Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

School principals walk a lot.

That was the only thing I correctly expected before arriving at Fairview Elementary School to participate in Principal for a Day, an annual event organized by the Guilford Education Alliance. Volunteers are placed throughout Guilford County Schools to shadow principals for a couple of hours and get a closer look at our county’s public schools.

This year there also were a few people shadowing other school workers, including Matt Thiehl with a school bus driver at Andrews High School and Wayne Young with a custodian at Fairview.

I wore sneakers instead of my usual dress shoes for work because I expected to be on my feet most of the morning.

And indeed we were. Abe Hege, the principal of Fairway, walked me through Fairway’s long, long, long hallways (the school sure seems longer on the inside than it looks on the outside), stopping in many classrooms to observe the classes in session and explaining what the classes’ daily routines are. Hege said he spends a big chunk of every day going to different classrooms to observe.

One thing I did not expect was seeing student desks that double as dry-erase whiteboards. Fairview has replaced all of its wooden desks with these dry-erase desks, which have angled edges so students can be arranged close together in small groups.

I also did not expect the prevalence of digital tablets. It’s one thing to read in the news about schools widely adapting the use of tablets, but it’s another to go into a classroom and see every student wearing headphones and quietly studying exercises on their own screen that they complete at their own pace.

Which brings up another thing I did not expect: almost uniform good behavior. Shortly before I left, one student loudly protesting his innocence was brought to the school’s main office, but throughout the rest of my time in the school I didn’t see so much as one student talking out of turn — or fidgeting. Even the kindergartners who reveled in throwing up their hands and yelling answers in unison seemed to sit still while awaiting the teacher’s prompt for them to yell.

To some extent the good behavior might be attributable to the morning hour — everyone was well rested.

But Hege said one of the things he didn’t know when he first became a principal in 2018 was that the job would involve managing adults — parents as well as staff — much more than managing children.

Hege is proud of the culture he has helped build at Fairview and of the progress the school has made. Student discipline cases have plummeted, and academically the school’s student body has exceeded its growth goals every year since Hege arrived. The key has been building relationships with and among both the staff and the students, he said.

“I want a third-grader to feel this is their school as much as it is mine,” he said.

It’s certain that his office belongs to the students as much as to him. It’s right next door to a kindergarten classroom. When they collectively scream their answers for their teacher, it’s like the wall is made of balsa wood rather than cinder block.

Hege smiled and said, “It lasts all day.”

Probably another reason he walks the halls so much.

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My high school’s most famous graduate is either an actress featured in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” or a homicidal maniac.

I thought for sure it was the maniac, until I Googled the person I thought was going to be the runner-up, which led me to my high school’s Wikipedia page, which under the heading “Notable alumni” listed two: the person I Googled and the actress.

All of this was prompted by one of those questions that pop up on social media (which you should never answer, by the way, because it’s all just data mining, not harmless fun): Are you your high school’s most famous graduate?

Almost no one would be able to answer yes to that. But it made me think about what the answer for my high school might be.

I went to a small, Catholic high school in Phoenix, Arizona (I’m not Catholic, but the school was practically around the corner from my house, so I chose to go there). One of the school’s graduates who achieved a sort of fame actually came from my circle of friends and my graduating class, Robert Walesa, but he was more notorious than famous. A few years ago, after being stopped for drunken driving and sent home in a cab (not hauled to jail), he got mad, grabbed a rifle, drove his other car to a spot near the DWI checkpoint, shot a sheriff’s deputy from a distance and drove away. Eventually, they figured out who did it and came to his house. He met them at his front door and fatally shot himself on the spot.

He made national news, but it was of a routine sort of shocking news nowadays. I doubt many people remember him.

Better known, I hope, was Jeff Feagles, who graduated a year behind me. He was a football player and made it to the NFL, where he played 22 years as a punter and twice was named to the Pro Bowl.

