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Let Mr. COVID Answer Man help you cope during the pandemic

COVID-19 has left all of us with more questions than answers. Now there is somewhere to turn.

A West Irving Park storefront in 2014.
A West Irving Park storefront tries to create an air of suspense in 2014, back when new places opened up and we went there.
Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: I’ve realized there are certain friends I haven’t talked to since mid-March. Is it too late now to reach out? — Lonely

Dear Lonely: Yes. The truth is, if you haven’t spoken to someone in more than six months of the most intense crisis to grip our country in living memory, you never need to speak again. This is sad, of course. Think of them like a neighbor you really like who moves away. You hug and swear you’ll stay in touch. Then you don’t, because you aren’t living next door to each other anymore. That’s how life goes.

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: I work in a small store, where I’m required to wear a mask. But it gets claustrophobic, so I slip it below my nose. Occasionally a customer will say, “Would you mind putting your mask on properly?” This makes me very angry. Am I wrong to feel this way? — Miffed

Dear Miffed: Of course not. Tell yourself, you are WEARING a mask, technically, just not in the precise fashion that pleases every germaphobe fussbudget who walks in the door and starts issuing orders like they own the place, just because they don’t want to die a horrible death. The good news is that most customers are too inhibited to actually complain. Try saying, “Oh sorry, it slipped,” in a sarcastic tone, the way you would say, “Mind your own business loser,” and without moving the mask. That will convey your point in a witty fashion.

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: Before the pandemic struck, I used to scream at my children for staring at screens too much. Now that they’re remote learning, I scream at them for not watching screens enough. They fight and misbehave and I find myself hating them, sometimes, wondering why I didn’t move to Thailand and open a grass shack bar on the beach when I was young and might have. What should I do? — Regretful

Dear Regretful: Remember that COVID-19 hasn’t suspended all the ordinary pressures and regrets of family life. They would still exist, even if we weren’t all trapped in the same house going crazy together like characters in a Eugene O’Neill play. The old problems are just much more intense and inescapable, that’s all. Try walking out of the house, flopping face forward and lying there, arms spread, feeling the cool grass on your cheek. Stay there a good long time, long enough for those inside to notice. (If they don’t, try screaming.) When you return, you’ll find your children more solicitous of your welfare and better behaved, at least briefly.

Protesters listen to William Kelly, host of the Citizen Kelly Show, as he speaks about suing Gov. JB Pritzker over COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, July 25, 2020 in Springfield.
An anti-mask rally in Springfield in July.
The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: My son, a displaced college student, doesn’t social distance, and brushes away my concerns with, “Most people who get sick are old and were going to die anyway.” This strikes me as callous; I thought I raised him better than that. Is it too late to instill a little more compassion within him? — Aghast

Dear Aghast: Yes. Society ignores and devalues the elderly. That’s why we stick them in nursing homes. Don’t blame your son for reflecting this. Be grateful he at least recognizes that people, disposable or not, are dying from COVID. Many can’t even do that.

Dear Mr. COVID Answer Man: The election is still more than a month away and time has stopped. Or rather, gone all strange and leaden, where I can’t always remember if I did something three hours ago or in July. Help! How can I make time move in its usual linear fashion? — Impatient

Dear Impatient: Once we looked forward to events — holidays, parties, vacations — and these pulled life along. Their disappearance creates this unsettling Stuck-in-an-Endless-Hell-of-the-Present we all grapple with. Part of wishing for the future is the assumption that things will be better then. No reason for that. Remember, life might also get worse. Just as last year is seen today as a much-missed Golden Age, so today might be next year’s Lost Eden of health, financial security and quasi-functional democracy. That will help you savor every protracted moment as it slowly crawls by.

These questions were created for illustrative purposes, but feel free to send your actual questions to Mr. COVID Answer Man, at nsteinberg@suntimes.com, and we may answer them. Or we may not. Life is full of disappointment. Especially lately.