It is with a tinge of sadness that I present to you my last COVID Chronicle. We are wrapping things up next week with five amazing stories from five different authors, but today is my last [checks notes], unless of course we get a great big book deal. Then all bets are off.
Today’s story is one of the first I dreamed up when Joe Shaw, Joseph Courtemanche, and I first started talking about the idea of writing stories for the COVID-19 lockdown. I played with it a whole lot, and enjoyed writing it and hamming it up a bit. I hope you enjoy it, too.
The Vid Kids
A COVID-19 Chronicle
Jamie D. Greening
“That’s six,” Jackson stepped into the break room. “Six this hour.” He plopped onto the sofa, taking off his mask to sip a soda.
“I can beat that,” Sandy said. She was the senior nurse in the delivery wing at Memorial Hospital. “I had eight in a single hour Sunday afternoon – from three to four. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Five little girls and three boys.”
Jackson nodded, “I heard a rumor they are converting part of the hallway on the third floor into a secondary labor and delivery unit until this crisis is over.”
“It is a nationwide issue we are feeling right here.” Sandy stood up and put her mask back on. “We had more babies born here at Memorial last week than we did the previous five months put together.”
Jackson said, “I heard the same thing. I just didn’t think it would happen here. I didn’t know there were this many childbearing aged women in the whole county.” He shook his head. “I sure do wish I’d bought stock in diaper companies nine months ago.” Jackson took another sip of his soda. “I guess we’ve finally discovered what people were doing during their COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine.”
Sandy began to laugh, “Well, yeah. My preacher says from his perspective everyone was either getting pregnant or becoming an alcoholic during those two months.”
“It seems so distant now,” Jackson said. “Back in the spring we thought the world was ending but the whole thing fizzled. Now here we are with all this renewed life,” he chuckled, “and all these names. Have you taken time to look at some of them?”
“You mean the one on Monday, who was blessed by her parents with the name Daytona Sharona Corona?”
“Yeah, that one,” Jackson nodded. And then Saturday there was one called King Covid IV. I’m not kidding—that was the name. King Covid IV. I don’t know what happened to the first, second, and third but the fourth has dark curly hair.”
While they were talking, a young nurse who had just begun working at the hospital in the summer entered the room. She caught their conversation and said, “I helped deliver twins this morning. A boy named Shelter and a girl named In Place.”
“You’re making that up!” Sandy waved her hands in protest. “There is no way.”
“If I’m lying, I’m dying,” the young nurse said. Then she added, “Those kids don’t stand a chance.”
The wind blew the hair of the television reporter for Channel 9 Action News. She stood on the front steps of the school district headquarters. Her camera drone filmed the piece that would lead the local evening news. “They have different names,” she pushed the hair out of her face. “Some call them the Corona Cribbers. A few people use the moniker BabyZoomers in homage to the once popular video platform. Others prefer the double entendre of Trumps Humps. But most call them Vid Kids, the large number of babies born between December of 2020 and February of 2021 as a result of the brief but frightening COVID-19 pandemic. Some communities saw as much as five times the number of children born, and now most of those children are entering the school system. It is the largest demographic since the BabyBoom, and many people are asking what the school district plans to do. Superintendent Bowman is here to answer some questions.”
The technician operating the camera drone from his home office north of town panned the lens out to include the middle-aged man with an expanding waistline and a shrinking hairline.
“Superintendent Bowman, what makes these Vid Kids different from our grandparents who were the BabyBoomers?”
“Timing. The BabyBoom was a unique demographic and sociological moment in American history, but it took place over a period of about ten years. There wasn’t an instant growth, but rather a ramping up. By contrast the class of 2039 are coming at us in one large group. The class before them is relatively normal sized, and the class behind them, those in preschool right now, is average sized.”
The reporter turned her head sideways and asked, “What problems does this cause?”
Bowman snarled, “It would be hard to find a problem it doesn’t cause. We have physical space limitations because we need five times the number of classrooms. We have material problems because we need five times the number of computers and tablets. We have personnel problems because we need five times the number of teachers. We have nutritional problems because we have five times the number of children to feed.” His head quivered. “The problem is compounded by the normal numbers behind this class. Any changes we make will be for one year only which creates instability for twelve consecutive years and that is something we simply can’t abide. We can’t provide five times the number of everything for a single year and then dump it when that year is over for each progressive grade. It would be disastrous.”
“What is the solution?” She asked him.
“The solution is radical, but it is the only way the school board can see to move forward. We are asking a group of teachers, some current faculty and many new members of our team, to commit not to teaching kindergarten for one year to accommodate explosive growth, but to commit to thirteen years of moving through the education process with this unique class. We are asking them to embrace the challenge as a possibility for innovation.”
The reporter’s mouth dropped wide open. “A group of teachers will move through the entire process with the students?” She blinked and bobbed as her mind processed what that would look like. “No new teachers every year? No strange transition to middle school? No freshman awkwardness?”
Superintendent Bowman nodded his head without saying anything. The reporter recovered and asked, “What about space? This doesn’t solve the space problems?”
