Where are we?
Let’s be a little more emphatic: Where are we, anyway?
Mask or no mask? Distance or adjacency? Indoor dining? Outdoor dining? Forget about it, no restaurants, no way.
If vaccinated, resume normal life, say experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Time to stow your "Phantom of the Opera" face gear. Everyone get in close and smile for a selfie.
Oops, not so fast.
The CDC unmasking does not extend to planes, trains, buses — any public conveyance. Nope, the all-clear hasn’t sounded yet.
Businesses continue their own dress codes. People still eat in tents outside restaurants. Forget attending the Tokyo Olympics, advises the government. (Not a problem.)
Yes, things are getting better, I tell myself. Before it was all tunnel and no light. Now comes a twinkle — and maybe more.
It’s just that I’m not sure how — or if, or when — to resume the old life.
Forget the mask? Embrace proximity? Give a hug? Culture shock.
We saw a group of old friends the other day. People wrapped arms around each other like they’d survived a rough landing at Kennedy.
"Isn’t this something?" we said.
"Something," everyone agreed.
What is normal, 2021?
We’re in Hoboken, New Jersey, for lunch recently, for instance. I am not in a terrific mood because despite a dozen great-looking Italian places along the main drag, we arrive at a yuppie pub with outdoor tables. I feel like everyone’s grandfather.
I’m uneasy, too. It is the first try at restaurants since February 2020. I feel like I’ve lost the knack. On radio, a worker said customers should show courtesy and wear masks when ordering. "We don’t know you and you don’t know us," she said.
Stalled, I consult a staff member. Mask?
"Don’t bother," she says. "You’re good."
Maybe I’m good but she — and her co-workers — look like they are masquerading as dental assistants. Faces canopied, taking no chances.
This included the young friend we have come to see. She lived on Long Island but now is a Jersey Girl — and waitress at the pub.
"Let me take your picture for the old gang," says my wife.
Our friend backs off a bit.
"Just one," my wife says. "I’ll be quick."
"I-I can’t," the waitress answers, and then we get it. Caught maskless, she might be looking for work.
"Sorry," we say. "Shouldn’t have asked. Very sorry."
There is a theory in atomic science called the Uncertainty Principle. The idea — proposed by the great thinker Werner Heisenberg — has to do with velocity, variables and the limits of knowledge. Applied to everyday life, the idea hints that you may not be able to grasp exactly what is going on at any particular moment. Too much velocity. Too many variables.
Consider me seriously Uncertain.
The family decided it was time for a Mets game. After long debate, we settled on seats in a "Fully Vaccinated" section. Once we argued only about my preference for the first-base line, upper deck, last row. Now we ponder Citi Field epidemiology.
My wife and I are walking to the garden center to buy hostas, the only thing we can get to grow.
We are a few feet from the entrance.
"Masks!" I call out, hustling back to the car for our neglected PPE.
"Do we need them here?"
In the aisles of petunias and impatiens, some shoppers have faces covered, some not.
"I hate this," I mumble.
Stop it. That is me bawling myself out. People around the world are suffering. They are not worrying about hostas. They are worrying about oxygen tanks and hospital beds. Keep things in perspective for once.
Along those lines, here’s a last- minute U-turn. Sit tight.
Bob Dylan reached 80 in May. Joan Baez, last January. Born in 1940, I got there first.
Not likely, but if the two enduring folkies offered a duet to celebrate octogenarian solidarity, I am ready with a request.
It takes into consideration pandemic confusion, CDC advice, Hoboken, hostas and the Uncertainty Principle. It hinges on my absolute dazzlement at the peculiar world we inhabit and what we owe one another and ourselves. Can you guess?
"Don’t think twice, It’s all right."
Sing it, kids.