On one hand, we mostly skated through a year of plague.
We didn’t get it, nor did any family members. Among our far-flung, mostly newspaper-related circle of friends, we don’t know of anyone severely affected (but we can’t know this for sure given the numbers and far-flung nature of the group). Other than one of our favorite doormen here in the city, Peter, who died very early in the onset of the disease, no one in the circle has been cut down by COVID.
Surely there are more, but I know of only one person in our building who had it, and her case was quite mild, she said. According to the day manager of the middle-brow supermarket across the street, his crew of front-liners has been untouched by the plague, an absolutely astonishing fact.
But plenty of people, thousands of them unknown to us and probably in the building next door, were mowed down as last spring’s temporary morgues around the corner at Lenox Hill Hospital filled up.
Death was all around us for a long time and we plowed right through it.
On the other hand, we are part of a plague subset that is trying, although not very hard, to determine exactly how we were changed by a (perhaps) once-in-a-lifetime utter upheaval of societal norms. Absent the grinding horror of grief, we had only hundreds of inconveniences to withstand, and like most folks we unconsciously adapted to them without much complaint.
We saw the grandkids only once, around Christmas when we traveled to Brooklyn for a walk to Prospect Park on a splendid day. It’s not that this one physical encounter made up for all the other missing encounters, but it felt amazingly special.
And in that way, it was a rather enormous adaptation, although we didn’t talk about it as such. (I furtively hugged the kids, but don’t tell their parents that.)
When we moved into our apartment in the city almost 25 years ago, we bought a black leather Ethan Allen club chair that I wound up sitting in 99% of the time. I‘ve managed to wear it out, an accomplishment of which I am rather strangely proud. The innards are perfectly fine. It’s the leather on the arms that has given way.
I don’t consider the natural body oils that gently ooze from my arms to be particularly toxic, but precisely where my arms lie while I read is where the leather has shriveled up and begun to die. Three potential furniture repairmen took one look at the photos I sent along and said, quite cheerfully I noticed, that there was nothing to be done.
So I went online to scan the Ethan Allen club chair offerings and mentally circled my replacement. To complete the transaction, we would have to journey to the Ethan Allen store, an easy two-stop subway ride away, to perform the mandatory sit-in practice run.
I was eager to walk down into the 6 train subway station to get reacquainted with this granddaddy of all mass transit systems. I fist-bumped the friendly homeless man at the top of the stairs and said I’d missed him as I slipped him the two bucks I had proactively stashed in my jacket pocket.
The platform looked exactly like it did the other 20,000 times I’d stood there, with the exception of some distancing markers on the floor. It was a Saturday, so it wasn’t very crowded and sure enough, as I looked left, there was the headlight of the oncoming train twinkling far away in the dark cavern.
The train rolled to a stop and we intently scanned the density of passengers therein. It wasn’t bad at all, and you had to wonder how long it would take for the cars to become sardine cans again. It would take a while but it would happen.
As it turned, out the club chair I was angling for was some super special order so we chose two others that we would consider as we took a few days to sleep on the decision.
As part of our first plague time subway adventure, we planned to see the new Moynihan Train Hall across the street from hideous Penn Station. It was every bit as impressive as it was cracked up to be, although the restaurants and tourist joints were yet to come.
We took a West Side subway up to the Natural History Museum and grabbed a transverse bus across Central Park back home. Our foray was utterly exhilarating, almost entirely because of our daring subway and bus trips. A kind of spell had been broken. We celebrated with dinner out at our favorite oyster and burger place.
A few days later, I went back to Ethan Allen to buy the chair. The homeless guy welcomed me at the top of the stairs and the subway seemed just like old times. The plague was in a halting retreat and we were moving on.