COVID-19 No. 13: We Had All Kinds of Time

THIS WAS GOING TO BE another measured, thoughtful post on everyday life during the topsy-turvy times that COVID-19 has dumped on us.

And then I learned, via Twitter a few minutes ago, that Adam Schlesinger died today.

He was just 52, a mere year older than I, and was a cofounder of and songwriter for the unparalleled power pop band Fountains of Wayne. If you know Adam Schlesinger at all, it’s probably from his Oscar-nominated song “That Thing You Do,” from Tom Hanks’s charming film of the same name, and “Stacy’s Mom,” an impossibly catchy tune that still pops up on commercial radio, 17 years after its release.

And that’s a shame, a damn shame, because Schlesinger and Fountains of Wayne were so much more than that.

grayscale photo of cutaway acoustic guitar
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

“Stacy’s Mom” was a hit, possibly more for its subject than its musicianship, and, again, that’s a damn shame. The album on which it appears, Welcome Interstate Managers, is one of those rare just-about-perfect records, a front-to-back work of sparkling songwriting, exquisite harmonies, and joyfully jangly guitars.

I may be feeling overly sentimental because when R. was much younger, Fountains of Wayne was a staple of our singalongs. Even today, we can sing deeper cuts word-for-word, reveling in their sharp lyrics and disarming accessibility.

Yet FoW’s other stuff is similarly bouncy and thoughtful, much of it thanks to Schlesinger, who went on to win awards for his stage, TV, and film work, and was also part of the wonderfully ethereal band Ivy.

I don’t mourn celebrity passings, with exceptions that can be counted on one hand. There is too much tragedy among us regular folks to devote emotional bandwidth to the rich and famous. But there are those whose talent is snuffed far, far too soon, who deserve my sadness and regret.

Kirsty MacColl was one. Adam Schlesinger is another.

Many feel the same about the playwright Terrence McNally, felled by COVID-19 last week. The influential singer-songwriter John Prine is, as of now, in critically condition. We will lose more in the weeks and months to come, and that’s on top of loved ones, family, friends, and coworkers who will leave us much earlier they ought.

It didn’t have to be this way. It did not.

The bourbon sits inside me

Right now I’m a puppet in its sway

And it may be the whiskey talking

But the whiskey says I miss you every day | DL

COVID-19 No. 12: Tumbleweeds in Place of Tellers

monopolyMORE MUNDANITY RENDERED EXTRAORDINARY and bizarre by everyone’s favorite pandemic:

A trip to the bank.

The final paycheck from my previous job was delivered not via direct deposit but as a slip of paper that arrived in the mail. In ordinary times, that would necessitate a 20-minute lunchtime errand. In these times, it entailed a 5 a.m. alarm and a creepy drive through very dark, mostly deserted streets to the closest branch.

Per guidelines, if I have to be out, I want it to be when I’m least likely to encounter other people. While the introvert in me needs such solitude with regularity, my genial, more social side misses simple human interaction.

Depositing a check at 5:15 in the morning for the sole purpose of not running into anyone. Like I said, extraordinary and bizarre.

This typically banal daily errand didn’t fill me with the existential dread fostered by last week’s grocery-store run, but I was hardly comfortable. As I stood outside and slid my ATM card into the slot to unlock the door, I saw myself reflected in the glass.

Black jacket, black gloves, charcoal baseball cap.

Jesus, I thought. The cops are gonna think I’m robbing the joint.

All went uneventfully, though, and I was home and in the shower before long, trying to shake off the unease that shrouded me over the course of my trip. I’m so ready for the mundane to be mundane again.

I mentioned that the streets were mostly deserted. A handful of cars did pass me. And standing in the middle of a usually well-traveled road was a deer that seemed as startled to see me as I was her. Guess she didn’t get the memo about social distancing. | DL

COVID No. 9: I Am Not an Epidemiologist, So Take My Optimism With a Grain of Salt

DON’T ASK ME HOW IT HAPPENED, and please don’t come at me tomorrow to see if it’s still there. But somehow, someway, to paraphrase the great Marshall Crenshaw, I found not simply acceptance today but optimism.

