Thursday, April 29, 2021

I'm Vaccinated!

      I wrote in my daily journal a year ago that the number of Covid cases had risen in the past month here in Michigan from 3,000 to 37,798. That seemed like a lot in April of 2020. Yesterday the case total reached 825,844. It shows you how much can change in a month or a year.

     A month ago I blogged on how difficult it was to get a Covid vaccination for my wife Wendy who turns 65 in a little over a month. Now you can just walk in to many vaccination sites to get your shot, no appointment needed. In Detroit, the city is even offering $50 to people who will drive residents to get their vaccination. My wife is scheduled to get her second shot of Pfizer next week but I doubt they're going to pay me to drive her to the vaccination site.


     I hear other states are offering free beer, doughnuts, even free pot to those who get the shot. Man, if we could have only have held out a little longer. Again, what a difference a month makes.


      My own vaccination experience went smoothly. I even had a nice view of the Michigan football field from the clinic that was located in the Big House itself. 

      The only surprise was reading literature that they provided to me after I got my shot. In there it stated that the Pfizer vaccination I got has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. What?? Does Dr. Fauci know that?


     At least it wasn't the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that I got. Coincidentally, Wendy actually signed up to receive the J&J one-and-done shot. The morning we were going to leave to get the shot, the news came out that the CDC was going to pause that particular brand because of side effects. So . . . what about my wife's shot then? There was nothing on the Washtenaw County Health Department's web page even though another patient asked that very question on their Facebook link—“what if I were already scheduled for the J&J shot?"


     Luckily, before we left Wendy got an e-mail saying that she would be getting the Pfizer shot instead. Now with just one more hoop to go before we're both fully vaccinated, I'm hoping there won't be any more twists. Then again, on the Washtenaw County Health Department website, they report that the clinic where Wendy received her first shot is now giving out the Moderna vaccine, not the Pfizer.


     It's a fairly long drive to this clinic so now I'm a little hesitant to go unless we're sure Wendy's going to get the shot she is supposed to get. Maybe that's what they mean by vaccine hesitancy.


     With my having been vaccinated, I've gone back to working out at the rec center which is a good thing since I need to lose five pounds today for my doctors' visit tomorrow. And I shop more frequently and with less trepidation. I'm vaccinated after all.


     But today I was taking a walk outdoors, maskless since I'm outdoors and vaccinated, when I ran into students coming out of school at the end of their day. I was surprised that they all still wore their masks even though they left their school a block or so behind them. When they encountered me walking towards them maskless, they circled widely around me, making me feel like I was a venomous spitting cobra or something. I halfway expected a student to brandish a makeshift cross at me as if I were a vampire.


     Guess I need to get a t-shirt that says, “Chill. I've been vaccinated.”

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Hoops and Shots

      Hoops and shots. That doesn't refer to the current March Madness basketball tournament. It refers to the hoops you have to jump through to get your Covid-19 shot. As my wife and I live in Michigan which is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases lately, it's been particularly frustrating.


     Even with our advanced age we seem to be last in line. My son and daughter-in-law both got their shots many weeks ago, despite being in their 30s and working from home. But they worked for the University of Michigan which seemed to be inoculating all employees regardless.


     My parents have had both their shots. My younger brother and sister each had one vaccination. I did get two invitations a couple weeks ago, one from the U of M (I guess they ran out of employees to vaccinate) and another from the Washtenaw county health department. But I wanted to wait until my wife, who turns 65 in June, got her invitation.


     She never did, despite registering with the Washtenaw county health department, our local pharmacy and getting her medical services through the U of M, which is her PPO. When her risk group became eligible in Michigan, still nothing. And then it opened up to anyone over 50 or any adult with a health risk factor.


      Imagine standing in a ticket line at a movie theatre along with others waiting in queue who should be entering at the same time. Then the usher says, “Never mind the line, everybody can get a ticket now.” So whoever has a personal connection with a ticket-seller, has some inside information, is more adept at working the internet, or is just in the right place at the right time . . . well, that just made my wife out of luck.


     Our other 30-something son found out that getting on a drugstore Covid-19 vaccination website at just past midnight worked for him. He got a vaccination appointment in a couple days. We heard of seniors who were finding appointments available in Ohio. Did we really want to go there? Rumor was that they would give you your first of the two-shot vaccinations, but would not schedule you back for the second shot.


