I Have Forgotten How to Eat at a Restaurant

On Sunday, I ate at a restaurant for the first time in three months. Three months! This planet has traversed about 150 million miles of its orbit around the sun since I last ate food at a public establishment. So imagine my great dismay to discover that I have completely forgotten how to eat at a restaurant.

Here are a few things that happened when I tried to gracefully reenter the restaurant-going world:

  • I waited 5–7 seconds for the waiter to indicate to me which chair I should sit in, before remembering that I actually get to choose that myself.
  • It took me several moments to register that there was a separate food and drink menu; the drinks are not listed on the food menu, and the food is not listed on the drinks menu. I turned over each menu at least three times, looking for the other items.
  • I stared shamelessly for minutes at other patrons of the restaurant. I have not seen people eating in public in so long.
  • I accidentally ordered a fucking whiteclaw!!!
  • I accidentally ordered a second whiteclaw, and then a third whiteclaw!!!
  • I accidentally ordered six more whiteclaws!!! That’s nine whiteclaws, ordered by mistake!!!
  • My date asked what an atomic elbow was, so I demonstrated on an unsuspecting patron at the next table! I concussed a stranger, because I have not eaten in a restaurant for so long, and forgot the accompanying social norms!
  • I shit my pants four times! Five, depending how you define a pants-shitting! Did anybody else forget that restaurants have bathrooms?
  • I asked for an affogato made with breastmilk! Can you believe that? How embarrassing that I forgot that many restaurants don’t even keep breastmilk stocked!
  • I tipped my waiter a full 15%, even though he had an eyebrow piercing and I don’t approve of that!
  • I got a DUI on my way home—all because I haven’t been to a restaurant in so long!

An Ode to the Neck Mask Heroes

Here’s to you, heroes of the pandemic. To those who bravely slip their masks off their mouth and nose to cover their necks. To those who do this for us. Those who know the true risk to public safety emanates from the skin on the neck and sacrifice for the greater good.

You see them out, in the city, heroes walking among the public. They heeded the clarion call of Fauci and Birx, acquiring facial coverings designed to stop the spread and save us all. But they went one step further—they knew that if covering their face and nose was good, then surely not doing that and instead covering their neck was better.

And so we look to these neck mask heroes as beacons of hope in times of unrivaled peril. “The helpers,” as Fred Rogers once said. Look for them. Those we need but don’t deserve. Those who hear the cheers at 7pm and know that a grateful city is thinking of them.

Thanks are not enough, but they are all we have. So to everyone who bravely and boldly freed their mouths from the confines of the mask in order to cover their disgusting, virus-filled necks, we say as one: thank you.

Seven Quick Workouts to Get Absolutely SHREDDED While Protesting Your Local Gym Closure

Blue-state governors HATE us for telling you these seven simple workouts you can do to get ABSOLUTELY JACKED as you gather outside your local government building to protest the stay at home orders that are keeping you out of the gym. 

  1. Looking to spice up your cardio? Add a flak jacket and 30 rounds of ammo on top of your bodyweight to get that heart rate up while you storm the stairs of the state capitol.
  2. Give your shoulders a nice burn by seeing how long you can hold up your “fear is the real virus” sign.
  3. Try some body holds
  4. Don’t forget the breathing exercises—see how much you can breathe onto the neck of the person in front of you at the Home Depot line before they fight you. 
  5. Get your 10,000 steps in by pacing around your apartment. 4  reps of 20 minutes should burn off all the carbs you’ve eaten in homemade sourdough. 
  6. See how many kegels you can pump out for every minute that your Zoom call lasts longer than it should. 
  7. Mental gymnastics aren’t just for your mind! Stay limber by doing pushups as you protest the stay at home orders, because nothing says “gyms should be considered an essential service” quite like doing workouts that can be done in the comfort of your home.

Hey buddy, how are you?

Hey man, how’s it going? You hanging in there? Things are pretty nuts right now, huh? Unprecedented times, that’s for sure!

Just wanted to check in and see how you were. I know we’re all pretty isolated right now and it’s tough to stay connected, so I thought I’d drop you a line. Let me know if you ever want to video chat, I’ve got a pretty sweet Zoom hook up!

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you during these trying times! While I’ve got you, I did also want to check in on that $14,000 you owe me. I was just looking at my Gcal (who can even remember what day it is, lol!!) and noticed it had been six months since you were supposed to pay me back.

It’s no big deal, I know how crazy things are right now! I wasn’t even sure banks were open anymore, what with the unprecedented times and everything. But I had a sec so I looked it up and it turns out they were deemed “essential businesses” within the State of New York so we should be all good on that front.

