Quarantine Chronicles Day 19: Pass the time playing the most solitary of all card games

You know what’s a great game to play during isolation? Solitaire. It’s basically a game named for and inspired by isolation. It’s the Official Card Game of COVID-19, in which a second person is actually superfluous other than to make irritating remarks like “You can put the red queen on the black king,” as if you didn’t already see that, or unless you’re playing double-solitaire, which is a little too action-packed, to say nothing of being oxymoronic, for isolation.

When I was a lot younger, before you could play solitaire on a computer or smartphone, I used to spend hours playing solitaire with an old deck of cards and wonder if someday I would regret wasting so much time playing a card game alone in my room. As if I could be making some great advances in science or literature instead. I usually answered my own question by shuffling the cards and setting up another layout. Science and literature can look after themselves.

Nowadays, I’m less apt to play a game of solitaire and more likely to solve a crossword puzzle, which is an activity that’s said to ward off senility. It’d be great if it does.

The New York Times puzzle is the gold standard and the only one worth playing if you’re at all into crossword puzzles. They start out easy early in the week. A tic-tac-toe-playing chicken can finish the Monday one. And they get more difficult, culminating with a brutal Saturday puzzle. Lately, with a bunch of time piling up that needs to be squandered, I’ve been finishing both Friday and Saturday puzzles more than half the time. Isolation makes you smarter because of the absence of things like work, which just pummels your brain into a soft mush and makes you forget how words work.

Want more? Watch the movie “Wordplay” about Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, available now on Amazon Prime and probably elsewhere.

So there’s that to consider—look, I’m trying to help here. If you don’t do something useful with your time you’re liable to fall into the horrifying habit of watching the news and finding out that your fate may increasingly rest in the hands of Jared Kushner, an epiphany that won’t cheer you up during the era when we all need cheering up, but at least it answers the question, “Could there be anyone worse than President Trump at handling the COVID-19 crisis?”

So, yeah, let’s pass on world news. Turn off the idiot box and take advantage of this roaring silence to read a good book. Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter,” “Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” or the stories of Alice Munro or Flannery O’Connor. Want something more fitting? Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Half the world now is in lockdown. That’s more than 3.9 billion souls. Most are in way worse condition than I am. One of the early responses to these chronicles noted that I am just “dripping with privilege,” and, Lord, I’m aware of that. But these columns are about my life stuck in isolation. It’s not stunt journalism where I spend my days in a squalid studio and write about what it’s like to suffer with no money to pay the rent or feed the kids, and then return home and cash my paychecks and enjoy a Zoom happy hour in the Barn with my friends and colleagues. Rather, it’s just a journal of my own isolation and I earnestly hope you’re in no greater discomfort than I’m in.

And I’m not blithely skating through this, anyway. My sister has been suffering in ICU at Memorial Medical Center with COVID-19, and she has a wobbly prognosis that seems a bit better some days, a bit worse others. All I can do is sit here and wait for my beloved niece Katie to call me twice a day to tell me which way the needle’s going.

Debi’s friends have been sending tons of love through email and social media, and I continue to try to answer as many as I can. That’s yet another way to pass the time. Like everything else these days, now more than ever, we all just muddle along one day at a time. Wake up, check your health and if all’s OK, sit down and do a crossword puzzle or play a hand of solitaire. Soon enough, the sun sets.

And how are you faring and coping? Please drop me a line about life in Isolationland at [email protected], or on Facebook and Twitter @grobaty.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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