Social distancing restrictions have been in place for over two months now, and although there are always great new topics for discussion, like the disadvantages of sneezing inside a mask or wearing one in 85 degree heat, sometimes other diversions are necessary.
Between work, school, and leisure, my family has endured several interactions via the Zoom video conferencing platform. Though it’s always a minor thrill to use the gallery view to recreate the opening visuals of “The Brady Bunch” with your relatives, friends, and business associates, video conferencing still functions better in theory with everyone speaking on cue, and no garbled sound, echoing, or lagging. In reality, managing a group meeting on Zoom is more like hosting a game of “Press Your Luck,” as contestants monitor the rapidly shifting lighted borders of the “active speaker” window, trying to time a jump into the conversation at just the right moment in order to be heard.
Then there’s Zoom-bombing, in which uninvited attendees, apparently more bored than any of us, invade meetings and post inappropriate material or just generally cause chaos to amuse themselves. While this practice gives a new and remarkable relevance to the cheeky lyrics and questionable grammar of the 1985 Aretha Franklin song “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?,” it also combines with other shortcomings to make Zoom a less than desirable way to interact with others.
Another distraction that quickly lost its luster was the presence of a fox in our neighborhood. Late one evening, I heard something in the bushes behind a neighbor’s yard that sounded like cat murder; even our dog, who’s typically—let’s put this delicately—”eager to meet” any kind of wildlife, looked at me with an expression that clearly said, “YOU go first.” The pattern repeated over the next few nights, and eventually I caught a glimpse of what turned out to be a fox shrieking its mating call. Out on the town, searching for a suitable companion, this sultry vixen’s appearance was best described as “foxy.” But after a month of fox calls at all hours of the night, the novelty (and the thrill) was gone.
Kids’ toys and picture books often feature mooing cows, barking dogs, and meowing cats, but they never reveal the sound a fox makes, and that’s because that sound is horrifying. For the full experience, take a moment to find a “Red fox call” video, or more specifically, the “Vixen’s Scream” on YouTube. (Be careful not to type “Redd Foxx” or you might find some old comedy material better suited for Zoom-bombing, about the need to wash one’s hindquarters.)
You might also care to revisit the once-ubiquitous song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by the Norweigian comedy duo Ylvis. What DOES the fox say? According to an audio-to-text transcription app: “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Never has our written language seemed so inadequate.
In our time at home, my family and I also revisited our game closet, which was in dire need of a Marie Kondo-style cleanout. Thus was born the week-long “Lame Game Olympics,” in which past-their-prime board games were given one last chance to shine; they’d either win a coveted spot in the newly reorganized game closet, or be donated to charity.
In all, 14 games got the final rejection. Some games were too babyish, others simply ill-conceived. One of the latter was the 1991 Barbie “We Girls Can Do Anything” board game, where competition chafes against female empowerment as you attempt to advance your career, largely by sabotaging those of your opponents. Hey, we girls can do anything, like “actress,” “ballerina,” “fashion designer,” and other stuff, too—as long as it’s understood that the “we” in question is of the royal variety (i.e., “I”). Utilize “girl power” against your rivals! Live your best life, while preventing others from doing the same! Break the glass ceiling and use the shards to slit your enemies’ throats! I admit, I may have gotten a little carried away with this game.
“Aggravation” lived up to its name, and was kicked to the curb. So were two out of four versions of Monopoly—our classic, decrepit 1961 version and the 1997 Star Wars-themed release earned their keep, while the 2014 “Electronic Banking” and 2018 “Voice Banking” versions got the heave-ho.
A note to any would-be conspiracy theorists: tech-infused Monopoly games might actually be disguised, foreign-sponsored efforts to eliminate basic math skills among American youth, while undermining our most sacred traditions. The “Voice Banking” edition has no paper money, no Atlantic or Pacific Avenues, 8 spaces on each side of the board instead of 10, and a neon green T-Rex token. Heresy!
If all this board game talk isn’t enough inspiration for you to raid your own game closet (or create one immediately), let me direct you to the little-known 1981 song “Risk” by The Spizzles. Based on the original Game of Global Domination, the lyrics offer a play-by-play account of a contest against the devil himself, with lines like “He threw a six and a five and a three/ That’s when I lost another territory” and “He’d scattered his units, only one in Alaska/ I caught him out when I came swooping in from Kamchatka!” I’m waiting for Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic heir to emerge and adapt it to film.
I was never a big fan of jigsaw puzzles, but an interesting variation sat in our closet for years, untouched. In the “Alphabet Mystery Puzzle” series, clues in the completed jigsaw puzzles help you solve a crime. This edition, “F is for Feline,” featured a cat-related murder (play that fox call again here, for effect), with two puzzles in one box, no picture guide, and more cat puns than can be easily cat-egorized. It was a purr-fectly pleasant a-mew-sment, and with an alphabet’s worth of ap-paw-ling, fur-midible purr-petrators left to cat(ch), I am feline fine.
Parks and beaches have reopened, and it’s paws-ible—ahem, sorry—possible the worst is behind us. But lately, bad news has had a way of raining on our spring parade. One last song shout-out, The Rolling Stones’ “Jigsaw Puzzle,” sums up the situation nicely. “Me, I’m waiting so patiently/ Lying on the floor/ I’m just trying to do this jigsaw puzzle/ Before it rains anymore.”