Once upon a time in 2006, The Powers That Be at DC Comics continued their tradition of biannual publishing stunts with “One Year Later”, in which all ongoing series leapt forward in time twelve full months, dropped their heroes into weird new scenarios with no initial explanations, then kept the stories moving forward from there while occasionally braking for flashbacks to all the important events that messed up the status quo during the year they skipped. As superheroic special events go, it was kindasorta fun for about ten minutes till the next publishing stunt came along.
Meanwhile this past weekend, my social media feeds have been filled with friends, family, strangers and other users reminiscing of the Before Times way back when — whether wistfully or ruefully — all recalling “one year ago today” and “this time last year” and other non-milestones before the world was upended by horrid little microorganisms that exploited our weaknesses, and not just the physiological ones.
If you had the option to skip the past twelve months in real life so you wouldn’t have to have lived it one minute at a time, one failure at a time, one agony at a time, one calamity at a time…how confused would you be if your timeline ended “this time last year” and then you returned to your story today, and your supporting cast had to catch you up on everything you missed?
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: March 11, 2020, marked the first appearance of the word “pandemic” in these pages, not counting this one time in 2012 when I used it as part of a headline joke that’s aged poorly. The creeping dread of COVID-19 had been seeping into American headlines for weeks as the coronavirus made its long, inevitable journey from China to our shores. For most folks, March is when 2020 began its pursuit of the Worst Year Ever championship belt.
For our household it began the last week of February. That Tuesday I went to a neighborhood clinic for a sinus infection. I was well by the weekend, which would’ve worked out great if we’d planned to attend that weekend’s C2E2. For the first time since 2010 we opted out of the convention — partly because we had lingering debts from 2019 that needed to be handled (some of them due to, uh, conventions) and partly because the guest list didn’t appeal to us enough to justify taking on still more debt. But with COVID increasingly overtaking our radar, for months afterward we pondered a darker timeline in which we’d traveled to Chicago and C2E2 had turned into a super-spreader event. Neither part occurred for us in reality, thankfully. Other, closer near-misses lay in store for us in the months ahead.
The following week, my son came down with a horrendous cough that rattled and boomed and dogged him for weeks. He insisted on managing it himself, and eventually saw it through. To this day we have no idea what exactly it was, and are left to wonder.
With very little to do outside the house, we threw ourselves into our pop-culture entertainment. When comics publishers ceased their output for two months, I had even more free time on my hands to dive deeply into my vast pile of unread books. Time and again I retreated to the world of Skyrim, where Potions of Cure Disease were a convenient boon and, whenever those were in short supply, merely touching the magical idol of any deity or demigod could magically whisk your ills away.
We spent far, far more time with our TV than usual. Since March 2020 I’ve finished the following series and miniseries, among a few forgotten others — some on my own, some with Anne watching alongside me:
- Static Shock
- Homicide: Life on the Street
- Black Mirror
- Tiger King (remember when we thought 2020 couldn’t possibly get any worse than this?)
- Wild Wild Country
- Band of Brothers
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold
- The first three seasons of House of Cards
- Locke and Key season one
- The Crown
- Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica
- Person of Interest
- The Weird Al Show
- The final (and best) season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars
- Star Wars Rebels
- The Mandalorian
As of this writing I’m near the end of Breaking Bad season three, and have dipped my toe into Sam and Max, Freelance Police, the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon based on Steve Purcell’s awesome but sporadic comics that were adapted into Sam and Max Hit the Road, the very first PC game I ever played all the way through, before the cartoon came along and then died. As always, I’m a bit behind on much of the viewing I’ve planned over the decades.
That list doesn’t even include movies. Naturally we increased that intake as well, too many to list because I failed to write them all down. Without question the best film Anne and I watched in 2020 (new or old) was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which would also be an apt title for a film about 2020, hopefully a much better one than Charlie Brooker’s Netflix special Death to 2020, which had two jokes that are keepers to this day, both of them courtesy of Lisa Kudrow.
After a one-year time jump, I’d be surprised how many long-procrastinated works were crossed off my list. I’d be ticked if I didn’t remember any of them. I could stand to have Tiger King wiped away, though.
Meanwhile in things we had to do, March 2020 was the last time my department gathered in the same place at the same time. Nearly everyone in our company transitioned to the work-from-hire paradigm that swept the nation, while a skeleton crew (myself included) continued reporting to the physical offices each day to handle a number of tasks that couldn’t be done remotely. We hardy few keep going in so our teammates don’t have to. Twelve months later I know them chiefly through video meetings. Once every few months, one of them will cameo during the workday to pick up stuff from their desk. At least two of them have existed for me only as virtual images, or as formless voices nattering into the void whenever their laptop cameras are malfunctioning.
