I Was Wrong About the Severity of This Crisis, And It’s OK to Admit That

Time and perspective are funny things. I see these yahoo 22-year-olds on the beach in Florida, screaming “Coronavirus come and get me! Nothing’s gonna stop my partying!” while ironically holding a Corona beer in their hand on TV. I have to admit, at 22, I probably would have been that yahoo.

As somebody who was a journalist, I know that the story is usually never as good or as bad as the “civilians” (as we called them) think it’s going to turn out. When the newsroom scanner sounds an alert and I’d hear a dispatcher say, “Engines 1, 4, 7 and 10 and Ladders 2 and 4 to…” and I’d grab the portable scanner and head to my car, I still knew that 19 out of 20 times, just as I started to drive away, the dispatcher would come back on the scanner and say something like, “Cancel all except Engine 4. It was a toaster fire and the tenant put it out. All except Engine 4, stand down.”

I’d still rush when they first said something, because 1 out of 20 times, it would turn into a massive fire, but even on the toaster fires, you’d see people who listen to their scanner at home show up at the scene. They chased scanner traffic the way I did, but they were doing it for fun, not work.

I think some people live for doom, but as a kid, I remember seeing a documentary about the 1972 Munich Olympics where a bunch of Israeli athletes were kidnapped, held hostage and killed. Sports commentator Jim McKay was cast into hard news reporter duty and after the athletes were killed he said, “When I was a kid my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.'” I thought that was poetry and have lived my life by it. For every 9/11, Oklahoma City Bombing or Bay Area Earthquake, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories that never live up to their billing.

COVID-19 still may not live up to its billing, but it’s looking more and more like it will and even if there are not the casualties that are expected, we’re still looking at an economy that has been kicked in the gut and a springtime full of rituals that will never be, like baseball season and college graduations. Life is forever changed, no matter the body count.

But, on March 6, which seems like it was 38 years ago, I wrote this blog entry. While I think it still makes sense in the context it was written and when it was written, I have no problem admitting I was ultimately wrong. My take on things was incorrect and I was hoping and being optimistic that statistically, things would fall the way they usually do.

I wish our President would just say that once. I neither hate, nor love Donald Trump. As I’ve phased my following of politics way down over the last six years, I’m aware of what both liberals and conservatives say about him, but I don’t know who is exactly right because I don’t do the research and have diverted my former passion for politics toward things I can actually have an effect on in my daily life. The best I can tell, nobody cares about Trump, they care about what they think her represents, so his shortcomings are overlooked, or overblown, depending on who is speaking.

But I am watching the virus coverage on TV. The reality is, he is on videotape saying a lot of things similar to what I was saying two or three weeks ago. I think that, like me, he’s lived a life of mostly optimism and seeing things ultimately turn out for the best. I’m sure his money hasn’t hurt him in getting his way and preferential treatment. Like me, he has an obvious streak of narcissism and control issues. I truly do not believe he was trying to lie or misdirect the public. I believe he was hoping for and expecting a different outcome. But he was wrong, and we have it on video, just like you have me in writing. Denying it now just looks bad.

One morning in December 2012, when I was a City Councilor, the weather was horrible in the morning, yet they didn’t call school off. After bringing the kids to school in absolutely nasty weather, I posted my belief the school system was wrong in having classes that day to Facebook. Forty-five minutes later, the superintendent called me. Twenty minutes after that, the newspaper called me. The story was actually picked up by other newspapers in Maine in communities who were smart enough to call off school. It was amusing that my opinion of the weather was front-page news, but it was the surreal world I created for myself back then.

I know the superintendent learned a lesson that day. You err on the side of caution. I don’t think I do that enough and I believe Donald Trump probably doesn’t do that enough in his personal life, but he’s got to do it as the leader of the free world. I just wish he could say he was wrong because everybody would move on from the issue and deal with the actual important news.

I was wrong. I hope that people didn’t make their decisions strictly based on my opinion, and I think it’s obvious I changed my tune in the last week. If the last six years of recovery have taught me anything, it’s OK, and actually healthy to admit when you are wrong. For any person who looks down on you, there are five people whose opinions of you improve because of the ability to admit your shortcomings and learn from them.

As Prepared as I’m Ever Going to Be

I finally made it to the grocery store this morning. I usually don’t do the shopping because I get everything wrong. (Apparently salted butter is a good thing. I figured unsalted was better.) But, with my daughter home from college and my son home from high school, I’m making their breakfast and lunches.

While my wife knows how to cook, I don’t, so I rely far more on frozen food. When she did her end-of-the-world shopping over the weekend, she missed a lot of frozen stuff because she doesn’t cook that way. So I decided to hit the grocery store at 6:30 a.m. because I was up and figured they’d stocked the shelves overnight.

