Bangs, whimpers, and ice cream

Bangs, whimpers, and ice cream

T.S. Eliot predicted that the world with end not with a bang but with a whimper. I have no opinion on that pre-bomb pronouncement, but it does seem clear that the pandemic is starting to clear out like cigarette smoke in a windowless room, fading slowly and leaving a bad smell and a layer of shmutz behind.

Last Sunday, I went to my granddaughter’s birthday party. She turned 8 (and I have absolutely no clue how that happened, thank you very much). Last year at this time, pandemic parties were pathetic things, drive-bys and wan waves and Zoom activities and dropped-off presents, left at the door to be sanitized.

This year wasn’t normal. Not yet. It wasn’t an inside party; it wasn’t at a gym or a JCC or a movie theater, and it wasn’t in the house. There wasn’t anybody paid to run it, so it all had to be parent-supervised, something often better in theory than in reality. It was chilly out, and at one point, not long before the party started, it rained.

It was meant to be an ice-cream party — smart, probably bored entrepreneurs have rented trucks to drive to kids’ parties, where they can get on a theoretically socially distanced line to get whatever they want at the window. And eventually the truck did come. But it was more than an hour late.

The good thing — the wonderful thing — is that the parents felt comfortable enough to keep their kids there, and most of them stayed themselves. The backyard is big, and there is a lot of climbing equipment, and the kids played. We heard them laugh. The parents, meanwhile, stayed and talked. I’d met some of them before, but only masked; it’s fascinating how hard it is to recognize people when you know only half of their faces.

Watching the kids play, listening to them laugh, and then later, when the truck did come, watching them eat their ice cream, fascinated by the different styles — some kids’ faces are food magnets, fastidious others repel it; some kids let it drip down their arms, unnoticing, while others gobble it down before it can melt and then go back for more — I realized how very wonderful it is.

We are relearning some trite truths from all of this, about simple pleasures, ice cream and swings and conversations where you can make connections with near strangers.

And then there are things like the New York City Marathon. Last year, it was canceled; so were many other marathons. People were free to run, but alone.

This year, the marathon is back. So is the marathon minyan, as we detail this week; Peter Berkowsky, who started it 37 years ago, has been able to keep it going, and it — really, they, because the minyanim are as staggered as the start times — will resume on November 7.

I have never run a marathon, but my sister has completed many, almost all of them in New York, so I’ve been to the finish line many times. It’s electric. It’s exhausted and good humored and exciting. There’s no question that it’ll be different this year — what isn’t different this year? — but it might be even more intense. The city is reopening, life is resuming; we know more than we used to know, and now we have to figure out how to put it all together.

And if you’re a Jewish runner, maybe a good way to start is with a visit to Mr. Berkowsky’s minyan, at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island.