“If you’re going through Hell, keep going,” Winston Churchill supposedly said.
For sure, we took that advice in New York. Some of us stayed here but kept going, grinding away in what now is recalled as an exhausting attempt to keep some shreds of the familiar life in the Great City close. But as a friend who left, returned for a few days recently but left again said, “Lou, I could not stay. It’s too heartbreaking.” Many left town to flee far away from what appeared to be Hell. The Epicenter is either the worst place to be or, for some, the only place to be. It depends on your core and your love of your town. You can leave it and still love it. I understand. I just have a hard time grasping or respecting it.
When this Pandemic ends and how it ends, no one really knows. That much is clear. The math and science are best when looking at data and facts we can confirm and measure for those of us still here. If the “RT” (rate of transmission) score goes to 1.1 again, meaning that for every person infected, there will be a geometric progression of disease, Hell will return. Next time, it will demand a bigger payday. New York’s occupied hospital beds’ rate must also remain below 70% usage, or another surge could leave us like Italy, where people died on gurneys, having never seen an ER doctor. Bin-Laden did not have a second punch. COVID might.
But on this incredibly beautiful mid-May afternoon, my neighborhood almost seems normal again. Shops are opening their doors to air out their insides. Starbucks on East 66th is selling take-out coffee again. Streets are swelling, but there are hints that not all is altogether well. Long, socially well-distanced lines creep down the avenue outside the CityMD center where tests are being administered. (Yes, we have plenty of tests available now. We will soon post a “No Place BUT Home” video with David Liss of BioReference Labs, who will explain this further.) There are “For Sale” signs – in surprisingly large numbers - in front of many of the elegant, multi-million dollar townhouses that are nestled nicely on the Upper East Side. Many of the super-rich, it seems, seem to think the Epicenter might not be their cup of tea any more.
“For every gumdrop there is a toothache,” author John Updike once said, basically describing life. Maybe that is too tame an analogy for an experience like living through a Pandemic. When I went to bed last night, American news reported that 86,676 of my countrymen were dead. 3.6 million people had filed for unemployment assistance a few days before, including my wife. The 50% of the population that could not survive a $400 emergency expense had the emergency. (Many are doing essential work.) A government which spent nearly US$700 billion on military defense last year had no plan for de-engineering a $17-trillion-dollar economy over a six-week period but was talking about abolishing the Postal Service. We just pulled the plug, and the sparks flew.
We nearly all flamed.
But the Epicenter held. “As Ohio goes so goes the nation,” they say in the USA. It is true in many ways. But if New York ever goes, you can finish the sentence the same way.
New York somehow is pulling itself back. Today we learned that four regions in the State of New York, including the region where I was born and where my grandfather who died in the last Pandemic is buried, have passed the seven (!) necessary benchmarks to reopen. My relatives in three of those regions say they will go back to work and pick through the loosely re-plugged economy to see what the embers left.
Here in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the other boroughs, we are waiting for numbers to go further down. They are. Fewer new hospitalizations, fewer intubations, fewer sirens blaring and fewer daily deaths are haunting us now. Yesterday, the horrific daily death count reached its lowest number (106) since the beginning of The Beast’s lurch.
We mostly all subscribe to the theory that masks save lives and for the most part everyone wears theirs. Those who do not are given The Look and a New York blessing, which tumbles out of our mouths in the form of a question: “Forget your mask, asshole!?”
Hey, this is still New York. And we are feeling it again.
After 8 long weeks of slowly moving in a spatial pattern that was way out of step for us, cars rush dangerously across intersections to beat the light and horns honk impatiently.
How sweet the sound.
There is a long way to go. I suspect two years. Yet rumors of vaccines coming from NYU/Langone and elsewhere continue to lift markets and hopes of people eager to not be as heartbroken as my friend. But I wonder. My research tells me there will not be one very soon. The scientists nearly all guarantee a dark October.
One thing I have not been wondering about much is why I chose to stay at the Epicenter through this hellish time. I have always had what friends, many of whom have moved far and often, claim is an endearing characteristic, which is a near irrational affinity for New York.
Call it what you want. I happen to like New York.
I think fellow neighbor and New Yorker (and member of my now closed gym), filmmaker Spike Lee said it best for me the other night on TV: “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is THE Epicenter. No matter what.” The word “Epicenter” was spoken like a Purple Heart. Wear it.
Our form of exercise these days is an anxious walk around the neighborhood, but our therapy is our work. You are reading and seeing mine here.
Spike Lee’s therapy and work looks like this:
Honk if you love it. #alonetogether #epicenter @Newcommunities
Other “No Place BUT Home” Blog Posts:
- Part 1: Socially Distanced but Spiritually Connected – March 24, 2020
- Part 2: The Blitz – April 1, 2020
- Part 3: Six Feet – April 6, 2020
- Part 4: Dying Like Grandpa – April 13, 2020
- Part 5: “. . . And This is a Long Day.” – April 23, 2020
- Part 6: The Tunnel at the End of the Light – May 5, 2020
- Part 8: Heroine’s Walk – June 3, 2020
- Part 9: The Boards of Madison Avenue – July 21, 2020