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American Individualism Will Kill Us All


Son #3 invited me to a car show tonight in nearby Bryan. I enjoy attending car shows, especially if they have lots of classic/muscle cars. Such cars remind me of the automobiles I owned in the 1970s and 1980s. My favorite car remains the 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in 1975-76. Lots of raw horsepower, a chick magnet.

I was hesitant about attending the show due to concerns over potential exposure to COVID-19. I decided social distancing and wearing a mask would keep me safe, especially since the event was being held outdoors around the Williams County Courthouse.

According to my finely tuned Baptist preacher crowd counting skills, there were about 200 or so people at the car show. Would you like to guess how many people were concerned with social distancing or were wearing masks? Social distancing? No one bothered. And masks? Five people wore masks: Me and Bethany, a couple selling kettle corn, and a man in a wheel chair. That’s it. Roughly 2.5 percent of the attendees were wearing masks.

Yesterday, I had what I call a Bruce’s Git-r-done Day. I turned 63 today, and I still lack moderation and balance in my life. Hey, the house is on fire! Charge, with an empty squirt gun, and put the fire out! Try as I might to slow down, I find it impossible to do so.

I decided to go to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Bryan to renew my driver’s license. Afterward, I stopped by Bill’s Locker Room to order an embroidered red apron. The BMV was busy, with everyone lined up outside waiting to be waited upon. Out of the 20 or so peopled queued up, four of them were wearing masks. And Bill’s Locker Room? There was a sign on the front door that stressed the importance of wearing masks. Want to know how many employees and customers were wearing masks? One — me. That’s it.

I stopped home to eat lunch with Polly before she headed off to work. I was quite fatigued, but I decided to push myself and drive to Defiance to pick up my prescriptions at Meijer, run our car through the new car wash next door to Kohl’s, and stop by Menard’s to buy two bags of sand.

Roughly 20% of people in Meijer were wearing masks. Menard’s? Everyone was wearing masks. Why? Menard’s requires its customers to wear masks. Damn commies, the lot of them. How dare they tell free-born Americans what they can or can’t do.

The sand, of course, was out in the yard, which I only figured out after traipsing through half the store. As I was headed towards the checkout, I was hit of wave of lightheadedness and fatigued. You’ve pushed yourself too far now, dumb ass.

I managed to check out, crawled into the seat of our Ford Edge, turned the air on high, and sat in Menard’s parking lot for ten or so minutes, hoping to catch a bit of wind in my sail. I finally felt well enough to drive home. I told myself, “this was a really stupid idea.”

II checked my blood pressure and blood sugar level. My glucose level was 62. I took my evening medication, downed a Dr. Pepper, and ate a sandwich. Man, was I tired! I turned the TV on to watch All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Halfway through the show, I fell asleep. An hour later, I woke up, and my was body was screaming from head to toe in pain. The pain was so bad that I ran a hot bath and sat in the tub for a half-hour, hoping the pain would abate (and it did).

Around 1:00 a.m. or so, I started trading messages with a woman who was a teen in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church I pastored in southeast Ohio in the 1980s. We had a delightful conversation.

Polly arrived home from work at 2:30 a.m. I told her I was really feeling weak, and my eyesight was blurry. I thought, I’d better check my blood sugar level. What the fuck, it is 40! As any diabetic knows, a 40 reading means its time to head for the emergency room. Not me. I’m Bruce Gerencser, a real American. I can do all things through Bruce!

I started to stand up, only to find that I couldn’t do so. I told Polly, I’m in big trouble. Get me a Dr. Pepper. I chugged it down, no change on my glucose level. WTF! Polly, now quite concerned said, do you want a glass of orange juice? Yes, right away, I replied. 90 minutes later, my blood sugar level rebounded to a whopping 50. It took until 7:00 a.m. for my glucose level to reach 72.

As I reflect on the lack of social distancing and mask wearing by locals andAs I reflect on the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing by locals and my unwillingness to balance my life, I have concluded that American individualism will be the death of us all. While I can smugly and self-righteously chastise locals for not caring about their neighbors, am I really any better? Don’t I owe it to Polly, my children, and my grandchildren to prudently manage my health? It’s one thing for me to push myself a bit, but it’s another thing to run headlong into a brick wall, thinking that I am impervious to harm. I am not.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Yeah, most men are dumbasses who won’t go to the goddamn doctor. I’d reach through the computer and slap you upside the head, but it wouldn’t do any good, would it? My husband is the same way. He has a lot going on medically. He hasn’t been to a doctor in at least 10 years. Grr, don’t get me started. He’s going to die on me and I can’t do a damn thing to stop it.

