Monday, April 27, 2020

No fear

Our son just called. The Fire Department asked for volunteers for antibody testing, so he went and had his blood drawn, and will have the results in a few days. New York is doing a big push on antibody testing, to see just how deep into the population covid has spread, though of course, there are all sorts of qualifiers and uncertainties with the results, like if my son tests positive for antibodies, does it mean he had it and has recovered, or that he has it now, but is exhibiting no symptoms. He has definitely been exposed at the firehouse, working alongside firefighters who later tested positive, not to mention all the unknown encounters on medical calls in the field. I'm thankful he feels healthy, and pray he stays that way. He joked with us on the phone just now, as we kept him company on his drive home from work, that he would be climbing the walls if he'd had to be in quarantine for six weeks already and that he's actually glad he has a job that requires him to get out there and be active every day. He has no fear, really. He just gets it done. That's our boy in the photo, not yet two years old, kissing the sky when his dad threw him into the air from the ocean. I love that you can tell he isn't worried about falling. He knew his dad would catch him.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Fine. Usual.

For a some lucky people, the new corona virus has offered us a time out, a chance to reflect on what truly matters, and a gentle window of unstructured time with people we love. I am one of the fortunate ones, for sure. I am in a house with very congenial company, three people who don't bother each other very much, and whose paychecks are so far continuing. We disperse to different rooms of the house—we have a house that allows that—and we gather together at different points in the day, at lunch time, over dinner, occasionally to watch the news or a movie on TV.

We have all we need, as well as much that we want, an embarrassment of blessings compared to many. So what if my decade-old couches are more battered than ever from continuous use, with actual tears in the fabric now, and the cheap plywood frame giving way beneath. It is a trifle. My family remains healthy, including my son whom we have not seen in six weeks because he is on the front lines of the pandemic, and refuses to put us at risk. I sent him the usual text last night. "How are you doing, son?" He sent me back the usual reply. "Fine. Usual."

Also, my niece is in her room playing her cello again. She just finished a lively rendition of Hozier's "Take Me to Church" and has now launched into silk-smooth chords of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." If cello music wafting through my house doesn't describe a gentle quarantine, I'm not sure what does.

The story is a whole lot different for a swath of other folk, including some we don't often think about when we're giving out credit to nurses, doctors, first responders, food workers, teachers, bus drivers, and cleaning crews. We forget the gig workers in crowded warehouses fulfilling orders that aren't truly essential for people in gentle quarantine with the means to indulge their whims. Meanwhile, the titans of industry have made literally hundreds of billions since the pandemic began, while Trump's red-state henchmen in Congress bicker about giving stimulus checks that wont even cover a month of expenses to people who are risking their lives for our comfort. 

And let's not forget the president of these disunited states advising people to drink disinfectant to clean their lungs on national TV, we all heard him do it, like a child so absolutely taken with his brilliant idea, convinced he's solved the whole thing when medical experts couldn't, what a fucking idiot. And now they're trotting out stories to smear Joe Biden, and putting me in the unenviable position of saying I don't know if he did that thing or not, but I'm voting for him anyway, because I'd vote for a cabbage instead of the malevolent idiot currently in the White House, who just might be the worst and most howlingly empty human on earth. He's most definitely in contention.

I will turn my manuscript in to my subject and her agent in one week. And then I plan to binge watch something good or at least absorbing while they read and figure out their changes. My daughter suggested Little Fires Everywhere and Schitt's Creek. My son suggested The Outsider, based on a novel by Steven King. I also have the new seasons of Killing Eve, Homeland and Ozark to watch, although I already tried Ozark and turned it off. The violence was too unsettling for me in these strange times. I don't mind violence, usually, but this felt somehow gratuitous. In any case, I'd love to get drawn in by something new. Recommendations, anyone?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Another Tuesday

Almost every night for dinner, I make myself tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. This is my comfort food right now. I will likely associate tomato soup with this period of quarantine forever more. I feel strangely disconnected from myself, as if I can't tell what I am feeling. I'm going through the motions, diligently editing my manuscript and getting through the days, each one much like the one before. "Tuesday?" I said to my husband when I awoke this morning. "Yes," he confirmed.

I have a pesky cough, feels like allergies. My joints ache something fierce. Every night I survey my symptoms, wondering if I am getting sick, and then I wake the next morning, no worse than the day before. They say the curve of new Covid-19 cases in New York is flattening. Yet every day people are still dying alone in hospitals, their families able to say goodbye to them only through electronic devices arranged by merciful nurses. On the news at night, reporters interview the nurses. They sob through their words. They had no idea this sort of tragedy would become such an unrelenting part of their jobs. I worry for them. How changed will they be when all this is behind us? Which will be when exactly?

