The Corona Diaries: Week 2

“Cause and effect, chain of events
All of the chaos makes perfect sense
When you’re spinning round, things come undone
Welcome to Earth, third rock from the sun.”

“Third Rock From the Sun”
Performed by Joe Diffie
Written by Sterling Whipple, Tony Martin and John Greenebaum

Week Two: Control

Monday, March 23, 2020

I plug back in. Happy Monday!

61 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Nebraska. The state legislature comes back into session and moves a 100 million dollar appropriations bill forward with no dissenting votes. Who says bipartisanship isn’t possible? Harvey Weinstein has caught the Coronavirus. Silver linings and all that. Rand Paul is the first senator to catch it. Former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar’s husband also has it. Sad end to her campaign.

Bekah comes in shortly after I do and places a bag of Fuji apples in my hands. It’s a kindly gesture that she’s been repeating for about three months. I thank her profusely and wish I could give her a hug. I silently wonder how much longer these luxuries will be available.

Jane feels we should truncate office hours for our own health and safety. Bekah and I are both using this job as much for an emotional crutch as anything. Both of us want to be here to feel structured and productive, if nothing else. Easier for me than Bekah since I have no social life and spend a lot of time alone anyway. Bekah has friends, support groups, art stuff, etc. I just have my job and my apartment.

Bekah says, “I plan to keep on coming in until I’m told not to.” I point out that, even if we are in limited contact, we might still risk contracting or spreading the virus. It’s an obligatory argument and I don’t press too hard. Privately, I wish we’d keep the office open but lock the doors. We’re doing 100 percent of our business by phone, text and E-mail as it is. I floated that idea to Jane on Friday but she resisted because they don’t carry their keys on them as I do and they might get locked out. Jane wants to put up a sign warning away visitors, but Bekah seems to disapprove. The issue is resolved with the office hours remaining as they are; eight to five.

Bekah and I nearly get into a verbal shoving match over the substitution of the Entertainment On the Go segment, which has been put on hiatus until the Go Section of the Omaha World Herald returns. The nature and tone of our disagreement is out of proportion to the issue itself, and I think both of us know it. Why is it so important whether Tom Shomaker or Frank Herzog runs in that slot? That question is never fully answered. It almost feels as if we are two people both trying to grab the same bar of soap floating in a bath tub.

Late evening. I get annoyed when I realize I left the sack of apples at work. I try to post The Corona Diaries: Week One, only to discover that WordPress has rearranged the dashboard. It takes me forever to figure out how to post it. I finally get the date right, but the time won’t update correctly. Pricks!

I cut short my nightly hot bath, complete with a Lavender Lullaby Bath Bomb, just so I can try again to share my inane thoughts with my limited social media circle. Wrestling with WordPress counteracts any relaxation I gained from my bath, and I just go to bed annoyed and weary.

Tuesday, March 24

65 cases confirmed in Nebraska. Over twice as many next door in Iowa, who reported their first COVID-related death today. The Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed for a year. Trump is getting presidential cabin fever. He wants to, “Open things up,” by Easter. What was that I heard about July or August a week ago? Trump did give Governor Ricketts a shout-out, saying that we’re doing a great job of keeping our numbers low. Of course, we haven’t really ramped up testing yet and thus, we have no idea what the numbers really are, but why bring reality into it? Both the federal and state tax deadlines have been pushed back until July 15. The DCHD strongly suggests that all beauty and tanning salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, etc, close down. Nebraska Furniture Mart, a staple of household buying in the region, announces that it will be closing on Friday until the crisis abates. Guess I shouldn’t have waited to switch out my too-soft mattress for a firmer one. Who knows how long I’ll be waking up with a pillow between my legs and a crick in my neck.

When I board the morning bus, the driver tries to tell me something once we get rolling.

“Hey, man. Can you wait until we hit Benson? I can’t hear you because of the loud rattling.”

20 minutes later at Benson Transfer Center, he tries again. “Sorry, Ryan. Old bus. I wanted to let you know that they are gonna reduce this route. Maybe next week. We’ll probably be going to a weekend schedule, which means the half-hour runs will be cut and we’ll only go once an hour. I won’t be on this route until this thing is over.

“Does that mean they’re going to bench you?” I ask.

“Probably” he says. “A lot of drivers are sidelined for now.”

Early afternoon. Bekah comes into the control room and tells me that, as of tomorrow morning, the North door (the one I usually use) will be locked. They are still seeing patients and only want to keep the South entrance open so as to funnel all people past the new screening station, which just happens to be located right outside our back door.

Bekah says, “You can take the sidewalk around the other way. If you follow it, you will eventually come to the sliding doors. There’s a shortcut, but you’d have to walk through the grass.

Jane doesn’t want me walking through the grass either. “Ryan, you could get your shoes all muddy if it rains.”

At three o’clock, I put on my ridiculously expensive and ineffective Columbia coat and go outside. I exit the North door, hang a hard right and almost immediately, my shoes touch soft, spongy grass. I can feel a little mud as I walk forward, but soon, I encounter solid grass again. I bear right, clicking my tongue once or twice in the absence of my tapping cane so as to produce an echo off the wall of the building. Within two minutes, my cane taps pavement, the sound of the metal tip acting as a sonar off the building, which is still to my right. I turn toward it and soon, I’m walking in the South entrance.

Just for good measure, I go back out the North door and trace the sidewalk in the other direction. I follow Bekah’s instructions and again locate the South door easily. The lady at the screening table is impressed.

“I was outside for about seven minutes total. Do I need to get screened,” I ask. She chuckles dryly. I think she’s bored.

Truthfully, this is a good feeling. I haven’t done a lesson in structured discovery cane travel in about six years. Nothing satisfies quite like the accomplishment of conquering a travel route. I think again of all of those CCB students who have had the misfortune of interruption in their education.

Bekah and I finally shatter all current social norms and share a friendly hug before I leave. If I get the virus, blame her.

Wednesday, March 25

66 cases confirmed in Nebraska. Late last night while I dreamt of a female acquaintance (who shall remain nameless) in a state of undress in a hot tub, Congress finally got serious and agreed upon another COVID stimulus bill, mostly pork-free. Ben Sasse was one of the few senators to vote against it. I respect the hell out of the guy’s willingness to stand on his beliefs against a tidal wave of opposition, but I wonder if he’d be willing to deliver a few Cheese Runzas to my door when he is returned to private life this November. In Denver (my adopted home town), RTD announces that they will be going to a weekend schedule for all buses and light rails. This change could last until September. The catch… They’re not implementing the changes until April 19. So, about the time that President Trump’s economy is supposed to come roaring back from slumber, Denver mass transit spins down. Meanwhile, back in Cornland, Governor Ricketts signs an executive order postponing all evictions across the state until May 31. There was a time when I would’ve felt sympathy for my land lord, but that was before management allowed raccoons to frolic unencumbered in the crawl space above my apartment for the better part of a year. That, plus the dirty trick they pulled when they switched out my thermostat for a touch screen one without telling me, hardens my heart against landlords everywhere.

When the morning bus pulls up, the driver informs me that they are no longer charging fare for riders. When the afternoon bus comes, the driver pulls up so I am compelled to enter through the back door. Social distancing comes to the Omaha Metro bus lines.

My best friend Katy tells me that, as of last night, everyone at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind was sent home. They are all forced to use their own PTO until April 2, when they are supposedly going to start receiving federal sick leave pay. She has enough PTO to make it, but she’ll have to burn it all. This doesn’t come as a shock. The Seattle Lighthouse contracts with Boeing Airlines, and we all know how their bottom line is doing these days.

Katy sounds bummed when she speaks of it. Like me, she’s not crazy about the city in which she lives, but she loves her job. Part of me is relieved. I’ve been worried about Katy even before I was worried about myself. Seattle was one of the first places to amass an outbreak. Katy shrugged it off; another of the NBD crowd. At least she will be home and out of circulation. She’s better at living in seclusion than others, but she lives with her boyfriend. Who knows how a sedentary lifestyle will affect them.

Back in Omaha, my work day is the first smooth one I’ve had since I came back, though there is still an undercurrent of tension in the office. All programs air when they are scheduled to air. Dropbox behaves itself as it should.

Thursday, March 26

81 cases confirmed statewide. National unemployment claims are off the chart, with 3.28 million filing for benefits in one week, which is more than quadruple the previous record. America now has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. I am dubious about this claim, since we cannot trust the information that comes from China. In fact, I am stunned that so many people who rightly call President Trump out on his BS will swallow propaganda whole from the Chinese Communist Party. The gang at The Dispatch Podcast drags Logan’s Run out of mothballs in response to a growing chorus on the right who feel that the country should sacrifice its elderly, at-risk population in favor of stimulating the economy. Personally, I think the analogy is more appropriate to Star Trek: The Next Generation. You remember the episode where Winchester from M*A*S*H is euthanized because he commits the grand crime of turning 60, right after he falls in love with Deanna Troi’s mom? This was back when Captain Picard was younger and much happier.

At 7:10 this morning, two minutes before I walk out the door, my phone dies. I know it is dead because Voiceover suddenly stops and the heartbeat click when I touch the home button is non-responsive. I plug the phone in and, 30 seconds later, it “Blee-bloops!” to life. The battery level is 11 percent. This is odd, since I just took it off the charger after it was plugged in all night. A quick check of my battery health shows that I am at 73 percent battery capacity. Small wonder.

This disturbs me. My phone is three years old and I’ve been due for an upgrade for over a year. I haven’t bought a new phone, mostly because a lot of my extra money went toward Mags’ vet bills. I’d half thought of buying a new iPhone during my now-doomed vacation to Des Moines so I could get used to it in the company of my tech nerd buddies, Joe and Wes. But now, is it even safe to buy a new phone? Can I practice social distancing in an Apple Store? Can an Apple employee work a phone with gloves?

My phone is my life line. I do everything with it; communicate with friends and family, interact with social media, monitor my travel, hale Lyft and Uber, order deliveries, listen to music, play Dice World, get anxiety over news alerts, and even work. I use the Dropbox app on my phone to move files around from place to place and also monitor the RTBN audio stream with TuneIn Radio. If I were to be without a phone, I’d be screwed.

When my bus shows up, my driver refuses to let me board through the back door in compliance with Metro’s new policy to maintain social distancing. I try to gently educate my way past his groundless fears.

“My driver yesterday afternoon opened the back door for me and I boarded just fine.”

“What! That’s just wrong! What a prick!” the guy protests. “What was his name? Did he drive you yesterday afternoon? What time?”

“No, I don’t know his name. I left work early yesterday,” I lie.

I’m in the middle of Kylie Minogue’s “Timebomb,” when we hit 90th and Maple. Over the music, I can hear a steady beeping coming from the front of the bus. I stop the music, pop our my earbuds and listen. The bus is running smoothly, the motor seems solid and we’re rolling. Eventually, I resume the music.

Later as I debark, I hear two distinctive beeping sounds from the front. It sounds a lot like those obligatory crisis scenes in every medical TV show.

“What’s that,” I ask the driver.

“Oh, uhh, that’s just my hazard lights. I got’em turned on.” I am less than confident in his forthrightness. Why would he turn his hazard lights on just to drop me off?

It turns out that the phone and the bus are harbingers of the chaos that is to come. It starts when Bekah sends a text to us that says, “I won’t be in early today. MeMe will send you a weather, Ryan.”

Then I realize that I forgot to record the birthday announcements for the upcoming week. I grab my antique Perkins braillewriter, roll up some makeshift paper and bang out the birthdays. I barely get them in on time.

9:30 rolls around and I have neither paper that is due for the 10-to-noon block. Quick calls to the two volunteers reveal that both are having issues with Dropbox. Then, in the midst of trying to trouble shoot for them, the broadcast goes dead. It turns out that the volunteer who recorded the Columbus papers left huge gaps of silence in her file. It’s not her fault. Her audio probably dropped out and she didn’t realize it. But the timing sucks worse than my jump shot. I have to air the shows in reverse order, which is no big deal but stressful.

Then another volunteer calls in and says that Dropbox is giving him fits, so I help him through it. Bekah comes in by 11 and helps take up the slack, but before noon, I end up helping five volunteers with uploading issues.

As I sit in the bathroom, the tinkling sound of processed coffee and Diet Dr. Pepper splashing in the water below, I take quiet solace in the knowledge that God is reading my writing. He even reads it before it is published on the internet. He was hovering over my shoulder last night when I wrote about a smooth work day. He was also eavesdropping on our staff meeting yesterday when I asserted that I was sure we had ironed out most of the bumps in our remote reader system. Why else would he deliver a swift, celestial kick to my man parts in an effort to refocus my attention?

A little before one, MeMe asks if she can be excused from our daily meeting so that she can finish some work. Jane agrees, so we abort the usual conference call. I talk to MeMe on the phone and she sounds tired and beleaguered. She is at the greatest risk of contracting the virus, so she works from home and seldom goes out. I worry that it is taking a toll on her.

Jane and MeMe are both senior citizens. Jane is still in the office, but MeMe is self-quarantined. Still, she works her fanny off every day to help Radio Talking Book keep rolling. Susan also calls to check in. She’s a nice old lady who doesn’t read for us, but comes in twice a week to do administrative work with our radios and database. She also reads my mail for me once a week and has been known to run me to the store a time or two.

So when I hear of a segment of the population suggesting that MeMe, Jane and Susan should sacrifice themselves for the greater good, I want to cancel some life-clock crystals.

On the plus side, Bekah lets me read a grant proposal that she wrote and asks for my feedback. It makes me feel pretty good.

When I catch the afternoon bus, the driver has no problem allowing me to enter and exit through the back door. I notice two strips of tape strung across the aisle about half way back.

Further proof that God is pushing the pendulum. Tonight, I get an Email from AT&T. Part of it says:

“To further insure we’re taking the proper steps for our customers and employees, we’ve adjusted our retail store presence to focus on handling first responder and critical customer needs. We’ve also reduced hours and taken extra cleaning and social distancing precautions.”

There’s a rumor going around that broadcasters are first responders. I am a licensed broadcaster in the state of Nebraska. Hmmmm.

Friday, March 27

89 confirmed cases in Nebraska. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that he has tested positive for COVID-19. President Trump signs the stimulus package, which will cost American tax payers $2.2 trillion. Nebraska has seen its first two casualties from the virus, both reported on the same day. If the good folks are depressed over this, they can now drown their angst by ordering take-out liquor from bars and restaurants, as long as they keep a lid on it.

When the morning bus arrives, I decide to practice a little civil disobedience. As he pulls up, the front door opens, but I move toward the back of the bus, sliding my cane along the metal side until it touches the groove indicating the seam where the back door is located.

“Ryan, you can come in the front! Ryan! Ryan,” the driver yells.

“It’s okay. I’ll come in the back. Open the door, please,” I holler. After a few seconds, I hear a click, indicating that the lock on the door has been released. I step back and wait for the door to swing open, but it doesn’t. There is no way to pull it open, so I’m stuck.

“The door won’t open,” he says. “Come up front.”

I decide not to argue, so I go in the front. Once I am seated and we’re rolling, he says, “The back door is for other people, not you, man.”

I’m sure Rosa Parks is having a nice chuckle somewhere in the Great Beyond. I find it ironic that I’m being told not to go to the back of the bus by an African-American driver.

Later, after we leave Benson Transfer Station, I decide to deal with the issue. I pocket my phone and earbuds, get up and walk toward the front of the bus. There are no strips of tape to block my path.

“Hey, man. I want to ask you a question. I hope you won’t find it intrusive,” I say.

“Go ahead,” he says.

“Are you African-American?”

Without hesitation, he answers, “Nah. I’m Asian, actually.”

“Ahh. Got it,” I say. I quickly shift gears in hopes that he won’t have time to inquire why I’m asking about his race. “If I can ask another question that I hope isn’t presumptuous, do you get offended when people refer to the Coronavirus as, The Chinese Virus?”

“Well, yeah, kinda,” he says. “I think people who call it that are inconsiderate. I mean, I know the virus came from China and all that, but there’s a lot of people all over the world who spread it from place to place. It’s not like our country took it seriously at first, anyway.”

I can’t argue the point.

“Are you worried about getting the virus?”

“Yeah, a little,” he says, his voice lowering a bit. “I have a wife and kids. I really worry about them catching it. I just try to be careful at work and wash my hands a lot.”

“But what if I have the virus,” I ask? “Don’t you worry you might get it from me if I board at the front of the bus.”

He waits a beat, then says, “Well, you’re not really that close to me, anyway. I know you’re good.”

