Don’t Stand So Close to Me by
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Many of us wrote stories reflecting on the early days of the pandemic for a prompt that went live on March 21st – a mere six weeks ago – or has it been six years? It feels like forever.

Life is weird right now, but not terrible. I'm sad about Molly's graduation being cancelled, and not singing with my choir.

At that time I thought I would still be able to go to my daughter Molly’s college graduation on May 15th. I had purchased plane tickets months earlier, and had found an adorable and reasonably-priced airbnb right near the campus (because of course the one hotel near campus jacks up its rates any time there is any big college event, including, but not limited to graduation). It even had an extra bedroom, so if Molly wanted to stay with us for the three days we would be there, there was plenty of space. It was all perfect. Until it wasn’t. The college cancelled the graduation a couple of weeks ago, but I held on to everything, because I figured that if it was safe to travel by then, I still wanted to go down to Whittier and see Molly, and also see my son Ben, who lives nearby in LA. But both Sacramento and LA Counties still have shelter-in-place orders in effect for the rest of this month, so it is not to be. I will stay home and watch her virtual graduation online.

For all these weeks I have been taking walks in the park across the street from my house. There are lots of people out walking or bike-riding, but it is still easy to maintain the six feet of distance at all times. I have bumped into a couple of people I knew and had nice conversations while standing six feet apart. Almost nobody in the park has been wearing masks, because it hasn’t been necessary. One friend had a mask in her pocket and offered to put it on if it would make me feel more comfortable, but I said no, I was fine talking to her unmasked. Another friend and I have made arrangements to walk in the park together a few times, and it’s turned out to be the most time I have spent with her in years, because we are usually both too busy with our “normal” lives.

Around the tenth of April, signs like the one in my Featured Image, saying all recreational facilities were closed, were posted in multiple places throughout the park, including on all the picnic tables. However, that didn’t stop people from having picnics at the tables (they did seem to be single households, not large groups), and it didn’t stop people from playing basketball. I actually enjoyed walking past the basketball court every day and watching the players — usually teenage boys (probably not from the same household), and once a father teaching his two young daughters to shoot hoops, which was really sweet. Finally, on April 23rd, the Parks Department took down the hoops, and also chained a sawhorse to each pole so that it was impossible to play. The gates of the playground adjacent to the basketball court were chained shut at the same time, but since the fence is only three feet high, intended to keep toddlers from wandering out more than to keep anyone from getting in, I have seen the occasional parent inside with a child or two, obviously having lifted the children over the fence and then easily hopping over themselves.

My husband has been doing all the grocery shopping for the seven weeks since this all started, but then, he has always done most of it anyway. Initially he wasn’t wearing a mask, but at some point the stores started requiring it. So now he just keeps a mask in the car. One grocery store put arrows in every aisle, so that all shoppers would walk in the same direction and would not have to pass each other. All the stores have tape marks near the checkout counters showing people where to stand in line so they are six feet apart. Also, people are not allowed to use their own shopping bags any more, the stores have gone back to giving out new bags every time, like in the old days. Since my husband doesn’t mind shopping, we have not ordered from Instacart or any other delivery service. We never worry about wiping down the groceries when he brings them home, the way a lot of people are doing, so it hasn’t been burdensome at all. He has also been the one picking up take-out orders from restaurants. We try to order from one of a handful of favorite restaurants about once a week, to help them survive this period so they will still be in business when we are back to normal.

On Thursday I went to a local drugstore to get some compression stockings which I hoped would help the neuropathy I am suddenly experiencing in my feet. (On the ten-plague theory, this is now my third plague, after COVID-19 and the ant invasion that I wrote about in my last pandemic story.) I realized that it was the first time I had been inside any building other than my own house since March 13th, when we had our last restaurant meal. I did wear a mask, and it was the first time I had worn one, other than to pose for the image for this prompt. It felt really weird and hot. Possibly a cloth one would have been more comfortable. I was also very nervous about going into the store. There were more employees inside than customers, and not everyone was wearing a mask, but the one employee who came close to me, who helped me figure out what stockings to get, was wearing a mask, which I was happy about. So all in all it was a good experience, although I don’t think compression stockings are the answer to my problem, unfortunately.

For a while it was really hard to know what day of the week it was, because they all seemed the same without any activities to distinguish them. But gradually online activities have filled my schedule, primarily via Zoom. My choir practice night, Wednesdays at 7 pm, has now become choir Zoom night. (It doesn’t work to sing on Zoom, because of the lag time, but at least we can visit with each other. Those Zoom choirs you see on facebook aren’t really singing together, they each record themselves separately and some tech wizard cobbles it all together.) My temple Sisterhood has Zoom Happy Hour on Mondays at 5 pm. And the Harvard Admitted Students Reception, which I host every year in April, became a Zoom reception two weeks ago. On the bright side, it was the first time that every single admitted student was able to attend the reception. These over-achiever kids always have so many activities that in past years it was invariably hard to find a date when even the majority of them could come. This year, they had nothing else they needed to do on a Sunday afternoon, and no travel was required, so it was easy. The conversation was a little awkward at first, but gradually we got the hang of it.

