We’re beginning to see glimmerings of that elusive light at the end of the tunnel. Biden’s rescue package got passed, the vaccines are trickling down to more and more age groups and risk categories, and we can just barely foresee the day when we’ll be able to get together over dinner indoors, or see the grandkids again, or travel beyond the end of the block. And maybe even hug each other.
But will we have any idea how to do any of it?
My wife and I, having been cooped up together for over a year, are definitely victims of what one might call Post-Pandemic Derangement Syndrome, or PPDS. Its primary symptoms are mild to severe agoraphobia, a tendency to reach for a mask when approached by another human being, general social awkwardness, and newfound awareness of how truly awful we look on a daily basis, having been informed of this through innumerable Zoom meetings and FaceTime calls. Our speech has taken on that halting, are-you-going-to-talk-now stutter of online communication, and even simple sentences seem harder to construct.
Even simple sentences seem harder to construct. Did I do that right?
To these symptoms you can add, at least in my case, extreme misanthropy. I’m irritable with friends who exhibit PPDS. I’m irrationally angry at the crowds on Florida beaches, and at the crowds at televised PGA events (again in Florida) yelling, again, after months of blessed near-silence, “in the hole!”; and at crowds in general, and maskless ones in particular, for whom I have an all-purpose epithet —“idiots!” — at the ready. I even wrote a blog post complaining about how insensitively people who’ve had the vaccine were behaving toward us poor schlubs who haven’t. Rather petty of me, really. Chalk it up to PPDS.
No, we haven’t been vaccinated yet, and are beginning to feel like truants as the first-dose rate in most states creeps above 20%. It’s not for want of trying, but we’ve been in — yes — Florida, where getting a vaccination appointment is like an protracted game of geriatric Fortnite. Some codger in Naples who got online at 5 am and is willing to drive to a Publix in Orlando always beats me to it.
We fear we’re going to fall behind socially, as more and more friends get vaccinated and begin to plot group dinners and maybe even cocktail parties, and there we’ll be, still at home recovering from our second dose, quivering with chills and re-watching season two of “The Mandalorian.”
Aggressive post-inoculation plan-making is itself another symptom of PPDS, the desire to somehow offset an entire year of isolation and general horribleness with weeks of back-to-back lunch dates, parties, serial vacations, and season tickets for college football — the whole Roaring Twenties reboot — forgetting the ancient wisdom that before one can return to running, one must first learn to walk again.
I dimly recall that when we used to get together with friends, some of them, in addition to a hug, would give you a big, beautiful kiss right on the mouth, no messing around. This was not limited to women. Will we do that again, and if so should I approach it with my former pleasurable anticipation or my newly-learned dread of infection vectors?
My wife and I sit around at our nightly dinner-for-two and reminisce, PPDS-style, about the wonderful restaurants we used to go to, and the wonderful trips we used to take. How does one behave on commercial aircraft these days? We have no idea. Do they serve drinks anymore? Water? Food of any kind? Could we conceivably go to the lavatory? How often do they really disinfect the plane? What if some passengers refuse to keep their masks on?
We’re way behind on various medical appointments, haven’t had our teeth cleaned in over a year, have gotten testy over how each of us cuts the other’s hair. We both need colonoscopies, which are even more unimaginable than ever.
When will all the plexiglass come down? And where will it all go? Just stack it up in the back room for the next time? Will we ever get on a New York City subway again?
That these questions seem both urgent and unanswerable to us is a further symptom of PPDS, but maybe it will wane with time. Maybe we’ll come to look back on this like a bad dream we once had, and laugh at how we trained ourselves to focus on a camera lens rather than on someone else’s eyes in the midst of a casual conversation. Let’s hope so.
Meanwhile, if there’s a booster shot for PPDS, sign me up.