When will my petty concerns feel important again?

We’re all just background characters in a zombie apocalypse movie

I have a hatred  for people  who use their phone in the cinema. Photograph: Getty Images

I have a hatred for people who use their phone in the cinema. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Everything is so serious right now. Every decision that we make seems to be life or death. Literally in many cases. Did you wash your hands? Did the person who touched that door handle before you wash their hands? Is your lack of handwashing going to cause someone to die?

It feels like all our worries now are huge and globe-spanning. I miss our small worries, the petty concerns, the pointless follies.

Do you remember restaurants? We used to have them in the olden days. Well, I’ve a long-held contempt for the waiter who turns up at your table without a notepad. He gives confident nods and reassuring smiles as four people lay out increasingly complicated requests. “I’d like the burger well done, but with no gherkins. And instead of mustard can I get relish please. Did I say no gherkins?” Inevitably he returns later with food only vaguely approximating the initial requests. Who are you trying to impress? Get a note pad, write it down. We just want the food we actually asked for. Not a Derren Brown impersonation.

Sneer

But that is a concern that doesn’t make any sense at the moment. It’s too easy to sneer at. It can be reduced to nothing by one truthful sentence. “Yeah, but people are dying.”

I also have a . . . [hmmm, hatred seems harsh in the current climate . . . go to thesaurus.com . . . contempt . . . enmity . . . ah, f**k it] hatred for the people on public transport who conduct phone calls with the other person on speakerphone. Usually these heroes hold the phone flat at mouth height, so they can speak into the bottom of the phone. Why? The phone was specifically designed to be held up to your ear. You are gaining nothing from this, except dirty looks from the rest of the bus. This is Ireland. Please use the missionary position or I’ll set the parish priest on you.

“Yeah, but people are dying.”

If you’ve ever spoken into a phone like that you are probably also the type of person who uses their phone in the cinema. And if so, yes, that person who walked over and tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to turn off your phone was me. And yes, that mortified person sitting beside me was my wife.

And can people stop adding me to WhatsApp groups? It’s the strangest modern phenomenon, the equivalent of being dragged in off the street and forced to listen to someone else’s conversation. And what’s the etiquette on leaving? That stark “person x has left” always seems so abrupt. But all these messages are wrecking my head. Wait, that last joke seemed kind of racist, I can leave now, yeah? Damn it – somebody just put in a video of their kids singing. Better hold fire. Am I ever going to get out of this?

“Yeah, but people are dying.”

Or how about news stories built on what some lone nut said on Twitter – “You won’t believe how angry people are about Meghan Markle’s new coat.”

The acronym ROFL – when was the last time you actually rolled on the ground laughing?

Unexpected item in the packing area – it wasn’t unexpected, I put it there. It was very expected.

“Yeah, but people are dying.”

I don’t just miss complaining, I miss the people I used to complain about.

The doofuses (doofi?) in The Irish Times office who throw plastic containers into the clearly-labelled compost bin (you might think a newspaper would have successfully weeded out people who can’t read. You’d be wrong). Now it’s just me making a mess of the recycling at home, alone.

Eerie quiet

The guy on the plane who thinks he should have both arm rests . . . but how exciting will it be to actually sit on a plane again? Ay me! My only love sprung from my only hate.

“Yeah, but people are dying.”

I recognise that none of these things are important, of course. And I know tragedy is silently stalking the country right now, moving easily through the eerie quiet.

But these foibles and complaints are the things that we’re made of, that reveal our character. And they have all been taken from us. None of us have any definable characteristics anymore, we’re all just interchangeable background characters in a zombie apocalypse movie. We just have to stay in our homes, observe social distancing and wash our hands.

My petty concerns might not have any place in the Covid-19 emergency, but I’ll be glad to have them back when it’s all over.

Irish Times journalist Patrick Nugent is a guest columnist this week

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