Birthday Card from NYC Relief – a volunteer service organization

I received this card from the people at New York City Relief for my birthday. It was a nice gesture that I appreciated. New York City Relief is an organization that tries to connect people in need with essential services.

I spent some time volunteering with them in late 2019 and early 2020, before the pandemic really set in, when they used to provide services out of the Bowery Mission. I don’t see the location listed on their calendar anymore.

It was a valuable experience and I’d like to continue, but I’m waiting for the pandemic to die down first. It’s kind of a shame, but we don’t live in a country with a universal healthcare system, and I want to minimize my risk of getting sick with something that is likely to lead to hospitalization. The city is getting busy again, but I think that’s more the result of lockdown fatigue than an actual improvement in the situation.

Traveling in the Time of COVID-19

I was just thinking to myself that I’d like to go to Georgia to visit family. Especially some of my family members that are starting to get a bit older. I’d like to see them while I still have the chance. I’ve been meaning to go see them for a while now.

I looked up the cost of a bus ticket. $106 one-way. Then I checked the price of an airline ticket. $126 round-trip. Wow. What a deal! But then I remembered that I’d heard about needing a COVID-19 test to be able to travel. I wonder how much that costs?

And then I realized that I’ve probably been exposed to the virus and that my desire to see my relatives before it’s too late really isn’t in their best interests, health-wise.

Plus, there are quarantine requirements there and here if I remember correctly.

The ability of the average person to freely travel is really being locked down. How much of these precautions are legitimate? How much is government overreach? Why was there never a huge bump in numbers after the closely packed protests and riots? When do things go back to normal? Next year? Next month? It’s really amazing and fascinating how questionable reality has become in the last 4-5 years.

It’s a testament to the power of the media to shape our understanding of the world. And probably a testament to the dangers of building profitability for a “news” site around ad revenue rather than subscriptions. Things probably went truly wrong with Facebook and Twitter, though. It became too easy to boost misleading and untrue narratives into the national consciousness.

Anyway, I’ll have to put off my travel for a bit longer. Until I’m sure I’m not going to ride into my relative’s homes on a white horse.

COVID-19 Social Impact in New York City

I was thinking about the ways that the COVID-19 experience has changed the way we live our lives in New York City. Beyond the obvious continued closures I mean.

As a kid, when I would come here to visit family, the crowds and noise were part of the appeal. Staying up late and seeing and hearing the traffic outside was exciting. It felt alive and a little dangerous. It felt like there were endless possibilities waiting for you as soon as you hit the concrete outside your building’s front door.

Not so much now. A lot of businesses are reopening, but a lot will never open again. Businesses that are open are limited capacity. Same with restaurants. You have to book reservations for something you used to just walk into at will. You have to provide your name, ID, and contact information to dine inside. It feels arduous and invasive and kills the vibe.

To be honest, I never really did much shopping in person before, but I did like to wander around book stores and comic book shops. Old record stores sometimes too. And there was something fun about just sitting in a cafe, talking and people watching. You can’t really do any of those things now. You’re corralled and then rushed through the experience to accommodate occupancy restrictions. So, why bother? If I can’t enjoy the experience, why make the trek down to the store? With all of the traction that online retailers got during the lock down, I wonder how much in person retail shopping will come back in New York City over the long term?

Will people fall back into old habits or maintain new ones? I read somewhere that moments of change in people’s lives are the best opportunity for companies to change shopping habits. That’s why expecting mothers get bombarded with ads for example. The COVID-19 pandemic and lock downs were pretty big moments of change so it was a great opportunity to cement new shopping patterns.

With the lack of restaurant dining and easily accessible amenities like museums, art galleries, and theater performances, with being shut up at home all the time or going from home to work and work to home, it was like a curtain was drawn back. New York City without all of the extras is pretty unpleasant. High rent for a shoe box apartment to live constantly surrounded by high crime and filth isn’t that appealing when you can’t justify it with amazing dinners out and the ability to just pop in at a world class art gallery on a whim.

Movement control orders. Lock downs. Quarantines. Flying restrictions. Travel restrictions. I’m reminded of a book I read about the development of the passport in Europe during a time when travel beyond one’s own village was extremely uncommon and made a person suspect. It feels like we’re going back in time. It’s becoming ever more difficult to simply travel to another State or country after a long period of increasing mobility.

I wonder if there’s anything to that? Accustoming people to being ordered to remain in place in spite of Constitutional guarantees of free movement. Getting people familiar with receiving food rations. Making people feel like it’s ok to have their privacy invaded in exchange for a seat inside a 33% capacity restaurant. That’s a lot of extra government control of our personal lives.

