Let’s retire the pandemic filler phrase ‘be safe’

I called the credit union with a question about something, I don’t remember what.

The woman who answered helped me. I thanked her. She wished me well and closed with, “Stay safe.”

Stay safe?

From what?

Oh, right.

The pandemic.

That’s still a thing.

I don’t think about it much anymore. I’m not a frontline healthcare worker.

I chose to get the shots. I felt lousy for a few days after both shots and the booster.

I got the virus anyway. I got an IV. I felt crummy for a week.

Life went on.

I’m lucky. The virus didn’t kill anybody I know.

A friend of mine lost seven people to the virus before she stopped counting.

I don’t fly anywhere, but I occasionally see people acting foolish on airplanes about being forced to wear masks.

I attribute this less to their passionate feelings about freedom and more to their willingness to pay for mass quantities of overpriced booze at the airport bar.

I work in a school. A few people wear masks. I have one or two students who do.

I don’t.

Nobody makes a fuss in either direction.

The mask thing, like the vaccines, are all down to personal choice.

A court ruled people don’t have to wear masks on planes anymore.

The CDC didn’t like that and ask the Justice Department to step in.

The government is basically suing itself, sending taxpayer money into the accounts of high-priced lawyers.

I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

However, I live in Iowa. I drive to work alone in my car with only Taylor Swift on the CD player.

That’s right. I’m so old I have a CD player. It’s an MP3-CD player.

Google it, younger readers, if there is such a creature.

I’m going to the doctor to get my knees looked at on Monday. I don’t think I have to wear a mask there anymore either.

I don’t wake up easily in the morning. If the 5:30 a.m. alarm doesn’t do it, I have a backup at 6 a.m. and another at 6:05 a.m.

The last alarm is on my old GE clock radio circa 1986. My dad bought it for me when his health began to fade, and he couldn’t wake me up every morning.

Back then, in rural Winterset, I tuned to 95 KGGO to listen to Lou and Larry in the mornings.

The radio dial is stuck on NPR these days. I mean really stuck. There’s something wrong with it and I can’t get it to turn.

It is a very old radio.

Anyway, NPR anchors have been on about the pandemic in China and lockdowns there.

I don’t live in China and don’t plan to visit.

Given how much their government respects free speech and individual rights, I’m not sure anyone can tell the difference between a lockdown and just another day in China.

Then again, that’s probably the globally ignorant American in me.

I don’t know anything about China other than they have a lot of tea, a big wall, and are good at cyberattacks.

I get the impression that the news media is worried the virus gravy train is about to leave town and they’ll have to come up with something else to sow fear and loathing with.

Then again, I am a former reporter and cynical about the state of corporate- and hedge fund-owned media, whose story selection is driven by algorithms and spreadsheets rather than community interest.

I know the pandemic is not over. I know the virus is still out there, like colds and the flu.

I know people have strong opinions about getting vaccines.

I have no interest in that debate and even less in labeling the choices of others.

But this idea of “stay safe” annoys me.

Early in the pandemic, I tolerated it. It has about as much meaning as a well-written Hallmark card, but the thought counted.

This was scary stuff. Wear masks. Stay home. Don’t gather in groups. No sports. School by Zoom.

But we’re into year three now. There are vaccines if you want them.

People are back to school and work.

Sports are back.

You can wear a mask if you want to.

“Stay safe” once felt like a kind word now feels like “stay scared.”

I’m not picking on the teller from my credit union. She’s just using the line as filler; the way people do.

It feels like code for “remember, you could get sick and die at any moment.”

That’s always true.

People die. They die young. They die old and all points in between.

I’m not saying don’t take precautions against the virus.

But I don’t care for empty platitudes.

Stay safe?

How far does that go?

I’m more likely to die in a car crash than I am of the virus.

I drive every day.

YOLO!

The only way through the pandemic is forward. We are safer now than we were at the beginning of this thing.

Maybe we’ll need shots forever.

I get a flu shot every year.

Some people never get a flu shot.

People can choose.

I choose to retire “stay safe.”

Daniel P. Finney, a former journalist and future teacher, writes for the Marion County Express. Reach him at newsmanone@gmail.com.


Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

A throughly restless spring break

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

One day, hopefully soon, I will write an update and it will be lovely.

I’ll talk about my new teaching job and how I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll go on about how well my arthritic knees are responding to aquatic therapy.

I might have even lost a few pounds.

Surely my mental health will have improved.

One day.

I hope.

This isn’t that day.

I hoped spring break, which ends Monday, would be a time for rejuvination.

