“They’re saving shots of the vaccine for a few members of the synagogue.” The Rabbi’s wife knows I desperately want to get vaccinated so I can travel to the east coast to see my parents, whom I haven’t been able to visit since the pandemic began, who are deaf and demented in their mid-nineties (so even phone calls are out), and who languish in what is euphemistically called, in health care bureaucratese, a “managed care facility”. I call the “managed care facility” to find out whether my Dad, who can still read at least, has got my new book on Armenian poetry, not that he necessarily cares about the topic but he’ll get a kick out of seeing his son’s name on the cover. The duty nurse says offhandedly, “Oh, by the way your Mom can’t feed herself and feeding residents is not what we do, so she’ll have to be sent to a nursing home.” Turns out it was a false alarm and Mom was back to holding her fork and spoon the next day, but nobody bothered to tell me. I’m figuring I’ve got to get there to see my parents while they’re alive— and I’m over 65 and that means I’ve got to get vaccinated, both to travel and not to infect my partner, who’s even older than I am and who has a heart condition.
The “they” who are saving shots just for yours truly are a farming company owned by a rich fellow Jew in the Valley who is a member of our synagogue. The Rabbi’s wife, beaming, quickly prints out the necessary medical questionnaires for my partner and me, and for a friend who’s going to drive us out to the clinic. I call the wealthy farmer’s office, and am assured “We’ll call you tomorrow morning,” I’ve got a bunch of things scheduled for tomorrow, but the chance to get a vaccine shot takes priority, so I cancel them all. Then I wait. The call never comes. I ring the rich man’s office again, and he tells me: “Oh, you must have misunderstood. You can have a shot only if we have any left over. And we don’t.”
Somebody tells me CVS is going to be vaccinating people in Fresno and our sister city of Clovis. I try CVS pharmacy and am directed to their website, which informs me that Covid vaccine will become available at an unspecified date and at some stores but not others. Thereafter, all the site will tell me over the course of the week is that no appointments are available anywhere in Fresno County. The friend who was going to drive my partner and me to the farmer’s clinic to get vaccinated meanwhile goes to St. Agnes hospital, waits in line, and gets himself vaccinated. “Sorry I didn’t tell you,” he says. Another friend who works for Table Mountain Casino, a few miles east of Fresno, gets vaccinated because the casino belongs to American Indians and they are getting preferential treatment. Because “people of color” are at risk. More at risk than my seventy-year-old life partner who has had triple bypass heart surgery? Really? Anyway. My friend puts us on the Table Mountain list but we’re never contacted. Not even a smoke signal. I try another clinic and they take my partner’s name and mine, along with our birth dates and phone numbers. They don’t call us back either. Several friends who are younger are vaccinated by their GPs. I try to call mine, at Everyday Health Care. I let the phone ring thirty, forty times. Nobody picks up. My partner calls them another day: they tell him they will not be vaccinating their patients.
During some texting to several members of my synagogue about upcoming services, I lose it, and write that nobody gives a fuck whether we live or die, etc. I’m gently advised not to use foul language. As you may imagine, this irrelevant, pious reproach serves only to enrage me. (“Aside from all THAT, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the PLAY?”) But my invective does inspire another friend at the synagogue to ask a friend of hers where he got an injection and it turns out they’re offering jabs at such-and-such a place, run by the University of California at Merced no less, so the next day she takes me and my partner and, mirabile dictu, we get our first dose of Moderna. What about the second dose? Oh, says the nice young lady doing the paperwork, just log on to MyTurn.ca.gov and you can schedule it.