At that point, we turn off of 72nd Street on to Newport, he pulls up to my stop. We both wish each other well. “God bless,” he says as I step off.

This will be the last time we see each other for a while. Monday morning, he goes on to what is called a Waiting Board, while I get to sleep in an extra half-hour before going to work in the wake of Metro’s route reduction.

My pal Bridgit would scold me at this point if she were here. She’s previously cautioned me about judging the race of a person by only their voice. I truly do hope I encounter this guy again. Maybe we can go out somewhere and have a beer summit. He can tell me all about his culture, and I will impress him by taking the stairs unassisted, rather than the elevator or a, “Handicap ramp.”

The day is notable because Bekah and I have a candid conversation about control freaks. I won’t share most of it because a lot of it is personal, but she and I both admit that we’re very much alike in our need to control our space.

After the weight of killer viruses, racial and ableist stereotypes and heartfelt discussions about control, my day is leavened when I teach Jane how to use Dice World to play Yahtzee. It only takes her 15 minutes to figure it out.

“I don’t really like this game, Ryan,” she mutters. “I don’t like playing games on my phone.”

“Ok, boomer,” I reply.

“Asshole,” she retorts. I guess the threat of unseen death all around us has slowly eroded the veil of professionalism that used to exemplify our idyllic work environment. I think she’s really upset because I came from behind and won the game. If any of you reading this play Dice World, barrage Reubenjane with game requests.

Truthfully, I’m trying to cheer Jane up because she seems down. In her own way, I think this change in routine has hit her the hardest. Bekah, MeMe and I are all scrambling to make Radio Talking Book sound as close to normal as possible. In some ways, my days are busier and longer than they were when we were operating under standard conditions. Yet, Jane is the public face of the company. She is a hard-wired extrovert who has sales and public relations in her blood. During normal times, she was constantly on the go at breakfast meetings, luncheons, afternoon seminars and evening gatherings. If she’s not out on the road spreading our good word or visiting listeners to help them with their radios. She’s bringing in people for tours, on-air interviews and fundraising chats. In the wake of the cancelations of all of the fairs and conferences we usually attend at this time of year, Jane’s professional life has largely been put on hold.

I talk to my folks on the phone. They are headed to the lake this afternoon for the weekend, even though the weather is supposed to be lousy. Mom plans to send me a care package and she promises to toss a couple rolls of toilet paper in. She’s sent other care packages to her grandkids up at the ranch, but they seem to be taking longer and longer to get there of late.

That night, I again order delivery from Doordash. Once again, I call the driver and ask if he wants a ‘no contact’ delivery. Once again, he says, “That’s alright. I’m not really worried about it.”

Saturday, March 28

I try to unplug from the news again, but my phone won’t let me. Due to expanded testing, Nebraska has seen 95 confirmed cases. But I’m really worried about Iowa. They have 298 confirmed cases. My pal Wes lives in Des Moines. I was supposed to be waking up on his air mattress this weekend with an aching back and a need for strong coffee. Joe and Sharonda live there. They just celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary last October. Sharonda has underlying health conditions. Ross just moved to Des Moines a month ago to take a new job. He may be stranded and unable to come back to visit his family if things get worse. Alicia and Dana live in central Iowa. I wonder what’s next for all of them.

When the morning bus pulls up, the driver opens the back door instead of the front. The crime scene tape is strung across the aisle just in front of my seat. He drops me at the wrong spot, but it only takes a few extra seconds for me to retrace my steps and locate the building.

As I walk around to the south door, I stop in the moist grass. The air is chilly and smells strongly of rain. There is no distant traffic. But the thing that really captures my attention are the sounds of many birds singing in the nearby trees. I stop on the lawn of Medical Building Three and just listen. The birds sound as if it’s just another normal day in paradise. I have no idea what kind of birds they are. Mom or Grandma would know. But their chorus is a peaceful counterpoint to the chaos of this new normal. A flock of geese flies overhead, honking their way westward. Where are they headed? Can they fly some place safe? Is there any place safe, I wonder?

I stand in the grass for nearly 10 minutes, just soaking up the bird song and mercifully cool air. Then, the serenity of my morning is blown to hell when my phone beeps. “On my way,” Michael texts. I remind him to park in the south lot and use the sliding doors because the north door is locked.

Things go smoothly. Both remote readers get their papers in on time. Michael does just fine and reads a magazine in one of our recording booths. At 11:15, we’re all done and we decide to take off early. Michael drops me at Hy-vee again. He tells me that things are still crazy where he works. His manager, normally a belligerent fellow in temperament, threw a tantrum the other evening, complete with cursing and flying objects. When Michael drops me at the store, I hand him a $10 bill, careful not to let our hands touch. I tell him to fill his tank, but he tells me he’s going to use it for lunch at Raising Cane’s. Lucky duck.

Once again, Sheila is my shopping aid. She is maintaining her positive attitude and generous spirit. I only buy a few things. In case I suddenly have to shelter in place, I have enough food and toilet paper for two weeks.

I check out. Sheila walks me and my cart to the front entrance. I bid her goodbye, dip my hand in my pocket to grab my phone and summon a Lyft… And my fingers flutter like bird wings against the cloth of my jeans. I left my phone on the charger at work. My stomach plummets, my balls tuck up and my head spins like a Tilt-A-Whirl.

What now? Can I borrow a land line in the store and call someone to come get me? Jane would certainly do it, but I don’t know her number. Could I call Kevin, Robert and Bonnie, Mitch and Jenni, Bob and Laurie, or Nancy? Impossible. I don’t know their numbers either. The only Omaha number I can remember is that of Radio Talking Book. Remembering phone numbers is so ‘90’s.

Sheila finally uses her own cell phone to call me a cab. She has to Google the number for Metro Taxi because I’ve never used it. She offers to wait with me until my ride comes, but I tell her to get on with her busy day.

It’s a long wait without my phone. I can’t monitor the progress of the cab, or call them to get an ETA. I can’t pass the time on Twitter or Facebook, play Dice World or flirt with Kelly on WhatsApp. I can’t listen to music or check Email. All I can do is guard my grocery cart and wait. What am I going to do if they take an hour?

Actually, it takes a cab about 15 minutes to show up. My driver is named James. Turns out that he knows a predecessor of mine who used to work at RTBN. He knows a few other blind people. It takes me back to a time when, for better or worse, cab drivers were more interwoven in the blindness community than are ridesharing drivers of today.

James has a speech impediment. At first, I wonder if it’s an accent, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to ask him where he’s from. I’ll guess Asia or India, and he’ll turn out to be from some place like Blue Heaven, Idaho. He drives me home, waits while I dump my groceries in my fridge, then drives me to work so I can pick up my phone. He keeps talking to me on the way, but he’s hard to understand at times. I am grateful for the music he plays. Billy Joel, Styx, The Pretenders, Night Ranger and Boston, along with the moist breeze from the open window, help me relax as we drive.

James drops me at the south door and I pay him $20. Thank God I have cash! I run inside, snatch my phone off the desk, unplug the charging cord, check the time and realize that I have two minutes to make the bus home. Not enough time to wash my hands. I run outside, dash across the empty street and make the bus stop. I made it!

There’s a fine drizzle, but I whip out my phone anyway and decide to leave Katy a quick message telling her about my crazy day. The message is about two minutes. I finish, send the message… And my phone dies. My stomach drops. My balls tuck up. The bus rolls to the curb and the back door opens.

I manage to restart the phone during the trip. It tells me I have 3 percent battery, yet I make it all the way home with Foreigner, Electric Light Orchestra and Grand Funk Railroad for company, all while the battery level remains constant.

It’s 3 PM when a sudden, loud peal of thunder heralds the arrival of a storm. I think it may be the first of the season. I go out on my balcony to bring in my folding rocker. The rain feels good on my face and arms. The thunder booms and the wind rattles my screen door. My robe billows up and I wonder if God cares that I’m au naturel underneath. Are any birds watching? Do they care? I stand there until I start to shiver, then come back in, peel off my soaking wet robe and crawl into bed.

Then I remember to call AT&T. After deftly navigating the maze of menus, I finally reach Bryson, the store manager at the Dodge Street location. Yes, they are still maintaining limited store hours locally. Yes, they have all models of the iPhone 11 available. Yes, they can work with me on setting up the phone and it won’t violate their new social distancing policy. No, they are not open tomorrow. No, he can’t help me with account details until I get there. I tell him I’ll probably see him Monday afternoon and hang up. I am relieved that AT&T is still open so I won’t have to venture to the Apple Store, which is clear over in Village Point.

Finally, I begin to relax. The storm has died down. It was a short one. For me, it felt like a much needed purge. I slap on my mask, turn on a Robert B. Parker book and begin to doze.

Shit! I forgot to take Bridgit her newspapers for packing!

Sunday, March 29

For the first time in 13 days, I sleep in. I don’t go anywhere or do anything all day, except help Michael with programming remotely. He does a fine job running the computer and I tell him he’s ready to fly solo next weekend. He’s lonely at work with no one but the ghosts in the empty building to talk to.

I am bound and determined to unplug for the day. I believe my mental health depends on social distancing from current events for a time. I read my book, grill some breakfast sausage, play virtual Farkle with Wes and Kelly and get annoyed by an AT&T customer service rep who jive talks me about an upgrade package. Maybe it’s time to switch to Verizon.

Bridgit sounds as if her voice is coming from the depths of a pressure cooker. She and Ross picked the worst time to move and their landlord isn’t very sympathetic to their plight. Luckily, she doesn’t bust my chops about the newspapers. Instead, she tries to explain to her eight-year-old that Santa’s elves are social distancing up at the North Pole.

Katy and I watch the latest episode of Better Call Saul via Facetime. At one point, Saul and Kim have a major fight. Kim says, “Either we end this now and enjoy the time we had and go our separate ways, or…or…or maybe we get married.” This cracks my shit up! I wonder how many relationships around the country are now cases of life imitating art in the wake of compulsory isolation.

All in all, a quiet day.

Then, at 3:40 PM, reality roars back into my life like a pickup truck. Wes texts me and says, “Damn! Joe Diffie passed away due to this virus.”

Channel Six confirms the story. Joe Diffie, age 61, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday and passed away from complications stemming from the infection today. Damn! He was younger than my parents, my boss and many of our volunteers.

Joe Diffie. Staple of my latter teenage years when I came back to country music. I gave my pal Shane his second album, Regular Joe, as a high school graduation gift. When we were roommates at the center, Shane would crank up “I Ain’t Leavin’ Till She’s Gone,” and belt it out at the top of his lungs. A television sitcom was named after one of his songs, “Third Rock From the Sun.” I saw Joe in concert in Council Bluffs in the summer of 1995. I had the pleasure of shaking his hand after the show. He seemed like a humble guy. Alicia and I saw him again in the summer of 2002 when he was touring with Tracy Lawrence and Mark Chesnutt. I saw him for a third time at the Nebraska State Fair in 2007 just before I left for Denver. He never failed to put on a crowd-pleasing show.

I text Shane and break the news to him. “Thanks for alerting us to it dude. I’m just stunned.” Shane was always rather laconic in his emotional expressions.

When Kenny Rogers passed away a week ago, no one was surprised. He was 81 years old. But this… This is a shocker. And as I prepare to head out to the balcony for my weekly cigar and beer, I don’t listen to the usual book or radio show. Instead, the neighbors are treated to “Good Brown Gravy.” It’s a beautiful day with the sun out in all of its glory, a gentle breeze and a temperature of 61. A nice day for your last one, if you have a choice.

Joe was best known for his frivolous novelty songs; “John Deere Green,” “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox,” “Pickup Man.” To me, his best work was his serious stuff. “Ships That Don’t Come In,” was kind of an anthem for me during my college years. But it was his very first hit, “Home,” that was always my personal favorite. The lyrics now seem darkly prescient. Life seemed so simple at first, but as we travel onward toward an unknown destination, our path becomes exponentially more fraught and circuitous.

“Now the miles I’ve put behind me ain’t as hard as the miles that lay ahead
And it’s way too late to listen to the words of wisdom that my daddy said.
The straight and narrow path he showed me turned into a thousand winding roads.
My footsteps carry me away, but in my mind, I’m always goin’ home.”

RIP, Joe. At last, you’ve made it.

108 confirmed cases in Nebraska.

“Home”
Performed by Joe Diffie
Written by Fred Lehner and Andy Spooner

The Corona Diaries

In 2010, I read the book, One Second After, by William R. Forstchen. My former pal Eddie, bona fide conspiracy theorist, recommended it to me. I devoured it in a day and a half.

The premise is simple. A foreign power detonates an Electromagnetic Pulse bomb (EMP) over America, causing all power to fail. Society quickly crumbles with no electricity to run it. The action centers on a small town in South Carolina and illustrates the changes that take place as order breaks down.

As I reviewed the book with my friends I said, “If this ever were to really happen, blind people would be the first to go.”

No one disagreed.

Week One: Anatomy of a Hoax

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Shit gets real when I wake up with a sore throat.

Your brain has a way of lying to you when you’re first getting sick. You tell yourself things like, my CPAP mask just slipped while I slept and I just have a dry throat. But after an hour of wakefulness when that swollen feeling is still in your neck, you know it’s not a dry throat.

We had been discussing measures to prepare for the spread of COVID-19 for several days at work. Other radio reading services around the country have already asked their volunteers to stay home. Some are discussing the possibility of closing altogether. The day before, I’d tried to phone a former coworker in Boulder, only to be greeted by his voicemail. I didn’t bother to text him.

In staff meetings, the other ladies have a plan. Bekah pulls up LogMeIn and figures out how to access all of the computers in the control room. At one point in a meeting, she says, “I Don’t mean to be a dick, but if we get shut down, I can cover your end, right Ryan?”

And I can’t argue with her. Whatever happens behind the scenes, the show must go on. But I get quietly furious inside. But this is a nice little pond where I work and I don’t want to create ripples. I want to scream, I’m not being paid a salary of $$$ just to sit with my thumb up my ass! I just sit quietly and absorb, knowing I can’t work from home remotely because, for some unknown reason, NVDA won’t interface as it did last winter.

So I get up on Saturday morning with the hope that I can still bring Mitch over from Plattsmouth and we can connect JAWS Remote Access from work to home. But first, I have to conquer the grocery store.

The night before, I call Hy-vee customer service and they inform me that they aren’t delivering for at least the next week because they are all jammed up due to their transition back from a central distribution center to deliveries from their local stores. Their timing is worse than my dancing.

So, I get up and grab a Lyft over to my neighborhood Hy-vee. Sheila helps me shop. She is an angel. She is cheerful, positive and she knows what the hell she’s doing. I make it home an hour later with nearly everything I wanted, except for distilled water, which is essential for my CPAP.

I call Mitch and tell him that I can’t find the password to the router at work, which is apparently necessary to make JAWS Remote Access functional. This is more complicated than NVDA, which relies on a central server. I don’t yet tell him that I have a sore throat and developing cough. He thinks that everyone is overreacting to the virus. I can’t blame him much. I was fairly flippant over it a week ago.

Later, I go to Walgreen’s and buy two jugs of distilled water. It strikes me as strange that they have a full supply. Then, I go to the pharmacist and ask where I might go to get tested for COVID-19. I tell her that I may have symptoms. She tells me she’s been getting a lot of calls like that all day and no one at either Walgreen’s or CVS knows what to tell their customers. I leave feeling disheartened.

Later, I sneak over to work to put in some programming, suspecting that I won’t be in on Monday. I also use AIRA to locate the password written on the back of the router. I stay for nearly two hours, wiping down the control room with Clorox Wipes before I leave.

ON the way home on the bus, my phone blows up with news alerts about a joint press conference with Governor Ricketts, Mayor Stothert and official from the Nebraska Health Department. The reason… The first community spread case of COVID-19 has been detected in Douglas County. For the first time, I hang on every word uttered by public officials.

After the presser, I call my boss and explain that I will not be attending our annual fundraiser the next day. She sounds disappointed but understanding. I go to bed that night feeling depressed and defeated until the Alka-Seltzer Night Time cold medicine kicks in.

Sunday, March 15

One more case confirmed in Douglas County. More schools set to close as of Monday. Even public libraries are closing. Thank God MeMe is no longer a librarian. I wonder if she misses it.

I self-quarantine. The hardest part of the day is between 4 PM and 6 PM when I know that many people are having a good time at Wining in the Dark.

When I first went two years ago, I objected on philosophical grounds. Those ‘In the Dark’ experiences are gimmicky and don’t really give anyone a true glimpse into what it’s like to be blind. Quite the opposite. They often play on fear and stereotypes in the name of profit. Yet, the fact that the sleepshades are optional and that the event did not take place in darkness made it much more palatable. My abiding affection for the participants bridges the remainder of the gap. But I stay home and drink a couple of Coors instead.

