwards a bit more, and see themselves as part of a global community besides just being a part of their own country, we might benefit. That of course is true of other countries as well, although I think that mentality is most applicable to the United States.

But the U.S. isn’t the only country which will hopefully go about things a bit differently in the future. It might be politically incorrect so say, but it’s true nonetheless that China needs to change the way of some of its people. I know, many think it hypocritical to say we can eat cows or pigs but others shouldn’t eat other mammals, but there’s a reason people don’t normally eat bats, cats or rats. Corona virus came out of a “wet market” in Wuhan, somehow making the jump from infected bats there to local people to wardrobe consultants for Law & Order SVU across the Pacific in a matter of about three months. These markets not only treat animals inhumanely, they crowd together any number of exotic species in close, and unsanitary conditions, proving a nice little petri dish for viral experiments. Corona came from there; SARS and the Swine Flu from similar situations in China earlier this century. Time for bats and wildcats to be left to the wilderness and the animals we choose to consume to come from farms which meet certain health standards, in Wuhan just as much as Wisconsin.

Last but not least, let’s hope we can all gain even a wee bit of a new set of priorities and appreciation for things we can take for granted. In the city I’m in, the large public park near me is closed down – presumably because the virus could infect kids playground equipment or a drinking fountain. It’s rather a drag. Maybe when things go back to “normal” , people will appreciate that park and walking through it a little more. And maybe we’ll rediscover the simple joys of things like walking around the parks enjoying the singing birds and blooming flowers; like doing arts and crafts or playing Clue with the family. Getting to appreciate what we have now, and those we have in our lives, a bit more. That wouldn’t make the current pandemic a good thing, but it sure could mean some good might eventually come from it.

The Trouble With Normal (Is It Always Gets Worse), Part 2

Wuhan, it turns out is a city that’s the same size as New York. Yet it’s only the ninth biggest city in China. The U.S. has one city (the Big Apple) with more than five million residents; China, 19 of them. Which along with it being about 5000 miles removed from the nearest port on our shore, explains why three months ago most of us had never heard of it. Until, that is, people who shopped in a “wet meat” market started getting sick, and in some cases dying with what originally seemed to be a weird pneumonia.

That was around Christmas time, but due to both the Chinese government’s secrecy and our own fascination with efforts to impeach the president and all those TV singers wearing a mask, we didn’t really begin to hear about the Corona Virus, or Covid 19, until about a month later.

The first news reports seemed bad, but also seemed almost irrelevant to us here. Yes, thousands were sick there but not here and China, seemingly to their credit looked like they had gone to lengths to contain it. It was downright bizarre to watch news reports from China – not even just Wuhan, but other major cities – and see huge modern expressways into skyscraper-sprouting skylines completely deserted; see reporters talking in malls bigger and shinier than ours which were modern, gleaming … and empty.

Then somehow, Iran became infected. Then Italy. People got worried. Japan shut down their whole school system for a month, despite not reporting many cases. Italy quarantined the whole northern half of their land. Then a couple dozen people contracted it on a cruise ship off the California coast and the president didn’t want to allow it to dock. All for a disease which we initially were told was nothing worse than the flu, which we already have over here and kills thousands of people a year, and for which we do nothing other than suggest people get an annual shot that may or may not help prevent it. It made very little sense.

It really seemed like it wasn’t our problem until very recently. That’s the striking thing – how quickly our world has changed. Not as fast as if a jet had flown into a building, but quickly nonetheless. And the impact might be just as resonating.

The first sign things were really haywire was only about two weeks back, when the NBA suddenly suspended their season, only a couple of weeks short of beginning their playoffs. Hours after that announcement, we found one Utah player had the illness. Then two. Then four New York ones. I was dumbfounded when I read that news before going to bed that night, less than two weeks back now. Personally, I don’t care for basketball, so it mattered little at all to me, but it was shocking because it matters to millions of people, and generates hundreds of millions, billions even, of dollars. You don’t just erase dozens of games (many with 18000 or so tickets pre-sold for them) at a drop of the hat. Within 24 hours, the NHL had followed suit and the writing was on the wall for baseball which was ramping up to full speed about a week and a half away from opening the regular season. A day or two later, MLB had stopped all spring training games and delayed the opening of the season to who knows when. That’s when it started to become a bit of a real annoyance to me… and people began to panic.

