First of all, I want to make it perfectly clear that none of this is my fault.  Yes, I know, I  recently posted that blog about wanting to slow down (see To Do or Not To Do). Two essays ago, when I was overcome by self-reflection brought on by another birthday, I wrote that I was going to take another shot at learning to relax, not overbook appointments, and figure out how to enjoy life in the slow lane.  But believe me, this is way more than I had in mind!

     A little germ has wreaked havoc on the world as we know it, and has forced us to remain in place.  So how have you been coping? Well, I hope.  If you live alone, this social distancing thing has got to be particularly difficult.  But if you live with another person, may I suggest that you hide all sharp objects.

     Me, I’ve been learning to appreciate the simple things.  Like the other day, when I refilled my spice jars.  Then rearranged them all in alphabetical order.  Or my texts from Amazon telling me that my order has been delivered.  Sometimes they even include a photo of the package sitting in my driveway.  That’s a special treat.  As is the surprise of opening the package, after I douse it with Lysol, because I have no f’n idea what I ordered. 

     I did buy a small clock with a second hand that I placed on the window sill behind my kitchen sink so I could accurately time 20 seconds without having to sing two choruses of Happy Birthday.  I swear, for the rest of my life, whenever I hear that stupid song, I will reflexively, like Pavlov’s dog, run to the nearest source of running water and wash my hands.

     Life is very hard right now, and what’s going on is no laughing matter.  So why are jokes and cartoons targeting COVID-19 springing up all over the internet? And late night TV hosts performing without an audience, some of them from home? Why are some standup comics recording specials from their living rooms and posting them on You Tube? 

     Because at a trying time like this we need the therapeutic effect of humor more than ever.   Humor soothes the nerves and decreases stress.  It makes us more resilient.  Your sense of humor is one of the most potent tools you have for coping.  And it’s important not to let that sense of humor abandon you when things go wrong.  Humor, hand-washing, and social distancing are the best defenses against the current universe.

     Last summer I wrote an essay that seems particularly appropriate right now, so I’ve decided to repost it. The significance is easily recognizable.   I know that doing so will make this blog longer than usual.  But seriously, what else do you have to do?

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Question:  If I asked you to write a caption for the photo above, based on what you see, would it occur to you to write “Four Friends Having Lunch Together?”  No?  I didn’t think so.  And yet, that is what the photo actually depicts — four friends, seated in a zigzag pattern, having lunch together, at separate tables.  And, why are they all smiling?

Children of the 50’s, does the term “separate tables” evoke a memory?  Well, it did for me. But unlike Terrence Rattigan’s drama circa 1956, the setting for the current dining experience was not an exclusive seaside hotel in England, but merely a plebian lunch joint in a small Connecticut town.  And, unlike the characters from the play-into-movie who were separated by lofty emotions such as angst, loneliness and alienation, these characters, seated diagonally across from one another other in the current drama, were separated by something far more mundane and perilous — germs!

“Please explain,” they cried.  And so she did.

First of all, let me give each of my characters a name.  And since I’ve been briefly touched by a wave of 50’s nostalgia, I will borrow my labels from the movie version. Therefore, my lady on stage left in the rear will be known as Rita (Rita Hayworth), the lady in red, we shall call Deborah (Deborah Kerr), the person zigging to the back shall henceforth be known as Wendy (Wendy Hiller), and finally, the one zagging to the right front corner (whom you may recognize) we shall call Gladys (Gladys Cooper).

The date for the luncheon appointment was set well in advance, and was to be a reunion after a winter of separation.  It required, as do all our gatherings, a considerable amount of negotiation.  (See “Girl’s Night Out,” Oct. 15, 2018.)  So, after 13 emails, 5 texts, a couple of actual phone calls, and Gladys conceding to participate in the one meal of the day that she hates, (see “Let’s Undo Lunch, Oct. 31, 2017,) no one, and I mean no one, was about to break this date!

Rita, Deborah, and Wendy were already seated at a table for four, and chatting away when Gladys arrived.  (An aside to the audience:  She was not late; the others were early!) Gladys, who had recently returned from spending seven months under the palm trees, was greeted warmly with outstretched arms and puckered lips.  But hugs and kisses were not to be.

Making the sign of the cross with left and right index fingers, Gladys quickly warded off their advances, explaining that perhaps it was best to avoid physical contact at this particular time.  She was coming down with a cold.  And while her throat was a bit sore, she was not yet coughing or sneezing, so merely sitting together seemed perfectly safe.  Upon hearing this, no one noticed that Rita, normally very fair anyway, had turned paler at the prospect of “catching something.”   And when Wendy commented that she too, felt something “coming on,” Rita just had to speak up, declaring that the innocent-looking lunch table obviously was no longer a safe place.  The rest of us did not disagree.

So what to do? Do we play it safe and abandon our hard-won reunion?  It might be palm tree time again before we could figure out another date when grandkids weren’t having a sleep-over, or when one of us didn’t have a tap-dance class, or a book club, or a colonoscopy appointment.

We searched each other’s eyes, at a safe distance, of course, and also the restaurant, for a solution to our dilemma.   Clearly, The Universe was smiling upon us, for in the rear of this otherwise very busy establishment was an empty banquette with four separate tables!

Springing from our chairs more quickly than any of us had in quite some time, with silverware and water glasses in hand, we hastily abandoned our current location for the more antiseptic alcove in the rear.  And still fearful of inhaling each other’s microbes, we alternated our seating.  And thus we dined together, at separate tables.

Realizing the humor and absurdity of the situation, which is why we are all smiling, we just had to preserve the moment.  Graciously, our waitress agreed to snap the photo you see above.

The four of us have since scheduled another lunch date.  But there is a caveat.  If anyone has any ailment more serious than a hangnail, please phone the restaurant in advance and reserve the separate tables.  You can’t always count on the good humor of The Universe.

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