NOTES FROM AN ISLAND – Day 222, Oct 31, 2020 - Halloween


Another holiday falls to the pandemic. Halloween 2020 is relegated because imaginary terrors cannot measure up to the real anxieties of disease and politics.

I’m sorry for the youngsters who will miss a Halloween. Hopefully, there is just this one lost, for you get so few magical days in your life before the humdrum of adulthood takes over. Halloween is one of those holidays where youth is not necessary to believe, but there is something about the innocence of those early celebrations that instill the strongest of memories.

I was raised in part in Scarsdale NY, a fashionable but not overly stylish bedroom community of New York City. Even from age six to twelve, I could tell that Scarsdale had little of note to recommend it. Except that it may have been the best Halloween town in which I have ever dwelt. Small enough to roam through, at that time quiet enough that traffic was not an issue and by and large safe enough to let children free on this Devil’s night of October 31st, the village was formative in my love of the holiday. It had small patches of woods (which I’m sure were just a few trees but seemed liked haunted forests to my impressionable young self). There was a pond around the library where a dreaded and eldritch snapping turtle of legend lived. There were creepy lanes and colonial houses that might have sheltered witches.

When I was young, we would meet up in packs as the sun went down, nervously greeting each arriving friend to make sure that he or she was in fact wearing a mask and not an actual witch or mummy or monster or ghost. Our numbers set, and swag sacks gripped in our cold enthusiastic hands, we would set out on our missions. This is the year, we would boast, that we will hit every house from Hartsdale to the Village. This is the year, we crowed, that we will demand our fair share of candy even from the meanest of providers. This is the year, we vowed, that we will finally ring the door of the ancient house at the top of the Old Post Road.

None of those things ever happened, as tired and frozen legs gave in to the lateness of the hour. Our pack would dwindle, members slipping off home without announcing their shame to the rest of the group. Finally, it would be two or three of us huddling together in a night swept by ghastly winds, no stars daring to glow in the sky where menacing clouds or spirits would cover the moon. We would stomp along in brave exhaustion, silent as the tomb lest we attract the attention of some hideous creature of the night. We would walk in the middle of the road so nothing could grab us from the bushes.

At the top of the road a small group would appear and approach, an inexorable force. Do we run or face them? Our path home lay ahead and the three or four of us were too tired for the long loop around. We trudged forward into dreaded unknown. Monsters? Highwaymen? High schoolers? Each prospect more dreadful than the last. Finally, in sullen shadow, we would reach hailing or grabbing distance. Fight or flight frenzied our minds.

A call, a voice, a greeting. It was my brother David’s pack, equally worn and equally scared. A laugh, a playful threat so that the older kids would not have to admit their own secret horror. A passing of foragers in the haunted night, then home to count the booty and fall asleep to nightmares of happy singing ghosts and werewolves wagging their furry tails.




NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Day 207 – October 9, 2020 Happy Birthday, HJM


My father, Henry Mankin MD, would have been 92 today. He was a wise and powerful leader, a larger-than-life hero who never entered a room without commanding it. He was also funny, snarky and sentimental. I miss him all the time.

I have often wondered, since the early days of the pandemic, what he would have said and done in the situation. Not the enfeebled and docile Henry of his final years – it is a mercy that he didn’t live to experience this. But the powerful Young Turk Henry in his pomp. What would his reaction have been?

It is not as far-fetched a question as it sounds, because Henry had lived through his own pandemic. He was born in 1928, raised in Pittsburgh PA in the 30s and 40s and graduated from Pitt Medical School in 1953. Students of history (as we should all be) will recognize Pittsburgh 1953 as one of hose epicenters of earth-change. It was the very site where Dr. Jonas Salk developed and first produced the vaccine which defeated polio. In fact, my father’s medical school class was the first wave of humans to receive the new inoculation.

Polio is all but forgotten now, but it was a scourge. Communities were decimated by its viral reach. Public buildings and parks were shuttered and abandoned. Families were cast out of society for having the weakness to allow the virus to affect them. The disease returned every year, unmitigated in its devastation. That is until the brilliant work of scientists brought it to its heels.

Henry in his prime would have looked at our current condition as another of life’s hurdles. He would have been spirited and energized by his firm belief that there was nothing, nothing, that science and rationality could not overcome. He would not have suffered fools to raise conspiratorial doubts. Mostly, he would have been there on the front lines, exhorting his followers to provide care and support, challenging the scientists to stick to their task, sticking out his arm to be in the first wave of the treated.

Henry had a voice that would be heard. He testified before congress on numerous occasions advocating for research and rational healthcare. He would have been on television and radio and newspaper articles.  But mostly he would have been in the ears of everyone who could hear his stentorian tones. “Keep working! We’ve got this!” Where are the voices like that now?

Happy birthday, dad.


NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Day 206 – October 8, 2020 Two Hundred Days!

 NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Day 206 – October 8, 2020

Two hundred days on the island have come and passed – two hundred! The pandemic that was supposed to be gone by Easter has consumed Memorial Day, Arbor Day, the Fourth of July, both Mother’s and Father’s Day, Labor Day and both versions of Patriot’s Day. It looks to be a Halloween specter and an uninvited guest at the Thanksgiving table as well.

There have been some positive signs along the coronavirus trail. The death rate, albeit still horrific, has stabilized in many parts of the world although infections have gone up. Either we are getting better at managing the virus or the virus is learning to live with us. Although the early autumn surge has again put hospitals under stress, there has been a breather of sorts in many of the hot zones – recharge, regroup, restock. On the imminent horizon is an accurate and inexpensive rapid test which may at least allow better tracking and isolation of active cases. And the vaccines appear promising, although they will most assuredly be a spring arrival.

What hasn’t changed is the cavalier attitude of much of the nation towards the deadliest pandemic in our memory. I had harbored hope that the number 200,000 would be shocking, but we have become so numb to others outside our vision that the number seems abstract and distant. Even at a time when every American knows someone affected by the disease, possibly with death or incapacity, but certainly through financial hardship, we as a nation have not admitted how seriously we are threatened. Americans don’t talk about threats unless it is to rally their political bases. The John Wayne/ Clint Eastwood “strong, silent type” gives a grimace-like grin and turns towards the danger without expressly calling it out. Danger is beneath our notice. And therein lies the problem.

The virus is not an ‘enemy’ per se. It has no intelligence, aside from the shrewd calculating of its RNA functionality. As such, it does not care if you grimace or grin or wail or scream. It simply is a fact of nature, like the wind or the smell of grown grass. And, as all viruses, it is ubiquitous. It is inside and outside, up and down, over and out. We can’t turn and face the danger because it is around (and in) all of us.

By framing coronavirus as an enemy we can fight, we have placed an imaginary border between it and us – a sort of biological Maginot line, where French troops massed their weapons and focus as German troops nimbly skirted the region and overran from the rear. We are none of us waiting for the coronavirus to arrive. It is already here – everywhere. If we imagine the virus is in front of us – somehow “out there” like the plant-based monster in “The Thing” we can hunker down and feast until it arrives. But if the beast is already among us, then we need to always be on alert. We would need to use precautions all the time and not only when the sirens sound.

We should not be terrorized by the prospect, but we should be very wary of it. Masks up, everyone. Respect social distance. Let’s find a way to keep two hundred days from becoming 365. And 200,000 becoming an order of magnitude more.