Demented Games in the Hall of Mirrors

“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”
Raymond Chandler

We live in a very reactionary time. We now live in an age when the simple click of a mouse or a few keystrokes can render us any sort of truth we want to hear, regardless of its factual basis.

Donald Trump is a very reactionary individual. He is probably the most reactionary president I’ve seen in my lifetime. In the spirit of his unscrupulous, performative nature, I’m tempted to say that he is the most reactionary president ever in the whole history of the United States. But I wasn’t alive during the reign of Andrew Jackson or Woodrow Wilson, so I wouldn’t really know.

Yet, the presidency of Donald Trump was itself a reaction. This truth crystallized for me a few days ago when I read Jonah Goldberg’s weekly column in the L.A. Times, in which he makes a compelling case that Mitt Romney is owed an apology; an apology that he’ll never get. Romney played nice during both of his bids for the White House in 2008 and 2012. He ran an honest campaign, selected Paul Ryan (another decent man) as his running mate and never really hit Obama below the belt as many felt he should.

Sidebar: When I say, “Below the belt,” I’m talking about Obama’s birth certificate.

Still, despite his above board, straight-laced strategy, Romney was savaged by the press and his opponents as if he were the anti-Christ. He lost both contests. Now, he stands in unapologetic opposition to Trump when he feels it is necessary and the left speaks well of him, as if their below-the-belt jabs never happened.

Come to think of it, the left sure did love John McCain, as long as he was sticking it to a Republican. They championed him during his 2000 presidential run. They beat the hell out of him as he was daring to run against the first African-American candidate eighty years later. The pendulum swung back once again when he torpedoed GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare. And they certainly loved him after he died. Those on the right felt that McCain was a traitor who never fought as hard as he should have. And the same is true for George W. Bush, really. He endured eight years of savagery and remained a class act through the entirety of his two terms, much to the consternation of many on his right flank.

Sidebar: I voted for Mitt Romney both times he ran and never regretted that choice. John McCain wasn’t my first or second choice. But I never doubted his character.

One president and two failed presidential candidates, and our answer to, “We need a fighter,” is Donald freakin’ Trump!? Four years ago, I argued that this was like using a nuclear bomb to stop a Sherman tank. No, I don’t believe that Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie or even Carly Fiorina would have been capable of stopping Hillary Clinton. My guy was Marco Rubio. Still… Donald Trump!?

He was and is a reactionary and a reaction. He was a sad, self-fulfilling prophecy that came true for the GOP. Republicans were often spuriously accused of racism, sexism, classism and a host of other isms, but we chose a man who largely made the charges come true. The meek, tepid responses and the passive non-responses of the congressional figures who might have stood up to him served as a sad counterpoint to the enthusiastic leg-humping of his fan base, who contorted themselves into all sorts of ridiculous postures and positions in order to justify the putrid things he would say and tweet at a whim. Those that dared to publicly stand up to Trump, men like James Mattis and Mark Milley, men who have served their country honorably, have been minimized, marginalized and ridiculed. It has been heartbreaking to me to watch people whom I know to be intelligent and of decent character engage in this demented game of Twister that our president would have them play.

In playing this demented game, the right has painted itself into a neat and tidy corner. Now, when we are accused of racism, misogyny, nativism, etc,, we can offer the standard retort, “No we’re not!” All our opponents have to do is answer, “Trump was your standard bearer.”

If all two of you who read this blog are leftists, you have to be nodding your heads with glee. This is understandable. It feels like you’re winning right now. Joe Biden is an unlikely hero, but he’s polling ahead across the board. Maybe the bulk of America has Trump fatigue. Yet, most of you are so blindly partisan that you don’t realize that you are painting yourselves into the same sort of corner in which Republicans are imprisoned.

I’m not talking about the encroachment of the lumbering juggernaut of socialism. The current racial unrest is a much better example.

Three months ago, America was stricken by the same pandemic that had spread across the rest of the world. We were forced to largely shut down, stay home and dawn masks and gloves if we went out. People home schooled their kids, swarmed grocery stores in a panic and watched, mouths agape as the economy tanked. The months passed, the weather warmed up and new battlegrounds began to emerge over masks, governmental health restrictions and miracle cures.

Then, on Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop, and all bets were off.

My favorite contortion of logic came from public epidemiologists who claimed that racism was a worse disease than the Coronavirus. Protests and civil disobedience were the best antidote for this metaphoric illness that has plagued our nation for centuries; a so-called cure that directly contradicts all of the guidelines and recommendations that have poured forth from medical experts since the genesis of the COVID-19 crisis.

It will take a couple more weeks before we begin to understand the consequences of two weeks of perpetual mass public gatherings, but no matter how it turns out, the pro-lockdown crowd, which is largely comprised of those who stand in deference to governmental authority, will lose the argument. If we see a spike in infections, it may very well result in the strain on our medical infrastructure that the forecasters of doom such as Scott Gottlieb have been warning about for months. That will only serve to further damage our economy, which is now officially in a recession. If we don’t see a noticeable uptick in numbers, the anti-lockdown crowd, which is largely comprised of those who stand in skepticism of governmental authority (except for the authority of Trump, of course), will claim victory in the face of a bunch of alarmist pansies who can’t wait to bend over for their tyrannical overlords. And they may very well adopt this view, even if the second wave of mass infections doesn’t come until autumn or winter. And they will most certainly be spearheaded by the president of the U.S.

Sure, the left can argue that many of your Ted Nugent types would flaunt health restrictions regardless of the consequences, but it doesn’t matter. Like the GOP of four years ago, progressives have all collectively peed their credibility into a hot, steaming trough of reflexive political opportunism.

The same thing goes for looting. Once considered to be a universal act of lawlessness that should be condemned by all, it is now romanticized by a bunch of white progressives who want to justify and apologize for acts of theft and destruction, as long as it doesn’t intrude upon their own personal domain. During the first week of turbulence, social media was rife with images of business owners who stood aghast as their buildings were looted and vandalized by thugs against whom they incorrectly assumed their sympathetic political viewpoints inoculated them. When peaceful protests mushroom into riots, the apologists doubled down, refusing to draw a reasonable distinction between lawful protests born of the First Amendment and criminal mob violence. Pseudo intellectuals, advocacy journalists and keyboard warriors made spurious comparisons of criminal rioting to the Boston Tea Party, wrote up sad, guilt-drenched think pieces about suburban white women who have to persuade themselves not to feel bad for a Walgreen’s that got trashed, and downplayed the existence of anarchists and other criminals who use events just like these for personal gain.

Then came the slogans; pop a top on a cold can of sophomoric simplicity and chug it down. President Trump’s favorite was and is, “Make America great again.” The left loves its slogans, too. Nothing as innocuous as, “Yes we can!” Their current favorite is, “Abolish the police.” But wait… It’s not really, “Abolish!” It’s, “Defund.” Or is it, “Disband?” When challenged on the finer points of a future without police, the left engages in a constant campaign of redefinition and redirection. Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and many other radical left organizations quickly adopted the posture of stripping down local police departments for parts without really taking the time to understand the long term consequences of what they are proposing. Corporations, non-profits and community organizations hopped on the band wagon in quixotic fashion, never bothering to dig into what these activists are actually conveying in their messaging.

13 days after George Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a statement proposing a police-free city. When questioned about the finer points by CNN, the president of the council retreated to the banal progressive talking point of so-called, “White privilege.”

Joe Biden and even Bernie Sanders have publicly opposed the idea of defunding the cops, but the notion rolls on like a bowling ball down an escalator, pushed and kicked by reactionary leftists who rejoice in this sudden shift in momentum. It is the exact same procession that hopped aboard the Trump train; different faces and voices, but the same impulsive lockstep.

Meanwhile, 1203 miles East of Minneapolis, the editorial board of the New York Times dared to publish an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton (Republican) defending the notion of using the military to back up the local police in riot-ravaged areas. He wrote it in the wake of a tweet from Trump, who threatened to sick the military on states if governors couldn’t or wouldn’t get a handle on the violence. Half the staff of the NYT engaged in open revolt, claiming that such a piece makes African-Americans feel, “Unsafe.” Several days later, the junior editor was sent to the professional guillotine and the new editor immediately implemented a, “If you feel something, say something,” edict. Journalists such as Bari Weiss who objected to the suppression of varied viewpoints and express concern over the state of journalism, were roundly minimized, marginalized and ridiculed.

Naturally, the hurtling bowling ball of reactionism doesn’t stop at the political gates. HBO pulled Gone With the Wind from its Max platform in the name of racial sensitivity. Discussions now rage about the scrubbing of cops from television and literary crime fiction as sources of positive characterization. Supposed reality-based cop shows have been quickly pulled from TV line-ups. On social media, classic terms such as, “Racism,” and, “Prejudice,” are now being replaced with harsher terms like, “Anti-black.” More statues symbolizing the Confederacy have come toppling down at the hands of the mob. NASCAR just banned the Confederate flag from all events.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Confederate symbols disappearing from the public, but the kneejerk nature of all of this at the hands of rioters, weak-spirited politicians and timid corporate executives has an unpalatable Orwellian feel to me. It reminds me of Trump’s promise, “We’re gonna win so much, you’ll be sick of winning.”

I don’t even wanna talk about Drew Brees. I guess he’s been scolded by his wife, now.

If the Republicans are playing a sad game of demented Twister, the Democrats and progressives are playing a dangerous game of demented Jenga. They have no idea what they are building. They have no idea what it is supposed to look like. But they seem to be completely unaware or apathetic to the fact that, if they pull the wrong piece out of place, the whole cockeyed structure of half-truths and slogans comes crashing down. When it does, don’t call 911 and expect a cop to show up to help you pick up the pieces.

Where does this all end? Hell, I have no idea. My crystal ball broke after the 2016 election. I was sure Joe Biden wouldn’t make it this far. Now, I’m not certain he won’t win the Oval Office, no matter who he chooses in his grand game of Veepstakes. I would like to think that the white middle class will eventually grow fatigued with the ‘blame and shame’ strategy that is currently proving to be so effective.

History indicates that political victors often overreach. If the right overreached with the selection and election of Donald Trump, the left may overreach when and if this socio-political fad lasts beyond the next few news cycles. But what damage will be done in the meantime? Sooner or later, political theories either remain in an ethereal, idyllic void of ideology that result in little more than dinner conversation, or graduate down to the sausage factory of fermented public policy. If the latter occurs, we may yet get to watch a great and terrible experiment of a city with a diminished or non-existent police force.