Fast forward only about three days from there and we get to two Saturdays back. By now, the U.S was up to a few thousand known cases, and about 11 or so fatalities, mainly in one old age home in the Seattle area. It seemed alarming, but still entirely controllable. Not to the masses though.

I ventured out to one of the larger mid-town supermarkets that Saturday night and left basically empty handed. Entire aisles had been cleaned out as if a Biblical plague of locusts had descended. There was not one roll of toilet paper to be found, nor paper towel. Only a handful of loaves of bread remained in the 40-foot aisle, and those were mostly those oddball “organic, gluten-free, quinoa with fig bits” loaves that sell for about $6. Or actually, don’t sell. Most of the canned goods were gone. The next afternoon at Walmart, more of the same. No milk or eggs either. And that’s about when the craziness really set in.

We know a couple in Austin who weren’t feeling well. We see them about once a year. Somehow, communications lines got crossed and there was a rumor they had Corona Virus. The Kiddo here told someone at her workplace that and the boss jetted in like a 747 into an office tower and told her to leave immediately and not set foot back in the store until she’d been tested and could prove she was corona-negative. This for a teen girl who was showing no symptoms.

Her mom and I kind of rolled our eyes and sighed, and said well, fine if that’s what they say we’d better take you to a hospital and have you tested. Mother phoned both of the large regional hospitals only to be told they had no tests available. On Monday we found that there was testing in a city 80 miles away… but you had to have symptoms and be referred by a doctor. We began to realize why the current administration was being raked over the coals for not handling this crisis well. Not handling it at all actually.

The kiddo tried to explain that to her manager, and the latter reluctantly let her come back to work in the store which had by then cut its hours. All a moot point now as that retailer has shut all of its doors until some time in April at best.

Well you know the rest, because it seems like whether you’re in Tennessee or Florida or north of the border in Ontario, it’s the same. We’ve had a week where people are panicking, lines form around the block two, three hours before supermarkets open in the morning with people eager to have a chance at getting a 6-pack of toilet paper or case of bottled water and by mid-day, most shelves in the food and cleaning aisles are empty as if the Grinch had just gone through leaving one crumb too small for even a mouse.

On the plus side, city streets which are usually gridlocked at 4 PM are a nice easy glide and the gas to do so cheaper than it’s been for years, because people have nowhere to go. Businesses are shut down, you can’t go out to eat or watch the game (which isn’t taking place anyway!) , telecommuting has in 10 days gone from the unlikely and a perq of the few to the way offices do business now.

My sweetie works in a large, modern office for a large local company. She handles customer inquiries and complaints, quite well I must say. Flu swept through it last winter, the company seemed not to notice. Corona though, is a different breed of virus. By mid-week last week, they were asking workers to work from home. Today she started doing so, for the forseeable future. The company even sent home one of her large monitors so she could use a bigger screen than her laptop offers. So far, it’s going well though she already misses some of her “team members” and her bigger, liftable desk there. Which is understandable to me, as I’ve found that the thing that makes most jobs mentally worthwhile is the co-workers you interact with and the friendships you make there.

Of course, it’s not just her, nor just offices. Can you imagine being an NBC exec and suggesting three months ago, “I think we should prepare for when Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker have to do the Today Show from their own living rooms and our nighttime talk show guests will be being interviewed remotely via Skype?” The company would’ve shown you the door and stuffed a map to the local mental hospital in your pocket on the way out. Yet that too is the new reality.

It’s scary. The illness seems random. Some have it and barely feel “under the weather”, others get it and are in the ground a week later. That’s scary. In Italy and elsewhere, it seems to explode like a bomb after the public makes real efforts to do what we’re told – wash hands, stay indoors and so on. That’s scary. Every day that passes makes it less likely fans like me will be watching baseball this year, or like my dad, the Olympics this summer and that’s … well, not exactly scary, but mind-blowing nevertheless.

Eventually, we’ll go back to normal. But what will the new “normal” be? It might be bad but maybe, just maybe it won’t be that scary….

The Trouble With Normal (Is It Always Gets Worse), Part 1

People older than me often talk about remembering exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard JFK had been shot. It was before my time. I do remember Lennon being killed; it saddened young teenage me but didn’t have that kind of “time stands still” effect people on me people refer to with Kennedy.

