Keeping Up With the Columnists: Dispatches from Quarantine Break


Leah Mensch | Contributing Editor

Opinions editor Leah Mensch has spent much of her free time this summer rollerblading on the South Side trail.

By The Pitt News Opinions Staff

This past summer, everything on Twitter turned into cake and the hill on Bates Street was repaved. If you think that’s more exciting than what the opinions columnists did over Quarantine Break, you’re probably right. But see for yourself.

Mackenzie Oster, Staff Columnist

When I grew tired of sitting between the four walls of my South Oakland apartment, I decided to pick myself up and take a trip to Flagstaff Hill. As I left the comfort of my home, I was greeted by the weekly trash bins that always seem to block the entire sidewalk every day of the week. The frat boys that occupy the porch adjacent to mine still remained. Sometimes I question if they sleep there. Cars still lined the street bumper to bumper. EDM music blared in the near distance. Nevertheless, I felt a subtle sense of comfort and normalcy in that instance. Maybe life will go on after all. I slugged my hammock over my shoulder and began the trek. 

When I arrived at Flagstaff, I felt revived. As my eyes wandered, they fell upon groups of girls sitting upon tapestries, the sun catching the highlight of their cheek bones. To the left of me laid a couple, hands intertwined and eyes interlocked. When I finally snapped out of my people-watching gaze, I set up my hammock between two trees and slid off my tennis shoes. My hand scrambled within my bag and retrieved my neglected notebook and a stale pen. As the sun began to seep into hibernation, I wrote until my fingers went numb and my mind went quiet. From that day on, I vowed to make my trip to Flagstaff Hill a daily one.

Leah Mensch, Opinions Editor

After being run over by a South Side road biker in May, I decided it was time for me to find a way to dominate the streets. Determined to no longer be a passive walker or hobby jogger, I bought a pair of rollerblades. I tear up the South Side trail on my skates two or three times a week now, and I never look back, except for when I’m crossing the road in front of the Smithfield Street Bridge. Sometimes passersby yell “you look so cool” to me. Sometimes, I hear someone say to their walking partner, “we should get rollerblades so we look as cool as that person.” This is a lie. I don’t look cool at all, but it’s fun, and a good way to get exercise. I’ve become quite fast, and I’ve only wiped out twice. The wounds I’ve sustained from wiping out twice are less severe, combined, than the wounds I sustained when I was hit by the biker. Logically, this means that rollerblading is safer than walking.

I also wear a mask and helmet to be safe. As a plus, nobody can recognize me.

Alison Sivitz, Staff Columnist

This summer, I decided to work on myself. Here are three ways I improved my life and wellbeing:

Improvement #1: I didn’t exercise! At the beginning of lockdown, all of society collectively decided to do YouTube workout programs with names like “Get Rock-Hard Abs in Twenty Minutes” and “Develop Muscles You Weren’t Even Born With!” My first matter of business was to completely ignore this trend. Sure, exercise is generally considered a healthy habit. But personally? I think that willfully choosing to get sweaty is toxic behavior. In lieu of daily ab workouts, I began eating vanilla frosting straight from the tub. I feel great and still have all the muscles I originally grew in the womb.

Improvement #2: I got cultured — this means “worldly,” not “turned into yogurt.” My second order of pandemic/summer business was to partake in High Culture — an endeavor that looks different for everybody. Some culture-seeking people decide to take up pottery or art history. Some learn how to paint or start watching Criterion movies. Personally, I decided to get weirdly invested in men’s British football, or, as Americans call it, soccer. My first step was to Google “UK men’s soccer teams” and decide who to support. This search led me to a list of teams with unique names like Manchester United and Manchester City.

I chose to support Manchester United for two main reasons: First, their name sounds like a progressive campaign slogan. Secondly, they’re No. 5 in the league and I value humility. I’ve watched a ton of games and now say words like “goal” and “halftime.” That’s culture, innit luv!

