Bob Shell: The Incredible Shrinking Business


Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021


The Incredible Shrinking Business


I didn’t come up with that title. An old friend, veteran of the photography magazine business, used that phrase and it stuck in my mind. When I first got serious about photography in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were many quality 35 mm SLRs to choose from. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, SLR stands for ‘Single Lens Reflex’, the type of camera that uses a flipping mirror to let you see the view from your lens directly, projected onto a viewing screen. Most allow lens interchangeably. Until recently, almost all high end cameras were SLRs. But, recently, a new type of camera has come along, generally referred to as ‘mirrorless’. One disadvantage of the SLR design is that the mirror must flip out of the way during the actual exposure, causing a momentary loss of the image at the moment of exposure, and vibration in some cases. This led to incidences of eyes closed in photos when someone blinked at just the wrong instant, and worse, you never knew it until the film was developed. This is one of the things that mirrorless cameras eliminate. 

Back in ‘those thrilling days of yesteryear,’ when I first delved into photography, we had many brands of SLR cameras to choose from. Some, in no particular order, were Alpa, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Yashica, Contax, Miranda, Rolleiflex, Ricoh, Cosina, Chinon, Exakta, Edixa, Praktica, Praktina, Olympus, Voigtlander, Pentax, Kiev, Topcon, Kowa, Samsung, Contarex, Contaflex, Icarex, Kodak Retina Reflex, Petri, Mamiya, Vivitar, Konica, and, of course, Leica, although the first Leicaflex SLR was a wildly impractical design. 

All were either Japanese or German, with a few Russian and Ukrainian, and the outliers Samsung, the sole offering from South Korea, and Alpa from Switzerland. I’m sure I missed some, but all were capable of making decent images. 

My first serious SLR camera was a somewhat beat up Nikon F that I bought from a friend when I was living in DC around 1967. It had a 50 mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens, but no light meter, so somewhere I got a Gossen Lunasix hand meter to use with it. Camera and meter were later stolen when I was away from my apartment for a few days. 

I didn’t have much money in those days, so my next camera was a Zenit B Russian-made SLR that I bought from Cambridge Camera Exchange in New York, $ 39.95 mail order, brand new. It produced surprisingly good images, but was clunky design. Later I had more money, so I bought a Mamiya/Sekor 1000 DTL from the camera department at J.C. Penney. In those days every major retailer had a camera department, and price competition was fierce. 

I’ve always been a tinkerer. I have to know how things work. I never owned a 35 mm camera that I didn’t take apart to see how it worked. So, in the early 70s I took the camera repair mail order course from National Camera in Colorado. I had a ball taking cameras apart and putting them back together, usually with no pieces left over! Once I gained some confidence, I began repairing cameras for money. But, in those days camera repairmen were mechanics, electronics hadn’t invaded the insides of cameras much, aside from the simple electronics of built-in light meters. 

All of this is leading up to the electronic invasion of cameras, first starting in the later 70s. I’d be totally out of my depth trying to fix one of today’s digital cameras. 

In many ways, it’s like cars. I was at home when cars had points and plugs to be gapped, and the only electronic item in my tool chest was a timing light. Work on one of today’s cars without a diagnostic computer — forget it! 

Same with cameras, in many cases they require diagnostic equipment only factory service technicians have access to. 

Not long after I got serious about photography and camera repair the first attrition of camera brands began, with brands like Edixa, Praktina, Kowa, Petri, falling by the wayside. In the mid-70s Zeiss-Ikon, the famous German camera maker folded its tent and dropped out of the camera business, their last camera the gorgeous Zeiss-Ikon SL706. They just couldn’t compete with Japanese prices, although the Zeiss-Ikon SL706 was reborn as the Rollei SL35M with cosmetic changes, built at Rollei’s ill-fated manufacturing plant in Singapore. 

I won’t try to list the companies that collapsed over the 70s and 80s and into the 90s, but suffice it to say that they fell like leaves in a forest, the last collapses being those that couldn’t make the transition to digital imaging. Minolta, one of the oldest Japanese brands, went into bankruptcy and was bought by Konica, only to have that iconic brand itself go bankrupt. It’s an open secret that Minolta was acquired by Sony, a company that had avoided the SLR market for years. That’s why Minolta lenses fit the first generations of Sony SLRs before they went mirrorless. Even the Minolta Alpha designation for their SLRs was retained by Sony. 

