Magazine May 4, 2020, Issue

Covid Spring

Spring flowers bloom in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., April 2, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Our million little renaissances

Nookie is back, have you heard? Death may be stalking the land, but Cupid is on the move in the bedroom. Charlottesville, Va., resident Denise, no last name given, informs the New York Post that she and her husband hadn’t had sex for more than two years. She cited the stresses attendant on having three teenage boys, disjointed work schedules, and the taedium vitae of nonstop joint strategic household management. Denise and Hubby’s bedsprings were not getting much of a workout until “the lockdown of lust started on March 20,” the Post tells us. Oh, behave. Now Denise reports her bedroom’s temperature has gone from tepid to flaming: “We’ve rebuilt our marriage to a whole other level because of the quarantine.”

The Post story is a little light on data, although it cites a March 30 YouGov poll that says 13 percent of adults report more lovemaking since the lockdown began. Still, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Shuttling kids to their tuba lessons, work projects that bleed into the evening, spreadsheets getting more attention than bedsheets . . . ordinary career-and-family-centric life can be pretty tough on romance. Today our lives have slowed down. We’re spending more time with our spouses and our families. As for our single friends, the ground has shifted. My bachelor pal Don Juan (not his real name), whose second-favorite pastime it is to irritate me with his kid-meets-candy-shop tales of conquering the lady landscape via the dating apps, tells me that the (sad, pathetic) thing now among singletons is “virtual dating” via FaceTime or whatnot. That sounds about as satisfying as communicating via Pony Express. Who’s got the upper hand now, smug singles? The coronavirus may or may not create a baby boom, what with economic uncertainty and all, but it sure seems likely to lead to a marriage boom. No one can be relishing the prospect of going through the next crisis alone. Meanwhile, those of us who wisely tied our knots glance at each other over the dinner table, raise an eyebrow, and say, “Darling, Netflix and chill tonight?” It turns out marriage beats Tinder after all.

Denise, quoted above, credits another element with jump-starting her love life:

“One night, we started sipping on adult beverages and one thing led to another,” she told the Post. Alcoholic-beverage sales shot up 55 percent in the third week of March compared with the previous year, according to a Nielsen survey, with jumbo packs of beer seeing a 90 percent sales spike. Beverage sales in restaurants and bars collapsed, of course, so it’s hard to say whether people are drinking more, but we’re certainly doing more of our imbibing at home, which probably helps keep us out of trouble. Devising my own cocktails is a new skill I’m happily picking up. Toilet paper may be scarce but I had no problem locating Angostura bitters in our “essential” liquor store. Okay, you have to phone ahead, and a guy in hazmat getup brings your purchase out to your car, but the national liquor-supply system is functioning.

Another old-new habit people are relearning is playing games around a table. Last Thursday I dealt out a few hands of the card game I Doubt It for the first time since about 1979, and rarely has the family had so much fun together. My older daughter, eleven, burst into giggles the first time she had to bluff, indicating poor prospects in the fields of used-car sales and politics but confirming that she is just as delightfully honest a soul as we suspected. Item: “The nation’s largest puzzle distributor, Puzzle Warehouse, said its business is up 2000 percent compared to last year,” reports CBS News Boston. Jigsaw puzzles! My family has gone through three of them in the past few weeks. These are the big mamas, thousand-piecers. How long has it been since anyone had the time or patience to complete a huge, complicated jigsaw puzzle? In our family, at least, we’re doing more kinds of things together than ever. And we’re laughing instead of trembling. Tonight we’re going to get out the Jenga (searches for which are up 14,888 percent on Amazon, according to Women’s Wear Daily).

And what are we munching while we rediscover the worth of non-electronic entertainment? The bounty of our very own oven. Who knew that mixing up the ingredients for a succulent loaf of bread could be done in a couple of minutes? Then you just cover the bowl with a cloth and leave it out overnight. In the morning, pop it in the oven and you’ve got yourself a fantastic treat, as tasty as the product of the finest boulanger in Paris, that cost you pennies. Item: “Home baking is on the rise due to coronavirus lockdowns,” reports The Economist. Google searches for flour have tripled in recent months. Instagram posts tagged “#homebake” are up 40 percent.

