Dreaming of a good old face-to-face chat

6 mins read

By Scott Graber 

It is Saturday, and I’m sitting in our white-walled living room.

The room features two small sofas, both white, that face each other. They are separated by a black coffee table currently supporting a clear glass vase full of red tulips.

This morning the sofas are empty, the room is silent except for the occasional popping sound from a couple of just-split logs cooking in the hearth.

My wife and I acquired these sofas 40 years ago (in Atlanta) and they have been recovered at least once, maybe twice. They have helped us entertain hundreds of friends and, several times, sustained wine spills — red, white, foreign and domestic.

In this past Covid-decimated year, I have missed our dinner parties; and the drinks that preceded those meals. But mostly I’ve missed the Amaretto that inevitably followed the Chicken Marbella, sometimes extending the discussion (on these very same sofas) into the early morning.

I’ve always known I was drawn to people, debate and wine-fortified give and take. But this past year has underscored how much conversation and contact mean to my well-being.

I now know that a monastic, meditative life was never in the cards for me. I was never called to the priesthood; or had any desire to trek (alone) to Alaska or Antartica. I’ve always craved company and know that I’m not unique in this regard.

We’ve tried to compensate for our mandated isolation using computers — I speak of the ubiquitous Zoom.

In my legal practice, most proceedings have been replaced with “virtual hearings” with the Presiding Judge sometimes sitting in his dining room in Charleston. These “virtual hearings” get the procedural questions resolved, but only a trial can get to the merits and right now there are no trials under way in Beaufort County or any other County in South Carolina.

There is no question that jury trials will resume as soon as our State and local folks get most of our population vaccinated. Those vaccinations are under way — the elderly getting the first batch out at Beaufort High School’s football stadium — and we may be two months away from having a large pool of people who will agree to sequester themselves in a small room for several hours or several days.

My wife and I have used Zoom and FaceTime to talk with our son and his fiancé in New York City.

As one stares into the computer screen one sees an old, tired, corpse-like person in a small box on the edge of the larger screen.

“Who is this homeless person?” one asks.

Then, suddenly, one understands that “this person” is you. You are the grotesque, disembodied miniature head floating wraith-like on the edge of the screen.

“Is it possible,” one wonders, “that I am as unattractive as the image I’m seeing in that little box?”

It is with this “Ghost of Christmas Past” distraction that one tries to be upbeat and positive and conversational with one’s children. But these painful meetings serve a purpose — they confirm that Susan and I are still among the living and have not succumbed to chronic depression.

Zoom and FaceTime also create unrealistic expectations from those of us who log in before five o’clock. We are expected to be clever and lively — to have the same level of entertaining irony and bravado that we have sipping a subtle Pinot Noir after consuming a well-stirred Risotto.

Because Susan and I also have kinfolk in Italy and the United Kingdom, we often Zoom them in the morning. I will confess I am not as verbal; or as lively; or reckless as I am at 8 in the evening. I will confess that often my humor falls flat; my story-telling is often cut short; there seems to be an unwritten rule just to state one’s name, address and current cholesterol levels.

I suppose Zoom is better than nothing, but it’s an imperfect substitute for a live, breathing person sitting 3 feet away on one of these ancient sofas.

Some miss the company of 80,000 screaming humans at Death Valley in Clemson or Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia on a clear, crisp Saturday afternoon in November. (Actually the Gamecocks fans may be less disappointed given their mediocre win-loss record.)

But my dreams are modest.

I long for a blended Scotch, a good fire, and three or four mask-free companions with whom I can discuss a good novel; an old movie; the success and failure of our imperfect national experiment.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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