I had a friend over last week. The first visitor in nearly four months. One Benjamin Stasny stopped by as he fled New York City.
What is a Benjamin Stasny? Great question. Ben was a former student of mine at Roseville Area High School. Circa 2008ish or something. Teachers shouldn’t pick favorites. Especially drama teachers. But I spent four years working closely with Ben. And he always made me laugh. Our relationship became a friendship after he graduated. It even led to strange creative partnerships. We write together. Our writing led to this quarantine project. Yikes! Ben was accepted into graduate school at the University of Colorado Boulder during this installment of the end times. I wrote a stellar letter for him. I even tried to teach him MLA over Facetime. Now he is leaving the skyscrapers of New York City for the Rocky Mountains. A good choice if you ask me. But I like mountains.
State College was on his way, so Ben’s rental van rolled into our driveway at about 1:00 PM on a Friday afternoon. I put on my mask and sprayed hand sanitizer at him. The boy had been in New York during all of this for heaven’s sake! I set up two chairs in our spacious backyard. Brought down a couple of beers. Some of Katie’s delicious homemade cinnamon rolls. And we had a beer together. Talked about graduate school, moving across the country, and pandemics. My two sons came down in their masks and said hi.
“I wish I could give you a snuggle, Uncle Ben,” Solomon said. “But the virus.”
But the virus. What a sad little comment.
Ben has made visits since my little family moved to Pennsylvania. New York is only a few hours east. Ben comes and stays with us. We’ve done improv together. Hit the college bars. Stayed in touch. I’ve enjoyed his visits. And I’ve enjoyed working with him on nonsensical projects during these end times. I’ll be sad that he’s moving west, but I’m sure our friendship will continue. Our creative partnership too.
It’s remarkable how many former students have gotten in touch during the uncertainty of the last four months. Asked how I’ve been. Shared a little about how they’ve been. Wanted to talk about race. About whiteness. About these end times. Enough people reached out to remind me of the potential of classrooms to build real community. That’s what draws me to teaching and learning. Working closely with others to figure things out. That’s good. That’s needed. That’s hard to replicate in a Zoom room. And I’m reminded that doing the work of teaching and learning with care often spills out of the classroom.
So Ben spilled out of those classrooms (and theaters) from nearly fifteen years ago and into my backyard last week. My first playdate in four months. It was sad not to give him a hug. And sadder to see him leave after such a short stay. The saddest part was Solomon in his mask, unable to give Uncle Ben a hug.
I’m more socially awkward than ever. Sitting in front of a screen all day will do that to you. I’m like a World of Warcraft gamer these days. Hot Cheetos, Mountain Dew, and an expanding belly. It’s not good for me to be isolated. I’m sure of that. And who can say what all of this isolation has meant for the boys? Or for you? If you’ve been isolating. Maybe you live in Florida. They don’t isolate there, I’m told.
I want my children in school next fall. I want them in close proximity with other people trying to figure things out. But I’m not one to completely disavow science. Or caution. Yes, I think the media exacerbates our fear by pushing stories that attract our attention. Both sides. The polarized, sensationalism that drives our sources of information these days is really something. But. I also think that what the CDC or the WHO has to say about our current situation trumps the other voices I’m hearing. And the CDC and the WHO don’t seem convinced that business as usual is the best move. Wear masks? Socially distance? These things are not fun. But I’ll take the CDC’s advice over one politician or another. Over media pundits, corporate oligarchs, or a Russian Bot with 127 followers who is sure that Fauci murdered Epstein in Hillary Clinton’s dominatrix dungeon with Roger Stone filming the whole damned thing.
That was a funny, funny sentence.
Anyway, my social awkwardness these days is pretty extreme.
“Hi,” I told my friend Ben. Then I sprayed him down with hand-sanitizer, took my pants off, put them on my head, and began to sing the Star-Spangled Banner.
I didn’t actually do that. But that was a funny sentence too.
I don’t know, man. It’s hard to practice social interaction when two of the three people you’ve been isolating with with are under the age of seven. And I’m sure it’s hard for those two people under seven to be with a socially awkward, 40 year-old father all day.
We’re fortunate. I have a job. We have a home. A big backyard. We keep making a go of it. My routine is too routine. The same thing day in and day out. Wake up. Go for a run. Try and write or work in the morning. It’s so hard to be productive right now. Take the boys to the park in the afternoon. Play video games with them at night. Watch TV with Katie. Go to bed. Not much in the way of deviation. I know that’s not good for me. But I don’t see another way to do this right now.
I hope you’re finding ways to move through this thing, whoever you are. I do like writing these blogs. These open journal entries. Sharing some time and space with whoever found their way to these words. Whoever put some time into reading them. Thanks for that. That’s a nice connection in these strange times.