To protect this precious material against interlopers, naturally, we’re all buying more guns. Item: “Coronavirus triggers massive spike in firearms and ammunition sales” (FoxNews.com). A curious statistic: As recently as the 1990s, far more gun owners said they were armed for the purpose of hunting than said they were for self-protection. Today it’s the reverse. And we all know how people tend to vote once they’ve bought firearms for self-defense, don’t we? Item: “Gun Shops Can Sell Firearms from Parking Lots and Offer Drive-Thru Services During COVID-19 Pandemic: Justice Department” (Time magazine). Drive-through gun shops? Who says we can’t innovate in this country anymore?

Which reminds me of another wonderful covid innovation: Have you heard of these wonders known as single-use plastic bags? Massachusetts and San Francisco, among other states and municipalities, have wisely discarded the circa-three-months-ago conventional wisdom about the ecological superiority of loading up your groceries in reusable cloth tote bags, which are now recognized as the germ bombs they are, and have switched back to cheap, hygienic, one-use-only plastic bags. This time it’s the cloth bags that are being forbidden. Topsy-turvy! Turns out “Does not transmit lethal virus” is pretty good as a plastic-bag fan’s riposte to “Occasionally gets stuck in a tree branch.”

In Covid Spring, we’re making our own food, mixing our own drinks, cutting our own hair (my wife did mine admirably well, then bragged, “It looks like a real haircut!”), and defending our own homesteads. My Manhattan-reared straphanger kids are now sudden-onset homeschoolers, 21st-century Laura Ingalls Wilders in our little house on Long Island, albeit with some nifty technological updates. The kids can interact with their classmates and their teachers on Zoom, and far from having cabin fever they show no interest in going outdoors anyway. My older daughter says she actually prefers virtual school to the real thing: “I can bring a Fresca to class and no one knows,” she tells me. All savings on haircuts are being redirected to Fresca purchases, at least in the Smith household.

It’s not all good news these days, of course. Item, highly disturbing item: “Walmart Sees a Surge in Top Sales, Not Bottoms as America Sits Home in Its Underwear” (RedState). The pundits are asking whether the economy will ever recover; I’d like to know whether we’ll ever properly dress again. A worrisome new retronym — like “landline” or “analog clock” — has just emerged on Twitter: “hard pants” for what used to be known as “pants.” It turns out that the I Am Legend/Road Warrior model of what life would be like after a worldwide catastrophic event was pretty far off the mark. We don’t seem to be turning into roaming bands of marauders, and if we’re buying lots of weapons it isn’t to go out stealing gasoline from each other but only to defend our nightly round of Jenga. Still, you never get the catastrophe you planned for. Are we ready for the nightmare scenario of a post-covid America in which people carry on wearing pajama bottoms in public?

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Did the Times Print an Urban Legend?

This week, the Times brings us a story from Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. The headline is: "Texas Hospital Says Man, 30, Died After Attending a ‘Covid Party,’” and what we get is a story with one source. The story reveals itself in three paragraphs: A 30-year-old man who believed the coronavirus ... Read More
U.S.

Did the Times Print an Urban Legend?

This week, the Times brings us a story from Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. The headline is: "Texas Hospital Says Man, 30, Died After Attending a ‘Covid Party,’” and what we get is a story with one source. The story reveals itself in three paragraphs: A 30-year-old man who believed the coronavirus ... Read More
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The vandals in St. Louis have a new target: St. Louis. The American city began as a French settlement in Spanish Louisiana. The French fur traders who set up shop there named it for Louis IX, the sainted French king whose Christian zeal and personal integrity caused him to be regarded by his contemporaries and ... Read More

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