It already appears to be happening in Seattle. I’d like to sit back, grab a bag of Peanut Butter M N M’s and laugh, but Katy is over there. What if she gets hurt?

Or maybe it will be worse and history will repeat itself. Maybe a few cops will have to be killed in the name of social justice before the brakes are applied. The BLM movement was gaining traction after Ferguson and Baltimore until several cops were hunted down and executed in the name of occupational retribution. Or it might be something altogether less injurious. The Women’s March was all the rage three years ago until a series of articles exposed strains of antisemitism within its leadership and many public and private entities who expressed their support at the beginning quickly distanced themselves. After BLM and the ACLU spend some time in the public limelight, the honeymoon phase with the mainstream left may end and they will be scrutinized. Like Donald Trump, they will feel powerful and will be disinclined to hide who they really are. At that point, the public at large can take a breath in the cool of post-emotional rationality and judge for themselves.

Honestly, I think most leftists know full well that no modern society can exist without a peacekeeping force to protect it. They know that every bit as much as most Trump supporters always knew that we would never be able to force Mexico to pay for our great big border wall. But in the heat of battle and with the glow of victory just over the horizon, who really cares about the long term? This is the here and now!

Or maybe we’ll all be victims of COVID-19. A month from now, social and mainstream media outlets may be off the racial justice trend and back to the battle of masks and social distancing. Whatever happens, I hope all of you are comfortable in your respective corners. You may be contented in your echo chambers, but eventually, you will discover that you’re really living in a funhouse hall of mirrors.

There are days when I truly envy you. I wish to hell I could be a full-throated Trump supporter. I wish I could stand up in a heady crowd and scream, “Black Lives Matter,” without thinking about the deeper implications. It’s just too hard when you live in the immense, foggy expanse of gray between those two bipolar and binary safe zones. So this is me, waving to the very few of you (left, right or center), who have the self-awareness to be in this terribly lonely place with me.

Hi there. I am Ryan O, the blind guy. I am a conservative who believes that we should open up our economy again while practicing medical safety measures out of concern for others. I am a conservative who believes that peaceful protests are the hallmark of a democracy, while mob violence is antithetical to it. I am a conservative who believes that the police and the African-American community need each other. I am a conservative who believes that you can respect the American flag while simultaneously condemning racism and police brutality. I am a conservative who believes that a president leads by example through good character. I am a conservative who believes that words carry meaning and consequence; words like, “Believe all women,” “Defund the police,” and “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” I am a conservative who believes that I have miles to go before I sleep.

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built.”
Immanuel Kant

Addendum: Apparently, the removal of Gone With the Wind from the HBO Max platform is not permanent. Several African-American actors are going to record an introduction giving it historical context. This is cool.

The Corona Diaries: Week 10

In the Spring of 2014, I sent a mass Email to some close friends and several family members. I can’t locate it now, but the gist was:

“Hi, folks. Money is a little tight right now, so if you try to call or text me over the next few weeks and I don’t respond, don’t be concerned. I am starting a new job after Memorial Day and will be able to catch up on my bills at that time. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.”

Later that day, several close friends informed me that they were helping me with my phone, electric and internet bills. Furthermore, they informed me that it was a gift, not a loan. One of those friends was my oldest buddy, Wes.

Two years later in August of 2016, Wes was visiting me for a much-needed vacation. Four months earlier, he had been struck by a car while crossing a street in Lincoln. The encounter messed up his knee and didn’t do his emotions much good either. He had received a surgery and physical therapy, but his knee was still giving him trouble. He just wanted to get away from work for a long weekend and Denver was always his favorite vacation spot.

One night, we came home from a baseball game between the Rockies and the Cubs. We walked in and Wes casually said, “Hey man, better take a look at your desk.”

On it was a brand new computer. A brailled card was taped to the top of it which said:

“Merry Christmas from Katy, Marty, Marshal Dillon, Alicia and Wesman. May this serve you well.”

I had been without a working computer for over a year. It was the perfect gift at the perfect time.

Week 10: Who Was That Masked Man?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

At 12:57 PM, Jane texts me with her usual one-word summons, “Here.” I grab the backpack by the door and head down. Jane is talking to her nephew on her phone as I slide deftly into her front seat. It’s a little easier to wiggle and wriggle now that I’ve dropped some quarantine weight.

Jane pulls out of my parking lot and we head off as I press “start” on Google Maps. I fight the urge to grab a pre-wedding beer for the road, deciding to wait for Kelly before I imbibe.

45 minutes later, we’re wandering around in Lincoln in Kelly’s neighborhood trying to locate her home. I guess we may as well have started drinking early. I call her and Jane finally finds it. Kelly slides in and I hand her my back-up folding cane from my bag. Kelly is dogless since Jane is not a fan of animals. Somehow, Kelly’s cane got snapped in half, but I don’t ask her to share the story of how it happened. I secretly wonder if she whacked her neighbor a time or two with it, but I’m too tactful to ask.

We head South on 33rd, then hang a right on A. Street. I pull up the YouTube feed of Wes’s wedding as Jane drives. Unfortunately, I am not able to chorale my inner audio snob. My first thought is, damn, that audio hum is annoying. My second thought is, ‘tsk, tsk.’ The holy man is a little hot on the mic. We listen up just in time to hear the pastor say, “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Wes and Allison …” Then, Clint Black comes on with his folksy instruction that, “Love isn’t something that we have. It’s something that we do.” Weird, I think. Shane and Amy used that same song 20 years ago next month.

We pull into the parking lot. Jane informs me that there are few cars around, so we locate a parking space. Then, I grab a cold can of Coors and pass a Mike’s Hard Lemonade to Jane and Kelly. We roll down the windows, feel the cool breeze and sip alcohol. It finally feels like a Memorial Day weekend. All I need is a cigar.

We sit and soak up the sun. Jane and Kelly sip their froufrou drinks in a very ladylike fashion. I chug my beer like a middle-aged bachelor. Time passes. The sun shines and the breeze wafts through the car. More people arrive. I say hi to Wes’s mother. I can’t believe I recognize her voice. I call Shane and ask, “Where are ya?” He says, “We’re right down the street gathering at an elementary school.” I tell him that we’ll probably be gone by the time he gets there. Later, I learn that a group of them drove by the newlyweds in a pick-up and said hi from the back. A COVID wedding greeting, redneck style.

Then Jane says, “There they are. Wow! Her dress is beautiful.” She starts her engine and pulls up to the happy couple.

I honestly remember very little about the conversation. I only had half a beer in my blood, so I can’t blame the buzz. It was all very brief and perfunctory. Both the bride and groom wore masks. We did not. I remember asking Wes how he felt and he said something like, “Pretty good.” I think it lasted all of two minutes. Then we pull forward, we each get a cupcake as our reward and we’re off. I eat the cupcake hanging out the window so as not to drop crumbs on Jane’s car seat. It is chocolate with white frosting. I play a secret game in my mind in which I name the cupcake Kelly, then lasciviously lick the frosting.

We pull around to another parking lot for a while, wondering if anyone might come over to socialize. No one ever does. Finally, Kelly says, “I’m hungry. Let’s go get Runza.” I love a woman that takes charge.

At this point, I have to blame the beer buzz for interfering with the structured discovery function of my brain. If I were sober, we probably would have located the Runza at 39th and Randolph in a matter of mere minutes. As it is, we spend the better part of 40 minutes searching for it. It boils down to the fact that we don’t know whether we’re going North or South on 40th Street. The heady combination of beer and cupcake buzz causes me not to ask the very obvious question, where is the sun located right now.

Eventually, we locate a convenience store, we all eject some processed beer and Kelly says, “Let’s ask the guy behind the counter where Randolph is.”

The clerk starts to explain where we need to go and I blurt out, “That’s not a guy.” Kelly is mortified. Welcome to the 21st century.

Honestly, it seems funnier to experience it than it does to write about it.

At long last, we locate Runza and sit outside alone at a big concrete table. Kelly shares her fries with me, so I guess she didn’t stay miffed. I get an order to go. I can’t help but feel that this drive-through wedding reception and the search for the drive-up Runza serve as some great metaphor for our current pandemic plight, but I don’t have the wherewithal to process a philosophical corollary.

Later, we drop Kelly back at home and make the long trek back to Omaha. I drink the last Mike’s Hard I brought for Kelly because she doesn’t want it. The comedown makes me realize that I no longer like sugary alcoholic beverages. They give me a headache. Jane talks about her marriage, which gives her a headache, so we’re both in the same condition when she drops me at my apartment.

I come home to a heat wave rolling out of my front door. Alexa informs me that the inside temperature is 85 degrees. I turn on the AC, slump into my recliner and ponder the enormity of the fact that Wes, the oldest friend I have, is now married. This was the inquisitive kid I met in 1987 at blind camp. He was the little guy who had no end of questions about everything from the inner workings of an APH tape cassette player to the name of the actor who played Charlie Moore on Head of the Class. Now, it’s his wedding day and the real questions are only beginning for him.

Some might wonder why I disrupted Jane’s Saturday afternoon to take a trip to Lincoln so that we could talk to a bride and groom for two minutes through a car window. My answer is simple. Wes is my friend. If our positions were reversed, I would feel honored and humbled if my friends made the effort to come support me during such a momentous occasion. Of course, our original plans were quite different. The wedding was supposed to be an in-person affair and I was going to make a three-day weekend out of it. Kelly was going to be my actual date and the gender of a convenience store clerk never would have entered into the equation. But then, a bunch of unfettered germs spoiled everything. What if Trump is right? If not for China, I would’ve thrown Wes one hell of a bachelor party. As a protest, I’ll never eat Crab Rangoon again. I think The Donald would approve.

As I drift off for a nap, the thought occurs that, when my wedding night finally arrives, I hope I won’t be too drunk to discern North from South.

Sunday, May 24

SHOCKER!!! Joe recorded the audio feed of Wes’s wedding. I give it a listen as I wait for my Chipotle order to be delivered. The pastor opens the ceremony by saying, “She looks beautiful, Wes.” I’m sure every sighted person who heard that gushed like a Saudi Arabian oil well. Every blind person who heard it probably silently said, “Ahh, for Christ sake.” I catch myself thinking that, if it were my wedding and my official said something like that, despite the solemnity of the occasion, I’d be thinking, she’s gonna look even more beautiful out of that dress, preacher man!