     To go back to that movie analogy, it would be like getting a ticket to a three-hour film show, then after an intermission the usher not allowing you in for the movie's second half. And the movie requires audiences to watch both halves.


     I tried the vaccine finder site. I tried Rite-Aide, CVS, Kroger Pharmacy (my wife was already registered with Meijer pharmacy but we never heard back from them). All the sites made you enter your location, age, health conditions, which dose you needed, etc. Then finally we'd get the message that no vaccines were available even though the vaccine finder site claimed the store had them “in stock.” Despite my son's tip, trying this on the internet in the middle of the night didn't work either.


     Entering all this information time and again just to be told that no appointments were available was more than frustrating. Once again, using the movie analogy, it's like we drove to the theatre after they said they have tickets, then after buying popcorn and soda, being told by the usher that no seats were available and to either try another theatre far away or this one on another day. Arggghhhh!


     Neither Wendy nor I were able to get a vaccine appointment for her. I announced we were going to hold out for herd immunity instead. That bothered my older son who went on the internet and made an appointment himself for his mother through the Washtenaw county health department website. Kudos to him. It was three weeks out, but we'd take it. Funny how they never let Wendy know she was eligible.


     But since the health department had already sent me an invitation, I found the original e-mail and clicked on the link. If I were lucky, perhaps Wendy and I could receive our shots together as we had originally requested. Their link took me to a web page that had a three-step process: 1. Choose an appointment, 2. Your Information 3. Confirmation.


     Cool. Almost there. I clicked on “Choose appointment” and the page simply just seemed to refresh. It didn't take me to another page where I could choose an appointment. There was a note highlighted in red that said, “All appointments are private, none are available for scheduling.” Whatever that meant. But no matter where and how I clicked I always ended up on this dead-end page.


     It took me a while to find out that my appointment invitation had, in fact, expired as had this web page. The Washtenaw county health department had changed the appointment-scheduling web page without e-mailing me or posting in the site linked in their e-mail to me. One last time, using the movie analogy, it would be like going to the theatre and finding it closed with a sign out front that says, “All movies are for private audiences only. No showings at this time.”


     By the time I did make it to the Washtenaw county's site, the earliest appointment I could make was over four weeks out so I did make my appointment through the U of M which gave me the first of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine this past Friday. And since Wendy's shot, so far, is supposed to be Johnson and Johnson's one-and-done vaccination, we should be fully inoculated at the same time. I guess all's well that ends well. But with so many dead ends, twists and turns (sorry, one more), did it have to feel like I was in The Wizard of Oz?

Friday, February 26, 2021

As The Pandemic Slogs On

      Each new month of this pandemic provides another challenge. Lately we sat on pins and needles, running low on personal checks to pay our bills. We'd heard of mail delays but had never waited this long to get our package of new personal checks to be delivered. Was it staffing shortages because of quarantines and the like? My brother passed along the fact that mail carriers were calling in sick because they got ill with their second Covid inoculation. So if it's not the disease, it's the cure then.

       Regardless, when we were down to only two checks, we had to come up with a plan B. I know our creditors would love for us to initiate their 'automatic bill pay' or some other 'eco-billing' plan which might give them direct access to our bank account. I'm not a fan and probably never will be. I'll always want a paper bill so we can write a paper check.

     My brother arranged for some type of bill pay plan that ended up paying for his flip phone service through 2023. Last I heard, he was on his way to the bank to check his transactions since he had no clue how that happened. I imagine there are folks out there with paid service plans for cars and appliances that don't even exist. Then there's trying to cancel those automatic billing plans. I've heard it's problematic even if you die. No thanks. I don't want to be getting dunning notices after I'm gone.


     So with my credit card bill, I decided to go straight to our bank and pay in person, taking the money out of our savings to pay it off forthwith. When I tried to enter the bank, the door wouldn't open. Turns out our Bank of America branch was closed. In fact, all the local BOA bank branches were closed, blaming staff shortages and Covid. But other banks are open. I'm sure even the Bailey Building and Loan from It's A Wonderful Life remained open.


