Tuesday November 3, 2020

Author’s Note: Science fiction? Horror? Or Cautionary Tale? You the reader decide…

He awakened, startled by the noise outside. It was 3:00 AM. Normally he would be up and writing his first tweet. However no one wanted to hear from him anymore. Even the Fox Morning show was not taking his calls. Here it was the morning of a scheduled election day that was not going to take place. “Too dangerous” he argued and the election date was postponed. Plus his septuagenarian opposition candidate had contracted the virus and now was in serious condition. He wondered about the crowd outside – – it still sounded very loud and angry. Thankfully he was able to count on the military to place a perimeter around the White House grounds. That did not stop a few people from attempting to breach the White House grounds. Occasionally there was a sound of gunfire and the smell of tear gas. He remembered videos of the last days of Hitler hunkered down in his Berlin bunker while Russian troops closed in. It wasn’t tanks or troops he was avoiding but the utter catastrophe that was occurring during his watch. He was alone. His wife and young son sought refuge in a Caribbean island that had not been affected by the virus. 

How could things go so wrong and so quickly in nine months! He was assured by people in his administration that there was no huge threat to the American people. Regrettably those people were not scientists nor were they medical experts who could’ve provided the proper expertise and advice. His initial primary concern was the falling stock market and its effect on the economy and on his reelection chances. He now regretted the cuts to the budgets of the CDC and other medical projects. Testing for the virus had been delayed and many low income individuals with no health insurance could not afford the $3,000 charge and did not get tested. Maybe the Medicare for All was not such a bad idea?

The catastrophe started slow. He even bragged that this was all a hoax and that the virus would disappear shortly. However pockets of infection started to grow at a steady pace. Once infection pockets were found in large cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta, the virus spread rapidly. Just about every state with a large population center  was overwhelmed with sick and infected. The stock market mirrored the infection rate plaguing the country. The Dow dropped below 2500 and continues to decline. The Fed attempted to staunch the bleeding and even dropped to negative rates at his insistence but all it did was panic investors more. No one was worried about their 401Ks anymore.

He initially appointed his vice president to spearhead the effort to manage the crisis. But with each report of a 25,000 or more dying, he appointed new people starting with his son in law and then a Fox News personality to take over crisis management. In desperation he asked his daughter to take over but she also fled to an island resort not affected by the virus. Responsible people avoided him and his administration as much as they did the virus.

Being a germaphobe, he was always skittish around people with coughs and colds. He curtailed any outside campaigning or outside exposure when the rate of infections rose dramatically in the spring. No more MAGA rallies. No golf outings. He had found it hard to find people to play golf with when the infection rates spiked. Except for Lindsey. Even the summer national party conventions were cancelled for health concern reasons.

The infection rate overwhelmed hospitals and medical capabilities. Many doctors, first responders and nurses were among the first victims of the rising infection rate as protocols had not been adequately developed or communicated. Those doctors and health officials who did not die found themselves too sick to treat other patients. Infected people, usually the elderly, passed away in their homes. They received no medication and no treatment. He realized that he lost the country when even Fox News broadcast pictures of elderly people dying uncared in nursing homes.

For those who did not have the virus, life was very hard with plenty of disruptions. There were food shortages as many stores and groceries were closed. There was no gas for cars. Most civil and government services were suspended or terminated. No mail was being delivered. Law enforcement and the judicial system ground to a halt. Violent crime rose dramatically everywhere. Desperate people seeking food, medication and household supplies preyed on those neighbors who had them. Banks and the financial systems were at a standstill. ATMs did not dispense cash. The country was in financial, commercial and social gridlock.

City streets were largely empty. Those who were seen walking wore masks. Places where people tended to congregate socially were closed including churches, movie theaters, malls, restaurants and gyms. Neighbors stayed to themselves in their homes fearful to venture outdoors. Schools and universities closed in the Spring and remained closed. Unemployment exceeded Depression era levels. Manufacturing plants were shuttered. The service industry ground to a halt. No pizza deliveries. Fast food chains were dark. If you had problems with your internet or cable, there were no home repair calls.

