Let’s face it: any emotions that might be stirred by the sight of Gisele Bündchen meditating in front of a waterfall, or Arnold Schwarzenegger feeding carrots to his donkey, or Ellen DeGeneres doing acres of jigsaw puzzles, are probably worthwhile—up to a point. We watch, amused or aghast, and next thing you know a few more minutes have gone by. Or weeks. Could this actually be sustainable?
Until recently, the closest thing to a communal quarantine that I experienced was during the blizzard of ’78, which dropped 27 inches of snow on the northeastern United States, specifically on the tiny, poorly constructed house I was living in, post-college, with two friends in a suburb of Boston. (O.K., Cambridge. But save your hostility—none of us went to Harvard.) Given the attendant high winds, the flimsy structure we called “home” should have come down with the first tentative flurries, but it didn’t, and the three of us quickly realized that we were likely to be housebound for some time.
What to do? We needed essential supplies, and fast: alcohol and a decent board game. (We already had English muffins and liverwurst spread, so we were set for food.) But, alas, too many other frenzied, wild-eyed foragers had the same idea. The local shelves had been picked clean, and we were soon shivering back in our apartment, having secured only a bottle of triple sec and a game called Nuclear War. The next few days were spent sipping the cloying liqueur, rolling dice, and turning over cards that said things like “40 Million Annihilated. Go Back Two Spaces.” Yet the hours somehow passed, the city started to move again, and we were able to venture outside, blinking, not yet having turned into Donner Party re-enactors.
Today, la vie en quarantaine is a whole lot longer, but a whole lot easier. A tap at the keyboard can give you enough teacup-piglet footage, or grazing sheep, to while away a morning. And the open-endedness of the current existential time frame—it’s as if we’ve all booked one-way rather than round-trip—means that long-term undertakings make sense.
The local shelves had been picked clean, and we were soon shivering back in our apartment, having secured only a bottle of triple sec and a game called Nuclear War.
So, we can learn—to speak Italian, to needlepoint, to bake. (I might just take up the banjolele, as Bertie Wooster did, unless I encounter some Jeeves-like disapproval at HQ. And, yes, the instrument is available on Amazon.) Or we can discover the old-school joy of collecting stamps, which, according to The Guardian, millennials have romanticized and thrown themselves into, even before the coronavirus struck and gave them plenty of time to scrutinize wee perforation gauges. (Has there been a run on tweezers?)
If constructing makeshift Rube Goldberg machines for fun, or building fairy houses, as people I know claim to be doing, becomes too much, just roll out the weighted Hula-Hoop for a quick session.
And if all else fails, list-form suggestions are everywhere. From USA Today: “5. Write poetry. Perhaps you can craft a haiku for Mother’s Day, or something without a specific structure. Just try it!” I just might!
No one home when I
Tried calling for Mother’s Day
What’s that all about?
Still, there are signs of trouble. During a recent YouTube session, I found myself wondering whether there shouldn’t be more to even the quarantined life than watching marble races. Oh, you haven’t? The Marbula One speedways. Colored glass balls roll down a series of open tubes, and you cheer them on. That’s it. Some 11 million hits notwithstanding, it’s enough to make you reach for the triple sec.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail