May 1, 2020

Bootleg Gospel…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:33 pm


Did they not, as we, cry out at night, along
deserted roads into demented winds?

— Thomas Wolfe

Well, that went south fast. There’s never a shortage of tyrants, all ready to step in and inflict their will on others by force. At this point, in early May, in the year of our Lord, 2020, a choking dystopian fog has settled on the land. It’s impossible to know or to grasp the harsh winter that is now our spring. The aftermath of this event, whatever you think of it, will affect at least all those who were old enough to remember. The world has changed, more than any of us could hope to grasp. It’s a frightening place of desolation and fear. Not that it has to be. But it is, I think, for a lot of people.

I understand, if you’re afraid. Can’t say I haven’t felt a few shivers of fear myself, slicing through whatever measure of calmness I had managed to grasp, however tentatively. Fear chases everything else out, if you let it. I try not to. You fight it because there is no choice. Not if you want to survive. For the first time in modern history, a civilization has deliberately triggered its own demise. Chopped off its own head. That’s what is happening in the West. That’s what is happening here in Pennsylvania.

It was late March when I realized that the world had changed way more than I had ever figured it could or would. Our governor Tom Wolf had already shut the state down, pretty much. It didn’t affect me all that much, except I was irritated that all restaurants had closed, due to our pipsqueak tyrant’s dictates. A vile little man, Wolf is. Anyway, it was an ordinary weekday morning. I fueled Amish Black II at Sheetz on my way to work. Then I walked inside to grab my cup of coffee, just like I’ve done every morning for the past twenty years. I was unprepared for what greeted me inside.

There was no coffee. The line of large, gleaming urns had been removed, the skeletons of the brewing machines sat on the counter all forlorn. A string of yellow tape stretched taut across the area where I got my coffee every morning. A little sign hung there. Due to the Corona virus, we are no longer selling self-serve coffee. Half in shock, I stood there for a few seconds. What fresh horror was this? No coffee at Sheetz. I turned and walked out the door. I haven’t been back for anything except gas since. McDonald’s is a quarter mile down the road from Sheetz, and these days, the drive-through line is fast and short. I’m a regular there, every morning, now. A large black coffee, please. I try to give exact change. $1.06. I’m irritated at Sheetz for caving to the deliberate and destructive hysteria. Maybe I’ll go back if they ever start selling coffee again from large urns that you can help yourself to. And maybe I won’t.

You could feel the fear around you early on. The vile media spewed a continuous stream of panic and poison every day. I never watched, and only occasionally overheard. At work, we settled into a new routine. Building supply businesses somehow escaped the pipsqueak’s ire. We were open. My office coworkers, Mark and Rosita, go in and open up. I wander in around nine. By 2:30, they are both gone. I stay and close at five. For now, that seems to work well. The market balancing itself. One day, a regular schedule will return. I mean, that’s what we’re planning will happen. Not all plans always work out, of course.

The tyrants are never satisfied after they get a taste of power. Like a vampire tasting blood for the first time. The elixir clouds the head and fogs the mind. For reasons presumably known to himself, Wolf allowed the big box stores to stay open, but shut down most small businesses in PA. Like I said. The man’s policies are destructively suicidal. I’m mostly an introvert, anyway, so it didn’t bother me or my schedule all that much in the beginning. Still. You miss things, when they get taken from you. One of the things I missed most was very simple. Assembling for church. There was no church, because the church obediently bowed to the state at the first whiff of danger.

Trying to keep track of the chain of events, here. I might get a little out of order. Don’t matter, I guess. Easter came rolling in. The most holy of days for Christians. No church, no gathering, not in the vast majority of places. The threats came raining down as the state seemed to take a perverse joy in reminding Christians that they were not allowed to gather. I had never seen such a thing before in my life, and hope to never see such a thing again. It was startling and abrupt, to absorb.

But not everyone listened. The day before Easter, I got a text from a close friend. He was having a gathering the next evening, Easter evening. Grilled brisket. The group he invited would be small, but still too big to be legal. Come around four, and we’ll feed you. And almost an afterthought, a P.S. We will be having communion after we eat. I would have gone anyway. But that communion thing sealed the deal for me. I’ll be there, I texted back.

And I was. I greeted my friends. And we just sat around and talked and then the food was ready and we ate and feasted with much mirth. It was a good evening. We were not gathered in fear, but in fellowship and love. There was a fire outside after we ate, and then people made moves to leave before too late. At some point in there, my friend asked. “Do we want to have communion?” Yes, I said. Yes. Let’s have communion. And we all gathered inside around the kitchen table. The host took his Bible and found the passage where Jesus served the bread and wine. We used what we had. The bread was some kind of cake bar, the wine was real enough. Except for me. I was served a little cup with a mixture of exotic juices. And we ate our cake and drank our wine and juice in solemn remembrance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. I thanked my hosts, then, and walked out to my Jeep and headed for home.