And I get it to a large degree. It’s a trade-off between personal autonomy and collective well-being. There has to be a balance there. But I wonder if the amount of rights and information we’re being asked to give up is greater than the threat we’re facing? Are we doing good or creating an un-legislated set of PATRIOT Act style COVID-19 rules?

I keep coming back to how there was no spike in COVID-19 deaths after the riots and mass protests that started in June and have continued unabated in some areas of the country since. Shouldn’t all of those people congregating together have caused COVID-19 rates to skyrocket, if not among themselves then in adjacent vulnerable populations?

I understand that this is conspiracy theory territory. I know the virus is real. I’m not going to subscribe to the idea of the government using COVID-19 testing to insert microchips in people’s heads or bloodstreams, or to the idea that COVID-19 testing is actually COVID-19 infecting, but I can’t help but wonder if this was overkill.

The virus was in New York City since November or December of 2019 at least. Our numbers were high because the virus had time to spread before we started testing. If it was going to spread like the plague it would have caused a lot more damage before the city shut down in March, but it didn’t. Why were we fine on March 1st, but we suddenly needed refrigerated trucks for the deceased on March 31st?

Anyway, a lot of people are fleeing New York City or changed their minds about coming here in the first place. Unless things improve drastically in the next few months, I’m going to start looking at moving to another part of the country. I’ve been hearing news about COVID-19 spikes in Brooklyn and Queens and different news sources have been telling us for months that the virus could spike again in the Fall, leading to another round of shutdowns. I don’t know if I want to go through that again. Things haven’t been normal in the city since January already.

Lining up in a mall doesn’t make sense

I’m all for social distancing, but I couldn’t figure out what the point was of having people line up outside of stores inside of the mall.

The food court at Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall on 9/5/2020

I had to make a run out to Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, NJ this weekend. I had to drop off a return at the Amazon Books store in the mall. It was something I ordered online but that just didn’t work out quite how I wanted it to and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone: drop off the return and then drive 5 minutes over to IKEA and pick up a few things I’ve been looking to get since pre-COVID.

I figured there would be people in the mall, especially on a holiday weekend, but the crowds were massive. It was so packed in the common areas that I often had to walk slowly behind people or veer wide around large groups. There were often bottlenecks caused by lines of people trying to get into stores next to kiosks. It was often shoulder to shoulder. Keeping people in lines outside of stores was actually increasing instances of close contact.

I’d never been inside that mall before. It’s almost ridiculously big. I don’t really like shopping in person anymore but I’m interested in going back, hopefully when it’s not as crowded. I guess it’s because of how empty the city has been recently, but I actually started to get agitated by the crowds. It became uncomfortable and I had to get out of there.

I never made it into the IKEA either. Earlier on this year when IKEA first opened up again, I remember reading about long, long lines of people waiting to get into IKEA stores. Months later, they’re still a thing. There must have been 250+ people waiting to get into IKEA and the store was scheduled to close an hour and 20 minutes later. Half of the people there waiting weren’t even going to make it in the door, so I just kept driving and went on home.

I keep wondering when things are going to get back to normal. Will it be right after the election? Will it be next year sometime? Never?

And does it really matter anymore? I’d like to go back to the museums, but I’m not going to give myself the headache of trying to prepurchase tickets at tourist rates for specified time-slots. Other than that and the lines at IKEA, my day-to-day hasn’t really changed that much. Though, thinking about it, it would be nice to sit down at a restaurant again too.

Updates 6.27

There’s a whole lot going on in the US right now but I’m at the point where I’ve started to tune it out. I’ll probably drop some rambling posts about the social unrest and venture into fringe conspiracy theories later, but not right now. It just gets so tiring, you know? Like, why should I try to carry the weight of the world’s problems on my shoulders (or in my head) 24/7? It’s a constant burden and it can weigh a person down.

So, I’m trying to get back to focusing on things that I actually enjoy, like manga, movies, studying Japanese, and cats. And I’ve been working more now that things are starting to get back to normal in New York City, which is nice.

This past Monday, businesses started opening back up. There’s still no dining in, which is a good thing honestly, but it was super nice to be able to get the car washed, drive downtown, and get takeout from Thai Terminal and Veniero’s. I really missed their food, especially Veniero’s cheesecake. It was so good that I didn’t even bother to take a photo of it before gobbling it down.