     While we were dealing with this latest wrinkle in pandemania, my son informed us of his issues trying to get his nine-year-old son Grant to finish some math story problems at home. Grant has to do remote learning on certain days.


     His problem: Mary has $27. If she goes to the store and buys six pairs of socks at $4 each, how much money will she have left over?


      Grant ranted that NOBODY needs that many new pairs of socks (I guess that's especially true in these times with so many people at home). So my son asked Grant to determine first how much the socks cost. But whatever it cost was too much money in Grant's estimation. Then he added, “Why do the people in these math books have so much money?”


     I think all of us now are waiting for things to get back to some sort of normalcy. Coping can be tricky. I never learned whether Grant determined the answer to his sock math story problem. My wife and I figured out our bills. I paid one in person in cash, we put our cable TV bill on our credit card, and I did find a way on-line to make a one-time transfer of funds from our savings account to pay our monthly credit card bill.


    But using our credit card to pay our cable bill triggered an unexpected chain of events.  Our son who lives in St Louis got a "thank you for your payment" e-mail from our cable provider.  It freaked him out since he knew it was not HIS cable bill so why should he be getting a thank you for a payment.  And I have absolutely no clue how his e-mail got linked to our cable bill.  I can imagine how panicked he would have become if the thank you would have added that he's paid up through 2023 as happened with my brother.  Just shows you that even paying bills is not easy in these times.


     Then the following day our checks arrived in the mail.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What's Your Comfort Level?

     A couple days ago I saw a rather unsettling news bulletin that was issued through our local health department. It asked that any people who had visited the local mall or a nearby Meier grocery store at specified times a week ago get tested immediately for Covid 19. The new more contagious strain ravaging the United Kingdom was here in our own county.

    It's moments like these that test your comfort level during the ongoing pandemic. Wendy and I avoid shopping except at times when we know the stores will be as empty of shoppers as possible. I did shop at the grocery store mentioned in the health bulletin, but very early in the day. And not on the day of the possible exposure. Whew!


    My brother and his wife are leaving Michigan this week, driving to warmer climes at a condo they rented in Key Largo, Florida. Their comfort level with this virus is higher than mine. I'd love to go warmer places but not before I get my vaccination. Another younger brother who lives 200 miles north in upper Michigan said the same. He's not a fan of Michigan winters either, but he would rather hunker down here than travel cross country.


    My wife and I try as much as possible to support the local businesses, ordering take-out meals and getting drive-through coffee at our favorite Tim Horton's. We even purchased a new automobile, though it was before the latest Covid scare I mentioned. When we showed it off to my sister-in-law's family and gave them a ride, my wife noticed my twenty-something nephew was wearing a mask inside our new car during the ride. Since he lives in a bubble pretty much, I guess he was worried about us. That tells you something about his comfort level.


    Then there is my sister Sue who occasionally orders books on-line at her local library which is located in a small town more than 100 miles north of us here in southeast Michigan. In the past, she'd pull up curbside to the library, make a phone call to someone within, and they would come out and place the book in her car through the open passenger's side window.


    But most recently when Sue went to pick up a book, they asked that she open her trunk before they came out with the book. Since she drives a truck, she figured she'd just do as before, just roll down the passenger's side window. She did that and waited. But the library clerk who came outside saw the open window and called out that she was not supposed to get that close to my sister's truck.


    Now Sue was wearing a mask as was the librarian. It's a big truck so there easily was six feet of distance between them. The library staff person would have to do a flying leap through the open window to breach the six-foot barrier. My sister said to throw the book, which the staff person did, flinging the book through the open window. “And she spun around so fast like my truck was a big, red virus.” Sue wrote me. She just hoped the book wasn't damaged.


    I responded that at our library, which is open just for pick-up, you just enter masked, follow the arrows on the floor, tell the librarians who are all behind big plexi-glass screens who you are and what book you're here for, and they will check you out and give you the book. No book flinging or trunk opening necessary.


    Bringing books back at our library is easier, since they have a drop box outside where you just deposit your reading material. But then a few days after I took a book back to the library, I got an overdue notice by e-mail for that same book. I e-mailed back that I had dropped off the book earlier that week.


    Here was the response I got: “All items are being quarantined for 6 days before they are checked in with the date they were returned. Please feel free to check your account after 7 days to confirm that the items have been removed from your account.”


