Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Part 10.25: The Case of the Flying Fruit

 The story thus far: Julie is in quarantine and Miss Irene has been kicked out of the grocery store for her role in...

Interrogation Transcript: Deavers' Family Foods Cleanup on Aisle 9 incident.

Voice 1: I keep tellin' ya, this is not an interrogation, Miss Irene, we're just tryin' to get to the bottom of . . . is that a tape recorder?

Voice 2: Not like that Dale! You have to identify yourself before you start talking. That was Dale, the store manager. I'm Paulette Palmedo. And I'd like to plead the first amendment.

Dale: I think you mean the fifth amendment, and this is . . . .

Paulette: Exciting! Isn't it? Just like on Jackie Gleason. You know, my Pauley used to call me his little Della Street. (Giggle) And that's my tape recorder. My son gave it to me. He thinks I'm forgetful.

Dale: I know, mother. And I think you mean Perry Mason. Like I was saying, we're just tryin' to get to the bottom of what happened . . . .

Voice 3: What happened? What happened? I'll tell you what happened. That . . . .

Paulette: State your name.

Voice 3: That's ridic . . . . .

Paulette: State your name! Your honor, if it please the court . . . .

Dale: This isn't a court, Mom . . . er, Ma'am. You are each valued customers here at Deavers' Family Foods, but we just can't have a repeat of what happened . . . .

Voice 3: Lena Johansen. My name is Lena Johansen and I'll tell you what happened. That woman assaulted me in the soup aisle.

Paulette: Let the record show Lena “Wack Doodle” Johansen pointed at Miss Irene just then. They'll never hear you shakin' that bony finger of you'n on the transcript.

Dale: For the last time, Mother, this is not a transcript. Mr. Deavers would like to avoid legal action at all costs.

Voice 4: Then what's Deputy Doug doin' here? This is Irene Truman speaking.

Voice 5: (Clears throat) Deputy David Doug . . . do you need my badge number?

Dale: NO!

Deputy Doug: So, what am I doing here, anyway? Technically I'm not on duty, and anyways I didn't. . . .

Dale: Deputy Doug just happened to be the first shopper on the scene. He's the one who called for backup, er, I mean cleanup.

Paulette: Darn. I thought maybe he was gonna frisk me again.

Deputy Doug: No! I mean, I didn't frisk you in the first place. I definitely don't want to do it again.

Paulette: All natural here, Deputy. No fillers or GMOs.

Lena: If we could please get back to the heinous and unprovoked assault upon my person. I'd like to have the term “wack doodle” stricken from the record, please, as it may prejudice the jury.

Miss Irene: Heinous and unprovoked my heiny. You failed to yield the right of way in the produce section, stole that last package of Oreos right from under my hand, and repeatedly violated the Covid-protocol, one-way traffic signs in the shopping aisles. Officer, arrest this woman!

Deputy Doug: Like I was saying, I'm not sure the grocery store falls under my jurisdiction.

Lena: I got to the Oreos first fare and square. Besides, you're about one sandwich cookie away from needing a wide-load sticker pasted on your rear.

Miss Irene: Wide load, eh? You'll think wide load when I . . . .

Lena: Let the record show the perpetrator brandished a tangerine in a threatening manner! Oh! The flashbacks! I may never eat another citrus fruit as long as I live.

Miss Irene: One more wide-load crack and you may not have long to live. Besides. I wasn't the one who started the fruit fight.

Paulette: It was a random, drive-by fruiting. Just like the one that did in poor John Travolta.

Dale: That was Pierce Brosnan in Mrs. Doubtfire, Mother.

Lena: Now really, Miss Irene. You can't expect me to believe that Paulette threw that grapefruit at me.

Miss Irene: I didn't say a word. Snitches get stitches and end up in ditches.

Lena: Paulette is three foot tall and blind as a bat. She couldn't hit the broadside of a . . . .

Paulette: I used to pitch for the Rockford Peaches.

