No Fireworks

I’ll be honest. I’m having a difficult time celebrating Independence Day.

In a nation with a Supreme Court Justice targeting gay marriage, while his spouse is implicated in the Big Lie.

Where a single man could manipulate Supreme Court nominations to deny one President a single appointment and give the next President three.

Where a cult of personality still holds one political party hostage.

Where people spend the holiday on the roads in record numbers, while bitching about gas prices caused by a dying tyrant’s murderous land grab.

Where half the country is scorched with heat and still denying climate science.

Where regulation of weapon magazine sizes is out of the question while students are murdered en masse.

Where people still whine about masks, let alone vaccinations, while COVID breakouts still reoccur.

Where Black men are still targeted and murdered by police.

What a bleak time to be a true American, from a family who have served to protect this nation since WWII. I’m heartsick. Take your fireworks somewhere else.

The Stubbornest Symptom

Photo by Samuel Pereira on Unsplash

I’m pretty open publicly about thoughts and experiences because [insert whatever reason seems right, good or bad] and sometimes things my mom taught me about simple human decency and courage have helped someone else through a dark time, or bolstered a good time.

Or maybe narcissism. I can’t rule out narcissism.

In any case, sometimes people say thanks. So I guess I’ll keep at it for awhile.

Today’s struggle is with a last symptom from 24 hours of aches, fever, and “gut -punch” stomach ache, after attending a dance recital in Lincoln with a couple hundred mask-less Nebraskans. The last symptom is animosity.

I’m not saying this illness is COVID. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that an auditorium with a couple hundred mask-less Nebraskans and no vaccine card check reminded me that 82% of Republicans still favor Donald Trump, and 60% still think the election was stolen.

I find that infuriating.

The backache yesterday was awful, but it lasted only a few hours. My stomach still hurts a bit, but isn’t awful any more. Last night it kept me from sleeping; today it was just a recurring dream. But this fury isn’t so easy to shake. I’m hoping confession will help. Maybe distraction with writing, a game, or more likely a movie with Jennifer.

What makes it so hard to treat is that it’s just a personal symptom of a chronic disease in the public soul.

Just Graffiti

By this point, I figure anyone left reading my posts is either of like mind regarding COVID, etc. or a diehard fan who takes these in stride as personal thoughts unrelated to my work. Anybody else has likely been chased away.

That sense of changing audience has affected my purpose in writing, away from trying to reason with COVID deniers, to encouraging compatriots to be more vocal and proactive.

But at its heart, everything I post about COVID, about civil rights, predatory capitalism, blind faith, or whatever, is just as much my own struggle to cope.

And frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m sick of trying.

So nothing about this post is an attempt at reason. I’m sick of writing. Sick of being any sort of public figure. Sick of hearing my own “messages.” These words are just graffiti.

Yesterday I accompanied my spouse out into the world of people to do some shopping. She needed the company, and at least some break from driving everywhere herself all week long, to one appointment or another.

On the way out, I had taken on a newish frame of mind, a friendly feeling that mask-less people in this Red state aren’t *all* antagonistic. And that while my mask is a statement, I can still wave at these people the way Nebraskans do when they see each other at gas stations. I had a new hope for Tolerance not as passivity, but as giving people’s motives the benefit of the doubt.

First stop, Shopko Optical in Lincoln. Lincoln with its mask mandate. Shopko Optical with a sign in the window saying masks are required and 6-feet social distance recommended.

Three employees inside. One with her mask at her chin; one with his below his nose; one with no mask anywhere in sight.

I spoke up from the tolerance-doesn’t-mean-silence attitude. (It’s tough to speak up. Tougher to do so calmly.) “I don’t mean to be impolite, but what’s with the masks?”

“Oh! Sorry. No problem. When nobody else is in the store, we sort of relax, and we just forgot to put them back.”

I think she was the manager. Her mask went up. The guy pulled his mask over his nose. The other woman stared at me blandly, then asked to go on break. When she came back, it was mask-less. At her desk, she held a mask one-handed over her face for a couple of minutes, then dropped it.

The rest of the trip was pretty much the same. Step into a store, mental defenses up, no one masked in sight, then notice a few with masks, glance at each other with a sense of embattled camaraderie. Grit my teeth behind the mask-less bitch coughing in the check-out line.

So much for a fucking sense of equanimity.

