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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 05, 2020

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.

Maybe Some Good Will Come Out of This

We're crashing the economy in order to save some lives, mostly elderly people that euthanasia proponents want to get rid of anyway. Everything the President does is wrong, and even if it's kind of right, it's all geared toward promoting his reelection, or so the media keep telling us. The stores all got cleaned out of toilet paper and Purell and facial tissues (i.e., backup toilet paper) and paper towels (i.e., really desperate unflushable backup toilet paper).

Back when the Black Death swept through medieval Europe, there was an odd after-effect. With so many people dead (far higher death rates than the coronavirus), when the plague ended, there was a huge dearth of labor and suddenly the survivors, who had been hopelessly tied to agricultural jobs with no hope of prosperity, now found that they could get jobs anywhere, and for decent wages, too. It was a sort of bleak silver lining: If you live, you get to take advantage of a good job market!

Still, it really happened, and so something good for someone came out of the plague.

Is anything good going to come out of this? Why shouldn't it? Besides saving some lives -- which I'm all in favor of -- here are some other good things that might come out of this social distance lockdown:

1. Hugging may remain unfashionable even when they sound the all-clear.

I always hated the trend of hugging as a replacement for the civilized handshake. I don't like hugging anybody unless I've known them longer than my youngest child has been alive.

An even more civilized greeting was the old custom of a slight bow or the tip of a hat. Nobody had to touch anybody.

2. Let there no longer be any stigma or embarrassment about buying toilet paper. You head out of the store with a huge package of Cottonelle Mega Rolls and everybody knows: That's not a mere purchase, that's an investment.

3. As TV chat shows start moving to the host's home, with internet-hosted chats with guests who are in their homes, it's now possible to see that a studio audience is not necessary. This will save us all the time at the beginning of the show, waiting for the applause and hootin' and hollerin' to die down so the host can actually get the show started.

4. Watching reruns of Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett reminds us of how graceless, clumsy, and unlikeable so many talk show hosts are today. (Maybe we can start showing reruns of press conferences back when reporters didn't ask outrageously disingenuous "questions" designed to make the reporter look smarter or at least more virtuous than the President.)

5. Teaching my college classes online has shown me that (a) it's harder to bluff past a failure to prepare for class properly when you have a webcam right in your face and all your students are getting a Zoom closeup, and (b) walking from my bedroom to my in-home office to teach class means that I only get forty steps on Fitbit each time I teach, instead of 400.

6. If you swallow wrong or happen to inhale a bit of saliva, and you start doing that desperate cough to try to clear the liquid from your lungs, everyone around you is going to assume you have some kind of viral infection. You'd better have a tissue with you even though you know you're not spreading any germs.

And don't even bother explaining to people that your runny nose and coughing is from your normal seasonal allergies. They assume you're lying and trying to infect them as part of the evil conspiracy to spread the virus.

7. People find reasons to blame the people they already hate for anything that goes wrong. The more unbigoted they pretend to be, the more amusing their bigotry actually is. Until they start calling for pogroms.

8. Good people show their goodness by doing good things while being patient with others. People who aren't doing good things or at least being patient with others are showing us something, too.

9. We may all come up with a new list of good books we want to tell our literate friends about. For instance, I came upon a series of fantasy novels by Jeff Wheeler, beginning with The Wretched of Muirwood and The Blight of Muirwood. It turns out he's written a lot of fantasy novels. Having only read two of them, I'm way behind -- but those are the two I can vouch for. There are strong characters that we care about, villains who are genuinely scary, and a magic system that works on many levels.

Other books I've enjoyed in the past couple of weeks:

James Kaplan's excellent and entertaining biography of Irving Berlin. (Most common thought: Berlin wrote that song, too?)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have come to believe that there is no limit to the number of times I can read (or listen to) and enjoy this greatest of English novels.

Thomas Perry, Lee Child, Jonathan Kellerman, David Baldacci, and Michael Connelly are reliable writers of mysteries and thrillers. A new novel from any of them makes for a happy interlude in the midst of doom and gloom.

When a book is badly written, pompous, and ignorant, having a background of social distancing and constant attempts by the media to work us into a lather doesn't make it any easier to keep reading it. (No, I'm not going to list those titles, because when you see the book, you'll think, "I read something about that" and you'll make the mistake I did -- pick it up, buy it, and only then find out how bad it is.)

10. After a two-year drought, I've finished writing two novels since the start of 2020, and just wrote the first forty pages or so of The Last Shadow, the final tie-it-all-together volume of my combined Ender and Shadow series. Maybe my retirement plan ("Write Till You Die") is going to work out after all.

11. Meanwhile, what if you run out of toilet paper and facial tissues and all you have left is unflushable paper towels?

There's an easy solution. When I lived in Brazil during the early 1970s, the only kind of toilet paper available looked like undyed crepe paper. It was stretchy like crepe paper; it was unperforated and very hard to tear; and it absolutely could not be flushed down into the sewer system in any town or city in the country.

So what did we do with toilet paper after it had finished the measure of its creation? Everybody -- in their homes, their office buildings, in public restrooms -- kept a wastebasket beside the toilet. When you finished cleaning yourself with the rough, skin-ripping crepe paper, you dropped it into the wastebasket.

Since everybody who had a flush toilet was wealthy enough to hire a maid to empty those baskets, the system worked out well for everyone but the maids -- and at least they were getting paid their small pittance so most of their children wouldn't starve. Everybody won. I hear from friends that the same system prevailed throughout South America. Those were and are civilized countries, even though they couldn't flush their toilet paper.

What I'm saying is, keep a wastebasket beside the commode. When paper towels move in to replace the tissues, don't flush 'em, plunk 'em in the basket. It's best if you line the basket so you can tie off the top before putting it out in your garbage cans -- you don't want your big city garbage cans to get such a bad odor that even the raccoons are frightened.

There's no challenge that's going to come upon us through this crisis that someone, somewhere, hasn't dealt with before.

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