I picked up a chest cold at school the last week before break. My doctor diagnosed it as an inflammation of my asthma. She prescribed a steroid inhaler.

The inhaler works great except for one side effect: It plays hell on my anxiety.

Such a side effect normally tortures me enough in more steady times.

These aren’t steady times.

I’m trying to finish graduate school, earn my teaching license, and survive on the thinnest of financial margins.

I made it through midterm. I received my report. I talked it over with my mentor teacher and my supervising teacher. It seemed a fair assessment. 

I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but my mentor teacher and the Drake professor overseeing student teaching assured me that my development was on par with where they expect novice teachers to be at this point in student teaching.

Alas, a brain affected by acute anxiety rejects positive information. I’ve written before that most problems occur in the space between emotional reaction and intellectual understanding. Feelings overrun facts and thoughts run haywire.

I took the midterm and my wild thoughts decided I had already failed as a teacher and that I was going to die broke and alone and my nest dispatch would be from temporary housing at a YMCA.

I didn’t do this on purpose. It’s just a bad thinking pattern developed as a survival method to deal with childhood trauma. It’s the same bad thinking that leads me to overeat to morbid obesity.

So when the steroids hit the bloodstream with already jangled nerves, that was cherry bomb in the toilet. Everybody I’m in close contact with knew I was depressed and tried to assure me I was going to be OK. My teachers tried. Parents 2.0 tried. Friends tried.

The trouble is they used intellectual reasoning and the chemical malfunction I was dealing with mucks up emotional reactions.

The combination of physical illness and mental health struggles put me to sleep for the first four days of spring break.

My therapist finally helped me reason out the situation and come down from the rush of negative emotions.

Then I got my vaccine booster shot. That made me sick with fever and chills for about three days. I suppose a few miserable days are a good trade for avoiding the full force of a potentially lethal virus infection, particularly with my comorbidities, but it’s still no fun.

So spring break week has come and gone and all the books I was going to read for fun and all the schoolwork I was going to accomplish remain in the same state they were before break began.

There’s a possibility that would have happened even if I had been healthy, but I want to believe my better intentions would have prevailed if I wasn’t fighting a double- or sometimes triple-whammy of health problems.

There is a bit of good news. A friend of mine, a fellow former paragraph stacker, left the trade to become a lawyer. He reviewed the administrative law judge’s rejection of my appeal for a special benefits program that would extend my unemployment.

He and his boss offered some suggestions for an appeal, but my friend told me the appeals judges almost always side with the administrative law judges.

But an appeal costs me nothing but time. I appealed. The state is moving in its usually speedy way. The form says it could take up to 75 days. I would guess that figure will be doubled and add five more days for that.

I did my taxes. That was a brutal bummer. I’m due a refund from the feds that will be completely wiped out by my tax bill in Iowa. So the hope that a tax refund would keep me in rent, groceries, and gas for a month or so dwindles.

Some hope rests in some federal government deciding what income might be declared tax exempt because of the pandemic disaster. My tax software company says the feds haven’t decided this yet. No rush. Taxes are due in less than a month. 

Why would we expect the federal government to serve the people in any speedier fashion than any other government?

Ah, but why bother with politics at a time like this.

As my friend Todd often reminds me, the only way through troubles is straight through them.

I hate to trouble all of you again with my tales of woe. I hope you know how much each of you has helped me. These contributions have kept afloat during one of the most challenging times in my life. 

I’m learning to be a teacher while I’m also learning to live with the disability from my arthritic knees and facing financial struggle. It’s a lot of stuff to worry about all at once and, frankly, sometimes it gets to me.

But you people, you floor me. I don’t know many of you personally. I dare say I don’t know most of you personally. Yet you give and give. You send positive messages.

I hear the negative ones, both in my own thoughts and from others. 

I want you to know how much your letters have touched me, how much your faith in me becoming a good teacher keeps me going when the doubts mount.

And, yes, money is important. I wish I never had to talk about money, but we live in the real world. The electric bill is due every month, just like the rent, insurance, and other bills.

I’m hanging in there. I live frugally. I clip coupons now. OK, an app does it for me, but I never did before. 

So, this is a day I wish never comes, a day in which again I ask for your help. I need your support. Don’t overextend yourself for me; your first duty is always to yourself. 

For those who do help, I will remind you of the promise I’ve made many times before: I will become a teacher and eventually a very good one. I will pass on all that I have learned about writing and creativity and passion for a craft. I will be honest, tender my truths with kindness, and be the person you believe me to be.

