Recollections and ruminations

Before I go into my weekly coronavirus commentary, I want to pay homage to a man named Percy Sledge, whom I was fortunate enough to have worked for briefly back in the day. This month marks the five-year anniversary of his death.

Some of you Millennials and Gen Z’ers out there may not have any idea who I’m talking about, but I’m guessing that most of you remember a song called “When a Man Loves a Woman.” That was Percy’s biggest hit — and really his only one — but it was a classic. He was able to make a career out of that one song, which is pretty fascinating to me.

It rose to the top of the charts worldwide in 1966, and by the time I crossed paths with him 10 years later, he was still singing it with as much passion as ever. He would rear back his huge head, close his eyes — I don’t think I remember ever seeing him sing with his eyes open — and let the emotion flow.

He could make you believe that he really would sleep out in the rain “if she said that’s the way it ought to be.”

Percy was having an affair back in those days with another love, a certain white powdery substance. It was extremely expensive, but of course he could afford it. From what I understand, he would go out on the road and make enough money to party for a few months then go back out and do it again when the cash ran low.

This made it difficult for him to keep a band, so he would hire musicians when he needed them and send them packing when he was ready to take an extended holiday. That’s why my time with him was short.

“This show is called PS-TCB,” he used to say every night. “That’s Percy Sledge Takin’ Care of Business.”

We didn’t even meet him until a couple of hours before the first gig. He called us back into the kitchen of the hotel and ran down the set list and talked us through the show, and that was it. But he was a joyful guy, larger than life, with a prominent gap-toothed smile and, at that time, a huge afro.

He didn’t even seem to mind that most of us barely knew any of his songs except “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and the audiences didn’t care either. As long as he was up there singing, they loved it.

So that’s my Percy Sledge story.

Now to the current unpleasantness.

I kept a surgical mask in my desk at The Greenville News for about 16 years. The Greenville Hospital System (now Prisma Health) gave a batch of them to the newsroom back in 2001, soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They were to protect us in case of an anthrax attack.

You may remember that someone had been sending mail containing that deadly substance to news media outlets. For several years after that, our poor newsroom clerk had to wear a mask and protective garb to open all our mail in a safe room somewhere in the building.

Well, when I cleaned out my desk at The News in late 2018, I tossed that old mask into the trash.

“I haven’t needed this thing for 16 years,” I thought, “so I doubt I’ll ever need it now.”


I foolishly thought that if a pandemic ever hit us, there would be plenty of masks in the stores and it would be no problem to get a new one.


We’re pretty much staying at home, anyway, except for when I go to get groceries and medicine, and I don’t even go into the stores then.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a couple of visits with our son and grandkids outside at our house, although we have to keep them barricaded 10 feet away from us. It’s better than doing it on the computer, at least, but it’s hard to not give them a hug when they’re so close. And we have a couple more who live 86 miles away. I’m not sure when we’re ever going to get to see them.

But, other than the fact that our IRA keeps getting smaller and all these inconveniences, we’ve been fortunate. Being part of the high-risk group and knowing that this danger is going to be with us for a long time is stressful, but we’re still well.

Our prayers go out for those of you who have lost jobs or suffered sickness.

I’m glad some more businesses have been able to open back up — but please stay safe, everybody! Social distancing works.

And remember, when in doubt, wash your hands.