I go home and log on. Nothing doing. I wait a week, figuring the site must be new and they’re still working on it. No luck: they don’t schedule appointments for second doses. If you weren’t given an appointment at the time of your first dose, the system can’t help you. It’s not programmed to do that. So I call their phone number and a nice lady repeats what I’ve read on the screen of my computer. She says she’s very sorry she can’t help with that, they’re not set up for it. I ask to speak with her supervisor, and after a long hold a nice older fellow with a deep, pleasant voice gets on the line. He tells me that I’m doing the right thing by being anxious, worried, and persistent, but no, there’s nothing he can do. I should keep on utilizing my resources, he says. What resources? I don’t have any “resources”. They said to call you, you’re the resource, I say, trying not to lose my temper. After some more doubletalk, he adds brightly, as though in an attempt to raise my spirits, “Some people who do have appointments are still not getting the second dose, since the supply chain isn’t working!” Somehow that doesn’t make me feel better, but I thank him anyhow. “Don’t hang up,” he says. “After our conversation, take the Customer Satisfaction Survey.” I think to myself that Orwell and Kafka were lucky to die when they did: they wouldn’t have been able to handle this. I hang up.
Yesterday night. I ring a doctor for help. He tells me there’s nothing he can do. Why not ring CVS? I’ve done all that, I tell him. Then he adds brightly that he’s never been happier in his life, though a bunch of his Covid patients have died. Once they’re on the respirator, he confides, 80% leave by the back door. But his life is okay: he has a new girlfriend and his daughter got a promotion at work because her boss got cancer. Mazel tov on the girlfriend, I say. Congrats about your daughter’s raise too, though it’s a hell of a way to get it. When we hang up, I wonder whether I have died and gone to hell.
As of today, word has it that I can just present myself where I got the first jab, 28 days after it. If they’re giving the same vaccine that day. But then another rumor says they have my phone number and will call me when it’s time for me to come in. I’ll try, but by now I would have a hard time believing anything. My partner and I were teachers all our lives— low-paid members of a profession nobody in this country respects. We pay massive Medicare premiums every month but get nothing for it except a sort of Russian roulette. We’ve stopped talking at dinner.
Meanwhile, the German public broadcasting service Deutsche Welle runs a report, which I watch on YouTube, about the deaths from Covid in the USA reaching the 500,000 mark. The German reporter uses bar graphs to illustrate the additional good news that twice as many per thousand infected Americans die as infected Germans. One viewer comments down below that there’s no point in celebrating till there are a million dead Americans. That’s pretty much the tone of all the comments: good for them, they had it coming. Now I’m certain that I’m in hell: I can read and listen to the devils.
In Israel, a survivor state that has been at war every single day of its history, that is nine miles wide at its narrowest point, there is a public health service that guarantees that everybody over sixteen can be vaccinated immediately upon request and the country is shipping excess stocks of Moderna vaccine to underdeveloped, poor countries that require foreign aid. Instead of seriously examining our own glaring failure to deal with the pandemic, as opposed to the success story of a country like Israel, the best we can do is take cheap shots, as did an African-American comic on “Saturday Night Live” who quipped that if half of Israel has been vaccinated, it must be the Jewish half. The fact is, Israeli Arabs, who are twenty percent of the population, get the same care Jews do. I was in the orthopedic ward of an Israeli hospital for two weeks after a motorcycle crash and I know. In fact, it was an Arab surgeon who led the team of doctors who saved my left leg. I was in a lot of pain, and used to wait for dawn to break. An orderly named Mohammad would come in to open the curtains and check on us. He and I used to greet each other. Sabah al-kheir! (Good morning!) I’d begin. Sabah an-nur! (Morning of light!) replied Mohammad, gesturing happily at the blazing sun that was bathing the beautiful Judaean mountains in honey and gold. Then we talked about Qur’an, or about Mohammad’s family. He was very proud of his daughter, who was entering an Israeli medical school.
But Covid is just an occasion for this Black Nazi wannabe to peddle his warmed-over version of the medieval blood libel. Anyhow, Jew or Arab or Martian, nobody is going to fly a cargo plane here and help me or my partner. Our hard-earned taxes went to support places like Israel when they were in need; America’s Marshall Plan rebuilt a Germany that had destroyed itself and the world around it. My father’s generation were the GIs who landed at Normandy, slogged across a broken Europe, and handed out Hershey bars to ragged kids. Now the grandchildren of those waifs are all doing just fine, thank you very much, but people here are dying. And all the culturally diverse media can do is gloat or make sickening, bigoted jokes. Yes, this is definitely hell.