My mah jongg group that met every Monday afternoon couldn’t be replicated on Zoom. Sure, we could socialize, but not play the game. Then we discovered RealMahJongg.com, where you can play with your friends or you can play with bots, or some combination of the two. And it is available 24/7. So now on Monday afternoons at 1:00 we all log on and play together, but many of us also find ourselves playing at other times, either by making dates with each other, or just playing with bots if no one is available. I’m not calling it an addiction yet, but it could certainly become one!

Another problem created by the pandemic is hair care. I had an appointment with my stylist for a cut and color on March 24th, but of course that was cancelled because the salon was closed by then, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going even if it had still been open. So now it has been another five and a half weeks, and I haven’t done anything about the cut OR the color. I know I could go back to box color, which I used for years before I decided it was worth spending the money to have my hair colored professionally, but I don’t think I will. I have wondered for a while how my hair would look if I let it grow out. I don’t think all of it is gray, but certainly some of it is. So this is my chance to find out, when nobody is going to see me anyway. For purposes of appearing on Zoom, I have this hair touch-up crayon that I bought ages ago to cover the roots between appointments, which I am now using for large streaks of hair, not just the roots. But I only have to use it when I wash my hair, which I am doing less and less frequently. So it remains to be seen what I decide to do when all this is over.

Finally, I have to admit to watching quite a bit of television in the past seven weeks. In earlier times I was kind of a snob about not watching TV (although that started to change with the advent of Netflix and Hulu), but during this pandemic I have been watching something pretty much every night. Old favorites like Grace and Frankie, and The Kaminsky Method. Much, much older favorites like Cheers, which holds up amazingly well more than three decades later. New discoveries like Unorthodox. And this past Monday, the most exciting show of all, Never Have I Ever, on which my son Ben is a writer and Executive Story Editor. My husband and I are limiting ourselves to just one episode of Never Have I Ever per night instead of bingeing the whole season, so we haven’t finished it yet. But it is terrific, and I hope that everyone who reads this story watches the show!

In conclusion, life is weird right now, but not terrible. The biggest disappointments for me are Molly’s graduation being cancelled, and not being able to sing with my choir. Additionally, we have a big trip to South America planned for December, to see the solar eclipse and visit Peru, Chile, and Argentina, and I’m worried that seven months from now it still may not be safe to travel and we may have to cancel the trip. That would be heartbreaking!

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, this is such a perfect description of how life has evolved for most of us. So sorry you and Molly had to miss that graduation. Of all of the kids impacted because of this, I feel most badly for those who expected to graduate from college, high school, and even middle school in the traditional way. You are a highly adaptable person. And your son’s show, Never Have I Ever, is really good. Everyone check it out!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, Laurie, on several counts: for calling it a perfect description, for calling me a highly adaptable person (I wonder if that’s true), and for giving a shout-out to Ben’s show. The show has certainly been a highlight of these times for me!

  2. Oh Suzy, it’s hard to imagine what group is most negatively affected by this until-now unthinkable crisis – little kids & their parents, teens & young adults, folks in their prime, us boomers, the very elderly, the disabled, those whose health was already compromised, the poor, the needy, the detained and imprisoned?

    All of course, but I do feel so sorry for your Molly and all the college seniors (and their parents) now robbed of graduation – except of course those lucky West Pointers who’ll get to hear our eloquent POTUS speak at THEIR commencement!

    But carry on we all must and will, and looking forward to watching Never Have I Ever!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for this great round-up of your “life” these days, Suzy. Virtually everything you mention is the same or quite similar to what we have been going through here on the Other Coast, including various cancellations (we were to be in Jamaica last week). The one exception has been the hair coloring — though I have actually gotten pretty adept at trimming my hair with an electric trimmer I got through Amazon in Early Days.

    “Misery loves company” may be a cliche, but it is one because it is often true. And I do think, for those of us in the Retro group, there is something very positive and healthy about being able to share our similar experiences these days. So thank you!

    • Suzy says:

      What, you mean your hair really truly has not gone gray? What’s your secret? I’m disappointed to learn you are trimming it, I was hoping for a return of your college look!

  4. mbw000 says:

    “Bide-riding” (third paragraph)? I presume this means riding slowly?

    Mike Wallace

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for the edit, Mike, I have now fixed it. I must have read over the story at least 20 times last night before I hit “publish” and never noticed that typo. I like your definition though, maybe I shouldn’t have changed it.

  5. Well, first, the song title…nailed it! Too funny, and an ear worm I’ll undoubtedly enjoy for the rest of the day. Secondly, didn’t know about Tween Time…brilliant, and if it’s not sold out I’ll try to buy some online as soon as I’m done writing this comment! Overall, a perfect summary of the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in your timeline thus far, and the balance between sadness (Molly’s graduation ceremony) and joy (Ben’s wonderful series, which I’m bingeing on and thoroughly enjoying!). Fingers crossed you’ll still be able to make your trip in December, Suzy!

