One Good Thing About COVID-19

Author Sue William Silverman had waited 3 ½ hours to get into the concert, and now she was seated in the third row, within touching distance of a chatty young man and a snarly older woman in a wheelchair. All around her, people were shouting, screaming, and waving pictures. She sailed away on the sea of love and adoration for rocker Adam Lambert, once of American Idol Fame.

Silverman, who is in her 70s, went to this shindig alone. She tells about it in her new book How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences.

I would never in a million years do this. I go to lots of things alone in our small coastal towns, but the idea of being elbow to elbow with over a thousand out-of-control fans terrifies me. I am Ms. Anxious in social situations. I get nervous mailing a package at the post office. Plus I am such a goody two-shoes I would be sitting in my seat trying to listen and hating all the loud people around me. I’d also be checking for my purse every two seconds.

Thanks to COVID-19, nobody can make me sit in a crowd now. That’s a huge relief. I get nervous, I have restless legs, I always have to go to the bathroom, and I struggle to hear. In some situations, like a loud concert, my hearing aids make the sounds painfully loud but not any easier to understand.

Now, in the midst of the COVID crisis, which hit suddenly but looks like it’s never going to end, the idea of being so close with so many people . . . no way. I know there are folks out there congregating for protests, parties, or summer vacation at the beach, all close up, many without masks. Not me.

Our COVID numbers here in Lincoln County have suddenly gone crazy. For the first couple months, we held steady at eight people who tested positive for the virus. Then 10. Only one person had been hospitalized. Nobody had died. We were doing super well at sheltering in place. Then everything changed. On May 15, we went into Oregon’s Phase One reopening. Hotels, restaurants and beaches reopened—with serious restrictions, but they opened–and tourists poured in. Many of them ignored pleas to stay home, wear a mask when out, and keep six feet apart. We don’t need to wear no stinkin’ masks, and you all are fools for wearing them, seemed to be the attitude of many. Most locals decided to just keep staying home.

The numbers went up a bit, to 30, several from a Memorial Day weekend family party where one of the people was sick.

At the same time, the fish processing plants on Newport’s Bayfront geared up for their big season, bringing in their usual local crews and seasonal workers.

On June 7, authorities announced that 124 out of 376 workers tested at Pacific Seafood, the company that processes, packages and sells our fishermen’s catches, had the virus. Most of them had no symptoms, but they did have COVID-19 and had exposed everyone around them, including their families and friends and people at the stores, restaurants, and other places they visited. Our total went to 154, then 164, then 206 as of this morning. Three more locals went to the hospital.

State and county officials have decided not to take us back to pre-Phase I restrictions, although numerous restaurants and other businesses have closed on their own to be safe. We’re nervous. Phase II is not happening any time soon, and that’s just fine with most of us.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the second Sunday of the month, it was time for our monthly open mic/jam session in South Beach. Would we still do it? We met in May, nervously and without masks. But now . . .

Seven of us met. We opened all the windows and doors at the South Beach community center, sat six feet apart and wore masks. It’s hard to sing with masks on. You can’t understand the words, and the masks move around or plaster themselves to your lips. Your glasses fog up so you can’t read sheet music. But we wore our masks. We sanitized our chairs. And we sang and played our butts off. It felt good. For once, we weren’t looking at our friends in little boxes on a computer screen.

Was I anxious? A little. But on a computer, can I make up harmony with other singers, watch a friend’s fingers to follow the chords on the guitar, or try out a mandolin song I’ve never played for anybody before, make mistakes and laugh behind my mask?

Like all musicians, I’ve been feeling desperate to play my own music for someone, anyone, and this helped. But I have to admit sheltering in place takes a lot of pressure off those of us who get panicky in crowds.

I don’t know why Silverman attended the concert alone. Were her friends all busy? Did she have a partner who wasn’t interested in Adam Lambert? I certainly dragged Fred to a lot of folk and bluegrass concerts that may not have been his favorite. And open mics. And all those choir concerts I sang in. Poor guy. Then again, I had to listen to his jazz and his Keely Smith albums.

In a crowd like the one that went to hear Adam Lambert, I’d need someone to hang on to, someone it was legal to touch, pandemic or not, someone who would understand my uneasiness and maybe hold my hand. We’d form our own little bubble of safety.

