About 434 days ago, I started writing down what day it was, because I was having trouble telling what day it was.
We’ve had only a few days of genuinely cold weather this winter, and one snowy day. Otherwise, it was mud, mud, mud outside at the end of 2021, that very long, very strange year.
Some nights I dream about making paintings. Once, I dreamed I was in a great gray void with a long, long brush that was two or three times as tall as me, and a clanking tin bucket of black ink hanging on my belt, and I danced across a great, undulating sheet of soft, thick paper as it floated on a shallow sea. The paper wanted to curl into a scroll before I could finish writing the numbers, trapping my feet between the two tubes.
Thanks to the arrival of the omicron variant in the U.S., on top of the reluctance of about 40% of America to bother getting vaccinated, we ended 2021 in the U.S. with an explosion in the number of infections. There may not be enough test kits available to measure the cases.
I had an impulse to paint over the 20th and it became the 27th. I also painted over the 26th, and it became the 31st.
Twenty-four hours from now, I pass the invisible deadline after which I can be considered fully vaccinated from the coronavirus. I haven’t chosen my superhero name yet, and I’m wondering if a chambray cape would be too much with jeans.
When I made my appointments for the shots, it was in such high demand that if you didn’t fill out the web forms quickly enough, the appointment slots would disappear before your eyes. Now the shot is pretty easy to come by in New York, and I know it isn’t this way everywhere. We need everyone who can get vaccinated to get vaccinated.
Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about it has that one uncle or sister or co-worker who is being a butthead about getting the vaccine. As the rare American who hasn’t the task of selling the reasonable risks of this new inoculation, I don’t have to internalize the frustration of coexisting with science deniers.
The day of my second vaccine was very much like the day of the first, with pilates and a horseback riding lesson, back to back.
The second time around I was much less nervous about arriving at the senior center in the Bronx and finding parking but out of habit threw on the navigon. (This is what the Bacon Provider calls it: the navigon. I always thought that “navigon” was the generic term for the category of navigational device or navigation software. I mean, he would know. I just went to look it up and discovered that it was an actual German company that made navigation devices and got bought out by a larger, U.S. competitor, who of course shut it down. He was being funny, and I didn’t know it until now. I like the word “navigon” and think we should use it to mean whatever navigation technology we use, be it software on our phones or the crummy, built-in stuff in the dashboard of a modern car.)
Because I don’t really go anyplace anymore, it is thrilling and nauseating to hit the road for someplace new. I got on the highway headed south. Traffic was moving at a good clip, and I was listening to a book by Muriel Spark and keeping pace with the other traffic. I had a passing thought about the lack of a plan for dinner.
I did not see the object that hit my windshield, but I did see that it was flung from the tires of a dump truck slightly ahead of me and one lane over. I flinched, naturally, and heard it hit with a sharp crunch. I paused the girls of the Brodie set and let my eyes adjust to see the crack. Isn’t it funny that you can’t listen and look at the same time?
I do not know if I had been on any other errand if I would have been annoyed by the ruinous crack on my windshield, but I was not annoyed. Maybe it was knowing that a new windshield was the one thing that car insurance actually covers with no deductible. Or maybe it was knowing that the windshield gave its life so that I didn’t get my face shattered by a rock. And anyway, I was getting a coronavirus vaccine.
The Senior Center in the Bronx was guarded by a new but similar pair of NYPD and National Guard soldiers. All they wanted to see was the little paper card from last time. I was directed to a chair and as soon as I sat, a nurse in navy scrubs leapt to his feet from the chair across from me. There was no time for chatting or a vaccine selfie. The fifteen minute wait after getting the shot was the only thing about it that seemed to take any time at all. The woman with the enormous bottle of sanitizer who could not stop singing was still there, although she had at last stopped singing.
We grilled lamb skewers for dinner, and made greek salad and pita bread.
I felt a little bit achy the next day; most people I know felt pretty crummy after the second shot, with aches and a fever. I never ran a fever, but I did have some surprising intestinal track issues (which I had thought was a coincidence after the first shot). It took about a week for that to seem normal again.