One of my wife’s step-brothers died of COVID this week. My age. Had been having moments of forgetfulness from what turned out to be mini strokes from blood clots migrating from his lungs. Then the clots killed him. Unvaccinated. Someone she shared her teenage years with in the same house.

A 10-year-old boy nearby, dead of brain lesions. Unvaccinated. Some don’t want to admit it’s COVID related, but he’d just gotten over COVID.

What was I saying? Oh, right. Trying for equanimity.

Earlier last week, I had an annual physical. The MD asked how my head is doing. The usual annual conversation with him:

Me: “I’m a thinker living with bouts of migraine/seizure. An extrovert living in isolation. An educated Liberal in a Red state of uneducated Trump worshippers. A guy with a college science background among people with a chip on their shoulder toward ‘eggheads.’ This COVID denial is a perpetual frustration. When will it end?”

Him: “It’s never going away.”

Me: “I don’t mean COVID.”

Him: “I know. And then they come to me wanting me to fix them.”

Silence.

Him: “So, are you still writing? Still publishing?”

He asks that as a gauge of my migraine/seizure trouble. Can I still function.

Yes, I still function.

But I’m emotionally worn out even trying to care whether my unvaccinated neighbors die. Every day, I wake up wondering about Trump, “Is that son-of-a-bitch dead yet?”

Every time I hear another news story of an unvaccinated person with COVID, them begging other people to reconsider, I feel grimly thankful that they got it, hoping that their treatment ruins them financially, that their physical suffering is severe enough to shake their COVID-denying family and friends. My only reason for hoping they live is that they’ll spread the message instead of it dying with them.

There’s my equanimity. The thought that with enough suffering and death, the surviving deniers will come around. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of lightening the ship enough for us to turn from *complete* environmental catastrophe, because COVID and climate change are equally environmental.

And with that last, post-comma phrase, I slipped back into message mode. I’ll stop myself right there. My purpose is graffiti. Just spray paint defacing the side of a building to say, “I was here. And I fucking protest.”

It Goes Over the Nose

Image by Marcos Cola from Pixabay

Jennifer & I did our monthly grocery run to Lincoln today. Swung through Seward on the way back to drop off a FedEx envelope, buy a pack of water filter cores, & pick up a few things at Walmart we couldn’t get elsewhere.

At Walmart, a couple of employees, guys in their late teens or early 20’s, were staffing the self-checkout area with their masks below their noses, one nearly on his chin.

Walmart’s corporate policy is employees must wear masks.

“You know that’s supposed to go over your nose, right?” I said, glowering above my “Because Science” mask. “Otherwise you might as well not wear it at all.”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding, grinning a shit-eating “This old guy’s a sheeple” grin. Neither moved his mask. As I left, they were chatting & laughing in self-congratulatory anti-science chummery.

I stopped by a checker, mature woman, to tell her what had happened. She called her crew chief. I told the crew chief, another mature woman, and she said, uncomfortably, “I’ll take care of it.”

Jen & I headed out to the car. No crew chief talking to nobody. Young guys still chuckling with their masks below their noses.

I’ll admit, any polite, non-confrontational, “let’s be tolerant,” Liberal would have driven away, helpless, chanting the mantra “Don’t let them live rent-free in your head.” That’s certainly my inclination. Confrontation is miserable. Even writing this post is uncomfortable. But helplessness feels worse. And nowadays it’s irresponsible.

So I went back in, to the Service Desk, asked for the manager. A polite, professional young guy named Jermaine came over, wearing a mask.

“Hi, Jermaine,” I said through my mask, coolly & politely. “Walmart has a corporate policy about employees masking, right?” He nodded, eyes professionally engaged with mine. I told him what I told you just now. Then said, “Look, I get it. They don’t believe in masking, and that’s fine. But they should follow corporate policy.”

“Absolutely, I’ll go take care of it,” he said, & headed over.

The point is, I could have driven away, silently seething, while those ignorant ass-hats grinned. Instead, the shoe was on the other foot. I drove away grinning, with them facing their own helplessness. Because while knowledge survives even in silence, ignorant slogans die without a vocal feedback loop. And corporate put the kibosh on theirs, at least during working hours.

For over a year now, I’ve been making this point: “If you cannot reason with them, shame them and walk away. Don’t carry the misery away with you, leaving them to feel superior. Hold on to your confidence and hand them the misery.”

To put it more succinctly, don’t let them live in your head rent-free, choose to live in theirs rent free instead.

Our loved ones deserve our courage.