Home for the holidays? Try to focus on the things you're not doing
By Liz Langley
In P.G. Wodehouse's 1915 short story "The Secret Pleasures of Reginald," our narrator finds his friend Reggie sitting at his club, seeming to do nothing. Not so, Reggie says. He is doing something. He is not spending the weekend visiting a friend.
Right now he's enjoying not listening to his friend drone on about his new car, and later he'll enjoy not playing bridge after dinner. He is so pleased that he has already considered who he will not visit next week.
Reggie is the best travel agent we could ask for in the frightening and freakish pandemic era. Many of us are prudently giving up customary holiday visits with friends and family, but staying home may make us feel lumpy and sad. We don't like doing nothing. As Reggie attests, though, it's what you're not doing this holiday season that you should focus on and be pleased about.
As much as I miss my friends and travelling in general, for example, I plan to take a cue from Reggie and am not going to take a sentimental journey this year. First I won't leave my warm house, roommate and cat to drive onto central Florida's main artery, Interstate 4, a ride that has provided me with more scares and longer wait times than anything at Disney or Universal.
As night falls and it starts to rain, I won't have to stop watching "The Great British Baking Show" to white-knuckle it for 50 miles between two semis on the "Florida ice," a dangerous soup of grease and water that makes the highway good and slippery when showers start. I'll enjoy not being so tense that I clench my muscles until I become the rare case of a living person going into rigor mortis.
The best part, of course, will be not arriving at my friend's house to do exactly what I do here: stand six feet apart from people I love dearly and really want to hug but can't.
Well, that was money well saved. In fact, there are all kinds of things you can enjoy when you travel Reggie style.
For example, if you chose to fly for the trip you're not going on, you won't set your alarm for 3:30 a.m. and wrench yourself out of your warm, snugly bed to go out into the cold to make everyone's favourite trip: the airport run.
Snuggling under your covers, you won't look around the airport, wondering if part of the Covid-19 surge is attributable to people who don't know how to wear a mask. Either they have their nose hanging over the top of it like an awning of germs, or it's covering their chin like they have a soul patch they have just realised they should be ashamed of. You will not do what I did in a Florida grocery store and say, "You know, it doesn't work unless it's pulled up," and hear them reply, "I don't care." You won't momentarily lose faith in humanity.
You won't be folding yourself into your doll-sized coach seat only to have the lady in front of you recline so that now only one of your lungs can inflate. Still snuggled in your warm bed, you'll have no reason to reflect that reclining seats are the dumbest airline invention since middle seats. You won't wish you had stuffed an ibuprofen in each ear before takeoff so you could now a) reach them and b) block out the communique from the planet Tinnitus that will screech from your neighbour's phone for the next two hours.
You won't arrive at your friends' or family's house and note that their covid protocols are worryingly lax. It doesn't matter, since you'll be holding your breath most of the night hoping certain topics don't come up, including but not limited to politics, religion, "Tiger King," gender reveal parties, Meemaw's will, the loser boyfriend you brought to Christmas in 1999, outdoor cats, how loud the TV is and who needs to go easy on the pie.
When these topics are breached, you won't have to pretend you got a text alert to go pick up your prescription at Target, springing away from the bosom of the family like a popped bra strap. The holidays are pressure-filled at the best of times, and this is emphatically not the best of times.
Of course you don't actually have to go to Target, but I wouldn't blame you if you did. As an American of a certain age (old), Christmas shopping in real stores and especially at (heavy sigh) the mall is dear to my heart. The thrum of hand-to-hand retail, getting perfume sprayed in my face by strange women, eating a "lunch" made of bourbon chicken samples - those were good times.
In safer days I wouldn't hesitate to go to a mall even if it only had one store left in it, and it was a vitamin store. This year, though, I'm worried about crowded, closed spaces, so I will forgo my mall trips. I will not sit in infuriating, slow-moving traffic or yell out the car window, "Pick a lane, moron!" over Josh Grobin's "O Holy Night" on the radio. I will not think after I do this that this person may have a gun.
I will be pleased to not join what looks like a funeral procession in the mall parking lot of people trying to find parking spaces. I will not find one only to discover a consarned, rassa-frassin, galdang motorcycle in there. I will not feel my heart contort in a way that will end up buying some doctor a Lexus.
Several hours later, I will not have walked more than a Hobbit seeking the One Thing to Please Them All and ended up with blisters from these dumb boots and a few bags containing gifts that are more runners-up than winners and wondering why I didn't just go to the liquor store in the first place. I will not go to the liquor store, drink so many champagne samples that I call a friend and say, "Get down here. They've got sampane shampels" (true story) and ask them to take me home. I will not take these dumb boots off and watch my feet swell until they look like novelty slippers.
Like Reggie there are a lot of things I won't do this season, but our era provides alternatives and comforts previous generations would have considered witchcraft - things like Zoom, FaceTime and one-click shopping, so your mom can say, "Oh. You like your hair like that?" and you can make a rude hand gesture at her off-camera because isn't family what it's all about?
Of course, Reggie didn't set out to be a role model. He set out to enjoy not going far, and if you look back over 2020, from bread-making to balcony concerts, a lot of us have made the most of not going places. We've come so far. We've endured so much. We can make it a little further.