Monday, March 16

I watch my first presser of the White House COVID-19 task force. Trump appears exhausted and ineffectual. After everything his enemies have thrown at him, could a germ be the thing that pierces his armor?

It’s the worst day of the week emotionally. My sore throat is worse, the cough is dry and I keep obsessing over news reports and social media anecdotes. I wonder if I’ll have to be isolated for weeks on end.

I call Nebraska Medicine first thing in the morning. They can’t get me into see my regular doc for 10 days. The first available doc at my usual clinic isn’t available until Wednesday afternoon at 4:20. They check other clinics and discover that I can get in at 8:30 on Wednesday morning. I snatch it up like a fat guy grabbing a cookie, even though it’s down town.

I spend much of the mid-day alternating between pacing, checking the news and trying in vain to focus on a C. J. Box mystery that I’ve already read.

Then, at three in the afternoon, Mitch calls me from my work. I don’t know how the hell he does it, but we somehow get NVDA Remote to work again. Katy and I tried for over an hour nine months ago and we couldn’t make it function. When I got into the computers and hear the tell-tale, “Beep beep!” alerting me to access, I nearly cried.

20 minutes later, Adrienne from the Nebraska Commission for the Blind came over and helped me connect my touch screen thermostat to both Siri and Alexa. For the first time in almost three weeks, I can control my thermostat without having to call AIRA. If I catch a fever, at least I can jack up the heat independently.

As I take a hot bath before bed, I realize that my sore throat is nearly gone. The day had started off with anxiety and gloom, but I went to bed that night in a great mood.

Tuesday, Mar 17

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. Mayor Stothert tried to keep the bars open, but ended up limiting crowd sizes on recommendation of the CDC and HHS. This effectively killed the holiday, which is the biggest for bars and pubs.

It was a sad day at Radio Talking Book because we made the decision to ask our volunteers to stay home starting Wednesday. So Tuesday was their last day to come in and read at our location. This was a heartbreaker, but necessary. Like our listeners, most of our volunteers are retirement age and fall within the highest risk. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s sad. I spend a lot of time checking the playlist remotely, but still feel sidelined during the most impactful event we’ve faced since I started working there.

Wednesday, Mar 18

23 confirmed cases in Douglas County. The second community case is detected, which means Governor Ricketts will take more drastic steps to limit the spread. I find Dr. Adi Pour, Douglas County Health Director, to be a calming presence. Maybe it’s her accent. Mayor Stothert declares a 72-hour state of emergency for Omaha. All restaurants are limited to delivery and take-out. All bars are closed.

I get up at 7 AM, shower, slam two large cups of coffee and hale a Lyft. At 8:05, I walk into the Clarkson Family Clinic. At 8:15, I’m stepping on a scale, answering questions from a grumpy nurse. At one point she says, “So… Could you not get into see your regular doctor?” I answer politely, deciding to cut her some slack. She’s on the front lines of this thing and the days ahead for her will likely get worse.

I can’t remember my doctor’s name since he’s not my regular physician. He is young, cheerful and relaxed in a casual manner that typifies professionals under 40. He examines me, asks about my symptoms and checks my throat. He only finds slight redness. He and I agree that I probably have a cold. After all, it’s cold and flu season in Nebraska. He prescribes Tylenol, Mucinex and one or two more days of self-isolation before I go back to work. I thank him, bump elbows and leave with a large weight off my heart.

In the afternoon, I participate in a work conference call. Much of the talk centers around our new remote methods, getting volunteers set up with Dropbox folders, assigning them digital recorders or phone apps, etc. There seems to be some debate as to when and how we should air regular COVID updates. I realize that work won’t look the same as it did when I left it last Friday.

After the call, I take a catnap and realize that the only thing I will miss about my temporary isolation are my afternoon siestas.

Thursday, March 19

Four more cases confirmed in Nebraska. It is now considered to be a statewide epidemic. The governor of California issues a statewide order for everyone to stay home during the outbreak. Everyone on the Commentary Podcast sounds nervous and out of sorts.

It’s raining cats and dogs, so I take a Lyft to work. The driver tells me that he things COVID is, “No biggie.” When I get to work, everything feels normal. 10 minutes later when MeMe calls instead of walking in, I realize that things aren’t in fact normal.

And that’s the whole day. No live newspaper reads. No volunteers poking their heads in just to say hi and shoot the breeze. No snacks to share. Jane seems preoccupied. Bekah is in stress mode, so I keep my distance; more than six feet. I want to give both of them huge hugs, but of course… I buy lunch for Jane and Bekah. Bekah wants all three of us to eat together. This is odd since she is in ‘le’me alone’ mode, but Bekah is a study in contradictions, so I roll with it.

Many volunteers call and Email to test their new remote recording capabilities. I spend an extra hour at work making sure everything is operating as it should, but I am delighted to be there so it doesn’t matter.

Bekah comes in near the end of the day and asks how I feel about her taking tomorrow off. I tell her to go for it because she’s earned it. Jane kindly gives me a ride home so I won’t have to catch the bus in the rain. When I get inside my apartment, I immediately wash my hands. Grandpa would be proud.

Friday, Mar 20

Omaha’s third community case is confirmed. The Dow Jones continues to plummet, spending four of the last five weeks in decline. Illinois goes on lockdown.

I take the bus into work. The driver warns me that the powers that be are talking about reductions in service due to low ridership.

Bekah is gone for the day. Things go smoothly at work. Jane and I share lunch from Village Inn. I push her out the door at 3:30 and am gone an hour later. A group of us were supposed to have dinner at Shuck’s Seafood Market, but I go home and order Smitty’s instead. I ask the Doordash guy if he wants a ‘no contact’ delivery. He says, “Nah, I’m not worried about it.”

I call Hy-vee customer service again and they tell me that delivery is available, but the first open time slot won’t be for another week. Instacart isn’t available for 72 hours. I haven’t tried Baker’s or Target yet.

Saturday, March 21

I decide to unplug from the news for the weekend. I go into work to help Michael with the changes. It’s rough, because Dropbox decides to automatically upgrade everyone to a trial work plan. This jacks up my JAWS and confuses Michael. We have to get Bekah out of bed to figure it out. Michael goes on the air to read the Omaha World Herald live because our volunteer can’t upload the recorded file. The volunteer sounds frustrated and I apologize that he had to waste over an hour of his time. Michael sounds nervous on the air, but he gets through it with a smile.

Afterward, Michael gives me a ride to my neighborhood Hy-vee. He works at a different Hy-vee during the week and says that it’s a madhouse. Apparently, the cashiers are ordered not to wear protective gloves because it makes the customers nervous. He is tempted to quit, but won’t because he’s getting a lot of hours and is being paid Christmas wages.

When I get to Hy-vee, I again am blessed to get Sheila for a shopping assistant. She is still positive, friendly and competent. I ask her if she is tempted to quit. She says, “A lot of us think about it, but I know that a lot of people need our help.” God bless her. Again, I find everything I need, including Diet Dr. Pepper. I don’t waste energy checking on toilet paper. I nearly bump my head on the plastic barrier at the check-out counter. The clerk scoffs at its obvious ineffectiveness.

I send Wes a message that evening telling him that I’m canceling my trip to Iowa to visit him the following weekend. We will try to postpone it to a later date. He tells me that his wedding is up in the air. They want to get married, but are not sure about the reception or guest list. Later, I am depressed when I learned that the Colorado Center for the Blind sent all of their students home for the duration of the crisis. Long term interruption in skills training can be crippling for someone in the learning mode.

Sunday, March 22

On the way to work, my Lyft driver, a circus artist by trade, says to me, “I feel like ridesharing services should all be suspended and the state should be responsible for getting people in need where they need to go.” These are the idiots who can’t even get testing up and going! Out loud, I say, “If it weren’t for Lyft and Uber, I’d be well and truly fucked.” She laughs.

Michael and I hit it again that morning. He tries to record the World Herald, but he battles with his inner perfectionist and spends too much time editing his work. His show is eight minutes short. Otherwise, the morning is smooth. I drive through Runza on the way home. At 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon, there are no cars in the drive-through and my order is ready right away.

I talk to my old pal Jeff in Lincoln and he tells me that he cut his foot in the shower and had to make a run to an emergency clinic. While checking out, he passed a girl on her way in who subsequently reported that she might have COVID symptoms. Jeff got the hell away from her, choosing to wait outside in the chilly air.

As I read an emo account of a COVID victim in Chicago on Facebook that strikes me as a bit forced, I realize that the most anxiety-inducing factor in this whole business is the notion that we have no idea how long it will last. President Trump told us that it will probably be well into July or August before we get a handle on it. Ironic, since he was calling it a hoax almost a month ago. I have never seen a crisis like this in my lifetime. I have no idea where it will take our country, emotionally, spiritually or financially. I have no idea what my life (or my ass) will look like a month from now.

At 5:15 PM, I put on my favorite Bumblebee Coat, go outside to the balcony and fire up my first cigar in two weeks. It feels like two months since I’ve had one. Oh well, I think… I may as well enjoy it while my lungs are still good.

Fly in the Hot Tub

I think I have a better understanding of why Walter White wanted so desperately to kill the fly that invaded his super lab.

I was talking to a friend earlier, explaining that the happiest day of my life was when I left Lincoln, NE in 2007 and moved to Denver. I remember packing my stuff, leaving the apartment on Lincoln Mall, driving through Runza on the way out of town and heading Westward with my parents, my nephew Hunter and a trailer full of my stuff. The next day, we drove to Littleton, moved into my new apartment, said hi to my best buddy Joe, then they checked into a hotel in Highlands Ranch. There, in the warm, dry September air, we all sat in the hot tub and drank in Colorado. I sat amidst the bubbles, broken dreams and failures behind me, limitless vistas like the Rockies in the distance ahead of me. Not one buzzing insect anywhere nearby in the twilight. Nothing but warm water, cold beer and possibilities. “Mom,” I said, “I’ve never been this happy.”

I could have stroked out right there in the tub and slipped beneath the surface of the water and died in a state of perfect bliss.

I’ve lived too long.

Radio Man

I went to school at Kearney High, graduating in 1993. I hated school. I viewed it as a prison. But it wasn’t without its charms. Most of those charms were wholly unavailable to me because, frankly, I was completely clueless about girls. Aside from that, Kearney High was one of two high schools in the state of Nebraska blessed with an open campus during the lunch period. An open campus simply meant that students were allowed to leave the school and stuff themselves with wonderfully unhealthy fast food before returning to the drudgery of the classroom. If you were under 16 and confined to walking, you might have been able to make it to 7/11 or Dairy Queen for a quick bite before the clock ran out.

My dad availed himself of this policy by taking me to lunch once a week. One day, in the autumn of 1990 when I was a sophomore, I jumped in the truck and heard a rich, robust voice coming out of the radio. He was going on and on about the Democrats. The only line I remember from his monologue was something to the effect of, “If Bush wins this war, the Democrats won’t have a prayer in two years.” This was about three months after the U.S. had invaded Kuwait.

“Ryan,” Dad said, “You would do well to listen to Rush. He is a very analytical thinker.”

To solidify his point, Dad drove us through Runza and I ate my cheese runza and crinkly fries sitting in the passenger seat of his Blue Ford pick-up somewhere in a park with the windows down as Rush H. Limbaugh III went on and on about the war, President Bush and evil Democrats.

At the time, I assumed that Dad urged me to listen to Rush because he wanted me to be informed about current events from a conservative perspective. Many years later, I came to suspect that Dad had an ulterior motive. I think he wanted me to be inspired by Rush so that I would pursue my dream of one day being a radio personality, just as Rush had done back in the 1970’s.

I was not a popular kid in high school. Like Rush, I was the overweight kid with few friends and no social life. Unlike Rush, I was the sole blind kid at my school. Aside from my dad and a kid named Mike, I seldom went out to lunch with friends, nor was I invited to sit at anyone’s table in the cafeteria. I began to use the school’s Resource Room to eat alone. One day, I found a dusty old clock radio sitting in a corner behind a box of paper. I plugged it in, clicked it to A.M. and spun the tuning dial until I heard Rush Limbaugh’s unmistakable voice issuing from the tinny speaker.

For the next two years, it was not uncommon for me to be sitting alone in the Resource Room during the lunch period with a cheeseburger and fries, orange juice, a chocolate sundae and Rush on the radio. Michelle Obama would’ve been proud.

I won’t revise history and tell you that I preferred this daily scenario. I would much rather have been copping a hurried feel in the back seat of a car with Amy, Jennifer, Heather or a dozen other girls. I had fantasies of steaming up their windows as they panted, “Ryan! Ring my bell before KHS rings theirs!”

With fictional dialogue like that, gentle readers, you can probably understand why I didn’t come to know a woman carnally until I was 18. At first, Rush was a coping mechanism. If I was going to be alone anyway, I may as well be entertained and informed.

One day, Mrs. Redman walked through, stopped, poked my shoulder and said, “Ryan. What. Is. That?”

“Wuhhsss ermmmbawww,” I said around a mouth full of cheap pizza.

“Bummer. I thought you were smarter than that,” she said, and stormed off.

Mrs. Black, one of my Special Ed teachers, also wasn’t a fan of Rush.

“I hate the way he talks about teachers. Paid summer vacations? BS! I’ll bet I put in more hours on nights and weekends grading papers than he ever did on the radio.”

Not all of my teachers were anti-Rush. Mrs. Wolfe, my other Special Ed instructor, liked his style and flair. She even routinely read to me from Rush’s Limbaugh Letter. In fact, her husband worked at KGFW, the local radio station that carried Rush’s daily program.

Like Rush, I started doing gigs on local radio while I was still a teenager. Rush was a D.J., while I merely did little news spots. My official title was, KGFW’s Kearney High Correspondent. It wasn’t sexy work like being a D.J., but it was my official entrance into the radio field.

I wasn’t as lonely in college as I was in high school. I still wasn’t popular. I wasn’t a frat boy. I was more of a dorm rat, though I did serve in student government for a time. I did form a few friendships and got laid here and there. I skipped a lot of classes, hid my lousy grades from my folks and eventually, became active in the NFB. Despite my decided lack of enthusiasm for academics, I attended enough classes to hear the siren song of liberalism from the mouths of professors of all stripes; English lit, Sociology, History, more English Lit, Criminal Justice, political science, Broadcast Journalism and yet more English Lit when I needed to fill a credit here or there. I was almost seduced. My fellow students didn’t pull me back from the brink. Rush was responsible for talking me down from the ledge.

Like Rush, I ultimately dropped out of college in 1998, much to the disappointment of my parents. Dad wanted me to emulate Rush, but this wasn’t what he had in mind. Unlike Rush, I never went back home to live with Mom and Dad. Eventually, I did return to college and repaired my decrepit GPA in 2002.

In retrospect, Rush was in his prime during the ‘90’s. Like every great drama, fiction or nonfiction, a hero is only as good as the villain whom he faces. Rush had the perfect foil in President Bill Clinton. Not only did the 42nd POTUS champion every liberal cause that Rush decried, but he typified the lack of character that Rush claimed exemplified the entirety of the political left. Rush didn’t have to embellish a thing. President Clinton made himself a susceptible target. From Hillary to White Water to Monica Lewinsky, Slick Willie proved to be Rush’s most prominent foe again and again for eight glorious years. Many credited Rush for the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, which lead to the so-called, “Gingrich Revolution.”

It wasn’t just that Rush spoke plainly to the masses about conservatism. He was in the Republican culture, but not of it. He shattered the esoteric crystal ceiling, carefully forged by high-brow types like William F. Buckley, George Will and Charles Krauthammer, filtering politics and culture down to the lowly pond dwellers in The South, Fly-Over Country, the rugged West and all of those lonely souls in big, blue cities where leftism holds sway. As he put it, he was the man who, “Made the complex understandable.” And it wasn’t merely a facade. He was a man who was truly erudite in politics, but who was able to translate beltway snobbery into decipherable colloquialism.

It was not uncommon to hear Rush spout off self-referential phrases such as, “Talent on loan from God,” “… With half my brain tied behind my back, just to make it fair,” and “Having more fun than any human being should be allowed to have.” His numerous critics would accuse him of having an ego surpassed only by his ample frame, but I call BS. His apparent outsized bravado was pure radio shtick; part of his carefully-crafted public persona meant to endear himself to his fans and rankle his detractors. Every celebrity does it to one degree or another. I always suspected that he was a man of humility bordering on diffidence off-mic.

