The Humor of Melvin Durai

Humor columns, satire and other funny stuff

Newspapers provide an invaluable service to their readers. If you don’t believe me, just consider this question that was recently sent to a wellness column in the New York Times: “I keep finding myself biting into an apple or a peach, only to find I’ve eaten half the sticker the store put on there. Is there any harm in eating produce stickers?”

New York Times writer Sophie Egan proceeded to answer the question: “While the stickers that get placed on fruits and vegetables won’t cause you any harm, it’s probably best to remove them before eating.”

Yes, it’s always advisable to peel the stickers off before eating them. Don’t eat them while they’re still on the fruit.

In my never-ending quest to win a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, I decided to track down the person who wrote the sticker question and find out if there were other sticky questions I could answer. Indeed, there were.

If I eat a sticker, what food groups am I consuming?

You are generally consuming three food groups: pigment, fiber and adhesive.

Do the stickers have any nutritional value?

Scientists have done tests on stickers and found them to have zero nutritional value, which makes them ideal for teen consumption. It’s not just teenagers who enjoy foods with no nutritional value, of course. It’s also rats. Rats will eat anything.

Can I buy the stickers without the fruits and vegetables?

No, stores generally require you to buy a fruit or vegetable with each sticker.

Can I lose weight by going on a sticker diet?

Yes, but it’s probably not a good idea to do so. It’s important to have a balanced diet, which means that you should get no more than 5 to 10 percent of your daily calorie intake from stickers. Remember: A sticker diet is not the same as a stricter diet.

When did the practice of putting stickers on fruits and vegetables begin?

It began in the mid-1980s as a way to relieve the stress on cashiers at grocery stores, many of whom were struggling with fruit identification. For example, a cashier named Robert in Miami, Florida, got in big trouble with his manager when a customer bought a pomegranate, but Robert charged him for a Christmas ornament.

The sticker displays a PLU (product look up) code that is set by the International Federation for Produce Standards, as well as a barcode to enable scanning. For example, a banana’s PLU code is 4011, which explains why you might hear this exchange on a street corner in New York City:

“Hey man, got any 4011?”

“Sorry, all I got is 4036.”

“Peach?”

“No, nectarine. Want some?”

“Nah. Brings back bad memories. I once dated a woman named Nectarine.”

“That’s bananas.”

Has a sticker ever killed anyone?

Well, a man in Chennai went shopping for a new iPhone and almost died from sticker shock. He collapsed in the store and had to be revived with a Nokia.

No, I meant from eating a sticker, not looking at a sticker.

There are no known cases of sticker poisoning or sticker illness. Health authorities in every country require that stickers be safe for consumption. But it’s important to note that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a guidance in 2018 stating that some traders in India use stickers to make their fruit look premium and sometimes to cover any decay or defect. A variety of adhesives are being used and some may contain harmful chemicals, according to FSSAI.

Does that mean that I should not eat stickers in India?

It means that you should not consume stickers in India without washing them well. Put all the stickers in a strainer and run a heavy stream of water through them. You may also scrub each of them to ensure that the adhesive is removed.

Do you recommend any condiments for stickers?

For stickers in America, I recommend honey Dijon mustard. For stickers in India, you can’t go wrong with chili garlic sauce. Warm them in a pot with the sauce. Your guests will love these pot stickers.

Given a classroom assignment of putting various household objects into categories, many students around the world would have no trouble putting the common slipper (or chappal, as it’s known in India) into a single category: footwear.

But others, including those in Asia, Africa and South America, would earn extra credit by putting the slipper into a second category: “How mama spanks me.”

Spanking kids is either illegal or discouraged in many parts of the world, while in others, it is both legal and highly encouraged. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is a widely shared adage, but millions of people have grown up fearing not the rod, but the slipper.

No one knows for sure when the slipper was invented, but some historians trace its roots to Vietnam in the 12th century, when a man named Lee Pham wrote about his fondness for slippers: “I love these flat things with straps. They are so easy to use on the children. Keeps them well-behaved. And now and then, I even wear them on my feet.”

