Tag Archives: Covid-19

Decameron 2020: The Undertaker

The Undertaker
By Art Cerf

Having nothing to do with this story, here’s a Revolutionary War memorial to the patriots massacred at Fort Griswold in Groton, Conn., by British soldiers under the command of the traitorous Benedict Arnold.

Businesses across America were crashing but not Buddy Seldon’s. You see, Buddy was a mortician, inheritor of a small family business. And business was soaring.

Buddy was working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, preparing up to four funerals a day, due to the Covid pandemic. By the time he would head home at night, he just had time to feed his cat, Abby, and throw a frozen dinner into the microwave. After eating, he would fall asleep from exhaustion, sometimes on the couch unable to make it to bed.

He had no personal life. What started as a promising relationship with Rachel Morrison died when he no longer had time to spend with her.

His only solace was the money was pouring in. He was clearing six figures after expenses every month. At this rate, he figured he’d be a millionaire within a few more months. Then he’d sell this profitable operation for even more money and then go live the life he wanted.

And that day finally came. He signed the sale papers, deposited the check and started making plans.

He called his travel agent and told her to book a month-long tour of Great Britain, from Scotland to Southhampton, from London to Wales.

The agent replied, “Sorry, Buddy, but you can’t travel to Britain…there’s a two week quarantine for all travelers.”

“Okay,” said Buddy, “Then make it a tour of Europe.”

“No can do,” said the agent. The EU has banned American tourists.

“How about Australia and New Zealand?”

“Same story,” said the agent. “Canada is out, too.”

She added, “I could still get you into Brazil, but I don’t think that would be very wise at this moment.”

Buddy said: “Okay…how about travel in the States. I’d love to have a spree in New York City.”

Again, the agent paused. “You live in one of the states from which New York is not accepting visitors, unless you quarantine for two weeks. And you don’t want to go to Florida or any other Southern states, Texas, Arizona or California.”

Buddy thanked her, opened a beer and had no idea what to do next.

Decameron 2020: Gladys & Cora

Gladys & Cora
By Art Cerf

Just a great spring photo to share. It has nothing to do with the story, it is just. an evil ploy to attract your attention.

Gladys and Cora were best friends. Note the emphasis on were.

They grew up together, trading dolls, clothing and their deepest secrets.

And as they became adults, they both fell in love with Charlie. He chose Gladys and soon they were engaged. Cora swallowed her sorrow and tried very hard to be happy for her friend.

Then, just days before the wedding, Gladys on a whim or perhaps after a minor tiff with Charlie, called the whole thing off.

A year passed and Charlie called up Cora one day and asked her out to a movie. Things progressed and soon, Charlie and Cora were engaged and Gladys was enraged.

“How could you,” Gladys screamed. “You know I still love him.”

“But you dropped him, remember? Over a year ago.”

“Well, I was just waiting for him to call me back and he would have if you hadn’t stabbed me in the back!”

Gladys turned and said she never wanted to see Cora again. And then she went on Facebook and called her ex-friend all kinds of nasty names. Cora knew she should just let it pass…but she couldn’t and replied in kind.

Charlie said he was sick of it. And then he was sick of something else…a high fever, a barking, dry cough and trouble breathing.

Within a week, he passed away.

Cora was there for a graveyard service. With social distancing, so was Gladys. When everyone else had left, only Cora and Gladys remained. And social distancing be damned, hugged each other.

Decameron 2020: Elementary Human Nature

Nope, again this has nothing to do with the story, but it is a beautiful swampy nature preserve in Wisconsin.

Mrs. Peebles loved her first-grade class. Each of her 20 students was a clever little sponge soaking in knowledge, exploring and learning in their own ways. High-energy and mostly adorable, she wished she could protect each one from all of the dangers in the world.

To help keep them safe, near the end of the school year, she’d have a special class to warn them about the dangers lurking within their own homes. She explained how bleach and ammonia could be wonderful cleaners for their homes, but they could also be deadly poisons if drunk. Just getting the chemicals on their skin could hurt them, if they didn’t wash them off quickly. She let the kids come up and give a quick little sniff of each chemical to make sure they knew what they smelled like and should avoid.

