I don’t know about you but I missed my Fourth of July. And I’m not faulting our local officials – they made exactly the right call. Even with the building evidence that fresh air is relatively safer than indoor air, no one wanted to take the chance of sparking infections due to close crowds on beaches, parks and piers.
But I missed it. I missed the anticipation – the kids kneeling in driveways as they thread bunting through the spokes of their bikes, flags sprouting on lawns and from eaves, the happy parades of fire trucks and silly cars and high school bands, the wafting smoke from barbecues, the chatter of families and friends gathering in backyards. I missed the countdown to nightfall, the bug spray on ankles and necks, the gathering of beach blankets and sweatshirts, the pilgrimage to the beach as rogue rockets set off by naughty boys of every age make the night air feel a little dangerous.
And oh the fireworks themselves. Everyone gazing out across the water at the night sky, waiting. Now? Are they coming now? Is there time to run for an ice cream, a drink, a sweater? Before we can move, they’re off, we see them flying above us, hanging for a moment, still and small like a dying match in a dark room… and then BOOM they explode, showering us with strands and bursts and flowers of light.
The dogs and cats and babies don’t mind – the noise was always too much for them. But the rest of us lost something precious. Joy – because that’s what fireworks are. Pure joy. It’s why we ask about a new date or even a new job – any fireworks? Did it make your heart jump, your pulse race, your soul sing?
And we lost fun. It’s fun to decorate and make ice cream and dress up – and yes we can still decorate and dress up and make ice cream and many of us did. But it’s not the same when you’re doing it on your own without your friends and family and neighbors and town celebrating with you.
We want to be together.
And we want our landmarks.
Holidays are landmarks, they punctuate time. “I’ll see you after the Fourth.” “No, sorry – we’re leaving right after the Fourth.” Holidays give order and shape to our lives. Without them it’s just more of the same.
The same the same the same. This Covid Siege has trapped us all in a cycle of sameness.
We’ve been here before – at least in the movies. Remember Groundhog Day? Harold Ramis’ genius movie about a TV weatherman caught in a time warp that has him living Groundhog Day over and over again?
Or Russian Doll which took Ramis’ idea and spun it into a series about a dyspeptic coder who relives a party in her honor over and over and over?
Or the new Andy Samberg film Palm Springs about a reluctant maid of honor and a feckless guest reliving a wedding over and over and over?
From where I sit, they’ve got it made - they got to relive events. Groundhog’s Day! A party! A wedding! We’re just reliving Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday….
Like Bill Murray’s Weatherman and Natasha Lyonne’s Coder and Andy Samberg’s Feckless Guest, we’re stuck in a time warp, making no progress. Whatever New York has learned, Florida and Arizona and Texas have forgotten, the videos of pleading nurses and sobbing families making no more impact than the pleas of families who’ve lost loved ones to school shootings or domestic violence or racial hate crimes.
What is it about America, the Beautiful, the land of opportunity, the free – what is it about us that we can’t seem to learn from our history? Even the history of the past few months?
Yes, human beings want to be together. Yes, we need our landmarks. And yes, we need variety.
But it was just a few weeks ago that New York was swamped with cases. Take a look at the brilliant new docudrama The Line from Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Stream it on the Public Theatre YouTube channel if you’ve forgotten the voices and faces of the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who put their lives on the line to save New Yorkers.
Why weren’t Florida and Texas and Arizona and Georgia paying attention?
Or maybe they were paying attention - to the wrong message.
Again, if we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that people under siege should beware of anyone making promises that seem too good to be true.
Remember the myth? Troy had held out for lo these many years when rumor had it that the Greeks had retreated – they’d burnt their tents and set sail and left a marvelous wooden horse as a gift for the gods. And while many were doubtful and afraid, many more were thrilled.
And so weary of the siege, craving variety and fun and celebration and victory, they ignored the naysayers and wheeled the horse into the heart of the city.
We know what happened. Just like anyone with a brain knows what will happen when a bunch of bored folks decide to host a COVID-19 Party, inviting reckless people willing to bet on who will get infected first to mingle with someone who’s tested positive. The first one infected wins the entrance fees. That’s actually a thing. Google Covid Party and cry your heart out.
Who would do such a thing? People who’re starved for company and fun and variety. Who’re sick of being shut up at home, cut off from friends and family and jobs and progress.
And we all hate what’s happened. But promises that it’s just like the flu, that untested treatments will save you, that young people only get mild cases, that the economy is worth more than the lives it will cost, that it’s OK to send the kids back to school and mom and dad back inside offices and stores and beauty shops and restaurants are just like that horse they wheeled into the heart of Troy. Deadly.
Do you want to get back to work and be with your friends and change things up? Maybe do what these folks just did – in Connecticut. Half a dozen co-workers sick of staying at home and working remotely and never having a social life, decided to do what it takes to change things safely. First they quarantined or got tested to make sure they posed no risk, then they all moved in together in a little inn they rented in Westbrook where they worked together, had meals together, played cards, sang Karaoke, talked, shared books and films and games – while feeling comforted, inspired, happy and safe. Look it up in the New York Times – “Living with your Desk Mates.”
And no, it’s not a solution that’s possible for everyone. But it’s worth thinking about. How could you change things up and be with people and move forward safely?
Elizabeth Page’s work as a writer and filmmaker focuses on folks impacted by social issues. Plays include Spare Parts (produced by Olympia Dukakis at Whole Theatre, Off B’way at Circle in the Square Downtown and nominated for a John Gassner Award), The Nazi Plays (Denver Theatre Centre’s US West Theatrefest) and Aryan Birth (Best Short American Plays.) Her work in television brought her six Emmy Awards and four Writers’ Guild Awards. As a filmmaker she has made lots of award winning shorts, and web pieces for artists such as Melba Moore. Her latest short film, Safe, about an accidental shooting, is currently in distribution in Europe.