This week on The Cut, producer Jazmín Aguilera will take you along on her exploration of post-vaccine life. After receiving her second dose, she is struggling with how to break out of the loneliness she’s been feeling for the last year. What does socializing look like? Is dating different? How do you even go on a first date now?
To hear more about Jazmín’s adjustment to the COVID-not-COVID in-between team, cross-country “booty call,” and post-vax cheesecake excursion, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also find the full transcript below.
JAZMÍN: My vaccine site was more than an hour away from me, at the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. I had to take the subway.
SUBWAY ANNOUNCEMENT: The next stop is Pelham Parkway.
JAZMÍN: I wore a mask, and still do, because I know I’m supposed to — that I’m not fully immune or 100 percent safe around others because, obviously, we’re not out of the woods yet.
VAX NURSE: Okay, take a seat.
JAZMÍN: The risks are still out there. But for the first time, they are waning. When I got the jab, I felt that change, almost physically. I walked out of the clinic and the world looked brighter and freer. Like it was new again. Like, I can do stuff now. And it turns out, all I wanted to do was… fuck. I mean, right?
For over a year, I, Jazmín Aguilera, producer at The Cut, have been masking up, staying home, Zooming all day long. And I am ready. I’m ready to make out with strangers. I’m ready to get drunk in public. I’m ready to hit the streets. I’m like an exotic zoo animal, about to be released back into the wild.
JAZMÍN: Okay, so I’ve been single during this entire pandemic and it has not been easy. I spent most of my 2020 alone in my one-bedroom apartment, working or sleeping. I’d wake up 5 minutes before work, grind all day long, collapse on the couch, and then turn the TV on and watch the same shows I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times: Grace and Frankie, Rick and Morty, The Venture Bros. It was like that for months. Until …
One of my best friends from college, Brianne, had been doing this new-wave post-punk Zoom dance party thing every Friday night. It’s called “Second Wave,” and she had been pushing me to come for weeks. I kept blowing it off because it was late, I was tired, and I just didn’t feel like I could muster up the party spirit for yet another Zoom thing. But she swore up and down this was different, so one Friday night I signed on. And I was immediately addicted.
It was silly. Just a group Zoom of friends and friends of friends, listening to music and dancing, getting drunk, passing out. On Zoom! Like Hollywood Squares, but if every screen was filled with half-naked drunk people in glitter and wigs.
I spent my weekdays planning outfits for this party, the only thing that I had to look forward to all week. One week, I had a blue wig and a fishnet top. The next, an all-white ensemble with silver glitter eyeshadow. I bought color-changing lights and disco balls and reflective stars to hang from my ceiling. Everything I could do to make me feel some kind of spark. An approximation of what a real dance club would feel like.
And that’s where I met Brock. Brock is one of the Second Wave DJs, and a musician. He wrote this song for me.
We started chatting, followed each other on Instagram, FaceTimed, texted. I was perfectly fine with the idea that I’d never meet him in real life. Because, for one, he lives in San Diego. And for two, it’s a pandemic. Honestly, I just wanted the attention. Because, what else do I have going on? But one day I felt bold, so I asked him when we could actually meet each other in real life. I wasn’t even sure I was serious; I just felt like flirting a little bit more than usual.
But it was like I lit a match to a kerosene-soaked rag. In seconds, we were talking about dates he could fly me out, what we would do there, how incredible it would be to finally meet up in person. Before I knew it, I was buying tickets. Then, we were making lunch plans and dinner plans and beach plans! I wanted seafood and Mexican food and, of course, an
In-N-Out run. We planned on jam sessions in his studio. There was just so much to do and so little time.
I packed a whole carry-on full of different outfits for very specific scenarios that might play out during our time together: sexy beachwear, slutty casual, a cool band tee to show some personality. I was acting out different conversations we might have in my head, practicing my charm and banter.
But then I thought to myself, Who does this? Who flies across the country for a booty call?!?!
All I really knew about him was that he was a musician and DJ. I didn’t even know how old he was. And that didn’t really hit me until the plane took off.
