Richard Swerdlow: Days of Yore

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

It seems like ancient history now the way we lived way back in the days of yore.  But it was only February.  Richard Swerdlow takes a ride in a time machine.

Like a lot of people, I have a tottering tower of newspapers I haven't gotten around to reading, but don't want to toss just yet. Since sheltering-in-place has provided an unexpected block of free time, it was an opportunity to catch up on last month's backlog of Sunday New York Times. So, I grabbed a February edition and settled in.

Things have sure changed since February. Flipping through the entertainment sections left me shocked not at the scandalous subject matter of the films, but at the concept of going to a movie. Did dozens of strangers actually sit right next to each other for hours? Being one of the thousand people crammed into a Broadway theater together bordered on insanity. And with a seating capacity of 3,800, the Metropolitan Opera seemed like a petri dish.

The sports section was worse. I practically dropped the paper in disbelief.  The Knicks playing at Madison Square Garden, with a seating capacity of 19,812. A jaw-dropping photo of the crowd at last year's Duke-Syracuse NCAA Carrier-Dome match-up with 35,000 spectators. Did we ever really live like this?

Page after page of the style section displayed ordinary events that now looked astonishing crowded parties, weddings, museum openings. The news section photos had me cringing people hugging, shaking hands, sitting together, protesters marching shoulder-to-shoulder.


Reading last month's paper, I had a strange feeling that I'd had this experience before. Finally, it dawned on me learning about Pompeii in high school. Pompeii was a bustling Roman city in 79 A.D. when a volcano erupted, burying the city in lava, instantly freezing it forever, allowing scholars to study how everyday life was lived in a long-gone era.

I folded the paper, and sat at the kitchen table, thinking how life in February is nearly unrecognizable in March. Reading about regular life from only a month ago now feels as exotic as an archaeologist studying Pompeii, amazed by a frozen snapshot of the everyday lives of an ancient and extinct civilization.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a San Francisco teacher.