It’s that time again! Another year of shockingly blissful marriage to the amazing Anne. This year I can even tell people we survived a pandemic together.
A lot of other middle-aged guys have cherished memories of the good ol’ days when they were on sports teams and won games and fame and attention, followed decades later by the deep frustration with how their athletic-hero phase was temporary, the pinnacle of those wonder years left far behind.
Me? For a few proud minutes, I had spelling bees. Recent headlines, in particular the exciting news that the National Spelling Bee at long last had its first Black American winner this week, dredged up a few of my own recollections and regrets.
For the past several years my wife Anne and I have made a tradition of going somewhere — anywhere but home — for each of our birthdays. One-day road trips and events, such as 2019’s tour of the Art Institute of Chicago, give me the gift of new experiences and distract me from the physical decay at hand.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last year my birthday trip was among the billions of traditions ruined by the pandemic, all of which paled in significance to the millions of lives lost (and still counting). We spent the entire weekend amusing ourselves at home so, Lord willing, I might survive to see the next birthday. In that sense TakeOutCon 2020 achieved its stated goals but will not become one of our household traditions. If the pandemic somehow spawns a sequel and a TakeOutCon encore becomes necessary in some future year, I will blame you, humanity.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: pandemic pandemic bo-bandemic, banana-rama-fo-fandemic, fee fi mo mandemic: pandemic! It’s sucked beyond all calculable orders of magnitude, has put people we know in the hospital or the grave, and currently rated a negative-ten-million percent on the Tomatometer.
Then amid Worst Year Ever, a ray of hope: the vaccines arrived. Then amid our ray of hope, penetrating lasers of inky darkness: a media and populace that simultaneously embrace vaccines and distrust them at the same time. And I’m not talking about the deniers shrieking at us from their log-cabin schoolhouses with tinfoil roofs, boasting how they’re more interested in preserving their reckless impunity than achieving herd immunity. No, I’m talking about the ostensible “good guys”:
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: pandemic. Pandemic! PANDEMIC! How much longer, we all wonder? When will we as a planet — or at least as a country, or really just statewide would be nice — reach that quixotic goal of “herd immunity”? When can we go back to wandering within 2-3 feet of each other and resume absentmindedly taking everyday life for granted again? For us, Easter weekend represented another stepping stone toward that goal.
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?
This week the teeming cloud hordes of Old Man Winter barreled across the American skies and bludgeoned entire states and regions into total pandemonium. Blizzards dumped heavy swaths all around as if half the United States were now honorary Minnesotas. Schools and other community activities that had opened their doors to welcome COVID-19 and its carriers reneged and locked their doors. Power grids failed. Water pipes seized up. Numerous utility companies faced wrathful accountability for their shortsightedness, for skimping on precautionary upgrades, and for being smug greed-heads. Homes became inhospitable and even dangerous, forcing families to seek shelter, charity, and survival elsewhere. The turmoil dragged on for hours and days even after the snowfall ceasefire. Millions of internet users distracted themselves by logging onto their devices by candlelight, their batteries down to 15% or less, and channeling their unchecked rage into scathing verbal attacks on the Zodiac Killer. This week was like 2020 all over again, much like all the 2021 weeks that preceded it, but, like, somehow in its own way even 2020-ier.
Me? I got my car stuck at the end of our driveway.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: pandemic! Pandemic! PANDEMIC!
Among the 6,000 things we hated doing differently for our own safety in 2020, one of the easiest yet weirdest was going into businesses to buy whatever, approaching the register, and having to take standing lessons from social-distancing floor decals. Because in a world where those infected with the coronavirus could unknowingly kill innocent bystanders with their breath like a clumsy ninja Godzilla, some folks were poor judges of distance and/or medical hygiene. As always, in a pandemic or otherwise, some people need practical advice.
“If two million people do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”
I dived into all the old collections of Berke Breathed’s Bloom County comic strip as a teen. Some of its jokes have aged well. Some, not so much. Some political references would fly miles over my head uncaught. Not until decades later did I learn who Jeane Kirkpatrick was or what Bill the Cat might’ve seen in her.
30+ years later, I’ve never forgotten that simple quote from P. Opus, the world’s largest-nosed penguin. Even before 2020, I thought about it a lot. The voices in my head have found no reason to retire it yet.
2020 took casualties on every level, literally as well as metaphorically. Lives have been lost. Survivors have had their lives changed for the worse by lingering coronavirus side effects. Jobs have been suspended or eliminated. Businesses have closed. Families have suffered. Special events were canceled….or worse, continued on schedule but infected and killed their attendees. Plans great and small were waylaid. Happy times were postponed for safety’s sake and downgraded to a form of delayed gratification to be fulfilled in what will hopefully not be an even worse year to come.
Milestones on the calendar came and went — some without fanfare, others with drastically reduced celebrations. My own example at hand: 2020 marked my twentieth anniversary at my day job.