There were no diversions to distract those who were still healthy from all the bad news. The World Series was completed overseas in Aruba. The college and professional football seasons had been cancelled. There was a limited Olympics in late summer but U.S. athletes were prohibited from entering Japan, the site of the games.  As a further insult, Mexico and Canada blocked their borders to prevent Americans from coming in. Countries around the world including China, Japan and South Korea did not allow flights emanating from the United States. Mexico was beefing up their borders to keep Americans out and planning to build a wall.

His poll numbers were in the low single digits. His businesses suffered too. His resorts and golf courses were closed. Diplomats and business people were no longer making any reservations at his hotels. It seemed the only business being done was by some of his prayer partners who were urgently requesting seed money through various media ads to prop up their flagging enterprises. A donation of $1,000 was guaranteed to protect you from the virus, or if you were infected, to survive it.

The Federal government was bankrupt, financially, morally and in operation. State and local governments were left to deal with the catastrophes. Some states also issued their own travel restrictions prohibiting citizens from “high risk” areas from coming into the state. There were countless stories of citizens and charities taking care of the sick and dying and attempting to rebuild. The virus adversely infected the American immune system  but did not destroy the American spirit.

He grimly understood that he did achieve one thing that many in the country had insisted upon. He leveled the playing field between rich and poor. The virus did not differentiate between those who had money or did not. Some of the rich tried to flee to other countries but found themselves turned away. He sighed. All of this was Obama’s fault. He did reach out to the former President but Obama did not take his call.

He realized that his aide and butler had not knocked on his bedroom door to deliver briefing papers that he rarely read and breakfast. No more McDonald meals as the local store was closed. He poked his head out his bedroom door and saw there was no activity, no one in sight, not even Secret Service. He turned on the TV but it was not working. He could not access his Twitter account either. Suddenly, the din from the crowd outside was being replaced with a rumble by the gates…



My Life is an Open Book

“It is with books as with men: a very small number play a great part.”

 Voltaire (1694-1778)

When my father died at age 7, I had no older brother or sister for guidance. Essentially I had to rely upon my own resources as I grew up. I also lost my religion fairly early so I was neither a believer or reader of The Bible. I know that many people find comfort, guidance and wisdom from their religious beliefs. However I chose to go a different way. Reading was a critical element in my life. Books provided me entertainment, knowledge, guidance and perspective. I’m estimating that I have read over 5000 books in my life.

There were a number of books that inspired me in my personal life. There were stories (real and fiction) of people who overcame challenges and provided examples and lessons on how one should conduct their lives.

Here is a list of books that made a significant impression on how I view life, death, relationships and morality.

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Lawrence James and Peter Barton

Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect life by Philip Simmons

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (I always encourage people just to read the first chapter which is powerful, if they can’t read the entire book.)

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Running to the Mountain by Jon Katz

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Eureka (A Novel) by Jim Lehrer

The Way of the Ronin by Bev Potter (changed my view on work and just being labeled an employee)

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Chasing Death: How my Forthcoming Death Changed My Life by Eugene O’Neill

Stoner by John Williams

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque

Creating the Good Life by James O’Toole

Eulogy to my Mom (July 2018)

I thank Father Bill for giving me this opportunity to speak briefly about my mother. On behalf of Monica and I, thank all of you for coming to our mom’s service to celebrate her memory. Monica and I would also like to thank many of you here for your support and encouragement during my mom’s illness. In times like these, we deeply appreciate our family and friends.

Additionally I personally would like to thank three people. First, my wife Chris… she handled two huge projects related to my mother’s illness, first, the sale of her house and second, dealing with my anxieties and issues regarding my mother’s care.

Second, I’d like to thank my mom’s best friend and neighbor for over 55 years, Mrs. Dot Carter. Mrs. Carter and I shared a lot of travels between Pennsauken and Linwood to see my mom the past few years. Many of these trips were regrettably unproductive and heartbreaking but despite the discouragement, Mrs. Carter insisted on accompanying me on most trips as she felt that it was important that my mom knew she was there. My mom had no better friend. And I thank Mrs. Carter for her conversation during those long drives and in relaying stories about my mom.

Last, I want to thank Monica. If any of you have talked to me in the past two years, you know how proud and grateful I am for her. Monica exhibited extraordinary patience and compassion and that was just dealing with me. Monica’s care and consideration for my mom was extraordinary and I will share a story with you at the end to demonstrate that.

