A ‘new normal’? What does that mean?

Posted 9/11/20

I saw a T-shirt last week that, were it not for the profanity on it, I might like to have. It said (and obviously I paraphrase a bit): “Wine: the glue that holds the $#*!storm of 2020 …

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A ‘new normal’? What does that mean?

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I saw a T-shirt last week that, were it not for the profanity on it, I might like to have. It said (and obviously I paraphrase a bit): “Wine: the glue that holds the $#*!storm of 2020 together.”

In a noisy, complex world, most of us love qualifiers and superlatives to help make sense and order of the mess that is 2020. (That, and a good Argentinian Malbec.) Of all the strange and bizarre occurrences so far this year — who joins me in shuddering to think of what’s to come? — it’s the odd and unconventional that, for whatever reason, strike me as particularly absurd illustrations of our upside-down world, making 2020 undefinable.

One case in point: Zoom Video Communications, the Silicon Valley company which makes the Zoom videoconferencing software many of us have grown accustomed to using, has seen its value jump six-fold this year. And on a single day last week, Zoom’s value increased by $25 billion — that’s billion with a “b,” a jump worth more than the total value of eBay. It temporarily made Zoom worth more than IBM, for eons the tech company against which all others were measured.

I don’t think Zoom’s CEO woke up one day back in January in anticipation that his company would hit a kudzu-like growth spurt while businesses around him foundered, shuttered, boarded up and ceased to exist and unemployment soared.

Definitely absurd.

And not normal.

Fittingly, as with our coronavirus hopes, since that $25 billion boom, Zoom’s value has zoomed up and down like a roller coaster.

Meanwhile, as the promise of autumn approaches, 53 major college football teams aren’t playing, postponing their seasons until spring — including top-10 powerhouses Ohio State, Penn State and Oregon. In the Big Apple, I read, scores of hedge fund managers have escaped the city to work in the luxury of their vacation homes in the Hamptons while thousands upon thousands of restaurant and service employees left behind get laid off. Nearly two in five employed people in households with incomes below $40,000 have lost jobs, while only about one in eight of those making more than $100,000 have. Unemployment has gone from a 50-year low a year ago to truly frightening levels today.

Not normal.

“WFH” — work from home — has become standard practice for many. (That is unless you work in construction, loading or stocking, and you’re piling up overtime to meet unprecedented demand.) We can all define exactly what “social distancing” means, down to the inch. One California town saw thermometers hit 121 degrees on Sunday and tropical storms continue to set records in the Atlantic. If you’re a church-goer, you’re saying things you never, ever anticipated saying — such as, “We can’t pass the offering plate any more” and “We can’t visit members who are in the hospital.” Funerals? Where do we start with those?

Not normal.

Masks have become politicized, education leaders are flummoxed about what to do and meanwhile, six million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Before too long, we’ll pass 200,000 COVID-related deaths in our country alone.

Not normal.

The pandemic has changed certain things forever. No more buffets, for example. Will handshakes ever return? No blowing out candles on birthday cakes, some experts recommend. No more Karaoke. No free food samples at Costco. No cash. No bouncy ball pits. No asking strangers to take photos with our cellphones.

Not normal.

And politics? Definitely not normal.

We all want to go back to the beginning, back to “normal,” but the reality is: it’s change, and if you think about it, change is the only thing that IS normal.

I was reflecting on 9/11 last week with our own Chapel Fowler — he was 3 when the planes hit the Twin Towers — and ruminating about changes in travel that the terrorist attacks brought about. “Back then,” I’d tell him …

What was “new” then is now’s normal.

What’ll be normal tomorrow?

Ultimately, everything. Every day is the future’s “back then.”

Another normal will always slide into place tomorrow.


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