Politics & Media
Jun 17, 2024, 06:29AM

The Vaccine Vat

I barely remember wearing a mask.

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Two weeks ago my wife was laid low for three days, the result of a shingles vaccine our doctor recommended—as most physicians do—and she couldn’t sleep well, had shivers and chills and was forced to curtail her schedule. But she didn’t regret receiving the shot, and suggested I do the same. “There’s no way,” I replied, “all the vaccines in this country now come out of the same sketchy cauldron.” (Not dissimilar to the old joke that all the Indian restaurants on E. 6th St. in the East Village fetch food from a single kitchen.) Melissa asked, “When did you go all MAGA on me?” I laughed, said that wasn’t the case, but I refuse to be part of the vaccine culture that still, incredibly, exists. Perhaps that’s not wise: I did have shingles back in 2009, and it blew; welts on my back and stomach, and the feeling that a colony of red ants was eating my flesh. It lasted, with gradual improvement, for about a week. Nevertheless, even though shingles is a repeat offender, I’ll take my chances.

It’s a far different world than when Covid scared the shit out of millions in most of 2020: a complete unknown, especially for older people, we were told, and though I was (and am) generally healthy, it was dark cloud that never abated, even when sunny. I followed the rules outside, wearing the black mask that was mandated at most retail and food establishments (it was inconvenient, but I wasn’t going to get arrested for non-compliance), although I didn’t isolate, even when my wife got hit by the bug, figuring if I got it, I got it.

Both my sons were Covid victims—even after we all got the mandatory two-shot vaccine. I did get a booster, with no ill effects, although my wife took to our bed for two days. And then, as reports surfaced about Andrew Cuomo’s—for a time, let’s remember, he was America’s Governor—disastrous policies in New York, the nursing homes scandal and then the sexual harassment charges that forced him to resign. Gov. Ron DeSantis was far, far more lenient in Florida, and his constituents didn’t suffer adversely. (How DeSantis completely bungled his presidential campaign in 2023 is still baffling, a disaster that would, at one time, result in instant-history books, but will now go down as an agate-type footnote.)

At some point last year, masks were no longer required at the hospital/physician’s office I go to, whipsawing the common thought that the cloth coverings were here for good. I can’t even locate one at my house now, and the vaccine card, once as important as a passport, is lost in a drawer, relegated to the status of the draft card I received when I turned 18 in 1973.

I just finished Teddy Wayne’s mildly entertaining The Winner, set in the summer and fall of 2020, which dates the novel to a nearly-fatal extent. The action’s in a gated community (Cutters Neck) near Cape Cod for the 1%—remember the animus against them, all that “eat the rich” silliness?—the elites who gather at their third home, are never without a mask, and always, but always, maintain the six-foot distance that Anthony Fauci (he’s in the same category as Cuomo now, a hero-turned-alarmist/quack) recommended. Wayne’s a prolific author, and I gather, given his stint as a New York Times columnist (I don’t remember reading him), The Winner has received approbation from his peers, and maybe he’ll be one of the few authors who makes money from a book, although I doubt sales are brisk, since it’s my demographic, and those 10 years younger, who still seek out and read new fiction, and almost no one else. I couldn’t care less one way or the other, and his latest novel is one I’d only recommend for those bored in their summer getaway, when the dip in the pool’s over and there’s nothing on TV. Cocktails and The Winner—there are worse combinations.

Briefly, Conor O’Toole is a striving, and confident, lower-middle-class fellow from Yonkers, who by determination and hard work, graduated from a no-name law school, with the bar exam coming up, and as a low-level tennis star he wangles a job giving lessons at Cutter’s Neck. He’s an attractive young man, very promiscuous, and becomes a de facto male prostitute with a client—their assignations described vividly by Wayne—who’s nearly twice as old as him. Oh, and he falls in love with her daughter, a sad-sack 23-year-old woman who’s “damaged” by a lifetime of wealth. Conor’s kind of creepy, which, despite his current lower economic station, allows him to fit in with the old-money Cutters Neck residents. I suppose The Winner is a study in “toxic masculinity,” but that term’s becoming as dated as masks.

The conclusion of a New York Times review of The Winner by Mary Pols bears this out: “I’d judge Wayne on his easy access to the immoral and amoral, but given my own voracious consumption of this book, better to stay off my high horse.” Is that a “privilege check”? Could be, but that phrase, ubiquitous not long ago, is also receding, perhaps in favor of hunting out left- and right-wing Nazis online.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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