Columns

Codger’s column: Gathering

Codger and Crone have been stepping out lately, which means shouting through masks to trusted friends scattered almost out of earshot on decks and backyard lawns about the only current topic — is this social distancing saving our lives, buying us time or leading us into a world we can’t imagine?

This is clearly a tiresome way to live. If you have children or disabilities it’s particularly difficult. Blaming young people for crowding bars and beaches only means you don’t remember hormones. Magical thinking helps: If you can make yourself believe that 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless” despite a roughly 5% U.S. death rate you will be immune, though you might fail arithmetic.

The biggest gathering that Codger and Crone attended drew seven people ranging in age from late 40s to mid 80s. It was fun, outdoors on a quiet mid-Island street. It was almost a normal social occasion except for its slightly outlaw nature; there was risk in the evening air.

Would the slight wind disperse all droplets? Were we too many, a tipping point? And was there a tippling point where alcohol made us too relaxed about distance?

There was also the sense that arriving in masks signaled our resistance to allowing all our American dreams to fall apart at the seams.

That night, Codger had his own dream. President Trump had fallen ill with COVID-19 and from his bed declared a national prayer vigil for himself. There would be candlelit parades in every city, marchers shoulder to shoulder and unmasked. Masks would muffle prayers, he said.

In the dream, there were bystanders wearing masks who were accused of belonging to the revolutionary party and of trying to interrupt the upward flow of prayers. They were attacked by marchers who tried to rip off their masks. They fought back.

Codger awoke then, thinking that history would mark the moment as the start of the second American Civil War.

He recounted the dream at the next gathering, outdoors at poolside. At each seat were individual dishes of nuts and pickles the hosts had never touched. Codger’s dream was questioned; it sounded too much like something he had concocted as a conversation starter. Too bad it was really a dream, proof that there was no escape, even in sleep.

The next day, Codger went on a reading spree, three whole chapters to finish the fifth and final book of the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series he had been reading on FaceTime to Cricket, his 8-year-old grandson. The teenaged demigods saved civilization and their immortal parents, the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, by crushing Kronos, the Titan who had returned from the dead.

Codger was shocked at how Kronos’ whiny, vicious nature and his cruelty toward his sons (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades) reminded him of Trump. Yet Kronos was more than 3,000 years old, and the series was completed more than a dozen years ago.

There’s no escape, even in escape fiction.

Codger mentioned this in a thank-you email to one of the hosts, and he was advised to binge watch “The West Wing,” a political fantasy that would make him feel better. Out of courtesy, he said he would but he remembered that the characters on the show were always walking as they talked over each other. Codger had lost the thread of conversation and bailed.

He mentioned this at breakfast the next day with his best and most aged friend on the Island, Crock. Codger and Crock were outdoors, 8 feet apart and masked while not eating, feeling appropriate.

Crock had given up on the TV series years ago, although he thought the actors and the sensibilities were fine. He was deeply disappointed in the Democratic Party, which he thought was more interested in righteous preening and internal conflict than in winning, a Republican obsession.

Codger mentioned this at cocktails the next evening with Crone and two neighbors. They were not only separated by enough deck space to play pickleball, but each couple had brought their own drinks to cut down further on possible contact.

Codger and Crone were drinking beer out of bottles. Their neighbors, the hosts, were drinking wine and beer out of glasses. They all agreed this was life-sucking and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t last for a long time. They needed to do better than “The West Wing,” or even “House of Cards,” shows that ultimately glamorized the political process. But do what?

Codger answered predictably, “Vote, mask up, vote, keep your distance, vote, wash your hands, vote.”

“And celebrate each other,” said Crone, “carefully in small groups.”

“We can’t let ourselves be isolated and divided,” said Codger. “Someday this will be over and we have to live long enough to repair and rebuild the country together.”