The streets are quieter now, except for the sirens. I’m not sure if there are more ambulances, because there were always a lot, but now I notice every one. A lot more businesses are closed this week than were closed last — one of the bodegas, the dollar store, the closest pizza place, the fruit stand, the closest liquor store. Our favorite wine store is still open and they were delivering until yesterday, when I guess the delivery person decided they’d had enough. Who can blame them? Luckily we ordered a case of wine and a shit ton of hard alcohol two days ago. It’s been sitting on the floor, in the detoxification space (aka the rug in the entryway), until we think it’s safe/get around to putting it away. It’s hard to know the rules on that. There’s so much information and misinformation online about everything — how long the virus survives on surfaces, whether or not you can get it by ingesting it or just touching your face, how to sanitize your groceries because a doctor told you to or is that just stupid according to a food scientist? The real truth is that the virus is too new for anyone to really know the answers, so everyone is guessing.
When I go down the hall to put the trash in the garbage chute, I’ve developed an entire routine for returning to the apartment. I touch the doorknob because I have to, but then, instead of catching the door with my hand so that it doesn’t slam, I do it with my foot. Then I keep my arms up like a surgeon until I can make it to the sink, where I turn on the taps with my wrists, then wash my hands for the all-important 20 seconds. Then I go back and put in the new garbage bag, then wash my hands again. Then sometimes, depending on, oh, not really anything, I will Purell the sink, and the doorknob, and wash my hands again. And bear in mind that more than half of my floor of neighbors is gone — they decamped to wherever they were able to go outside the city a week or more ago (how long exactly has it been? I’m not sure. Time moves really differently right now). Hopefully they self-quarantined, but perhaps they’re starting their own little epicenters of spread.
The only place we could have gone, before they started telling people not to leave, was to my 79-year-old mom’s house in Pennsylvania. But at that point, even before Brooklyn became Coronavirus Central, I already was worried about exposing her, given how easy it would have been for me to have contracted the virus at work or on the subway. I was hoping maybe after a couple of weeks of social distancing I would feel comfortable going to stay with her. She is moving in a week, and she could use help getting ready — partly because I still haven’t finished cleaning everything out of my old room. A month ago, I thought I’d have plenty of time for that! And this is a big move. She’s been living in the house for over 20 years, and she’s got to do it all on her own now since my father died in September. So when she asked if maybe I could come down just to “disconnect everything” like the movers ask her to do, it kind of broke my heart to say I didn’t think it was a good idea. But it’s been over two weeks now since my last day of work, and between the type-A shoppers who just refuse to stay six feet away at the Park Slope Food Co-op and that one cashier at C-Town who had her mask around her neck and when I asked her to put it on, said, “Why? You’re not wearing one. I don’t feel like it,” I can’t say I feel confident enough in my uninfected status to want to take the risk. I mean, my mom, lucky her, is in the county with the highest number of cases in Pennsylvania (and she’s moving to Iselin, which is in one of the hotspots of New Jersey, yay!), but that’s still nothing compared to here.
I talk to my mother every one to two days, and she seems to be doing fine. I try to convince her to go out as little as possible — like, maybe she doesn’t have to go shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and the local market; maybe she can settle for non-fat mayonnaise instead of the low calorie mayonnaise that she likes that they only sell in one place. But I kind of have to let it go. She’s going to have contact with people. She had to go to the realtor’s office last week to sign her closing documents (this realtor has coronavirus, but my mom says she hasn’t seen her in “a week or two,” which hopefully means two). There’s a nice man who is buying a bunch of things that she can’t sell because her estate sale was canceled, but despite the fact that he’s in his 70s and should know better, he’s a close talker. Then there is going to be a troop of large men stomping through her house packing and moving stuff, and she feels she needs to be there to make sure they do it right — which is, of course, what one would normally do. She does have some basic surgical masks — my father left behind a box of them from his last year with leukemia — and hopefully those will help, but who knows? I just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.