    Guess that tells you something about my library's comfort level with books.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Notorious Blob

      Years ago when my second oldest grandson Luke was less than two years old I decided to 'star' him in one of my home-made video sketches, the kind that occasionally go viral on YouTube (though mine never do). I took an old bean bag chair and made it appear in my video that it was “the blob”, climbing stairs by itself and going after Luke as he played on our bed upstairs. In the video I rescued Luke from the blob, threw it back down the stairs, and put it on a “time-out.” The whole video ran about a minute. 

     Ever since then, that bean bag chair has been like the monster that hides under the bed or the thing that makes a noise in the attic. One or more of my grandkids, all of whom have seen the video, at various times are fearful that the beanbag blob IS real, regardless of HOW many times I say it was all just pretend. So I keep the beanbag chair in the basement. It never appears upstairs whenever the grands are around.

     Still, that's not always good enough.


     My four-year-old grandson Owen confronted me about the beanbag blob just this past week. I told him that it was not only in the basement, it was way at the far end of the basement in my little man cave.


     “Is the door shut?” Owen asked.


     “It is shut,” I replied truthfully.


     “Is it locked?”


     I think I fudged the truth, since the question took me by surprise. My man cave has a flimsy door with no lock but it made no sense for me to lock it even if it had one. A cave by definition shouldn't even have a door let alone one that locks.  But Owen was not assuaged either way and refused to venture down the basement where his older brothers were playing at the time.


     Then Owen's cousin Gwen, also four, was here around the same time. She learned, possibly from Owen, that the beanbag blob was in my room. She asked why I put it there and I told her so it wouldn't scare anyone.


     “Is the blob your friend?” she asked.


     Hmmmmm, another question that took me by surprise. But I can see why my granddaughter asked that. She watches all these cartoons and Disney movies with magical characters that all get along so wonderfully. So I fudged again, saying yes, the blob was my friend.


     “Why?” she asked.


     “Why??” I responded


      “Yes, why is the blob your friend?”


       I was stumped.  I guess I should have refused any follow-up questions. Maybe I should have pretended I was leading one of those presidential press conferences and just said, “Let's go over here to Davis for the next question.” A typical question from this two-year-old grandson goes like this:


     “Grandpa, do you wear glasses?”


      Why yes, Davis, I do wear glasses. And that is the unvarnished truth.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Breaking Bad for the Holidays

      I'm getting cynical with all this virus stuff. They said trick-or-treating on Halloween was high risk while voting in person was low risk. Seems like from what I heard and read afterwards, it was the other way around. Then they said that family Thanksgiving dinners were high risk. But they also say holiday shopping in stores with lots of strangers is encouraged because of the great deals as well as the boost to the economy. That makes it worth it.

     So I have to decide for myself. Is it worth it?

     I'm too much of a fan of Halloween not to let it go without handing out treats. And we did, socially distanced with a card table separating us, in theory, from the trick-or-treaters. When we saw a group of kids coming down the street, we'd put some candy bars on the table then sit back to watch. My neighbor had set up an inclined PVC tube to deliver his treats but when it jammed a few times, he used a table like we did. 

     And Halloween went without a hitch. Scariest moment didn't come from a ghoulish costume but from a pint-sized trick-or-treater who for some reason circled our table, coming within a few feet of us before sneezing Yikes! My wife and I both wore masks as we sat, but still . . .

     We had over 80 trick-or-treaters and most of them respected the honor system, taking just one piece of candy. Most of them. One older boy took two pieces from the table, after which he pointed to his eyes, then pointed to my wife and I sitting there watching him. So he's in effect saying that he's keeping an eye on us as he pilfers an extra piece of candy for himself? I don't get it.

     For Thanksgiving, all the reports were that we should self-isolate and do a virtual Thanksgiving instead. That's perfectly fine too, I guess. But seeing your grandkids through Skype or Zoom—and we've done that many times—is like watching your favorite Broadway play on a 14-inch computer screen instead of being there in person. And you don't even get the opportunity to hug the cast members.