After a one-year time jump, walking into that ghost town would be eerie inside and outside. Between the pandemic and the weekend of rioting at the end of May, over half the restaurants within a five-minute walk have gone out of business, including the cafeteria and coffee shop in our own building. We’re surrounded by echoing shells and have far fewer enticing reasons to walk outside and enjoy what’s left of our downtown. It would wound me to learn a former coworker died from COVID-19 complications, and that another coworker and her husband suffered a weeks-long bout before they emerged from that deep tunnel.
This past weekend marked one year since the last time I stepped foot in our church. Services went online-only at the end of the month, transforming us from members of a loving congregational body into The Viewers At Home. When physical services resumed in August, communications assured us the church was taking every minimum measure necessary to meet state and local compliance guidelines, nary a mention or slightest implication of altruistic motives or intent to save lives. Anne returned a few times without me. The behaviors she witnessed did not impress her. At least three services in recent months have concluded with someone on stage advising the in-person audience to put their masks back on before exiting the auditorium. If you watch the Valentine’s Day service, there’s an Easter-egg moment when the cameras gaze upon the audience, several of them maskless despite the state mandate.
After a one-year time jump, it’d be weird to find church reduced to a fixed point on our weekly TV schedule. It’s become one of our “stories”, like Mr. Mayor or Chopped. Worship in cozy furniture and sleepwear is not exactly a mode that fosters dedication or concentration, to say nothing of the complete disconnect from any and all opportunities to serve. It wouldn’t be hard to change YouTube channels and watch other churches on Sunday. Sure, we’d miss the familiar faces. What few we still recognize among the strangers who’ve taken over the stage, at least.
By the same token, we’ve hardly seen any family up close lately, either. We see my mom every other weekend, basically a hermit whose exposure risk was near zilch. She’s recently gotten her two vaccines without any side effects, which is a huge relief. Anne’s siblings’ visages pop up for Zoom chats on Sunday nights. Anne keeps in touch with her key elders by phone. Most other blood relatives have steered clear of us — or, well, more accurately, vice versa. Thanksgiving 2020 was on par with recent disjointed years, but Christmas 2020 was the absolute worst. A few relatives contracted COVID with blessedly minor effects apart from losing two senses for a few months. Other relatives have sadly reminded me of a few words written last week by author Chuck Wendig, who decried what 2020 became — the hardships and the denials in their respective tragic measures — and “how some in this pandemic would sacrifice so much to save those that would sacrifice nothing.”
After a one-year time jump…the fact that my father-in-law now owns a smartphone would be mind-blowing in itself. He and his wife had never even used a PC for anything deeper than email. Now he’s having fun catching up with the wide world of GIFs. It would sadden me how much Anne fiercely misses the rest of her family. My half is mostly on Facebook, but we interact as much on there as we ever did in the last decade’s worth of holiday gatherings.
Speaking of which: usually the holidays were my weakest moments of any given year in terms of maintaining my increasingly unwieldy weight as I keep losing ground since my 2004-2005 diet. In that sense, every day of my 2020 turned into a holiday season. All my usual excuses for exercise — comic-cons, shopping, weekly sweat-drenched walks to the comic shop on the other end of downtown — were taken away, one by one. We’re both more roly-poly than we were a year ago. After we get vaccinated and the convention scene rises from its ashen state like a star-studded phoenix, the next few additions to our jazz-hands photo-op gallery will, um, look noticeably different and test how many MCC readers truly support body postivity versus how many only support or follow “hot” bloggers.
After a one-year time jump…I would demand to have words with my past self. Why did we go up a pants size? Why are we now on two blood pressure meds? Why do long staircases seem more lethal than they used to be? Have I really been that inactive since March? That depressed? That much in need of distraction from what’s become of American life and this broken world in this infuriating new era where science is treated like witchcraft, where partisanship and grossly reductive generalizations are virtues, where The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television have been rewritten by pundits who used to lambaste prudish TV censors and the PMRC, and where willful ignorance is a favored confidence-boosting drug? All this is why we’re fatter than ever? And is all this why we’re going to bed early more often instead of staying up late to write?
Once I calm down and let me answer, I’d look me in the eyes and say nothing in return. Which would tell me everything. I know me.
If all that’s what I would’ve missed with a “One Year Later” stunt…would I regret it?
Neither of me would answer that. If you skip the bad, you skip the good. For all its catastrophes, 2020 had its precious few perks. Among other things, our renewed commitment to debt reduction has gone well. Those weekly family Zoom chats keep us closer to loved ones than we used to be. Also, Galactica was utterly awesome, even the finale.
Follow-up question: what if so many of us took the “One Year Later” jump that The Powers That Be decided there should be a sequel, and we’d be allowed to skip another year?
That one’s easy. I’m not skipping 2021. That’s the year with the vaccines in it. And the return of movies. And coworkers who exist in more than two dimensions and half-hour increments. And headlines with 99.99% fewer gratuitous mentions of former Presidents. And, Lord willing, reasons to write more often instead of seeking refuge in Skyrim. Lord willing, 2021 is the year we bring back the Before Times.
That’s my kind of superheroic special event. I don’t want someone to recap it for me with tedious flashbacks. I want to live it.