A brilliant sunset. I’m on the porch. My neighbors are on their porch. We can’t see each other. I am eavesdropping because I am a semi-professional eavesdropper.
The people are talking and sipping. I hear the sound of ice clinking in glasses, and I overhear average people making conversation.
And there is a baby cooing.
An older man’s voice says to the baby, “Wook at Gwanddaddy’s wittle gull. Hey! You’ve got Granddaddy’s nose!”
The voice that belongs to his wife answers, “Give back Granddaddy’s nose, pwecious wittle gull.”
“Who’s Granddaddy’s wittle baby gull?”
“Jenna! Come outside, quick! She’s got Granddaddy’s nose!”
Yes. There’s a lot to be excited about at the neighbor’s house tonight.
For me, one of the hardest things about the quarantine was the lack of conversation. I miss it. I think I could endure anything if I had enough chit-chat. But without it my mind starts to worry and I work myself into a frenzy.
In the past I’ve interviewed old men who spent their youth in World War II foxholes. Men who didn’t speak about the war until they were in their eighties.
Something they said was that during lulls between fighting, it was the gentle art of conversation that kept them sane.
One man told me that infantrymen would have conversations lasting six or seven hours sometimes. Maybe longer. Until their voices gave out. Until they couldn’t speak the next day.
They would talk about how they missed their hometowns, about their best girls, their kid brothers, their favorite dogs, their childhood sweethearts, their mother’s cooking.
They talked to keep from losing it. They laughed to keep from being afraid.
My neighbor’s voice: “Who’s Granddaddy’s wittle gull? Are you Paw Paw’s wittle baby gull?
I hear them laugh.
I lean my head backward and close my eyes. I could listen to their happy cadence all night. Nobody is talking about a virus, national death tolls, or current events. And suddenly I’m feeling myself worrying less.
“Uh-oh, George. I think your granddaughter’s going potty. She’s making a face.”
“She is? Well, we can’t have that. Let’s check my wittle gull’s big ole diaper…”
Gagging, followed by coughing.
“We’re gonna need a garden hose,” he says.
You know what else I miss? Walking around in public. It’s not the physical act of walking I miss, it’s the laid back feeling I used to have when in public. I didn’t have to worry about the stuff I do now.
I didn’t worry about bacteria-infected door handles. I wasn’t aware of contaminated air, or viral transmissions from unprotected handshakes. I wasn’t keeping my distance from others. I wasn’t disinfecting my UPS parcel with bleach.
I also miss going to the local gas station where I would always buy a paper, maybe have a conversation with the clerk, or buy a scratch-off lottery ticket.
But you can’t do those things today. Our clerks wear hazmat suits. And I don’t recommend buying scratch-off tickets because you have to use coins to do your scratching. And there is a national coin shortage.
Haven’t you heard? We have no coins. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says that the national coin shortage is due to the partial closure of the economy, because of the coronavirus, which has led to—
Wait a second. There I go again. Worrying about stuff. I’m as bad as anyone. Look at me. Here we are having a perfectly good time and I had to start talking about the U.S. Federal Reserve.
I’m sorry. Believe me. I am. I guess I’ve just been cooped up too long.
I hear more laughter. These people are laugh-aholics.
Then Granddaddy says, “Hot awmighty, I’ve never seen anything poop this much. Would you look at this?”
“Give her to me, George, you act like you’ve never seen a diaper before.”
“Diaper? I can’t see any diaper. It’s buried under a pile of—”
Yesterday I saw an old friend in the drive-thru line at a fast-food joint. We were both picking up supper. I haven’t seen him in maybe 15 years. It was so bizarre, running into him like that.
He was wearing a mask, I was wearing a mask. We were both in our vehicles. It was awkward when we both jumped out of our cars in the middle of a drive-thru lane.
It was even more weird because we had to stand far apart. He has an elderly father at home. I have an elderly mother-in-law.
He said, “I really wish I could give you a hug, man.”
“Same here,” I said.
And that was it. We didn’t touch elbows. No fist bumps. We simply crawled back into our cars. A couple of guys navigating through a pandemic-ridden world.
If this would have happened a year ago, we might have shaken hands, embraced, told a few stories, laughed, and caught up.
But that didn’t happen. And sometimes it all starts to worry me. What happens from here? Where do we go after this? What comes—
Oh, Lord. I’m doing it again.
You know what? I’m going to close my eyes one more time and listen to my neighbors talk.
“Look at her! She’s got Granddaddy’s nose again! You have my nose, wittle gull!”
“Yay! Baby has Gwandaddy’s nose!”
“Hurry, where’s that camera?”
“She’s got Granddaddy’s nose in both hands!”
“Did you take the picture?”
The voices of cheerfulness fill the night for a brief moment. The sounds are like warm water on an iced-over windshield. It’s heaven I tell you. I was going to try to come up with a clever closing line tonight. But I don’t care about closing lines.
Not when Granddaddy’s wittle gull has his nose.