Chuck's World: Doing the social distancing dance with grace and some jokes
Last updated 3/25/2020 at 1:03pm
When it comes to garden-variety apocalypses, my daughter is the canary in this particular coal mine. She’s been preparing for this her entire life.
Not that she’s a prepper, or a hoarder or a purveyor of foolish rumor. She’s a wry, smart, very funny and creative person who has always had the sense that civilization is teetering on the brink. She never panics or does anything dumb. She just tends to raise an eyebrow at events, and not be surprised.
Still, it was strange to get a phone call from her a few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning. It’s kind of strange to get any phone calls these days, actually, but her social network is much larger than mine, and she had some breaking news.
It was the same news. Coronavirus news. It wouldn’t surprise anyone now, although at the moment it was a head’s up. She’d heard some things about the Seattle area, and she wanted to make sure we were prepared. She said she’d feel better if we made a trip to Costco to stock up on food, which we needed to do anyway.
This was on March 1, I just realized, in case you need some perspective. If in the future you wish to look back and remember this time, March was the month we all got serious.
I don’t know what my fellow citizens are thinking. I can’t read your minds. I can see your memes. I try not to assume.
But you’ve probably had the same reaction as I have over the past few weeks, watching the cascade of closures and wondering when the rest of the country was going to wake up.
In the meantime, I note that we seem to have gotten good at this. I went to the grocery store last week, first time in a while, and noticed the choreography of social distancing in all its wonder. There weren’t a lot of shoppers, and we all seemed to be moving in ways designed to keep us at waving distance only. It was fun to watch.
At the same time, we’ve all seen the spring break folks by now, young people shrugging off the notion of community-acquired illness interfering with their legal right to be stupid in Fort Lauderdale.
It made me think that the old horror movie trope about foolish teenagers always going into the scary house instead of running in the opposite direction might be spot on.
But this is just dumb and dangerous youth, easily matched by stubborn older folks who either shrug off caution or decide to disbelieve their own eyes. There’s no age group free of foolishness, although it’s definitely foolish.
Most of us have figured this out by now, I suspect. If we once held out hope of containing the spread of this virus, we’ve now moved on. Many of us will become infected. We’re now just trying not to all get sick at once. Stay home, because some people can’t, and so on. You know all this; you’re reading a newspaper, after all. This is not the common cold, no matter what Rush Limbaugh likes to think. This is not the flu. This is new.
Having been a self-isolating human being for quite a few decades now, mostly because of vocational choices but also a few personal preferences, I’ve felt fortunate over the past weeks. I’ve learned a few tricks, some of them useful. I’ve been able to help out, not because of my expertise at solitude but because all those years of sitting alone in front of a monitor have given me some skills.
I’ve become accustomed to communicating in virtual ways, in other words. I can help out communities, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Spreading the word, sharing the news, connecting the dots.
It’s good to have something to do, as minimal as it is.
I’ve acquired some new skills, too. I’ve learned to scroll very quickly past videos featuring middle-aged men who are famous for many reasons, all of them apparently having decided this was a good time to play their guitars in public.
On the other hand, I’ve been charmed by musicians presenting mini-concerts streamed from their living rooms. I’ve been less enchanted by celebrities holed up in their palaces, somberly urging us to wash our hands and, I guess, don’t eat all the caviar at once.
And I’ve been surprised to learn, once again, how effective humor is at lightening our viral load. As dismal as life has seemed, I’ve laughed more in the past weeks than I have in years. New takes, old jokes – it doesn’t matter.
I even watched an ancient video of Buddy Hackett, telling a dimly familiar story. A city slicker goes to visit a farm, and he asks the farmer a question.
“Why doesn’t that cow have horns?”
The farmer explains patiently that there are many reasons for this. There are hornless breeds, he told the man, and then some older cows get sensitive and their horns are removed to make them more comfortable.
Sometimes the horns will get broken or otherwise damaged, he went on, and then sometimes an acid solution is applied when they’re calves to keep horns from developing.
“But the reason this particular cow doesn’t have any horns,” the farmer continued, “is because it’s a horse.”
It’s not the flu. Stay safe. Don’t forget to laugh. Take it easy on the caviar.