Biff America: Insulated, isolated and proud |

Biff America: Insulated, isolated and proud

“Tickle your butt with a feather?”

Though most of his face was covered, I could tell by his eyes that I offered that old line to the wrong person.

The origin of that query is derived from an old joke where you supposedly approach a person in a social setting and ask, “Tickle your butt with a feather?” If they react unoffended, you have opened the door to a new and shallow friendship. But if they look at you like you’re a pervert and respond, “what!” your answer is, “Particularly nice weather.”

Now, the truth is, even during my youngest and dumbest days, I have never said that to strangers. But it was a running joke at a restaurant where I used to work decades ago. And like many stupid jokes, it has lingered with the few of us who have not changed zip codes or maturity levels.

I’ve been at the grocery store reaching into the veggie freezer and heard that phrase whispered only to turn around and see Bonnie, Pete or Paulie standing behind me laughing.

Even with his face covered, my buddy Peter was easily recognizable at the post office. He is still built like the high school wrestler he once was, and he is almost always in well-worn work clothing. He was walking by me when I said, “Tickle your butt with a feather?”

The guy who stopped and turned around was younger, larger than Pete and didn’t seem to have a sense of humor. He was wearing a mask over his mouth and nose, but his eyes told the story.

“What?” he asked.

Now I had two choices: I could laugh and say, “I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else,” or I could fall back on the original recovery, “Particularly nice weather.” But it was snowing, and I panicked. Instead, I answered, “Man, it’s dumping outside.”

When I returned home, I told Ellie about my case of mistaken identity, and she advised, “You have to stop with that stupid, old joke.”

The trauma of this pandemic will linger long after we can stop holding our breath in public. I cannot imagine the hardship families, those marginalized and those financially or emotionally struggling have suffered during the past 12 months.

In part, I blame the wearing of masks. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. I contend the mouth is the measure of your moods. Face coverings (though certainly needed) isolate and insulate us from the smirks, smiles, pursed lips and grimaces of others.

It is no surprise that this new reality has taken its toll on our patience and mental health. Certainly, I have less to complain about, but I find myself with a shorter fuse, and I will venture to say many of us have gotten a little wacky over the past year.

But I recently had an experience that cleansed my palate of negativity and reminded me what a special place our county in the mountains is.

If all of us were not covering our faces like bank robbers, I’m sure I would have recognized many of those waiting in line to get vaccinated. And I would bet I would also know most of those who gave up their Thursday afternoon to volunteer directing traffic and giving injections.

Periodically, we would drive up to a guy or gal in a yellow vest who would give us instructions and direct us to the proper lane. More recognized me than I them, mostly due to my bad memory and strong accent.

There weren’t Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, pro-growth, slow-growth, long-time or newly arrived locals but rather a bunch of folks giving their time in support of the collective health of a community we all love. Both Ellie and I teared up a few times behind our sunglasses.

There was one last yellow-vest volunteer to pass before we reached the vaccination entrance. And I could swear, standing there, was my pal Bonnie. Normally, I would offer her our well-worn greeting from our days as co-workers. But with the mask, shades and hoodie, I just couldn’t be sure. So in keeping with my promise to Ellie to stop with that stupid joke, I pointed at Ellie and said, “She wants a shot in her rear” but then repeated, “I’m so proud to live here.”


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