I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened up the window and in flew Enza.

Most of us weren’t around during the influenza epidemic of 1918 when the nursery rhyme in the header of this post was well known, though I hestitate to call it popular. We also weren’t here when the stock market crashed in 1929 or when the dustbowl ravaged the southern plains of the 1930s. The people of my generation often said our parents and others of their generation acted a certain way or had an indentifiable world view because they suffered through one of these upheavals.

Fphar-11-00937-g001.jpgIn the future, people will look back on the western wildfires and, perhaps, speak of them in the way we refer to the dustbowl now. And perhaps analysts of the future will find parallels between our current pandamic and the dark times of 1918. People are already writing books and essays about their experiences that may form the foundation for how people in 75-100 years believe we’ve handled these crises.

In the middle of this dandemic, what I see is confusion, most often described as science vs. personal opinion. The arguments fill the days’ news. In some ways, the arguments boil down to an us-v-them clash, on hand that nobody should be able to force us to get vaccinated or take other precautions, and on the other hand, those who won’t get vaccinated are threatening the lives of everyone else.

As often happens, the Democrats are arguing with the Republicans about every thing from vaccines to masks to lockdowns to re-opening businesses and schools and travel. Why, I wonder, must politics even rear its ugly head in these discussions? The parties should be working together rather that fomenting a fragmentation of views and policies.

In the future, I suspect people will marvel at how quickly vaccines were developed and how people who grew up in a “vaccinated society” came to shun them. When we look back at the pandemic of 1918, we cannot really fault people for what science didn’t yet know. I think, though, that we will be faulted for what we do know and what we said it was our right to ignore.

So far, it looks like those whom the future will award the highest marks are the swamped first responders and the hospital workers. Next, perhaps, those who created vaccines in record time. Last will be the politicians and those who believe their personal “rights” supercede the needs of the nation and their neighborhood.

All of this frustrates me. How about you?


Comfort food

Comfort food is food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to someone, and may be characterized by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, or simple preparation. The nostalgia may be specific to an individual, or it may apply to a specific culture. – Wikipedia

The pandemic sent many of us in search of comfort food. Some of it was actual food, a plate of French fries, a banana split. Some of it was food for the mind, a favorite movie or book, or good a conversation. Some of it was food for the spirit, a walk in the woods, swimming in saltwater at a forgotten beach.

The social media were filled with conversations about comfort food, edible and otherwise. People compared notes, despaired over what wasn’t available (restaurants, pubs, movies). Described what worked for them, complimented others who confessed their new guilty pleasures. And generally found ways to be together while they were physically far apart.

As a typical introverted writer, the seclusion didn’t bother me. Send me a bottle of Zinfandel and a good book, and I have all the “comfort food” I need. Our cats provided comfort–whenever they felt like it. And my wife and I had fun ending our evenings with a YouTube episode of the show “What’s My Line?” We saw many of those growing up and though they’re very dated compared with, say, Rob Low’s “Mental Samurai,” they met our definition of comfort food.

Through poetry, essays, and first-person stories, pandemic people often spoke of the power they discovered (or re-discovered) of solitary pursuits. They found they could be alone without being lonely and saw that there was a great power in that. Sitting on a front porch beneath a sparkling night sky. Walking–anywhere–but nowhere in particular. Listening to music after shutting off their cellphones. Meditating one way or another. For some, the beauty of this was a revelation; for others, it was a return to the less-hectic days before they were ensnared by the commuting/9-5 job where the office was often more home than home.

As people become vaccinated and various restrictions are relaxed and the trappings of our pre-COVID lives are available again, I hope we will remember what we discovered about alone time, how freeing and renewing it can be. The pandemic has taught us many lessons. The power of being alone is one of them.


My comfort food.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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We used to say, ‘well, there’s a war on’

In the so-called old days, people often explained daily inconveniences as well as impulsive decisions with the phrase, “well, there’s a war on.” That excused everything from getting pregnant to getting drunk to getting married to singing the night away at a club you’d never go to if there wasn’t a war on.

I’m not sure we’ve come up with a gallows’ humor catchphrase to succinctly remind ourselves how much COVID impacts our lives on multiple levels. Perhaps “Vaccine Days and Shutdown Months” or “The Days of Wine and Masks.” World Wars I and II brought almost every normal thing to an abrupt halt. In a different way, so has the pandemic. Either way, the deaths and the wounded are real.

Some people ask “when will things get back to normal” while others say, “normal wasn’t all that good.” My feeling is that as bad as “normal” was, it was better than Vaccine Days and Shutdown Months. Those who want to pretend they are Nostradamus sagely predict things will never be the same even after COVID’s gone. I think they will because we have short memories.

Plus, I’ve never seen the point in being a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist. I’d rather say that in spite of all the political wrangling, naysayers, false starts, and fearmongering that when we finally kick COVID in the ass, that we will have a feeling of accomplishment and survivorship. I want to say, “We beat the pandemic” rather than catalogue all the ways society will end up worse than it was.

