Somewhere over the rainbow

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Forsythia in full bloom along the 85th Street transverse. Photo: JH.

Friday, March 27, 2020. Sunny and mild yesterday in New York with the temp touching 60, and more promised for today and through the weekend.

The city remains quiet. Almost NO traffic on the streets and avenues. I went over to the pharmacy at 79th and Lex in the afternoon to pick up a prescription. The curbside all along the avenue was almost entirely deserted. Usually on any day but Sunday it’s difficult to find a parking space. Yesterday, that’s all there were. The stretch double-buses passing by had NO passengers.

Walking into the pharmacy, just inside the doorway there were three chairs forming a semi-circle which you couldn’t go beyond, along with a small side table with a pad and a pen on it. One of the friendly staff came to me with the prescription already bagged and rung up. 

At that very moment a nurse in her blue uniform came in to pick up something cosmetic. The staffer pointed out that we were standing next to each other. Oh. Oooh. Yikes. She moved back (there was little space for more than one). I moved forward, got my stuff and hit the road. 

Continuing down Lexington Avenue – usually a horrible traffic squeeze just below 79th because there’s a new apartment building going up on 78th and thanks to the lovely redesign of the streets with the bus lanes painted red and off limits to cars, there is now on that block only ONE lane (where there used to be four when the grid was created more than a century ago) available to cars — meaning full time traffic jam. Except not yesterday. There were three cars coming down the avenue and no jam whatsoever.

I went from there over to Citarella to pick up something for dinner. Again, Third Avenue was wide open and empty with no cars curbside, none! And only two moving along in the four lanes behind and two ahead. On a Thursday afternoon in New York City!! I’ve recorded this kind of thing several times because each time it still seems odd, as if the town’s been abandoned.

I chose that hour to shop because the store is usually quiet. There were ten customers in the whole place (which was fully stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables and everything else needed for the a meal). The line waiting for the cash registers had six people in it, and most of them were separated by six to ten feet, following directions of keeping away from others. Again odd. You can’t help wondering if they are telling us the virus is floating around in the air and might just hit you smack in the face with a drop of the germ. 

Modern life in New York, by which I mean, in the past two or three decades with the surging emergence of the obsessively looking at the cell phone, no one looks at anyone, let alone acknowledges the presence. Nor is there any exchange even so much as an “excuse me,” or “pardon me” if they walk into you. People — and I’m not referring to teenagers or children — behave as if there is no one around them at all times. We’re all on our own, like aliens from another planet except they all have humanoidal tendencies like scowling at someone they’ve bumped into, as if unaware that another human being is nearby. In a city of 10 million. Ovey, as say. Writing this down, I almost suspect I’m exaggerating to the ridiculous, but it’s true.

At the cash register the clerks are courteous and attentive to their job, but again, they’re off on their own wave length with the cash register and the bags. Protecting themselves, naturally. All of this is more exaggerated than ever and I can’t help wondering if this is the way it’s going to be in this great big wonderful city of creativity and opportunity and chance.

Back on East End Avenue, neighbors were out as they usually are late afternoon. There are more people wearing masks. It’s not crowded like on a weekend but the costume is relaxed, the exercisers are in shorts and tees for their runs. The walkers, except for the young or very few adults are together closeby (not six feet away from each other) and I think of Kafka.

Parking my car, I ran into Susan Cheever, who lives nearby. She was walking her dog (a beautiful and sweet seven year old Corgi). Another woman with a dog walked by us, and Susan’s Corgi – on leash –naturally lept toward, and barked at the other dog, and the neighbor scowled remonstratively at Susan as if she had done something bad and shameful. My my. I thought, it’s dogs talking to each other for godsakes!

But we talked about books. She’d read “The Splendid and the Vile,” which I’d just finished, so we raved in agreement. But now she’s reading Camus’ “The Plague” and so we talked about that and the coincidence of The Now. Seriously though she is, Susan is quick to laugh and smile and good cheer is always in the meeting, plague or no plague. From there we parted and I returned with my groceries to my apartment where the dogs were barking in wait, and tail wagging and that was my reality at home. Merci beaucoup, as they say in good old France. (Frahnce)

Back to business. The unfolding COVID-29 crisis in the city is urgent. In the next upcoming Diaries, Jeff Hirsch and I want to share what we know that can be helpful to those struggling at the effect of all the changes going on now. With schools, restaurants, and many other businesses forced to close, many more New Yorkers are already joining the 2.5  million of our neighbors who turn to City Harvest to put meals on their tables. The need for emergency food in the city is rapidly rising. City Harvest has mobilized in response.

City Harvest is a great and amazing organization which I’ve followed since I was introduced to it 25 years ago by my friends Joy Ingham, Emilia Saint Amand and Topsy Taylor.  It has grown measurably since then from the enormous support of many volunteers and fund-raisers under the leadership of Jilly Stephens and her equally as devoutly committed staff and theire  wonderful and amazing delivery drivers. Good neighbors are what they all are!!

Harry Benson’s photograph of me with City Harvest heroes Topsy Taylor, Emilia Saint-Amand, and Joy Ingham.

City Harvest’s trucks remain on the road rescuing and delivering food for everyone who needs them today and may need tomorrow. And now, City Harvest is stepping up to rescue and deliver more food to meet the need. Their trucks will continue to be on the road, and they will work hard to make sure all children in our city and their families have food during this time.

City Harvest has always been about neighbors helping neighbors. The best way you can help is by donating funds to help them respond swiftly to the evolving need. Right now their Board of Directors is matching every $1 donated through April 17 with $2 of their own, up to $500,000, ensuring your gift goes 3 times as far. Just $10 can help feed a family for an entire month!!

Over the coming weeks, more New York City families will be turning to City Harvest for help putting food on their tables. The trucks will be on the road, rescuing and delivering for all  New Yorker in need during the Covid-19 crisis.

Somewhere over the rainbow. Our friend Paige Peterson rushed out to Belvedere, California when her 94-year-old mother called, sounding anxious and alone.  The following day, she captured this incredible rainbow from the bay, auguring hope for us all …

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