Maybe it was the dawning hope that a major project unexpectedly handed to me at my new job will be seen through successfully; maybe it was hearing R. cheerfully FaceTime with her cousin this afternoon; maybe it was the bracing 2-mile walk I took while it was still dark this morning; maybe it was the sun-soaked stroll around the neighborhood I took just before lunchtime. Whatever it was, the existential threat of the last several weeks just didn’t seem as looming today.

I’m under no illusions that the next several weeks won’t suck. But it’s … several weeks. Not years, not a lifetime. Several weeks of sucking it up, being there for each other, rolling with it. Yes, me and my family, we’re lucky. For now, and hopefully for as long as this lasts, we can do these things. We can afford to do these things. I hope that as a country, one assaulted by a sickness that cares not for race or age or status, we can close ranks and do the right thing by everyone.

I have sadly little confidence our government can do this. And this is not a both-sides-need-to-get-it-together thing; there’s a party that controls half of the Congress and the White House, and unfortunately it’s the party that has patted science, research, data, and evidence on the head and sent it strolling down the garden path while it catered to the shrinking, shriveling demographic of old straight white guys.

My hope is that the united will of the people — because, again, this is an illness that is striking down the high and the low; COVID-19 doesn’t play the us-versus-them game — can win the day.

Blind optimism, perhaps. But I believe there will come a time, a time not so long away, when I will hug my extended family and my dear friends, when I will shake hands with colleagues, when I will sit in the stands with a cold beer and cheer on my beloved Phillies, when I will go to work — actually go to work, not step into the home office and turn on my laptop. I do not envision this time as a dream or as a hope, but as an eventuality.

He said, eyeing a half-full glass. | DL

COVID No. 7: I Keep Using the Word ‘Normal’ …

HERE’S MY PRIMARY TAKEAWAY after a week of all this:

Whatever you can do that safely, responsibly reflects your prior coronavirus activities, do it. Do it often, do it eagerly, do it with intention.

That’s what gonna keep us sane and ready to pick up when the risk is behind us.

Yesterday, that meant a walk, a nap, and a visit with dear friends/family, with whom we observed appropriate social-distancing guidelines while we sat on their patio, luxuriated in the early-spring late-afternoon sun, had a few drinks, and laughed our asses off. It meant ordering takeout pizza, stromboli, cheesesteaks, and fries from our favorite local shop, watching Veronica Mars reruns while we ate, and playing Balderdash to finish the night.

Today it meant finishing an intriguing, thoughtful novel, catching up on some work, taking another nap, and cooking dinner.

It was all, once I yanked my head out of Twitter and news sites and such, delightfully normal. And normal is our friend, now more than ever. Normal will help see us through this, help us to realize that there is a lot more under our control than we might think. This is no small thing.

Control what you can, let the rest go, be kind, compassionate, forgiving, generous, and understanding, and we will get through this. I don’t know what waits for us on the other side, but that’s of little concern now. Focus on today. Focus on what matters. | DL

COVID-19 No. 6: You Mean We Have to Create Another New Structure?

HAVING SPENT THE BETTER PART of a workweek building a new daily structure to adhere to — all the more fun while onboarding at a new job — I’m now faced, as most of us are, with figuring out what Saturdays and Sundays are going to look like for the foreseeable future.

No trips to the dry cleaner.

No hanging out in coffee shops.

No browsing through bookstores.

No dinners out with friends.

No walking through the mall.

No ballgames to watch.

No Sunday-night visits to a favorite watering hole to conclude the weekend with a great friend, good beer, and the world’s best wings.

Hell, I probably won’t even be going to the supermarket for a couple of weeks. We stocked up a couple of weekends ago in anticipation of being housebound for a while.

As if we weren’t all making it up as we go along anyway, our viral lockdown has layered a whole new swath of What do we do now? onto our lives.

For me, I’m guessing that Saturdays and Sundays will include more reading and writing, more walking, more board games, more phone calls and texting sessions, more online shopping, more hanging out on the deck (thank goodness warmer weather is nearly here), more Wii and Xbox, more movies, more catches and soccer in the backyard. A lot of museums are opening up their digital collections to greater access, so I’ll probably check them out. And I have all kinds of work stuff I need to start learning.

How about you? What are you up to this weekend? | DL

COVID-19 No. 5: Walking Down Harrison

FOR THE LAST MANY YEARS, weekday exercise has been a first-thing-in-the-morning activity. Get up and get it done before any work and family obligations, following oft-shared advice. Some mornings it’s the gym, some mornings a 2-mile walk through the neighborhood.

