View from New York – 15 days later – the new normal…

After submitting my first, then second (and I assumed last ever) posting to Slugger on the C19 pandemic from my viewpoint in Brooklyn, New York, I figured I was done. The headlines out of Ireland and Britain have already begun to reflect the horrors across the pond here in the US, and there seems to be no need to revisit what is now the day-to-day reality for all of us. Whether it be the hard-to-fathom daily statistics on staggering C19 infections and deaths, or the mundane but nevertheless depressing – and oftentimes hilarious – musings of everyone trying to cope with shelter-at-home restrictions, we’re all in the same boat now.

Over the last month, my life, like so many others has moved online. To say I’m generally not an enthusiastic user of social media is an understatement. My Instagram account was hijacked by my dog upon her arrival over four years ago; prior to that it was all pictures of sunsets and beaches and streetscapes. I’m rapidly approaching my mid-century and I still like an old fashioned phone-call. My emails probably read like handwritten letters. Kids at work (read anyone under 40) laugh at me when I am impressed by their breakneck two-thumb texting skills whilst holding a face-to-face conversation with me. I was doing well to be a two finger keyboard typist for years before smart phones arrived. When a student at Queen’s we hand-wrote our essays and theses and paid the faculty “secretaries” a pound a page to type them up.

However, spending the majority of time indoors this last month, save for regular mental-and-physical health-saving walks outside in the park with the dog, suffocating face mask in place, fundamentalist member of the SDO (socially-distant-observant) denomination, has compelled me to spend more time online. I have been seeing my doctor via telemedicine for check-ups since I was ill, and my crew at work hold all our meetings on Zoom. It didn’t take long for the novelty of the latter to wear off and now when up to 200 of us hold our end-of-week town-hall conferences, people quickly kill their video and start texting off-grid pictures of themselves in pyjamas holding glasses of beer or wine at 2 pm. In fairness to my employer, a wellness team was established very early-on in this crisis and they call every single employee every day for a quick chat. Not to make sure you’re up and working of course, just to make sure you’re still alive. I have a video meeting scheduled for tomorrow and I warned everyone that I will be wearing my face-mask, not because of the virus, but because I haven’t shaved since March 19th.

Meanwhile, I am very much aware how exceptionally fortunate I am to remain in employment when “official” unemployment figures here since this began recently topped 20 million. Friends included.

Last night I was writing a letter, sorry, email exchange with a friend-of-old (as opposed to an old friend) who recently moved to Eastbourne on the south coast of England from London to see how she was doing. It quickly dawned on me that we were sharing many of the same experiences, as were my friends from Australia to California, by way of Belfast. The anxiety-inducing trips to the supermarket, coupled with gratitude – and guilt – for the employees on the frontline. Crazy, vivid dreams seem to be all the rage these days. Eating and watching TV at 3 am and taking a siesta at 3 pm is perfectly acceptable now. Another friend of mine said “airport rules” are universally in force, meaning non-judgmental beer with (late) breakfast. All the liquor stores, aka offies, near me are voluntarily physically shuttered for the duration, but the local fancy wine shop launched an app and you can order and schedule your delivery time from your phone. I tried it today. The delivery person was wearing home-made PPE and I answered the door wearing my DIY bandanna face mask and Marigolds. Between us we could do a passable Frank N. Furter impersonation at the Rocky Horror Show in QFT. He/she/they left the bag of essentials a couple of feet from the apartment door, I thanked he/her/them profusely (I’ve already over-tipped danger money online so we don’t have to physically exchange cash), and we wished each other good health. To be honest, part of me hopes this doesn’t change after the pandemic is over.

But then I come inside, pour a glass, and switch on the TV or fire up the laptop, and look at the news.

April 14th, 2020: New York City death toll soars to over 10,000 (500 when I wrote my first post a few weeks ago). Collections of die-at-home bodies has increased ten-fold. Three thousand more New Yorkers died in NYC in the last month than the same period last year (NY Times). Disproportionately higher numbers from poor and minority ethnic communities are dying. Hart Island (NYC’s paupers’ graveyard) in The Bronx is burying coffins in mass graves stacked three high (Hart Island has a fascinating history, should you wish to look it up)… And the US Navy hospital warship and the enormous convention center converted into a field hospital I mentioned before? Practically empty, due to what I’ll diplomatically call administrative misunderstandings between the Federal administration and the State government. Several northeastern States around New York have essentially joined forces to work together in what they say is a lack of Federal coordination or national governance and are going it alone. Last time that happened in the 1800s, there was a bit of a skirmish that lasted a few years… I believe someone said BTL on my last post said that rates of testing in the US were high, but the fact is that less than 1% of the population of 330,000,000 has been tested, so we have no real idea how many souls are sick and dying or dead from this virus. Maybe you saw the news about the captain of the US Navy aircraft carrier relieved of his duties for pleading for assistance for his crew of almost 5,000? I just checked the news and around 1,000 of those sailors have tested positive so far, as did the captain. On a nuclear warship. I’m off to pour another glass of pinot collapso…

USNS Comfort for NYC” by Mobilus In Mobili is licensed under CC BY-SA

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