Calculated and Recalculated Risks

Before and After!

Even with clippers, with fullest safety measures observed it took a good thirty minutes to deescalate my hair status from Tom Waits to Bob Mould.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: among the many and varied complications arisen from the nonstop tension that is life during the interim normal, I went 5½ months between haircuts. I had hoped to go a full six months to round off that total, but when it came time for our 16th anniversary dinner, I decided to impress my wife with a seemingly heroic act of basic grooming.

It worked. Anne knows how jittery I’ve been lately and knows that I didn’t enter into it lightly. She’d gotten her own post-winter haircut a few weeks earlier and managed to avoid major illness, thanks in large part to the multitude of precautions taken on both sides of the salon cape. To an extent I was just following her lead. Haircuts shouldn’t need life-or-death deliberation, and yet here we are.

In an interview some decades ago when Jackie Chan began making action films in America, there was an interview in which he was asked about some of the outrageous and potentially fatal stunts he and his fellow actors used to perform in his Hong Kong oeuvre. He talked about what he (or his translator — this was early on) called “calculated risk”. Tremendous care was put into setting up and choreographing those martial-arts fights, the extended chases through various terrains, the inordinate number of times Chan dangled from rampaging vehicles or great heights, and so forth. Chan and/or his opponents did sometimes get injured during filming, but after so many years in the business, he and his casts and crews developed a strong sense of which seemingly awesome feats they could handle relatively safely, without taking excessively foolish chances. They were trained professionals who knew how to make those close calls for optimum excitement with utmost care. Accidents still happened, but their margin of error wasn’t what yours or mine might’ve been.

That’s how everyday life feels now, except we’re not Jackie Chan, and we’re not talking daredevil stunts. Now it’s ordinary activities that require ludicrous amounts of forethought. Anne and I have had a good five-month run without needing ventilators and we’d very much like to keep it going for as long as possible until and unless American life devolves to the point of borrowing a chilling undercurrent from The Walking Dead when one day Noah Emmerich at the CDC will whisper into our ears, “We’re all infected.”

To me it was a relief a month ago when Governor Eric Holcomb added Indiana to the list of states requiring residents to wear masks in all public places. I mean, I didn’t fool myself that everyone would comply unconditionally and public activities would resume casually and without jeopardy lurking within every stranger around me. No, to me it was a relief that someone in charge was taking the pandemic and science seriously. Some aspects of Holcomb’s order are stricter than others, but it’s a better gesture than many other ostensible leaders have managed.

Granted, adherence to the order has its downsides. As one of the select few employees still reporting to work physically at our workplace five days a week, I’ll admit wearing a mask for consecutive hours at a time isn’t the most fun. Doctors and other professionals who’ve been wearing them for years already knew this, but they were far better compensated for enduring it. I’ve gotten used to my masks as much as one can. Pro tip: keep a large fan on the abandoned desk next to you for temperature control. Whenever your glasses fog up, turn and face the fan for a few seconds, then turn back to your monitor and resume working with your vision cleared.

Our simple family composition spares us from some of the hardest heartaches and stresses, though. We have only the one adult son to manage, no school-age kids. The parents on my Facebook friends list have had a variety of reactions to what they’re dealing with across a wide, wild gamut of school districts. Many areas around us are arranging virtual fall semesters, with all learning and socializing to be held at removes. A few systems — and some parents — thought it would be cool to have students return to classrooms last week, while the pandemic is still in progress. It took one (1) day of classes before a Coronavirus diagnosis would thrust a Hoosier school into national headlines. For those feeling cocky about their own schools, I saw the following comment on a local TV channel’s Facebook page covering that situation:

“Just quit my job yesterday at Avon Schools Custodian. The HS literally is understaffed for custodians. They aren’t equipped for this kind of cleaning. This “deep cleaning” they [are] assuring people of is nothing more than wiping desks and surfaces. They aren’t in hazmat suits chemical bombing the place. They are underpaid, overworked, and under appreciated. Shame on the administrations.”

…which confirms my suspicion that for any number of companies and organizations, the new buzzword “enhanced cleaning” is just a euphemism for “some cleaning”. Knowing this allays exactly zero fears of mine.

A few similar but smaller headlines have ensued from other towns. They won’t be the last. I understand some systems allow families the option to stay home even while their peers keep showing up live. So, uh, yay freedom of choice, or something. I have absolutely no idea how I would handle this if it were my kid facing this out there. Well, yes, I do. I’d be ensuring our home internet is optimized and all necessary gadgets and gizmos were state-of-the-art for maximum performance and participation. And I’d be among the work-from-home ranks until and unless my kid reached proper latchkey age. That’d be me capitalizing on whatever middle-class luxuries I could wrap our budget around, and then some.

It’s easier to calculate risks when you simply minimize or eliminate them altogether. We’d already given up on attending any of our usual comic-book/entertainment conventions in 2020, which will work out great because the last two holdouts on the wish list I compiled back in January, Wizard World Chicago and Cincinnati Comic Expo, both announced their cancellations on July 28th, hours apart. We’ve dealt with our cases of that infamous “Con Crud” after crowded events in years past. We had no expectation that any sort of Ultra Con Crud like COVID-19 would be any more preventable. It sucks that 2020 will be a conventionless year for us, but hey, no more FOMO, either.

We’ve missed other gatherings as well. Online church service has been a boon that lets us continue our weekly worship from a safe haven. As an added bonus, the camera angles prevent us from seeing the congregation, so we can’t queasily judge which members aren’t taking the pandemic seriously and which ones still need practical instructions on which head-holes the masks are supposed to cover. We also skipped a major family birthday party because many invitees were distant strangers and, well, the risk calculation skewed poorly.

So we have to find other ways to enjoy our free time, other escape outlets from the world’s problems and pressures. We try to find opportunities to lend assistance and/or an open ear to family and friends who need it where possible. And we appreciate it when we’re checked on in turn. My supervisor has been particularly kind about checking on me. And there’s the one (1) commenter who pops in here from time to time, who deserves some kind of award for his kindly deeds. I should draw him a nice ribbon in MS Paint, just like old times.

Occasionally we see a bright spot amid the darkness. Someone I knew who’d tested positive, and who suffered a miserable three weeks along with her husband, seems to have cleared up sufficiently that they didn’t require hospitalization. And my mom, who had to undergo a mundane medical procedure for irrelevant things, was required to be tested for The Virus beforehand and came back negative. She’s been visiting routinely throughout this year, and it’s good to know she’s in the clear for now. The calculations on that risk mercifully worked out.

Maybe someday we can stop treating every potential activity as a numbers-crunching exercise. Odds are that’ll be a while. I’m also betting it’ll be a good while till my next haircut.

4 responses

  1. Good to hear you and yours are as safe & well as can be reasonably expected under these particularly trying circumstances. And, wow! Getting even an oblique mention here @ Midlife Crisis Crossover! really made my day! No award or ribbon needed!


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