Today there is no helping hand, not here in Fresno and not anywhere, only chaos— and plenty of folks abroad are writing snarky comments on YouTube and snickering at this country’s collapse, its failure, its five hundred thousand dead. (Not to mention all those white crosses at Normandy. Let’s have a good belly laugh at them, too.) It’s poetic justice, isn’t it? All those imperialistic Americans deserve to die. They are noisy. They are arrogant. They are vulgar. They are obese. They have diabetes. They eat junk food. They drive big cars and pollute the air. Their culture is degenerate. Hey, I’m on a roll here. The Americans are fat and greedy. They have big noses. They think only of money. They’re ugly and greasy and bow-legged. They’re clannish. They make too many hand gestures. They speak all languages with a repulsive sing-song accent. They aren’t loyal to anybody. They poison the wells. They kidnap children and kill them to use their blood to bake bread. They crucified God.
Why indeed celebrate just 500,000 American dead? Let’s go with the learned YouTube viewer’s suggestion that the world postpone the fireworks, cookouts, and ticker tape parades till the figure reaches a nice, round one million. Let’s one up him and wait till there are 1.5 million dead and then throw a really big party. One and a half. Like the 1,500,000 forgotten, unmourned Armenians. No, how about this. Go for the big six. Auschwitz, baby! What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? Answer: The pizza doesn’t scream when you shove it in an oven. Now there’s something to celebrate.
I want to thank the many politicians in Washington and the other State governors, local officials, administrators, and bureaucrats who have brought us to this almost-magic number. And since the America you have lied to, cheated, and robbed every day of your miserable, reprobate lives is not yet entirely gone, since there are some 330 million more, here’s a big bench cheer for the lost, the doomed, the innocent, as you carry on to finish what you’ve started:
Kill the subway motormen below the streets of Manhattan, kill the cleaning ladies in Queens, kill the stay-at-home moms, kill the elderly rabbis in Brooklyn, kill the Puerto Rican guys who run bodegas, kill somebody’s Grandma who didn’t come back from the hospital, kill the jovial Grandpa who was sitting just yesterday in the sunny yard surrounded by his grandkids, kill the frail elderly lady who wrote stories, kill the nurse who ran herself ragged and then ran out of luck, kill the many hospital doctors, kill the poor, kill the hungry. All those mass graves in a paupers’ field on an island in New York harbor. Kill the armos in Glendale. Kill the fucking niggers in Harlem, in Compton, in South Central. Kill the old musicians. Kill the Koreans. Kill the dirty kikes in Fairfax. Kill all those toxic Red State males. Kill all the white people with their honky privilege. Kill the spics in the Valley. Kill the chinks. Kill the nips. Kill the dune coons in Westwood. Kill the fags and dykes in West Hollywood and San Francisco. Kill the wops. Kill the micks. Kill me and my partner, here on the west coast. Kill my brother back in NYC whom I talk to on the phone and reminisce with about the Great Shanghai Restaurant on Broadway where we used to eat pressed duck when our parents took us out Sunday evenings many years ago, or about the towering dark forest of Clay Island on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain in the summer, my brother who sends me pictures on the phone of his cats. Kill my parents, who worked every day of their lives, who held dinner parties, who went to the Metropolitan Opera, who drove to Tanglewood, who took us every weekend to gatherings of our grandparents and cousins, only to find themselves now, helpless, deaf, demented, in a sort of callous holding tank waiting for the grave. Kill us all.
Then, released from this hell that our selfish, corrupt, mendacious leaders have made, we’ll stand up, testing our coltish new legs on the springy grass, look around at the new but somehow familiar scenery, hesitantly take off our masks, and walk two meters towards each other. Then we will remember the places we once called home, the country we once thought was free.
Okay. End of essay. Now stop reading this. Stop whatever you are doing. Stand up and recite Kaddish– the mourner’s prayer (the original’s in Aramaic, Jesus probably chanted something like it Himself, so wherever Israel is mentioned, think “mankind” and count yourself in)– with me. Do it five hundred thousand times. FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND.
Glorified and sanctified be His great Name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.
Amen! May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity!
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.