    I don’t like Oregon’s governor, I think she’s a grandstanding piece of shit. But I do agree with her handling of the plague so far. And she’s finally allowing this county to open again, but everyone is required to wear a mask inside every business everywhere.

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      Ami, I have family in Oregon. So I’m glad for what their governor is doing. People here in NW Ohio don’t seem to GAF. I’m resigned over this right now. (That doesn’t mean I won’t get super pissed. My moods vary a lot, lately.)

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    What you’re describing here is self-destructive behavior and refusal to accept factual reality — I don’t think I’d call that “individualism”. I’m very much an individualist and I’ve been observing covid-19 precautions very stringently, to the point of not leaving the apartment at all except when absolutely necessary (grocery shopping only, pretty much), and always wearing a mask when I do. That’s not because I believe in subservience to authority — I absolutely don’t — but because I’m trying to protect my individual self from disease and death. Scientific knowledge is a useful tool to that end.

    None of those people you saw refusing to wear masks would ever, say, refuse to get an oil change for their car because they don’t let some pointy-headed know-it-all mechanic tell them what to do. The reason they reject established information about health is that that’s science, and acceptance vs rejection of science has become a marker of tribal identification in the US — secular/left people accept it, religious/right people reject it. Even wearing masks has become the same. They won’t wear one because they consider that a marker of being a liberal / non-church-going / “snowflake” type. They’re not individualists, they’re conformists to the taboos of their tribe.

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    And on the blog of Mrs odious pastor Steve Anderson, I read her post about being denied entrance to a food store unless she wore a mask. she advised her sheeple to tell the person on the door that they have a medical exemption….good ole lying-for-jesus as usual.

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    I think the issue of individualism you’ll be writing about in time to come is on the subject of those who refuse to be vaccinated against the virus, assuming an effective one is developed. There seems already to be a substantial proportion of the population insisting on their right not to be vaccinated, but I wonder how that balances out against civic duty. Inevitably in the early days of the vaccination there will be people who will be cautious, but hopefully there will have been enough testing to allay fears. Then there are people who, for medical reasons, cannot be vaccinated, and ultimately these are the people who are being protected, as they have no choice. The worry then is the anti-vax brigade, that increasingly vocal and scientifically illiterate proportion who think Bill Gates is somehow injecting microchips, or that they might get a daemon, or whatever. Of course, the American way of thinking is of β€˜rights’, the right not to be vaccinated. That particular brand of citizen never stops to think that with rights go duties, and that perhaps being vaccinated might become one of those duties.

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    Douglas Kolacki

    I think there may be another reason: people tend not to take it seriously because they haven’t actually seen it, only read and heard about it. I’ve been hearing about COVID19, Coronavirus etc. etc. for months but never caught it myself, nor has anyone I know. I live in RI, whose governor takes it very seriously indeed and has had us on strict lockdown, and in the beginning I kept reminding myself that you can’t err on the side of safety when it comes to masks, distancing etc. (I’ve practiced social distancing for most of my life anyway)…but I always go back to thinking it’s just such a damned nuisance to wear that ridiculous mask at my job and in stores. The virus has always been just a rumor to me (and with luck will remain so despite my carelessness), but the inconvenience of wearing the mask everywhere, etc., however slight, is the reality. I only ever wear it when I have to, and never wipe anything down.

    Now if I caught the virus myself, and especially if it almost killed me, I’d see it very differently indeed–it would be real in my life, and I’d become a total apostle for taking all the precautions. “Hey, would you rather put up with those slight inconveniences of answering all the questions when you arrive at your job every morning, and wearing a mask, or catch a killer virus?” So I suppose my good luck during this pandemic has made me complacent.

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    Southern Lady

    I think many people are just skeptical, and rightly so. “It’s the end of the world” gets old after awhile when what was supposed to happen doesn’t actually happen. Sugar will kill you, fat will kill you, obesity will kill you, not exercising will kill you. Then throw in politics, and you’ve really hurt the credibility of the message.

    It would be interesting to have a man on the street asking why people are or aren’t wearing masks. I can think of all kinds of reasons. I’d bet most people who don’t wear one think their individual risk of catching the virus is low unless they are in prolonged, close contact with lots of people in an enclosed area, especially in the winter. So they figure they don’t need the mask to protect themselves. And if they’re told to wear one to protect other people, they may know they aren’t feeling sick and are unlikely to be carrying the virus without symptoms because they live in a rural setting, don’t come into contact with many people, etc.

