COVID Convos — Thank The Cashiers At Target Along With The Medical Professionals

COVID Convos is a series of original columns conceptualized to give you something else to think about as we manage the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully, they will provide you with a different perspective about an issue related to the crisis…or a brief smile. Remember, with COVID-19: this too shall pass.

We’ve all been pummeled by the novel coronavirus, both physically and emotionally. It’s almost impossible to watch television anymore, with even the scroll at the bottom of escapist shows like NBC’s Ellen’s Game Of Games being filled with global COVID-19 mortality stats, and projections that the worst is yet to come.

Times like these are reminders to thank the doctors, nurses, first responders, and all professionals who are doing their best and literally putting their lives on the line for the best interest of the people they’re serving. You can hardly watch a newscast without someone, either the anchor or the on-air “expert” / guest thanking members of the medical professions, very deservedly, for the job they are doing.

But I’ve been stopped in my tracks, as we’re collectively pausing to thank everybody, by the overall exclusion of one key group of professionals: the cashiers and service people at the grocery & convenience stores, big box department stores, and fast food restaurants.

No one signed up for exposure to the virus that causes the potentially fatal COVID-19…but medical professionals, first responders and the like did, kinda. At the very least, they knew when they chose their profession that the time might very well come when they would be asked to risk their lives to save someone else’s.

The kid working at McDonalds did not. When he started working there part time last fall, he didn’t know that his school year would be cut short by a global pandemic and he’d be stationed at a drive-thru window, like the one around the corner from your house, waiting on car after car full of potentially asymptomatic, coronavirus-infected fast food junkies who couldn’t bypass a Big Mac to potentially save someone’s life.

My heart breaks for the medical professionals, but many of them have been making a very good living in a job that they knew might threaten their lives and those of their loved ones. I like to tell myself that that’s why, in part, they are generally highly paid.

We don’t even want to pay the cashier at Wal Mart a living wage, while their jobs, suddenly during the pandemic, have been deemed “essential.” And they’re being asked, night after night, to work from sundown to sun up restocking the toilet paper shelves that we emptied during our panic shopping binges, or spend their days without protection as they let people like you and me buy the restocked paper towels.

By and large, medical professionals can afford their medical care, if (God forbid) they fall ill to coronavirus. The clerk at 7-Eleven, the one who is working there to support her family, most likely is going to have a harder time paying her medical bills. But she’s there every day, taking payments for gasoline, selling cigarettes, and selling Slurpees and Big Bites because, by and large, she can’t afford not to be.

The last time I was in Target, picking up the paper towels that I hadn’t been able to find for a month, I stopped to ask the kid running the register, Justin, how things were going. He answered by telling me how the store was doing: business had, understandably, been slow. I then clarified that I wanted to know how he was doing. Target would undoubtedly survive COVID-19. Justin might not.

He glanced up, clearly surprised by the question, and said “I’m ok. Hanging in there. Thank you for asking, sir.”

I’d decided to speak to Justin, in part, because I had watched the half dozen shoppers ahead of me, all standing six feet apart from each other in line, purchase their toilet paper and paper towels without even making eye contact, let alone offering a decent salutation. I’m an extreme extrovert, so I tend to speak to everybody and their mother, but this time around, I wouldn’t have missed a chance to give a kid who was providing an “essential” service a virtual, verbal hug.

As I left Justin’s cash register, I thanked him for being there, much as I thank veterans for their service. Just as I know that I would never have enlisted in the armed forces, for a variety of reasons, I don’t believe I’d have reported to work at Target that particular day, when my newsfeed was full of conflicting, confusing, and potentially frightening news about a virus that could take my life just days after infection.

And I was happy to hear the shopper behind me greet Justin with a warm “Hello, how are you today?”

Maybe kindness, like coronavirus, is contagious, too.

For years while my kids were growing up, I took part-time jobs in retail to help keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. So I know what it’s like to need a part-time retail job. I don’t know what it’s like to risk my life, and the lives of my family, to show up for it.