DELTA ANNOUNCEMENT: At Delta Airlines, the health and safety of our passengers is the number one priority for us …
BROCK: I am 5 minutes out, driving, probably breaking the … yes, I’m definitely breaking the speed limit. But I’ll be there soon. Hopefully you’re good. Excited. Very excited to see you.
JAZMÍN: We couldn’t find each other at first. We waved our arms frantically in the air, turning around in circles trying to spot each other outside baggage claim. Once we did, we shared a quick and awkward kiss. I was too afraid to look him directly in the eyes because … I don’t know. I felt shy, I guess. That’s a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. So I just tried to rush through it. Suitcase in the back seat. Seatbelt on. Let’s go.
BROCK: So I know you’ve already been to San Diego, but that’s the little skyline of the Bay.
JAZMÍN: Yeah, I’ve only been here a handful of times.
BROCK: How are you feeling right now, getting off the plane? Especially traveling across the country. It’s been probably like a year since you’ve done something like that.
JAZMÍN: I just had a lot of anxiety because it’s been more than a year since I’ve left New York. Just the idea that I can’t go back to my own house. It’s my base, everything I know, and that feeling of Oh, did I pack enough? Did I miss something? was just especially strong, even though I know I’m only going to be here for four days.
BROCK: Do you think you got comfortable? …
JAZMÍN: I felt weird, being in his car. I felt weird just being outside my apartment. That whole first evening with Brock felt like a high-school date.
BROCK: I guess I can’t talk normally. I’m like, I don’t know how to keep talking.
JAZMÍN: Oh, I mean, you could just stop talking when you stop talking.
BROCK: Oh, okay.
JAZMÍN: We were too excited, but also too shy, both trying to take cues from each other, which, of course, turned into a weird feedback loop of cluelessness. I was like, Oh yeah. This is what real first dates are like — constantly trying to project cool indifference while also hyperprocessing everything you say and do. And not to brag, but usually I’m pretty good at that. I mean, I talk to strangers all the time. I have to charm people constantly. And I’m good at first dates. Or … I used to be good at first dates.
I tried to remember what my old tricks used to be. It was like relying on muscle memory, but for social interactions. What did the charming me used to say on dates, in the Before Times? What did I do during long pauses? How did I smile? But my tricks felt outdated, needlessly molded around a world that didn’t exist anymore. It felt wrong to be sophisticated or glamorous or charming. Because it’s not like this pandemic is just a pause and then we just press play and keep going like nothing ever happened. I’m different now. We’re different now.
And that got me thinking about Jared. I have this new friend who isn’t even looking for his old self. He doesn’t want to go back. He wants to stay in pause, forever.
JAZMÍN: Is there any part of the Before Times that you miss?
JARED: [Pause] Uhhh.
JAZMÍN: You really got to think about it.
JARED: : I do.
JAZMÍN: So, if you could keep your life the way that it is right now, you would do it?
JARED: Yes, but I don’t want to come off as being like, “What’s everybody complaining about?” But the lifestyle for me, like the vintage, original March-to-May 2020 COVID lifestyle.
JAZMÍN: Wow. So, the height of it?
JARED: Yeah. Aside from, like, Oh, I need to go to the grocery store and it’s sheer terror. Aside from that part — and I was surprised by this — I had never felt so emotionally, mentally, healthy. I felt like I was flying. For me, it worked.
JAZMÍN: I’m really trying hard not to judge here, but it’s hard. Jared is an awesome guy. I’m not judging him for the way he feels. But like, what?!
JAZMÍN: You never get lonely?
JARED: I … don’t. That’s the thing that I noticed about myself a few years ago, that I’ve never felt lonely. My sister is very different from me. She’s somebody who loves going out, going places, spending time with people. She asked me that same question once, about whether I get lonely. And I had said no. And I was like, “What does the sensation of feeling lonely feel like?” As she was getting into it, and I was like, “Oh, that’s what it feels like when I’m at a party.” It often does create a sensation that is weird. The way to describe it is like … I’m going to die alone. I do enjoy some people’s company. I enjoy your company.