Later on, the pastor says, “I’m smilin’ beneath my mask.” I try to figure out at what point in history in western civilization one might hear a line like that at a wedding. I can’t help it. I giggle like a Cheeto-snarfing pothead. Maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t there after all.

Lunch arrives and it is indeed okie dokie.

Monday, May 25

Happy Memorial Day.

1,636,222 confirmed cases in the United States. 97,276 deaths.

PS: In case you’re wondering, Marshal Dillon was really my other best friend, Joe. That used to be one of his nicknames before Miss Kitty made him hang up his guns. God bless married life.

Schadenfreude

This article comes from David French at the newly-formed Dispatch. Everyone who cares about fact-driven conservative journalism should subscribe. It is so important that I am placing it here as a snapshot in time.

As Tara Reade’s Evidence Against Joe Biden Builds, All the Chickens Come Home to Roost
When everyone abandons norms, who is left to trust?

David French
Apr 28

I’m not generally a person given to schadenfreude. I try to be empathetic and sympathetic. I really do. But there are times when the consequences of terrible ideas become so plain, and the partisan boxes we build become so confining, that it’s hard not to take at least a degree of pleasure in the sudden public realization that old standards of fairness, due process, and personal character just might have some merit.
Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote a rather lengthy assessment of the Tara Reade’s case against Joe Biden and the conservative case for media hypocrisy in the coverage of Reade’s claims. My verdict was simple. Reade’s claims were shaky. The claims against key media outlets were strong. They did, in fact, apply different reporting standards to claims against Brett Kavanaugh and Biden.
Regarding the claims against Biden, here was my summary:
At the end of the day, however, we’re left with a 27-year-old claim with a single anonymous corroboration that’s inconsistent with the claimant’s own previous accounts and is (so far) unsupported by any other claim of similar behavior. I’m troubled but unconvinced. Based on the current state of the evidence, I don’t think it’s likely that Biden assaulted Reade.
Since I published the newsletter, however, the evidence against Biden has grown stronger. Last week we learned that Reade’s mother apparently called in to the Larry King show in 1993 and made the following, rather vague claim:
“Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?” she asks. “My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
It’s not proof of sexual assault by any means, but it’s at least evidence that Reade told her mother that something untoward had happened. Then, Business Insiderupped the ante, locating two additional sources who substantiated Reade’s claims:
Now two more sources have come forward to corroborate certain details about Reade’s claims. One of them — a former neighbor of Reade’s — has told Insider for the first time, on the record, that Reade disclosed details about the alleged assault to her in the mid-1990s.
“This happened, and I know it did because I remember talking about it,” Lynda LaCasse, who lived next door to Reade in the mid-’90s, told Insider.
The other source, Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator in the mid-’90s, told Insider that she recalls Reade complaining at the time that her former boss in Washington, DC, had sexually harassed her, and that she had been fired after raising concerns.
The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg summed up the effect of these new disclosures nicely:
Michelle Goldberg @michelleinbklyn
This is the most persuasive corroborating evidence that has come out so far. What a nightmare.
Rich McHugh @RichMcHugh
NEW: A former neighbor of Joe Biden’s accuser Tara Reade has come forward, on the record, to corroborate her sexual assault account, saying Reade discussed the allegations in detail in the mid-1990s. https://t.co/EyhJDd0qNJ
April 27th 2020
1,317 Retweets6,741 Likes

What a nightmare indeed, for everyone. Every single side of this story is now living with the consequences of dreadful mistakes. Joe Biden is now confronting the “believe women” movement he helped build. Key media outlets and multiple media figures are now face-to-face with their own, post-Kavanaugh double standards. And, finally, the GOP is left without an arrow in its quiver against the Democratic nominee because of its own profound moral compromise.
Let’s start with Biden’s dilemma. There’s of course the easy contrast with the statements he made during the Kavanaugh controversy, when he said a woman’s claims should begin with a presumption of truth:
“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
But lest you think this is a one-quote gotcha, we can’t forget that Biden was an advocate for Obama administration policies that systematically dismantled due process protections for college students accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a brutal story—one that I’ve covered time and time again.
To make a long story short, in 2011 the Obama Department of Education published a “Dear Colleague letter” that dramatically reduced due process protections for accused students at campuses from coast-to-coast. The administration mandated a low burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence), expanded the definition of sexual misconduct, and failed to preserve for the accused even the most basic right to confront their accuser with cross-examination.
The result was a legal disaster. Hundreds of accused students have sued their schools, courts all over the country have overturned sexual misconduct findings and struck down deficient campus procedures. The system was so broken in California that its progressive judiciary halted proceedings in more than 70 sexual misconduct cases to fix the broken process.
Yet as Emily Yoffe wrote last year in Politico, Biden repeatedly spoke about the campus sexual assault controversy in crude caricatures, supported the administration’s Title IX reforms, and then directly attacked proposed Trump administration reforms that restored traditional due process protections in campus adjudications, including the right of cross examination.
To put it another way, the Obama administration broke campus due process to favor sexual assault accusers, Biden championed that effort, and he opposed the restoration of the most basic due process rights. And now he’s in the crosshairs of a serious complaint.
But Biden of course isn’t the only party sleeping in the beds they made. I don’t need to belabor the stunning differences in the way the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other outlets covered the claims against Biden compared with their coverage of claims against Brett Kavanaugh. I wrote about the double standard two weeks ago:
Writing in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published the completely unsubstantiated claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a woman named Deborah Ramirez. Not only did she confess to drinking heavily and to memory gaps, she said that she only came forward “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”
Even worse, The New Yorker stated that the magazine “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” (Emphasis added.) That’s extraordinary. The claim never should have made it to print. Not only did it reach The New Yorker’s prestigious pages, but virtually every other prestige media outlet carried the claims immediately.
But the negligence surrounding Ramirez’s claims is nothing compared to the widespread press negligence and outright recklessness in reporting Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick’s fantastical and grotesque claims that she saw Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” for gang rapes after facilitating them by spiking or drugging the punch at high school parties. The mainstream media reporting on the claim was immediate and prominent. On Twitter, journalist after journalist immediately credited her claims.
To be perfectly clear, the care that media outlets have taken with the Biden allegations should be the standard. When a claim is made, investigate it carefully and comprehensively before rushing it to print. And in the absence of solid evidence, claims should not generate an avalanche of “I believe women” think pieces based on unrelated experiences, teen movies (Vox actually published a piece that used the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles to bolster the rape claim against Kavanuagh)or shaky social science (like unverifiable statistics claiming very low rates of false rape allegations).
The rush to convict Kavanaugh represented one of the most disturbing media moments of my career, and I’m hardly conservative America’s harshest media critic.
Finally, let’s talk about the GOP. What is it going to do, pray tell, with the Biden allegation besides harp on about media hypocrisy? Can it claim in any way that Reade’s allegations are material to Biden’s bid for the presidency? After all, more than a dozen women have accused Donald Trump of various forms of misconduct, there’s a tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, and his lawyer is currently sitting in prison for his participation in a criminal scheme to conceal hush money payments to a porn star.
Moreover, while the allegations against Trump vary in credibility, some are supported by considerable corroborating evidence. For example, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos accused Trump of kissing her without consent in 2007, grabbing her breast, and thrusting his genitals up against her. She filed a defamation case against Trump after he said that he never “met her in a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.”
She not only claims that she told “family and friends” about the incident and that she reached out to legal counsel to consider legal action as early as 2011, but discovery in the case has produced phone logs and itineraries that Zervos claims corroborate her timeline and her account of communication with Trump. And that’s but one claim.
It is so painfully obvious that each and every error outlined above would have painful consequences. No one should think that norms of due process and presumptions of innocence that have been built up over centuries of painful human experience can be cast aside by any person or political party without soon facing their own challenge in responding to presumptions of guilt and lowered burdens of proof.
Media organizations that set irresponsible precedents when confronting a conservative judicial nominee should not be surprised when critics rightly highlight the care they take in reporting on a Democratic presidential candidate.
Finally, a political party that thoroughly discards any meaningful character test for president—including by discarding any real concern as to whether its nominee has abused women—cannot then be surprised when the press and the public ultimately treat accusations against a political opponent with a yawn and a shrug. “Character for thee, but not for me” persuades no one.
And so, here we are, reminded once again that presumptions of innocence are important, careful reporting is a professional necessity, and personal integrity is of paramount importance in national leaders. Yet few of our leading national institutions are well-equipped to make that case. Is it any wonder that Americans deeply distrust virtually every significant player in the American political system?

The Corona Diaries: Week 4

One of the most overrated series in the pantheon of old-time radio is the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It was actually a resurrection of classic radio drama that aired 12 years after network radio purged itself of the last remnants of the theater of the mind. Collectors like myself classify it in the same category as fare from the golden age of radio because it was produced and directed by Hyman Brown, a veteran of that bygone era, and usually starred voice actors who were also actors from the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. It aired from 1974 to 1982. It was a very prolific series that ran nightly, seven nights a week, 365 days a year.

The quality was telling. There were probably about nine mediocre to horrible episodes for every one good one. The music was canned, the sound effects were minimal and the audio quality was standard ‘70’s A.M. network vintage. But America loved it. Our audience at Radio Talking Book loves it. I run an episode every weekend.

One of the few good offerings was a story called, “The Black Room,” written by Elspeth Eric. Larry Haines plays a man who is abducted by unknown government forces and isolated in a room devoid of light and human companionship. The guy spends months in solitary confinement in the dark room and starts to go crazy inside of his own head. Then one day, a mouse sneaks into the dark room and the guy befriends him. He adopts the little mouse and starts to feed him crumbs of cheese, bread and even an apple. They strike up a kind of friendship that’s sort of cute in a twisted Disney sort of way. Then on one occasion as the guy goes to feed Mr. Mouse, he bites his hand. After that, the mouse disappears and the guy collapses into lethargy. He finally says to Mr. Mouse, “I don’t care.”

Week Four: WWHD?

Monday, April 6, 2020

412 confirmed cases in Nebraska. The death toll has climbed to eight statewide. An outbreak has occurred in Grand Island, which is far too close to my hometown of Kearney for my liking. A note of cautious optimism creeps into the stock market as signs indicate that certain hot spots may be leveling off. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been transferred to the ICU after his symptoms have not abated after 10 days. The governor of Wisconsin tries to postpone his state’s primary until June 9, but is quickly overruled by both the state and national Supreme Court. Kroger announces that all Baker’s stores in Omaha will cap the number of customers at half their maximum capacity. Dr. Pour recommends masks for all who venture out in public. I watch part of a presser with Trump and his medical minions. With apologies to his full-throated supporters, this guy doesn’t appear to be a man in control. He’s not in control of the country, he’s not in control of this crisis and frankly, he’s not in control of himself.

