In the 1973 film The Last Detail, Navy guy Jack Nicholson gets into a men’s room altercation with a Marine as they stand side-by-side peeing at stand-up urinals in a train station.

It’s wintertime and Jack sports the Navy’s long double-breasted overcoat. The Marine chides Jack, remarking that it must be hard for Navy guys to take a piss when they have all those buttons to undo. Jack counters that it’s probably easier to pee when you’re a Marine. You just take off your hat. Fight ensues.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, so I don’t remember if they washed their hands after fighting. But if they didn’t, they should have. As my wife Judy has always said, “Wash your hands frequently.” This was especially important advice she gave when traveling. It’s enough of a habit with me that I didn’t have to be encouraged. Judy and I play very well together on the sheet of musical cleanliness.

As I type this, we are weeks into a developing pandemic and societal rules are changing rapidly. We are just beginning the no-contact hunker-down phase. Things are falling apart around the world financially. I am girding my loins for the “don’t come to work” announcement. I’ve already been told that I may not be paid during this time. Rumor-mill initially said the “go home and stay home” period will only be 2 weeks. Then it was 8 weeks. Okay, how about 8 months? None of us know. Including the people who make the decisions.

Every person you meet could be a carrier. Carriers are contagious for days, if not weeks prior to symptoms appearing, and then of course, there are carriers who don’t break out at all, they just infect. We are all suspect now whether we want to be or not. I could get it from Judy. Our family members. The cashier at the store. Or someone’s keyboard I had to touch at work.

I am hoping for the best for all of us despite knowing that’s not an outcome I can reasonably expect. People have already died. More will. Because of our ages, Judy and I are potentially dead if we get it.

So I cling to hope a little bit. We eat well. Our current health is relatively good. We tend to stay home alone with each other a lot anyway. By choice. We like spending time with each other. Plus we’ve only watched the first 2 seasons of Downton Abbey. I bought the entire set for Judy as a Valentine’s gift a couple of years back. We have lots of things to catch up on.

Of course, depending on how long I might be out of work, spiraling into financial ruin could definitely put a damper on things. We may end up eating wild onions from our lawn and wiping with leaves. But as long as we can keep the electricity on, I can still run the DVD player. We can still watch our Downton Abbey disks even after I’ve cancelled the cable.

Now that’s assuming that we live through everything.

I know this virus is different than the flu, but the symptoms are similar.

I’ve had the flu infrequently. Maybe 3 times in my life.

In 1975, HBO ran the movie The Story of Adele H one Saturday night when I was up, miserable with the flu, coughing and feverish.

It’s the story of Victor Hugo’s daughter Adele who spent a chunk of her young life obsessing over a military officer who eventually wanted nothing to do with her. Her intense unbalanced focus gradually destroys her and she ends up wandering the streets in rags, delirious.

The post note is she was institutionalized for 40 years after that.

One of the final scenes depicts her wandering a street, talking to herself. She happens onto the officer she had literally gone mad for. She doesn’t recognize him. Has no idea who he is.

It was one of the saddest moments in film I’d ever watched.

And there I was, slumped over in my chair, at the height of my flu discomfort, feeling her desperation and lostness. It was the closest I’ve ever come to inhabiting a character while the performance was being acted out in front of me. I was in lockstep walking down the street with her in our mutual delirium.

About a year later, I found myself standing in line in an Air Force hangar, queued for my swine flu shot. Forced by the military. Or else.

Now to be honest, the military doesn’t always get things right. Case in point: Agent Orange. I knew a few people who’d handled that stuff with bare hands. The military and the government both spent decades denying any connection between Agent Orange and cancer. They waited until those people were dying out.

At the time the 1976 swine flu was escalating, news reports were telling everyone that some folks were dying from the vaccine. Certain quarters warned against the inoculations. Still the military trudged on.

This realization was heavy on all our minds. A major newspaper headline THAT MORNING revolved around people dying from getting the shot.

We were nervous. As an example of how jittery we were, the football linebacker-sized guy in front of me fainted. It was the first time in my life I’d ever seen anything like that. He stepped forward to get his shot and then went down. At first, when he started to collapse, I thought he might be playacting to get out of taking it. I knew he’d really passed out when I heard his head hit and do a small bounce off the hangar’s concrete floor. Nope. He definitely wasn’t faking that.

I must say, my gut churned a little after watching the big guy take a dive. I took my shot. I was feverish that night, but it passed by the next day.

When I was working with military folks in South Carolina in the late 1990s, the government forced the troops to get multiple vaccinations that for some had a bad side effect: MS. Irreversible. I watched arguments break out between military members who were threatened with disciplinary action for not complying. I saw one guy take the drubbing prior to being tossed out – he didn’t care – his father had a thriving business at home and wanted his son to take it over. Come on home. And without taking the shots, that guy walked out the door with his discharge papers. Grinning the whole time.

One of his best friends that did take the shots didn’t do as well. He got MS. He was supposed to take a series of 6 shots, spread out over months. He was showing symptoms after the 3rd needle. The guy was in his mid-20s.