With the recent announcement that Olympus is shutting down its camera division, a serious photographer has only Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica, and Pentax to choose from, Pentax being the only one not to go mirrorless and retain the flipping mirror. I wouldn’t invest in Pentax’s long term survival, but I’ve been wrong before, and some photographers prefer the traditional mirrored SLR’s viewfinder. 

Do I expect the photo business to shrink even more? Certainty. Demand for high end cameras is way down, and lower end cameras were killed by cellphones with built-in cameras, some of which produce remarkably good images. I’ve seen full page pictures in several magazines shot with iPhones. But, for those times when the cellphone just won’t do, such as long telephoto shots of nature and sports, the high end camera is still essential.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on

Bob Shell: In Praise of Reality

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021


In Praise of Reality


I’ve been totally amazed at the recent goings on in this country of ours. Here are some examples:

An emergency room nurse in South Dakota reports a very disturbing fact. People seriously I’ll with COVID-19 are flooding her hospital, also suffering from a severe case of unreality. They’ve heard that the pandemic is a concoction of ‘The Fake News Media.’ There must be some other reason that they’re sick, they insist when admitted. Even while gasping, unable to breathe, people come to the hospital saying they can’t have COVID-19 “because it’s not real.” The nurse says this delusional talk only stops when they’re intubated, or die. She says, “It’s like a fucking horror movie that never ends.” 

This insanity is going on in hospitals in a large part of the U.S. where coronavirus denialism is common. In South Dakota, one of the worst, the positive test rate is astonisingly nearly sixty percent, while in most of the country it is in the very low single digits, low enough that New York City’s recent three percent infection rate is considered a ‘spike’. The governor there in South Dakota has refused to require mask wearing or social distancing, saying, “My people are happy because they’re free.” Dying, struggling for breath, in a hospital is free? 

At the time of writing in December, 2020, about one million new COVID-19 infections are being reported each week in the U.S., at least in part because so many people refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Wearing masks or practicing social distancing, they say, is an unbearable imposition on their freedom. Well, I guess they’re free to get sick and die! 

And, speaking of social distancing, a recent Dutch study showed that six feet is not nearly enough. They recommend at least twelve feet. 

In Brooklyn on November 8, a Hassidic synagogue held a maskless wedding at which 7,000 people packed themselves tightly as sardines into a single room, jumped up and down, and sang at the top of their lungs. To show that they knew they shouldn’t do this, the wedding was promoted secretly, solely by word of mouth, with no invitations. The city has fined the synagogue $ 15,000, but how much will treatment of everyone made sick by attending cost? 

It is predicted that, by Christmas, more than 2,000 people a day will die from this pandemic in the U.S. 

In Texas, prison inmates are being used to stack body bags in dozens of temporary morgues. 

El Paso County has 34,000 active cases of COVID-19 and has set up ten mobile morgues to handle the dead. The prison inmates are paid $ 2 a day for stacking dead bodies. I’ve never seen any data on whether you can catch the disease by handling its dead victims. 

In the Karma’ll get ya department:

Rev. Irvin Baxter, televangelist with a multimillion dollar broadcast empire, got where he was by preaching homophobia. Recently he’s been telling his followers that COVID-19 is God’s punishment for tolerating homosexuality, gay marriage, and unmarried couples living together. He died November 5 from COVID-19 !! 

The mayor of Lincoln County, Tennessee, where COVID-19 is surging, say he’s waiting for approval from ‘The Holy Spirit’ before mandating mask wearing. He says he believes coronavirus is real and mask wearing prevents the spread, but his prayers for divine guidance have not been answered. 

Vaccines may stop the insanity next year, but look out for the anti-vaxers who will insist it’s an infringement on their personal freedom, and refuse to be vaccinated. Enough of them could derail the whole process and give the plague new legs. 

Of course, you may choose to disbelieve all of the above, because all of my facts and figures come from ‘The Fake News Media.’. You’re free to do that.


Dispatch from the front lines: 

I’m currently at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, in Pocahontas, Virginia. Correctional center is the PC name for a prison. 

We went from under twenty people total with COVID-19 to over two hundred inmates and over forty staff in the blink of an eye. That’s out of an inmate population of just over one-thousand. 

