Chris Dupuy

Nero and the New Normal

(Detail from image by Shua Baber for United Nations COVID-19 Response)

What is meant by the New Normal? Chris Dupuy explores several of the new practices and behaviors that have emerged during these pandemic times.

 

They were playing volleyball on the beach this morning.

75 days ago, that wouldn’t have been noteworthy.

Has it really only been 75 days since my life was … (okay, let’s be honest … on my best day my life never felt …) normal?

But two and a half months later, I now call it “normal” with both sentimentality and fondness, as I think back upon those delightfully carefree days of yore.

75 days doesn’t sound like that much time when I say it out loud, but I believe I may speak for many when I say it sure has felt like an eternity.

In a very short span of sunsets and sunrises, worldwide, hundreds of thousands have died, millions more have gotten sick, and countless numbers have lost their jobs. And those are just the direct hits. I don’t know that there’s one among us that hasn’t felt the collateral damage of this global tragedy by now.

But that’s not where I’m heading today. Plenty has already been written on the pain and suffering, by folks more knowledgeable than I—more in tune with the facts, rumors, and arguments that come at us on a daily basis. Sadly, I’m afraid there’s still more of that to come.

But the volleyball got my attention.

The volleyball this morning got me thinking that maybe it’s time to start getting a jump on this whole concept of “New Normal.” It’s become a popular term—New Normal—and why not? It’s catchy and broad enough for us to relate to, be it with hope, regret, nostalgia, or a hint of all three.

And as I slog my way through every series the good people of Netflix tell me they think I’ll have an interest in, I can’t help feeling a little like Nero, the erstwhile emperor who chose to play his fiddle while all Rome burned around him.

I’ve got friends in Dallas and Atlanta eating dinner at honest to goodness restaurants right now. The beaches in New York and New Jersey are actually open for Memorial Day Weekend (really, guys? okay, whatever …). And if the world can change as dramatically as it has in the last 75 days, I better get on the damn stick if I don’t want to get left behind when this whole New Normal train leaves the station sometime in the next 75 days.

I feel badly unprepared.

So, like Nero fiddling while the world burns, I elected to set out on an exploratory walking tour of one of my absolute favorite locales—the Isle of Me. I mean, there’s got to be some learnings here—you know, life lessons and such, for me to grow and benefit from. C’mon, two and a half months have gone by, with literally millions of social media posts alternately scolding and encouraging me—but always insisting to me that things will be different one day.

If you ask me, if feels like “one day” is getting closer.

And so, I begin my search with a foray into the kitchen. Almost immediately I stumble upon learning number one—expiration dates on food and beverages are nowhere near as firm a signal that something in the fridge has gone bad as I once thought.

There was a time when a “best used by” date of 5/22 meant that baby was trash the morning of 5/23—no questions asked. The New Normal has taught us that such dates are merely suggestions. Cold cuts, dairy, the lettuce that’s been in the crisper an alarmingly long time? Meh, what the heck—pile up a sandwich and let her rip. If it buys us a few extra days of avoiding the supermarket, I’ll roll the dice.

 

Like Nero fiddling while the world burns, I elected to set out on an exploratory walking tour of one of my absolute favorite locales—the Isle of Me.

 

How about the pantry?

No longer is there anything in the pantry that’s off limits. That beef jerky that’s been hidden away on one of the shelves, perhaps left behind by the folks that lived here before I moved in? That’s lunch tomorrow. And the dusty can of kidney beans that no one will admit to having picked up from the store? Well, that sounds like one hell of a side dish for the jerky if you ask me.

In fact, the New Normal approach going forward shall be: if it’s semi-edible and taking up space in the cupboard between the Minute Rice and that almost-empty box of Froot Loops? Yup, it needs to be consumed before anyone is given the green light to set sail back to Safeway for a reload.

But the New Normal isn’t just an exercise in perishables. How about the always-shadowy world of personal hygiene?

