I gave a speech Saturday morning to some delightful ladies in a church basement. My criteria for “delightful,” of course, is primarily based in whether they laughed on occasion and seemed to be listening, as opposed to staring politely because this fellow is just going on and on and there doesn’t seem to be a point - oh, there, he seems to be getting close to a point . . . no, he’s veered away from it, as if repelled by the idea of narrative flow.

Perhaps that’s too harsh, he said, setting himself up to appear better in your eyes than the straw lady he created for the purposes of insincere self-deprecation. I know I circled back to my points. Such as they were. As I have noted before, I do not have A Speech, which I trot out and read with passionate conviction and the manufactured impression that I have never said this joke before. I do have chunks, which can be moved around and placed in different speeches, but it all depends on the audience.

The coordinator for the event called me up last year, to see if I was free on March 7 - smart move, because yeah, pretty good chance I’m not busy Saturday morning NINE MONTHS FROM NOW, or wherever it was. A few weeks ago she had the utter gall to ask what I would be speaking about, so I had to commit to an idea. I always toss out something that seems appropriate for the audience, and promptly forget it. A few days before the event I make notes and start talking while ironing shirts or sorting sweater in the closet. Then I show up and do my favorite thing:

I . . . wing it! Improv is fun. Sure, hit the points, but while you’re up there, wing it, if the audience is with you.

Anyway. My point has to do with this: they offered an honorarium, which I declined, because I’m doing okay and it would seem low to take money from church-basement ladies. They had some charities they supported that could use it. They suggested it go to the homeless family they’re supporting? Fine! Or how about the food shelf? That’s fine too! Or we hav this other outreach - you make the call.
That’s just one small church on a back street in a suburb. They all do this. Every church you pass as you drive or stroll or fly over does this.

I suspect this will seem, in retrospect, as the last “normal” week. The one in which there was other news.

This doesn’t mean everything will be actually horrible. It means the news will be horrible, in that it gives a sense of a rapidly escalating catastrophe that produces mass unease and uncertainty.

A few weeks ago, I think, I mused about some previous pandemic about which I’d forgotten, except that I bought masks, and noted a run on rice at Costco, That was the Swine Flu pandemic, of course. It was declared by the WHO to be A Thing in June 2009. I decided to go back to the StarTribune archives to see how it played out. From what I recalled, there was concern, but nothing like we're seeing today. See if you recall any of this, or your local variant.

April 28: Front page Sunday story., "Is This the Big One, and Are We Ready Here?"

May: few stories, precautions relaxed.

June 9: the graduation ceremony for a local high school at Target Center was using fist bumps instead of handshakes. Front page story, written without alarm: just a sign of the times.

June 12: Front page lead story, with 30 cases reported per day.

It looks really bad:

An epidemiologist quoted says it's not the Spanish Flu, "but we just don't know." Public health officials criticize the press for giving the flu too much attention earlier in the year, then soft-pedaling the story when the lethality appeared much less than advertised.

Article notes that half the people who died from the swine flu were "young and healthy."

Let's just imagine how the news would handle that fact with COVID19.

June 21: 10 kids get swine flu at Muscular Dystrophy Camp; national organization cancels all summer camps.

Aug 7 2009: Hennepin County “ramps up” for a swine-flu surge, after a summer hiatus; 252 people had been hospitalized for the flu; the hospitals were preparing for 30-40% absenteeism in hospital workers due to the flu.

Sept 17: Headline, in Metro: Flu Cases Rapidly increasing. Twenty-eight percent of students at Elementary school kept home with flu or flu-like illness! TWENTY-EIGHT PERCENT!

Oct 6: Healthy first-grader dies of the flu. Front page news.

Oct 29 four months after the declaration of the pandemic:

This is the only result for "Obama Flu" in 2009, except for a story about the new CDC director, who was appointed in May.

The article notes in the third Graf that 46 states have been hit, and the national death toll is more than 1,000.

Nov 05: Local cases appear to have peaked, with 182 people hospitalized the previous week, as opposed to 225 the week before that.

Nov. 12: China’s “aggressive steps appear to be paying off,” with the flu, although it reported 5,000 new cases in the last three days.

December: flu vaccines recalled for ineffectiveness; third wave of H1N1 predicted.

Feb 2010: the only stories concern free shots, and the fact that the usual flu season had been quite mild.

  March 2010: It’s a joke on the weather page

April: three stories, one of which describes how mint leaves can loosen phlegm, another concerning some local basketball players who won’t be playing because of flu-like symptoms. A story on the 8th notes two more deaths, bringing the state total up to 70.

May: a story about Tiger Woods dropping out of a tournament, which he hadn’t done for a while; last time was years ago, when he had the flu.

The global death toll, by the time it was over, was estimated at over half a million people.

Not saying this is nothing; it's obviously serious. I also suspect the news will lack perspective, and we will get the sense that attempts to mitigate the spread are happening not because it could be bad for many, but because it already is horrible for most.

Just my impression.



We are honor-bound to do them all.



Let’s listen to the theme. I don’t think people were leaving the theater whistling the tunes. Some gershwinny moments, though.

We meet a couple from 1945, fighting about whether they should stay at the resort hotel for another month. He can’t stand the mountains. But it’s their honeymoon, she says. He broods: I lost my first wife on our honeymoon on the coast of Maine, right here.

Maybe you should have brought that up before, pal.

Boy, people really opened up to each other in those days:

But he thinks she doesn’t think it was an accident! She doesn’t trust him! He asks her if she thinks it’s possible to have a sudden overwhelming desire to kill the person they love! Well, do you? DO YOU?

The police decide not to investigate - ’twas an accident! The brother of the first girl doesn’t buy it. And look who he is:

It’s Craig Foster, from the Purple Monster serial!

Cut to Hollywood, Flesh Capital of the World!

The sister of the guy who managed to lose two wives on his honeymoons contacts Dr. Crime Doctor, who wants him to find out of her brother is insane. This naturally leads to a party, where there’s a couple of Spanish dancers:

Here’s where things get peculiar: they’re a brother and sister dance act, and they may be vampires.

No one’s ever seen them in the daylight.

Hence they may be vampires.

They have quite the orchestra for a smallish nightclub:

We spend about nine minutes on a dance routine, during which the sister in the dancing act disappears. People are thinking, that’s a neat trick! Nice stagecraft. Well:

At this point everything becomes incomprehensible. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING EVEN ABOUT.

Crime Doc hitches a ride with Count Oxmyx:

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Our fam-ee-lee.

Remember, this started out with a guy tossing his wife off a cliff. Maybe. They go back to the mansion, where Bela Oxmyx says Hees Peeple were ancient alchemists, interested in prolonging life indefinitely. Dr. Crime Doctor passes out, because the wine was drugged.

If people went out to the lobby after the start and met someone and had a chat then went back to the theater, they’d be absolutely baffled.

Anyway, it’s ridiculous to think they might be vampires. Oh -

Then Dr. Crime Doctor wraps it all up - the vampire thing was just a publicity stunt! And the ending makes perfect sense.


But no one cared, because most of them came in half-way through and paid little attention. They were there for Gary Cooper. Everyone involved in Crime Doctor knew it.

Hey: it's a living.


That will do; see you around.



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