Pandemic Blues by
(40 Stories)

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I’ve noticed recently that my slip-on Merrell® jungle mocs slip-off easily from my right foot with the assistance of a nudge from my left big toe, whereas my left shoe’s removal requires right hand intervention. I balance precariously on my planted right foot, raise my left foot high enough to reach my dangling right hand, and teeteringly palm the heel and peel away the shoe, in one or two attempts, sometimes three, deeming it far better to make several failed attempts than to fall over onto my head and lie in a pool of blood until…whenever.

But the pandemic has exposed and eroded me, along with the world I live in. 

Either my left foot has expanded disproportionately during the pandemic, or my right big toe has lost its nudging powers, likely yielding ground to the encroachment of arthritis in the toe joint.  I am advised—taking into account family history, x-rays, and two hip replacement surgeries—that arthritis in my joints is and will be endemic to my aging process.  As with the rising ocean in front of my beach house, it is just a matter of time; no surgery to my protective sand dune, up to and including tons of concrete and steel, will stem the inevitable tide. 

The good news, and this is in the category of relatively good news, is that I likely—assuming the reliability of current scientific and anecdotal observations, including mortality and tidal charts—will not live long enough to see the waves crest over my dune and wash away my house, or live long enough for my arthritis to entomb all my joints in its unforgiving grip (possibly exempting one index finger with which I can control the television button).

So, you ask, what has the pandemic meant to me? 

The pandemic exposes and erodes the soft tissue that protects the bones of democratic civility, advancing the causes of irrationality, tribalism, and autocracy (as if they needed this helping hand), like a tidal wave does to a beach, and a shore community, and unsuspecting lowlands within.  They may not recover.  Wild-eyed anti-vaxxers will hang the scientists.

If I were younger, and courageous, I might adopt a battle cry against implacable foes.   But the pandemic has exposed and eroded me, along with the world I live in.  I wring my hands, and try to shut out the grim forecasts from the only life I will ever have, with my tentative (but sweet, to date) grasp on serenity and harmony, and my creeping (but gradual, to date) degradation.

Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Jon, an evocative visual that accompanies a disturbing but accurate picture of where we are–in our society and in our aging. This story especially resonates because a hip replacement is in my near future, and arthritis is generally encroaching on my joints, despite the many movement moments I take. That is minor compared to the picture you paint of our world. I cry for my niece and my bonus grandchildren, fearing what they likely will inherit.

    • The hip surgery can change one’s life. It’s like they excise the pain, and restore free movement. I wish you a good outcome!! My hip surgeries, one in 2006 and the other in 2013, were really beneficial for me. As to the state of the world, I wish they (whoever they are, or hereafter may be) could excise the pain, but I am not optimistic.

  2. One of my best friends a few weeks ago had to dismantle (with her sibs) the beach house they inherited from their parents in Wellfleet (Cape Cod). A beautiful spot that I had visited numerous times. If they had not, they would have had to pay a lot more to the Coast Guard to salvage the pieces as it broke apart off the dune into the Atlantic. So good on you, that you can expect your dune to be sustainable for at least the duration of your time.
    And good on you, that you only have minor adjustments required in flicking the heel of your slipper. Erosion is inevitable and ubitufquitous, pandemic or no.

    • The sad story of the beautiful beach house faced with doom. I’m sorry for your friends loss. Living by the sea is such a joy, but not a free ride. It helps to be lucky in picking the right frontage. As to my ballet like flexibility in peeling off my shoe, there is something to be said for wearing flip flops.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    I too well understand the desire to huddle in a bunker, real or emotional. As I look back, for most of my life I have imagined myself in a place from which I can look out unobserved, safe, where no one can get to me. I think it’s a common sort of fantasy among people raised in troubled homes.

    It waned for a while, but has come back strong.

  4. Thanx Jonathan for your sober assessment of the state of our sorry world!
    Despite all I’m holding on to my cautiously optimistic hopes!

  5. Suzy says:

    Jon, I am fascinated by your highly original take on each prompt. I must remember to thank the person who brought you here. Happy to know that you still have a grasp on serenity and harmony, however tentative. Sorry about your Merrells, but as you say, there are always flip flops.

    • Suzy,
      The person who brought me here, including the person who brought me to that person, makes for an interesting connection. I too thank those persons as I much appreciate the opportunity to participate in this sweet-tempered group.
      And I like that you like my takes on the prompts, wayward as they sometimes may be.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a powerful statement about where we stand as a society as we enter year three. Like you, I have noticed the changes wrought by arthritis and deteriorating disks, and I worry about environmental changes that will not likely be reversed. To make this a metaphor for where our country is headed is so powerful. Great writing.

    • Laurie,
      When I shoot craps, which sadly I have not done since the inception of the pandemic, I often prophesy bad outcomes for the roll of the dice, as a showing of humility, an appeasement to the Craps Gods to avert their wrath; and I avoid like the plague bragging about good fortune which I fear will irritate the Them into teaching me an expensive lesson about hubris. So perhaps my metaphor about sticking my big toe into the ocean, precipitating darkness. My photo, which features the darkest cloud I have ever seen, anticipates the dawn.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a sensitive, but sobering analogy, Jon. Like you, I have creeping arthritis in the toes in my right foot, have already had two surgeries on them, with some success. But I feel the pain and limits to my movement advancing.

    Your comparison to the ocean, lapping at your beach house, and the anti-vaxxers (and anti-democracy group), pulling down our society are grim and appropriate. The nihilism won’t seem to stop and will gleefully pull down the norms of this country as we’ve known it. I mourn the loss that you gracefully point out.

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