Scold all you want at my recklessness, it really doesn’t matter. And it wasn’t recklessness, anyway. It was calculated risk. Something about the massive Covid hysteria just didn’t add up, early on, for me. I saw it was serious, and it could kill. What shocked me was when they shut down everything, closed down businesses. You can’t just do such a thing by decree. Only the market should decide when to shut down. People can do their own figuring and take their own risks. Who are these government officials who play god with our lives? What’s their agenda? From the first second of the crisis, I saw the abuse of power. If you ask anyone from an anabaptist background, other than the serious leftists who would make Menno Simons roll over in his grave, you ask them and they’ll tell you. Don’t trust the state. We got long, long ancestral memories, my people do. We know BS when we see it. We call BS when we see it. Governor Wolf, sir, stop oppressing the citizens of the commonwealth. Stop playing god. People are hurting and people are desperate. Very soon, they will be hungry and depressed. A dark wind blows.

It was shortly after Easter when I heard from the editor of The Budget. The Amish weekly newsletter from Ohio that my father wrote for since before he was married, I’m pretty sure. That venerable old newspaper had rejected advertising for my first book, Growing Up Amish. They did not want to offend my father or his readers. I understood and never fussed. This time, I figured it might be different. This time, the book explicitly honors my father. (I think the first one did, too, but I understand if others see that differently.) Some months ago, I mailed a hard copy to the editor of The Budget. I even plotted with my good friend, John Schmid, the folk singer from Ohio that Dad loved to listen to in his last years. I figured John might be able to poke around a bit and put in a good word for me. Ira is not a bad man. Here. Read. It’s honorable stuff. I thought John might have an edge on things. I hoped so, anyway. A few quarter-page ads in The Budget would proclaim my book to the Amish world, if I could nurse things along right.

Well. Right after Easter, here came a text from John. “It’s not looking good, for The Budget.” And sure enough, here came a message from the editor. The official verdict. They would not advertise Broken Roads, because a portion of their readership might be offended by some of my wording. Drat, I thought. Foiled again. Here we’re being deliberately throttled by the state’s response to the virus. And now, The Budget won’t advertise my book. It’s enough to make a man weary and discouraged.

But not for long. I thought about it. So my new book is banned by The Budget. Nothing has changed. I’m right where I’ve always been. I won’t criticize the decision, because it’s not my newspaper and not my business. And I know that the judgment of the plain community can run wide and deep. But I have to say, with all the other racket that’s going on in the world right now, that this is a bit of noise and stress I’d rather do without.

It is what it is, I reckon. Just keep walking. No virus hysteria or Budget boycott will stop my book for long, not if I can help it.

The days of pandemic plod along, slowly, so slowly. All around the world, things were going on. The media ran insane. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! The dystopian fog settled, dense and frightening. A hospital ship arrived in NY City, to help with the overflow. And a tent hospital was set up in Central Park, by Franklin Graham’s people. Both setups are gone now, and they treated almost no one. Lord, it’s a mystery, indeed it is. I mean, is that uncouth to mention? At that time, though, we didn’t know. We believed what “science” was telling us. Or at least we were told what to believe and how to think.

A few Sundays back, I connected to a small inhouse church service. The bootleg gospel, I guess you could call it. I felt a small connection to my anabaptist roots that morning. Sneaking to an illegal private service in a home. I remembered what my cousin, Elmo Stoll, said to me when I stopped in to visit his little commune in Tennessee, back in the early 1990s. We were walking along some backwoods trail from one dwelling to another, and Elmo turned to me, his eyes gleaming with his vision. “I always imagine our anabaptist forefathers sneaking along a trail like this, hiding from persecution,” he told me. I could only smile and nod. Inside, I was calculating that the man must have lost his mind. Why would anyone speak of persecution with anything other than horror and revulsion?

That bootleg church service. I went that morning. It was moving and uplifting to me. Most of us sat around a large table. We sang songs, and then there was a short devotional, then more singing and discussion. And then a great meal was served, a feast. I drank black coffee and visited. Against my weak protests, the housewife insisted I take some food with me when I left. I got back home, refreshed, emotionally and spiritually. The bootleg gospel. The word of the Lord will always flow free.

At this point, I realized, along with a lot of other people, that we were in for a long haul. Nothing was coming “back to normal” anytime soon. Maybe normal as we had known it would never return. The day after the bootleg church, there was an event in Harrisburg that I went to. A protest. It was a desperate and angry crowd that gathered to demand an end to the shutdown of small and private businesses. In Harrisburg at noon. That’s when it was planned. I wanted to go. I didn’t want to drive. So, before heading to the office, I posted on Facebook. I need a ride to the protest. Anyone out there? When I fired up my computer at work, a couple of messages were waiting on me, offering a ride.

One was from Arlene, my ex-sister-in-law. Ellen’s older sister, over in the Lebanon area. She made an attractive offer. If I drove over to their house, her husband, LeRoy, would take us to the protest and drop us off. He didn’t want to stay, but he would return whenever we called and pick us up. I messaged Arlene back, and we chatted for a bit. I’m on my way, I told her. And me and my Jeep headed west and north.

