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18 Mar 2020

Know Your Neighbors: A Look at the Week When the Pandemic Reality Set In, Through the Eyes of One of Your At-Risk Senior Neighbors—Me

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I am, unbelievably (to me), heading toward my 79th birthday in May. I had a heart “incident” last Thanksgiving that forestalled a heart attack and resulted in a stent being placed in one of my arteries that was blocked up after a lifetime of smoking. I could go on, but in other words, based on age and underlying conditions, I'm one of the vulnerable. I am, unbelievably (to me), heading toward my 79th birthday in May. I had a heart “incident” last Thanksgiving that forestalled a heart attack and resulted in a stent being placed in one of my arteries that was blocked up after a lifetime of smoking. I could go on, but in other words, based on age and underlying conditions, I'm one of the vulnerable.

Although I had been following the development of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, it still seemed somewhat remote from the life we live in the Coachella Valley. It was in that state of mind that I decided to go see a comedy show at a local theater.

It all started on Monday, March 9, when six of us—Carol and Denny, Casi and Tom, and Rupert and me—got tickets for the afternoon performance of Old Jews Telling Jokes on Saturday, March 14, at the Indian Wells Theater on Cal State’s Palm Desert campus. Afterward, we planned to go to Carol and Denny’s for a light supper.

Then, increasingly, the reality of the coronavirus unfolded.

I am, unbelievably (to me), heading toward my 79th birthday in May. I had a heart “incident” last Thanksgiving that forestalled a heart attack and resulted in a stent being placed in one of my arteries that was blocked up after a lifetime of smoking. I could go on, but in other words, based on age and underlying conditions, I'm one of the vulnerable.

An email on Monday suggested that maybe we should see about getting a refund on the tickets. We’re all of a certain age, and perhaps going to a theater with a crowd of people wasn’t such a good idea, with the virus news getting more disturbing every day. I said I’d look into it.

I called the ticket broker through whom the tickets were purchased—and was told they were nonrefundable. In spite of my pleas about being a senior on a fixed income who couldn’t afford to either simply forfeit the price of the tickets or take the chance on going to the theater, the broker (who was very polite and understanding through it all) said—preposterously, it seemed at the time—that unless a national emergency was called, the show would go on.

I did manage to joke with the broker that given the virus’ circumstances and the older local population for such a show, perhaps our group attending would be no problem, since nobody else would be in the theater. He laughed politely … but held his ground.

I then called the theater box office, but a voice message made it clear their season was over, and therefore, they were not able to respond. Next, I sent an email to Cal State and asked if they planned to close down the campus, including the theater—after all, they are local, and I assumed they would act responsibly in the best interest of the public, to say nothing of their students. They did respond, but only to say the show had been contracted as a theater rental, and the campus had not closed down—so I had to work it out with the ticket broker.

Next, I had planned to drive into Los Angeles Tuesday morning to attend the memorial for a dear friend who had passed after three years in a nursing facility. It would be at a hotel on the beach in Santa Monica; after lunch, we’d watch a plane drop my friend’s ashes into the Pacific. I had even been asked to say a few words. Then, I was planning to spend Tuesday night with my daughter and two of my grandchildren. My grandson, who lives with his dad in Texas, was flying in to spend his spring break with his mom and sister; I was staying over to see them. Finally, on Wednesday, I had an appointment to audition for a game show, after which I was to return the desert.

My daughter was concerned about her son taking a flight with all the coronavirus news, so she cancelled his visit. She also expressed her concern about me attending an event where many of the people there would have flown in from around the country. 

Monday afternoon, I made the responsible decision, and I sent my regrets. I felt badly about not attending, but felt as if I had ultimately made a decision in the best interest of my own health.

Tuesday involved more emails about whether my friends and I would still go to Saturday’s performance; finally, I made it clear that it was up to each of us individually whether to attend. Clearly, eating the cost of the tickets would not destroy any of our lives. I indicated that I probably would go, but Rupert might not, given his underlying physical conditions. Casi and Carol said they would probably go, but their spouses probably would not. It’s interesting that the women, not the men, seemed willing to chance it.  

On Thursday, I had scheduled an interview with one of the next subjects for this column. I called on Wednesday to cancel—and the subject was actually thankful, given that the news was getting more and more alarming with each passing hour.

My high school group that gets together for lunch annually was supposed to meet on St. Patrick’s Day in Los Angeles. On Thursday, I begged off that as well. Of course, they ended up cancelling until later in the year.

Despite all of this, on Thursday night, it seemed all of us had decided the hell with it: We were all going to throw caution to the wind and attend Saturday’s show, hoping it would at least provide some laughs and lighten up the angst we were all feeling.

Then, on Friday the 13th, President Trump declared a national emergency. 

True to their word, we received emails indicating the show had been cancelled, and our ticket price was being fully refunded. It was honestly the first time in more than three years I felt good about something coming out of the Oval Office.

I got my nails done on Friday, while the manicurist downplayed the threat of the virus based on her belief that it was all being hyped to damage Trump. It was an oddly lucky visit, however: The beauty-supply rep was there, and I ordered a box of 100 plastic gloves, the type stylists use to apply hair dye. At least I may be able to avoid trying to find hand sanitizer for now.

My regular weekly shopping trip to the pharmacy and the market on Saturday was definitely “a trip”: Why is everyone going crazy over toilet paper? Why aren’t all stores limiting purchases of certain items? Is it really true that people are physically fighting over cleaning supplies? Yikes.

The six of us met for dinner at Carol and Denny’s Saturday evening. We were glad to be together, partly because we’d all been avoiding public contact as much as possible, and it was lovely to have some relaxed, friendly time. We hugged before we said good night. Yeah, I know, social distancing, but sometimes you have to be willing to die to have good friends and love in your life. 

The best news of the week was learning that quarantined Italians are singing and making music on their balconies… and that public health workers are risking their lives to help wherever needed.

What a week it was. And who knows what the future holds?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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