It was while Googling Feagles that I learned that an actress named Catherine Hicks graduated from my high school in the late 1960s. Among other things, she is known for playing Dr. Gillian Taylor, the whale biologist in “Star Trek IV.” That’s certainly the role I recognize her from, but she had many more, including Marilyn Monroe in the 1980 TV movie “Marilyn: The Untold Story,” for which she received an Emmy Award nomination.

I think Hicks gets the edge over Feagles.

But I think the best-known person who graduated from my high school, disturbingly, might be another infamous member of my own graduating class, though thankfully not from my circle of friends. He did not seem to any of us like a homicidal maniac, but a little more than 16 years after graduation, Armand Chavez made national news and lingered in the headlines much longer than my former friend.

You might recognize him better by the alter ego he adopted after being expelled from medical school, Diazien Hossencofft. He claimed to be a thoracic surgeon and geneticist, and he sold bogus cancer treatments and anti-aging injections for thousands of dollars. And he probably would have gotten away with all of that for a long time had he not also convinced a girlfriend to murder his wife.

The murder story has been the subject of TV episodes of “Crime Stories,” “Court TV,” “American Justice,” “The Investigators,” “Snapped,” “Monstresses,” “Sins and Secrets,” “I’d Kill For You” and “Charmed to Death,” according to Wikipedia.

There is unlikely to be any other graduate more famous or infamous. The school closed in 1989 because of declining enrollment, so even the youngest graduates already are in their 50s. If any of us are going to make it big, we are running out of time.

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My mother has long been far more popular on the internet than I am despite her being dead.

I got used to that eventually, but now she’s also getting better junk mail, and that stings.

My mother had a massive heart attack in late 2008 that pushed her from a mild, early dementia that no one who knew her recognized to clearly obvious dementia. I had to place her in assisted living, and I had all of her mail redirected to my house. Naturally, that included junk mail.

She died in May 2012. (Just two days before the big corporate business transaction that I predicted, correctly, would eventually cost me my job – but that’s a story for another day.)

After she died, I started sorting through a box of her things that I had put aside. She had been a newspaper features writer in her youth before I came along, and again from middle age to her retirement, and some of the writing she was most proud of was in the box.

I wrote about a few of the things she wrote and posted them on my personal blog. That’s when her internet following began.

One post reproduced a column she wrote about making Buckeye Balls, a type of peanut butter candy that is popular with fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes because the candy ends up looking like an Ohio buckeye nut. That post has been, by far, the most popular post on my blog, seen by thousands of people. A week does not go by without it getting multiple views. Around the time of the Ohio State-Michigan game and the Christmas holidays, it can get dozens of views per day.

I’ve had people (yes, plural) who were writing books about candy contact me about that post.

Like my mother’s internet traffic, her junk mail also has persisted. Each of the two times I have moved since she died, the junk mail followed, even the ones misaddressed to a man named “Lucas Tabor” (a transposition of her married last name and her maiden name).

I know for a fact that my mother has not donated to the ASPCA since at least 2008, but the group still spends postage to solicit money from her.

The mail has become a testament to how much paper our society wastes.

Since moving to High Point, I have gotten a few pieces of mail addressed to either Mom or Mr. Tabor inviting her/him to come see a local retirement home, and one of those came just this past week, but it stood out in one critical detail:

It offered wine and Girl Scout cookies to those who would visit.

My first reaction was that my mother would have been sorely tempted to make that visit.

My second reaction was to wonder why no one ever offers me wine and cookies.

I’m nowhere near needing to find a retirement home, but why isn’t anyone else making that pairing to lure foot traffic? Or if anyone else is, why am I not in the demographic to get that offer?

If my mother is going to get all the internet readers, the least I deserve is some free Thin Mints and cabernet.

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In comedy, there’s often a “straight man” – one person who is sane and sober and “normal” while someone else is delivering the jokes or being a clown.

The straight man makes the scene funnier, but if the straight man is the only person on-screen, nothing’s funny.

Which is why I once risked my own digestive safety and well-being for the sake of a short food video.

It was more than a dozen years ago, but the friend I made it with recently dusted off the video in a new post on Facebook.

