Top of the Heap

There’s a bit from the manuscript I’m querying that keeps going round in my head. Is it in poor taste to quote from my own work? Do rules about poor taste apply when we’re in the midst of a pandemic and facing the apocalypse? *shrug* I’ll quote it anyway.

He should have missed me. Pined for me when we weren’t speaking, begun to waste without my dumplings. But in fact he looked fine when I snuck upstairs and watched him hauling cases of clean glasses to the bar. Healthy. Maybe he’d gained a pound or two. How could that be? I was good for him, damn it. I would be there, even later, when he got sicker and most people got afraid. Maybe. If he wanted. If I wanted. I turned my mind sideways, so’s not to think how people could be good and bad for each other at the same time. Simulcast, like a presidential speech, or a Grateful Dead concert, when the sound was supposed to line up from the TV and the radio exactly right, but there was always that lag, so you didn’t know where to put your ears.

That last bit, not knowing where to put your ears. That’s how I feel these days, but I don’t know where to put my mind, can’t quite think about anything straight on without needing to let my thoughts slide to the next, and yet now matter how much slip sliding between the neurons, those thoughts always slide to another aspect of Covid-19. The danger to my family, personally, health-wise? Slip. The economic ramifications? Slide. The thought that if one of my loved ones ends up hospitalized I don’t think I’d be allowed to actually, physically be with them? Slither. The entire country changing forever? Well, that one is something we’ve been looking at for close to four years now, isn’t it? Sigh. And what I’m talking about today. New York. The city. My New York.

The rate of confirmed cases in New York City is, so far, following the terrifying curve that’s been expected, with confirmed cases rising exponentially. For the most part the parameters for testing are still strict because of limited tests available, so when I say there were close to 4000 confirmed cases by late yesterday afternoon, it isn’t my imagination run wild to say there are likely tens of thousands of actual cases through the city already, confirmed or not, severe or not, symptomatic or not. The only thing moving faster than the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in NY right now is the number of jobs lost, which dwarfs the number sick &/or testing positive. People in the music industry, hospitality, restaurants, retail, on and on.

Much of the city looks like a movie set right now. The flats and backdrops are there, subway cars empty and waiting, lighting is right, but still far from filming, only a few people moving about here and there. I know that is good news, our best and–except for testing (out of individual control) and hand washing–only defense. Still creepy as fuck.

Being a born and bred New Yorker is its own cultural identity. You can be anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and if you say you’re a New Yorker, people have images that come to mind. Images of the tourist traps you avoid, the cultural institutions you grew up frequenting, the shops and restaurants they’ve maybe dreamed of visiting but for you are–were?–daily life. If, like me, you’re of a certain age and/or from certain boroughs, you don’t actually have to identify yourself as a New Yorker, not for nothing but your accent does it for you, recognized no matter where you are.

Broadway is dark. I love live theater, and yes, I love Broadway shows. I haven’t been able to go regularly in years, out of budget, but man oh man, nothing like it. Those shows are mind-bogglingly expensive to produce and run. With weeks, maybe months, of no sales, how is it going to get up and running again? And those are the big boys, what about the off-off Broadway shows?

The Metropolitan Opera laid off its union employees yesterday. Union employees. Think about that.

Though still technically allowed to run delivery/pick up service, many of the restaurants have closed. Restaurants in New York, even the top ones with the Big Name Chefs, run on a very, very narrow margin. The restaurants everyone has seen on tv shows/movies, read about in Page 6, and or the local corner joints that have been serving locals for decades. Katz’s Deli (1903), Lombardi’s Pizza (1905), Peter Luger (1887), Tavern on the Green (1934), The Rainbow Room (1934), Totonno’s (1924), The Russian Tea Room (1927), Delmonico’s (1837), Sylvia’s (1962), Nathan’s (1916), Jing Fong (1978), Russ & Daughters (1914), Barney Greengrass (1908) and I’m guessing literally, easily, a hundred others people world wide would recognize the name or interior shots of.  Weeks/months of no income?