In many households, fathers respond to unruly children by fetching their belts, while mothers merely take off their slippers. My mother, like many others, was quite adept at using a slipper. She would chase me around the house waving the slipper, and I would scream like she was carrying some kind of loaded weapon. I knew nothing about the gun control movement in those days, but I would have gladly marched for more slipper control.

As it turns out, humans are not the only species that suffer from fear of the slipper (chappalphobia). You can scare not just dogs and cats with slippers but also crocodiles. If you don’t believe me, just check out the online video that shows an Australian woman threatening a crocodile with her slipper.

The woman is standing with her small dog on a path across East Alligator River in Kakadu National Park when a large crocodile begins to swim toward her. With no trace of fear, the woman casually takes off her right slipper and waves it at the crocodile. When the animal doesn’t move, she slaps the slipper against her left hand, as if to say, “This is what you’re going to get if you come any closer.” The crocodile recoils and takes off in another direction, slipping away from slipper lady.

Crocodiles have good memories and this crocodile probably remembered its childhood days, when Mama Crocodile took out the slipper.

Baby crocodile: “Mama, please! Not the slipper! My hide can’t take another hiding.”

Mama: “Do you promise to show more respect to your elders?”

Baby: “Yes, Mama, I promise not to say ‘later alligator’ to Papa.”

While slippers cause fear in children, they’re preferable to most other implements, including belts and canes. Slippers do not generally cause any injuries to your butt. There is usually no risk of being hit in the face with a slipper. That would be a violation of the Geneva Convention on Chappal Justice.

But spanking children is frowned upon in many parts of the world, including America. For younger children, giving them time-outs is recommended, and for older children, taking away their cellphones is quite effective, even if it makes it impossible to summon them for dinner.

If none of those alternative punishments work, you may decide to chase them around with a slipper like my mom did. If they’re smart, like the crocodile, they’ll obey you right away and you won’t have to use it.

I recently discovered a charge of about $60 on our credit card from Apple’s app store and asked every family member if they had bought something from there. My wife and kids all said, “No,” and my dog, Lulu, scratched herself, as if to say, “I have better things to do than shop online.”

Worried that a scam artist was charging our credit card, I investigated further and found that someone had purchased an annual subscription for a photo and video editing app. As soon as my 17-year-old daughter heard the name of the app, she remembered her recent purchase: “Sorry, it was me. I needed it for a school project and signed up for a 7-day free trial. But I forgot to cancel.”

“Forgot to cancel.” Those three words have made millions of dollars, crores of rupees, trillions of pesos, for entrepreneurs everywhere. Many companies are betting not on your love of their product but the failings of your memory.

Instead of being thrilled that you signed up for their product, they’re hoping that you’ll forget that you ever signed up.

Yes, it’s the year 2025 and a retired woman named Maria finally scans the monthly credit card bill that her husband, Bob, has been paying diligently. That’s when she notices a charge for pet health insurance.

Maria: “Pet insurance? Why are we paying this?”

Bob (scratching head): “I’m not sure … oh yeah, I got it for Goldie, right after we brought her home.”

“Goldie died five years ago, Bob!”

“I know that. What’s your point?”

“We’ve been paying for pet insurance without owning a pet!”

“I thought it would automatically cancel.”

“There’s no such thing as automatic cancellation, you idiot, only automatic renewal. Not only did you forget to cancel, you should have never got it in the first place. Have you ever heard of anybody buying pet insurance for a goldfish?”

It’s very important to scan your credit card bill to make sure there are no unusual charges. Fortunately, I was able to call Apple and get them to refund the subscription fee. They agreed to do this because my daughter is still a minor, too young to be legally taken advantage of.

Free trials are quite common these days, a marketing tactic that entices consumers with the word “free,” before putting their memory on “trial.” Almost every movie-streaming company offers free trials, as do a host of other companies, including those offering gym memberships, dating apps, educational products, and diet pills. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get a “free trial” from your local courthouse.

Sometimes you can get three free trials at once: “Get a free one-month trial to our matchmaking site ConnectMe, and while you’re here, sign up for a free one-week trial relationship with a random stranger. We’ll even throw in a free trial of a morning-after pill.”