Maybe we can chat about you getting me that money when we have a Zoom hang! I was thinking a little virtual happy hour? If you’re up for it, we could both make our favorite cocktails (Old Fashioned for me, haha!) and just kick it. It would honestly just be great to see another person’s face!

Speaking of which, I noticed that after I sent Big Joey to try to collect in February you kind of bashed his nose in with your driver (you’ve still got that old Callaway, huh?). Good thing he’s quarantining at home now, so no one can see how jacked up his face his!! Gotta focus on those silver linings these days, that’s for sure! Anyway, just wanted to make sure you weren’t planning to do that again if I send Timmy “The Clown” O’Callaghan your way—I don’t want anyone within 6 feet of my guys!! 

But seriously, quarantining with my ball and chain has me missing the good old days, when you and I used to knock back a few (dozen, lol!!) brews at the bar and set terms of a payment for a loan between pals. Remember those days, when people could go to a bar? Hah! But really what is this world coming to?

Anyway, just wanted to say hi and that your whole family is in my thoughts! Especially your parents—are they still out on Long Island? At that place in Islip? 2634 Union Boulevard? Just down the block from the high school? 

Well tell ‘em I say hello, and that they better be staying inside! If I hear they’re going out, I’ll tell Father Johnny over at St. Pat’s on ‘em! Hah!

Good catching up, drop me a line some time. Account number and routing information to follow.

All my best!

FAQs for the Self-Quarantiner

Q: Should I email my neighbors about the excessive noise they might hear as I jump around because of the fitness app I downloaded? 
A: Oh, you lift?

Q: Why did I buy so many beans?? I don’t eat beans!
A: Eat your fucking beans.

Q: Can I have a little doorknob lick? As a treat? 
A: No!!

Q: Why was Amy Adams’ character in Her? She seemed pretty unnecessary?
A: Your guess is as good as ours. 

Q: Am I no longer practicing social distancing if, while working out, I jump so hard that I open up a hole in the floor, causing me to fall approximately 8 feet into the living room below me and onto my neighbor’s portly 7-year-old as he plays Boggle? 
A: This is a meet-cute.

Q: Can I commit a crime and use social distancing as an excuse to not let the police in? 
A: Only if Anthony Fauci said you could.

Q: Can I complain about my neighbors smoking weed?
A: Fuck off dude, stand by your fellow man. 

Q: How stocked up on pickles is too stocked up on pickles?
A: Too much is never enough.

Q: Exactly how disinfected does an orgy need to be for it to be acceptable? 
A: As long as assholes are bleached, you should be good.

Q: When the fuck will I get to watch Fast 9 in theaters?
A: Not soon enough… not soon enough.

Q: Do I have to have my video on while using Zoom?
A: Only if more than 40% of the participants are also sharing video.

Q: What is Pep Boys doing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak? 
A: Furloughs!

Q: Can someone please take some of these beans!!!
A: No, eat up bean boy.

Q: How many people need to get infected before I can get hella racist about it?
A: Go lick a doorknob, asshole.

Q: How long does it take for Amazon to deliver a 14th-century bird doctor mask?
A: Not as long as it will take for the package to sit in your front hallway while you wait for the virus to fall off it and die. 

Q: Will my gimp mask protect me?
A: Not if you’re using it the right way 😉

Q: Okay, I’ll just be direct here: how much is the Social Security burden going to be lightened?
A: On advice of counsel, we have redacted this answer.

Q: Asking for a friend: Can anyone sneeze in Mitch McConnell’s face, just for fun?
A: Oh hell yeah. Especially if you’re showing symptoms.

Q: I stayed inside today, am I a hero? 
A: Yes, you make healthcare workers look like lazy pieces of shit!

The Quarantiner’s Monthly Budget

someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this. my family is dying.

  • Rent: $0 (we on strike #StandWithTheCheesecakeFactory)
  • Groceries: literally whatever the cashier tells you, don’t even listen just take what he’ll give you
  • Deodorant: $0
  • Uber: $0 (net savings: $1,700)
  • Hand soap: $1,700
  • Laundry: $0
  • Restaurant delivery: $2,500 (support local businesses!)
  • Tip: 35%
  • Bleach: $3,900
  • Gym membership you forgot to cancel: $50
  • Amazon orders: $1,200
  • Netflix: again, they kind of just get to name a number at this point
  • Hulu: Not even a quarantine is getting us to subscribe
  • Shaving cream and razors: $0
  • Gas: $0
  • Puzzles: $500
  • Puzzle Shipping Rate: $9.99
  • Zoom membership: $14.99 somehow

Conference Call Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re anything like us, you’re a busy business person who does important business. That probably means you had to trade board rooms for Zoom rooms, thanks to The Ro Ro. However, that’s no need to worry. We’re here to help you with important do’s and don’ts for conference call etiquette:

Do: Keep your camera on at the start of the call to pressure everyone into turning theirs on too, even if — especially if — they don’t want to.

