Advice | March 21, 2020 4:21 pm

Welcome to The Comfort Zone

The little daily rituals that are keeping InsideHook editors sane in very weird times

Trying to get cozy in crazy times.
Mike Falco

In strange times, it’s good to take stock of what makes us comfortable. The little things, the stuff that might not make total sense to other people, but makes us feel better, even if it’s just for a moment or two. The simple pleasures, if you will.

I got to thinking about this the other day when the Orvis dog catalog arrived in my mailbox, how much I look forward to that, a little thing that brings me so much joy, something tangible that I can just sit and read for a few minutes and maybe possibly buy something out of if my dog isn’t acting like a total demon. It came not long after it was announced that all the bars and restaurants were shutting down, and the grim idea that I might not see my friends, loved ones and co-workers for weeks and possibly months became a reality. I needed that little thing, we all need those little things. So, with that, InsideHook is happy to bring you a sample of things that delight our editors in weird times and normal-ish ones alike.

Suds and … suds

I first began drinking shower beers my freshman year of college, when my three closest consorts and I would begin our Friday-night going-out rituals by decamping to the showers with caddies full of Keystone Lights. We used to belt out karaoke standards — “American Pie”; “Bohemian Rhapsody”; “I Want It That Way” — between pulls from the 12-oz. cans, each week packing one more beer than the last to extend our session. (We were roundly despised by every other person on our floor for this exhibition, no doubt.) It’s a habit — like breathing or swearing or putting my wallet in the same pocket — that has simply never left me. After a run or a long hike, I drink a shower beer. When I’m upset, I drink a shower beer. When I want to celebrate the end of a long week or a home-team victory, I drink a shower beer. Whether it’s purely nostalgia or I actually derive some real and tangible satisfaction from the strange alchemy of warm water and cold beer, I cannot say for sure. But I can tell you that I’ve been turning to the shower beer often over the last two weeks, and it never fails to deliver whatever it is I’m looking for. – Walker Loetscher, Editor in Chief

Stay classical, my friends

I don’t have cable, so I don’t know what TV shows are on at what time. But every time the weekend rolls around I know Saturday Cinema comes on at 10 a.m. and the Metropolitan Opera plays at noon, and most days when I finish work I have a few hours left with my pal Steve Staruch. These are all programs on Classical MPR, a Minnesota public radio station that also happens to be one of the best outlets (if not the best) to listen to classical music. Ever since I moved back to the state in June, it’s been my go-to station in the car and at home, not because I come from a classical background — the extent of my training is a Piano 1 class in college — but quite the opposite; the uniquely welcoming hosts create an atmosphere I’d expect during the time when “classical music” wasn’t “classical” but just “music,” where Gerswhin lives alongside Handel and the soundtrack to Ice Age (no kidding) and the audience isn’t treated as experts or newbies but just as admirers. Since there aren’t lyrics, most of the time anyway, it’s easier for me to listen while I work, and at night, when I finally get to close my eyes after burning them out staring at screens, there’s nothing better than a 50-piece orchestra paired with a Manhattan and just enough context to make me feel like next time I go to the orchestra, whenever they open back up, I won’t be totally unmoored. – Alex Lauer, Senior Editor

Running from the Terminator

In my early twenties I was going through a rough patch in my life. I was living in a squalid apartment in a dangerous neighborhood with roommates who had succumbed to the opiate epidemic before that term had even been coined. Largely unemployed and with no social life to speak of, I spent most of my time watching movies from a giant pile of VHS tapes that were piled in the living room. Of all movies, Terminator really spoke to me. It’s the story of a foreboding future yet to come, a story of uncertainty and terror where the rules of normalcy no longer apply. Running from the terminator won’t stop it. Either you kill the Terminator, or it kills you. Terminator is a timeless tale of summoning one’s inner strength to survive. It helped me then, and still helps me today. – Mike Falco, Art Director

Eating dry cereal out of the box on my parents’ couch 

One late Saturday night about four weeks into my freshman year of college, my parents drove an hour and a half down to my middle-of-nowhere liberal arts campus to bring me home. I’d struggled with various mental health issues in recent years and the sudden location change, social pressures and loneliness of starting college away from friends and family had brought things to a rapid boiling point. I’d called my parents in tears that night, and even though I’d told them not to come, they were outside my dorm within two hours. When I got home, I remember feeling confused and relieved that it was all still there, and largely unchanged. The momentous buildup of Going to College and the isolation I felt there had made me feel like home was some kind of ruin from a past life I could never return to. And yet there it all was. The same magazines on the kitchen table, the same smell of my dad’s cigars from the garage that always wafted into the house despite my mother’s best efforts to counter it with candles and plug-in air fresheners. I grabbed a box of Special K Vanilla Almond from the pantry and ate it dry out of the box on the living room couch — a habit I’d picked up during depressive episodes in high school. I remember feeling amazed and relieved that was even still possible. 

