It’s raining like a maniac, and the rain is bitterly cold. The air is bitterly cold. By that I mean it’s in the low 50s. Fifty-one right now. That’s bitterly cold for Beverly Hills. Things are getting very tense here at the Stein hacienda. It’s the COVID. It’s making a cousin who’s visiting from Oklahoma absolutely nuts.
She hangs out in my room reading while I watch TV. As long as I have it on a crime show, she’s fine. Severed head with rats gnawing on it? No problem. Woman with entrails on CSI exam room? Bring it. Shooting an old man in the head with blood spurting at the camera? Right on!
But the moment anything comes on about COVID, she literally starts to shake and scream. “Turn it off!,” she commands and lunges for the TV remote control. That’s not good because she randomly presses buttons and then it takes me an hour to sort it out and get it to return to just plain vanilla watching instead of the millions of exotic choices my TV has.
I keep telling her she’s as safe as can be in our house smack in the middle of Beverly Hills, with its maids, its nurses, and yours truly. Plus, I tell her, the disease really affects far less than 1 percent of the population thus far. Even if it reaches the highest level any “model” predicts, that would barely be 1.2 percent who get infected and only a tiny percentage of them die.
Yes, I know that some famous people have died and many people have friends who have died. Each one is a tragedy. And I know that we have a lockdown and the country is sinking into Depression and bankruptcy at the same time. I also know that the TV and newspapers are shrieking, “You’re all going to die!!!” at the top of their lungs. But anecdotes are one thing, and data is another.
“That’s irrelevant,” she shouts at me. “If you get it, you die a horrible death. You’re in a ventilator and you can’t breathe.”
“OK,” I say to her. “It’s late, and my wife and I have to go to sleep.”
She glares at me and then, face flushed with rage, she walks downstairs, goes out the front door, slams it, and then heads back to her ultra-plush hotel a few blocks away.
By that time, my wife and I are shaking, too. But I take my shower, put on my pajamas, and we say our prayers. They are really long, but the key part for you readers is our prayers for the soldiers, sailors, Marines, fliers, Coast Guardsmen, merchant marines, and advisers and contractors and CIA agents who fought for our country in our many wars. For the firefighters, doctors, nurses, and all of their families, who keep us safe or fairly safe.
I name the names of those we knew and still know, especially Jim Bellows, Norman Lear, Peter Flanigan, and so many others. How can we ever thank them enough?
Anyway, the more I think about it, something is odd about our wild reaction to COVID. My brilliant friend, J., a real genius, says that the difference between COVID and much higher mortality items like cancer and heart disease is that COVID is contagious and cancer and heart disease aren’t.
True enough, and plenty of reason for fear.
But tuberculosis is contagious. The swine flu — still killing a lot of people here every year — is extremely contagious. When I was a child, in the late ’40s and ’50s, every summer we lived and played in terror of polio. We were really scared of that horrible disease that crippled and killed so many fine people, including FDR. Swimming pools were particular objects of dread.
We didn’t close the schools. We didn’t tell people they couldn’t worship in groups. We didn’t run nonstop 24/7 Death-O-Meters on TV (then brand new). We didn’t even close the swimming pools. We didn’t use the government to terrify people. We didn’t bankrupt the nation to pay for harm done by the disease.
Maybe we were wrong then. Maybe we’re wrong now about health dangers like marijuana, about which almost nothing is said, and it’s become a national mania to be high. Maybe we should arrest anyone seen smoking or vaping. But we don’t. It’s only this disease, which came here on Donald Trump’s watch, that gets everyone so scared. And which merits such severe steps towards social control and away from the Constitution.
Something’s going on here, and I wonder how much is about medicine.