Over 2% on the outside is considered a ‘spike’.

Obviously, staff brought the damned virus in from outside, since we can’t leave. One officer says he got it from his wife who attended a maskless baby shower. How crazy is that? Exposing a pregnant woman to COVID?

We had a bunch of officers who thought refusing to wear a mask was some sort of political statement. Of course, most of the staff here are Trumpistas, currently in mourning over Humpty Dumpty’s fall, and, I’m sure many were COVID deniers. 

When someone I know complained about staff not wearing masks, they called him out to the offive and jumped all over him for complaining. Yeah, shoot the messenger if you don’t like the message! 

Men in hazmat suits have been here with backpack foggers, fogging our pods with some sort of disinfectant for two days. 

There are 79 men in this pod right now. 77 of us tested negative. The two who tested positive were removed from the pod this morning to go into quarantine for fourteen days. 

They checked the rest of us for fever. My cellmate and I both were 97.5°, so we aren’t infected. 

They gave everyone, inmates and staff, medical masks today, and said everyone has to wear them. Talk about closing the barn door after the horse is long gone!! 

Of course, I got permission months ago to wear one, and have worn it every time I leave the cell to shower or send emails. 

The kitchen here is being staffed by volunteers because the regular workers are all quarantined. These volunteers don’t know what they’re doing. Our rolls at lunch today were rocks, the yeast either didn’t work or they didn’t put any in! 

They no longer give us salt and pepper packets or paper napkins with our meals, so I’m doubly glad a friend bought me bottles of seasoned salt. It’s good on most things. 

The food here tends to be either bland and tasteless or so bloody hot from jalapeno peppers that many of the men can’t eat it. My jalapeno tolerance is pretty high, but some of the stuff is too hot even for me. 

Bob Shell, reporting from COVID central.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on

Katie Kerl: The Ascension

Artwork by Katie Kerl, Copyright 2021

Artwork and Text by Katie Kerl, Copyright 2021


The Ascension


After the most horrific year 2020 is finally coming to an end!! When the smoke clears, and you start to feel whole again might just be the best feeling. My father is cancer free and on the mend. My mother and I gave him the support he needed to find the will to live though stage four throat Cancer. Our friends and family could not have been more caring and constantly checking in during this time. He is the true miracle this Christmas, and just turned 65, before Thanksgiving. My mom is healthy, and all three of us in our house together. By the end of Christmas Eve, I was sobbing because that feeling is not one to be topped. It was the first time in 24 years we were all under one roof. My mom really made it perfect from the décor, baking, presents, and the people you found necessary to be in your presence are the ones who counted. 

No looming feeling of dread to see people you do not find meaningful in your life.

 In a way that is amazing when you think about it. Maybe your family is divided, and you did it separately for the first time. There was no arguing just peace. PEACE when was the last time you felt that?!  I fought through every minute of the last two years of my life in different ways. I changed my way of living 130%. Which I am grateful for choosing my family over everything, and everyone.  

I tried my hardest and someone lived.

I am the lucky one this year. No matter what happens from here. I have these moments to remember forever.  I will never take that for granted. Even though the virus is still raging in a disgraceful government; honestly, it is how we the people treat each other that matter. Other than on the financial end, they have nothing to do with you being a good person and looking out for people you care about!! There is no one to blame if you have not immersed yourself in the forward-thinking changes that we are about to embark on in our country. 

I always talked about my odd black cloud jokingly through the years. A series of injuries, illnesses, and recoveries. Maybe all of that prepared me for this. 

I have been home since March 16th, 2020 with no real end in sight. 

I still have a place in the city, but is it worth it to keep, or time to see something new? 

I have moved onto crypto from the larger stock market tickers. If Corona did not show us we are going paperless with money, I am not sure what will. I guess we will see what that brings me. Currently Ethereum is up to $740 as I am looking at my phone. I started with penny stocks, educated myself, waited until Tesla was about to hit the S&P 500 sold, and bought Ethereum. I talked about a little of that in my previous piece, for better clarification. I still am not exactly sure what I am doing, but I know enough to be happy at my rising portfolio. Which also Includes Derek Automotive, who will be going public in 2021. 