Two important things about this friend, whose name is Lee:

1. Ordinarily, anyone who is with Lee is the straight man, the Abbott to his Costello, the Ice Cube to his Kevin Hart. Life is a rich tapestry of humor to him, and he is constantly cracking jokes. Visiting a friend’s ailing mother in the hospital, he tells her, “You have more tubes coming out of you than a radiator.” Someone on Facebook posts something like, “Name something you can say both at a birthday party and during sex,” and he answers, “Howdy howdy howdy, I’m a cowboy.”

2. His mouth is made of asbestos. Hot peppers mean nothing to him. He will eat anything and like it. Do not challenge him to a pepper-eating contest. At best, it will end in an agonizing draw.

This is where the video comes in.

More than 12 years ago, Lee and I both were living in Richmond, Virginia, where he was the features editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. One day in a staff meeting, he told everyone that a chicken wing restaurant in Richmond had what he considered to be the hottest wings in the world. They were named Suicide Wings.

The paper’s executive editor decided that if the wings were really that hot, it might be funny if the paper shot a video of Lee and someone else eating the wings.

Lee told me he had put out the word to the entire newsroom that he needed someone to go with him. I had an instant clairvoyant vision: No one would volunteer.

This would be a huge problem. A video of Lee eating the hottest wings on the planet, without the contrast of someone else also eating them, would look like a man eating a plate of plain fried chicken.

I told Lee that if no one else volunteered, I would go.

My vision came true. No one volunteered. I had to go.

Understand, I like spicy food, even to the point that my eyes water and I turn red (redder than usual, that is). But I’m no “Man vs. Food” fanatic about it. If you label the food anything like “Suicide Wings” or “Stupid Wings” or something with the word “death” in it, or you require me to sign a release of liability, you can generally count me out.

But there I was with Lee and a videographer, walking into Planet Wings one sunny day, resigned, head up, trying to sound cheerful about my impending gastric doom.

It went pretty much the way I envisioned. From the first bite, I was in agony. Maybe they were the hottest wings in the world, maybe they weren’t. But they were the hottest I had ever had.

Next to me, Lee chomped quietly away on his wings.

I gasped, exhaled sharply, turned red, then purple, and Lee looked over at me, then back at the camera and rolled his eyes. 

For perhaps the first time in his life, Lee was the straight man.

I called it quits after just three wings. Lee ate all of his wings plus one of mine and took the rest of mine home in a box.

The video is pure gold. I may never take part in a greater comedy bit in my life.

The editing was a bit misleading. I did not get up in the middle of eating and get a large soda refill. That came after. Also, the videographer put text on the screen at the end saying I ate only two wings. But both of those edits make the video funnier, so … whatever.

Years later, after we both had moved on to other cities and other jobs, Lee dared me to show the video to my new employees. Too late, I told him – I had already showed it to them because it was too hilarious not to share.

I don’t mind being laughed at – at least not in that context. All I want is acknowledgement of my commitment to the bit. I sacrificed the lining of my mouth and throat, and the entire contents of my tear ducts, for the sake of making people laugh.

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One of the most difficult kinds of stories to do for the newspaper is one about someone who has died, involving interviews to go beyond the person’s achievements and gain a sense of who the person was.

It’s difficult because most people in their grief retreat to superlatives, describing a person’s qualities in the abstract. “She was just the best, a great leader.” “He always gave of himself, he always stepped up.”

What makes for a strong story are anecdotes – descriptions of scenes, conversations and events that illustrate concretely the person’s qualities and personality.

When you are able to elicit a few of those, the fabric of a personality always seems to come together. The stories line up, consistently adding detail to a portrait.

As I interviewed several people on Wednesday who knew Paul Broyhill, who led Broyhill Furniture Industries when it rose to its greatest prominence and prosperity in the 1970s, the stories also lined up in another way: They illustrated philosophies I had heard described the previous night in the first episode of High Point University President Nido Qubein’s new half-hour UNC-TV show, “Side by Side.” Qubein interviewed John Maxwell, a renowned author and lecturer on leadership.

