Oops … I Forgot (Or Never Figured Out in the First Place)

This is old news but it’s a good story … and I like good stories.

Sunday, September 12, 9:00 pm or so.  I’m sitting at the bar in PJ Horgan’s, my neighbourhood pub in Queens, New York City.  I had just finished my immersion in the US Open tennis tournament.  The men’s finals match between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev was replaying on the big TV before me.  I had settled into my nachos and IPA beer.  All was right with the world.  I was so pleased with myself that I’d fulfilled a dream, jumped through the Covid and vaccination hoops in Canada to get to New York, and spent two weeks watching the best tennis players in the world.

And then the word came to my cheesy lips: COVID.  My eyes opened wide and so did my mouth.  “Tell me true.  I don’t need to get another Covid test to get back into Canada … do I?”  My head started nodding with no accompanying thought.  (Sigh)

Quick like a bunny, I found the Government of Canada app on my phone.  “Although vaccinated Canadian travellers are now exempt from quarantine, they’re still required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test before returning to Canada [within 72 hours before the flight leaves].”  There I sat, mid-nacho, watching my beloved tennis on TV, wondering where I would get a Covid test at the last minute.  And it had to be the fancy test – PCR.  Plus I had to get the results back fast if I was to make my 12:20 pm flight.

I sat there and smiled.  I mean … What was that about?  I had apparently turned off the Covid-related part of my brain, had made a huge mistake, and here I was having happy compassion for myself.  I’ll take it.

I found the Clear 19 Covid Testing Center online.  They did PCR tests with results guaranteed within two hours.  And I could have an 8:15 am appointment in midtown Manhattan.  All for a deliciously large sum of money.  I had a Zoom meeting, which I needed to attend, scheduled for 8:00 pm.  Plus the possibility of staying one extra night at my Airbnb was cloudy since my hosts had gone to Toronto (!) to visit friends.

I paid the big bucks and girded my loins about how I was going to pull this together.

Nachos and beer rapidly consumed, I walked the fifty yards to my Airbnb and got on the phone with Air Canada.  Actually I was on the phone in seconds.  They took forty-five minutes to join me.  The Air Canada rep was very kind.  She somehow resisted the temptation to blurt out “You idiot!”  Thank you, dear rep.  She told me that in order to make my 12:20 pm flight to Toronto, they’d have to receive my luggage by 11:00.  And I’d have to show a negative Covid test result for that to happen.  So … 8:15 > 10:15.  Looked like I had forty-five minutes to play with.  “You can do this, Bruce!”  I was still smiling.

Miss Air Canada said that if I missed the 12:20 flight, I could catch a later one that went to Montreal first before gracing the suburbs of Toronto.  That would be toast for my evening meeting, plus it would cost me $150 more.  (Sigh again)

It was now 11:00 pm or so.  I packed everything that wasn’t needed in the morning.  I went to the NYC Subway app to find out how to get to Clear 19.  This would be easy peasy.  Up at 6:00, quick shower, pack the toiletries, ten-minute walk to the subway, emerge from the underground at 50 Street, find a place to eat something and walk the three blocks to my Covid saviour.

Up the steps at 50th and the first thing I saw was the Golden Arches.  That’ll do nicely.  Although the sign outside said “Dine In”, the woman at the counter said otherwise.  No sweat.  I sat on a ledge in front of an office building and munched my Egg McMuffin and hash browns to the accompaniment of hurrying pedestrians, a flurry of yellow cabs, honking here and there and, to the south, the towering neon of Broadway north of Times Square.  I was so happy!  The universe had conspired to feed me and give me copious amounts of caffeine.

8:05.  I was early at Clear 19.  8:15.  A swab was entering my nostrils (happily not all the way back).  8:20.  I was on my way, considerably lighter in the wallet and continually light in the spirit.  Life works.

Back on the subway, back to my luggage in the Airbnb, and now a twenty-minute walk to the bus that would take me to Laguardia Airport.  As I left the apartment, I made an executive decision.  I would stop at the Aubergine Café, my breakfast home for the last fortnight, and say goodbye to Mary, Jimmy and Lisette.  They had been so kind to me.  I had no room for my usual bacon, cheese, tomato and avocado bagel (Yum!) but how about if I linger over a mixed berry smoothie?

“Linger!?  You, my dimwitted Canadian friend, have no time to linger.  Don’t you remember?  You have a plane to catch, luggage to drop off, Covid test result to receive on the phone, etc. etc.!”  (By the way, that was me talking to me.)

