The New Normal

**Winter lanterns at the Kennedy Center’s REACH Center, celebrating the Lunar New Year.

The Happy Accident

Only two more days.

Russ asked me if I knew where I was going to purchase my first cup of coffee on Saturday, after a month of abstaining.

Absolutely!” I said. “Dean and DeLuca, of course!”

He just shook his head.

Russ has enjoyed his appropriation of the coffeemaker for the last month. He told me as much last week.

Well don’t get used to it, Buddy!” I snapped. “Those days are numbered.”

This weekend I will be in New York City. We planned all of our events well in advance. We made the necessary reservations and bought all the pertinent tickets a couple of months ago. The last detail for consideration was my impending reunion with coffee. I didn’t have to think for very long to pinpoint a location. Dean and DeLuca is one of my favorite places to grab a cup to go in the city.

For the past week, when I’ve really craved a cup of coffee, I’ve chosen hot chocolate as an alternatve. I met an old friend at Starbucks yesterday morning. I rarely go there, but it was a halfway point for the both of us. Taking my hot chocolate back to our table, I tried to sip from the little slit in the lid. Tilting my head back, nothing came out.

I knew this had the potential to turn out badly. It reminded me of all the times as a kid (who am I kidding, as an adult too), sucking on the straw of my milkshake with palpable determination, something lodged tight in the middle. This usually ended with the gooey obstruction finally slingshotting to the back of my throat, leaving me coughing and sputtering milkshake everywhere, gasping for air.

Showing newfound discretion, I removed the lid. To my delight, I realized the hold-up was none other than a thick blanket of whipped cream across the top. I didn’t realize it came with my order. Turning the lid belly up, I carefully licked the shallow peaks off the slick surface before siphoning off as much as I could across the top of my cup. It was a happy accident to start my day.

It’s enough until Saturday. 


 A new advertisement showed up on my Facebook account: “The Girlfriend: a free weekly newsletter just for the forty-something.” The kicker? It’s from AARP. In the ad, two women are sitting across from each other with their glasses of white wine, smiling upon their good fortune. Hey, American Association of Retired Persons, what are you saying? Is this how you groom women for retirement in 20 years?? Are you suggesting we are all single, in our forties, looking for other girlfriends to dish with over wine?

Wait a second…are you targeting…your biggest demographic??

Single women in their forties?

…and I didn’t see anything about a newsletter calledThe Boyfriend?”

This is premature onboarding for membership into an organization most of us will be obligated to join.

AARP makes it look like a sorority, not the “grave” rite of passage it is.

Ahhh, maybe that’s the real advertisement. AARP portraying the brittle process of aging as a fun, exclusive “club” instead.

Talk about putting a little jingle on it.

This girlfriend still isn’t buying. 

 The New Normal

I went to see “Next to Normal” at The Kennedy Center last night. The show is here for a week before heading back to Broadway. It’s been ten years since its first, and only, run. Yesterday evening was its opening night, and the packed house rewarded the performers with a rowdy standing ovation. The entire production was well done–the singing and music, the script, the set, etc etc.

I won’t give the plot away, but the content was very dark. Seeing “Dear Evan Hansen” this past summer, I considered it dark and painful, but “Next to Normal” went even further. Without saying too much, both deal with mental health and suicide. This is all too relevant. A good friend of mine lost two close acquaintances to suicide this past week alone.


 I just finished David Foster Wallace’s excellent interview in “Quack This Way,” he another one to perish in this manner. Is it just me, or does it seem more prevalent nowadays? Even more so than in the last decade, or even the last five years? I’ve lost several close acquaintances over the years, people I’ve dined with, partied with. So far, it’s never been a close friend.

Does that make it better? More acceptable? Does the demarcation unwittingly quantify it? Does suicide exist on a spectrum?

 Of course it does, even if we don’t want to admit it. It’s just like cancer. The closer to home it hits, the worse it hurts. We all hope it stays far enough removed, it won’t infect the safe little bubble in which we each live. That’s what happens to “other” people. But this statement is not true anymore. No longer does “six-degrees of separation” exist.

It’s more like one or two degrees.  Because we all know someone.

It begs the question.

 Is suicide our new normal??


My dad called me a 5 p.m. tonight.  This is a little unusual. I was walking home from work, but pulled my gloves off to answer my phone.

Hey Dad.” I said. “Everything alright? You okay?”

Well, you’re mother is locked out of her building at work.”

I could hear the intensity in his voice, coated with determination.


There’s an active shooter at the college and they’ve evacuated the buildings. But she can’t get to her car because all the roads are closed.”

My mom is a tutor at the local community college. She helps students who speak english as a second language with their written assignments and papers.

My dad said, “I’m on my way to pick her up, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there with the roads closed. And she doesn’t really know where she is on campus either, so I don’t know how we’re going to find each other.”

There on the sidewalk, I pictured my parents 2,000 miles away, my 78-year old mom locked outside, far from her building, unsure of her whereabouts, and my 84-year old father, understandably panicked, driving into a chaotic situation and trying to talk on his phone at the same time, as daylight receded.

It’s terrible feeling helpless so far away. 

It turned out to be a false alarm. There was no shooter. The only casualties were two students–one treated for an anxiety attack and another for a panic attack.

I thought those were the same thing. 

Soon everyone will forget about yhe stressful situation tonight, that turned out to be nothing more than a major inconvenience.

But no one will forget the feelings of being scared, vulnerable and helpless.

Everyone’s new normal.



3 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. I had no idea what AARP stood for, or that I wanted to write for their newsletter, until now. I’ve always thought I’d make a good shitty advice columnist.

    I’m glad to read that the active shooter turned out to be a false alarm!


  2. the upside of AARP is the discounts, not that they actually represent you.
    On the suicide issue, my counselor friend says that the clusters happen and that it may seem more commonplace because once someone you know, esp a family member, commits suicide, it becomes more acceptable as an idea, action or alternative. That’s why when one student in high school does it, several follow. Too sad.


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