Maxwell said that leadership is influence, which he defined as making those around you better.

“If you really want to be a great leader, just start by specifically and intentionally adding value to people on a daily basis,” he said.

One of the things Broyhill was best known for was his company’s executive training, which included teaching the value of relationships and how to build them.

Maxwell said that one of the key elements of being a good leader is humility. In part, that means being willing to learn.

Broyhill demonstrated this quality by surrounding himself with talented people, training them and asking their opinions and advice. He also frequently traveled to meet with the retailers selling his company’s products and seeking their opinions and new product ideas.

Maxwell said that humility also is “the ability to care for people, who they are, what they do.”

Jeff Cook said he saw this after being named president of Broyhill Furniture in 2007 and meeting Paul Broyhill. By that point, Broyhill had been out of the business for over 20 years, but the human connections he had built at the company were still clearly evident.

“Everyone he hired, he knew their names, he knew their families,” Cook said.

One of Broyhill’s qualities everyone mentions was his vision, his ability to recognize where the industry should go in the future. Cook described a conversation with Broyhill about the industry’s offshoring of jobs to Asia that showed he retained this ability long into retirement.

“He hated that Broyhill (Furniture) had closed all its case goods plants and sold all the equipment to the Chinese,” Cook said. “He said that sooner or later they’re going to get you.”

Broyhill felt that if work had to be sent overseas, the company should have mothballed its factories in North Carolina and retained the equipment, holding everything in reserve in case conditions later warranted bringing the work back to the U.S. – which we have seen being played out. Some jobs have been brought back, and we also have seen how the unforeseen conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic have put the furniture industry at the mercy of long delays in its far-flung global supply chains.

Vision is not an element of leadership that can be learned, it is simply a gift. You have it or you don’t.

But Maxwell talked about that too.

“Understand that you have a gift, and it was God-given, … but remember it was a gift,” he said. “You didn’t earn it, you’re not amazing yourself.”

And that’s another reason to surround yourself with talented people and help them to become better and achieve more. Whatever your gift may be, it might not be the one that’s needed at a particular moment.

So you may ask what conclusion I have drawn from this experience of watching a TV interview and seeing its lessons echoed back at me a day later.

I haven’t decided, except that if Qubein interviews an exorcist, I’m not leaving the house the next day.

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Fifteen years ago, actor and director Clint Eastwood made two films about the World War II battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima — one told from the perspective of American soldiers, one from the perspective of Japanese soldiers.

The juxtaposition illustrates what is meant by the phrase “context is everything” — as well as a number of other brief sayings we frequently use but rarely analyze.

For instance, “Don’t judge another man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”

The broad truth behind that saying is that any individual’s lived experience is the context that shapes his or her life and how that person perceives the world and reacts to it.

Dr. Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist at the University of London, says your brain makes sense of the information it is presented based on you have experienced before.

“The functional structure of your brain is literally a representation of your history. We only ever see what was useful to see in the past,” he said.

Two people with different experiences can watch the same event and interpret it differently because their experiences create their assumptions about how the world works and how others behave.

This is why it is useful, regardless of your own background and experiences, to listen to and read about the experiences of people who are different than you. You don’t know their stories.

All this was brought to mind last week by the last sentence of the letter that the local NAACP sent out reacting to how the City Council responded to its call for a commission to study the issue of reparations: “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.”

The website Afriprov.org, which explores African proverbs, says there are a number of variations in the wording of this proverb, but all deal with context and the parts of a story that are left out in the retelling.

“When a hunter brings home a lion … it may very well be due to the hunter’s skills, but it may as well be due to pure luck. The lion might have been sleeping or injured. No matter in what circumstances the lion is killed, a hunter will always tell a story that makes the hunter shine. Is the hunter telling the true story or just bragging? No one will ever know,” the website says.

“This Ewe-mina proverb refers to this unknown part of the struggle between the lion and the hunter because … a story is never complete until one hears from both sides.”

