Pandemic Birthday Party – February 2, 2021

OK. Time for a blog post. Or, more accurately, way past time.

My writing hasn’t been going well lately. In fact, it hasn’t been going at all, but I’ll get to that in a bit. It’s been a couple of weeks since my last entry, and I’m hoping that writing a blog post will help spur me back into the habit of writing something every day.

Life has been the standard, mundane Pandemic Existence, lately. With the exception of this past weekend, the only difference between my weekends and my week-days is not having to go into work. Most of the rest of my time I spend in my office, not writing, but instead watching YouTube videos.

The weekdays seem to bleed into each other like daubs of paint mixing to brown on an old artist pallet. I wouldn’t mind it so much if I could do more on the weekends to break up the monotony. As it is, I’m barely finding enough to do around the house to keep me busy. Many projects that I would like to get started on require supplies that I don’t have easy access to because of the current “Stay-At-Home” restrictions.

It’s difficult to buy building materials right now, unless you’re a contractor, I suppose. You have to rely on someone else picking out your order for you. That never works out for me, as they don’t take the kind of care that I would in picking out the wood I need. During the last Lock-Down, when I did go buy lumber and sheet goods through “Curb-Side Pickup”, many of the boards I got were warped or otherwise unusable, and ended up in my fire-pit. I half suspect that was done on purpose, to dispose of lower quality stock and save the good stuff for the contractors.

I’ve been dreading the onset of winter, as I always do, because the dark, cold weather tends to bring on a Seasonal Depression. I was hoping to avoid that this year, since I’m no longer on the midnight shift, and do get a lot more sun exposure as a result. Not being able to see the sun from November to March for the past twenty years did a number on me, making me moody and morose for most of the season.

Unfortunately, that still seems to be happening. I still feel the pressing weight of the season, especially now that the holidays have passed. I’m sure it’s more Pandemic Fatigue than Seasonal Depression this time around, but they feel quite similar. When the weekends roll around, I make plans that I hope will break these dark moods, but my luck has been limited. The nature walks I take every Sunday help, but wandering around the same small patches of woods, hearing the traffic in the background is getting stale and repetitive, and is no longer invigorating. I have to start traveling further to find some trails to explore. Hopefully the weather will co-operate and I’ll be able to take some day trips.

This past weekend, though, was a bit different. It was my Birthday Weekend, though my actual birthday fell on the following Monday.

Like most weekends lately, it started with me feeling listless and unmotivated. The idea of growing another year older, the on-going issues with certain family members, with my health, and the afore-mentioned COVID-Fatigue threatened to keep me in a low mood despite any, needfully limited, Birthday Festivities. I moped around on the Friday and part of Saturday, not knowing what to do with myself.

My mind kept wandering back to Birthday’s Past; parties, road trips, dinner and/or drinks out with good friends. Those memories only added to my melancholy, as I’d have nothing like that this year. Like so many others this year, including my son, I was to have a “Stay-at-Home”, Pandemic Birthday.

To cheer myself up a bit I decided to go for a drive. The day was sunny and rather warm for late January. So, I hopped into my little PT Cruiser, the one that I had the water-pump adventure with back in November, and turned the key.

She wouldn’t start.

I knew it wasn’t anything serious, and by rights should have expected and dealt with it weeks ago. The battery in the Cruiser was long overdue for replacement. I had noticed quite a bit of corrosion on the terminals when I was under the hood dealing with the water-pump, and should have replaced it then and there. Instead I just cleaned the contacts with baking soda and sprayed some anti-corrosion compound on them.

The car tends to sit, undriven, for most of the week. I take our old mini-van to work every day and my wife drives the Caliber, and with the area in “Lock-Down”, there really aren’t many other places we need to go. The Cruiser doesn’t see much action except on the weekends. With the weather turning colder and the long stretches of inactivity, the battery must have drained out.

As annoying as this should have been, it was unexpected and out of the ordinary enough to actually get me motivated to do something. I have a battery charger, so I connected that to the terminals, and gave it a few minutes to bring the charge back up. Once she was running, I let her idle while I put everything away, and then took her for a bit of a drive to bolster the battery’s charge.

