Why I Wore a Titus Andronicus Shirt to My Vaccination (Escape from No Future)

I had my first Covid-19 vaccine administration this afternoon. Since my age cohort finally became eligible in Delaware last week, I had been nervously hitting up all the pharmacies and other sites trying to get appointments for myself and my husband. It seemed like the first piece of genuinely hopeful news we had gotten in over a year, but he likened the difficulty in obtaining an appointment to hearing he’d received a reprieve from the governor, who was not in any hurry at all to sign the papers while he continued to languish on death row.

For me, it was more like trying to score Springsteen general admission (floor) tickets off Ticketbastard the minute sales opened. I was born for this, I thought, I know how to keep multiple screens open, refresh-refresh-refresh, keep trying as people time out or throw back their reservations. I’ve dealt with TicketMaster suddenly deciding the credit card I’d had on file with them for years had to be “authenticated” on an outside site just when I was ready to pay (and then timed out as I frantically tried to do the authentication on another device). I’ve sought tickets on a shaky connection from a remote island beach, and kept plugging away while staying in constant contact with a friend doing the same thing at the same time to see who could get in first. And yes, I’ve gotten those Springsteen tickets, scored a decent seat at an Iggy Pop show, and made it into a Loved Ones reunion (which is harder than you might think; it involved a frantic DM to/from Dave Hause himself and I was prepared to ask his father out on a date if necessary).

So after we had done things like try at midnight and 4:00 AM and sign ourselves up with every possible source, I decided early Saturday morning to go for it. My friend Vicky had messaged me overnight that there might be some pharmacy slots in my old hometown, where she still lives. But first I checked our local branches on a hunch, and I got appointments for both myself and my husband: mine today, his tomorrow, and our follow-up second shots in April.

I actually put on makeup, earrings, and my special leopard-print mask to go to Walgreen’s today. As I searched through my T-shirts to pick out something fierce and fun to wear, I spotted my Titus Andronicus one.

I’ve written here before about Titus Andronicus and their song “No Future Part 3.” The band is one of the best live acts you’ll ever see; the song is the best distillation of the symptoms of depression and recovery you’ll ever hear. I grabbed the shirt, but not for either of those reasons.

“No Future Part 3” has taken on a different meaning here in the time of Covid and the potential transition to a post-Covid, or at least living-with-Covid era. Here’s why.

Like most people, this past year has freaked me out. I attended my last live show on March 12, 2020: Brian Fallon with Justin Townes Earle opening. Justin, of course, is no longer with us; one of my local venues closed for good and another is for sale and not having any punk shows; one of my favorite Philly venues also closed. I’ve watched endless livestreams over the past year, seen some of my friends and acquaintances grimly reminiscing in the accompanying chats, moaned and complained on social media, and talked to some of my favorite artists on same. I’ve gone from 3:00 AM panic attacks last spring to seriously wanting to punch someone, anyone, the last few weeks. I went through the banana bread phase and the cleaning phase and I stay up way too late because hey, Jason Isbell might pop up on Twitter, and anyway I don’t want to get out of practice for when the scene starts up again.

It’s been a strange year in other ways, too; we lost a treasured member of my husband’s family to a sudden, tragic non-Covid death last summer, and her funeral was the only time we’ve seen (masked and socially distanced) family in over a year. We discovered when we went back to a cousin’s place after the service that a tree had fallen on his house during a tornado the week before (yes, we also huddled on our basement steps for an entire morning Zooming and editing as tornadoes tore up the state), and nobody had even thought to mention it. So the post-funeral gathering had to be held outside.

I hit a very strange wall last August. I started writing songs. Country songs. I’m a punk rocker. Well, they’re more like Americana-punk, but still. The first couple were me and my shit, but then a few came out in a voice I didn’t recognize at first. Despite my obsession with music, I inherited my dad’s tone-deafness. (Not his fantastic metabolism that kept him under 140 pounds his whole life. Not his brilliant mind. Not his beautiful blue eyes. Just bad teeth, bad filing skills, a tendency to procrastinate, and tone-deafness. Thanks, Dad.) I cannot sing, and my only attempt at music lessons (acoustic guitar when I was 14) was unsuccessful. Yet I began craving a guitar. Specifically, an electric one, a Fender Stratocaster. I looked at ads online. I became obsessed. Finally, I bought one. And wrote more songs.

And just as this was happening, I went for a routine mammogram—though mammograms are never routine for me. And it looked like I’d made the hat trick, the trifecta: My mom had three different types of cancer, five different times, and I now have the pre-cancerous versions of all three. I have half a thyroid, can never eat garlic or drink wine again, and this past fall I had to have a lumpectomy, followed by radiation treatment in January, and am now on an estrogen-blocking drug. Though it was not quite cancer yet, it was about to be and had to be treated accordingly. No one was getting out of 2020 unscathed.