In January 2018, I got a full-blown case of the flu after returning home from a month in Germany. My most severe experience ever. My previous dalliances with the flu had bottomed out after about day 4 and I was usually in pretty good shape by day 5. This flu was a particularly strong strain that seemed to be ebbing about every 3 days and then would come roaring back, fully engulfed. I was in the barrel for 10 days. To be frank, I’ve never felt as bad in my life as I did during those 10 days. Burning fever alternating with chills. Eyes burning. Didn’t want to eat. Didn’t want to drink. Drinking water hurt. No joke. It hurt to drink sips of water. And the persistent dry cough. Oh, my God. That was the worst. It came over me in unexpected waves and you couldn’t control it. Sometimes I’d end up bent over, gasping, muscles cramping, unable to speak. And rest? Forget about it. In the dead of night, I was lucky to get in an hour of sleep before coughing myself purple.

About 5 days into it, I decided to have a stiff cocktail. How much worse could I feel? Oh, much worse, your majesty. Much worse.

I remember one day about a week into my dance with the virus, I looked at Judy and told her that if this was the quality of life when you’re terminal, don’t bother extenuating my circumstances. If I feel like this when I’m dying, go for the Clint Eastwood move in Million Dollar Baby and just put a pillow over my head. I promise not to fight much. I won’t have the strength anyway.

I don’t mean to make light of things. We live in serious times. Some of us will do better than others.

Of course, one of the big ways we can help ourselves is by following that basic handwashing advice. Our restrooms at work all have recently added large signs telling everyone to make sure to wash their hands. And yet, just over a week ago, as I washed my hands, a guy came out of a stall after taking a shit and walked right past me, bypassing the sinks and touching the door handle to get out.

I have no idea why handwashing still seems such a novel concept to some. The word’s been out for a while now.

Back in the 1990s, our little family went through a hurricane while living in South Carolina. We did all the things we were supposed to do to prep. Gallons of water stored away to include a bathtub full of water just in case. Candles. Flashlights. Radio. Batteries. Food stocked as much as possible although our final day at the grocery store on the morning as the storm was coming in didn’t yield much.

People have always been a little crazy with hoarding during rough times. Even decades ago, people raided the markets to buy every last loaf of bread and gallon of milk. Because, you know, you can never have enough milk sandwiches during an emergency. When we checked the canned aisles back then, there would only be one item still left for purchase on otherwise bare shelves. Hormel pork brains in a can.

Yep, it seems when the chips are down, we still can’t go with the brainy part. That’s the one thing we will not tolerate. Brains.

Last week, I went to Walmart on a Sunday afternoon to get a couple of staples. Some aisles seemed normal. And then I’d turn a corner and see an aisle completely wiped out. Of important stuff. Water. Meats. Milk. Eggs. Bread. Pasta. Top Ramen noodles. Hand sanitizer. All paper products to include toilet paper. And salt. Really. All the salt was gone.

What struck me most was the expressions on the faces as we made it a point to stay 6 feet away from each other. Walmart workers were out in force trying to replenish shelves. Customers wandered around in a daze as if they were thinking, “I know I’m supposed to come here and hoard some stuff, but I’m not sure what.”

On my way home, I stopped off at the liquor store to get some milk and bread. A distinguished-looking middle-aged guy came in wanting 2 bottles of Everclear. If you’ve never heard of Everclear, you are better off. It’s grain alcohol that’s super-high in alcohol content. Normal people do not drink Everclear.

Then I find out he’s not buying it to drink. He’s buying it for his business to use as a sanitizer because all the supply chains are out of sterilizers.

I spoke to a gentleman who’s intimately familiar with the Charlottesville restaurant scene. On a good day, C-ville is a culinary destination with much to choose from. But in the last couple of weeks, patronage dried up except for the ones who came in to steal the gallon-jugs of hand sanitizer from the restrooms. Lamented one owner, “Don’t these people know we need hand sanitizer for the employees too?”

But now those places are closed, so it doesn’t matter.

In the Mountain Goats song This Year, John Darnielle sings “The scene ends badly as you might imagine in a cavalcade of anger and fear.”

He goes on hopefully. “I am going to make it through this year” but then adds the caveat “if it kills me.”

My hope is we don’t get to that. I mean, I’m all about making it through the year, I just would rather not have it kill me.

Unfortunately we’ll see a lot of people acting stupid and behaving badly. By the same token, I bet we see a ton of stories about people doing the right thing. It’s too bad we have to be socially distanced – we were already on that downhill slide. Now people have a reason to be standoffish.

We are all in this together. At our house, come what may, we are prepared to go Little House on the Prairie. Much of that pioneer spirit is encouraged by Judy. Man, I don’t think she’s afraid of anything. Some of that rubs off on me from time to time. Good thing. I will enjoy the wild onion soup and be thankful for it.

We were supposed to be spending the weekend in South Carolina attending Judy’s 50th high school reunion.


We were supposed to stay with dear friends.

Not happening.

We were supposed to see family for Sunday dinner.

Not a good idea yet.

This past weekend, Judy and I had Saturday all to ourselves. We went rogue. TV off. Computer off. We sat in our “library” and had the most wonderful dinner that we’d cooked ourselves. There was also bubbly involved. All accompanied by Andrea Bocelli serenading us in the background and our Boston Terrier Sophie resting at our feet. We ate early (even for us) and were ready for a nap before 7 PM. It was a lovely day all around. Since I’m going to be home a lot more, maybe we can keep that vibe going.

You can never have enough lovely days.

In our short movie Metro-Hunters, an actor is taught how to dress a raw chicken and after removing his bare hand from the inside of the bird, his trainer blurts out, “Make sure you wash that (bleep) hand!”

Sound advice from a movie we made over 10 years ago.

Yes, wash those hands.

Both of them.