A sign showing a figure inside a house with the caption SHELTER IN PLACE

The COVID Chronicles

A Sheltering-in-Place Journal

Five Days, Seven Shows

But Like All Good Plans, Something Unplanned Occurred

After three years of pandemic small world-ness, I was yearning for a trip “home.” Thirty-six months away from NYC, my childhood and forever spiritual home, was too long. An eternity. Now, finally, we were heading back. The plan: five days, seven shows. What could go wrong?  Read more

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Day 222

Wildfires, a Two-Headed Shark, & Food-Scented Masks

It’s Sunday. Less than two weeks until the election. Here in the SF Bay, city officials have “encouraged” residents in our area to evacuate “if possible” because fierce winds “may” spark wildfires.

My neighbor next door grabbed her family and dog and checked into a hotel downtown by the waterfront. She urged us to do the same. We’re staying put for now but I’m nervous. Will I be like all those flood victims I watch who fail to heed evac notices of hurricanes bearing down on them? Or is this legitimately different? After all, nothing is happening — yet.

Pandemic, politics, racial injustice, and economic turmoil … it is cause for such sadness. Adding to it all, another person I know has just died. Not of COVID-19. But still, I cannot count the number of people I know who have died in the past seven months. More than at any finite period of time in my life.

OK. Enough! My Sheltering-in-Place journal is supposed to offer relief from our woes, not add to them. So, what have I got that’s light today?

Let’s see.

Item 1: I saw a story about a two-headed shark. That’s amusingly weird. A fisherman in India caught the baby 6” shark and kudos to him, he took some pictures and then tossed it back in the water.

Item 2: The latest in mask wear? Masks that smell like food!

Jack in the Box has created the fried chicken-scented face mask to promote its new plant-based offering: the “Unchicken” sandwich and Hormel Foods is offering a “Breathable Bacon” mask, which according to the company’s press release “features the latest in pork-scented technology with a two-ply multi-fiber cloth to keep the delicious smell of bacon always wrapped around your nose and mouth.” No mention if the pork-smelling mask is prepared under strict rabbinical guidelines. My guess, alas, is no!

That’s it on Day 222. Stay calm. Wear a mask, food-scented or not!

Day 215


California may have wildfires. California may have earthquakes. But pity Chicago.

The Windy City holds a distinction no city wants. It has been “honored” — for the sixth year in a row, no less — as the “rattiest city” in the nation by Orkin, the Atlanta-based pest control service.

Orkin’s rat list is based on the most “new rodent treatments” service calls within a one-year period.

As for Chicago, the problem is so severe the city formed a “rat taskforce” in 2016 and residents began adopting cats, creating — if you will, their own household rodent vigilante death squads.

Meanwhile, rounding out Orkin’s top 10 list of ratty cities are Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Denver, and Minneapolis.

Rankings for other cities can be found on Orkin’s website. Inquiring minds want to know … or do they?

And that’s my (non-pandemic) news on Day 215. Hang in there.

Day 212

Election-Stress Disorder. I Want to Crawl into a Cave

Less than three weeks — that’s all that’s left until Election Day. But meanwhile, if the stress of it all has got you feeling like you just want to crawl into a cave, good news! You can do it AND in style!

Hotels.com is offering a rental in a New Mexico man-made cave 50’ below ground outfitted with a bed, couch, and seemingly all the accouterments of an actual — i.e. above ground — hotel room.

According to the Hotels.com website, there’s even a special election rate for this man-made cave built 50 feet below ground for a five-night stay at an “Abraham Lincoln-inspired presidential rate of just $5 a night.”

And it comes with a complimentary continental breakfast and free WiFi!

Now, the fact that many of us (all of us?) are feeling some level of election-related stress should come as no surprise. It’s been a tough four years and an even tougher (make that terrible) 2020. So, wanting to “get away from it all” and crawl into a cave makes perfect sense to even bug-and-claustrophobic me.

And did you know that election-related stress is a thing?

According to an article I read at health.com, it can disrupt your usual routine and activities. It can cause you to struggle with sleep and focus. And no surprise, it can make you hyper-vigilant about the news, constantly checking your phone and computer for news alerts.

The Result? Experts say election stress can make you cranky, irritable, and anxious. It can make you want to crawl under a rock … or into a fancy cave until the November 3rd election is over!

Day 156

But Thinking Back 43 Years Ago

Here in the SF Bay, we began sheltering in place for 156 days ago. That’s more than 22 weeks of wearing masks, non-stop washing hands, worrying, and trying to focus on the bright side of things.

Yet, amid this crazy countdown, I’m observing a different “anniversary.” Forty-three years ago this week, I got my first full-time adult job. It happened on August 16, 1977, and the circumstances were uniquely unforgettable.

