“Is it Pfizer or Moderna?” he asked.
I was talking to my 28 year-old son, high school math teacher in Berkeley, to share the vaccination news. I thought he’d be excited. “I think it’s Pfizer—”
“Oh no!” I could see his face scrunched up, as if he’d just bitten into a lemon.
“What, what. Are there side effects from Pfizer—what?”
“No. It’s just, how can I put this—”
“Spit it out. Mom and I get poked tomorrow.”
“Pfizer’s not the cool one. You want Moderna.”
“It’s hard to explain,” he began, taking a deep breath. “See, Paul was the first teacher to get a shot—”
“No, no, Thornburg—”
“And he’s cool?”
“No, no. He’s a science teacher. And not a Leonard or Howard or one of those Big-Bang-type of fun, nerdy guys. He’s an asshole.”
Exasperated, Sean cut me off. “According to anyone who has ever shared a minute, a room, an idea, or oxygen with him. He was our first teacher to get vaccinated and he got a Pfizer shot.”
“Seems to me like he should have been applauded. He’s like the…” I had to scramble through my foggy memory of explorers from middle school. “… the Vasco de Gama of your school.”
“Really, Dad? This is Berkeley. We cancelled all those dudes. You may be in the Mid-west, but we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“But de Gama was Spanish—”
“Dad, he was Portuguese. You’re off topic. Focus. Back to the shots?”
“Oh yeah. Pfizer. Uncool. Got it.”
“So then Elise, our drama teacher, who everyone loves, got her shot. Moderna. And it kind of grew from there.”
“Let me understand,” I began, trying to untangle this weird, Berkeley social selection. “Kind of like, ‘Are you Beatles or Stones’?”
“No, not quite.”
“Brady Bunch or Partridge Family?”
“Hall or Oates?”
“Nah, it’s at a different level, Dad. Think Sneetches and Snitches with Ted Cruz facing off against Ocasio.”
“Wow.” The visual gave me pause. As I pictured Ted with a belly star, he continued.
“So Peters started keeping track of who got Pfizer, who got Moderna.”
“Lit and Honors Philosophy teacher.”
“Sounds.., pretty junior-highish to me,” I offered.
“Oh, totally. So, so stupid.” He let out a laugh. “But who decides who’s cool or what’s cool. It just happens.”
I thought of the cool kids in my classes through grade school, high school. Coolness was somehow magically bestowed by unseen gods; John Jr. with his faux leather jacket, Marlene Killburn and her bob haircut. Cool. And all the other kids would fall in line hoping some of that left-over coolness might waft their way.
Sean was still explaining: “Dad, this is Peters! He’s like the closest thing we have to Chadwick Boseman.”
“Oh, ok. I guess—”
“Dad, we’ve been quarantined for how long? This broke up all the tedium. Peters kept tabs. And it just turned out that all my friends were getting Moderna.”
“The cool people,” I chided.
“So, let me guess. It fell into political preferences. Blue. Red.”
He paused. “No, not really. We have.., one, maybe two, no, one Republican who got Moderna—”
“A Trumper? In Berkeley? AND a teacher?”
“Nah, he’s a Romney Republican. Born in Utah.”
I could hear music in the background, getting louder. Sounded like…West Side Story?
“Hey, is that ‘Officer Krupke’ I hear?”
He laughed. “Yeah. Elise is choreographing a dance-fight. Moderna vs. Pfizer. We started with that Michael Jackson video, you know—”
“Oh, with Vincent Price and the zombies—”
“No. The other one. With the gangs? Where Michael’s acting like a badass. But it didn’t quite work. Willis kept grabbing his crotch and “oohing” which made everyone pretty uncomfortable and then everyone kept trying to moonwalk so we didn’t get much choreographed.”
“I can see why,” I said. “So, now, which is which? Are Modernas Jets?”
“So, they’re the Sharks!”
“Nah. So far we’re all just working on lining up in a V skip-running. You know how hard it is to snap while you’re running hunched over?”
I pictured the troupe, run-skipping, snapping in unison, little band-aids on their arms.
“Good luck with that. Glad I called. Glad to know Moderna’s the ticket.”
“Be ready for a headache and a sore arm.”
Then another thought hit me. “What if it’s Johnson and Johnson?”
“Dad, don’t even start.” ❏
Ed’s work has appeared in more than 50 publications.