The COVID depression has been running deep this month and it’s continuing in an inexorable descent. An emotional wash. Each day, sometimes each hour depending on the winds of the news cycle and skyrocketing stats, is like another step deeper.
The occasional seeds of depression that blew in and out are starting to take root. Maybe it’s just realizing where we were a year ago, hell just a few months ago, wondering how we got here and above all how we’re going to get out.
Passing blame; it’s all the rage these days and when I say “rage” I mean that in both senses of the word. Blame something, anything, on somebody, anybody. If you’re finding it hard to spot a target just follow Kris Kristofferson’s sage advice from decades ago – Blame it on the (Rolling) Stones.
Me? I’m blaming it all on Padma Lakshmi (If you’ve watched Top Chef, you know Padma. If you’ve never watched Top Chef, Padma is an Indian born author, model and advocate for immigrant rights.). The contact tracing of my depression puts the blame squarely on Padma. Contact tracing – who knew? Who cared besides epidemiologists?
Padma has a new show on Hulu called Taste the Nation. It’s a docu series that explores America’s various food cultures. But it isn’t just a food tour. It’s a cultural excursion that takes on social issues, immigration, poverty, political repression and the American Dream, that aspiration found for some and lost for others. Each episode chronicles the stories of people arriving with almost nothing, often finding themselves unwelcome in this so-called land of opportunity and yet creating their own opportunities through food. Think Anthony Bourdain without the alcohol and “colorful” background.
So how could Padma Lakshmi and her stories of hard earned success drive me into a funk? It was probably the episode about San Francisco’s Chinatown, a place that I personally watched from across the bay get dragged into a coronavirus fed economic and collective depression along with the added scourge of racism.
The scenes in that show come from pre-COVID days; busy, colorful, communal and without the new viral protocols of social distancing and masks (although in Chinatown masks have long been a common sight). There’s Padma sitting at an indoor table with two restaurateurs, sharing food and stories. That’s about where it hit me. That scene is all about what we’ve lost.
It’s been only months but it seems like decades since you could sit in a restaurant, see the unmasked smile on the server’s face, sit at a communal table or graze from a buffet. My morning routine often had me going for a run with Lexi and then enjoying coffee and a book at Starbucks with Lexi laying patiently by my side. Often there was conversation with others enjoying their morning. “Can I pet your dog?” and “What’s her name?” Gone.
Morning radio and one of the trio of hosts, a guy who calls himself Guru (Goo to his host mates) gushes (and I’m paraphrasing), “I haven’t seen you guys in months. I miss being in the studio and prepping for the show, seeing your faces and playing off your emotions.” They’ve been broadcasting from home since March. Guru goes on, “Man, I miss sports, just being able to go to a game or sit in a bar and watch a game on TV. We took so much for granted.”
We did, didn’t we. I should be in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati right now getting ready to take in a baseball game. It was that baseball stadium tour of the midwest we were going to take. I should be refreshing my Italian for our trip to Italy in the fall. My shoulder surgery should be done now and my dental work completed. That’s all been scuttled. That those are all scratched off the list of things to do doesn’t sadden me, really not at all. They’re all annoying but not disheartening.
The desolation comes from the loss of the normalcy that we took for granted. Now it’s all about new normal. I’m hating that new normal talk. I don’t want new normal, I want old normal or howabout just fucking normal. New normal is devoid of the human interaction that we all counted on to be the constant; the library, the playground, the movies, Halloween, and elementary school children coughing on each other or swapping sandwiches without creating a public health crisis or what’s euphemistically called, a “hot spot”. Sure I’d like to be on a plane to Italy but I’d rather just be able to blow out the candles on a birthday cake.
Part of the new normal that’s weighed on me is the notion of working remotely. Now, I’m retired and that shouldn’t trouble me at all but it still pains me. The company that my daughter works for will likely remain completely remote even when, yes WHEN, we’re done with COVID. How does that work? Will the legacy of the coronavirus be the completion of the job that the cell phone began but couldn’t really complete – the loss of human interaction?
As much as I could hate going to the office, there was still the face to face, the debates over sports and the talk over whether the new HBO series was worth a damn. And yes, all those hours lost in a conference room and the subsequent trip down the elevator with my co-worker Julie so that we could rail about the meeting. Julie called me her “work husband.” So, no more “work spouses?”
Coronavirus is not just making people sick and taking lives, it’s hijacking our humanity. When did people ever argue about cancer or heart disease? These are the things that really sadden me.
And no, I don’t really blame Padma. I suppose that I should thank her and thank Guru for pointing out the loss of the simple things that we’ve always counted on. We’ll get them all back some day, for real and for good. Maybe we’ll even hold those simple things closer to our hearts.