Chuck's World | Warning: Column may contain salty language

Series: Coronavirus | Story 73

Last updated 5/1/2020 at 11:19am

Google knows what I'm up to. This shouldn't be a surprise, although I'm always surprised.

Of course, any search engine worth its salt will recognize patterns, including (and maybe particularly) if one is looking up the meaning of idioms, such as "worth its salt."

I just looked that up, in fact, although I understood the meaning well enough. Salt represented value, once, before it was readily available. Without salt, armies couldn't preserve food and thus travel long distances; the word "salary" derives from an allowance given to Roman soldiers to buy salt. Salt was hard to find.

Like hand sanitizer. We may have a new idiom for the 21st century.

I was looking up the phrase "old hat," by the way, words that rolled off my fingers without much forethought. It means what you think it means, something that's familiar or cliché or hackneyed, like a well-worn hat.

Sometimes I just need to double-check.

This should be old hat to me. That's all I was trying to say. Google easily assessed my mission. It's always funny and a little creepy to learn that a line of code has figured us out.

I should be used to isolating at home, that's all. I've been doing it for 30 years. It should be old hat.

It doesn't feel that way, and I haven't quite figured it out.

For one thing, and it's the most obvious thing, I now have company. My friends are all over the place, from the recently retired to musicians to millennial gig workers, but I've always been the pacesetter.

I came home to work when I was 30 and never went back, and I've got a lot of old hats.

Sourdough starter? Yawn. I've nurtured half a dozen over the years. I've been baking bread a couple of times a week for 25 years.

If you're suddenly stuck at home, looking around for diversions, I've been there, too. Puzzles, games, learning new languages, binge-watching ridiculous seasons of dumb shows just because – I've done all of this, and more.

Video conferencing? Check. Trying to get work done while supervising young children? Check. Odd choices revolving around personal grooming? Optional showers? Eating a lot of tuna because you have a lot of tuna and you don't want to go shopping?

I could tell you stories.

I have decades of tricks and techniques, worth their weight in sanitizer, but that's not what we're talking about now. This is new. You can trust me on this.

For one thing, it's noisier. My wife has been teaching her university classes online, and it's alarming to hear the sound of 30 unmuted college students coming from our living room as I drift in and out of the kitchen, scrounging for tuna.

If I don't remember to close the door, I make intermittent cameos in the background. Here's hoping I remember pants.

Oh, and speaking of? I've stopped wearing them. My carefully crafted and maintained routine of getting dressed every day, even while working at home, has devolved since the COVID-19 outbreak. I went outside the other day to empty the trash while wearing pajamas, with apparently no energy for shame.

My hair has reached a length not seen since the mid-1980s, and believe me when I say my 1970s version was not a good look.

I haven't baked in weeks, because I use Instagram. I see your perfect loaves of bread. I don't feel like playing anymore; you guys go on without me.

Instead, I get up most mornings and make a bunch of flour tortillas, even more basic and foolproof than bread. I take an unusual amount of pride in my tortillas, which is probably not a healthy thing. It's like wanting credit for combing my hair.

Also, I have not been combing my hair.

My usual quick glances at social media have turned into hours of scrolling sessions, immersing myself in the daily lives of people I last saw in 1977. I watch short videos of humans doing remarkably dumb things.

(Humans: if your plans for the day involve drinking beer and either swinging on a rope, jumping off a roof, or having fun with trampolines, save the beer for the end.)

My usual reluctance to chat online with strangers has turned into marathon email discussions about big issues. I spent a delightful back-and-forth with an Edmonds reader a couple of weeks ago discussing the Monkees and their legacy, and at the moment I was pretty sure that was the only thing keeping me sane.

I feel completely useless, of course. I have friends and relatives on the front lines in the health-care world. I know plenty who have been deemed essential workers, forced by circumstances and duty to risk their lives so that we don't all end up living in a tuna dystopia.

And other than a few grocery store workers and pharmacists, peering warily at me from behind plastic shields and masked faces, the last time I saw people was six weeks ago. One of them has since died from COVID-19. There are worse things than boredom.

There are worse things than comfy clothes and not being able to get an Amazon order in four hours. I'm unnerved by circumstances; so are you. We're going to get through this. We're going to be OK.

Although this is coming from a guy who wears pajamas all day long, so take it with a grain of salt.

There you go, Google. You get me.


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