The surreal summer seemed to move by briskly, certainly in comparison to the surreal spring. Perhaps my mental calendar was propelled more by wishful thinking rather than the easing of covid restrictions or any meaningful improvement in racial tensions, employment, food insecurity, and political histrionics. I still keep losing dates occasionally, especially the Wednesday-to-Thursday connection, but I am firmly on the glide path to autumn, with the High Holy Days, school re-openings, and political campaigns sharpening the focus.
My tiny triumphs during the pandemic’s warmest months pale by comparison to global concerns but include keeping our backyard hostas off limits to the ravages of deer through applications of natural repellant and a canopy of netting, and by hiring skilled craftsmen to reconstruct our deck and complete long-overdue home improvements. And don’t let me minimize making it through a three-week hiatus at the Shore, seemingly unscathed by the pandemic. If our leader can exist in a parallel universe where we’ve turned the covid corner, why can’t I live in one in which everything is relatively peaceful, with the volume turned down?
I am writing this just hours after getting my flu shot at the supermarket. Vaccines have been much in my thoughts lately, and I wonder how effective the 2020 version will be in fighting the annual influenza scourge. I didn’t bother to ask my pharmacist, Kush, the degree of efficacy scientists predict for it, since they can hazard only an educated guess as to what strain may make it to our shores. But he did tell me I received the larger of two doses available, because at age 78 I’m in the highest risk category.
My mind leaped ahead to potential covid vaccines, their effectiveness and distribution, and the politicalization surrounding Operation Warp Speed, to use Donald Trump’s grandiloquent term for the project. Perhaps with his penchant for the overblown and in his role as the unofficial conspiracist-in-chief, the offensive ought to be rechristened Operation Warped Speed. Although young at the time, I don’t remember President Dwight Eisenhower trying to exploit the Salk and Sabin polio treatments as his personal triumph when the public went through mass inoculations. And Ike really was used to using big names, like Operations Torch and Overlord in World War II.
Trump’s ineptitude and abdication during the pandemic cannot be minimized … or can it? New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently tried to quantify just how many lives have been lost through his premature push for re-openings (liberate Michigan!) and disregard for science (why not take a shot of bleach?). Douthat, a conservative writer, kept occluding his projections with comparisons of geography, the political leanings of leaders, and other impedimenta. His conclusion: we are in the middle of the pack of nations and could have done better. My conclusion: we should be so much better than middle of the pack and have done abysmally.
Perhaps a more accurate gauge of Trump’s cringe-inducing performance can be gleaned from Bob Woodward’s recently aired taped interviews, where the president admits knowing the severity of the virus early on but purposely downplayed it so as not to “alarm” the public. Earlier in his term, when Trump took a pen to an official government hurricane map and “extended” the path of destruction for political gain, and when he suggested raking forest floors as a cure for fires continuing to rage in the West, I knew this guy wasn’t too respectful of science. But are we numb to his latest outrage and the number of lost lives? Are we in total fatigue mode?
Although an incredible long shot, if a vaccine were to arrive at just the right moment, and is effective, the election gods still could smile on Donald John Trump. All his attempts to corrupt the mails; his connivance with Russia; the shameless racial agitprop; the endless lies, mistruths and distortions; his belittling of war dead and his denigration of military brass, may have been unnecessary. Joe Biden, observant, decent, compassionate, and all masked up, might fall victim to the same vagaries as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, through the electoral college and Trump’s unbudgeable 40 percent of voters.
This was much on my mind as my wife and I spent the days sunning on the shores of Long Beach Island recently, except when the winds shifted and brought in hordes of flies, sending us scurrying back to our rental. The beach teemed with vacationers, but very few wore masks. Even so, safe distancing seemed to be observed. Family pods banded together and were separated by buffers well in excess of six feet. My wife and I factored in the possibility of bad behavior when making the decision to return to LBI during this extraordinary summer, but we found that parents were acting responsibly with youngsters, and beachgoers of all ages seemed to have a sense of safety and courtesy. During morning jogs, I positioned my mask more as a chinstrap, should a messy situation arise. It didn’t. Since LBI boasts generous biking and running lanes, everyone was nicely spaced and mindful, and since I am the slowest jogger of my cohort, folks just breezed by.
Mask wearing was completely the norm at supermarkets, shops, and restaurants featuring outdoor dining or takeout. Vacationers seemed to want to enjoy themselves while observing precautions. But all my observations and generalizations are speculative, however, since we won’t know the true extent of post-Labor Day Covid numbers for a few weeks and how firmly to brace for a second wave, which is surely to come. Crowded holiday outings and ill-advised partying don’t bode well for the equation. And school re-openings still loom as the biggest question mark.
In one sense I’ve returned to school — I’m using West Orange High’s superb track and field facilities on a daily basis. The gate to the compound has been left unlocked and the facilities remain deserted since the football team hasn’t been practicing. Using a rubber compound track does wonders for my back while jogging, and the quiet and solitude help concentrate my thinking. One place that I’m not quite ready to return to is the JCC Metrowest, which reopened its gym and health facilities on September 8. Despite a host of precautions, I’ll let others try it first and listen for feedback. If all is positive, I’ll be ready to rejoin at the stroke of October. I really miss that place and the people. I just hope muscle memory takes over when I use the exercise equipment again.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to catch up with my reading, binge on Australian legal dramas, and play online chess globally, but especially with my grandson, Daniel, back at Ithaca College for a virtual junior semester. I hope my other grandson, Dylan, is adapting to life as a virtual freshman at George Washington University, along with his two other roommates in a rented D.C. townhouse. For these students, the most enjoyable years of their lives are now circumscribed by something beyond their control, and ours.
The least we can hope for is a profusion of fall foliage.