The Longing for Normal

I have felt a longing these recent fine spring days for a wide variety of pre-virus pleasures, but perhaps none more so than Monut’s, a buzzy daytime eatery in Durham that makes distinctive New Agey donuts and sandwiches with perfectly balanced ratios of condiments to bread to fillings, along with a convivial, clattery atmosphere provided by young hipster servers, Duke students and professors, and friend pairs huddled intimately over tables trying to make themselves heard above the din.

Also: Ponysaurus, a local brewpub featuring my favorite crisp pilsner, where children and dogs romp across lawns dotted with picnic tables through the warm months, above which we climb metal stairs to a veranda, strategically parking ourselves to watch the sun set amidst the ever-changing cloudscape to the west.

These are among a host of local establishments whose “brands” have inculcated themselves into my life, reliable pitstops where the refueling of body and soul can commence at intervals of my choosing. None of them indispensable or transcendent in and of themselves, all of them desirable in that way in which small rituals of everyday pleasure and attention root us to a life.

Such pleasures vary widely, of course. For you, they might include pedicures, visits to a dog park, beach outings with your kids or grandkids, or checking in with a knowledgable counterperson at the auto parts store. Whatever the venues, they share an ability to wrap us up in a warm cocoon of normal, or in Alice Walker’s lovely phrase of a book title, “The Temple of My Familiars.” 

These familIars are, I would submit, almost as necessary to us as breathing. They stabilize us, serve as internal compasses while also doing duty as a lubricant for the social, forward-looking and pleasure-seeking creatures that we are. Ultimately, being denied them comes at a cost to our sense of life happiness and contentment.



But for this virus, I was headed to Ireland with my love next week, followed by a subsequent week in Scotland. In the realm of tragedy, a forsaken journey, however eagerly anticipated, raises barely a flicker of lamentation. At least not on a day when the U.S. just recorded its 50,000th death from Covid-19.

And truth to tell, I haven’t thought all that much about the canceled trip. Comme ci, comme ça.

But I’m pretty sure I’ve thought about Ponysaurus every day. And Duke Gardens, and the burrito joint packed with Latinos every lunch and dinner on Roxboro Street, where I was most always the only (but never lonely) gringo.

And hikes along the Eno River parks, and Durham Bulls minor league games, and drinks at the 21c Museum Hotel downtown, atop which sits a museum of contemporary, socially edgy works you can engage with till late in the night.

And roots music and ribs on Friday nights at the Blue Note Grill, praise be to it and may it survive.

And hanging out with young parents, who aren’t quite hip yet to the fact that they’re our inroad to the joy of once again burying our noses in the soft nape of a baby’s neck, or playing  Ring Around the Rosie with toddlers as we tumble to the ground in a heap (clever are the ways of us elders…).

And hugging my friends—goddamn, I miss hugging my friends. And sharing food with them at our table, and them returning the favor.

And jeez: BBQ season is almost upon us!

I would take all these things over a hundred around-the-world trips if I had to choose between them. As heady as travel can be, it is the relatively mundane joys and comforts of everyday life that etch themselves most deeply into that life.

That’s one reason why long travels often beget a profound feeling of peace and contentment the moment we can flop back atop our beds, then pull our familiar sheets up to our chins while switching off the light on the nightstand.




No talk of normal in 2020 can avoid the great abnormality of these political times, under a president who has riven the country and violated its most basic norms of decency, honor, and civility since the day of his inauguration. His theme that day was “American carnage,” and oh my God, has he delivered.

Tens of millions of us wake every morning dazed and dismayed not at a president who merely embodies a different set of political sensibilities, but whose overt moral turpitude and profound ignorance have undermined every last defense his supporters have tried to mount on his behalf.

In the future, no one will be able to claim they were fooled by this man, given how relentlessly, shamelessly, he has exposed his own half-formed self at every turn.

So what most confounds more than half the country is how the remaining portion manages its conscience in continuing to support the chaos and upheaval he continues to heap upon our nation and, given our centrality on the international stage, the world beyond.

The yard sign making its presence felt around the country—”Any Functioning Adult 2020″—reveals their owners’ sense of desperation, their longing for a president who can return us to some semblance of mature, civil behavior. We want to know that the person with the nuclear codes in his or her possession embodies elemental decency and thoughtfulness, who realizes the stakes of every utterance coming forth from the presidential podium.

That’s why there was a particularly cruel irony in recent pronouncements from a faction of the progressive left that they were currently withholding support from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The headline and text snippet reported on a progressive website went like this:

‘Return to Normalcy’ Not Going to Be Enough to Win Our Support, Young Progressives Tell Joe Biden

Messaging around a “return to normalcy” does not and has not earned the support and trust of voters from our generation. For so many young people, going back to the way things were “before Trump” isn’t a motivating enough reason to cast a ballot in November. 

To which I say: Are you people out of your minds? You’re actually thinking about not casting a ballot in November?

Yes, a lot more needs to change in these not-so-United States to ensure justice and a fair division of the economic pie. Not to mention climate, gun control, racism, and multiple other issues dear to the entire spectrum of modern liberalism. We have a long way to go before we achieve a society in which the elite don’t use their wealth and the influence it buys to maintain their stranglehold on American politics.

But clawing our way back to some semblance of “normal” is the absolutely necessary first step in that process. And it is no baby step, either. More like a Bob Beamon-esque leap, considering how much ground we have lost these past three-and-a-half years.

