A few months ago, I solved a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle — the hardest of the week — for the first time. In ink. Whoa, I thought: Either the puzzles are getting easier, or this pandemic has gone on way too long.
Right away I checked in with Rex Parker, the pseudonymous blogger who solves and analyzes New York Times crosswords, to read his post on the puzzle. I adore Rex Parker (real name: Michael Sharp) for his acerbic wit, his erudition, and his politics — he spits nails when the crossword name-checks someone he considers a warmonger or relies on tired, sexist tropes for clues. On this day he was his usual curmudgeonly self, picking nits with the theme and railing against inelegant fill. But, rather touchingly, he also confessed to his own difficulty solving the puzzle because of an early misstep: Writing “Pluto’s Cave” when “Plato’s Cave” was the right answer. My heart beat a little faster. Oh, Rex! It’s OK, everyone makes mistakes.
Hmmm. Could my infatuation — with an Internet avatar, no less — be getting a little out of hand?
The truth is, Parker/Sharp is one of my pandemic crushes — boon companions who have helped carry me through these months of uncertainty and sorrow without ever knowing of my regard. They are like secret friends, unexpected allies who ground and entertain me on anxious days. I pay no mind to their marital status, their looks, or their sexuality. I just feel a little better after a visit with them. Admit it, readers: You probably have a few pandemic crushes of your own.
Besides Parker, I have been seriously keeping company with local meteorologist Dave Epstein, whose posts are truly news you can use. He doesn’t just tell you it will snow, but when it will start, if it will be fluffy or dense, and whether you will need the shovel or just the windshield scraper. He’s also a horticulturist with a side hustle in gardening advice; he’ll tell you the right week to plant tomatoes and what that weird fungus is growing in your backyard. He is a font of the kind of earth-science trivia I love, like knowing that our longest day of the year (June 21) doesn’t actually have the latest sunset (that would be June 27). I am so fond of him that I am willing to overlook his occasional bad calls or the way he capitalizes the seasons (no, this is not an unusually wet Summer).
I also carry a torch for Amy Sedaris. She’s best known as a comic actress and writer, but it’s her Instagram posts I crave in fretful times. The tiny video clips of clever dancing cockatoos, mesmerizing sea creatures in slow motion, gymnastic feats, swirling soft-serve technology, retro animation, watermelon-eating hippos — and so much more — are immensely soothing, not so much eye candy as brain aloe. Sometimes a little off-kilter, scatological, or even grotesque, they tell us that quirkiness can be beautiful.
I know my relationship with these people is hardly exclusive. Each is a cult figure in their own right; Sedaris has nearly a million followers. Still, I take a lot of personal solace in these attachments. They carry reassuring lessons for these times: that the weather, while unpredictable, is knowable; that everybody needs a little help with the answers sometimes; that the world is full of wonders if you slow down enough to see them.
And I’d happily break up with every one of them if it would end the pandemic.
Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.