I loved Rush not only because of what he believed, but because of how he delivered his message. Radio had been in my blood since I was eight years old. It brought me voices as wide-ranging as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Jim Bohannon, William Conrad, George Strait, Jack Webb, Rick Dees and Casey Kasem.

Sidebar: Does anyone remember Talknet? Gawd!!! How did I ever get so bored that I listened to the likes of Bruce Williams and Sally Jessy Raphael? That further explains my unwanted teenaged celibacy. I was really a loser radio nerd.

From the moment that I heard his first utterance, I knew that Rush Limbaugh was a master of the medium. Everything from his massively controversial “Caller Abortion,” to his deliberately noisy rending of a newspaper in front of the mic after reading a repulsive story, to the parodies delivered by white comedian Paul Shanklin, proved that Rush was born to be on the air. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Rush wasn’t merely a former politician, political pundit or hack journalist slinging hash on the side. He was the real radio deal. How can you not idolize a guy like that?

It’s worth pointing out that Rush almost single-handedly saved A.M. radio in the 1990’s. He owed a large debt to President Reagan, who repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. This antiquated, inflexible legislation forced radio stations to air both sides of any controversial issue, subjecting said stations to hefty penalties from the Federal Communications Commission if they failed to comply. It had the intended consequence of stifling political speech. Many stations, particularly in smaller markets, found it easier to avoid controversy altogether, rather than paying punitive fines. This is why the ‘70’s and ‘80’s airwaves were cluttered with innocuous fluff such as the afore-mentioned Talknet, Larry King, music, hard news and of course, sports.

In the ‘90’s, Rush spiced up the A.M. band with his distinctive style and viewpoint. It didn’t take long for an army of Rush imitators to rise up in his wake. They were an entire cadre of talk show hosts who all sounded different from Rush, but yet, very similar. Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, Dennis Prager, Mark Levin, Michael Savage and Bill O’Reilly all owed their success to the big man seated behind the golden EIB microphone. He created a format that still dominates the medium to this day.

The proliferation of cable TV in the ‘90’s also heralded the rise of Fox News, which gave half the country a small-screen voice. Rush rightly needled Roger Ailes, claiming that Fox News merely mimicked his style with camera-friendly blonds rather than fat guys with faces for radio.

My interest in Rush ebbed a bit after I left college in 1998. I worked at Gallup for a time and was often in my cubical when Rush’s show aired on KLIN from 11 to two. Then, in November of 2000, our one-way love affair was rekindled when the great Bush V. Gore fiasco went down. Luckily, I had transferred to early evenings at Gallup, so I could hear Rush’s show during the day. Thus, I sat transfixed as the whole drama unfolded, until Al Gore finally conceded on December 13.

After W won, Rush’s critics predicted doom. They were certain that his popularity would wane now that his arch nemesis was out of office. But, like Jack Bauer, Rush’s popularity only grew, with no small thanks to Osama bin Laden, along with the Iraqi and Afghani conflicts and No Child Left Behind.

Rush seemed all but invincible when he bounced back from acute hearing loss in 2001. A deaf guy working in an audio medium!? Ain’t life ironic? His bulletproof status was further crystallized when he took a hiatus and underwent rehab for addiction to pain killers in 2003 and came back to an audience who readily forgave his apparent legal transgressions. I didn’t know it then, but our haste in overlooking his evident hypocrisy regarding his hardcore views on the selling and using of narcotics would serve as a bit of dark foreshadowing of things to come.

I stuck with Rush through it all; W’s second election, Hurricane Katrina, TARP, my move to Denver, Obama’s two elections, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, the GOP victories in the House and Senate and the Gang of Eight.

Contrary to what you might think, Donald Trump was not responsible for my conversion away from Dittohead status. My passion for Rush had already cooled before Trump’s grand descent on his escalator in June of 2015. This was due to a local conservative host on Denver’s A.M. blowtorch, KOA, named Mike Rosen.

When I first heard Mike, I instantly compared him to Rush. This guy is as dry as a popcorn fart, I thought. I can’t believe he’s lasted this long.

That was in September, 2007. Two years later, Rosen was my go-to guy. I couldn’t help but notice that, while Rush seldom had callers who disagreed with him on the air, Mike Rosen welcomed them. Rush would usually hang up on a caller before delving into the guts of a debate. By contrast, Mike would revel in substantive disagreement. Sometimes, he would keep after a caller, often holding him/her over for two or three segments until the topic of choice was exhausted. While Rush was the radio guy adept at translating the nebulous world of politics to its lowest common denominator, Rosen was the irascible professor who performed deep, nuanced dives on issues. It wasn’t Rush, but Mike Rosen who kept me sane through most of the Obama years, especially when I went to work in The Peoples’ Republic of Boulder in 2014.

Sidebar: Years before I moved to Denver, Mike Rosen was a guest host for Rush while he was in rehab. He only filled in once or twice. He was always very tight-lipped about why he had never been asked back more frequently. Possibly, it was because of Rosen’s dryer, more intellectual style, or maybe it was because Rosen was less concerned with social issues like abortion or gay marriage than was Rush.

I was shaving in the shower at my folks’ place on Labor Day weekend, 2015. I had Rush on my waterproof blue tooth speaker and I was putting lather on my face when he said, “I know a lot of people are wary of Trump, or don’t like Trump, but I gotta tell ya, folks… I know him and I think he really means what he says.” I nearly slipped and cut my lip.

If Rush had been my man crush, this was where it officially ended. Still, though I seldom listened to Rush after that, I kept a place of affection for him in my radio-loving heart.

This all changed in August of 2016, when a call between Rush and a listener named Rick made a splash on social media. It was after Trump had conquered the GOP primaries, but before the general election. Rick was beseeching Rush to explain how he could support Trump when he knew Trump was lying about his stance on immigration, specifically his intention to deport entire families, including native-born children.

Rush retorted, “I guess the thing is, this is gonna enrage you. You know, I could choose a path here to try to mollify you, but I never took him seriously on this!”

Rick responded, “10 million people did!”

Rush’s response was very illuminating:

“Yeah, and they still don’t care. My point is they still don’t care. They’re gonna stick with him no matter what.”

More dark foreshadowing. Forget the man crush. The genie was out of the bottle and could never be returned. If Rush never took Trump’s rhetoric seriously, what else didn’t he take seriously over the years? What other disingenuousness did he impart under the banner of rock-ribbed conservatism? Did he really reconcile the lascivious behavior of Donald Trump to that of Bill Clinton, or did he just, “Evolve,” as Barack Obama did on the issue of gay marriage?

In fairness, I don’t think Trump was Rush’s first choice for the Oval Office. I think Ted Cruz was his guy, but Rush was too smart to openly endorse him. Rush often admitted that his first order of business as a radio personality was to part people from their money. This is consistent with capitalism. However, the product which he was selling to his advertisers and his audience was truth, refracted through the clear lens of conservatism. “America’s truth detector,” he would often call himself. Yet, the truth detector seemed to undergo a massive recalibration once Donald Trump stormed the beaches of the GOP establishment.

Rush was careful not to alienate Trump and his fanatical base in the early stages. Once Ted Cruz was out, Rush read the tealeaves and realized that, if he wanted to stay relevant, his best bet was to go all in for The Donald. He simply capitulated much earlier than did many of his D.C. beltway counterparts. As a businessman, I understand him. As a principled conservative, I felt betrayed. In the wake of his admission, and with the retirement of Mike Rosen at the end of 2015, I began to ignore Rush altogether in favor of podcasts by Ben Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz.

Sidebar: My only exposure to conservative publications such as National Review, The Weekly Standard and Commentary Magazine came when Rush would read an excerpt and analyze it. Those were niche offerings that were not available in braille or audio format. Now, with the internet and my accessible phone and computer, I can read it all. How times change.

Six days ago, I was sitting in the control room fighting off the mid-morning black hole when The Chief came in and informed me that Rush had announced that he has been diagnosed with advanced stage four lung cancer. He was taking a few days off for immediate and aggressive treatment. My emotional response was muted. There was a time when I would have cried on the spot. There was a time when I might have taken the day off work. As it was, I just stopped for a few seconds and absorbed the sorrow, not for Rush so much, but for the respect for him that I once carried. I had already grieved for the passing of Rush Limbaugh three years ago.

The responses to the bombshell were predictable. His fans prayed for him. His enemies rejoiced. The media pounced, feigning empathy mixed with barely-suppressed glee at the likely demise of one of their fiercest critics. Even President Trump was predictable in his unpredictability, awarding Rush the American Medal of Freedom at the State of the Union address.

I rightly anticipated the mirthful reaction to Rush’s announcement by many on the left. It was the same response I saw on social media when Andrew Breitbart died seven years ago. It was the same reaction I felt when I learned that Ted Kennedy had died. To a point, I get it. Rush was an agent provocateur of the left for decades. From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, Rush showed no mercy to those who carried the banner for the other side. I’m sure they feel justified in their vitriolic response to his predicament.

But I wonder how many keyboard warriors have stood at a loved one’s bed side and watched them gasp out their final breaths as the cancer finally claimed them. I wonder how many of them have sat and wept with a cancer victim as they try to decide whether or not to endure the interminable agony of chemotherapy for a result that may ultimately be rendered moot. Some things transcend the bitter divide of politics, and one of them is cancer.

I don’t think there’s a single person who hasn’t been touched by cancer, either directly or indirectly. In 1995, my mother had a brush with it. It was a very scary time for all of us. She had surgery and lost part of her shoulder and a small spot was removed from her lung. Aside from the surgical scars, she’s been healthy for the last 25 years. I’ve also had several friends who have lost parents, spouses, siblings and friends to cancer. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.

As for Rush, I wonder if he has any sense of the irony of the timing. Cancer has now invaded Rush’s body, but it has been all around him for five years, infecting the Republican Party and the ideology he once claimed to champion. How fitting that his announcement should kick off a week that included a political debacle at the Iowa caucuses, truly toxic behavior from political and spiritual leaders at the State of the Union and the National Prayer Breakfast, an acquittal of the President on impeachment charges based on partisanship over fact, and the castigation of the loan Republican who voted his conscience over party loyalty. Does Rush even remember that he gave his full-throated support to Mitt Romney in 2012? Hell, Romney was his early favorite in 2008!

And yet, I sit at the microphone in the control room at Radio Talking Book every day and feel right at home. I count myself lucky each morning when I come into work, knowing that I love what I do. Even though I work in a niche industry, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if not for Rush Limbaugh. I reflect upon him often as I turn the mic on and hear my own voice filtering back to me over the headphones. I have lost so much of my identity over the past five years, but I am still a proud radio man.

And tonight, as I ponder Rush’s legacy and my own, I contemplate the half-filled humidor behind me on the bookcase. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Rush than to have a cigar. I say this with the full knowledge that the cancer may very well kill him. “Don’t be afraid to live,” he would always tell his listeners when the topic of liberal health Nazis came up. I’m sure he would approve of my tribute, as would my dad.

Thank you, Rush. Thank you for filling all of the lonely hours in high school. Thank you for my alternative education in college. Thank you for being a beacon of hope in the dark days after 9/11. I will pray for your recovery. If it is your time to leave us, I will pray that your soul finds peace.

The Clock and the Cougar

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Monday nights were special. At least, they were special in the lives of yours truly and his merry band of cronies in Lincoln, NE. Every Monday evening in the winter and spring months of 2006 and 2007, we would all gather at the home of our friends, Shane and Amy. We would order a delightfully unhealthy dinner (usually pizza), and sit around and shoot the bull for an hour or so. Then we would all retire to their basement. Shane would fire up his Bose home theater system and we would sit, barely speaking, as another perilous hour in the danger-saturated life of Jack Bauer, Counter Terrorist Agent, unfolded; ostensibly in real time. For over a year, during the show’s 5th and 6th seasons, we would repeat this ritual with few if any exceptions. All of my “friends” were there; Jamie, Audra, Wes and later on, even Mike.

I had strived mightily to get them all hooked on the show, 24. Anyone who knows me will tell you that, when I get hooked on a TV show, I try very hard to get others addicted as well. It’s always more fun to enjoy a story when you have others with whom to digest and discuss it. It took a while, but I caught them all! I even captured the interest of Strunky, the Curious Monkey. He would routinely nitpick each episode (not a monumental task), but he kept coming back for more. One night over penny pitchers at The Watering Hole, he tried to repay me by encouraging me to read George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I told him, “I don’t really do fantasy.”

Two years later, my buddies Joe, Steve and I lay on the floor of apartment #10 at the Chateau Lynnewood complex in Littleton, CO, and watched as the delayed seventh season in the adventures of Jack Bauer unfolded. We had all been diehard fans since the early days, but now, our reactions to the latest shocking plot twists were muted at best. We all seemed to agree that, while the show was still fun to watch, it was wearing thin. By the time the eighth and final full-length season of 24 commenced in winter of 2010, Joe and I were watching more out of obligation than compulsion. We took in the series finale sitting on the couch in the infamous Chateau social room. We would have rather watched it at Joe’s place, but his girlfriend at the time made even mild enjoyment of the show impossible. When it ended, Joe and I just said, “Hmmm. Ok.”

Sidebar: Too bad Marwan, Saunders or Christopher Henderson didn’t know Joe’s girlfriend. She would have made an excellent weapon of mass destruction.

Last night, over a steaming hot bowl of lamb stew with my pal Ross, 24 came up again. “I used to watch the first season of that show religiously,” he said. Then he said, “Bring me some more bread, wench!”

Sidebar: Any of you who know Bridgit will understand when I say that, when Ross called her a wench, I expected his severed head to bounce into my partially empty bowl of stew in a scene that would have made Jack Bauer proud. But, she just laughed and retorted, “Fuck off.” . God love married people.

Ross mentioning 24 got me to thinking about television and what makes it endure. What makes a particular series rewatchable, even after it concludes? Many series that have been off the air for decades still capture my interest every now and then. Since I moved back to Omaha, I’ve reabsorbed The Sopranos, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, Justified, The Shield and high-lights from The Rockford Files, Columbo and several of the Star Trek incarnations. I enjoy all of them; some more than I did upon my initial watch. Yet, I can never seem to muster up the interest in taking 24 out of the mothballs for a comprehensive view. I like the first two seasons, but then I get bored.

To understand why, we have to examine the genesis and ultimate trajectory of 24.

The premise was quite simple. Kiefer Sutherland played Federal Agent Jack Bauer, a counter terrorist operative who would stumble upon a plot to destroy America. The reaction of Bauer and his elite counter terrorist squad would be mirrored by a parallel plot involving the President of the United States and his/her staff. Both plots would be driven by an ominous digital clock, ever present in the background, often appearing in the foreground at the center of split screens, constantly counting down the seconds to the next disaster.

The concept of American agents saving the country and the world was far from new; it was the gimmick of the ticking clock that made the show so compelling for 21st century audiences. The idea was that each episode represented one hour in a day, the real time element a device designed to heighten suspense.

It was preposterous, of course, and we all knew it, but we didn’t care. Even hardcore fans would grudgingly admit that, “All of that stuff just couldn’t happen in one day.” Kiefer and company were just too good to ignore.

24 was conceived and partially filmed before the shattering events of 9/11, but it premiered after the tragedy. Even so, the entire series was informed by the larger, real world events of the terrorist attacks and the resulting conflicts in the Middle East. IN looking back, Jack Bauer owes his continuous (if not unlikely) survival on television to three real world counterparts; Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush and Simon Cowell.

The first two figures are obvious, but the third takes a bit of explanation. 24 was always on the bubble during its first season, meaning that it was one click away from cancelation. After the shocking finale of the first season, fans and network executives alike did not know whether Jack would be back for another harrowing day. Critical buzz was positive, but the all-important ratings were tepid. DVD sales of the first season helped seal the deal for a new day for Jack.

Despite the costly production budget and ad campaign surrounding the show, ratings continued to flounder… Until they used American Idol as the lead-in for the latter half of the show’s second season. That, plus the U.S. invasion of Iraq, helped spike the ratings. By the show’s fourth season, 24 was being widely praised, not only by most TV critics, but by many conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. This, plus the public outing of series creator/producer Joel Surnow as an unashamed conservative (a rarity in Hollywood), did nothing to harm the show’s already mushrooming viewership.