So, yeah, let’s thank those medical professionals for being on the front lines of COVID-19. It’s the sexy thing to do. But let’s thank those cashiers and service people at the department stores and fast food restaurants, too. They’re on the front lines, as well, but they’re being paid a lot less to be there.

And they, unlike the doctors, nurses, and first responders facing coronavirus, in no way signed up for the risk they are taking just by showing up for work.

Check Out My Conversation With Napoleon Dynamite Star Jon Heder

If you’re a fan of the 2004 theatrical smash Napoleon Dynamite, you’ll be happy to hear that the Gallo Center for the Arts’ live event, featuring a screening of the film followed by a discussion with a trio of its stars, has been rescheduled. It’ll be held February 13, 2021, having been rescheduled from its original April 2020 date due to social distancing guidelines, as we battle the novel coronavirus.

That dance scene!

By next February, we’ll hopefully be looking at this whole thing from the rear view mirror, and we will be more than ready to yuck it up with Napoleon and his band of misfits.

In anticipation of the live event in Modesto, California, I had the opportunity to sit down with the film’s star, Jon Heder, for the April 2020 issue of The Gallo Center Magazine. Heder warmly shared memories of making the film, and I got a glimpse of the guy beneath the most unruly afro that’s ever sat atop a white boy’s head.

Now, are you gonna finish those tots?

COVID Convos — It’s Hard Out Here — IN Here! — For An Extrovert! A Survival Guide For Those Grappling With Social Distancing

COVID Convos is a series of original columns conceptualized to give you something else to think about as we manage the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully, they will provide you with a different perspective about an issue related to the crisis…or a brief smile. Remember, with COVID-19: this too shall pass.

It’s taken me awhile to wrap my ahead around this whole social distancing thing. It’s not obstinance or stupidity on my part — my name’s not Donald Trump, after all — but rather a lifetime of extroversion that gave me such a jolt when I was told that, to help stop the spread of coronavirus, we all need to stay at home as much as possible, and stay at least six feet from other people when we venture out.

Stay at home? Six feet?? It may have well as been six miles. I’m a hugger. A touchy-feely hugger. And when I heard that, in California, we’re just two weeks into a social distancing practice that has been extended until at least the end of April and could last until late spring / early summer, I started to freak out.

Just to make sure you’re caught up, introverts derive their energy from solo activities and turning inward (so I’m told), whereas that kind of thing wears extroverts out. We get charged up via external, outward interactions. And for the most part, or at least for this extrovert, the crowd can’t get big enough!

I love my our introverts. God KNOWS I do. (Yes, I said that in my Harpo / The Color Purple voice), but I’m learning that some of them don’t really get this. In a sense, introverts have been practicing for Coronavirus Season for their entire lives.

Long before we called it “social distancing,” introverts have cherished their alone time and relished in weekends to themselves, curled up with Netflix or a very small group of friends or family. I’ve had the good fortune of marrying two introverts over the course of my life — I guess opposites really DO attract.

One of those introverts, my ex-wife, recently reminded me that her social life really hasn’t changed in this day of social distancing. While she’s working from home now during the day, her evenings and weekends have always been, largely, spent ensconced in her home. And while my husband is more of a social introvert, I have to drag him out of the house on weekends, when he’d prefer to be chilling in his favorite sweatpants in front of a Golden Girls marathon.

But me? I’m out, all of the time. I’ve been working part-time from home since the late 1990s and full time since 2013, and even that was a transition! I joined a gym more for the opportunities for social interaction than anything else. While my blood pressure, weight, and overall health have improved, by FAR I’d say the biggest benefit has been getting me out of the house and in front of a varied group of people every day. Since gyms were shuttered a couple of weeks ago, I’ve struggled to replace that outlet.

As we’ve all been increasing shut in as we manage COVID-19, I’ve developed a few strategies to help my extroverted brethren. Feel free to steal the ones that help and toss the ones that sound crazy.

1. Limit your television consumption. As an extrovert, I know how tempting to just leave CNN on, just so you have another voice to listen to and the illusion that you’re having a conversation. However, the content and tone of today’s news necessitates small-dose consumption. Get the updates and move on.

