There’s nothing funny about a pandemic. The depressing, distressing news assaults us first thing in the morning, pummels us mercilessly via audio, video, and print updates throughout the day, and delivers a final sucker punch if we dare watch the eleven o’clock news before going to bed. Even our sleep is co-opted by dreams of the deadly virus.
But while the disease does not spread humour, some of the situations it has created do have a funny side. It’s important, and somewhat therapeutic, to maintain a sense of humour. It may not be the best medicine but it’s the only proven prescription we have. In that spirit, I offer the following:
History has taught us that pestilence is deadly but who knew it was so darn inconvenient. There are no sports, the news is repetitive, and the warming weather serves only to remind us of what we can’t do outside.
Desperation, born of boredom, motivates you to extract the trusty Monopoly game from the attic and move it to the kitchen table where your spouse attempts a series of real estate transactions so sleazy that they would disgust even Donald Trump, and the game is hastily returned to its usual location between the abandoned lava lamp and a Commodore 64 monitor.
Each week you to go to the grocery store to buy essentials, obeying the command that only one family member should make the trip. Once outside, you realize that you are a social pariah but take an inordinate amount of comfort in knowing that, for once, everyone else is too.
The shopping trips are planned with a degree of precision usually reserved for military maneuvers. Efficiency of time and movement are key. You sit in your car in the store parking lot reviewing your carefully mapped out strategy. You check your grocery list one last time. It has been deliberately drawn up by categories: dairy products, breakfast foods, meats and poultry, and so on. A detailed floor plan of the store has been memorized and destroyed, lest it fall into the hands of a competing shopper. You don your rubber gloves and improvised mask that was once a Boston Red Sox T-shirt and leave the safety of your vehicle. You enter the store, your glasses immediately steaming up from the breath that has no other escape route. You locate the carts and apply the disinfectant provided, completing the task with an attention to detail usually reserved for Simonizing the family car.
Half blind and breathing like Darth Vader, you exchange furtive glances with other masked shoppers and think you recognize someone, but hurry past him without speaking. The pandemic has necessitated a whole new social etiquette wherein it is suddenly your civic duty to avoid civility. Under the mask you can’t resist muttering, ‘Who was that masked man?’ as if it may have been the Lone Ranger.
You enter the cereal aisle, a place where you usually linger, carefully comparing the nutritional data listed in hieroglyphics on the side of each box. This time you grasp the first one you see and only later discover that it contains more sugar than a vat of cotton candy and has less nutritional value than the box it came in. You continue down the aisles totally focused on the task ahead, holding your breath when you pass another person. You hastily grab some bread, sandwich spread and COVID-19 chips. You are now in the home stretch. You make a beeline for the dairy section, grab ice cream, frozen yogurt and cottage cheese, even though you hate cottage cheese. You grab four two-litre containers of skimmed milk and head for the check-out where you know you will face a momentous decision: self-checkout or contact with an actual Homo sapiens. You usually avoid the automated system because you deeply believe it destroys jobs. You deeply, deeply, believe this. You see the line-up at the regular check-out and head for the self-check.
You key in the various items without incident until you see that the romaine lettuce has no code so you have to ask for help. As the helpful attendant reaches across and punches in the correct numbers you realize that you should have chosen the human option in the first place and that this was God’s way of punishing you for abandoning your principles to save yourself. You wonder how you would have fared in the trenches in WWI and emerge from the self-check full of self-loathing. You make it to the car, heave a muffled sigh of relief and head for home. Once there, your wife takes the bagged groceries from you at the door and wipes them down with soapy water.
You wash your hands and help put the groceries away. You suddenly feel heroic, a rush of pride washing over you. You are Indiana Jones, just back from battling snakes and Nazis in your quest for the lost ark. Your joy is short-lived as your wife informs you that you’ve purchased four two-litre containers of buttermilk instead of skimmed milk. You make a mental note to contact Scotsburn about their foolhardy decision to package both items in green containers. You finish and wash your hands again. Your wife washes her hands.
You proceed to the couch and curl up in the fetal position in front of the TV. When the Prime Minister emerges from his home each day at precisely 12:15 ADT, you picture an Alpine hiker in lederhosen popping out from an old Swiss cuckoo clock and wonder if the PM will favour us with some yodelling, in both official languages, when he reaches the mic. He doesn’t. Later in the day, you watch the provincial COVID-19 update. As a captive, you know it’s probably just some variant of Stockholm Syndrome, but suddenly you admire and trust Premier McNeil, and Dr. Strang appears to have a halo over his head.
You suddenly miss your kids and grandkids. Your daughter and her family live in southern California and your son and daughter-in-law in nearby Kentville, but they could both be living atop an Alp for all the difference it would make. You and your wife decide to drive past your son’s place and honk your horn. They wave back, smiling bravely from the window. You refer to it as a “drive-by tooting.”
You return home, make a ‘peanut butter sandwich,’ using the hotdog buns you grabbed instead of bread and the HP sauce you bought instead of peanut butter. You wash it down with a tall glass of cold buttermilk and go to bed.
Written by Jim Prime (’69)