In reading this, one might think that the series was merely a right-winger’s wet dream, especially given the fact that Muslim extremists were often featured as the villains in the show. But one would be wrong. No race or ethnic group was immune from villainy in the universe of 24. The first villains we meet are white Americans working for a paramilitary unit. The second group of baddies are Serbian warlords. In the show’s second season, the chief villains are Muslim terrorists, but they are backed by a bunch of white executive oil types trying to start a war for financial gain. The villains in the third season are Mexican drug lords, followed by a couple of British renegades. Other villains in the series include Russians, Chinese, South Africans and even Jon Voight.

The most popular villain on the show was President Charles Logan, a pasty white dude who emerged as the antagonist during the show’s 5th and arguably best season. The critics lapped it up, seeing evident parallels between evil President Logan and doubly evil President Bush. It was no coincidence that the fifth season scored a double Emmy win for ‘Best Dramatic Series’ and ‘Best Actor’ for Kiefer Sutherland.

The biggest reason that 24 doesn’t particularly date well is not because of its themes. The show really had one theme, which was that Jack Bauer would always triumph over terrorism, no matter the personal cost. It wasn’t pro-Republican or pro-Democrat, but it was certainly pro-U.S. This was a welcome change for many fans who found plenty of anti-U.S. commentary from other critical darlings such as The Sopranos, The Wire and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

The impact of 24 is weakened because its central premise is built upon the simple question of, what happens next? The show’s serialized nature and real time structure meant that each episode would end on a cliffhanger. Every popular drama poses this same question, but 24 was a plot-driven show that relied on a continual raising of the stakes to keep up its momentum. Often, cliffhangers would reveal an even bigger threat, wielded by an even bigger baddy just around the corner. When Jack thwarts a presidential assassin in season one, he then must contend with a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil in season two. In season three, he tries to stop a flesh-eating virus from being released in L.A. In the fourth season, it’s a group of hackers who want to cause every nuclear power plant in the country to melt down simultaneously. Season five brings us a deadly nerve gas, then we move on to suitcase nukes, child soldiers in South Africa, an attack on the White House, nuclear missiles over New York City, and finally, deadly drones in London. It’s exhausting just writing about all of these WMD’s, let alone defeating them.

In the midst of dealing with the next looming threat, the viewer comes to understand that no character, save Jack himself, is safe. Any character could die at any time. Thus, we learn that it is not emotionally healthy to become attached to David Palmer, Tony Almeda, Michelle Dessler or Curtis Manning, because they might be killed off in the very next episode. Even Sherry Palmer, the first First Lady of 24 and one of the better villains, wasn’t immune from being whacked. The only other character who seemed safe was Jack’s able sidekick, the acid-tongued computer nerd, Chloe O’Brian.

But sometimes, death is rendered meaningless. Tony Almeda is killed during the events of the fifth longest day of Jack’s life, but on the seventh day, he returns from the dead as a villain, who’s really a hero, who’s really a villain. I know… It’s confusing, but 24 was never known for its logical consistency. In fact, you could build a wall in front of many of those plot holes and make Ramon Salazar pay for it.

In the show’s inaugural season, Jack’s main challenge is two-fold. He must save his family from danger, whilst simultaneously protecting presidential candidate David Palmer from harm. Inevitably, these two missions come into conflict and ultimately, Jack is forced to choose. He chooses David Palmer and pays the price when he loses his wife to a bullet fired by his one-time lover, revealed to be an evil mole, Nina Myers. The betrayal doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the image of Jack holding his dead, pregnant wife in his arms as he sobs is pure Kiefer gold.

But wait! The heartbreak of Jack’s sacrifice is nullified three seasons later, when former President David Palmer is struck down by another assassin’s bullet. When you rewatch the first season, you catch yourself asking, what the hell was the point? Unlike Han Solo, Jack Bauer has the right to ask that question, but the show never seems to carry the self-awareness to allow him to engage in any sort of philosophical introspection. The forward momentum of relentless action and multiplying threats , propelled ever forward by the “beep-thud” of the clock of doom, never permits any time for self-reflection, even during the commercial breaks.

And then, there’s the cougar effect. Any fan of 24 will recognize this well-known jibe.

In the show’s second season, Jack’s daughter Kim serves no useful dramatic purpose. She is adrift in the wake of her mother’s death. Yet, the writers wanted to keep her around so as to give Jack’s mission to locate and stop the nuclear bomb more urgency. She wasn’t directly involved in the main story, but they kept her in-focus by giving her a series of farcical adventures while she was trying to escape from L.A. ahead of the impending mushroom cloud. Said adventures involved an abusive husband, an injured girl, a one-legged boyfriend, a crazy survivalist and… A cougar. I’m not kidding! YouTube it! At one point, Kim gets stuck in an animal trap and is stalked by a cougar. Many of us watching at the time collectively groaned, for the cougar proved to be nothing more than an innocuous distraction. It was far less dangerous than Joe’s girlfriend proved to be

Other filler plots designed to stretch the show out to its mandatory 24-hour seasonal limit included Terri’s amnesia in season one, Chloe’s mysterious baby in season three, David Palmer’s love life in season three, the presidential family plot in season seven and Dana’s parole officer in season eight.

Despite these obvious fillers, the true jump-the-shark moment on 24 came early. It happened in the second season, after the bomb went off, around the time that Kimberly Caldwell was being sent home on American Idol. Throughout the first 40 episodes of the show, Jack Bauer was depicted as a tragic hero with human flaws. Then, in hour number 19 of the second season, Jack is captured and tortured by thugs who are seeking a valuable data chip. I mean, they brutally torture him by network TV standards; nothing compared to The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, but enough to send the Parents’ Television Council into a shit-fit. The thugs cut him, burn him and shock him to the point where his heart stops and he flat lines.

20 minutes later, he jumps up, grabs a gun and takes out his tormentors before going on his merry way. No one can bounce back quite like Jack Bauer.

… Except Patrick Mahomes, of course.

In subsequent seasons, Jack kicks a heroin addiction within a matter of hours, returns from the dead and survives exposure to a deadly chemical nerve agent. But his greatest display of human endurance occurs when he returns from China after two years in captivity, then gets stabbed in the back with a medical scalpel, then rips out a guy’s throat with his bear teeth and chops off another terrorist’s fingers, all in two hours real time.

In the space of nine seasons and one TV movie, Jack quickly transformed from damaged, flawed hero to invincible action hero. It was a transformation that often swerved into the lane of self-parody.

Along with his physical transformation comes an emotional carapace. In the first two seasons, it is clear that Jack has many regrets about his life. His attempt to put his family back together fails, his wife is killed and his daughter is estranged from him for many years. In the premier episode of season two, Jack even sits alone in his condo and contemplates suicide before a call from President David Palmer pulls him back from the brink. By season seven, Jack sits defiantly in front of a Congressional subcommittee in Washington D.C. and growls, “Please do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions I have made. Because Senator, the truth is, I don’t.”

This defiance represented a very polarized attitude in the country at the time surrounding the issue of the torture of terrorist suspects. It was an issue sparked by the exposure of the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003. While the politics of 24 were non-partisan, it did take an unambiguous stance on the issue of enhanced interrogation. Simply put, in Jack Bauer’s universe, torture works and therefore is always justified. Of course, the constant ticking clock scenario on 24 meant that torture was always necessary. This position did not go over well with everyone in the writers’ room. Behind-the-scenes interviews reflected a divisive atmosphere, with Joel Surnow on one side of the issue and future Homeland show-runner Howard Gordon on the other.

Setting aside the moral and legal implications, the plot device of torture quickly wore out its welcome on 24. In the fourth season alone when the issue took center stage, Jack seemed to torture a suspect nearly every other episode in order to gain information on the next attack. In every case, he broke his victim within seconds and gained the information he needed. Even Secretary of Defense Heller allowed his own son to be tortured with nary a word.

I don’t condemn this tactic so much as a matter of principle as I do as a matter of lazy writing. Like the numerous WMD devices, the device of torture was over-used and predictable. Predictability is the hobgoblin of any thriller.

Other repetitious 24 tropes include the mean boss who’s only purpose was to get in Jack’s way, but who ultimately proved to be a good person only when he sacrificed himself for the greater good. Such examples included George Mason, Ryan Chappelle, Lem McGill and Bill Buchanan. Also, the mole who seems to be a good guy, but who proves to be evil. Nina Myers was the most effective use of this common espionage trope.

And Let us not forget the obligatory terrorist attack on CTU headquarters trope, the presidential coup trope, First Family drama interfering with the main crisis of the day trope, Jack on the run trope, Jack captured by a foreign power trope, and the innocent family member who isn’t so innocent trope. By the time James Cromwell appears as Jack’s cold-blooded father in season six, you know that his motives are nefarious even before he utters a word.

In hindsight, 24 was a good show for its first 39 episodes. After that, it quickly de-evolved into a solid action show, but one in which its primary star was working with material beneath his capabilities. As evidence, I present a scene from the finale of season one. Jack gets a call from Nina, who we know is a traitor. She tells him that his daughter Kim was found dead, floating in the bay. Jack collapses and weeps uncontrollably. It is a heartbreaking scene that shows Jack’s humanity on full display. After that, he adopts his cold, vengeful exterior as he wages a murderous assault on Dennis Hopper and his Serbian henchmen. This was 24 at its best.

I also want to point out another devastating scene from the first season; a scene that did not involve Jack. One of the major plots of the season involves the kidnapping of Jack’s wife Terri, as well as his daughter. The terrorists want to use Jack’s family as leverage over him in their assassination plot. At one point, one of their captors threatens to rape Kim. In a display of maternal protectiveness, Terri offers herself to the rapist instead of Kim. He accepts. You don’t actually see the assault occur, but you hear evidence of it. The scene makes me mist over every time I watch it, especially given Terri’s fate in the season finale. You would never see a scene like this in later seasons.

The first two seasons hold up very well, with less emphasis on hyperbolic action and more grounded nuance. Season five also holds up very well. Despite the high body count of main characters, the performance of Kiefer Sutherland is bolstered by those of Gregory Itzin as President Charles Logan, with Jean Smart as his emotionally troubled wife, Martha. The villains of the day also include RoboCop and Dr. Romano from E.R.

Four years after Jack Bauer ran out of time, he was resurrected in a truncated 12-hour season called, 24: Live Another Day. Joe, Steve and I gathered in Steve’s cracker box apartment to watch the first few episodes. We did it more out of tradition than anything. The two things I remember most about that evening were that Steve stopped at Burger King and poured a jigger of whisky in his large coke, and Jack Bauer somehow wound up in London. After that, life got in the way and we never finished the season together. I can’t even remember how it ended. I think Audrey Raines died. That would total four of Jack’s love interests who got dead. Another trope.

Three years after that, 24: Legacy premiered after Super Bowl 51. Corey Hawkins replaced Kiefer Sutherland in the lead. Tony Almeda returned yet again. I didn’t even bother to watch. 24 without Jack Bauer would be like Breaking Bad without Walter White (hello, El Camino.) I think Joe watched it, but you can’t blame the guy. He was lonely in Phoenix. We all do desperate things when we’re lonely. That’s why I pay a woman once a week to come over and imitate Sarah Clarke’s voice as she gets naked. I get more turned on when she does evil Nina, rather than good Nina.

As for the merry band of 24 cronies in Lincoln… Well… All I can say is, we’re all victims of time. We might escape the cougar, but the clock always gets us in the end.

Mythology

In my previous entry, I said that I seem to find great comfort in Star Trek during times of emotional turmoil. When I moved from Denver to Omaha two years ago, I began a major binge of the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and many of the feature films. Recently, after Mags died and as a prelude to the premier of Star Trek: Picard, I again began to re-watch great chunks of the franchise. I also re-watched the original Star Wars trilogy over the holiday season.

I have some random thoughts about Trek overall, but I want to focus on a common thread that I see running through the major reboots of our time, especially Star Trek and Star Wars.

When we first see Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we quickly discover that he is a vagabond. Far from the relatively happy person he was at the end of Return of the Jedi, he is a galactic burn-out who has separated from Leia and who is now reduced to near homeless status. By the end of the movie, he is murdered by his own son.

In the sequel film, The Last Jedi, we discover Luke Skywalker, another major hero of the original trilogy, living as an embittered old hermit on a secluded island. He voices regret for everything he did as a Jedi, feeling that his efforts made little difference. He ultimately becomes a force ghost, and even though subsequent writers quickly tried to retcon Luke’s initial sentiments in the final movie, the contrast alone signifies major tonal discords in the Star Wars universe.

Now, we meet Jean-Luc Picard after 20 years in Star Trek: Picard. Again, we find a defeated, embittered old man, living on his family vineyard in France, looking back regretfully at his life. Time will tell as to where Picard will end up, but it’s safe to say that he is not in a happy place when we first rediscover him. In interviews, Patrick Stewart seems to refer to the TV series that re-launched his career as flawed in some way.

Why does Hollywood insist in tearing down its own mythology?

It’s not a stretch to lay much of the cynical mindset of the creative community at the doorstep of current-day politics. Stewart did that himself in his own pre-show interviews, siting Brexit and Donald Trump as the key inspirations which drove him back to the role 17 years after the last movie in the franchise.

In a strange, twisted way, we can link these recent events in the fictional world to those in the real world; specifically, those of The 1619 Project, launched last year by the New York Times Magazine. IN it, a series of authors and historians claim that the entirety of America’s existence must be viewed through the lens of slavery. It is an impressive body of work, but it has been disputed by many historians from across the political spectrum. Still, The 1619 Project is now slated to be included in the curriculum of many education systems across the country.

Why are we living in a time when our mythology, as well as our own history, must be torn down? I have no concrete answers. I do think that a good deal of it has to do with the blurring of the lines between fact and fantasy. Terms like, “Fake news,” can easily be reshaped into terms such as, “Fake history,” “Fake philosophy,” or “Fake science.” In this hyper-flexible environment, it is easy to tear down someone’s reality in an effort to supplant it with another. If one’s own substitute reality isn’t readily accepted by the masses, better to plant seeds of doubt with a giant question mark, rather than allowing crystallized reality to continue.

We are eight days away from the Iowa Primary; the first in the 2020 election cycle. I have absolutely no idea where our country will be a year from now. As I age, I seem to know less and less about the real, static world around me.

But I know this. We all need heroes in our lives. As a child of the ‘80’s, I found Luke, Han and Leia to be a great comfort to me. In the ‘90’s, I found Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Data, Worf and all the rest of the Enterprise crews from both centuries to be a continuing comfort. More than that, even as I questioned the possibility of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian future, I found peace in the hope of it. Apparently, I still do 25 years later.

I can’t say that I believe in Roddenberry’s vision for the future. There are far too many holes in it. As I grow older, I fear that my worldview comes closer to that of Game of Thrones than Star Trek. This is why I liked Princess Leia much better as a female hero than Daenerys Targaryen.

More than anything, I find classic Trek to be the best form of escapism for me. I love the constant rumble of the engines of the Enterprise D, the childlike musings of Data, the growling observations of Worf and the calm, paternal presence of Picard.

I agree with Irvin Kershner that Star Wars is a fairy tale. Many categorize it as science fiction, but there is very little of actual science in it to explain lightsabers, blasters, droids or The Force. Star Trek tries a little harder, but it too is unlimited by its own ever-changing rule book. I treat them both as fantasy. They have different props and settings from Harry Potter, but they are tonally and thematically similar. In all three cases, they served as fictional beacons of optimism in a volatile world for three generations.

The character arc of Han Solo is particularly tragic to me. When we first met him, he was a criminal; rakishly handsome, callow, arrogant and charming. His self-seeking nature was transparent. He made it clear that he was not rescuing Leia out of any sense of the betterment of his world. He was only doing it for money. Yet, Luke and Leia lifted him up, showing him that he too had a stake in working for something larger than himself. At one point, Han tried to run away from his responsibilities, but he never quite made it before he ended up as a screaming carbonite statue. Yet, his friends risked everything to save him. Han discovered that the price of growing up was friendship, loyalty and honor.

But his story ends with Han as an old space bum who gets a lightsaber in the chest; a lightsaber wielded by his own son. Many young men might very well examine the trajectory of Han Solo and ask, “What the hell was all that for?”

Luke Skywalker did very little to advance his own arc, even before he died. Leia could not do more to empower the next generation of women warriors everywhere due to the untimely death of Carrie Fisher, but given our current political climate, it’s safe to guess that the woke writers in Hollywood would have been kinder to Leia’s legacy than they were to the other two heroes in the original trio.

Captain Picard may yet be able to restore the legacy he holds with classic Trek fans everywhere. It is likely that he will rise from the ashes and redeem himself. He will likely do it by forcing the United Federation of Planets to redeem itself for its wayward ways since he left. Yet, if the first episode is any indication, the tone of the show will be much darker and may prove to be inhospitable for Picard’s calm, measured approach.

