While far too many people might know him most for demanding “more cowbell” in a classic Saturday Night Live skit, Christopher Walken is actually one of the best character actors of his generation.
One of his most under-the-radar roles was in the 1986 film, “At Close Range,” in which he co-starred with Sean Penn. It’s based on a true story of a family theft ring in rural Pennsylvania that centered mostly on stealing large farm equipment. Walken plays the crew’s cold-blooded ringleader, and Penn is his son.
One night they’re drinking in a bar, and one of the locals, a wiry, sad little man who’s done jail time previously and once worked a bit with Walken’s crew, is meandering his way around the bar making small talk. He comes upon Walken’s table attempting to strike up a conversation about the theft ring’s latest exploits, but Walken’s having none of it. He knows the shifty little guy is working as an informant for the feds. When he gives up and walks away, Walken says, “He has the life span of a fruit fly.” (Spoiler alert: A few scenes later in the film, Walken and a couple of his top lieutenants in the crew kill the man by getting him drunk and drowning him in a river.)
You could substitute “attention span” in Walken quote for life span, and that’s pretty much American society these days. If it takes three seconds for the latest viral video to load on our phones, we throw up our arms and say, “Come on!” This astounding lack of patience used to exasperate comedian Louis C.K. to no end, and in detailing his frustrations in one of his best stand-up routines from several years back, he’d say to those frustrated by their supposedly slow phones, “It has to go to outer space! And then it has to come back from outer space and back into your phone! Can you wait a sec!?”
All of this makes the fact that a lot of Americans were able to reasonably cope with orders to stay at home unless they needed essential supplies - you know, like booze - for essentially two months all the more incredible.
But then again, maybe it’s not such a great feat. After all, unless our business was ordered closed, or we lost our job, or had our pay or hours reduced significantly or had to spend all day juggling work while also trying to navigate our kids’ academic journey through distance learning from home, chances are being told to stay at home for a few weeks wasn’t that much of a terrible inconvenience for us. We made the aforementioned liquor store runs, we got groceries and other supplies whenever we wanted, we went to the hardware store, we ordered our favorite takeout, we went on walks, bike rides and aimless drives around town. The police weren’t pulling us over, demanding to know where we were going and if our trip was “essential.” We watched basically any movies we wanted in the comforts of our own home, and binged countless binge-worthy shows, as well as shows that fell short of the binge-worthy threshold.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz as of May 18 lifted the stay-at-home executive order and allowed more businesses and places like churches to reopen, albeit in limited or other modified capacities, with continued social distancing in mind.
But, again, really, unless you are able to make a living again because your place of employment is open in some fashion once again, your life isn’t much different this week than it was last week.
Except that now it’s on us more than ever. The virus is still here. It’s right here, right now, and it’s going to stick around. More will get sick. Very sick. More will die.
We have more freedom to roam now, to do things, still in small groups, of course. In early June, we’ll likely be able to go to our favorite restaurant or bar, albeit in a social-distanced capacity.
As government mandates slowly give way to personal responsibility, we can’t let ourselves and those around us down. This is no free-for-all. Those upset about the government forcing them to live their lives a certain way say people need to be trusted to do the right thing. Well, here’s your chance to do the right things.
We must continue to pay attention.