This morning, the soaking rain that moved through overnight was still hanging around when I got up. Ordinarily, that would be no problem — a trip to the gym for a brisk half-hour on the elliptical. Of course, gyms are closed now, so that meant there wasn’t much to do except ride out the weather.

Which I did over the course of the day, jumping on numerous Zoom meetings, drafting messaging, and doing my best to learn as much as I could at the new gig.

Twitter, though. Twitter, man. I have a browser tab open to Twitter all day long for professional reasons, and today I participated in a great online discussion of things we higher-ed marcomms types need to be keeping our eye on. But that also means I regularly expose myself to the less reputable side of Twitter, the online free-for-all where everyone — everyone — feels empowered to weigh in with their own expertise, whether it’s legitimate or self-conveyed.

And today, that had me a bit more jittery. My work continued to provide welcome distraction, but the Twitter noise — ominous predictions especially — was impossible to filter out. I was left feeling angsty.

By this afternoon, the rain had drifted eastward, and though the skies remained appropriately gloomy considering our shared circumstances, the weather was fine for a walk. I finished up work, did a final check-in with a team member, and put on my sweatshirt to head out.

The activity did me well, and not entirely because of the physical exertion. Twice as I strode diligently, I encountered neighbors and friends, giving me the chance to chat for a few minutes about … well, everything that’s going on in the wider world. We talked with compassion and kindness, empathizing with our common situations and wishing each other well. At any other time these would have been meaningless, forgettable interactions, but today they were oases — islands of normalcy amidst a raging storm of fear, anger, anxiety, and uncertainty.

And here’s the thing: I walked away from them feeling better. Not rainbows-and-unicorns better, but just less flattened, less adrift. My heart was a little lighter. Not a lot, but enough to notice.

Connect with your peeps, friends, however works best for you. Whether it’s a walk observing the 6-foot distance or a FaceTime with your bestie or just a damn phone call with your mom, connect with your peeps. The normalcy will do you well.

At least, that’s what I found. | DL

COVID-19 No. 4: The New Normal Is the Old Normal … Kind Of

YESTERDAY WAS A NORMAL DAY at work. Interviewed a candidate for an open position, had a one-on-one with a team member, met with a program director to discuss advertising, churned through email.

Except it wasn’t strictly at work, since the coronavirus has chased us home to carry out our duties remotely, and it wasn’t strictly normal, since it was just my third day on the job, and who is fully immersed in the usual task list on day 3?

The thing is, for all the disruption wreaked by the illness, those activities were grounding. I felt comfortable weighing in, despite my newbie status. Because of the wildly kinetic nature of things now, I’ve had to jump in quickly, mixing tasks that usually crop up over time with the usual learning of the ropes. And that has helped — it has been comfortably distracting.

So. Professionally, all has begun well.

Personally, though, things are a mixed bag.

Family-wise, we’re keeping it together. The girls have structure, thanks to a general schedule and robust to-do lists that combine household jobs with online learning through resources the school district has helpfully provided. In the late afternoon, when their “work” is done, they retreat to their screens for some well-deserved downtime. There have been no meltdowns — granted, it’s been all of a week — and they are rolling with things as hardily as anyone could expect.

But this normalcy — okay, sorta normalcy — has freed up some mental bandwidth for me to worry.

Not over health. We’ve been conscientious about social distancing, and should one of us contract the virus, we’re all in good enough shape that I don’t think the prognosis would be catastrophic.

No, the worry is a longer-term, existential concern. Not about the viability of the supply chain or the health of corporate America. I’m thinking about my local bookstore, my local brewpub, my local pizza shop, my local dry cleaner, the hoards of freelancers, solo practitioners, and small businesses that fill our staffing gaps — local places and services that lack the cash reserves to withstand a months-long collapse of daily business wrought by well-meaning people heeding the call to flatten the curve.

The women and men involved in these enterprises are our neighbors. They are our friends. When we think of community, they are the people who pop up in our mind’s eye. If they fall, our societal fabric will unravel, and fast.

Are we willing to stand up for these stalwart Americans? To advocate that whatever relief is granted support them directly? To demand that we close ranks in the service of the collective good?

I sure hope so. | DL