Dale: That was Gena Davis, Mother. A League of Their Own.

Paulette: I was just givin' ya' the ol' brushback. You crowded the plate, stepped into the pitch . . . and you were comin' down the aisle the wrong way.

Lena: Pfft, one-way shopping aisles. I've got more important things to attend to, like that two for one special on cream of mushroom soup! I was checking expiration dates when I was viciously assaulted by a flying fruit! I tried to turn my cart around and head back up the aisle, but Miss Irene was blocking my exit.

Paulette: We had ya' in a pickle!

Lena: When I turned around again, a grapefruit brushed my beehive!

Paulette: The runner stole on a wild pitch! Safe at second base!

Deputy Doug: I swear I thought that was your waist! I was trying to steady you!

Paulette: Gravity and old age, Deputy. Life's seventh-inning sag.


Dale: You can go now, Deputy. I'm sorry for . . . . Thank you for your service to our country, sir.

(Footsteps receding. A door opens and closes.)

(Muffled giggles. A snort.)

Dale: Alright, Mrs. Johansen, let's talk cold turkey. What's it going to take to make all this go away? Mr. Deavers has authorized me to make a very generous settlement. I'm prepared to offer you five percent off today's purchase.

Lena: Twenty.

Dale: Ten, and double coupons for store-brand items.

Lena: Fine. And I want their loyalty rewards card privileges revoked.

Miss Irene: But . . . .

Lena: And Paulette has to take shopping scooter traffic school class before she can get back behind the wobbly wheels of a cart.

Dale: Done!

Paulette: But . . . .

Lena: You whipped around the end of the aisle on that scooter like you were Thelma and Louise heading for the cliff!

(Footsteps receding. Door closing.

Paulette: I know Thelma Louise! 

Dale: (Sigh) No, Mother, she means . . . . 

Paulette: I ran into her the other day, over by the Methodist Church.

Dale: So that's what happened to the bumper on the Cadillac!

Paulette: Pomelo. 

Dale: I'll say!

Paulette: No, that's what hit Lena. I pummeled her with a pomelo. Some people just can't remember details.

Meanwhile, Muffy is making mischief of her own . . . . To be continued.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Part 10: Doing (quaran)Time

 The story thus far: While counting down the hours (48) until her boyfriend Joe was finally out of quarantine, Julie found herself in contact with someone who had been exposed to the virus....

Julie shoved the few remaining boxes of food donations onto shelves by herself, muttering angrily. Meanwhile, Miss Irene and Vanessa charmed, bribed or bullied enough of the right people to get her in for a virus test that day. Julie wondered if the nurse administering the test had been one of the bullied, or if the swab was actually supposed to touch the back of her skull.

Jimmy – or, “Germy Jimmy” as Miss Irene had taken to calling him – tested positive for the virus, but Julie did not. Given her interaction with people who were at risk if exposed, she agreed that it would be best for her to quarantine anyway.

Once she got over the shock of being replaced in Miss Irene's organization, (she knew she wasn't indispensable, but the speed with which her duties had been reassigned was troubling) Julie realized there was an up-side to quarantine. Of course she was disappointed to – once again – be separated from her daughter and Joe, but she thought perhaps it was all for the best. Lately she had been feeling downright bitchy, and while she was confident of Joe's affection, she thought it best not to push her luck.

The fewer people Julie came in contact with, the more they got on her nerves. Familiarity may not have bred contempt, but it had certainly bred discontent. When Big George said he was returning to the shop to work two afternoons each week, Miss Irene had suggested four.

Alone in her apartment, Julie shuffled the boxes of photos she planned to organize “when she had the time.” She idly scrolled through the emails from Muffy (subject line: “Beauty-Fixes After 50: It's Never Too Late To Start”), moving them to a folder marked “delete later.” Then she grabbed a bottle of wine (which Vanessa had left outside her door), a pan of scotcheroos (from Emily), and the “Pride and Prejudice” box set (the good BBC version with Colin Firth) on loan from Steve and plopped down on the couch to sulk.

