Hazmat Valley

Get the hazmat suits out of storage, kids. State College has become a viral epicenter. And not in the cool, social media influencer way.

Yes, this peaceful college town in the valley now leads the state of Pennsylvania in infection rate. Happy Valley? More like Hazmat Valley. Check the numbers. They’re ugly.

The schools have closed the doors. I suspect Penn State will shutter the windows soon. Go fully remote. I’ve been remote all along. So have my kids. We’ve spent six months with only our immediate family for company. Talk about isolation. Do you think that’s healthy? Do you think any of this is healthy? The skies above the West Coast are on fire. Probably a good time to get right with God. As for me and my family? The hazmat suit seems reasonable.


Solomon was talking to his teacher a few weeks ago. Through a computer. Because school is virtual now. He unmuted his mic, and said “1,000 cats.”

Later, we were taking a walk to the park.

“Why did you say 1,000 cats to your teacher, Solomon?” Katie asked.

“She asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up,” Solomon said nonchalantly.

“So you said 1,000 cats?” Katie tried to dig a little deeper.

“I told her I wanted to have a 1,000 cats. And I wanted to use gummies to milk the cats.”

I almost fell over because I laughed so hard. Can you imagine the teacher’s reaction to my son’s comment?

Earlier in the week, on a different walk, Solomon told me he wanted to be a professor or a teacher like his dear old dad. Or an astronaut. Very respectable professions. But when his teacher asked him? He wanted to be a cat milker.

This might be on me. I may or may not have made jokes, during Solomon’s earlier years, about milking cats. Sue me.

Solomon is killing virtual first grade. The kid can read. He is so quick at Math. Smart as a whip. Socially? Well, you know what they say about kids who want to milk cats. Actually, you probably don’t. I certainly don’t.

Here’s what I do know: I want my son in a real classroom with real students and real teachers learning how to be around different people. Instead? He’s at a computer. All of us are.

These are very, very strange days.


Most of us in State College knew that cases of Covid would spike when the students came to town. Frat parties. The bar scene. But the numbers are pretty ugly. This doesn’t change much for me. I continue to do my job virtually. Instacart and Grubhub bring us food. Target delivers and Amazon fills in the gaps. And our backyard is green, and central Pennsylvania is beautiful. Still, I want this to be over.

This pandemic drones on like my 11th grade Journalism teacher. Mr. Tragai’s (pseudonym!) voice was monotone, and he could kill 60 minutes with lecture. Walking into his classroom during 1st period in 1997 was like entering stasis. All reality stopped. Time passed. The bell rang, you woke up, and you returned to the world of the living.

I’m ready for the bell to ring. The past six months have been a bad dream. For me. For our country. I imagine for you, as well.

I’m ready for something else.

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