“These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine, 1777.
“Get outta my way! That’s my pack of toilet paper!” – contemporary American, 2020.
OK, maybe that’s too hard on the public, but hey, I’m just trying to get ahead of the curve. The coronavirus has us all in its scary little fists, making us recoil from handshakes, hugs and close encounters in the aisles of Target.
So far, I have to admit, the average American – and Orange Countian – is taking this pandemic with appropriate good humor and civic mindedness. Most folks are practicing social distancing, more or less, and you can certainly see the effects of the “stay at home” edicts on freeways and parking lots.
Of course, part of that level of compliance comes from having no alternative. Most places of private or public business are shuttered and millions have been thrown out of work or school as we come to grips with the virus.
Our own experience has been pretty mellow. While most of the stores we visit are not fully stocked yet, there’s enough to get you through another week. Supermarkets are offering special hours for seniors and the vulnerable. Blue plastic tape on the floor marks off the proper distancing between customers. We try our best to undergo all these slight inconveniences and not recoil a bit when the fellow in front of us in line moves in a foot or two closer.
Certainly, not everyone is with the program, especially young people. Perhaps believing themselves to be invulnerable – and which teenager and young adult does not? – they are gathering at beaches, huddling at the parks and in general offering a middle figure gesture (symbolically, of course) to the stodgy old health rules imposed by a bunch of old fogies.
There’s even a name for it: “virus rebels.” If they persist in this madness, they may get another name that rhymes with “Fred.”
What’s uppermost in my mind right now is just how long the vast majority of Americans will smile and comply through all the distancing, hand-washing, home-staying, bank account-draining and other aspects of life in this plague year?
President Donald Trump says he wants the nation “up and running” by Easter, which sounds both enticing and wildly optimistic. I do understand the impulse, though. Americans are wonderful, hard-working, open-hearted people, but we are a little short on patience. We want what we want when we want it.
I personally want a cure and a vaccine available in gummy fruit flavor form by opening day of baseball season, which should start by May 1. Those drugs will be free and sold in fully-stocked stores or delivered to our homes by Tina Fey or Aaron Rodgers.
I want to be able to get out and do whatever I want. I want to stand right next to you. I want the male-default on hand-washing, which is only when your hands are so dirty your wife notices it and insists.
But I also wish I was taller, rainwater was root beer and I could fly. That’s all part of wishful thinking, and I suspect that after a few weeks that impulse will take greater hold on the general public. And that could end up erasing the real – but so far invisible – gains we’ve made.
Stick with it, my friends. You’ll be glad you did, or you’ll be something else.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on Wednesdays. And yes, he washed his hands before typing this.