America has mostly reopened; France announced a new lockdown due to a fresh outbreak; and Britain has taken the radical step of allowing six people to meet outside. In-person schooling has resumed in the United States, although parents are concerned that students are now one year behind in their studies. This is tragic, since college students will be a year older before they can join America’s 10.1 million unemployed and enter indentured servitude to begin repaying their $120,000 college debt.
Our concern is how to resume a normal life after being in lockdown for a year. A reintegration training program is essential and begins with aesthetics, since mask-wearing has become the norm, and you can’t see people’s mouths. Plastic surgeons are marketing blepharoplasty procedures to improve the look and expressiveness of your eye region, although thousands of DIY home-botox experiments have produced locked foreheads. The solution to reading someone’s expressions is to look down at your phone immediately after meeting them and converse through SMS emojis. After a year of social isolation, we have missed sitting in close physical proximity and then ignoring one another.
A Hugging School may be helpful, especially for Englishmen who were already repressed. As an Angeleno friend said to me, “you British have butts so tight you could squeeze out a diamond.” I replied that was purely after Passover, when we spent a week eating constipating matzah.
Hugs in America always made me feel uncomfortable, and I could not walk through the men’s section in synagogue on a Shabbat morning without having my shoulders brushed, back slapped or arm stroked. I felt like a college girl trying to walk through a nightclub during a drinking contest on spring break. At least someone could have bought me a Piña Colada.
Englishmen have a one-touch rule of a firm handshake, but in Los Angeles I shake hands with someone and their other hand would touch my arm, or they would go for a hug. The last thing I want to do is cuddle some random bloke on a Saturday morning at 9 am — or at any other time. I’ve explained I’m shomer negiah (religiously abstinent from touching).
When I have refused hugs, a repeat offender said, “You have a problem. You’re really sensitive about being touched!” I asked if that was their college seduction technique, blaming girls who didn’t want to be manhandled by them. I screamed, “I am more than a beautiful piece of meat! There is a real human being behind my gorgeous looks!” It worked. The offender disappeared, and I even got a free escort to the street from security, although the armed guards still touched me by locking my arm behind my back and hyperextending my shoulder. I cried, “I am human! I am more than a piece of meat!” The rabbi also insisted on a friendly tactile goodbye, sharply lifting his knee to my stomach as I was thrown onto the sidewalk. I think we can agree this was a win-win scenario, and they got my point.
After a year of reconditioning our interactions by using Zoom, we can take elements of this mode of communication into real life. If someone gets boring, you can put a bag over their head and ask, “I can’t see you. Have you turned off your camera?” As a fallback option, say “my wifi is really bad, I’m losing reception” and then walk away from them without saying goodbye. If you still can’t shut them up, wrap a gag around their mouth and say, “sorry! I think I accidentally muted you.” As a last resort, tell them “I have an unstable connection.” They will indeed agree that you are unstable, but at least you’ve won.
We can take elements of Zoom into real life.
Many companies will continue allowing people to work at home since it saves on office rentals, although some will insist making employees move from their bedroom office back to the corporate HQ. So to maintain the positive work environment discovered at home, I will insist my management consulting clients install beds and mirrored ceilings into their office cubicles, complete with silky sheets, bedroom accoutrements and fully-stocked drinks cabinets. This will improve working conditions and make life easier for those who got fed up with their spouses during lockdown and want to start an extra-marital affair. The new plan will help business turnover and wonderfully stimulate the bottom line.
With all of these suggestions in place, I am now ready to resume life as a normal human being and play the COVID-19 theme song on loop: “Can’t Touch This.”