You Know Who Wears a Mask to Protect the People He Loves? Batman.

James Baldwin once said that he was “terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart” that he witnessed from his own countrymen. Being a Black gay man born in 1924 certainly guaranteed for Baldwin that he would experience a two-pronged prejudice, a hatred of an insidious and endemic sort, a hatred woven into the fabric of the American ideal. This ideal disenfranchises, stigmatizes, ostracizes, redlines, segregates, colonizes, abuses, rapes, and murders all that deviates from it; all that is not lily-white, heterosexual, capitalistic, and Christian is hewn down and cast into the fire. James Baldwin saw the truth, and he also saw his isolation within that truth. I cannot help but imagine that he must have been an incredibly lonely man.

James Baldwin saw the truth, and he also saw his isolation within that truth. I cannot help but imagine that he must have been an incredibly lonely man.

We still have systemic racism and homophobia, but there’s a new beast in town rearing its ugly head to expose our inequalities: COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic is now in its third year of ravaging the world. Because we’ve not reached herd immunity, we’ve cycled through two known variants of the disease, Delta and now Omicron. Don’t misread me: I am not comparing social ills to a global pandemic. However, there is a stark similarity between the former and the latter in terms of the lack of care shown to marginalized groups.

Because we’ve not reached herd immunity, we’ve cycled through two known variants of the disease, Delta and now Omicron.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say something along the lines of, “Well, they were elderly, they probably didn’t have long to live anyway.” Or: “They had underlying conditions, so it wasn’t just COVID that killed them.” Or: “I’m not wearing a mask because I’m vaccinated and I’m not high-risk anyway.” These sentiments reach across political and socioeconomic lines. I’ve seen sentiments like these from both Republicans and Democrats, older people and younger people, well-to-do and poor people, etc. The apathy extended toward the immunocompromised, toward the disabled and sick and otherwise vulnerable, is appalling to me. I am disgusted by it. And I cannot condone it. I can’t stay silent about it any longer.

The apathy extended toward the immunocompromised, toward the disabled and sick and otherwise vulnerable, is appalling to me.

I mean, what is it about taking basic precautions that causes people to be so cavalier with not only their own lives but the lives of countless strangers? Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Are we really, as a society, so heart-deadened as to not be willing to do these simple things? The evidence tells me yes.

Are we really, as a society, so heart-deadened as to not be willing to do these simple things? The evidence tells me yes.

I understand that part of it is the lack of centralized and non-contradictory guidance from public health authorities, yes, but a larger part of it stems from a bootstraps ethos which prioritizes the needs and wants of the self above the common good. There has to be something wrong with a country, with a world, in which the majority of people can’t be bothered to so much as cover their face to protect an unknown stranger from an agonizing death, alone and isolated from their loved ones. Like Baldwin, I am terrified at the moral apathy and the death of the heart I have seen since this pandemic started.

There has to be something wrong with a country, with a world, in which the majority of people can’t be bothered to so much as cover their face to protect an unknown stranger from an agonizing death, alone and isolated from their loved ones.

Those of you who keep up with my blog know that I recently contracted COVID-19. I tested positive on January 15th. I gave it to both of my parents, who live with me and are disabled. We live in a small two-bedroom apartment so infection was a foregone conclusion. I cannot put in words the terror I’ve experienced wondering if I might kill them by proxy. For more than two years now, I have taken every possible precaution. I’m vaccinated (as are both of my parents). I always wear a mask when I’m around people I don’t live with. I sanitize and wash and disinfect. All of that wasn’t enough to protect me because so many other people failed to do their part. So many other people failed to practice a baseline level of care to keep me safe, to keep my family safe. I don’t know if I am capable of forgiving them for that.

All of that wasn’t enough to protect me because so many other people failed to do their part. So many other people failed to practice a baseline level of care to keep me safe, to keep my family safe. I don’t know if I am capable of forgiving them for that.

The old adage says that it takes a village. Usually it refers to child-rearing, but I think it can equally apply to stopping the spread of a deadly disease. In this case, the majority of the other villagers are off enjoying a feast until they’re plucked into the woods and tied to a tree to die like the rest of us. Forgive me my labored metaphor, but if you’ve been with me here for long, you know how I love to labor my metaphors.

In this case, the majority of the other villagers are off enjoying a feast until they’re plucked into the woods and tied to a tree to die like the rest of us.

After writing the preceding paragraph, I left this post in my drafts for several days before I was emotionally capable of returning to it. After writing the preceding sentence, I stopped to watch a couple of films with my mother. You see, I am hesitant to finish a piece with an unhappy conclusion. I feel like a positive quip here would be disingenuous if not rude and unfeeling. Perhaps it is those of us who feel such palpable rage during this time that are the only ones who are truly living in the world as we know it. Everyone else, it would seem, is floating in a dream.

Everyone else, it would seem, is floating in a dream.