Derek has built an up-and-coming empire in a global pandemic, all while using his forward-thinking ideas to take on the clean electric car movement. Derek Mobility is the second sector of Derek Automotive. The little lover scooter, e-bike, and commercial van. His company is a force to recon with in 2021. I cannot wait to write the full piece about all his progress. Being a black business developer with new technology taking on the world in 2020 and winning!! Also, who I now call a friend. You want people that do not let you make excuses for your circumstances, and help you rise with them in your life. That is true entrepreneurship. 

Some of the companies I partnered with this year, sent me an overwhelming allotment of product to protect my family’s immune systems during COVID. 

Which were my favorites?

Liquid-Iv every month by the bags. Not just the “influencer” promo pack for the month. I drink that every day! I hate the word influencer, but if I can promote being yourself and telling everyone to fuck off that does not like it so be it!! I wondered how I missed out on this hydration pack for so long. One packet on your worst hungover day, and you will feel 100 times better. The tangerine wellmune helps protect your immune system is my favorite flavor! The energy multiplier with matcha, lemon, and ginger is my second. 

I also receive the Splendid Spoon box. They like my content, so they give me the box full of smoothies, detox shots, and vegetarian bowls. My favorite is the green goddess bowl, digestive shot, and the power greens smoothie. Please refer to my Instagram for promos on boxes, and other partnered products. I will not be posting that here. I only talk about the wellness products I use in my everyday life. 

Verb Energy bars are great for that afternoon pick me up as well. There is no crash or bloating from drinking too many fluids. It is powered by 65mg of green tea caffeine no matter the flavor you choose. Which is less harsh than coffee.

Quest Nutrition sent me the biggest box of goodies. I have to say; the salted caramel shakes are my favorite. They are also great protein coffee creamers! The loaded taco chips, sprinkle donut, fiesta chips, and the lemon protein bars all measure up the same, drool worthy.

To the companies that have shown my whole family love in COVID thank you!!

On the opposite end of that spectrum, there is still no Toilet paper in stores and the vitamins still stocked. 

That alone makes me question people’s sanity.  I have a mask for every outfit, and I still have melt downs keeping people away from my compromised parents in food stores etc. I do not see that letting up any time soon. We still do not get it here in America. Speaking of vitamins, I personally take a quite a few including a B-Complex stress formula, calcium and magnesium, vitamin-c, and astragalus which oddly enough protects your respiratory system during cold and flu season. 

The news is telling us to stay home yet promoting shopping across the city, and holidays things to do. I wonder if they hate their jobs as much as we hate hearing their utter daily dose of Bullshit. The funny thing is I have more freedom here to write about my experience than I would if I were on the news reporting something similar. 

It is REAL…

I feel terrible for the teachers in our country who were, and some still are being subject to exposure everyday by germy kids!! One of my best friends is having to deal with this and I am not so sure I would have been able to keep going in. I give her so much credit for sticking to what she also fought so hard for to achieve.  I love kids, but there is not a right amount of money to pay someone when that was never part of what they signed up for at that income rate. 

It is kind of like the under performing NFL. Why would you risk your full potential as an athlete to have respiratory, and heart issues? Eight months in and some people are still recovering from COVID. We do not know the real long-term damage of this virus yet. The fact they are still playing games shows you how much money is dumped into gambling. Believe me I learned about that too. I rode that DraftKings rise as well in the end of summer early fall when sports came back. 

Thanksgiving crept up and I was feeling kind of lost not being able to do anything positive to give back.  

Then I volunteered again and saw firsthand what the hospital first responders are going though. The Trauma Survivors Foundation has fed 17k front line workers as of Thanksgiving Day. Ronnie Chakler has been there for my family and I through this entire thing. Another person that when they say they got you, they do. Ronnie and the members of his Lodge made that 100 Turkey Dinner meal run possible from Manny’s Deli. They put together delicious plates for all. Dennis Carraidin the curator of the foundation met us at Jefferson Emergency entrance. We made a lot of heroes happy that day. We were on a few of the news stations as they were covering people giving back in this hard time. I went home to make the Thanksgiving Turkey and was never more thankful in my life for what I have. I went to sleep happy that night. 

