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Miami at home: A socially distant birthday

You only turn 56 once, but my dad turning 56 during a pandemic is something that is truly once in a lifetime. 

After rolling out of bed and going downstairs, he enjoys his usual breakfast of a cup of coffee and a cigarette on his porch while pondering the strange circumstance he finds himself in. 

What do you do on your birthday when you can’t do anything? 

You can’t go see a movie or sit down at a restaurant. 

He’s been a registered nurse at the Cleveland Clinic for 30 years, which makes him lean toward not going to visit family out of respect for social distancing and self-quarantining.

Speaking of work, he stops to think about how things are going today without him there. He’d originally scheduled the week off for a trip to Disney World. That trip was canceled, but he kept the time off to be home with me. 

He wonders about how many patients are sick, if the hospital is full and whether or not he is going to be moved from his current position at the outpatient desk. He’s afraid of potentially working inpatient, but he would do it if it was necessary for the greater good. 

He stomps out his cigarette and his meandering thoughts on the cement and goes inside. 

He looks over at his Mickey Mouse wall clock: 11 a.m. He decides to grant himself a well-deserved birthday nap and that his celebration will consist of getting carryout from my favorite restaurant: Olive Garden.

***

Later that day, he brought me along with him for the car ride to get his birthday dinner. He had called ahead, so we just had to pick it up, but we had to make a pit stop at the tobacco store.

As his silver Honda HR-V crept towards the storefront, I spotted several orange poster boards littered across the windows detailing their new hours. The store was now only open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 12-5 p.m.

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Thankfully, my dad’s birthday was on a Thursday. Sadly, it was 5:30 p.m. 

My dad felt like he was living in the apocalypse. His sense of free will had been eliminated due to the novel coronavirus. 

Defeated, he decided to ration his five remaining cigarettes until tomorrow and headed to Olive Garden to get his birthday feast.

***

Pulling into the restaurant’s parking lot, he was immediately met with protests from me for parking in a limited 10-minute spot, which he ignored. 

Exceeding the time limit on a parking spot was the least of the world’s problems, he thought. 

A young woman in an Olive Garden uniform approached the car and asked for the name of the order. She called the name out over her earpiece to the workers inside and walked away.

There were three workers continuously scanning the parking lot like clockwork. Taking down peoples’ names, handing out orders and dealing with any issues on the battlefront. 

“That man hates his job right now,” I said, pointing toward one of the three workers. The male worker had rolled his eyes at a customer who had gotten out of their car to try and receive their order.   

“People are so privileged in thinking that they don’t need to follow the rules and that they’re the exception,” my dad said. He reached for his center console. “In my experience, every time I go to have a cigarette, the food usually comes.”

I heavily doubted that hypothesis, and two cigarettes later, it looked as if I was right. 

“Please do not blow cigarette smoke into a worker’s face.”

He didn’t even grant my absurd comment with a verbal response, rolling up the window halfway instead. I toggled the radio, searching for something to get my mind off the chaos I was surrounded by. After settling on “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, my dad was reminded of an artist he knew I would enjoy. 

After pulling up a video on YouTube that engrossed both me and him, we were interrupted by a tap on the window.

Dinner was done.

***

When we got home, I took our two filled-to-the-brim Olive Garden bags to the kitchen and began divvying up what was mine and what was my dad’s. It became quickly apparent to me that while my dad got both of his entrees he ordered, I didn’t get exactly what I ordered.

My dad had taken advantage of Olive Garden’s ‘Buy one entree, get one free’ and instead of my full size entrees, I got two orders of the to-go size.

“Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t tip them,” my dad said with a sigh. He began to get slightly frustrated with the day. He couldn’t get cigarettes, and he couldn’t have his son enjoy two bowls of delicious fettuccine pasta. 

While we enjoyed the parts of the dinner that we had, we watched my dad’s favorite TV show: “Lost.” He soon realized the irony of the show he chose to watch. 

“Aren’t we all trapped on our own deserted island?” I said. 

My dad laughed at that and thanked me for spending this day with him. I asked him how this birthday chalked up to every one before it.

“It’s certainly memorable,” he said. “But I’m just another year older.” 

He paused. 

“Can you help me create a Facebook post thanking everyone for their birthday wishes?”

I laughed. 

“Yes, Dad.”

kwiatkdm@miamioh.edu


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