2. Get outside as much as you can, for a walk or a bike ride. I’ve been taking a long walk (up to an hour) every morning Monday-Friday. In addition to your overall health, you really have to feed the need to engage with the outside world, while maintaining a six foot distance from others.

3. Lean into technology — FaceTime, texting, and social media — to help you engage and keep in contact with others. I’ve read a few articles that have compared COVID-19 to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. While there are some similarities, I can’t imagine how hard social distancing was without technology. I’ve been checking in with relatives and close friends a few times a week. Engagements like that don’t make up for the real, face-to-face deal, but they will help — both them and you. But a word of caution: my kids avoid FaceTime like…the coronavirus.

4. Use music to boost your mood. I’ve started an Apple Music playlist called COVID-19 Be Damned, including some inspirational classics like Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” interspersed with songs that give a wink to our current crisis. Examples of the latter include Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” (“I’ll take two steps forward, two steps back…”), Diana Ross’ “It’s My House,” Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Natalie Cole’s “I’m Catching Hell (Living Here Alone), Eartha Kitt’s “Fever,” Michael Jackson’s “Come Together,” and Whitney Houston’s “Just The Lonely Talking Again.” Those tunes make smile when I hear them in the contest of a potential fatal virus that is dictating our social isolation and, on the surface, presents very little to smile about. Look for me on Apple Music if you want to cut to the chase and listen to my playlist — it’s curated daily!

4. Pick your movies carefully! I’ve found that I get enough catastrophe on the news, so when it’s time to Netflix, I steer clear of the Contagions or Stephen King adaptations. I go with movies like the Harry Potter, the Marvel or DC Universes, or the Star Wars flicks, to take me, at least momentarily, to a universe far, far away from CNN.

5. Ask your introverted friends to think outside of their box and call / text you once in awhile! After all of these years, it’s their turn to do some of the reaching out!

6. Try to eat healthy meals. Both practices really will help your mood. The latter is toughest for me, as I tend to stress eat. I went through a pound bag of dark chocolate M & Ms during the weekend that coronavirus got real, but I’ve since pulled it together. Occasional indulgences are fine, which leads to my final tips:

7. Take care of yourself, and somebody else. I used to use that line as my sign-off to my weekly radio show, one or two lifetimes ago, long before Ellen started saying “be kind to one another.” It’s never been a better time to adopt that message.

8. Above all, remember: this too shall pass!

As the recommendations have just been amended to call for social isolation until at least April 30, we’re going to need these tips and more — especially for the extroverts of the world! If the extroverts in your life have other ideas for staying sane, mention them in the comments.

Sweet Nita’s in Sacramento Offers Decadent Respites

If you’ve got your social distancing technique down to a science and feel like getting some air this weekend, head over to the Midtown Sacramento Farmer’s Market, located just off the the corner of 20th and J. In addition to the fresh produce that you’d expect, there’s a booth that you need to check out.

I stumbled upon Sweet Nita’s booth last weekend in my search for a few fresh items for that evening’s stir fry. I’d have stopped at one treat, but c’mon! Nita was offering a deal for three, and with all of the COVID-19 stress going around, who could turn that down?

Of Sweet Nita’s several weekend offerings, the ones that caught my eye were the Peanut Butter & Chocolate Krispy Bar and the Peanut Butter Crunch Brownie.

Are you picking up a pattern here? Yes, I have always firmly believed that peanut butter should be its own food group — you know, like meat, dairy, produce and grains. Since I eat peanut butter most days of my life, I couldn’t turn those away.

And as I said, Sweet Nita’s was offering a three-for deal, so at the owner’s recommendation, I picked up the Peanut Butter Smores Bar, which (also at her urging) I waited to try until after I got home, so I could warm it up.

Trust me: if you bring that one home, you will be a short stroll to the microwave and 30 seconds away from heaven. All three treats were great, in fact — and lest you think I’m really pigging out during our COVID-19 shut-in, I shared each of the desserts AND the three of them lasted five days.

