Friday, December 25, 2020

Stayin' Alive

On Christmas Eve, I went to the laundromat as they’re closed the following two days. It was surprisingly under-populated. The last chapter of my New York book regards this laundromat, and the wonderful dog of the owners, Yagi. Yagi's been missing in action since the virus started in March, the owners wisely finding it better to leave him at home to prevent people touching him in public. A stuffed toy dog sits in the display window where Yagi is often found dozing between his favorite customers.

It was surprisingly under-populated. The owner had a boombox he sometimes plays when the TV isn’t on behind the counter of his change station. It was playing “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees.

“Man, that’s the song of the year,” I said to the owner. He laughed.

“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense!”

We’re all just stayin’ alive. Well, not all of us: 326,000 of us and counting aren’t staying alive. We’re averaging about 2,600 people per day whose EKG’s are flatlining on the Bee Gees’ pulsing beat. Over 18 million people and counting have had this thing in one form or another, probably a few million of them who’ve had their health severely damaged or ruined.

And still I’m seeing people walking around NYC without masks daily! The past week has been especially trying, post-blizzard, with the streets even more cramped from unshoveled sidewalks and banks of snow from ploughs and car owners shoveling out.  Thankfully, it’s been above freezing all week, and a horrifying squall that lasted all night on Christmas Eve wiped out all but the largest banks. The old “walking in the street” trick to avoid the assholes hadn't been working with a three-foot wall of snow on the street side of parked cars. Those dreaming of a white Christmas settled for a wet Christmas, and ultimately that’s good news.

We’re on the cusp of the worst stage of the virus, during one of the worst health crises the world has faced in years. The president is spending all his time either golfing or on Twitter rallying morons (and taking their money) for his lost cause of overturning an election he fairly and decisively lost. I guess there’s never been a better time to toy with fascism? Did you ever think this would happen in our country, in our lifetime? If someone had told you four years ago how all this was going to play out, would you have laughed at the person and considered him insane? Which part: that the president would brazenly attempt to destroy democracy and our electoral system, or that he would address the challenge of conquering a deadly pandemic by indulging in pathetic, self-absorbed social-media outbursts?

Who needs Joseph Goebbels when we have Twitter?

Last December, I wrote about missing Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania due to grand jury duty in Queens. That seems like a gilded age of innocence and a lifetime ago. This year, I missed it again and am missing Christmas due to the virus, and all the odd and troubling travel issues accompanying this level of the outbreak. Sure, I could hop on a bus if I want and go. But the Covid rates in PA lately are worse than what we had in NYC in April when 700 people were dying per day. I would imagine that with the general population more spread out there, and hospitals more well-versed in how to treat this thing, the death toll won’t be quite as staggering. But the past few months, we’ve seen what happens when entire swaths of the country pretend this thing isn’t real, so that what happened in NYC in April has happened or is happening almost everywhere in the country. When it should have been stopped in its tracks shortly thereafter, or at least kept to a minimum, as most sane countries have done. Live free or die? These days, it’s live free and die.

It's been a strange, unsettling year for everyone. If you are working, you’re either at home, realizing this “work from home” thing kind of blows (after fantasizing for years that it would be paradise), or at a job requiring bodies, like hospitals, retail, restaurants or shipping warehouses, and sweating bullets if you have underlying medical conditions, or live with someone who does. Or there are those of us who haven’t worked much of the year! This has been mindblowing for me, but at least not financially devastating as it has been for millions. (All those Depression-era lectures from my parents must have worked, because I’ve been spending money like Ebenezer Scrooge this year.) I’ve made the best of it, with my Supermax back-patio calisthenics workout. One good thing I pulled from all this: you don’t need a gym to stay in good physical condition. But I surely do miss the social aspect of gyms, a cornerstone of my social life in Manhattan. We’re all missing cornerstones that have us feeling like the building is about to come down.

Walking every day, regardless of the weather, has helped. Of course, walking exposes me to assholes. (Sorry to sound like a broken record. 2020 has been a broken record, with the needle stuck in the groove of death.) The whole mask thing has revealed a wide swath of society, mostly teenage to early middle-aged males, to be either sociopaths or so pathologically irresponsible that they should be barred from the general public. Most people I encounter on any given day are playing by the rules, in tune and empathetic. Why is it that the relatively small number of people who aren’t any of these things bothers me so? I would answer that I can normally handle stupidity, but not when it has a body count. It’s deeply offensive and so unaligned with the core values of what makes America great that it deserves to be driven home repeatedly. I’ll start having real problems when I come across these assholes and don’t feel this flicker of rage. Our maskless days are months away, I would guess late summer or next fall, so there’s plenty more time to work through this. I’m being too generous with people who have lost this thread of humanity and wonder if they even had it before the virus so clearly exposed them.

But that’s much of what 2020 has been about! That peculiar balance between hope and despair. The need to be around people, even when doing so might end up killing you, or you might end up killing them. We’re getting rid of a maniac, which is great news. But as we watch him hijack Airforce One to Fantasy Island, it’s been deeply disturbing to watch a startling majority of a political party, and millions of fellow Americans, go there with him. As I’ve learned working so many years in Manhattan offices, it never pays to go there with someone in a position of power. Sooner or later, you either embrace that insanity or walk away. Here’s hoping most people are sane enough to choose the latter.

So, let’s do that, walk away from 2020, slowly and quietly, so that it doesn’t hear us leaving. Face forward. Don’t turn you back. Don’t make eye contact. No sudden motions. Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out. If 2020 lunges towards you, turn tail and haul ass. Hopefully, you’ll find a climbable tree and get far enough up it that it doesn’t sink its gnarled fangs into your flank. History will note this as one of mankind’s worst years, and be brutally honest and unforgiving with so many people who just can’t grasp that now (and probably never will). Given the Twilight Zone episode so many of us are living in, I’ll do my part to take the road more traveled, you know, sanity. It’s the only way out.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Pennsylvania, Again

People went nuts in NYC on Saturday, right after the larger media outlets made the call for Joe Biden as president. I had been planning on taking a nice, long walk around Central Park but decided Monday would work just as well. The jubilant crowds didn’t appear to be out of control but in a giddy, low-grade party mode. This song was playing in my head all morning.

It wasn’t lost on me that I was running into just as many maskless dildos on the street, with the virus preparing to shift into overdrive most places in the country (but not here, yet). I find it hard to feel ecstatic knowing the hammer is getting ready to fall, and I suspect will be worsened by Trump being a sore loser over the next 10 weeks. I must admit, it was a pleasure watching him burst into the nightly news on Thursday to bitch and moan like a hurt teenager on Twitter. It was like watching a broken old man, convinced he was going to hell, fart and shit his death bed so hard that mourners in the room were vomiting and wailing from the profound stench and unbridled despair. But that impish fever dream has been tempered with the possibility of what damage he’s planning on the way out.