JAZMÍN: Well, I’m easy to enjoy.
JAZMÍN: I’m not Jared. I will never be Jared. I love parties and meeting new people. I even chat up cashiers at the grocery store. But now I just forget how to do all that, and I guess I’m just going to have to figure it all out again. Even if it’s not like before. So how does this new me do it?
JAZMÍN: I’m so happy to be here where I can chill outside and the weather is nice and it’s 5 in the morning.
BROCK: Yeah, it was definitely new to me. That’s what happens when you go to bed at 7.
JAZMÍN: Was it 7?
BROCK: Um, let’s see. The sun was going down …
JAZMÍN: Brock and I got past the awkward high-school vibes (mostly) and spent our first day together getting drinks, lying in the sun, and eating tacos. It was such a nice day we ended up taking a nap at 7 p.m. Which means we woke up again at 5 a.m. the next day.
JAZMÍN: There are no rules. I’m on vacation. Sort of.
No rules, no expectations. That’s the nice leftover from COVID. If something doesn’t work out exactly as planned, well, it’s okay. Time is fluid. And 5 a.m. is as good a time as any.
BROCK: This is fun. I’m glad I’m here with you.
JAZMÍN: Aw, I’m glad I’m here with you too.
BROCK: Doing this on a random morning time, because we’re old fogies who fell asleep before.
JAZMÍN: We’re not old fogies. We’re alternative partiers.
JAZMÍN: But we’ll make up for it. Why are you smiling?
BROCK: Because this is pretty rad.
JAZMÍN: You know, the thing about sunrises is that they’re automatic. Like, if you experience a sunrise together in the first couple times meeting somebody, there’s something memorable about it that’s different. There’s just something about a sunrise and staying up all night or getting up early before … the witching hour, man. I like this weird, pale, blue-gray, almost-light-but-not-quite just before dawn.
BROCK: I think the light is slowly coming up.
JAZMÍN: Should I get dressed?
BROCK: Yeah. So, let’s put on some shoes.
JAZMÍN: Real clothes.
BROCK: Things to keep you warm.
JAZMÍN: So, this was not turning out to be the booty call I thought it would be. It was more like a rom-com. But, fuck! I don’t want to catch feelings! But he’s so cute! But what about my Hot Girl Summer? Ugh. So, fuck it, I’m not gonna think about it. Let’s just do shrooms.
JAZMÍN: I’m only eating however many you tell me to eat.
BROCK: No, you should eat all of that.
BROCK: All of that.
JAZMÍN: Don’t set me up for failure here.
BROCK: No, not at all. All right?
JAZMÍN: All right, cheers.
And here’s a personal recommendation from me to you: If you’re going to watch Godzilla vs. Kong, do yourself a favor and add some drugs to your popcorn.
Bare-minimum plot to get us here.
BROCK: Yeah, like, “Good job writers, now get the fuck out of here. We don’t need you anymore. The CGI team is taking over this room.”
JAZMÍN: Because once they kick in, it’s amazing.
JAZMÍN: This is the Zuckerberg Godzilla vs. the working-class Godzilla. This is Amazon vs. Facebook. Okay, okay. I’m done now.
BROCK: That’s a pretty good metaphor, actually.
JAZMÍN: No it’s not, we’re just on shrooms!
JAZMÍN: We spent the next few days just doing weird shit together. I did the worm on a green screen while wearing a pigeon mask and parrot wings so I could be in his band’s next music video. It all went by so fast. I came here to fuck, and to be real, I ended up falling in love, maybe with Brock, or maybe just with freedom. I wanted to stay longer, to just marinate in this weird period of transition. A time and place where I could fall asleep at 7 p.m. and do shrooms with a guy I’d only known for less than two months. To catch feelings and then let them go. But airports don’t operate on this COVID-but-not-really-COVID time continuum, so I had to be at San Diego airport the next day by 7 a.m to make my flight. Them’s the breaks, babyyy.
