One of the most fun Christmas presents I ever got was a Magic Eight Ball. Do you remember these devices? You asked a question and turned the ball over. A little multi-sided die inside the ball would float through the liquid in which it was suspended and show you an answer. Options on the answers included, if memory serves, yes, no, it is most likely, outlook good, signs point to no, and cannot predict now. The eight ball was a must for sleepovers, because you could huddle with your friends and ask about life’s critical issues, such as the accuracy of reports that X and Y had actually kissed each other or whether Z liked you. We had lots of vaguely scandalous fun with the Eight Ball. And if you think about it, as a source of information it probably was about as good as half of what you see on Facebook.
One thing I never needed the Eight Ball for, though, was making decisions. For better or worse, I’ve always been a decisive person. I remember many years ago when our daughter Jane was a toddler and we were in San Francisco on vacation. A friend who lived in that lovely city had joined us for the evening and was walking with us as we returned to our hotel near Union Square. We were low on milk, which Jane enjoyed first thing in the morning and which we could stash in our room’s minibar. So as we walked by a small store selling drinks, snacks, and the like, I ducked in to buy a pint of milk. When I emerged from the little space, our friend was shaking his head. “I’m impressed,” he said. “When you saw a store, you just went in and got what you needed. I would have stood on the sidewalk and tried to decide whether this was the closest store to the hotel and whether this was where I’d get the best price.” This is me in a nutshell. If I overpaid by two cents and carried my pint of milk one more block than I might have needed to, I’m okay with that. We had milk. (P.S. There were no stores nearer our hotel, as it turned out.)
So imagine my surprise last Thursday when I found myself dithering over the question of whether to attend my book group meeting on Friday. I’d read the book and wanted to discuss it. But the organizer wanted the six members to meet in person at a cafe; what’s more, I’d have to ride the bus to get there. Small in-person meetings and bus rides are permitted now, with masking and distancing, but the prospect made me nervous and left me torn as to whether to attend. Is there such a thing as FOGO, which I guess is kind of the opposite of FOMO? Anyway, I couldn’t make up my mind and drove Mark crazy by repeatedly enumerating the pros and cons. Ultimately rain intervened and spared me the choice, because we opted to meet by Zoom instead of in person. But I noticed my unusual state of indecision; apparently it’s an unexpected byproduct of the pandemic.
In all fairness, we’re all probably a little bit at sea now. It’s like in the Star Trek episodes (and there are many) where the Enterprise has to navigate through space or time or the innards of some menacing galactic creature where there are no landmarks. What’s safe? What’s risky? What’s downright dangerous? Familiar guidelines and practices have become obsolete – impractical at best and life-threatening at worst. Perhaps indecision isn’t that surprising, under the circumstances.
I know I need to decide how to forge ahead, though, because life moves on even in the midst of uncertainty. So I’ve decided to make my COVID decisions one at a time. First up is the question of how to greet people. The kisses on both cheeks we had learned to give and receive here are history. Handshakes and hugs also are out. The “live long and prosper” Vulcan greeting, speaking of Star Trek, doesn’t make sense to some of our acquaintance, and even people who know what it is sometimes can’t make their fingers respond in kind. And I don’t dare use the University of Texas “Hook ‘em Horns” sign, because that means something truly different in Europe than it does in Austin. Getting arrested is not in my quarantine plans.
All is not lost, though. The namaste hands together greeting is a contender, but overall I’m leaning towards curtsying. It’s pretty and sweetly nostalgic in a Jane Austen kind of way. However, it’s also difficult. So I’ve been practicing curtsying in the bathtub, with a non-slip mat under my feet and shower enclosure walls to balance on if I start to wobble. It’s kind of fun, except when my knees creak. Following the example of Cinderella’s stepsister, I suppose I need to rub some unicorn oil on my joint to stop the offending sound. But Carrefour appears to be out of this salve, so I’ll just have to live with the noise as I keep practicing.
This is all goofy, I know. Even as I savor my bathtub silliness and my dreams of unicorn oil, I’m aware that many serious decisions lie ahead. We’ve all got to learn how to live in our new normal. Personally, I’m going to have to dig down and find my old decisive self, the one who apparently has been quarantining somewhere else but who needs to show the heck back up now. And it’s no use asking my Magic Eight Ball for guidance. About ten years ago the die got stuck in the answer window, and now it perpetually advises me to “Ask again later.” So I guess it’s up to each of us to sort out the available information, take a deep breath, and move forward. God help us all as we do.