Don’t: Wear pants. Why would you wear pants, prude?

Do: Stroke the nearest dog, cat or roommate within reach to look intimidating while you speak.

Don’t: Accept invites for “virtual happy hours” from work.

Do: Go five-drinks deep with your friends on Google Hangouts this Wednesday.

Do: Ask everyone to repeat themselves, no matter how well you can hear them.

Don’t: Speak. This is like every other meeting. The goal is to say as little as possible.

Do: Interrupt others and stammer as if you have something to say then sit silently for minutes until everyone realizes this was a mistake and cancels the call.

Don’t: Ask “how is everyone doing?” It’s bad. We’re all doing bad. This is bad. 

Do: Zone out and ignore the call until somebody asks you a question, and then say, “Sorry, I think the feed cut out” 

Don’t: Set your Zoom background to the ISIS flag. Or do! Whatever, it’s The Purge!

Do: Mute your camera when you have to fart, but show with your facial expression that you are very clearly farting.

Don’t: Freebase blow. It’s difficult to share virtually and you can’t assume all other call participants have access.

The Fifth Peg

In 1970, Roger Ebert walked out of a movie he was reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times and into the Fifth Peg, a folk club in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Out of “sheer blind luck,” he saw John Prine and wrote the first review Prine ever received.

Today, John Prine is in critical condition with COVID-19 symptoms. And the Fifth Peg is a La Colombe coffee shop, next door to a Freshii and down the street from both a Warby Parker store and the 4am bar where my dad’s Rolling Stones cover band plays sometimes. 

Life comes at you fast. But, re-reading Ebert’s review and thinking of the destruction that coronavirus has wrought on a personal and civic level, I’m struck by just how deeply the people and places in our life are intertwined. 

I like to think of a person or a place’s meaning both vertically and horizontally. Take the vertical meaning of an address like 858 W. Armitage, Chicago, IL 60614. Maybe today you passed it on a social distancing walk through a Lincoln Park neighborhood suddenly void of $2,000 baby strollers or designer labradoodles. Just a month ago you could have taken a date or a friend to coffee at La Colombe, sitting outside on an unseasonably warm day as you watched your fellow Chicagoans walk past. 50 years ago, that La Colombe was a packed folk venue where word of mouth led people from Steve Goodman to Ebert to come together and listen to a mustachio’d mailman sing about a guy who died because he couldn’t see through all the flag decals he stuck on his truck. And that venue, with a bar down one side and apartments up top, had been around since 1885—built a decade after the Chicago Fire but four years before the neighborhood was annexed by Chicago. You can think about John Prine’s meaning vertically too: You can draw a straight line from Hank Williams and Bob Dylan to Prine, and then extend Prine’s influence out to just about any songwriter today who picks up an acoustic guitar. 

Both Prine and the place where Ebert first saw him have horizontal meaning too. At the time Prine was performing in Lincoln Park, the wealthy and mostly white (even then) neighborhood existed in a complex urban context. There was the poor and mostly black Cabrini-Green housing project next door to the south, or the more integrated Lathrop Homes to the northwest. Just a year before, the Young Lords had held protests against gentrification in Lincoln Park and the CPD had assassinated Fred Hampton on the West Side. The Hancock building had just gone up a few miles to the south of the Fifth Peg, and meanwhile the city’s factories and stockyards were looking down the barrel of a decade of deindustrialization. Prine, too, could be defined in the context of what was going around him. Ebert did just that, contrasting Prine against peers who sang “adolescent acid-rock peace dirges” or “narcissistic tributes to themselves.”

We understand a neighborhood like Lincoln Park in part based on what it isn’t: it’s not Wicker Park, it’s not Hyde Park, etc. We understand a singer like Prine in part based on who he isn’t: as Ebert noted, he was way more Hank Williams and Bob Dylan than Roger Williams or Phil Ochs. And, right now, we’re experiencing this quarantine based on who we aren’t with: the friends, loved ones, and strangers whose company we never knew we could miss so badly until it was taken from us. 

