It is the fourth week of our forced isolation and I’m just back from a legal field trip—I’ve been to the grocery store. My two washable, reusable bags are lumpy and overstuffed, one hanging from each shoulder as I negotiate my way through the front door and between two Rhodesian Ridgebacks who smell meat. As I hoist the bags to the kitchen counter one falls open, revealing its coveted contents.
“Hey, you got toilet paper!” my husband exclaims, dancing about like a Charmin bear.
Suddenly I am “Ma” from Little House on the Prairie, who’s come home from the mercantile with a piece of cheese.
I smile victoriously, pulling my sweat-soaked makeshift mask up from where it’s slid around my neck, and use it to dab at my forehead. There’s one more bag out in the covered wagon so Pa goes to fetch it. Alone for a precious 17 seconds, I do a quick inventory of things lying around the house that I might wrap up and give him for his birthday, which is next week. Nothing seems appropriate. What would Ma do? I glance outside. An acorn, perhaps? Maybe a stone from our abandoned pond? Half-pint would have been happy with that. She would have carried it around in her apron for the rest of her life.
We are living in simpler times, but the vestiges of our former lives remain.
Currently, my husband derives untold joy from running to the mailbox as soon as the mail delivery person drives away. I suspect Pa was much the same when the Pony Express came by. Simple pleasures, right? But in much the same way, it’s ill advised to step between my husband and the mail’s modern upgrade, an Amazon delivery, lest you be trampled. Thus a modern solution to the birthday present problem, Amazon, meets simpler times: deliveries are big doins. I cannot prevent him from intercepting his own gift.
We all can recall what harried frenzies a morning work meeting could incite. A 9:00 am meeting was the worst. There was the whole getting out of the house on time thing, followed by the commute thing, complicated by the traffic thing, planting oneself at the meeting table thing (shall “I Lean In” today, or oh f**k it, I’ll take a chair by the wall) then remembering when you’re supposed to talk and when to shut up. The online meeting solves so many of those dilemmas. The automobile situations are obviously eliminated (unless the only quiet place you can conduct a call is from your car) but perhaps not as obvious is the equalizing nature of The Zoom. Everyone has their own box in which they must stay. All boxes are the same size and appear in no particular order. And everyone talks out of turn and over each other anyway, no matter who’s got rank. (Ma would have shushed everyone.) Particularly delightful is that no one can see if you are writing “good idea!” or “Nellie= ASSHAT!” in your notes. In those ways, Zoom technology is actually taking us back to simpler, less frenetic times. Those who would complicate things, however, are beginning to flood our inboxes. I cannot for the life of me discern what it is about the blouses Ann Taylor is marketing that will look better on a zoom call than anything else in my closet. (Please, not a return to the Pussy Bow!) And Facebook keeps trying to sell me hair color. As a professional video-ish-type person, I can tell you that the proper backlighting will eliminate not only the appearance of your blossoming roots but will render the tired details of your whole face equally undiscernible. The bottom line is that no one looks good on a video call. NO ONE. Ma would just stick a bonnet on her head and get on with the butter churning. So be Ma. Use the technology at hand to simplify.
It’s nighttime and Jon and I are getting ready to turn in. As I turn out the light, Jon tells me that due to several factors I’ll not get into here, there could be a shortage of meat. I spend the next few hours staring out the window, wondering how unhealthy we will be when forced to live on pasta and baked goods. How mortifying it will be to have to phone Russia for a delivery…to stand in line with our plates while the local farmers peel rabbits. It’s been a source of pride for me that we’ve remained healthy eaters and exercisers through The Covid and in fact, Jon has lost about ten pounds. (As head of the food Gestapo I am taking partial credit for this.) We have relied heavily on protein. Good, yummy protein, not the shit of nutrition bars. This is my anxiety. I can stand strong in the face of a scratchy throat, a canceled graduation and all of the personal career and mid-life crisis threats that come with a weakened economy. Meat, apparently, is my trigger.
On “Little House,” Pa would say something disturbing about a bear or Mrs. Oleson just before Ma blew out the candle, triggering Laura to express her anxiety by asking a bunch of dumb questions. “Do bears eat people?” or “Why does Nellie act so mean?” Mostly, she got a lot of trite answers, but finally Pa would say, gun in lap, “Do as you are told, and no harm will come.” The simpler living lesson here? When asked, “Is it okay if we go ahead with the Maypole licking contest this Saturday?” Dr. Fauci simply channels Pa. “Do as I say. Keep your distance. Don’t lick things.” And maybe you’ll be okay. Unfortunately, and maybe like Fauci, Pa would crawl up on the roof during a cyclone to nail on some extra boards to save his family, but in the end he wouldn’t be able to save himself. Only time and tweet will tell. Maybe one of those Michigan protestors should send the doctor some ammo.
Many of us are triggering all over the place. (Another of mine was the positive tests on lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo—which snowballed in my delicate mind to a ban on dog snuggling.) I am reminded of that meme, something about not knowing what another person is going through except we do know and it’s The Covid. So we need to take it easy. On ourselves. On others.
So onward. Stop checking your stripe in the Zoom square, throw on a bonnet and head on up to the roof with some nails. Slice yourself a nice piece of cheese and enjoy the view. You’ll see that some things are better at a distance.