Monday, March 23, 2020. It was a bright, sunny Sunday, yesterday in New York, following a bright sunny weekend in the big town, with temps in the chilly mid-40s.
We are, here in New York City, at the epicenter of almost 1/2 of the cases of the Coronavirus in the US. I also read somewhere that NYC is a “ghost town” which is just about the way it seems sitting here in my apartment. I have been out to go to the market a couple of times, and to walk the dogs briefly two or three times a day.
Saturday night I finished the book I’ve been reading (and written about), “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson. I actually didn’t want to finish it, because all of the anxieties that this “catastrophe” has brought us were set aside by the page turning anxieties of the book’s content. Hitler’s massive and continual bombing attacks on London and other cities in England over the course of the year 1940-41 (killing more than 60,000 men, women and children) — had briefly taken me away from the fears that are affecting all of us. I’ve never had a reading experience where a book’s content was so relatable that it substituted my reality and quelled my own frustrations and anxiety while reading the author’s portrayal of the era and its characters — especially but not only Mr. Churchill and his family.
I’ve seen no friends or acquaintances, although telephone conversations keep company from time to time. All events that are in any way social — meaning even two people meeting for a purpose — as well as business — have been canceled until further notice.
The isolation that is necessary with this is taxing and burdensome to many as all readers know. I got a message yesterday from a reader in Chicago with whom I’ve corresponded over the years. Although we don’t know each other, I’ve learned that she is an enthusiastic, intelligent woman, an interesting correspondent. Yesterday’s message had a radically different feeling describing the effect this is having on her, amplifying what so many of us are feeling privately:
We are entering the unknown, the unknowable that lies ahead. This is just a fast tale of LIFE that happened to me only yesterday: Saturday in Chicago and suburbs (even though each day has faded into another for us all,) there was the threatening headline: DO WHATEVER YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO BEFORE 5 PM SATURDAY. FROM THEN ON: YOU ARE TO STAY HOME.
I had a thermometer at home that I hadn’t used in years. I figured a newer version could be more important than FOOD. So I thoroughly washed my hands the required time and left the house. The parking lot of the drug store had only a few cars — very widely spaced. I would be in and out in a flash. Going into the drug store looked like a snap — I’d grab a few items and be out before I was covered in germs.
The pharmacist said a thermometer was a lost cause — they were gone in hours, days before. So I looked around to see if there were anything else I needed. The shelves were almost bare. I found something and headed to the checkout line. There were only ten in line, staggered, standing far apart, quiet and presumably patient. Two checkout people. GREAT, I thought.
Then suddenly the scene changed rapidly. There was a scary looking man behind me. He and I got separate checkout people. For a moment it was fine. And THEN — that man started screaming that he was being cheated! Talking to someone on his phone, he yelled that he was being ripped off and what he was “going to do to the checkout lady.”
With that, my own checkout person suddenly began to fall apart crying. Surely it was the stress of being IN the store all day, touching germs at every minute. Crying uncontrollably, she excused herself. I’m sure she saw everyone in front of her as potential virus donors to her — and now she had this man terrifying the drug store and threatening to kill.
She apologized to me, left her station and disappeared — while in mid-transaction. Then the other checkout lady was so frightened by the man that she called and asked for the manager to get up front. But there was no manager.
She told the man to calm down, but instead he told her she was the one who tried to rip him off, and that he was going to kill her. (In this adjoining town, this has happened before).
My tiny order — a carton of Ensure — half checked out, my checkout lady came back, still crying. She apologized to me and yelled to the other checkout person not to give in to the man’s increasing demands. But they increased. I am sure we all thought he could have a gun.
I just wanted to get out of there. The cashier still had my credit card, but this almost life-and-death seeming moment with voices raised to screaming, and everyone afraid this man was ready to pull a gun, without waiting to complete my sale, I turned and ran out of the store.
I can’t help but wonder if we will see a lot more of this kind behavior as the virus scare escalates. I had done myself in at a CVS for a carton of Ensure.”
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan on Saturday, the town looking as deserted as if it were a major summer holiday, I needed to pick up some grub for the few days. I also wanted to get some shots of the pear trees which launch our Springtime every year. Gentle, delicate and brief in their flowering I thought you, dear readers, could find some relief and satisfaction in seeing the best of Mother Nature to provide some comfort from all that is confronting us. So, it was off to Zabar’s.
On an ordinary Saturday morning or mid-afternoon the trip across town with the regular heavy weekend traffic can be a 20-minute drive with the starting and stopping, frequently bumper-to-bumper, especially on the cross-streets and then the transverse through the park and the heavily trafficked Upper West Side. However I was amazed that from the far east to the far west was no more than ten minutes!
The 79th Street transverse was empty! I was the only car crossing. Amazing. The transverse is becoming the beauty with the forsythia blooming and beaming, pouring off the top of the walls. And then on Broadway, there were a couple of occupied parking spaces! And Zabar’s, which is always busy, was not jammed. I picked up the things I needed including the freshly ground-to-order coffee (Continental Roast) and was in and out in 15 minutes and heading back, stopping only to get some shots of the beautiful pears along the way …