Life from the Before Times

Since it literally was the first moments of 2020 in the United States, it’s fitting that couples kissing and general merriment in Times Square on New Year’s Day would the first picture in The New York Times’ retrospective of the year in photos.

Even though I love Times Square in a way I’m sure many people would find illogical, ringing in a new year with more than 1 million of my closest, drunkest friends has never appealed to me. 

However, there was something else about the photo that struck me — that it happened.

People stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the streets of New York City to celebrate … in 2020.

This year.

Because that’s a thing people did.

Memories are imperfect, so it’s not a huge stretch to not always be sure when something happened, but because life as we know it basically slammed into a wall in the middle of March, you can almost forget that we had roughly 2 1/2 months of normal life, even as the seeds of the disaster were being planted.

You can even forget that people celebrated the arrival of 2020 in Times Square because that was a thing people did.

“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like making promises that I don’t know I’ll keep, even if the promise is just to myself.”

— “Thoughts and a wish for 2020,” Jan. 1

Did anyone actually keep a New Year’s resolution this year?

I would imagine “lose some weight” or “read more books” would fall behind “try not to get sick during a global pandemic” on the list of things people tried to get done this year, although maybe the reading of books got easier given the lack of other things people could do.


“Every few seconds, I hear it.

Most everything is quiet, except for the ‘clang’ that I can’t quite find the source of, but is clearly some sort of metal object whacking a pole, maybe part of the assembly smacking a flagpole.

Whatever it is, it’s a long way from the crack of a bat.”

“A ballpark in winter,” Jan. 8

Once summer came, I assumed I’d be back in Lowell for a Spinners game. Sure, they’re a Red Sox farm team and I’m a Yankees fan, but it’s baseball, it’s close to my house, it’s inexpensive and it’s a lot of fun.

Manchester is only an hour away in New Hampshire, and I’m a fan of the ballpark, so a Fisher Cats game was not out of the question.

If we were feeling frisky, maybe we would have gotten Red Sox tickets, or gone to a Yankee game if the timing was right in New York.

Depending on our travels, baseball was an option when we went on vacation.

However, there were no baseball games that I could go to this year, and a little more than 11 months after I was at LeLacheur Park for a “Save the Spinners” meeting, Lowell got hosed


“Food’s good, and the owner has exquisite taste.”

— Facebook post, Jan. 13

I was pleased to learn that the owner of The Squealing Pig in Boston was a Liverpool fan when Suzi and I went for lunch.

After our meal, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts. It made for a nice afternoon. Who could have guessed that eating in a restaurant or going to a museum would become anything other than routine?

“Field trip to Plymouth for Suzi’s birthday, then a visit with (my mate Gardner and his wife)!”

— Facebook post, Jan. 31

Before walking outside became pretty much the only recreation you were allowed outside your home, Suzi and I strolled along the Plymouth waterfront on her birthday before we hung out with my mate Gardner until his wife got home from work and their son got off the school bus.

Suzi’s birthday was an “8” this year. For her last “0” birthday, we went to New Orleans, also known as the trip were I missed recording the marching band as we came back from her birthday dinner because it was the only time I didn’t bring my camera.

Her next “0” birthday (along with mine, not quite four months later) and our 20th wedding anniversary are in 2022. I sure hope it’ll feel safe to get on an airplane by then.

Speaking of … this one’s a little out of order, but my blog, my rules.

“Switzerland is in danger of being the Chicago of Europe, in that it’s the place Suzi and I talk about going to for years before we actually go.

Hopefully, this year is the year we get to visit our friend who lives in Basel and figure out if it’s a real place after all.

Other than that, we’ve just kicked around a couple travel ideas. Do we take our annual train trip to New York? We loved Philadelphia when we went several years ago; do we go there instead? Do we do both?”

“Wherever you’re going, take me with you!,” Jan. 21

Needless to say, none of those things happened.

“Dinner in hand, I walked out of the pizza place when I saw a young woman approaching while carrying a baby.

I moved to hold the door open for her, but was in just the spot where I had to move quickly so I could do so without actually blocking her path.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said as she walked by.

‘For what?’ I said. ‘Carrying a baby?’”

“The week gone by — Feb. 2”

It still wouldn’t bother me if I had to hold a door open because you were toting a baby.

Don’t wear a mask coming out of the pizza place, however … . 

“And then there are the parties — birthday parties for both of the children, plus ecumenical parties for the Jewish holidays.

The parties are their own little ecosystem of people who, if any of them are missing, it doesn’t feel the same, even if there’s a decent chance I wouldn’t recognize them elsewhere even if they walked right up to me and said hello.”

“Sunday: Lunch with friends,” Feb. 10

The first birthday party turned into a parade going by the house. The parade for her older brother is coming up.

I got my chicken matzo ball soup, but only because our friend made it made some for her regulars to pick up. There were no raucous gatherings with kids and food everywhere and a group of people who I wouldn’t call friends, but I still look forward to seeing several times a year.

“Suzi opened the oven door, sliding the tray inside.

Everything —the Bolognese, the chicken parm with homemade sauce, the red velvet cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, the chicken tarragon in the cast iron pot — was all the prelude to this.

If all went well, approximately 35 minutes later, she’d be pulling out two tasty loaves of honey whole-wheat bread.”

“Bread, the ultimate challenge,” Feb. 20 

Suzi was trying new stuff in the kitchen long before sourdough bread became a thing.

“For the love of all that is good and decent in British football, please just declare Liverpool the Prem League champs already! Seriously! Who the hell is gonna catch them?”

— Facebook post to me from my friend Rob, Feb. 23 

Liverpool eventually won the title … in June.


“The instructor started showing my photos on the projection screen, and a strange thing happened.

There were a couple photos where the bird feeder wasn’t in the best focus, but overall, he said nice things about them.

And when he was done, he called for a round of applause.

I never realized I could be so relieved and happy over something so inconsequential, but I was.”

“Trying to avoid the dunce cap,” March 11

The photography class was Tuesday, March 10. There were supposed to be three or four weeks left. It wound up being the last class.

On March 11, Rudy Gobert tested positive. So did Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.

The next day, March 12, I was going to play pickleball. Emails pinged around the group, wondering if we should play. We did, but the next time I played was a few months later, in a small group, wearing a mask and gloves and trying not to get too close to anyone when I talked. I stopped in early November … trying to stay out of groups as much as possible.

My networking group met March 13. The room was maybe a quarter full, after close to a full house the week before. The group hasn’t met since.

The Before Times were over.



10 thoughts on “Life from the Before Times

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