The Pathogen Less Traveled


I have this old soft-sided briefcase that predates today’s era of body appendages we call “devices.” It does contain a padded wide pocket for my laptop, but also undisturbed compartments that would fascinate an archaeologist. While it’s no longer the possession I’d be most frightened to lose, the briefcase still accompanies me daily just about everywhere. Now, however, “everywhere” has come to mean “nowhere,” and my briefcase has grown dusty. It’s the little things, they always say, that trigger your awareness of bigger ones.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Yes, here comes your 100th-or-so version of My Cincinnati Home Imprisonment, so let’s make it fun, shall we? This annoying literary genre did not exist when the year began, and if we’re lucky, it will disappear by year’s end. Things are, after all, starting to loosen up. If Cincinnati’s halting spasms of normality continue and everyone just keeps practicing safe habits and doesn’t mainline Lysol, maybe this will be the last Cabin Fever Chronicle you read. Let’s hope so.

Mary and I have, thankfully, escaped terminal boredom at home. She has not counted every brick on our Mid-Century Modern living room wall, and I haven’t stared like a savant at the bathroom floor to note the repeating tile pattern. I did that years ago when we first moved in. The odd things people joke about doing when they’re insanely bored are pretty much the things I do anyway, and I am grateful for Mary’s patience with me.

She and I have weathered each other pretty well. When the data from this housebound era emerges, it will include the inevitable spike in divorces (and murders), but we won’t be listed in there. We adjusted.

Here are things you learn when you’re always at home:


  • Unlike at work, a toilet does not automatically flush itself as you walk away.
  • Functioning WiFi is more vital than hot water. Than anything, actually.
  • Dirty dishes mate overnight and produce litters of baby dishes.
  • A toilet that doesn’t flush itself also does not put the seat down itself.
  • Honesty is not always the best policy. Hide your favorite snacks.

At this point, please allow me to introduce you to a new acronym: “AWGTP.” It stands for As we go to press, and it’s a reminder of how frighteningly fast things have changed. Prepare to see it repeatedly, as it accompanies every passage below that might be laughingly outdated by the time these words see print.

Here’s a good example: I still have my job (AWGTP). I’m one of the lucky ones whose employment survives thanks to some technological hocus pocus. From my basement, I continue to appear on the radio weekday afternoons exactly as I have for decades, pretending to listen along with you to your favorite classic rock songs. Hey, the job requires that illusion. There’s more preparation and chores happening while the music plays than you know, and believe me, no matter how much you complain about radio song repetition, a disc jockey is forced to hear it exponentially more times than you. So give me a break if I turn down the volume and take a pass on buying a 20,000th stairway to heaven.

All this could change tomorrow. Others whose jobs were rock solid six months ago are suddenly unemployed, and it’s entirely possible I’ll have joined them by the time you’re reading this story. Right now, however, my broadcast work is essential. The Department of Homeland Security decrees it so, via an official document in my car’s glove compartment. Cincinnati cops aren’t stopping drivers and requiring authorization for being outdoors (AWGTP), but should it come to that, my special document verifies my essentiality. After I’m fired, it will continue to provide good cover when I go for carryout pizza.

Thanks to a long-ignored stash of painting accessories we found in the basement, Mary and I were early adopters of face masks. I hereby declare that as they are replaced, I shall never wear a face mask displaying my favorite slogan, song lyric, or brand. Much of my career has been spent creating commercials, so I have no desire to become one. Fashion masks also create the danger of my walking near a person who has lost their grasp of what is real versus what is virtual, and who might try to “Delete Ad” me.

I make light of my situation, but some things have had weight. Remember those stories from March about Americans in Europe, all suddenly trying to get out, the airports in chaos? Mary was there. She and a friend had gone to Paris on vacation but wisely cut their trip short when things started to crack, and they missed the madness by hours. If that doesn’t seem so bad, consider this other memory shared by them and by me: Mary and her friend had also been in Paris five years ago on the night that terrorists attacked across the city. As word of those attacks broke here, I was doing my Cincinnati radio show and had to maintain my cheery persona, not knowing if they were dead or alive, for about 40 minutes. So this year when Paris seemed to be turning on them again, it wasn’t just a problem, it was a flashback.

I’ve got two kids, both grown. My daughter lives in New York City, my son in California. The daughter (along with husband and two kids) has plenty of provisions, is connected with online schooling, and figures that staying put in a familiar environment is best. I’m not crazy about the four of them being there on the 40th floor, but so far, so good (AWGTP). The son, right around the time Mary was bugging out of Paris, worried that all U.S. travel might shut down, so he packed up his car and drove back to Cincinnati. He’s hired himself as errand boy for The Vulnerable Generation. Dear God, is that what we’ll become known as?

For many around us, it’s bad. Really bad. Joblessness, fear, sickness, death. To varying degrees, everyone’s ordinary life continues to get tossed around in a rancid salad that nobody ordered. I know a Cincinnati family with a dad who’s thousands of miles away, having flown in February to his tiny Spanish hometown for a visit with his elderly parents. AWGTP, he’s still stuck there. Variations of this situation—and worse—are everywhere.

I’m lucky, and I know it. You will never see a Madonna-like cringeworthy video from me, doing something like singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Well, maybe you will, except these will be the lyrics:

Imagine one huge mansion
With a celebrity
Preaching to the public
Singing this song off-key

Imagine all their privilege
Talking down to you
Oo-oo, oo-oo

They may say that they’re just like us
But they’re not like me and you
I hope someday they’ll use their money
To maybe go and buy a clue

I try not to worry. It doesn’t always work, but here’s a story that helps me, and maybe it will help you. A guy told me about the night he was driving home on a curvy wooded stretch of Salem Road in Mt. Washington. He was deeply worried about several personal problems that seemed to be going wrong at once. Suddenly, a deer jumped directly in front of him, and an hour later he was in a hospital bed—banged up pretty bad, but far more fortunate than the deer or the car. He went home a few days later, during which all the problems distressing him that night on Salem Road pretty much worked themselves out. He’d wasted a lot of time and energy agonizing over concerns that had evaporated. But not for one second, he realized, had he ever worried about crashing into a deer and landing in the hospital. What, me worry? Why?

AWGTP, I have not been diagnosed with the virus, nor has anyone in my inner circle. Nobody I know has died from it. Maybe it’s my good luck, or maybe it just reflects the fact that I don’t get close to many people.

How are you? I hope you’re OK. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we’ll get through this, and we’re all in it together.

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