Let Inga Tell You: Mourning the old ‘normal’

Here's what the new "normal" looked like as Inga took a walk with her 5-year-old grandson on Memorial Day.

A common question that I hear people pose is: “What’s going to be the new ‘normal’”? Actually, it’s only going to be “normal” to people who never knew the old normal, because the changes are just too vast.

I already envision telling my grandchildren: “You guys were too young to remember, but there used to be these open bins of veggies and stuff called ‘salad bars’ where people could choose their own food that wasn’t shrink-wrapped! I know, sounds crazy! You could take as much as you wanted of just the stuff you liked! No snow peas or broccoli! You could even pick your dressing!”

I truly wish I’d taken a photo of Gelson’s magnificent salad bar to remember it by; it was my go-to lunch at least five days a week. Now I’m
making salads at home, but the whole point of a salad bar was to have an instant lunch, totally fresh, no chopping, custom-made to your bizarre tastes. Now you pick from a prewrapped selection that has the fewest number of ingredients you don’t like.

I was able to have three of my young grandchildren for the Memorial Day weekend — the first time I’d seen them since Christmas. Given
that I’d missed all their birthdays, I made (OK, Gelson’s made) a big chocolate cake, but when it came time to blow out the candles, my daughter-in-law quickly intervened. In the Pandemic Era, nobody releases aerosols on the cake, even if it’s family. Maybe especially if it’s family.

We had to wave our hands over the candles until they went out. Surprisingly, this works. But you have to get it just right — low enough to extinguish the candles but high enough to avoid third-degree burns, which would take the fun out of the occasion. And we did it with five token candles. I can’t imagine trying this technique for someone’s 70th birthday. May I say, it definitely lacks photo op-ness. But I have to agree it’s the right thing for these times and the times to come.

Still, I’m allowed to feel nostalgic for an era when people could actually blow out candles. All those pictures of puffy-cheeked candle-extinguishing I’ve amassed of my children over the years are now anachronisms. I can see my great-grandchildren looking at them and
inquiring with puzzled expressions: “So what was Grandpa Henry doing in this picture? And why wasn’t there a plastic shield between him and the cake?”

I predict Amazon will soon be selling self-extinguishing birthday candles instead of the trick ones you can’t blow out.

The great-grands will also be puzzled by photos of people shaking hands. “Why are those people touching each other?” And I’ll say, “A man named Anthony Fauci said we had to stop it right now.”

It goes without saying that health care is forever changed. Pretty much all of our doctors have gone to telehealth, even Olof’s cardiologist. I am seriously ambivalent about it. I really wish someone were listening to Olof’s heart and not assessing his health from a tiny Android cellphone screen.

The problem is, Olof lies. It’s not that he can’t lie in the office, but those cardiology people are pretty cunning and they are actually going to take his blood pressure rather than believe Olof’s report of it. Olof has always had a “Do not feed the lions” approach to health care, and telehealth only enables him.

In April, our dermatologist texted us that they were now doing telehealth examinations. Does that include telebiopsies? Do they instruct you how to excise that suspicious mole with a kitchen utensil? As in: “Dip sharpest kitchen knife into bottle of vodka to sterilize. Bite down on frozen bagel and excise mole. Drink rest of bottle of vodka.”

When I got a message from our dentist, I half expected them to say they’d gone to teleteeth cleanings, but they just canceled instead.

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that the makeup industry is histoire. This whole mask thing can’t be good for lipstick sales. Not only could no one see what color you’re wearing, but it would get all over the inside of your mask. By the time you took it off, it would have spread Cherry Passion all over your face, like a toddler who got into your makeup bag. And it would certainly make the mask non-reusable.

I’m thinking the mouthwash people aren’t doing so great either. Even eye makeup is probably taking a pretty big hit, despite the fact that we now have to communicate with our eyes. A friend says her mask makes her face sweat, which causes her mascara to run into her contacts,
rendering her legally blind. It definitely does not improve her driving.

Overnight, it’s become a strange new world to which we’re all going to have to adjust. The candles I’ll get used to, but I’m never going to stop
mourning that salad bar.

— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