Reality Check

I’m 89 years old. I’m doing fine. My apartment is pleasant and my balcony has a nice view. Three meals a day and snacks are delivered to my door. Packages appear magically. Every day I get some sort of brain stimulation — puzzles, coloring supplies, other stuff — which I discard. Instead I read, talk on the phone, write letters to people I haven’t spoken with for years, and watch gory TV crime shows. 

I like cop shows. One plot appears on a regular basis where the bad guys (recognizable because they have a facial scar or limp discernible even when they wear $5,000 suits) have perfected a virus capable of wiping out an entire city — maybe New York or Chicago or Seattle; it doesn’t matter which city. Then the good guys — usually three or four guys and one gal who is especially smart get involved. A doctor who happens to be hanging around is an expert on viruses, and she knows that this particular virus is a really bad one. 

For an hour I watch gun fights where one of the good guys or gal gets shot, but it’s only a flesh wound. Then for some reason there is a high-speed car chase ending in a burning crash, often resulting in a giant explosion which knocks the good guys to the ground, which covers them with smoke and dust, but no debilitating injuries. But a bunch of lower-level bad guys, who could’ve told the good guys what they needed to know, get killed.

Then a child genius expert on computers finds out that the virus is on a yacht, so the good guys row out to the yacht, climb aboard, and another fight happens. The bad guy in charge holds the vial of virus (the virus is always contained in a small brown bottle with a screw-on lid). There is a scuffle, and the really smart gal gets thrown overboard and she is left to fight for her life in shark-infested waters bleeding from that flesh wound when she got shot earlier. 

One of the good guys reaches for the bottle of virus and it goes flying (in slow motion) out over the ocean. Luckily, the gal while swimming away from the sharks is able to reach up and catch the vial before it hits the water. Dramatic, but not necessary. It turns out the virus loses its potency when it is immersed in water.

New York City or Chicago or Seattle or wherever is saved. Switch channels and watch “Golden Girls” reruns.

We are Americans. Virus plots have to be foiled. Yet today we are living in a reality show where the virus is actually killing thousands of people. What happened? Why didn’t the plot writers take over? Where are the heroes to save us?

These heroes don’t carry guns and chase bad guys. The heroes are doctors and nurses, postal service personnel, grocery clerks, janitors and delivery people, and all the other brave souls who go out into the world every day so I can cower in my apartment. We are all living in a reality show, and I feel I must play my part. It’s like when I was a little kid, and in the days before Christmas I tried to be really good because Santa was watching — filling in for God, who spied on me the rest of the time.

Occasionally I discuss our plight with my elderly neighbors. The consensus is that we have all lived a long time and dying is not a big deal, something we are expecting anyhow, but have assumed that the death would be occasioned by a heart attack or stroke or kidney disease or something equally droll. 

We don’t want to die in a hospital bed with staff trying to save us, while younger people die because there is no empty bed for them. We don’t want to pass on the disease to our neighbors and families or to the medical staff that tries to save us. 

Enough of this. I want to find my TV remote so I can flip channels and find an old “I Love Lucy” rerun.

Award-winning columnist Phyllis Henry lives in Gig Harbor.