Those Dog Days of Summer
Summer has offered us an indication of life pre-Covid and the possibilities. There are a few gigs here and there, and the most excitement since the Raptors won a championship in 2019 - the Blue Jays are back in town. But through a summer of so much promise and a hint of a return to normalcy, why do I feel like the eighteen-month fight against Covid is only the opening salvo against something more contagious and exacting?
By Bill King
Kristine glanced over at me last night and said, “Can you believe August is half over and summer will soon be a memory?" I pushed back, “Summer doesn’t end until late September, don’t be fooled by dates.” When Ted Woloshyn and I spent Saturdays at Newstalk 1010, Ted would remind listeners summer wasn’t over until the last scavenging bear hibernates. With the recent UN report on climate change, summer may be an east coast Canadian phenomenon and a living hell for the rest of the planet. But, for the moment, the 2021 greening of the basin has ruled in our favour.
Ontarians are a cottage-minded lot, and that goes for musicians too. Suppose you are of a generation born on Canadian soil. In that case, chances are you inherited the family retreat and must serve time swatting flies and mosquitos, wafting around the banks of a secluded lake and worrying about deer ticks and Ted’s bears. That’s the fun part. The other? Drive to a supply hut for frozen burger patties, chips and pop, and stocking the liquor cabinet. Then there’s intermittent Wi-Fi. I’m not knocking this by any means. On the other hand, I have friends who never want to see the city again and prefer to swim, fish, read and lounge far away from civilization.
If you are immigrants like the Kings, it’s camping in and about the neighbourhood. Fortunately, Kristine is not cottage material. Instead, she’s an “urban girl” to the bone. Cracked pavement and patios warm her heart. Biking through neighbourhoods is her ‘call of the wild.’ A few days back, a coyote crossed the street in search of a meal. That meal? Cats, small dogs, spillage from when the city dump trucks topple a green bin. Kristine got out her survival manual. Update. Raccoons, once a plaque in my area, are long gone. The most crafty and dexterous can’t twist the handle of a green bin or get past the Covid doorman at Loblaws.
Summer has offered us an indication of life pre-Covid and the possibilities. There are a few gigs here and there, and the most excitement since the Raptors won a championship in 2019 - the Blue Jays are back in town. Everyone hates virtual, and music with bodies in seats and players on stage is a welcomed homecoming. Through a summer of so much promise and a hint of a return to normalcy, why do I feel like the eighteen-month fight against Covid is only the opening salvo against something more contagious and exacting?
There’s an argument to be made. In all of its connecting social glory, Facebook is complicit in spreading disinformation about life-saving vaccines. I single out Facebook because this is where non-scientific opinions about the evil Dr. Fauci flourish daily. Hence, the quick Covid cures, including applying head lice ointment and downing homeopathic serums.
In the ‘90s, I travelled about while apprenticing as a photographer with a grand mentor and stationed in between the two of us in his beat-up wagon, a kit loaded with vials of mercury and other unspecified homeopathic cures. The good man drove and drank from the small containers and would make the occasional back roads stop to visit a herbalist. The talk was ever cordial and specific. This herb cures bronchitis, this one skin rash and this one–cancer. Much like men of his generation who were master printers, he spent hours in a confined windowless space inhaling poisonous chemicals while crafting stunning black and white prints. Bladder cancer is a common ailment found in those who shared the same passion. My tutor died a miserable, preventable death way too soon. Rebuffed doctors and science—curled up in his bedroom and wilted away in extreme pain. Next to his bed, empty vials of nonsense.
Lockdown and isolation have taken a toll on the mind. Folks will take horse tranquilizers over proven protections to avoid the inevitable. You’ve got players in the NFL who have been stricken twice by Covid who are still hesitant to take the vaccine. Then Ron “Death” DeSantis, the governor of Florida, threatening reprisal against school teachers who insist on protecting children through masking. Al Gore called it early on; climate inaction will render the planet a fireball. I often wonder why so many listen to the outliers who muddy the facts through influence and messaging. Every living soul on this planet will need a jab in the arm to defeat the coming variants. Normal is over! These are the facts. Why is it those on ventilators choking on lung debris beg for medical intervention? A quick fix.
Since we opened to stage three in Ontario, I have tasted freedom again and appreciate and savour, yet I’m still apprehensive to unwind and forget. I was at a recent Blue Jays game courtesy of my gracious radio pal, Wayne Webster. Wayne and I love baseball, from the players to the stats. It’s been two years since both of us sat under the lights and open-air confines of Rogers Stadium. The Covid related new infection numbers on that day were a low 43 in Toronto. That’s pretty remarkable in an area as vast and dense, counting 4,000,00 plus residents. Inside the dome, some were masked, others living the free life. With eighteen months of caution and isolation in the rearview mirror, I danced around the edges. On and off. There were moments I shivered in fear and others of absolute delight. The game was more than entertaining; it was riveting. Blue Jays ace outfielder George Springer went four for five at the plate that night.
I left the game and walked along King Street, close to my last gig at N’Awlin’s Jazz Bar, March 2020, and it hit me. The establishment is still gone - humanity only inches from the piano, nevermore. The sound of laughter, the bustle of servers busily hoisting plates of fine Italian fare, seafood and salads, a distant memory. A bar, once packed with talkers, fallen into deaf silence. Drummer Jojo Bowden counting in the first number of the night, a ghost of memory past. The imagery played in my head like a lost movie reel from a bygone era.
One can’t underestimate the devastation to the economy and the toll this has taken on the arts. But I’m looking south at the number counts. The return of ballparks with 50,000 patrons, festivals, public events with 100,000 plus unmasked revellers, knowing a good portion unmasked and unvaccinated, will die a horrid death alone and begging for medical intervention.
Ontario’s populace is 15 million, with 9.3 million fully vaccinated. That’s five-plus million who will fuel the coming fourth wave, of which scientists predict eighty to ninety percent will become infected. Those figures should warn and rock the foundation of our society. I genuinely want a new normal, a Covid free life. But reality tells me that it will be another long, exasperating winter as long as there are doubters and fence-sitters. The dog days are upon us. The humidity is high and temperatures oppressive. Nevertheless, mother nature has once again provided. So embrace the lingering days of summer safely and roar!