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At least COVID gives us something to talk about

If you were to make a rough estimate, how much of your small talk in the last few months would you say has been about COVID-19? That would include discussions about face mask usage, vaccine trial studies, whether or not anyone you know has had it, and guesstimates of when exactly it was that Rudy Guliani tumbled off the crazy cliff. Well, yeah, you're right, that last one's not really connected, but it's still a heckuva lot of fun to watch.

I was in a lengthy phone discussion (by 'lengthy' I mean longer than it takes to say 'wrong number, dude' and hang up) with a friend the other day, and our exchange, of course, soon wandered into a coronavirus conversation. I changed the subject before too long -- cuz, I mean, I get bored easily if the main topic isn't me -- but within a few minutes, there we were again, debating on when the vaccine might actually be available here and why some people refuse at all costs to wear a mask but sport a large red, white and blue 'pro-life' sticker on their back bumper. Go figure.

After I again steered the conversation away from COVID -- I think I went off on a little tangent about the Packers' offensive line -- we again wandered back to this viral disease that has dominated daily life lately more than the reasons why Noah ain't got a baby seal's chance in a shark pool of landing Tayshia on The Bachelorette ('cuz he's an arrogant jerk, that's why). When I again cut it off, my friend said, 'What would we talk about if it wasn't for COVID?'

I dunno, the weather? Religion? The Dow Jones Industrial Average flirting with 30,000? That weird lump on my left index finger? Our feelings?

OK, whoa, slow down here, there's nothing wrong with endless, mindless conversation about a pandemic when the alternative is actually connecting with another human being on an intimate level. I mean, that's what all small talk is, a diversion from having to say what we really feel about stuff, cuz then we might have to reveal those things about our inner selves that we have chosen to hide since we emerged from the womb. My true thoughts on love? Are you nuts? How about this warm spell, huh?

I've long noticed how current predicaments like the COVID-19 outbreak will wash through societal interaction at any given time. This topic is a long one -- nine months and counting -- but it pervades almost every discussion we have with someone. See someone on the street and we say, 'So, been avoidin' the bug so far?' Talk to a friend and we ask, 'So, think you'll get the vaccine?' Chat with almost anyone, and we say, 'Man, I can't wait 'til things get back to normal.'

Think back to last year, though, when the term 'COVID-19' hadn't even been coined yet, and we were instead all yammering about a presidential impeachment based on a telephone conversation with some guy in Ukraine. Before that, we were all torqued off because some celebrities bribed college officials to get their snot-nosed brats into top universities. Before that it was a couple Boeing 737 MAX jet crashes and still earlier was this #metoo thing that now seems like ancient history. The worse thing is, something new will come along soon to dominate discussion, and chances are, it won't be pleasant.

But back to the coronavirus, because that is my point: we can't get away from it. Personally, I'd rather talk about my favorite Christmas songs (I'd go with 'Carol of the Bells' but Burl Ives' rendition of 'Rudolph' has gotta' be in the discussion) or the NFL playoff situation (for cryin' out loud, don't let the Vikings in) or climate change (tomorrow's supposed to be warmer than today, that can't be good) than a nasty global viral outbreak, but you can't avoid it. We can't shake hands anymore, can't hug anybody, and can't even ask little kids for a few licks on their suckers (which really didn't go over all that well anyway). We don't dare invade anyone's 6-foot circle of doom any longer, we use enough hand sanitizer in a day to float the U.S. Navy's Atlantic carrier fleet, and we treat each other like we've just taken a bath in a Chernobyl reactor cooling pond. Heck, the other day, I was in the convenience store and saw somebody pick up a sandwich, look at it, then put it back, and I was ready to radio in a HAZ-MAT unit, the federal marshal's service, a SWAT team, and a CDC infectious disease mitigation squad. Turns out, though, I just bought it and ate it. What? It was the last breakfast waffle sandwich they had. I wasn't lettin' that get away for a few viral contagions.

I suppose it may be some measure of the true depth of that particular friendship I mentioned that we have nothing better to talk about than whatever the current event de jour might be. Say, for instance, if we were engrossed in profound pontification about the universe and our place within it, we might not have to veer off to analysis of COVID death rates among 60-69-yearolds with pre-existing autoimmune disorders (it's not pretty, by the way). Such it is, though, COVID's all the buzz, and we'll rant on and on about it until the next big story hits the nightly news.

Anyway, if you see me somewhere, don't be surprised if I ask you if you've been sick, or if you've been tested, or whether you're leaning toward the Pfizer or the Moderna immunization. It's not that I care all that much (unless you've just sneezed in my face), it's just that the alternative is to talk about something real, like my feelings.

Anything but that.