(Here is a picture of a puppy and a kitten, because I need one and so do you.)
(Life on Lockdown is a regular Tuesday feature, which I write because it’s therapeutic for me. It will continue until it isn’t therapeutic anymore, or until I run out of ideas.)
If I’m going out of my house and there’s a chance I might meet some of the other humans, I wear a mask. I’m terribly self-conscious with it on, it’s hot, and it steams up my glasses. When I get back to the safety of my car at the conclusion of my errands, I can’t rip the thing off fast enough. But I’m not wearing it to protect myself. That’s not the main reason masks are being recommended now. It’s to protect other people. Even though I don’t feel sick today, I could be COVID-19 contagious without knowing it. And I don’t want you to get it from me.
I am not interested in the rationalizations of people who think they’re Batman or Rosa Parks or some kind of freedom fighter by not wearing a mask. What’s applicable here is the adage that says your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The Mrs. ticks more boxes on the virus vulnerability list than I do. And you do not have the right to endanger her health, or anyone else’s. Your freedom does not extend that far. It just doesn’t.
The hard-nosed “realists” who have been preparing for the end-times since Obama was elected can’t handle an apocalypse that requires not superior firepower but empathy, patience, and bad hair. I have nothing more to say to those people, and I’m not alone. As Kayla Chadwick put in a Huffington Post essay in 2017, one that deserves recirculation these days: “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.”
Like a lot of people, I have been passing lockdown time by watching TV, but I also spend many evenings, and most of the inevitable wide-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night hours, reading. Here’s what I’ve read recently:
—Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys by Lisa Alther. There was a time when everyone would have recognized the Hatfields and McCoys as the fabled feuding clans of post-Civil War Appalachia, but I suspect that time is past. Alther has ties to the McCoy family, and occasionally her objectivity slips. The book also contains a largely extraneous chapter about other Appalachian family feuds, a couple of which strike me as more interesting than the Hatfields and McCoys. In the end, Blood Feud is only just OK. I’d like to read something on the feud that’s a little more scholarly.
—Cold War University: Madison and the New Left in the Sixties by Matthew Levin. For most people, the history of 60s protest begins and ends with marches on campus. Madison and the University of Wisconsin surely had that, but the history of left-wing political activity up here started earlier, ran deeper, and was far richer than the usual handful of snapshots. We like to think that spirit still lives here in my town, and perhaps it does, but at nothing like the critical mass of a half-century ago.
—Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend by Robert Ross. Feldman is best known in the States for playing Igor in Young Frankenstein, but by that time (1974) he had already enjoyed a long and successful career as a writer and comic actor, mainly on British TV. If all he’d wanted was to write for other people, he might have done it with great success for his entire life. But he wanted to be in front of the camera, too, and while he ended up with a major American movie deal, it didn’t work out quite the way he dreamed. And then in 1982, he died at the age of 48.
—A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman. This book won a National Book Award in 1980; Tuchman had already won a Pulitzer by that time. A Distant Mirror is one of my favorite works of history, and I enjoyed re-reading it, even though the nobles of 14th century France are selfish, impulsive, incapable of empathy, and profligate spenders of other people’s money. They claim to be devoutly religious while repeatedly committing unchristian acts without a pang of conscience, all while their country is being ravaged by a plague.
Lucky for us such things could never happen today.