Free trials are great when they come with no strings attached (except when you’re getting a free trial of a tennis racket, of course). But when you need to provide your credit card info for the free trial, you are setting yourself up for trouble. Remembering to cancel is like remembering your password, except that your web browser will not do any remembering for you. Nor will the company’s website display a message that says, “If you forgot to cancel, just enter your email address and we will send you a link, so you can reset your faulty memory.”

It’s important to read the fine print when you agree to a free trial. It might say something like this: “By clicking on the link above, I agree to download a free 30-day trial of Dr. Ramesh’s Astrological Forecast, guaranteed to bring me daily and hourly clarity, as well as minute-by-minute pop-up ads. If I do not cancel my subscription within 30 days, I agree to have $200 charged to my credit card for an annual subscription, and $50 for a retainer fee, so that Dr. Ramesh can retain his Lamborghini. Dr. Ramesh’s Astrological Forecast promises to bring me mind and body renewal, not to mention automatic renewal. Cancel anytime. **Cancellations accepted between 1 p.m. and 1:01 p.m. Indian Standard Time. If an operator is not available to take your call, please try again in 2029. We hope to hire more staff by then.”

At any given moment, there are millions of people around the world who are dreaming of wedding ceremonies. They have a strong desire to dress up in wedding finery and make a lifetime commitment in front of friends and relatives.

Many of these single people are dreaming of marrying a particular person, perhaps a boyfriend or girlfriend or someone whom their parents have selected. But others do not yet have a specific person in mind: they are still searching, hoping, praying, and dreaming.

Some of them are so intent on getting married, wearing a bride’s dress or groom’s suit, that they just go ahead and do it. “Why should I keep waiting for the perfect mate?” they ask themselves.

That’s what an Indonesian man named Khoirul Anam recently did. He asked himself an important question: “Who has provided me with rice for the last few years?”

After contemplating this question, he dressed up in his traditional wedding attire and got married in a private ceremony to his rice cooker.

According to news reports, Anam draped a sheer white veil on the rice cooker, giving it the appearance of a bride. He shared pictures of the wedding on social media, including one photo in which he’s kissing his bride, and another in which he’s signing the official wedding papers. He revealed his reasons for marrying the rice cooker in a caption, saying she was “fair, obedient, loving and good at cooking.”

He did not share any details about the wedding night. We can only guess that he plugged in the bride and had a steamy night.

No details about the honeymoon were revealed either. Perhaps the newlyweds took a boat ride to a nearby island. Perhaps the bride, in a romantic gesture, sat on the groom’s lap the whole time.

Unfortunately, the marriage did not last. Four days after tying the knot, Anam announced that he was divorcing his wife. His reason: she was good at cooking rice but could not cook any other dishes.

This is, of course, a common problem in marriages. One partner expects the other to change.

Anam: “Rice, rice, rice. All you keep cooking is rice. I’m tired of rice.”

Cooker: “Stop pushing my buttons! You keep pushing my buttons!”

Anam: “What else can I do, but push your buttons and hope you cook something else?”

Cooker: “If you had wanted your wife to cook something else, you should have married an Instant Pot. But the Instant Pot isn’t fair and obedient, is it?”

The lesson for all single people is clear: do not marry a rice cooker and expect it to suddenly turn into a bread maker. If you want a bread maker, then marry a bread maker.

It’s always sad when a marriage ends in divorce, especially when it has a big impact on statistics. As far as I know, the divorce rate in human history when a man marries a rice cooker is now 100 percent. I’m not sure, however, what the divorce rate is for all marriages involving humans and objects.

Yes, in case you are wondering, Anam is not the first human to think of marrying an object. One British woman married a duvet (a type of blanket); another Brit married a chandelier; and an American woman married an entire train station.

None of these marriages are legally binding, of course. Anam’s marriage to the rice cooker was mainly a publicity stunt, but thanks to him, perhaps fewer people will object to marrying humans.

Groom’s father: “Good news. My son has changed his mind. He will marry your daughter, Preethi, after all.”

Bride’s father: “That’s wonderful! We were praying for such an outcome. What made him change his mind?”

