In 1989, a publisher sent me on a modest book tour, which included a day in San Francisco.
There I was taken around town by a media escort named Kathi Kamen Goldmark, one of the most charming people I have ever met.
From then on, every time I pecked away on a book I did so with the ultimate goal of once again being driven around The City by this interesting lady who knew the parking spaces, the back doors, the on-air “talent” and where to hang out for coffee between appointments in the city by the bay.
Over the years Goldmark organized the writers’ rock band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, and wrote her own book, and generally became more of a star than some wordy doofs like me she had escorted.
It was a jolt to read her obituary in The Times on Sunday after she passed on May 24, of breast cancer. I will always have the vivid memory of chatting about books, Steely Dan, New York, the ‘60’s, and maybe even a bit of discreet gossip about other authors who had sat in my seat.
Her passing reminds me of the episodic life journalists lead. Particularly at The Times, we have doors opened for us, we are taken inside, we meet people for an hour or two, and then we write our impressions – and we always remember that one encounter.
Just off the top of my head I can think of some epic people I interviewed and essentially never met again – The Dalai Lama (just to drop a name), Colleen Dewhurst (on matinee day), Tony Blair (I knocked on No. 10 and just went in, pre-arranged, of course), Ronee Blakley (the lead in the Altman movie Nashville), Joyce Carol Oates (she had a boxing book going), Ruud Gullit (the great Dutch footballer, in a restaurant outside Genoa) and Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, the boxer who was doing time in New Jersey (“for something that he never done,” as Dylan put it; the guard offered me a seat on a spare electric chair in the waiting room, but I declined.)
What I’ve learned is that these singular events do not come around again, although other singular events do. While pushing my Musial book in 2011 I had the distinct delight of being driven around one day by Elaine Bly, master St. Louis media escort, with her Tennessee accent and her BMW.
Carpe diem. Enjoy the time. My condolences to Kathi’s family, friends, band mates, and all the one-day wonders like me, who had the pleasure of meeting her.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.