I work from home all day. All goes well with my remote operations. I undercook bacon for breakfast on the Foreman Grill. Maybe the oven would be more effective. For dinner, I make garlic-Italian burgers with a pinch of Ghost Pepper Salt. I do a lot of my work in the evening with the windows open and a cool spring breeze wafting through my living room. Maybe I could get used to this.

Maintenance has been stomping and clomping up and down the stairs all day. I recognize Happy’s voice. They seem to be doing something in the empty apartment across the hall. When I take the trash out at 4:30, I catch the distinctive odor of fresh paint. Am I about to get a new neighbor? No one can replace Lisa, who used to look after Mags for me when I would go out of town. I need to check on Lisa and see how she’s doing. My cleaning lady Maria also calls and confirms that she will be here Wednesday morning. I am surprised that she is still working, but she says several restaurants and stores that paid her are closed right now. It seems that she feels the needed income is worth the risk.

Tuesday, April 7

478 positive cases statewide. 12 souls lost. Folk music legend John Prine has died at age 73 due to complications from COVID-19. Somewhere, Mike Floyd is inconsolable. Wisconsin goes ahead and holds its election. Nebraska University campuses restrict access to essential personnel only. I have a niece and nephew of college age and I envy them. At least they have a legit reason to cut class. I was never this lucky 25 years ago.

I am sleeping well, but finding that I am having more vivid dreams, particularly in the early morning when I would usually be arising for the workday. Years ago, my sleep doctor told me that dreams tend to cluster in the hours directly before the end of a natural REM cycle. I’ve also heard that dreams are more intense when someone naps during the afternoon. I can attest in the affirmative to both of these assertions. No, I don’t dream in color.

More stomping and banging doors across the hall. At around 10 in the morning, someone pulls the fire alarm. The bell sounds like one of those old-fashioned school bells with the loud, long peal, rather than the ear-splitting electronic squeal that characterizes the modern variety. It only lasts for two seconds and does not result in a mass evacuation. At 4:30 in the afternoon, Happy drives below my balcony and hollers, “That looks like a gud cigar!” I ask him what’s going on across the hall and he says they’re getting the place ready for someone to move in. He also says he got stuck in an elevator in another building this morning. I hope he remember his raccoon jerky.

Wednesday, April 8

523 confirmed cases in Nebraska. 15 deaths. Dick’s Sporting Goods announces it will furlough most of its 40,000 workers. Gun nuts read this headline and sneer. Katy tells me she will be going back to work at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind next Monday. This is good news, because it turns out she wasn’t getting federal sick leave pay after all. Mayor Stothert closes all public parks and trailheads through April 30. Police threaten to enforce her order with citations, arrests and towed vehicles. The Omaha Farmers Market is delayed until June.

We knew it would happen sooner or later. Today was sooner. Our morning volunteers ran afoul of Dropbox and we were scrambling to get their files in time for the morning papers. We failed, causing the show to be 10 minutes over. I was running around in my ratty robe and blown-out slippers when Maria showed up to clean. Then Jane texted and said, “I need to go to the office. Want to tag along?” I texted back that I did, then tried to run to the shower. This is only fair to Jane as I haven’t taken a proper shower in six days. I accidentally flashed Maria as I come out of the bathroom, but she takes it in stride. I don’t think she has the same flexible attitude about my junk that my coworkers do.

We spend about four hours in the office and I program as far ahead as possible. When we arrive at 10:45, the sun is shining and the air is mild. When we leave at 3:10, the wind has picked up and I’m fighting off goose bumps. On the way home, we listen to Mayor Stothert’s presser on her decision to close all city parks.

Thursday, April 9

587 confirmed cases in Nebraska. 15 deaths. Another record-breaking week of national unemployment claims; 6.6 million. Boris Johnson is released from the ICU and his condition is upgraded. UNL, my old school, announces its first case. It was a worker in the Selleck dining hall, which was my dorm when I was there 25 years ago. Six new cases confirmed at the YRTC in Kearney. Animal shelters announce that they are placing record numbers of cats and dogs in homes. My heart aches when I read that one.

On the latest episode of Better Call Saul, our hero drinks his own pee while trekking through the desert. I’m not making it up. YouTube it. As I watch the scene with Katy on Facetime, I catch myself wondering if this pandemic will reach the point where our water supply will be infected by dead bodies and we’ll all have to drink our own pee to survive.

Truthfully, I’m approaching COVID fatigue. Today marks a full week that I’ve been away from work and my normal routine. I haven’t seen anyone socially since…I don’t know when. My gut used to tighten every time my phone chimed with a news alert. Now, I’m just mildly curious. How many infected now? What is the latest sophomoric utterance of our president. Inane debates on social media rage on. Should Governor Ricketts institute a ‘shelter in place’ order? Do we have enough ventilators? Should we wear masks? Is blaming China for the virus racist? Is the virus itself racist since more African-Americans seem to be disproportionately affected? I’m starting to become apathetic toward the whole bloody business.

I make garlic teriyaki chicken for dinner and write a review of Star Trek: Picard, which is almost as bleak as our current situation.

Friday, April 10

643 confirmed cases statewide. 17 deaths. The worldwide death toll hits 100,000; a number that is unfathomable. It is a good Friday for stocks, which continue to rise despite the mounting body count. The IRS promises that the first round of stimulus paychecks will go out next week. The FDA warns Alex Jones to shut the hell up. Every guaranteed constitutional right comes with fools who will inevitably abuse it. The U.S. Olympic Swim Team promises that it will return to Omaha next year. Experts promise that we are almost at our peak projections of infections, but that we need to keep restricted health measures in place. The National Federation of the Blind finally announces that its annual convention scheduled in July will switch from Houston to virtual.

I’m in Westroads Mall trying to find a Cinnabon so I can meet Jean, the manager, who is really Saul Goodman, who is really Jimmy McGill. I want to get his autograph and ask about Breaking Bad, because it is the superior series. I know we’re supposed to stay home, but I hate authority, so I ignore the governor and the mayor. The mall is a ghost building. My cane taps echo off of the walls and ceiling. I try to call AIRA to guide me to Cinnabon, but Rossana from Boulder keeps answering. I try to talk to her, but she will only respond in Spanish. “Ryanito! Ryanito!” she laughs at me before the connection goes dead. Then I hear laughter coming from off in the distance, so I head for it. I find a large table with a group of people around it. I know them all, but they couldn’t possibly all know each other. Martin, Shane, Steve the Piano Player, Haylee, Bekah, Dave from Gallup, Deb, some volunteers from RTBS, Bridgit, Marco from college, Mitch, Marty, Jamie, Brent from the CCB, Kelly, my sister-in-law Missy on a horse, Kim Ann, a theater kid from high school who’s name I can’t remember, Rachel, Chris F, Mike H, Hunter, more people I can’t remember now. Five different women named Amy that I’ve known are all playing cards. They’re playing Pitch, which I don’t know how to play, so I don’t join in. I keep walking around this huge table looking for a seat, but no one will point one out for me or invite me to sit. Many of them get angry that I interrupt their conversations. Then I strike out for Cinnabon and follow the smell until I find it, but it’s The Cookie Company. Katy is behind the counter and she hands me a cookie shaped like her cat Ty. I bite off the tail and she screams at me, “You weren’t supposed to bite him! Bastard!” Then I run off and eventually find Cinnabon. Robin and Bryan Cranston are working there. Not Robin Bryan’s wife, but my ex-girlfriend. Bryan hands me a box full of cinnamon rolls. He tells me not to lick the frosting because it’s blue. I try to say hi to Robin, but she just says, “Fuck. Off.” She’s still left-brained. I walk back to the huge table and everybody suddenly goes dead silent. They all blame me for carrying a box of cinnamon rolls during a pandemic. I turn and flee toward an exit. Outside, the sun is shining, but there are snowflakes on my nose. I hear an idling car and run toward it, pull the passenger door open and fling myself in. Jane is in the driver’s seat. She says, “I’m disappointed in you, Ryan. Flowers smell better!” I turn to the back seat and Alicia and Wes are sitting there. Wes is crying because his wedding is canceled. I hand the box of cinnamon rolls to Alicia and say, “You’ll like these.” She mutters, “It’s too late. I already have cancer.” Then, my old boss David pulls open the car door. Declan and Hallie are with him and I somehow know that their parents don’t know where they are. He says, “Ryan, Joe doesn’t have any room left in his car. Can I ride with you and your charming boss?” My phone rings. I drop the cinnamon rolls. David laughs. Jane says, “That was stupid.”

I jolt awake. Alexa tells me that It is 7:23 AM. I run out to the computer and write down as much as I can remember of the dream.

That night, I take a Unisom before bed.

Saturday, April 11

One month ago today, I sat at Bridgit’s dining room table and shared Indian food with her. We talked like two normal people. Declan and I discussed the merits of eating toast with toothpaste on it. Within a 20-minute window, President Trump restricted travel to Europe, the NBA suspended its season and Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife had contracted COVID-19. I think this was the last time I socialized with anyone outside of work.

I brave the Hy-Vee jungle. Sadly, Sheila is too busy to assist me, so I shop with a guy named Chris. He tries very hard, but he reiterates that he is new at this location and doesn’t know the store very well. I want to make a cheesy bacon and chicken ranch casserole for Easter dinner, but I don’t have the patience to find all of the ingredients necessary with Chris as my guide, so I just get the basics and go. Chris sounds as if he might have a developmental disability, but who can tell? He might just be from Blue Heaven, Idaho.

I talk to Shane for a while. He’s in his garage looking for parts to their trampoline. Amy doesn’t know how to cook eggs over easy. I also talk to Mitch. He’s been working from home for a month now and he’s sick of it. He forbids his wife to go to Hy-Vee, but she ignores him and goes anyway. Alicia auditions a new Christian music show on an internet radio station.

I get into an argument with Maida on Facebook because I joke about hiring an escort during the pandemic despite social distancing rules. She is disgusted with me for being lighthearted at a time like this. Honest to God! I’ve spent the last month alternating between sadness, anxiety, hopefulness, anger and boredom. If I can’t laugh at our current situation, what the hell is left?