A few days ago I left New York, fleeing to my parents’ house in what will probably prove an ultimately futile attempt to escape the worst of the coronavirus fallout. But through it all, I’ve found some comfort in the still largely unchanged familiarity of my parents’ home. Same magazine subscriptions, same cigar smell, same couch, same flavor of Special K. The things I fear most right now can no longer be contained within (and escaped beyond) the stone walls of a liberal arts campus. But for now, I can at least take comfort in the reminder that there’s still a couch for me at my parents’ house, and a cereal box with my name on it. – Kayla Kibbe, Associate Editor

“Everybody is going to get to know each other in the pot

A few months ago I realized my days, outside of a morning workout, were entirely spent looking at a screen — even my off-work reading was on the Kindle app. And that deluge of information was making me stressed and sluggish, along with hurting my eyes. So I started cooking. I’m an average cook; I follow directions well and understand most concepts, but I’m not comfortable with too much experimentation. But I found that cooking this turkey chili recipe from the New York Times  was ideal in multiple ways: it takes a while to make, but it’s easy to put together and you can throw in a few ingredient curveballs and it all just kind of tastes like … well, chili. I go slow, put on a non-coronavirus podcast (right now it’s the Dan Le Batard Show from ESPN Radio, which at an hour fits the cooking schedule perfectly) and then I … don’t think. I just move, chop, stir, listen and sometimes just stand still and watch the chili bubble. – Kirk Miller, Managing Editor

Among the plantain chips and the flowers

Flowers have always had the ability to cheer me up; when I used to work walking distance from the Flower District, I’d often dip out on particularly stressful afternoons for a quick stroll to look at all the brightly colored bouquets lining the sidewalk and clear my head. As soon as I knew there was a strong possibility that I’d be cooped up in my apartment for a long period of social distancing, the first thing I did was walk over to my local bodega and buy some tulips to brighten up my room. (Those red tulips with the yellow centers and edges are my personal favorite, but anything cheery will work — daffodils, daisies, or hibiscus, which are scientifically proven to lift your mood.) There’s just something about having something alive and thriving to look at that reminds me that, despite the crazy circumstances we’re currently in, I am alive and (maybe?) thriving too. – Bonnie Stiernberg, Senior Editor

Outside, but inside

I live across the street from what I consider the best park in all of NYC (Prospect Park, represent), but the thing is that I’m still in Brooklyn, I’m still in a busy, bustling city. I like to do anything I can to get away, to get outside of my headspace and the physical place and time I’m in. The Environments app, brought to you by the people at our favorite reissue record label, Numero Group. The collection of real sounds, recorded by field recordist Irv Teibel in the 1960s and ’70s, include the sounds of a blizzard in the mountains, a Caribbean lagoon and summertime in a cornfield. It’s not a noise machine app; instead, Environments is an immersive experience that you can tune into and tune out at will. – Jason Diamond, Features Editor

A visit to Scranton, PA

Saying that you watch the most streamed television program of all time as a comfort measure isn’t exactly a “hot take.” But here’s the thing: I don’t really “watch” The Office. I mean, I do, frequently, but in the scenario I find most comforting I’m not watching as much as I’m listening. That scenario is when I’m doing the dishes, and it is a ritual that gives me so much zen joy that I’ve deliberately avoided getting our dishwasher fixed for fear that the Me Time I enjoy with my colleagues in Scranton might disappear. Because that’s the other thing: the reason I enjoy listening to The Office while I’m doing the dishes is because I get to pretend I’m one of the people in the office. Because I’m not looking at the screen, I can imagine that I am an employee of Dunder Mifflin, Inc., the conversations are happening right there in the room around me, and I’m just the quiet guy washing his dishes in the office sink. Does any of this have to do with the fact that I also usually have a puff before doing the dishes? Probably, but just because it’s dumb it doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. – Danny Agnew, Creative Director

The greatest interviewer ever

I can vaguely recall the first time I encountered Martin Short’s fictional character Jiminy Glick. I can’t remember what celebrity he was interviewing but what I do remember is witnessing my parents laugh to the point of tears, the hardest I’ve ever seen them laugh. Partly out of response to Jiminy, but largely due to my parents’ reaction, I began to laugh in turn. It was only recently that I re-discovered Glick, when a YouTube compilation of his “best” moments was randomly suggested to me. I immediately watched it and then proceeded to watch it several times over, laughing to the point of tears, just like my parents. Now I find myself consistently returning to the video when I’m in need of something that I know I will elicit laughter, but also because in some way, watching it feels like a shared experience between my parents and myself. – Lee Cutlip, Associate Commerce Editor

Four words: Boston sports talk radio

In times of crisis, whether it be terrorists bombing the finish line at the Boston Marathon or the Patriots losing the Super Bowl, I turn to the soothing sounds of Boston sports talk radio. Though I was raised on WEEI, I made the switch to 98.5 The Sports Hub once it launched more than a decade ago and haven’t regretted it. Already a frequent listener, the Hub has been a constant companion while working from home from my Brooklyn apartment as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the streets outside. Though I’ve never met any of them, the hosts are as familiar to me as old friends, as are consistent callers like Wayne in Grafton, Green Mountain Luke and Derek in Foxboro. It is that well-worn familiarity that makes sports talk a comfort in these strange days — even though there are hardly any sports to talk about. – Evan Bleier, Senior Editor