The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

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.

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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.

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18 thoughts on “The Covid Chronicles – July 18th 2020. Blame It On Padma

  1. mavimet says:

    I’m certainly tired of the new normal and hope we some day get to go back to the old normal.

    1. Paulie says:

      Let’s just think of new normal as abnormal.

  2. Kim Taylor says:

    I have been feeling the same way. I would give up so many things that I thought I had to have to just be able to go out to dinner with my parents. Or take a shopping trip to the mall with a girlfriend on a Saturday afternoon. I hope we get out old normal back soon.

    1. Paulie says:

      Isn’t it amazing Kim, how much we can miss the things that were once so ordinary? Two days ago I saw my son and his family for the first time since Super Bowl Sunday when they hosted a party. On Friday we socially distanced, with masks when necessary. I did all the cooking outside and we ate outside. It was good but it also seemed foreign. I really hope that when this is over we value our human interaction more than we used to.

      1. Kim Taylor says:

        I know I won’t take it for granted anymore.

        I work at our local police department as the Criminal Investigation Department secretary. We are a small police department and currently have four officers positive for COVID-19 and another 15 in quarantine. That’s half our department. And it looks like I will be teleworking again. Currently in limbo.

        I really enjoy your posts, Paulie. Keep ’em coming.

        1. Paulie says:

          Very scary situation for you Kim. I feel lucky that we’re more or less removed from direct contact. We do have a firefighter in the family and his department has been transferring sick prisoners from San Quentin which is raging with COVID-19. He gets tested regularly but we’re still keeping fingers crossed.
          Stay safe.
          Thank you for reading and following.

  3. Scott Blake says:

    Does “new reality” work better for you than “new normal”? Probably not, it doesn’t for me but it is a bit different so maybe that helps. I agree about what I miss and I guess you could call them the little things. They really aren’t little because you can’t see them as singular, it has to be plural and it’s a huge plural.

    I was thinking yesterday how if I end up moving across the country the cross-country drive will be so different from how it would have been last year and from the ones I did as a child. The landscapes will be unchanged, the sights that make California different from Iowa and Pennsylvania. The differences will rear their heads again during stops. Mask on at the gas station, getting food, taking a leak at a highway rest stop. Instead of going into an interesting looking restaurant somewhere a thousand miles from S.F. for lunch, probably takeout only.

    I have compiled a list over the past few years of eateries I want to check out if I am in a certain vicinity. Some of those I’ve learned of from hearing about places you’ve eaten at during recent vacations. Instead, I’ll be making more use of my tailgate than I ever thought I would. That doesn’t take into account the number of privately owned cafes and restaurants that the blasted pandemic has forced out of business. I just read on Yelp today what I had feared, that the splendid little old school Art’s Cafe in S.F.’s Inner Sunset district is closing. So many cherished local businesses around the world have been forced out of business because of this mess.

    As you wrote in your closing, we’ll get back the things we took for granted. Not all of them but most of them and certainly the ones that are general and not specific. There will be a vaccine and maybe by this time next year we’ll all (not counting the idiotic anti-vaccine bunch) get the annual shot and feel reasonably sure that we’ll be protected or at least spared the full dose of the virus. No masks, that will be a time to look forward to. Because of this, I wonder how many people will look at Halloween masks differently than they did before most of us went around looking like imitations of the Lone Ranger.

    1. Paulie says:

      No, new reality doesn’t really work either. Call it new math or new york or new horizon if you wish. Doesn’t really change anything does it? I suppose it’s how you want to look at it. While it’s depressing for me I realize that it’s far worse for many others.
      You and others contend that we won’t get back all of the things that we took for granted and I frankly don’t understand that way of thinking. So much has changed since January as regards what we know or think we know about this virus. I just don’t understand the notion of adopting a view that we can’t get back to what we knew. We don’t know what we don’t know.

  4. There will come a time, my friend, when we shall sit together face-to-face and clink glasses and tell stories and admire our dogs. Made that day comes soon.

    1. Paulie says:

      It will indeed and I don’t know about you but I’m bringing my dog.