The key word is “hearing,” which means not just hearing the words but understanding, before concluding what the speaker really means, the experiences that shaped the perceptions of the person who is speaking and what those perceptions are.

When another person has a radically different interpretation of an event than you do, trying to make sense of the difference can be difficult, as Lotto explains.

“We hate to have our assumptions questioned because it creates uncertainty, which leads to stress. Your brain hates uncertainty,” Lotto says. “Yet the best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty; the questions that challenge what I assume to be true already.”

The U.S. State Department has a website offering new diplomats a primer in understanding cultural differences and communication styles called “So You’re an American? A guide to answering difficult questions abroad.”

Its lessons could be broadly applied at home as well. Misunderstanding doesn’t begin at the water’s edge.

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The Thinker

I have a contemplative chipmunk.

Or rather, living near my house there is either a chipmunk or a family of them prone to striking a contemplative pose and holding it for an inordinate amount of time.

When my wife and I first moved to High Point, in the backyard we found a pretty chunk of gray-and-white-striped granite roughly the size of a human head. My wife moved it to a corner of the back deck. The next morning, she looked out to find a chipmunk perched on top of the rock simply staring out at the yard.

Every morning, the chipmunk returned. And each time, it remained on that perch, not moving, for a long while.

When the weather turned cold, it disappeared, but in the spring it came back — or it and others came back. Sometimes the chipmunk on the rock looks a little smaller than usual. Maybe there is a young chipmunk mimicking a parent’s perching.

Whether there is one or there are more, whether it’s learned or just in the nature of chipmunks, the behavior is the same.

The critter gets up on the rock and just looks across the yard — not unlike the way I sometimes sit in a chair on the deck and look out across the yard, silently staring as my mind wanders. Sometimes I think about yard projects I want to get to, some short-term, some for next summer, or the next. Sometimes I simply wonder at nature, looking up into the trees, the setting sun still lighting the highest leaves stirring in the breeze as the darkness starts to deepen down below. Sometimes I worry about money or work or myriad choices I’ll never be able to undo even if I discovered during my rumination an alternative I would have preferred. Sometimes I just stew.

Sometimes I look at that rock and wonder what the chipmunk thinks as it looks across the yard.

Is it planning lunch?

Thinking about digging a new extension for its burrow?

Wondering whether Mrs. Chipmunk will be feeling frisky later?

Worrying about the neighbor’s cat?

Maybe it’s just absorbing a moment’s peace.

Or perhaps it is just trying to figure out what the big, white-headed beast keeps staring at across the yard, and why it won’t just stay inside its brick cave and leave the deck to its rightful owner.

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Let me first say that if offered a reward or prize for saving High Point from icy catastrophe in Thursday’s winter storm, I will decline it.

I am gratified that my actions may have prevented widespread damage and electricity disruption, along with the human misery that would accompany that, but it would be wrong to seek or accept any reward.

No, my actions were prompted by no heroic intent but instead by my desire to avoid looking like an idiot for the second time in less than a week. Saving the city was a happy byproduct.

When the previous ice storm hit last weekend, the power in our neighborhood went out around 8:30 a.m. My initial thought was that my wife and I could stay with my stepmother because she has gas logs, so her house would stay warm even though her power was out too.

She told us, “Come on over.”

But as we began to gather our things, she texted a reminder: Her house gets its water from a well, so no power means no pump and no water. If we came, we would have to bring containers of water to flush the toilets.

This altered the calculus.

Maybe it would be better to just add layers of clothing and stay in the growing cold.

Then I slapped my forehead. Though we had lived in the house since June, somehow I had forgotten an element of the room.

“We have a fireplace,” I said. “Let’s just build a fire.”

The previous owners had left some firewood beside the house. Happily enough, they were under cover and were dry, so I set about building a fire.

As the flames gradually grew, I saw a few curls of smoke rolling up past the mantle into the living room, but once the fire was full and hot, everything appeared to go up the chimney.

We set up a table near the fire to play Scrabble while waiting for the power to come back on.