Groom’s father: “I told him to make a choice. I said, ‘You must either marry a nice-looking Preethi or a rice-cooking Preethi.’ He made a good choice.”

It was early evening on Aug. 7 and officials at the National Centre of Seismology were concerned about several tremors they had detected in Delhi, Haryana and other parts of India.

They were about to issue an earthquake warning when they found themselves contributing to the tremors themselves, jumping up and down as the exciting news flashed across a TV screen in their office: “Neeraj Chopra Wins Gold in Javelin.”

A young woman named Megha jumped into the arms of a young man named Raj. She didn’t follow sports closely, but after seeing everyone in the office hugging each other and cheering, she thought this would be a good opportunity to hug Raj.

“Gold medal!” Raj shouted. “India’s first medal in athletics and it’s gold!”

“I love gold!” Megha yelled, remembering all the hours she had spent at jewelry shops.

Imagining himself a soccer announcer screaming after a goal, Raj hollered: “Gold! Gold! Gold! It’s a gold! Neeraj Chopra has scored a gold for India!”

“Yes!” Megha said. “We have the best javelin player in the world.”

“Thrower, not player.”

“But it’s sports,” Megha said. “Don’t you play sports?”

“Yes, but you don’t play javelin—you throw javelin,” Raj said, making a throwing motion with his arm.

“Have you ever thrown it?” Megha asked, trying to distract Raj from her mistake.

Raj had never thrown a javelin, but he saw an opportunity to impress Megha. “Yes, many times,” he said. “In fact, I am a member of the Delhi Javelin Club.”

“Can you show me?”

“Yes, okay,” Raj said, thinking quickly. “Let’s go outside and I’ll show you.”

“You have your javelin here?”

“No, but I have my umbrella. When it’s closed, it’s just like a javelin, with a sharp point and all.”

Raj grabbed his long black umbrella and opened the door for Megha. To his surprise, there were already dozens of people throwing umbrellas, sticks and other objects outside. Most of them were youngsters, but Raj even spotted an old man hurling his walking stick as far as he could. “Do they have over-80 javelin competition?” he asked his wife, as she went to fetch his stick. “I can win gold, too.”

Two teenaged girls were throwing a hockey stick around.

“I’m Neeraj Chopra,” one girl said. “The best javelin thrower in the world.”

“No, I’m Neeraj Chopra,” the other girl said. “The best-looking javelin thrower in the world.”

The first girl laughed. “He is handsome. I wonder who is going to play him in the movie?”

Hearing the conversation, Raj and Megha smiled at each other. They walked down the street to find a safe area where Raj could throw the umbrella. They stopped about 20 meters from a roadside stand where a man was selling live chickens in a cage. Raj put all his strength into the umbrella throw, almost falling over as he released it.

“Wow,” Megha said, as the umbrella soared through the air. A gust of wind caught it, carrying it farther than Raj had expected.

“Oh no,” he shouted. “I’m going to kill the chickens!”

Luckily, the umbrella fell a yard short of the cage. Even so, Raj had to face the wrath of the roadside seller. “Who do you think you are, throwing like that?” the man shouted. “Neeraj Chopra?”

The next day, Megha received a call from her father, Ravi. “I have some good news,” he said. “I’ve been appointed the chairman of a new commission.”

“What commission, Papa?”

“The Special Commission to Build One Thousand Neeraj Chopra Statues.”

“Only one thousand, Papa?”

“This is for Haryana only. Other states will build more.”

Megha told her father about the javelin thrower she had met.

“He throws like Neeraj?” Ravi asked.

“Yes, like Neeraj. But no gold medal yet.”

“When can you bring him home?”

“You want to meet him already?”

“Why not? Please tell him to bring his javelin. He can show me how to throw it.”

If you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, please accept my sincere congratulations. You have not only protected yourself from the virus, you have also shown concern for those around you: your family members, your neighbors, your dog and cats.

Your pets may not get Covid from you, but if you get the virus and are hospitalized, who is going to give them six meals a day? I’m not suggesting that your pets are fat—I’m just saying that if you get Covid, nobody will be around to roll them to the food bowl.

