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Alan Chartock: I Publius

I have been washing my hands so many times each day that I am amazed there is any skin left on them.

The coronavirus is upon us and here I am, relatively old and at risk. According to the doctors, the younger you are, the safer you are. If you are at all hypochondriacal, every time you sneeze or clear your throat or catch yourself rubbing your eyes or reflexively touch your face as you have been doing all your life, you reflexively shudder.

If there is a single thing that we have been told over and over and over again, it is to wash our hands. I have been washing my hands so many times each day that I am amazed there is any skin left on them. We are told to get under the nails and between the fingers. I hate to admit it, but I have been singing “Happy Birthday” a couple of times. I want to get some skunk extract, if there is such a thing, to put on my fingers so that they stink when I get too close to my face.

It really comes down to a matter of percentages. The more often you leave your home, the better your chances are of getting nailed by the virus. You have to think carefully about routes that you take to get to your destination. There is only one good way of getting down to the town of Great Barrington proper from the Hill and that is down the stairs and under the railroad tracks on Castle Street. Those stairs are very steep, so it is natural to hold onto the iron railing to keep from falling. That’s bad, because you are clearly not the first person to use that staircase. On a few occasions, the smell of urine has been rather pronounced in that area and that may well tell you about the sanitary habits of those who have been there before you.

If you think about it, you can figure out another, albeit longer, way to get where you are going. I have found one that has no railings, just sidewalks. It’s longer but that is helpful when you consider I need to take 10,000 steps a day in order to be rewarded with the coveted green line on my app. This has become a really neurotic part of my life. In case you need to know the level of that neurosis, I have received that valued green line for walking 10,000 steps 136 days in a row.

You can try to beat the odds by listening to the professionals as they tell you to stay home and not go to work and not shake hands and stay 6 feet away from every other human. Of course, that’s where the law of unintended consequences comes in. I can guarantee you that there will be some tough times ahead as couples who are usually in separate places during the work day find themselves at home together 24/7. What would you rather have, a divorce or the virus?

Naturally, there is some good news to be had. It turns out (or at least I’ve heard that it turns out) that dogs can’t get COVID-19. Also, in crisis times like these, people start doing good things for their friends and neighbors. There are limitations to this, including the sharing of spoils that have left our supermarket shelves barren of toilet paper. One of my friends has announced that she bought so much that one whole wall of her bathroom has been taken up with toilet paper. On the Roundtable panel the other day, I asked what one could do if they ran out of toilet paper. One answer was to buy a bidet and another said that newspaper would be a good substitute. My, that hurts!

So, everyone: Stay safe, take care of yourself and get through this.