Not that I want to brood on untoward anniversaries, but this month marks two years since everything shut down, but good. I find with some amazement that I’ve been able to keep publishing this paper—and that its quality has been improving—over the Long Intermission. I think the word I’m looking for is “flabbergasted.” “Gobsmacked” is inadequate.
Seriously, how are you? (I listen to a somewhat chirpy Canadian broadcaster via NPR every day to accompany my one p.m. breakfast, and he asks each one of his guests. “How are you?” And some of them tell him exactly how they are.) If you’re like me, you’re still hunkered in your bunker, waiting for the “All Clear” to sound. Our Northeastern governors have given a tentative reprieve on mask mandates—at least until the Spring Variants parade down the runway to the applause of no one.
Having acquired nearly a full set of chronic ailments in my nearly sixty years of life, I haven’t been one of those hardy souls to go down the street licking doorknobs in defiance of the gods. I deeply envy anyone who can thumb their nose at the law of averages while riding a unicycle on a two-by-four across an alligator pit. I begin to feel I’ve used up all the dumb luck I was granted at birth.
It’s almost impossible to discuss the topic of Pandemic Death Avoidance without making at least fifty percent of the people mad at you. And approximately fifty percent of the people in this country are furious at the other fifty percent—and vice versa. Perhaps that’s only the fifty percent of people whose voices can be heard above the rest. The rest of us don’t count because we don’t raise our voices to proudly proclaim how we comply with or deny the dictates of authority. We don’t wave our banners like there’s a game on—because there hasn’t been a game that’s interested us in a while.
“What side are you on, anyway?” one may ask. My answer has always been that I’m on our side. I want us all to be well and happy—and to go out in the sunshine occasionally. I don’t want to scold or hurl verbal abuse. I don’t want to mock and disparage those on unicycles. I prefer not to scoff and snicker at those who wash their groceries like raccoons. (Does anyone still do that?)
Despite abiding by the dictum “you pays your money and you takes your chance,” I have found myself biting my tongue severely on a few occasions. Close neighbors of mine, both warned off the vaccine du jour by a nurse-practitioner friend, informed me they had both been hospitalized with COVID—one with a severe case. (Fortunately, this conversation took place via telephone.) I said nothing, just as I said nothing years ago when I saw they were being swindled by a particularly smooth con artist. To be fair, they absolutely would not have taken my advice.
I’m always the guy whose wise counsel people seek before they do what they’re going to do, anyway. I exist merely to confirm their bad decision by proffering an opposing view. So while holding down a Sisyphean gig, it appears I’m subbing for Cassandra as well. To compound my folly, I maintain compassion for those characters who have come to grief via their own machinations. I am the Eternal Bartender, the felt sounding-board, the wash-and-wear crying towel. I put the “simp” into “sympathy.”
Despite being crammed full of common sense and general knowledge, I have the appearance of a genial idiot. Others are not to be blamed if they consider me the Control Group. Coupled with my inevitable failure as a guidepost, I am almost fatally allergic to schadenfreude. I can’t even enjoy the (depressingly frequent) occasions on which I may be privileged to say “I told you so.”
I knew and stated in this column five years ago that we’d be tearing at each other’s throats. I don’t want congratulations. Besides which, I didn’t know that a public health emergency would make our loathing for one another exponentially worse. All I really want is for us to be better: in terms of health as well as socially. I’d love for us to reconcile without either side losing face. I don’t want one side to gloat and dance in the light of the other’s humiliation. We should be bigger than that. And by “bigger,” I mean more magnanimous.
Assuming that doesn’t happen for a while, and those pesky variants keep popping up while we play the “mask on / mask off” version of Simon Says, how do we get through this? Is music a ledge we can hang on to? Are all the little diversions and pastimes we’ve consoled ourselves with over the past two years enough to keep us from losing the thread? Will the select friends and family we’ve been cooped up with since March 2020 suffice—or are they already too much?
I’ll say here that I really miss doing radio. I’m good at it. I felt like every program I did went from my heart to those of my listeners, a community united by a love of good music and friendly commentary. I’ve received a number of notes from listeners that moved me to tears. The power of radio as a positive force so far surpasses the solipsism of a personal Spotify playlist. The two aren’t even close.
That’s not anything by way of a solution, of course. I mentioned it because I just happened to think of it.
But the question remains: how are you?