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No more “see ya,” “ciao,” or “catch you later.”
Now it’s “stay safe,” meaning don’t let the face mask slip, and do your best to remain healthy and protect everyone else.
For me, this is not such a terrible challenge.
I have been cautious forever.
Early on, for instance, I skipped the smelts my father fried for dinner and the liver my mother served to make sure we got enough iron. Metal filings would have gone down easier.
Why, on those evenings redolent of breaded fish and animal innards, the adults didn’t ask why I was rushing so often to the bathroom, cheeks plump as a chipmunk, beats me. Most likely, Dad and Mom were overcome by the pleasures of their pungent haute cuisine.
My survival instincts kicked in early, as I say, and have been developing ever since.
Outside PS 170 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, I once paid a neighborhood roughneck 25 cents preemptively to let me pass without another punch in the shoulder or remark about my corduroy knickers.
“Hadn’t planned on any action today,” said the troublemaker, who I’m not naming on the chance he’s still alive. “But gimme’ the quarter, anyway.”
I complied and told the folks I scored a combo deal at Becker’s candy store — egg cream, pretzel stick, Captain Marvel comic book, two bits.
On the baseball field, I tended to field grounders from a peculiar sideways position, as though a bullfighter dodging el toro. Curveballs, I ducked. At bat, I did not crowd the plate.
I was catching passes during gym class at Brooklyn Tech one afternoon when an assistant football coach came by.
“Nice grab over the head,” he said. “You should come out for the team.”
Just a week before I had been in class with a lineman on the Tech squad, always a powerhouse. He described in detail the punishment players enjoyed inflicting on one another.
“Thanks,” I told the coach. “Can’t see a thing without my glasses.”
As teenage years moved along, I was as interested in the birds and bees as anyone else. Once I had a date with beautiful girl.
At the end of the evening we sat on her front steps in South Brooklyn. We kissed, and I could tell we might not end up where we started. In my head, I heard my mother’s doleful warning in regard to all things hormonal: “Don’t ruin your life. Better safe than sorry.”
I’m not sure ruination was in the cards that night, but I disengaged and took the bus home. Safe, yes. Sorry, no question.
In college, I went out briefly with another gorgeous individual. This was just the sort of high-risk enterprise I usually avoided because she, in turn, was being pursued by a varsity athlete.
Eventually, I met the guy — by that time, he had won the girl’s heart, no contest — and he couldn’t have been more friendly or upfront. Sometime later, I learned he found her in the arms of yet another. That seemed to me a warning. As the Greeks — and my mother — warned, don’t fly too close to the sun.
Speaking of flight, once I took a lesson.
It didn’t go well.
I couldn’t keep the plane level, and there was an unforgettable moment when the instructor, aghast, grabbed the controls and uttered an unprintable. Breathtakingly close, a Piper Cub zipped by.
“Not for me,” I told my wife when back on Earth.
“You don’t want to give it another try?”
“Sure,” I said. “Right after I go over Niagara in a barrel.”
These are challenging days but, in some measure, a relief for those with severe adventure deficit.
“Nothing good ever happens going out of the house,” advised the comedian Larry David.
He made the remark in a public service announcement, but fans of David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” HBO program know the outlook matches his worldview. The virus, said David, offers a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to “sit on the couch and watch TV.”
My wife says I remind her of Larry David, minus the money.
OK, I don’t take many chances. As a result, I am suddenly the very model of civic responsibility.
She’s the brave heart, anyway.
Do you recall the athlete’s faithless girlfriend? Gorgeous, yes, but with a roommate loyal, true and — you betcha’ — a cutie-pie, too.
The roommate and I married two years later. She assumed the risk. I got the reward.