Mellowed by the alcohol, sugar, and posh British accents, Julie became contemplative. She was tired of the drama, fear-mongering and politicization surrounding the pandemic. As Miss Irene's errand girl, Julie came into (socially distant) contact with many people – with many viewpoints. She listened politely to each of them, smiling and nodding her head whether she wanted to or not.

Julie wore her mask and kept her distance. She washed her hands and regularly applied hand sanitizer. She held her breath and inched backwards when approached by no-maskers or maskers who apparently thought they were guaranteed immunity. She understood the math of exponential spread and knew that “best” protection wasn't “complete” protection.

She noticed that when she set her mind to look for people who were wearing masks, it seemed like most of them did. When she actively looked for people who weren't wearing masks, it seemed like most of them did not. Quite frankly she was too busy obsessing over her own coughs, sniffles and headaches to worry much about what other people wore or did. She was more concerned about unknowingly infecting others than she was about contracting the virus herself.

She didn't think the virus cared what your political affiliation was. She knew people who (swore they) always wore a mask who still caught the virus, and people who (wouldn't admit they) never wore a mask who didn't catch it. She knew people who became extremely ill, and others who did not.

The virus, it seemed, was immune to human concerns.

Julie spent the next day feeling guilty for not feeling guilty about missing work – or at least not working as much. Miss Irene had left a plate of snickerdoodles (Julie's favorite) outside her door that morning . . . along with a list of donors and a box of blank Thank You cards for her to write.

During the afternoon coffee break with Miss Irene and Big George (Skype-ing from across the back yard), Julie learned that her regular duties were once again being reassigned. J.J. had to be pulled off deliveries after mixing up orders for Mrs. Harry Johnson and Mrs. Henry Johnson (sisters who had married brothers, doubling the sibling rivalry). J.J. would take over grocery duties from Miss Irene who had been banned from the store for her involvement in a ruckus that morning.

“Pffft,” Miss Irene pffted. “Most of those people can't figure out which lanes to drive up in the parking lot. How could anyone expect them to follow one-way aisles inside the store? Although, upon reflection, I may have over reacted.” (*Coming soon: Part 10.25 “Cleanup on Aisle 9.”)

“If it's any consolation, I think you've managed things very well . . . until now,” Julie said. “I think people are getting stupider . . . .”

More stupid, dear,” Miss Irene corrected.

Julie silently counted to 10 very quickly. “More stupid every day. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to punch someone in the throat. I'm pretty sure the feeling's mutual. What's your secret?”

“Equal parts prayer, patience, and Templeton Rye whiskey.”

Big George sniffed Miss Irene's coffee mug. “Some parts more equal than others,” he said.

“All right, Mr. Smart Guy,” Miss Irene laughed. “What's your advice for dealing with this craziness?”

Big George thought for a moment before speaking.

“People are scared. They're scared for their health. Scared for their jobs. Scared for their families and scared for their country. And each of them is right.” He let this sink in. “But each of them is wrong, too. When you hold too tightly to your own fear, you become blind to the fears of others.

“Recognizing someone else's fear requires you to admit that you may be wrong. It's threatening. And whenever a frightened creature feels threatened, they lash out.

“You can't change people's opinions or actions by force . . . or even through reason, usually.” He glanced sideways at Miss Irene and grinned. “Believe me, I've tried.”

Miss Irene kissed him on the cheek. “But you can be a good influence,” she said.

“That's what I'm counting on, dear. Now if you'll excuse me ladies, I need to get back to work. Remember Julie, the only person you can change is yourself. Be patient. Be kind. Show the way. Be the light.”

Julie leaned back in her chair to look out her window. She watched as Big George crossed the backyard, waving up at her window as he passed the garage. She waved back.