It really wasn’t that bad. They seem to be phasing out a lot of the fresh produce and the toilet paper and paper towels were still gone — although there were plenty of tissues. The place was still very picked over and they were in desperate need of a Gatorade shipment, but I feel much better about my ability to feed my children.

I’d guess in a regular week, we probably spend around $200 on food for us and the pets. In the last week, by my numbers, we’ve spent about $700, but I don’t feel like we’ve been hoarding compared to some people’s carts I’ve seen today. Seriously…do you really need 6 cases of water and 12 full-size frozen pizzas? I feel like we have enough food, medicine and supplies for 3-4 weeks of comfortable living, maybe even more. As long as we’re not buying this much every week, it’s not hoarding…it’s preparing.

I see a lot of people talking about the hype of what’s coming and denouncing how people are preparing, but we’re in strange days. Strange days, indeed. It’s like a tsunami is coming. There’s a giant wave somewhere out there, and we’ve been given time to prepare and we’re just waiting for this wall of destruction to hit us. It’s hoarding right now and it’s hype right now because we’re probably just at the beginning. I hope our actions leave those people who complain about everything to say, “We told you it wasn’t going to be bad” when it’s all said and done. That’ll be a win for all of us.

My book, which has been doing well when it comes being purchased by libraries, has obviously stalled. When every library is closing, there’s really no point in getting new books. I’m assuming that most new books, like most movies, are being put on hold, so hopefully it picks back up when this whole thing subsides, but even if those sales are over, I’m quite pleased. I can confirm over 200 libraries have it, but I know it’s far more based on sales numbers. At some point in the next week or two I’ll post a list of where they are.

Ironically, I’ve had a few clients offer me more work than usual. Since the world seems to be headed toward a standstill, they want to produce more content for their websites and blogs to keep their clients engaged. It makes sense and reminds me of the old adage that even in great times of crisis, including economic crisis, there’s always somebody making more money. Wish I’d purchased a bunch of stock in a toilet paper company about three weeks ago.

While my daughter’s college is going online, something that they were well prepared for since some of their classes have been online for years, I’m curious to see how my son’s school system handles the transition. I have a feeling that they are testing it over the next two weeks to see if they can pull it off for the rest of the year. That’s a decision I wouldn’t want to have to make.

Years ago, when I was on my City Council, I really hated making hard decisions that were going to hurt people. We’d get requests for tax abatements (people wanting us to forgive their tax situation) and while there were several councilors who had no problem saying no, I always did. Yes, these people often made more decisions with their money, and you do have to treat everyone equal, but I equally think everyone deserves a second chance. I also didn’t like how, at budget time, we had X amount of dollars to give away in public charity, but the number of charities we heard requests from far outstripped the money we had to give. How do you pick between Little League, A Social Club for the Elderly and a Book Program for Poor Kids? You’re hurting people while you’re helping others. I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

Now there are a lot of people in positions of power who have to make tough decisions like they never have before. I’m also glad I’m not running a film festival or magazine anymore. I don’t want the responsibility of making decisions that will deeply effect other people’s lives. I thought that made me powerful in the past, but I now recognize I just wanted control in my own life, not power over others. I would have made a great cult leader 10 years ago, but now I’d be a better Thoreau living on Walden Pond.

You think those Doomsday Preppers are having a giant case of “Told you so!” from their unground bunkers? To them, I say, “Good on ya.” You were right, we were wrong.

If you’re super bored and have never heard me on a podcast, it seems like a bunch that I recorded (including one from November I totally forgot about) have just been published and you can find them on my appearances and interviews page.

I’ll wrap this up. I don’t know if my babbling is a good read or it’s just more me communicating things I’m thinking and needing to know someone is reading them. Since most of us are good at this digital communication and isolating thing, make sure to stay in touch with those extroverts who are probably going through withdrawals since all the bars are going to be closed this St. Patrick’s Day and view weeks at home as a prison sentence. We’ll probably be the mentally prepared ones and the healthier ones over the next few weeks. Their world is radically changing.

Oddly Enough, the Anxiety is Lifting, and I Think it May be Because of COVID-19

With the exception of a snarky photo I posted, I’ve written how I’ve been feeling anxious over the last few weeks, but how I knew it had very little, if anything to do with COVID-19, which I’m now using in writing, because I found out it stood for Coronavirus Disease 2019, which sounds way more official.