We try to leave the house to go for daily walks or bike rides. We have stopped going to Prospect Park, which is our most usual bike route, because it’s too much of a zoo. Normally we just deal with and bitch about the people walking in the bike lane, or crossing in front of us at random with no warning because they just can’t be bothered to look both ways, or swerving all over the place on their bikes because they don’t grasp that the road has rules or the concept of other people who might be behind them and going faster than they are — and these aren’t just kids, who always get a pass because they’re kids (although: the kid we biked by on the street last week who loudly fake-sneezed just as he passed us? He deserves to have the shit kicked out of him). But in the days of coronavirus, it’s just too complicated. So now we bike to Sheepshead Bay instead, down side streets that tend to be deserted. When we walk, we bop between the sidewalk and walking in the street facing traffic, to maintain six feet of distance. It generally works, now that everyone seems to have finally gotten the memo.
There are definitely more rubber gloves on the ground now. Yes, I’m saying “more,” because, for some reason, there have always been rubber gloves on the ground in our neighborhood, even though there are no hospitals in the area (there are some other testing labs and doctors’ an dentists’ offices, so I suppose that’s why? Or just because Brooklyn?). But there are more now and the increase is probably due to a combination of more use of rubber gloves and lack of street cleaning. NYC hasn’t cleaned the streets in over two weeks now. At first it was a one-week suspension of alternate side, then another week, and now they’ve made it for the next two. Which at first seemed great, because I wouldn’t have to move my car (although it is something else to do), but now we see the results, as the streets get more and more full of debris and weird stains. Yesterday, on one street we noticed there was a spray of a deep red hue every few yards. You could’ve thought it was blood except for the fruity smell. This is, of course, better, and yet, why are people spraying fruity beverages on the street? Because Brooklyn.
The last time I went grocery shopping at the Park Slope Food Co-op was Monday 3/23. I waited on line outside for about 1.5-2 hours, in the rain. Luckily I came correct for the weather, although I didn’t have a mask. The whole process was surprisingly stressful. I mean, I knew shoppers would do whatever, because they’re entitled, stressed Co-op shoppers, but none of the people stocking wore masks or maintained safe distances either. Then the line to check out took forever, but at least that was because they were taking precautions: the checkout person wore a mask and gloves and cleaned her workspace diligently before and after I checked out. I’m hoping the next time I go, which will be either today (11 days) or Monday (a full 14 days! But at that point we’ll be out of vegetables. How long can you go without eating vegetables before you get gout? Rationally I know it’s longer than two days, but talking about gout is one of the fun things we get to do now in our household of two), these things will be remedied.
Yesterday I started sewing my own mask from this pattern in the New York Times. I get that they’re trying to make something that will hold up, but it’s really for people who have sewing machines, it’s like a million steps and a ridiculous amount of stitching — plus I only made two pleats because the three-pleat version really didn’t look like it was going to fit over both my nose and under my chin. It’s taken four hours so far and I’m still not done with it. It’s not entirely an uncomforting activity though; working on it while trying to watch Travel Man last night (which my husband complains I can’t do without missing all the best parts) reminded me of how my mom used to do her sewing while we all watched TV in the evenings when I was a kid — for me, she did a lot of patching and shortening of pants. Damon found this no-sew mask, but at that point I’d already embarked on my extravaganza and wasn’t about to quit. It looks sad but it’ll do, and hopefully it’ll survive going through the wash. Only now, he’s has found a new article that says it might be worse to wear a cloth mask than not. But again, as the article itself repeats over and over, nobody really knows what the answers are because we have no data.
For now, I think that’s the hardest part: beyond locking ourselves down or in as much as we can stand, there’s very little we can control. Things could get better, but all the evidence we have says they will get worse first. My friends and family and I could all get out of this safely, but modeling suggests at least one of us will get very ill. And even after that, many of us will be out of work for some time, and that $2400 we’ll get from the government plus our “enhanced” unemployment “benefits” aren’t going to go very far in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I don’t live in Florida or a red state right now, but things will not be looking up for a while. And there is basically nothing, right or wrong, that I can do about that, other than tell the truth, write it all down, and hope we learn to do better next time.