Next she warned them of other dangers, such as hot stoves and space heaters.

She would wrap up the discussion with a dire warning never to stick anything other than an electric plug into a light socket. Electricity was vital to powering their lights, TV and computers, but it also was deadly when touched directly. She explained how a shock could stop their hearts or burn them.

After answering the children’s questions and reassuring them that all of these dangerous things could be very safe if only used properly, she began to put away her sample chemicals in a locking cabinet behind her desk.

At the very second she knelt down, there was a loud pop in the classroom and the lights flickered.

She stood up and screamed when she saw little Johnny Whozit lying unconscious next to an electric outlet on the other side of the room, a small pair of scissors clenched in his hand.

***

Dear Friends,

It is easy for us, as adults, to see that Johnny had a severe lapse in judgement when he was just told that the very thing he was about to do could kill him. The vast majority of us don’t need to stick things in an outlet to know it is an insanely terrible idea. The overwhelming majority of us have never stuck anything other than proper plugs in an outlet.

While quarantine totally blows goats, for the life of me I cannot understand why grown adults think it is suddenly a good idea to drink bleach, break quarantine and stop wearing masks in public, in close proximity to other people.

With increasing repetition, I’m hearing all manner of virus conspiracy theories, as if Covid-19 has ideological intentions.

It doesn’t. The virus isn’t liberal, conservative or even political. It is a mindless microscopic thing that isn’t even a complete single-cell structure that scientists define as only being on the “edge of life.” It isn’t living in the traditional sense that we understand living to be…but it isn’t quite not-alive, either. No wonder it is difficult to treat. It only has two goals: quasi-live & replicate. It sickens and kills everybody equally, regardless of politics, race, religion or wealth.

I am blessed to count many EMTs, nurses, doctors and police officers among my friends and customers. Many of them have told me how insanely contagious this disease is. Most of them have seen people die of the disease…many people, in some cases.

Many of the best scientific minds in the country are working on cures and vaccines to save the rest of us from this plague. At the moment, we have no known, proven cure. We’re mostly keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t kill us. True, for as many people who get it, only a small percentage of them die. Who wants to take that risk when a cure or vaccine might be just around the corner?

Yes, the economy is in rough shape. Absolutely, people need money to continue on. All of us would love to gather with friends and family once again. We all want life to return to normal as soon as possible…and I hope with as little suffering and death as possible. OMG! Warm weather and a beautiful springtime make it even harder to stay indoors. I get it.

But these are extraordinary times, and they call for extreme measures to protect our family, friends and neighbors as much as humanly possible.

One of the most dangerous parts about Covid-19 is that you can get it and never know it. You can also get it and spread it for up to 14 days before coming down with symptoms. Why put yourself at risk? Why put your family and friends at risk? Why pass it on to some friendly elderly person you accidentally bump into at the grocery store? Who knows how many people someone you might infect can then turn around and infect?

Until we have a cure or vaccine, the only thing we can do for ourselves and everyone else is stay home…and wear a mask if you have to go out for supplies. It totally sucks, but it is the only way to stay safe…minimize the spread of the disease…and buy the many doctors and scientists working around the clock to find a better way to kill, cure and prevent this disease a little more time.

Regardless of politics, for the health and lives of our families and friends, we need to unite as a nation and a planet. At no other time in human history has it been easier to be a hero that helps save humanity. All you have to do is continue to shelter in place.

With great love, health and respect,
Nathaniel

Decameron 2020: A Joke

A Joke
By Art Cerf

Three ghosts drift into a bar.

The ghostly bartender says “What will you have?”

The first ghost says, “A Corona.”

The second ghost says, “Me too.”

The bartender looks at the third ghost and says, “A corona?”

The third ghost says, “No thanks, I already had it.”

Decameron 2020: July 2021

July 2021
By Art Cerf

Sunset Behind the Wisconsin River. Wausau, Wis. April 2020. By Nathaniel Cerf

By now, billions of people, indeed, half the world’s population had succumbed to Covid-19a.

A year ago, people got tired of sheltering in place and ignored all the scientific warnings to stay in place and keep social distancing, much to the virus’s delight (if viruses can feel delight.).