Many critics would argue that the time for the wide-eyed optimism that used to characterize Star Trek has passed. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense!!! One need only look at the time period in which the original series was conceived to know that there is always room for hope and optimism. When Star Trek premiered in 1966, America was in the middle of the most divisive military conflict in the 20th century. Rioting occurred in the streets of most major cities as minority groups rose up and marched for their civil rights. Every American institution was questioned and criticized down to its very core. In the ‘70’s, when Star Trek Flourished in syndication and really captured the imaginations of the public, the country also experienced an energy crisis, tension with the Middle East, a mounting drug epidemic and the resignation of a sitting president one step ahead of impeachment. Sound familiar? So please don’t tell me that the times don’t allow for hope and optimism in our culture.

Sidebar: I find it interesting that Captain Kirk’s legacy seems to be unblemished, even though the younger version played by Chris Pine didn’t perform very well in two of the three reboot movies. Perhaps it is because the character was killed off when Trek was still in its creative prime. Even though the manner of his death did not go over well with fans, he died a hero, unlike Han Solo.

I mentioned Harry Potter before. I think he, more than Kirk, Picard or Han Solo, signifies the hopeful hero of our current generation of youth. They didn’t grow up with the U.S.S. Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon in their subconscious. They grew up with Hogwarts. Wouldn’t it be a shame if someday, we learned that Harry, Ron and Hermione did it all for nothing?

Sorry, Katya, but fanfic doesn’t count.

The Collar

The first time I experienced real grief was when my grandpa died in 1996, just five days before my 21st birthday. We knew it was coming. He had been deteriorating for months and finally had to go live in a nursing home.

My second grandparent (Grandma) died almost seven years later. In her case, it was a relief. She was felled by a massive stroke in November of 1998 and spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home. She could not speak coherently, or remember who any of us were. She was a shadow of her former, formidable self.

My last two grandparents passed away within a year of each other. In both instances, I came home from Denver to attend their funerals. As with their previous mates, we knew their end was coming and I think the family was relieved. All four of my grandparents had lived full, happy, fulfilling lives. We shed tears over their passing, but their deaths felt like the natural conclusion to their lives.

I grieved for all four of my grandparents when they passed, but it was a gentle grief. In my life, I have experienced other forms of loss that have resulted in grief. The move from Denver to Omaha would certainly qualify as a loss. The loss of friendships, break-ups with certain girlfriends, the loss of our family pet dog, Yogi.

But I have never experienced anything like the grief I feel over the loss of Mags.

One month ago today, I took her to the vet and made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the alleviation of her pain and suffering. 13 days after that, Dana went with me to the Completely Cat Clinic one last time so I could reclaim her ashes. They are in a beautiful wooden box with her name printed on top. I placed them on my bookcase right next to the clock, just as I said I would.

Sometimes, I randomly walk over to her box and just touch it. It is a comfort to me to know that her ashes are nearby. Even more of a comfort to me is her kitty bed, which rests against the pillows on my bed, exactly where she would often lie when she was next to me. Her bed is the last thing I feel at night before I drift off and the first thing I feel in the morning when I wake. Sometimes, I still tell Mags goodnight, or good morning. In fact, I think I may talk to her more now than I did when she was here.

I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t benefits to Mags being gone. My heat bill is a little lower; cats like it warm and this apartment has lousy insolation, so I kept the temp at a constant 76 degrees during the cold months. The frequent vet bills and Lyft fare to maintain her health no longer strain my paycheck. I can come and go as I wish, not having to be bound by Mags eating schedule. If I want to take a trip out of town, I no longer have to make arrangements for her. I seem to be sleeping through the night, not being awakened by the sound of her jingling collar, or by thumping cupboard doors. I can now smoke a cigar indoors without fear of hurting her little kitty lungs.

Yet, I would trade it all in a heartbeat, if I could just feel her brushing against my legs, or leap up on the bed after I am settled in. My nightly hot bath Is a lonely one. We just had our first major winter snow yesterday and it seems colder than usual without her here.

I no longer get teary when I walk in the door and she’s not here to greet me. I can now listen to our Pet Pause program at work without breaking down. I can hear about other people’s pets without getting irritated. Often times, I think I’m doing better. Then, some random thing creeps up on me.

Star Trek fans remember that Data, the android from The Next Generation, had a pet cat named, Spot. I was watching the seemingly innocuous episode, “Data’s Day,” not long ago, when I heard Data feeding his cat in one of the scenes. I lost it.

Sidebar: Strange how I always seem to turn to Star Trek as a source of comfort when I’m going through a tough emotional time. As it turns out, “Data’s Day,” was the very first episode to feature Spot. Her last appearance was in Star Trek: Nemesis.

Even though I have Mags’ ashes, I am still angry with myself about one thing. I wish I’d kept her collar. I should have asked for it after she passed, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. Sometimes, I think I can hear it in the stillness of my apartment… Or is it the wind rattling something outside?

People keep asking me when/if I’m going to get another cat. My answer is always the same. I probably will at some point, but I’m just not ready yet. Maybe when I’m done grieving for Mags, I can move on and find another companion.

I wonder if cats chase mice in kitty heaven, or if mice go to heaven and it’s separate from cat paradise.

Branded

If you’ve been a member of a discussion group on social media, then you will recognize a familiar pattern. Someone will pose a topic. At first, respondents will stay on-topic. Eventually, someone comes along and hijacks the message thread. Then, the topic snowballs until the final comments bear little resemblance to the origins.

Such a case has happened on the Colorado Talk list over the past week. Therefore, I am posting the initial message that sparked discussion. I will then post my response, which came a week afterward. NFB members who read this will recognize many old arguments reborn here, though some of my comments may leave a bad taste.

Here is the original post:

Date: Sat 1/4/2020 8:37 PM
From: Colorado-Talk ; on behalf of; Jenny Perdue via Colorado-Talk colorado-talk@nfbnet.org
Subject: [Colorado-Talk] Thoughts on the motto living the life you want.

Dear Colorado talk,

Earlier in the month, Kevin asked us to write things about living the life you want. Yes, I could’ve answered this privately. However, I wonder though, if more people feel like I do then we know.

The national Federation of the blind motto is living the life we want. Which, is a great motto. But at my very first NFB convention. I soon discovered that living the life I wanted would never be laudedor celebrated or even acknowledged by The national Federation of the blind either within a convention, or, any other format.

Let me explain why I say that. I was born and raised in a time where if you had vision you had to use it whether or not it was viable or not. So, my education fell through the cracks even though I asked to learn braille repeatedly over my education. I taught myself braille in 1999 at a rehabilitation center for the blind in Daytona. By myself. With no help. Just me and my determination to learn but I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn as a child.

There are a lot of us out there in the same position. I’ve heard the stories. Oh you can do it, go back to school. Well, at 46 with maybe a six grade education, having taught myself braille. And don’t know Nemeth code. School is just not an option for me.

OK, that’s the backstory. Now, as a 46-year-old woman. I also have health issues. So working is not an option for me. Which means, no mobility training, no computer, no computer training, or anything else I might need because I’m not valuable enough to receive training because I’m not working or going to school or planning on doing either or.

So, now I come to my point. Though I have these challenges. And a lot of us do. I volunteer at the Humane Society here in Grand Junction. As far as I know, I’m the only blind person that I know anywhere in the country who was allowed by a shelter to volunteer.

My Specialty is working with cats or kittens that have been traumatized, or feral. Or for whatever reason that their behavior and trust and a human being is not there yet. Which, has helped several cats and kittens become adopted because I worked with them and taught them how to trust people again. Or even for the first time. That’s important right, that’s valuable right? But do we see that in our conventions. No.

We see John does a lawyer, we see DJane doe Jane doe has the most successful DEP vending in the state. Awesome, kudos, wonderful things.

However, those people were given way more opportunities than a lot of us are. What I do with the animals and others do for volunteerism is just as valid, and just as important, and should be celebrated just as much as a scholarship winner for college. I didn’t exactly get that option. A lot of us didn’t. So why do we feel like If we didn’t go to college, CCB, have a successful career, we are not as respected or validated within the national Federation of the blind community. And that includes nationally.

Bring in money and status does not make a person successful. It does not prove that blindness doesn’t have to be an obstacle. What proves that, or people who do the best they can with what they got. What proves that is the fact that for me, I’m the most well known volunteer at that shelter. I’m also the one they come to before cat is adopted to say farewell. I’m the one they come to when a cat is so Farrell or so frightened that it could lash out, and I’m the person that they know will spend hours with an animal to gain trust and make them adoptable.

The amazing thing is, people the shelter feel it’s valuable, people at the shelter see what a blind person can do, we are celebrated and appreciated. They even bought a braille label order to label the signs so that I would be more comfortable there The foster families for the animals, the people that come in and look at adopting a cat or kitten, I know the cats and kittens better than the adoption counselors do. Again, very valid, respected.

The question is, why isn’t that felt in the blind community within the national Federation of the blind. It just doesn’t.

I came out of that convention more depressed than I had ever been in my life. Well, in a long time 🙂 I felt like my life didn’t matter. Because all the kudos all the celebration went to people who are successful. Who don’t have the health trials I do, who didn’t have crap for education, who don’t even have a computer because we’re not valid enough within broke rehab to deserve one if we can’t work. Have no equipment. No mobility training since I went totally year and a half ago because I have too many health issues to work but not too many to get training.

I’m not trying to sound like a pity party, because that’s not it. I have a great life. I just wish my life At what I do with it in the parameters of health, lack of education, lack of computers, lack of equipment, lack of training Was just celebrated.

I knew a lot of blind folks who have tons of opportunities who sit on their butt and do nothing. And get everything they could possibly want as far as equipment goes. Fine, I’m glad they can. But when the most prominent and respected blind organization that works for equality only makes a huge deal about people who are bringing in the dough, and have a status, what is that exactly say to me as a blind person who is supposed to matter to the national Federation for the blind.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, you can live the life you want, you can also live the life you’re dealt. And handling that stuff for Grace doesn’t seem to matter. So, I just figured I would express it.

I will never go to another convention. I already feel like I’m not good enough sometimes, I most certainly don’t need it in the blind community. Much less and NFB. I am a member still, because I know that there are people like me too. We may not get the notice of a credit, but we’re here. I just don’t have to have it shoved in my face that I’m not important or valid in in the organization.

I hope the other people who feel the way I do will read this, I hope that you will know that you are important. You may not feel like it, you may not feel that the NFB feels like it, but you are. We all are.

Maybe if we help each other out more, instead of shoving everybody’s success in the faces of people who aren’t that fortunate People like me would Feel like we were An equal and respected part of it or like we matter.

Maybe the NFB needs to think about those of us who still need to function in life. Who still need a computer, who still need training, those things don’t disappear because you don’t work. So instead of spending a bunch of money on conventions that celebrate everybody’s good fortune and make quite a few people feel like crap. Maybe we should start helping those of us who didn’t have the opportunities and make the national Federation of the blind really the voice of the blind. I haven’t heard my voice yet

Jenny

Sent from my iPhone
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That was Jenny’s message. I wrote her privately and told her that I applauded her for starting this dialogue; one that I think is important, as well as her work with cats. Over the following week, many replies came. A few were from the leadership in Colorado. Eventually, the conversation was redirected toward the Colorado Center for the Blind, which is the NFB training center located in Littleton.

Here is my response to Jenny and others, which I posted to Colorado Talk yesterday afternoon.

Hello, Colorado!

Greetings from Nebraska, where the temperature is 6 degrees and we just endured our first major snow of the season. Yes, I’m rubbing it in. You guys deserve it after stealing the Baldwins from us.

I still miss Denver and all of you terribly (except Kevan, of course) and long for the days when the climate and public transit were more temperate.

I’ve been following this thread for the past week with great interest. Frankly, I was glad to see that someone raised the issue. For many of us outside of the leadership ring of the Federation, there has been a growing perception of a widening disconnect between the leadership and the general rank-and-file movement. The Federation has always emphasized leadership, of course, and it’s top-down style has engendered criticism over the decades. Perhaps nothing has changed. Perhaps the leadership is the same as it has always been. Or, perhaps the emergence of social media as a dominant force has magnified the cracks that have always existed in the NFB armor. Or, perhaps it merely gives our critics a larger megaphone with which to shout at us.

I think that there is a kernel of truth in all of these possibilities. Whatever the case, this is a conversation that needs to happen.

I found Scott’s remarks on the branding process to be of particular interest. I shamelessly acknowledge that I am a free market capitalist. That said, I think it is a mistake for the NFB to take a corporatist approach to our messaging. We are a non-profit organization, not for-profit. The methods by which we recruit and motivate our membership should be entirely different than that of a for-profit enterprise.

My criticism of the slogan itself can best be summed up by a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous) who said that our new slogan, “Live the life you want,” sounds like the tagline of an ad that you would see for a retirement community. His/her critique is profound. Even though a select group of people chose this slogan, there is nothing in it that really stands out as uniquely NFB.

I was a fan of our prior slogan, “Changing what it means to be blind.” I thought it was simple, direct, accurate and most important of all, it contained the word, “Blind,” within the slogan.

I have a larger point in bringing this up. This is the first time I’ve expressed my view about our slogan on any platform, or in any venue. No one asked me my thoughts when we adopted the slogan a few years ago. The first I ever heard of it was in the summer of 2014, when a group of us filmed a video singing around the piano in the CCB lobby for publication on the NFB YouTube channel. By then, it was already our official slogan. I don’t recall any discussion of it at chapter meetings, on list serves, at conventions or in casual conversations with NFB leaders.

This is why I was glad that Jenny wrote the message that she did. I believe that the leadership needs to hear feedback like this from outside of their comfort zone. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when like-minded people seem to congregate together, excising those with whom they disagree from their sphere of interaction. This phenomenon has created an echo chamber effect. If the leadership has always been this way, our recent shift toward further societal and cultural polarization has probably exacerbated the problem. This is why I think Jenny’s message was healthy and necessary.

Before I continue, I’m going to take a fit break in honor of Jessica and Maureen.

I’m back now. My fit break consisted of me getting up, stretching, then going to the kitchen for a root beer. If you ladies don’t feel that this was adequate, take heart in the knowledge that it’s a diet root beer.

Talking of comfort zones brings me to my next point. Jenny, while I applauded your initial message, I do feel that you and others have subsequently muddied it more than a bit.

It’s one thing to criticize the Colorado leadership for their approach to state conventions. These are conversations that the leadership has been holding for some years now. Like national, I think they need input from those outside of their comfort bubble. That said, criticizing a policy at the CCB is quite a different matter.

Here’s where I acknowledge a bias. While I am increasingly skeptical of our national leadership, I have great heart for the mission, the staff and the students at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I worked there for three-and-a-half months and it was enough to scar me for life. Unlike a random, superficial slogan, the CCB is transforming our high-sounding words into concrete action. They aren’t merely changing what it means to be blind; they are illustrating one course of action for doing so. The sleep shades are an integral component to this. Anyone can use their residual vision for everyday tasks, but it is quite another proposition to go outside of your comfort zone in order to experience an alternative, non-visual method of performing an ordinary task such as crossing a street, frying bacon or hammering a nail. The use of the shades is a compulsory means of pushing a student into that mode of learning.

Maryann kind of stole my thunder on this point. I will merely echo what she suggested and urge you to study your rights as a consumer; rights that the NFB was instrumental in defining. As blind consumers, choice is a right that we all have, but the choice of the CCB to implement a curriculum that aligns with its philosophy is just as important as your right to choose as an individual.

If you want to criticize the leadership for their messaging or their convention agendas, fine. More power to you. This is a relatively new conversation and it is worth having. If you want to take issue with the sleep shades, the long cane, the importance of braille, etc, just know that folks like Diane, Julie, Dan and Brent have been weathering storms of criticisms surrounding these issues for decades. Their arguments are well-honed and have withstood the test of time.

Finally, I will toss out the Nebraska state motto; a slogan that has proven somewhat controversial.

“Nebraska: It’s not for everyone.”

The simple truth is that the NFB could adopt this same slogan. The Federation approach is not for everyone. I know the leadership is resistant to this reality, but that doesn’t change it. Yet, our presence is vital as an option for those who wish to pursue their growth and independence as blind people living in the world. If choice is a basic human right, the NFB must be a choice.

On the other hand, if the leadership is not effectively communicating that choice, it is incumbent upon them to modify their outreach. I believe that such modification depends upon honest dialogue, not that which is manufactured and controlled by a mere few.

Sorry for the length of this message. I’m off now for another fit break; Sam Adams and a cigar. Love y’all.

