Tom Clyde: Gatsby’s birthday party
When I was growing up, my mother had a bright red dinner plate that had “You are special today” painted on it. On birthdays, she served both breakfast and dinner on the red plate. It made us feel recognized on our birthdays, and of course on our birthdays we are special. The idea that somebody would hold a mega-birthday celebration, ignoring all the public health warnings, and manage to generate at least 75 new plague cases locally is just appalling. It’s selfish and reckless and stupid. Yes, on your birthday, you are special. But not that special.
The virus is a strange piece of work. Most infections are not having serious health consequences. Some people are landing in the hospital, and taking a long time to recover, and of course nationally, 180,000 people are dead. So it’s not nothing. But because people’s skin isn’t turning green and their limbs aren’t falling off, it’s invisible. The consequences are more economic than physical for most of us.
I think the official color-coded threat level is now set at paisley. Restaurants and bars are open at reduced capacity, and many have decided they can’t survive on the reduced volume. Some haven’t reopened, and some never will. The climb back to “normal” is going to take a while. The problem with having a new birthday party outbreak is that it undermines all the progress we’ve made, delays getting back to whatever normal will be.
It doesn’t really matter what the local health regulations are. If Park City is a hot spot, and travelers are advised not to come, or are subject to a two-week quarantine when they go back home after visiting our germy patch of paradise, they will vacation elsewhere. If vacationers are afraid to come because we don’t have the virus contained, the new normal is a lot of vacant storefronts. The ski resorts can’t operate long without customers. Businesses can’t survive if people are afraid to go out.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the pandemic birthday party. For some reason, the county isn’t releasing much information. Where was it held? Was the special birthday guest a local or some Kardashian type who flew in to celebrate? Were the new cases party guests, the lodging property staff or both? Was the cake any good or all dried out like those big banquet cakes tend to be? And why wasn’t I invited? I think we have a right to know more about this whole affair, if for no other reason than to quell the rumors and suspicions. But for now, I guess the best we can do is congratulate the birthday boy or girl on their special day, and thank them for sharing the experience with us.
Of course the birthday bash isn’t the only big event in town. The Great Gatsby has relocated to Aspen Springs, where there are huge parties almost every night. As Fitzgerald said, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” They apparently have a fully equipped COVID-19 testing facility set up in the garage to screen the guests before they come in for the nightly bacchanal.
The whole country is on edge. Another police shooting, another city erupts in riots and now vigilante militias are coming out of the woodwork. It’s impossible to tell what’s happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but no part of it is good. Toss in huge fires, a hurricane or two, and a drought just to round out the list. Congress is worthless; el Presidente thinks if we ignore it, the plague will magically disappear. Even if businesses are opened up again, they have no customers. Health regulations may limit them to 50% capacity, while customer reluctance to risk exposure probably limits them to a fraction of that. Once the weather turns and outside seating quits working, will there be anybody going out to dinner?
The election is like a fingernail on the chalkboard, painful to listen to. It’s only going to get worse. We’ve got another 60 days of this, with the intensity building all the time. No matter what the outcome, the divisions will still be there. Maybe worse.
So what do we do about it? We can’t cure the plague. The self-indulgent will still find ways to host parties with varying degrees of infectiousness. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild confidence that it’s safe to travel, to eat out, to go shopping or to concerts. Some people are falling into an economic black hole that they will never get out of. While “masking up” is beginning to feel like a regular thing now, it doesn’t feel normal — and it shouldn’t.
I feel like we are all trying to do what we do, but there is a constant background of tooth-grinding anxiety. Somehow, we all need to find a way to step back from the ledge and just chill out.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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