In the meantime, I’m okay with Vaccine Days and Shutdown Months because, after all, there’s a pandemic on.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Ready to be kicked by a mule?

“Side effects (such as fever, chills, tiredness, and headache) throughout the body were more common after the second dose of the vaccine. Most side effects were mild to moderate. However, a small number of people had severe side effects that affected their ability to do daily activities.”CDC

Since my wife and I are reporting to the county health department tomorrow afternoon for our second Moderna shot, I browsed through the side effects and didn’t find “feels like being kicked by a mule.” What a relief. Yet, there’s been talk. Others have dropped dead, possibly, and this seems to be better than being kicked by a mule. Or, maybe these are just myths and legends and the shot feels like a scoop of rocky road ice cream.

I got lots of shots when I reported to the navy. Most of them were given by things that looked like nail guns. But I was younger then and figured I’d probably die in the war anyway, so no big deal. I’m older now, obviously, and it takes me longer to recover when I’m kicked by a mule or shot with a .50 caliber machine gun round.

Some people won’t even get the first shot because they don’t know what’s in it. If they did, would they know enough about the ingredients to make a YES/NO decision? Somebody on Facebook said we don’t know what’s in hotdogs and that doesn’t stop us from getting two or three at the ball game.  Whenever anybody asks what’s in a hotdog, the answer is, “You don’t really want to know.” The response is usually laughter and another order of hotdogs–or the notorious slaw dog.

Every once in a while hotdogs are recalled after some glitch resulted in a whole town being wiped out. We haven’t heard anything that bad about our COVID vaccines. So, what can possibly go wrong?

You don’t want to know.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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The first shot

The online application for finding the nearest COVID vaccination station kept directing us to places that were at least 100 miles away. Yesterday, my wife got fed up when we were told to drive to someplace halfway between Atlanta and Birmingham, AL. Not convenient.

So, she called the county health department and they said, “Can you and your husband come in tomorrow morning at 10:45?” “Sure.”

We expected an overflowing parking lot and a long line inside the building. The parking lot looked suspiciously normal. Inside, there was a short line. Had to present our driver’s licenses and fill out an information sheet. We got our Moderna vaccinations within about ten minutes and then spent another fifteen minutes waiting to make sure we had no side effects. We didn’t.

They will call us when it’s time for the second shot. I’m impressed: the whole operation was friendly and efficient. We left with a comprehensive information sheet about COVID and about the vaccine. Kudos to Floyd County, Georgia. Now we can really feel there’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.


spoilt hope

The 1969 feature film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (directed by Sidney Pollack with an Oscar-winning supporting actor performance by Gig Young) has, to my mind, been one of the best illustrations of desperate people giving their last best effort to catch a financial break. The movie focuses on a depression-era dance marathon that purportedly will award a prize for the pair of dancers that stays on their feet the longest. It turns out to be something of a scam.

I think of this movie often when I think of people hoping against hope that they’ll find ways to support themselves and their families through troubled times only to find out again and again that the cards are apparently stacked against them. The recent Booker Prize Winning novel Shuggie Bain is, perhaps, a more current example.

During the pandemic, more people than usual have been looking for the smallest shred of hope that they will survive this, all of this from COVID itself, to the bankruptcies and lost jobs caused by lockdowns and other restrictions, to seeing hospitalized and nursing home separated loved ones again.

It takes grit and courage to keep trying, doesn’t it? To keep scanning the news for stories that say things are getting better. For most of the pandemic, the news has been bad and that as bad as the news is now, we can expect it to get worse. Now we hear that the vaccines seem to be helping while simultaneously hearing that a lot of people are still waiting for their turn for a shot. 

I am surprised at how quickly a handful of companies have created viable vaccines and equally surprised at how inept society has become that these vaccines haven’t been available in a fraction of the time it’s taking. Today’s news informs us that the U.S. is about to reach 500,000 deaths. Yet solutions continue to appear at a snail’s pace. The availability of vaccines that most of us still cannot get is an example of spoilt hope. These are the times of government negligence and felt-serving partisan “solutions” that show dereliction of duty at both the state and federal level

The U. S. could have done better. Meanwhile, our world is collapsing around us while red tape ensures quick solutions are unimportant. One can understand why dance marathon entrant Jane Fonda would tell another character to shoot her at the end of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?


Happy VD. Come on, people, stop saying that

Several days after my ship was in port, hundreds of sailors ended up in what was referred to as the VD line. People thought maybe they caught something at a sailor bar in town and wanted to get some penicillin from the doc at sickbay.

So, I tend to do a double-take when people shorten Valentine’s Day to VD. Were these people born yesterday or did they grow up clueless? But, as usual, I digress.

My wife and I had talked about celebrating Valentine’s Day by getting COVID shots. However, though the news mentions yet another new vaccine gaining FDA approval almost every week, there don’t seem to be any doses available.

Odd, do you think?

One sees various articles about how screwed up the United States’ vaccination program is. Some say the rich are first in line. Some say, no, it’s hookers who are first in line. My comment is this: I have yet to see any lines, VD or otherwise. Meanwhile, others are saying they won’t get the shots because they don’t know what’s in them, to which a Facebook joker said, “Well, you eat Chicken nuggets and hotdogs without a clue what’s in them.”