So there!

Check out Sweet Nita’s during your next Farmer’s Market junket. You won’t regret it.

COVID CONVOS — Fat People Should Not Hoard Groceries

COVID Convos is a series of original columns conceptualized to give you something else to think about as we manage the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully, they will provide you with a different perspective about an issue related to the crisis…or a brief smile. Remember, with COVID-19: this too shall pass.

Just like someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, I have to get something out of my system so I can get on with my life.

As we all manage the pandemic, panic shopping and the associated hoarding of food and (very curiously) toilet paper has captured my attention.

While there are compelling reasons for some of us, like those in large families or families for whom the commute to the grocery story is or would be a challenge, to buy extra groceries, by and large the hoarding that has occurred is nonsensical.

And with some of the things I’ve witnessed, both in person and via social and broadcast media, can we all just agree:

Fat people do not need to hoard food.

Let me say it again, if only to justify the pending email and tweets:

FAT PEOPLE SHOULD NOT PANIC SHOP AND HOARD FOOD.

Why would anyone differentiate between the overweight and everyone else on this issue? It’s simple: fat people have been hoarding excess food for years. Instead of storing it in our pantries, cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers, we’ve been storing it on our bellies, hips, and behinds. I’ve personally been storing excess food on my ass since 1974.

C’mon, you know whether I’m talking to you. You knew you weren’t a size two or a 31 inch waist when you pulled on those jeans this morning.

While the hoarding craze seems to be abating, I am still seeing some good sized people loading up grocery carts all over town. One dude at Sam’s Club was damn near as wide as the flatbed he brandished, packed to the heavens with meat, bread, canned goods, and cereal.

Now again, to be clear, present company is absolutely included in this. I’ve bypassed a set of six pack abs for six packs of Corona for decades, having first gained weight after an emergency appendectomy when I was nine years old. For decades, my ass’ width has varied greatly. So I’m well versed in how one becomes fat.

And yes, I say “fat.” I’m not “big boned.” My bones are the same size they were when I had a 29 inch waist. In fact, as bone density decreases with age, I am less “boned” than I was decades ago.

I’m also not “thick,” “husky,” “chunky,” “chubby,” “healthy,” or any of the other euphemisms we tend to use when we don’t want to, as Iyanla Vanzant likes to say, call a thing a thing.

This bruh should back away from the canned goods.

I have a Facebook friend who has been on a Keto kick for about a year now. She has lost a ton of weight and looks great, but still has a fair amount of reserves around her middle. So I was surprised to see her posting about her hoarding groceries last week, as we were beginning to restrict our activity to battle COVID-19.

A colleague of mine reported very similarly on social media, and he’s prone to posting — almost every day — video of him exercising in his home workout room. Unlike that first friend, this one’s weight lifting and squat regimen has done nothing to reduce the size of his behind. He claims his ass is firmer, and I hope to never have first hand information on that, but his backside looks just as big as it did when he started squatting.

So what are the two of them — and so many others — hoarding food for? They — and most Americans — appear to have the food storage thing down pat.

By the way, if you stop hoarding food, you won’t need to hoard toilet paper. It’s simple math.

Yup.

And guess what? If you don’t allow your friends and neighbors to buy toilet paper, you’re not going to want to be within six feet of them even after we’re done with “social distancing.” Think about that the next time you’re packing your grocery cart with Charmin.

If we keep hoarding toilet paper and keeping our neighbors and friends from buying it, we’re going to need those masks for a whole different reason.

TO HOARD OR NOT TO HOARD

Here’s my proposal: if you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or more, you are considered overweight, and I think you will survive even if you miss that bowl of buttered grits (salt, never sugar) this morning. You should not be hoarding food.

If your BMI is over 30, you’re considered obese, so for sure you should back away from the overflowing grocery cart. And since two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, this shift would pretty much solve the grocery and TP hoarding problem.

(Just in case you’re wondering, my BMI is 29.5. Yeah, I’m hanging on to the .5, and I’m trying to shave a few more points off of my BMI before summer.)

