Florida is being inundated by scantly clad college students looking for some fun in the sun. We are in the middle of the 2021 spring break, the time of year American and Canadian colleges and universities close in advance of their final semester of the school year.
After the enforced confinement of the past year, and the record cold most of the country endured just weeks ago, being able to escape to the Sunshine State must feel awfully good. Old people have been doing it for months. I’ve heard quite a bit of French — and seen the corresponding Quebec license plates — during our weekly outings to a sparsely populated beach on the beach. However, we’re all wearing masks — mandated for indoors in our county — as we walk from the parking lot to the water, and we sit apart from each other. More and more of us have struggled through the crazy vaccine protocols to get our immunizations.
The same cannot be said for what’s happening just a few miles down the road in Ft. Lauderdale, South Florida’s spring break epicenter. Maskless romping in close quarters by unvaccinated youth means these kids will be taking home more than a sunburn when they migrate back to their indoor college life. I can see the t-shirts now: “I went to Ft. Lauderdale and all I brought back was COVID.”
Which is why I absolutely love an idea spun up by my favorite Palm Beach Post columnist, Frank Cerabino: applying the pandemic protocol to spring break activities to make them safe for students this year.
What would spring break be without a hotel swimming pool full of scantily clad college students holding plastic drink cups and grooving to the sounds of a pool-deck DJ? So, let’s do it … but a little differently this year due to gathering restrictions with COVID-19. Just follow these rules:
Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post
“You must sign up to reserve a time slot to be in the pool.
And being that it’s Florida, we’re making you sign up through Publix grocery store. Don’t ask. It’s just something we do.
You’ll have to get up before 7 a.m. and compete with all the other college students across the nation coming here for spring break.
Once you are successfully allowed into the Publix online portal, you will be able to enter the approximate geographic location of your spring break hotel. Then you will see a list of available pool slots and times that are available in your area.
With only five people allowed in a swimming pool at any given time, there will be heavy demand for a relatively small number of spots.”
That’s how we roll down here in South Florida. Enjoy!
Mom was raised in Winona, Minnesota, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi, where her mother was a housewife and her father ran the ancestral hardware store. The community revolved around the local YWCA, where Mom absorbed experiences in volunteering that molded her character for life.
My mother found a way to use these experiences during my father’s work in Bogotá, Colombia, in the mid-60s. For the first time in our Embassy life, Mom found like-minded women interested in community service. Bogotá had an active community of “señoras de por bien” — well-off women — who considered it their “deber,” their duty, to do something for poor communities. American women from the Embassy and the expat community contributed their shared experiences in volunteering. As Mom struggled to get well-intentioned Colombian women to follow through, she wrote home:
I’d love to have articles from the YW about the responsibilities of members. We’d like to show how cooperation can accomplish so much for clubs, families, and the country. I dunno. How do you train people in loyalty and responsibility?
Nancy Robb Amerson, letter to her parents, 1965
The effort of Mom and her women colleagues was recognized by none other than Ambassador Covey T. Oliver, citing a letter to the editor that has run in El Tiempo, the Bogotá daily newspaper.
The jist of the letter was that our work with the Jardín was real diplomacy. The ambassador send a copy to Washington so the we would have “official recognition.” It is surely a nice extra to have what we try to do recognized as being of some worth to the joint effort.
Nancy Robb Amerson, letter to her parents, 1965
Register and vote
Mom passed away in September, 2012, before she had a chance to vote for Barack Obama. At her memorial, my sister said, “Be sure to vote. Mom would want you to.”
So, today, make sure you are registered. If you want to vote from home, request your paper ballot today. When you get it, read up on the issues and the candidates and mark down your choices. Before you sign it, be sure you have the right ballot — not your house mate’s — and check your listed name before signing. I learned this the hard way when we voted in the Florida primary. I signed my full middle name when the ballot was for Kelly A. Lopez. Probably disqualified. I won’t do that again. You either.
My foot rises. Before it falls there is a tiny moment when neither of my feet are really carrying weight — a suspension, a moment of physical trust. Something in me knows that the ground will still be there. Let me return to this innate knowledge — this ancient confidence.
