Columns

Column: Journal of the plague year

Woody was not his usual jovial self. He owns the wash-and-fold/dry cleaner across the street and hadn’t been open for weeks. Our whole block of businesses on East 78th Street had been shuttered during the onset of the plague.

I will be cited for personal dishevelment if the barber shop doesn’t spring back to life. I’ve developed a late-life taste for pedicures, and those two women won’t be coming back for a while. Three Little Birds, a music-based school for small kids, is dark as well as the Russian School for Mathematics, which sounds like a hangout for nerdy teens, but is aimed at small kids, too.

Woody’s is a several-generation outfit, and though its commercial offering is not exactly the stuff of brainy technocrats, what you get in the evening, if you drop off your bag of laundry before 10, is about as good as it gets in this line of work. This is a male-only issue, but the fitted sheets come back identical to the top sheets, appearance-wise. Again, a man issue. One time a stray sock appeared in our bundle. The next morning I dutifully returned it to Woody who treated me as though I had come up with a cheap effective cure for all cancers, known and unknown.

Today, he was borderline morose. His family was fine and I didn’t press him on how he was handling the shutdown of his business. He did say that he couldn’t do the same-day service because he didn’t have enough workers. I am one of these guys that harbors the crazy notion that all wash-and-fold bundles in New York City are trucked to a gigantic subterranean network of washers and dryers in Queens.

This is a companion notion that all middle-brow Chinese restaurants have a similar operation (maybe in Queens) and all the Chinese food in the city comes from such a facility. This is no slam on the food these restaurants serve.

It is simply an observation that the food is so amazingly consistent. Every dumpling tastes exactly like every other dumpling. I did not share these notions with Woody. The time wasn’t right, obviously. I wish him all the best.

I did uncover some unexpected good news in our local business sphere. Toby, the guy that owns the specialty lighting store where I get the occasional exotic light bulb, is open sporadically and disclosed that he wasn’t doing great but had indeed gotten some of the federal dough and was probably going to make it.

He said the Italian restaurant a couple of doors up, one of my favorites, had also received some money so I’m less worried that it might go under. I’m no businessman, but I can’t see how many of these local operations can possibly survive this plague.

Personally, I’m hanging in the midrange of despair and doing a pretty good job of not fixating on the situation. To me it’s helpful that everyone is in the same bucket; everyone you see is dealing with the same mess. The wealthy can go somewhere else, but there is really no place to hide with certainty.

Jane and I recently agreed on a new arrangement. She’s staying, and working, on the Island; I’m staying and working in the city. I’ll visit on the weekends. I’m cool with that. I can’t explain it well, but I like my routines in the city and feel I have the situation well in hand. Of course that could change this afternoon.

What has spooked me the most is the news that a good friend, slightly younger and in great shape, had a significant stroke. He can’t talk or move and I can’t stop thinking about him. I’m not sure I want to know how long or arduous his rehab will be.

There is a part of you that allows your brain to think that if you haven’t gotten it by now, maybe you’re in the clear. Maybe that pesky cold last December might just have been a little taste of the plague before we knew it was lurking.

I have never wished for a cold to be more sinister than it actually felt. But, oh, please, little antibodies, be strong, be angry and be ravenous.