     So my son packed up his family in St Louis and came to Michigan to spend a week here. Mom and dad tested negative before they hit the road. The three little ones were all healthy. Then the kiddies got to experience a holiday with the grands. They built a candy gingerbread house inside as well as a real snowman outside, baked cookies with grandma, snuggled with grandpa, and enjoyed playing with their cousins on Thanksgiving day and the day afterwards. Let's be honest. None of those are things you can really do virtually.

     My wife and I got to see our youngest grandson Charlie walk for the first time, even personifying the proverb, “Walk softly and carry a big stick” when he found our yardstick in a corner.


     Our home was a big playhouse for a week. After it was over and the car was being loaded up for the drive home, my nearly four-year-old granddaughter Gwen came up to where I was sitting and surprised me with a kiss on the cheek. It just melted my heart.

     Now with the empty house again, my wife and I will lay low once more. Let others snag the great shopping deals and browse the boutiques. I already feel like we've received a major holiday gift. And though I know we can't be totally sure we dodged getting sick, I feel right now that I can answer the question I posed earlier:

     It was worth it.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Fall in the Time of Covid

     I was in Bay City with family celebrating my mother's 88th birthday when suddenly the skies opened up. Buckets of rain deluged everything below. Though I was sitting on a couch socializing, a dreaded red flag rose in my mind. Our mini-van's windows sometimes operate on their own, courtesy of a dysfunctional key fob. I ran to check, and sure enough, the windows in front were fully down, rain pouring in.

      Racing outside, I hurriedly started the car and put the windows up once again, but not before I was soaked to the skin. My dad loaned me a spare sweatshirt and trousers while he tossed my wet garb into the dryer. Very thankful.

     These mini-van windows occasionally have operated on their own occasionally for years. It's probably my fault since I'm too cheap to spend $200 on a new key fob. But my seven-year-old grandson Luke has a different explanation:

     “Your car is haunted because you own so many scary movies.”

     True, I do own a lot of scary movie, both DVDs and VHS. And this Halloween has given me a chance to watch them and a few new ones too. In fact, Halloween in the time of Covid hasn't been that bad. You can still go to the fruit farms for your apples, masked up and socially distanced. And with a new surge in cases locally, our favorite activity has been the leisurely drive around the county to see the pretty fall colors and enjoy the ghoulish yard decorations. I even had time to create a particularly scary graveyard myself.

     We don't spend a lot of time shopping in order to avoid the crowds. Dining out is becoming a rarity since we can't sit outdoors now with the cooling temperatures. But it does give wife Wendy a chance to test her baking skills with pumpkins, when she can find canned pumpkin which is not that easy. So we've had pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin donuts and pumpkin tartlets. She did nix my suggestion of pumpkin ravioli . . . without comment.


     Every year for the past seven years' we've taken one or more of my grandsons to the pre-school pumpkin hunt sponsored by the local recreation center. They made a few changes this year that I thought actually improved the experience. Instead of sitting on the floor of an overly warm gym listening to a local librarian read a spooky story, we did a story walk into the woods, posted signs telling the tale of pumpkin . 

      The kids wore masks, as did the adults, but nobody seemed to mind. Instead of sharing decorations and snacks after the kids had found their pumpkins in the woods, we were handed a packet of decorations and a bag of snacks, one for each kid. We decorated pumpkins outside with one family to a table.


     No overcrowding, no hoarding snacks or supplies and not a Corona-virus in sight. Okay, we were lucky to have sunny and warm fall weather but still it was a memorable time.


     I've indulged my inner artist (I'm not, by the way) to color some rocks to hide for a local painted rock hunt for families, something else to entertain folks who might be suffering the effects of Covid fatigue. My two sons and I separately tested our Halloween trivia knowledge in an on-line trivia contest sponsored by our library. Though I held first place most of the night, my younger son who lives in St Louis, nipped me right before the contest officially ended. He was very proud of that. Too proud for me, in fact.


     Perhaps this pandemic has given us more time this fall to enjoy close family as well as the sights, smells and tastes of a Michigan fall. And when we're not outside or watching TV inside, we can turn on the Halloween music channel on TV while catching up on our reading. For me, that means a magazine I bought called “The World's Most Mysterious Places.” I've been to at least a half dozen.


     Meanwhile, I can't help but see the irony in the song playing on my music channel:


     (Don't Fear) The Reaper.