Indeed, the intricacies of the simplest pedestrian precincts can overwhelm the more cautious of us. And when we don’t put feet in our mouths, we put others in place by asking them if they’ve been tested and opening their windows to let air in.
At a dinner at a friend’s house on Long Island last month when the virus began to reappear, I asked a guest six feet away but speaking so percussively that I could almost see the aerosols spraying from his mouth, to lean back in his chair. I didn’t like myself for it – it wasn’t my home so I had no right to make the rules. But to his credit the guest just laughed and leaned back in his chair, which gave me the benefit of an extra foot or something. He even pulled up his mask.
It felt incredibly uncomfortable, but at least our conversation was amusing. That can no longer be taken for granted.
“We’ve lost the ability to talk about a lot of things because we don’t do a lot of things,” said Fern Mallis, the fashion consultant known for making New York Fashion Week an important social event. She was a little speechless at an October outdoor ready-to-wear show in Southampton, a rare outing and brief return to the runway. “How much can you talk about Donald Trump and what you’ve seen on Netflix?” Ms. Mallis, 72, said. “And now Trump is leaving.”
Isaac Mizrahi, the hilarious fashion designer and cabaret artist, has a hard time joking with his mother. “She talked about fabulous things, including her shopping sprees at Loehmann,” said 59-year-old Mizrahi. “Now she’s telling me how her houseplant has grown a little.”
Not long ago, he picked up one of his virtual cabaret shows to stream from Cafe Carlyle on Broadway World and found that his chatter had lost its pizazz. “I talked about the protein omelet I had for lunch like it was the Arab Spring,” he said. “And I sounded like a 93-year-old myself.”
Jeanne Martinet, the author of “Mingling With the Enemy” and other books on social interaction, attributes the failure of a successful conversation in part to too much zoom, where one cannot practice the subtle and playful art of speaking out over and over. After all, it requires a certain level of skill to jump into a lively or heated conversation. And when you’re behind a face mask, the nuances of humor and empathy are difficult to express, which may explain why we use emojis when sending texts.