I view it the same way I view my blindness. Blindness can often be frustrating, enraging, depressing, annoying and occasionally, hopeful. At the end of the day, you just have to sit back and laugh at the circumstances. Either that, or descend into the maelstrom of madness. I think of it as The Hawkeye Syndrome, patterned after the main character on M*A*S*H who finds his circumstances so absurd and deadly at the same time that his coping mechanism is to act crazy. I think he spent most of his time in his bathrobe, too.

Sunday, April 12

Happy Easter.

Facebook is littered by posts with sentiments ranging from, “He has risen, indeed,” to “Why can’t our conservative governor order us to shelter in place,” to, “Happy police state!” Other than a few extra bunnies and talk of a guy who rose from the dead, not much different.

I try an Instacart order for my casserole. At first, it looks like it won’t be here in time and I try desperately to cancel the order. Then, my shopper makes it to the store and ultimately delivers my groceries right at the end of the window.

The cheesy chicken bacon broccoli ranch casserole turns out wonderfully. I spend Easter dinner on a Zoom call with Joe, Sharonda, Wes, Kelly and a lot of people I don’t know from Iowa. I last about two hours before I get a call from Dad, then take a post-dinner nap. I write a little bit and engage in some overdue music therapy. The NFB of Omaha chapter tries to hold a catch-up conference call in the absence of an in-person chapter meeting, but our phone conference number doesn’t seem to work, so it’s a bust. Later, Wes, Kelly and I have a quiet call to wind down the day. Kelly drinks a glass of wine before her new job starts tomorrow. I indulge in one cold can of Coors Light and a bowl of sugar-free instant pudding. Wes abstains.

Honestly, gentle readers, this may be the last Corona Diary. Even though some signs point toward resolution, this crisis feels interminable. I’m running out of words. The days really do feel as if they are melting together, high-lighted by bad news from the media and petty drama from social media that now seems more ridiculous in a heightened pressure cooker environment. What is left to say? If I say it, who would hear it? It’s like being in that ghost mall, circling around that huge table full of people, screaming at people who are intent upon acting in the same manner they always do. COVID-19 is temporary. People are permanent.

How did the story of “The Black Room,” end, you wonder? Well, I shouldn’t spoil it. I’ll just say that it wasn’t Mr. Mouse at all, and it turned out that she had more important things to occupy her time than a human with bread crumbs.

555,398 confirmed cases in the United States. 22,073 deaths.

Q is for Quitter

The social isolation due to the spread of COVID-19 has afforded me one advantage. It has given me a chance to catch up on books and television. One of the things I’ve gotten around to is Star Trek: Picard. In the past few days, I have managed to finish the series.

… Sort of.

I started it over a bowl of lamb stew with Ross. The first two episodes held promise. I had some initial reservations, but I thought it did a good job of setting up the chess pieces.

Earlier this week, I caught up on episodes three through five. I then skipped ahead to episode seven because I knew Riker and Troi would return. Then, I skipped to the final episode and skimmed it. So I think it is accurate to say that I have watched and digested about six-and-a-half episodes of Star Trek: Picard.

RED ALERT!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Like many fans, I was left unimpressed. Part of the reason was the poorly paced, overly-convoluted narrative. I don’t think I’m an unintelligent viewer, but I can’t really give you the gist of the plot of Star Trek: Picard. It had to do with ex Borg, Romulans, a rag-tag crew patched together by a frail, embittered old man played by Patrick Stewart, and a quest to rescue the descendants of Star Trek TNG’s most beloved character, Data, in the wake of the banning of all synthetic life forms by Starfleet.

Beyond those basic, overly simplified plot points, I can’t really give you a lot more. I can tell you that, in addition to a couple of cameos from a dream/simulation vision of Data, the return of Seven of Nine from Voyager and the return of Hugh, the renegade Borg from TNG, there are no appearances from any other major characters from past Trek other than Riker and Troi.

None of this would have mattered. If Picard had been a well told, compelling series, I might have stuck with it, despite the overt foibles of the supporting characters and the use of profanity that often seemed more gratuitous than edgie.

I have two major problems with Star Trek: Picard. Both are fatal flaws baked into the structural premise of the series. One is the wanton destruction of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. The other is the unfortunate assassination of the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

First, about Roddenberry. If we’ve learned anything from history, it is that a person can excel at world-building without necessarily being a good writer. Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas are the two best examples. There is a reason why Roddenberry’s first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” was a flop. Roddenberry was the sole author and the story contains all of his trademarks. The concepts are interesting, but the execution is stiff and preachy; much like the first season of TNG. By comparison, the second original Trek pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was written by Samuel A. Peeples. Nearly all of the original series was written by authors other than Trek’s chief architect; D. C. Fontana, Richard Matheson, Gene L. Coon, etc. They were edited and often revised by Roddenberry, but the core of each story was not conceived in his imagination.

Yet, Roddenberry’s hopeful, optimistic vision of the future of humanity reverberated throughout every scene of Star Trek. His conception of the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet Command, the U.S.S. Enterprise and the dozens of alien races humans encountered within the framework of the original series echoed throughout the next two generations.

One of the criticisms of Star Trek: Picard was that the writers were not fans of Star Trek and had no true appreciation for the canon of the Trek universe. I would agree, but that didn’t mean that Picard couldn’t be a good series. As evidence, I offer you the best movie in the Trek franchise, The Wrath of Khan.

Khan was written by Nicholas Meyer, who made it clear that he was not a fan of Star Trek. Yet, he authored Khan, which turned out to be a massive hit. Meyer also wrote The Undiscovered Country, which was also a resounding commercial and critical success. All of the early movies in the franchise were marinated in Roddenberry’s ideology, regardless of the level of his creative involvement.

IN fact, given the legacy of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one might argue that the success of the subsequent three sequels was achieved in spite of Roddenberry. If William Shatner’s biographies of Star Trek are to be believed, Roddenberry screamed his objections to the rafters, but to no avail. The producers of the films and executives at Paramount brushed them (and him) aside.

After Roddenberry’s death in 1991, the second franchise spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was commissioned. As the series progressed, the writers became more comfortable in the occasional thumbing of their noses at Roddenberry’s conceptions. Commander Sisko refers to Earth as a paradise and, in more than one Picard-style speech, he chides the Federation for sticking to its black-and-white moral code within the safe boundaries of its territory while grey areas abound in the far corners of the galaxy. Yet, despite a few shots across the bow of the Good Ship Roddenberry, his vision of an evolved human condition remains intact throughout DS9, as well as Star Trek: Voyager, which takes place far from the home of the Federation.

Showrunners and writers could ignore Roddenberry or take mild umbrage with his ideals without inflicting damage upon his legacy. But Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman, the producers and writers for Picard, took their game to an entirely new level. They willfully set a torch to Roddenberry’s mythology, turning it from a bright star of hope to a black hole of despair. In this Trek universe, set 20 years after the final film featuring the TNG crew, Starfleet has become a paranoid, hostile organization that has banned the existence of all synthetic life forms in the wake of a massive android attack on Mars, as well as the destruction of the planet Romulus. In Roddenberry’s utopia-tinged future, humans have finally evolved after thousands of years of adversity. In Chabon’s world, it takes 20 years for them to devolve. Only one man stayed sane during this period.

That leads us to my second major objection, the assassination of the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

In the seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we learn a good deal about Captain Picard. He likes earl grey tea, hot. He is uncomfortable around children. He was in love with Beverly Crusher, even though she was married to his best friend. Her son, Wesley, thinks of Picard as a surrogate father figure; a reality that Picard is never entirely comfortable with. He lost command of his first vessel, the Stargazer, during a battle with a Ferengi ship. Beverly’s husband Jack Crusher was killed in that engagement. Picard’s only remaining family are a brother, a sister-in-law and a nephew on Earth. They live in France and tend the vineyards that Picard couldn’t wait to get away from when he was a child. Long before he was a captain, he was given an artificial heart after he lost a bar fight with a couple of Nausicaans. He loves to read, listen to classical music, study archeology and he doesn’t get laid as much as his first officer.

Oh, and one other thing we learn about Picard. He’s not a quitter. He has an indomitable spirit that helped him to forge his path as captain of the Enterprise D. This is the man who faced down Q, the Romulans, the Klingons and countless other hostile and misguided species with a combination of strength and reason. He survived assimilation by humanity’s most lethal enemy, The Borg. He survived intense torture by the Cardassians and never broke. He served as the arbiter of succession for the Klingon Empire, met Mark Twain, learned how to talk in metaphor, fought for the rights of androids as sentient beings, learned how to play the flute after being zapped by an alien probe, and so on.

Yet, we are expected to believe that, after the Federation faces its most daunting challenge, Picard would resign from Starfleet in protest, take his marbles and go home? Poppycock! The Picard that we all came to love back in the ‘90’s would have stayed the course, using both public channels and private means until he either turned the tide or died. I don’t buy the notion that his enmity would grow to such a degree that he would retreat to his family vineyard to fade in obscurity. He certainly never would have turned his back on Raffi and left her in the lurch.

In other words, the Admiral Picard that we all came to know would have done exactly what Admiral Kirk did; move heaven and earth to save his friend and preserve the Federation that he spent years defending. Kirk and Picard were very different in temperament and style, but at their core, they were the same. Kudos to Nick Meyer, who had the sense to tweak Roddenberry’s world without altering the fundamental makeup of its core characters.

Star Trek is an escapist fantasy. I knew it when I was 16 and I know it now. I don’t believe that Roddenberry’s vision will ever come to fruition. The crooked timber of humanity will always be too nebulous to evolve to such perfection. Yet, Star Trek was a beautiful realm of fiction to visit, populated with a rich, vast cast of characters who endeared themselves to my heart for decades. Jean-Luc Picard was one of the chief jewels who made that world glimmer with possibilities. Yes, he was a fantastical figure steeped in idealism and pseudo perfection, but that’s how the protagonists of most fantasies stand. To see him degraded from a strong, noble hero to an angry, feckless old man is dispiriting to behold. Commander Riker was the only character who seemed to retain his old spark within the new paradigm. I would be delighted to watch another series centered around his adventures.

There are other nitpicks that range from accurate to spurious. Is the series overly violent? We are living in a time when shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead seem to wallow in bloodshed. Yet, The Wrath of Khan was pretty violent. Think about those ear worms and try not to shudder. And how about the flying blood in The Undiscovered Country? The latter half of DS9 concerned a great galactic war. Yet, in the face of darkness, humanity didn’t lose its light.