I had graduated from college at the age of 20 with a degree in Russia Studies — Political Science and Russian Language — from Barnard College, Columbia University in NYC. Since I was a bit on the young side, I wanted to take a break before starting graduate school.

Back at home in Las Vegas, Nevada, I knew I wanted to become a foreign correspondent. So, as the first step toward that goal, I walked into the offices of the Las Vegas SUN newspaper owned by legendary newsman “Hank” Greenspun.

Somehow, without an appointment or even benefit of a recommendation from anybody in the community, I landed a meeting with the paper’s kindly managing editor Al Kolber. Kolber, if I recall correctly was a native New Yorker and loved that I was a Columbia U grad.

Al, a diminutive fellow — almost elfish in appearance if you can picture a chain-smoking elf, in turn, called the almost 6’-tall hard-charging female city editor Chris Chrystal. Chris grilled me for a while and then nodded her approval to Al. I was hired!

But Then …

We had just started discussing my start date and salary when suddenly bells started ringing. People were running in every direction and shouting at the top of their lungs. Typewriters (yes, typewriters) started tapping. And yes, the phrase, “Stop the presses” was bellowed out.

“You start Monday, kid,” Al said, rushing out of his smoke-filled office. “Gotta go.”

What was the excitement all about? What happened on August 16, 1977? Who remembers? Why Elvis Presley died, that’s what. Big news in the Entertainment Capital of the World. Big news everywhere.

That was my introduction to my new profession — where the death of a swivel-hipped rock-n-roller can rock a newsroom and the world.

So goes Day 156 — Just a silly recollection as we bide our time, waiting for a vaccine and better days.

Day 147


I’ve got two obsessions on my mind today.

Obsession Number 1: Did you know you can get custom M&M’s with photos on them? I knew you could get custom messages on my favorite little color candies, but photos? How funny! How bizarre! Is this an example of not-so-passive aggression toward your loved ones? Or just candified, commercialized cannibalism?

Obsession Number 2: If you’re in need of a little renewed inspiration in mankind (and who isn’t?), then I recommend reading Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Written by Pulitzer-prize winning author Tracy Kidder, this makes-you-believe-in-heroes-again biography tells the story of physician/anthropologist Paul Farmer with an emphasis on the doctor’s pioneering work fighting tuberculosis in Haiti, Peru, and Russia.


And check out my Muddling through Middle Age blog tomorrow. I’ve got more obsession-confessions!

Meanwhile, that’s it for Day 147.

Day 144

Who's Counting?

Here’s a list of what I didn’t accomplish today:

I didn’t go for a walk or do my stretching exercises.
I didn’t learn — or even start to learn — a new language.
And I didn’t sign up for online art classes.
I meant to …

But here’s a list of what I did accomplish today:

I did manage to log in some hours on my big new writing project. Details to be revealed later.
I did manage not to over-eat. Drumroll, but no jelly or belly roll, please!
I did maintain a positive mental attitude through most of the day, staying grateful for the good health of all those I love and care about.
I miraculously did avoid talking politics during three Zoom meetings and two telephone calls.
And I did write this COVID Chronicles journal entry.

So, the day — Day 144 — wasn’t a complete muddle!

See! We will get through this … not always as productively as we’d like, but still, the time will pass. Hang in there. Better days are ahead. Meanwhile, wear your mask, wash your hands, and keep your ever-lovin’ social distance!

Day 133

Take Heart!

It’s the start of another week. Does the thought fill you with dread? Another day, another mask. Another day, more terrible pandemic statistics and disheartening political news from Washington, D.C.

Well, I say — take heart! There are sound reasons to feel optimistic, five of them, in fact. And it’s thanks to a San Francisco Chronicle article, that I’m focusing on them instead of zeroing in all that’s frightening and derisive.

Here’s the summary:

“We’re getting closer to a vaccine
Treatments look more promising
Testing is getting easier
Masks are working
We know more about this virus now.”

From that same article, here’s one statistic that really hit home:

“ … if 80% of the population wore face coverings,
it would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a strict shutdown.”

On a Personal Note

I spoke to a beloved friend today. Somehow, we haven’t spoken since the SF Bay area shelter in place order was issued in mid-March. In the interim, her father has died, her business has withered, and she’s having a very tough time. Yet, has she picked up the phone and said that? No. Is she the first friend of mine who has been suffering in silence? No.

To all my friends and readers out there, I say this: you are not alone. Please do not be ashamed or hesitant to share your feelings of sadness, loneliness, frustration, and worry. Please reach out to someone. We are apart but we do not have to be without the loving care of a friend’s voice on the other end of a phone. There is no shame in accepting friendship’s embrace. No shame at all.

That’s it on Day 133. Aren’t I preachy today? That’s what the rare two cups of coffee does to me! Hugs all around.