Millions of Covid vaccine doses are being distributed around the world, made by pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. In most countries, priority for the vaccine has been given to people considered most vulnerable. This includes people with certain underlying medical conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as frontline workers and healthcare professionals.

Old people also have priority, because if you do not keep the old people alive, who is going to force the young people to get vaccinated?

Old people and young people do not have the same fears about the virus.

Grandfather: “If I get Covid, I might end up in the hospital and possibly die.”

Grandson: “If I get Covid, I might give it to my grandpa and he might die.”

Nobody enjoys getting vaccinated, but considering everything we’ve been through for the past year, everyone should be excited to get the Covid vaccine. But many people are like my teenage daughter, Divya, who does not like any type of vaccination whatsoever. If there was a vaccine to protect her from math teachers, she wouldn’t get it.

Divya will be getting the Covid vaccine in a few weeks, and I’m sure she is already having nightmares about it—picturing a nurse approaching her with a syringe and a needle as long as a fishing rod.

Nurse: “Divya, do you want it in your left arm or your right arm?”

Divya: “Can you put it in my dad’s arm?”

Fear of the needle is just one of a number of reasons that many people are reluctant to get the Covid vaccine, even if they’re eligible for it. A few of them are just plain lazy. It takes a little effort to get vaccinated. You can’t just click a button on your phone. Healthcare professionals do not generally visit your home to vaccinate you. If someone came to our door holding a syringe and needle, Divya would hand over all our possessions. “Take everything we own,” she would say, “but please do not vaccinate me.”

Some people are reluctant to get the vaccine because they’ve received either misinformation or disinformation about it. Those words do not mean the same thing. Misinformation usually comes through the internet, whereas disinformation can often be traced to an orange-haired man living in Mar-a-Lago.

As a result of this false information, people have started to believe some of the myths about the Covid vaccine. Here are just three examples of these myths:

Myth 1: The Covid vaccine causes infertility. This is not true. If you want to have a baby, one of the best things you can do is get vaccinated against Covid. Ask any medical professional and they will tell you that in order to have a baby, it’s generally a good idea to stay alive.

Myth 2: The Covid vaccine will give you the Covid virus. Some people actually believe this—that you might get Covid from the vaccine that was created to protect you from Covid. This is like avoiding calling the police to report a potential robbery, because you’re afraid that the police might rob you. (Trust me, the police will not rob you. They might shoot you, but not rob you.)

Myth 3: The Covid vaccine will alter your DNA, turning you into another person altogether. People who are happy with their lives do not want to get vaccinated and find that they’ve suddenly turned into someone else. But others may be willing to take the risk, hoping that they will suddenly find themselves golfing like Tiger Woods or driving like Mario Andretti. Of course, if the vaccine actually alters their DNA, they’re far more likely to find themselves golfing like Mario and driving like Tiger. In both cases, damage to cars is likely.

A prominent writer for an American literary magazine, The New Yorker, got fired recently because he inadvertently exposed himself to some colleagues, both men and women, in a Zoom meeting. During a break in the online work-related meeting, the writer, a married man, apparently switched to another video call that was definitely NSFW (not safe for work), as well as another kind of NSFW (not safe for wife).

The writer’s wife wasn’t around, but he nevertheless landed in serious trouble, largely because of what he did when he returned to the meeting: he unknowingly pointed his webcam below his waist, allowing his colleagues to get to know him a little more personally than they ever wanted to.

Well, perhaps it was a lot more personally than they ever wanted to. I don’t know exactly how much they were able to see, but it was enough for them to be offended and complain to the higher-ups in the magazine. After conducting an investigation, the bosses concluded that the writer had committed an egregious offense. He had broken a commonly known, but unwritten rule that when you’re on the staff of an organization, you should not give other members of the staff a close-up view of your … uh … staff.

Nobody wants to see it, and if they did, they would request a private audience.

It should be clear that the writer is fully responsible for his actions. But he may be cursing the technology that allows video meetings to be held and the COVID pandemic that made such meetings necessary. He may also be cursing Dr. Anthony Fauci for understating how deadly COVID can be, how vaccines and ventilators may not be enough to save your career.

