It’s 2020. You’re waiting in line to get into a grocery store, deeply troubled by the man one spot behind you in line who always seems to be a little too close.
You call that two metres, fella? That can’t be more than 1.5 metres, 1.75 tops. You’re finding it harder and harder to focus on your preferred task – staring dejectedly at your phone – while this creep is lurking behind you. Why can’t he stand exactly on his allotted strip of yellow tape on the sidewalk instead of one step ahead of it? Why does he think it’s OK to wear his mask covering just his mouth but not his nose? Would I be at risk of contracting COVID if I grabbed a gourd from the store’s outdoor display and smashed it into his magic nose? Squash!
Nah, probably not the best idea – grocery stores have bouncers now.
Finally you get to the front door and the bouncer nods you in, watching closely as you sanitize your hands with a substance that looks a little like Sprite and smells a little like vomit.
Halfway through the store you hit a roadblock in the produce department: an old woman stalled at the avocado box. You wait, exactly 2.0 metres away, while she slowly pokes and prods for the perfect piece of fruit. One minute. Two minutes.
You don’t get mad, you don’t tell her to get her butt moving, you don’t remind her that COVID mortality rates increase with age and with time spent in crowded indoor places squeezing avocados. You don’t say those things because you’re a good person, a calm, kind and safe person.
You still have to wait though, with a physically distanced line of other avocado fans forming behind you and the COVID clock in your head ticking. You wait because you want those avocados, you need those avocados. You’ve got to make your guacamole tonight, you’re hosting a big taco party and you’ve invited no one.
Finally she shuffles off towards the yams. It’s your turn! You dive in, daring not to touch too many avocados for fear of the COVID shaming that comes from fruit fondling. You’re ready to use your Jedi powers to pick the best ones, but then ... disaster strikes.
Around the corner and down the aisle comes … a friend of yours. And not just any friend, but an interesting friend, a funny friend, a friend you absolutely love spending time with and who you really want to impress. Like Tessa Virtue, or Gordon Lightfoot.
If you’re anything like me, this is yet another COVID-19 nightmare. Because your friend is going to recognize you, even beneath your cool Dirty Harry mask which says “Six feet back, or six feet under.”
And your friend is going to come over and say hello, and it’s going to get awkward really fast. Because now you’re the one holding up the line. You panic grab a couple avocados – instantly realizing they’re not ripe yet – and scoot out of the way of the other shoppers while flashing your friend a smile. Which, of course, your friend can’t see. You’ve got a mask on, Einstein.
Now begins the dance craze of 2020 – the back-up waltz.
Your friend asks you how you’re holding up. You laugh and say, “ha, well, lots of new hobbies, like vodka, haha.” And you take a tiny step back. Your friend laughs, takes a tiny step forward, and says it’s all so weird, isn’t it. Totally, you say, taking another little step back.
Another shopper reaches behind you, dangerously close – like less than a metre – to grab some baby cucumbers, and you awkwardly shuffle out of the way without getting any closer to your friend. You look like a baby panda learning to square dance. Then you take a step back. Your friend tries one more question, and by now you’re basically in the next aisle, two steps back, and “it-was-great-to-see-you-drinks-soon-for-sure-OK-bye!”
And now your friend thinks you’re a weirdo. And you are a weirdo, because this whole pandemic has made you a weirdo. Chatting, once such a fun and innocuous activity, feels more awkward now because in the back of your mind you think to yourself, ‘Hey, I wonder if one of us is killing the other right now.’ It changes the dynamic.
I wonder what we’ll be like when we get out of this whole thing. And yes, I am sure we will get out of this. Well, maybe not Alberta, but most of us. But how much will this screw us up, and for how long? Will we go in the complete opposite direction and greet everyone with open-mouth kisses?
“No, squeegee guy. I don’t want my windows washed. But I do have something for you!”
Or will we struggle to break out of the bubbles we’ve built around ourselves.
I don’t know. I can’t wait for the day when we can find out, though.
Say, is that Gordon Lightfoot coming our way? You know what that guy needs? A big kiss!
Andy Prest is the News’ sports editor. His humour column runs biweekly. firstname.lastname@example.org