Gunilla Norris, “Walking,” Being Home, A Book of Meditations
My November checkup at Shands continued the good news. No aneurysms. I graduated from PT and walked up the three flights of stairs to our daughter’s apartment.
Help me to not be so afraid of the heights and depths! Help me to concentrate on the connection between the two: those humble steps, those one-after-the-other steps, which are the only ones I can really take. Help me to love a slow progression, to have no prejudice that up is better than down or vice versa. Help me to enjoy the in between.
Gunilla Norris, “Climbing Stairs,” Being Home, A Book of Meditations
I kept progressing. I added weight workouts to my routine. I walked longer. I jogged a little. I felt like I could run, but I wanted medical clearance first.
My six-month checkup was to be at Shands in May, but the pandemic threw off those plans. I stayed home and kept my eye on Florida’s Coronavirus infection rate as the virus burned viciously through the state. I felt great but I had felt great before my illness, too.
Finally, the COVID curve peaked and bent downward, and Shands, which is a five-hour drive away, accommodated my request to have the CT scan done locally and forwarded to my doctor at Shands for her review. I suited up and had the test on August 19.
Yesterday, I got the results. No aneurysms. No restrictions. I did the happy dance and went for a run.
Next checkup is in twelve months. It’s the first appointment on my 2021 calendar. Happy New Year!
When my father was stationed at the American Embassy in Rome, our family mail came to us via the Army Post Office (APO), which routes US Postal Office mail to military bases and diplomatic missions around the globe. [A note here: the Defense Department says that the APO mail service is available to only US Postal Service mail. You’ll understand why I say this in a minute.]
So, back to Rome. The Italian postal system was unreliable, so people living in Rome during my parent’s time at the Embassy (early ‘60s and, again, mid-‘70s) put their mail in post boxes in Vatican City, which has run its own postal system for the past century. I just ran across this informal 2017 poll that shows that Italy continues to be ranked poorly on its handling of the mail, with some 80 percent of the respondents to an informal poll rating it as “poor” or “fair”.
the US mail ranks 7th in the world
Look at the bar graph again. In this list of 35 countries, Japan leads in high points for its mail system, followed by South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Austria, and the USA. 7th in a list of 35 countries, a good system.
Americans depend on the US mail
Americans have long relied on our government delivery of the mail to keep in touch with family, order supplies, transport livestock, and even transport children, as my friend Karen Coody Cooper writes in this piece that recently ran in our local newspaper, The Palm Beach Post.
My dad grew up on a South Dakota farm, where the mail linked his mother to family and friends who had found a warmer, easier life out in California. My father’s memoir, From the Hidewood, includes a story about his mother writing her family and making a friend of Dad’s one-room schoolhouse teacher through conversations at the mailbox.
… by the time she’d put the letter and its three pennies inside the roadside mailbox and raised the flag, the familiar slender figure with the book bag in hand had almost arrived.
Robert Amerson, From the Hidewood
Current attempts to hamper service
Elsewhere in the same issue of The Palm Beach Post was an article about the Trump Administration efforts to hamper the US Postal Service’s ability to deliver the mail, — in order to ensure its demise and resurrection as a for-profit enterprise — resulting in the death of chicks in transit to poultry farmers who’ve relied on the mail for their inventory. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has taken the issue to Washington. Look at her. I would do what she asks. She is one of us persistent, nasty women who wants answers. I don’t think she’s going to be okay with converting the US Postal Service into a private corporation. And, Americans serving our country abroad rely on the USPS to get their mail to the Army Post Office.
Private sector Mail failed me
This week, I had my own postal experience that sheds some light on the issue for me. After a decade of holding onto the written records of my mother’s family — a collection of letters, poetry, and other paper in annotated binders which she created and curated — I decided to finally get them to their proper home, the historical society in her hometown of Winona, Minnesota. Although I felt badly about not having done more with the materials while I had them, I knew that I was doing the right thing in putting these treasures closer to family. The Winona County Historical Society assured me that they’d accept the materials, redirecting any that might better belong in another historical collection — Mankato, in Blue Mound County, was where her mother’s Kelly family was from; other family came from Fountain City, across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.