Once again, Pennsylvania played a key swing-state role in the election, this time the deciding state with its large volume of mail-in ballots to count after election day. Like many Americans, I was despondent watching Trump take a sizable lead in my home state on Tuesday night and went to bed thinking the country was doomed. But it became obvious over the next two days that so many Democrats, being sensible during a pandemic, mailed in their ballots, particularly in and around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, thus there was a massive number of ballots yet to be counted, skewing heavily in Biden’s favor. The last four days have been like watching a flower slowly bloom with the realization that Biden was going to take the state with ease.

One thing I’ve noticed with liberal musings is the concept of “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh saving the state” for a Democratic presidential victory. Not true. They were the last voting precincts tabulated due to the massive number of ballots to be counted. But they didn’t “save” the state. It’s always expected that they will skew heavily towards the Democrats, along with a few other key “blue” counties. I suspect not much has changed since 2016 in terms of counties taken by their respective Republican/Democrat candidates.

The issue is the state’s final vote tally is not an electoral college. Each vote cast feeds into the overall state tally, regardless of which way a particular county skews. Those blue counties will probably go on being blue due to their economics, colleges, industry, population centers, etc. It’s my take, and probably not a popular one, that the state was won for Biden in the red counties with their smaller, less-diverse populations.

How? Take a look at the simple statistics I came up with, based on numbers pulled from the Pennsylvania state voting chart that shows votes by county. (These numbers surely aren’t final tallies, but close enough to make my point. If you click on each state, voting by county numbers appear.)


Pennsylvania has 67 counties. Of them, 13 ended up as “blue counties” in terms of voting for Biden, thus Trump took the remaining 54 counties (and usually by a sizable number). I listed each “blue county” and its vote tally, added all of them up to derive a “blue county” total. I compared this to Biden’s overall vote tally for the state, subtracting the “blue county” vote to determine how many votes for Biden were cast in the “red counties.”

Once I had those numbers, I noted Trump’s overall tally in Pennsylvania. I then show what happens when you add Biden’s “red county” votes to Trump’s overall tally and subtract them from Biden’s overall tally. If this voting scenario had played out, Trump would have taken Pennsylvania by roughly 2 million votes: a landslide.

To extrapolate even further, I determined the minimum number of votes Trump would have needed to take from Biden to win Pennsylvania by subtracting his total vote count from Biden’s and adding one vote (41,224). Breaking that number out by county (dividing by 67), I found that if Trump had won 615 more votes in each county, he would have won the state. If that’s not a realistic proposition I broke out the 41,224 by only red counties (dividing by 54 instead) and found that if Trump had won 763 more votes in each of those red counties, he would have won the state.

It’s an over-simplification that I’m showing for a reason. Most liberal pundits over-simplify Pennsylvania to the extent that there’s “nothing” between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I’ve seen this land area compared unfavorably to rural Alabama. A nowhere place filled with angry, uneducated, working-class white people no sane person would want to live around. Yes, there are people like this there, but bad news, I got people like that living on my block in Queens. In one form or another, they’re everywhere, and very often they’re not white, or working-class.

Two major facts become apparent here:

  • Just under half of Biden’s PA votes came from far less populated “red” counties

  • If a vast majority of the Biden votes from those “red” counties went to Trump, PA would have been a landslide in Trump’s favor

In other words, it’s not accurate to portray rural Pennsylvania as a wasteland of any sorts. Anyone who understands the whole state knows this, but it seems like an ongoing liberal trope to paint Pennsylvania with this broad political brush. Doing so is detrimental to the Democratic party, and as we saw in 2016, can swing an entire election away from them. Yet, liberals will go on seeing not just this state, but all rural areas in America this way.

It’s not reality, nor a very intelligent point of view, held by people who see themselves as intelligent, probably are in many ways, but have this perverse blind spot that will go on tanking elections in Republicans’ favor (if not this one).

I remember when Jeff Bezos launched his campaign to find two new campus headquarters in America for Amazon’s rapidly expanding empire. Municipalities all over the country submitted their plans, with tax cuts galore and all sorts of enticing propositions to sweeten the pot for Amazon to choose them. Tens of thousands of high-paying jobs would be drawn to an area, changing it in numerous positive ways, mainly financially, higher tax base, more educated employment pool, increased residential values, etc.

What does Amazon do? As one of their picks, it chooses Long Island City, New York, just across the East River from Manhattan, a neighborhood that has gone from a sleepy, under-privileged warehouse and taxi-cab dispatch district to Blade Runner-style skyscrapers in the past 20 years. Never mind that city planners warned this would dangerously strain the neighborhood’s resources, make living there impossible for working- and middle-class residents in terms of inflated rents and real-estate values, and place serious stress on an already over-burdened public transportation system.

Amazon received so much flak from local politicians that they hedged on their plans. They simply spread out their planned expansion among already-existing locations (and the other location chosen in Crystal City, Virginia), including two Manhattan offices.

I gather Jeff Bezos, like most tech leaders, is a liberal. He didn’t buy The Washington Post for kicks. I was left wondering why he wouldn’t choose places like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg or Allentown/Easton in Pennsylvania for expansion. All these areas already have reasonable business/industrial centers, are close to both New York City and Philadelphia to attract talent and, most importantly, are located in a state that routinely plays a crucial role in national elections. A tech-based corporation with tens of thousands of new employees would draw a liberal-leaning work force, and most likely attract other like-minded tech businesses to do the same. It might not seem like much, but national elections are often coming down to less than 10,000 votes in states like Pennsylvania due to its electoral-college strength. If not Pennsylvania, then Wisconsin, or Michigan, or North Carolina. Until liberal-minded business leaders start seeing rural America this way, “rust belt” states will go on deciding national elections, sometimes in unpleasant ways to liberals that make them sound like Archie Bunker in reverse.

Pennsylvania is not as clear-cut as it seems, something I know from growing up there. My parents were working-class, FDR-era Democrats, not necessarily liberals. They raised us with that same FDR “can do” sense of democracy, values learned in a depression, tempered by war, banding together for a larger cause. Mom was fretting Vietnam carrying on long enough so her sons might get drafted, which had her righteously angry (but the war luckily petered out before any of us were old enough). I still recall my parents receiving gentle ribbing from neighbors for being “liberals” for voting for Jimmy Carter. I guess we were liberal in some small respect, but far from leftists and comfortable with Republican friends. You had to be in rural Pennsylvania. Politics didn’t mean that much to us as kids and rarely was an issue.