Now, if you’re skinny, feel free to overfill that grocery cart! With all of the rest of us emptying out stores all over the country, I’m particularly worried about you. You might not survive if you have to miss a few meals.

But most of us should stop the madness, and stop gutting the grocery store.

And if you still have a hankering to buy excess food, make a donation to those who can’t afford to hoard, or to a homeless shelter. As I listen to recommendations that we all stay home, I’ve wondered about what the homeless think — what they feel — when they learn of those orders.

For the religious hoarders reading this, isn’t that what Jesus would have done? He fed the multitudes with those fish and barley loaves, in lieu of ruining his six pack abs with a Costco flatbed full of french fries.

The Invisible Man Is A Winner — A Spoiler-Free Review

In hindsight, as much of the world is embroiled in a pandemic, battling a foe that cannot be seen with the naked eye, I’m not sure that a viewing of The Invisible Man was such a great idea. The feature is a worthy update of the classic horror movies of Hollywood’s golden age, for the #MeToo generation and for those social distancing and self quarantining.

These days, we don’t have to look too far for our monsters.

The Invisible Man has been made available for rental on digital platforms in the wake of movie theatre chains shuttering their doors due to precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic. When I queued it up, I was thinking a late Saturday night viewing of what I thought would be a reboot of the classic 1933 Universal flick (which was based on H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel) would be a fun diversion from the cares of the day.

A few minutes in, with the simple kicking of a metal dog dish across a tile kitchen floor, I knew I was wrong. Painfully, horribly, irrevocably wrong. It was a diversion, all right, but “fun” doesn’t quite tell the story. I sat frozen in my seat for much of the film, and almost had to manually snap my jaw shut as the final credits rolled.

Is the film’s protagonist losing her mind, or has her estranged, abusive husband found a way to return from the grave, and seemingly turn himself invisible, to terrorize her?

Director Leigh Whannell is amazing, keeping viewers from a clear look at the film’s villain until we’re almost two hours into The Invisible Man. And Elizabeth Moss in the lead role carries the film from its first frame until its heart-stopping finale. The movie even breaks formula with the casting of one key character, and at least 12 percent of the U.S. population will be thrilled about it.

The Invisible Man inadvertently poses a few questions that make the overall narrative a bit hard to swallow. How much power should a single email wield? How much impact does it take for a car’s air bag to deploy? Would invisibility accompany super human strength or invulnerability to bullets, but not a can of mace? And does marrying a tech genius make one a tech genius in her own right?

But overall, The Invisible Man is a popcorn thriller that works, delivering more than enough jumps and bumps in the night to get the heart racing and keep you up for awhile. It’s Sleeping With The Enemy meets Silence Of The Lambs meets Predator.

As I said, sometimes you can’t see the monster that lurks before you, be it a nouveau virus like COVID-19, or a smiling face like Harvey Weinstein’s, Bill Cosby’s, or Matt Lauer’s.

Or, a good old-fashioned Invisible Man.

RIP — Kenny Rogers Wasn’t Black, But He Was A Darned Good Guy Just The Same

Entertainment legend Kenny Rogers died Friday night at 81 of natural causes. To paraphrase one of his signature hits, “The Gambler,” the best I can hope for is that he died in his sleep.

Rogers started his professional career in the 1950s, gaining notoriety with a couple of groups and a handful of modest hits before striking gold — and platinum — as a solo artist, first with “Lucille” in 1977 and “The Gambler” the next year.

That’s when I found him, after my mother sent me to a suburban Detroit record store to pick up a record that she thought was called “Know When To Hold ‘Em.” She could only remember the artist’s first name, having heard the song on the radio.

Mom insisted that the hit record would be easy to find. Rogers was, she was certain, the only African American guy other than Charley Pride who was singing country music on the radio.

The record store owner chuckled at that as he handed me a copy of “The Gambler” on 45.

“Are you sure he’s black, Mom?”

Rogers roared when I got to tell him the story, during my 2015 interview with the legend.