I packed the binders into two sturdy boxes culled from Amazon deliveries. Given the delicacy of the task, and trying to limit my exposure to people — the Coronavirus has not been tamed here — I chose FedEx to deliver the two boxes to their permanent home.
Here is what happened one week later.
One box was delivered to the Winona County Historical Society. The other box was dumped at my front door, soaking wet, falling apart, and somehow still containing its precious cargo. The FedEx address label with the Minnesota address was gone, and the box made it back via my husband’s name and our home address on a new FedEx label. How this happened is a mystery. When I tracked the box, it shows that it is still enroute to the original destination, with a current address of Countryside, IL. The automated response line would not put a real person on the telephone. Because the box is still in transit. And the FedEx shipping center down the road, which I visited yesterday with the box and cargo in hand, will not issue me a refund and/or re-ship the cargo. I’ll try again today to reach a human being.
So much for the private sector.
The USPS will get my box this time. I’ve been out in the world enough to appreciate that social distancing precautions are in place to protect me, and 95 percent of the people we’ve seen are wearing masks. The Coronavirus numbers are in decline.
Of course, Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran are demanding that Florida schools re-open in-person. I’m betting we see those COVID-19 numbers shoot back up.
I grew up reading The New Yorker. Well, not reading it exactly, but flipping through the magazine to take in the cartoons, and trying to enjoy them like my parents did. We also had two big coffee table books of collected New Yorker cartoons, including one issued in 1950 on the magazine’s the 25th anniversary. It included this by Charles Addams.
These days, the editorial cartoons in The Palm Beach Post express the nation’s exasperation and exhaustion better than ever. Here are some from the past month.
Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal digs into Governor Ron DeSantis, whose callous attitude rivals that of his hero, Donald Trump. Trump’s genius test is fodder, too.
Nick Anderson of The Washington Post channels Trump’s “it is what it is” response to the Coronavirus.
Walt Handelsman of The Advocate in New Orleans and Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News are tracking the Republican’s dismal record on responding to America’s economic crisis.
Andy Marlette even gets credit for weather forecasting, correctly noting that Hurricane Isais kept away from Florida, where the Coronavirus is running rampant.
These talented artist-commentators say more than a thousand words. Thank you!
I think for comfort… Emotional support… these are people that probably wanted to adopt, and now they have more free time to spend with a pet.
Tri-County Animal Rescue CEO Susie Goldsmith
Research has shown that walking a pet dog, playing with the cat, or engaging in the daily care of a companion animal can help to increase healthy behaviors, increasing the likelihood of recovering from serious illness.
Ten years ago, when my husband and our chocolate Lab, Django, were enjoying winter weeks in Florida while I was still working in upstate New York, I realized that, although I was getting exercise at the gym, I didn’t get out in the neighborhood like I had walking our Lab.
We need another dog!
Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez
Black Lab puppy Pancho joined our family. A few years later, I figured out an even better idea was retiring and joining the rest of the family in Florida.
Pancho became our daughter’s companion through college and grad school and life. His muzzle and paws are now a distinguished gray, causing a Spanish-speaking toddler in the family visiting remotely to wonder why the Pancho was wearing white zapatos, shoes. Very fancy.
When we lost our chocolate Lab Django to a debilitating nerve disease, the hole his absence left in our hearts was too deep to fill. Devastation became melancholy, and sorrow became remembrance.
Time does heal. And new experiences give you perspective.As I recovered from my 2019 Amsterdam illness and my husband recovered from the trauma of nearly losing me, the hole in our hearts filled and our life made room for Kumba. He was cautious but so sweet, and time has made him stronger, happier, sillier. He’s my exercise buddy and our at-home entertainment. We are so grateful to have found each other.
Barely six weeks after we adopted Kumba, the country was in Coronavirus lockdown. Because both of us are immune compromised, we would probably have not ventured out to bring a dog into our house, but lots of other people have. More than ever.
Abandoned dogs who once waited desperately at local shelters for someone to want them now have people standing in line to take them home.
Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times
All of a sudden, people are home all the time, with an abundance of time on their hands. People are taking their dogs for walks and generally building stronger emotional relationships with their pets, reducing their own stress, anxiety, and depression.
Here is an update on a post from last year about a rescue Golden Retriever named Levi Journey. Levi and his saga will soon be a children’s book! Levi’s therapy partner, Julie, has written a children’s book about the Golden Retriever’s transformation from abandoned stray to much-loved therapy dog. Martin Peers, an illustrator from the UK, is partnering with Julie on the book, which should be available in time for Christmas. I will post a link to order the book when it becomes available. Meantime, here’s a fun look at how Martin does his work. Our Pancho and Kumba both resemble the results!
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
President Kennedy’s words nearly 60 years ago inspired a generation of Americans, who themselves were standing on the shoulders of the Greatest Generation, who came of age during the Great Depression and served their country in World War II. Americans of the prior generation had experienced the carnage of World War I.
According to vocabulary.com, the word “civics” is an American English invention from the Latin, civicus “of a citizen.”
Civics is the rights and responsibilities “of a citizen.” Americans like to lean into our rights — our freedom to gather, to express, to pursue happiness — a whole lot more than honor our responsibilities— to vote, to serve on juries, to pay taxes. About half of eligible voters turned out in 2016. According to a 2007 study by the National Center for State Courts, only 15 percent of voters are ever called to jury duty, and only 5 percent of those actually serve. [HIGH FIVE IF YOU HAVE!! I served twice in Albany, NY, both good experiences.]
Today, the global pandemic is calling forth our civic duty in a much simpler and more profound way. What we are being asked to do for our country is wear a mask.
According to Wikipedia, civics is about behavior affecting other citizens. Wearing a mask protects others from us. All of us are others. All of others are us.
Compared to living in the dark for years as the citizens of Londoners did during the Blitz, wearing a mask is pretty light stuff. Bearing up under nightly bombing assaults called out the British “stiff upper lip.” In her recent article in The Palm Beach Post, reporter Jan Tuckhill featured local author Jill Rose. Rose, whose mother was Winston Churchill’s nurse and whose letters to the Prime Minister are now Rose’s book, Nursing Churchill, wonders if the English “keep calm and carry on” could help Americans call forth the character we need.
The governor of my state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is “counting on people to do the right thing” about social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. In the next breath, he shrugs off the young crowds at the bars, saying “people are going to do what they’re going to do.”
Set the clock to wake up early. Have your exercise clothes ready. Have more fresh fruit than less processed snacks at the ready. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. It’s a good way to structure your own behavior.
Things get sticker when the impact of our individual behavior spills out into our community. Sometimes, a physical reminder of the right thing helps reinforce the behavior, like placing doggie poop stations at strategic intervals in my community. (The Lopez Commission imposed mask-wearing on Kumba to help him resist over-reacting to other dogs. It’s working. He’s a dear.0
Suggestions are not enough when it comes to keeping society safe. Regulations ensure that houses in Florida are built to withstand hurricanes or storm surge. Laws have established speed limits, seatbelts, and airbags to make driving safer. When it’s a matter of public health, national security, or other overarching principle, the people we elect to represent us in government step in for the collective good.
Absent any action from the governor, the Palm Beach County Commission has finally mandated masks. The Palm Beach Post had urged them to do so in this editorial that ran the day before the vote.
No, this is not an overreach by the government. No, it’s not unconstitutional. And no, it’s not a question of your personal rights being taken away. It’s well-established law that elected officials have the right – no, the responsibility – to take actions to protect public health.
The Palm Beach Post
The Commission made doing the right thing easier. With our case numbers leaping ahead of most states, you know that my family is sticking with masks if we have to interact with the world. I have been transforming pillow covers into masks. It takes me a long time but is comforting, and I can see why knitting, darning, sewing have long been idle time activities. (Another weight management strategy: when your hands are busy, you’re not using them for snacks!)
Compliance isn’t universal, and not wearing a mask won’t land you in jail, although it carries a fine.
Four days after the Commission’s ruling, scores of partying 20-somethings made for an alarming headline: PANDEMIC’S YOUTH EMBRACE MYTHS AS CASES SKYROCKET.