I'm not rushing anything, even though the idiot in the White House keeps inciting other idiots with assault rifles to storm their state capitols in protest of stay-at-home guidelines issued by his own administration. I'm doing my best to ignore him, listening instead to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's updates and taking it day by day. A British commentator, Nate White, wrote the best summation of Trump that I have seen anywhere—other than from Mary Moon, of course. My favorite line: "God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid."  

A lensman named Bruce Byers is doing a series on Instagram that he's calling "Heroes: Looking Into Their Tired Eyes." He's photographing people on the frontlines of the pandemic in our city. This weekend, he posted an image of my son. My daughter said, "His eyes look like he's smiling behind the mask." I looked into those eyes for a long time.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Happy birthday Roomie!

Our niece who's been living with us since she graduated college last summer, turned 23 yesterday. The three of us agree that our roommate situation works because none of us feels any need to entertain the others. It's all very free flowing and chill. My daughter and her boyfriend came over, and my girl made her cousin a cookies and cream birthday cake. The rest of us sipped on champange and orange juice mimosas all afternoon. We are mastering the art of celebration in quarantine, the five of us. The day felt quite festive. We Face Timed the birthday girl's mom, dad and sister in Orlando when we sang Happy Birthday. We'll need to take a picture of our Quarantine Five next time, probably on my birthday, which is next up.

Friday, April 17, 2020

City Harvest Telethon tonight

That's my girl on the right. She's with one of her team members in the days before social distancing. I love their twenty something joy. They're doing such good work right now.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

In the flux

My husband is at the dining room table making bird sounds. He's having a conversation with a Mourning Dove on the windowsill, making that breathy musical woo woo sound, the two of them whisper-whistling back and forth. Every morning he sits in that spot next to the window, his professorial wire rims perched on his nose, and logs onto the desktop of his computer at his museum. Long chains of numbers begin appearing in columns on a sheet of paper beside him, with each one eventually getting a small check mark, showing it has been properly entered into the Ichthyology collection database, a specimen identifier.

At some point he will take a break and do another Spanish lesson online. From my desk in the bedroom, where I sit editing my manuscript, I can hear him in the living room, saying words and phrases back to the virtual teacher. Later, he'll settle himself at the scarred butcher block counter, magnifying glasses with tiny spotlights replacing his drugstore-bought spectacles as he saws and cuts and sands and glues thin strips of wood in place. Some days he does none of that, and streams an animated Star Trek series instead. Or he might sit in his favorite chair for hours and read on his Kindle, before getting up to start dinner for us. Yesterday, he did something new. He wrote his will.

It freaked me out, even though we have been talking about the need for us to write a will for years. Yesterday, he registered with one of those legal sites and just did the thing. I felt the tears in my throat, but made myself appear calm. He was just being mature after all, which I also need to be. But then he said, "I want you to listen to me very carefully: If I get covid-19 and have to go the hospital, and they are talking about putting me on a ventilator, you need to let them know that is not my wish." He cited a statistic that 86 percent of people put on ventilators never make it off the machine alive. And those that do are left with severe physical deficits. I went to the bathroom and wept.

Here's a recent photo of my son, taken by his fiancee, who can always get that soft expression from him. I long to put my arms around this boy. He called to share that he'd tested negative for covid-19 a week ago, even though five guys in his firehouse were positive. Most of the ones who tested positive were showing no symptoms and so after a period of isolation they were asked to continue working, as the ranks of medical first responders are already so thinned. I expressed relief that he had tested negative, and he said with a shrug in his voice, "It means nothing. It's just a snapshot in time. I could test positive this week."

He pointed out that social distancing in a firehouse is impossible. "We cook together, clean together, sleep in the same room, and as soon as a call comes in, we're crammed knee to knee inside the cab of the fire truck." Not to mention his continuing exposure to covid cases on calls, which have tripled in the city, coming in at more than 6,500 a day. All the hospital beds are full of covid patients, and hardly anyone else, which means that every siren we hear screaming by is another corona virus patient in crisis.

In one month, more than 10,000 people have died in New York City. One month. We have begun to not only know people who have contracted the virus and mercifully recovered, we are starting to know people who are dying—a deacon at church, the father of a friend, the mother of another friend. On social media, and on 24/7 newscasts, the death announcements pile up. I feel on the verge of breaking down at every moment.

We did Easter Sunday with my daughter and her love, and it was a wonderful day, almost as if the new dystopian reality of streets empty but for ambulances and food delivery trucks wasn't really happening. There is a move to recognize grocery store workers and pharmacists and cleaning people as first responders, given that they are out there every day risking their lives to keep us safe and provisioned.