75 days ago, I was good for a haircut roughly once a month. Fast forward 75 days, though, and I’ve learned that not only is a visit to my barber “non-essential,” it’s actually a colossal waste of time and money. But society has forced us to play ball all these years using their rules. Those that seek to profit through exploitation of my fragile ego and hyper-sensitivity over what others might think (or worse, whisper behind my back) about my appearance, have profited handsomely from this three-card-Monty setup of expensive, superfluous grooming products.

To remedy that, going forward, my New Normal for haircare will consist of a quarterly shearing, not unlike what I envision sheep-farmers, high in the sheep-country of Scotland (that’s where sheep country is, right?) engage in every spring (pretty sure the Scots enjoy their sheep-shearing season in the spring). You know, when they harvest all that wool to make those itchy white sweaters the country is famous for? Or is that Ireland? I digress …

I bought a pair of clippers from Amazon (as an aside, my “New Normal BFF” is now anyone behind the wheel of an Amazon delivery truck), and every three to six months I intend to buzz my unruly mop-top down to the studs. My clippers arrived on Tuesday.

In under twenty minutes, I shape-shifted my look from a dead ringer for Harpo Marx to more of a modern-day Moe Howard (that’s a Three Stooges reference, kids). You want nostalgia, how often do we get to harken back to the great comedic genius of both The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges in the course of one haircut? And the complimentary razor line that now extends six inches or so across the side of my head just above the left ear? Well, let’s just say it adds character.

The savings don’t end with the elimination of haircuts either. And sure, this may pale when compared with investigations into the Russians influencing elections, but could somebody please take a peek at those manipulative rascals inside the shaving cream industry?

I mean, has there ever been empirical proof presented as to why shaving cream is a critical component of the morning shave? That’s right, no proof whatsoever, and I, for one, am done bankrolling this charade.

The whole idea of a morning shave is overrated anyway. Over the course of these past 75 days, when I do decide a shave is absolutely necessary, it could be midnight or half past two in the afternoon when I pull out my razor. Time of day has come to mean less than ever in my New Normal, and when the mood strikes me and I do shave, I’ve found the need for shaving cream to be optional at best.

Do I have a couple extra nicks and cuts for my trouble? Sure, but now that toilet paper is off the endangered species list, I can use the oldest form of post-shave maintenance known to man—be gone, pricey after-shave—a dab of toilet paper applied to any residual nick or cut will do just fine.

Nothing shouts “I’ve got an important meeting today and only slept three hours last night” quite like a face dotted with small white clumps of toilet paper. In this day and age where anything stamped “vintage” or “retro” is considered hip and cool, I believe I may be on to something here.

As I move from the bathroom to my bedroom closet, the momentum from exposing those shaving cream frauds propels me with a newfound confidence.

Peering inside, there is an immediate discovery that halts me in my tracks. I have eight belts. Talk about foolish excess! I haven’t worn a belt in 75 days. We’ll add a “no belts” provision to my personal New Normal, and while we’re at it, let’s throw those useless neckties onto the New Normal bonfire, too. I’ve got to believe that whoever introduced us mindless, corporate robots to the $100 silk necktie must have been in cahoots with the shaving cream hooligans.

But wait, there’s more!

With companies embracing video conferencing, Zoom sessions, and Microsoft Teams as the wave of the future in keeping employees connected via the virtual boardroom, will there ever really be a reason to wear dress slacks again? Another overpriced gimmick of the establishment exposed. We’ll hang onto all those collared shirts for appearance’s sake (plus I’m not ready to part with my cuff links just yet), but shorts and flip flops hidden below the range of my laptop camera will be sufficient in the New Normal, thank you.

 

It’s become a popular term—New Normal—and why not? It’s catchy and broad enough for us to relate to, be it with hope, regret, nostalgia, or a hint of all three.

 

So, perhaps the pundits who extolled the virtues of the New Normal were correct? I’m rolling in cost savings, efficiencies, and freedom from outdated and heavy-handed societal norms. And I haven’t even ventured outside the house yet. Okay, to be truthful, I haven’t ventured outside the house much at all, for any reason, these past 75 days.