Hopefully, COVID-19 doesn’t spike. I’m not really interested in another shutdown, but with all of the protests and rioting, it could happen. I wasn’t really prepared last time, so if there’s going to be another shutdown I’m not going to get caught with my pants down again. I picked up my Mom and we went to New Jersey to shop at Walmart. My cart was overflowing. LOL. I didn’t hoard TP or paper towels, but I picked up quite a few canned and frozen items along with olive oil, honey, canned soups, and other staples.

We stopped by Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater and the grocery was open (which was great because we needed Yakult) but the food court was still closed. Daiso was open and we wound up picking up some nice dishes with cat designs:

So, I’ve moved on to memorizing Japanese kanji. It’s actually more fun than I expected. I’m starting to remember the component parts of the kanji and it’s making it easier to start guessing at the meanings of other kanji. I’m hoping that by the end of the year I can read simple kid’s books in Japanese.

Speaking of Japanese, if you haven’t read Dungeon Meshi / Delicious in Dungeon, I highly recommend it. The last chapter was especially good. It’s probably the best chapter in the manga.

And speaking of reading, I’ve plowed through about 50 books so far this year, including the entire Witcher series. That one is really hit or miss and The Last Wish, which the Netflix series is based on, is definitely the best of the bunch. It was worth the time, though, as someone who really enjoys fantasy novels. I’m reading a book about Israeli history right now and it reminded me of why I was so fascinated with Middle Eastern history while I was studying it in college. I’ll probably go on a run of books about modern Middle Eastern history next. I also want to get around to reading The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I’ve been putting it off, even though I’m really interested in it.

Last thing I want to mention before putting things away so we can eat dinner is that there are new kittens in the apartment. Here’s one of them:

Things to be grateful for 4/26 – 5/1

So, last week was pretty low key. That in itself is something to be grateful for given the circumstances. We’re still in one of the worst outbreak areas of COVID-19 in the world and no one in my family has gotten sick yet, thankfully. I’m a little concerned about how things are going to go with that. We’ve been having warmer weather so more people are congregating and other States are relaxing restrictions already even though they’re still on the upswing of the outbreak.

Some highlights for this week:

  • After many months, our cast iron skillet is finally developing a significant non-stick layer. We’ve baked chicken in the skillet with good results and also made filet mignon (stovetop + oven) that turned out amazing.
  • The filet mignon. We hadn’t had any since last year.
  • Got a lot of work done on last year’s taxes. I should be done with them by this weekend.
  • Got to actually binge watch a series for the first time in a few years. We found a show called “Into the Night” on Netflix that was really good. It has a lot of edge of your seat suspense that kept us reaching for the “Next Episode” button.
  • We finally found out when our stimulus deposit will hit our account.

Sitting at home all the time, I’m not doing a lot that’s exciting. I was thinking the other day that I haven’t posted anything to Instagram in a while because I haven’t been out to see anything that I felt was worth posting. But I’ve been using the time to read more, study foreign languages more, and to try to finish video games that I bought years ago and never got through.

For example, I’m about 60% of the way through “Grand Theft Auto V”. I bought the game about 7 years ago, got about 37% of the way through it and never finished it. I’m having a lot of fun watching Michael and Trevor’s bromance unfold.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 25 – #coronavirusUSA mascot?

So, I was sitting at the dinner table, trying to get some remote work done and I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye, out the window. I looked over and saw a black bird, a crow, standing on the antennae of the neighboring building.

Ok. Great. A crow. I felt like it fit really well with the current mood in the city and the country. We are the new Italy. We are the new global epicenter of death and coronavirus related destruction, so a crow seemed really appropriate. Hell, the scientific name for a crow is even “corvus”. Coronavirus.

But then he turned and looked at me and I realized the fucker was holding half a hotdog in his beak.

He hopped around, turning this way and that, as if he was gloating over his prize. He must have realized I was watching him because he stopped and starting eyeballing me. He tipped his head back and forth and then decided to move to safer ground, just in case I felt inclined to go out the window after him to challenge him for his hotdog.

The crow turning and preparing to take flight, like the number of coronavirus related deaths in the US.

The fact that the crow was holding half a hotdog in his beak just made the imagery better for me. Here was a representation of death holding a hotdog and chilling outside, the American coronavirus mascot.

I could almost hear him screaming, “HOLD MY BEER! USA! USA! WhooooooOOOooo!” as he flew up and away, out of our control.