My daughter made a blueberry peach pie from those provisions, and the man made his famous mac and cheese and charred barbecue chicken, and I made my savory-sweet corn casserole. We ate very well indeed, and laughed and talked without masks, and generally shared germs, which is what you do when you have decided your two households will quarantine together. At the end of the night, we all put on our face coverings and went outside to the car, so my husband could drive my girl and her guy home. We press elevator buttons using keys now, and push open doors with our shoulders, and touch nothing with our hands if we can help it.

Out of the blue yesterday, I got a message from a photographer I once got lost with in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We were searching for a recluse for a photo essay we were doing on American hermits, and our car stalled out in a sand pit, with nothing around us but trees and more sand. We hiked out to the main road and flagged down a car, which turned out to be driven by a detective, who drove us to the nearest gas station where we found a tow truck operator who pulled out out of the sand. This photographer, Steve, was my age, both of us in our early twenties. He has six books on photography now, but back then he was working as a photographer's assistant, and we were simpatico. For a season before he moved away from the city, we were friends.

He lives with his wife and two grown children in Colorado now, where he teaches photography at an art and design college. "Sadly the virus has given us time," he said in his message. "I have been archiving my work and came across a photo of us that brought back a lot of good memories." He wanted to send it to me so he searched online and found me. "I felt very lucky to meet and work with you," he wrote. "You encouraged me to take more pictures of fathers and sons and I did and it became my first book." Is it okay that I have no memory of saying that?

I wrote him back right away, and he sent me this wonderful photo of us on assignment for LIFE magazine in 1982. On the left is Annie Leibovitz, who was the photographer on the story, and the two of us to her right. We were in Springfield, Illinois covering a massive ERA rally that was a last gasp effort to get enough states to ratify that gender equality legislation. As we all know that still hasn't happened, but I'm grateful to have this image, and our memories of being in the flux and drama of history trying to be made.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

True Colors

I've watched this video that Sabine posted about ten times already this morning. This is where I put everything I don't want to lose track of, so here you go. If you decide to listen, click and make it big. I hope it gives you beautiful chills. I miss the blending of voices in my own choir, which we had to suspend in early March. Perhaps we can figure out how to make music together like this in the meanwhile.

The woman I usually sit beside in choir, not the one who had a cold and tested negative, but the woman who sits on my other side, my neighbor with whom I share a cab to and from rehearsals, has been down with covid-19 for the past three weeks. I learned this two days ago, when I texted her, thinking that we had been uncharacteristically silent with one another. Her husband called me back and told me what was going on. He thinks he gave it to her, because he was sick with what he thought was a knock-your-socks-off flu in late February, and despite taking care of my friend, he hasn't been sick since. Her fever and blinding headaches wouldn't break for two weeks and she couldn't sleep from coughing so hard all night.

Her primary care doctor finally told her to come in and get tested. Her breathing wasn't constricted, thank God, so he sent her back home. Her test came back positive a few days later. She's had a terrible time of it, but her husband says she's finally on the mend. I last saw her on March 2, when we chatted and laughed uproariously, as we do, on the way home in our Lyft car. She was definitely contagious then, but had no idea. If I was going to get sick myself, I would likely have shown symptoms by now, right? I still wonder if my cold, or maybe it was allergies, might actually have been covid, as the timing would have been about right if she infected me. My family thinks I'm a little nuts, and that what I had was a garden variety cold. I still imagine symptoms sometimes, a scratchy throat when the windows are open and the pollen from the trees at our window floats in.

We got a new vacuum cleaner as the old one was worthless. My niece just set it up and is using it now.  You should see how much stuff it picked up from the living room area rug. It's a little terrifying actually. Still, this counts as big excitement around here. Tomorrow is Easter. My daughter and her love are coming over to spend it with us, as we had decided that our two households will quarantine together. Truth is, I can’t wait to see them, though I'm a little nervous that we're playing loose with the rules. Don't judge me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

We are well, I hope

Thank you, friends, for you concern for my girl. She woke up still with a headache this morning, but as the day wore on she felt better. "You need to relax, woman," she texted me after my umpteenth call. "People get headaches." She worked today regardless, and her team at the nonprofit has now raised $16-million for people in the city who are food insecure, a number that grows exponentially day by day, as more and more companies let people go. My son's fiancee has been laid off, and the two of them have put a pin in their wedding plans. "Maybe we'll go to City Hall one day and have a party after," he said. He wasn't entirely joking. Meanwhile, two of his friends whose weddings are this year have postponed their ceremonies. My son and his love got refunds on their plane tickets, then rebooked for the later dates at a third of the previous cost.

I actually got myself all the way dressed this afternoon, as I have two Zoom meetings back to back tonight, one at 6 pm, the other at 7:30 pm, neither of them with people who are my family or close friends, so they wouldn't understand the wild woman look my husband and niece have been treated to these past few days. The first meeting is with my wellness group, which our corona quarantine has shot to hell, and the other is the Tenant Selection Committee for my complex, for which I am a board member. I'm curious to see how we will interview prospective tenants over Zoom tonight, but I thought I should at least try to look a bit respectable doing it.

