Guilty Pandemic Pleasures
The pandemic is one of those experiences that we’ll be telling our grandchildren about, but since both of my grandchildren are less than two years old, it probably won’t have much impact. The toilet paper shortage, people drinking bleach, flattening the curve, checking the daily scorecard … it’s all stuff of legend, and we will all be wearing our pandemic badges and telling personal tall tales for years to come.
But there has been another side to the pandemic that has been unlike anything seen on the evening news. This is the story of guilty pleasures. We don’t like to talk about these, because they reveal our vulnerabilities, frailties, and foibles. We manage our personal brands carefully. Generally, we want the outside world to perceive us as confident, caring, healthy specimen, ready to take on any challenges that life lays on our doorsteps. Not me. The combination of the pandemic and our not-to-be named ex-President has proved me wrong on just about everything I thought I knew about life. I haven’t stepped inside a barber shop in over a year, eaten at a restaurant, or raised a glass with my friends, so I’m just going to let it all hang out and reveal (confess?) my guilty pandemic pleasures.
1. Fudgesicles. My wife’s and my Fudgesicle obsession started before anyone even knew that Wuhan was a city in China. She’s a clinical chocoholic and Fudgesicles are a way of controlling her dosage. I won’t hide behind any blustery rhetoric about them being healthy or reducing our carbon footprint. They are simply small pieces of sweet nostalgia that won’t kill you and harken back to summer days as a kid. Warning … not all Fudgesicles, fudge bars or pops are created equal. Little known Fudgesicle Fact … Fudgesicles are great when accompanied by a small bowl of potato chips! This is a pandemic Decadent Delight.
2. Weather. Weather happens every day here in Vermont. This is one obsession that cuts across race, ethnicity, gender, and the political spectrum. You can’t disagree about the weather. Say to someone “It’s really hot today,” and you’ll never be answered “No, it’s not.” What you can quibble about is the forecast. Our phones make us all little Sharon Meyers or Mark Breen (“Go-o-od Morning”). Ask what today’s weather is going to be and you’ll likely get answer along the line of “There’s a 20% chance of showers at 10 am, raising to 40% by 2 pm, but clearing by 5.” Sometime different phone use different forecast models. When this occurs, the only hope is to ask Alexa.
3. Cribbage. This game was invented in the early 1600s by British courtier Sir John Suckling, and the rules have not changed in hundreds of years. Since the start of the pandemic it’s become almost a nightly ritual that provides a buffer between our work day and relaxation time. It’s competitive, but not fiercely so; it forces us to do arithmetic at a second grade level, and provides a perfect excuse for a glass of wine.
4. Travel. Like so many others, the pandemic caused the cancellation of a trip , in our case to see the spring tulips in Holland. But the travel itch has been scratched in some unanticipated and delightful ways. Shtisel (Netflix) exposed us to life within Jerusalem’s Orthodox Jewish community. Not only did we feel like we had traveled to a different place and culture, but also to a different century. Midnight Diner (Netflix) took us to Tokyo’s nether world of things that go bump in the night. An eclectic cast of characters is presided over by the diner’s owner, know only as Master, who cures all ills with custom-made comfort food. We also went to the grimy neighborhoods of Naples of the 1960s in My Brilliant Friend (HBO). Most recently we criss-crossed Canada with comedian Jonny Harris who visits small, struggling towns that become the basis for a humorous and touching performance at the end of each visit. Each episode of Still Standing (Amazon Prime Video) is a 22-minute voyage into what is best about the human species. We can’t wait for the border to re-open.
5. Ramen. It’s what broke college kids eat, right? Ramen noodles are cheap, tasty, and easy to prepare … to which I add, yes BUT they can be so much more. Beyond what you can find at the local super market or food co-op there’s a broad range of packages available, varying greatly in flavors, nutrition, and quality. Plus, the ramen is just the blank canvas; it’s what you add to it that make it a dish of infinite variety. Add fresh vegetables, shrimp, scallops, egg, shredded chicken, tofu, or you name it! The only limits on ramen are your imagination. (Two tips: use only half of the provided flavor packet to reduce salt and fat, and Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp sauce, available from Asian specialty markets or online, makes anyone into a master chef.)
6. Boxed wine. Apologies to those of you who have always regarded moi as the personification of high fashion and haute couture, but in times like these fewer trips to both the store and the landfill trump (now, there’s a word that has taken on new nuances) good taste.
The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for all of us. Our experiences have varied widely and brought challenges that none of us anticipated. The biggest challenge of all is to find joy, and you’ll find it hiding in some unexpected nooks and crannies of your own home.