“All that wisdom and a great butt, too,” Miss Irene said, drawing Julie's attention back to her computer screen. “Don't let that Mr. Miyagi act fool you, though. J.J. told me Mr. Holmer stopped by the shop this morning and got on a rant, as he always does. George listened to him for a while, then excused himself to change the batteries in his hearing aids and never came back.”

“But Big George doesn't wear hearing aids,” Julie said.

“Exactly.” Miss Irene arched an eyebrow. “We're all doing the best we can, dear. Some days we're Mother Theresa, some days our hearing aids quit working.”

Miss Irene's phone chimed. She grumbled as she read the text. “Well, dear, it seems I need to go shine my light up Muffy's . . . viewpoint. It's a good thing I know where to find you. You may have to arrange bail for me.”

To be continued ...

Monday, October 12, 2020

Part 9: Wait for it

The story thus far: The pandemic changed every aspect of life in Pleasant Glen, including the way people kept track of time.

Two weeks.

Julie was used to waiting. Or, at least, she thought she was.

When her daughter Emily went to off college, Julie had learned to wait. She waited for Family Weekend, for Thanksgiving Vacation, for Winter Recess, for Spring Break. She learned that if she was patient, she would be rewarded with some small amount of mother-daughter time, even if it was only a laundry date.

The virus changed all that. Schedules were in a constant state of flux. Plans were made, only to be postponed. Patience was rewarded with more delays.

Julie tried to hide her relief when Emily's school-sponsored Spring Break trip overseas was canceled because of the virus. She tried to hide her disappointment when Emily decided to stay with friends in Chicago during break instead of coming home. Julie tried to hide her relief when the Illinois “stay-at-home” order shut down Rush Street, making Chicago no more attractive or fun than little Pleasant Glen, Iowa.

Then the school announced that classes would be moved online, and Emily's return to Pleasant Glen was assured. Even that relief was short lived.

Since Julie's new job as Miss Irene's delivery girl put her in contact with people at high-risk from the virus, and Emily's grandmother was high-risk because of her age, Emily's homecoming included two weeks of self-quarantine – just to be on the safe side. The very situations that necessitated that quarantine, made finding a place to quarantine challenging.

Fourteen days.

After much fretting, Bob offered the apartment above the Bar as a home (not far) away from home. In lieu of rent, Emily was tasked with making the space fit for habitation by sorting through boxes of memorabilia from bands that had played the Bar over the decades.

Julie was relieved to have her daughter home – or almost home. Julie was disappointed that seeing her daughter up close-ish involved sitting on the rickety fire escape outside the apartment – especially since Julie was afraid of heights.

Eventually Emily's quarantine came to an end, unlike Joe's seemingly endless quarantine – or rather his series of quarantines.

Joe had been caught in New York when the virus struck and left him scrambling to find a flight back to Iowa. Once home, he began a two-week quarantine at his rural Des Moines home/office. Nine days in, his father suffered a heart attack. Joe headed to Arizona to re-start his quarantine and lend socially-distant support from the safety of the detached in-law suite at his sister's house, while his mom temporarily moved to the “big house.”

Joe's father recovered and was discharged by the end of Joe's first week there. By the end of week two, although happy to see his son – from across the yard – Joe's father was more happy to return to his own bed in the guest house. Joe returned to Iowa to begin yet another quarantine – this time in the recently cleared and vacated apartment above The Bar.

Three hundred thirty-six hours.

Since Joe's quarantines were all precautionary or travel-based rather than exposure-based, Julie and Joe bent the rules a little. There was a very private concert with Joe on stage at The Bar and Julie seated at the far end of the building, and a Romeo and Juliet moment with Julie on the landing outside her apartment and Joe at the base of the stairs.

Julie was counting down the days – two – until she could talk with Joe from a distance less than one story. While she waited, she worked. The weekend collection drive for the food pantry had been an overwhelming success and now it all needed to be put away. It was a Monday, and there was work involved, so volunteers were scarce. Julie's lone helper was a high-school age stock boy who hadn't had the good sense to look busy when the manager entered the back room. Jimmy was on loan from the local Mom and Pop grocery which had hosted the food drive, and his main duty was to make sure the store's delivery van was returned A.S.A.P.

