‘No Contact’ now something to brag about

Lately businesses have been advertising “no contact” delivery. For example, Domino’s workers will bring you a pizza, leave it on your porch, text you that it is there, and drive away. You don’t have to see the delivery person or exchange money hand to hand because those hands might be tainted with the coronavirus. Pay with an app on your phone, money deducted from your bank account. No contact. No hello from a stranger. No one to put your clothes on for.

TV commercials for Xfinity and AT&T boast about how you can sign up for their services, get a “self-install kit” (good luck with that), and be online in a jiffy with no human contact.

I took Annie to the vet on Friday. No contact there either, at least not with the humans. You park, telephone to say you’re there, and a masked aide comes out to get your dog. You wait in the car. No more sitting with the pooch in the examining room, hugging her while they shove a thermometer up her bottom. Annie, people-loving pup that she is, trotted off happily. Dr. Hurty and I consulted by phone. Her test went well. Her ear infection is bad. We have this treatment. Shall we do it? Yes, please. I wait. Another call. That’s done. She will need these meds. Okay. I wait. The tech brings Annie out. We drive away. The phone rings. I park on the Bayfront, which is surprisingly crowded, and give my credit card information over the phone.

All of this requires a certain amount of trust as I hand over my beloved dog and my financial information.

No contact.

The service department at Sunwest Honda will now come get my car, fix it and bring it back. No more driving to Newport and settling in on the soft leather couches in the waiting room with the other folks getting their cars serviced. Sometimes we all stared at our phones, but sometimes we started talking, made new friends, and shared stories. Even if no one else was in the waiting room, we chatted with the folks at the counter where we dropped off our keys and said howdy to car salesmen who stopped in to get a cup of coffee. If we got bored, we could peruse the new cars and dream about which one we might buy. Now we stay home.

No contact.

I keep thinking about “negative contact,” a term I remember from my dad’s CB radio days. He roped us all into his hobby. Negative contact was not a good thing. It meant you failed to reach the person you wanted to talk to.

“Negative contact” is used by pilots and air traffic controllers to indicate that whatever they were tracking in the sky–another plane, helicopter, drone, etc.–is no longer in sight. That does not mean it isn’t there.

There’s also a legal term, “No negative contact” related to restraining orders and limited visitation in domestic violence situations. The person can be nearby if there is no negative contact, e.g., actions like hitting, harassing or stalking.

Suddenly “no contact” has become something advertisers boast about. You will get your merchandise without having any connection with another human being. Hooray.

No contact.

The other day, I heard beeping and saw the big white propane truck backing toward my driveway. “Gas guy!” I shouted, jumping up. As soon he parked, I rushed out to greet Ray, the friendly man from the valley who pumps propane into the tank that powers the fireplace that heats my house. I didn’t have to have any contact with him. I order online, and I pay online. But I like Ray, and it’s sweet to be able to speak to another human being. He had laryngitis, so I didn’t force him to say too much, but we parted smiling. So good to see people.

On our walks, Annie and I often see the mail carrier in his green Honda Element. We always wave to each other. I don’t know his name. I just know he’s the guy with the wild brown hair who drives from the wrong side of the car. But it’s contact, positive contact. Did he leave germs on my mail? I choose not to think about it.

COVID-19 is changing our world drastically. God knows when we’ll be able to mingle freely again with no one freaking out about contagion. But I don’t think it’s going to be the same. A lot of those things that have moved onto the Internet will stay on the internet. It’s just easier. As I type this, I’m waiting for a Zoom meeting that starts shortly. I’m still in my bathrobe, haven’t brushed my teeth. I have opted not to use the video function. I will see them, but they won’t see me.

No contact.

You know how people used to try to keep their kids, and themselves, from staring at screens all day. Suddenly that whole effort is kaput. Go ahead. Stare at your screens. Work, take classes, hold meetings, socialize, entertain, or play games on your computer, phone or tablet all day every day. Your mom can’t stop you anymore.

It’s almost time for the meeting. But I’m only half attending, no need to be polite. If I get bored, I can run off for tea, check Facebook, or write a few more words on this piece . . .

