Smile Politely

How to (safely) practice reintegrating into a post-pandemic society

Well, dear readers, we’ve been in quarantine for a year now, but Champaign County continues to be ahead of the curve on vaccinations, it’s looking like we just might be back to some kind of normal this summer (knock on wood, fingers crossed, etc.), and I for one am TERRIFIED. You see, I’m one of the lucky folks who was able to transition seamlessly and completely to working, socializing, and shopping from home, so I have not had sustained close contact with anyone outside my immediate living situation for a long long time. Will I even be able to function in a post-pandemic world? Will I be able to meet a new person or order at a sit-down restaurant without having an absolute mental and emotional breakdown?? I honestly do not know.

Which is why I’ve been undertaking strenuous training to make sure I’m ready when the time comes. I’ve developed a number of ways to safely simulate real-world interactions, and I share them with you now, that you too might prepare yourself for a post-pandemic world.

First things first fellow quarantinians: you’re not gonna want to hear this, but I really think after the pandemic is over we’ll be expected to wear real pants instead sweatpants MOST OF THE TIME. This is tragic of course since real pants suck and sweatpants are way better in most of the ways that matter. Best advice I can give you is to start training yourself now to wear regular pants so it’s not as much of a shock to your system when you suddenly stop wearing your comfortable and practical sweats. I recommend putting pants on daily for a short amount of time, building up gradually to increase your pants-wearing tolerance. Look at me! I’m up to 18 whole minutes a day of wearing these jeans that I used to consider semi-comfortable!

The writer is wearing a pink shirt that says

Photo by Andrea Black.

One thing I’m definitely looking forward to once my vaccine kicks-in is travel! How I miss going to places that aren’t Chambana and staying long enough that I start to miss Chambana and then coming home and getting bored and starting the whole process over again. Of course, I haven’t been on a plane in over a year. I’m not even sure I remember how to do it. Gotta start practicing now so I don’t seem like a total weirdo in the security line.

If you’re like me, you don’t even remember how to pack for a vacation. Luckily, this is easy enough to practice at home, just get out your most trusted luggage and start filling it up with all your essential travel stuff, you’ll get back in the swing of things in no time! Here’s my first attempt at packing light for a long weekend trip to somewhere. Just the essentials! I think I did alright, though I swear I used to be able to fit more stuff in my trusty orange duffel.

An assortment of items are on a light wood table: An orange duffel bag with several rolls of toilet paper, socks, a bottle of bourbon, a model airplane, a black computer mouse, a Tanya Tucker album, a can of Barbasol, and two shirts. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

Of course if you’re loading up your luggage, you might as well practice getting dropped off at the airport as well. I definitely don’t recommend going into the actual airport if you don’t have to, just do the normal drop-off stuff: awkwardly get all your bags out of the car, make sure you didn’t leave your photo ID at home like a total loser, and say goodbye to whoever gave you a ride (this will be the weird part since your driver is likely somebody you cohabitate with and it’s possible you haven’t said goodbye to them in nearly 13 months). Here I am totally prepared for my mock journey to anywhere!

The writer is standing by an open car door at the entrance to Willard Airport. He has a duffle bag and a backpack. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.
The writer is standing on the sidewalk near the airport entrance facing the camera. He is wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses and holding his bags. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.
The writer is standing in front of the University of Illinois Willard Airport sign. He is wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses and has a neck pillow around his neck. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

Another activity many people are very eager to get back to is concerts! To practice catching a show at your fave local venue, I recommend getting into the smallest space in your house, putting on your best headphones, and absolutely blasting some music for two straight hours. If you want to truly simulate the concert experience, you should play five songs you think are just okay for every one song you really like. Also drink several beers and for every beer you drink, flush a ten dollar bill down your toilet.

The writer is wedged between shirts hanging in a closet. He has large black headphones on and is holding a phone. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black. 

I’ve watched a lot of movies at home while in quarantine, but I can’t wait to get back to watching classic movies at the Virginia Theatre! (I actually can wait and certainly will wait to do this until I’m fully vaccinated, and there’s a movie there I want to see). Anyway, it’s been so long since I’ve been in the tiny, not-terribly-comfortable seats at the Virginia, that I’ll definitely need to train my butt before committing to a full movie viewing there. I could I suppose just set up a metal folding chair in my own living room and watch movies that way, but much more accurate, and more fun, to pay a visit to my good buddy Roger.

The writer is sitting in a seat next to a statue of Roger Ebert. He is holding a La Croix and brown paper bag. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

I don’t think the theater seats in the Roger Ebert statue are exact replicas of the ones at the Virginia, but they’re pretty close! Also, Roger makes a good mock movie viewer to practice sitting next to since he is definitely hogging the arm rest.

Yup, just gotta sit here for a couple hours and watch the world go by down Randolph Street. You can enact some common movie theater scenarios while you’re here like:

Accidentally dropping popcorn on Roger Ebert.

The writer is spilling popcorn on the statue of Roger Ebert. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

Or witnessing an awkward sex scene with Roger Ebert.

The writer is covering his eyes with one hand, and using his other had to cover the eye of Roger Ebert. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

Anyhow, please support the Virginia Theatre once this is all over.

As many of you know, I’m an avid party thrower and party goer, but I’ve got a lot of work to do before my psyche is ready for a real party situation. Remember when it was normal to just go to the home of some person you barely knew and hang out for hours with a bunch of other people, some of whom you’d never met, and like, all share the same snacks and beverages?! That shit sounds absolutely insane right now.

To help me simulate a party situation, I created two total strangers to sit next to on a crowded couch.

The writer is sitting on a couch in between two fake people fashioned out of clothing and other household items. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

Now, sitting quietly obviously isn’t sufficient. This is a party, you gotta interact! To that end, I gave each of my party companions a name and backstory so I could hone my party small talk (Hiram on the left is a neuroscience grad student who enjoys watching old sitcoms, Marisol on the right is a professional billiards player who is just passing through Champaign on the way to a major tournament). I also practiced accepting snacks and drinks from them as a normal party person might: “why yes Hiram, I would like a tortilla chip from this bag of chips you just opened with your own hands. Even though we are within six feet of one another, this is both fine and safe.”

The writer is reaching into a bag of chips on the fake person's lap, with a frightened look on his face. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black. 
The writer is holding a can of Coors Light, and is looking over at a fake person pretending to talk. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black. 

If you happen to have a humidifier, I highly recommend using it for party practice. How else will you become acclimated to once again breathing in the airborne water droplets of total strangers?

The writer is turned toward a fake person with a humidifier as the head, and is breathing in the water droplets from the humidifer. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

Practice partying hard like this and you’ll be acting like a normal non-quarantined individual in no time flat! (That is, provided we don’t have to quarantine longer due to a new deadly virus mutation. I’m looking at you Texas, don’t fuck this up for the whole planet.)

The writer is drinking out of a bottle of alcohol while sitting on the couch between two fake people, while a humidfier blows droplets in his face. Photo by Andrea Black.

Photo by Andrea Black.

See you readers next month when I’m sure to have more helpful wisdom!

Top image by Andrea Black.

More Articles