As I write this, the coronavirus is still very much on the offensive. I have no idea what its status will be by the time you read this. Hopefully gone, kaput, finito. Given its insidious nature, however, I suspect that even in retreat COVID-19 will be lingering around, like that clueless last guest who doesn’t know when the party’s over.
Is it proper, then, to be writing a humor column during this decidedly unfunny time? Make no mistake—I regard this repulsive little germ as a Grade A, government-certified Bad Thing, right up there with John Philip Sousa’s Four Marches for Regimental Drums and Trumpets. Talk about praying for something to end. …
And yet … and yet … as a humor writer I can’t help but notice things that are, if not laugh-out-loud funny, at least mildly amusing. I hope you will indulge me.
First of all, let’s talk about the phrase “global pandemic.” To experience it is painful enough, but for Toastmasters, who have been known to weep at a blatant redundancy, the wording is downright torturous. The prefix “pan” means “all, everything, everywhere, all over the world.” The only way “global pandemic” would be grammatically correct is if it appeared in a publication that was sent from somewhere in outer space, which I doubt. The postage would be astronomical.
Another interesting thing about times like these are the new phrases that enter the vernacular, like “social distancing.” I’ve been practicing that for years, only I called it “seeing someone I can’t stand and walking the other way.” Or the phrase “flattening the curve.” The first time I heard it, I thought it had something to do with weight loss. Then, of course, someone came up with a cocktail called the “quarantini.” Drink one and being stuck at home doesn’t seem so bad. Drink two and you couldn’t leave home if you wanted to.
Musicians are getting in on the act as well. There’s a piano piece circulating about, Coronavirus Etude, arranged by one Jeff DePaoli, where certain passages are to be played col Purello, Cloroxissimo, and senza infezione (without a pathogen). I played it. It probably would have sounded better if I’d taken off my gloves.
My car talks to me, someetimes with words, sometimes with symbols, telling me—me, the driver—how to drive.
I also can’t help thinking about the agoraphobes of the world. Having a touch of it myself, I can tell you that home confinement is not a wholly unattractive proposition. We prefer to stay home. We believe it’s the only truly safe place to be. Medical experts call this an irrational fear; now they’re calling it officially recommended public health protocol. I can’t describe the odd feeling of having your neurosis endorsed by the World Health Organization. I suppose the same is true for people afflicted with obsessive hand washing. They must be feeling pretty superior to all us neophytes who are just beginning the practice.
And, of course, you just know that at this very moment there are at least 200 Hollywood producers developing natural disaster movies about the pandemic. Don’t miss the blockbuster film of the year: RAGIN’ CONTAGION! The Day the World Stood Together—Six Feet Apart. Trust me, it’s coming.
What I really wonder, though, is how life might be different when this crisis is over. What have we learned? How might we behave differently? I’m sure you have your thoughts. These are mine: Those insufferable people who invade your personal space will have been conditioned by social distancing to stay out of your face. We will have become so used to video conferencing from home that casual business attire will now mean professional clothing from the waist up and whatever you wore to bed the night before from the waist down. Having so much free time, we will reflect on our lives and come to greater self-awareness. I, for one, am hoping I will have an epiphany and find out why I’m so afraid of shopping carts. There will be an enormous surge in the world’s birth rate exactly nine months from now. We will have stockpiled enough hand sanitizer to clean the men’s room after the World Cup. We will never take toilet paper for granted again. And, as a female friend observed, we will know what color everybody’s hair really is. I thought that was hilarious. My wife, not so much.
So, I hope this little attempt at levity has brought a ray of sunshine into your day. If not, if you’re furious that I would find anything funny about this miserable state of affairs, I’m sorry … but I’m not afraid—because you can’t come out of your house to get me.
John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer and musician living in Fayetteville, New York.