Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jun 27: One person is killed in Louisville, Kentucky during a protest over Breonna Taylor’s killing. The New York Times reports that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly paid Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan bounties to kill U.S. and coalition troops. Two people are killed at a shooting at a Walmart distribution center in Red Bluff, California.

From the cutting room floor...

The family goes camping. I know it’s a pandemic, but, God help me, I had to get out of this house. We pile in the car with our tent and our dog and head north to the foothills of the Appalachian mountain range. It is sticky and hot when we arrive at the campground, waiting in a long line of other over-heated cars for our packaged night in the out-of-doors. I have to wear a mask when I check us in, and again when I splurge on a few big logs for the campfire. There are three other families around us as we make camp, watching us warily as we hang a garbage bag from a tree and make sure that the pine cones are swept away from the ground. I worry about the other families, too, quietly measuring the distance between our camps, imagining an invisible wall that will keep their germs out of our space.

On our hike up nearby Oak Mountain, we imagine the pretty waterfall that will be at the end, the lovely cool water and the dappled sun through the leaves. My husband sings Steely Dan songs and tells the story of how his family came from the mountains of northern Italy—all of them great hikers who herded goats and sired hearty daughters. A mile in, the dog decides to stop walking. No coaxing will get her stubby legs going again.

I immediately flashback to decades ago. I’m ten-years-old, and I’m refusing to keep walking on this exact hike with my parents. My dad carried a bag of cherry-flavored throat lozenges in his pocket and told me they were energy medicine. “Each lozenge will move you for exactly one hour,” he said authoritatively. He was a doctor–I believed him and kept walking, excited for the zippy cherry flavor that once-upon-a-time made for a decent substitute for candy when nothing else was available. He did it again at the hospital nine years later. I had a tumor in my abdomen. He gave me a lozenge the night before my surgery, with a wink. “This will move you for one day,” he said. He looked pale; he couldn’t cry–he was a doctor, for crying out loud. But I could sense his tears were just beneath his eyelids. I loved him for that.

Today in this jungle-heat, I dig out my handy towel and tie it into a papoose around my shoulder so that I can carry the dog. She seems very pleased. There is no waterfall when we get there, just a stagnant pool and twenty other disappointed campers who were hoping for something better.

When we get back to the camp, another family has moved in nearby. They each appear to have brought a personal fan and are setting up a surround sound speaker system. Their cooler is the size of my first car. Ignoring them, we cook kabobs on the grill and play a board game on our picnic table. As we are settling in for the night, I read in the New York Times that the Russian Government has been offering bounties on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan, and that Trump knew about it.[1]  Nowhere in any of the news reports do they note the irony of this moment. After all, the United States offered bounties on Russian lives in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Everyone is aghast at the possibility that we are just as vulnerable as everyone else, that America doesn’t get to be the bully in the sandbox everywhere, all the time.   

My musings are cut short when someone in the neighboring camp starts to cough. Huge, unending, racking coughs. The kind that would wake the dead, followed by gasps for air and more coughing. We don’t sleep. We stew in our sleeping bags. I can almost hear the worried breathing in our tent–they must have COVID, you can almost hear each of us thinking. “Who goes camping when they sound like that?!” my daughter whispers after a solid five minutes of listening to this racking cough in the dead of night. “Jesus Christ, this is ridiculous.”


[1] “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says,” The New York Times, June 26, 2020.

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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.