BROCK: I’ll miss you.
JAZMÍN: I’ll miss you too.
JAZMÍN: I know.
JAZMÍN: When I got back to New York, I looked out the window and it was gray and drizzling. It was Tuesday, and I had to prep for an interview and throw out the old salmon I’d left in my fridge all week. Back in San Diego it was probably 78 degrees outside. I just wanted something sweet again. So I went to Junior’s in Brooklyn. I heard they were giving out free cheesecake to the vaccinated, and I love cheesecake. Avery met me there.
JAZMÍN: Just about to walk up to Avery. There she is, looking so sad and forlorn. Looking for me in front of Junior’s. She doesn’t see me yet. Oh, she spotted me!
AVERY: Hi. Recognizable with the knee-high boots and earrings, even with a mask.
JAZMÍN: Hi, I’m recording.
AVERY: I know, me too. It’s like the two Spider-Man looking at each other, like, “No, I am!”
JAZMÍN: I was really excited to eat at Junior’s. Pre-COVID I’d only been once, but I always appreciated the vibe. It’s a landmark, really — a sort of fancy, old-timey diner with big wooden booths and brass bannisters and a big light-up 1950s-looking sign that says “Junior’s” right outside. It’s very retro.
AVERY: Nice and romantic in the rain, madame.
JAZMÍN: They’re famous for their cheesecake. Like, really famous.
AVERY: Are you a fan of this cheesecake normally or only when it’s free?
JAZMÍN: I’ve never had it. We’ll see. I guess we’ll find out.
JAZMÍN: Okay, here we go. Let’s go order.
AVERY: Let’s see if this works.
JUNIOR’S CUSTOMER: I don’t share with nobody.
JAZMÍN: Good evening, could I get the turkey, the club sandwich, please?
ARLENE, THE CASHIER: Turkey club? Sure.
JAZMÍN: And I was wondering, are you guys doing the vaccine card free little mini thing?
ARLENE: Yeah, sure.
JAZMÍN: All right. Here I am. I’m totally vaccinated.
ARLENE: And we’re gonna add it to your order.
ARLENE: Anything else for you?
AVERY: Do you accept it when it’s one shot or does it have to be fully vaccinated?
ARLENE: They just say show us the card.
AVERY: Oh, I got one shot.
JAZMÍN: Arlene’s a homie.
JAZMÍN: Avery and I went back outside, into the rain. It was really pouring. And no one else was eating outside but us.
AVERY: Oh jeez, fuck. This is like the worst outdoor-dining scenario.
JAZMÍN: The outdoor dining bank was built right outside Junior’s curved glass sunroom.
AVERY: Oh, they look like they’re having a good time.
JAZMÍN: So we had a nice view of all the people inside eating.
AVERY: I don’t know who is pitying who right now, like, we’re just looking at the indoor diners and they’re just looking at us through the glass. We’re all probably like, “chumps.”
JAZMÍN: Yeah, it was cold and rainy, but it was fine. I was with Avery and I had a milkshake. So I was happy. And we were about to chow down on some famous New York cheesecake.
JAZMÍN: Okay, you’re gonna laugh at how small these fucking things are.
AVERY: These are the, okay, I can’t even reenact my shock at these. These are little, what are they called? Ramekins? These are ramekins.
JAZMÍN: These look like the little containers that you get sauce in.
AVERY: Yes, it looks like mayonnaise. It looks like a tiny side order of mayonnaise.
JAZMÍN: Now there’s literally no crust. It’s just the cheesecake part of the cheesecake.
AVERY: Okay, but to be fair, this is the appropriate amount of cheesecake. Like, no one should be eating that much cream cheese with a spoon, ever.
JAZMÍN: That is kind of bizarre.
AVERY: I was just taking a little bird’s-eye view of us, crouching in the rain, eating cheesecake out of ramekins, being like, “Freedom!”
JAZMÍN: We made it! It’s almost over, guys.