House Arrest by
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It is too early in the COVID-19 crisis, at least for me, to have any real “war stories” about it, other than to acknowledge — as even Trump finally has, if not all of Fox Nation — that it is a crisis.  So I thought I would try to extrapolate instead with some predictions about what life is likely to be like in this period of social distancing and self-quarantine (terms which, I note, none of us had probably heard of just weeks ago).  And, as is my wont, I will focus on the lighter side of things and leave the dystopian nightmares to the pessimists and/or scientists — and hope that is not redundant.


So here are a few of my predictions:


  • *    This one comes from a woman friend on Facebook who fretted that, in several weeks, every woman’s true hair color will be apparent. She was referring to the anticipated closing of hair salons, not the technique utilized in the original  M*A*S*H movie to ascertain whether Hot Lips Houlihan was or was not a real blonde.  I guess this is a likely outcome, but doesn’t anyone use Clairol anymore?


  • *    As a corollary to the above, hair color will not only only get less blonde/more gray or white, but hair, for both sexes, will get considerably longer if barber shops are also closed. As a reminder of those hirsute implications, I post of photo of Led Zeppelin as my featured image. (And let’s just hope that COVID-19 isn’t our “Stairway to Heaven.”)  As for the women in our age cohort, I have visions of an array of Patti Smith and Judy Collins look-alikes:


  •   *    Somewhat more seriously, what about the effects on couples’ relationships of enforced intimacy combined with isolation from others?  As discussed in a comment from Barbara last week, perhaps we will see a huge rise in pregnancies, as was the case with all the “Blackout Babies” who were born nine months after the 1965 power blackout on the East Coast.  But I can also envision a booming business for divorce lawyers as soon as increasingly more incompatible couples are able to get out of their claustrophobic homes and get to the lawyers’ offices. Or maybe both; perhaps the incidence of “angry sex” will skyrocket.


  • *   Here’s something that I predicted last week. With the closing of movie theaters, studios would immediately release their new movies on streaming and on-demand services rather than, as usual, hold them back for several months after theater release.  Might as well try to make some lemonade out of lemons, right?  In fact, I saw an article in the NY Times business section a few days ago saying that this was exactly what was happening.  So you should be able to see the new version of “Emma” in the cozy confines of your den by the time you read this.


  • *    Speaking of streaming, with my retirement at the end of last year, I had already started streaming some lecture courses in hopes of keeping my mind at least somewhat non-dormant.  (Doing crossword puzzles and writing Retro stories can’t do the whole job.)  I have now put that streaming into overdrive, though I haven’t yet decided whether I am majoring in linguistics, philosophy or evolutionary biology.  And no papers or tests!  For those seriously interested in this diversion, Great Courses has a huge library of, well, great courses (at a cost), and any number of top universities offer free streaming of some of their most popular professors’ lectures.


  • *   Finally, let’s talk about sweatpants.  I wore suits for many years as a corporate lawyer and, even in my informal weekend garb, tended to be pretty dressy in a preppy sort of way.  Now, I’m not going out so much (to put it mildly) and, blessedly, my wife is more interested in my washing my hands than in what I wear. So I have discovered the magic of sweatpants, the world’s most comfortable attire:

  • I have enough pairs of sweatpants that I do change them on a daily basis (you’ll be happy to know), but I am not sure whether I will wear anything else even when I’m finally allowed out of the house.


  • *  And, of course, with the sweatpants, what could be more perfect than the bunny slippers my wife got me for my retirement?


I look forwards to many other (non-dystopian) predictions and observations in comments and other stories from our “Retro Tribe.”

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Funny, John. I have a friend who posted a similar comment about knowing true hair colors on FB a few days ago. I mentioned that to Dan. His rebuttal–but who will know, since no one will see you!

    We’ve been sweat pant wearers in this household for years (I actually go from gym clothing straight to my bathrobe if I’m not going out again; SO comfortable). I agree, it’s all about being comfortable. But I adore you bunny slippers! Good for you (and for Kathie’s sense of humor).

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I will definitely pass on the compliment to Kathie. In fact, I was planning to wear them to an ice cream party at my old firm on Friday as to which I was nicely invited. But, of course, it got cancelled.