“Normal” come November will entail high drama and the highest possible stakes, with the very soul of our country on the line. Four more years of Trumpian devastation is certain to leave our country a shambles—dispirited, enfeebled, and more than ever under the sway of know-nothings who do the bidding of today’s masters of the universe, dedicated only to their personal bottom line rather than the common good.

Both the arch-conservatives who have hijacked the Republican Party and uber-progressives who maintain the fantasy of a Bernie-fueled revolution on the left refuse to acknowledge just how devastating this administration has been, and how much of a revolution it will actually bring us to be rid of it once and for all.

Anyone who can’t see that, I invite to join me for breakfast at Monut’s or a beer at Ponysaurus soon as they put the Open sign back up in their windows. It will help put our stimulus checks to good use.


A vintage (1980) romp and fine advice for (2020) Quarantine Time here….


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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Beer photo courtesy of Ponysaurus Brewing Co.

Chair and yard sign by Andrew Hidas

6 comments to The Longing for Normal

  • Karen Malin  says:

    Andy. I was brought to tears by your Words “I would trade all the around the world trips”. We had planned a major European tour in the spring. Now all I want to do is rent a big VRBO on a beach somewhere with my whole family! And hugs. God I miss hugging my friends and grandkids! And you are spot on about the election! I am longing everyday for this madness, and not just the virus, to end! Thanks as ever for your poetic clarity! Stay healthy!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I hear ya about preferring a sprawling beach joint where you can gather the clan, Karen, rather than hopping around Europe. It will involve more people, more joy, and less money—a triple win! And thanks for your kind words about the rest of it. Onwards to get-out-the-vote efforts in November!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    While you cancelled (rain check?) vacation to the British Isles, we did the same for our Italian trip. With Karen and Jim also postponing their tour, our Eagle Rock families have taken quite a hit. Claire & I will now have to substitute a few laps in our backyard pool for a long anticipated dip in the Bay of Naples off Sorrento’s coast. However, in my humble opinion, this entire Covid-19 fear is completely unfounded. After all, I bought a syringe with a bottle of Lysol and backed it up with an afternoon appointment under a UV tanning bed. Vatican here I come!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Sounds like a sound plan for avoiding the virus, Robert. I suggest you write our Chief Scientist who came up with the idea at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and let him know how much you appreciate his utterly unparalleled, trailblazing genius in advancing our scientific understanding of the virus’s causes and best treatment protocols.

      Sorry you’ll miss the Bay of Naples, though. Maybe hire some Italian waiters for a backyard soiree around your pool? I’d come!

  • Angela  says:

    Like most of us in the past weeks I’ve had a lot of time here at home. I remember years ago, being a young mother with my little son in child care….he would be so, so excited on a Saturday to receive an affirmative answer to his most frequent and pressing question “Is this a home day?” Quarantine might have been a version of Heaven for him.

    I am so aware and grateful for the fact that I HAVE a home, and in addition enjoy the circumstances that have allowed me to stay safe in it every day and not have to venture out. My garden looks well-tended to the point of obsession, and instead of a trip I created several new beds and a path.

    Stir crazy? A bit, sometimes a lot. Missing my children, my friends, and the everyday sights and hangouts you mention? You better believe it, and while it’s always possible to see the up side (reduced pollution etc) I am not about to sugarcoat it. I’m doing ok, and most days that is triumph enough.

    I hope we recover in all ways and are able to resume our social lives with joy and not fear and retain our appreciation for every day, ordinary pleasures. I also invite Donald Trump to volunteer for an immediate clinical trial of exactly one and to inject his lungs with bleach. I’m sure it would be a rousing success and an immediate improvement to the situation at hand and for whatever future lies ahead.

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    Yes, you nailed this for me, Andrew. Tonight I was talking to my neighbor on the phone – my *neighbor* – who had made me dinner and was going to leave it on my porch for me. And I could stand it no longer. I went over and sat on her deck overlooking the lake. 8 feet apart and I took my own wine and glass. It got cold fairly quickly as the sun sank – but as I headed home, I realized I felt normal again. Like a sip of your crisp pilsner and then the “Ahhh!” And I sat down and read your post. Lovely.

    And I have to add this, or I wouldn’t be me: I have a temporary Covid job cleaning all floors and surfaces of a homeless shelter, which must be done twice daily so the residents can stay inside during the day and become another congregate living disaster. The city of Cambridge provided a grant to pay us cleaners, and local restaurants bring over meals. In usual times, the men have to be out by 7 a.m. and stay out until 6 p.m. To them being able to stay inside when it is cold and eat lunch together is a really nice thing. Pandemic or not, these men feel at home in a way they are surprised to feel. I can see lots of small routines and ways they find their pleasurable normalcy.

    And then there are the unsheltered, who might finally be housed (at least in California) not out of compassion but out of Covid fear. So suddenly the money is there – it was always there – but the will was not. Still true in most places. I bet there are small rites to find the sense of home, even when homeless.

    And finally, I think of huge sprawling refugee camps near borders. I wonder what gives people in their situation the sense of satisfaction that I felt, seeing the sunlight throw little rainbows through the crystal hanging in my window? Is there anything dear, that is small and repeatable, and can be counted on for comfort, like coffee beans from a favorite shop? Maybe there is. But it makes me ache to think of it.

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