When this is over, will we remember how to walk up to another person, look into their eyes, and say, “Hello, it’s good to see you?” Will we ever shake hands again? Or hug? Or sit and listen in a room full of other people?

No contact. No negative contact, but no positive contact either.

It’s all like a big game of musical chairs, except instead of chairs, we competed for people. If you weren’t with anyone when the music stopped, you’re on your own.

See you on the screen. I’ll be one in the fuzzy blue bathrobe.

 

Are you ready for your Zoom closeup?

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I feel so exposed lately. Zoom meetings, online readings, Skype, selfies—my face and my house are suddenly on the screen.

It’s not just me. I have been watching famous musicians performing from their homes: Joan Baez in her kitchen, Mary Chapin Carpenter in her living room with her big white dog and her cat, Keith Urban in his studio with wife Nicole Kidman dancing barefoot, Blake Shelton getting a haircut from Gwen Stefani at his ranch. (Go to Facebook Watch–after you read my blog). I’ve watched poet Billy Collins read from his office and Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample pray the rosary from his chapel.

I have watched video masses from all over, and I have helped make them at our church. While the camera is on, I’m conscious of every noise, every note, and every facial expression. Why do I look so serious, I ask myself when I watch online the next day? Why do I move like an old lady? It’s church, but it also feels like putting on a show for which we need way more rehearsal and better lighting.

I’ve done Zoom meetings, readings and promotional videos. I’m sick of looking at my face. What’s up with my hair? That freckle on my nose is huge; actually my nose is huge. Why don’t I open my mouth bigger when I speak? That shirt isn’t as cute as I thought it was. And the background! Mostly I Zoom from my office, which is jammed with stuff. Pictures, calendars, and notes cover every wall. Suddenly I’m conscious of the many religious symbols—a crucifix, a Virgin Mary statue, Buddha?

Apparently, as a writer, I’m supposed to have a backdrop of books and a few tasteful pieces of art. I’ve got books, but this is where I work. This is the factory, the backstage, never meant to be shown to strangers on a screen. But I know people will be checking it out because that’s what I do when I watch. I look at the furniture, the knickknacks, and the glass on the desk. Is that booze or iced tea? I try to read the titles of books I see on the screen. I’m nosy, and I’m sure you are, too.

Last night, the American Idol contestants performed from their homes while the judges watched from their own homes. All of the contestants were sent a “kit” to help them create their “sets.” They sang from garages, living rooms, bedrooms, porches and decks. A few decorated with wall hangings. One had a Christmas tree. Most had guitars, banjos or pianos strategically placed. I assume someone from the show helped them set up and told them what to move out of the way.

After the show, I looked around my house. What room could I use for my set if I were on American Idol? My first reaction was “none.” Maybe the kitchen. At least it has more light. Or maybe I could empty the dining area…. No, I love my house, but TV set designers would reject the whole thing and make me sing outside among the trees. I don’t know what they’d do about my barking dog or the neighbor’s rooster. Or the robins who have been especially vocal lately. Could somebody please turn off the wind?

Did you see the swanky furniture and the gorgeous piano at Lionel Richie’s house?

I have talked about my books on actual TV shows. The sets are really quite small, just a little decorated area with bright lights, nice chairs and maybe a plant or two, with cameras, cables, and general messiness just out of view.

Without professional TV crews helping us, Zooming can be dicey. For a morning coffee meeting a couple weeks ago, I showed up in my bathrobe, thinking that was the thing to do. Uh, no, everybody else was dressed. Oops. Be right back. Quick, find a shirt and pants. Should I put on makeup? Is that trying too hard? Sigh. Does it even help?

At one meeting last week, somebody’s dog would not stop barking. Somebody else’s phone rang. Billy Collins keeps talking to someone off-screen. If nothing else, this sheltering-in-place business is an equalizer. We’re all embarrassed.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It.” Suddenly all the world is a Zoom set, and we are the players.

Want to see how I look right now? Nope. Let me get some makeup on first. I took the photo above on Saturday night when I was feeling photogenic. Same background. Notice the light shooting out of my head.

How are you doing with all this Zooming and Skyping and Facetiming that put you and your home online for work, school, and socializing? Are you ready for your closeup? Any Zoom-disasters to report? Please share in the comments.

Stay well.