My last bit of anxiety was last Thursday night, when my wife came home from work and said that she heard we might want to buy a bit of extra toilet paper. She wasn’t really phased with the hype because she works at a doctor’s office and the doctor she trusts the most told her not to worry about it too much last week. Most people who visit that office have a doomsday story to tell even in the best of times, and she doesn’t follow a lot of news, so she didn’t understand the shift in a lot of people’s demeanor from “this is nothing” to “this is a very big deal” when, within minutes, the President made his first nationwide address and the NBA cancelled its season.

So she went out and purchased the toilet paper and came back telling me that she couldn’t believe how crazy things were in public. I tried to explain to her that the tone of America changed hugely in the last 24 hours, but she didn’t understand it and I actually said, “You don’t get how serious this is to everybody now.” I don’t know why, but it’s like my anxiety lifted after that.

On Friday, around lunch, she called and was audibly shaken. That same doctor who said it wouldn’t be a big deal a week earlier had changed his tune. He started talking worst case scenarios, both in Maine and the United States and the kind of lives we could potentially need to live in the next month or two, and it was bleak. It really scared the hell out of my wife. She said she’d handle grocery shopping after work but I should go buy enough pet food for a few weeks.

By that point, the grocery store was pretty empty of the large sized bags that when you have three dogs and three cats, you need to buy. So I went to the fancier pet store and paid way too much ($130) for a month’s supply of dog food, cat food, kitty litter and a few dog treats. At least if we have to resort to cannibalism, we can start with our well-fed pets.

She got home from the grocery store that night $300 lighter. What’s actually kind of funny is that we already had a month’s worth of food in the house. Her dad didn’t have a lot when he was little, so when he had a family and could finally afford it, he kept their house well-stocked and she’s always done that. But now, we have even more, and I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry although I can tell I’m going to lose my taste for Kraft Mac and Cheese if this thing goes on too long.

Since she works in a respiratory doctor’s office next door to a hospital, she’s not going to have to worry about being put off work. Even if normal patients with things like asthma and COPD stop coming in, they expect to be very busy as COVID-19 testing kits become available.

She’ll spend her days at work, my daughter’s college has gone online for the rest of the semester and today, my son’s school district called things off for at least two weeks. I have a feeling life is going to seem very, very different come Monday and its only going to get weirder as the days go on.

Ironically, I feel like I’m going to be the least-effected person I know next to my retired parents. I’ve been working from home for the last five years and my workflow doesn’t show signs that it’s going to be altered very much. Maybe that’s why my anxiety doesn’t feel as strong. For most of my readership, we’re introverted, anxiety-ridden, mentally ill, self-imposed shut-ins anyway…now the other half gets to see how we live. We’re more prepared for this than anybody! While the numbers of those who may get infected is certainly scary, I think a lot of anxiety out there is about people’s lives being disrupted. Most of the people I talk to on here? I think our lives are among the least shaken. Funny how things work out.

I can’t really say anything about COVID-19 that hasn’t already been said by that kindly gray-haired doctor who seems to be on every TV channel simultaneously. These are times when people usually step up to the challenge. Take care of each other and don’t forget the joy in life like those Italian people signing on their balconies with each other who are in quarantine. That’s true community.

And yes, I will admit that a week ago, I wasn’t taking this as seriously, like many weren’t.

I have a coping mechanism through getting through hard times aside from just detaching. It’s reframing. Try to look at these times not as scary, but interesting.

We’ve heard about these kinds of things in other places, in other times, but never thought they would happen to us, like we were too evolved with our technology and could put one over on Mother Nature. We don’t know what happens next, but we do know we’re living through history.

Whether it was 9/11, the Challenger exploding, or JFK being shot, we remember where we were when pivotal moments in history happen. This is one of those moments. Write down your thoughts, record what is happening so those after you can feel what it’s like to experience whatever we’re about to go through. Most of us live our lives with our heads down, going day-to-day with little variation. We can’t stop things like this from happening, but we can observe with fascination. Things may not be so bad, or they may get very, very bad. But we’re all about to have a unique, yet shared experience.

I hate to say this because it makes me sound more mentally ill than I am, but I think my anxiety may have been jolted by the adrenaline that things are very spontaneous and unknown right now. It’s got to be a chemical reaction and I may be singing a different tune in a few days, but for now, I have supplies, I have my family, I have multiple means of getting information. I’m ready for what’s next. Try to keep it as positive as possible.

Let Facts and Perspective, Not Hype and Misinformation, Be Your Guide this Weekend

My wife is dealing with her yearly, almost-springtime sinus infection. You can set the time to set forward the clocks by it. She is a medical assistant in a doctor’s office and despite sinus infections not being one of the symptoms of the coronavirus (which, BTW, three weeks ago was not a word that was in Autocorrect, but now is – who makes these day-to-day calls?) she’s dealing with the hype and has actually had patients who did not want her to help them.

