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World Enough and Time: What I did last summer

Bill Hagen
Contributing writer
1960s relic in the Clinton Route 66 museum

You will recognize the title of an essay you may have had to write in high school or college. One thing you didn’t do last summer was essay writing, so you knew this one was going to be bad. You suspected the teacher rather enjoyed slashing red marks all over your paper to put you in your place, first thing in the semester. You wrote, knowing you were doomed.

If I had to write such a paper today, I would have to begin with a quotation:

“Where did you go?”

“Out.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

Except for one in-state trip, I did not go “out” much, and, therefore, I did next-to-nothing.

Maybe the title for this column should be “What I Learned Last Summer.” For someone my age, that sounds better: to prove that my mind was active though on the downhill slope.

The one trip “out” was all the way to Clinton, to visit the Route 66 museum. Bit of nostalgia, really, since the exhibit rooms are divided into the decades when 66 was the “mother road,” connecting Chicago to L.A., ending at the pier with the Ferris Wheel now sitting on the south side of the North Canadian in Oklahoma City. Friends and I ate at Lucille’s, a gas station, now an eatery celebrating 66 in Weatherford. The staff was friendly, though unmasked; the food was better than fair. A stop at Primo’s in Yukon on the way back gave us food that was better than good—chicken pasta, chocolate cheese cake!

But what are some things I/we learned?

The bird that returns—looking over his shoulder

>>There is plenty of activity in and around the house, if you’ll open your senses. I’ve written at least four columns filled with the same stuff in different words and am always surprised that people continue to read me. So, repetition need not be tedious. The hawk continues to return to the bird bath; my cat purrs.

>>Americans can be quite contrary when asked to consider the greater good. States and countries hit hard in March and April have mostly flattened out the rate of infection, while the more rural and Sun Belt states, opening up when the CDC guidelines indicated they shouldn’t, have had record boosts in infection rates. Rather than learn from the states and countries early hit, who imposed health mandates, they were led by the politicians from our unmasked president on down to subservient governors—the latter going against their own health officials.

>>Indications are, too, that because development of a vaccine has itself been politicized by a president who wants delivery before the election, many will forego getting vaccinated.

>>On a more pleasant note, I’ve come to appreciate my cell phone more, now that Amazon and another application, Shop, are ready to alert me as soon as a package is delivered to my door. (Let’s all admit that we are receiving more packages at home.). Then I whip out my UV light wand (also purchased from Amazon) and pass it over each item, killing germs that are probably harmless, and wash my hands again for good measure. Such rituals add variety to my day.

>>Since the UV wand also quashes odors, I suppose I could cut down washing shirts, to save water and electricity. I mean it’s mainly the underarm odors that indicate a shirt is dirty, right?

>>Apple offered and I accepted a download of a notification app, designed to alert one if there is someone in close proximity who has COV-19. But I was informed it only works if such cases are reported to the state health department and the department then broadcasts notifications, keeping the specific identity of the infected person private. Many (Most? All?) cases are reported to our health department, but it has not opted to join the network to broadcast notifications. Apparently the Apple app and a similar app for Android phones have worked well in states opting in.

>>Do institutions always have to put the best face forward? Some school districts are quite candid in reporting student or staff virus infections. Not our educational institutions. In fact, Shawnee doesn’t always inform teachers when students in their class are absent because they tested positive or were exposed to the virus. (Wasn’t the teacher also exposed?)

A teacher in a dependent school tells me the story of a family, in which one boy was positive and quarantined at home, yet school administrators raised no objection to his brother coming to school and participating in several activities. He was later sent home when he too developed a fever. Was this wise?

>>A dark thought: Should we follow the practice of London authorities during a virus outbreak centuries ago and mark the front doors of families under quarantine?

>>I tried to learn a thing or two about good leadership by rereading Homer’s The Iliad, Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and a history of Civil War battles. So from the Trojan War, the Lincoln Administration, and the battles, I learn the price of pride, when Achilles withdraws from combat until his best friend is killed or when McClellan won’t send his troops to help a fellow general in the Second Battle of Bull Run. If statues of that genius leader, Robert E. Lee, are pulled down or moved because he was loyal to Virginia rather than the Union, then any statues of George B. McClellan should be pulled down and pulverized. His inaction in the Peninsula Campaign, Bull Run, and after Antietam prolonged the suffering and slaughter of that war.

>>Of course, I also binged on escapist mystery fiction and detective series on television. There are lessons to be learned there, as well. For instance, there used to be a portion of Yellowstone National Park that could be called a “Dead Zone.” Why? In a C. J. Box novel, a man turns himself in, confessing that he killed several people. He demands a jury trial, to be held locally, but the problem is that a jury must be constituted from residents within a fifty-mile radius of the crime scene. But there are no residents within fifty, so no trial was possible.

Now, now, if you have urges along that line, know that legislation has since been passed that did away with this murder zone.

>>OK, but what if you suspect that someone who plans to visit you has murder on his or her mind, with a good chance of their not being caught? In a Peter May novel, the potential victim puts mosquito repellent on his body and mosquito attractant on an open book, and releases a mosquito in the room before the visitor arrives. He arrives, is bitten, the offending mosquito lands on the book and is smashed, leaving a blood sample on the page. Once he has killed, the murderer only takes a journal showing his scheduled visit, leaving the book with the stain for the detective to have analyzed for a DNA match.

One never knows when such knowledge might become useful.

>>On a more sobering note, I learned that even calling for civility can stoke up the fires of partisanship. On our internet public square, Facebook, I posted a picture of all the living presidents—Carter, the two Bushes, Clinton, Obama—and their wives all in one room, smiling and talking to one another. The message below the picture expressed a wish that civility might become normal again. A hope we should all have, right?

I was not prepared for the comments. One respondent claimed The Resistance (whatever that is) would never allow civility to become normal. Another asserted that all of them, including the wives, presumably, were agents of the so-called “Deep State.” A third said all of the presidents and one wife were murderers, given their support of foreign military ventures. Then things went really off-track when one respondent attacked Jimmy Carter as an ass.

>>So much for my attempt at peacemaking. But we shouldn’t give up, either. Learn and live.

This picture received a more positive response than the picture of past presidents together.

>>Later, I posted an old picture of my cat, lying on top of blue books I needed to grade. My comment was “To grade the blue book or pet my cat? That was the question in 2010....”. It got nothing but positive remarks. Maybe posting pictures of our pets (and babies, and landscapes) can restore civility?

These are a few of the things I learned this past summer. I hope we never have another like it.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at billha47@hotmail.com.