When I was confident that the Cruiser would start back up again if I shut her off (I do have jumper cables in the car just in case) I went shopping for a new battery. With the “Stay-at-Home” restrictions right now, the only place I could think of where I could walk in and buy a battery off-the-shelf was the near-by Walmart. Not my favourite place to shop, but the local automotive stores were only allowing “Curb-Side” pick-up. To get a battery there, I would have had to order and pay on-line, and then wait for them to give me a pickup time to go and grab the battery. I wanted to get the job done before the sun set on me, so Walmart it was. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

I got home with the new battery (she did start up again, though weakly) and spent the next half-hour or so swapping it with the old one. Happy to be even momentarily distracted by a task, I felt a bit buoyed by having completed a repair, and found myself with a bit of energy to burn. Eventually, I’d need to take the old battery back to the store for disposal and to get my deposit back (they charge you an extra $15 to ensure you bring your old one back in), so I decided I might as well get that done with, and maybe pick myself up a treat.

Fifteen bucks in hand, I wandered the store for a bit, weirdly enjoying the change of scenery from the four walls of my room. While perusing the grocery section, I grabbed a small tub of low-sugar, low calorie vanilla ice cream, as an after dinner treat for myself, and then walked by the beer and wine isle.

I stared at the selection of craft beers for a minute and then got an idea.

I could still go downtown for a beer or two, to celebrate my birthday weekend, I just couldn’t go into any bars or pubs to have those beers. But I could bring a beer or two with me.

I grabbed a few cans of unfamiliar but kitschy sounding brews, and then drove downtown while the sun began to set. I kept the beer in the back and out of reach for the drive; I wasn’t trying to get an Open Container citation or anything.

When I got downtown, I picked out one of the cans and put it in one of the voluminous pockets of my army-surplus coat, and began wandering the downtown streets. While the car traffic seemed normal enough, a bit light for a late-afternoon Saturday, there was barely any foot-traffic, which was unusual given the warm-ish weather.

Being downtown after so many months did lift my spirits, but it was still a bit of a bummer walking up to some of my favourite spots only to see them dark and empty. Despite everything that local businesses are doing to try and stay afloat during this crisis, many of the shops, pubs, and small restaurants can’t justify operating on such a limited basis. For many, doing so wouldn’t bring in enough revenue to cover expenses.

I stopped in front of my favourite downtown pub, a place called Villain’s, and peered inside the dark windows. It was closed, of course, but I spent a minute or two remembering the last few times I had been there for drinks with friends. It was there that I pulled the can from my coat, cracked it open and took a took a drink to toast the bar and the memories it brought.

From there, I made my way down to the riverfront. Windsor, Ontario, where I live, lies directly across the Detroit River from Michigan, and it’s signature city of Detroit. The sun was just disappearing into the river beyond the Ambassador Bridge, turning the western sky a deep crimson, fading to midnight blue in the east. The cloudless sky and crisp, winter air made the view across to Detroit crystal clear and mesmerizing, the electric blue neon lighting up the silhouettes of the riverfront skyline and the flat, broken floes of ice drifting east on the mirror-still water.

Being at the river, sipping on a cold beer did actually do my mood good. The view was terrific, and made up for the fact that there were few people about, overshadowing the creeping loneliness. I took a few pictures, drank my beer and just enjoyed the view, doing my best to put my worries out of mind for that moment.

My beer finished, I walked back to the car, dropping the empty can in a waste bin, and drove home in a little better mood than I’d arrived. I was glad for the small trip and the distraction it provided.

The next day I got up in a slightly better mood than normal. The weather had turned colder, but was still sunny. I had a special treat to look forward to that afternoon. I had dropped a bit of a hint in my last blog post that it would be nice to get some virtual Birthday well wishes from the friends I’ve been unable to get together with, and one of my best friends contacted me to take me up on that.

We’d settled on a Zoom call for 5:00 pm, so I made sure my office was tidy enough to put on camera, and set out my web-cam and my mic so everything would be ready when the time came. He’d hinted that there’d be a special guest joining us as well, so I spent a little while guessing as to who that might be.

Before noon, I took my weekly nature walk, going back to a local park/trail area on the west end of the city. As I arrived it began to snow, heavy enough to obscure the view of the Detroit skyline from the higher points on the trails. The walk was chilly, but I had dressed for the weather, and I was moving, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. The snow also had the pleasant side effect of deadening the traffic noise where the trails went closer to the road, strengthening the illusion of being out in some real wilderness.

