May 23—POTTSVILLE — In late March 2020, when little was known about the coronavirus that would soon ravage the U.S., C.A.L. Shields visited a rum distillery while vacationing in Aruba.
The distillery, which produced 200 proof alcohol, allowed visitors to get a whiff of the stuff from a vat. One sniff was like downing several shots of whiskey.
Watching people imbibe olfactorily, a thought occurred to Shields: Could breathing in alcohol fumes kill the virus, which typically lodges in the lungs?
It was just idle thinking he eventually attributed to: "Desperate times, desperate measures."
In a sense, that's what "Lockdown: A Covid Story," the Pottsville author's latest book is all about.
During an interview Monday, Shields talked of the 142-page softcover chronicling his thoughts over a 22-month period — March 2020 through December 2021 — on the life-altering pandemic.
A former Schuylkill County district attorney, Shields initially used his lockdown-imposed interlude to finish his first book, "50 Ways To Stay Out Of Jail."
Turning to Facebook, he shared his thoughts on dealing with the restrictions wrought by the COVID-19 crisis.
It is those random postings that recount one man's encounter with a phenomenon that was perhaps as emotionally challenging as it was medically.
"When did this all start?" he wonders in his first entry sometime in March 2020. Unheard of at Christmas 2019, it was the only topic of conversation by spring.
Often humorous without being irreverent, Shields writes that some friends apparently came to the conclusion that the virus would be transmitted by money. They began using plastic instead of currency.
"I'll be home all weekend," he quips. "Just leave all that dirty money in a plastic bag on my porch and I'll be glad to dispose of it."
Isolation, he finds, has somewhat of an upside.
To cope, Shields rents a carpet cleaner at Boyer's Food Market, renews Spanish lessons on old CDs and watches "The Longest Day" movie on DVD. Oh, and he loses 13 pounds on Nutrisystem.
After retiring on Aug. 1, 2020, Shields listens to Casey Kasum Top 40 hits from 1972 and reminisces about summer football practice and a coach Bill Flynn-imposed crewcut.
That same month, he heads for a new job as deputy attorney general in American Samoa, a volcanic island between Hawaii and New Zealand. After six nights in a Honolulu hotel and two COVID tests, he finally arrives in Pago Pago, the Samoan capital, on Aug. 31.
People on the plane who had been trapped on the mainland for almost a year were greeted by cheering crowds.
After six COVID tests and a 20-day quarantine in a hotel he describes as "a prison with internet," Shields compares his plight to characters in the movie "Shawshank Redemption."
He packs it in after two months of oppressive equator level heat, 25 mph speed limits and golfing with opponents the size of sumo wrestlers.
The good news is, he finished writing "Lockdown: A Covid Story."
He leaves one of the few places on Earth where there's no virus, only to test positive a short time after arriving home in Pottsville.
On steroids from a sinus infection, he's running laps at Pottsville Area High School's stadium with a gusto he hasn't felt in years. Why not take the steroid permanently, he asks his doctor. She informs him they cause brittle bones.
"Even though I have a thick skull," he writes, "I don't need brittle bones."
Over the Christmas holiday, during a visit with his sister in South Carolina, he stays in his late parents' cottage.
"I always expect to see Mom and Pop coming around the corner when I stay there," he writes.
Back in Pottsville, Shields makes his last journal entry on January 5, 2022: "Received booster shot."
He's not banking on a Pulitzer Prize, but he hopes in years to come the chronicle will give his children and grandchildren some idea of one man's encounter with the virus that changed the world.
Contact the writer: [email protected]; 570-628-6007