Now that my little vaccine dance card is all filled out, I’ve propped it on my desk in the center spot I save for the MVP of very important papers. Today I was asked to upload a copy of it for the first time. The Westminster Kennel Club dog show, which is in about five weeks, is asking exhibitors to either be tested for coronavirus just before the event, or submit proof of vaccination. The show is closed to both spectators and vendors this year. It is being held in June instead of February, and at the Lyndhurst Estate, in Tarrytown, instead of Madison Square Garden. Fellow qualified to enter, with several major wins, including a Best in Specialty Show last November. He has been going to shows with his professional handler during the pandemic, and it will be the first time I’ve seen him in the show ring in well over a year.
Last Friday, April 2nd, in the Second Year of Our Pandemic, 2021, was Good Friday, and also a good day.
The night before, of course, I had a stressful dream about how my friend Allison and I narrowly escaped the flood, freed the refugee children from her attic (but abandoned the elderly people), and tried to organize everyone into two large rowboats. I woke up when Allison climbed into the boat I was supposed to row, pushing her half of the crowd of children out into the floodwaters without an adult or a second oar.
I am very excited by painting with watercolors right now, and have nearly used up an old block of watercolor paper that I received as a gift when I was in junior high school. I am even using the backs.
Then it was time to do the pet feeding dance. Schwartz and Eggi are easy these days (although Eggi is on a bit of a diet because bitches have hormone cycles and boy, does she). Captain had a sour tummy in the morning so I was pressed to add something delicious. Fellow was away for the weekend at a dog show.
Then we had a riding lesson which was very amazing (I mean, riding horses is very amazing. Prehistoric people probably would have eaten all the horses if they hadn’t figured out how to use them as engines, and together we went on to invade almost the whole earth, and then about a hundred years ago we quit on the horses and switched to gas-powered internal combustion and heyo, I guess, sorry about the greenhouse gasses to the whole earth and all its inhabitants).
Then I came home and changed out of my riding clothes and printed out an appointment ticket I found lurking in my email and headed to The Bronx.
One thing about living in Bedhead Hills is that it is 1977 here, so in order to get to places like North Dreadful, where it is 1957, or New York City, where it is 2021, you must also time travel. I do not know precisely why, but going backwards in time is easier around here, and you can do it in your car, but going forwards in time usually requires taking a train. Otherwise, the length of your journey can vary from an hour, to many hours.
I took the precaution of listening to a fully dramatized Hamlet in the car, so there were ghosts and a mad scene and the clang of swords on the Hutch.
I should probably say that New York’s Governor for Life Andrew Cuomo announced that people over 50 without pre-existing conditions were eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in the state in mid-March, but at first I wasn’t able to find an appointment for a shot within two hundred miles. Eventually, I took an appointment that was about a hundred miles away, and then, checking and refreshing the Am I Eligible page on the website at odd hours of the day and night, was able to improve my arrangement, finding something both sooner and closer. And despite the fact that people I know all over Westchester County have been able to get appointments at local pharmacies or at the mass vaccine event being held in White Plains in the convention center, the best I could do was a senior center in The Bronx.
When I arrived in The Bronx, I found myself in the car dealerships/car repair/window tinting/tires neighborhood, where the streets are wide but crowded with rows of double-parked cars, so a driver must proceed like Alice, at the beginning of her adventures in Wonderland, where she follows the rabbit (who is late) down the hole and begins to fall, very slowly, and for a long time. I passed the best parking spot and had to tootle around the block looking for another.
It was then so easy to find a parking spot I walked away thinking that it might not be a legal space to park, but if my car was getting towed, so were several other even larger cars. And owing to the length of the trip, and the time travel, and the meander past the weaving cars requiring new tires and window tinting, I was on the verge of running late myself. It was easy to see where the entrance was, with Stand Here circles on the sidewalk, two ambulances, and a police officer. As I approached the entrance, a very man came from the other direction, striding and swaggering in such a way that even the molecules of air moved out of his way, and as he got closer, his legs got longer, his stride lengthened, and he got even taller, or maybe I got shorter, or maybe both, and, but, so that when we reached the policeman at the same time, I was practically invisible and the much larger man went first.
As the large man stepped to the doors, I was confronted by a surprised NYPD officer, who hadn’t seen me approach, and demanded my ID and appointment ticket. My Westchester friends have relayed tales of going early to their appointments, but in The Bronx there are large signs out front making clear that you cannot be early; you must be within 30 minutes of your appointment.