“Boy, was she shocked,” Rogers laughed during that interview. The next week, when I met him backstage, he turned the tables by posing a question to me:

“Did you bring your mother,” Rogers asked. “I have to meet her!”

Rogers wasn’t just the brilliant vocalist behind hits that defied genre and introduced country music to unfamiliar ears — songs like “Lady,” “She Believes In Me,” and “Through The Years.” He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. Between interviews with the Associated Press and National Public Radio, the legend who had sold millions of records and been awarded three Grammies gave a freelance writer in Sacramento a few minutes of his time, to help him fulfill an assignment.

And this writer will never forget it.

During that interview, Rogers told me one of the secrets to selecting songs and connecting with millions of fans around the world.

“I think it’s because I believe every word I sing,” Rogers said. “If you do a song because you think it’s commercial, I don’t like your chances. But if a song moves me, I think I stand a chance of moving someone else with it.”

By that time, Rogers had spent the better part of 40 years moving me and millions of others.

And coming from a guy who achieved global superstardom with a song about taking chances — “You’ve gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em,” he famously crooned on “The Gambler” — the peek inside of his creative process meant to world to me, as did the warm smile and hug backstage before his show in Modesto, California.

Me & Kenny, July 30, 2015

RIP Mr Rogers. And thanks.

COVID Convos — The Test, Like The Virus, Is No Walk In The Park

In the wake of COVID-19, many have expressed a desire to know whether or not they have contracted the virus, independent of whether they are symptomatic.

I don’t quite understand that, as without a vaccine or cure, I do not need to know whether I have contracted the virus. I conduct myself as if I have the virus, for the continuance of my own health and those around me.

Still others have expressed valid questions about the lack of access to coronavirus tests for much of the American public, while those of means — including professional athletes, actors, and the President of the United States — seem to have complete and total access to them.

That said, based on the report of someone who recently had the test, you may want to wait until your health care professional recommends one, or at the very least until you experience symptoms. He says the standard coronavirus test is not a walk in the park, as medical procedures go.

“I went to my doctor’s office for a regular follow up appointment [and] informed them that I have been having a cough and slight fever,” said Jorge Alvarado, Office Manager at Le Grand Restaurant in Los Angeles. “The nurse escorted me to the back [and] took my vitals and temperature.”

Jorge Alvarado, Office Manager at Le Grand Restaurant.

Alvarado said the nurse then left the room to get a face mask for him.

“To be honest, I was surprised that they didn’t have masks in their waiting area,” Alvarado continued. “I later found out that that was due to patients stealing a bunch of them, and the hospital only having a limited supply left.”

After getting a mask, Alvarado waited about 30 minutes for an examination by a doctor, who entered the room wearing a face shield, surgical mask, and full medical dressing. The doctor told Alvarado that he had a fever of 100.5, which qualified him for a COVID-19 test.

After asking a few screening questions about Alvarado’s travel history, the doctor began preparing implements for the test.

“He showed me a few tubes and swabs,” Alvarado said. “One was for my throat — it was a regular swab that I’ve seen for my entire life.”

“The other was a very thin, skinny swab with what looked like thin wire. I was told it would be used to put [up] my nostrils. I swear it was close to one foot long.”

“We did the oral swab, no big deal, but then came the nostril swab. At this point, I just said I was going to close my eyes and I told the doctor to just do what he needed to do.”

“I swear that thing touched my brain,” Alvarado continued. “I could feel myself twitching and making weird faces. When he pulled it out, I felt like passing out. Unfortunately, he told me that he needed to do it in the other nostril, too!”

Overall, Alvarado gave the test an 8 on a 1-10 scale with regard to level of discomfort. He was told that it would be two to four days before he got his COVID-19 test results, likely directly from the Centers for Disease Control or his local health department. He said he has been in isolation ever since.

I am among the first to adhere to advice from a doctor, and take tests that need to be taken. Given the nature of this one, I’m certain that I will adhere to public health recommendations to try to avoid contracting COVID-19, and I will wait until it’s recommended to be tested.

