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Biff America: Too close for comfort

Jeffrey Bergeron
Biff America

Casey sat next to me and smiled. I returned her grin just before I inched up my neck gaiter over my nose. Truth was, her closeness made me uncomfortable. I thought to myself, “For the love of God, give me some space!“ She sat down only 4 feet away.

During these past 14 months, the expression, “I wouldn’t touch her/him with a 10-foot pole” has taken on a whole new meaning. The optimist in me would like to believe that after countless Zoom meetings, mask-wearing, and treating friends and strangers as though they were a bucket full of Ebola, it is possible this pandemic (in America at least) could be in the rearview mirror.

It seems like every day a new tactile experience awaits me. After a year of cyber gatherings, simply sitting next to someone at a coffee shop or meeting has become a renewed pleasure. That said, it has been a period of adjustment. It has taken some time for me to feel comfortable getting touched by anyone whom I have not signed a prenuptial agreement with. A few days ago, someone bumped into me at the post office, and it felt like an act of adultery.



For years now, I have met with several old friends for caffeine and insults about once a week. This winter, we would sit outside wearing down jackets and ski hats yelling at one another to be heard from 2 yards away.

Considering the cold and space constraints, I won’t say I enjoyed those congregations as much as the previous indoor gatherings, but I will say I needed them more this winter.



A few days ago, this same group met under a new reality. Just being inside at the same table was a fresh sensation, and I got close enough to notice Steve was sporting a mask tan.

Certainly, it would be impossible to downplay the seriousness, tragedy and emotional damage the virus has wrought on the world. But along with that, there has also been a sense of camaraderie and solidarity due to a struggle against a common enemy. I won’t give oxygen to those lunkheads who denied the science and rejected the solutions. I read somewhere that the two major causes of pockets of higher infection are areas with a dense population and areas where much of the population is dense.

Of course, there was a learning curve. But for the most part, most of America recognized the dangers and stepped up and answered the challenge. I would like to think that during these unprecedented, divisive times, if nothing else, most of America was united in a common cause and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

Though I’m enjoying an end to the time where the only unmarried touching I allowed myself was a root canal, there is a lingering sense of both discomfort and intimacy from finally being in closer proximity and from the occasional personal contact of fellow humans.

For the first time in a year, I hugged someone not in my household. Over the course of almost 9 months, my friend’s wife was diagnosed, treated and survived a serious health scare. When I heard the news that the operation was a success, I was delighted. I had seen her from a distance during the past winter, but I was careful not to get too close — worried that her immune system might be compromised. If this was two years ago, I would have given her a cursory hug to be polite. Six months ago, I would not have dared. But today, considering both of us were vaccinated, I hugged her and whispered, “I’m so happy you’re well,” and that embrace had added meaning.

The aforementioned Casey and I have been serving on some of the same boards and commissions for years. I usually try to sit next to her because she pays attention. In the past, I could always lean over to ask, “What’s better, being in the red or in the black?” During Zoom, I could only text her to ask stuff like that. But last week, we were in person.

When she sat down, and I instinctively pulled up my neck gaiter, she whispered, “You can pull that thing down. We have both had our shots.” I was about to tell her I wasn’t worried about her, but I was concerned about the gal who bumped into me at the post office. But instead said, “Yeah, this might take some time getting used to.”


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