Now some thoughts about my mom:

My mom would hate what I’m about to do. She would be very uncomfortable with any type of eulogy or recognition. She was shy, introverted and hated any type of spotlight. She was very uncomfortable being around strangers – – she did not like to mingle. If you had attended my wedding or those of my sisters you would have found her firmly seated in her chair.

She lived a long but not an unchallenged life. The first forty years of more she spent with her mother and those in my family in attendance, who knew my grandmother knew that could not have been easy. My mom was widowed twice, once as early as age 35 with two kids, me at seven and Sandra at age 3. At that time, she did not drive. She had no real education – – I’m not sure that she finished middle school. She had limited skills to go out and find a job.

But a job she did find later in life. When Monica was old enough to be on her own, my mom went to work at the Pennsauken Mart. She worked at a snack bar with Mrs. Carter and she enjoyed her work and she actually began to socialize more, especially with the customers. Her boss, Joe is here and I’m very pleased to tell Joe how much she enjoyed working for you as her boss.

Father Bill would be pleased to know that my mom was a very good Catholic. She faithfully attended mass each week and prayed a rosary daily. Given her suffering the past two years, I would expect that if she had any sins, she has accounted and made penance for them.

She was an avid reader – – reading up to six books a month. ( I did inherit my mother’s interest in reading.) Her tastes ran to fiction and she had no interest in politics (though she was wise enough to consult with me before she voted). She enjoyed music and my understanding is that she was quite a dancer in her younger years. ( I did not inherit my mom’s talent for dancing)

Mom was old school. She never used a computer or owned an iphone. Her favorite places to eat were not at fancy restaurants but more personal places called Sandra’s, Chris’s and Sean’s. My mom’s personal Yelp ratings for those cooks exceeded five stars.

She stayed active in her later years. Till her 70’s she walked around Cooper River. In her 80s, she walked 3-4 circuits around the Moorestown Mall a few times per week. My mom’s body did not wear out – – it was her mind that failed her.

My mom had two great passions. The first is her love of fashion. If you look at the collage, you can’t help notice that my mom was very stylish. I told you earlier that my mom did not like to be the center of attention – – but that didn’t pertain to people complimenting her on how she looked. My mom was as meticulous as Melania Trump in how she looked in public. Fashion, not conversation, was how my mom communicated her personality and mood.

The greatest passion my mom had and the most important was her love for her children. She loved us equally but treated us differently. My mom once told me “don’t take this personally Eric, but a mom’s relationship with her daughters is special.” She had expressed to Mrs. Carter and later to me that she wished that she had been more affectionate with us but Sandra, Monica and I never doubted her love.

So I knew I was third in the pecking order but I did not mind. Both Sandra and Monica were very special – – though very different. Sandra’s death in 1995 was devastating to my mom. My mom lived vicariously through Sandra and envied her career and personality. Sandra took my mom on various vacations, trips, shopping and dining excursions and opened new experiences and worlds for her. My mom never fully recovered from Sandra’s death.

As for me, her biggest fear especially after Sandra died, was that I would die prematurely. Since my father died at 35 from a sudden heart attack, my mom would become very agitated when it snowed. She did not want me to shovel my sidewalks fearing I would have a cardiac arrest. My mom intimated on several occasions that Chris should shovel the snow possibly suggesting that Chris was more expendable than I was.

Monica was my mom’s favorite child (or so my mom told me one day). My mom fretted that she did not see Monica enough. However when my mother’s mental condition worsened, she did not want Monica burdened with her care. However it was Monica’s decision to move my mother to a long term care center by her so she could take care of her.

On my mom’s last day, Monica was by her bedside at 7:00 a.m. Monica suspected from her last few visits in observing my mom’s labored breathing that the end was near. Realizing that the last sense to go before one dies is their hearing, Monica gently spoke to my mom and noting that it was July 4th , wondered if Sandra was organizing a barbecue in heaven. Monica did not want my mom to die alone and she didn’t. What I find personally comforting about my mom’s death is that my mom knew Monica was there at her last breath and that last voice she heard was Monica’s. And my fervent hope is that when my mom moved from death to eternal life that she heard a voice she so surely missed, Sandra’s.

I love you Mom. I will continue to keep my promise to you!