I want everyone to do the right thing. I want everyone to perform a series of correct actions which would render the pandemic all but null. But unfortunately, I cannot make people care who do not. I cannot bully someone into having empathy for other people, inconvenient though that fact may be. The only thing I can do is bear witness—stay awake. We owe the dead our consciousness if nothing else.

The only thing I can do is bear witness—stay awake. We owe the dead our consciousness if nothing else.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

My COVID-19 Diagnosis

Well, dear readers, despite all my efforts to stay safe for the past two years during this global pandemic, I am sad to say that I have been infected with COVID-19.

I am still processing this fact. I started feeling poorly around 7:00 PM on Friday, January 14th. Extreme fatigue, tiredness, shortness of breath, etc. All of which I at first attributed to the week I’d had. My store’s Regional Vice President visited on Wednesday, January 12th, and I had spent more than twelve hours the day prior prepping for her visit, which was my first as General Manager. I knew she liked me already from prior visits she made when I was my store’s Assistant General Manager. I am just about as Type A as a person can be. I leave nothing to chance and always make sure my ducks are in a row.

Tuesday, January 11th was a perfect storm. As anyone who’s worked in a bookstore knows, Tuesday is the day most major publishers release their hot titles so those days are always busy with updating bestseller features, putting new product on the floor, and changing out in-store marketing. On top of that, we’ve been bombarded with after-holiday resets, sales sets, and overstock scans (oh my!). I didn’t have the manpower I’ve been enjoying because sales and foot traffic have slowed (though only marginally, following this unprecedented sales year). When I got to work, our truck shipment had arrived. The receiving area in the back of my store is chock-full of voided and overstock titles awaiting their journey back to our warehouse. And this truck was huge. So I had to play quite a few rounds of Totes Tetris to even be able to process my truck shipment.

Then, in the evening, I found out that my fellow (and only other) closer had been in a car accident early that morning and had stayed at school the rest of the day because she wasn’t having any complications or soreness. When she got to work, though, she started having shoulder pain and I made her go to the ER and closed by myself. No biggie, I’ve done it before. More than once or twice, in fact. One of my other managers volunteered to come in after her dentist’s appointment to help me get the store ready for our RVP visit. We were there until after 11:00 at night.

Had I known then what I know now…but I couldn’t have, could I? Sometime during that day, we were both exposed. She had opened that morning and came in after closing with me that night. We are both vaccinated but haven’t gotten our boosters yet, and we wore our masks at work at all times. But we still got infected.

I suppose one could call my case “mild” because I didn’t need to go to the hospital or require a ventilator, but in the world we live in, “mild” as a descriptor really doesn’t cover the hell I’ve lived in.

I started writing this post after I left urgent care on Saturday, January 15th. It is Friday, January 21st. It’s only been in the past couple of days that I’ve been able to string more than one cogent thought together and even now I’m aware of the haphazard and jumbled state of my mind. Whether that’s COVID-19 itself wreaking havoc on my mental faculties or simply the by-product of being deathly ill for days on end, the effect is the same. I suppose one could call my case “mild” because I didn’t need to go to the hospital or require a ventilator, but in the world we live in, “mild” as a descriptor really doesn’t cover the hell I’ve lived in.

Wearing a mask for up to twelve hours a day wasn’t enough. Washing my hands and disinfecting things constantly wasn’t enough. Social distancing, as much as one can social distance while working in a retail store, wasn’t enough. Nothing I did was enough. I still put the two people I love most in the entire world in grave danger, and we’re still not out of the woods.

You see, I live in a small two-bedroom apartment with my disabled parents. My first thought when I got my test results was of their welfare, and my second thought was pure unadulterated rage at the fact that despite my best efforts at protecting them and myself, I had failed. Miserably. Wearing a mask for up to twelve hours a day wasn’t enough. Washing my hands and disinfecting things constantly wasn’t enough. Social distancing, as much as one can social distance while working in a retail store, wasn’t enough. Nothing I did was enough. I still put the two people I love most in the entire world in grave danger, and we’re still not out of the woods.

I should be staying home recuperating and caring for my parents but the god of capitalism demands a sacrifice and thus on the heap my body goes.

How do I reconcile all of that? How do I cope with my anger at the fact that I am supposed to return to work tomorrow when work is the farthest thing from my mind, the thing which concerns me the least? I should be staying home recuperating and caring for my parents but the god of capitalism demands a sacrifice and thus on the heap my body goes.

My personal experiences have reiterated to me the urgent need we have here in America for universal healthcare, for a single-payer system.

I forgot to mention that I discovered during all of this that my health insurance had been switched without my knowledge, so I went into urgent care thinking I’d have to pay out of pocket because I was dropped by my previous provider. I’m still working all of that out and unfortunately it’s just been one more unnecessary piece of bureaucratic red tape I’ve had to navigate to get basic care. My personal experiences have reiterated to me the urgent need we have here in America for universal healthcare, for a single-payer system. It’s unfortunate that something so essential is so politicized, with right-wingers decrying “SoCiAlIzeD mEdIcInE” every time someone mentions single-payer healthcare. Never mind the fact that Medicare is socialized medicine lite, but the Faux News pundits won’t say that. It’s okay to hold contradictions when they serve your interests, i.e. further enriching the top 1% of the top 1% while the rest of us are left with scraps, if anything at all.