I followed the enormous man into the building and startled another screener, who let the man go but gave me a stern but muffled lecture about keeping my ticket handy. A man stopped me and took my temperature, and gestured that I was to proceed onwards. I followed the arrows on the floor. A woman with a clipboard said something I did not understand, so I wandered forward and sat in an empty folding chair. A woman at a desk with a computer asked me for something so I produced the ticket. She didn’t want it. She wanted my ID, and she kept it on the desk in front of her while she furiously typed.
Then a National Guard solider in a desert-camo uniform and cap, crisply creased pants tucked neatly into pristine tan boots appeared with a small plastic tray. A nurse in navy scrubs took two syringes, and two cards from the tray, one for me and one for the next person.
The nurse told me to take off my sweatshirt, which I did, and she reached for my right arm. I asked if we couldn’t use my left arm. She asked me which arm I wanted. I said left. She reached out and grabbed the deltoid on my left shoulder, pinching it hard, and told me to relax the muscle, which I attempted to do and no sooner had I made that attempt there was already a needle in my arm and it was done. It didn’t hurt at all.
She slapped a bandaid on me and was gone in a flash
The woman with my ID completed her furious typing and examination of the object of interest. She placed a sticker on me with the time I was free to leave written on it, and with my license gave me a sticker and the precious white card with the details of my Pfizer shot. A sticker. I got a sticker.
I rose with my winter coat bundled in my arms and went to find my way to the waiting chairs, following more arrows and stickers on the painted concrete floor. There, a woman in a traffic safety vest with a lanyard and ID badge wandered through the grid of chairs, singing volubly. She held a gigantic bottle of spray sanitizer, which she applied to chairs after people left.
“You can sit anywhere,” she said, with the same sing-song cadence to every person who emerged.
An older man circled the chair in front of me, and was encouraged by Safety Vest to have a seat anywhere. He sat. They must have exchanged other words, but I was a little lost in my own head. The ceiling was very high, with frosted glass panels set into a frame, so the enormous room was filled with natural light. I wondered what the enormous room of the senior center was normally used for; table tennis? Safety Vest told the man in from of me, “Jesus is my boss.”
He replied, but I couldn’t hear him, and she said, “I’ve been singing and dancing my way through my whole career in New York.”
When it was my time to leave, Safety Vest came to me, looked at the time on my sticker, and said, “If you feel ok, you can go.”
I looked her directly in the eye and burst into tears. I had to explain that I was fine, just emotional. A year ago, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would be, and vaccines were something people talked about as something hopeful, something possible, but a big if. I’ve felt so much worry about when the vaccine would be available to us, and so frustrated with trying to find an appointment, that here I was, crying tears of relief. “We’ve had a lot of that today,” she said, and went back to singing.
I exited just behind the every tall man I entered behind. His great strides slicing through the air had gotten him his vaccine only a moment before I got mine. On my way back to my car, I saw a big pile of poo in the grass, and I do not think it was from a dog.
On the drive home, Hamlet was captured by pirates.
Typist is busy with packing this week, so I thought I’d tell you about my day. Me? I’m Schwartz. I am the cat. I learned to type using Twitter, where I have more followers than my owner. I call her Typist because in the beginning, she did all my typing.
Typist gets these ideas that I should have vaccine boosters even though I’m an indoors-only cat and only sometimes on rare occasions shoot through people’s legs to escape to the outdoors to eat grass, be creepy, and hide under the porch. Ok, once, recently, I did get a tick. Typist had to pull it out, and everything about it was really itchy from my perspective. But this shot thing was her idea, and once she gets one of these ideas I just get to go along with it like I don’t think it’s the worst thing ever, which I do.
People should keep more empty boxes around for me.
So Typist bought me a new crate for riding in the car, and started putting my food bowl next to it, and then just inside, moving it a little bit more every day until boring boring boring I had to go all the way in the crate just to eat my kibble. I was more interested in the box the crate came in than the crate itself. Typist thinks that the food-dish-moving-plan is a good system for getting me used to the thing. Sigh. Really all it meant was when I stuck my head in the crate this morning thinking I was getting breakfast, I got rudely shoved and then locked inside which was a bad mean trick and not as good as breakfast for sure.
I peed and pooped and barfed a little in the car on the incredibly long seven minute drive to the vet, but then I got bored with doing dramatic yowls about halfway there. I restarted the dramatic yowls in the waiting room just to scare the dogs generally and get the visit over with as quickly as I could.