Gradually I noticed the room growing a bit hazy. Some smoke continued drifting into the room.

After a couple of hours, the amount of smoke started to worry me. I set up a ladder by the smoke detector.

I grabbed a towel, opened the front door and started waving smoke out the door.

After a minute I thought it looked like smoke was rolling thickly off the porch. Turning back toward the fireplace, I saw smoke pouring into the living room toward the front door. I had made things worse.

The hallway smoke alarm went off, and then the alarm’s control panel in the kitchen started screeching.

I scrambled up the ladder and removed the smoke detector from the ceiling to run outside with it as my phone rang – the alarm company checking to see what was happening. I grabbed the screeching control panel as I answered the phone and went out the door.

“No,” I said, “the power went out and we built a fire in the fireplace, and we have some smoke in the house.”

Back inside, I looked around the thick haze and felt panic.

Had I ruined the house? Would we have to hire a disaster mitigation company?

We decided we would just have to let the fire die on its own.

So we sat in the smoke and kept playing Scrabble. I tried to focus on the board. Any glance around renewed my panic.

Gradually, the air cleared. The next day, we cleaned out the fireplace, and the house no longer smelled of smoke.

A couple days later, the forecast of another ice storm loomed, but this one was supposed to be much worse – up to a half inch of ice. Maybe even more than that. Trees would buckle everywhere.

I didn’t want a repeat performance of my errors.

Given the age of our house, our fireplace probably originally burned coal, which I once was told meant you could burn a Duraflame log in it but not wood. When I went to the store to find one, it seemed many other people had a similar idea. But I tried other stores and eventually found a box of logs. If the neighborhood was without power for a couple of days, we still would be able to keep warm.

I changed the order of the cars in the driveway so the four-wheel-drive vehicle was in the back.

And Thursday morning I lit a burner on the gas stove (the ignition on the stove is electric, so you can’t light it after the power is out) and kept it on low. Now if the power failed we could heat soup.

We were as ready as we could possibly be for a catastrophic ice storm.

Naturally, nothing much happened. Some ice, but no catastrophe, and it melted by mid-afternoon.

As long as I hold on to the box of logs, I expect the city will make it through the rest of this winter with no significant ice-related outages.

You’re welcome.

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Seeing is believing, but if believing required seeing we would have no churches.

When you buy a car, you don’t require that the dealer take the car apart and demonstrate how each element of it functions before you believe it will drive.

Do you understand how your flat-screen TV works?

Your cellphone?

A colleague recently wrote about losing a relative to COVID-19. The relative had a terminal form of cancer, but COVID-19 quickly took away however many months she would have had left. My colleague wrote of her frustration about people refusing to wear masks, which studies conducted during the months of the pandemic have proven can sharply limit the spread of the virus.

But one line she wrote about why people find it difficult to stick with the strict precautions that public health officials call for caught me short: “I know it’s hard. The last eight months have felt like a dystopian hellscape, our sense of reality warped by a disaster in slow motion.”

I told her I thought the reason it has been difficult is exactly the opposite – the world does not appear to be a hellscape or a disaster. If we went outside and brimstone were falling from the sky, we’d go back in to get our asbestos umbrella – “The scientists say we’ll catch fire if we don’t keep an asbestos umbrella with us at all times!”

The reason it’s hard to get people to change their behavior from what they were doing every day until this past spring is that everything looks exactly the same as it did a year ago. Unless you personally have known people who suffered extreme complications from COVID-19, the danger of the disease can seem remote. It’s hard to keep up your guard day after day when nothing happens to you.

A recent letter sent to The High Point Enterprise questioning whether the pandemic continues to rage through society said, “Doesn’t the definition of ‘pandemic’ include ‘excessive deaths’? I’ve yet to see bodies stacked on the roadsides.”

It is statistically evident that the United States is seeing “excess deaths” (that’s the term to Google). The number of deaths from all causes each year normally falls into a certain limited range, but a research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in October reported that from March 1 to Aug. 1 the number of deaths in the U.S. was 20% higher than that normal range – that’s more than 225,000, of which only 150,000 officially had been attributed to COVID-19.

