Week Ten

A dispatch from the front lines of NYC in a public health crisis.

It’s Friday, fucking finally.  I’m not sure there was anything objectively worse about the past seven days than the seven days before that, but it felt exceptionally long and hard.  

It’s a holiday weekend, too, a weekend that in any other year would feature a brief trip, an AirBnB with friends or, at the very least, a barbecue or a beach trip.  Memorial Day is every summer’s early triumph, and we don’t get one this year.  It’s a bitter pill. 

It’s also an extraordinarily long period of time to be home, choosing between pleasant but anxious mass video chats with other people, or the continued solitude of various screens of entertainment. Eating one of the few variety of meals you can make with the things on hand, without having to venture out in this mess.  

I’m taking it seriously, the virus.  My ZIP code is on every list of worst hit places in the world, per capita, and this thing is nasty.  I don’t want it.  So I’m following the regulations, and then some.  Double-thick, homemade cloth mask with two straps, a fitted nosepiece, and even a coffee filter stuck in between the fabric layers.  Six feet, on all sides, at all times.  Don’t touch things with your hands, don’t touch your face at all, try not to touch, well, anything.  

Try to make eye contact, and nod to folks.  To be kind to neighbors, while keeping them distant.  

I had been out of my apartment building a total of five times in ten weeks.

So, this Friday, I had an unexpectedly heavy and productive day of remote work, and when it hit late afternoon, I needed to mail a letter; it was a work thing.  I had the envelope, I had the stamps, all I needed was to drop it in the blue box for sending.  I thought, in the words of a dear friend, “fuck it, it’s Friday” and left the house a bit before closing time, hoping to catch a lull in whatever muted foot traffic was taking place on Junction Boulevard. 

It was the last thing I had to do before the holiday weekend, whatever that will look like this year. 

I geared up, stepped out the front door, and immediately smelled weed.  It was that pleasant olfactory memory thing, where I immediately associated it with every other summer day I’ve smelled that, walking past the same group of guys who hang out in front of our neighbor’s building, talking and smoking weed.  

They were out there now. One had no mask on at all, and one had a mask that was strapped behind his head but pulled down below his chin, technically rendering it an item of jewelry.  The other had a paper mask that was on correctly.  I gave them a wide berth but we exchanged nods of recognition as I stepped into the street to pass them.  

Junction Boulevard is a vibrant artery of Queens.  It is a hub for families from Corona and Jackson Heights, and serves as their border.  My favorite deli is there, my drug store, grocery, bodega, and train stop.  

It’s ordinarily very crowded.  

And as I expected, it wasn’t crowded, not in any traditional sense of the word.  I didn’t make physical contact with any people, which on ordinary days is well-nigh impossible.  Six feet, though, was out of the question.  It would be literally impossible to navigate my neighborhood in such a manner.  There are simply too many of us.  

Those three neighbor stoners proved to be an apt microcosm.  About a third of the people were wearing no masks at all.  There was nobody giving them trouble, no police presence to speak of, and I observed at least fifty people without masks, in close proximity to passersby, in the ten minutes I was outside.  Another third of people had masks of various quality and material, and were wearing them on their faces. 

I wish that I could have left off the end of that last sentence.  

A full third of the people I observed were in obvious, physical possession of a mask, but were not wearing it, or not wearing it correctly, or wearing it as the aforementioned jewelry.  They weren’t using it, but they had it on-hand.  

I get why they are doing that.  They need the mask in case they want to go into a store, or if the local precinct happens by. But they otherwise don’t, can’t, and/or won’t wear their mask the way we are supposed to.  I’m tempted to scold people, but remember my own privilege, and that I don’t really know people’s reasons or motives.  I should just steer clear, and do what I can to protect my own health. 

Honestly, it was scary.  I was so aware that somewhere out there, in public, is this damned virus that has turned the world upside-down.  It’s real, it’s deadly, and I see its reflection in every stranger I pass on the street, silently calculating my odds and measuring my distance and even my breathing as I pass them.  We are all each other’s potential enemies. 

I got the letter mailed, and navigated home at a slower, more deliberate pace.  I thought about whether we are coming through to the end of the pandemic, or if a resurgence will be the next thing. I fear it will be the latter. Not enough people are still taking this seriously.  The last time I was out, about a month ago, there were far fewer people out, and nearly everyone had masks.  There were lines back then for the grocery store and Rite Aid. 

Today, there was a line for the healthcare clinic.  The line spanned two full blocks.  

-AG

Published in: on May 22, 2020 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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