To me, so far in a bit beyond five decades and counting, there’ve only been two really big things that changed the world. Not changed my world (things like a parent dying or moving to another country can do that easily but don’t really make much difference in the overall grand scheme of things) but changed the whole world. The first was Sep. 11. And now the second is this Corona virus pandemic.

I remember 9/11 as clear as the skies outside were that morning. I was driving to work, a short commute cross-town, and for some reason I flipped on the AM news channel in the car instead of my usual switching between the in-town rock station and Toronto alt rock one. I think I actually hadn’t heard the previous night’s baseball scores and wanted to catch a sports update. Instead, I got a live news report from New York, about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. That seemed bad, needless to say, but the radio details were scant at that point. I figured it was some little Cesna piloted by an incompetent novice flyer. Bad, but nothing much to worry about.

Of course, the world changed very quickly that morning. By the time I got into work, the second plane had hit the other tower and they were no Cesnas nor the pilots simple incompetents. 2001 was a different time in many ways, and we had only limited internet at work (and no TVs) but we were not allowed to use the computers to surf the web or do anything personal. That day though, we stood around the monitor at the front desk, owner and hourly people alike, watching the events unfold and getting frequent updates from terrified customers who walked in. At the time, offices like the Chicago Sears Tower and even Toronto’s CN Tower were evacuated because we didn’t know what would come next. There were of course, wild unfounded rumors as there usually are when terrible things occur. At one point in the morning, we were led to believe there were probably a couple dozen more jets up there which had been hijacked and could be targeting anywhere. My sweetie, whom I didn’t know at the time, was in Waco, Texas and scared they would be a target, not so stupid a worry considering then-President Bush had his own ranch just a few miles down the road and was known to fly across the city in a helicopter.

When I got home, I had on the TV – what channel didn’t matter, since they were all doing nothing but cover the story – and phoned my Mom, who was crying. As most of us were.

I guess I went back to work the next day. I don’t really remember. Well, we all know what happened afterwards. Things slowly went back to normal, but it was an entirely new “normal.” Soon the U.S. would be invading Iraq for goodness knows what reason and both they and my Canada would be sending troops into Afghanistan for the futile reason of trying to bring that country into the capitalism-loving, Christian-based 21st Century. Got your shampoo in your carry-on bag? Think again. Homeland Security became not only a new catchphrase but a whole new governmental department. And of course, Middle Eastern people, many of them not even Muslim and almost all of them good, harmless, were viewed under a microscope and with widespread disdain and mistrust.

That indirectly was one of the odd personal effects it had on me (no, I’m not Middle Eastern nor Muslim.) At the time, I’d been laboring away on a novel. I likely had about half of it done, maybe 100 or so pages. I wasn’t absolutely sure of its direction and outcome, and it wasn’t going to be shelved beside Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby in the “you must read this book now!” section of future libraries. Nevertheless, I was proud of parts of it and some bits of prose in it.

Strangely though, for what reason I cannot recall now, I’d put in a secondary character who ran a small convenience store in the protagonist’s hometown. The shopkeeper was very friendly and polite… and very foreign looking. Spoke with a strong accent. And midway through the story, he got carted away by the Feds on suspicion of funding a terrorist cell. My protagonist had to work through it all in his head, and figure out if the friendly man behind the grubby counter was an evil mastermind or an innocent victim of rumor and prejudice. (Strangely, as I said, that was not the main storyline, just one tangential to a larger picture of small town life.)

Well, needless to say that got trashed. It seemed inappropriate at best to write somehting like that then, and in fact, at that time it just seemed suddenly a waste of time to write some work of fiction. Trite. The novel ceased and eventually disappeared into a landfill I suppose, with the rest of the hard drive of a now long deceased computer.

I wish nowI’d kept going on it, even if I changed the story around some. In retrospect, the philosophy of the cast of Friends was the right one. They believed, after some reflection, that what they were doing was important, that entertainment was perhaps more important than ever then as people needed relief from the worries and uncertainties of the day. They decided to keep going, make a few subtle signs of respect for the victims in their show but try to make people laugh more than ever. Likewise, the players who went back onto the field to finish the baseball season later that month; they knew the public needed a diversion. But that wasn’t my mindset then.