I had not been to the little farm owned by LeRoy and Arlene Longenecker for a lot of years. Last time I was there, I think Ellen was with me. So, it’s been a while. A host of old memories nudged at me as I approached their home. It looked about the same when I got there. I walked up and knocked. LeRoy and Arlene emerged from their house, all ready to go. I grabbed my water bottle and the cardboard sign I had fashioned earlier. In stark, black letters, the words: WOLF IS OUR VIRUS. We boarded the white SUV and LeRoy soon had us on the interstate, zooming toward Harrisburg.

Traffic was sparse, and we got to the city in good time. A few blocks from the capital building, we got dropped off. The crowd was small but growing when we walked up. It was a halfway decent day, there were clouds, and the sun shone bright. More people came, and suddenly the place was packed out on both sides of the street. There were loudspeakers and shouts and cheers and jeers and loud horns honking and the waving of signs. I stood right out on the edge of the pavement and held my sign high. There were a few speeches, then, by politicians claiming to be on our side. When I hear a politician speak, at any level, it goes right in one ear and out the other.

Ira Wolf protest

By midafternoon, Arlene and I were walking out of the area a few blocks to a place where we could get picked up. LeRoy zipped right in and we were off. And that was the end of that little adventure. I’ve been scolded about how it was stupid to go stand around with so many other people. Maybe it was. It’s a risk that people take when they are desperate and hungry, when their jobs are just yanked right under out of them for no discernible reason, other than some unseen, perceived threat. A threat that is certainly real, but has failed to materialize as the monster we were warned it was. I think back to that hospital tent and that hospital ship in New York City that were neither needed nor used. So, even though I can still go to work, I will stand with the people who are being enslaved, I stand with them. There is no other option.

Mr. governor Wolf, you are always groomed, always trimmed and spotless. I’m looking like Grizzly Adams, here. Because the guy who cuts my hair will be heavily fined if he cuts my hair. Maybe he’ll be caged. Someone is cutting your hair, Mr. Wolf. Why are you allowed to flaunt the chains of the law you inflict on all of us? It’s not about health, and it’s not about safety. It’s about control and enslavement. Free the market. Just free the market. Be warned, sir. Peasants with pitchforks are quietly gathering in the shadows of the castle walls. The tar is bubbling in big pots, the chickens are being slaughtered for their feathers.

How are the Amish dealing with the madness? In some remote places, they probably never really knew much what was going on. I do know that most communities were warned. And that the Amish took the threat seriously. Most of the schools were shut down, at least around where I am. I can’t speak to every place. And they stayed home on Sundays, too, the Amish did. First time church had been canceled like that since the Spanish flu a hundred years ago. The cancellations came smack dab at the time for Ordnungs Church. Over that Easter Sunday when I went sneaking around, the Amish stayed home.

But not for much longer. By the following Sunday, the Amish had counseled among themselves. From what they had seen, well, they see it like I see it. The virus is real, and it can be deadly. But it’s not worth wrecking the economy over. I mean, it has already been massively damaged, and this has quietly outraged the Amish. You can’t tell an Amish person not to work. Or you better have some real good reason if you do tell him that. The Amish had listened to all the real good reasons. And now, they came up with some logic of their own.

They would have church for the districts as originally would have been scheduled. There were three basic rules. If you feel even slightly sick, or cough, or sneeze, don’t come. There would be no handshaking and there would be no noon meal. Those two traditions are pretty important to the culture. It made sense, for the first time or two, to take extra precautions. And that’s how you break back in slowly, I think. The Amish will always come up with a practical blueprint of action. They’ll keep close watch. Cut back on church if they get sick. But keep pressing on if things stay decently balanced. They won’t wait on an OK from any government agency. They will make the choices as they best can. That’s the way it should be. That’s the way the market works. Both secular and religious.

I’ve said it before, about the Amish. I’ll say it again, with some pride. These are my people.

Winding down, then. The book. My world had been pretty silent. No communication at all with my Hachette people since the virus came rolling along. I felt like they might update me. Nope. Nothing. Not a word. So, a few weeks ago, I reached out to them all. Hey. What’s happening with Broken Roads? Are we on schedule? I’m mostly concerned that people will get their hard copies when they order them. Will that be possible? Should the book’s release be backed up?

I didn’t want to back it up. I had chatted via email with Chip, my agent. He wanted to know what I was thinking. Do I want to move the release date up, or back it off? Anything like that? And I thought about it and told him. Nah. Let’s keep the original date. May 12th. I’d consider backing it off if the hard copies can’t be delivered on time as scheduled. That would be the only reason. Otherwise, keep plugging on as originally planned. Keep the date.

There had been big plans for that first day, May 12th. A Tuesday. I guess publishers just pick random days of the week to launch. I don’t know. Anyway, I had a real nice meet and greet all planned out with the good people at Plain and Fancy, a large tourist attraction over along 340. Lots of traffic, lots of people. This would be my first book signing for Broken Roads. It was a big deal to me. It would be fun, to do an event like that. I was planning to invite all my friends to stop by. A grand old time would be had by all.