By the same token, I recall Mom’s fury at Clinton for pushing NAFTA and her voting for Bob Dole. I’m certain both Mom and Dad voted for Reagan the first time (but not the second). Or the times she voted for in-state Republicans for governor, senator, state or local representative, etc. She emphasized voting for the person over the party, which usually panned out to the Democrats, but you can’t live in rural Pennsylvania without running into relatively decent and sane Republican candidates along the way.

I’ve always respected that open sense of give and take. It’s why rural Pennsylvania presents such a problem to a political world senselessly gravitating towards dogma and extremes. I don’t doubt a small but crucial number of rural Republicans got into the voting booth, quietly marked the box for Biden, then filled out the rest of the ballot straight Republican.

The hardest part of this presidential election for me has been wondering why anyone would vote for Trump, much less nearly half the voting populace. His past nine months have been a pathological attempt to damage and destroy key institutions in our society (like the postal service, Social Security via payroll tax deferment, the CDC during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the integrity of our election process) and have included criminal indifference to a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and severely damaged the health of millions more. Before this, my attitude towards Trump was laissez faire – didn’t like him but often found myself bored whenever a liberal friend would go on a passionate anti-Trump tirade. After the virus, I found myself thinking that if Hitler and a chimp were running against Trump in a presidential election, that I would dye my hair blonde, brush up on my German and start hoarding bananas.

But now it’s over, thankfully. To anyone I know who voted for Trump, I don’t know what you were thinking, nor do I want to. He surely did drain the swamp. And replaced it with a sewage treatment plant that didn’t work and left us up to our necks in his shit. It was a moral imperative that he lose this election, and I’m glad my home state turned a corner on Thursday morning and slowly hammered in the last nail. If you don’t want a place like Pennsylvania making this sort of decision for an entire nation, then you should understand why it does, and will continue to do so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Noise Complaint

It’s clear to me: the NYC area is going to get hammered by the Covid virus again. There are just too many people out there pretending this thing isn’t real for it not to happen. After all this time, if you’re still pretending this thing isn’t real, there’s something really wrong with you. Whether it’s a profound disconnect from reality, some deep-seated prickishness or rank stupidity, I have no idea. These days, I’m going with “D. All of the Above.”

Something strange happened on Sunday with the schoolyard next door. I’ve written about it before a few times: a place of never-ending adolescence, be it actual adolescents, or grown men who never moved on to that next phase in life. Sunday was the first time I phoned in a noise complaint to 311 – after living here 34 years. I finally had it to the point where I wanted authorities involved.

I’ve even written about the Mexican soccer league back in 2010, roughly when they first started showing up at the schoolyard every Sunday. They’ve been a fixture since, save when temperatures sink into the 40s in winter. They have their own uniforms, their own refs, their own nets. They store the metal frames for their nets on the very edge of the landlord’s property. As the metal poles are wedged flat against a cement wall, it’s really not a problem. I’m surprised these things never get stolen.

They weren’t the first group to take over the schoolyard on Sundays. For a few years in the early 00s, there was a street hockey league that drove in from farther out on Long Island to use the schoolyard for 2-3 hours every fall. They were obnoxious. Loud, white, deeply suburban, acting like they owned the neighborhood and the people who lived here were irritating aberrations. How they got wind of the open space, I have no clue. Everyone in the neighborhood was relieved when they inexplicably stopped showing up one fall. Of course, within a year or two, the Mexican soccer league slowly eased into that space and made it their own on Sundays. Not just for a few hours, but all day.

Until recently, they weren’t coming in such large numbers. As the Covid restrictions came into play in mid-March, they had yet to start up playing soccer full-on again. They were surely not around in March or April. If they had shown up, they wouldn’t have been able to get in. The third week in March, the mayor ordered parks closed. Thus, extra chain-link fencing was wired into place covering the entrance of the park, and the basketball rims were taken off the backboards. This provided a good laugh to people in the neighborhood as doing so might have put out a dozen kids in the neighborhood who use the schoolyard for basketball (as opposed to the dozens of men in the Mexican soccer league). The fencing stayed in place until the first week of May when one day, it simply wasn’t there anymore.

The soccer league showed up shortly thereafter, long before the Covid restrictions were lifted in early June, i.e., in clear violation of the city’s law prohibiting public gatherings. In early June, a new limit for social gatherings was set at 10 people; the soccer league showed up with dozens of players. No one stopped them. I was not happy that they were showing up and playing but didn’t want to be “the bad guy” to bust them.

When they came back, it was just the guys playing and waiting to play. Over the past few months, things have eased back to normal, i.e., by early Sunday afternoon, there are anywhere from 150 to 200 people in that schoolyard. The players aren’t wearing masks. Some of the spectators are; most aren’t. No one is social distancing. To give you an idea of the size of the schoolyard, it contains one basketball court and about half of one football field.

As before, children are relieving themselves in the small patch of woods that run between the park and the row of houses with their backyards to the park. The park contains no public restrooms; it wasn’t built for gatherings this large. None of the parks around here are; you need to go down by the East River to Astoria Park to find that. These parks were built to serve local kids to walk to and play sports or games for an hour or two, then walk home. Not to host large all-day events requiring parking and sanitation facilities.

This isn’t a hard-edged crowd. There are a lot of wives and kids showing up, an afternoon out for the family, to watch Dad vainly try to prolong his adolescence. I think for this reason, people tend not to give them a hard time. None of them appear to live around here and are clearly driving in from other parts of the city and suburbs. By 10 a.m. on Sunday, cars are double parked all up and down the street in front of the park, for hours. I know there has been friction in the past with locals trying to get their cars out. As I don’t have a car, this hasn’t been an issue with me. If you’re the kind of person who likes to use his car on Sunday, as most people do, chances are you will be parking blocks from your home when you get back. (In all fairness, the neighborhood has gone insane with parking. It’s nearly impossible to park on Ditmars Boulevard, the main drag in the neighborhood, with all the restaurants taking dozens of parking spaces for their outdoor seating.)

The only problem I’ve had with the league is that some of the more moronic players will leave their garbage behind in the gutter on the sidewalk I’m responsible for cleaning: empty Corona cans and bottles, food bags and wrappers, the occasional used diaper. Honestly? Given the mass of people passing through here any given Sunday, the amount of garbage left behind is minimal. In their infinite wisdom, the sanitation department decided to take away the lone garbage can situated at the park entrance. These people are producing far more garbage than can be contained in one garbage can, and it’s usually piled up there in mounds of black garbage bags on Monday morning. (I assume they’re bringing their own bags.) The city and sanitation department appear to be oblivious of what goes on here on Sundays, despite a sanitation department truck routinely driving by the park in the afternoon.