Does it seem like forever since life was normal? Why did we not appreciate how much easier everything was before?

It’s your turn. How are you doing? Do you like being in a crowd, or is it a relief not to have to do that these days? Would you go to an Adam Lambert concert? Do you know who he is? If not him, who would you wait for hours to see?

 

 

Are you ready for your Zoom closeup?

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I feel so exposed lately. Zoom meetings, online readings, Skype, selfies—my face and my house are suddenly on the screen.

It’s not just me. I have been watching famous musicians performing from their homes: Joan Baez in her kitchen, Mary Chapin Carpenter in her living room with her big white dog and her cat, Keith Urban in his studio with wife Nicole Kidman dancing barefoot, Blake Shelton getting a haircut from Gwen Stefani at his ranch. (Go to Facebook Watch–after you read my blog). I’ve watched poet Billy Collins read from his office and Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample pray the rosary from his chapel.

I have watched video masses from all over, and I have helped make them at our church. While the camera is on, I’m conscious of every noise, every note, and every facial expression. Why do I look so serious, I ask myself when I watch online the next day? Why do I move like an old lady? It’s church, but it also feels like putting on a show for which we need way more rehearsal and better lighting.

I’ve done Zoom meetings, readings and promotional videos. I’m sick of looking at my face. What’s up with my hair? That freckle on my nose is huge; actually my nose is huge. Why don’t I open my mouth bigger when I speak? That shirt isn’t as cute as I thought it was. And the background! Mostly I Zoom from my office, which is jammed with stuff. Pictures, calendars, and notes cover every wall. Suddenly I’m conscious of the many religious symbols—a crucifix, a Virgin Mary statue, Buddha?

Apparently, as a writer, I’m supposed to have a backdrop of books and a few tasteful pieces of art. I’ve got books, but this is where I work. This is the factory, the backstage, never meant to be shown to strangers on a screen. But I know people will be checking it out because that’s what I do when I watch. I look at the furniture, the knickknacks, and the glass on the desk. Is that booze or iced tea? I try to read the titles of books I see on the screen. I’m nosy, and I’m sure you are, too.

Last night, the American Idol contestants performed from their homes while the judges watched from their own homes. All of the contestants were sent a “kit” to help them create their “sets.” They sang from garages, living rooms, bedrooms, porches and decks. A few decorated with wall hangings. One had a Christmas tree. Most had guitars, banjos or pianos strategically placed. I assume someone from the show helped them set up and told them what to move out of the way.

After the show, I looked around my house. What room could I use for my set if I were on American Idol? My first reaction was “none.” Maybe the kitchen. At least it has more light. Or maybe I could empty the dining area…. No, I love my house, but TV set designers would reject the whole thing and make me sing outside among the trees. I don’t know what they’d do about my barking dog or the neighbor’s rooster. Or the robins who have been especially vocal lately. Could somebody please turn off the wind?

Did you see the swanky furniture and the gorgeous piano at Lionel Richie’s house?

I have talked about my books on actual TV shows. The sets are really quite small, just a little decorated area with bright lights, nice chairs and maybe a plant or two, with cameras, cables, and general messiness just out of view.

Without professional TV crews helping us, Zooming can be dicey. For a morning coffee meeting a couple weeks ago, I showed up in my bathrobe, thinking that was the thing to do. Uh, no, everybody else was dressed. Oops. Be right back. Quick, find a shirt and pants. Should I put on makeup? Is that trying too hard? Sigh. Does it even help?

At one meeting last week, somebody’s dog would not stop barking. Somebody else’s phone rang. Billy Collins keeps talking to someone off-screen. If nothing else, this sheltering-in-place business is an equalizer. We’re all embarrassed.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It.” Suddenly all the world is a Zoom set, and we are the players.

Want to see how I look right now? Nope. Let me get some makeup on first. I took the photo above on Saturday night when I was feeling photogenic. Same background. Notice the light shooting out of my head.

How are you doing with all this Zooming and Skyping and Facetiming that put you and your home online for work, school, and socializing? Are you ready for your closeup? Any Zoom-disasters to report? Please share in the comments.

Stay well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do I Care Who Won ‘American Idol’?

