Alone Together

Hello, world!  Are you aging in place?

“Is this what it was like during the air raids?” my 25-year old son asked me, knowing full well that we were fortunately spared from bombing attacks during the war (which to my generation could mean only World War II).

Though we did hang blackout blankets over the kitchen window of our one-bedroom apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, when I was a mere toddler. At the time, my Uncle Bernie, who’d enlisted in the Navy, was stationed on a ship in the East River, “protecting Brooklyn from the Bronx.”

In these times as in those, humor is an antidote to isolation, fear and panic over the coronavirus that has basically stopped the world – like a frozen digital screen in the middle of binge watching some escapist entertainment. Maybe it’s time to Curb Your Enthusiasm.

A few weeks ago, my occasional breakfast buddies at a working man’s coffee and egg sandwich shop in Saugerties, N.Y. chuckled when a Corona beer truck pulled up with a delivery. I haven’t been back since, though I’m reading that the uber-rich from Manhattan are increasingly showing up at their Hudson Valley country homes. Well, there goes the neighborhood.

But it’s spring here in the DC metro area with blooms and blossoms everywhere. What could go wrong?

It could be worse. You could be the publisher of a regional magazine whose scheduled cover story for the next issue is Best Restaurants. Just saying.

While many of the still employed are telecommuting from home, a retired friend has gone fishing down on Mattawoman Creek, a Potomac tributary in southern Maryland.  It’s 44 miles and a world away from coronavirus central in and around the nation’s capital.

Here, neighbors are organizing aid to the elderly, bringing food and comfort to the housebound, which is supposed to be nearly everyone. I read that’s happening elsewhere, too. There is a sense that in a time of potentially cataclysmic crisis, Americans are stepping up to the plate, finding common cause in community.

Alone together.

Some supermarkets are opening early for 60+ only, on the theory that these vulnerable folks will encounter and mingle only other vulnerable folks. In some places, staples are in short supply.  Could soon be time to dig out my old ration card my mother managed to save from the war, and which I still have.  Perhaps there are a few unused stamps still in it.

Restaurants, too, are offering take out and pick up service, some even making deliveries.  Partly to support small business and partly just to get out, we called in our order the other night to  Locovino, a comfort food and wine place in downtown Silver Spring notable for its homemade soups and flatbread pizzas.

Saturday night, we got takeout from Olazzo, also in DTSS. No problem parking. The county has hooded those obnoxious parking meters near restaurants and hung signs saying free parking for 15 minutes for food pick up.

I serve on the board of the online Washington Independent Review of Books, and we have voted to cancel our 8th annual writers conference, scheduled for May 8-9,, where I was to moderate a panel. We asked registrants to let us  apply their payments to our 2021 event, which many happily have done. The Gaithersburg Book Festival, where I’m scheduled for two events, is still on for May 16, but I suspect not for long.

A group of authors who meet regularly for lunch at a reliably mediocre Rockville restaurant is also on hiatus. But one of us shared information on how to read 300,000 e-books for free from the New York Public Library (SimplyE), and another free movies (Kanope) from the county library.

Yet another, our convener, David Stewart, opined on the hard luck of authors whose books (including the reissue of his historical novel  The Lincoln Deception) are to be published when everything is shut down. No launch parties. No book tours. But Paul Dickson, another member of the lunch bunch, noted that his forthcoming book The Rise of the G.I. Army, on the remarkable mobilization of this country in 1940-1941, has new relevance these days.

There is also a new kind of spirituality abroad in the land. The Woodstock (NY) Jewish Congregation had a participatory Shabbat service Saturday using ZOOM.  No fewer than 82 households (from nearby and from as far away as Maryland, California and the Virgin Islands) participated. The rabbi was alone in the sanctuary (future services would be streamed from his home), and everyone was unmuted for a cacophonous chorus of “amen.”

Now, with Passover on the near horizon, traditional family Seders are off the table, literally. At our house, we are anticipating a very small crowd, possibly just my wife and me. Our three sons, in Chicago, New York and Richmond will all be sheltering in place.  A dear friend who prides herself on hosting large Seders at her house has canceled, for the first time in 51 years.  Most of the guests, she explained, are 60+ with “compromised immune systems.”

“We will miss everyone and our Passover will not be the same without you,” she wrote in an email.

Still, life–and exercise go on.  My wife has been keeping up with her barre classes, through a private Facebook group, and I’ve been doing my yoga remotely from our home, using ZOOM. On Sunday morning, the yoga teacher, from Blue Heron Wellness, was at home, as were we. “If there’s anything you need,” she began. “you’re on my home studio now.”  Thirty-five participated, about twice as many as could fit into the yoga room at the facility.

As the sign at a church near us proclaims: “At no time are we ever alone.”  You can find a theological basis for this, or not.  But I believe it carries a universal message we all need to hear now more than ever.

Alone together.


  1. Paul J. Guglielmino on March 24, 2020 at 6:59 am

    Dear Gene:

    Hope you and your family are well…Lucy and I are fine and now living in a condo in Boca Raton, Florida. We still have our home in Port St Lucie where you visited us…it is on the market so we hope that someone comes along who can enjoy that house as much as we have for more than 20 years…

    It was great receiving your publication and we wish you all the best…

  2. Andrea on March 24, 2020 at 10:21 am

    Harvey found his parents’ ration books – I think there is one for flour and one for sugar. Sniders had sugar today but no flour

  3. Nancy Taylor Robson on March 24, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for this, Gene. Really appreciated it all, including the remote Shabbat and yoga. We’re working out Episcopal services/mutual spiritual support over here on the E.S. –this too shall pass. May we all be kind, and mindful to protect one another.
    All the best, and prayers in whatever configuration…it’s all, as Ann LaMott famously said, either Help Me Help me Help me! or Thank you Thank you Thank you!

  4. Charles "Chuck" Kaufman on March 24, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Great blog, as always, Gene. I was thinking the other day how we read or watched newsreels about how the country contributed tubes of toothpaste, tires and stuff for manufacturers to produce munitions to fight the Great War. Then there are images of soup lines.

    Gosh, we wondered, it’s hard to imagine such a desperate time just one generation removed from our generation. And now here we are tweeting our lives away and watching millennials on flat screen teevees prancing with thousands in the Sunshine State. Yes, I’m convening much of my day-to-day life on Zoom. I can only suppose the world will have figured out how to “beam me up.”

    Perhaps you’d be so kind as to Zoom or FBLive any book gatherings you have. (Lincoln Deception, Rise of the G.I. Army).

    Good health to you and yours and best wishes.

  5. Nancy S on March 24, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    I’m in favor of Google Hangout or Zoom seders where everyone has the heat/air-conditioner set at their preferred temperature, matzo balls made to their own liking AND gets to find the Afikomen!

    Hit the Costco trifecta today: toilet paper, paper towels and Clorox disinfect wipes. Added some white wine and a 5lb box of matzo. so I’m a happy camper.

    Much love to you and yours.

  6. Ken Rossignol on March 25, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    FDR’s words are fitting for today.

    • Eugene L Meyer on March 25, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      Fear…and Covid-19.

  7. Ellen Zimmerman on March 25, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    As always, Gene, interesting, enjoyable and so well done!!

    Stay well and love to everyone!

    • Gene on March 25, 2020 at 9:43 pm

      Thank you.

Leave a Comment