Only to wake to a nightmare, I have been writing about my life, and the ups and downs of dating someone with a demanding job for years. If you take anything away from this piece; check on your friends in high positions. If you think something is wrong keep asking. Tell people what is going on. At least if they pushed you away it is because they were not ready to face change, but you still fought for them to live. Stress kills, apart of me died on the day after Thanksgiving. My phone rang and it was the last person on earth I would wanted to speak to. 

Especially after having such a nice holiday with my family. 

I was informed my ex passed away. At first, I just fuck you buttoned him, because why disrupt my actual peace? After I heard what he had to say I have never felt such rage. When you talk to an entire group of people begging for help and they do not. How did you have the nerve to call me? The funny thing is we kept in touch, so he was still telling me about his life issues even with a new girlfriend. Which was fine, for the same reason I had left our home a year ago. Nothing changed; and the stress mounted. I have the utmost respect for him even though we did not work out. He deserved to live for himself and feel free. My heart aches for his mother, and I hope she one day she finds peace. Being highly intuitive sometimes can be a burden you do not want to bear. I saw something no one else wanted to wake up to. At least I know he is at peace and will always hold a piece of my soul. He was my past and will be part of my drive to not only be better but to protect my own happiness. 

 I have the right people in my life to be there for me and that is what matters. It took a long time to find that and I will not give that up. It is not the money; it is who really will ride with you on the way up. Not showing up on the doorstep once they made it. Be careful who you let in your life. It means everything in the end. A lot of people do not like me for this. You know pointing out the truth, and what is right. I’m glad I never gave a shit about that or I would probably be dead now too. 

When I really think about it. This year alone we have lived through two sets of riots in Philadelphia and watched the Cheeto bunker dive. There were a few hurricanes and tornados. The entire service industry here is dead. There is no indoor dining, or anything to do to bring joy, hobbies, etc. On this second round of semi lockdown. They want the people who are still employed to work and have no joy after?  Fuck that.

The number of tears I cried this year for people going through so many different things including myself; makes me confident the people whose lives have not changed in this will be hard for them to adapt/ relate to people who have seen it all. Especially with no cohesive plans for our country to heal. 

I lost 3 people that I am still processing. 

If your friends/ family are not taking care of their health now again, please try to help them. 

Check in and tell them you love them. 

Stress relievers for me:

Medical marijuana has kept me in shape and honestly sedated thankfully, an appetite, and a few pounds gained purposely. 

Yoga took a while to get acclimated to years ago, I thank god I learned that patience. 

If you are suffering insomnia try it before bed. 

Writing always clears my head. Although at this point, I feel so overwhelmed I started painting instead. I guess it is true if you are creative you can really channel it anywhere.

I am sure I’d pass the kindergarten art test, although my content maybe questionable. 

Food and cooking used to be my thing; if I ever cook another meal after this ……..

I do miss my top 50 in Philly and fine dining. I pray for our friends in the service industry dying in a state that refuses to help small business yet is the only thing it thrives on besides its history. 

I voted in person and there was no better feeling than voting for change. 

Before all this insane madness, I had a few brief moments of peace in the Hamptons, Philly, and NYC. Distanced of course to feel a shred of my own existence again. When your friends take a giant chance to see you getting covid tests and all; that means something! I do not care if you are not supposed to fly at this point. If someone went through all of that to see friends who are dealing with ill family members, I am doing the exact same thing for them on New Year’s. I am going to live, mask, and distance out of this god-awful state. 

We also watched our country run into the streets and celebrate the demise of Trump. 

That was a defining moment. All cultures coming together in the streets to cheer despite covid/ riots. 

That type of victory is history. 

We are living though American history. 

If you made it this far you should feel lucky to be alive 

with 336k dead as of December 30th, 2020 in the United States alone!!

When this is over are you going to be happy with how you spent your time? 

Did you do enough? 

I have been happy, depressed, enraged, hopeful, & flat out floored over a cancer win, and all mixed with my ADD brain worst nightmare, but that ADD gave me the ability to do 5 things at once and finish the projects.

I am not sure what 2021 is going to bring, but I hope more understanding and empathy for people no matter their situations.  I personally have been through enough. I am raising the white flag to 2020. 

I will be in Miami when this bitch turns 21. 

If I die from that decision so be it. After living though everything above to feel alive again is everything to me. 

I have done my due diligence here. It is time for me to breathe again before all the government aid runs out. 