I don’t like TV reality shows. I’d much prefer a well-scripted drama, but there aren’t many of those on network TV anymore. So I watch reality shows, and I get hooked, hooked to the point that I will put the finale on my calendar and turn off my phones to avoid interruptions. My favorite used to be “Survivor” until the show became more about alliances and voting strategies than survival. Hey, is that castaway wearing makeup?

I have watched far too much of “Dancing with the Stars,” even though I can’t stand the judges. When a celebrity who was a lousy dancer won last time, I lost heart. When Derrick and Mark and Max quit, well, what was the point?

What? You don’t know who these people are? Where have you been?

I watch “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” even “Bachelor in Paradise.” The whole point of this franchise, besides making oodles of money, is getting young good-looking people to couple up. They’re immature, their words are scripted, and they make out constantly. If they survive to the finale, the couples get to shack up in the “fantasy suite,” where we assume they have sex. Maybe they just talk or play board games until the producers bring in breakfast and tell them to snuggle in bed for the cameras.

People get engaged at the end of the Bachelor/Bachelorette season, but the relationship hardly ever lasts because it’s a ridiculous way to meet a life partner. It’s sleazy, and most of the competitors are idiots, but I keep watching. Tonight I’ll be on my couch watching “Hannah B.” go on her first dates with the guys who survived last week’s initial rose ceremony. The previews promise “drama” in the house—a bunch of guys squabbling. Why do I watch this garbage?

Which brings us to “American Idol.” At least on talent shows, the contestants have to do something besides look pretty. And that grabs my interest. I sing, too. I’m way too old to compete, I don’t like most of today’s pop music, and the whole thing is just not my style, but I watch these singing kids, ages 16 to 27, and I listen to the celebrity judges gush over performances that are mostly so-so. Sometimes I scream at the TV: What? You liked that? It was terrible. They don’t hear me. All I can do is download the memory-sucking “American Idol” app on my phone and vote. Up to 10 votes per contestant. The person I vote for usually loses.

Last night was the “American Idol” finale. At three hours, it was about an hour too long, the final hour filled with “stars” I never heard of. Madison sang her brains out on Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and then got eliminated, leaving Alejandro, the Latino musical genius, and Laine, the cute guitar-playing white guy. As usual, the guitar-playing white guy won. He sang his new single surrounded by the other contestants as confetti fell all over everyone. Will we ever hear of him again? Maybe. Some of the losers will probably be bigger stars. It would have been nice to have a songwriting Latino win. Oh well.

I didn’t take the phones off the hook this time. Too much family drama going on. But I ate dinner in front of the TV, and when I had to take a break to call my dad in the nursing home, I set up the TV to record so I wouldn’t miss a minute. When Dad said he had company and asked if I could call back later, I thought sweet, back to my show.

I know. I’m terrible. My father is more important than a TV show, but sometimes I need a break from worrying about him. If only he would watch, too, so we could talk about that instead of tubes, tests, and physical therapy.

It’s not just me. Millions of people vote for the contestants on “American Idol” and other reality shows. The results of these shows are all over the news. I have to be careful not to look at my phone after 5:00 because the shows have already aired on the East Coast, and Google is already sharing the results before we on the West Coast have a chance to watch.

Such big news. “Laine Hardy Wins American Idol” comes in above Trump threatening Iran with military action, Alabama outlawing abortion, and the fishing boat tragedy making headlines on the Oregon coast. It seems wrong. But maybe we need this kind of silliness to distract us from the grimmer events of life. Or maybe it’s just that I grew up sitting in front of the TV every night, and I don’t know what else to do to relax at the end of the day.

My dog Annie doesn’t buy it. Throughout the “American Idol” finale, she kept trying to get my attention by grabbing things that should not be in her mouth. First it was a paperclip. Then it was a big leaf off one of my plants. Then it was my embroidery, needle and all. She would come up in my face, eyes sparkling, lips smiling as big as they could with a full mouth, and invite me to give chase. Which I did, trading a treat for the forbidden item. She’s no fool. “American Idol?” Annie does not care.

So that’s my confession. I watch reality shows. How about you? Are you hooked, too? Which ones? “The Voice?” “Big Brother?” “Real Housewives?” How much of it do you think is real? If you watched “America Idol” this season, who were you rooting for? Can you even name last year’s winner?