By John Rolfe
It always occurs to me how the world is very much like my workplace. As the driver of a school bus, I’m quite familiar with kids who won’t listen or behave. They’re not much different than some adults. The nasty ones make everyone’s life a misery with their bullying and defiance, and endanger us all by refusing to follow safety rules. No matter how often you discipline them, they go right back to their shenanigans.
One such lad, a middle-schooler I’ll call Rollo, was fond of sticking his arm out the window while the bus was moving, the better to give pedestrians the finger. It was a source of great glee to his pals and a great way to have his arm broken or his hand taken off if we passed too close to another big vehicle, a tree, a road sign, or a telephone pole.
Yes, the odds of it happening were slim, but such accidents have occurred. That’s why we have rules requiring kids to keep their arms inside the bus even if they may only end up with a scratch and not an amputation. Of course, Rollo’s chums and other kids seeking his approval followed his brazen example, driving me to exasperation with repeated warnings and write-ups.
Naturally, I’m the bad guy in this scenario.
Now, let’s say the worst happened to Rollo. How much sympathy would I be required to feel for him? Concern, certainly. I’d do all I could to help him. But express sympathy? That’s a little harder to do in this case.
“I told you so” is the last thing you want to hear after the calamity you’ve courted befalls you, but it’s to be expected. At some point, personal responsibility for one’s actions comes due in this life. A smoker who ends up with lung cancer can’t really say he wasn't warned or blame anyone else, nor can those he encouraged to light up who also ruined their health.
What makes the case of coronavirus that has consumed our nation's capital so galling if not infuriating is that anyone with a morsel of common sense could see it coming for months. Despite warnings from medical experts, President Trump pooh-poohed their advice, urged his followers to disregard safety precautions, and made cavalier pronouncements that the virus would just disappear.
Having had the bug in September and recovered, my views are now deeply colored by what I call my COVID-19 goggles. The virus is no longer an abstraction. It’s a scary reality that has also sickened people I know, some severely. So I grind my molars to nubbins as I think of Trump saying the virus “affects virtually nobody” when 7.9 million Americans have had it and more than 218,000 have died. I seethe at his mockery of Joe Biden and others for wearing a mask — an act designed to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus. Let that sink in.
Because so many people refuse to wear a mask or maintain a safe social distance, mandates have been required in some cities and states , only to incite absurd cries of “tyranny!” The restrictions are no more tyrannical than drunk driving laws or forbidding school kids to stick their arms out of bus windows. Apparently, though, little or nothing will change with those who insist on taking COVID-19 lightly with little or no concern for the safety of others.
The argument that wearing a mask must always be a personal choice means that not wearing one when near other people is a choice possibly to contaminate them with a potentially deadly virus. Nice. I also spit three-penny nails when I hear Trump hailed for his bravery in the face of the virus. Methinks the hailers have badly confused foolishness with courage.
Schadenfreude is unseemly and not good for one’s karma, but the demands that Trump be shown sympathy by all Americans strike me as akin to demands that an injured Rollo be treated with tender, loving care, even by the kids he reduced to tears with his name-calling or whose lunch money he threatened to steal.
It’s no surprise that those who are saying “I told you so” to Trump are being denounced by his allies. I know what that’s like. I hear it all the time from certain kids on my bus.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.