The new series did seem to rely more heavily on action. The value of life did seem to be cheapened in this new postmodern Star Trek reincarnation. The extraneous deaths of Hugh and Bruce Maddox exemplify this point. In Trek of old, violence was always contextualized and usually bore emotional consequences.

The best of TNG always had a philosophical core to it. Top-notch stories (usually from seasons three through six), always contained some thought provoking message about the state of humanity. Many of those stories weren’t action centric. Even DS9, a show that contained more action than its predecessor, took a lot of time to breathe in between battles. In Picard, any philosophical messages are lost in the muddled plot. Sure, you have ideas about fear and xenophobia woven into the narrative here and there, but they are never explored in a thoroughly Trek fashion.

Did Picard serve as a doormat or punching bag for other characters, particularly females? Often, yes. The thoughtful, self-assured inner tranquility that informed the former space explorer of TNG was replaced by equal portions of anger, despair, doubt and guilt. This made it difficult for him to act as an authority figure to a crew who were plagued by their own demons. During his reunion with Riker, Picard says, “They seem to be carrying more baggage than all of you ever did.” In this post Roddenberry future, brokenness and failure are not a starting point for positive change, but a comfortable station for edgie character development.

Even Deanna Troi gets her licks in, scolding Picard for not understanding the depths of Soji’s trauma. It’s as if Chabon and Goldsman are attempting to rectify a female character who was, admittedly, poorly served on TNG.

I didn’t care about any of the new characters; not even Data’s daughter. Each time I watched, I wondered how Worf, Geordi, O’Brian and Ensign Ro might react if they were with Picard. The most glaring absence was Dr. Crusher. She was closest to the captain during the run of TNG and, although his visit to the Rikers was the high-light of the series for me, I found the omission of any mention of Beverly to be flawed.

As for Data, his brief story arc was too abstract for my taste. It seems that they brought his character back…just to kill him again? Hmmm. His final conversation with Picard is emotionally poignant and heralds a brief return to the spirit of classic Trek, but the resolution of the scene is strange and random. Picard ultimately dies as well, succumbing to an incurable brain ailment, but is resurrected in the body of an android. Double hmmm. Neither death was a fitting end for such a grand character.

Sidebar: Some fans speculate that Picard was, “Gay for Data,” because they speak of their love for each other in their final conversation. Nonsense! Picard might very well have spoken the same way to Riker, Worf or any of the rest of his comrades from years ago. I interpreted his sentiment as a deep, platonic love that a friend might have for another. Picard was never emotionally expressive with others and this was his way of voicing his regret for that particular character trait while bringing closure to his grief for Data.

Seven of Nine, on the other hand, appears to be in a relationship with Raffi.

How will the legacy of Star Trek: Picard endure? I have no idea. We’re going to get a season two of the further adventures of cyber Picard and his not-so-marry band of followers. I can’t imagine that any of these newer Trek incarnations will endure in the hearts of the young as Trek did back in its peak years. The show’s bleak tone and cynical sensibilities do not distinguish it from most other science fiction and it fits right in with our modern culture of political turbulence.

I have often been tempted to say that Star Trek has finally outlived its time. But why? Look at the tumultuous events of the mid-1960’s that ushered in the age of the original Star Trek series. Look at the wayward culture of the 1970’s when that previously canceled series mushroomed in popularity through syndication. I can’t believe that there is no place for such wide-eyed optimism today, but I do not believe that Star Trek: Picard is the appropriate vehicle for it.

When season two of this show drops, I won’t waste my time. Instead, I’ll be kicking back with all of the reruns from the first three series from the Star Trek universe. As I watch, I’ll be paying quiet homage to Gene Roddenberry. IN many ways, those who came after him cast him aside, viewing his ideals as obsolete. Yet, now more than ever, perhaps we need him more than we realize.

The Corona Diaries: Week 3

From: Jane Nielsen
Sent: Thu 9/7/2017 3:17 PM
Subject: RTBS Offer Letter

hi Ryan,

Welcome aboard, I am so happy to have you as part of the RTBS team!
Attached is an offer letter for you. I don’t know if a screen reader will catch a handwritten statement, but after typing the letter I added the 3% RTBS match for retirement as one of the benefits.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call me at the office or on my cell after hours or on the weekend.

Also, Paul said for an apartment The Martinique was a good place too. That is where he and Ann lived before moving to Council Bluffs. He said he would be happy to talk to you about it too.

Have a great rest of your vacation and see you in 3 weeks.

Jane

Jane Nielsen, Executive Director
Radio Talking Book Service
7101 Newport Ave., Suite 205
Omaha NE 68152
402.572.3003

Week Three: The Anna Karenina Principle

Monday, March 30, 2020

145 confirmed cases in Nebraska. DCHD confirms a third death due to the Coronavirus. Governor Ricketts extends the statewide social distancing restrictions until April 30. I guess we can all play catch with our Easter eggs. The EPA urges everyone to only flush their toilet paper, not their disinfecting wipes. I read that and start to believe that humanity deserves what it’s getting. Methodist Health System has created a hotline for those in need of mental or emotional support during this crisis. I jot down the number and make a mental note to pass it along to every stay-at-home parent I know.

Jackie is the cheerful lady who’s been working the screening table right outside the back door of our studios. When I first discovered the screening table a week ago, I jokingly said, “The least you guys could do is put out donuts or brownies for us.” She laughs and tells me she’ll get right on that. I’ve been giving her our extra copy of the Omaha World Herald so she can work on the crossword puzzle in her ongoing battle against boredom. Today as I greet her, she tells me to stick out my hand. “I made a chocolate cherry dump cake this weekend and I brought you a piece. It’s not as good as brownies, but I hope you’ll like it.”

I am deeply touched. This lady has no way of knowing that I’m deep in the Keto diet and I’ve just squeezed into a pair of jeans that wouldn’t fit after Christmas. I thank her and promise that I’ll eat the cake for breakfast. Later, I give it to Jane as I choke down agonizing waves of regret.

I feel so bad for Jackie. She’s been mandated to wear a mask since last Thursday and she complains that it fogs up her glasses. But I feel even worse for myself. I really, really want that cake! I actually need it. Earlier that morning, the bus with the new driver pulled up and opened the back door, but I didn’t find it right away. A well-intentioned fellow passenger got off, grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the door.

Any blind person will tell you that they hate being touched or grabbed by strangers, well-meaning or otherwise. It’s not necessary to violate one’s personal space when simple verbal directions would suffice. But now, we have an even more compelling reason to detest random contact. You sure as hell can’t maintain social distancing when you’re feeling up on some blind guy.

The morning goes well. I wait until after I bribe Jane with the cake to ask for early dismissal so I can go to AT&T to get a new phone. She agrees. At two PM, I’m in a Lyft with Rick. He’s not very talkative, so I don’t ask him what he thinks of the Coronavirus.

When I walk in the front door of the AT&T store, I am immediately greeted by a guy named Colton. I’m a little gun-shy at this point, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that he’s white. He’s married with a one-year-old and a newborn. He sounds like he goes home every day for lunch and has a grill cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup; very much a white guy’s meal. Colton loves AT&T because they gave him two weeks’ pay while he was benched at home, even though he’s been there less than a year. Maybe I could get word to my Asian buddy at Metro Transit Omaha that he’s in the wrong business.

I anticipate that upgrading from my fried iPhone 7 to the iPhone 11 will be a pain in my slowly shrinking ass, but it’s relatively painless. It doesn’t even hurt my hip pocket; that part will come later. The most arduous part comes when Colton restores my phone. AT&T has lousy Wi-Fi and it takes forever for everything to download.

Then, Colton offers to help me with the face ID authentication. I have to admit that this is the part I’ve been nervous about, so I take him up on his generous offer. But then, he touches my face. Worse… He then touches my neck in an effort to show me how to rotate my head so the camera on my phone can capture my impeccable visage from all angles. I wince inwardly every time he touches me, but I say nothing.

I’m also tense because, although I can’t verify it, I’d swear there are more than 10 people in the store. I see a few people come and go as I sit there for the 45 minutes it takes for my software upgrade to complete and my apps to restore from the cloud. I overhear another sales rep chatting up an older-sounding guy who claims he’s, “just running errands today.” IDIOT!

In my previous entry, I explained why I felt that buying a phone was, in fact, essential travel. I genuinely need it for my livelihood, my safety and my mobility. Yes, I also need it so I can continue to play virtual dice and flirt with Kelly long distance, but that’s beside the point. That said, I wonder if I’m not a hypocrite as I sit there and quietly fume at the other people who are milling about the store.

After my phone is partially restored, Colton shows me how to access the home button, which is no longer a home button. In order to do this, he takes hold of my hand several times. Dude, I think! You got a wife and kids!

… That’s not as dirty as it sounds.

After I leave, I spend the rest of the evening struggling with my new phone. I eventually get the gist of the basics, but Face ID frustrates the hell out of me. Still, I take a chance that it will work if I set it to unlock my phone.

… It doesn’t. It claims I don’t have a face and keeps going to sleep. Damnit! I’m locked out of my phone and, for some reason, my pass code won’t come up. I panic! If I can’t get into my phone, I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow until I can get back to AT&T. I’m as mad as a hornet and, if I stay this way, Colton won’t have to worry about the virus, because I’ll put him in the ICU.

20 minutes later, someone whom I suspect to be Terra rolls me in Dice World. I tap on the icon and my pass code prompt comes up. I unlock the phone and immediately turn off face ID. Thank God! I am whole again!

Tuesday, March 31

177 confirmed cases in Nebraska. CNN host Chris Cuomo (aka Fredo), has tested positive for the virus. At his daily presser, President Trump warns the public that the next couple of weeks are going to be really, really hard. Two cruise ships can’t find a port at which to doc due to infected passengers. Shades of the novel, Pandora’s Clock. The stock market closes out its worst quarter since Black Monday in 1987. Mayor Stothert spanks some retail store managers around town for allowing crowd sizes to exceed the recommended maximum. We haven’t all been grounded and sent to our rooms yet, but it feels like we’re getting close. Coach Scott Frost says we need to take the threat of COVID-19 very seriously. If that doesn’t flatten the curve in the Big Red State, nothing will.

