Those were the days, before corona

“You don’t know what you’ve got – especially the mundane stuff – till it’s gone.”

COVID-19 cartoon (photo credit: HERB KEINON)
COVID-19 cartoon
(photo credit: HERB KEINON)
‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell in her 1970 classic “Big Yellow Taxi.”
In these days of coronavirus, it seems as if truer words have never been warbled. I would just add a small addendum: “You don’t know what you’ve got – especially the mundane stuff – till it’s gone.”

The mundane stuff. All those small, everyday things – like buying a falafel, picking up your grandchildren from daycare, purchasing a new pair of socks – are now longed-for activities of what suddenly seems a carefree, bygone age.

Abruptly, I’ve found myself missing things I never dreamed I would miss. Ever. Until, of course, they’re gone.
Like, for instance, hot weather.

I’m a fan of brisk, even cold weather. I like the windows closed, the covers heavy, and the rain pitter-pattering on the window. My father used to always say that his spirits rise commensurate with the sun. Not me. I’m the opposite. When the hot Mediterranean sun here rises in the spring and summer, my spirits don’t rise, they melt.

My favorite months are November through February. By the end of March, I generally get depressed thinking it is only a matter of days until the enervating, unrelenting heat arrives again and lingers until after Sukkot. When I want to annoy The Wife – who also shares these sentiments – I remind her, even in December, that the real hot days are just around the corner.

But not now. Now the hot weather – the weather of mid-July, and with it the hope that maybe a good heat wave will quash the corona – can’t come back fast enough.

I also miss the middle seat on the airplane.

Who doesn’t hate the middle seat? A heavy guy to the right spilling into your constricted space, a fidgety woman to the left knocking your elbow, and the constant tussles over the armrest. Whenever I draw that seat, I always enter it saying to the guy whose knees I knock on the way in: “Oh, goody, the much-sought-after middle seat!”

But actually I wouldn’t mind a middle seat right about now, if it means we could all fly again. And it’s not as if I’m necessarily itching for a new travel adventure. I’m not. What I miss is the freedom to be able to fly if I’d want to, even in a middle seat.

I also miss that guilty feeling that envelops me whenever I skip morning services in a minyan (prayer quorum).
Now I wake up, pray in the living room in my slippers, and don’t feel bad at all, because the synagogues are closed, and the rabbis are advising the faithful to just pray at home alone. I’ve waited all my life for that type of directive. But now I miss the “old days.”

Soon, hopefully, those days will return, and I’ll have the opportunity to feel guilty again, as the shuls will once again be open, and – after making a split-second decision to turn off the alarm and sleep though a minyan – I’ll feel delinquent the rest of the day.

And lines, I actually miss lines. Well, not exactly that ready-to-pounce feeling you get while waiting in a line, worried someone is going to sneak in ahead of you. No, what I miss is just the feeling of being around other people in a line.

One of the things that many immigrants find so difficult when they first move here is the lack of personal space. 

Stand at an ATM, and there’s a guy behind you whose breath you can literally feel on your neck waiting impatiently for you to complete your transaction. No space, no boundaries, no distance. Now we have an overabundance of all of that. A month into social distancing, and the memory of that guy’s breath on my neck seems like a cool, refreshing breeze.

I also, of course, miss sneezing and not feeling like a criminal, and being able to lick my finger in the grocery store without worrying about infecting my fellow shoppers. 

I was very conscious, on a rare stock-up visit to the supermarket the other day, not to bring my finger to my mouth and wet it – as I do by habit – to facilitate opening up a small plastic bag in the fruit-and-vegetable section.

In the coronavirus era, you don’t want to stick your fingers in your mouth. As a result, it took me about 10 minutes to open the damn bag. The frustration that caused probably did more damage to my immune system than had I just licked my whole hand.

I also miss going to the office. Not that I ever did it that much – I’m one of those who has happily been working in isolation from home for years – but I was still able to get out of the house every once in a while. I had meetings to go to, interviews to conduct, garbage to toss out. Once in a while – every other month or so – I’d have to go to the office for a meeting or to turn in expense forms. I miss the camaraderie that those sojourns engendered.

And finally, I miss washing all the bedding after the kids have been home for Shabbat. In the good old days – that is, a month ago – they would all swoop down for Shabbat every once in a while like so many hungry, honking geese. All the children and their spouses, with a couple grandkids in tow. And they would all sleep on sheets. The house would be full and loud and happy.

And then they would leave. And the house, just like that, would empty out and fall quiet. And all the sheets and bedding they had all slept on would have to be washed. And I would complain about that chore. I loved to complain about that chore, even more than complaining about the heat. No more. Now I long to clean those sheets... especially in the roasting heat of the summer.