John Carlson: In Scary Times Like These…

Who would have ever thought this product would be so hard to find? Photo by: Mike RhodesWho would have ever thought this product would be so hard to find? Photo by: Mike Rhodes

By: John Carlson—

Well, this certainly sucks.

Meaning the coronavirus, of course. Good old COVID-19.

By now we all know it has spurred some significant life changes, and not just in the fact it can be hard to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and we can’t sit inside restaurants or – ‘scuse me while I dab the tears from my eyes – bars anymore.

Like many folks, what it’s done to the stock market makes me want to flat-out hurl.

There are also big changes at church.

Having been raised the son of conservative Baptists, I always figured I racked up several lifetimes’ worth of church attendance by the time I was nine. Then after high school it was off to Taylor U for four years, where twice-weekly chapel services provided what I considered another overdose of devotions. Well, unless you skipped. In that case, all you had to do was cower in your closet to dodge the dorm detectives searching the rooms for chapel-skippers.

Yeah, that was an exercise in maturity.

Anyway, I got to where, in my later years, playing hooky from church became one of my life’s  greatest pleasures. But now, thanks to the coronavirus, my fellow Lutherans and I temporarily can’t go to church for health reasons. Therefore, we’re getting our services at home via live streaming.

And wouldn’t you just know it? Suddenly all I can think about is how much I miss seeing Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jerry, that last guy being our pastor, plus all my other fellow apostles … I mean, buddies … at church every weekend.

Even this new technology is not without risk. No, it’s not going to sicken me with the coronavirus. But the other day via her Zoom app, Nancy was “attending” a Bible study being led by the aforementioned Rev. Jerry O’Neal. Like some Lost Continent’s Stone-Age tribesman seeing an airplane fly over for the first time, I stood mesmerized behind her watching our minister on-screen. Then at the bottom of the screen, I could see Nancy pictured. Then directly behind Nancy I saw some unshaven, wild-haired lout in a jelly-smeared sweatshirt.

“Lookout, Boo-boo!” I screamed, nearly dropping my donut, before the truth hit. That disgusting lout in the jelly-smeared sweatshirt was me.

That’s why it’s just a matter of time until, naked save for my boxer shorts, I inadvertently wander through an on-camera church service, snorting, scratching and yelling, “Honey pie, have you ever been more in love with me than you are at this very moment?”

That kind of thing never happened before the coronavirus.

On the other hand, we’re experiencing lots of things that never happened before COVID-19 showed up. Had you told us a few weeks ago that Indiana’s high school basketball tournament wouldn’t happen, and that the NCAA basketball tournament, that fabled Big Dance, would be canceled, nobody would have believed you.

And could this virus red flag the Indy 500? At this point, I’d be more surprised if it didn’t.

Other incredible things? The aforementioned state-ordered closure of bars, plus in-house dining at restaurants. Had you speculated about that not long ago, folks would have thought you were off your proverbial rocker. Of course, for most of us it’s simply an inconvenience. But think of its effect on the bar and restaurant workers, folks often skating the edge of financial peril under the best of circumstances, who suddenly find themselves unemployed. Plus the employees of beauty salons, barber shops and countless other businesses that have closed. And don’t even get me going about grocery stores. I mean, fistfights over 12-packs of Cottonelle? Half-empty and sometimes wholly-empty shelves that were recently crammed with products?

This sounds more like Russia than the U.S.A.

For the first time since COVID-19 hit, Nancy shopped our nearest grocery store, acquiring a quart of orange juice, a bag of cereal (but not her favorite kind), one of those bagged salads, plus a few other odds and ends. There was also meat – because I’d told her we needed some – from another mostly-bare shelf.

“This is it?” I sneered, pulling the package from its plastic bag.

Nancy leveled me a watch-it-buster-type stare.

It was a vacuum-packed bag of maybe twenty Lil’ Smokies. You know, those miniature sausages. Heck, I’ve eaten twenty Lil’ Smokies myself as an appetizer before. But this time, Nancy’s face told me that my northward-facing body would be ingesting those Lil’ Smokies through a southward facing orifice if I didn’t shut up.

So I did. Shut up, that is.

I note that lighthearted encounter only because this column normally purports to be of a humorous nature. As such it demands at least an attempt to spur a chortle or two, something that I suppose could brighten one’s mood even when the subject is COVID-19.

Nevertheless, we all know there’s nothing remotely funny about what we and the rest of the world are going through right now. It kills people, and the fact that so much can go so terribly wrong so quickly comes as a true shock, one that’s just beginning to sink in for many of us. A month ago we wouldn’t have thought it possible.

It might be even a little more sobering for folks with multiple risk factors. I know some spouses who, out of concern for their mates, have become virtual bodyguards, keeping their loved ones safe inside the house by venturing out themselves when it becomes a necessity.

I’m even married to one.

In keeping with such actions, though, you can’t deny that responding to this health crisis has become something of a rallying point for many, many people, inspiring selfless acts intended to get us through it until life returns to normal.

That’s a noble human trait.

At certain times of great trial, certain people and their special efforts have been lauded for their selfless commitment to the common good. Cops. Teachers. Firemen. Farmers. Our servicemen and servicewomen. The work of all such folks, in professions for which their worth is nowhere near commensurate with what they are paid, has been and still is gratefully acknowledged by us all.

Now, of course, we’re reminded the people working in the medical professions belong high atop that list. What course this coronavirus takes will be largely determined by them, standing up to a threat that comes with the potential for unprecedented destruction, both on a wide scale and personally, individually.


You bet those folks are.

And we can’t even give them a hug.


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.