Video meetings do have several advantages, but it’s important to be aware of their shortcomings (or hazards); otherwise you may find yourself searching for a new job, either because you’ve been fired or you’re too embarrassed to face your co-workers ever again.

One of the benefits of video meetings, of course, is that you do not need to take a bath or shower. No one can smell you through the internet. If you spot someone holding their nose during a video meeting, it’s probably because they can smell something in their own home, most likely a family member who hasn’t showered in months.

When you’re appearing on national TV, it might be a good idea to wear pants.

Another benefit is that you don’t have to dress up completely, especially if you’re sitting at a table or desk. The camera will show only your upper body, so you need to just wear something nice on top, such as a coat and tie. What you wear below the waist is up to you: shorts, pajamas, or lungi. Just make sure you don’t forget to wear something.

Almost any article of clothing will do, as long as it won’t get you fired. You may think that the camera won’t capture it, but don’t count on it, especially if you have a dog, child, partner or roommate at home. One of these household members will likely make a noise in the middle of a video meeting. You will have to stand up to take care of this disturbance, allowing everyone to see your full attire, or lack thereof.

Getting household members to be quiet during online meetings is quite a challenge. But even if they’re quiet, you may find them making surprise appearances. Your co-workers may get a kick out of it, but you’ll be mortified to spot your spouse or partner in the background, coming out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.

You: “Zoom, honey! Zoom!”

Partner: “Zoom in or zoom out?”

You: “Zoom out, please! And next time please wear more than just that towel on your head.”

At the turn of the century, if you had told a random group of Americans that over the next two decades, they would elect a president named Barack Hussein Obama, whose father was from Kenya, and a vice president named Kamala Devi Harris, whose mother was from India, they would have wondered whom you had consulted to help you predict the future: Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniels.

Obama made history by becoming America’s first African-American president, and Harris will make history on Jan. 20 when she becomes America’s first female, first African-American and first Indian-American vice president, among several other firsts.

What are these other firsts? Well, Jamaicans take pride in the fact that her father is from Jamaica, making her the first Jamaican-American vice president. Tamils take pride in the fact that her late mother was Tamil, making her the first vice president who knows how to make dosa.

Tamil Brahmins take pride in the fact that her mother was a Tamil Brahmin, making her the first TamBram vice president, not to mention the first TamBramJam vice president. (Kamala’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, apparently followed an obscure Brahmin rule of conduct: “Marry a Jamaican and your daughter will make everyone proud!”)

Needless to say, the American media had a little trouble keeping up with all these firsts. One TV network simplified things considerably by calling her simply the “first woman of color to be elected vice president of America.”

As a person of color myself, I was extremely pleased that a woman of color was on a presidential ticket that trounced a man of color (slightly orange).

Another inclusive term that many people are using these days is BIPOC. It’s an acronym that stands for “black, Indigenous and people of color.” Kamala Harris is not the first BIPOC vice president — that distinction belongs to Charles Curtis, a man of Native American ancestry who served under President Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933. But Harris, within a few years, will undoubtedly become the first BIPOC vice president in a Bollywood biopic.

Harris will also be the first HBCU graduate to become vice president. HBCUs are “historically black colleges and universities.” Harris graduated from Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., before heading to law school at University of California, where she studied the art of interrogating suspected criminals and Supreme Court nominees, sometimes at the same time.

The election of Harris to the second highest position in America means that her husband, Douglas Emhoff, has also achieved a significant first. He is about to become the first Second Gentleman of the United States. America has had numerous First Ladies and Second Ladies, but never a First or Second Gent. (To make matters worse, it has been four long years since the White House had a gentleman of any kind.)

Unlike India, which elected its first female leader more than 55 years ago, America has yet to put a woman in the top job. Hillary Clinton came close four years ago, so close that Bill Clinton was already collecting phone numbers from potential interns.

As vice president, Harris will be next in line to become president if Joe Biden is unable to fulfill his duties, for health reasons or otherwise. All the male chauvinists who voted for Trump in 2016 because they didn’t want to see a female president will no doubt be praying hard for Biden’s health — Christians and Hindus joined in fervent prayer by atheists and agnostics.

