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.

Physical distancing in Aisle 6

COVID Chrinicles. The second 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 25.

With all bars closed to avoid spreading the coronavirus, these religious leaders in Haifa resorted to less-secular pursuits

A priest, a minister and a rabbi don’t walk into a bar.

Yes, dear readers, COVID-19 closures have deprived humour practitioners of many of our most mirthful motifs. 

I seems there aren’t a lot of belly laughs to be had in these pandemic days. If you doubt me, keep reading this column.

In fact, COVID comic relief is so badly needed that the government is urging columnists who normally specialize in gardening, wine, food, fashion, gossip or advice to retool and crank out humour.

But this pestilence isn’t just a good excuse not to visit your grandmother. There are chuckles to be had out there, whether we’re out there actually or virtually. 

Last week I had to drive in to the city on some medical and legal errands so thought I might as well do some shopping. Besides, a quick inventory of supplies in my bathroom, front-hall closet, attic and under that 14 x 20 tarpaulin in the yard told me I was dangerously low in toilet paper.

Like many a dis-gruntled consumer, I’m wondering when these runs on toilet paper are going to end.

I decided to try out Day Two of the senior citizens shopping hour at a supermarkets.

A friend who had attended Day One described it as a s – – – show. And, despite the obvious need for toilet paper at a s – – – show, there was none on the shelves.

But, I thought, this is Sault Ste. Marie, where people will claw each other’s eyes out to be first in line for anything new that comes to town.

If they reinstated capital punishment and installed a gallows in the city’s new public square, the lineup would stretch all the way to Bay View.

With their final postmortem spasms, cadavers would be texting their friends to brag that hanging was a life-changing experience and the friends really should try it.

So of course there was pandemic pandemonium at the debut of seniors hour.

By Day Two, most of us old fogeys were keeping a safe couple-of-walkers-lengths away from each other in the store.

I had a brief moment of unease when an older woman in front of me tried to “tidy up” my purchases on the checkout counter belt. But she recognized her pandemic faux pas when I explained:

“Listen, grandma, unless you want to wear that cane as a necklace you’d better get your pestilent paws off my groceries.”

I also had to smirk at one of the songs on the store soundtrack. (I’m one of those people who actually hear store soundtracks, sometimes even grabbing an English cucumber as a mic and singing along.)

The song that gave me pause was It’s the End of the World As We Know It, that R.E.M. classic. Might as well play that on a loop, I thought.

But when I returned to the store this week they were playing James Brown singing I Break Out In a Cold Sweat.

Don’t be tempted to belt out that one in aisle six, folks, lest a squad of Algoma Health Unit goons in protective gowns, masks and gloves clean you up.

My next stop was a smaller meat and grocery store, closed to shoppers but offering pickup sales if you called in an order.

I highly recommend this experience to those of you nostalgic for those high times when purchasing pot was against the law.

Make a phone call, then idle on a side street, glancing around furtively. An unmarked door opens, you roll down a window, the goods are placed hastily onto the passenger seat. You squeal your tires as you roar away.

I half expected the store staffer to say “pssst” and pull aside a butcher’s apron to reveal a roll of toilet paper and some hand sanitizer.

But no.

The Jane Goodall of grocery shoppers, I pursued my quest for the elusive and apparently endangered TP at a certain giant store in the part of town where the big box stores hang out. I won’t name this store. I don’t have to.

No sign of social distancing there, though clerks at the self-checkout tried valiantly to break up rugby scums while simultaneously sanitizing screens and keypads.

Shoppers lurched into each other and elbowed each other aside for tins of diced tomatoes and boxes of KD. Dodging from aisle to aisle I felt like a dot in a Pac-Man game.

The only evidence of orderly behaviour was when employees wheeled out skids of toilet paper and passed out packages only to those who lined up properly. Those lucky folk tucked their prize under an arm like an intercepted football and followed their blocking to the checkout.


Not me. First I had to detour to look for another tarpaulin.

What’s so funny about COVID-19?

COVID Chronicles. The first in a whole pandemic of columns I wrote for The Sault Star for comic relief during our health crisis. This one was published March 19.

A whole chorus of imaginary voices screams that it’s too soon to crack jokes about the COVID-19 pandemic.

But then a vision pops into my head of a fool — a court jester — in Elizabethan England.

“Her Majesty sayeth she wanted to move the Royal Court to London,” the fool remarked.

“I advised her to avoid London like the plague.”

Black humour. It’s traditional in times of, well, blackness.

So let me just don this multicoloured hat with the bells dangling from it, pick up my quill and scratch a few stray observations on some foolscap.

Please wash your hands thoroughly after reading this column. Those unable to count to 20 should sing their favourite operatic aria.

An early COVID-related joke I read on twitter purported to be an official announcement from an NHL club. It went something like this:

“The Montreal Canadiens announced today that due to the pandemic they will not be competing in the playoffs this season.”

Cancellation of almost every sport (except the UFC, where fighters spit, sweat and bleed all over each other in an obvious attempt to infect their opponents with COVID-19) has many wondering what TSN and Sportsnet will broadcast.

Some suggested the networks relive past triumphs of Toronto teams: the Raptors of 2019, the Blue Jays of 1992 and 1993.

But grainy black-and-white newsreel footage of championship Maple Leafs might be too jarring for modern viewers. Kids wouldn’t understand why Foster Hewitt was greeting hockey fans in Canada, the U.S. and Newfoundland.

More likely one of Canada’s GTA-centric sports networks will employ a 24-hour AustonCam to ensure their standard NHL coverage continues seamlessly.

“Look, he’s flinching in his sleep. That must be goal number 50.”

On Facebook the other day someone wondered why a local nightspot had pulled the plug on its musical entertainment for last weekend.

I mused that bar-band music might be COVID-proof as long as those who took to the dance floor stayed the proper “social distance” of two metres away from each other. 

Then I imagined, somewhere in the hereafter, a whole scowl of those nuns who chaperoned high school dances in the 1950s and 1960s high-fiving each other and yelling “Finally!”

Ontario health officials recommended gatherings be limited to no more than 250 people, later dropping that to 50. You can cheat a little on that 50 as long as enough people go out for a smoke at any given time. But will we now see lines of smokers instead of the customary collegial clusters.

Social distancing comes naturally to those of us who can count the number of our nearest neighbours on the fingers of one hand (which he then wipes with a diesel-doused rag because he has no hand sanitizer).

The other day a neighbour and I met up on our communal snowshoeing trails. We had no idea what the protocol was, both because of COVID and because it’s rare to run into anyone else on the trails.

I think bumping telescopic snowshoeing poles would be appropriate. When you get home, wipe down the poles with a diesel-soaked rag.

Hoarding also comes naturally to those of us in the boonies. We stock up on too much of everything because unless you craft the perfect grocery list and follow it meticulously you’re facing a half-hour drive back into the city for a can of tuna.

Toilet paper is one of those commodities for which keeping ahead of the demand curve is in a country person’s best interest. A backhouse bidet wouldn’t make much sense when it’s 30 below, would it?

But we look down our noses at those speculating in TP or hand sanitizing diesel fuel.

Of course, it might make sense to pile toilet paper along the U.S. border to stop the flow from that COVID s – – – show.

I’m not worried that I’ll reach the end of my last roll.

I’ve got a filing cabinet full of old Humour Me column clippings.

Would that make me the butt of my own jokes or the joke of my own butt?