… Except Kevan, of course.

Sincerely,

Ryan Osentowski

Mags

If Marty would not have broken her foot, the whole thing might never have happened.

I was sitting in the control room at work in Boulder on the Wednesday afternoon before Memorial Day Weekend of 2016, when the phone rang. I answered and was surprised to hear Marty.

“Well… I hate to tell you this, but I won’t be coming this weekend. I stepped in a hole outside of work earlier today and they think I broke my foot.”

I choked down my disappointment, imparted the usual consolations, asked if there was anything I could do, and hung up about 15 minutes later. Marty and I had been dating for about three months and it felt as if we barely got to see each other. If her foot was broken, it would probably kill, not only Memorial Day Weekend, but our summer plans as well.

Some of you reading this may wonder why I didn’t offer to go stay with Marty and nurse her back to health. Let me offer a five-word answer that many guys will respect implicitly.

Marty lives with her mother.

Two days later, my coworker Bethany and I were sitting in the drive-through line at Wendy’s just across the street when she asked me, “What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Why? You gonna come ravage me now that Marty’s laid up?” I asked, only half kidding.

“Umm, no. I was gonna see if you wanted to take Winnie.”

“You’re kidding!” I said. “You really want to get rid of her?”

“Yeah. I’m just too busy with work and school and Hallie and can’t give her enough attention. I think she needs someone who can spend more time with her.”

“Well… Sure… I will give it a shot. But you need to know that, if she works out, I’m changing her name. Winnie is what a horse does.”

“Ok. I don’t blame you,” Bethany said. We both ordered Baconators, fries and large frosties and went back to work to dine with our disapproving coworkers.

The next day, Bethany showed up with her daughter Hallie around noon. When she came in my front door, she handed me a small cat carrier that made noises that sounded like, “Errr! Errr!” I opened it, reached inside and muttered, “Ahh shit. She’s got longer hair. Sue’s gonna hate that.”

“Sorry,” Bethany mumbled in reply.

Sue was my kindhearted building manager from Texas. Four years earlier, I’d negotiated with her in order that some friends and I might give Katy a kitty for a Christmas gift. She told us we could, but he had to be declawed and have short hair. “If I get around a long-haired cat, I swell up like a hot air balloon,” she informed me.

In January of 2012, Ty came to live with Katy. He had short hair, but she never got around to mutilating his claws. Thank God Sue never pressed the point, probably because she fell in love with Ty along with the rest of us.

I gently extracted the fuzzy bundle from the too-small carrier, set her on my couch and waited. She immediately jumped off the couch and prowled around the room. It took her about 45 seconds to disappear.

It took Bethany about three minutes to disappear with her daughter. Two months later, Bethany would leave AINC and move on with her life, but my life with my new companion was just beginning.

That night, I sat on the phone with Marty and wondered. “How long you think it’ll take her to come out?”

“Probably a day or two,” Marty said. “Did you find her yet?”

“I think she may be in the closet,” I said.

“Go see,” Marty urged. I went to my bedroom closet and knelt down. I heard a small, “Err,” from the back of the closet. “I found her!” I rejoiced.

“See if you can coax her to come out,” Marty said.

“Maybe I should just leave her alone.”

“Yeah, but if you pet her and talk in a high voice, she might relax and come out.” Marty was the cat expert, having owned a few felines, so I took her at her word, reach my hand behind my dusty bass guitar and touched a furry, cat-shaped object.

“Errr,” she said and wriggled away from my fingers and behind the laundry basket.

“I think she wants me to leave her alone,” I said and went back to the bed.

The next day, I sent Katy a message. “Take a break from your Harry Potter erotica and come down. I want you to meet my new roommate. I think she’s gonna come out today.”

“I’m reading Alex Cross, you jerkface. DID YOU GET A CAT!?”

“Why do you sound mad?”

“I’m not mad. I was gonna give you Ty. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”

“Well, too late now. Bethany brought me her cat and I agreed to take her. Hey, when you come down, can you bring your extra cat collar with the bell on it? I may need it if she comes out. I’ll give it back to you when I get my own.”

Katy came down. We hung out for a while. She talked about Harry Potter. I talked about Breaking Bad. We both consumed a Domino’s cheese pizza together. In all that time, my new guest did not make her presence known once.

ON Memorial Day, Marty and I had one of our hours-long phone chats. At one point, I thought I heard a faint, “Err,” from the living room.

“Hey! Marty! She’s coming! I think she’s out!”

I sat bolt upright in bed, awaiting that happy moment when she would leap upon the bed and greet me. Instead, at the instant I sat up, I heard the sound of scurrying feet, followed by… Silence. It was the first lesson I would learn about my new cat. She did not respond well to loud noises, or abrupt movements from her human.

The next day, I went to the Woodlawn Vet Clinic and bought a cat pheromone diffuser. Brad, the friendly but quirky vet, told me that it would help relax the kitty so that she might become more comfortable in her new environment. “Don’t sweat it if you haven’t seen her yet. Some cats take up to a week before they trust their new owners.” I assured Brad that she was eating and using her litterbox. He told me that was a good sign and sent me home with the plugin kitty pheromone diffuser, which reminded me of one of those Glade dispensers that I used in college to impress girls when they visited me in my dorm room. Of course, back in those days, I wanted to get the girls excited. Now, I was trying to achieve the opposite result on a different species. I really was getting old.

Five days after Hallie’s former playmate became my roommate, I was sitting in my recliner listening to Megyn Kelly on Fox News (remember those heady days) when I heard a soft, “Err,” from the middle of the floor. Either Megyn had just received an unexpected guest on-set, or my new friend was going to give me another try. I sat statue still. “Err,” I heard a little closer.

“Come here, girl,” I said softly. “Come here.” I patted my leg softly and said, “Come here, girl. It’s okay. Come here.” I just kept speaking softly to her, careful not to move or speak too loudly.

Suddenly, she was in my lap in a flurry of legs and fur.

“Hi there,” I said softly. “Hi there, girl. Welcome. Hey there. You’re home now. This is your home. You’re safe here, girl. You’re okay. You’re home now. It’s okay. You don’t need to be afraid. You’re home. You’re safe.”

I just kept talking to her as my hands explored her back, her sides, her tail and her fluffy head. She in turn explored me with her nose, her face and her cat whiskers. She started to turn in circles on my lap, showing me her tail, then her head again, then her tail. And then I heard the noise that would never fail to fill my heart with warm joy, like brandy on a cold night. She started to purr. I knew then that she was my cat. In the moment when her body rubbed against my face and I felt her purr vibrating against my neck and shoulder, I knew that she was here to stay. She was the first pet I’d ever truly owned. She was, in every way possible, my cat.

Shortly afterward, she jumped off my lap and went to her food dish. She didn’t return to my lap again that evening. Later, when I was in bed and had hung up with Marty for the night, I said, “Goodnight, Mags.” I’d taken the intervening days since she’d come to my house and gone into hiding to decide on a name for her, choosing the criminal matriarch from the TV series, Justified. I put my sleep mask on and prepared to drift off to sleep. As my brain began to fill with welcome fog, I felt a “thunk,” followed by an, “Err.”

Off came the sleep mask. Again, my hands ran over her body, but this time, since I was in a prone position, she walked all over my chest and stomach, purring and sniffing as she investigated me. Eventually, she curled in between my feet and I put my mask back on. It was our first night together; the first of many happy times when I would drift off to slumber feeling her warm body near me, waking up later to her gentle nuzzles and good morning purrs.

As it turned out, Marty’s broken foot did not ruin all of our summer plans. She came down for a few days in July. As we came through the front door, I heard the customary jingle of Mags’ collar as she came to the door to greet me. Then, she saw Marty’s guide dog, Monty. That was the last I saw of her that night. The next night, Mags crept up on to the bed after Marty and her mongrel were asleep. She let me know, in no uncertain terms, that, while she approved of Marty, she eagerly awaited the departure of that smelly, drooling beast.

So, summer drifted into autumn. Work continued to be a stressful place to be. My relationship with Marty felt more and more distilled down to an obligatory phone call filled with distracted silence. Donald Trump continued to transform the political landscape into a blight zone. Alicia married Mark, though it happened only after he fought a hard battle with cancer. The CCB felt less and less like a place where I fit in.

Through it all, Mags was there every night when I arrived home. She would greet me at the door, wait till I was inside with the door locked, then she would run and attack her scratching pad. I would drop my bag, have a whizz, wash my hands, then go sit in my big recliner. She would leap into my lap, sniff my face to investigate what I’d had for dinner on the way home, do some circles on my lap and stomach, then lie down for her nightly petting. Sometimes, I would doze off in my chair, or turn on a radio show or the news. She would stretch out full length, her body nestled in between my right thigh and the cushy arm of my chair. I would sit for a long time, just petting her or letting her draw warmth from me, until she either got hungry, or my bladder insisted that I break the spell. Sometimes, I would brush her and she seemed to love it.

It was around Thanksgiving, about six months after Mags came to live with me, that I noticed that her ribs seemed to stick out more than they used to. It coincided with another disturbing trend; Mags seemed to throw up more than usual after she would eat. Brad (the vet) told me that she might have kitty IBS, so he encouraged me to put her on wet food, which would be easier on her system. Six months later, her weight was still falling by a couple of ounces per month. I changed wet foods, but Brad advised me to keep her on dry food so that she might gain weight.

Still, Mags was as energetic as ever. In almost every way, she was the perfect cat. She never woke me from my sleep, but once she discovered that I was conscious, she demanded attention. She had no destructive habits with respect to my property. She always used her litterbox. She seldom growled (unless she saw another cat outside our window) and she never, ever hissed. She figured out early on that I was blind and realized that she would need to say, “Err,” or jingle her collar, whenever she wanted to alert me that she was nearby.

The only troubling thing she did was occasionally throwing up after eating. That, and she would sometimes bite my hand a little too hard in order to get my attention. Brad agreed with me that the aggressive nipping was not an aspect of her normal personality, but that she was trying to tell me that she didn’t feel well. Throughout the spring and summer months of 2017, she continued to lose weight and eat less.

Then came that fateful day in August of 2017 when I responded to an Email advertisement for a job position at Radio Talking Book in Omaha. I left Mags in Katy’s care and boarded a train eastward. The rest… Is history.

As fate decreed it, I was half way in between Lincoln and Omaha on the way to check out an apartment for rent with a driver whom I barely knew when Katy sent me a recorded message from the vet. She had taken Mags for a vet appointment in my absence. I thought of waiting until I returned, but I was worried enough about her declining weight that I didn’t want to delay, so Katy was my stand-in. Brad was off for the weekend, but his partner Lisa examined Mags. Recently, I found the recording Katy made for me and can transcribe Lisa’s words verbatim.

“Based on her blood analysis, it looks as if Mags has early stage renal failure. What we want to do is get her on a renal-friendly diet. She’ll need special wet food and dry food that will help to support her kidneys. It’s early yet and we really need to keep an eye on her, but for now, she’s still very healthy.”

I heard this news having already accepted the job in Omaha, knowing full well that a move was coming. It was the worst possible news at the worst possible time. Cats are very territorial creatures and relocating them to a new environment is exceedingly stressful. Moreover, I had to focus on getting my apartment packed and ready for an interstate move, along with training a new replacement for my current job in Colorado. Trying to ween Mags on to a new diet was going to be nearly impossible.

Looking back now, I think that my biggest mistake was not placing more importance on Mags during the month of September, 2017. I was concerned over her health, of course, but once I returned to Littleton and reunited with her, the old girl was energetic and high-spirited as ever. The first morning that I returned after the all-night voyage on Amtrak, I just wanted to sleep the day away. Mags would have none of it. It was one of the few instances during our time together that she actively woke me from a dead sleep with emphatic back-rubbing so that I could make up for leaving her alone for nearly five days.

The move did happen, of course. Brad shot Mags up with some kind of drug that had little to no affect. She seemed to know that something major was happening. She yowled in her carrier as I took my final Lyft ride in Denver, heading to DIA. When I took her out of the carrier for the TSA agents, I was shocked to discover that she had peed and pooped all over herself. This was very unlike Mags, who had always fastidiously used her litterbox. I could only conclude that the poor girl was terrified.

“We gotta get Hazmat in here,” the TSA agent grumbled as I scraped cat poop off of her hind quarters. After they checked her over, I had no choice but to place her back in her piss-drenched carrier before leaving the private security room. The sounds she made broke my heart. It was a yowling sound; a mixture of fear, anger, confusion and sadness. Maybe I was anthropomorphizing. It was a horrible journey for both of us, yet, there was nothing to be done as we boarded the plane and flew to Omaha. The guy in the seat next to me assured me that Mags was sleeping peacefully under the seat in front of me. But when we landed and I picked her up, she immediately began yowling again.

The first night in the Extended Stay America was a nightmare for both Mags and I. She erupted from the carrier in the bathroom, where I’d closed her in so I could clean her off as best I could. Then I fed her a can of Fancy Feast, which she vacuumed up greedily, which told me that whatever drug was in her system had not worn off. She drank down her water in big gulps, which was also very uncat-like. She tried to use her new litterbox, but it was strange to her at first. All in all, it was just overwhelming for her to process.

She began to issue forth with a new noise; one which I had never heard before. It was a low, keening sound. It was filled with trauma and betrayal, punctuated with a sharp question mark. “Why? Why? Why?” I had no real answers for her. Any explanation I could offer was merely a human construct. More money. Change of scenery. Who really knew? None of it was good enough for her. All through the night, she would wait until I had fallen asleep, then begin again with her yowling. “Why? Why?”

My spirit finally broke around 10 the next morning. Physically exhausted and emotionally wrung out, I lay on that cheap hotel bed and sobbed like a kid. “I’m sorry, Mags. I’m sorry.”

Later that afternoon, fortified with a cheese Runza, crinkly fries and a large Diet Pepsi, I returned to the hotel room. I lay down on the bed. Mags jumped up beside me, flopped down and fell into a heavy sleep. I dozed beside her for a time, then listened to a Broncos game with Marty. Later, I cooked some dinner, chatted with various friends and readied for my first day at my new job. All that time, Mags barely stirred, only getting up once or twice to use her litterbox.

That night, after a shower and a shave, I crawled into bed. Mags snuggled up beside me.

“Baby, I need you to let me sleep through the night so I can be awake for my first day tomorrow, okay?” I stroked her head and flank. She nuzzled me, then stretched out along my extended right arm.

The next thing I knew, it was 6:30, my alarm was going off and there was Mags, demanding her good morning pets and scratches as if it were a normal day in Colorado.

“Good morning, my girl,” I said with a smile. A good night’s sleep really can do wonders for both humans and animals.

We spent two weeks in that low-end hotel before moving to the place that would prove to be Mags’ final home. My parents helped me move in. At one point, Mom said, “I can’t find your kitty anywhere.”

I began calling for her, but didn’t hear the tell-tale jingle of her collar. “Ahh, shit! Did she get out?” I said. Finally, Mom opened the cupboard door beneath the bathroom sink and began laughing. “Mags! How’d you get in there?”

It turned out that Mags had a skill with which she had never acquainted me during our time together in Colorado. She had the ability to open cupboard doors and hide inside the cabinet. She couldn’t put her abilities to use in our former apartment because the kitchen cabinet doors were held shut by weak magnetic seals. The cupboards in my new apartment in Omaha were the old-fashioned kind, easily pulled open by human fingers or cat paws. It was not unusual for me to awaken in the early morning hours to the sound of thumping cupboard doors as Mags honed her burgling skills.

So, my new life in Omaha commenced. The brutal cold set in and with it, the loneliness. I had few friends in Omaha. Everyone whom I was closed to was back in Denver. My boss, Jane, and her deputy, Bekah were very warm and welcoming to me, but the deep pain of loss ate into me like acid. Denver had been my home for 10 years and it had been harder to leave it than I had imagined it would be. To get a picture of my mindset, go find the infamous ‘Deep Shadow’ entry from New Year’s Eve, two years ago.

Yet, through the physical and emotional cold, Mags was there. She would greet me every morning with her usual nuzzles and purring. Every night when I walked in my front door, I would hear her familiar, “Err,” from the bedroom. NO matter what task demanded my attention, I always took 15 to 20 minutes to talk to Mags and tell her about my day as I stroked her and fed her.

Finding a decent vet was a priority, of course. The first one I tried was recommended to me by my predecessor at Radio Talking Book. I took Mags there on a Saturday morning and was instantly turned off by the assembly line feel of the place. The guy who examined Mags sounded as if he couldn’t have been over 21. When I told him that Mags seemed to keep losing weight, no matter how much wet food I gave her, he asked, “How much are you feeding her?”