Coronavirus will be a key point in our vertical memory. We’ll mark time based on what happened before or after the pandemic. The same way that Prine could probably mark his life based on what happened before versus after he got his first review. And I’ve never felt so crushingly aware of the horizontal space between us—the video chats with people who I would ordinarily see in person (or never think to video chat with in the first place), and the great effort it now would take to reach them. 

John Prine wrote perfect music for when you’re down and alone. And he wrote perfect music that has, and will continue to, bring people together. 

When I woke up this morning
Things were feeling bad
Seemed like total silence
Was the only friend I had


Just give me one thing
That I can hold on to
To believe in this living
Is just a hard way to go

No matter when he passes—and we know that now isn’t his time, like so many others—he’ll live on in our memory. And his music will help us try to bridge the physical and emotional gap that separates us from one another. 

Our Slow Motion Catastrophe

Throughout our lifetime, national traumas have come as something of a shock. Levees in New Orleans suddenly breaching. Banks closing and markets collapsing. Boeing 767s streaking across a bright blue sky.

And while most of us are still using euphemisms to describe the current situation—“unprecedented times,” “everything that’s going on,” “the current situation”—the projections from scientists, academics, politicians, and public health officials all align: we’re headed for a catastrophe of historic proportions. Slowly (for now), agonizingly, we are inching toward a precipice of trauma that few of us are prepared for.

Even with social distancing and a nationwide sprint to flatten the curve, it’s more likely than not that the train has left the station. Where previous tragedies have caught us off guard, we have a decent idea of where this one is probably heading. And it’s not pretty.

As strange and awful as the past two weeks have been, I can’t shake the feeling that in a month (or two, or six, or 18), we’ll look back on this time as the fun part. It’s been a lot of Zoom happy hours and learning to bake. Catching up on shows, sleeping in, skipping the gym. 

What it feels like we’re all ignoring to some degree—intentionally on my part, in an effort to stay sane—is what comes next. 

We see what’s going on in Italy and Iran and we think something along the lines of “man, I hope that doesn’t happen here.” The reality is that it’s entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that the disaster in Italy is just beginning; that in a week or two the scale of the loss will be astronomically higher and the situation we’re witnessing there now will seem almost innocent by comparison. And that we’ll find that for all our recent efforts, we already put ourselves on that same track months ago.

Before I go further, I should stop to say that there is broad consensus that the types of social distancing efforts underway in Italy, France, Spain, New York, California, Illinois, and elsewhere do work. As contagious as this virus is, it doesn’t float through the wind; it usually requires human-to-human contact to transmit, and large scale restrictions on physical human interactions should greatly reduce the spread. 

But we don’t know 1) how strictly implemented and well-followed these restrictions will be, and 2) how widely the disease spread before we started going all out to stop it. The evidence from Europe suggests that the answer to #2 is likely much worse than we would hope.

Which is why it’s time to begin grappling with what is likely to come. That does not mean panic or despondence; we each have a significant role to play in flattening the curve and preventing transmission. But it does mean starting to process what’s next.

According to The New York Times, Columbia researchers estimate we’ll soon see hundreds of thousands of cases per day for a period of a month or more, even with some control measures. That number is significantly lower, but still in the tens of thousands, with severe control measures. 

The infamous Imperial College study projects more than a million Americans could die in spite of the steps governments are now taking. Even if they were able to more fully replicate efforts in Wuhan and South Korea that go beyond lockdowns—including widespread testing, mandatory isolation for those who test positive, and mandatory quarantine for those with symptoms—20,000 or more are likely to perish in the U.K., according to the study. The authors didn’t model this scenario for the U.S., but Britain has a population about 1/5th of the United States. 

So it’s staggering. And horrifying. And I hope dearly that it’s not inevitable. But what if it is? What if tens of thousands dead is the best case scenario.

Right now, unless you worked on the set of the Mr. Rogers movie or play basketball for a living, you probably don’t personally know anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. But you will, that much seems almost certain. 

Fortunately, even if the medical system gets overwhelmed, experts say the vast majority of those infected with the virus will recover fully on their own. Thank God. 

But I can’t stop thinking about that projection of two million dead even with controls in place. That’s about .6% of the population. In some localities, it will surely be higher. 

Think about how many people you know. A few hundred? Maybe a couple thousand, depending on your life experiences? If this goes how they say it will—even with everything we’re doing to stop it—this is likely to touch all of us in a way much deeper and much more traumatic than the inconvenience of staying home for months on end.

And as awful, horrendous, sickening, and hopefully wrong as that possibility is, it’s time for all of us to begin processing it.