On the KFAB morning show, Gary Sadlemyer and Jim Rose interview Dr. Adi Pour, Director of Douglas County Health. They actually argue with her over whether or not it’s a good idea to encourage social distancing in big-box stores. Jim Rose has always been a pompous ass, but I thought Gary had better sense. Dr. Pour still has an aura of tranquility about her, as if she’s the great calm in the center of a storm that is bound to increase in its ferocity.

Bekah tells me that the entire staff at CHI are now required to wear masks. I hope they all use contact lenses. A staff member saw her in the loo and asked why she was walking around with a naked countenance. If we all wind up under masks, I wonder if they’ll let me make mine look like The Green Hornet.

As I walk home from the bus, I encounter a maintenance man named Happy. His real name is Justin, but he goes by Happy. He is redneck through and through. He once told me that he shoots raccoons in the field in back of his house, then cooks and eats them. I have absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of his claim. He fits the part too well. I used to bribe him with beer to come fix my screen door whenever it went off the track, but I haven’t seen him in a while.

“We’s just puttin’ some sans up on all the dowers for the buildin’s. I ain’t read’em yit, but I’m sure it’s about that vahrus,” he says.

Later, I receive an Email from my apartment complex with the subject line, “Covid-19.” It says:

“Please view the letter regarding Covid-19 that was left at your door earlier today.

Thank you,

Martinique Management”

This is the first communique I’ve ever received from management that has arrived electronically.

I reply:

“I sure would if I could read it.”

Their reply states:

“HI Ryan. It was left at the door of your apartment. Let me know if you can’t find it.

Lyndsay M”

I reply:

“I’m a blind guy. I’m not able to read it. Can you please Email me an electronic copy?”

My last message was sent at 6:27 PM. No response as of 10:52 PM. I’m off to my lavender bath.

Wednesday, April 1

214 confirmed cases statewide. DHS reports a fifth death attributable to COVID-19 in Nebraska. According to a report submitted to the White House, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that China lied about the extent of the outbreak in Wuhan when it first occurred. The Grand Canyon is the latest national park to close in an effort to curb the spread. The governor of Florida is the latest to issue a mandatory ‘stay at home’ order for the entire state. Denver’s paratransit service is offering free grocery deliveries to their disabled customers. What a concept. Omaha police make it clear that they will enforce the governor’s directed health measures. They likely put out this statement because of the beautiful, sunny weather we had in Omaha today.

I’m standing at the front door of my building at 7:39 AM. The AIRA Agent says, “Hi, Ryan. Thank you for calling AIRA. My name is Rosina. How may I help you today?”

That is the only complete sentence I ever hear from Rosina. I try to get her to read the printed sign taped to the front door of our building, but she keeps breaking up. It turns out my Wi-Fi is still connected, but the signal is too weak to allow for stable reception. I turn off the Wi-Fi and try to call back, but no one answers. I don’t have time to make a third attempt.

AIRA has definitely made a positive difference in the lives of blind people. They’ve been a big help to me in many ways, particularly when I was faced with my inaccessible thermostat. But don’t let anyone kid you that it takes the place of real accessibility offered on the part of companies, property owners and websites. AIRA is a workaround, nothing more.

At about 11 that morning, I go into Jane’s office. After much soul-searching, it is time to force the issue. I tell her that we really should strongly consider closing down the office for two weeks. I feel like the guy on death row telling his lawyers not to appeal my case any longer, but we’re coming to a point where it feels like the right thing to do for the company and for my coworkers.

Jane agrees with me and calls the chairman of the board of directors. By the time I finish breakfast, she’s talked to him and they agree that it’s time to pull the trigger. Bekah was going to work from home today, but after Jane sends an Email to her and MeMe explaining our new plan, she’s there by one. We all have a conference call and discuss remote measures going forward. We decide that we will wrap up loose ends tomorrow, but as of Friday morning, Radio Talking Book will be closed for at least two weeks.

After I walk out of Jane’s office, my will breaks. I head straight for the fridge and grab the small, square plastic container. I don’t bother looking for a plastic fork, but just shovel Jackie’s chocolate cherry dump cake into my greedy maw with one hand. Thank you, Jane, for not getting around to eating this. Standing there with my fingers coated with crumbs and cherry pie filling, I am the consummate emotional eater.

That afternoon, Katy helps me try to figure out why NVDA won’t cooperate on my Dell computer. Our efforts prove fruitless. I call Michael and he says he is willing to work from home on weekend mornings if it means he can stay on the payroll.

When I catch the afternoon bus to go home, I am in for a shock. For the first time during my two-and-a-half years in Omaha, I have to search for a seat. Social distancing is impossible because there are people sitting directly behind me, in front of me and across the aisle. I am ultra-conscious of one guy a couple rows ahead of me who keeps coughing. I guess people love a free ride.

Someone from Martinique management finally replies to my Email and attached an electronic copy of the mysterious sign per my request. Of course, it was an image scan, so my screen reader couldn’t decipher it. Jane was very obliging. In short, they made it clear that, if anyone is going to forego paying rent, they must submit proof of loss of employment and related income. Jane has assured all of us that we will continue to be paid, but for how long, I wonder?

Very funny, God. April Fool’s! You can knock it off now.

Thursday, April 2

255 positive cases in Nebraska. The death tally climbs to six statewide. 6.6 million new unemployment claims, far higher than expected. Starting tomorrow, Costco will limit the number of shoppers to two members per card per visit. Omaha cops busted a bartender for allowing two customers to share a pitcher. UNL has agreed to make their dorms available as quarantine quarters if needed.

Today is all about doing as much as possible before we close. But first, I decide that it’s time to rub some lotion on the dry skin of my knuckles, which feel more like scales than skin. Copious hand-washing has taken its toll. I rub in the lotion and marvel at the cool, soothing feeling it has upon my hands.

Jane comes in a while later and says, “Hey, you got something white on your shirt and the fly of your jeans.”

“Where?” I ask. She directs my finger along the seam of my fly until I touch a moist drop. Then I take my fingertip away and sniff the moisture. I’m glad MeMe isn’t here right now, because if she were to walk in and witness me fingering my fly and then sniffing it… She might have some serious questions.

“Damnit! It’s lotion. I’ll go clean it off.”

“I’m sorry I had to tell you that,” Jane says. “I know you need to know, but I feel so bad telling you.” I long ago had to explain to Jane that blind people need to be aware when their clothes are stained so they don’t look like jackasses walking around with drops of white stuff on the fly of their jeans, even though it might make for good speculative gossip in the break room throughout the work day.

I run to the bathroom, wet a paper towel, wipe down my crotch, wipe it dry with another towel, feel a momentary flash of guilt for using two towels instead of one during this time of peril, then walk quickly over to Jane’s office.

“Hey, Chief,” I say as I walk in. “How’s my junk look?”

“Your junk looks good,” she says.

“Glad to hear it,” I say.

Enter, Bekah.

“Hey, Bekr,” I say. “When you wanna come back and help me with my computer?”

“I can’t,” she retorts. “I’m gonna be too busy getting’ all up in your junk.”

“You know what… As long as your husband is all good with it, I’m all good,” I say.

And that’s how things stand at 9:45 on the last day of office hours at Radio Talking Book before a semi-mandatory two-week hiatus; a killer virus all around, the economy slowly tanking and no chocolate or coffee to be had anywhere in our office. I guess all of us figure that the sexual harassment policy that was implemented several months ago was only good as long as the volunteers were within earshot.

Bekah does indeed try to help me reinstall NVDA on my computer in hopes that we can get it to update properly, thereby granting me remote access. Unfortunately, the computer is about as slow and sluggish as I was after my 45th birthday party. After an hour of more F-bombs than an episode of Deadwood, she finally gets in installed.

The rest of the afternoon is spent programming as far ahead as possible. Even though both Bekah and I can gain access remotely, I want to have as much done as we can. The mood at work is not somber. In fact, all three of us seem as if we’re in a pretty good mood. Even MeMe sounds a bit more chipper than usual during our daily conference call.

At approximately 4 PM, the following message is posted to our Facebook page:

“As you may know, RTBS ceased in-person volunteering out of an abundance of caution in light of the COVID-19 concerns on March 17. Our staff and volunteers
are working hard to provide uninterrupted programming for our listeners. We have over 50 volunteers reading remotely, providing the vital, local programming
our listeners rely on now more than ever.

RTBS has made the decision to close our office for at least two weeks. Team RTBS is set up for successful remote work and the show will continue to go
on! Today will be our last day in the office. Please contact us at info@rtbs.org if you have any questions! Stay Safe and Be Well!!

gif description: Homer Simpson, in a flowered mumu and white shower cap, sits on his couch, extending a broom across the room to a desk, randomly hitting
computer keys with it while staring the opposite direction.”

I bum a ride home from Jane. She’s ready to go at 5:15. I get my stuff together including that pesky lotion, my favorite thermos that Katy gave me for Christmas two years ago, several cans of Diet Dr. Pepper and lots of hot dogs. Jane almost forgets her raincoat. Bekah calls her husband Bart to come pick her up. I head toward the door… And start to fight back tears.

Why am I fighting back tears? Most people would be crying tears of joy at the prospect of working from home, especially if they don’t have kids. Working all day in a ratty robe and blown-out slippers. Conference calls from the bath tub. The return of the three o’clock siesta. What’s not to love?

I guess I’m going all emo because it’s dawning on me that my coworkers at Radio Talking Book really are like my family. I have a real family, of course, but these guys have worked with me and had my back for the last two-and-a-half years. Sure, they cover my shift when I’m gone and laugh at my boorish jokes, but it’s more than that. Bekah helps me fill out my check every month so I don’t end up sleeping with the raccoons. MeMe tells me about her grandkids, her favorite books and her former work as a librarian. Jane runs me to the store every month so I can get a bus pass. We all talk to each other about our families, our worries, our goals, and even our junk. We attend each other’s birthday parties, support each other in theater projects and provide council when one of our staff mulls over a senatorial bid. Sometimes, we butt heads a little, but we handle it. All of our volunteers are like my extended family. I don’t see them every day, but I’m always delighted when they drop in.

I’m going to miss them. What deepens my sadness is the fact that I truly don’t know if this two weeks will mark the end of our temporary situation. When will I see any of these wonderful people again? What will our lives look like in two weeks?

So here I sit in my living room. The weather alert on my phone is burring at me. “Winter weather advisory tomorrow until 1PM for your current location.” Yesterday, it was 73 and sunny. I guess Mother Nature hasn’t figured out that April Fool’s Day ended 24 hours ago.