What I’m detailing for you here is that while the Mexican soccer league on Sundays is a pain in the ass, it normally isn't that much of a problem. Do I wish they’d go somewhere else? Sure, everyone who lives around here does, especially if they own a car. It’s too many people crammed together in too small a space, in a park that was in no way designed to deal with this many people for that length of time. If you have plans on using the park with your kids on Sunday? Forget it – isn’t going to happen. While the park was created as an open space for locals to use for recreation, there are no locals there on Sunday.

This past Sunday, there was a new twist. Around 10:00 a.m., I noticed a man’s voice booming from a sound system, in Spanish, coming from the park, along with some very loud music, some type of Latin pop with heavy bass. Someone had clearly set up a small P.A. system with a microphone, and this guy was carrying on about every 2-5 minutes. He sounded like a party D.J. I’ve lived here since 1999 and had never heard anything like this before. This was loud. Living in a basement apartment, I wasn’t getting the full brunt. When I went up to the landlord’s apartment, I couldn’t believe how loud this was. You couldn’t carry on a normal conversation without hearing this guy’s voice louder than the person speaking in the room. Coming back from the supermarket later in the day, I could clearly hear him from the other side of the public school about 300 yards away.

That’s when I called 311 to file a noise complaint. Frankly, I was pissed. Sunday morning? This disruptive level of noise? Along with the routine nonsense people around here tolerate with the schoolyard? No. Enough. Rule #1 of assholery in New York City: if you let people get away with questionable behavior once, they will take the lack of opposition as silent consent and keep doing it.

The police didn’t respond for hours, which made sense. Noise complaints must be last on their list of things to do on any given shift. Eventually, the cop who got me on my phone told me he was in front of the park, and these people had the right to be in the park until 10:00 p.m. that night. (He was wrong. The sign on the front of the park clearly states no one is permitted in the park after 9:00 p.m.)

He was looking at a street lined with at least 20 double-parked cars, from one end of the block to the other. He was also looking at a gathering of 200+ people in a cramped schoolyard, with many of those people not masked and none of them socially distanced. (If I’m not mistaken, the current law in New York City is that public gatherings of up to 50 are allowed. What’s going on every Sunday in the schoolyard is clearly illegal, but I’ve routinely seen gatherings this large, mostly informal sporting events in Astoria Park, over the past few months with no police intervention.) If I was a cop, I’d understand immediately that everything I was looking at before responding to a relatively minor noise complaint was wrong here.

Now, I would also gather the cops have fielded many complaints over the Sunday Mexican soccer league in the schoolyard in the past, be it parking, or what have you. I know an elderly Italian woman who lived across the street and died a few years ago, was out of her mind that kids were pissing and shitting in the woods by the park. (She would tell me as much whenever she accosted me while I was sweeping the sidewalk.) The cops want to avoid a hassle. I understand them not busting people double-parking, or they’d be doing that alone the rest of the afternoon. Breaking up a public gathering of that size would be difficult. If they were dedicated police officers, they would do something about it. But given the last few months of protests and such, most cops aren’t going to be that diligent. For all I know, they might be instructed not to disturb large gatherings like this.

What the cop said next startled me: “Buddy, this really isn’t that loud.”

This was while the guy on the P.A. system was blasting away. I could barely hear the cop speaking on the phone with the background noise. To not think this was loud, you would have to live between an airport and a drag racing track. He reiterated, “These people have every right …”

I cut him off: “I’m not debating their right to be in the park. But someone operating a P.A. system in a public park surrounded by residential housing is something I’ve never heard living here over 20 years. This can’t be legal?”

He paused, asked his partner a question, then came back: “Yes, it is.”

The sign by the entrance to the park states clearly that there is no “loud music” playing allowed, a rule which is broken daily. This was way beyond that, a man with a P.A. system shouting at the neighborhood for hours and blocks around the park, with music blasting behind him. At this point, I figured, “This cop just doesn’t want to deal with this.”

He finally sighed and said, “Look, we’ll tell him to turn it down, but understand these people have the right to be in the park …”

His insistence on repeating that line let me know this was far from the first time he was dealing with complaints about the park. It also let me know that whatever residual guilt I was feeling over filing the complaint was for naught – the soccer league wasn’t going anywhere. While I wasn’t calling to complain about a violation of the city’s pandemic laws, he let me know even if I had, there was no way he was going to enforce those laws. When a cop tells you a clearly illegal gathering is legal, the best thing to do is quietly concede the point. Because there is a disconnect with reality that makes no sense.

To his credit, he did what he was asked to do. Minutes later, there was no more guy carrying on through a P.A. system. He didn’t just turn it down – he shut it off, for which I was grateful. That said, I still heard people carrying on in the park from around 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, purposely making too much noise to be defiant by that point. They had no idea blasting a boombox, screaming and whistling put out a minute fraction of the decibel level of a P.A. system. I also did some quick research to find Mexican Independence Day was this past Wednesday, so I gather this might be related to that. This Washington Post article implies that the holiday for people in Mexico was somber and reflective due to the pandemic. Well, not in the schoolyard on Sunday. I suspect if that reporter had sauntered off to the poor neighborhoods, he would have found people partying in the streets, but noting as much wouldn’t have served his political agenda. (Maybe this was the Mexican version of Trump’s Fourth of July blowout in South Dakota?)

The soccer league showing up on Sundays is made up of simple working people trying to make it in a foreign land, and this is their day out. Under normal circumstances, I’m OK with them being there and playing as long as they want, despite the issues I noted. During a pandemic? Something isn’t working here in ways that suggest a systematic refusal to acknowledge the virus. There seems to be an understanding among all parties that these people gathering in the schoolyard are somehow lesser and not held accountable for their actions, and they in turn seem to have placed less value on their lives. Which, in turn, places less value on everyone else’s lives. This is how a pandemic thrives. Like plugging a microphone into a P.A. system and blasting everyone within earshot. Forgive me for not wanting to listen.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

PA Visit

Last week, I got back to Pennsylvania for a visit, the first time since late February. That previous visit was by chance: free time, I thought I’d be bearing down on finding a job in March, so may as well kick back for a few days before this. Two weeks later, the world ended.

Four months on, things had finally leveled out enough in both Pennsylvania and New York that I could manage this. Without my normal bus line that drops me off a hundred yards from the house in PA. Martz Trailways started running its NYC line in early June, out of Wilkes Barre, an hour north from where I’m going. My siblings agreed to get me up and back on weekend days with a week visit in between.

The bus ride was unnerving. The subway ride into Manhattan was, too, my first since the day after St. Patrick’s Day. It featured one dude without a mask coughing (I changed cars as train was still in station) and another carrying on into his cellphone with mask dropped (I went to other end of the car). This is the kind of shit I don’t want to see going forward. Subway cars are not the street, and people can’t treat them as such. They’re enclosed public spaces, the exact kind of place where this virus will thrive, and everyone needs to wear a mask all the time.

