The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)

Evolution

Evolution:  Any process of formation or growth; development.

I never cared much about getting married.   And this was long before I realized I was gay.  A time that, I might add, was long after many of my friends and relatives realized that I was not heterosexual.  What can I say?  Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on to things, to evolve.  But when I finally did for the first time, back in 1979, the very last thing I EVER imagined or even considered, or even dreamed I wanted, was the right for same sex couples to get married.

Maybe it’s because my parents were divorced and never seemed particularly happily married.  Who wanted to be like them, and, incidentally, many of their friends?  Or maybe it’s because it seemed so constricting and square and I so desperately wanted to be hip and cool and superior – or at least get out of Queens.  I’m old enough where I can’t quite recall.

Then as the years progressed and I lived through two heartbreaking decades of AIDS related deaths of some of my best friends, colleagues and peers — young gay men just like me but unlike me because they had not lucked out and won the survival lottery — it felt, and actually still sort of feels trivial.  Marriage?  Uh, how about the Reagan government showing some interest in not burying any more of my brothers, friends and loved ones if they can manage the task in between deregulating the economy for the rich and super rich, if that’s not too much trouble?  If I still sound bitter, well, uh, yeah, maybe I am – just a little.  Though I am working on it.

Of course, the eighties are over (aren’t they?) and I’ve been in a relationship/domestic partnership/common law something or other for the last 25 years.  And now that as a society we’ve moved past the deregulating making money for the super rich and it’s part of our history (oh, we haven’t and it isn’t?) –- gay marriage sorta/kinda feels (and I’m just speaking for me) well, besides the point.  Like getting permission from your 90-year-old mother to have a sleepover you’ve been having for the past two and a half decades that she actually knew about in the first place.

I take a lot of crap from my gay and straight friends for this – particularly the many who are in couples and are either married or banging the doors down to do so. I don’t get it.  I mean, I do get it, sort of.  But after all this time, I resent someone telling me that my relationship is now okay and acceptable and, if I try real hard and devote a lot of time and energy could even be legal one day.  Really??  Well, screw you (while I screw who I want) and the pulpit you rose rode in on.  In short, don’t do me any favors.

But — and I’m not saying I’m heading to the altar any time soon (so don’t ask and I won’t tell!!) –-

I’m evolving.

Well, I mean if Homer is available to officiate…

And the man who is responsible is The Evolver in Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.  A man I never met and has never met my partner and is not even the person I voted for in the Democratic primary when he was first running for president.  Well, as Katie Morosky says in “The Way We Were” about her beloved Franklin Roosevelt, the president she also at first didn’t campaign for– “some people work out better than we think.”  (Note: KM is one of my favorite movie characters).

I suspect Pres. Obama will go down in history as the person who mainstreamed the legal evolution of marriage equality and helped make it as much of an non-issue as whether the sequels to “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” will make money.  In all three cases it’s not if it will occur but how much and to how many.

As for gay marriage – he certainly mainstreamed/evolved it for me.  When I heard Wednesday morning that he was announcing his support I thought it was important for those who wanted it even if it seemed a bit politically facile and didn’t feel much in terms of my own life personally.  But upon actually hearing his words live on tape/digital -– I actually — teared up.

A tissue count normally reserved only for Sophie’s Choice

Know that I HATE admitting that.  Almost as much as I hate admitting I laugh out loud at reruns of “The Nanny,” a show I couldn’t bear when it first aired in the early 1990s, or the fact that I’m the one who never really liked “Pulp Fiction,” “Waiting for Guffman” “Vertigo” “Desperate Housewives” or “The Good Wife.” Plus I refused to see “Jaws”  (because I like body surfing in the ocean) and gave the little seen 1981 movie “Four Friends” a rave review while I was a movie critic at Variety and STILL think it’s a fine, touching movie despite all other reaction to the contrary.  But there, now I’ve said them all.  So hate me if you must.

Oy that hair! those clothes!

Of course, re-watching or re-reviewing any of these I could change my mind but it’s not likely.  Unlike many in the public square, I almost never flip flop.  On anything.  I feel really deeply about what I think and seldom change my mind.  Except – when I’m evolving or absolutely forced to (another line from “The WWW” but who’s counting — 2).

How the hell does Obama do this to people???  That’s what I’d like to know, even more than what gifts I’d be getting if I were to consent to marriage and my partner would actually have me after all my diatribes against it.   Aren’t I too old to register?  Shouldn’t the gift money go to charity at this point?  Since I don’t need any household items would it be too unsavory to ask well-meaning friends to contribute to a fund that would finance a belated honeymoon touring Italy for a month before I’m too old to travel from town to town in awe?  Suddenly, there are questions (too many questions), which makes me sorry that the president even went there with this whole thing.

Table for two, please.

Except – I’m not.   And I think I know why.

In no time in our history have gay people truly had the most powerful person in the world on our side without equivocation.  Never.  Metaphorically, it’s like a young teenager knowing the smartest, most powerful and most popular kid in school has your back.  Yes, I know the goal is to stand up and save yourself and yes I know that no one can prevent bad things from happening to good people all the time.  But — it still feels good to be accepted, and yes, loved, unconditionally.   For all of us in the LGBT community, to have a US president do that while declaring that our love for our mates is no different than anyone else’s and shouldn’t be treated as such – trust me, that is true evolution.

Is the president, or even this declaration, perfect  — no.  But neither are “The Hungers Games” (don’t get me started) or “The Avengers.” Yet they are embraced as a part of contemporary American culture – no matter how much one does or doesn’t feel about them.

To deny that is to deny reality.

Which is really what the fight has always been about anyway.  You don’t have to like or even go see either movie.  But you can’t pretend that they’re not there.

As for evolution, Rachel Maddow put it better than me on the first segment of her Wednesday (May 8) show as she traced the evolution of presidents concerning marriage equality and noted that it was important to understand both the personal and political history of our past presidents of the last 30 years in order to understand our present one.

Yes, Rachel is gay, but her reportage is fact-based and as unbiased as it gets.   Certainly a lot less biased than anything you’d find sitting in your local chair.

Click for full video

The second (and not yet final) example of evolution would be a Washington Post article that ran the other day detailing the prep school escapades (some would call it bullying but that’s not for me to say) of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Governor did issue a statement through his staff that he didn’t recall ANY of said escapades in the article and then went on to admit that though he may have participated in a lot of “pranks and hijinks” in school “if anybody was hurt or offended he was sorry.”  Still, he added he was “not going to be too concerned about the item” and that he grew up in a tolerant environment.  Some might call that last statement the beginning of an evolution while others (not naming any chairs here) might see it as a smug, misstatement of fact.   Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Yet the last word on Evolution needs to come from the classic film “Inherit The Wind,” where two lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of literally teaching EVOLUTION (the ape to human kind) in the public schools.  In this particular moment, the conservative lawyer (played by Frederic March) questions why he and more progressive attorney (Spencer Tracy) can no longer agree to disagree and must publicly come to blows in court.

Matthew Harrison Brady (March): Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?

Henry Drummond (Tracy): All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.

Amen, Hallelujah or well-said.  You choose.  All three are equally valid.