Dear 1990s Jeff


Dear 1990s Jeff,

Consider this fair warning, 2020 is totally fucked up. Can I swear at you? I know you swear frequently, I remember that stage in your life. I don’t swear anymore, except in writing where I have something of a potty-mouth, but only because written swear words carry lots of shock value—much more so than spoken.

I’ll try again, 2020 is totally screwed up.

I’m not writing about the protests—the thousands gathered in cities around the country battling cops, soldiers and federal agents while trying to combat systemic racism and oppression of minorities. I’m not writing about middle-class white guys armed with assault rifles stalking town squares and storming county courthouses intent on protecting their selfish, monocultural definition of ‘patriotism.’ I’m not writing about the economy cratering with unemployment resembling the Great Depression and thousands facing eviction from their homes. Or even the $3.5 trillion of additional national debt we’ve racked up this year alone. Those topics we can explore at another time. I’m writing about the pandemic.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, you’ll read a news report about yet another virus gaining steam overseas. Yes, I know we hear this often, and then nothing much comes of it. Frequently, it’s a big deal, but because it isn’t happening in the United States, it’s only a big deal for someone else. In 2020, it’s a big deal for you. A new, fatal coronavirus will spread around the world, and ultimately reach every nook and cranny on the globe, including yours.

Initially, our President, Donald Trump—yes, that Donald Trump… no, I’m not really sure how that happened, a topic for another letter—initially, Trump will do nothing. “Not our problem” he says. “Never happen here.” But as many of us suspect from the start, the virus will spread in the United States, big-time. In fact, we’ll become the world’s leader of virus cases and deaths by a wide margin. Through July and into August, Trump will continue to do nothing but point fingers and attempt to confuse and alienate people with lots of ridiculous theories and self-congratulatory praise.

You probably want to know more about this virus. They decided to call it COVID-19—shortened from Coronavirus 2019. At first, you’ll consider the name unimaginative, but don’t worry, it grows on you. It begins to sound futuristic in a very retro way—like it should be written in an Art Deco font. Plus, it leaves room for sequels: COVID-22, COVID-27 and possibly the exceptionally virulent COVID-31.

Starting in February, there will be a long-running argument about the COVID-19 fatality rate. For months, health organizations will report two percent, which is wrong because their logic sucks. They divide deaths-to-date by the number of cases-to-date, even though it takes at least three weeks for people to die, and the cases keep rising exponentially. You’ll be tempted to make a calculation of your own. I divided the number of deaths by the number of cases three weeks prior. I got five percent. Clever, huh?

That doesn’t work either. Almost half of people who catch the virus won’t show any symptoms at all. They’ll just run around infecting everyone else. Seven months into the pandemic, we still have no clue what the fatality rate is. One statistic is indisputable though, if you show symptoms, you have about a five percent chance of dying.

You know those post-apocalyptic books you love to read about plagues conquering the world? (Aside: those aren’t called post-apocalyptic anymore. They’re called dystopian—a term you adopt early and try to own. It doesn’t work, everyone else adopts it too. and now it just seems pedestrian). COVID-19 isn’t like those books at all. In those stories almost everyone dies, and it happens so fast that no one has time to react. COVID-19 happens in slow motion, taking time to build up the algebraic equation that leads to an explosion of cases. Society has plenty of time to respond. In fact, many countries will quickly gain control of the virus and then enjoy a reprieve, which is holding mostly steady through July, but I can’t say if it will last. Even though we’ve been at this for seven months, I still get the impression that we’re in the first miles of a long and arduous journey.

This is how the United States responds to the virus: After completely ignoring it for two months, COVID-19 begins to escalate rapidly throughout several cities simultaneously. We take it seriously, and we shut down the entire country. Everyone stays home. Work-places shutter, restaurants, shops and bars close, schools let out for the year, and everybody keeps their distance from neighbors and friends. We damage our economy terribly, but it’s worth it. We all work together to fight the virus, and we quickly see the number of new daily cases drop by half.