And the shops. Not just the big names that are more of a tourist attraction than shopping expedition for most (Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman), but the ones that are known through the city and often across the world. Shops that represent New York, make this city this city. Mood Fabric, Matt Umanov Guitar’s, Rudy’s Music, Canal Street Market, Moscot’s Eyewear, Kiehl’s, and on and on and on. I can’t think anymore.

I’m no stranger to long running businesses closing their doors, no New Yorker is. With the rise of commercial rents having gone from ludicrous to impossible over the past couple of decades, the sight of a beloved local shop gated with a big long sign saying goodbye, thank you, and after X generations we’ve had to close because we lost our lease (only to sit empty for months, years, before being replaced by yet another half empty high rise, a CVS, a Starbucks, a bank whose name is going to change by the time you blink because it’s been absorbed by another bank) is a familiar one. Always a moment for sadness and reflection on how very clean and cold and corporate so many old favorite areas have become. But not everywhere, and not all the businesses.

So I’m thinking, when we get to the other side of this–and we will, whether it’s weeks, months, or over a year–what will be left of New York? My New York, our New York. Who and what businesses will be able to ride it out in this city of those that represent the city and the people in it, not the chain outposts that are already all too common a sight. Yes, we are a constantly evolving city, it’s what allowed it to become an icon and identity unto itself, self-absorbed though it may be. But those often small, multi-generational, not necessarily big name or big dollar places? They’re the heart that keeps beating.



  1. NYC on pause. Holding its breath.

    You’re right, mrs fringe: where do we put our ears right now? No matter how hard we try not to ‘go there’, our thoughts slide to the dark side, the ‘what if’ side, the scary, hopeless side. Nothing is normal right now, everything is up-ended and there’s no end in sight for us.

    That’s a recipe for panic, which is why we need to remember that this pandemic will run its course eventually. We’ll eventually find our footing again. What life will look like on the other side I don’t know, but there will be a day when we can say we made it through, we survived . . . if we’re lucky. What people do now, today, will determine how many of us will be able to say that and in the interim, while your town and mine come to grips with today’s disconcerting reality, maybe now is the time for us to pause, as well, and reflect on what it means to both human and humane. Will we embrace the idea that we’re all in this together, or will we resort to blame or give into greed? The president is quick to blame China, quick to pull on that MAGA or USA baseball hat that says, Fuck the other guy. Certain US senators apparently used their knowledge of the coming global crisis to sell off stocks they knew would take a hit while reassuring the rest of us that the government was on it; that we would be okay. What kind of people do that? What kind of people are they?

    What kind of people are we? In this strange time of sadness and reflection, we have time to consider a lot of things–not only what we’ve lost, but what we might gain, what we can learn from this. There will be opportunities for us to help each other, time to reassess, make adjustments, redefine our priorities, help our fellow human beings but first, we need to get through this moment of uncertainty, tamp down the burgeoning panic because we’re in this for the long haul. If we’re lucky.


    1. Well, I’m hearing of/seeing a significant number of people–particularly those in states with low #s of cases so far–who are continuing to call this overblown, a hoax, “have to live my life,” etc, and the Wall St Journal published an opinion piece calling for economic health over the health of citizens, so while I’m trying to keep a lid on panic, I’m not feeling especially optimistic.

      We are the nation where the barefoot are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the rich & famous are getting tested even if they have mild to no symptoms while regular people who are sick are being told they don’t qualify for tests, wait it out, and we are the nation where elected members of Congress, on learning of the coming pandemic, sold stocks before the market tanked while publicly claiming this was all overblown, nothing to see here.

      Many ARE doing their part and their best, but without a unified vast majority effort and the backing of all of our governments (local and federal), it feels like we’re bailing water from the deck of the Titanic with a teaspoon.


  2. I know. It might end up being worst effing case. Which is why I’m fighting panic with the dang serenity prayer, while hoping I get rid of this respiratory stuff before that virus comes knocking on my door.

    Meanwhile, I’m grateful to have my husband here with me; grateful for those who, as you noted, are doing their best right now. And I’m grateful for the internet so I can keep in touch with family and friends which reminds me. . .

    Take good care, mrs fringe. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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