During the pandemic, we still need laughter

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It’s a challenge to keep up our spirits these days, but humor is probably one of the things we need the most. We can find it in many places and sometimes, in ourselves.

I’ve convinced myself that I’m the only person in the greater Milky Way Galaxy who really knows how to social distance. I’ve even developed my own safety protocol that I call “Anti-Social Separation.” On hiking trails, for example, if I pass five or six groups of people, I end up stepping off to the side of the trail five or six times. Nobody goes around me. I must look like a wimpy pushover who could never be the purveyor of a virus that kills.

Fellow hikers try to hand me things or have me look at their cameras and iPhones. I hope they’re not insulted when I decline.

I haven’t visited stores often since March, but I’ve had people walk directly at me as if guided by laser beams. I’m in advanced years, but through my past high school basketball training, I can quickly and deftly shuffle out of the way.

At a drive-in oil change place, I remained masked and in my car. On more than one occasion, unmasked workers stuck their heads in to ask questions. If the garage door hadn’t been closed, I would have driven off. I even thought about taking off with it closed.

Living with this people-avoidance modus operandi since March, I’ve concluded that I’m crazy and everyone else is sane. They know something about COVID-19 that I don’t. They think they are safe, and perhaps by sheer force of will — mind over matter — they will remain safe. That’s got to be it.

I see people dutifully wearing masks, but opening doors bare-handed. I’m sure they conscientiously avoid touching their face until they can wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. I’m not nosy enough to watch them for any duration, for instance, when they return to their cars. That would make me a voyeur and I’d feel even crazier, if not stupid.

It took a while for Alaskans to comply, but these days it’s actually impressive how many people are wearing masks. They’re often useless, hanging down below folks’ noses, but at least they’re trying.

It took me a while to realize it doesn’t do any good to give unmasked people dirty or accusatory looks. They sometimes smile and look back smugly, with a look of condescension and pity. I guess they feel sorry for suckers who listen to scientists.

I have to admit the capricious behavior of many people has me doubting my cautionary existence during the past half-year. Every day is like the movie “Groundhog Day,” and as we arise to begin our routine of segregation and isolation, I sing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” to my wife.

I must admit she is handling this isolation better than I. She isn’t outdoorsy like me, so doesn’t have that diversion. But she stays in touch with family and friends via iPhone, text, FaceTime; and she cagily gets to the stores early in the morning when they’re opening and customers are scant. She also occupies herself with TV, and among the shows is “Homestead Rescue.” I secretly think it’s her way of watching people confront challenges almost as bad as COVID-19.

I took my 3-year-old granddaughter to a school playground recently and it was total bedlam. Kids and dogs running around, parents aimlessly pursuing their kids and socially clustering. Actually, it was fun for the kids and it was for me too. For a few brief moments, I forgot about the dreaded coronavirus and chased my granddaughter around. We were in the open air, after all, and it was probably safe. And maybe it wasn’t.

It is true that life is about taking chances. Yet I know quite a few superb mountain climbers, and their cardinal rule is to “minimize risks.” They’ll push the safety envelope, but they want to return.

I guess it’s the same with this pandemic. The scientists have pretty much mapped the safety limits. Until we have reliable treatments and an FDA-approved vaccine, we’re prudent not to test those limits, whether healthy or infirm, young or old.

The best thing, I’ve found, is to try and stay busy. Clean the house. Read. Get outdoors. Stay in touch with family and friends. And most important of all, try to laugh. Picture me as the late comic Rodney Dangerfield, fully masked, running frantically away from charging people and yelling: “I don’t get no respect!”

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired elementary school teacher.

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