There is so much bad news everyday in this city right now, and life feels so incredibly fragile. But my son is okay. And more than a hundred firefighters and medics who came down with covid and were out sick have now recovered and came back to work this week, so that's heartening. My son continues to work shift after shift, night and day. It's hard to not see him, and my daughter too, and their loves, who we also now love, but this, too will pass.

I don't have much to say, I'm a little shut down to tell the truth. Just know, the horrific numbers of covid deaths coming out of my city are vastly under reported, as only those who die in the hospitals are being counted, and almost as many are dying at home, for an estimated total of 450 deaths in New York City daily. And as I told a friend in another state this morning, no regular person can get a test to learn his or her covid status. Only those in a scary enough condition to have to go to the hospital are being tested now. The rest of us just watch for symptoms.

As for the pictures, you know, I still see my grown children this way. I still want to wrap them up safely away from the world so nothing can harm them. Please hold a good thought for us, and I will for you, too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

My heart

My heart can't take it, hearing that either of my children isn't feeling well. Tonight my daughter shared that she felt sick, headache, nausea, fogginess, but no fever. She took to her bed. She thought what she ate for lunch didn't agree with her. She says she's feeling a bit better now, but you know I will not sleep tonight. I will be awake all night praying that whatever touched her today, will have well and truly passed on through. I feel numb, just trying to get through the hours. Staying inside, praying everyone stays well. Of course the first thing I wanted to do when my child told me she wasn't feeling well was to go to her. It was visceral, the desire to hold and take care of her. I'm sorry I've been absent in comments on your blogs. I am reading but have no concentration to comment right now. My heart is in my throat tonight. It's going to be a long one. Here's a picture.  I'm holding her.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Social distancing

After two weeks inside, my husband and my niece ventured out the the supermarket yesterday, wearing homemade face coverings and plastic gloves. This morning, my niece shared how you can make a no-sew face mask with a bandana and two hair ties. There is now some debate, however, about whether these homemade masks serve any purpose at all. At least it helps us keep hands away from our faces.

An ER nurse on my TV screen was telling a reporter that when family members or friends bring desperately ill loved ones to the hospital, knowing they won't be allowed past the door with the patient, there is a moment before they take their leave of each other when they exchange a particular look, wondering if they will ever see each other again. It is this look, the nurse said, that guts her.

In state after state, governors are seeing their orders for ventilators and other medical equipment evaporate as higher bidders swoop in. Often, that bidder is the federal government, which then warehouses the purloined supplies, never distributing them to states in desperate need. In fact, yesterday the president's son-in-law said that the federal medical stockpile isn't for our use. "The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile,” he said. “It's not supposed to be states stockpile that they then use." Who, I wonder, is the "our" in this statement? Last night, the hashtag #KushnerIsAnIdiot was trending on Twitter.

Every evening at 7:00 in our city, you can hear the sounds of applause and cheers and air horns out the windows of apartment buildings, as quarantined people send their thanks to the first responders who are changing shifts. These heroes are risking their lives to save ours.

My friend’s housemate, an ER doctor at Weill Cornell, came down with symptoms. She moved into another friend’s empty Airbnb to wait out the illness. She told my friend that if she gets sick to go to her hospital, so she can possibly assist her care. She also told her that if she ends up at a different hospital, she’s not to let the hospital staff start an IV for fluids on her, as the medical staff at Weill Cornell has been finding it worsens the fluid in the lungs. She noted that their hospital has had one covid death while a hospital five blocks away has had 63. She was making the point that the day to day learning isn’t necessarily being communicated widely enough. I have no science to back up this IV fluids claim. I’m just sharing this here in case you ever need to ask the question.

There is also some suggestion that ibuprofen (Advil) should not be taken with covid, as it appears to interact with ACE inhibitors in a way that worsens symptoms. This has not been definitively proven, but to bring down fevers, probably safer to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead.

In truth, though I worry non-stop about my son, my little household is having a gentle quarantine experience compared to some. I'm grateful, and may it continue to be so. America seems to be having a worse time with the new corona virus than other hard hit countries, though, and this is completely the result of a staggering failure of leadership on the part of the federal government. Why hasn’t the president invoked the Defense Production Act in this crisis? He’s reportedly invoked it hundreds of times for capitalist pursuits so why not to save the lives of the American people?

Also, I finished a complete draft of my book yesterday, 92,730 words. Now I begin again with the editing. Meanwhile, my husband is making progress with his sailing ship. I love the red glitter hearts around his head in the picture. Which is to say, I love him.