From left field: Science cannot save us from ourselves

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Andrew Malekoff

Although I’m not a reporter, I take notes when I read, watch TV or listen to the radio; or even after a casual conversation. I scribble down quotes and reflections, and I underline sentences and write in the margins of books.

I tear out pages from magazines (yeah, I’m that guy) and rip out paragraphs from newspapers. If I don’t have a pen or pencil and scrap of paper nearby, I use the “Notes” app on my Android.

I have organized my notes in a file on my desktop with limited success. The notes I write on scraps of paper often get mixed in with random papers on my desk or dresser. If I’m in the kitchen, I stick them on top of the refrigerator. I try to avoid pants or shirt pockets as they inevitably end up in the wash.

Months or even years may go by before I stumble upon one or another of my notes. It’s always a pleasant surprise. I welcome a wayward note like an old T-shirt that I thought I had lost until I find it in the drawer with my “nicer” shirts.

Does all this qualify me as a hoarder? I’ve wondered. Oxford Dictionary says that “a compulsive hoarder is a person whose hoarding instinct has gotten out of control, leaving them psychologically unable to get rid of anything.” It’s a close call.

The notes take up little space and they don’t attract vermin. Nonetheless, it is true that I can’t get rid of them, which is why organizing them in one place is my best bet. I thought I’d share two of my many notes from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year 2020, to borrow from a children’s book by Judith Viorst.

I typed the first note into my Notes app on Christmas morning, when I was out for my daily pre-dawn walk on the Long Beach, NY boardwalk. I was listening to a recording of the latest vaccine news on my Sirius app.

Medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta was commenting on the juxtaposition of the remarkably rapid-paced vaccine developments and the refusal of a critical mass of Americans to follow public health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing. What he said that stopped me in my tracks long enough to type in the note on my phone was: “Science cannot save us from ourselves.

Simple and profound – Americans are at a life and death stalemate with one another.
Not quite as profound but certainly as simple a statement came via President Trump in March, when the pandemic was just starting to pick up a head of steam. He said, “this pandemic, this disease, this whatever you want to call it. You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus. You can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody really knows what it is.”

I’m not wild about Trump’s tweets, but I was intrigued the innocence of his observation. Although he is clearly empathy-challenged, I thought that many Americans could readily relate to the raw and uninhibited confusion inherent in his reflection.

After I wrote it down and read it over, I was instantly reminded of a comedy act, a monologue, by Bill Saluga dating back to the 1970s. Saluga’s alter ego was Raymond Johnson Jr.

I googled the bit and jotted it down underneath the President’s quote. Was our theatrical President channeling Raymond Johnson Jr? When he was in character, Saluga donned a thick mustache, had a big cigar in hand and wore a wide-brimmed fedora and oversized suit, as he animatedly launched in to this bit, which went like this:

“My name is Raymond J. Johnson Jr. Now you can call me Ray, or you can call me J, or you can call me Johnny, or you can call me Sonny, or you can call me Junie, or you can call me Junior; now you can call me Ray J, or you can call me RJ, or you can call me RJJ, or you can call me RJJ Jr. . . . But you doesn’t hasta call me Johnson!”

You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus, you can call it many different names . . . . but you can’t call it over. Not just yet. And, I’m afraid, not until we can get it together as a nation, because, as Dr. Gupta warned us, science cannot save us from ourselves.

 

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