The view from New York – the aftermath…

I wasn’t going to write another one of these Views from New York. It feels a little self-indulgent now when events have overtaken as they have and the whole world is now reeling from this pandemic. And what of the developing world countries that barely make the news? China, Europe, the US have been dominating the headlines for weeks but what is happening in those other parts of the globe and how horrific will it be in the favelas and refugee camps and slums?

Back in New York, I lost a friend who I never met over the weekend. Richard Hake was the host of the morning show on the public radio station WNYC (think Radio Ulster for New York City) and was an integral part of everybody’s day for decades. They’re saying he died suddenly of natural causes at home, but he was only 51, around about my age. One of the scariest new developments in NYC is young people (30 to 50) suddenly dying from Covid-19 induced stroke. Hospitals are increasingly reporting never-before-seen cases of otherwise healthy people who had recovered from “Rona” but subsequently taken out by blood clots. One more reason I stay awake at night with 911 on speed dial, and my blood-thinning fish oil supplements and red wine to hand like some kind of snake oil cure-for-all.

Aside from the virus, mental health is now very much to the fore. I’m a bit of an introvert and a bookworm at the best of times so shelter-at-home kinda suits me, but I realized last week that I have not had the physical company of any friends or colleagues since Saint Patrick’s Day when we had drinks in a friend’s apartment. At least until last weekend… I got divorced last summer after 21 (wonderful) years together, and my ex came over on Saturday night for dinner and we got totally p*ssed-up on wine and had the best night’s craic. I’m also beyond grateful to have my dearest friend, my dog, who ensures I get up before 7 am every day and insists we take regular walks in the park regardless of how much of a grey funk I’m in. If it wasn’t for the plethora of social media apps keeping me in touch with friends and relatives around the world, I’d probably have completely lost it by now. I have even re-connected with old mates I haven’t seen since my school or university days. I’ve had calls in the middle of the night or in the wee hours from friends in NYC who are isolated, lonely, and in the grasp of a panic attack and I’ve tried to talk them down and out of it. One friend lost her closest relatives back in the UK last year and is stuck in an apartment she can’t afford in Manhattan. She has lost her job after a stellar 20-something year career and just wants to go home…

Everybody’s drinking more, which is funny unless you’re in recovery or don’t have that off-switch. I live in a “transitioning” area in Brooklyn and the bullet-proof Chinese liquor store was shuttered weeks ago. The new trendy wine shop only accepts purchases via its app and if you go to pick-up there is red tape on the sidewalk demarcating a no-entry zone where you wait while they bring your purchases outside and leave them on a wine barrel. “Do NOT pick up the bag until we have closed the door!”. So I nearly fell out of my chair the other day when The Hatfield Bar delivery service made it onto local broadcast New York TV news. My friend in Belfast, who shall remain nameless, has started making artistic displays out of empty Bushmills bottles. She made a Black Bush rainbow in her front window. If you’ve seen it, you probably know where I’m talking about.

As for the latest view from New York City? I live next to the epicenter of the epicenter. Borough Park right by me is home to the biggest Jewish community outside of Tel Aviv. Only it’s very orthodox, fundamental, and Hasidic. Their communities generally don’t encourage use of modern media, TV, or internet and as a result they have (and I’m open to correction) one of the highest C-19 death rates in the city while the authorities try to get the message across. Over the way from me are some of the biggest housing projects you’ve never seen and the residents are taking their disproportionate toll. If you remember Divis flats, quadruple it in size. Black and other ethnic minorities, mostly low paid workers with no sick pay or decent health insurance are as much on the front-line as doctors and nurses. Statistics wise, I think I penned my first diatribe when we had a total of 500 deaths in NYC and I was shocked. Last night the daily NYC death tally fell below 500 for the first time, and that’s considered good news. Mind you, they still don’t count deaths at home, or untested deaths. The State ran a quick survey in supermarket carparks last week and I think approaching a third of the random results among shoppers were positive, so we’ve all got it. And people who “had it” and got better can still infect others. Again, open to correction. Almost 100 MTA Transit (aka Translink) workers are dead. Doctors, EMT, and nurses are dead. Care home facilities across NY and the country read like horror movies. One senior facility in New Jersey across the river had over seventy bodies piled up in an air-conditioned room because they didn’t have the resources to cope until someone called the cops.

On the upside, I have the luxury of free time to call my family and friends around the world more often. My mum in Belfast will be 85 years old later this year and lives independently. She remembers the Easter Blitz, hiding under the stairs. My granny told her the exploding bombs were just the noise of the brewery men off-loading kegs from the lorry at the pub down the street. Now she hosts visitors seated in her back garden from her perch in the kitchen! Wherever we are, we check-in on each other more than ever. My Belfast generation scattered to the Four Corners so whenever I need a chat or just a message, I can reach out to Perth or San Francisco, or as a very last resort Hackney. I’ve become addicted to those videos of orchestras performing from bedrooms. Va pensiero by the International Opera Choir of Italy (Google it) has me in tears every time, and then on Saturday my ex told me it sounds like Flower of Scotland and as partial Scot who lived there as a child I realized he was right! Will we see your likes again..?


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