Wednesday, January 6th 2021 at 8:29 pm
by Jonah

My phone’s web browser Chrome likes to show me news stories it thinks I’d be interested in reading (it’s convinced I’m obsessed with Star Wars, The Expanse, Phoebe Bridgers, and asteroids, so what’s what most of the articles are about). Day before yesterday it popped up an article from KRDO saying that phase three trials were being conducted in Colorado Springs for a new COVID-19 vaccine.

So I Googled the name of the company Novavax and Colorado Springs, and the website that popped up offered to let me take a survey to see if I were eligible to participate. For this particular trial they only want participants who meet certain criteria of having a greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. Examples include:

Racial minority (nope)

Live in crowded conditions such as shared housing (nope)

Be an essential worker in close contact with the public or other workers (not really)

Are 65 or older (not yet)

Have underlying medical conditions

I checked the list of underlying medical conditions, since I’m pretty healthy. Turns out one of the conditions is being FAT!

At the end of the survey, it said that I appeared to qualify and to call a number with a (405) area code.

The next morning at 8 a.m. I called the number. The woman who answered asked me the same questions that I had answered in the online questionnaire and told me that I qualified for the trial. “Can you come in tomorrow?” “What time?” I answered. She said 11 a.m. and gave me the address. I asked what the sign on the door said, and she paused and answered, “I’m sorry, I don’t know. I’m in Oklahoma City.” I guess I didn’t have to wait until 8 a.m. to call.

This morning I showed up at a doctor’s office at 11 a.m. I had to fill out a bunch of paperwork, then I was ushered into an exam room. For the next two hours, a stream of different people came in to ask me detailed questions about my medical history, perform a physical exam, request urine, measure my height, take my weight, take my blood pressure, take my blood, and finally administer an injection.

A woman in blue scrubs came in. “Hi, I’m Bobbie!” she greeted me. She asked me which arm I wanted the injection. I chose my right arm, and she said my second injection in three weeks would be in my opposite arm. “You are participant number 25,” she said, reading from my chart. Then she uncapped a syringe holding what appeared to be filled with a substance that I can only describe to be a florescent shade of navy blue. It reminded me of the protomolecule from The Expanse (maybe I am obsessed after all). She swabbed my right upper arm just below my shoulder and gave me a quick jab. I hardly felt anything at all.

This vaccine trial uses a lab engineered spike protein to try to teach your body that spike proteins like the one in SARS-COV-2 are bad. 2/3rds of the participants are given the vaccine, and 1/3rd are given a placebo of saline. I got paid $150 for my visit today, and I get more money for each additional visit (one in three weeks for my second injection, one a week after that, and then once every six months for the next two years). Well, at least I got a gift card that I was told money would be added to.

At this point, I finally got to leave my personal exam room and was taken to the clinic’s break room where a clinic worker was sitting with a laptop on one side of a conference table and a stylishly dressed middle aged black woman was sitting on the other side. I took a seat as well, and the clinic worker instructed me to download an app onto my phone called Patient Cloud and register an account and read the instructions in the app. This was tricky, because right then the clinic worker started recounting a hilarious TikTok video to the other trial participant with scene by scene detail while I was trying to read some very dry instructions.

“My arm stings!” I exclaimed, interrupting the TikTok recantation. “How badly does it hurt?” asked the clinic worker, clinically, suddenly typing into her laptop. I glanced at the other trial participant to see if any sign of agreement appeared in her eyes, but she just continued to sit there pleasantly. “It only stings a little,” I answered. A bit later I added, “My muscle hurts!” “How badly does it hurt?” asked the clinic worker again. “Just a little,” I answered.

The clinic worker took the blood pressure of the other trial participant and then told her she had not had an adverse reaction to her injection in the last 30 minutes so she was free to go. Then the clinic worker made sure I had completed my first two surveys on the downloaded app. She gave me a thermometer and a ruler and told me to take my temperature and measure any rash that may appear at my injection site and record the results once a day in the app. She took my temperature and blood pressure again and then, satisfied with the results, told me that I could leave.

This particular vaccine is probably not as effective as the Pfizer of Moderna vaccines. On the other hand, it only has to be refrigerated, not kept at super cold temperatures. At this point I think I probably got the vaccine instead of the placebo, but I don’t know when they’ll tell me. Supposedly, according to Colorado vaccine plan, I get to be in phase 2 if I did get the placebo (though it is unclear if I’m an essential enough worker to be there anyway).

Tonight my right upper arm hurts, like when I get a flu shot, except worse. Not enough to bother me, just enough to notice.