At 78, Biden will be the oldest president in U.S. history, but I hope he’s able to serve two terms. After that, Harris will get a chance to run for president again. If things go well, she will move into the White House in January 2029, achieving another series of firsts, while Emhoff becomes America’s First Gentleman. If someone finds this a ridiculous idea, don’t tell Emhoff—tell ’em off.

Meena realized that something terrible had happened in America when she received a WhatsApp message from her 73-year-old father in Chennai, India.

“Hope you all are safe,” the message said.

Seconds later, Meena received another text, this one from her Nigerian friend, Yetunde, who lived just down the street.

“A coup! I can’t believe we are having a coup in America! My family left Nigeria because of all the coups.”

This must be some kind of joke, Meena thought, as she tossed her phone on the couch and turned on her TV. She had listened to NPR in the morning and knew that a pro-Trump rally was taking place in Washington, D.C. She also recalled President Trump’s mid-December tweet: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, be wild!”

She knew that Trump supporters were upset about the election result, but how wild could they be?

Mind-blowingly wild, she realized, as she absorbed the drama unfolding on CNN and other news networks, underscored with headlines such as “Rioters Break Into U.S. Capitol,” “Congress Members Hide From Mob” and “2021 Threatens to Outdo 2020.”

Hordes of people wearing MAGA caps and shirts were knocking down barricades, climbing walls and breaking windows, showing their determination to “Make America Great Again.”

Meena was horrified. She had watched such scenes from other countries, scenes that often ended in bloodshed and tyranny. She feared for the elected officials hiding in the Capitol. What if the rioters set fire to the building? What if they detonated explosives? What if they took Congress members hostage, refusing to let them go until Joe Biden agreed to allow Donald Trump to have four more years?

Perhaps Yetunde was right and this really was a coup d’état: Trump supporters were taking over the government by force. One of them, a middle-aged bearded man, was already sitting comfortably in an office, resting his foot on a desk. Would he be the new Nancy Pelosi? And what about the heavily tattooed, bare-chested man parading around in a fur headdress with horns? Would he be the new Mitch McConnell?

Meena shuddered to think of the types of laws they might enact. No more black or brown immigrants. No more restrictions on gun sales. No more taxes on pick-up trucks. 

After staring wide-eyed at the TV for a few minutes, Meena responded to her father’s message: “Why are you up so late, Appa?”

It was well past midnight in India.

“You know me. Just checking news in bed. Are you safe?”

“Of course, Appa. We are in Indiana. Washington is very far away.”

“Lock all the doors, just in case.”

“Okay, Appa, I will.”

“If they keep Trump as president, what will you do?”

“Cry.”

Meena didn’t know what else to write. Before the presidential election, she had been worried about four more years of Trump. Now suddenly she had to contemplate the possibility that he might be president forever.

And what about Kamala? Meena and her husband, Mukund, along with scores of other Indian-Americans, had been elated that Kamala Harris was about to become the first vice-president in U.S. history who knew how to make dosa.

Heeding her father’s advice, Meena locked the front door. She didn’t really expect anyone to attack her home, but it was better to be safe. After all, she and Mook had shown their support for the Biden-Harris ticket in different ways, including selling special masks that Meena had sewn with her friend, Mary.

Thankfully, Mook put Meena at ease. He was in his office at Purdue University, preparing for the spring semester. He turned his phone sideways, so Meena could see less of him and more of the traffic on State Street.

“Stop worrying, Meena,” Mook said. “America is not a banana republic. It is more like a plantain republic. You cannot peel it and eat it very easily.”

“You have to cook it?”

“Yes, you have to cook it, but the recipe has been cut into many pieces and stored in many places.” 

Meena felt relieved after speaking to Mook, but her relief lasted only two minutes — until she received another text from Yetunde.

“Oh no, the insurgents have taken over the Capitol! Shots have been fired! Well, at least Americans can be proud that their democracy lasted for 244 years.”

