Friends (How many of us have them?)

Pondering the nature of non-familial relations during and after a worldwide pandemic...

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Rampant wildfires aside, we are having a damn fine Autumn season in Colorado this year. We usually complain about the “one day of Fall” we get between a blistering summer and the first snow, but not this year, and I love it! It’s the kind of weather that puts me in the mood for Fernet Branca. I’m having mine with Mexican Coke.

Back in March, when we were being told to go home from our offices and phrases like “shelter in place” and “lockdown” were first coming to the fore of the American consciousness, how many of you took a moment to think to yourself:

“How is this going to affect my friendships?”

I know I sure didn’t. Of course, I also thought I was the “real talk” doomsayer of my work group when I was telling everyone this could easily last three months… So yeah.

So now, after more than twice that amount of time, shit’s just weird.

Since all of us are getting through this year on our own path, allow me to first outline some truths about my situation that have an impact on how and if I’ve been able to maintain relationships outside of my immediate family:

  • I’ve been quarantining HARD. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home. I get groceries and all my retail therapy items delivered. I tend to only leave the house to go to the liquor store (Yes, I could get that delivered, too, but it’s a suboptimal experience, and the shop I go to has good protocols.) or to get take out from one of my favorite restaurants that I want to help survive.

  • My group at work effectively laid off a number of people right before the pandemic hit, including some of my favorites. As it happens, we’re all in a Slack group together so these are still some of the people I “talk” to most often. The water cooler effect is stronger with these folks than it is at work.

  • I finally got fed up enough with the Zuckerberg oligarchy that I quit both Facebook and Instagram. I don’t miss Facebook at all, but it turns out there’s a certain clutch of people that use Instagram as their primary means of sharing and communicating. Those people are effectively gone to me now, and that makes me sad.

  • I guess it’s worth mentioning in this context that I despise talking on the phone. I’d just much rather type at people via SMS, Slack, email… anything other than making mouth sounds into the air without being able to see the receiver’s face.

Mix that all into a pandemic-flavored stew, and I can say my level of contact with my friends has been greatly reduced. Especially those friends that are probably more accurately described as acquaintances. Some of you are reading this.

Early on, I did the occasional Zoom happy hour with different groups, but that isn’t really tenable unless someone is willing to direct the experience. To prove that point, I will say I have thoroughly enjoyed every Quarantine Book Club session I’ve attended, and those are strangers.

As time has worn on, I’ve found my social interactions winnowing down to texting with just a few people and occasional chat flurries in few Slack groups. Oh and talking to myself on Twitter, of course. The thing is, in terms of active participation, that’s probably not hugely outside of my typical, with the huge exception of going out to enjoy the wonderful food and beverage scene in Denver Metro. We used to make rounds, visiting at least two or three spots every Saturday.

Being a regular at a handful of places and a semi-regular at a dozen others really was my social life. Bar and restaurant people are fun, especially if you’ve been one of them. They are also mostly younger than me and helped me feel more youthful. These are the people I miss the most.

Coincidentally, they are also the ones that seem to focus a lot of their effort to Instagram, so I’ve completely lost touch with them. The few I have phone numbers for don’t tend to be very good at responding to texts from an unknown number. Hardly any of them seem to read their emails.

Or maybe without the context of the restaurant or bar and the hospitality dynamic, they aren’t really that interested in talking to me. That’s completely valid, but it doesn’t make me miss them less.

One of our household entertainment rituals, in between bingeing everything Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple+, HBOMax, an however else puts out, is watching food videos on YouTube. Last night, after checking out the latest from the newly revamped Bon Appétit line up, I ended up playing a video of the crew from Momofuku Toronto out on the town pre-pandemic. It’s part of a debaucherous series from the Vice’s Munchies channel called “Chef’s Night Out”, and it really caused me a bit of heartache because one installment featured people I know going to places I know in Denver. And now I don’t see those people or those places, and there’s no real telling when that might change.

Sorry if this one turned into a bummer, but this subject is something that can tend to get heavy just as one ages. It’s definitely something I was already thinking a lot about before this coronavirus came along. The changes the pandemic forces on us has just exacerbated and accelerated it all.

So yeah… Friends.