And you don’t have to look far to find recent news stories documenting the toll that the current surge in virus-related hospitalizations is taking on health care workers across the country – but unless those workers are part of your immediate family, you do have to choose to look.

Among the statistics that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services publishes on its website, and updates every day, is the number of state residents hospitalized for COVID-19. Many county health departments, including Guilford’s, do the same. On Friday, 166 Guilford residents were hospitalized.

But the bodies are not stacked by the roadside.

Perhaps if this pandemic were like the 1918 Spanish flu, and one of the groups hardest hit was young children, there wouldn’t be so many skeptics. The emotional wounds would be more open and raw and distributed across the population.

No one would demand to see children’s bodies stacked like cordwood before believing there was a problem.

No one would think of suggesting that the deaths of a few hundred-thousand children was acceptable, as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested in the spring about the deaths of seniors from COVID-19: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’”

But, at least so far as we know in the less than one year scientists have had to study the disease, COVID-19 does not have serious effects on most children.

In fact, most adults who are infected feel no effects or have mild symptoms, and even most infected seniors recover.

The issue, though, has never been that you personally were likely to die if you caught this disease. If that were the only risk, you would be well within your rights to not wear a mask and even to offer to deep-kiss any willing stranger.

But with this highly infectious disease, when you are infected you may not know it, so if you take minimal or no precautions, you easily infect other people. They then infect other people, and so on, and so on, and eventually the virus reaches someone whose health is fragile, but you will never see it. All you see is that the number of deaths went up yesterday, and you don’t believe you could have had anything to do with that.

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Life advice: At some point as you get older, you should not try to lift a lawnmower by yourself.

Apparently I passed that point sometime in the past year.

When I needed to take the mower in for service last summer, I hoisted it solo into the back of my SUV without any trouble.

But last weekend, I hoisted the mower solo to drive it from Lenoir to mow the incipient meadow in the front yard of the house my wife and I bought in High Point two weeks ago.

This time, there was some trouble.

As I lifted the mower I felt a muscle in my back complain. I don’t speak fluent muscle, but the complaint seemed something along the lines of, “I’m too old for this crap and I’m done.”

I got the mower into the SUV, but the rest of the packing I had to do without the help of that muscle.

I coughed, and the muscle threatened me.

Almost every step I took, the muscle grumbled.

And the muscle continued grumbling during the nearly two-hour drive to High Point.

As the day turned to evening, the muscle stiffened its resolve, meaning it not only wouldn’t help me move around the house but it fought me. I walked like the old people in the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched in my childhood – bent over, holding one hand on my back. If I’d had a cane or walking stick, it would have been helpful.

Finally, I went to bed and was able to sleep – for a while. But the muscle’s constant complaints woke me.

And because our house in Lenoir has not yet sold, we barely have any furniture, and the muscle refused to help me rise from the mattress on the floor. Once I rose, I could not bend over to pick up my socks.

It was a work stoppage. A boycott.

Somehow I got myself showered and dressed for work.

The muscle grew more cooperative as the day went, ceasing the boycott, and we are back on speaking terms again.

But I’m worried.

For now, we are splitting our time between High Point and Lenoir. The grass in both places refuses my request to temporarily stop growing. There may be more mower transport yet to be done. I won’t try to lift it on my own again, but what if the muscle balks anyway? What if there’s another boycott?

Looking ahead, there’s a larger worry. I’m not getting any younger, and what if the muscle has sympathizers? Next time more than one muscle might boycott.

My entire body might unionize and demand better working conditions – i.e., no more working conditions.

That would be unacceptable. I might have to hire some union-busting goons. Things could get ugly. There might be violence. I’d be caught in the middle, literally. Any blood that would be spilled would be mine.

Everyone tells you it sucks getting old.

No one says you will find yourself quietly negotiating a careful labor agreement with your own muscles just to keep walking upright.

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