“I think it’s a hoax, and I think that it’s just the flu on steroids.” She then giggled and walked into the restaurant without a mask covering her mouth and nose.
John Pacenti, The Palm Beach Post
These people are part of Generation Z, the age group that mobilized for gun reform after the Parkland shooting, and that have more recently marched in Black Lives Matter protests. I choose to believe that most of these young people, like us old people, believe in collective behavior for the common good. We’re just at home doing the right thing while the media interviews the partiers.
I am spitting mad that the people making decisions for Americans — in the government, who we have elected to help us live our lives — are opening the doors to the resumption of economic activity without knowing — through widespread community testing and contact tracing, none of which are even discussed — what we are likely to face. Remember that trust exercise in which one person is blindfolded and told to fall back into the arms of others? It’s like that, only this time everyone is blindfolded.
The callous disregard is rending our county, our state, our country into shreds.
Do you honestly think that the governor would take the risk with the health of the entire state by opening hair salons and nail salons without any scientific input?
Hal Valeche, Palm Beach County Commissioner
We are at risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory here.
Lake Worth Beach Commissioner Omari Hardy
Send more people back to job sites, restaurants and retail stores before we have a proper handle on things, i.e. testing and will get sick more people will die.
My own efforts are pretty lame. I once had a sewing machine, the one my mother used in the 1970s to make a line dresses with Simplicity patterns in the basement rec room of our split level house the Maryland suburbs. I must have found it in my parents’ basement on Cape Cod some 20 years ago and driven back across the Mass Pike to our home in Albany, where I was now the one living in suburbs with a young daughter.
My use was sporadic, at best, and the machine did not come with us when we retired and moved to Florida. When I found a bagful of our daughter’s Girl Scout badges that I’d never attached to her sash, I sewed them on by hand last year and wrapped them up as a Christmas gift. She’s 27.
This is all to say that I’ve been hacking away by hand at making a couple of masks for my husband and me to wear when we leave home. Although we are staying away from stores, doctors’ offices, and other public spots, we walk our dog in the neighborhood, and having something across our noses and mouths reminds us that we are living through this pandemic.
I cleared off the kitchen table, found You Tube instructions, set up the iron (which we use so rarely that we haven’t replaced the ironing board that got caught in a closet and somehow bent months ago), and dug out my mother’s old sewing basket.
My first attempt involved a pair of roomy flannel pajama bottoms with a handy drawstring for ties. I rather forgot that South Florida is already approaching the steamy season, so my product fogged up my glasses and quickly grew heavy with sweat. On a positive note, I’m pretty sure I was giving myself a facial with every outing!
So I went back into my pajama drawer to see what other fabrics might work, and there were the pair of lighter pants that Ray bought in Amsterdam for me to wear in the hospital. It felt good to be re-purposing these vestiges of that medical saga, but the overall effect was still more The Invisible (Wo)Man than the safety precaution.
When I was making the flannel mask, I was wearing an old pair of yoga pants and also watching television. I say this because while snipping at fabric and threads I also snipped a hole in the knee of my pants. So, that’s the fabric I’m trying out now. Or maybe the old pillowcases in the closet. There’s lots of time ahead of us to figure this out.
On April 3, an LA Times article posited that face masks may be here to stay. Through either direct orders or guidelines — isn’t it crazy how we fight a commandement? — people are wearing masks to protect their noses and mouths from the coronavirus, particularly if the prescribed 6 foot distancing protocol can’t be assured.
Even our dog’s doing the mask thing. In his case, it’s a muzzle, a precaution that’s protecting him — and other dogs — from aggressive tendencies so completely at odd with his personality that continues to happily bloom while he is away from other canines. He is calm, sweet, easygoing, dear. Social distancing is giving him time to separate from whatever happened before he was rescued by Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. It turns out that this Baskerville model is also a very handy chew toy…
Sooner or later, I’ll make or buy good, sturdy masks that my husband and I can wear with confidence, but it’ll be a while before we venture forth. Until then, we will be caring for each other and Kumba at home. Please stay safe, be well, and wash your hands.