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Burt Prelutsky / April 25, 2020

All Virus, All the Time

When roughly 3,000,000 people are expected to die of what we have come to regard as natural causes, the response to the Kung Flu strikes me as way over the top.

The number of deaths that took place in the U.S. last year was 2,813,503, with about 40% of them the result of heart disease and cancer. Accidents (in the home and on the road) accounted for 170,000. Respiratory diseases, strokes and Alzheimer’s added another 425,000. Diabetes, the flu and pneumonia, were the cause in 140,000 fatalities. Suicides put 50,000 unhappy souls in the ground.

Those are all pretty big numbers, even in a nation of about 325 million.

Even without a vaccine, the coronavirus is not likely to make a very big difference in those numbers. Certainly not big enough to have emptied the streets, the schools, the churches and the office buildings.

I mean, if hardly anybody ever died, I can see taking a laundry list of precautions. But when roughly 3,000,000 people are expected to die of what we have come to regard as natural causes, the response to the Kung Flu strikes me as way over the top.

If dealing with it had been left up to me, I would have quarantined people over the age of, say, 65, and let the work force continue life as usual. My guess is that with traffic back to normal, more people would have died in car accidents than from the virus.

But one thing I am certain about is that we wouldn’t have over 20 million people signed up for unemployment, we wouldn’t be an additional two trillion dollars in debt and our economy wouldn’t be teetering on the edge of a recession.

And, perhaps best of all, I wouldn’t find myself spending more time with Dr. Anthony Fauci than with my dog.

Speaking of dogs, the 18th century writer Nicolas de Chamfort wisely observed that “Conscience is a dog that does not stop us from passing but that we cannot prevent from barking.”

Howard Last shared a cartoon of a man and a dog. The man is wearing a lampshade around his neck and looking miserable. The dog is telling him: “This is for your own good, so you don’t scratch or rub your face.”

That made Mr. Last wonder what a dog is thinking when he’s the one coming home from the vet wearing one of those lampshades.

I theorized that, like a character in a Franz Kafka story, the dog assumes it’s being punished for an offense it doesn’t recall committing. Or at least an offense it didn’t realize the big guy knew anything about.

It’s even possible that some dogs regard it as a megaphone, the better to scare off those infuriating mailmen who torments their lives.

Accompanying a batch of coronavirus one-liners he had sent me, Chuck Morrison mused “Imagine if there had been Internet during the Great Depression.”

I pointed out that hardly anyone could have afforded a computer in those days.

“Keep in mind,” he replied, “that apples were selling for two cents apiece back then.”

Even though I own an Apple, it took me a moment to get it.

The best of the other lines he sent me:

“Half of us will come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks. The other half will emerge with a drinking problem.”

“I need to practice social distancing from the refrigerator.”

“Every few days, it’s a good idea to try on your jeans just to make sure they still fit. Pajamas and a bathrobe will have you convinced you haven’t gained an ounce.”

“Homeschooling is going about as well as expected: Two students suspended for fighting, one teacher fired for boozing on the job.”

“This morning, I saw a neighbor talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought the cat understood her. I came back in the house and told my dog. We both laughed about it.”

“I used to spin the toilet paper like I was Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. Now I turn it like I’m cracking a safe.”

Suzan Reiner added: “If you think things are bad now, just realize that in 20 years this country will be run by people who were home-schooled by crazy people who had been driven to drink by several weeks of home-confinement.”

Chuck Morrison decided he, too, would get in on the act, sending me two pages of virus-related musings.

“I don’t think anyone expected when we changed the clocks that we’d be going from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone.”

“Quarantine Day 5: I went to this restaurant called the Kitchen. You have to supply all the ingredients and make your own meal. I have no clue how this place stays in business.”

Classified Ad: “Single man with toilet paper seeks woman with hand sanitizer for some good clean fun.”

“Day 8 of Homeschooling: My son called in a bomb threat. If he hadn’t, I would have.”

With all the extra time on my hands, I’ve been strolling down memory lane, remembering a lot of remarkable people I’ve known in my life.

I got to meet several of them through my friendship with Groucho Marx. One of my favorites was song writer Harry Ruby. Writing with his longtime partner Bert Kalmar, they turned out such standards as “I Want to Be Loved By You,” “A Kiss to Build a Dream on,” “Who’s Sorry Now?” and “Three Little Words,” which also served as the title of their movie bio, which starred Fred Astaire as Kalmar and Red Skelton as Ruby.

When he wasn’t writing hits, Ruby was writing such novelty tunes as “Hello, I Must Be Going” and “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” for his friend Groucho.

Harry was perhaps the biggest baseball fan I ever knew. One of his major regrets is that it was, as he put it, “that son of a bitch Jack Norworth, who didn’t even like baseball,” who wrote ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’“

I checked and it wasn’t just a case of sour grapes. Although he wrote the lyrics to baseball’s anthem in 1908, Norworth didn’t even attend a baseball game until 1940!

After his wife died, I asked Harry once if he thought he’d ever remarry. He suggested he might consider marrying Groucho because he thought the ideal marriage just might be one that involved two elderly men of independent means who both loved baseball. Still, when he passed away a few years later, he was engaged to be married to a woman.

One day, we were chatting and I asked him if he believed in Heaven. It turns out he did. He even had a very specific vision of it. "It’s a wonderful place,” he told me, “where every time someone whistles one of your songs, he has to give you a nickel.”

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