We had a discussion about this last night, because it reminded both of us when I was arrested, the incorrect news reports, and needless hype it caused.

I don’t want anyone to think that I believe coronavirus isn’t an important thing to keep a close eye on, but I think the most startling part about it is that it’s revealing just how many people don’t wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. There should not be empty store shelves where hand soap and sanitizer once sat. Shelves are empty because demand wasn’t there previously. Let’s hope that people’s hygiene continues to stay at improved levels once this hype is over.

There’s a universal truth in this world that the media and politicians understand. Scared people provide the best word-of-mouth. Once you’re scared, you don’t concern yourself, nor scrutinize the facts of a situation. In doomsday mode, you just prepare for and expect the worse.

In North Dakota, there hasn’t been one confirmed case of coronavirus this year. As of three days ago, there has been 9,979 cases of influenza, with 88 hospitalizations. Thankfully, nobody has died, but 9,979 is a bit more than 0. However, because it’s not been decided that it’s a good news story that will make money for media companies, and it’s not been prioritized by politicians seeking attention from those media companies, the flu is just something that happens.

Vice President Mike Pence was put in charge of doing something about coronavirus. A lot of people got angry because he made some dumb comment about cigarette smoking not killing people years ago. Yeah, it was an ignorant thing to say, but dumber yet is that we don’t seem to care that the Center for Disease Control says cigarette smoking kills 480,000 Americans every year (worldwide estimates are about 6 million people). Coronavirus, as of Thursday night, has killed 12 Americans.

Does anybody remember last year when 12 people died in the UK because of a rare outbreak of a bacterial infection that was a cousin of strep throat? No? The American media didn’t jump on that one, so nobody cared, yet the same number of people died.

Far more children will be accidentally killed this year in incidents involving their backyard pool than in accidental household gun deaths, yet the National Swimming Pool Association (if there even is a group like that) doesn’t have to battle public hype like the National Rifle Association because the public – following the lead of the media and politicians, haven’t decided accidental pool deaths are an important cause.

With 12 Americans dead of the coronavirus, the Senate passed an emergency $8.3 billion bill to fight the spread of the virus. You probably won’t be shocked to hear that the Senate only approved $5.9 billion in the 2020 budget for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, despite the fact that drugs and mental health conditions have killed far, far, far more people than the coronavirus. You don’t get your picture on CNN or FOX News when you’re funding mental health. You do when you fund what the media wants you to think is the next plague.

When I was arrested six years ago, there were two photos of a topless teenage girl found by police on my computer. I’m not going to rationalize or defend that, but it was far less than the hundreds of photos of children under 12 that was reported in the media. It was months before that was ever corrected, and it wasn’t even called to attention that the previous reporting was wrong. Yet guess what I was convicted of? Two photos. It was reported I couldn’t be around my children, which was clearly wrong as I could not only be around them, I was still living with them through my legal ordeal. I don’t think the police, nor the media really cared if the information they shared was accurate.

What did that misinformation cause? Many, many people taking on social media locally, tearing me apart based on wrong information that was spun and hyped and spun and hyped. Reading those comments was like reading about somebody else it was that incorrect. There were people who I’m pretty sure thought I was snatching little kids directly off playgrounds. When public hype spins already incorrect information, there’s little anybody can do to bring things under control.

About four years ago, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper giving very rational, science-based reasons why a proposed rules change on where former sex offenders could live didn’t make sense for the city next to the one I live in. It was obvious that it would made getting help and certain resources that the lowest socio-economic demographic of sex offenders needed even more difficult, and statistics prove that hands-on offenders know their victims more than 90% of the time. It actually has nothing to do with how close to a school or church they live. Ultimately, the needless, tighter restrictions were approved 7-0 by the City Council. Isn’t it nice when Democrats and Republicans can get together on something because it’s easier to wave a finger at and demonize sex offenders than understand anything actually true about them? It also looks better the next morning in the newspaper to the readers who aren’t going to be bothered to understand nuance.

My wife is off to work again this morning. She’s not contagious, yet I still have a feeling I may see her by lunch, being sent home not because of good science, but because politicians and the media have whipped people into a frenzy about a virus that has hit 19 states – and only 3 states have more than 6 cases. Maine is not one of those 19 states, BTW.

Wash your hands. Take care of yourself. Be careful with kids around the pool. Lock up your guns. Don’t smoke. Understand sex offenders are people, too. Make your health decisions and reactions based on fact, not hype and scare tactics. And don’t perpetuate anything that isn’t true. Memes do enough of that already.