In the middle of this swirl of crazy (don’t even get me started on the election and subsequent events), I also started writing a novel. I haven’t been able to get the previous one (would be my second) published. In the past two years two agents have RAVED about it and one told me she was actually in love with one of my characters. Both passed. Others have passed with no feedback at all. I don’t have the $$$ to do a hybrid or quality self-publishing job. I swore that this time, fuck it, I was done. It wasn’t even heartbreaking anymore, just annoying. But on Election Day of all days, I started another one.

And the main character is the girl writing those songs that weren’t mine, just getting channeled through me. The country songs. Based on the poisoning of the land, water, and people of the state of West Virginia. My mom’s people. The family members with random cancers and auto-immune diseases. Three have/had lupus, but I am the first cancer repeater; everyone else has a different one. My family members worked at and lived near chemical plants and smelters. The one my grandfather worked at was owned by DuPont. He very nearly took a transfer to a plant here in Delaware. His two eldest daughters both moved here in 1958 when their husbands changed jobs. Frying pan, meet fire; Delaware is the home of chemical poison and for many years was No. 2 in the nation for cancer. We used to stand outside and wave at the “spray plane” dropping insecticide on us to kill the mosquitoes in the nearby marsh. There was a Superfund site behind my elementary school, and five boys from my class died before they were 50. And as I went into the hospital every weekday in January for my radiation treatments, I passed the donor plaque in the lobby with the name of the company that had given me, and my mom, the condition in the first place. The five stages of grief at this point are anger, anger, anger, anger, and outrage.

And somewhere between the guitar obsession in August and Election Day, I had become obsessed with country music. (This probably deserves its own entry later.) I think I miss the punk scene so much that it hurts rather than helps to watch the livestreams and think of the old days; I need something else to grab and learn about; to fire up that part of me that had gone missing the past year. All of this is making its way into the book. And of course every punk and hardcore frontman has a sideline playing acoustic guitar and singing Johnny Cash songs and asking if you know who Blaze Foley and John Prine are. And there are cowpunks. And Social Distortion, my gateway drug to punk so many years ago. And another favorite band, Lucero. And Philly’s own version of Willie Nelson, Roger Harvey (too punk for country; too stoned to care).

But back to Titus Andronicus and the light at the end of the tunnel I hope isn’t an oncoming train.

My life the past year, like everyone else’s has been a form of “No Future,” or at least an indefinitely delayed one. We live day to identical day, differentiating them as trash day, generator self-testing day, and the day Frank Turner does livestream benefits so we know when to step away from Zoom and watch TV instead because it’s a weekend.

And now it could be a matter of a just a few months before things slowly start grinding back to life. A few weeks before we might be able to eat something I haven’t cooked myself, someplace other than our own house. For the past year and nine days, everything’s made me nervous, nothing feels good (but for a very good reason), same dark dread every morning. And it all came down at a time when my life was at its peak: I didn’t even begin to figure out what I wanted and how to get it until about a decade ago, and as I look at my Facebook Memories recounting all my tales of moshpit mayhem and after-show hangs with the artists I saw and trips all over the eastern seaboard for shows, I keep thinking will it ever come back? Will I still be able to drive late nights to make those trips and those hangs? Will the fatigue that’s been enveloping me since the radiation treatments stopped and the drug started keep me home wistfully watching my friends go back into the newly burgeoning scene? Before my thyroid diagnosis 20 years ago I spent many years so tired I did literally nothing in my life but work and sleep, putting off the necessary surgery an extra two years to look after my parents and their age-related illnesses and needs. I have no desire to lose that precious second wind and second chance I was given, and it’s too early to tell if the drug is causing it or if it will pass. So yes, “I was a river, I was a tall tree, I was a volcano, now I’m asleep on top of a mountain, I’m covered in snow.” Not by antidepressants, as in the song, but by something that’s meant to save my life in another way but has the potential to make it somewhat unlivable.

But when I reached for that Titus Andronicus shirt this morning, I was struck by how the lyrics related to Covid life in other ways: I am wearing a faceplate for protection stretching across my mouth; nothing gets in and nothing gets out.  And in a few hours I’d be in Walgreen’s pharmacy, waiting for my man.

And there is indeed another down in the dungeon who never gives up the fight. He’s always been there, yelling “loser!” but now he’s also yelling that there may be changes and transitions, some good and some bad, and some things are gone forever and some are just asleep on the mountain with me and we’ll all wake up and it will be awesome. I can feel things moving around in my body right now, swimming and swirling into my cells; maybe they’ll give me a slight fever or something later, but it’s a small price to pay. The faceplate may not go away for a while, but maybe I’ll be a tall tree or a volcano (Volcano Girl, maybe?) sooner rather than later. And I still have songs and a book to write, and a guitar to learn to play badly, and friends to see again and shows and tours to watch for. Because, after all, the subtitle of “No Future Part 3” is “Escape from No Future.”