We were headed out to the Stone Pony for an Amy Winehouse tribute when someone grabbed their camera and dared us to say cheese.
That’s me in the turtleneck posing alongside Joe Grillo and Reggie Bledsoe on Thanksgiving. Stoned on tryptophan and champagne, we were bundling up before heading out into the late November chill.
That night we shared Ubers and hugs and cocktails and gossip and cigarettes and then a lot more gossip. We screamed and sang for hours, blissfully ignorant that something called COVID-19 would dominate all our lives shortly after this photo.
The other day I updated my Facebook cover with the photo and judging from the feedback, it plucked a few heartstrings.
“I miss being able to hug to humans,” someone replied, a lament that was echoed several times on the thread.
This image represents much of what coronavirus has snatched away from us all: mask-free, carefree gestures of affection, socializing with friends, going out to large gatherings.
The image captured the casual fondness between people who choose to spend holidays together.
And for some, it represents a time when he had a job.
Basically it’s all the things I’ve pretty much always taken for granted.
Table for 2 on the Patio
NJ has been on lockdown since mid-March. None of us has eaten in a restaurant in 14 long weeks. So when limited outdoor dining options began this week in NJ, many of us were eager to snap that long, sad streak.
My breaking point came early Wednesday morning when I texted my friend Maryellen.
“Lunch today? Just say yes!”
She replied almost immediately.
“Ok boo, let me hop in the shower!”
I texted back for confirmation.
“OMG is this real!?”
It was real. At long last.
My excited-ness was mildly tempered by how scruffy I’d become on lockdown. A quick glance at my extremely non-pedicured toes ruled out a trip to the boardwalk. Instead we found a table for 2 on Cookman Ave, Asbury Park’s main strip for drinking and dining.
I noticed Maryellen’s shock of platinum hair from the parking space.
Normally I might sneak up behind her, put my hands over her eyes and play the “guess who?” game. But the sight of everyone all masked up reminds me that these aren’t normal times.
Hugging breaches social distance protocol but reflexively Maryellen and I did it anyway. You’ll wanna guard against those instincts as we emerge from lockdown. NJ flattened the curve on COVID-transmission rates because most of us are smart enough to stand a meter apart and wear a mask.
The hug felt really good but we should’ve fist-bumped instead. And then promptly washed our hands.
If you’re lucky enough to have someone to accidentally hug, count your blessings. Maryellen and I did a lot of that over lunch. Between squirts of Purell, we pondered all those people for whom being alone also means being lonely: single people, surviving partners, the geographically isolated.
Or anyone in a nursing home.
Why did it take a little temporary isolation to prompt me to contemplate what it’s like for someone who’s lonely all the time? And why, at 48 years of age, do I still take my blessings for granted so freely?
I don’t know the answer to either of those uncomfortable questions just yet. But thanks to COVID-19, there’s plenty of time to reflect and to figure it out.
Jay Lassiter, who crashed the gate in 2005 as Trenton Bureau Chief for BlueJersey, pioneered NJ’s digital media landscape as America’s first credentialed state house blogger. His award-winning podcast about NJ’s heroin crisis is required listening for NJ policy makers and their staff.