The park has a large pond near the entrance, which had frozen over. It was pleasant to see people taking advantage of the open ice to have a skate. I’m pretty sure all of the local indoor rinks are shut down right now, so it’s good to know there is somewhere around that I go skating. I may have to do that next time I go to those trails.

The rest of the afternoon up until the Zoom call went by quietly. I puttered around the house, tidying up some small projects and waiting for five o’clock to arrive.

Just before five, I sat down at my desk, closed my office door and put on my head phones. I’d gotten cleaned up for the call, something I wouldn’t have bothered with had it only been my good friend Dan that I’d be talking to. Since he’d hinted at a special guest, though, I thought it best to look at least presentable on camera.

Soon, a message popped up on my screen with a link to the Zoom room I was to meet Dan in. I clicked on it, and to my surprise, a screen-full of people popped into view. There wasn’t only one special guest in the room, but at least a dozen, including Dan, the primary organizer of this virtual birthday party.

I have to admit, though I was half expecting something like that, I was taken aback at the number of people Dan had corralled in to that Zoom call. I was really touched that so many people had taken time out of their day and gone through the trouble to wish me a Happy Birthday. I was stunned into silence for about twenty seconds as I took in all of the small squares full of people I hadn’t seen in months, people I sorely missed.

Many of the people Dan got together for the call were friends I have maintained somewhat regular contact with, either through texts or DM’s. A few were from the D&D game I had been running for a while, so I’d seen them every week up until a few months ago. Quite a few, however, were people that, while I’d occasionally sent a “checking-in, hope you’re well” message to, I hadn’t communicated with at all since this whole mess started. It was so very nice to see them all, even if it was only on my computer screen.

I had a few beers while chatting with the invitees, trying to make sure I touched base with everyone, to ask how they were or talk about things I’d known they’d been up to. I tried to make them all aware that I’d been paying some attention to what they’d been posting online about their lives, asking after how their home renovations were going, or how their kids/family were doing, or their jobs. I wanted them to know that even if we hadn’t been in contact all that much lately, I still thought about them and followed their posts.

I drank the rest of the craft beers that I’d bought the night before while we Zoom chatted, and when the second can was empty, I decided to let everyone off the hook and start wrapping up the call. A few had already left the Zoom room, wishing me a happy birthday again before they went back to whatever it was they’d been doing before.

The Zoom Birthday Party went a long way toward lifting my spirits. I posted thank-you messages to everyone who participated, and a special thank-you to those, along with my good friend Dan, who helped to bring it about. My son and I both have had the mis-fortune of our birthdays falling during strict lock-downs, so I’m glad we both have people in our lives that went out of their way to make marking those occasions less sucky.

I had booked the following day, the Monday and my actual Birthday, off of work, and had planned to just relax and take a “me” day. My wife ordered a big BBQ meal from a downtown restaurant that was one of the few in the city that offered brisket on their menu. I love brisket, so we ordered two and a half dinner’s worth, just for me. Everyone else got to pick whatever they wanted, but I got all the brisket.

My actual birthday passed with no drama. I did have a relaxing day, catching up on episodes of Star Trek and The Expanse, watching some YouTube videos and doing some reading. Dinner was great, the food was everything I’d hoped for and my wife had picked me up some treats from a local bakery that sold sugar free and keto baked goods. My birthday gifts, unfortunately, had been mostly held up in the mail, so we’re still waiting on those, but I appreciated the thought anyway.

The following day was another milestone for me – it marked a full year since I’d quit smoking. In March of last year I made a few posts about my struggles with quitting, which you can read here if you’re interested. I haven’t had a cigarette since the day after my 50th birthday, and I plan for that to continue. Despite the occasional troubles with my glucose levels, I feel better physically better now than I have in years, and am very glad to have finally kicked that horrible habit.

So, this post has grown longer than I’d anticipated, and this is as good a place as any to wind it down. As I said above, I’ve been struggling with my writing lately, but I’m hoping that with my birthday gone by, and winter nearly half over, that I’ll be able to get back into my groove and get back to work on my current writing project. The hope is to finish it within another couple of months so that I can give editing my other drafts a good attempt.

Hope you’re all well, and hope that it won’t be too much longer before a few of us can gather in person once again. As good as my Zoom birthday party was, it also made me realize how much I miss the people in my life.

All the best to you all,

Rob

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