What's so funny 'bout sticks, love and understanding?| MARK HUGHES COBB

Mark Hughes Cobb
Mark Hughes Cobb

Boosted by the stick of another/Boosted cause the truth is that COVID/It's still going on/Just ask Forest Lawn.

If you don't now have Squeeze's "Tempted" running through your noggin, you're a stronger soul than me.

Nobody wants to talk about it, but predictions have borne out: We're stuck with COVID-19. It's just a matter of whether we'll continue to get vaccinated and boosted, continue to remain cautious around other breathing animals, and live through a case with few visible signs, or suffer heavy cold/flu symptoms, or get stuck with the nightmare of long-COVID, which now sounds like the most unease-making horror movie title ever.

Or, you know, die.

That's not funny. But what is, and isn't? Right after 9/11, insta-whiner talking heads insisted irony was dead, comedy's dead, everything's dead. As usual, those most fervent of wish-doomers were plain dead wrong. Same weird outlook by those who insist print should be gone, bricks-and-mortar stores may as well play moribund, when in fact they're mostly wounded, and suffering from ripple effects of wishful dooming, as I sit here in the coffeeshop of a bricks-and-mortar store surrounded by literally thousands of printed books and magazines, uncounted millions of words on paper.

I know folks who have died from this pandammit, and others still who are suffering, and possibly always will be.

So no, that ain't that funny at all.

At least three states had more cases this week than last, and 20 states suffered more deaths in the same period, according to Johns Hopkins University data. According to the CDC, only about 4.4 million people in the U.S. have gotten the bivalent booster jab, just 1.5 percent of eligible folks. That's abysmal.

Maybe you hadn't heard about this latest recommended round, because the seemingly endless drumroll of "more boosters!" can start to sound like a drone. But it's available, it's out there, and it's cheap (or even free) and easy.

It's "bivalent" because these boosters combine the original COVID-19 vaccine with new juju (thoroughly scientific name) targeting BA.4 and BA.5 versions of the omicron variant. And it's still using messenger RNA tech, which is not available on Samsung phones, but only on Apple ... I kid, I kid. Bill Gates already plundered your brain. Give up.

What the mRNA does is help bodies produce spike proteins that resemble − scientifically − those on the surface of the coronavirus, so your immune system recognizes such spikes as invaders, and coughs up − scientifically − antibodies to block that kick, and stuff the invaders for a loss. The bivalent layers on defenses for the BA.5 strain, which represents more than 85 percent of new cases.

Health care experts from the White House down say: Get it now. Definitely get it before Oct. 31, when autumn's fully fallen, and folks will be indoors more, breathing around others in heated rooms, spiking the virus. Again.

Major retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens are carrying both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Find a location through www.vaccines.gov. Some can work with walk-up, though it's easy to sign up through websites. When I found myself wrapping up necessary work early-ish one afternoon last week, I went to cvs.com, got an appointment for 30 minutes later, and was done, all told, in about 45 minutes from when I'd had the notion.

It takes roughly two weeks post-booster for full effect, and I wanted to be extra-careful for this year's 51st Annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts, coming up the weekend after this column goes to print, Oct. 15-16. I expect to be around many at the Kathyrn Tucker Windham Stage, which I'm helping wrangle again this year, including old and new friends, bestsellers, dazzling veteran wordsmiths and rising stars, including Mark Childress, Nana Nkweti, Michael Martone, Marlin Barton and Ashley M. Jones, our state poet laureate. That's not even deep-diving into the Pure Products, UA undergrad and Rude Mechanicals reader-writers, or the Alabama Writers' Forum's writing workshop for children.

That's a lot of breathing, even in Kentuck's fresh-air outdoors.

My vaccine card rolls over to a second page, because I'm taking every dang preventative so I can go about a more-or-less normal life. I'm one of the lucky few who have not contracted COVID, and that's not just down to the fact that I ran to get the vaccine, then on the dot returned for boosters. And it's not just that I've been careful, though I have, and not that I haven't been around folks who've contracted it, which I also have. It's probably a DNA roll of the dice, and man, if I believed in jinxes, I wouldn't be sharing, because it sure sounds like I'm asking for it.

To be crystalline: I'm not.

The first few shots I got at DCH, and despite dual snake-wrapping lines of cars, rolled in and out within 30 minutes, and that's counting a 15-minute waiting period post-stick, to check for allergic reactions.

While waiting out that 15, experiencing what felt like the first deep breath in more than a year, I composed my second-ever fan letter. The first was decades before, to Debbie Harry: "Something something love your music your voice your whole thing, woman." Eloquent, no doubt. Still waiting for a reply, but breath will not continue to be bated.

This one's on record, as it was sent via email to Scott Shannon, longtime host of the True Oldies Channel. I listen through Tuscaloosa radio staple WJRD, at FM 102.1; also available on 1150 AM.

Shannon's chatter used to get on my nerves. Play the music, man. But he's an old-school DJ, a modern rarity. He may ramble at times − though he NEVER talks over songs − but it's always about love of music, enjoyment of a bit of pop-culture arcana, or news he found amusing. Here's a guy living his niche, and transmitting via radio.

That first vaccine, I lined up pre-dawn, and shortly afterwards wrote:

"Hey Scott: I've enjoyed your show for many years, but early this morning, while I was waiting in line to get my first Pfizer vaccine shot, Aretha's '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman' came on, and it felt like you and the queen of soul were helping the sun to rise. Thanks for what you do, for continuing to be an actual live voice, a human connection in an age of impersonal media, surfing the airwaves."

I felt a little silly, impulsively hitting send, but it was an emotional day, one that felt like dawning, not just dawn, at a time when connection seemed dangerous. I felt touched, distantly, radio-actively, by his warmth, his joie de vivre.

He wrote back, saying how much my words meant to him. Which was nice. And as the late great Frank Burns/Larry Linville twittered "It's nice to be nice to the nice! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA ...."

Last string of shots I've gotten at CVS, whose employees also couldn't be nicer. Same mini-scene for each, even though each sticker − scientific name − was a different person:

"I'm going to need you to relax your arm. .... Relax your arm. ... Re ... (looking down to see I am relaxed, just blocky-shouldered) ... Oh."

Yes, that's a humble-brag, but I'm old. Let me boast, even if it's about a merely broad booster shoulder or two.

Needles can't bother me, for a two-fold reason:

When I was two or three, on a road trip with family to visit other family in Colorado, I got shot outside a bar in Dodge City. Dad was holding me, shirtless on a warm day, as a gunfight nearby sent a cap-pistol spark flying and frying onto my even-then broad back. So toddler-me was shot, and lived to spin the yarn. Come at me, sticker.

Years later, lined up for vaccinations with two-years-older brother Scotty, he went first, indicating, via tears, that it hurt. I decided then and there never to react to needles: We middle children stand out how we can. To this day, mind overrides matter. A needle-stick feels like strength; like freedom from hurt.

Four months from now, I'll be back to work that gag again. I plan to be an old, strong man for a long time.

Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at mark.cobb@tuscaloosanews.com, or call 205-722-0201.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: What's so funny 'bout sticks, love and understanding? MARK HUGHES COBB