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World Enough and Time: Coping in place

Bill Hagen
Visitor on the bird bath

For those of us in retirement, ordinary life goes on, ordinarily.  That is to say, we have things around the house that need doing.  We are “in place,” as we are supposed to be, checking our investments for losses, putting off Big Projects once more, checking Facebook to see what our similarly aged friends are doing or not doing.

A friend in an Eastern town posts a picture on Facebook of his lawn mower, a red plastic gasoline container, and a red fire extinguisher.  When he was attempting to start the mower—yank,yank,yank—, it caught fire.  Hence the extinguisher. After he put the fire out, he attempted once more.  It started immediately.  So he mowed his lawn.

No conclusions should be drawn from this story.

Being Americans, we try to make do with humor.  Lot of jokes about parents trapped with children who need to do homework.  Kids react, from “Hope I get a better teacher next year” to “One little monster called in a bomb threat.”  Second wave of humor leads with pictures of pets disgusted with their house-confined humans: too many walks, interrupted sleep routines, needy humans must be seen to, etc.  Usually dogs.

Cats, of course, are ideal if you’re staying indoors.  Raise them right and they are as companionable as dogs, without the affectionate slobber.  My ginger cat crouches beside me, having (of course) first been fed.  He reaches a tentative paw toward my chin to tell me he’s ready for a head massage.  Calms us both.

I get impatient with people who complain there’s nothing to do in and around their house.

Look out on your lawn!  Do you have bird feeders, a bird bath?  The variety of birds is incredible this time of year, as they feed, chase each other, call for a mate.  New birds seem to show up daily.  I’m always amused by the Spring robins, who will land within ten feet of me while I’m mowing, checking out the ground for what I’ve stirred up.

If you’ve not soaked your lawn with noxious chemicals, you may have a healthy variety of grasses and weeds that attract insects. Watch the birds chasing them.  Check out the bees circulating among the clover flowers.

Two neighborhood cats include my backyard in their rounds, pretending to be on the hunt, tigers in tall grass, trying to ignore the squirrels chattering at them, stopping to pick at seeds under the feeders.  One drinks from the bird bath.

For some folks this is not enough.  Loss of income may make it not enough.

With encouragement from their president, some demonstrate for opening up businesses, eliminating “stay at home” or “shelter in place” restrictions. I sympathize, but do they do their cause any good by clustering in crowds, without masks? They stand close, breathing in each other’s breath...almost mouth-to-mouth, except it’s not resuscitation. Some are shouting, sending their droplets further into the crowd.

When pictures emerged of such crowds at Florida beaches, the hashtag #Floridamorons became popular. Should we apply that tag to Oklahoma demonstrators?

Jimmy Kimmel quipped, “It’s like if the Titanic was headed towards an iceberg, and half of the passengers were saying like ‘Can you please speed this thing up?’”

It seems a perfect Darwinian lesson: species and individuals within species that fail to adapt to their environment, are more likely to die off.  And (cruel truth), it strengthens a given species if the ones who can’t or won’t adapt are eliminated from the gene pool.

But it doesn’t work so smoothly in the case of #19. The young and heedless, who make up a large part of the crowds, are not so affected by the virus even if they get it. Instead they become Carriers, spreading it to their parents, grandparents and others over 60 who are more likely to die.

As the governor of Georgia learned (to his surprise!) a couple weeks ago, many folks who test positive, show no symptoms (are asymptomatic). That’s why the President’s original plan of stopping the virus at our borders, by testing inbound travelers from foreign hotspots, focusing on those who had symptoms, failed so miserably.

Until the thousands of test kits we were promised by the end of March are in fact available in every state that needs them, it doesn’t make sense to return to business as usual.  Until we have enough tests to check folks who may have been exposed but show no symptoms, we will not have contained the virus. (One notes that some states—Utah for one—are testing people who have no virus symptoms.)

We’re already leading the world in deaths—42,000 at mid-week.

My brother sent me an article that reported the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament had pandemic insurance: he wondered if that’s what he needed.

I wanted to reply that at our ages, pre-paying funeral expenses would make more sense.

I wanted to say, “If we get it, we’re gone.”

But I didn’t.  Instead I hunted for a good joke to send him in response.

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