Then in the fall, the virus mutated once again and became ten-twenty times more deadly and masks and PPE no longer worked.

Billions died…economies collapsed…governments fell. And of course, half of all the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and scientists perished, too. There was no vaccine, and it looked like there wouldn’t be one.

On the other hand, skies hadn’t been this clean since farmlands in the 19th century. Rivers ran pollution-free. Animals on the endangered species list made a strong comeback. It was as if Mother Nature was cleansing the planet…of humans.

I walked back to my car, marveling at how I now could see the stars at night and how the earth had changed so.  If we survived this plague, would we learn any lessons about protecting the planet? I truly hoped so.

I was headed home and hoped to find an open gas station on the way. So many had closed. Still I only had less than a quarter of a tank full on my Hummer.

Decameron 2020: Mr. Hobbs

MR. HOBBS
By Art Cerf

This is a story about Mr. Hobbs.  Not Roy Hobbs, the baseball phenom played by Robert Redford in “The Natural.” And not Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Hobbs in “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.”  Robert Redford is handsome. Jimmy Stewart was charming. Our Mr. Hobbs was neither.

He was a solitary man, an only child who lived his entire life with his mom and after she passed away, he continued living in their home.

Hobbs was a teller at the local bank for 37 years until a bank merger forced him into an unwanted retirement. Still, he had his Social Security, a small pension, his mother’s house and a small amount of money that she had willed to him. Altogether, it wasn’t much but it was enough for his needs.

Hobbs would sleep in late and go to bed early. During his waking hours, he would watch the news and old movies, thumb through about a hundred books in the house although he had read each multiple times. And he would pick up and hold his mother’s possessions.  Some of them were probably worth some money but it never crossed his mind to sell them.

He seldom went outside and then, only late at night, so he could roam the neighborhood without running into neighbors.

And then, the pandemic.

It started in Washington state, then New York. Soon it spread to Chicago, Los Angeles and New Orleans. And then tendrils of the virus reached out around the heartland.

Finally, it arrived in Pennyville. He saw that Sue and Walter Borowicz had died. They had been regular bank customers for decades.  A few days later, Harvey Ingle succumbed.  While they weren’t friends, Harvey had been in grade school with him.

But Hobbs had not fear of the virus. For one thing, he was socially distanced from everyone. And second, he had been dead for seven  years. And ghosts seldom get viruses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who wonder where I get my macabre sense of humor, this story by my father might be a good clue. And to her credit, my mom can get pretty dark, too.

Decameron 2020: The Pangolin’s Lament (or, The Birth of Covid-19)

Author’s Note: A.) I’ve always enjoyed short-story contests of 50 words or fewer. B.) As of this writing, pangolins are one of the animals most suspected of giving humans this strain of coronavirus.

The pangolin hunter smiled, looking at his wriggling snare.

“Listen,” the defiant pangolin said. “I’ll make you a deal: Let me go, and I’ll let you live.”

The hunter said nothing, reaching to strangle the little anteater.

“Okay,” the pangolin resigned, blowing a juicy sneeze in the hunter’s face.

The Decameron 2020 Project

Even under the age of 10, I was one morbid kid with a dark sense of humor that would have suited me to be leading member of the Addams family. Among my youthful obsessions was the Bubonic Plague that wiped out a third of Europe in the middle of the 14th century. It terrified and fascinated me. I comforted myself as a kid that a pandemic like that could never happen in my lifetime. It has been about 100 years since the Spanish Flu pandemic and modern medicine and sanitation have come so far. Oops. How wrong I was.

Since when did a respiratory disease need this much toilet paper? People be crazy, but you can help keep your sanity by following our project called “The Decameron 2020.”

As yet, Coronavirus is no Black Death, but it doesn’t look pleasant, either. The 24/7 coverage of the disease sure isn’t setting many of our minds at ease.

To alleviate our stress and worries, I want to completely take my mind (and hopefully yours) off the dreadful subject.

To do that I want to turn back to the Black Plague for guidance. More specifically, I want to rekindle the memory of a brilliant Italian author named Giovanni Boccaccio. Not only did he survive the Black Death, he wrote one of the most modern, journalistic narratives of it to survive. He included it at the start of his famous book, “The Decameron.”