And then we get bored. We get complacent. People miss hanging out in bars. They miss going to parties, eating in restaurants, tanning on the beach. All of these activities restart and the virus spreads. Republicans decide that wearing surgical masks to reduce contagion is something only liberals do. They say government mandates that require mask wearing violate the constitution. And the virus spreads. Three months later, new daily cases have tripled.

That’s how my story ends. No resolution, no glimmer of hope. I don’t know where it goes from here. Over the next few weeks, schools all around the country will begin to reopen. Everyone acknowledges that people will get sick and many will die—teachers, kids, the kids’ parents, the parents’ coworkers—but no one knows what else to do. Our entire strategy rests on hoping someone will invent a vaccine soon.

Not much good news here but there is a silver lining: In mid-February, you will be running the Gettysburg horse trails on a warm Sunday afternoon (Yes, a warm day in February this year, it was the mildest winter I can remember, and now in August our A/C has been churning for three weeks straight. Is this the rapid global heating that scientists have predicted since the eighties? Probably Yet another exciting milestone for 2020). In the middle of your run, you will have a sudden mental flash telling you to move all of your retirement savings out of the stock market immediately. The politicians who get the straight dope from our national security advisors do this and save millions. You should do it too. Wait five weeks and then rebuy everything. You’re going to be rich.

Sincerely, 2020 Jeff

PS: You’re going to marry a friend of Allie’s named Susan.


24 thoughts on “Dear 1990s Jeff

    • I did check in with the other doc. He made some good connections for me and insisted that I get a heart rate monitor to wear when exercising. He says I’m guessing blind and what I really need is some data. I’m looking for a hard run on Sunday to see if I have any trouble. I’ve been on my new blood pressure medicine for a week. Thanks for asking.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you so much for this 2020 Jeff! If I can address 1990s Jeff for a moment – 1990s Jeff you will do this thing in the 2010s and on called blogging (it’s like a public diary) and you will be REALLY GOOD AT IT!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark. My conversations with myself are loaded sarcasm. I often see irony in horrible situations which I’ve learned to keep to myself when it isn’t appropriate. It’s sobering for me to think of the happy-go-lucky guy I was receiving this letter. I think our 1990s selves simply wouldn’t believe it.


  2. Hey Jeff.
    Your post spoke to me. Since I am also a blogger and also often write about the society, I deeply felt your frustration and impotence while looking at this century losing its face.
    I was reading your post aI couldn’t help but feel sad and sorry for Europe and the US.

    I live in South Korea and the situation here is absolutely controlled. We are free to go wherever we want, as long as we follow the government’s protocol of keep wearing mask one you go out your house and washing your hands here and there throughout the day. Many people here are still scared, so most only come out for the nessecery: work and picking something up. Some don’t even come out and let everything deliver to their door.

    Since I live here and decided to pretty much get off the internet for months, I was left in total shock once I opened my browser. Except South Korea, who managed the stabelize the coronavirus after only one month by working with a track and trave system, the rest of the world still seems in total chaos, like there is a zombie apocalypse or something… And they seem resilient to copy South Koreas covid-19 preventions.

    Why, I ask myself? It worked like an charm here, and the rest of the governments know about it. Why aren’t they just copying the coronavirus-plan from here? We all know Trump too well (yeah, how the F did that happen?), I really feel deeply sorry for your countrie’s situation.

    Maybe we should write this to our future selves: the world of 2020 will burn, and we gladly burn with it, because the governments are to scared and weak to do anything about it or to work together. So, we burn ourselves, our people and the planet. I miss Obama… TT

    Liked by 2 people

    • I find it astounding that we can look at the experiences of countries like South Korea and not say “Gee, we should do that.” Maybe it’s the size of the country. Because it’s so big, maybe the politicians feel we have lives to spare. Ultimately, the US’s only hope is a really effective vaccine (which seems unlikely in the near term) or shut down again and start over. I wish we’d just do that now and start to put this behind us. I just read that my governor is planning to shut down all youth sports until January–a big deal for me because I coach a mountain biking team. It make me fume that we threw away all the hard work and sacrifice of March – May because people won’t wear masks. Now an outdoor sport with inherent social distancing needs to shut down again. I’ve followed your blog. It seems like a great way for me to learn about South Korea, which I know very little about.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that is what I think about a lot too. It’s so sad they just shut everything down instead of fighting the core of the problem. It upsets me too that Westerners, out of boredom and the unwillingness to change their way of living, refuse to work together to tackle this covid-19.