Port Authority wasn’t much better. I cringed when I saw a gang of about 30 people around the gate I was supposed to leave from, with the station otherwise empty. I spied the departure map from the actual gate number and realized Martz was sending out two buses at the same time, one to Wilkes Barre and another to “Water Park” (a large water park in the Poconos that surely must be a good getaway for NYC families), both trips leaving from adjacent gates. I knew I was in the right place, the only one standing at the correct gate for Wilkes Barre.

Finally, the drivers came in and told everyone what was going on. It turned out a majority of those passengers were going to Delaware Water Gap. In the past 20 years, a lot of black and hispanic New Yorkers have moved to the Poconos, where housing was much cheaper in the 90s and 00s, advertising that you could “live in a house in the beautiful Poconos while working in New York City every day.” And that’s just what a lot of people do these days. Which seems nuts to me, but I gather there are even people commuting to NYC from Wilkes Barre and Scranton. As it panned out, about 15 people got on each bus.

I tripled-masked for this trip. Much like the subway, a bus, especially a bus for an hours-long trip, is the exact kind of place I picture the virus being a threat. Thus, a mask is necessary. I had three cotton surgical masks and put them on, one on top of the other. It felt safe, but I was still on edge. I heard one sneeze and two coughs during the trip. A loudmouth kid got on at Delaware Water Gap and rode to Scranton, on his cellphone the entire time, although I couldn’t tell if his mask was on. This is the exact kind of shit I don’t want to experience in an enclosed public space. While I wouldn’t say I’m dreading subway and bus rides going forward, I surely anticipate having to deal with assholes who aren’t grasping how the virus works and never will.

Rural Pennsylvania had such a different vibe from New York City. Obviously, but this was something new. I noted earlier the discrepancy between people living in an urban area, particularly one where over 700 people a day were dying for much of April, processing this thing differently from people in a more sparsely populated area with a much lower death count. I could see just by walking around my hometown, it’s easy to go maskless as nearly every encounter could be more than six feet apart.

Don’t get me wrong. I encounter maskless assholes on the streets of my neighborhood daily. I don’t just mean people with that insulting “masked pull down to chin” nonsense. I mean people with zero intention of ever wearing a mask. Usually in 20s and teens. Usually male. The dipshit contingent, a strange, surly mix of stupidity, arrogance and sociopathy. Rest assured, as this thing needlessly drags on for months, it will be these sad clowns who keep this thing alive and thriving.

My siblings had warned me, watch out for Redners (a wonderful local market owned by employees, comparable to any urban supermarket I’ve shopped in). The “live free or die” zealots had been purposely going maskless there to wave their freak flags high. The governor had just passed a public mask ordinance a few days early, but my siblings didn’t expect it to have any effect on these geniuses.

Lo and behold, every person at Redners had a mask on while I was there! I was pleasantly surprised. Frankly, every store and restaurant I was in, people had masks on and were respecting the ordinance. The only place I didn’t see this was Tractor Supply Company by the Walmart in St. Clair, a few surly-looking assholes in their lone-wolf t-shirts, all scowls and angry eyes. They should know, they have company in New York City just as dumb and misguided as they are.

I have to admit, it was wonderful to run the back roads around my hometown without a mask, where I rarely see anyone. In the entire week I was there, I came across three people on my route: one dude checking his mailbox, one runner and one walker. The closest I got to any of them was about 12 feet. (I really don’t understand how people go running with masks on. I can do my four-mile walks in mid-80 degree heat and humidity, but that level of cardio must be march harder. It seems like about an 80/20 split in NYC with runners and masks, 80 without, 20 with. I really don’t care all that much as we’re in open air and sunlight, save to say I’ve encountered too many runners who don’t seem to grasp that nearly brushing my shoulder as they pass isn’t quite six feet.)

People back there were just as rattled and spooked as we’ve been in New York. We got pounded by this thing like very few places on earth, but Pennsylvania took a beating, too. I’m hoping this isn’t the formula for this thing to go away. That where you live needs to be ravaged by the virus before you have enough people with sense to mask up, socially distance and fight this thing. When you’re going through the virus in a harsh way, like we did In New York City, like states like Florida and Texas are experiencing now, it adds a layer of fear and tension to daily life that’s incredibly stressful. I can tell people in Idaho and South Dakota haven't experienced this – people anywhere where they’re going brazenly maskless and acting like this is a political issue and not a medical one.

I had dinner with an old friend at an Italian place with outdoor seating. Well, it was pushing 90 that day, and we found that the outdoor seating was in direct sunlight despite the table umbrella. It was too much, so we asked if we could go inside. I wasn’t too nuts about this, given New York state’s reticence to move forward with indoor dining, but there was just no way we’d last an hour out there. As it was, we were seated at a booth with high walls. Frankly, I was more worried about the occupancy level, as I could see the place slowly getting more crowded as we ate. (Pennsylvania indoor restaurants were at 50% occupancy at the time, now reduced to 25%.) We had our masks down most of the time to eat and drink. I didn’t know how to handle this, if I was supposed to keep putting the mask on and off, or what. It didn’t feel natural or right to have my mask off in this situation, but I knew the person eating with me had been as diligent as I’d been with the virus.

Our high-school teacher was supposed to join us, but I knew she was worried about potentially exposing her husband (with an underlying condition) to the virus. She came to greet us but told us she had to pass on the indoor dining. (I assured her the outdoor version of this would have been just as uncomfortable!) Before leaving, she gave me the gift of life: an unopened N-95 mask she had from a painting project she was working on a few years ago. I could wear this instead of the triple-mask set-up I had going for the bus ride back. I’d never been so over-joyed to receive a present, like an eight-year-old getting a G.I. Joe for Christmas! Hopefully, next time I get back there we can arrange some outdoor meeting that works.

That N-95 mask was hard on my face the whole trip back from Wilkes Barre. Hurt the bridge of my nose. Dug into my cheeks. But the peace of mind it gave me to know I was wearing something that would offer me the best protection possible was worth it. The bus was more crowded on the way back, more people getting on in Scranton and Pocono Mountain than had got off on the way in. By the time we left Delaware Water Gap, there were 25 people on that bus. Roughly every two-seat row taken, no chance of getting six feet between each person. I suspect if everyone masks up and does this thing right, a situation like this is manageable. But I’ve learned in New York City, you need to account for assholes, people who just don’t grasp the gravity of the situation. Dropping their masks to talk on cellphones, coughing or sneezing while they do so. I’m anticipating this as I know there are people out there too fucking stupid to handle this thing. And it’s great that I can N-95 it for at least the next few bus trips!

