COVID a pressure-cooker for retirees

COVID Chronicles. This column appeared in The Sault Star April 25.

COVID isolation has been really hard on retired people.

I don’t mean the appalling death rate in long-term care facilities. That’s the topic of a serious column. Let’s try for something a little lighter here.

I’m referring to younger older folks, those prone to taking small naps but probably still a fair remove from the big, eternal sleep.

People who have not yet retired seem to imagine the COVID lifestyle is a lot like retirement.

Don’t let the snoring fool you:
Retirees are really very busy

Some have told me, a relatively recent retiree clinging to the facade of self-employment, that I should be accustomed to not doing very much.

Sticking to our own houses for the most part and trying to come up with stuff to relieve the crushing boredom: isn’t that what retirement’s all about? 

In a word (because the two words that spring to mind are vulgar), no.

Sure, retired people might get a little less done in a day than working folk (though I suspect they don’t waste any more of their nine-to-five on social media), but they still accomplish meaningful tasks.

The difference is that they do things on their own schedule, if they have a schedule at all, not on the timeline of an employer, customers or clients.

They shuffle to the beat of their own drum.

Right now, for example, I’m working on my income tax return. Even if I was hiking in the bush or reading a book or snoring I’d be working on my taxes. Sometime today I’ll actually get to taxes. Or maybe tomorrow. 

That’s how working works when you’re retired.

COVID confinement is putting retirement under pressure.

We’re all encouraged, if not expected, to make the best use of this sudden surplus of free time and emerge from COVID a much better person. Retirement does not give you a free pass from this societal imperative. 

I’d say many retirees are ahead of that curve — the self-improvement curve, not the COVID curve. We’re not all snoozing on the couch.

Some seniors already were learning a new language. It’s supposed to help them remember things. Remind me later and I’ll look for that list of things a new language will help you remember.

Some retirees develop new hobbies. Some fix up their homes. Some just do more jigsaw puzzles, listen to more music, play more sports or games, catch up on a Netflix series, re-read books by their favourite authors or see their favourite people more often.

Because of COVID, a lot of younger people are following these fine examples. In effect, they’re rehearsing for retirement.

But there’s a difference. 

For younger people, COVID retirement likely will end with them going back to work. 

Older folks know that ultimately they’ll be leaving retirement feet first. But they like to think they have a lot more time to strike things off their to-do list than the piddling few months (or maybe year-and-a-half) of the COVID contagion.

Lofty achievements are great, but why rush things? 

COVID has deprived retirees of some of those delightful activities that we use as intervals in our symphonies of self-improvement. 

Such as sitting in a coffee shop, restaurant or bar with cronies and arguing over the name of a Grade 3 teacher.

Or going to the supermarket every day for an item or two. And driving 10 kilometres under the limit in the passing lane on the way there.

And COVID is making it harder to get our retirement chores done. More pressure.

For example, I plan to put siding on my bunkie.

Normally I’d start by measuring things up. Then I’d measure things again, because I’d lose the paper with the measurements.

I’d put the new paper in my truck, where I’d discover that first paper with the measurements on it.

Then, when I felt like it, I’d go to the lumber store, show the order desk one of those pages of measurements, we’d figure out what I needed, I’d drive into the yard and they’d load it on the trailer.

Then I’d pick away at the siding job an hour or two at a time because a) my body can only take so much and b) what’s the big hurry?

In the COVID era I have to make an appointment to pick up probably not quite enough materials. And when I get them I’ll have to bust my butt on the job. Because we wouldn’t want to waste a second of that precious COVID time, would we?

The ultimate pressure on retirees is the fear hanging over our heads that we might have contracted the virus. That’s because one of the main COVID symptoms is “unexplained fatigue.”

If unexplained fatigue isn’t a cornerstone of retirement, I don’t know what is. 

And if I ever did know, I’ve forgotten.

Tips to help you think you’re spring cleaning

COVID Chronicles. This is the fourth in a whole pandemic of columns written for The Sault Star to provide comic relief during our health crisis. This one was published April 7.

COVID-19 sure has changed the way we do spring cleaning. 

At least, that’s been my experience.

For one thing, I’m actually doing spring cleaning this year. 

Normally when a warm, sunny day tells me spring has begun to sprung, more-important things intervene, such as taking a long hike or drinking beer with friends on a patio.

But in the COVID era, long hikes already are as much a part of my daily routine as sniffing my clothes to see if they’ll do for one more day. And outdoors is no longer a pleasant choice but the only place I can have a drink with friends: no novelty there.

I’ve taken to calling them Les Moutons. But even using a romance language can’t hide that the Dust Bunny came to my house this Easter.

Why even bother with spring cleaning if no one is entering your house, you might ask? Indeed, I considered just leaving the snow shovels outside my doorways and, when physical distancing finally ends, inviting guests to shovel their way in.

But since we’re being advised to acquire new skills while confined to our homes, spring cleaning it is.

Some of you finished your spring cleaning a few weeks ago. You bought dozens of bottles of sanitizer, stripped the supermarket shelves of toilet paper, wiped every surface in your house, including household pets, multiple times and then realized you had inadvertently done your spring cleaning while you were being so ridiculous.

All that remains is to dispose of a dozen garbage bags full of damp TP and several recycling containers full empty bottles.

Most of us are just getting started. So I thought I’d share some helpful hints I’ve picked up so far. If Trump can govern a country while knowing diddly squat about anything and ignoring experts, why can’t I dispense advice on spring cleaning?