And now, that’s gone. And a couple of nice big events we had planned for me in the Midwest, well, those are looking pretty shaky, too. I guess I can just go later, if I have to. The venues will always be open. It’s disappointing, of course it is. Not gonna pretend it’s not. I’ve always believed you just keep walking in the arena you’re in. Don’t waste energy grumbling about the path or the journey. And I’ve thought about it, too, lately. If the book doesn’t sell well, I can always blame it on this great global epidemic that was going on. I could always grumble, I guess, about the general unfairness of it all. I just don’t know what good it would do.

So, anyway. After I reached out to the Hachette people, I heard from them quickly. Yes. We were on schedule. All the logistics had been worked out, the book was being printed. There it was. We were on. I felt relieved. Good. Keep walking. Work with whatever obstacles get in the way, get around them.

And soon after that, a week or so, I got word that my shipment of free books was on the way. They come twenty to the box. I can tell you the Corona virus will be used for pretty much any excuse, anywhere. Somehow, because of the virus, they could not break a box. Only full boxes. They’d ship me forty now, then ten later when the virus would allow them to split a box. It was kind of like a lot of things. What has to work will work. So I shrugged. About then, my agent Chip, who was copied on the messages, came along and said they could ship me his half case. I guess he had ten books coming. I was touched by his generous gesture. Right now, I wanted to get my hands on as many of those books that I could grab by hook or by crook.

And the boxes arrived, then, last week, on Wednesday. Three little boxes of twenty copies each. I took the closest box and cut it open. And I held up my first real finished copy of my book. It was a bigger deal in my head than I thought it would be. Ain’t a whole lot of people who get to see the place I’m standing at. Some, sure, and some see much higher places. But not a lot. I was, like, well, in my head, I was like, this is a rare moment. Hold this book and appreciate it.

Ira holding Broken Roads
Grizzly Adams and his book

I haven’t read the book in depth, just scanned it. A few spots that had been a bit bumpy, mostly we got them cleared up. Broken Roads is different than Growing Up Amish was. It’s pretty rough and raw. A few reviews have been cropping up on Amazon. I get a strong sense that there will be harsher criticism than I ever saw with my first book. It’s OK. The market will be what it is.

I have never met my friend, Steven L. Denlinger, in person. I’ve talked to him a few times. He comes from the Plain Mennonites, a place somewhat like where I came from. He understands me well, our journeys were very similar in a lot of ways. Not in all ways, of course, as Mennonites and Amish are distinct. But the cultures are close cousins. Both are hard to break free from.

Steven is an accomplished writer and teacher. I sent him an early copy of Broken Roads, and he offered to write a review. He has done that. This review is superbly crafted, and it’s the most comprehensive and in-depth analysis I have ever read about any of my writings. It’s not all sweetness and light, he criticizes where it’s called for. I was touched by this particularly powerful and moving passage:

“When he’s slogging the dark ravines of his mother’s illness, when he’s pursuing his father’s blessing—Wagler writes with the rhythm of demonic hounds howling, the grace notes of an angelic descant trailing above. The memoir hurtles forward—down this road, around that corner, and over the muddy plains soaked in the ‘delicious amber fire’ of whiskey.

During his bleakest moments, Wagler exposes the true cost of his life’s quest for freedom.”

A new door opens to a new road. The traveler holds firm his staff and walks.

April 3, 2020

Vagabond Traveler; Brave New World…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:32 pm


But this is the end,
This is the end of the innocence.

—Don Henley, lyrics

The darkness came like a great, pestilent cloud, descending in slow motion right before our disbelieving eyes. We could see it coming, the plague, or what was called a plague. It swept from country to country, you could never be quite sure of what was actually going on. The “news media” went insane, trying to freak everyone out. Vile, vile people, they are. Through all the noise, you could be sure of one thing, pretty much, and one thing only. Something wicked this way comes.

I’ve been a “prepper” for years, sort of. Not hard core, just sensible. Back 20 years ago, Y2K came at us kind of like this latest virus did. You could see and hear and feel the countdown. I remember the last evening of 1999. Ellen and I got engaged that year, we were planning to get married in the summer of 2000. And we kind of held each other as the days counted down to the New Year. First the months, then the weeks, then the days. And that night, the last night of the year, we got together at the house of some good friends, Paul and Anne Marie Zook. They had one or two other young couples there. We sat around and talked all evening. The clock ticked on, and on. And on. Then came midnight.

