“There was a time when you could not only smoke as many cigarettes as you wanted on a transatlantic airplane, you could actually walk a person straight to the gate to see them off.”
My son, born in 1998, has heard these ancient factoids many times. I wonder if he receives them in the same way I process tales of the Jim Crow-era of my mother’s upbringing, or my grandmother’s childhood absence of radio and television, i.e. tales of a different time, mists from which we’ve emerged.
We four were on the wraparound porch – Jack, his girlfriend B, Holly, and me. It was dusk on a “Mor Monday.” I.e. on Mondays, we procure takeout from Mor Pipman, a chef based in the Old Glenford Church building. Since lockdown, Holly has done more cooking than ever in her life (sadly, I do not cook much), and we allow ourselves one night of food from elsewhere. Mor is extremely protocol-conscious, and the fare is always great.
Four storytellers sat in the gloaming. (Jack and B are beginning their lives in the film industry, Holly and I are writers.) The discussion drifted to musings of what might separate post-pandemic life from pre-pandemic life. What will return, what won’t, what will return, but differently. All transpired with the understanding that we might be completely wrong, or at least way off base. I’m glad to say we tended towards positive notions.
Speaking for myself, my dearest hope is that the U.S. will eventually be more like New Zealand. Preferably exactly like New Zealand, but that might be setting the bar too high.
I follow someone on Instagram who has temporarily settled in New Zealand with her five-year-old son. They were inadvertently locked down there when the pandemic hit. The videos she posts all look completely pre-pandemic. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has effectively eradicated the coronavirus from that island nation, I am stunned at little videos of playgrounds, full theaters, shops, cafes, bars, people without masks gathering, enjoying life unfettered by worry of illness. Shaking hands, hugging. These very quotidian scenes evoke the most extreme longing in me. Even though surprisingly broad swaths of the country are adamantly against masks, I will wager that these face coverings will nevertheless become commonplace, as in Asia. Not ubiquitous, but common. Especially in theaters, arenas, etc. I am not yet accustomed to them, but I have been taken aback recently by the maskless people in Ulster County. Mask makers will thrive.
Hand sanitizer everywhere. Gloves fashionable again, as in olden days. Those incredibly loud hand dryers in public bathrooms? Gone. Perhaps airlines will create a little more space between seats? (Unlikely. But you never know.) Definitely more space between urinals. Face shields will become commonplace, especially in schools.
In the same way diabetics can now test their insulin levels every day, over-the-counter coronavirus tests will become commonplace and hopefully cheap. The current difficulty in acquiring tests, and the wait time (at this writing five days on average) will seem wildly unreasonable. It feels Big Brotherish, but I’m going to bet you will have some kind of ID on your smartphone that will show your “virus-free” status, and you’ll scan that upon entering certain places.
I recently almost touched a stranger at the CVS. He asked if I was in line for a prescription. I wasn’t. I was just looking at the hundreds of shampoo choices. For some reason, in our brief, cordial colloquy, I almost touched his shoulder, and he recoiled, though not too dramatically. I’m pretty good at reading the room, and while I am a mammal who touches on occasion, I rarely “invade space.” If friendly touch is appropriate, I can usually tell. Did I misjudge in the CVS because I couldn’t see a face? I don’t know, but it made me sad. I want that gone.
One of my talents is I can make kids really happy by playing music for them, and recently I did that, outside, socially distanced, me with a face shield. It was exhilarating. As usual, some of them – with mammalian instincts like mine – wanted to hug me, to just wrap their little arms around my legs and squeeze. They were not allowed. “Don’t touch him,” a teacher said. “Just tell him.”
Standing ten or so feet away, they told me they loved me, and waved. I fiercely hope for a time when I can tell this story and it will seem inconceivable.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.