I replied, “Two cans of Fancy Feast a day.”

“Well… Maybe you should up it to three.”

I left in disgust. When they sent me the automatic Email survey, I gave them zeros across the board.

Alicia had recommended a veterinarian service called, The Completely Cat Clinic. It proved to be a bit of a jaunt from my place, but as it turned out, it was well worth the trip. Mags disagreed, of course, but cats are compulsively contrary when it comes to matters of medicine. Sharon listened attentively as I spelled out Mags’ history. After I finished, she said, “I want to do a full blood work-up on your girl.”

“Money’s a little tight right now. Can we do the bare minimum and I can try for a full panel after I save up a bit?”

“We’re gonna take care of you and Mags today,” she said matter-of-factly. “Let’s get her to feeling better and then we can talk about payment.”

I didn’t argue. Maybe it was charity. I can’t say for certain that Sharon and her compassionate staff treated any other patient with the same kindness. I only know that I was in no position to be supercilious. My pride ended at the doorstep of Mags’ welfare.

Sharon and co also sent me home with several kidney-friendly brands of wet and dry food. Over the next month, I tried them all on Mags, but she turned her tail toward all of them. The only thing she seemed to crave was Fancy Feast and Purina One kibbles.

So began two years of various treatments. We started with Vitamin B-12 shots. I tried to administer them myself in the comfort of our home, but my hands kept shaking and I only succeeded in annoying Mags by getting her coat all wet. I began taking her into the Cat Clinic at regular intervals so that they could administer the shots.

The treatments worked, at first. Mags began to eat more. Her energy was up. She stopped her aggressive biting. Once again, she became the sweet, loveable kitty who first came to live with me in Colorado.

At first, I took her for her shots about twice a month, but as time wore on, the shots became less effective. Soon, I was taking her in once a week; usually on Saturday mornings. The round trips with Lyft added up to a pretty penny. Eventually, I was forced to sign up with Share-a-Fare in order to recover some of the costs of transportation. But the vitamin shots were inexpensive, only tallying up to $28 a month. Mags didn’t care for the regular ritual of being loaded into the carrier for a quick trip to the vet, but it was well worth it. Slowly, she began to gain weight again. Instead of losing two to three ounces every month, she began to gain as much.

So life went for my girl and I for about 14 months. Then, sometime in the early spring of 2019, she began to lose weight again. She ate less and began to vomit more. She also started the aggressive biting again. Sharon agreed that the B-12 had lost its effectiveness and decided that it was time to put Mags on a steroid.

For the first few months, the steroid worked. Mags began gaining weight. She quickly returned to the 12-and-a-half pounds that she was when I first took her. By early autumn, she was a little over 13 pounds. I began to have the opposite worry. I didn’t want her to be an obese cat. That would bring with it a new host of health concerns, diabetes being the most obvious. I also began to worry when Mags stopped using her litterbox to pee in, choosing to go just outside of it. I wasn’t sure if the steroid was irritating her bladder, or if her refusal to pee appropriately was behavioral. Eventually, I had to lay down some old towels over plastic around her box.

One evening in late September after coming home from dinner with friends, I discovered Mags lying on the floor in the corner of my bedroom. I tried to coax her on to the bed. I heard her scratch at the post, as if she were trying to leap up, but she didn’t have the strength to make it. I scooped her up and placed her beside me. She seemed content, but the next morning when I woke up, she wasn’t there to greet me. I found her in her kitty bed at the back of the bedroom closet. She wasn’t interested in food or water.

A hasty trip to the clinic followed. We did the usual blood tests and Sharon threw in a free x-ray. While Mags’ blood looked fine, Sharon discovered a small spur on one of the vertebrate near Mags’ tail. She also found that Mags was severely constipated. She sent home a powdered laxative for me to stir into Mags’ wet food, but said that the bone spur wasn’t a concern yet.

“We may have to get her on some kitty Aspirin if the pain gets worse,” she said. I worried about this. I’d already discovered that it was impossible for me to administer any oral medication to Mags. She simply refused to take it and I didn’t have it in me to force a pill down her throat once or twice a day.

I took Mags home, dispirited and worried. I texted Joe as I rode in the Lyft. “Hey, buddy. Mags is really sick and I’m gonna need to monitor her closely. I’m going to have to cancel our weekend.”

Something about that trip to the clinic with Mags caused me to turn an emotional corner. While all of my previous efforts were tinged with hope, it now felt as if Mags was entering into her final descent. The collective weight of her mounting medical issues made me feel as if her overall condition was worsening. Sharon had confirmed that her kidneys were shrinking, and that there was no hope of them becoming more healthy. As I lifted her from her carrier and placed her on the bed, I realized that I needed to treasure each day I had with her. I didn’t know how many were left. I warned my coworkers that I might leave work early, or show up late, depending on Mags condition. They greeted this news with their usual beneficence. I don’t know what I would have done had I gone through the ordeal in a different job with coworkers who were less supportive.

Mags and I spent Thanksgiving together. I had several offers to attend dinners with friends, but all I wanted to do was stay close to her. She was eating more and her energy was up. I’d kept her on only wet food for a while, But Sharon had encouraged me to put her on a high-fiber dry food to keep her regular. This seemed to help, but her bad habit of peeing outside of her litterbox only got worse. One night, I brought a female friend home after dinner and we were greeted by the strong smell of urine when we walked in the door. I apologized profusely as I gathered her towels to take to the laundry.

On Friday, December 13, I bought her a second litterbox. I hoped that a change of scenery might retrain her to pee on sand again. That night, she seemed to take to it. I found leavings in both boxes. The next morning, I again awoke to discover that she was not on the bed. Again, I found her in the back of the closet. I called the clinic to see about a last-minute appointment, but they were swamped. Eventually, Mags did take some food and water and I thought she might rally, but she never left her kitty bed.

At seven o’clock Saturday night, I lost my resolve and called my pal Kevin. “Mags needs to go to urgent care. Can you take us?” As usual, Kevin didn’t say no. He was there in 30 minutes and we went to Urgent Pet Care.

As it turned out, it was all but a wasted trip. Emergency animal care is a very expensive proposition. They wanted to run more bloodwork and x-rays on her, but they also wanted nearly $700 for their trouble. I simply didn’t have it. In the end, they gave her subcutaneous fluids and an anti-nausea med and sent us home.

So began the longest day of my life. Mags went straight to her nest in the back of the closet. Save an occasional trip to her litterbox, she didn’t leave her bed. I tried taking her warm wet food and water time and time again, but she barely acknowledged it. Eventually, she turned away from her water and faced the wall. My heart sank further late Sunday night when I heard her breathing become labored and shallow. All I could do was lie there, petting her, talking to her, begging her to hang on through one more night until we could make it to the cat clinic.

Kevin picked us up Monday morning. I took her there and was surprised to find a waiting line. Apparently, there were a lot of people with sick cats waiting to be tended to. Yet, Annie took her and promised that they would make her comfortable until Sharon could take a look.

When Sharon called me later that morning, she was mystified. “We’ve got her on fluids and gave her another steroid. She’s eating, going to the bathroom and drinking normally. I’m not sure what’s wrong.”

“Sharon,” I said. “I don’t think Mags can keep doing this. Honestly, I can’t keep doing this. I just went through the worst weekend of my life and I just can’t watch her suffer anymore.”

“I understand,” Sharon said softly.

“I wonder if we shouldn’t just… Ya know… Exercise life-ending measures?”

“I can get it done today if you want me to, Ryan,” she said.

“No!!! I mean… I just want a little more time with her before we have to say goodbye.” There I was, standing in the hallway outside of my office, breaking down at the prospect of facing the loss of my closest companion. After a few moments I said, “I wanna try one more time. I’ll come take her home, but the next time she has a crisis, we should go ahead.”

Sharon asked to keep her overnight for further observation. The next afternoon, I left work early and went to pick her up. Missy, one of the vet techs, said Mags was resting comfortably and eating and drinking just fine. I got her home, let her out of her carrier and waited.

At first, Mags wandered around the apartment, occasionally letting off an, “Owww!” This wasn’t unusual. She usually behaved like this when she came home from spending the night at the clinic. I laid down for a short catnap. Just as I was drifting off, I felt her jump up on the bed. My heart leapt. I stroked her and scratched her head, telling her how glad I was that she was home again, rejoicing in the sound of her purr.

An hour later, I found her at the back of the closet. Again, she turned away from food and water. I checked three more times and always found her in her nest. When I pet her, she uttered a soft, “Oh.”

At 5:55 PM, I called the clinic. “Tell Sharon that I will be in at 7:30 tomorrow morning. Tell her… It’s time.”

My last night with Mags was an emotionally mixed affair. On one hand, I was devastated at the impending loss of my companion. Yet, the sorrow was embroidered by relief. I was glad Mags wouldn’t have to endure more trips to the vet, more discomfort, more periods of mild dehydration and malnutrition due to nausea. I lay with her on the floor in the closet, whispering softly to her, petting her gently.

“Remember that time you got so mad when I brought a dog home,” I said. “Remember how much you hated that hotel room? Remember how much you liked Katy? Remember all the nice stuff Jeanne sent home for you? You love that scratch box, don’tcha?”

And later…

“Thank you, Mags. Thank you for keeping me company for the last three years. Thank you for taking care of me on that Christmas when I was sick. Thank you for getting me through the move to Omaha. Thank you for being your sweet self. I love you so much, Mags. I will miss you so much.”

I went to bed that night thinking that I wouldn’t sleep. Surprisingly, I dropped right off. About three in the morning, I was awakened by the familiar jingle of Mags’ collar. I sat up and heard her scratching at the post of the bed.

“I’m coming, baby!” I scooped her up and lay her on the bed next to me. She began to purr and weakly nuzzle my hand. We lay together for a long time, me stroking her and she softly nuzzling my hand to encourage me to continue. Later, she gave me her ‘leave me alone’ nibble. I lay next to her, listening to her soft snoring as she slept, her back against my big pillow for the last time.

“Mags,” I sobbed. “If you can give me a sign that we should keep going… I mean… I just wish you could talk, girl.” No response.

An hour later, she jumped off the bed, went to use her litterbox, then went to the back of the closet again. I had hoped that her venture to my bed was a rallying point, but as it turned out, it was her way of saying goodbye.

I don’t have the wherewithal to write about Mags’ final trip to the cat clinic. Any pet owner knows what it’s like to show the ultimate act of mercy to a beloved animal. I will only say that, when the end came, Mags was at peace. I will also say that my tears were not the only ones falling as I bent and kissed Mags on her head for the last time. Sharon and the two vet techs were also emotional. How many times had they witnessed such a scenario, yet they still possessed the humanity to show their grief along with their patients’.

Since Mags passed away, coming home after work has been the hardest part. The thing I looked forward to most was my time with her when I first returned, followed by her nightly supper. Now, I come home to an empty apartment that is cold and baron. I sleep with her kitty bed each night. She’s still the last thing I think of before I drift off, and the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning. My hands trace the soft contours of her bed, remembering how she felt inside of it, her head propped on the edge, as she lay comfortably there. Sometimes, I still catch myself listening intently, swearing that I can hear the jingle of her collar. As I write this, I keep expecting to feel her gently brush against my ankles, or her front paws tap against my thigh. My afternoon catnap just isn’t the same without Mags to warm my feet. My nightly bath is lonely without Mags lying beside the tub on her folded towel, or leaning over the edge to take a drink.

Last Friday, I received a call from the clinic, telling me that her ashes are ready for me to come collect. I plan to go New Year’s Eve morning. I will be taking a friend with me for emotional support. The care package is waiting by the door, filled with uneaten Fancy Feast cat food, a baggie full of Mags’ favorite kitty treats, an unused electric kitty bed and several bags of Baker’s chocolates for the angels in human form who took such good care of my girl. Mags’ final resting place will be on the bookcase of my living room, right next to my clock, in front of a painting that my friend Kelly did for me.

I won’t argue the notion that parenthood is probably the most selfless job that an adult can undertake. Honestly, I never wanted kids. I don’t regret not having them. I just never saw myself as fatherhood material. But in the absence of children, I believe that taking care of animals is also a very noble, selfless job. Animals cannot speak for themselves. Therefore, as compassionate human beings, we are responsible for their welfare. If I had known that Mags was sick when I first took her in, I would not change a thing. I wouldn’t trade a second of the time I spent with her, even during the moments when she was sick. Mags taught me the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned; how to love unselfishly, especially when the object of that love is ill. Making the decision to send her over the Rainbow Bridge was the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make, but despite the heartbreak of her loss, I feel it was the right one. I only wish that I could have spent just one more Christmas with her before she went away. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, but now, the shadow of her death will always dampen the holiday.

I have struggled over the years with matters of faith and spirituality. Yet, even in my dark moments of agnosticism, I believe in an afterlife. I used to imagine my entry into heaven as my landing somewhere familiar. I would picture myself standing at the front door of my grandparents’ home. I would walk in, and there Grandpa would be in his chair, waiting for me to plop down in his lap. From the kitchen, I would smell cookies baking as Grandma rattled dishes.

Since Mags came into my life, my view has changed. I now imagine my death as a time when I will go to sleep. I will drift off, finally achieving the peace that has so often proven to be elusive in life. Then, I will wake up in bed. My bedroom window will be cracked, the cool, crisp Colorado morning air bathing my face. Then, I will hear, “Err.” Mags will greet me with her usual nuzzles and good morning purrs, lying curled up in a ball as I stroke her fur. Every time I stop petting her, she will nuzzle my hand until I resume. It will be her way of telling me that I’m safe… I’m loved… I don’t need to be afraid… I’m finally, home.

Thank you for everything, Mags. Someday, I may have another cat, but I will never have another Mags.

Goodbye, girl. Goodbye.

Mags Marie Osentowski

Born: ?
Came to live with me: Saturday, May 28, 2016
Passed away: December 18, 2019

She wasn’t my pet. She was my family.

Of Slings, Arrows and Smoking Guns

Folks, I just completed reading “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow. I highly recommend this book, but it is not for the faint of heart. The ways in which the predatory
behavior of Harvey Weinstein was covered up and excused by legions of accomplices from Hollywood to D.C. will chill your blood.

The most disturbing part of the audio book is when you hear the actual recording of Weinstein trying to force himself on one of his victims. I wasn’t prepared for it and it stopped me cold.

My one criticism is over Farrow’s narration of the audio version. His parents are both actors and he has a background in theater. It shows in his delivery. There are times when he swerves into hammy territory (particularly when immitating accents.) This detracts from a subject that should be
treated with the utmost seriousness. Despite his trials and tribulations as he battled to get the story of Weinstein’s victims on the public record, he sounds as if he’s having a lot of fun in the recording booth. This is a small nitpick, however, and should not serve as a reason not to read this impressive (if not disquieting) body of work.

For my blind followers, it is available on both Audible and BARD.

And speaking of Harvey Weinstein, God bless Hollywood! “Bombshell,” the third biopic about Roger Ailes in the wake of his public disgrace and subsequent death after credible allegations of sexual assault came out last weekend. I guess they thought we wouldn’t get the point after the first two.

Look, at this point, I have zero sympathy for FoxNews. If Hollywood
wants to cast stones at the memory of Ailes and laud the bravery of the women who came forward, more power to them. Ailes deserves the slings and arrows
and a network who cheerleads a man like Donald Trump can stand the pounding. However, the contrast in standards is pretty stark to me in the wake of Ronan Farrow’s book.

When is Hollywood gonna bring us an epic about the Harvey Weinstein years? Seriously! If Farrow’s narrative is accurate, the Weinstein affair has all the earmarks of a major thriller; a menacing antagonist, systematically oppressed women, an openly gay reporter who is the son of a celeb also accused of sexual assault, spineless network executives, shadowy foreign surveillance agencies, moles and countermoles, duplicitous lawyers, a ‘smoking gun’ recording… How can ya not love a story like that!?

Maybe we’ll get it after Weinstein is in his grave. Or maybe, we’ll get it after every single Hollywood exec and politician who took money and/or favors from Weinstein is in the ground. Less embarrassment to go with the popcorn,
don’tchya know.

If not Weinstein, what about a biopic of Matt Lauer? They could title it, “Button,” after the device Lauer used to automatically close
his door, thereby holding his victims captive.

I also notice Bill O’Reilly does not appear in the film. That is… Interesting. It’s also interesting that, despite major hype from critics, “Bombshell,” bombed at the box office. I guess the public prefers Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers over Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.

*yawn*