My wife and I came back to Portland after a year of travel just as COVID-19 hit. While we were gone, a young couple bought the house next door, and now their frequent mid-pandemic backyard parties have me feeling a little crazy. Is this really OK? —Evan W.

The class warrior in me is tempted to point out that, on the grand scale of provocations, there's not that much daylight between "flaunting your youthful good health by having a barbecue in the middle of a pandemic" and "flaunting your financial security by traveling around the world at a time of unprecedented income inequality." But I'm not going to do that, because it would be wrong.

Instead, Evan, I'm going to back you up: Assuming these gatherings are the kind of maskless, non-distanced affairs we (vaguely) recall from happier times, they're irresponsible, even if they don't degenerate into such obvious disease-vector activities as keg stands and body shots. Your neighbors should knock it off.

The irony here is that official sanction for such events is now tantalizingly within reach. Phase I of Oregon's current plan to relax social distancing measures also proposes to allow gatherings of up to 25 people—practically Saturday night at Coachella by recent standards.

Of course, said Phase I doesn't kick in until the county in question can show a declining infection rate. The more sketchy epidemiological edgelordery quarantine-breakers try to pull, the less likely we are to hit that benchmark.

That said, it's not hard to understand where your neighbors are coming from. Since March, the official policy on seeing friends and family has been a categorical "no social gatherings" with anyone outside your household.

Meanwhile, people in your Instagram feed are taking "essential" trips to Walmart to buy those novelty slippers that look like you're putting your foot in a pig's mouth.

Under such circumstances, it's easy to imagine the wounded bon vivant feeling that all the wiggle room has gone to crass commercialism, at the expense of our human relationships.

Naturally, many people seek to redress this perceived inequity through the time-honored human habit of cheating. Tune in next week to find out why that may be even more problematic than it sounds!