In the years since, things have gotten back to normal, but it’s not quite as good a “normal” as it was in the spring of 2001, or in 2000. And things kept going along as normal until just a few weeks ago when people started getting very sick in a city in China we’d never heard of…

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 10 : Walking On The (Virus-free) Moon

Walking on the Moon” was a minor hit record for The Police. Was never their favorite song for most, but with all this Corona virus news, I bet it might be soon. Feels like the moon might be the only place we are safe these days – and if someone gets within six feet of us, we will have those heavy helmets with glass shields in front of us to block those nasty germs!

In keeping with that , this week I popped open a Moonwalk Brut IPA from Texas’ Real Ale Brewing. Like several of the other microbrews I’ve savored so far, Real Ale began out of a couple’s love of good beer and relative lack of it in their stores. This drove them to make their own in their kitchen… or in this particular case, the basement of a small store in Blanco, Texas. That was 1996.

At first they brewed a couple of a couple of ales, Brewhouse Brown and Full Moon Pale, and sold the limited quantities in 22-ounce bottles. By 2000 they’d begun adding varieties and putting out their brew in six packs of more conventional 12-ounce bottles; by 2006 they’d opened up a new large brewery in town and soon after, a taproom to enjoy it in (now closed due to the virus, of course.)

Their popularity, and product line kept increasing and by 2013 they were producing 50 000 barrels of their 14 regular varieties per year. In 2017, they expanded to open a distillery which produces gin and whiskey. Their current line is highlighted by the big-selling Fireman’s #4 Blonde but includes such quirky offerings as Pin-setter Amber Lager, a tribute to bowling (beer and bowling go together but how a beer can reflect the sport, you’d have to ask them!) and Commissar, a Russian stout still put out in hardy 22-ounce bombers, comrade.

One thing all the drinks have in common is a minimum of ingredients, which are all GMO-free and a manufacturing which reflects their philosophy of “minimal processing produces maximum flavor.” Unfortunately, as of right now, Real Ale only sell in their homestate of Texas, saying their production isn’t even enough right now to satisfy thirsty Texans and they don’t think their beer will stay fresh enough to meet their own standards if transported a long distance.

Moonwalk is described by them as an “extra dry, ultra crisp, out of this world IPA” with a flavor of “ripe berries and soft fruit, with a champagne like finish.” The brew comes in at a slightly strong 6.0% alcohol.

I popped open the bottle to enjoy with a big ol’ cold cut sub. The beer was surprisingly frothy when poured, making an extensive and thick white head over its effervescent, hazy golden liquid. As beers go, this was a nice-looking one. But the visuals matter little if the drink isn’t good. Thankfully, Moonwalk is good… maybe not quite “out of this world” good, but pretty darn good anyway.

At first chug, the impression was quite strong, and the word “Aromatic” came to mind. A little bitter, but pleasantly so. The bubbles and fizz felt nice. there was a subtle, but definite layer of mild fruitiness underneath, although I couldn’t really narrow down what fruit. I would have guessed something citrus, rather than the berries they mention. Anyway, it was a good taste.

With the sub sandwich, the hint of sweetness seemed to disappear and the flavor was rather dimmed, although not erased…this is a flavorful drink, but not a wildly strong one.

Bottom line – a good, pleasing drink that might be a good compromise for people wanting a beer with more kick and “oomph” than say, Bud or Miller but not as bold as a locomotive in a glass. I give it an 8 out of 10 for strength, 7 out of 10 for flavor and overall…

rocketrocketrocketrocket

four out of five Clorox-wiped rockets.

No Need To Have A Corona-ry Over Corona

I think I’m getting a bit sick. Sick of hearing about the Corona Virus, that is. Or perhaps it’s more that to me the math doesn’t add up and I’m sick of people in media and government alike seemingly failing to ask questions about why that is.

So what’s the latest? It’s hard to keep up. Recently Japan shut down all of its schools for the entire month of March to prevent the spread of the illness. The country with the emphasis on education and brains doing that in response to just a few hundred cases of the virus showing up there. Seems a little hard to fathom. Some airlines have stopped flying to Italy because of around 1000 cases reported in the north of that land. And of course, China, where it originated has not only got armed guards keeping people from leaving the city of Wuhan, but has shut a very large chunk of its entire industrial machine in response. If you’ve noticed the price of gas has dropped a bit this winter, thank that virus… China’s quarantines and industrial shutdown has caused a drop of worldwide demand for oil and has left the mutlinats and OPEC with a glut of oil for the time being.

