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The Twisted Tree of Mitigation


On intermittent Saturday mornings when I was a kid, my Mom used to take me and my two brothers to get our hair cut in the flat-finish-yellow-walled, low-ceilinged, makeshift basement barbershop of a neighborhood man whom we called Mr. Bertolo.

Mr. Bertolo lived in a modest, pale green, textured asbestos shingle-sided house in Oakland, NJ, six blocks from our house and right across the street from the Ramapo River, which overflowed about once a year. He had a small garden in his small backyard that we passed before we descended into the basement.

Mr. Bertolo was slight, short and had a ring of white hair around the sides and back of his head. He was a widower and a WWI veteran. On his wall, there was a small, faded photo of him in his uniform and doughboy helmet. He often talked about having lived in Nutley, a heavily Italian town fourteen miles away, slightly north of Newark.

As a ten-year-old, I thought Nutley was a funny name. I later drove a milk truck there. Nutley had a reputation for pretty women. Maybe it was the way they dressed as they walked alongside Franklin Avenue. None of them wore masks.

Mr. Bertolo charged one dollar for each haircut, a bargain even for the late 1960s. He was functionally retired and cut our hair only because he liked my Mom, who was a generation younger than he was. He was lonely, Mom was a good listener and she constantly affirmed him. Mr. Bertolo was never in a hurry to finish his work. He would often stop trimming, turn and step away from the chair and face my mother as he expressed some opinion or other in his still thick accent. 

Mom would reliably respond, “You’re right, Tom.” 

Mr. Bertolo would predictably, immediately, proclaim, “YoudonrightI’mright!” (You’re darn right I’m right!)

These two lines, the second of which we presented with low-quality Italian accent imitations, became a running joke between me and my brothers.

Given all of the interruptions, three haircuts took a long time. Mr. Bertolo never spoke directly to us boys. And unlike storefront barbers, Mr. Bertolo didn’t have any Sports Illustrateds or comic books to read. I shoulda brought along some great work of fiction. Though it would have been hard to concentrate, given all of the commentary. 

Mr. Bertolo’s most-repeated theme was how disrespectful and destructive the neighborhood boys were. I knew these kids. I played football and baseball with them. He had a point. 

He blamed these kids’ bad behavior on bad parenting. One morning, he emotionally told my Mom this parable: 

A man who had become a criminal and was imprisoned came back to visit his parents upon his release. Instead of a warm reunion, the ex-con excoriated his elders. He grabbed his aging father by the shirt, pulled him forcefully toward a nearby tree with a bent trunk, flung the father to the ground at the tree’s base and told him to straighten the tree. 

On his knees, the old man cried out, “It’s too late! The tree is already grown!”

The son replied, “The tree is like me! You didn’t straighten me out when it mattered!”

It was intense kids’ barbershop talk. I knew the story was apocryphal or, as I would have said at the time, fake. But even imagining an adult son harboring deep anger at his father the whole time he was in prison and then assaulting and humiliating an old man was disturbing. No lollipops were given on the way out. It was better that way.

The media and popular ex post facto take on Covid reminds me of Mr. Bertolo’s story. News outlets and lockdown/school closure supporters are now bemoaning learning losses, psychological problems stemming from isolation, broken relationships and weakened communities, weight gain, sharply worsened wealth stratification and inflation, etc. flowing “from the Pandemic.” 

But these effects flow from the opportunistic—by some—and hysterical—by most—overreaction to a respiratory virus, not from the virus itself. Most of those who now complain of these effects fully supported and enabled the measures that have caused this destruction.

The “mitigation” supporters actively, openly hated people, like me, who predicted, in March 2020, all of the destruction that lockdowns, school closures, masks, tests and shots would cause. This gullible mob of tens of millions dismissed “mitigation” critics as “selfish non-experts” and “Grandma killers.”

But we critics understood cause-and-effect and cost-benefit analysis. We understood The Science. We had foresight. The damage wasn’t hard to see coming. Though it was hard to watch.

Now, like a twisted tree, it’s too late to straighten out what happened in 2020-21.Those who supported the mania—and, unjustly, those who opposed it—will have to live with the extensive, serious, lasting damage. It’s been hard enough, over the past three years, to have lived alongside so many cynical political opportunists and fearful fools. Although I ignored as many of the official rules as I could, it also sucked to be locked out of places and to see all of the harm the overreaction did as it unfolded.

Next week, I’ll distill— from 448, to 2, pages—Toby Green and Thomas Fazi’s The Covid Consensus. This excellent book identifies, describes and details the wide array of irremediable social and economic damage that the Covid overreaction caused, especially to the unwealthy.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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