I’m not an epidemiologist, unlike everyone else on the internet who reads a brief description of a scholarly article whose title reaffirmed what they already believed.

That said, it seems to me that two people speaking quietly at a restaurant where all the tables are well spaced is less of a COVID-19 danger zone than a place where every conversation resembles a furious baseball coach yelling at the ump. You shouldn’t put your face close to someone else’s and expel a fine mist of personal fluids, but in loud bars, you have no choice.

I always hated bar din, but it was the price you paid. Your friend says:

“Hey, you want to go somewhere that sounds like a jackhammer testing facility and talk until we have nodes on our vocal cords the size of Ping-Pong balls?”

“No. Why?”

“There’ll be girls!”

“Let’s go.”

You show up at the bar, note that the volume is set somewhere between “permanent damage” and “war crime,” even though there are six people in the place. Eventually you work up the nerve to talk to a stranger, and it goes like this:



And it gets worse from there. Let’s say you hit it off. An hour later you’re still struggling:

“What I’m saying is that epistemic justification binds us to modes of thought, which ...”





Well, it was a college bar.

Sometimes volume is fine. It’s part of the experience. My most recent loud-noise fun time was a concert at a bar. Blue Oyster Cult was playing in the ’burbs. I’d seen them in 1976 in Fargo, and because my ears had stopped ringing a few weeks before their 2019 date, I said, “Heck, yeah.”

The place was packed. No masks, of course; anyone who showed up in a mask was assumed to be intent on robbing the cashier. No one conversed because that would be sacrilege. At the end of each song, a great “WOOOO” went up in unison — all that expelled air in a tightly packed space!

Maybe one guy got a cold.

It’s not just bars. Before COVID — and I just realized the very name of the thing makes it seem like we’re shouting — my wife and I were having dinner with some friends, chatting away, and at some point we realized everyone had a tiny forebrain headache from talking too loud.

It was a small restaurant. It had perhaps six tables. The music was great! But it was loud. Eventually my friend called over the waiter and asked him if the volume possibly could be turned down. “Great selection, but we’re having to yell like sailors trying to trim the sails in a gale.”

Here’s the thing: My friend was the lead guitarist for Blue Oyster Cult. It’s a long story about how I got to know him, but the point is, if the guy who’s been standing in front of a stack of amplifiers since the Nixon administration says it’s too loud, it’s too loud.

If the end result of COVID is lower-volume music in bars and restaurants, fantastic. Perhaps we might apply that lesson now, to this year’s Thanksgiving? Many people are going ahead with their usual plans, but are concerned about being safe. So: whisper.

Even better: Use signs. The hostess passes out little notecards taped to Popsicle sticks, each imprinted with the names of the dishes, and some common phrases. No shouting, no possibly contagious mist wafting over the yams. You would put your food signs on one side of the plate and your conversation signs on the other, so uncle doesn’t ask niece, “How’s school?” and she mistakenly replies, “More turkey.”

If you’re the sort of family that relishes pointless, alienating political conversations, you can make some signs for that, and if they end up just waving CNN and Fox logos at each other, well, it’s certainly efficient.

This might seem utterly bizarre and paranoid and fearful to some, but I guarantee there are people who will use signs for their Zoom Thanksgiving. Anything less, you’re asking for it.

I said, ANYTHING LESS AND YOU’RE ... Oh, you know what I mean.