I don’t actually believe in jinxes, but watching WWII movies as a kid, I soon figured out that any soldier who said “When this is all over, I’m going to buy a farm…” soon became the next casualty. This made such an indelible impression on my young psyche that since then I've never tempted fate during a crisis by talking about “when all this is over.” But then, during a recent Zoom gathering, a friend said, “Boy, you must really be missing your dive bars.” And just for a moment, I let myself recall all the fun Rich and I’d had visiting the world’s loonier taverns; maybe someday… Then another friend sent me the Quarantine Diary I published last week, with the entry “Day 9 – I put liquor bottles in every room. Tonight, I’m getting all dressed up and going bar hopping.”
“Bingo,” I said to Rich. “We are doing that one.”
So Tuesday night, we got all dressed up and went bar hopping around our apartment.
Rich transformed the living room into a dive bar (an American expression describing a funky, downscale bar with local character and tacky charm). I was grateful he refrained from pouring beer on the carpet to create the usual stickiness and fragrance; otherwise the setting was classic, colored lights, rubber chicken, and all.
After sharing a beer there, we each had a glass of wine in my office, which I’d remade into San Francisco’s famous Tonga Room, where he’d once taken me on a date. Their theme is tropical kitsch, with a pool in the middle where musicians play on a barge while “rain” falls from the ceiling. Sadly my shower nozzle didn’t reach far enough to recreate the downpour, but I found a YouTube video of the bar and played “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” to set the mood.
Our final stop was The Cave, which Rich set up much like the forts we’d constructed as kids, from table cloths draped over furniture, except now he included a video fireplace and rum.
“One thing about the quarantine,” said Rich, sipping his rum thoughtfully. “I really appreciate stuff I used to take for granted. Maybe I needed a bit of shaking up. It’s like that time all those years ago — you remember? — when I went out for a haircut and got all the way across town to the barber shop and realized couldn’t remember a thing about that walk.” He’d been so shocked to find himself on automatic pilot that soon thereafter he proposed the first of our three-month train trips. It certainly did the trick; when we got back, we saw the city with fresh eyes. “I’ll never again take for granted the pleasure of walking in Seville,” he said now.
“Or getting a haircut,” I added. My last salon appointment had been cancelled due to the lockdown, and the last forty-odd days hasn’t improved matters.
One of the great things about getting older is that I am a bit better at managing my own hair and considerably less worried about how it defines me in the eyes of the world. In fact, I find people in my age bracket, while we’re obviously not pleased at being on the front lines of medical risk, often cope with quarantine better than younger folks. It helps that we’re not juggling remote jobs and homeschooling kids. Beyond that, as the New York Times reported, many older Americans thrive in lockdown, modelling strength and resilience, “skilled at being alone, not fearful about their career prospects, emotionally more experienced at managing the great disruption of everyday life that is affecting everyone.”
“It’s easier for you,” a young friend said during a Zoom call. “You’ve been through this sort of thing before.” Afterwards I said to Rich, “We have? I wonder how old she thinks we are. Old enough to have lived through the 1918 pandemic? The Black Death? Asteroids killing off the dinosaurs?” While I missed out on those exciting times, I remember plenty of other shockers, such as the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the assassinations of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the attacks of 9/11. In the weeks after the Twin Towers fell, I happened to catch a radio program in which young reporters interviewed people in their eighties and nineties, seeking perspective about how to handle the unimaginable.
One woman cut directly to the real issue on the reporter’s mind. “Don’t worry,” she told him kindly. “You’ll do just fine.”
Now, nearly two decades later, I find myself saying much the same thing.
Time teaches us we are capable of surviving more than we ever imagined. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Speaking of horrors, last month, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (and others) said that the elderly should be willing to die to help the economy. Really? Because even from a mercenary perspective that’s a non-starter; an enormous number of movers and shakers are over sixty, including 90% of the world’s billionaires and 63% of Americas millionaires. Eliminating a host of powerful people over a short timeframe would send companies and global economies into freefall. And let’s face it, putting any government in charge of making judgements about which categories of human beings deserve to live is a very slippery slope. Especially when it’s a category everyone's going to find themselves in one day — possibly in twenty or thirty years, when the world is being run by kids who were homeschooled during quarantine by day-drinking parents.
Beyond all that, society needs older people around, if only to say, “Don’t worry, you’ll do just fine” with the authority of experience.
Nobody knows what life will be like in the future, lending a strange, zen-like, live-in-the-present-moment quality to our days. But we’re catching a glimpse of things to come in the Spanish government’s just-released “Plan to Transition to a New Normality.”
Spain’s kids are already allowed to play outside, this weekend adults can walk for exercise, and starting Monday — thanks, St. Martin of Porres, patron saint of hairdressers — beauty salons will open. (Did I hear cheering?) Outdoor bars aren’t far behind. (Yes, I definitely hear cheering!) The plan’s four phases include restrictions, mandatory protections, and warnings that if our curve pops up, all bets are off. But with luck and social distancing, the “new normality” is expected to be a way of life by the end of June.
How will it all work out? Who knows? As the joke says, nobody ever expected 2020 to go viral. And I suspect the year still has a few whopping surprises up its sleeve; personally I’m braced for anything from aliens to zombies. We’ll just have to wait for events to unfold, remembering that, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
What does the new normal look like from your quarantine location? How's your hair holding up? Your wine supply? What have your stopped taking for granted these days? Let me know in the comments below.
More Pandemic Perspectives & Humor
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Months of Quarantine? OK, If That's What It Takes
Yes, You CAN Stay (Relatively) Sane During Lockdown
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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