I lingered.  And changed my order to a strawberry banana smoothie.  So good!  Lisette and Jimmy asked me to come back next year, during the 2022 Open.  I will.  Sadly, Mary had a day off.  Jimmy said he would tell her goodbye from me.

Back to walking.  I saw a bus at the corner of Woodside and 61 Street, where I had exited fifteen days ago.  The driver said that yes, he was the Q70 to Laguardia, but that the pickup spot was “around the corner, in front of Dunkin’ Donuts”.  So around the corner I went – no donut sign in sight.  I tried not to look at my watch.  “Life works!”  Remember?

I saw a fellow in a uniform, sweeping up garbage on the sidewalk.  “Excuse me, I can’t find Dunkin’ Donuts.”  “Oh, you have to turn right again.  It’s down another block.  Here, I’ll show you.”  And he did.  I heard years ago that New Yorkers were unfriendly.  Not in my experience.

It took fifteen more minutes for the Q70 to arrive.  Meanwhile I chatted with a couple from Kansas who were also catching a flight.  I can’t remember why they’d come to New York but they too loved the place.

I was so glad that I had put “Terminal B” in my phone months ago because creeping traffic and visits to Terminals C and D slowed thing down.  Oh well.

10:10.  Arrival in the concourse.  Searching for Air Canada.  I debated whether to go to one of the freestanding terminals when I reached the airline, but a friendly employee told me not to.  “Line up right away.”  Thank you.

I checked my phone.  Yes!  An e-mail from Clear 19.  I was negative.  Such positive news.

I was about thirtieth in line.  The Air Canada woman the night before had told me that I needed to download the ArriveCan app and fill out the info before getting to the agent at the counter.  I hadn’t done that yet.  No sweat, I thought.  Well … considerable sweat.  There was all this information asked for.  Thankfully, I had it stored on my phone.  I finished it around 10:35.  I was third in line.

Finally a smiling human being awaited me at the counter.  Show my two vaccinations.  Show my negative Covid test.  Show my completed ArriveCan form.  Put my luggage on the scale.

10:45.  Fifteen minutes to spare.  Piece of cake.

Gone

I’ve long been fascinated by numbers. As a kid, I studied baseball players and their batting averages, home runs, and runs batted in. Then hockey took over my mind – goals and assists. Most recently, I’ve been enamoured with women’s tennis. Bet you didn’t know that Canada’s Bianca Andreescu is ranked 7th in the world while Leylah Fernandez sits at 88th.

And it’s not just sports. For many years I’ve tracked my own physical stats. How much do I weigh? What’s my body fat percentage? How many calories did I burn on the cross-country ski machine?

Even Covid hasn’t escaped my analytical mind. I’ve tracked numbers of infections and deaths in Canada, the US and the world. Seeing human lives almost as sports scores is a harrowing thought, one that has led me to remorse.

With all that as a background, I worked out on my strength training machine this morning. An hour later, after some food, I was tired so I lay down on my bed. Sleep was nudging but I never quite got there. The in-between space allowed my mind to wander, spread out, vaporize. And then, from some unknown place, came:

I don’t care what I weigh

My eyes widened a bit and then softened. I waited and listened. Yes, the voice spoke the truth. I’m sure that was the first time in my adult life that I spoke those words. The need to weigh myself had disappeared. Hours later, it’s still nowhere to be found. I ask myself “How is this possible?” but I don’t have any oomph to answer the question. It’s just so.

Other thoughts came to the surface:

I don’t care what my body fat percentage is

I don’t care how many calories I burned on the Bowflex this morning

I don’t want to look at the Polar app to see how many calories I’ll have burned by the end of the day

I don’t care how many people viewed or liked the post I wrote yesterday on WordPress and Facebook

I don’t care if in 2020 I exceed the number of views I had in 2019

I don’t want to know how many people were infected with Covid today

I don’t want to know how many people died from Covid today

I didn’t grunt and groan to remove my thoughts about stats. I didn’t create short-term and long-term goals to eliminate my tendency towards analysis. The thoughts, the focus, the evaluation … they’re simply gone. And my sense right now is that they’ll stay gone, as magical as that seems.

I’m still focused on exercise and nutrition as ways to stay healthy. I’m still concerned about the pandemic and committed to social distancing and wearing a mask. But there’s a long, sweet exhale … and the feeling of space.