  2. Marian says:

    This is true and truly hilarious, John. My hair salon closed the day before my appointment, but since I’ve been retired, I’ve been slowly graying naturally, and having been an ash blond, I’m not that concerned. However, my mane is now so scraggly that I look like that photo of Patty Smith in your story. I’ve worn sweatpants for a while but have been alternating with jeans for variety. I’m even thinking of putting on a dress for tonight’s dinner just to make things less boring. In seriousness, though, we’ve been very focused on the basics here in Santa Clara county, one of the country’s hottest zones. The highlights of my day yesterday were scoring two dozen eggs at Trader Joes and learning that Whole Foods was starting senior shopping hours to make thing safer for us.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Marian. At first, I thought I was being really prescient. Now I realize that we are all simply experiencing the exact same stuff. I scored at our local supermarket yesterday on most things (one of the last egg cartons), but will simply have to wait longer for toilet paper. And on Friday, I was semi-seriously thinking of wearing a suit around the house, but then one of my good pals reminded me it was Casual Friday.

  3. Suzy says:

    This is great, John. I hope that the men all end up looking like Led Zeppelin, that would be nitro! You and Betsy have made me realize that this is the perfect time to grow my hair out and discover how it looks, since no one will see me anyway. I hope I look more like Judy Collins than Patti Smith! And yes to sweatpants! In normal times I just wear them at home and change to nicer pants to leave the house, but now I am going out in my sweatpants because I know I will not stop to talk to anyone anyway.

    Thanks for your fearless forecasts, and I can’t wait until this is over so we can look back and see how many of your predictions were right. Also, I just can’t wait until this is over!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I can assure you I will never be mistaken for Jimmy Page, however. But maybe we should all take some “before” and “after” selfies. That said, I sure hope that the “after” comes pretty damn soon.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Love this, John. Yes, many of my cohort will grow grey and shaggy unless we can remember how to color/cut our own hair. And my poor husband who endured years of my home haircuts. That was not a pretty picture. As to getting along with one’s spouse, I feel very lucky that we manage very well, but I worry about friends who are alone and folks who don’t. Your suggestion to try streamed courses is a good one, And the joy of sweatpants… my daughter has started wearing her kids’ stuff just to feel cozy. Thanks for injecting a bit of humor into this mess.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. In my class blog, someone posed the question of what is the most important trait that one’s isolation mate should have. I snarkily replied toilet paper, but, more seriously, stated the obvious: compatibility. But that really begs the question of what comprises compatibility. To my mind, it is three things: generosity of spirit, a good sense of humor and toilet paper.

  5. peter.w.sage says:

    Sweat pants! Thank you for your attempt to make sweat pant legitimate out of the house wear. And I don’t count actual athletic exercise in cold weather, where, sure, sweat pants are ok.

    But you are taking it to the next level. Sweat pants instead of jeans or dockers or slacks. It won’t become legitimate until suit-guys like you, plus celebrity Hollywood people our age (Sigorney Weaver, Cher, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) start wearing them. The Coronavirus changes all the rules. In the era of plague, we can dress for comfort.

    Peter Sage
    Medford, Oregon
    (Wearing jeans, but would be more comfortable if sweats.)

    • John Shutkin says:

      I’ll try to do my best with this, Peter. I’m thinking of marketing my own line of sweat pants for other former corporate lawyers. Maybe I’ll call it “White Shoe Sweatpants.” Of course, they’ll be manufactured in China.

  6. Reminds me of something I just read: “Okay, it’s official. At 8 p.m. I change from my daytime jammies into my nighttime jammies.” I can relate.

  7. Maybe you best get used to tuna fish for awhile!

      • My husband’s absolute favorite comfort food: Pasta with Tuna, Arugula, and Hot Pepper: For the sauce: 1/2 c. good olive oil; 3 large cloves minced garlic; generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes (I use 1/2 tsp.); 6-oz can of good tuna packed in olive oil and drained; kosher salt; a handful of arugula. Optional: 1/4 c halved Kalamata olives; 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts. Top with freshly shaved Parmesan (or any kind of Parmesan). It’s fast, it’s easy, and so good you’ll forget it’s tuna! (The red pepper flakes are what take it over the top, IMHO. But then I put them in almost everything.)

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