Notes from the Pandemic
In the mists of time—before the pandemic—Yvonne, Maggie, and I would fly to Pasadena the day after Christmas and stay through New Year’s with our friends the Starbirds.
The Starbirds are worthy of an entire book, but for our purposes here I’ll just say they are fun. They do jigsaw puzzles, hold quizzes for holiday prize money, and hike the Rose Parade route on New Year’s Eve doing the stiff, silly wave made famous by the Rose Queen and her court.
The Starbirds love music, so much that for over thirty years they and two dozen close friends, including us, gathered around the piano in the senior Starbirds’ music room to sing Handel’s Messiah—not the shortened version but the whole thing, all three hours’ worth. That may not sound like fun to you, but then, you don’t know the Starbirds.
Most of all, they love games. Each day of our Pasadena visit, we would play Charades, and occasionally we’d try a game called Hieroglyphics, which they had invented. In the game, each player draws a picture and the others try to guess its meaning.
It sounds simple, until you learn about the scoring system. If everyone guesses correctly, you get no points. If everyone guesses incorrectly, you get no points. You get maximum points if exactly half the people guess correctly. This ingenious twist deemphasizes artistic ability and emphasizes cleverness. Rembrandt might fail; my pathetic stick figures can win the day.
Our family no longer makes the annual holiday trip to Pasadena, but over the years we have stayed in touch with the Starbirds, mostly son Mike and his wife Roberta, who live in Austin, and we rendezvous with them once or twice a year.
Mike and I also stay in touch by phone, and when the pandemic hit, our calls became more frequent. One day Mike mentioned that the Starbirds had been playing Charades by Zoom, and I asked if we could join them. Mike, being Mike, said of course!
The following Monday night we gathered in front of our computers: Mike and Roberta, their daughters Talley and Bryn, Mike’s brother Tom and sister-in-law Kathy, Tom and Kathy’s son Greg, and Greg’s two kids, Simone and Marcel. Plus Yvonne and me, the interlopers.
Charades, it turns out, isn’t the ideal game for Zoom. Acting out clues is hard because you never know if people can see you clearly. Guessing is even worse because of the Internet’s time lag and the difficulty of giving feedback to the guessers.
After a few weeks, someone suggested Hieroglyphics. We chose pairs of weekly themes—war and peace, crime and punishment, fish and chips—and all of us drew picture clues within those themes. It worked! Hieroglyphics was just hard enough, just visual enough, just silly enough for Zoom.
That was six months ago. Since then, we’ve gathered every Monday night and spent the evening drawing, guessing, visiting, and laughing. It may not be as good as a trip to Pasadena, but we’ll take it.
Times are tough. Games are great. Friends are better.