Overall, it was a great trip. It’s hard to communicate how trying it was to spend four months in a studio apartment with maybe 2-3 hours a day outside. That’s what people aren’t getting about New York City: most people live in small spaces, often in roommate situations. This is hard to pull off when you can’t go anywhere or do anything. That’s loosened up in the past month (obviously too much in terms of bars), but our normal lifestyles are centered on using the city as much as possible, counting heavily on public transportation and being part of a bustling metropolis. No bustle starting in March. Things got rough mentally by end of May. Just in time for a few riots and daily protests. (I still find it hard to believe they’ve had no lasting impact on virus spread.) To top it all off, the landlord had some troubling health issues in early June. Nothing life threatening, but just enough to get under my skin with all this other shit going on in the world.

I wouldn’t say I came close to a nervous breakdown, but I reached a low plateau in mid-June where I felt isolated and unnerved. Not in a good place. I brought myself out of it by maintaining the exercise schedule on the back patio, walking daily, and training my mind to not focus so much on the negatives and to let go of what I couldn’t control. It worked, at least so much that I feel normal now and in a much better frame of mind. I’ve noticed one big change: when something needs to get done, I just do it. Rather than letting it become another thing playing on my mind. I picked up a few good mental practices in response to the virus. My attitude is if this thing is going to massively interrupt my life and make things hard for the next few months, the least I can do is reduce the stress by removing extraneous bullshit.

Speaking of, I normally avoid politics in my writing. But I need to state that the past few weeks have been jaw-dropping with Trump and his “response” to the virus. Never mind the ongoing mask debacle that has most likely led to the deaths of thousands and infections of hundreds of thousands. The disturbing smear job of the CDC and Dr. Fauci has done even more to damage the deadly, ill-conceived political take so many wrong-headed fools have on this issue. Just when I think he can’t do any more wrong, he does things that are like pages from a George Orwell novel. Only this shit is real, and it will guarantee months more suffering and stumbling with the virus. I feel like I’m living through a time in history where new lows are being created. That one day historians will look back on 2020 and realize that it got no worse than this in the history of American presidents, as if we were being led by a clandestine operative for a foreign agency trying to destroy the country. I don’t get it; the lack of leadership and constant mixed messages are puzzling. I’ve been indifferent on Trump most of the way. The last four months have been one long, unbelievable streak of inaction, unaccountability and childish head games that amount to the exact opposite of what we need to fight a raging pandemic. I don’t state this as any condemnation of the president. There’s still time for him to take control, guide the country to a safer place and get this virus under control, for the sake of our lives and the economy. I’m not holding my breath. Are you?

Friday, June 19, 2020

Letting Go

That’s what the last week or two in NYC feels like. People are letting go, in good and bad ways.

Bad way: people are acting like this thing has never happened, and we’re not in the middle of massive pandemic that’s still very much active. Not everybody. In fact, I find myself surprised by the number of people on the streets who aren’t screwing around and are masking up and distancing appropriately. But enough people in denial to cause concern.

I’ve seen a few youtube and news clips of people in their 20s gathering outside of bars in the evening or night all over NYC, no masks or distancing in sight, basically partying like this thing is over. I’d like to say something vaguely complimentary like, “Well, they’re seeing New York’s vastly improved statistics and celebrating that the first wave of the virus has mostly passed over.” But I suspect the reality is these people are just idiots who are strangers to news and statistics. Or maybe they’ve seen news clips of thousands of people marching and thought, “If they can do that, then we can do this.”

And it is a pretty ragged signal to be sent out. I don’t care if it’s rednecks with semi-automatic rifles in state capitols, planned indoor Trump rallies in a state where the virus numbers are rising, or the numerous police brutality protests over the past few weeks. The last place on earth I want to be now is in a large crowd, in any physical circumstance, that could cause the virus to spread. There will easily be 200,000 Americans dead from the virus by September. I’m not sure why this number seems unreal or non-existent to so many people. It’s not bullshit. I wish it was. At some point in your adult life, you realize you're not living in a vacuum, and that your actions impact everyone.

I wish this whole thing was a put on. I do believe the authorities are over-stating the case, asking us to adhere to standards that at this point in states where the virus has done its worst, might be overkill. The problem being if you don’t make a statement this forcefully, many people are going to take this thing even less seriously than they already have. From what I’m seeing here recently, most people are taking this thing seriously, hopefully enough to keep moving forward.

On Monday, NYC will move to the next phase, with all retail stores opening, outdoor seating in restaurants, salons and barbers opening, etc. I gather masks indoors in public will be strictly enforced. That’s what I find encouraging, as we take these baby steps back towards normalcy. Most people I know with jobs in NYC have told me their companies plan to get them back in office after the Fourth of July. This is great news, a major step in the right direction. We’ll have to reacclimate to public transportation, where the “six feet” rule will be impossible to follow during rush hours, but if everyone is masked up and being sane, hopefully the virus has died down enough not to start up again.

What I’m gathering from the people blowing this thing off is they’re living lives where they can get away with no masks, whether they’re students on summer break, unemployed, probably living with their parents, and not in positions where they have to mask up to buy groceries, go to laundromats, conduct bank transactions, etc. In other words, as we get back to normal, these kids (overgrown or actual) are going to encounter the real world most adults live in, which requires getting a mask on while we interact in public/indoor spacing. When school starts in September (which it will, barring any spikes or catastrophes), that should let them know, this is how you need to handle this thing. The downside of everyone being isolated is people make up their own rules. I’ve done it myself. But I caught on pretty fast that the livelihood of my country, and this city in particular, depends on people like me to help, so I have. I hate masks as much as any d-bag who’s refused to wear one. We all do!

My attitude was, is, will be, whatever it takes to get through this thing as quickly and as safely as possible.

I hope to get back to Pennsylvania in July, and after that, back to Manhattan via subway train, even if it’s only to take long walks in parks, but hopefully to hit the gym and have lunch with friends, assuming NYC goes to the next phase later in the month. I think that’s what’s been depressing me more than anything, the lack of mobility. I moved to NYC years ago because of Manhattan, to work there, partake of the arts, great shopping, restaurants, etc. My life here is better when I have daily access to Manhattan. I feel more active and connected to the world. Even if I’m doing nothing while there, I still feel that force. I haven’t set foot in Manhattan since the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and I surely do miss it (the real, active city, not the ghost town I encountered that day). And once the economy starts kicking in again, I surely hope to start working again later in the summer. If it happens before then, great, but I’ll surely be surprised if that happens so quickly.