Never mind the fact that Medicare is socialized medicine lite, but the Faux News pundits won’t say that. It’s okay to hold contradictions when they serve your interests, i.e. further enriching the top 1% of the top 1% while the rest of us are left with scraps, if anything at all.

I’d like to end this post on a positive (or at least lighter) note, so please enjoy the following memes I’ve saved from Twitter in the past week. Note that I am unable to provide attributions to their original creators.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Shot Twice (But I Survived)

I tried to go to work today. In fact, I made it nearly six hours. But I just couldn’t swing it. Yesterday I received my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and it has really wiped me out. I ran a fever for a few hours, and I’ve been experiencing body aches, congestion, and lethargy all day long.

But I don’t regret getting it. I’d much rather deal with (temporary) side effects from getting vaccinated as opposed to potentially contracting the virus and risking having life-long ailments stemming from it.

The truth is, I’m just a big crybaby and I always have been. I don’t deal well with any sort of ache or ailment, and I don’t think I’ll ever develop the long-suffering fortitude of my ancestors. I’ll just take a long, healthy life with a very brief demise, thank you very much. No protracted battles for life for me, if you please. I don’t have the constitution for it.

No protracted battles for life for me, if you please. I don’t have the constitution for it.

So, I said all of that so I could say this: if you haven’t already been vaccinated, there’s no better time than the present. Just maybe make sure you have a day or so afterward to recover so you don’t put yourself in the predicament of begging God to kill you in front of all your coworkers (not lying). Bye for now!

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

First Shot

COVID-19 be like wut.

On Wednesday, I got the first shot of my COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer, of course. I’m not going to lie, with as much hysteria, confusion, and proliferation of false information surrounding the vaccine, I was a little nervous about getting it.

I believe the science. I have always believed the science. But I also know it is impossible to live in a world with so many unknowns and be certain about anything.

I thought about it a lot before I made my decision. My final impetus was my dad going to get his first shot on Tuesday. So on Wednesday, I called and made my appointment, and they had an opening for 5:30 that day.

When I got to Walgreens, I had to pee really bad. Their bathrooms were out of order and I didn’t want to miss my appointment, so I held it. There’s something about having to hold yourself that makes anxiety worse. I can’t really explain it, but anyone with generalized anxiety disorder like myself can affirm the truth of that statement.

Then my brain went into overdrive. I actually thought to myself, What if holding urine in my bladder can actually make the vaccine ineffective or cause some weird side effect? Is this something I can ask Google or WebMD about?

Luckily, my phone gets terrible service so I was unable to use the Internet to perpetuate my growing paranoia. So what do I do to pass the time? Judge other people, of course. If the pandemic has given us one thing, it has helped to shed all guilt involved in basking in one’s own self-righteousness.

I love judging other people. And if you want to judge me for that, tell your minister or your higher power or a stranger at the grocery store, because while I am myself self-righteous, I do not condone other people being self-righteous about my self-righteousness. Does that make sense?

I love judging other people.

Back to Walgreens. As I’m waiting to get shot (poor choice of words?), I look around at all the other people in Walgreens and allow myself to loathe the ones I see who are unmasked. Now, I know the CDC has said that people who are fully vaccinated don’t have to wear masks anymore. However, no one is monitoring this. You just have to take people at their word when they say they’ve been vaccinated and want to breathe near (or even on) you. And I don’t know if you know this or not, but people are liars. They lie.

“I’m fully vaccinated.” – A Liar

After what felt like an eternity of condemning my fellow community members for their selfishness, I was finally called back for my shot. The gentleman who penetrated…umm…vaccinated me was very nice and assured me that I would not in fact die. He was wearing a mask but he had kind eyes, and at least half of all human evil can be detected through eyes, so I felt momentarily reassured.

When the Moment of Truth finally came, I braced myself for an Experience. Now, I wasn’t sure if it would be akin to taking a nightmarish ride down a river of chocolate with Gene Wilder and some snakes, or more like when Dorothy realized she always had the power to go back to Kansas and became nearly catatonic with joy and irritation that Glinda the Good Witch didn’t bother telling her that before she was nearly murdered.

Now, I wasn’t sure if it would be akin to taking a nightmarish ride down a river of chocolate with Gene Wilder and some snakes, or more like when Dorothy realized she always had the power to go back to Kansas and became nearly catatonic with joy and irritation that Glinda the Good Witch didn’t bother telling her that before she was nearly murdered.

Friends and readers, it was painless. While I had expected Excalibur or Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, in truth I barely even felt it. In fact, when it was over I was unsure if anything had happened at all. And now I’m looking forward to my second shot.

Long story short: go get vaccinated!

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.