  6. Marian says:

    You’ve said it all well, Suzy. I’ve given up on my hair, let it go wild, whatever. Your experience out on walks, and with shopping, really resonates, although I am more cautious about sanitizing because of my sweetheart’s risk. Do you get very tired from shopping? I feel spent by the time I get back. Zoom events have their advantages, don’t they, a la Harvard admitted students. This morning at our Shabbat Zoom service we had two former members of our synagogue join us from Mexico. Playing mah jongg online sounds like a hoot. The online bridge is very sophisticated, according to Dick. I’ve known about Scrabble for a long time but hesitate to start because I’ll become addicted!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I actually have not been doing any of the shopping, so I don’t know if it would make me tired. My husband doesn’t seem bothered by it at all, and will even go to several different stores if the first one doesn’t have what he wants. How wonderful about having former synagogue members join your Zoom service from Mexico! I can definitely imagine Zoom continuing to be part of my life even after this is over. Should have bought stock in Zoom at the beginning!

  7. The South America trip sounds great! Sure hope you don’t have to bail out of that. Friends got back from hiking in Patagonia just before the shut down. She contracted the coronavirus on the trek and survived cold, wind, and sleet.

    And Zoom… Who knew? I’d never heard of it before the quarantine. So far, grateful to hear we are all healthy. Salud!

    • Suzy says:

      The president of my Sisterhood board was trying to get us to use Zoom for some of our meetings back in the fall, and many of us hated it and refused, saying we much preferred meeting in person. Of course she turned out to be prescient, and now we have all embraced what we used to hate.

  8. As John said you have captured much of Covidlife; I’m sure we can all relate to many of the ups and downs. My partner and I split the shopping chores so I have been out. In our neck of the woods many stores offer senior hours at the beginning of each day, and last Tuesday I decided to see if I could score paper goods at Sam’s Club, and did, believe it or not. And clearly social distancing and hair care has not been an issue inasmuch as I long ago decided to let my “hair” go back to its original color.

  9. joan stommen says:

    Oh I do hope you can go ahead with your trip! It sounds awesome. I’ve felt the same way about hair and TV. I’m not ready to go grey so ordered DIY hair color on Amazon…. thinking I was all set for awhile. Well roots are back and my hair’s too long but I have a May 27 appt! Fingers crossed! I’m embarrassed to say that TV and wine have become my ‘reward’ some days for accomplishing a walk, washing the floors, getting dressed In real clothes, not sweats! It’s nice to know others are accepting and adjusting and learning from this as I am. Thanks for keeping in touch with me Suzy!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Joan. There’s nothing wrong with using TV and wine as a reward for getting things done. I sometimes reward myself just for getting through the day! Glad I convinced you to come back to Retrospect, now don’t forget to approve the comments on your story as well.

  10. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, thanks for this comprehensive look at how life has evolved for you. So sorry about Molly’s graduation. That is certainly disappointing. I LOVE the photo of the four of you, all masked. That is just perfect (and kudos to Barb for creating it).

    I hope your feet get better. As you read, and commented in my story, this is not a good time to need to see a doctor!

    You have certainly filled up your social calendar. Zoom has become THE thing! We are using FaceTime sometimes to talk to our kids, but we’ve had Zoom dinner parties with friends and Zoom meetings about Brandeis happenings, and of course, Zoom exercise classes. What a world! Congrats to Ben. We haven’t watched the show yet (Dan controls the remote), but we’ll get to it. Great reviews!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. If only we had all bought stock in Zoom a couple of months ago! It’s crazy how pervasive it is now, although Google is apparently offering a free video-conferencing site to compete with it.

      Don’t let Dan control the remote! You’re a liberated woman, demand equal access!

  11. Dorothy Rice says:

    Yes and yes! What a complete account of so much of what many of us are experiencing right now. We too were disappointed when Carolanne’s college graduation was cancelled and thus our trip to NYC which we had been planning for months. My husband too does all the shopping while I just feel safer, and frankly more content, avoiding much of the world. I have really missed seeing my grandkids regularly but will start helping with the home schooling today (without hugs and from across a table, alas).

    The biggest worry has been our two daughters living in Manhattan – one working at Mt. Sinai, across the street from the temporary hospital in Central Park. But she’s young and healthy and so far fine. It’s just hard not knowing when we will be able to visit them again.

    • Suzy says:

      Dorothy, thanks for your comment. Didn’t realize that you had a college senior too. We all worry about our kids, of course, but having kids in NYC is particularly scary, I’m sure. I had the amusing experience of having my son lecture me over the phone from LA about the importance of wearing a mask when I go out. I assured him that walking in Land Park it was really not necessary.

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