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?

 

 

Try a Little Love Potion No. 9

Remember Love Potion Number 9? If you’re a baby boomer, you do. For those who are ready to click off in confusion, it’s a song, a hit record by The Searchers from 1964. Remember the famous line when the music stopped and singer sang, “I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink”? After which he says, “I didn’t know if it was day or night. I started kissing everything in sight.” When he kissed a cop at 34th and Vine, the cop broke his little bottle of Love Potion No. 9. They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Check it out here on YouTube. The guy up front is not really playing that guitar, is he? If he is, he has a pretty weird picking style. But he’s having fun.

That song came out a long time ago. I was 12. Many of you were not even born. Yet yesterday at our South Beach open mic/jam session, when our leader Renae started playing it, we all knew all the words. In a minute, we knew all the chords, too: Am, Dm, C, D, E7. That goofy song brought us together in ways that very few other things do. And that led me to a revelation, one of those God knocking on my head moments.

I’ve been struggling with a bad case of the “why bothers” lately with my writing. Why struggle over poems and essays that I send to literary magazines and mostly get rejected. Even when I get something accepted, the readership is so small, and nobody I know reads those publications, so why bother? I’m sending out my novel, and nobody’s buying it, so why bother? I’ve written a ton of songs, but I don’t exactly have a record deal, so why bother?

Here’s why. Because when people know your work and share it, magic happens. When my words touch just one person’s heart, magic happens. When people sing together, magic happens.

Music has a special power. Think of all the good old singalongs that everybody knows. “Down by the Riverside.” “Amazing Grace.” The Jeremiah was a Bullfrog version of “Joy to the World.” “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” “You are My Sunshine.” Somebody wrote those songs, and somebody shared them. And it was worth the bother.

One of our local high school teachers brought some of his special ed students to perform as a band at yesterday’s open mic. Most are developmentally disabled, some severely. But they ran up front with their tambourines and shakers and sang Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It wasn’t on pitch, and the words were slurred, but they were so full of joy, the rest didn’t matter.

Other singers paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard and the late David Bowie by singing their songs. The writers are gone, but their songs remain. We will sing them forever. Even if we get dementia and forget everything else, we will remember the songs because music lives in a different part of our brains. It matters.

So, write your writing and sing your songs and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re not a writer or singer, that’s okay. Do what you do. It matters.

Next time, maybe we’ll sing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Man, we had good songs back in the 60s.