Vaccination Loop

Around noon yesterday, a bumper to bumper half block line of cars continuously moved like connected parts of a tram and entered the dark barrow shaft entrance to the Oregon Convention Center underground parking mine, while a similar line of cars exited back into the partly sunny Portland spring day. Once in the garage, visitors politely and patiently vied for parking spots, which quickly opened and closed thanks to an efficient and extensive mass vaccination loop leading from the garage and through the building, organized by volunteers and clinicians from various organizations, including what appeared to be a deployment of an Oregon National Guard platoon. With the exception of the mandatory wait after being vaccinated, to watch for reactions, visitors had no still time to browse the book brought along or take out the knitting needles. Indeed, few were even looking at their cell phones, intent and occupied as they were with following personalized directions and moving along – short stays at this or that staffed table to answer a few questions, show ID, sit for the quick shot of vaccine, and schedule the second appointment (if this was the first) while waiting for the reaction release time written on tape and displayed on one’s shirt to expire.

The goers to this convention seemed mostly older folks, most of whom no doubt did not consider themselves particularly old, just of a particular age, which would be considered an inadequate definition of a person. Yet here we were, grouped together by age and moving along like a line of kindergarteners on a field trip. Except for the Guard, everybody looked somehow out of uniform. Question: How can you tell a group of people is older? Answer: There are no tattoos. One fellow I noticed was wearing the rubber shower shoes we used to call go-aheads, shorts, and a flowered t-shirt, not regular gear in a Northwest winter month. A newcomer from California, maybe.

Not without some trepidation had I prepared myself for the field trip before leaving home: what to wear? what route to take? what book to bring? Did I have my ID and medical card? How would I prove my appointment confirmation? This last, it turned out, I had over prepared for, and unwittingly as a result momentarily fell from the loop. Once into the building and into line, I noticed just about everyone was carrying a piece of paper, a print out, it turned out, of their email appointment confirmation. I no longer have a printer, but the email came with a QR (Quick Response) code that can be saved to and read by a cell phone or other scanner. And I had already pre-confirmed via online registration site the appointment, so I thought with that and my QR code saved to my phone, I was good to go. There were two lines moving quickly, everyone six feet apart and masked, instructed to be ready with confirmation proof. We were not yet within the Exhibit Room itself, but still in the lobby with its majestically high ceilings and large windows and aisleways full of natural light. When I reached the volunteer at the end of my line, I showed her my QR code on my cell phone, assuming she would scan it. But she said, “No, I need to see the date.” I had before leaving home cropped the code so it was fully visible, cutting off the rest of the email, including the date. As I now scrambled to find the original, she brushed my effort aside, pulled me from line, and directed me to a woman at a computer located at the end of a kind of train siding line, where no one was in line, so I quickly made my way to the computer and showed my QR code. Instead of scanning it, though, she asked my last name, looked at her computer, said, “Hi, Joe, go on in.” I merged back into line, my confidence in the efficiency of the loop restored, even if my QR code never did get scanned. I was reminded of the time when my girlfriend and I went to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the LA Forum. We waited in line while the gatekeepers took tickets and ushered people toward their tunnels, and too late realized that they were also checking purses. When my girlfriend opened hers, the little pint of as yet unopened Southern Comfort placed comfortably and clearly visible within, the gatekeeper said, “Go on in.” Jimi would have been 78 today, and could have fit comfortably into the vaccination line with the rest of us.

Also, as it turned out, I had overdressed as well as over prepared. I began with my loose fitting Red Sox t-shirt, thinking I would take my outer shirt off and easily roll up the sleeve of the t-shirt to take the shot. Over the t-shirt, I wore a flannel long sleeved shirt untucked, and over that, a vest with many pockets for holding things like book, pen, and cell phone. And over the vest, a bright yellow, thin rain jacket. In both vest and jacket pockets I had stored an extra face mask. At one station, I was given a packet of information with a page to fill out: name, address, phone number, etc. And mother’s maiden name? Good grief! And the same questions, this time answered yes or no with check mark, I’d already been asked by a nice enough fellow at the station where I picked up the form, and from where I was directed to a grouping of round tables with golf pencils available for the filling out of the form. At the next station, an Army NG Sergeant asked to see my papers and ID. He did some work on his computer, scanned my medical card, wrote 70 in bright red ink at the top of my worksheet, and pointed me to yet another volunteer who directed me into a vaccination line. It was at this point I recalled the infamous follow the yellow line at my downtown LA draft induction physical, circa late 60’s. What a loop that one was, but I was now on deck, next up, and was directed to a desk number where sat a clinician with vaccine at the ready. She invited me to sit, and that’s when I realized I had worn too many tops. Trying to take the rain jacket, vest, and flannel shirt off all in one swift move, my arms got all tangled up in sleeves and tails and I fell into the seat feeling like a kindergartner who has just failed hanging up coat after recess. More questions, mostly the same ones, the shot (routine – the loose fitting t-shirt at least proved to be a good idea), bright day glow green bandaid, the piece of tape showing my wait time stuck to my Red Sox shirt, and I was on my way to the waiting area to sit out the reaction wait time and schedule my next appointment, all the while wrestling on the go trying to put my arms through the sleeves of my mess of shirts.