And nothing happened. All the hype, all the fear, it was all lost energy that was wasted and would never come back. I hadn’t spent a lot on supplies, just a few five-gallon buckets of hard red wheat (I guess you can bake things with hard red wheat), and a bucket of fine ground corn meal. And guns and ammo, of course, but you can never run out of reasons to buy guns and ammo. The long-term food, um, well, it was a bit embarrassing. After a few years, I set that corn meal out when we had a yard sale. The Amish neighbor, Jonas, wandered by with his middling son. I tried talking him into paying the $5 price tag. It’s good corn meal, I told Jonas. Heck, for you, today, I’ll give a discount. How about two bucks? He stroked his beard and looked thoughtful and wise. At last, he turned to his son, who was lurking nearby. “Chon, gey hole da veggli,” he said solemnly. John, go get the (little red) wagon. The boy dashed off, and Jonas handed me two crumpled $1 bills. They trundled the corn meal home. I probably should have kept it for a time like now. I didn’t. I guess it would have gotten old and stale, anyway. But still. I thought later I shouldn’t have sold it so nonchalantly. But I did. And that was the end of that little “crisis.”

Another big event came rumbling at us, not long after Y2K drifted into oblivion, except for its embarrassing memory. September, 2001. We had been married right at a year, me and Ellen. I remember the long and heavy solemnness that descended on the land as we struggled to grasp that the world was about to be irrevocably altered forever, very soon. And the nation marched off on its forever war on terrorism. A futile, costly war that benefits only the blood merchants of death, the military/industrial machine. Lord, open the eyes of your people to see this simple truth, that all war is murder, it’s wicked and wrong. Open the eyes of your people to see and know that the shedding of innocent blood is always abhorrent to You. It doesn’t matter what color the children are, the ones who get chewed up and spit out by the dogs of war. All their blood is innocent, and it all cries out to You.

After 9-11, no big event happened, not that stuck with me much, anyway. Oh, sure, every few years there was another virus scare of some kind. SARS, Swine flu, I can’t remember them all. Oh, and AIDS. That was going to decimate half the population. We were supposed to be scared, every time, according to the breathless media. Run, run, hide, hide, but they can’t tell you where. So just be afraid, instead. It makes me crazy sometimes to see the public emotions so easily whipped into a frenzy.

After going through some personal storms, I was cruising along pretty good in 2008 when that crash came. Well, cruising along as best I could the year after my marriage had blasted sky high. Lots of raw stuff was floating around in my head in 2008. I remember how some friends connected over those days and we got some survival stuff. We made sure we had basic tools. I stocked up on a good store of whiskey. Just regular brands, nothing fancy. I think a few of those bottles might still be stuck around somewhere. Those were never stored with my regular whiskey, so when I cleaned the cabinet out a few years ago, I never hunted down the stuff I had bought for hard times. So it’s still there, for hard times. To trade, I mean. Not to drink.

It always stayed interesting during those years. Somewhere there was a flood or a hurricane, somewhere there was some great snowstorm that really shut things down. And all too often, there was another school shooting. I remember how the private gun market got real busy and how the prices rose, if you could even find what you were looking for. My friends and I were in good shape, mostly, though. We bought when the market was normal. We didn’t really need to rush out and buy anything. It felt pretty good, to be about half prepared when a large event came knocking like that.

And time drifted on. I remember when Ebola was the big monster out there. If you got it, you were dead. I remember how Pastor Mark Potter talked about it in a sermon. He talked about the wilderness. Wilderness is not what we western people have come to view it as. Maybe a range of mountains where you could go hiking or camping. You went in, and you fully expected to return when you planned to. That’s not real wilderness, Pastor Mark said. Real wilderness is when you go to Africa to care for people who are stricken with Ebola. That’s the real place, the hard place. You could easily die.

The Ebola scare came and went. Or maybe we just didn’t hear about it, and it’s still out there same as it was then. It never developed into anything more than a distant horror, not imminent or that threatening. I never forgot how Pastor Mark described it as one version of the wilderness. A hard place. Where you could die.

It seems like a long time ago, when I took a trip to New York City. It was early March. Like I mentioned at the end of the last blog, I was scheduled to go record an intro to my book at Hachette’s headquarters in Manhattan. I got a little tense as Tuesday morning approached. My ex-brother-in-law, Paul, was going to meet me at the station in Lancaster. We were taking the 9:30 train, right through Philly to New York. I tossed about that night and woke up early. And very early on, I was nicely dressed and had packed my messenger bag and was driving Amish Black along 23 into Lancaster. I didn’t know how the traffic would be. I was taking no chances. An hour before departure, I parked Amish Black in the spacious Amtrak parking lot. Paul texted that he’d be there before nine. I walked in and sat on a large bench, waiting for my friend.

He got there right when he said he would. Came up the stairs to where I sat. We shook hands. It had been a while. We walked up to the window and I bought two round trip tickets to New York City. Paul and I caught up as we walked out to the tracks. A short wait, and the train came whooshing in and hissed to a halt. We found seats and soon the train shuddered and smoothly slid into motion. It’s always a thrill, to set out on a trip of any length by train. We talked as the countryside slid by. Paul had brought his laptop and worked remotely on his business matters.