So, it appears that my wife and I will kiss each other, get some pretty flowers, and say, “COVID be damned.” The sucking-up-politicians group said people as ancient as we are should have gotten our COVID shots already. Since we haven’t gotten them, we’re being offered free penicillin shots in case we “caught something in town.”


Malcolm R. Cambell is the author of the comedy/satire novel Special Investigative Reporter. When one reviewer said it was an excuse for wine and sex, he nailed it.

FEDs retire ‘2020’ from use on future calendars

Washington, D. C., December 30, 2020, Star-Gazer News Service The U. S. Calendar Control Commission announced here this morning that it has banned the year 2020 from usage on future calendars.

Commission Chairperson Julian Gregorian explained to reporters that bad years are retired in the same manner that the names of bad hurricanes are retired.

“Eighty-two hurricane names have been retired,” Gregorian said. “You’ll never see another Carol, Donna, Hugo, or Katrina because those storms were so badass that we’re too superstitious to use their names again.”

According to CCC scientists, if Pope Georgory XIII had deigned to use Tarot Cards in 1582 when he introduced our current calendar system, he would have omitted years that were designated as controlled by demons, and the world would have avoided multiple plagues, wars, and bad luck.

“There never would have been a 1918 influenza outbreak, a 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, no 9/11 attacks, and no 20202 COVID-19 pandemic,” Gregory said.

A CCC backgrounder for reporters explained that even if the United States implemented a new calendar system, today’s action guarantees that ill years will never appear on it.

Calendar expert, Joseph Lunisolar told reporters that bad times could also be avoided by employing government astrologers.

“Until that happens,” he said, “we’ll continue to pay the price for thumbing our noses at the fates.”


Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

Body counts and broken dreams

During the Vietnam War, the primary news was daily body counts. While the consensus was that was no way to cover a war, nobody thought of anything better. As for the collateral damage in wounded and broken men, mostly forgotten along with their equally broken families, we’re still living with it forty-five years later.

During the COVID-19 invasion, the news has also provided daily body counts, primarily cases, and death tolls. Once again, these figures didn’t tell us much about the pandemic, except that it got better, and then it got worse. As for the collateral damage of grieving survivors, a shattered health care system, lost jobs, bankrupted businesses, and related and unrelated social unrest and violence, we can say with a fair matter of certainty the pandemic has broken just about everything.

There are now rays of hope as a second vaccine is set to begin distribution tomorrow and Congress, in its typical dinosaur fashion, races deadlines to get a new stimulus package approved. So now the wait begins: how long will it take for the vaccines to make a dent in the deluge of body counts and broken dreams?

No matter what happens, we can count on dealing with the repercussions of COVID for the rest of our lives. The 45-year Vietnam fallout will be long forgotten before the door will finally be closed on the long term pandemic impacts.

In general, I’m an optimist in spite of my bouts of cynicism, so I’m going to hold onto my dream of a healthy, unified United States that provides opportunities for everyone. But we will need to pitch in and work at it. I hope we’re willing to do that.


What’s your greatest COVID Fear?

COVID Vaccines

The statistics aren’t getting any better, though I believe there’s hope for an end to this pandemic as several countries have approved the Pfizer vaccine and the U.S. is considering it. Some say that there may be additional vaccines up for approval before Spring arrives.

Does the possibility of a vaccine make you feel better about things or are you in a wait-and-see mode about that?

Pandemic Lockdowns

It appears that large groups of people congregating together tend to lead to subsequent surges in new COVID cases, yet others are arguing that the lockdowns are worse than the disease because they impact our income and subsequently our financial ability to take care of ourselves.

Do you see the lockdowns as a blessing or a curse?

Hospitals at Capacity

Recent news stories are showing that the U.S. hospital system has very few beds available suggesting, some say, that hospitals will triage all prospective new COVID patients and accept those with the best chance of survival.

Do you worry about getting the virus and finding out there’s no care available?

Nursing Homes

The latest “AARP Bulletin” calls the COVID problems at nursing homes “An American Tragedy,” stating that “Fewer than 1% of Americans live in long-term care facilities. But 40% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred there.”

What bothers you the most, the fact that an elderly family member or friend is in a nursing home (and cannot receive visitors) or that at your age, you’re one medical problem away from being put in a nursing home that you may never leave?

Inconsistent Pandemic Advice

Lockdowns, business closures, masks, and prospective personal safety habits vary from state to state and seem to change weekly depending on which way the wind is blowing. Many stores require masks for shoppers even though their states have no over-all mask mandate.

Does this chaos make you feel more vulnerable or do you feel relatively safe by limiting trips outside your home and wearing a mask whenever you have to go shopping?

Worst COVID Fear

When people tell their COVID stories to reporters or send them to news sites that are publishing them, they echo some of the concerns mentioned here but also mention other fears that haunt their families, towns, and neighborhoods.

How about you? Do you have worries that aren’t mentioned in this post?