Stories from the sidelines of The Great Global Pause

Guest Columnist

It’s hard finding humor now, here during The Great Global Pause.

The headlines are heavy, horrific – but we need headlines, the facts beneath.

Information has never been more important.

It’s the first thing I do when I wake up groggy from melatonin (it’s the only way I can sleep now). It’s automatic. Roll over. Reach for the phone. Scroll thru NYT. Then, local news. Hoping to be surprised by happier headlines, a positive start to a new morning, our long-awaited brand-new day. A breakthrough. A wavering, a waning, of this invisible foe, this earth eater. A marvelous medicinal miracle just one more morning away. Maybe.

I hope for headlines of hope, only to have hope dashed by yet another daily dose of “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Photo by Scott Saalman

I don’t have to travel as far to work now. We office dwellers are mandated to work at home in isolation. We have great technology to keep us connected. My five-minute drive is now a five-second walk down the hallway and into the kitchen. The cats stare at me from their food bowls. I stare at them. It’s as if we are sizing up one another as potential food sources should it come to that. The cats know what’s going on; you can tell this by the all-knowing look in their alien-like faces. It makes me nervous that there are two of them and only one of me. Maybe I should skip the melatonin—be more alert around them. If worse comes to worse, I’ve got my eye on the fat cat. I stare at him and envision comic strip bubbles filled with pork chops hanging over my head. Yes, definitely fat cat.

But first, there’s coffee, as if it’s just a “normal” work day. There’s that word. Normal. It’s definition adrift. Yesterday’s normal; today’s abnormal. Bumper sticker material. I brew two cups, the new normal. I used to brew only one because I habitually bought a second cup on the way to work to support local business.

I miss the light-hearted, ten-second banter with the Midwest Café and Market brothers. I miss pulling up to the Smalley Coffee Airstream. Last year, the Airstream barista took my order, and I noticed she was crying. Good tears, she assured me: “I’m getting married next weekend, and I’ve been sitting in here writing my wedding vows.” I witnessed the happiest person on earth that day. Best cup of coffee ever. Life so sweet and simple.

I got married last year, too. Brynne and I are a long-distance duo. There is a two-and-one-half hour division between our front doors. Still, we’ve been together every weekend since March 2017. Until last weekend. She is a speech therapist at a nursing home. She loves treating the elderly. I admire her for this—in part because I’m eight years older than her. We agreed to stay apart to reduce risk to the residents. Still, thanks to FaceTime, we completed our morning crossword puzzles together last weekend. We still have that streak.

Brynne told me a funny story. There was a person on Facebook not long ago ranting and raving for days on end that the coronavirus was “fake news.” Then, it finally became real to her and she issued a panicky post about not being able to buy toilet paper. “It’s karma,” Brynne’s son said. “No, it’s not,” Brynne said. “It’s Charma.” Apologies to Mr. Whipple.

Knowing I won’t be seeing my parents anytime soon, I called mom and tried to convince her that we should use FaceTime.

“You mean we can see each other?”

“Yes, mom.”


“My face will appear on your phone.”

“I don’t understand. How can I see your face?”

“It’ll appear on the screen of your phone.”


“You know, the screen you look at when you enter my phone number.”

“There is no screen.”

“Mom move the phone from your ear.”


“Look at your phone.


“What do you see?”

“A phone attached to the kitchen wall.”

“Oh my God. You’re on the landline, mom! I thought I called your cell number. Never mind.”

Mom still isn’t quite sure what to think of her cell phone. Every time I call, she immediately presses the accept button, but then, 30 seconds typically goes by before I hear a voice. What occurs during that time is the sound of some great struggle going on, as if someone is fighting her for the phone. I’m not sure what she’s doing, other than maybe trying to figure out which end to talk into. Only when she hears my desperate tin can shouts rising from her cellular device is she guided where to place her ear. But even then, she seems flustered, “…oh…uh…hmmm…uh…oh…hmmm…”



“Mom? Is there an intruder in the house? Are you being held hostage?”





“It’s mom.”

“I know, mom. I called you.”

No matter how many times this scenario repeats itself, no matter how irritating it is, we both usually end up laughing at the end.

Like I said, it’s hard for me to find humor now, here during The Great Global Pause, but at least I’m fortunate to have humor find me instead. I need it.

I doubt mom and I will be doing FaceTime anytime soon, not until dad installs a wall phone screen. By then, though, the cats will surely have eaten me.

Contact Scott Saalman at

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