It had been a while since I rode a train. You see the backside of things from the train. The old junk cars, the backyard fences, ramshackle barns, stacks of firewood, all shielded from the world from the front side of the place. The back gives it all away, the real comfortableness of the people who live there, I always thought. I watched the scenery fly by as Paul worked on his laptop and talked on his phone. Just as if he were right at home in his office.

Right on time, the train slid into Penn Station in Manhattan. We shouldered our bags and walked outside into a vast stream of people. We weren’t due at Hachette for a few hours. So Paul led the way to the old New York Public Library. I guess it’s a famous place. It sure was big enough. We wandered through, then back out onto the streets. Paul had everything mapped on his phone, and we headed over to the Avenue of the Americas. Many blocks away. The crowds surged and pressed all around. In all that day, I saw only one instance of awareness of the Corona virus. A group of young Asian people walked past us, wearing protective masks. Otherwise, there was never a hint that anyone was even aware of such a thing as the virus. The people didn’t look anxious, there was no tension whatsoever in the air. None. Nothing.

We found the headquarters soon enough. Hachette is a large French company that bought out Time-Warner a number of years ago. I have to say, I had never heard of them until they came nibbling on my book. The offices were right across the street from Radio City Music Hall. We had more than an hour to kill, so we went looking for some lunch for Paul. We walked into a nearby restaurant. Paul bought soup and I got a bottle of fancy water. We sat at a counter along the window and watched the human and motor traffic flow by outside. I could not get over how calm everyone was. There was absolutely no panic at all.

After an hour or so, we wandered over to Hachette and sat in the gleaming lobby. I texted Stephanie, my contact there. We’re here. She answered. She would meet us at 3:30. In the meantime, she invited us up to the Hachette lobby. We approached the long counter there at street level, gave the attendant our names, and waited on our ID tags. We had to hand over our driver’s licenses for that. They are quite thorough and careful about who they let in. The attendant handed us our tags and told us where to go to get to the elevator. We used our tags as tickets to get through the turnstile. Then onto the elevator and up to the fourth floor. Hachette occupies the fourth and fifth floors of the building. A nice receptionist greeted us. We told her. We’re here to see Stephanie. She pointed us to a waiting area nearby and told us to help ourselves to coffee. We did, then took a seat and looked around.

The walls were lined with shelves and rows and rows of books. New releases, I would imagine, or books that haven’t come to print, yet. I scanned quickly for mine, no such thing in sight. Oh, well. Maybe it’s not important enough. Paul and I sat at a table, sipping our coffee. And soon she strolled in. Stephanie. I had never met her before, and we’d talked only a few times. Young, lovely, and totally professional. She offered her hand and I shook it. Introduced myself, then Paul. This is my ex-brother-in-law. She welcomed him, too. And then we followed her through the maze of cubicles and up to the next floor. Stephanie led us down a hallway, then into the little studio where she records books. A small room with her controls, then an even smaller room, a little closet, really, where the narrator sits and speaks into a microphone.

I had written a rough draft, a few pages. Kind of an intro to the book. Stephanie had done some heavy editing, and the draft came back about cut in half. One page, single spaced. Which was fine with me. That much less for me to stumble through. And now, she instructed me. Put on the headphones. Speak into the mic. Slowly, like you’re just talking. She stepped back into her control room and shut the door. And I heard her, crisp and clear through the headphones. OK. Now. I started to read.

Reading for a recording is not one of my strong points, I decided right there in that little room. I got through the page, and then Stephanie coached a bit. Speak slower. But Waglers talk fast, I thought. Stop at the end of each sentence. Pause. Then read like you’re just talking. A couple of times, she told me. “Ok, the mic’s turned off. Just practice reading.” That relaxed me. Paul told me later that the mic never was actually turned off. And I plowed into the whole thing again, from the start. Stephanie claimed to like some of my reading skills. But, here, can we just try to do this thing this way? She was a great teacher. I was a raw novice, half star-struck, from the country, and she got me calmed down to where I could actually get the words narrated. It took less than an hour. Then we were done. Stephanie thanked me and led us out, back to the lobby. I thanked her for making it happen, and she smiled and wished me well. And that’s how it went.

After catching a cab back to the train station, Paul and I ate sandwiches at a nice deli in there somewhere. I had the corned beef on rye. It came stacked high and wide, a truly authentic New York sandwich. We feasted, and then Paul heard the loudspeaker announcement. I never heard it, I wasn’t paying any mind. Paul turned to me. “The train’s boarding for Lancaster,” he said. Our train was scheduled to leave after six. It was five right then. We got up and chased about, finally running down the right stairs to the right platform. The sign said Harrisburg. Our train, more than an hour early. We snuck on. When the conductor scanned our tickets, he never said a word about being on an early train. His scanner just beeped and scanned. He went right on.

And that’s how it was that I walked into my home more than an hour earlier than I had planned. I had chatted with God that morning as me and Amish Black left home. Lord. Protect me as I go to the great, dangerous, evil city. See me safely back to my home, I pray. Well, He did. I absorbed the day’s events after getting home. Feeling grateful. Such a day as that would not soon come for me again.