At any rate, gentle readers, this diary is about to get a whole lot more dull.

Friday, April 3

285 confirmed cases in Nebraska. Employers cut 701,000 jobs, snapping a 10-year job growth streak that was a bragging point of our current and immediate past presidents. Uncle Sam recommends that Americans wear masks in public, but Trump says he won’t join the latest fashion trend. States are beginning to squabble over medical supplies such as ventilators. Governor Ricketts places the entire state under directed health measures. Omaha Public Schools announces that there will be no graduation ceremonies in May. Kids will have to hold Prom via Zoom. Not sure what those after prom parties will look like.

I wake up a little past 5 AM. Damn, I think. Over an hour to go till… Wait.

At 8 AM, I am jarred out of a restless sleep by the voice of Gary Sadlemyer. “Alexa,” I mumble through a dry mouth, “Set the thermostat to 76.” I get up, wipe away the weird dream I was having from my mind, put on my robe and slippers and head out to make coffee. I hear the sound of wind and sleet pelting my balcony door as the Keurig heats up. Even though I hate the circumstances, I’m glad I can stay home today in my comfortably warm apartment. The spring weather of two days ago is a wistful memory.

I text my coworkers good morning and answer one from Bekah that says, “Weather’s in our Dropbox.” After I start the coffee, I sit down at the computer to access work remotely.

Over 20 minutes later, I finally get Bekah’s weather downloaded from the Dropbox website and locked into the morning playlist. It should have only taken a minute or two.

Let me pause to explain to the uninitiated about digital accessibility for the blind. When a screen reader doesn’t play nicely with a website, whether due to flash, graphics or improperly tagged links or labeled buttons, it is a real pain in the bum for those of us who cannot navigate visually. Add to that the fact that I am using a free screen reading software package in conjunction with a dinosaur of an internet browser (Internet Explorer), and a cumbersome website, and you have a really stress-making experience.

Let me try to draw a broad comparison to better enlighten you. Reflect back to a time when you went into a Runza, ordered a nice meal complete with a milkshake, then sat down. After a few bites of a salty burger and/or crinkly fries, you pick up the shake and suck on the straw. Your tongue and palate eagerly anticipate the feeling of that sweet, cool, creamy, cold flood of empty calories as it bathes your throat and fills your gut.

Only, nothing comes through the straw. You can taste the flavor of the shake (chocolate or vanilla for me) and you might even get a tease on your tongue, but the ice cream is too thick to make it through the tiny aperture afforded by that whale-killing plastic. So, you either return to your deliciously salty Runza and fries, or you go grab a glass of water.

Except, instead of empty calories, we’re talking about information. It may be as important as an update on the COVID-19 virus in your area, or as frivolous as SugarDaddy.com, but either way, it is information that we as blind people do not have equal access to. And there’s no cup of water for temporary relief. Our relief only comes if a company decides to play nice, or if a person or organization files a lawsuit, or if the government decides to step in and get tough. Any of those options can take years.

Note: If you live outside of Nebraska, just substitute Burger King or Arby’s for Runza in your mind.

That is why I called a Lyft and got dressed. There were no Lyft rides available, but Chuck, an Uber driver, is there in 10 minutes. Chuck is a friendly guy who knows about Radio Talking Book. Apparently, he used to volunteer there long before my time.

I make it to the building with 10 minutes to spare. I download Ralph’s file, plug it in the playlist and make a mad dash to the bathroom. God, getting old sucks!

I spend six hours at the office. I discover that Firefox plays much nicer with the Dropbox website and NVDA than does Internet Explorer. I call two of our favorite listeners and check in on them. They both have a friend from church who brings them weekly grocery deliveries. They pay us the ultimate compliment when they say, “You guys are still sounding good. We’d never know the difference if you hadn’t told us that people are reading from home.” I also call two volunteers who are not able to read remotely and let them know that they are missed and that they will have a place with us when things go back to normal. I rattle around the office like a lonely specter. There is no life blood there without MeMe, Bekr and The Chief.

At four o’clock, I head out to the bus stop and grab my usual ride home. The driver is a guy who used to drive me in the mornings when I first moved to Omaha.

“Where were you yesterday, man? I waited for ya for a couple of minutes but you never showed.”

I apologize profusely, explaining to him that he probably won’t be seeing me for at least two weeks because we are shut down.

I get off at Walgreen’s and pick up a couple of items so I won’t have to brave the Hy-Vee jungle tomorrow; Diet A&W, Blue Diamond almonds and hot sauce. The clerk is a coquettish girl who calls me “honey,” a lot and brushes my hand when she hands me back my debit card. Somehow, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as when Colton did it.

When I get home, a care package from Mom and Dad is in front of my door. In it are a bunch of my old cassette tapes with old-time radio shows, a canister of Clorox Wipes, two rolls of toilet paper, a box of Caribou Coffee K-Cups and a box of Munchies Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers. Too bad I can’t take them to work to share with everyone.

For the third week in a row, I offer my Doordash delivery driver a ‘no contact’ option and for the third time, she declines.

Browsing Facebook, I see a post from an acquaintance who is currently compelled to home school her kid. It says, “Not even 2 PM yet and I’m already considering a drink.”

Puts it all in perspective.

Saturday, Apr 4

Once again, I try to unplug from the news. Michael’s first morning working from home goes well. Both volunteers get their files in on time. Jane and MeMe both read segments for our Catholic program, which is three weeks out of date.

One of the items enclosed in the care package from my folks is an old braille thank-you letter I sent to my grandparents after Christmas. Mom always drilled the importance of thank-you letters into us when we were kids. Read this 34-year-old text and see if you can envision the figure of my mother hovering over my shoulder as I write:

“January 5 1986

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

Thank-you for Preceptor and Ramjet. I always wanted Preceptor and I have a use for my Ramjet I liked the Red, White and Blue shirt. I wear it all the time.
Skiing was fun and thank-you for paying for our Condow. I liked skiing also. Tell Christopher that I hope to see him and his Mom and Dad again soon. My favorite part of skiing was skiing.
I can’t think of any else to say. See you soon.

Love,
Ryan”

Friends, with raw ability like that, is it any wonder that I was a member of the Talented and Gifted program for two years?

Notes: Preceptor (Perceptor) and Ramjet were Transformers, the hottest commodity for pre-pubescents of the mid-1980’s. Cousin Chris and I played with them a lot when we were on said skiing vacation at Copper Mountain, Colorado. I’m sure it would have broken Grandma and Grandpa’s hearts to know that I really didn’t care about any clothing in comparison. I would always braille out the letters, then read them to Mom so she could transcribe them. None of my family members ever learned how to read or write braille, which never seemed unusual to me.

Sunday, April 5

Aside from one hiccup with Dropbox, all goes well with Michael. I hold another afternoon virtual Farkle game, which has triple the number of players over last week’s. Even Mike from Lincoln was there. Who knew he had the time? The weather is warming up again, which allows me to enjoy my weekly cigar on the balcony. Bekah stops by and brings me a bag of apples, along with a surprise dinner from Runza. God bless her and Bart. Katy and I watch another episode of Better Call Saul via Facetime. Saul says he is a god in human clothing. Sure, but can he swipe away a virus? John de Lancie was able to cause two airplanes to collide over Albuquerque and then survive to torment Captain Picard 300 years later, so I think he has the better claim. Sundays do indeed appear to be a day of rest.

The all-day down time makes me think about Mags. I’m missing her acutely today. I remember how I felt during the last week of her life, just three months ago. I remember lying next to her at the back of my large bedroom closet as she lay curled in her kitty bed. Her breathing was shallow. She refused to take food or water. At first, she would purr softly when I would stroke her fur, but eventually, she just lay there with her face to the back wall. She wouldn’t even raise her head when I talked to her.

My friend Dana once said, “Cats know things.”

The Friday before she died, I became angry with her when I woke up to discover that she had yet again peed outside of her litterbox. As I went to work, I thought, Goddamn you, Mags! I’m getting sick of this. I’m busting my ass to take care of you and you’re rewarding me by pissing outside of your box. I’m fed up!

The flair-up lasted until I got to work. It was quickly replaced by guilt for feeling anger in the first place. That afternoon, I bought her a second litterbox, wondering if she just needed a change of scenery. It still sits on the top shelf of the hall closet. I never did get around to taking it back to PetSmart within the two-month return period.

Dana used another expression that now comes to mind. “Caregiver burn-out.” Is that what drove my momentary frustration that Friday morning? I always knew Mags was going to leave me sooner than later. Her kidney disease was progressing and the two years of regular trips to and from the vet for shots and examinations had taken their toll on both of us. But why did she have to pee outside of her litterbox? Was she mad, or in pain, or getting back at me for something? And why was I getting angry? Was I growing weary of a daily struggle that was destined to prove futile?

Friday night, I sat in my hot bath, Mags resting in her customary place beside me on a folded towel. I stroked her gently, so happy that she was there. “I’m sorry for getting mad, baby,” I whispered softly.

Saturday morning, I awoke to find her at the back of the closet. That is where we spent our final four days together.

Is Dana right? Do cats know things? Did Mags sense my irrational anger that morning? I always thought that my decision to put her to sleep was the ultimate act of mercy. Did she know what was coming? Was Mags actually showing mercy to me? Do cats really know things?

If Mags did perform an act of self-sacrifice, it was hollow. I still wake up every morning with her kitty bed next to my arm, wishing it was her. I would give anything to hear her soft purr, her mournful “Meow,” or the jingling of her collar as she jumped on the bed. I am very much looking forward to seeing her again after I leave this world. I hope she knows now how much I deeply love her.

Every cat is a control freak. Like humans, they need to dominate their space and their interactions with humans and other animals as much as they can. For me, watching Mags die that early morning in the back room of the vet’s office wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part were the four days prior to her passing, as I kept a tearful vigil beside her bed, knowing that the end was near, but not quite knowing when. Droplets of hope kept evaporating in the gale of her growing suffering.

For those of us who are in desperate need of control, the prelude of the ticking clock is the ultimate agony.

My apartment is silent now, filled only by the ghost of a cat who once lived and filled my heart with love. A cherry wood box with her name printed on top is all that remains of my beloved girl. Mags is gone. Now, I only hear distant thunder.

… And it’s getting louder.

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.

337,620 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. 9,643 dead.

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.