When I was in grammar school, just after the invention of the mimeograph, religious broadcasters often used the phrase, “To all you shut-ins out there in radio land.” I asked my grandmother what a shut-in was and could we go and look at one.
She said, “A shut-in is a person who’s not able to go out of the house.”
“You mean like when Teddy Marshall was playing doctor and came home with his sun suit on backwards?”
Teddy was the rakehell of our pre-school crowd, and the sun suit incident had caused his mother to howl like a madwoman, switch his legs, and make him stay in the house all weekend.
You may not know what a sun suit is. Or was. They were like bib overalls with the legs cut off except they were made of light cotton material. Two inch-wide straps crossed in the back and connected to a small bib in front with big buttons. No shirt was required.
Wearing their sun suits and usually barefoot, tanned children would run all over the summertime neighborhood, their high voices splitting every ear within a block radius. Before soccer moms and play dates, kids ran around outside, yelling.
That was years ago, long before the Wuhan Virus, and it was quarantine in reverse: you stayed outside as long as you wanted and did things you liked. Now, with the virus, you stay indoors and make do. Like a rainy day that lasts for weeks.
Those of us old enough to remember Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, Kick the Can, and Hide-and-Go-Seek are lucky. We remember that the rules of all those games stayed in permanent instability. They changed according to time of day, number of players, and — best of all — whims and instant inspirations.
Thanks to that preparation, I have a near-supernatural ability to adapt to sudden change. I can invent new activities and amusements.
We now celebrate a new holiday: Garbage Day Eve. Our trash collection occurs on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so on Tuesdays and Fridays, it’s Garbage Day Eve. Festivities begin around the time shrimp fishermen call cocktail hour, and end when we roll our plastic trash containers to the curb. Or sometimes well out into the street, depending on when cocktail hour began. Epidemiologists call this “flattening the curb.”
The suspense on Garbage Day Eve is palpable. Who gets to race the roller bins to the curb? Will this happen on the eve itself, or will someone say the hell with it, I’ll do it in the morning when my mind is fresh?
A guessing game adds to the jollity on Fridays, because the big green truck comes on Saturdays to whisk away recyclables from our festive green-and-yellow containers. The guessing part is where exactly is the recycling facility? And why, if there isn’t one, we pay $5 a month for the service?
We have rediscovered the excitement of working jigsaw puzzles. My wife and I use the dining room table because we like 1,000-piece puzzles, exercises in masochism that are exceeded only by lacerating your bare back with a metal flail, like you see on television news.
Seasoned puzzlers always begin by finding the border pieces. There will be about 100 of these. Or should be; you will find about 95 of them. And what you create will be a strange square with lots of pieces inside it—and a lot more pieces outside. That’s because all puzzle tables are too small.
This leads to another corollary of puzzle working: three or four pieces will fall to the rug beneath the table.
The really funny part is that you don’t realize the pieces are missing until you all but finished. At which point you should exercise caution and consideration.
A woman in Tupelo, working a large difficult puzzle, had only three pieces left to put in place. Thinking to make something of a celebration of her accomplishment, she went to the kitchen for a fresh glass of chardonnay.
She had no more than left the room when her husband strolled in and saw the three remaining pieces. Just as his wife got back from the kitchen, he put the last one into place. What happened after that remains under investigation, but the husband has been released from the North Mississippi Medical Center and is expected to recover.
William Jeanes is a quarantined Northsider.