I have never been so excited to have a sore arm.

(No, Bobbie didn’t have a New Zealander accent.)


Saturday, January 2nd 2021 at 9:37 am
by Jonah

Three weeks ago we finally installed a hood over our stove, something we’d been meaning to do since we moved in eight years ago.

We removed the cabinet that was over the range and had to find places for all the glassware inside. Then we had to install a new outlet, as the power line labeled MICROWAVE was too short. The MICROWAVE got removed as soon as we moved in. If you visit our house, you’ll have to reheat your coffee in a sauce pan on the stove.

Berck bought a giant attachment for his drill to cut a hole from the outside. He ended up about a quarter inch from hitting the 220 line for the stove (which might have meant instant death).

We positioned the vent so that you will be accosted by wondrous smells as you walk up to our front door (provided we’re cooking at the time). The other day the UPS man remarked, “What is that amazing sauce you’re making?” It was 10 pounds of onion being cooked in butter to make onion soup. It did smell amazing right outside.

I painted over the wallpaper that had been behind the removed cabinet, and Berck enhanced the spice shelf. The whole process was a lot easier than I had imagined, and I can’t believe it took us this long to actually get around to it. Now the cooking detector doesn’t go off whenever we’re cooking (provided we remember to turn on the hood, which is a habit we’re both having to remember to form).

When the aunts go marching

Monday, December 21st 2020 at 9:47 pm
by Jonah

I never really had an aunt. My mom and dad each have one brother; one of them never married, and the other did three times. In the late 80’s, when my dad worked for the Christian Booksellers Association,  he befriended a couple who had a book and gift store in Wisconsin. When he introduced his family to Sam and Judy, who didn’t have any kids of their own, they informally adopted me and my sister and brother as honorary niblings and started spoiling us like an uncle and aunt.  Sam and Judy sent us Christmas presents, let us watch PG movies, and took us out for ice cream or frozen custard at any opportunity. Sam taught us how to snow ski and fly a stunt kite. Judy took us for rides in her cool cars and even let me drive around the block in her Camaro, long before I even had a learner’s license.  We got to visit at least once a year in the summer during the annual industry convention and usually at another point in the year as well. 

It was at the convention in Denver, right after yet another trip to get ice cream, that I busted open my shin while trying to balance while walking on a concrete barrier, losing the ice cream off my cone.  A couple days later, Judy, worried that my wound was becoming infected, drew on her experience as an LPN to debride my shin with my foot in the tub while I tried to distract myself by watching the TV in their Embassy Suites bathroom.  

Years later, Dad and I flew to Wisconsin to buy Judy’s Camaro, when she was ready for a new car, and drove back to Alabama with it.  He eventually let me drive it, which I did until I got married and needed something more practical. That might have been the last time I got to see Sam and Judy.  It’s been way too long. 

Now I’m an aunt, and I try my best to spoil my niblings by sending them Christmas presents, suggesting ice cream at every opportunity, and taking them for rides in my cool cars (sometimes letting them shift gears). It’s been way too long since I’ve seen them.

Judy was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago today with COVID-19 pneumonia and passed away the next day.  

During one of our visits, Judy had told me, “I still have that note you wrote me. I keep it in my wallet.” As a young teenager, I had written her a note, probably on notebook paper with a mechanical pencil, about how special she was and handed it to her before she and Sam left to go back to Wisconsin. Honestly, when she mentioned it, I had completely forgotten I had written it or even what I’d written, just that it had just seemed like the thing I needed to do. 

I don’t have any photos with Judy because they’re all safely stored in photo albums at my parents’ house. But I  love this more recent picture of Judy, grinning while looking slightly uncomfortable, with possible ice cream involved.

Chocolate Ice Box Pie

Friday, November 27th 2020 at 9:58 am
by Jonah

Just like the Toddle House used to make!

Chocolate Ice Box Pie
Southern Sideboards
1981, Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi
Mrs. Wilfred Cole

“An adaptation of Toddle House Chocolate Pie.
Remember how good it was?”

A 9-inch pie shell, baked
A 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Prepare baked pie shell. Cook condensed milk, chocolate and salt in
top of double boiler over hot water until thick. Add water slowly and
let thicken again. Stir in vanilla. Pour into pie shell; refrigerate. Serve
cold with whipped cream on top.

I only use 1/4 cup water and whiz the filling in a food processor before dumping it into the crust. I also use double the vanilla at our altitude. You want to make sure the filling is super thick.

Berck has demanded I make this every Thanksgiving since the first time I made it. It takes all day, but, boy, is it good.

