I love Columbo a lot. I'm currently finishing my first complete watchthrough of every episode. I own a copy of the Blu-Ray set that was only released in Japan. It comes in a faux-wooden cigar box and has a Japanese script for Prescription: Murder.
Recently, I was watching an episode of my favorite detective and noticed, more than I had before, Columbo smoking. Smoking everywhere–in people's houses, in their offices, in hospitals and elevators–always without permission. Anyone who cares that Columbo is smoking in their living room (not many) has to explicitly ask him to stop. Whenever that happens, he has no idea how to get rid of the cigar without throwing it into the trash, so he looks at them for a solution. Throwing It away would be waste! So he just fumbles around until the offended party offers him an ashtray or something else to deal with the cigar.
And then I started noticing him barge fearlessly into crowds. Bar crowds and church crowds and party crowds, always with a cigar, usually trying to get to his new "best friend", i.e. the killer, probably yelling all the while.
I found through the course of a few episodes, my hand was a fist, tightening up.
The back of my mind anxiety when I'm around people indoors. Even when I'm around people outdoors, and though I can hang marginally better, I am still very cognizant of people fucking breathing on me. This last weekend, I went over to my neighbor's house for a small Halloween party, and while I stayed outside, it was still very strange to be around people. Strangers smoking their weed vape pens. Me wondering if anyone is exhaling covid.
I find myself, at some point during the day, thinking that everyone is staring at me. My only real break from working at my desk is lunch, so I head downtown to pick up a salad for lunch and a small espresso. I always wear a mask before heading indoors and lately, it feels like everyone is giving me shit. Not that they are giving me shit, it just feels like they're giving me shit. And I hate them for the slight chance that they're judging me for caring about humanity.
About 18 months ago, I was back home in Missouri and my stepfather would go out in public carrying a gun but not wearing a mask. And I remember thinking to myself, you are very bad at threat analysis. Fast-forward to today and almost everyone in California seems to have left their mask at home. And we know this isn't over. We know that people are still dying. But right now, the person dying isn't me or anyone I love.
Watching Columbo and even more recent shows that pretend Covid doesn't exist, I am, at first, nostalgic for the world before the pandemic. It's not long until my mind turns to wondering when the anxiety and trauma will leave our bodies. How long, collectively, until we don't silently cringe at the possibility of being indoors with humans breathing on us. How many days or months or years until we're not afraid of handshakes, and hugs, and close conversations. Will we ever get that back? Do people have to keep dying to get that back?
I'm not sure how much therapy I'm going to need for this.
In 1977, Peter Falk appeared in character as Columbo at The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra. It's a crowded room of people smoking, but Peter Falk is delightful. I hope you like it.