When it does it is going to be bad here. 

Take your opportunities to do good things, but also still be good to yourself now. 

Parents that have lost jobs or have kids to provide meals, toys, winter coats, at home learning tools, or deliver to the compromised elderly. Do something!

Unfortunately, it is not our greatest victories that define us. 

We may think that way, but it is selfish. 

It is your ability to Rise up and keep going despite the above, being resilient and helping people that need it.

Something we should be teaching if we embody that in our personalities. 

Have a safe and healthy New Year Friends! 



Katie Kerl was raised in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. She is currently living  in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. Katie has a background in Psychology from Drexel University. She is a manager in the commercial/residential design field . Katie can be reached  on Instagram @kerlupwithkate 

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A.H. Scott: Freefall

Photo: AH Scott, Copyright 2020


Photography and Text by A.H. Scott, Copyright 2021




When I think about this year of 2020, there are so many thoughts that fill my head. Yet, an emerging pair of questions that come to the surface time and time again. The first question bleeds into second question I toss into the wind. 

When will this year ever end? 

And, no, that isn’t a trick question. But, I will get to that in a bit. First up, my second question comes into view. 

Did that happen this year, too? 

Let’s go back to January 2020 and our jaws will drop at all the other things that took the spotlight of attention for a brief moment in time. 

Thursday, January 16th, 2020, a Presidential impeachment trial started in the United States Senate and February 5th, 2020 a Presidential impeachment trial ended in an acquittal.

Sunday, January 26th, 2020, NBA player, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gianna, along with seven other passengers perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The news of Kobe Bryant’s death shook the world of sports and popular culture; as parent and child were taken so unexpectedly.  

When these two events happened within the first month of 2020, no one would have fathomed the Devil’s fractured finger of misfortune and perversity poked us all in the eye.

But, the weirdness and irony didn’t stop there as I drop another pair of dollops into the history books of events that took place earlier this year. 

Monday, February 24th, 2020, movie producer and mogul extraordinaire Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault. 

Saturday, July 4th, 2020, Kanye West announced his run for President of the United States of America. 

Damn you, 2020, ya’ almost made me forget this bizarre stuff was real also!! 

I gotta admit a few snickers came out of me when seeing how the mighty have fallen low into being shuffled off to Rikers Island and how a candidacy can be a frivolity. It’s funny. Not ha-ha funny, but so damned surreal this year has been. 

From the ridiculous to the revered, let me take a brief spell to remember just a few public figures that we lost in 2020. 

Four icons [1] of their perspective fields of excellence were John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kirk Douglas, and Rafer Johnson. Otherwise they are known by some of us as Mr. Good Trouble, The Notorious RBG, Spartacus, and Olympian.

Each were persons of action and conscience in American culture; varying from civil rights, the law, the arts, and sports. 

As his flesh was bloodied by hate, John Lewis built bridges of brotherhood with a backbone of faith’s fortitude. Not a little lady of meek opinion, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wielded her dissent collar with the flair of a ferocious lioness of the law. For that glitz and glamour of old Hollywood, Kirk Douglas could have rested his laurels on his famous chin; but his chiseled jaw was nothing compared to the flexing of his iron will. Being an Olympian of the most versatile competition, Rafer Johnson went for the gold and won it with focus and flair. 

Kirk Douglas’ courageous choice of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo during those dark days of America, when tagging a person as an enemy of the people seemed like a blood-sport by politicians might seem like it was done in days so ancient. Yet, it was not centuries ago when it occurred. 

Even to this day, people who have never seen the 1960’s film, “Spartacus” know exactly what it means when the following three words are proclaimed by anyone: I am Spartacus!

As I note Kirk Douglas, another person who was a friend of his, Rafer Johnson also passed away in 2020. I’ve always been interested in history and as I found out more about the latter of these two phenomenal gentlemen, he also had a connection to that classic film. Having read for and won the role as a gladiator in “Spartacus”, Rafer Johnson had to turn it down for he would have been ineligible for the Olympics that year. 

After becoming a victorious Olympic gold medal decathlete in 1960, Rafer Johnson, proved his sterling humanity once more by having a hand in history in the Ambassador Ballroom in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. 

These four lives were well-lived and their legacies upon our history should be remembered beyond the haze of 2020.