Safeway is still the worst

Wednesday, November 25th 2020 at 8:14 pm
by Jonah

About a year ago we employees found out that the three partners in our little law firm had agreed to merge with the largest personal injury law firm in the state. Since then, we have been nearly overwhelmed with new clients because this firm is the one that advertises non-stop. Being super busy and having someone else worry about paying our salaries is the good part; becoming a cog in a giant bureaucratic wheel has been the challenging part. But I still work with the people I have loved working with for years, which is definitely the best part.

Working for a big firm has other benefits, like free T-shirts with our firm’s logo, free hand sanitizer, and free logoed chapstick. I don’t have to worry about having Napoleon Dynamite’s problem, because there are literally hundreds of chapsticks in bins at the office. I’m not sure why we have them, but the marketing department seems to think it’s important that we do.

The marketing department put out a call for volunteers for their latest venture, buying 30 turkeys at Safeway using the firm’s owner’s credit card and delivering them to Care and Share for their annual turkey drive. I have a truck, so I volunteered, along with a guy named Chris from the other of the firm’s offices in town. He and I exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet at the Safeway at 11:30. We were instructed to arrive at Care and Share at noon sharp so the media could watch us delivering the turkeys.

Now half an hour to buy 30 turkeys that the supermarket has ready for us and transporting them a couple blocks away seems like plenty of time.

Except the supermarket in question is Safeway.

For the second time two days in a row I found myself inside a Safeway waiting at a customer service desk when I really didn’t want to be. The place was packed, and Chris and I tried to stand away from everyone else while we watched the customer service clerk spend about ten minutes working on a money order for a customer. Finally, it was our turn, and I told the clerk we were there to pick the thirty turkeys for the law firm and tried to hand her the firm’s credit card. The clerk called back to the meat department and then told us someone was bringing them up to the front. We waited for another five minutes for the meat department guy to appear, and then I tried to hand the credit card to the clerk again. “We have to ring all of these up,” the meat department guy announced.

At this point, Chris said, “We’re kinda on a tight schedule here and have to get these somewhere in 15 minutes.” The clerk and meat department guy raised their eyebrows, and it seemed like they were each showing signs of urgency behind their masks as they started rummaging through the cardboard boxes of birds. I handed Chris the credit card and told him I’d move my truck over next to his SUV to see if that would save time. Mostly I wanted to get the hell out of the Safeway.

I got out of the truck after moving it across the parking lot and saw Chris hauling a flat cart stacked with the boxes of turkeys as fast he could across the asphalt. “They’re still ringing up the tags, but they’re letting us go ahead and load the turkeys,” he said.

“You’d think they could have had them ready to go if they knew we were picking them up at 11:30,” I griped as we stacked the boxes in the back of my truck. “Should I go ahead and take these?”

“Yes,” Chris answered. “Go, go. I have to go back in and finish paying.” I slammed the tailgate closed and then zoomed out of the parking lot.

I found the Share and Care on the other side of the highway and pulled into their lot. I had five minutes to spare but still had to figure out where to unload the truck. There was a long line of cars, so I drove around all of them up to some volunteers standing out in the lot. They told me to drive all the way around the building so that I would end up back at the front of the other end of building and to unload there. I zoomed around the the side of the building and then hit the brakes when I encountered a semi that was attempting to back into a slot between two other semis, an activity which ate up my remaining five minutes. As soon as the semi backed up enough for me to squeeze by, I zoomed past it before it could think about shifting back out of reverse to reposition. I pulled up to the unloading area right at 12:00 noon at the front of a line of vehicles that were also donating food that had formed behind me as we had all waited for the reversing semi.

“I’m dropping off turkeys!” I announced to the volunteers, “Thirty of them!”

The volunteers had pushed some shopping buggies up to the back of my truck. “Oh, that’s a lot of turkeys!” One of them went to get a flat cart so they could stack the boxes on it instead of pulling the birds out one by one and into the buggies. Right then Chris ran up with one last turkey that hadn’t made it into my truck bed. I didn’t see any news cameras, but later the firm posted a video of the volunteers unloading my truck with me watching on. The local TV station had been there after all.

When the last turkey had been unloaded, Chris and I breathed a sigh of relief. “We did it!” I said.

“Teamwork!” he added and held up his hand to offer me a high five. I offered him an elbow in lieu. “Yeah, an elbow bump probably a better idea,” he said.

In spite of Safeway’s best efforts, we had accomplished our mission right on time. And I’ve got a new co-worker that I feel lucky to work with.