Ever since I began social distancing, my social life has improved. That’s because I had already been “sheltering at home” for years. Those of you who work from home know what I mean. Working alone in your home is about as isolating as it gets. My only “human” contact came via emails, texts and occasional work-related calls.

When it came to casual phone conversations, they made me so nervous I’d pace around the room, or do laps around the block. All of that has changed thanks to the pandemic. For the first time in my life, I’m a “phone guy.” I stay perfectly relaxed during 45-minute calls.

These long calls have allowed me to stay close with my siblings. We talk more now than we did when we were growing up under the same roof. We even resolve issues that go back to those peanut-butter-and-jelly days.

I’ve also used the phone to reconnect with high school classmates and other longtime friends. We reminisce like retirees are required to do. We also discuss the current crisis and keep tabs on how we’re coping.

Besides the phone, I enjoy mask-to-mask conversations. My social life has expanded beyond trips to Ed’s Way and picking up meals from local restaurants. I was recently invited to my first-ever social-distancing party. For years, I’ve been hoping to be invited to a yard party. I’d hear the laughter and music and smell the wood smoke. I would consider crashing the gathering with a six-pack but lacked the guts.

I brought a four-pack to the social-distancing party. About 10 of us were spread out over three front yards and the parkway. It was comfortable because I already knew almost half of them. It was also a treat to meet new people. After two hours of lively conversation, they extended a standing invitation to future get-togethers.

We’ve also hosted social-distance gatherings at our home. Our location is ideal because we have a roomy front porch and spacious yard. It’s delightful to sit outdoors and enjoy food, drink and music with loved ones. We even got to know our neighbors after living here for two years.

It turns out we’re surrounded by fascinating people. We have a doctor downstairs whom I interviewed for a column. She has lived all over the world and has had some incredible adventures. The woman next door has a son who is a journalist in Central Africa and a daughter who is a surgeon in New Orleans. I’d like to sit around their dinner table.

The social whirlwind starts in our apartment. I am no longer home alone. To say that I have constant companionship would be an understatement. The three of us somehow coexist peacefully and rarely get on each other’s nerves. Tiny things, though, can set us off, like someone eating too loudly. By rotating from one room to the next, we keep our sanity.

We also have social encounters on the streets of Forest Park. We keep a safe distance, but I notice we have more time to linger. My dad said social life flourished during the Great Depression. People had plenty of time to talk or play cards, because they literally had nothing better to do.

Obviously, a global pandemic and another Great Depression are a poor tradeoff for an improved social life. That would be like saying amputation is a good cure for foot odor. I believe, though, that the current crisis is changing our behavior in some positive ways. Just stay 6 feet away from me if you’re going to slurp soup.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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