New Jersey block partiers live it up while social distancing

Cocktail party etiquette calls for everything we’re not supposed to do during the coronavirus crisis: pass around appetizers, refill wine glasses, hug each other, stand close so we can gossip.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t bend the rules to fit the times — and tight-knit neighbors in Montclair did just that, determined to socialize even if they had to keep their distance.

Blocks on opposite ends of town pulled together get-togethers last week, coaxing folks outside for a dose of fresh air and a booster shot of humanity.

Toward the west, Nancy and Mike Caldwell sat in their driveway, sipping martinis and nibbling on nuts. Their next-door neighbors enjoyed their drinks with restaurant takeout. Then, another neighbor came out. And another.

Some dragged their lawn chairs out into the street. A little boy rode his scooter. A jug of hand sanitizer ruled the curb, at the ready to kill any germ that dared to come near.

After a couple of hours, the evening ended with everyone in the middle of the road, doing the Electric Slide – 6 feet apart.

Everybody had so much fun that they partied again the very next night — and again followed all the guidelines: not getting too close, washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes.

“It was even 30 degrees colder, and even more people came out,” said Nancy Caldwell, 64, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. “And everyone was very conscientious about 6 feet. … We’d call out ‘6 feet’ if we needed to.”

On one of the evenings, early on, Caldwell watched a blue heron soar overhear. For Native Americans, the huge bird symbolizes self-determination and self-reliance.

“Oh, that must be a sign,” she thought to herself, later learning she was right. “You’re in the right place at the right time.”

At the other end, on Midland Avenue, Montclair’s main drag, another group of neighbors were having their own good time — also at 6 p.m. last Friday.

Earlier in the day, Julie Margolis had offered the idea of a party — in emails and texts — to folks who she has lived near for the past two decades.

“Even as we safeguard our health through distancing and as much as we need to eat and drink water, we need to feel connected to each other,” said Margolis, a yoga teacher and wine educator.

“I wanted to find a way to make that happen, even though we couldn’t hug each other.”

And did she get a good turnout. Up and down the block. Kids. Dogs. Even Spider-Man, who professes he was perfectly sober.

The man in the superhero costume was Scott Webb — no joke — and his alter ego pops up from time to time, to the delight of the neighborhood.

And putting on his red-and-blue, skin-tight onesie is so just much fun for Webb, a self-described “very immature” 62-year-old lover of comic books.

Webb’s wife, Jessica Wolf, opted to stay inside, but Webb moseyed out to see what was going on.

“Everybody was abiding by social distancing,” said Webb, who is in marketing for children’s media and teaches yoga part-time. “And as Spider-Man, I certainly felt both gloved and masked.”

For the time being, the blocks have hit PAUSE on the parties – out of deference to those on the front lines who are battling this global pandemic.

For Webb, those few moments of levity were precious.

“It troubles me that there is such fear,” he said, “and when the neighborhood comes out in hope, that makes me feel real fortunate.

“I’m hopeful we can make it through this if we all hang in there together.”

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