So, I’m hoping to get through June and anticipate life opening up just a little in July, but enough to start easing back to some sense of normalcy in the city. Three months is a long time to lock down, so I can understand why New Yorkers are busting out, even if I don’t agree with how some people are doing it. The ultimate reality is I don’t know more than anyone else, if all of this is overkill, if it’s not going to have any recognizable effect for so many people to go maskless, if things will ease up or grow worse in the next few months. I’m just as uncertain as everyone else. As noted above, whatever it takes to get this thing in the rear-view mirror. “Letting go” for me may eventually imply letting go of this hardline stance on distancing and masks I’ve held since the last week of March. We are surely farther along than we were back then, and things have improved dramatically here.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Temporary Normal

How does that sound? I know, we’ve been inundated with countless headlines and examples of “the new normal,” usually designating some aspect of the coronavirus that we find troubling, distasteful and hard to handle. Why not call it what it is: the temporary normal?

I would guess because doing so doesn’t play on that angst the media hopes to generate by exploiting people’s fears. I’m hardly a shaved-head/goateed freedom fighter. If anything, I want us all to wear masks when necessary in public, socially distance when necessary, and get this thing under control as quickly as possible. You’ll find me walking in the street routinely to avoid assholes on the sidewalk who are going completely maskless and appear indifferent that the three-feet width of sidewalk we’ll be sharing doesn’t cut it in terms of distancing. (While I firmly believe it’s very hard to get this thing outdoors unless you’re in a crowd, I also firmly believe someone who unsubtly signals me that he’s sloppy and careless is worth avoiding at this time.)

I started in with “the mask thing” with the understanding that I’d go out walking with these neck gaiters that you can pull up over your face like a balaclava. That way, I could walk without a mask for long stretches where I wasn’t encountering anyone. This theory worked in March when there were much less people venturing out. Once it warmed up, and particularly on sunny days, it made no sense to keep pulling up the mask and dropping it down as people were coming out of the woodwork. It made more sense to simply put the mask on when I left the house and leave it on until I got back. I found myself running into people routinely enough that it became impractical to keep going up and down, particularly with runners coming up behind me on my walks, never mind more people coming out of doorways.

That’s where I’m at now. I keep this in mind when I see these unbelievable news clips, people jammed together at a resort bar swimming pool in the Ozarks. Without fail, every interview of a participant is an eye-rolling exercise in unforgivable stupidity. I know, again, the media is doing its thing by rubbing our noses in these outlandish situations. That’s why they’re news; you’re not going to get pearls of wisdom from a drunken, shirtless 23-year-old in full-on party mode. (I would put forth that the reporter was lucky that his response wasn’t, “Blah ba-ba-ba cunk ma-ma” … before the interviewee vomited on her ... the reporter then desperately googling "coronavirus and vomit" on her iPhone.)

But I also think about someone living in rural or suburban America. These people most likely have property, even if it’s only a backyard. Some may have acres of property. They’re used to walking around the property with no mask. They get in their cars and visit people with similar space and properties. They’re not living in a bubble. I’m sure they understand, get the mask on at the supermarket or drug store. But I would also guess that’s the only time a lot of these folks are wearing masks, and they’re not as acclimated as I am to this living in a crowded city. There’s no excuse for what went on in the Ozarks video, but I also understand it’s a completely different scenario than the one I’ve experienced in a city where the virus dropped like a bomb.

Last week, I gave myself a quarantine self haircut. I had to as I was about a month past my normal cutting date, and it was getting far too shaggy. The hair felt heavy on my head. My hair goes wide before it goes long, and I hate the feeling of going helmet head with too much hair. How did it go? See for yourself. Not a bad job, right?

Of course, that’s only half the story. I own a set of Conair barber clippers, extensions and scissors. I bought these in the 90s, back in the Bronx – why, I can’t recall. But it stayed with me through two moves, so I sensed some value in the kit despite never using it. Last Wednesday, the time had come. I watched at least a dozen videos on YouTube regarding self haircuts – some complete bullshit, others helpful. I noticed that most of these guys had relatively short hair to begin with and wouldn’t be giving themselves the radical cut I was in store for. The general idea appeared to be pick out the clipper extension one higher than you’re used to getting at the barber. I normally “get a #3” – matching that clipper extension. So, I clipped on the 4 extension, the idea being start at the bottom of your hairline on the back and sides and push it through your hair all the way up to the natural part, making sure to pull the clipper away as you moved near the top.

That worked very well. There was so much hair in the sink that it looked like I was shearing a sheep. So, I got out the 3 extension with the concept of going halfway up the back and sides. This went very well, too, even more hair. I could see the beginning of the fade effect of a normal haircut.

With the 2 extension, the concept was to just go about an inch up the sides and back, as this would be a much closer cut. Very good results again – I felt great, even though hair was all over my back and the sink. (It would take me close to half an hour to clean up afterwards and a few days of dabbing up loose hairs around the bathroom with moistened tissues.) Still, when I pushed my hand against the back, I didn’t get that feeling of a full cut, of hair bristles flicking against my fingers.

I decided to take off any of the extensions and use the bare clipper on the very back edge of my head and the lower sides beneath each ear. It felt great on the back of my head – that bristly effect I loved to feel after leaving the barber with a good haircut. So, I did the sides behind the ears, too.

This is what happened on the right side! The left side, I carved out only a small patch that’s already grown over. But boy, did I mangle that patch of my head, down to bare skin. I hadn’t even realized it as the hair felt the same all around, not like these two jagged V’s cut into my head. I finished off with the top of my head, simply combing up swatches of hair and clipping off ¼-inch portions that were between my fingers. This went well, too, although I’m sure a real barber would shit himself laughing over my ineptitude. I know I left too much hair on top, but there was no way I was going to butcher that part of my head. I’ve been waking up with an eraserhead as the hair goes straight up after sleeping all night, but this is easily reduced with a comb and some water. In a few weeks, the sides will grow in proportionately.

As far as that awful patch behind my right ear? Lesson learned: never take bare barber clippers to the back of your head! I never thought I’d look forward to wearing a face mask, but this is how most people have been and will be seeing me in public for awhile! My neck gaiters pull up nicely on my ears so I can just cover my radical error. It’s a week later, and I can already see those patches growing in; I hope they’re grown over in another week, two at the most. Frankly, I don’t ever want to cut my hair again and hope the barbershops in NYC re-open some time in July.

Thus, the virus rolls on, with the news of the day and our own personal foibles. Things here are getting better, to the point where we’ll be going Phase Yellow in a few weeks. Forget about politics. You either want this thing under control and our lives reverting to a more normal existence, or you want to pretend this thing doesn’t exist. The sort of empty bravado I’m seeing on the news, and often on the streets, is just that. People who are either so stupid or afraid (or both) that they can’t grasp this thing without forming a disingenuous, macho wall of denial around themselves. If the virus rolls around for a second or third round, and I suspect it will with or without masks, here’s hoping that what we’re going through now is the worst it gets, and we’ll be ready and able to handle it. I have to believe there are enough people out there with their heads on straight that we’ll keep a lid on this thing.