And one day, soon, I hope, this will be a different kind of message.

Blessings to you all.

Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
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Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

I have something in common with Aaron Rodgers: COVID

I pride myself on having things in common with famous people.

For example, New York Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter and I have the same birth date: June 26. Jeter is exactly a year older than me.

I used to tell my editors at the local newspaper that I expected to be making what Jeter made when I was his age. The joke, of course, being I will never be Jeter’s age because he’s a year older.

The other joke is that newspapers don’t pay more for writers. They lay them off and hire young people at half the salary. That’s less funny.

I recently learned I have something in common with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: We both share a fondness for actress Shailene Woodley.

Nah, I’m kidding. I’ve nothing against Rodgers’ fiancée, but to give you an idea of how big a fan I am of Woodley, I had to look up how to spell her first name.

Like Aaron Rodgers, I have tested positive for COVID-19.

Unlike Rodgers, apparently, I am vaccinated.

This is one of those breakthrough infections that took out so many of the Yankees’ players and coaches early in the season. See? I still have things in common with my beloved Yankees.

I do feel a little lame. I got COVID more than 18 months into the pandemic. How behind the times can I get? No wonder my younger classmates sometimes shout “OK, boomer!” at me. I’m actually Gen X, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with facts.

I don’t feel bad. If it had been any other time in my life, I would have assumed this was a chest cold. It feels like I get one with every change of season.

That’s how I treated the symptoms: runny nose, a slight wheeze, and a mild, productive cough.

What an odd medical term “productive cough” is. I suppose you need some less inelegant way of saying “hacking up lung butter,” but still “productive” is something I associate with work rather than the convulsions of my chest while ill.

Anyway, Mom 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised me after my parents died, suggested I get a test. My Uncle Jim recently endured a breakthrough COVID infection.

What could it hurt? The test is free. I drove to a sight by Hoover High School. They offered a rapid test with results within an hour and a slower, more accurate test.

I chose the slower route.

I got a text in just more than 24 hours: I was positive for SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

I informed Drake University, which told me to stay off campus for 10 days since I started showing symptoms, which was Saturday.

I went to my Shakespeare class Monday morning to deliver a presentation, felt more peaked, and went for my test.

I feel bad for my classmates. Not only did they have to endure my Shakespeare presentation — which included references to “The Simpsons,” “Petticoat Junction,” and Akira Kurosaki’s “Ran” — they were also exposed to COVID.

That’s a crap morning.

I mean I think they can forgive the COVID exposure, that’s life in a pandemic. But a “Petticoat Junction” reference? That’s a step too far.

I informed my doctor, the magnificent Shawna Basener. She worries about my asthma, which tends to be sensitive to seasonal changes and my animal allergy.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Sarah Michelle Gellar has asthma and is allergic to cats. We’re practically twins! I’m not famous, just fame adjacent.

Dr. Basener wants me to go to the hospital Friday for something called Bamlanivimab treatment, or Bam treatment for short.

I like the nickname “Bam treatment.”

The 1966 “Batman” TV series displayed a symphony of onomatopoeia. “Bam!” I’m almost in the same company as the late, great Adam West.

Anyway, the Bam treatment, delivered by IV, sends in some synthetic antibodies to fight the spread of COVID while my own immune system churns out its own virus Avengers team to pummel the virus out of my system.

Bam is best for people within 10 days of their initial symptoms (that’s me) and have a complicating health factor such as asthma (me!) and obesity (sigh, also me).

Quarantine isn’t so bad, other than being sick.

I recall a time in high school when I got grounded for having a girl over to the house while Parents 2.0 were out of town.

That sounds more adventurous than it was. We sat in separate chairs and watched a video we rented. It didn’t rise to the level of “Netflix and chill.”

We actually sat and watched a movie — nothing happened. Then she dropped me off at my grandparents’ house, where I spent the night.

Anyway, Parents 2.0 were ticked off. A girl in the house without supervision was out of the question. They grounded me for the weekend.

I remember it being a beautiful October Saturday.

I mowed the lawn, showered, and finished my homework. I watched the baseball playoffs on TV.

Mom 2.0 decided to give me a haircut. She asked me how my day was going. I told her it was a great day. The baseball game was good. I was caught up on my reading.

Mom 2.0 tells this story to this day. My response chagrined her. She thought I would be mopey, forced to stay home all weekend. The lesson for both of us is you can’t punish an introvert by ordering them to stay home and keep to themselves.

I am, however, ready to be done with my Aaron Rodgers impression.


Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.