Stay at home, just don’t get too used to it

Virus alarm raises basic questions. Who is old? How much caution is enough? What is possible?

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Sign on the door of the Petsmart in Northbrook.

While there is no indication that pets can catch COVID-19, the Petsmart in Northbrook isn’t taking any chances.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Stay home as much as possible — Centers for Disease Control

I’m embarrassed to admit, when first reading that CDC advice for “older adults,” my reaction was to spin a joke, adding, “... groan audibly when rising from chairs, and complain incessantly about how young people today don’t have a work ethic.”

Because older people are already there. Staying home as much as possible is a marker of age as much as the calendar. That, and complaining.

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But it isn’t much of a joke if you have to explain. Yes, older adults have caution down cold, no urging from the federal government necessary. We old folks always act like airborne death is waiting right outside the front door. Mortality rears up when we contemplate almost any activity. I have not actually said to my boys, “For God’s sake, don’t go anywhere or do anything.” But I’ve thought it, and opened my mouth to say it, then held back.

You could try spinning that into a virtue. Argue that excess of caution is how you live to be old in the first place. Though cautious myself, I retain just enough trace afterglow of youth to view that as a liability. All this fretting about the weather. My parents do it so much that I flinch at the idea of carrying an umbrella. It seems a defeat; leaving it behind strikes a blow against timidity.

Notice I include myself as “old.” What is an “older adult” anyway? The CDC isn’t much help. A page called “Indicator definitions—older adults” includes both “persons aged ≥ 65 years” (not me) and “Older adults aged 50-64 years” (definitely me). I’m tempted to trot out the “you’re as old as you feel” chestnut. But I knew a man who was 102 and didn’t consider himself old. Spoiler alert: He was.

Events seem to be hurtling past the “older adults” distinction anyway. Literally while I was writing the above, the Sun-Times told employees it is planning a one-day work-from-home test for most newsroom staff.

Yes sir! As someone who has worked from home, to a greater or lesser degree, for decades, I welcome my brethren. Any advice to my newly homebound colleagues? Remember to shower once a day, whether you are going out or not, as an ablutionary gesture toward civilization.

Get yourself out of the house, occasionally. I don’t want to diminish the COVID-19 threat — we’ve got a president already doing that. It’s real. Italy has shut down; Israel is quarantining anyone who arrives for two weeks. Obviously something bad is happening.

But I believe we still don’t know whether COVID-19 will ultimately be viewed as an enormous calamity or an overblown hysteria. Too soon to tell.

Nineteen people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Illinois. More people were shot last weekend in Chicago. Yet if I said I was thinking about going to the Chicago Hellenic Museum benefit last Thursday night, but worried about getting shot on my way into the Harris Theater, you’d consider me cowardly, observe that shootings are not generally right off North Michigan Avenue, and I should gird my loins and go. Which I did.

Or Monday, the plan was lunch at Gaijin, a West Loop Japanese eatery that opened in November. Cower at home instead? Heck no. I went, and enjoyed some traditional Hiroshima okonomiyaki pancakes and mochi donuts. Mmm.

Then on to The Art Institute for the El Greco show. Usually I avoid hot shows when they first open — it’s like trying to view paintings in a crowded L car. But my younger boy was in town, and it wouldn’t do for him to see his father spending the day sitting on the porch with a plaid wool lap rug over his knees, mug of herbal tea in one hand, fly swatter in the other, swishing at the air to keep coronaviruses from landing on me.

“El Greco” by the way, means “The Greek” in Spanish. Duh. His name was Doménikos Theotokópoulos. Born in Crete. They called him El Greco because he signed his name in Greek letters. Why did nobody tell me this?I feel like the Hellenic Museum ought to be notified.

So shelter at home, if you must. But don’t get too used to it. What’s the point of staying alive if you don’t get out and live?

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