Spreading

Today Canada discovered its first two cases of the Covid variant that originated in the United Kingdom.  A couple in Ontario were infected.  They had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts”.  Woh!  How did that happen?  The virus is so incredibly transmissible, defying normal reason.

The Earth is a big place.  How exactly did Covid reach Samoa and Fiji in the mid-Pacific Ocean, Greenland and … Antarctica!  On December 22, CTV News reported that “three dozen people have reportedly contracted Covid-19 at a Chilean research base in Antarctica, which for months was the only landmass untouched by the global pandemic.”

I wonder if anything else could go viral.

How about love?

Sometime in the 1980’s, I was crossing a parking lot in Lethbridge, Alberta.  A woman of perhaps East Indian origin was walking towards me.  As we got closer, she smiled and said “Hello.”  I mean a real hello, one that said “I see who you are.  I honour who you are.”  Thirty some years later, she is still with me.  Do you think a “little” gesture of contact like that could change the world?  I do.  What if each of us did the same thing for someone, with the same grandness of heart, only once in our remaining years?  That’s a lot of loving hellos.

In virus talk, the R Number is “a way of rating coronavirus’s ability to spread.  R is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.”  If we want the virus to subside, the R Number needs to be less than 1.0.

I propose an L Number, a way of rating the ability of love to spread.  Genuine smiles will do nicely.  If for the rest of your life you aimed a lingering smile at two people rather than one, and if everyone else did the same, our L Number would be 2.0.

And a Lovedemic would take over the planet

Go Ahead and Smile

Am I allowed to laugh in the presence of the coronavirus?  After all, 1.7 million of us have died and 76 million have been infected.  Those are horrible numbers that point to immense suffering among the victims and the loved ones left behind.  But laughter helps me stay sane, so here are some creative responses from the world at large:

I wish Corona could’ve started in Las Vegas
because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

I need to practice social distancing from the refrigerator

2019: Stay away from negative people
2020: Stay away from positive people

Going to bed early
Not leaving the house
Not going to parties
My childhood punishments have become my adult goals

People who ask me what I have planned for tomorrow
probably assume that I even know what day of the week it is

Why the hell did I buy a 2020 planner?

Doglike instructions for humans in 2020: Sit … stay

Due to my isolation, I finished three books yesterday 
And believe me, that’s a lot of colouring

The most unused household item during quarantine: bras

“Hello.  Table for two on your outside patio …
Yes, of course I’ll be wearing a mask.  I’m Batman”

Don’t expect Covid-19 to last.  It was made in China

Has Covid-19 forced you to wear glasses and a mask at the same time?
You may be entitled to condensation

(Charlie Brown)  I’m staying in bed, Snoopy.  It’s too peopley out there

Can’t believe we stayed up and screamed “Happy New Year!”
for this mess

You never realize how anti-social you are until there’s a pandemic
and your life doesn’t really change that much

First time in history:
We can save the human race by lying in front of the TV and doing nothing

Let’s not screw this up

Hang in there, folks

Out Of An Abundance Of Caution

It’s an odd turn of the syllables. When I first heard the phrase, it was about the coronavirus. The words gave me pause. In the US, President Trump tested positive and was heading to the hospital for a few days. Cautious. I doubted that the danger to him was negligible. If you’re hospitalized, something major is probably going on.

Someone described the phrase as “precautions taken against a very remote contingency”. I kept returning to the strangeness of the words, and asked myself if I really wanted to armour myself against remote possibilities.

Oodles of caution seem to be spreading:

1. Seventy students and staff members at a high school go into quarantine after two teens contracted Covid

2. A professional football player developed some tightness and muscle soreness in his right calf. The coaches chose to remove him from the game

3. Some college students won’t be travelling home for Christmas due to Covid restrictions

4. Hackers injected malware into some government software. The programs have been removed

5. Schools switch to remote learning after coronavirus cases in the community rise, although the infection rate in local schools is low

6. Protests in the US about the death of George Floyd lead to the temporary boarding up of some stores in Vancouver, Canada

7. Most Republican politicians in the US Congress won’t say that Joe Biden is the President-Elect

8. Some people who speak out on TV about US politics (and some election officials who keep to the rule of law) are provided with security at home, at work, and while they commute

9. Today, as the Electoral College certified the results of the US election, some states changed the locations of the meetings and didn’t reveal those locations

***

I’m not disputing the potential value of these precautions but they do point to a hesitancy in modern life. Many people are unwilling to take chances, to burst nakedly into life full speed ahead, to be publicly themselves. Whatever happened to throwing caution to the wind?