Topsy-turvy is what 2020 has been, as one event that may seem so outrageous and heartbreaking or heart-stopping, just gets obscured by that which has now become a part of our lives – Covid-19.

The toll of the pandemic for the United States is one-quarter the entire amount of the worldwide cases of Covid-19.

The numbers don’t lie. The patients in hospital beds, both regular and ICU are not a figment of imagination. The second wave of woe has crept up upon us, even as the first wave seemed never truly to have subsided. From coast to coast, the toll ascends. 

Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are hope. Yet, we are all on Covid-19’s timetable. Our place in the line of being vaccinated varies from the position we are situated. Some will get the vaccine in the first month of availability, while others of us shall be in a line long down the horizon’s trail of future months. 

A vaccine is a good thing. But, it is not a cure. There is NO CURE for Covid-19. For the time being, there are only three methods of mitigation from being infected by this contagious virus – wash your hands, social distance and (like a broken clock which rings over and over and over again), WEAR A MASK!! 

Oh, and if you don’t want to. Hey, do whatcha’ like. But, don’t come anywhere near me. Stay in your own lane with the other naysayers who snicker about things being fake and a sham. In New York, it’s been ten months since things were by anyone’s lax term of being ‘normal’. I actually shrug now when that certain word is used to describe the time period before January 2020. 

To see the numbers in motion, there is a running data count of Covid-19 confirmed cases and deaths at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center [2]; which tracks the levels, both for the United States and worldwide. It is updated daily. 

In an interactive map, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has the tracking of cases, for both the United States [3] and worldwide.

And, so it goes onward in a somber sonata of repetition. 

2020 is the longest year. Not by expanse of day, but by an unrelenting jack-hammering of the psyche. This year has upended the way we go about our lives. 

This year seems like it will never ever end. But, as these days and hours of 2020 wind down, it is a thief, a marauder, a casting shroud of malevolence. 

Taker of lives, taker of traditions, taker of things both tiny and huge; 2020 is like the Devil who claws back at humanity in wanting more and more and more.

We who have lived through 2020 have our own personal stories. So, let me take a brief moment and tell you about mine.

I thought in some small way I could be shielded from the calamitous touch of Coronavirus’ repercussions personally, but 2020 is the cruelest of culprits. 

On the first Friday of December 2020, my cousin suffered a medical emergency and needed to be rushed to the hospital. When the ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital closest to where she lives near Mount Sinai Hospital, she was taken further downtown to Lenox Hill Hospital instead. The second surge of Covid-19 in my hometown is the cause behind a hospital bed shortage at Mount Sinai Hospital, which was the reason the EMTs had to take her to Lenox Hill Hospital. Hospital restrictions have been tightened around the city, with only a single visitor being able to visit a patient per day. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, she was moved into hospice and passed away the Sunday before Christmas. 

The odd thing about life is the timing of our last breath is never on a schedule of our choosing, but that of the heavens; as my cousin had just celebrated her 79th birthday a few days before she fell seriously ill and was taken to the hospital for a final time. 

I was always close with my cousin, even before I could talk or crawl. You see, she was the person who had set up a nursery with crib and all the other niceties when my parents had first brought me home from the hospital when I was born. 

My cousin and her four daughters were there by my side when my mom passed away a few years ago, and yet now in 2020 I was not able to be by their side when she passed away. 

For me, not being able to have that final farewell to my cousin is what this whirlwind of Covid-19 took from me. To actually be there in the hospital or hospice to say goodbye to someone you love is something which seems so ordinary in a time of mourning. Yet, these are far from ordinary times. Another somber reality is not being allowed to have a funeral or wake, because of the need for social distancing. As of now, I haven’t even been able to hug or touch my second cousins or extended family. My only contact with them since we all were together in person was last Christmas at my cousin’s apartment. 

Whew, thinking about this damnable virus and all which is diminished by it, just sinks the heart. Wow, I miss just my daily phone calls with my cousin. Damn, just to talk to her one last time would have been so sweet, but that bitter taste of absence is what remains.

A descent of sorts, from that which seems so normal in other years or even the first months of this year is that pit I sensed inside of myself. You know, I think we all would like to go back to what is considered ‘normal’. But, even when I write that singular term now, I’ve placed it into quotes. Whoa, this has shown how Covid has even bastardized a memory of what is considered something of everyday before 2020.

