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Al Batt: I’m washing my hands while writing this

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I’m trying to enjoy myself while social distancing.

I’ve nowhere to go but where I am. COVID-19 has become those ubiquitous orange barrels closing lanes. I’ve got the “Gas prices are low and I’ve got no place to go” blues. Stiff upper lip and all that rot.

My mother gave me excellent advice during my formative years. “Wash your hands,” has proven to be wonderful guidance. I’m trying to flatten the curve. Our vocabularies have expanded. I never thought “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” would become my goals.

We weren’t promised lives with rich, nougaty centers. I’m no longer being clever when I say “Sneeze and thank you” instead of “Gesundheit.” A shortage of hand sanitizers has given people another reason to buy vodka. Vodka isn’t an effective hand sanitizer, but it’s an excuse for purchasing alcohol.

I’m a shaker and a hugger who scratches his chin thoughtfully. As an alternative to handshakes, I tap my chest over my heart twice, either with a closed or open hand, and then point my forefinger at someone. Or I place my hand over my heart and smile/nod as a greeting. Friends taught me the footshake, a quick tap of my shoe to another’s. I worry it’s a social distancing violation. A simple, friendly wave might best suit me.

I wash my hands for 20 seconds about once every 60 seconds. I sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice as a timer. A song by Ray Charles works, “Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back / No more, no more, no more, no more / Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more / What you say? /Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back / No more, no more, no more, no more / Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more.” I’ve also used Janis Joplin’s big hit, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz / My friends all drive Porsches I must make amends / Worked hard all my lifetime no help from my friends / So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.”

I experienced the emptiness of a toilet paper aisle in a big-box store. They were out of both the over and the under kind of rolls. The “100 toilet paper rolls or more” checkout lane had been busy. I wanted to stand in front of the void and take a shelfie.

I watched the Central Plains, Kansas, girls high school basketball team win its 136th straight game; their season cut short by COVID-19 just two games away from winning their seventh consecutive state title. The school is located in Claflin, which has a population of 645. The school has 93 students in grades 9-12. The players overcame obstacles and orange barrels to achieve success. They are inspiring, but I must add that “this too shall pass” isn’t in Scripture, and neither is “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

The world was supposed to end in 2012. I read Barry Lopez, Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver then. That might have saved the world, so I’m reading them again. Mason Cooley wrote, “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

COVID-19 has thrown us for a loop. I’ve encountered uneasiness before. I’ve walked through darkened rooms with floors littered with jacks. I dreamed that Archie Bunker was president. He told COVID-19 to stifle and it did. Good people are still doing things like rushing toward burning buildings to help us. We should never miss a day of being grateful for them.

I’m still trying to figure things out. I tried to do that even before COVID-19 hit. I’ve discovered I like some soaps more than others. Prior to this pandemic, I hadn’t considered the kind of soap I was using other than I disliked the brand my mother used to wash out my mouth after I’d uttered a harsh word learned in grade school. What we focus on expands, so I’m focusing on washing my hands.

“Could I go with you?” I asked my mother as she prepared to visit the bank and grocery store after the mouth-cleansing incident.

Mom said, “We’ll see. Go outside and do something.”

“We’ll see” is uncommonly good advice. I wish you good health and just enough toilet paper. I listened to Nat King Cole sing, “I wish you bluebirds in the spring, to give your heart a song to sing.”

It’s a good reminder that the outdoors hasn’t been canceled.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.