Coming Out

The whole idea of needles, when you stop to think about it (which I’m already realizing is probably not something you want to do), is pretty medieval. Throw in the slightly kooky concept of vaccines — which are often, but not always, an actual smidgen of the very sickness that you’re trying to avoid — and this widely accepted notion of “vaccinations to fend off viruses” borders on mad scientist stuff. Emphasis on mad.

Still, being the good American I am, and a great believer in (if not necessarily an understander of) science, I decided to do my civic duty and allow two medical professionals — actually, the second guy was a firefighter, I think — to pump me full of the COVID-19 vaccine. That doesn’t sound like a big whooping deal until you consider that I willingly let some guy who wrestles pulsating firehoses and slides down poles for a living to thrust a sharp piece of metal into my arm and inject an experimental drug that, who knows, could be filled with nanobots designed to instantly turn me into some slack-jawed, hollow-eyed post-pandemic zombie.

It’s kind of scary when you think about it. Which is why, again, I mostly don’t.

Instead, like many millions of real-life zombies who simply want to punt this pandemic — my wife and son among them — I have proudly and somewhat blindly followed the scientists’ advice, blocked out the bizarreness of the idea and taken the sticking, twice. Now I’m almost certainly immune, or so they tell me, from the coronavirus’ nasty reach. Nanobots or not, it’s time to eat out.

As of this writing, more than 75 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID. Millions more wait their turn every day in this half-macabre, half-magic social ritual. As good as the vaccines are, though, they haven’t yet eradicated the virus, which killed close to 600,000 Americans in its first year. It could surge again. It is surging, at this moment, in Michigan.

But we’re optimistic, for the first time in more than a year. We can see, through our masks and the tumbling number of COVID cases, what a victory over this bugger might look like. At this point, we’re all shoppers at a Black Friday sale, waiting to charge through those doors once they’re open. We’re practically trampling each other to get at what we used to call “normal.”

Is it any wonder? All of us have a long-unscratched urge to get away, to feast in a restaurant, to go to a ballgame, to drink a beer with a neighbor. To shake a hand, offer a hug, let out a laugh without worry. The vaccine gives us that chance. Finally. Thankfully. Miraculously.

At this point, if I hadn’t already been vaccinated, I’d let a teenager at a Chick-fil-A drive-through do the job. Those kids are scary good. “My pleasure,” indeed.

Like everything else in America these days, though, this mass vaccination hasn’t gone as smoothly as we might have hoped. It probably never could have, in all honesty, when maybe 300 million Americans need it. Nothing that big ever goes smoothly.

From Step One, this monumental effort — historic in size and scope, and in the speed by which it has been pulled off — has been predictably and needlessly co-opted by politicians, argued over by scientists, picked at by the media, and debated by the crazies and the needle-shy, the huge majority of whom still popped in for their pokings the first chance they got.

We still have holdouts, too. The non-believers, who somehow doubt the death counts or the seriousness of the pandemic, have not jumped in line just yet in case that nanobot thing is for real, or some as yet unseen side-effect pops up. The anti-vaxxers are going nowhere near this because, well, they’re anti-vaxxers, and they’re anti-logic. And anti-social. Some people are just stubborn.

But we are getting there. Mary Jo and I went to visit her parents last month in Cincinnati — by then, all of us were vacced up, a term which seems less made-up every day — to share some pasta and wine, elbow to elbow, in their West Side home. My local driving range was full on Sunday afternoon with not a mask in sight. Mary Jo and I went into a shoe store — yes, into a real by god retail store — later that day and had to sidestep and tummy tuck to maintain any semblance of social distancing.

Three of my brothers and I, after missing our annual golf weekend on Pawleys Island in 2020, have put down our greens fees and reserved a VRBO for later this month. We’ll all be vacced up by then, which is necessary when the four of us will be sharing one condo, two carts, and many six packs of beer for four days of wonderfully incompetent sport.

The Braves are letting about 13,000 fans into games at the season’s start, and that’s about to go up as Georgia’s governor eases the few remaining restrictions he has in this comically proud and laughably backward state. Downtown Alpharetta has more shoppers and diners every time I drive by, most of them in this still Republican-heavy area sans masks and any feeling for how far 6 feet really is.

All of that, or most of it anyway, is understandable. People simply can’t wait. It’s been that long. It’s been that painful.

The danger — pandemics are full of them, as we know — is that we’re bursting out of the blocks a little too quickly, that all this unbridled running around and hugging could put America, as a whole, where Michigan is. And it’s fair to say that even Michigan doesn’t want to be where Michigan is right now.

But, again … it figures. The past 13-plus months of forced quarantines, of self-exile, of the utter disruption of our lives, of fear and anger and sadness have taken a toll. We’re hurting. We don’t know yet how hurt we’ve been by this virus. It may be years until we do.

We do know what can help, though. Vaccines — as scary as they may be, as oddly primitive and cringe-producing as they absolutely are — help. Taking one (or two) in the arm for your teammates helps. Getting us, as a species, a little closer to the promise of herd immunity helps. Allowing us to be human again — to gather, to celebrate, to eat out, for god’s sake — will definitely help.

And if we have to tote along a few nanobots in our bloodstream to get there, is that really so bad?

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