They worked quickly – huffing behind their masks – to unload the van and stack the goods in the crowded storage room. They were nearly done when Jimmy received a phone call:

His girlfriend, with whom he had spent the majority of the weekend, had tested positive for the virus.

While the virus had slowed many aspects of Pleasant Glen social life, it had fertilized the already fast and efficient gossip grapevine. Jimmy had just left and Julie was locking up when her phone rang.

“You know what this means.” Miss Irene didn't need to say more. Julie sighed heavily before replying:

Twenty thousand, one hundred sixty minutes.”

To be continued...

Julie decides a little quarantine time may be just what she needs.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Part 8.2: Who's Zoomin' ... zoomed

 The story thus far: Vanessa, like many others, has turned to Zoom meetings while working at home during the pandemic. Things are going about as well as she fears. We'll back up a few lines to get a running start for part two...

The meeting was going well and discussion had moved on to the photo, when Vanessa felt her heart begin to race. She listened inattentively, her mind wandering, as the people in the postage stamp-sized gallery view frames on her computer screen checked their calendars.

How many cups of coffee DID I have? she wondered. “. . . second week of July?” a stamp asked.

Two cups were needed for coherent conversation. “Inside or outside?”

Two and a half made her perky, but three cups . . . . “Masks or no masks?”

Vanessa felt beads of sweat forming on her upper lip. “What's the point of a photo if no one recognizes me?”

A prickly feeling spread across her face. “. . . temperature scans.”

Three cups would trigger a . . . “Face shields?” . . . hot flash.

Vanessa fanned herself surreptitiously with a Snootyslacks Foundation brochure while the postage stamps debated the merits of plastic face shields. She reached for her glass of water, hoping a drink would ease her symptoms.

It didn't.

She was caught off guard mid-sip by a question and inhaled when she should have swallowed, causing her to sputter and cough.

And cough.

And cough.

The postage stamps went wild. “Do you think this is funny?” “Is this your idea of a joke?” “Have you been tested? “Ohmygosh, is COVID a computer virus?”

Steve, who had been hovering in the doorway impatiently waiting for his VIPZM, rushed in to help his friend.

“Steve, I . . . .” Vanessa croaked.

As he handed her his “lucky” white silk, jacquard pocket square (his was a V-VIPZM), Steve was struck by inspiration.

“That's Doctor Steve,” he said, smiling at the stamps with all the candor of a late-night infomercial host. “Please pardon Ms. Kolkwitz. She's having what we in the biz refer to as an 'age-related, brief, tropical vacation'.” Taking the stamps' stunned silence for confusion he added, sotto voce, “A hot flash.” The female postage stamps nodded with understanding. The male postage stamps looked like they'd rather be anywhere else at that moment.

Vanessa, having regained control of herself, tried to regain control of the meeting as well. “The hospital has a lovely, terraced, rose garden that will allow you all to maintain social distance without looking too spread out. You can lower your masks briefly for the photo, allowing us to see your faces while still showing your concern for safety.”

The postage stamps hesitated.

“And refreshments afterwards,” Steve said.

Assured that PGCHC was COVID-free, their egos stroked, and photo scheduled, the board unanimously agreed to proceed, adjourned the meeting and signed off.

One thing was still bothering Vanessa. “Doctor Steve?” she said questioningly as she cleared her things from the desk.

“PhD . . . M.D.,” Steve shrugged, “they don't ask to see my badge when I make a reservation at Olive Garden.” He sat down in the control chair, then checked and re-checked his watch. “Before you leave would you turn on the ceiling fan?” he asked, blotting sweat from his forehead. “It's kind of hot in here.”