After the first 80 pages of the book describe the lead-up, duration and aftermath of the plague, he wrote the European equivalent of “101 Arabian Nights.” The remainder of his hefty tome is the story of 10 young nobles (7 women and 3 men) in Italy who decide to survive the plague by sequestering themselves together, feasting at their various estates for 10 days while telling each other stories. Every single day, each person had to tell one story. 10 stories a day for 10 days.

I finally read the complete “Decameron” in my 30s and was stunned by its humor, honesty and humanity. So much classic literature from that era feels stilted and formal but not Boccaccio. While I only found about 15 of the 100 stories to be profoundly entertaining, I was amazed how dirty and hilarious some of those stories were. (The book was mostly completed by the end of the Black Death in 1352, but Boccaccio’s revisions of 1370-71 are what got saved and handed down.) Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen would have actually been a huge hit in the late 14th century, just as they were in the beginning of the 21st century.

I spent my early years yearning to be a professional writer. I earned my master’s in journalism and worked in newspapers. I wrote a novel that got published and 2 that didn’t. I’ve been missing my storytelling ways for the past couple years. And, well…

I want to flex my storytelling muscles, once again. As we ride out our sequestrations and quarantines, I hope to entertain you with some brand new short stories. I also hope to entertain you with some short stories from my talented friends and parents—both of whom made their livings as professional writers.

With luck, my project will take your mind off your worries for a few minutes and make these days a little brighter.

As I’m no Boccaccio, I won’t be able to come up with 10 stories a day or even 1 story a day, but I hope to keep these Drippy Musing updating on a somewhat regular basis with fiction and fun for everyone. Pen news and research will continue once the crisis has abated.

In the meantime, check in regularly, be safe and stay well.

Arkansas Pen Show Cheats Covid-19

Have you ever lived through a hurricane? I was visiting my grandmother in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1995 when Hurricane Erin struck. It was a minor, catagory 1 hurricane, but it was impressive for this Midwestern boy to witness and experience.

Whereas hurricanes strike a much smaller location than a global pandemic, hurricanes were all I could think of as I drove from Wausau, Wis., to Little Rock, Ark., and back.

Keeping busy with friends at the Arkansas Pen Show in 2020. It was a great show in spite of the pending pandemic.

There was a nervous tension and anxiousness in the air. Everybody knew what was coming, but nobody knew exactly what, where or how. Panic buying. Cautious interactions between strangers bracing for the worst and some remarkably kind and gracious interactions between others. And, yet, a hollow sense of dread and waiting persisted in the quiet moments or as people listened to or watched broadcasts of the latest news.

The pending pandemic of coronavirus felt a lot like waiting for Hurricane Erin to strike that coastal community 25 years ago.

And like before, during and after that hurricane, the folks at the Arkansas Pen Show rallied for one heck of an experience. Tim Joiner and the other folks who helped at the Arkansas Pen Club kept a steady hand on the tiller for a smooth operating show that was a lot of fun. The vendors and attendees pushed past their concerns about the pending pandemic to enjoy the passion for pens that brings us together through thick and thin.

Lisa and Mike Vanness, of Vanness Pen Shop, hosted an incredible after-party Friday. Taking much stricter health precautions into account, they still delivered great food and drink for a genuinely joyous evening dedicated to pens and, especially, ink.

Good friends from as far as San Francisco, Houston and Memphis stopped by to say hello and/or share a drink.

Little Rock, itself, was greening up beautifully. The temperature upon arrival was 70-degrees Fahrenheit. The grass was green. Flowers were blooming, and trees were blossoming. After a cold winter with up to 5-feet of snow on the ground, Little Rock was enchanting.

As Covid-19 now sweeps the country, it looks as if the Arkansas Pen Show might very well be the final pen show of the season. While we hate to see the other shows go dark for the year, we appreciate the courage of the show owners for making the wise decision to keep their vendors and patrons safe, and we can’t wait to return when the disease has run its course. In the meantime, I want to thank every single person who made the Arkansas Pen Show such a fun show to slip in ahead of the pandemic.