“You’re right, it doesn’t. What we’re doing is partnering with some local churches and religious communities to use their buildings in a rotation system over the next thirteen years. It keeps us from having to pay for new buildings.”
“Is that legal?”
“It is perfectly legal, and what is more, it is necessary. It was an extraordinary situation which gave us these children, and it will require extraordinary measures to rise to the occasion. I am convinced this will not be a negative, but instead a positive. We may discover something important about ourselves and the education process.”
Her red and white graduation robe was uncomfortable over the expensive dress. She didn’t want to wear such an elaborate dress, but her father had insisted. She should focus on the speech instead of shoes and hemline.
The High School Principal was finishing up her own speech, and then she gave the cue line: “It is my pleasure to present to you the valedictorian for the class of 2039, Miss Ronarita Beech.”
The audience stood with massive applause. The graduation had to be outside in the football stadium of the local college team because no other building could hold that many parents, family and friends. It was the largest event in school history – larger even than when the team won the state football championship in 1990. Twice that number watched from home.
“First,” Ronarita said, and she patted down her robe over her dress that she still didn’t like, “I’d like to thank our parents.” There was a smattering of applause. “I’d like to thank our parents because back long ago when the whole world was afraid they were about to die, our parents had the foresight and wisdom to use their time wisely.” Her face twinkled as the crowd laughed. Her friend had talked her into putting that line into the speech.
“Second, I’d like to thank all of the teachers, too many to name, who sacrificed their time, and some of them their professional promotions, to ensure we got the best education ever. I personally want to thank Mr. Lopez. It is not often the same person who teaches you how to read also teaches you about Hemingway. Mr. Lopez has been a source of encouragement to me from my first day of kindergarten until this very moment. I know,” she waved her arms toward her fellow graduates, “we all have our own story and our own Mr. Lopez. I wish we could all say it.”
Ronarita paused, then she said, “There wasn’t a way to do this, so we created one.” In that moment, the lights in the football stadium went dark, and holograms of men and women, teachers, at various stages through the past thirteen years appeared all over in every section and every row. Holograms of teachers on the playground, in the lab, at computer terminals, and in the lunchrooms. The images moved around for almost a minute, then each hologram somehow found the person for whom it was an avatar, sitting in the crowd, and they all said, “Thank you,” in unison.
Everyone in the stadium wept and none more than Ronarita. She was just happy her hologram program had worked—and her dress stayed put.
The young man stood in the airport bookstore looking for something to read on his long flight to Rio De Janeiro. He tried not to think about the presentation he was making. He’d done the math and the physics a hundred thousand times, it seemed. He knew his plan for biodomes on the Martian surface would work. He just needed to convince TIC (The International Consortium) his plan was the best. His only real competition was from a woman about his same age from Italy.
He preferred old style books with covers and pages. His great-grandfather had been a college professor back in the old days when everything was written on paper. He’d inherited the old man’s library and somewhere along the way he realized the value of the physical presence of knowledge that can’t be erased with a command to the digital cloud.
The section for real books, as he liked to think of them, was small but useful. He started in the biographies and skimmed a tell all from Jared Kushner. Politics didn’t interest him. He saw a new scholarly work about the life of aging Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence. He’d never heard of her, so he moved on. There were a couple of sports books about the reasons why American football had finally been banned internationally and baseball was enjoying a resurgence. He wasn’t much of an athlete so he kept looking.
Then a book piqued his interest. The title was “How Coronavirus Saved The World”. He picked it up and read the back cover:
A forgotten pandemic and a quirky moment in history provided the incredible matrices that have changed the world for the better. The Vid Kids, as they were called, have solved most of our problems in an amazingly short amount of time. This new work reminds us how their unique educational and sociological situation gave them the courage and the tools to creatively tackle things that had gotten ‘stuck’ in old thinking.
This book is a brief study of ten people like Nguyen Lee who at the age of twenty-five found the key to curing cancer in one pill. Read how Vito Virus Regio stopped trying to end combustion engines and learned how to completely remove carbon emissions from automobiles, airplanes, and power plants. Look at how at the age of twenty-one, in her dorm room at The University of Washington, Ronarita Beech wrote what would become the definitive holographic program that drives all modern computing and communications, and made her the wealthiest person in the world.
The Vid Kids just turned thirty. Imagine what they will do for an encore.
He looked at the front again. The author was Jamie Greening, the famous writer and pastor from Central Texas. He’d read a couple of his fiction works and enjoyed them, so he put the book under his arm, grabbed a mineral water, found his favorite gum, and went to the check out. As a Vid Kid himself, he added a little prayer to the Lord, “Help me add to it by helping human beings colonize outer space.”
The teenage boy at the cashier desk asked him, “Will you be using your global account or local currency?”
“International Account,” he said as he swiped his thumb over the print reader.
“Is that your real name or is it a stage name?” The kid asked.
“It is the name my mom and dad gave me,” he smiled. It was a question he got all the time.
“Cool name,” he said.
“I think so, too.” King Covid IV popped a piece of gum in his mouth as he left the little store and made his way to gate thirty.