Raajeev's Corner - 2020

The New Handshake

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

The world is going through a crisis because of the current pandemic. With the lockdown, our social norms have also changed. Namaste is the new hello and cough is the new fart. We used to cough to hide a fart, now we fart to hide a cough.

When things get back to normal in a few weeks or months, people will continue to be cautious. It may very well be that handshakes will be gestures of the past. Namaste will not only be the new hello, but it will also be the new goodbye. Even businesses will have to rethink how they will interact with their customers. We might see signs outside stores: We have the right to refuse service to anyone who coughs. We welcome people with flatulence! Gun violence will also go down in the future. Bank robbers can just walk in and slip a note to the teller, “Give me all your money or I'll cough."

The lockdown in Los Angeles does not feel as constrained as the curfews that my relatives and friends in India have to deal with. I have been able to take my dog, Turing, for walks. He is oblivious to the virus situation and continues to wag his tail and jump with excitement when he sees other dogs. I find it strange that dog owners and other pedestrians are not that happy and absorbed in their own world. Social distancing doesn't mean social grumpiness. We can practice social distancing with a smile on our faces. It is free and will even make you feel better. Remember, you are not contagious at six feet but your smile is.

My wife and I have also been practicing social distancing. It is helping our marriage. Actually, it is not new in our household. We have been practicing social distancing for over 15 years. That has been the secret of our successful marriage. We also practice meditation daily; I am sure that helps too.

Social distancing could very well aid in hiding racism. In fact, racism might be one of the only beneficiaries of the coronavirus. Just when the world was getting too PC, a virus comes along to save the day. I can't tell if white people are practicing social distancing or racism. I notice that they are keeping more than six feet away from me. Sometimes I see them from sixty feet and they are already crossing the road to avoid me.

With the pandemic, there was a shortage of essential items, especially toilet paper. We were lucky to have found two big packs of toilet paper at Costco Business Center. They were giving out one pack per member. Luckily my wife was with me. After I got them, I had to guard my unpaid toilet paper rolls sitting in my cart from the prying eyes of fellow shoppers. I was afraid if I turned my back, they would be gone.

Because of the virus, fewer people are celebrating any special occasions, especially birthdays, anniversaries, and marriages. With the space confinement, in the near future, they will be celebrating childbirths and divorces. When people start shopping at Nordstrom bridal gift registry, the most popular items will be wine glasses, Instapot, and toilet paper. It would be a good time to have my oldest son married. We can invite all our friends and relatives to a destination wedding in Fiji. We will just need a picture of the ocean and the beach as a background for a Zoom party reception.

Hand sanitizer was another item in demand. I made several trips to CVS, Walgreens and RiteAid. Every time I asked them if they have sanitizers, they would just laugh at me. Then they would show me a mini bottle that they would be guarding behind the counters as if they were some pack of expensive cigarettes. I started to get so desperate that when I was at a coffee shop and the barista asked, “How about a cup of cappuccino to go?" I said, “I can make that myself. How about a bottle of hand sanitizer to go?" Luckily, I was able to find three medium-size bottles at my nearby trusted 7-11 store at the regular price. They were even selling facemasks at the counter. I knew I could count on my fellow desis to help fulfill the critical needs of their customers while making a buck. That's the Bania thinking!

I have been watching the news and I am getting sick of the same stories of Coronavirus. I miss the days of police dog funerals and 4pm car chases. I am just looking for some excitement. Traffic reports are boring. No traffic either. Earlier this week, when I switched to the weather channel, it said there was a chance of rain. I said, “Yes! Finally, some variety!"

The unfortunate part with the Coronavirus is that a lot of Asian people are being unfairly targeted because of racial prejudice. I have a bit in my stand-up that I am thinking of modifying to make it more current: “After 9-11, I used to say I am not a terrorist. I am Asian. Now I say I am not an Asian. I am a terrorist."

As I examine the empty streets of Los Angeles from my living room and reflect on my life during the last three weeks, it is beginning to feel like a house arrest. I am sure millions of people all over the planet feel the same way wondering how long this global prison sentence will last. The truth is nobody knows. Maybe destiny wanted to teach us a lesson. Maybe it wanted to remind us that we are all guilty of terrorism of what we have collectively done to Mother Nature. Or maybe Harvey Weinstein, after testing positive for Covid-19, planned it to get some company at the hospital! He is back in prison like the rest of us.

Only time will tell. However, after introspection, reading the news, and talking to my friends, I have learned one lesson from this quarantine. The biggest challenge in the world is not poverty, hunger or a pandemic. It is to figure out how to be happy while doing nothing in solitude.


Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. See his videos on YouTube.