Saturday, April 18, 2020

Journal of the Plague Months: Vol. 2, No. 3 -- Finding new meaning in an old song

So here's a final word of warning:
You're gonna wake up dead some morning
Then you'll cry: 'How 'bout that guy?
I don't believe he was telling a lie'
So take it from me, as hard as you try
As long as you live, you'll be dead if you die

I’ve been thinking about this 1938 song by the great Louis Armstrong, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis.

A mixture of sarcasm and rue about a lover’s s betrayal, the song can live in an entirely different coronavirus context. These days, I hear it as a message to those who insist that no day is complete without the huff and puff of jogging, the intense churn of bicycle pedals or the near-religious commitment to a brisk 10,000 steps.

I see you all when I’m walking my dog, wearing my mask and wondering about those who somehow fail to understand that at this moment, health means staying home, not using city streets to raise your heart rate.

And speaking of staying home, I’m a great supporter of sheltering in place and I'm surprised that everyone doesn't take to it. Aren't we supposed to be a culture obsessed with “family values?" Isn't being at home with those you love the greatest of privileges?

I’ve never quite understood what family values are, but they come across as a saccharine version of the notion that we derive comfort and strength from the relationships that accrue to us through a mixture of choice and genetics, so sweet they might drive even Pollyanna to the nearest bar stool.

I mean we choose our spouses but we don’t decide who are grandparents should be or whether they should expose tender young souls to glasses in which a full set of false teeth rest quietly overnight, as my grandmother, who I loved immensely, did.

So, in this time of necessary togetherness, I ask, how do you like that family now? Getting on each other’s nerves yet?

Art never has been entirely kind to families, mostly because it’s based on real experience, not fantasy. Ask Eugene O’Neill — regarded by some as America’s greatest playwright — what he thought about families.

But then you don’t have to ask him, you can read Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

The Godfather, a great American movie, deals perceptively with the intimacies and treacheries of family life.

Look what happened to the Corleones. What do you think Fredo might have to say about brotherly love?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a case for lifting shelter-in-place orders just because that teenager of yours screams in your face, "Mask? I don't have to wear no stinkin' mask."

I don’t get the folks who feel as if they’re losing their liberties by helping to protect the health of others.

I thought that the governor of my state, Jared Polis of Colorado, made a hyperbolic mistake by referring to stay-at-home orders as “draconian.”

To me, “draconian” would involve mandatory viewings of The Sound of Music or maybe being ordered to spend the rest of your life using only restrooms at gas stations.

Because of a shortage of testing, we can’t know who has the Covid-19 virus. If you’re asymptomatic, you can infect others. In part, that’s what “stay-at-home” is about.
I’m sure during the course of more than 40 years of reviewing, I’ve made some readers sick But I’ve never written a review with that as a goal.

Enough for a Saturday, except to say this is no time to contract a case of the warm, fuzzies.

A late friend, gone before coronavirus, once mordantly observed that all American movies are, at heart, about the true meaning of Christmas. You can see some of that spirit in the advertisements flooding TV about the virus. We’re all in this together. You may be isolated in that one-room apartment with only a trip to the grocery store to relieve your loneliness, but you’re not alone. Stuff like that.

To which I say, “Be wary, my friends.” And remember, we may all be in this together, but “As long as you live, you’ll be dead if you die.”

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