The other day I was going through the closet of someone very close to me, looking at their clothes. I took my time, remembering how he bought this shirt in New York, and that jacket in London, and how he wore those pants the day before he left on vacation a few years ago. These were happy memories, now tinged with wistfulness, because this person can wear these clothes no longer. Yet there the faithful garments stood, dutifully on hangers, as if waiting for him to return from a long journey.
I should interrupt this sad scene by quickly mentioning that this person that I know intimately isn’t dead. He’s me. And the reason I can’t wear the shirts is because I bought “slim fit” and proceeded to gain 12 pounds while sheltering in place during this pandemic. My guess is I’d probably have better luck if I tried on the pants, except I don’t wear pants, anymore — not really. And forget about suits and sport jackets.
In lockdown, we keep learning things we didn’t know. Here’s one: When you wear sweatpants every day, it’s hard to know when you’re gaining weight. In normal times, if you go up a belt size, you notice. But elastic waistbands are wonderfully forgiving. Who knew?
Our response to movies and TV keeps changing, as well. When the coronavirus pandemic started, I’d sometimes get taken out of a movie by the sight of crowds not socially distancing. Now it’s different. Recently, I’ve been watching the Danish TV series, “Borgen,” and while watching it, I’m fully in it. I’m not thinking about anything but the show.
But when it ends, I often feel sad to realize that all the things I just saw — people meeting in bars and kissing, people talking in each other’s faces — could not happen today, except under a cloud, and not just here. They can’t happen anywhere on the planet.
Thus, it isn’t the current world we’re seeing on screen or even the illusion of it. It’s the old world, and the future world, too, perhaps. But it’s not the world we live in now.
It is weird, unsettling and not at all fun to find ourselves living in the middle of history with no clear way out. Recently, I watched Showtime’s “The Comey Rule,” about the former FBI Director James Comey and his relationship with Donald Trump. It presents the president as akin to a monster, but even if you were to accept the show’s characterization, what would it mean, anyway? Are we witnessing the end of something ridiculous or the beginning of something horrible?
In this way, the twin anxieties — the twin uncertainties — of COVID-19 and the upcoming presidential election are putting a strain, not only on us, but on our entertainment.
Last month, HBO debuted Paul Rudnick’s “Coastal Elites,” in which various characters in New York City talk about both their lives, as well as their disdain for the current occupants of the White House. It tries to end on a victorious note, but it can’t really, because the people who made the movie have no idea where the real-life story is going, which means they have no idea what their film will ultimately mean.
In truth, it’s not unusual in life to not really know what story we’re in. But it’s very weird to know we don’t know it — to be writing scripts in our heads, fully realizing that they might not ever be produced by actual reality. We’d like to believe that these are the worst of the bad old days and that, starting soon, “all our woes shall serve for sweet discourses in our time to come.” That’s what Romeo told Juliet, and while it didn’t exactly work out for them, I expect we’ll have better luck.
In the meantime, all of us wait — even the characters in the movies and the actors that play them — at the mercy of external events.