    I think one issue is the risk is not the same for everybody. And when the news doesn’t take that into consideration, people become rightly skeptical. If you’re a low-risk individual and live your life in lots of low-risk settings, it could feel kinda silly to be running around with a mask on.

    I think the idea that non-mask wearers don’t believe in science is absurd.

    Living in a college town, I was used to seeing Asians wearing masks. I was told that in their culture, you wear a mask if you yourself are sick. It’s considered polite to try to keep your germs from harming others. I think that’s very nice and am all for it. But that’s a little different from everybody in every setting needing to wear one.

    I personally wear one to help protect myself if I’m in a store or even outside if I’m near other people. I’m 63 years old and have type A blood. But, to be honest, that’s probably overkill. Now if someone I lived with had the virus or I worked in a building close to others all day, I’d feel at risk, definitely. Plus I have a personal paranoia about people in buildings with no open windows, anyway.

    I also avoid elevators-very closed-in places with lots of people! Scary!

    Anyway, I guess I trust that most people have common sense to make decisions about all this. I greatly respect the virus and find it terrifying. But I also know that the news thrives on causing fear, so of course they want to make it as terrifying as possible for the drama. And politics enters into everything. And science is great but has been wrong many times.

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      Southern Lady

      Plus I think there are all kinds of legitimate things to consider in regards to the virus. But most of them would be too uncomfortable to discuss. So I’ll save myself the stress of that.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Happy Birthday young fella… I like the fact that you decide to ‘git ‘r done’ and all you need to do nowadays is pace yourself a bit. Ha!
    Thanks for wearing a mask when you are among others out in the world, Bruce. Even bearded atheist creatures are able to be an example of caring for others, hey? Masks show that you not only give a damn but that your damn caring is not only for your stoopid self but for others.
    It got suddenly hot today after lengthy chills and rain that almost stopped the corn from sprouting here in B.C. It’s not only bipeds that are doing the extremes these days! That old weather/climate thang is swinging like a wild pendulum and its hard to keep up/predict the patterns.
    The Doctor: “Be kind. Be Patient. Stay safe.”

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    Susannah Anderson

    I tend to run myself into brick walls, too. I think it may be part of my upbringing and my time in the church. I was taught, as you probably were, to put myself last, (J.O.Y.) to ignore my limitations, to just keep going and going and going. “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength …” So don’t stop; “Work for the night is coming…” “I can do all things …” Pretend, “My burden is light”, in spite of signs that it is really far too heavy. And finally, “To die is gain.” I was taught to aspire to “die in the traces.”

    So I learned to deny weakness, to power through, to doggedly put one foot in front of the other, to grit my teeth and stiffen my spine and keep going, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, all 52 weeks a year. (Sundays are only a day of rest for the laity, right?) And even when it is no longer a matter of “doing God’s work”, the habits persist.

    I still manage to feel guilty if I take a sick day. Or because I’m still keeping my distance from people and wearing my mask, and not out there serving the community for now. Because staying home and staying safe is “selfish”, of course.

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    I think people are much better at taking care of their stuff then they are with their own bodies. Maybe it’s because we are taught to value our stuff more than our own bodies. We, are not valuable, but our stuff is.

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    ... Zoe ~

    Bruce: “Don’t I owe it to Polly, my children, and my grandchildren to prudently manage my health? It’s one thing for me to push myself a bit, but it’s another thing to run headlong into a brick wall, thinking that I am impervious to harm. I am not.”

    Zoe: Answer to first question. Yes. πŸ™‚

    Ah, the brick wall scenerio. Been there, done that.

    Happy Birthday Bruce.

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    Bruce, happy birthday! Don’t go wearing yourself out to the point of wearing yourself into the ground! We’d all miss you!

    I live in Northeastern NJ where everyone knows someone who has had covid-19, and it ain’t pretty. 2 of my fit, healthy friends (one is a 23-year-old former Division 1 soccer player) had it, both were laid out in bed for nearly 4 weeks, and both said they have never been so sick in their lives. I know people whose elderly relatives passed away from covid-19. I have friends in healthcare who describe the worst of the worst conditions. We take it pretty seriously here. Masks are required on stores, and everyone complies. It’s real to us. I understand why it isn’t “real” in other places – to them it’s a NYC problem. Until it isn’t.

    I am most concerned about the anti-vax anti-science conspiracy theorist crackpots who will refuse a vaccine because of rights/religious freedom/mark of the beast or whatever other dumba$$ reason. Will enough of us have sense to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity levels?

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, please take care of yourself! I am recuperating from an accident and can relate to your wanting to do things your way. But I am about the same age as you are, and know that our bodies tell us, loud and clear, what we need to do.

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Bruce Gerencser