Now it might never, regardless. I don’t know. That week was the last week that this country lived in any semblance of its old normalcy. You could see the thing advancing like a dark and encroaching specter. The Corona virus. And by the following weekend, the reality of our world had changed. Then more, then more, and still more. We are now living in times of darkness and tension such as have rarely been seen by anyone alive. A lot of information and misinformation is floating around on social media. You can find something that backs up what you want to believe. And make yourself more anchored in what you believe. I try to look at different angles, even though the core of what I believe will not change. To understand people, it helps sometimes to imagine how they think. How would I see it if I thought like that?

The Amish blood in me wants to downplay the Covid-19, which is what I guess they’re calling the virus, now. Corona virus, Covid-19. Same thing. I have huge issues with just shutting down the economy. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and all that. You keep working until you get sick. That’s how I was taught, and that’s how I think. It’s the same Amish blood that makes me highly, highly skeptical of almost every claim the government makes about what the virus is, why it is, and what it’s going to do. Any narrative from any government agency, I view with deep and abiding suspicion and hostility. Why is an elected bureaucrat an expert on such things? Across the board, they are not. It might be true, that the restrictions are necessary. But you can’t take any power-hungry bureaucrat’s word for it. The whole shutdown is tainted by lies. Call me a crackpot all you want. It’s true. Watch. Absorb. Analyze.

Covid-19, or the Corona virus, or whatever is the politically correct term to call it, this is a thing not to be taken lightly. It is serious, and it can kill. I remember when the fact hit me, not too far in. This is it. This is that real breakdown, that hard time you always looked for, back when you were younger and full of spirit. Now, after a lot of broken roads, when I’ve reached a fairly respectable age, a time when this battle-hardened wanderer wants to start thinking about settling into a bit of rest and peace, now, here it comes. Now, when I really don’t want to be bothered. Ah, well. It’s like I’ve said more than a few times in my writings. I wrote it in the book. What do you do when the road gets hard? You keep walking. That’s it. That’s all. Keep walking. Still. It’s a challenge to keep your head half straight when you’re walking through a time like this.

The first shudders of the effects of the virus reached my world at the end of the same week Paul and I went to the big city. That Friday evening, the 13th day of the month, governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania unveiled his startling decree. All nonessential businesses will close in PA for the duration of the plague.

I thought his act was drastic and I still think that. Sadly, what I think has nothing to do with the reality of what happened. In the days and weeks that followed, the governor firmed up his definition of what was an essential business and what wasn’t. All businesses are essential, of course, or they wouldn’t be supplying the market in any way. And just like that, all the bars and restaurants were shut down, and people were instructed to stay in their houses. A real recipe for an eventual explosion, right there. In my line of work, a lot of builders were shut down, or at least greatly reduced in their capacity to work. As a supplier of materials, Graber stayed open.

From the start, I quarantined myself from all mainstream news. Except on the radio, I might hear the headlines. I haven’t watched any “news” for years. It’s all fraudulent, and it’s all fake and deceptive. Even Drudge, my old online mainstay, has gone wacky left. I used to check that site multiple times a day, now I never do. I do connect with people and events online, and that’s where I get a trusted sense of what’s actually going on out there. I got a few sites I trust a lot. This is one that I check every day of the week. It got dramatic, real quick, here in Pennsylvania. And other places, too, not just here. The state narrative was always the same, from wherever you heard it spoken. Be afraid, be very afraid. A bad thing is coming. We are taking away your rights for your own protection. Trust us. It’s for your own good. Something about that just goes hard against my grain. It’s like a lion telling soothing lies to settle down a flock of nervous sheep.

What’s essential? What’s not? Who decides? The government? I’ve seen a lot of crazy things come and go, but I have never, never witnessed an economy deliberately shut down cold. Just like that. It’s like there were forces that wanted to unleash fear, confusion, blood, and death. Who gets to tell a man that he can’t go to work to feed his family? Who gets to tell a mother that she can’t go to work to buy shoes for her children? Who will pay the mortgage, who will pay the rent? Who will weep for those who give up in despair and take their own lives? That’s coming, big time. Everything was sacrificed on the altar of “safety.”

I guess I was lucky, at least as far as work goes. Graber Supply was considered essential. We sell building materials. People need a place like that to be open. So, I plugged off to work, day after day, as the country death-spiraled into madness. The politicians pretend they got it all taken care of, when they have no idea what’s going on most of the time. All the mainstream news sources have only one thing in mind. Be as scary as possible to as many people as possible. Spew hysteria and panic. Run. We’re all going to die. Vile are the people who dispense fear like that.

And the churches, of course, those were shut down, too. The evil government learned lots of bad lessons, about how easy it is to get the churches to back off and shut up. I didn’t and don’t fight anything. Just observe. Watch. Write. This is the first incident of this magnitude we’ve ever seen, probably. Pastor Mark wrote a lengthy email and sent it to all of us. His reasons were sound, I felt. He seemed slightly more alarmed than I was in my own thoughts. I don’t know. He may be right.