If you liked this (and I hope you did), tell a friend! And check out my novel, Scout's Honor, and the soon to be published Scout's Redemption.

Part 8.1: Who's Zoomin' ... zoom?

 The story thus far: While working from home during the pandemic, the residents of Pleasant Glen, like people everywhere, have turned to Zoom meetings ... with mixed results. Part 1 of 2...

Vanessa's job at the small Pleasant Glen hospital changed with the ebb and flow of budget cuts and staff reductions, compounded by her habit of being tardy to staff meetings which routinely started 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. Thus, when the pandemic struck and she showed up for the 8:30 a.m. staff meeting at 8 a.m., she found that she had been named the hospital's new liaison officer at 7:45 a.m.

Her new duties included being the (masked) face of Pleasant Glen Community Health Center for all donor-related virtual interactions. In lieu of a pay increase, she was allowed to work from home (as were all non-medical employees), and permitted to use her own computer and internet connections.

Vanessa wasn't sure what she had done to deserve “this fresh hell” (as she called it), but she suspected it had something to do with threatening an insurance company representative that she would “reach through the phone line and punch him in the throat” if he didn't approve a cancer patient's treatment plan. Julie thought it had more to do with the fact that, as J.J. said, “even with the face mask, she's smokin' hot.”

Normally Vanessa would have been thrilled by the opportunity to do away with her cross-town commute, but she had come to value those 10-minutes of alone time. Things had been a little crowded at home since her ex-husband Michael and his new husband Steve (her “ex-husband-in-law,” as Steve referred to himself) had moved in with her while remodeling their house.

For the most part, this unorthodox living arrangement worked well. They all got along, no one was bored, and no one had to drink alone. Household chores were more or less equally divided. Steve volunteered for extra kitchen duties, as he was a stress baker. Michael, who's blood type was Kona, made sure there was always fresh coffee. Vanessa provided the technological wizardry to keep them all supplied with a strong WI-fi signal.

But every positive has a negative, as we shall see.

With all three of them working from home, Zoom meetings were scheduled even more closely than bathroom times. A section of bookshelves in the den was designated as the official backdrop and was tastefully decorated with carefully selected, non-offensive books (hardback), photos (black and white), and one realistic-looking plant. The lighting and web cam were arranged to create the most flattering image possible.

On the morning in question all three had Very Important Zoom Meetings scheduled. Vanessa, worried about her VIPZM, had slept poorly. While Michael dialogued virtually with the other faculty leaders of nearby Big State University, Steve assured Vanessa the bags under her eyes were not that noticeable. Steve, worried about his VIPZM had made his nana's sour cream, cinnamon streusel coffee cake – which tasted exactly the same as Vanessa's nana's coffee cake. The two of them reminisced about their nanas and tried to eat their way to confidence, washing it all down with multiple cups of fresh Kona coffee.

Bolstered by sugar and caffeine, Vanessa was at last ready to meet virtually with the board of Snootyslacks Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Fancypants Inc.) about their grant for community COVID preparedness. The hospital had already received provisional approval thanks to her work on the application, support data and testimonials. All that remained was to show that PGCHC was deserving and humble and – most importantly – could provide a COVID-free environment for the publicity photo.

The meeting was going well and discussion had moved on to the photo when Vanessa felt her heart begin to race. She listened inattentively, her mind wandering, as the people in the postage stamp-sized gallery view frames on her computer screen checked their calendars.

How many cups of coffee DID I have? she wondered. “. . . second week of July?” a stamp asked.

Two cups were needed for coherent conversation. “Inside or outside?”

Two and a half made her perky, but three cups . . . . “Masks or no masks?”

To be continued ... Keep reading for part 2!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Part 7: It's All Fun and Zooms

The story thus far: While self-isolating due to the virus pandemic, Miss Irene organized relief efforts in the town of Pleasant Glen, a task made more difficult by the inability to meet in person.

With the pandemic limiting in-person meetings, the residents of Pleasant Glen – like people everywhere – turned to video conferencing. And – like people everywhere – they found their results varied.