It took another two hours before Meena could relax once again. The pro-Trump mob had been forced out of the Capitol building and members of Congress were making cautious appearances, vowing to certify the election results and ensure that Biden becomes president.

Meena wrote a single word in a Facebook discussion group she had created: “Phew!”

She had started the “West Lafayette Gals” group in 2017, inviting all her friends to join. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats, and some had visible fence marks on their pants.

“You can say that again,” wrote Donna, a Republican. “I can’t believe I voted for him in ‘16. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Sharmila, a Democrat, was blunt in her response: “You weren’t.”

“At least I voted for Biden this time,” Donna replied.

“But we almost had a coup!” wrote Yetunde. “We almost said goodbye to democracy.” 

“I wouldn’t say ‘almost,’” Donna wrote. “That’s like saying Marianne Williamson ‘almost’ became president.”

“She did!” Yetunde insisted.

“Can’t take democracy for granted,” Mary wrote. “That’s why everybody needs to vote!!!”

Then, remembering her own vote in ‘16, she added: “Sensibly.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to wear masks — mostly in public but sometimes even at home.

While some people are wearing masks reluctantly, like they’re accommodating an annoying uncle temporarily in their homes, others have accepted and embraced masks, making that uncle feel so welcome and comfortable, he’s beginning to wonder if he should ever leave.

Masks have become a fashion accessory for many people, just like ties, belts, scarves and handbags. Many women have an assortment of masks in their wardrobes, and some even have a mask drawer. Whether they have just a few masks or a few dozen, they try to match their masks with the rest of their ensemble. And they enjoy giving and receiving compliments on masks.

Roger: “Lovely mask, Rani. Same pattern as your dress!”

Rani: “I love your mask too, Roger. Same pattern as your freckles!”

Whether you’ve embraced masks or reluctantly wear them, the important thing is that you’re doing your part to protect yourself and others, at least until we all get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, there are still many people who refuse to wear masks or cover their faces in other ways. Some do this because they believe that face coverings are ineffective against the virus. Others just want to assert their freedom to do whatever they want. “If I die, I die,” they say, forgetting that they are not only putting other people at risk, they’re also neglecting to do something every mask-averse person should do: arrange their own funerals.

Scientific studies indicate that wearing a mask reduces your risk of getting or spreading the virus by about 70 percent. To put that in perspective, wearing a seat belt reduces your risk of getting killed in a car accident by 45 percent, and wearing an argyle sweater reduces your risk of getting picked up at a party by 65 percent.

But if the health benefits of wearing a mask aren’t convincing enough, you may want to consider all the other positives. One of the biggest benefits is the anonymity a mask gives you, as Alyson Krueger explained in a recent New York Times article entitled “Cases of Mask-taken Identity.”

Krueger shared the story of a 20-year-old Los Angeles woman who spotted her ex-boyfriend in a grocery store and started to panic. But the man walked right past her, failing to recognize her because of her mask. What could have been an awkward moment turned into a moment of relief. Thanks to the masks, this young woman—and many others—won’t complain when burkas become a fashion craze in the West.

Let’s face it: there’s a long list of people we’d like to avoid in public places, not just ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, but also ex-spouses and ex-bosses, in-laws and ex-in-laws, people to whom we owe money, and people who may try to borrow from us. There’s also a list of people we don’t mind running into, as long as they don’t talk our ears off. A one-minute encounter won’t delay us much, but pulling away from some people is like walking out of church while the minister is speaking, right in the middle of our own wedding. This is where the mask is vital: it saves you from long conversations in the supermarket that don’t involve your cellphone and your wife. Even if an acquaintance recognizes you, you can alter your voice and say, “Sorry, I think you have mask-taken me for someone else.”

For people who suffer from social anxiety, the masks are a godsend. They’re also a welcome accessory for people who don’t like to smile at everyone. People with straight teeth may miss the opportunity to flash their perfect smiles, but many others are relieved that they can hide the fact that they didn’t help pay for their dentist’s children to go to college.

The masks are a great equalizer: they make homely people less homely and attractive people less attractive. A typical supermarket is now full of average-looking people, although some have great taste in masks.

Image by iqbal nuril anwar from Pixabay