by Janice Radomsky
I know it’s 7pm when I hear clapping, loud screams and people banging pots and pans from the buildings around me. I call it Clappy Hour.
From windows, rooftops and fire escapes, New Yorkers emerge in gratitude for the doctors and nurses working tirelessly, even just a few blocks away.
But I think it’s become more than this.
For these few short minutes every night, this ritual is a way for people to reach out to each other. To connect. Perhaps to seek comfort there’s still life out there, or even to scream out pent-up emotions.
Every night, I join in. And every night, I feel a sense of upliftment and a sense of sadness at the very same time.
Because when the clapping subsides, and the last notes of Sinatra’s New York, New York linger in the air, it is once again a stark reminder just how much this city has been turned inside out.
Where I live in the heart of Manhattan, life happens on the outside. This city is not made for the inside.
Our sidewalks are our mode of transport. Our apartments are small, so we entertain in bars, cafes and parks rather than our living rooms. And our kitchens are even smaller, so we eat at bar counters or grab takeout from the endless options on every corner. I mean my oven is only a few sweet potatoes shy of qualifying for extra storage space for my sweaters (with thanks to Carrie Bradshaw)!
But what really makes my experience here, are the random, micro-moments of connection that this kind of living facilitates.
Commenting on a fellow bar-fly’s dessert, got me into the control room for a live taping of CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Sharing the last free table at a café on a November snow day, got me to hear about my table mate’s impending divorce before his wife did. And eaves-dropping on a conversation in a restaurant, got me my first job interview here. I’ve had many bizarre synchronicities.
So to go from living shoulder to shoulder, to living in relative solitude, has been a not-so-subtle change.
Yet, as we head into our 8th week of lockdown, a few tough moments aside, I’m grateful I’ve mostly been okay.
And that’s because I’m well aware my apartment is a privileged bubble, protecting me from the grim realities of life outside. For once, being inside feels more comfortable.
Although the cloud of fear shrouding my neighborhood is starting to lift, there were a relentless few weeks between my last post and this one. I tried to write about it several times, but perhaps it was too much to process in the moment.
For these weeks, I barely left my apartment. With Covid-19 in my building, I avoided the elevators and even the laundry room in the basement (don’t judge me for this one).
My activity went as far as walking down and up the 300 stairs to pick up the odd Amazon delivery. With my mask, disposable kitchen gloves and a knife in hand to open the boxes, I looked more like a character from “The Shining” than your friendly neighbor.
Even the usual banter with my doorman came to a halt. And I have the quintessential relationship with the New York doorman. He watched me come and go for months and months while on the job hunt and, with his heavy Bronx accent and 6’5” frame, gave me the biggest shout-out and hug the day I got my offer.
Walks outside for fresh air, although allowed, became few and far between. The streets felt too eerie.
I took one walk through the deserted streets of Midtown to capture this slice of history. It fuelled my curiosity in the moment, but left me with a sinking feeling when I woke up the next morning. Even going up to my rooftop at sunset felt uneasy, with the Empire State Building flashing red. A siren in the sky.
And so, when I wasn’t working, I retreated to my couch. From where I watched New York take its place as the epicenter of this pandemic, like I was watching scenes from a movie.
As the numbers went up, so did the make-shift hospitals. The first-hand stories I started hearing would not even scratch the surface of reality.
One Saturday night I received a group message from a colleague asking for connections to medical suppliers. Her sister was working on the frontline without basic protective gear. Coincidently, someone making masks had posted in one of my Facebook groups only a few minutes earlier. I have no idea what came of my matchmaking that night, but to think we were attempting to play even the smallest role in the supply chain of this big nation, is unfathomable.
To get a patient’s perspective, I bumped into my building’s Super a few days ago. In his words, the emotional toll from his Covid-19 experience far outweighs the physical one, even though he is not yet at full strength. As he retold the story of his time in hospital, which I won’t go into here, I could see the trauma in his eyes as they peered over his mask.
I’ll stop there. You’ve all read the news.
And there is good news too.
Armed with the raw, factual and empathetic messages from our favourite Gov, we have indeed flattened the curve.
Just this last week, the city exhaled for the first time in a while.
The sun has come out, the streets feel more welcoming, and the tulips are finally getting the spring audience they’ve patiently stood tall for.
I also ventured out this weekend. My first real coffee. A lychee martini from a sidewalk bar, sipped through a straw at the side of my mask. The sounds of a lone jazz trio trying to breathe life back into the East Village. Clapping at 7pm on the rooftop with my neighbors.
But where do we go from here?
The numbers are going down, just not fast enough to get complacent or open up our doors. For the essential workers keeping our lights on, the food supply moving and yes, even the alcohol flowing, the risk of going to work is still real. For those who have lost their jobs, the risk of not going to work, even more so.
As for me, I’ll continue to dig deep, in gratitude for being safely tucked at home.
I’ll live this very different life on the inside, while taking to the streets now and again to connect with that old New York spirit of life on the outside.
This essay was written by Janice Radomsky and is republished with permission.
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