There was a big bully dog all covered in hives having the jolliest time dragging his woman all over the room. He stuck his big stupid face right up to the bars of my crate and I hissed at him. He doesn’t even know about the big bulging belly on his woman, and won’t he be a sorry bully dog when that horrible human baby comes in a few months. No more sleeping on the sofa for Mr. Hives then! Ha, ha, ha.
There was a long-haired dachshund as well, and I get along fine with dachshunds, especially my home-dog Reggie, but this owner person wouldn’t let him off her lap what with the bully dog and the woman stumbling along behind him.
Typist tried to amuse me during the long wait by turning my crate so I could see this poor little runt of a kitten, living out his pitiful life in the adoption cage at the vet. Out here in rural Dutchess County, the local vets do a lot of the work that animal shelters do in more densely populated areas. They keep the unwanted dogs and cats right there in the lobby, where the suckers who already own pets will see them and take another one home, with any luck.
Typist wanted me to like the kitten as much as she liked the kitten, and made a huge boring fuss about the fact that he looked like a tiny version of me. Boring!
The kitten climbed the bars and then jumped down and Typist said she wanted to name him “Gorilla.”
Another silly woman came up and talked to Typist about the kitten and this woman asked at the front desk if she could take the kitten home. The kitten was already spoken for, so both Typist and that other woman had to be satisfied with the pictures Typist took.The woman even asked Typist to send her the pictures. What is it with y’all and your pictures of cats? Haven’t you seen the Internet? Plenty of pictures of me there already.
When it was finally my turn to see the vet and get my shot, I didn’t want to come out of the crate. They charge Typist $2.50 “hazardous waste disposal” fees for cleaning the poop I do in the crate. The vet always comments about how big and strong I am. It’s like they’ve never seen a cat before, really.
When I was growing up, in suburban St. Louis in the 1970s, my parents took us all skiing in Colorado at least one or two weeks every year. Typically, we would drive there in our Chevy van, which was royal blue, and had the innovative sliding door on one side, and had two rows of benches and a spacious back area. Whenever possible, I would chose the way-back, because it was here that a small child could sprawl out with her toys and play uninterrupted except for potty breaks for a 900 mile, 15 hour drive. It is a straight shot on I-70, right across the length of Kansas, and many years my father drove the whole way without stopping for more than gas or food. My father loved to drive.
One winter, we were making our annual trip to Breckenridge, just on the heels of my younger brother recovering from the chickenpox. Chickenpox used to be a pretty common contagious virus, and predictably, one could expect an exposed child to come down with a case 10 to 21 days later. The new patient is pretty contagious for a couple of days before showing any symptoms, which are the itchy red spots all over the body. The older someone gets, the worse their case of chickenpox will be, it is said. It was not unusual in the days before the vaccine for parents to take a child with a brand new case and organize a play-date with children who had not yet caught it, essentially to expose the unexposed and get it over with.
I was allowed to pack all of my new Christmas presents for this trip, which was one of the most memorable things about the trip. Other memorable things I recall are the game of strip poker the parents played (which involved taking a lap around the cabin outside in the snow), how my 16-year-old uncle contracted a whopping case of chickenpox, but missed barely a day of skiing by wearing a knitted face mask on the slopes, and how I never caught them.
When my two older children were small, the chickenpox vaccine was a pretty new thing. Their pediatrician took the time to tell me about it before it was recommended for all children. I mentioned that while I remember being around other children with chickenpox as a child, I don’t remember ever having it. The pediatrician told me to get tested to see if I was immune, because if I wasn’t, I was the perfect person for the vaccine.
As it turned out, I had no immunity to chickenpox, and was given a full course of the vaccine, which is two shots about 4 weeks apart. Months later, one of my boys contracted a case when I was just a few months pregnant. Since I had older children, I did not spend tons of time pouring over the requisite “How-To-Be-Pregnant” books that time around, but I had retained enough from my first pregnancy to remember that chickenpox was one of a long list of things you were not supposed to catch when you were pregnant. Later, I greeted the pediatrician for the hero that she was. She shrugged.
A willingness to sit and have a conversation with me about family history, or sports, or calculus is, to me, a prerequisite for being a good doctor. Recently, my family practice doctor retired. He wrote prescriptions for things like “TLC,” and took the time to talk about stuff in general, and not just health. He always had a joke for me, and once told me the one about the sad mushroom who walked into a bar.