The subject line of the email read “POKER!”
There could be no clearer signal that the time has come to emerge, however hesitantly, from 15 months of relatively self-enforced isolation because of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.
If a half-dozen or so double-vaxxed, roughly middle-aged guys feel comfortable sitting around a table for two or three hours, with libations and snacks, kibbitzing throughout, then things are getting better.
I am not a skilled poker player. I constantly ask for a refresher on the rules of whatever variety of poker the dealer has chosen. I bluff tentatively or not at all. I usually donate to others’ winnings.
All of which is irrelevant to enjoying the game.
One year ago, I wrote in this space: “I miss knowing that I can go out as much as actually going out.” I was potentially immunocompromised and nearing a birthday that would move me into a second COVID-19 risk category as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In truth, I wasn’t that disturbed. “As an introvert and someone who writes from an office at home, being told to shelter in place felt like being told to keep calm and carry on,” I wrote.
The headline atop that column — “Social Distancing Before It was Cool” — came from a line in a column in the Miami Herald by self-identified introvert Leonard Pitts Jr. “There is a spirited back and forth on social media these days between extroverts bouncing off walls and introverts discovering they had a superpower all this time and didn’t even know it,” Pitts wrote.
A year and two injections of the Moderna vaccine later, I am adjusting to the idea that I can go out, if I want.
In my last column, I discussed the anniversary weekend trip that Audrey and I enjoyed in the Columbus, Ga., area. Since then, the boys and I were among 20,000 fans at Atlanta United’s first home game this season. Attendance was limited to half of capacity in the lower two sections of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and physically distanced.
The regular usher in our section, “Janet,” and I greeted each other with fist bumps. She spent much of the next two hours walking up and down the stairs holding a sign that reminded fans to keep their masks on when not eating or drinking. From what I observed, the vast majority of fans complied. Mercedes-Benz is an indoor space and, in such environments, I will continue to wear a mask, until the CDC recommends otherwise.
According to the CDC, as of May 1, 34.9 percent of Georgians had received at least one dose of vaccine and 24.4 percent of its population had been fully vaccinated. Based on the rate at which Georgians were being vaccinated, the CDC estimated that it will be Feb. 6, 2022, until 50 percent of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated.
You read that right. The “good news” is that Georgia no longer ranks last among the states in the percentage of its population fully vaccinated; Mississippi, Utah and Alabama trail. That is why, even with a vaccine said to be 95 percent effective at preventing sickness, I will carry a mask when, and if, I go out.
In a recent article in The Atlantic magazine, a staff writer interviewed two of her colleagues, one an extrovert and the other an introvert, about how each viewed their pending return to social activity. I understood well what the introvert meant when she said: “I think small talk is the tax that God exacted for the privilege of human speech.”
Pandemic life had to be more difficult for extroverts, who are energized by their interactions with other people.
Now, as doors that have been closed are flung open, extroverts are looking forward to plunging back into the social milieu, while introverts hope they can regulate their exposure to situations in which they feel a lack of control.
I welcome the return to Atlanta United games, to the poker table, to a meal or a cup of coffee with friends I have seen only on Zoom calls, and the pleasures that again are possible because of vaccines against a disease that should have taught all of us to value the time we spend alone — and the time we spend with others.