Another key learning in this world where the term “lockdown” has become part of our daily vernacular—we must really think about just how badly we want or need to go somewhere.

Especially if “somewhere” happens to be a greater distance than any place I can easily reach on foot or by riding my bike.

I’ve got my new best friend, Amazon, willing to bring me practically anything I dream up in a day or two. And for hot meals, there are myriad apps on my phone that allow me the pleasure of enjoying my local dining establishments without having to sully the experience by interacting with other humans who might spew droplets in my direction—an action that I’m told could potentially kill my ass.

Since there’s nowhere I need to go to shop or eat, I’m not really suffering from one unexpected aspect of my New Normal. I don’t have a car. I had two before the virus picked up steam, but both were driven away by my daughters, who decided their definition of social distancing (at least when applied to their parents) was more along the lines of six-hundred miles, not six feet.

So, their desertion has left me stranded in my own home, locked away in a room upstairs I now loosely refer to as my “office,” where I tend to important “work stuff” (which more and more frequently has morphed into staring longingly out my front window).

Such an existence is not unlike the creepy and crazy uncle character, from those grainy movies of yesteryear. You remember the poor, rumpled old guy, locked away in the attic plotting his escape, and occasionally busting himself free? Yeah, the guy would set off on foot into town, freaking out some lady out for a stroll with her growling dog, only to be apprehended by the overly stern and uncaring nephew after a few, unsettling misadventures? Yeah, that’s me on my last visit to FedEx.

But if I do stumble onto the need for travel of a more significant distance? Well, I armor up. Hoodie sweatshirt and long pants are my travel uniform of choice. Plastic gloves, an N95 mask, and oversized sunglasses offer additional protection as I wait impatiently for Uber or Lyft to ferry me off on my appointed rounds. And while I sit confined in the backseat of the vehicle, I refuse to move even an inch in any direction, lest some foreign object touch a sliver of exposed skin. Plus, they offer breath mints.

Pulling it all together, it is not an exaggeration to say my savings from conversion to the New Normal will be astronomical. I’m getting cash back on ten to fifteen skipped haircuts a year, not to mention all those containers of shaving cream that will gather dust on shelves at the local CVS (take that, shaving cream industry parasites).

And there will be no new belt purchases, as I learn to embrace elastic in my New Normal. Add to that the substantial cash infusion that will result from the elimination of ties, dress slacks, and work shoes from my wardrobe, and the New Normal is shaping up as a freaking financial home run.

Of course, it may be true that when you see me next via video conference, I will not be as well coiffed as I was “way back when.” But hopefully my newfound edginess, what with the toilet paper dabbed on my chin and those uneven zigs and zags etched into the side of my scalp, will more than make up for it.

And rest assured I’ll be laughing all the way to my online banking app, as I count up the considerable gasoline savings.

You want to know one other thing I’ve noticed over these past 75 days?

All the time I’m spending deep in my own head may not be such a good thing.

I’ve succumbed to such “stinking thinking” despite the knowledge that pretty much every bad idea, negative thought, or wave of self-loathing over these past many decades came about because of exactly that kind of mental confinement.

Yet, here I am again, allowing it to happen. Nero—fiddling away and waiting for the New Normal. Rome’s on fire and I’m adding up haircuts and belts. And shaving cream. Don’t forget the shaving cream.

Beats reality, I guess. But it still remains our choice.

Choose to hit the pause button before the noise gets too loud, folks. Take a breath. Go for a walk. Anything to avoid getting trapped in there.

Besides, I hear there’s beach volleyball again.

 

Chris Dupuy

Chris Dupuy is a reformed Wall Street lifer currently residing in the Bay Area. He is passionate about music and all things related to the world of sports. More of his writing can be found at SportsAttic.blog, a site he created in an effort to better cope with the travails of rooting for hopeless and broken New York sports franchises.

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