According to Alvarado, it is a test that I would rather avoid — just like COVID-19.

COVID Convos — An Atypical Weekend With The Virus, and A New Friend

Last Friday evening, after work, I had a couple of drinks at one of my favorite bars, to cheer myself up after the COVID-19 week we all had. The first one was a Corona.

48 hours later, that bar closed for the indeterminate future, one of many non-human casualty of COVID-19.

So much has changed since I made that decision Friday to go out later in the day, after a whirlwind week that few could have foreseen. Friday night, the term “social distancing” was just reaching the mainstream, Today, it’s a part of the lexicon.

Many are comparing the current pandemic to the influenza outbreak of 1918, justifying recommendations for battling COVID-19 with mortality statistics from 102 years ago. You may not be old enough to recall that earlier flu outbreak, but those of us who were there remember the primary treatments for flu back then: whiskey, enemas, and bloodletting.

The three of those, simultaneously, would kill anybody. So I’m pretty sure people are talking apples to oranges with that one.

Increasingly, in 2020, recommendations are to limit social interactions. Some decisions to retreat seem to have been made sensibly and with a cogent use of available data. Others appear to have been made in confounding panic and paranoia.

A few examples:

As I took a walk through my neighborhood Sunday afternoon, I noticed a guy rinsing his driveway, alone, with a water hose, in the rain, while wearing a surgical mask. Unless he’s sick, most western medical professionals would have told him that the mask is useless, and purchasing them limits their availability to those who need them: medical professionals and those who have contracted the virus, to help protect healthy people with whom he’s interacting.

Saturday, while shopping at Target amidst the empty aisles where bathroom tissue, canned goods, and other groceries had been displayed just days before, a man shopped while wearing a military grade gas mask. He browsed the store with his wife and daughter, neither of whom was wearing protective gear of any kind.

I shuddered at the message he was sending his daughter: his little one’s life, in his eyes, wasn’t as valuable as his.

Yes, one of these.

At the same store, a Target employee’s job for the day was wiping down each shopping cart before wheeling them off to sane customers and hoarders, who would fill it with toilet paper and canned goods, in preparation for the presumed end of the world.

It wasn’t much of a “fun run” for many hoarders. They were met with empty shelves.

Speaking of those empty Target shelves, what are they about? One of my professional contacts posted a Facebook Live video late last week, recorded while frantically driving to multiple stores, “stockpiling” toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and canned goods. What makes that story even more ridiculous? The guy is a minister, and typically drops religious references and bible verses during everyday conversations.

How about this one, preacher: God didn’t give us the spirit of fear.

Some major gathering places, like movie theaters, restaurants, and bars have been closed or restricted all over the country. Some of that makes sense, as the CDC recommends maintaining a six feet distance from each other, whenever possible.

However, I don’t get the public school closings. Children have not succumbed to COVID-19 anywhere in the world in significant numbers. It has being reported that most school children should expect to be out of school for the balance of the year.

I feel for the families with children who depend on public school for their only meals of the day. And while I’m at it, I feel for the individuals and families who don’t have a roof to cover them tonight or for the foreseeable future, while those of us with homes and jobs that allow us to hoard toilet paper

…and cleaning supplies

…and canned goods.

I stopped by one of Sacramento’s local shopping malls Sunday. Most stores were either closed altogether or had reduced their hours, referring customers to their online offerings.

I fear that COVID-19 will be the death knell for brick-and-mortar retail that’s largely been on life support for awhile now. The virus — and the crisis — will pass, but once Americans realize we can survive and meet all of our shopping needs via a high speed internet connection and free shipping promotions, I doubt we’ll return to our local shopping malls in large numbers.

The Apple Store at Arden Mall in Sacramento, preparing to close until at least March 27.

Yesterday morning, my gym was eerily empty, and I spotted a couple of seemingly smart guys wearing industrial work and rubber gloves during their workouts. As I always have, especially during flu season, I wiped my machine down both before and after my workout, and got that cardio in.

A Planet Fitness patrón in Sacramento worked out while wearing leather work gloves.