After a frustrating day of non-stop, disorganized organizational phone calls, 90-year-old Miss Irene asked 19-year-old Trey to help her move her committee work to the cloud. Once all the participants figured out how to share their screens and turn their microphones on, the Zoom meeting proved to be an efficient way to showcase everyone's pets. Despite the background distractions of cats, dogs, husbands and grandchildren, the group finally managed to organize a food drive – something the previous day's phone calls could not accomplish.

In fact, the virtual meeting was so efficient Miss Irene announced at dinner that night that she would be moving her weekly poker game to Zoom.

“But how are you going to deal the cards?” Julie asked.

Miss Irene stared at Julie and blinked slowly. Julie knew from previous experience that during times of apparent age-related confusion such as this, it was far more likely that she was having difficulties with cognitive comprehension than Miss Irene. Both women looked to Big George to explain what each of them thought should be obvious to the other.

“Julie dear, Irene and her friends have discovered that playing cards interrupts the flow of the game,” he said, the twinkle in his eye contradicting the seriousness of his tone. When Julie showed no sign of understanding, he tried again. “It's hard to keep up the pace of the gossip when you're distracted by cards.”

Miss Irene held up her hand to inject a point of order. “We refer to it as 'sharing information',” she said.

“So, your poker games are just an excuse to . . . gossip?” Julie asked, still not understanding.

“Oh, no. They drink, too,” J.J. said, rolling his eyes. “Poker night is code for whiskey sours.”

“Used to be sloe gin fizzes back in the day. But then . . .” Miss Irene shuddered in lieu of further explanation.

“What about your bridge club?” Julie asked.

“Intelligence gathering,” Miss Irene said solemnly.

“Puh-lease!” J.J. threw himself back in his chair and rolled his eyes so hard Julie expected to see them skitter across the floor. “They draw straws. Losers have to play, winners drink mimosas.”

“Only during morning games,”Miss Irene clarified. “Afternoons are gin and tonics.”

“Euchre?” Julie gave it one more try.

“Of course they play euchre, dear,” Big George said. “This is Iowa. It's a state law.”

J.J. shook his head. “Beer drinking and gossip are written into the rules of euchre.”

“But why bother to call it poker, or bridge, or even Crazy 8's if you're not actually playing cards?” Julie asked, her frustration getting the best of her.

Miss Irene shrugged. “A little harmless fun. Just like your 'book club meetings',” she said, making air quotes, “are an excuse to drink wine.”

“But I really do read the books!” Julie protested.

Miss Irene gave Julie the slow blink again. “Of course you do, dear.” she said, patting Julie's knee. “And that's why we love you.”

Miss Irene sounded so sincere and her touch was so comforting that Julie wasn't sure if she should be flattered or insulted.

Meanwhile, Julie's best friend Vanessa was finding it can be just as hard to make a good first impression virtually, as it is in person.
To be continued...

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Part 6: Distancing, Socially

The story thus far: Miss Irene and Big George volunteered to self-isolate, given their elevated at-risk status to the virus due to "accomplished age," in order to ease the youngsters' minds. That went about as well as could be expected.

Irene's self-imposed home-isolation lasted a week, which was three days longer than Julie expected. Trey won the family's “Jail Break” pool, although charges of collusion were raised when it was discovered that he brought Miss Irene a chocolate milkshake each of the last three days.

On the eighth day, as Julie was crossing the back yard from her apartment over the garage to the main house, she was nearly run over by Miss Irene, who was headed in the opposite direction, dressed in motorcycle leathers and carrying a full-face helmet.

“Let's take The Scout on deliveries today,” she said, handing Julie a cup half-filled with coffee. “I'll load up while you finish your coffee.” Julie wanted to say that she couldn't finish her coffee until she started it, but she recognized that determined look on Miss Irene's face and knew resistance was futile. By the time Julie gulped the lukewarm coffee and entered the garage, Miss Irene was sitting in the sidecar, ready to go.