Sunday, May 10, 2020


Things are going well in New York City. Our virus numbers are slowly but surely decreasing, and it’s foreseeable by month’s end that we’ll be able to start the re-opening process.

We’ve reached the Tallboy stage.

This stage is designated by the addition of tallboy beer cans to street trash, alongside the used rubber medical gloves, that I still see constantly. (On the plus side, I haven’t seen any used rubbers in the gutters for awhile.) We had a few warm days last weekend, after a month of unruly weather not unlike Scotland’s rainy/windy climate. Of course, people came out in droves, which was to be expected. One thing I hadn’t anticipated. At night, I could hear young adults and kids going around in groups. Not necessarily being assholes, but being an asshole did seem to be a prerequisite for many of them.

Even without aural proof of them wandering the night, I could tell they were assholes by their droppings. The usual detritus – empty cigarillo and cigar packs to make marijuana blunts, and those small zip-lock packets suggesting recreational drug use. But most of all: empty tall-boy cans of cheap beer. Keystone Light, Milwaukee’s Best, Bud Light, etc. You have to be cheap and tasteless to be buying shit beer like this. Buying it in tall-boy cans?


Much to my surprise, I haven't seen any Four Loko cans. Maybe too high class for this crowd?

In a perverse way, it’s a good sign. It suggests a greater wave of freedom is coming, and these assholes can’t wait to partake. Granted, I’m describing very few people in the neighborhood, but I look at them as those birds you see in flying V formations in early March skies, slightly ahead of schedule. I can clearly see we’re going to have stops and starts, and flare-ups with the virus in the next few months. By the same token, we’re all yearning to be free, so I can understand an idiot expressing it this way. I have to believe that with social distancing and masks in tight public quarters, and enough sane people practicing these things, that we’ll be able to keep a lid on this, if not eradicate it. Once we get a vaccine in place and mass inoculations? Game over for this shit virus. Or at least render it controllable on the same level as the annual flu epidemic, which will still mean tens of thousands dying. (If you hadn’t noticed, this is normal for the flu.)

But we’re months away from that, not even to the point of opening society here in NYC, but inching closer. It’s a good feeling. As much as I hate masks and waiting in lines for basic services, I’m much more used to it now. Unlike people who are going around stating things will never, ever be the same again, I can see they will eventually. Beware of people using “never, ever” in a sentence. If they’re more than five years old, there’s no excuse. If you’re thinking “never, ever” with this virus, understand that the Spanish Flu in 1918 killed 50 million people and infected over 500 million. Aside from the availability of an annual flu shot, there have been no “never, ever” scenarios associated with that pandemic. (I write that knowing there are probably countless small ways the flu changed society that we still practice today. But I’m focusing more on alarmists now implying our world will be “forever changed” in countless major ways. They may as well be wearing acid-wash jeans and listening to Candlebox and Matchbox 20 as far as I’m concerned. Things change, often for the better. Every “list of changes” article I’ve read has been nothing but negative; there will be major, positive changes coming from this thing, the same way they come from any world war, which is exactly what this is.)

I like to think there’s a Jonas Salk out there who, in the next few years, will come up with a gamechanger in terms of thwarting any future viral outbreaks. As it is, I’ll settle for an annual vaccination that keeps the coronavirus numbers manageable going forward. Amidst all the negativity and paranoia, I’d like to believe there are some major breakthroughs in the near future that could greatly diminish or eradicate pandemics all together. At least something more tangible than wearing a fucking mask and crossing my fingers that some moron doesn’t sneeze too close to me! I don’t consider myself a particularly hopeful person. Maybe when I was a child or teenager, or a young adult. But at some point in my adult life, I realized that if you want positive results, you need to work towards them, with the possibility that all your hard work might be fruitless. I suspect there’s a lot of that going on right now with major drug and viral research companies.

What the hardest thing I’m realizing the past few weeks? It’s not only the virus and its endless spider web of issues. It’s stupidity. I see it every day. It’s safe to say that New York City has been one of the hardest hit places on earth by this virus, over 20,000 dead, hundreds of thousands infected. From the first day of mask regulations to this day, I will see people with no masks, clearly no intention of ever wearing one, making no effort to distance themselves from anyone, convinced this whole thing is “fake news.” On the streets. In stores, although I’ve seen a few deny them entrance. Believe me, when you live here, unless you’re completely clueless, you’re acutely aware of just how hard this thing has hit.

I can work around this individual stupidity, but when stupidity is contagious and possibly deadly? That’s a whole new level of crawling up your own asshole. In every action movie, there are numbskull bad guys who appear to be menacing. We watch the movie and usually within the first half hour, these brazen imbeciles either get murdered or ass-kicked by the hero. These people I’m seeing now in New York remind me of those disposable action-movie henchmen: arrogant and dumb as nails. I never found that movie-character archetype worth emulating, but these guys aspire to that level of assholic loser. Whether it’s on the streets of New York or toting a semi-automatic rifle in a state capitol’s veranda. This is shameful behavior that’s the antithesis of everything I understand to be true about America.

The unspoken threat I’m seeing is the horrifying failure of the American education system that people like this not only exist, but take a perverse level of pride in their stupidity. If we come away with anything from this? It’s the realization that we need to overhaul our education system so that people like this can grasp basic human qualities like shame and empathy.

And a word on New York “seeding” the virus in early March via travel before restrictions were imposed in mid-March. It makes sense. We were all living normal lives up to St. Patrick’s Day, believing the virus “wasn’t here yet” and those news reports of pandemics in China and Italy would, much like SARS, have little impact here. I would wager all American cities did the same to varying degrees. You can’t really fault people for spreading what they did not know or understand to exist at the time. None of us did.

That said, I gather there have been waves of New Yorkers who have abandoned the city since then, not quite realizing wherever they go, the virus is already there. And they’re possibly bringing it with them. A vast majority of us stood our ground and have weathered this thing. April was a truly frightening month to live here, no matter how much we downplayed it in reassuring phone calls and emails. It’s the same fear a lot of people across the country are going to have when virus numbers skyrocket where they live. It didn’t occur to me to leave here for two reasons: this seemed as good a place as any to face this thing, and I didn’t want to risk spreading the virus wherever I might have gone.

The pain of New York? All those people who fled will come back. Eventually, they’ll be among those who can afford to live here. Many of us who stood our ground, who chose to stay, will slowly be funneled out of this city by rising rents and gentrification. What’s wrong with this picture?