And yes, I know the virus is serious and can be deadly. I saw that when people that I knew died. Or knew of. Joe Diffie, the rollicking country singer from back in the 90s, left us. The virus. He was 61. Just a few years older than me. My favorite song from him is Pickup Man. It’s about pickup trucks, not a man picking up girls. Well, with his truck he is. The song is about pickups, though. Joe left us. And other people I had heard of. So I figure Corona is real, and it can be dangerous.

I may get the virus. I don’t know. It may kill me. I don’t know. Even if it does kill me, that would not diminish by one iota the fact that I strongly believe this country’s response to the Corona virus is vastly, vastly overwrought. It’s madness. The state can justify the panic only by stoking our fears. You crash the economy to save, what, a sliver of a percentage of the people? That’s insane, even if I end up becoming one of the stricken ones, and it gets me like it got Joe Diffie. Life has risks, life is risks. One of those risks should not be the deliberate wrecking of an economy that is giving you and your family a living.

I am certainly for precautions, of course. Things like social distancing, washing hands, and whatever else the experts tell us. Self-quarantining, if you get sick. I’m all for that. What I’m not for is an arbitrary shutdown of the market, as has happened in most states, now. You can’t just do that by decree. I mean, they did, but the damage will be massive. If the market is shackled through April as is currently the plan most states have, there will be no economy left to return to. I don’t care how many multi-trillion-dollar bailout packages are passed. The market has to be real, or it won’t work. Bailouts aren’t a real market.

You can sense the fear out there. A lot of people are terrified, probably because they watch mainstream news. I’d be terrified, too, if I listened to all that gloom and hype. Still. People are where they are, and that’s where you have to meet them. Figuratively speaking, of course, what with social distancing and all. I had a spell of fear myself, just the other night. What if it’s as bad as the government is saying? I had heart issues a few years ago. A-fib. Will that make my system weak? What if I’m compromised? All that hit me the other evening, just before bed. I had to calm myself, focus on my faith. Whatever hits me might be hard, and it might be bad. It’s OK, to fret about it a little. But you can’t stay there, and I didn’t. By the next morning, I got a grip, a little. Keep walking. Whatever happens, it will be alright, because with God all things are good.

I am saddened by another thing I see a lot of, mostly on social media. And that is how people love to stick their noses in other peoples’ business. That person should be wearing a mask. I was at the store and someone didn’t stay 6 feet away from me. I see people wanting to call the law, snitching on their neighbors. It’s like a twilight zone out there. In a time like this, a person’s true nature comes out for all to see. I see lots of fussing at certain groups of Amish that are still holding church services. Leave these people be. Don’t concern yourself over other peoples’ business, just make sure you socially distance yourself. That should take care of you not getting it from them. The right to assemble to worship God is among our most sacred. I’m proud that there are remnants of my people who will not bend the knee to the beast that is the state. You go, Swartzys, or whoever you are out there.

Maybe this pandemic is similar to the “Ebola wilderness” Pastor Mark spoke about all those years ago. Maybe this is something like he meant. Probably close, I’d reckon. We’re certainly in a place we’ve never been before, my generation is. And for the younger people, this is probably their first glimpse of the hard, cold reality that there are things in life larger than themselves. We all discover that, sooner or later. I feel bad for young people facing a monster I never saw at their age. We all are where we are, I guess.

A lot of things are going to change in the future in ways that we can’t imagine now. One casualty, I think, will be the universities. They were in trouble anyway, a lot of them. Now, the world has been shown that you can learn online. You don’t need to go to an actual campus unless you want to. It’s a lot cheaper at home. Welcome to the future. Same thing with home schooling. That’s going to expand, too, I think.

My book. A few words. As far as I know, it’s still on schedule to release on May 12th. Online by eBook, if nowhere else. Of course, the book signing I was lining up for Release Day up at Amish Experience over along Rt. 340, that little event was canceled. The evil virus won that one. I just don’t know. I don’t know what will happen between now and then. And I won’t pretend to guess. We’ll wait and see what can be done on May 12th, I reckon. I remain hopeful that the book will ship out on time. No way of knowing, though. That’s just how life is, these days. The truly unfathomable has become the norm.

Winding down, then. It’s kind of funny, how the thought hit me a few times in the last few weeks, right in the stress of things. Man, I’d love a drink. It’s the first time I seriously considered imbibing since getting through the original struggle to quit back in 2017. The old ghosts came lurking, crooning sweet siren songs. Here. See how good it looks? Think how great it would taste, and how fantastic it would make you feel. Think of that soothing amber fire, and how smooth it would go down. It all came back to me in a powerful way.

It wasn’t close, though, that I actually did it. I didn’t. Just saying. It was truly tempting in a real way for the first time in quite a while, is all. One day, when some other large event comes at me again, I may break and give in.

But not this time.