The only column you need to read about COVID-19
by Garrison Keillor
The beauty of COVID-19 is how shiny clean everybody looks since the panic set in. I’m in New York City this week and the stores are completely sold out of hand sanitizer, Hi-Lex, alcohol, antibacterial wipes, every kind of cleaner, and when you get on the subway at rush hour and stand within six inches of four different people, they smell nice, like a doctor’s office. They try not to talk or even exhale. They avoid eye contact lest the virus be spread visually.
Some people wear face masks, which are useful for preventing them from picking their noses, which, once you’ve touched a deadly railing, could implant the virus in your body and in a week or two you’d be in a TB sanitarium on a desert island, tended by nurses in hazmat suits. If someone on the train coughs, everyone disembarks at the next stop and wipes their face and, as an extra precaution, swigs a little mouthwash or maybe vodka. Eighty-proof vodka is a proven sanitizer. The incidence of COVID-19 among bums at the Union Gospel Mission is extremely low. Gin does not work as well, so ad agency execs are surely at risk. As for Corona beer, sales are way down because, as your mother probably said, You Never Know.
I am old enough to remember the polio scares of the early Fifties when we stayed away from beaches and public pools and didn’t go to movie theaters. I was brought up fundamentalist so we didn’t go to movies anyway and thus felt that God was protecting us and had sent the polio as a warning to Catholics and Episcopalians. So we avoided them, which we would’ve done anyway. To us righteous, polio was not that scary. Nobody in my family got it. A girl named Shirley did and she came from a family that drank and took the Lord’s name in vain. Case closed.
What spooked the stock market last week was not only the virus but also the spectacle of the Leader of the Free World announcing that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. He looked like a sixth-grader giving a science report who had not bothered to read the textbook. This was slightly terrifying. A reality TV star in charge of national intelligence. The gentleman is an ace at twittering but when he says more than the 280-character limit he becomes vacuous and blathery. His strong suit is insult and ridicule — reassurance is alien to him. He’s a New Yorker and when a New Yorker hears tones of reassurance, it means “Put the pen back in your pocket, don’t sign the paper” — so the assignment has been passed to his mannequin friend Mr. Pence who is good at silence, which is better than blather at this point.
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Given one thing and another, we could all use a good laugh and this is as good a laugh as I’ve had this week. It may be the best laugh this entire year. I totally think we need to start laughing now because, in a few months, nothing is going to be funny.