A spent a little time this morning on the phone with my 81 year old mother. As a senior, she should be concerned — we all are — but I had little patience for her conspiracy theories: the government, she believes, is behind the COVID-19 outbreak.

After asking her to specify the government to which she was referring, I reminded her that “the government” is made up of human beings who are, along with many of us, trying to sort things out and acting out of fear.

I understand that, for some, the fear of the unknown is driving a lot of the hysteria. But I don’t understand the conversation about mass testing for COVID-19. During this pandemic, we should all be extra vigilant with regard to hygiene, but in an environment where test kits are limited and, some experts say, inconclusive, we should not be advocating widespread coronavirus testing. Unless you’re experiencing symptoms and it’s recommended by a medical professional, or you can’t avoid regular contact with individuals who are most vulnerable, you should forego the test.

Guidelines for managing coronavirus seem to be changing by the hour. Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control recommended avoiding gatherings of 50 or more. Friday, it had been 250. Yesterday? 10. Little wonder that Americans are confused and afraid.

It is the latter emotion — fear — that drove me to the laptop. While shopping yesterday, only two people in half a dozen stores made eye contact. Only one of the two smiled. The fear of their faces was palpable, and I know that we can do crazy things when we’re afraid.

But hoarding toilet paper and bottled water, and documenting that insanity via a Facebook Live video, shouldn’t be one of them.

Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s take care of each other. Let’s listen to reports from the CDC and other credible sources, read up on things, and make informed, sane choices. Let’s take sensible precautions. And for my preacher friend who has taken to using Facebook Live as his pulpit, and others of his ilk, let’s remember two other time-worn, beloved scriptures:

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

and

This too shall pass.

Over the weekend, as I was backing my car out of the driveway, a woman strolled by my house. I spoke and asked how she was doing. Instead of the customary “fine, thanks,” she said “I’m kinda freaked out right now. Things are crazy out here.” I didn’t know the woman. I had never met her. But in that moment, it didn’t matter. She was afraid, and she needed to vent to someone. I’m glad I was there.

I then ventured out to my favorite local coffee shop. As I sat down at a table with my latte, a guy across from me commented on the hoodie I was wearing, and we struck up a conversation about our kids and some of the shared confusion and other emotions we were feeling related to COVID-19. It was a great 15 minutes, and as I drove back home, I wished I’d traded contact information with Ed.

I know his name because he stood up and introduced himself as I got up from my seat in the coffee shop, extending his right hand to shake mine.

In the wake of the weeklong media onslaught about COVID-19, I briefly thought about denying the gesture or brushing it aside, before I smiled and shook Ed’s hand.

I then went to the men’s room and washed my hands, for a good 20 seconds, before finishing my pastry as I walked to my car.

On a day when we’re being encouraged to disconnect from our neighbors, I connected with one of mine.

And, this morning, as I’m listening to recommendations that I cut myself off from my community even further, possibly into July or August, I’m happy about that.

This too shall pass.

Gallo Center Suspends March Shows In Wake Of COVID-19

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto has announced that they are rescheduling shows through at least March 31, 2020.

In an email sent to patrons Friday, March 13 the Gallo Center said:

Due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Stanislaus County and its implications for our community, the Stanislaus County Public Health Officer has issued an order that prohibits the gathering of 1,000 or more people at indoor and outdoor facilities effective Monday, March 16, 2020 and continuing through at least March 31, 2020.”

“Please know that the Gallo Center for the Arts has no higher priority than the health and well-being of our patrons, volunteers, artists and staff. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and we look forward to welcoming you back to the Center under happier circumstances.”

Affected shows include:

March 21 Bonnie Raitt

March 22 Gladys Knight (new date is July 30)

March 28 Straight No Chaser

March 30-31 Bandstand

According to the email, performances of The Underwater Bubble Show on March 13, Little Women on March 13 & 14, and VMI on March 14 will take place as scheduled. Patrons who hold tickets to any rescheduled performance will be notified via email and / or phone of the rescheduled date, or if a performance is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled.

For more information, go to galloarts.org.