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Column: January ennui has never felt worse than this year. We need masks. But also ice cream

A child reaches for an ice cream cup afrom an ice cream truck with President Biden's picture
Last July 4, an ice cream truck celebrated the Biden administration on the National Mall. Another presidential fleet might help ease the January Omicron blues.
(Jemal Countess/Getty Images for DNC)

My old dog has spent the better part of the morning barking at nothing, or maybe everything, and I know exactly how she feels. Nothing has happened this morning that hasn’t happened a million times before — no new sounds, no new people, no weird smells. We did get a puppy a month ago, but for the most part the old dog likes the new one; she certainly hasn’t found him a distraction worth barking over for an entire morning.

No, I think she has just had it, and I get that. I wake up each morning, confront my various screens and think, ”Is this fretful ennui a symptom of Omicron?” I look at my husband as he kindly (and perhaps self-protectively) makes me coffee and think, “I love you and honor this marriage but please dear God could I just go to the office for a nice 10-hour day uninterrupted by requests for a forgotten password, the location of car keys or just that I ‘come look at this’?”

“This” inevitably being something unpleasant like puppy poop on the carpet or a really high electric bill and never something exciting like, say, a box of gold coins he found in a secret drawer beneath the sink.

Maybe my old dog is barking because she too would like a little alone time, because things looked like they were getting back to normal and then they didn’t.

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I know we’re supposed to just square our shoulders and dig our teeth into the new year, but nothing feels at all new about it. Even the raucous calls for Boris Johnson’s resignation in British Parliament lack any real flavor. Yes, he lied about partying under lockdown, but we’ve got politicians pretending an armed attack on the Capitol wasn’t all that bad, and they’re not going anywhere.

Bark, bark, barkety bark.

The reality of 2021 was both gentler and messier than the apocalypse fiction we consumed. But those stories taught us we can survive anything

I realize this January is markedly better than the last one; we have green hills and a healthy snowpack, and that’s not nothing. A majority of Americans are vaccinated; people are back in movie theaters, restaurants and bars; and some of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists are actually going to jail.

This January, the Grammys were postponed, Sundance as an in-person event was canceled, again, but we did get to almost completely ignore the Golden Globes, a big win for entertainment journalists everywhere — and there were enough movies released in 2021 to sustain a real Oscar race.

Still, the dog is barking and at this point I’m beyond trying to shush her. I always try to look on the bright side, but with the bar of last January so low and this January barely clearing it, it feels a bit like one of those eye tests at the optometrist: “One, or two? Two, or three?” “I don’t know, lady, they’re all kind of blurry.”

We go into this year confused and bereft. We have recently lost so many cherished voices — Joan Didion, Betty White, John Madden, Sidney Poitier, Ronnie Spector — and to make matters worse, a lot of people just realized that “Yellowjackets” is not a limited series, and so the season finale will not be revealing all. (On the other hand, who does not want more “Yellowjackets”?)

Kids are back in school (for the moment) but hospitals are full again and too many people are still losing loved ones to COVID. A slew of my friends and colleagues have contracted Omicron (though all were vaxxed so none of them were hospitalized). My older daughter’s university is online for “two weeks,” exactly the amount of time she was told she would be online in March 2020; my younger daughter is playing the knife game with high school COVID exposure — testing virtually daily as friends disappear into quarantine — and it turns out all my cute cloth masks are useless.

Also, as I have just been informed, by email, text and Times headline, there is a blood shortage. I am happy to give blood and do so fairly regularly, but right now I am waiting to see if my son has COVID, which might mean I have COVID. I could use one of the three at-home tests I managed to procure before they vanished from the shelves (and Amazon) but I am hoarding those for emergencies, because that’s what we have to do in America, and frankly I’m not sure what an emergency is anymore.

In Screen Gab No. 19, we recommend a new Netflix series, suit up for the ‘Yellowjackets’ finale and tell you all you need to know about ‘Peacemaker.’

President Biden promised to send us all at-home tests but then he realized they were already sold out on Amazon so, um, he’s ordering more. He also just announced that the government will be sending us free “high quality” masks and deploying military personnel to overwhelmed hospitals.

All of which will be a great help if they happen in the next week or so. But as I sit here listening to my dog bark at nothing or everything, I’m thinking about more immediate relief. And you know what would provide more immediate relief? A deep-tissue neck massage. Surely it’s possible for the United States government to deploy a bunch of massage therapists in mobile neck-rub units. What better way to start that big jobs program you keep talking about? Recruit a bunch of still-unemployed 2020 and 2021 college grads into a physical therapist Peace Corps to heal a populace in permanent neck spasm. Only the vaccinated would be eligible, obviously, pending a Supreme Court ruling.

But let’s not stop there. We could all do with some psychological therapy as well. Let’s set up some parking-lot counseling sites at Dodger Stadium or the Forum. And bulk up on marriage counseling; I don’t think anyone’s vows included a promise to love, honor, etc., “even after two solid years of being stuck in the house with you all day every day.” Also, separate vacations for all (with two weeks at an all-inclusive resort for single parents, along with a medal).

And you know what else would really help right now? A battalion of ice cream trucks. Who wouldn’t line up for a government-underwritten 10-cent ice cream cone? As he tells us virtually every day, the president loves ice cream.

Come to think of it, if Biden is serious about creating jobs and lifting morale, imagine the boost the entire country would get from a federally funded fleet of taco trucks. It’s not socialism, it’s free tacos! On every corner! And if you won’t get vaccinated for free tacos, well, more for those of us who did.

I don’t want to sound greedy or ungrateful. Last January we experienced the full-on miracle of the COVID vaccines, arriving with stunning speed and remarkable effectiveness. Even with Omicron, those vaccines have without a doubt saved many lives. On good days, it’s easy to bask in that miracle and all it has allowed — the summer trips; the forays to concerts, theaters, museums; the family gatherings; the booming economy.

After more than a year, my husband and I have a movie date (“Together Together”) and it was very weird and extremely wonderful.

On bad days, though, on mid-January days, when all those charts are darkening or spiking or doing whatever they do to show that things are getting worse again, it’s difficult to know what to do or how to do it. My old dog has finally stopped barking and is now taking a nap. I wish I could do the same, just bark away for a good two hours at nothing, or everything, and then sleep as if nothing in the world had ever been wrong.

Probably, though, I will get up and go donate some blood. Unless my kid has COVID. In that case I’ll have to wait.


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