In the Suburbs: Learning to live in my virtual world

Welcome to my new virtual world. In this pandemic land of “new normal,” my favorite vocabulary words have become Zoom and Google Meets, and the navigating is easy enough for even this “old fart” to understand. The virtual world is not something I ever expected to become my everyday work life. And along with distance teaching, I’ve discovered a wonderful non-work, plus side that has certainly been out there but was something I hadn’t tapped until now - regular virtual get-togethers with loved ones and friends all over the country.

Let’s start with the distance teaching world I’ve had to use. For the past, nearly 9 weeks, I’ve followed my work routine of getting up early, getting ready and entering my new computer classroom. While we don’t always follow school periods, I’m usually on my laptop about 8:15, the usual start to period 1 and then it begins — virtual student sessions, teacher meetings and webinars related to a reading program I started teaching before Covid-19 struck.

In the weeks, I wore regular work clothes, wanting to look my best for the students. However, what I’ve found with these virtual student sessions is that very few students actually activate their video cameras. They don’t really care what I look like or wear. While they don’t mind talking or being heard, they’re more content to gape at me while I try to lead a discussion. As I look around the gallery, all I see are images of cartoon characters, a circle with the first letter of a student’s name or some other kind of visual so I have to guess who they are.

So I’ve concluded that if this pandemic continues indefinitely, I could give my entire wardrobe to Goodwill in Fairfield and live in the three pair of sweatpants I have and colored tee shirts. I’ve also decided for vanity purposes that if virtual is going to be the way we’ll be teaching indefinitely,” I might as well forget getting the haircut I was going for at Ash in Fairfield, which the Governor canceled anyway, and just shave what’s left of the gray hair on my head. I might even wear my new black mask to all my sessions.

Moving away from virtual teaching, I have made some great outside virtual discoveries. One of those relates to a group of guys, called Max’s Minions, most of whom are my age and many who went to my high school in Chicago. I learned about the group from a great high school friend, Bobby, who invited me to one of the get- togethers when we were last in Chicago. Of course, schedules didn’t match so I couldn’t attend. They meet at Max’ Deli in one of the Chicago suburbs on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Now, thanks to Zoom, I have joined their group every Tuesday and Thursday and it’s great. I have gotten to know guys who hardly knew me in high school, reconnected with others who go back as far as Cub Scouts and Hebrew School and others from area high schools on Chicago’s north side. I enjoy the friendly banter and jokes and since we’re all Democrats, you can guess the other topic of discussion. When and if this bizarre nightmare ends, I’m definitely planning our next Chicago trip around a Tuesday or Thursday so I can attend a Max’ Minions meeting.

Along with my virtual men’s group, I really look forward to our weekly WW (AKA Weight Watchers) virtual meetings at 8 a.m. on Saturdays. We follow the honor system, since we’re not weighing in weekly, and my weight has pretty much stayed the same, give or take 4 or 5 “points” (not pounds) up or down. At first, I envisioned coming out of this pandemic weighing more than when I started three years ago. But with these continued meetings, I’m feeling the same kind of support I receive at our in-person sessions. And I can wear sweats or nicer clothes.

For crafts and hobbies, every Monday evening at 6:30, my wife and I Zoom into our Lordship Congregational Church quilting guild to catch up on what everyone has been working on and how we’ve been managing without our weekly in-person contact. It’s great quilting therapy. The best part of the Zoom calls, just like my virtual men’s group, is being joined by one of our great out-of-town friends Nancy, who moved to Myrtle Beach this past year. That’s a real treat for all of us and always has some wonderful new project, as do many of the others.

One of the best parts of these virtual meetings has been learning about how to make Covid-19 masks the best way. Some of our members have been churning out volumes of masks for first responders, older shut ins and friends and neighbors without masks. My wife used the formula to make masks for our daughter and older grandson and they loved them.

While “virtually yours” has not been the ideal for education, it looks like we’ll be doing it in the fall and I’ll be using it when I teach in the Upward Bound program for college-bound teens. And on the personal side, I’m saving myself a plane ticket to meet with Max’ Minions and can stay on track with WW and quilting.

Pardon me while I grab my sweats. It’s time for my next Google Hangouts.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at