It was a beautiful day for a motorcycle ride. The sun was shining brightly – the first sunny day they’d had in weeks – and it was warm . . . -ish, or at least warm-er than it had been. Spring was more fickle than usual in its arrival, as if it, too, was practicing social distancing. Winter-weary Iowans, tired of being cooped up by ice storms and bitter wind-chills, were forced to extend their stays indoors not only by fear of the virus, but by weeks of gloomy, overcast skies. Cabin fever was rampant.

Miss Irene's first week of “house arrest,” as she called it, had been more difficult than she expected. She was used to attending kaffeklatsch at the bakery at least three times a week – Tuesdays were reserved for church meetings, Thursdays for beauty shop appointments. That week she had ventured no further than the edge of her porch. Although she was in constant phone contact with friends and informants, she had no physical contact with anyone outside her immediate family (and Julie). Virtual socialization proved effective and efficient for coordinating donations and distributions of food, money and supplies for virus relief, but it left Miss Irene with a vague feeling of emptiness.

Julie, meanwhile, had been Miss Irene's boots on the ground, running errands and making deliveries for people who were unable to leave their homes. Her “outdoor” time had been spent driving Miss Irene’s 1980s Lincoln Town Car – which Julie thought was big enough to deserve its own zip code and created its own weather patterns.

Julie's social contact – virtual or otherwise – had been just as limited, if not more so, than Miss Irene's. When Julie picked up supplies, there was barely time for a mask-muffled hello or a tired wave. And when she dropped off deliveries – setting them on the edge of porches, a safe distance from entryways – the recipients were shadows in darkened windows or foreheads and eyes peering cautiously from behind curtains. Julie felt claustrophobic, constricted by her own skin. She didn't necessarily want to socialize or travel, but she missed the potential for socialization and travel.

Even The Scout seemed anxious to get out of the house . . . or garage. Big George kept the 1941 Indian Sport Scout motorcycle running better than new, but cold starts could sometimes be difficult. That morning she started on the first kick and settled in to a throaty purr. After several adjustments, she still wanted to run fast so Julie gave in, goosed the throttle and let her have her head. The exhaust rang out joyfully as they accelerated through the corners, echoing through the deserted streets.

The Scout was a beautiful motorcycle with glossy black paint set off by white tire skirts and sparkling chrome accents. Julie watched the workers' faces brighten when The Scout pulled into the pick up lane. The sidecar seemed to expand to hold all the packages and Miss Irene.

As they set out for deliveries, Julie noticed more and more people out in their yards – whether lured out by the warm weather or, as she imagined, by The Scout's siren song. They paused their raking to watch The Scout pass by, reassured by the familiar sight. “We turn more heads than the ice cream truck,” Miss Irene boasted. When Julie placed the packages on porches, she caught her first glimpse of the recipients as they smiled and waved – albeit from behind closed doors.

By the time they returned home, Big George and Trey had set up a “clean room” in the garage for Big George, who had been providing mechanical advice via phone while in self-isolation. “There are a few problems even I can't solve over the interwebs,” Big George said with a twinkle in his eye. Coincidentally, Trey had picked this day in the family's “Jail Break II: Big George Is Back In Town” pool.

The next time Julie took The Scout on deliveries, people chatted with her from behind their screen doors. And the next time, they stood just outside their doors to visit. Even as the number of deliveries started to decrease, the time it took to make those deliveries increased.

Soon after that, virus-relief efforts in Pleasant Glen took on a new challenge. Miss Irene coordinated neighborhood walks which featured scheduled “stop and waves” or “stop and chats” – from sidewalk to porch – bringing bringing back the old-fashioned, small town notion of socializing, distantly.

To be continued...
For more stories about life in (fictional) Pleasant Glen, read my novel Scout's Honor and the soon-to-be-published Scout's Redemption.