The first thing you should clean is yourself.

Your sense of smell is an important diagnostic tool when spring cleaning. If too many bad smells emanate from within your social distancing distance, you might overlook some dangerously cruddy household targets.

I started by shaving. I had been letting my facial hair grow (all of my hair, if truth be told) with the idea that if my face looked so ugly that even I didn’t want to touch it that might reduce my changes of contracting COVID-19.

But I had forgotten that a new beard itches. It’s next to impossible to follow the don’t-touch-your-face rule with an itchy beard.

My second piece of advice is to make a really, really long to-do list.

That doesn’t mean you want to accomplish more spring cleaning than in your wildest dreams. The idea is to do the same total work but in much, much smaller segments.

Break every job down into tiny bits. That way you can check off or stroke out at least one item a day while barely breaking a sweat, then reward yourself in an appropriate manner. (Be sure “Stock up on booze” is on your list early and often.)

You can congratulate yourself for a job, well, done.

“Wash all the table knives” or “throw out orphan socks” are good examples of achievable chores.

In past years my to-do list would include something like “Spring clean the house.”

Half a year later “Spring clean the house” would glare at me accusingly when I stumble across my to-do list, like a “Become a better person” resolution made by a 10-year-old confined to his room for using electric hedge-clippers to shave the family dog.

This year I have to-do listings for each room of my house. When those rooms are larger than 30 square feet I break the work down into even smaller chunks.

For example, I have a large sunroom on the front of my house with a wall of windows, the type of room people ooh and aah over until I hand them a bottle of window cleaner and a roll of paper towels.

This morning I cleaned two sliding glass doors in the room, gave myself a hearty high-five and will administer a suitable reward after just a few more paragraphs.

Yesterday I cleaned all of the lower bank of windows in that room. Yesss. Reward.

The day before that I mounted a stepladder and cleaned all of the higher bank of windows in that room. Ta Da. Sip sip.

Each day at least one item checked off the list. Each day a reward or two. Don’t say experimenting with lab rats in my animal psych class didn’t teach me anything.

As you might suspect, “Come up with an ending for this column” is an item on today’s to-do list.


Infectious tunes for terrible times

COVID Chronicles. This is the third in a whole pandemic of columns I wrote for The Sault Star to provide comic relief during our health crisis. This one was published March 27.

What’s on your pandemic playlist?

There are many reasons why COVID-19 might prompt people to download new tunes or rearrange their existing song library.

Some seemingly can’t manage 20 seconds of hand-washing without a suitable song to accompany them. I understand that, having warbled Brush Your Teeth in my best Raffi voice to try to encourage dental hygiene among my kids and, lately, grandkids.

Diamond keeps his hands to himself

In fact, Neil Diamond recently reworked the lyrics to his legendary Sweet Caroline from “hands touching hands” to a more-hygienically-appropriate “hands washing hands.” His public service posting went viral; sometimes viral’s a good thing.

Hordes of singer-songwriters have rushed to create topical tunes for COVID commentary or comedy, a few original but most by morphing pop music classics.

I’m sure some Weird Al wannabe out there is singing a My Corona variation of The Knack’s My Sharona as I write this.

But a myriad of existing tunes have titles or lyrics appropriate to these pestilent times. That occurred to me when I heard a supermarket sound track play It’s the End of the World As We Know It (R.E.M.) and later Cold Sweat (James Brown).

That got me humming Fever. I sounded less like Patty Page than The McCoys, but no one outside two metres of me could tell the difference.

If I really had the fever I might have trotted out Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees (Staying Alive?) or Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever.

Instead, I segued to the theme of ventilators with (I Am) Barely Breathing, a song by Duncan Sheik you might have heard on a couple of TV dramas.

Every Breath You Take (The Police), The Air That You Breath (The Hollies) or You Take My Breath Away (Queen) also would have fit. The Rolling Stones cut right to the chase with Ventilator Blues.

Then something pressed L7 on the jukebox in my head and up came Johnny Rivers singin’ Rockin’ Pneumonia (and the Boogie Woogie Flu).

If you have some time on your hands in the next few weeks, ha ha, you might pop a few appropriate words into the search bar on one of those online music sites and create your own COVID playlist. 

But I’m washing my hands of this one.

THERE ARE A LOT of important questions facing the world today. But since most of them don’t fall into the category of “humour” (we’ve even stopped laughing at Trump), let’s consider this one:

Will shaking hands become obsolete?

The handshake is a traditional form of greeting in western society, not to mention a great way to intimidate others. At one time the only marketable talent required for success in the business world was a finger-crushing handshake.

But in the COVID era we’re too busy washing our hands to shake them, unless all the towels are in the laundry.

And public health officials are urging us to substitute elbow-bumping for shaking hands. Unfortunately, that makes a people greeting each other look like they’re at a wedding and the DJ just put on The Chicken Dance.

If we want people to look incredibly clumsy to someone they’re just meeting, why not go for a full-fledge creative dance routine or an end-zone celebration.

Meanwhile, the same officials who want us to touch elbows also want us to sneeze into them. Eww.

Yeah, let’s make sure to deposit those droplets carrying coronavirus as close as possible to the body part we use to greet other people.

I say we should go back to sneezing into our hands. 

It’s instinctive, as all of those public officials who can’t resist touching their faces at COVID press conferences can attest.

Besides, we’ll be washing them again in a few minutes anyway.

And I’m betting someone will come up with an app that makes your phone spray sanitizer on your hands every time you sneeze.