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Was it a line from Milton Berle or was it an old Vaudeville thing? But when a comedian was dying on the stage, in a desperate plea to get a laugh, he’d say, “These are the jokes, folks.” The subtext being, the act doesn’t get any better than this, so since you paid good money, I guess you’d better try to enjoy.

This came to mind often during the past 5 months, because despite the Internet jokes and memes, 2020 has not been a barrel of laughs.

Everyone seems to be handling it differently. Several people I know hardly peek their noses out of their front door, like dormice. One person even has decreed that anything from outside must be stored in the basement for four days before he dares touch it.

On the other hand there are the high wire daredevils. Suddenly acquaintances who were incredibly reserved, to the point of getting whip lash if I even put out my hand to shake theirs, now throw their arms around me and practically tongue me, as if to prove they’re exempt.

Of course there is one thing that seems to unite everyone. And that is irritability.

My husband just got a new motorcycle helmet that connects him to the Internet. I was told I could get a microphone for my helmet so we could talk to one another as we drove to the office. Are you kidding? All I’d hear is: “Did you see that driver? Did you see the way he cut me off?! Almost killed us. And that cyclist? The fool! He just pulled out. And look at that one. There she goes, on her phone, walking right out into the middle of the street. What is going on today? I’m surrounded by nincompoops!”

The thing is, you see this irritation everywhere. On the way in to the office we pass the London Zoo and I’ve noticed recently that even the two giraffes are no longer standing together. The husband giraffe stands alone under a barren tree with a peevish look on his face, muttering to himself: “Will that bloody woman never stop nagging?”

Me, I have an internal monologue of crankiness about the joggers throwing off sweat and panting virus directed solely at me. Or the cyclist trying to run me off the pavement. And the noise. Why must everyone scream? Or play the radio so loud. And don’t get me started on the kids.

There are different ways of coping with the irritability. Getting judgy is a good stress reliever. I can see a nostril poking just above that mask. Or what makes him think that a mask on his chin is all that helpful? Just how much toilet paper does one family need anyway? Ten cans of tuna? It’s called hording madam, in case you didn’t know!

Grown children who for years have been silently resentful of their parents for going out on Thursday nights without them or sending them to bed earlier than their best friend, now have the delicious opportunity to order their parents to go straight to their room and not come out until they say so.

Some drown their frustration in food. Some in wine. I’m not saying I have our wine merchant on speed dial, or that they recognize my voice and have stockpiled my order…. Not exactly. Though I have to admit at one point I actually considered buying a wine box rather than call them yet again.

Television is another good coping mechanism. Preferably a really really old series like Midsummer Murders or Agatha Christie’s Poirot to make us comatose. Anything so that we don’t watch the usual five hours of horrifying news.

So if I haven’t made myself clear I don’t think I’m a candidate for a Desert Island or living off the grid. I used to think I liked my own company. But now I know…er… not so much. I keep looking for my happy place, looking for the jokes, the laughs and finding precious few of them. But still I keep searching.

Then one day I was at an impromptu picnic with some friends. And I said to my friend, Nathan: “About the only good thing about lockdown is these moments - lying on the grass in the sunshine, sipping wine, eating crudités and dips, and being with good friends. These are the best times.”

And Nathan answered. “They always were.”

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

Out Now

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