Can the year 2020 be described in a single word? To toss a label onto a period of the past twelve months would be foolish simplicity. 

More apt would be a culling of what has vividly unraveled from the threads of American society.

I’ve been thinking. Okay, let me restate that; we’ve all been thinking. What is it? What could it be that taps upon the mind like a dulling drop of water on the brain that never seems to cease? Could it be uncertainty of the days past, moments present, and a future being not as far off into the horizon? I would say that is what I’m pondering.

Of all the things which happened in 2020; one overarching proposition has taken the forefront – freefall.

Yes, 2020 is the year of freefall! 

American society has been on edge for longer than just the past couple of years; as problems were brushed under the carpets of those who averted their eyes to what was just beneath the surface of all which seemed most placid. 

Incompetence or indifference:

Was it incompetence or indifference of how this year was handled? 

If it’s incompetence by those who supposedly are in leadership, then maybe they aren’t up to the jobs they are elected or selected for. But, then again, they have people on staff to help them carry out their duties in a better way. 

So, that leaves indifference by those fortunate few who can scamper off behind the gates of their fancily named estates. In the way certain people have acted over this year, I would chalk it up to indifference. 

You see, incompetence can be buffered a bit by knowledgeable persons you can gather around you to give assistance on the things you may not know much about. Yep, you can fake a bit of competence in doing that with experts in varied professional fields. 

Now, indifference; well, fuck, that’s what you learn from your mother and father in not acting in that callous way. And, if it is indifference in not taking into account another soul’s humanity; then that’s something nobody with all the diplomas in the world can’t transfer in some kind of mind-meld to you. Treating those who are the other as you would yourself, is something you can’t tap onto the shoulders of an aged-ass man or his ilk like golden glitter from a wand by a fairy Godmother. 

With that indifference as the main course and incompetence as the side dish, the feast of freefall is what we have been served up in 2020. 

It is that indifference, which is an accelerant of economic and societal woes for the American people. Casting about this being fakery or a hoax and that being an enemy of the people, is that caustic corrosion of delusion and derision from the lips of wannabe strongmen who are in actuality the weakest ones of all.

Businesses are on the brink, as the economy continues to shrink. As the calendar switches onto another month and year, temporary edicts by the government of an eviction moratorium on renters and additional unemployment benefits will come to an end. Across America families will face evictions, diminished funds and hunger. 

On edge is where we are. From our nerves, to our health, and to our economy. And, least we ever forget or minimize another aspect of existence; our democracy is on edge.

Freefall is where our democracy is, as a petulant pisser decides in words, actions and inactions to turn everything in his wake to ash, just because he isn’t getting the ass-kissing he thinks the American people owe him in some kind of pseudo-authoritarian carnival of idiocy.

Date of January 20th, 2021 looks like a galaxy away from where I stand in these faltering shadows of December 2020. So, for me when I think of freefall that final push of the miserable year of 2020 is this American democracy being tossed into the abyss by a tantrum of a childish person who won’t swallow the reality that HE is a LOSER. 

Oddly enough, from the first month to this last month of the year 2020, freefall married chaos. Decree of dissolution arrives soon, but we must stay vigilant on expunging the poisonous aftertaste of what the past four years of what some have so willingly consumed. 

Well, enough about that person, for I shall end on a positive plateau. I am an optimist, for I have hope for there being a better tomorrow.

Dare to dream. Dream to dare. Hope for the day after the next into this coming New Year.

2021 is coming into something anew, as those who have lived through these past twelve months of 2020, hoping it is in our life’s rear view. 

Now, there is only one thing all of us can do; nod in affirmation and humbly say “Thank God you’re here 2021, we’ve been waiting to greet you!”


“2020: Freefall”

A.H. Scott

2020: Freefall Footnotes

Four Icons

Footnote 1 – 

Civil rights icon, John Lewis, February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020

Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020

Actor, Kirk Douglas, December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020

Athlete, Rafer Johnson, August 18, 1934 – December 2, 2020

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center 

Footnote 2 –

Footnote 3 –


About The Author: A.H. Scott is a poet based in New York City and frequent contributor to Tony Ward Studio. To read additional articles by Ms. Scott, go here:


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