That might seem good for American consumers, but don’t be so fast to cheer. The stock market is plummeting in measures not seen in the past decade due to fears of the illness itself and subsequent worries about shortages of consumer goods and car parts that used to roll off those now closed Chinese assembly lines. And have a stiff drink if you own stock in Constellation Beverages. The company’s stock has plummeted from $207 to $172 just since Feb. 24 because of declining sales of its flagship product, Corona Beer. Some surveys show that 38% of Americans would refuse to drink it because they think its a source of the disease, because, well that’s just how clever many Americans are. Thank goodness the U.S. hasn’t closed all its schools – yet. All the while stores are selling out of things like Lysol wipes (which actually are useful at killing germs – be they corona, flu or anything else more or less) and face masks (which the CDC are screaming at us not to use and are suddenly calling useless). a trip to my local supermarket last night saw several people wearing the masks anyway and an ominous emptiness on the bread and bottled water shelves,. It could have been a truck or two delayed en route but seemed more likely to me it was the result of people panicking and stocking up for the cough armaggedon.

People are panicking and one can’t blame them entirely. No one had heard of this weird, bat-borne illness a few months back, now it’s the lead story on every TV news program and above-the-banner headline in every newspaper. Biden vs. Bernie, step aside for the Bug from China. Tornadoes in Nashville? How will having people without their homes sheltering together amplify the spread of Corona virus? What if one of the corpses in shattered houses was infected with Corona?

Of course, we’re used to the media blowing things out of proportion. They have to attract viewers and sell print, and nothing short of Jennifer kissing Brad sells like a dash of fear. Any coyote seen running away from a city park is likely to be the terrifying lead story at 6 should it be a slow news day with no escaped prisoners running loose and no slight risk of severe storms in the long range forecast. We saw a similar, if slightly scaled-down response to the less common SARS back in 2003 and to the apparently much less harmful West Nile Virus about a decade back. But government’s and public agencies are usually calmer and more rationale. To see the kind of reaction we have from various governments around the globe is rather astounding… and question-raising.

To me, medicine is a branch of science and science is at its core, rational. Mathematical. And to my eyes, there’s nothing logical about this viral event. A + B are not adding up to C. That worries me and makes me wonder what component is not what we are being told, which factor would make it all add up.

Because we have a disease which is still fairly rare. At last count there are something like 85 000 cases in the whole world. That’s a lot, until compared to the world population. There are something in the range of nearly 100 cases in the U.S.; not a huge number in a country of 310 million people; and not much of an apparent risk when those people are quarantined in secure hospitals. By comparison, the CDC report a minimum of 29 million cases of flu this winter in the country. And who knows how many countless others have had it, stayed home in bed, groaned and slept for a couple of days then got back up and at it without reporting to any doctor? At least two in my household alone. Furthermore, we’re told this year’s flu is more virulent than usual and that in any average year, it will kill around 18 000 people here and hundreds of thousands more elsewhere. Yet factories aren’t closing their doors, students aren’t being told “no classes this month” and airlines haven’t abandoned Atlanta, O’Hare and LAX to prevent its spread. why then the responses to an illness that’s claimed about 2400 victims in total?

The equation might still work out if Corona was an exceedingly grim, horrifying instant death sentence. A sort of ebola-on-steroids-but-as-communicable-as-a-common-cold. But it’s not. Here the experts differ a little, with some saying it is less dangerous than the flu while others contend that it is about as dangerous as a severe flu, but even so, they all agree that many who have it don’t even know they have it because symptoms can be so minor in many people. And based on the info we’re given, the mortality rate from it is no more than 2%… significant, yes, and scary if your loved one comes down with it, but not a major risk overall, especially if the ones dying are mainly ones with existing serious medical conditions or the very elderly.

So it leads me to worry. Not about catching Corona from some random person 100 feet away from me in a store who yesterday stood next to someone who’d gone to China last fall, but about the truthfulness of our expert sources. A + B are equaling C-squared here, not C. Is the disease far worse than we’re being led to believe? Are there thousands of deaths being covered up, and if so, why aren’t their families and friends making a noise? Or is this some kind of clandestine, weird experiment and conspiracy to test preparedness for a real Spanish flu-type pandemic or something else only the X-files might contrive?

Until we hear more reason, I say wash your hands, cough into a Kleenex or your sleeve, stay home if you’re sick and go out and do your thing if you’re not. So far, it seems like maybe the “cure” is worse than the disease.