Battlefield Dispatch

On Wednesday morning I showed up at the City Market at 0700, to take advantage of the advertised “senior shopping hours.” There were already 60-70 people in a shapeless and meandering line reaching back into the parking lot. I examined each face in the line closely to see if there were any younger shoppers sneaking in on our senior dime. If I had found one, I had plans to publicly shame them right back to the time period where they belonged, the hours from 0800 onward.

I am using military time here, because in many ways what I found in the store resembled a military operation. Once through the doors, most of the shoppers pointed their carts toward the paper products aisle, like LSTs heading into Omaha Beach on D-Day. I can only imagine what violations of the Geneva Convention were perpetrated there by those fearful-faced older citizens grabbing at the four-paks of Charmin. There are lengths that I will go for a roll of TP, but battering my way through forty members of the shuffleboard set is not one of them. So I went there last.

Some of the workers in the produce department were wearing Kevlar vests. and I asked why this was the case. Apparently on one drizzly morning earlier in the week, there were some incidents involving angry shoppers stabbing at employees with their umbrellas, inflicting small round bruises on their chests. One man had had to defend himself with a vegetable sprayer when a gaggle cornered him between the turnips and the artichokes.

Another worker was wearing a therapeutic boot on his right foot. On the previous day, an irate customer driven mad when he learned that the store was entirely out of cilantro deliberately piloted his electric scooter over the employee’s foot. He did this not once, but went back and forth repeatedly until a passerby switched off the machine, saving the worker’s metatarsals, if not his life.

But I floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, to quote the great Muhammad Ali. My shopping technique is more akin to lightning commando raids rather than frontal assaults. I will slip around a large knot of carts wedged together and dart down an aisle, grab what I came for, and off I go in one fluid maneuver. It’s basically drive-by shopping. By the time the knot realizes what I’ve done, and goes en masse to the spot I just left, I am somewhere entirely else.

So at the end of an hour I had 95% of what I’d come for, which is an excellent result. As I checked out, I could still hear small-arms fire near the canned fish department, and I counted among my many blessings that I was done for the day.

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I am indebted to Andy Borowitz for this thoughtful report. The title of his piece is New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious, and it couldn’t be more timely.

I will admit that I had noticed this ongoing public experiment myself, but could not find the words to describe it properly.

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There was a time when I used to teach medical students. I no longer remember exactly what it was that I was teaching them, but no matter. For the most part they were juniors on their pediatric rotations, which is in general a fine group to work with.

On days when I was feeling positive about physicians as a class, I would relate this quote to them, taken from a longer poem by Rumi.

A dragon was pulling a bear into hits terrible mouth. A courageous man went and rescued the bear. There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out.

Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would relate the quotation, then say to the students: “That is what you have signed up for, to be one of those who run toward the screaming, rather than away. You may all take a bow.”

Of course, not all of them would grow up to be as courageous as the man in the story. Physicians are made from the same clay as everybody else. Some sinners sprinkled in among the saints. A few who run, but to hide, not to help.

But right now, there is an army of medical personnel of all classifications who deserve our admiration and praise and help. They are those on the front lines of this pandemic, way too often going to work without the tools they need to protect themselves properly, walking into rooms that most of us would avoid, in some cases isolating themselves from their own families in order not to chance bringing this new plague home to loved ones.

I salute these men and women working in hospitals and offices and clinics around the country. Doctors, nurses, laboratory and radiology techs, physician’s assistants, orderlies, receptionists, security officers … the list goes on. Their courage and personal sacrifice are the antidote to the cynicism about our species that I sometimes feel.

When you compare their quiet everyday heroism with the behavior of our President, for instance, you can see so clearly what billions of dollars cannot buy.

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Light snow this Saturday morning. We took our constitutionals yesterday walking in the bluffs along the Uncompahgre, and whenever our heads peeked up over the crest of the hills we were met with a 30 mph wind, which was refreshing to say the least.

it was not hazardous hiking, although there were a few spots where if you would stumble and fall down the hill, you wouldn’t come to rest for quite a way, and at that point you would begin a long hour of picking cactus spines out of your epidermis.

I was reminded of a time past when I was (really, I was) considering hiking up Long’s Peak, which is a fourteener that tens of thousands of people who don’t share my phobias have climbed. In doing my research, I bought a book describing how all of the people who had died on that climb had perished.

Most of them had been struck by lightning, which I learned could largely be avoided by not being on top when the afternoon storms rolled in. Then there was the guy who went all the way up only to do what he came for, which was to jump off and end it all.

And then there was the guy whose story cancelled my plans. He was traversing a stretch where one walks along a rather narrow ledge. A gust of wind came by and blew him off the ledge. Blew him off the ledge was all I had to read. There was no amount of psychological training for my acrophobia or knowing that I needed to be getting down from the peak before the storms that could neutralize such a threat.

Long’s Peak is still there, and I am still here. We’ve never met.

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