Improvement #3: I hypothesized.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I sold my soul — and probably all my data — to TikTok. As a result, I now spend every day TikTok-dancing around my house with dead eyes. Pre-COVID, I would move my head around and feel a certain weight associated with “having a brain” and “knowing things.” But now? I move my head and it just feels like pumice stone. My hypothesis is that the app has caused me to lose brain density. If any scientists are reading this, please email me. I’d love to have a discussion.

Paige Lawler, Assistant Opinions Editor

Every summer, I live the oh-so-glamorous life of a beach lifeguard in southeastern Virginia. While I enjoy my summer job, working nine hour shifts in 95% humidity is exhausting. My coworkers and I sometimes reach concerning levels of delirium, and it almost always follows us home after our shifts end.

Case in point, one night after work, I was mindlessly tapping at my phone during a commercial break, until I heard these immortal words: “Jif peanut butter — it’s so Jif’ing good, you’d dress up like a squirrel for it.” I wasn’t paying attention and had absolutely no context for these words. In my post-beach delirium, I cracked up. We’re talking full hysterics, abs burning, tears rolling. I glanced at my mom and brother, hoping they were laughing with me. They weren’t. In fact, of the 10 friends I told about the commercial, only four thought it was actually funny. (The other six are no longer my friends).

I’ll admit, I’m not sure what the point of this vignette is. Perhaps we can learn that being a beach lifeguard is lethal to your sanity, or else that the people who do advertising at Jif are doing a fantastic job. I mean, it’s been a week and I’m still thinking about their commercial — it’s so Jif’ing good.

Alex Dolinger, Staff Columnist

My incredibly eventful summer has been spent trying to improve my health — both physical and mental. To try and work on both, I’ve started training for a 5k. When I mention this to people, they ask, “which 5k?” I have not gotten that far yet.

The problem is, I fell on the New York City subway right before quarantine began, and my hip has not been right ever since. I’ve gone through all kinds of footwear trying to find the best way to support my apparently aging joints. As I throw away hundreds of dollars on shoes, I ponder my mortality and wonder if one day all my joints will feel weird, if exercise is just prolonging the inevitable and I’ll be out of commission by age 30. Anyway.

I run through my neighborhood listening to Phoebe Bridgers and Lizzo three days a week, wondering if my foot strike is causing permanent damage to my muscles and bones and realizing that I don’t have the knowledge to do anything about it. All this is to say that I would do anything for just a teaspoon of serotonin, and I am. See you at the next 5k.

Genna Edwards, Senior Staff Columnist

Quarantine has me so messed in the head that I eat salt and vinegar chips now. Like, voluntarily. No gun to my head. I go to the Rite Aid on Forbes Avenue every week and fork over five bucks, fully prepared to burn the inside of my mouth the moment I get home. Am I a masochist? Perhaps. Are salt and vinegar chips objectively good? I’m still trying to figure that out. I used to make fun of people who ingested vinegar for fun and now, um, I think about vinegar all the time. This newfound vinegar chip obsession may be my way of avoiding thinking about the upcoming 2020 election — I’ll ask my therapist next week and get back to you.

Dalia Maeroff, Staff Columnist

I am deprived of animal contact. Living in a house with no pets, I relied on Therapy Dog Tuesdays to get my weekly dose of hanging out with animals. As of late, I have taken up a new hobby — attempting to befriend the wild animals in my backyard that do not want to be my friends. A doe and fawn routinely sit under the tree in my yard. They don’t like people that much but will watch you from a distance. The fawn just sits very still, usually behind our trash can, and pretends you don’t see him. The yard is also home to a couple of chipmunks, for whom I put out seeds. The chipmunks ignore the seeds and continue on their way. The groundhogs and rabbits are skittish, the raccoon is not only nocturnal but also obese from eating the cat food the lady down the street feeds him. Most birds are a lost cause — they’re well-fed enough from the bird feeders next door.

With the robin, however, I have succeeded, and she is as comfortable around my family as a therapy dog.