      1. I’ll have a dog by then, so I will too!

  5. Hettie D. says:

    I was hesitant to reply, but finally decided to do so. I understand how you feel; I’ve told several people recently that to feel liek that is normal and humane. Some time ago, you surprised me when you mentioned in one of your posts that you unfriended on Facebook somebody who stated that “they want their lives to go back to normal.” I though back then, that “wanting” is understandable. It was IMPOSSIBLE, and nobody should have wished to go to “normal” back then, we all needed to isolate.
    Anyway, I understand. You can imagine that I feel it way more than other people because I can’t see my husband because of everything, you might say, because of president Trump :). And in addition to that void, I can’t see my second granddaughter, and that also won’t happen for another month at least. I didn’t hug anybody since February!
    On top of that, I miss all the things which you mention in your post. I miss all these little normalcies. And I am constantly fighting with my feeling of being displaced.
    I want to tell you the same things I am telling myself. First, this won’t last forever. There will be a treatment, there will be a vaccine, and this pandemic will be gone like any other. I do not believe, that it will become a new norm not to share meals, not to talk to people, not to hug people. There are thousands years of history that support social behavior, and I do not believe it will change.
    It will get back to normal. My husband and I keep telling it each other over facetime every day. We’ve been through worse, but back then we were younger, and we felt like the whole life is ahead of us. Now me husband is 70, and our years together are numbered. But I know we have some ahead.
    Also (and even more importantly) there are many things which e CAN do now. You know, I walk in the city on the days I am back to the office, and I see that the majority of people whom I see on the streets wear masks. And people are walking around, eating out and taking coffee breaks and the Riverwalk strolls. I hope that people will realize that it’s better to ear mask and do stuff than not to wear and won’t be able to do it.
    I go to the Farmers Market every Saturday. Everybody wear masks, but we talk and laugh, and we are social, and that’s what we missed to most. I stop at Starbucks to get a cup pf coffee after visiting the market, and sit outside with that coffee, or I get my breakfast in Starbucks before getting on the train to go to the city.
    Yes, it would be better if we could do it all without masks, but meanwhile it’s much better to do things, then nor.

    I hope that helps. Seriously.

    1. Paulie says:

      Hettie, Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. First of all please don’t be hesitant to comment. The nice part of blogging is the exchange of ideas, particularly valuable during these times.

      Yes I did unfriend a person on Facebook. That was in May. She was a former co-worker from more than ten years ago. By the time I’d pulled the plug she’d been consistently commenting that her “rights” were being infringed upon and she consistently used the phrase, “Wake up people,” as if those of us who were trying to do right by getting through this crisis were blind, unthinking lemmings. And yes she wanted to get back to “normal” as we all did but not so much in a reasonable way.. One day she commented, “We need to get our lives back,” a comment that I found to be not only the height of entitlement but callous given that we were closing in on 100,000 dead people who, if they could speak from the grave would have voiced the same sentiment. It was, as the saying goes, the final straw.

      Facebook has been a dilemma for me but that’s for an entire post.

      I’m quite certain that we will get back to a normal normal and I certainly hope that we appreciate it when it happens. I’ve on a few occasions disagreed with people who say that the so-called new normal will be the forever normal. For instance, I believe that at some point my daughter’s employer will decide that something is missing without a real office and will go back to a more traditional setting. I don’t understand how a business can be run without personal human interaction.

      It is, as you put it, the “little normalcies” that I miss, and I think that’s what most people miss. Most of us have had to put things off and many of those can just be rescheduled for a later time; in my case a trip and my medical and dental procedures. These are all secondary to those things that we took for granted and yes that includes for me at least the medical procedures that have been put off. I actually joke about going around with incomplete dental work and my two missing front teeth which is one reason why I have no objection to the mask. .
      Oh, the mask? It’s become second nature now. I wear it almost everywhere (except the obvious) but I don’t wear it when I run.
      What particularly touched me about your comment was the mention that you are 70 with numbered years ahead. I’m 66 and Cora is 72 and so I know the feeling.

      I know that we’ll get through it all. Funny that it took a TV show to bring me back to where we were 7 or 8 months ago. I’d almost forgotten what it was like and depression aside, it was good to be reminded of life before the virus.
      BTW, I do highly recommend Padma Lakshmi’s show.

      Thank you again for reading and commenting. Stay safe and be well.

      1. Hettie D. says:

        I will :). Just to set a record clear, I am 57, but my husband is 70. It’s a second marriage for both of us, and I’ve always being realistic in sense that I will most likely have many years without him. This being said I feel like this year is unfairly taken away from whatever togetherness we have. Living half-a world apart was and is our choice, but not being able to book a crazy flight and fly across the world “for a weekend” is not our’s.

        1. Paulie says:

          I feel the same way about the age differential between my wife and I. I think everyone feels the same about having a year taken away. At my age every year becomes more precious. That’s why I get so angry over the people who are gathering in large groups, don’t wear masks and don’t take this as seriously as they should.

  6. It took me a while to realize that my sadness is actually grief. I am experiencing the same feelings I had when my loved ones died. I lost them and now I have lost my freedom to do normal things. The hard part now is knowing things will eventually get better but we have no control over when that will be. I am trying to find at least one thing a day to be grateful or happy about. Friday I saw twin fawns resting under a row of bushes in my yard and though they can eat those bushes, just seeing their beauty made me smile and lifted my spirits. 😊

    1. Paulie says:

      I’m sorry to hear that Carolyn. Grief is pretty low on the scale. I think I would call my feeling closer to despair and I think its for exactly the reason that you mention, “no control.” What makes it worse for me in that regard is to see the reports of violence and rebellion over something as simple as a mask and for the powers that be on the state and local level to appear to have given up to some extent.
      I don’t even think about the federal anymore except to realize that we might not see any effort from that corner until January 21st. That certainly adds to the despair.
      And true, we take the joys where and when we can find them. On Friday I saw my son, his wife and his two children for the first time since Super Bowl Sunday. I did BBQ and we ate socially distanced, outside with masks when necessary.
      Stay safe and chin up.

      1. Thanks and you too Paulie! 😊

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