The wait time proved invaluable as the cell phone scheduling of the second appointment looped and looped, looking like it was going to take as long as it took the schedule the first appointment – over an hour, while getting the vaccination, from parking to shot, had taken only about 15 minutes. But a volunteer happened by, I asked her for help, and she looked at my phone and said, “Oh, just type something into that space, anything, hi.” And I did. I typed “hi,” hit “schedule” again, and the loop stopped looping and kicked out my appointment: 3 weeks out, at 7:45 AM. Good grief!

Field trip over, headed back home, reflecting on the experience. Before getting a vaccine appointment, folks generally are experiencing frustration and anxiety over the computerized process, the apparent vying for a limited number of appointments, feeling uninformed as protocols and procedures seem to change weekly, thinking it shouldn’t be this way, stuck in a time loop. The Convention Center experience, to the contrary, was personable, friendly, efficient. And I was sent home with a card confirming what I had just accomplished. I have it stuck with a magnet to the icebox.

Somewhere Else

It was last April, in a piece titled “What is Essential,” we again mentioned John Cage, then in the context of the pandemic quarantine discussion:

In John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” we find the following comment: “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.”

“What is Essential,” April 24, 2020

Of course, some places are more irritating than others, some conditions worse, but it seems common to living in any means people like to get away, out of town, go up to the cabin, drive out to the beach, go camping, sail the seven seas, see the world, go somewhere, anywhere, but somewhere else.

Not talking here about those forced to leave home, from war or famine or wildfire or flood, abuse or political upheaval. Catastrophes are not “irritations.” A catastrophe is sudden and overturning; an irritation is slow and creeping, an itch one can’t quite reach. An earworm. One can live with any number of irritations, but one can not go on as before during or after a catastrophe. “Would like” suggests preference, unrelated to need, not desperate, but a privileged choice.

“Where should we spend the weekend, in town or in the country?”
“I don’t know. I’m bored with opera.”

The COVID19 virus affects different people in different ways, depending on predicament, but literally everyone on the planet Earth has been affected, to one extent or another, slightly or severely. Wouldn’t it be nice to get away? Maybe that’s the attraction of Perseverance, of Mars, of space travel.

“Earth is irritating.”
“Let’s go to Mars.”
“Good idea.”
“I’ll book a flight today.”

Can a simple irritation, almost unnoticeable until all goes quiet, grow into a catastrophe? It seems unlikely. Irritations come from within; catastrophes come with the wind. There’s talk of getting “back to normal.” That too seems unlikely. In fact, in any case, wasn’t there something particularly irritating with what was considered normal?

In a Frenzy

Why are the TV newscasters shouting, frantic, frenetic, in a frenzy, like callers at auctions, preachers at land’s end, the newsboy on the corner hawking papers: Extra, Extra, Read All About It! It now being this constant state of emergency, impossible to keep up with, put on loops. Truth be told, it’s torture. Truth be bold, it’s boring.

The news so quickly grows old, must keep it from petering out. So stories and comments on loops, ostinato. Even when the story seems about to change, the background keeps looping, looping around the talking head, the face masked in makeup, the expert, the one we might trust, still wearing a suit and tie, a dress, symbols of serious purpose, uniform press. On location, back to you, Jack, in the studio. Thank you, Jill.

“Oh, when there’s too much of nothing
No one has control” (Bob Dylan).

Usually, ahead of disaster, a catastrophe, people go on the run, head for the hills, or run down to the water, pick up and go, evacuate. Or shelter in place until it’s passed – the hurricane, tornado, earthquake, battle, swarms of locusts.

But this one’s different. We are told to stay in, and if we do go out, to keep our distance. There is no safety in numbers. On the contrary. We must go it alone. When has there been a more existential crisis? We must decide for ourselves what to do, what’s news.

The Epic Virus and Examined Life

Nothing like an Epic Virus to remind one how connections work. Members of this current batch of humans share just about everything of themselves, like it or not, even their money, some more some less than others.

Life swarms with sounds we can’t hear, and teems down pouring itself empty with flying bugs and crawling things, birds and fishes, and the smallest creatures invisible to the naked eye that can make bread rise and turn grapes to wine and hops to beer, life that enters and exits the great smoking and stoking train of the body, riding one car to the next, to and fro, round trips, never holding an official ticket. Life is idiomatic.

In Astra Taylor’s film Examined Life, Kwame Anthony Appiah reflects on how the ways in which humans are connected have changed over time. Gone are the days, Appiah explains, when the only people you ever saw in your entire lifetime were the members of your own family or small tribe:

“As a species that was designed for living in bands of a hundred-odd people for much of its evolutionary history, we have to figure out how we’re going to live in a planet with 6, 7, 8 billion people. Billions not divided into lots of little bands of a hundred, but constantly interacting – and interacting in units of hundreds of millions. The United States, for example, has a population of 300 million right now. So as an American, you exist in this kind of virtual relationship with 300 million people. If you’re lucky enough to be Chinese, your virtual relationships are soon with 1.5 billion people or something like that” (p. 88, Examined Life: Excursions with Contemporary Thinkers, Edited by Astra Taylor, The New Press, 2009; Interviews from the film Examined Life, 2008).

Roofbug

– There’s a BIG BUG on the ROOF!
– Keep calm. It will go away.”