        It really upsets me how we keep it on going longer instead of getting it over with. The world is always changing, and we need to change with it. I think the future will be masks. It should be! There are too many people on this planet. It inevitable there will be more viruses and such, so masks will he a part of the Western culture too. Here masks are part of the culture (smog, viruses, etc), we need to buckle up, accept change in behaviour, and start wearing masks.

        Thank you for reading my blog. I created it with the purpose to connect different cultures, so I feel grateful you took some time reading some posts. I’ll stay up to date with yours too.

        Stay safe, Jeff~


    • Thank you for that compliment. I see in the news that Australia is in a bit of a dance with the virus. I hope you squash it down again. At the rate new diseases are emerging in the world, I feel like COVID-31 is only a matter of when, no if. I heard an author speak a couple of months ago. He saw COVID-19 as a dry-run for a “real” pandemic (a post-apocalyptic pandemic). Clearly we failed the test. Hopefully, we’re learning something from this. But in the US, we seem to be learning nothing.


  3. One thing this crisis has shown us is that libertarianism can be as dangerous an extremist ideology as any other when taken to extremes. Really it boils down to ‘I’ll do what I want and fuck everyone else’; an ideology of supreme selfishness where the idea of doing something mildly inconveniencing to help others, like wearing a mask, makes their blood boil.

    Combined with their refusal to take any personal responsibility for polluting the planet and the crumpet crisis, I’m starting to think that libertarianism might be the most dangerous ideology in the whole world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is actually the first time I’ve heard the push-back on masks/stay-at-home orders framed as Libertarianism. I’ve just seen it as utter selfishness, or put more succinctly, Americanism. I’m completely unsurprised by this movement that has caught on in the US. We are an arrogant and selfish society, and those are traits we also idolize. When I read your comment, I thought uh oh, I don’t even know about the crumpet crisis. It sounds pretty serious and I’m relieved to know you meant climate crisis. I take my crumpets seriously.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ve got the same problem here in England with certain people fighting against wearing masks, but it seems to be a smaller minority than the US. They’re practically ALWAYS right-wing libertarians – the fact that they were also prominent Brexiters helped me make the link. From what I’ve seen it’s similar in the US – the sort of people who insist on their right to own an AK-47 seem to be the same sort of people who refuse to wear a mask and shout at other people for doing so. Hence, a toxic form of libertarianism, which can just as well be called selfishness.

        We also take crumpets very seriously here in England so fingers crossed nothing happens there.


  4. I laughed at a meme I saw the other day. It said, “In 2015 not a single person got the answer right to, “where do you see yourself five years from now?” Made me laugh. 2020 isn’t over yet. Once I think the worst is behind us, something else happens. I don’t even get shocked anymore. I just take it with a shrug. The Trump part made me laugh. I guess if the story starts out with THAT Trump as president, then you can expect an ending like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In Back to the Future, when DOc meets future Marty he says “From the Future? Yeah, who’s the president.” At the time they got a lot of laughs with Ronald Reagan, Trump seems even more absurd. Who’s next? Oh right Kanye West.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So well written! It feels like society and the world are imploding on themselves… nothing is surprising anymore. Although I admit the “crumpet crisis” made me chuckle. At least we still have our crumpets!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Confession: I actually had to look up crumpets. I vaguely knew that it was a type of British food. I really only know the word as David Sedaris’ elf name in his ‘santa land diaries’ essay. Obscure reference.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jeff, I wish I could LOVE your blog posts (like on Facebook – does 1990’s Jeff know about Facebook yet? No, still a way off). I love the humor and the frankness. I’m reading “this is how it always is” by Laurie Frankel right now. One of the chapters is called Annus Mirabilis in reference to the poem by John Dryden (do you know it? I’d never heard of it before.) Anyhow it’s a poem about 1666 England – The Year of Wonders – because it’s a wonder it wasn’t worse. I’m wondering if 2020 will be our Annus Mirabilis.


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