A little more corona madness

C-Town Storefront on Avenue C

I was downtown in the East Village this afternoon. I was a little excited to see what was happening down there. I also had to get a power cable we need for a work monitor and I wanted to drop some stuff off at my Mom’s place.

I keep going outside with this expectation that the city is going to look completely deserted, like it did in downtown Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. It was creepy as hell at night back then because there was no power downtown. We had to use flashlights to get around and one night, it looked like my wife and I were the only two people on 14th Street for two blocks in either direction.

Today, though, you wouldn’t think anything out of the ordinary was going on. It just looked like a typical afternoon. Maybe a Sunday afternoon instead of a Tuesday afternoon, though. And there was noticeably less traffic on the road for a weekday. But there were plenty of people out and about and only a few of them were wearing masks.

I wore an N95 mask while outside today. It was kind of nice because people gave me a lot of extra space on the train bench, platforms, buses and on the street, just in case I was sick I guess. I might keep wearing an N95 mask for a while after this thing dies down!

It’s hard to reconcile what I’m seeing on the street with what I’m hearing in the news about Italy. Who knows how bad this will all get here, though? I read that cases of corona virus more than doubled to over 1200 between last night and this morning. I doubt things have even come close to peaking in terms of the virus running its course.

I went with my Mom over to C-Town on Avenue C. I think she asked me to come with her just in case the crowds were more than she could handle on her own. It wasn’t too bad when we got there but it’s like the crowd followed us.

The near-empty bread shelves at C-Town

The shelves were just about wiped out of pasta, fresh cut meat, bread, tortillas, canned soup, and some varieties of cooking and olive oils.

The tortillas were wiped out at C-Town

I still can’t understand what the hell people are thinking down there. I didn’t bother to check to see if they had liquid hand soap or toilet paper. We don’t need any.

Toilet paper and paper towels at Key Foods in the Bronx
Hand soap at Key Foods in the Bronx

In the Bronx, by contrast, the stores are still relatively well stocked. The shelves at my two local groceries were empty of bottled water and some hand soaps, but there is plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and more importantly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Plenty of tortillas available at Key Foods in the Bronx too

I’m a little curious to know how this is all going to play out. I mean, Trump is saying this corona virus situation is going to continue through July or August. New York City is limiting gatherings to 50 or less and pretty much all venues are closed. Restaurants are limited to take out and delivery. Gyms are closed.

Can businesses afford to be closed until August? Can people who work in the service industry afford to be out of a job for 5 months?

I saw on Twitter than the government is talking about dropping some cash on the masses, but the figure they’re throwing around is $1000.00. For a large portion of the country that might be ok if the situation only lasts 2 weeks. In New York City that isn’t even rent, even in the bad parts of town. It certainly isn’t going to do anything to help people who suffer from underemployment or unemployment for 5 months.

Not that I’m surprised, but with the economic situation this dire, most people are losing their minds because Trump referred to COVID-19 corona virus as the Chinese Flu. So what? No one cries that the 1918 flu is called Spanish Flu. And we all know it came from China. It doesn’t even matter what it’s called. If people want to be ignorant and abuse Chinese people, they’re going to do it regardless of what you call the virus.

People seem to like getting themselves bogged down in minor battles over ideological purity. They lose the forest for the trees. And I think Trump does this stuff just to troll people. I think he trolls people just like other trolls troll people and for the same reason. Imagine the rush you would get if you could make millions of people have fits over a word choice that isn’t even offensive because it might, maybe, possibly, cause someone to be mean to Chinese people.

I don’t even care. I’m going to ride this out and then I’m going to head to Chinatown and pig out.

BTW, here are some pro-tips for people out panic buying:

  1. You can wash your hands with bar soap
  2. You can wash your butt with water

Coronavirus in New York City

Image of old Independent Subway Downtown-East Side-Brooklyn tile sign at 6th Ave L/PATH station in Manhattan.

Reactions to the threat of coronavirus in New York City seem to vary by neighborhood. Out on the street where I live (the Bronx), you would hardly notice that anything different is going on.

No one is wearing masks. No one is keeping their distance. No one is doing the “wuhan shake”. No one is panic buying toilet paper or cleaning supplies. I don’t know if that has to do with ethnic background or socioeconomic class. Maybe just a culture of not panicking when it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason to panic yet. That’s an interesting idea. Are certain ethnic groups more likely to buy in to Armageddon panic buying than others?

Anyway, don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe coronavirus is doing some good too. Of course it’s horrible that people are dying, but it’s illuminating some issues and making people do things they should have been doing already. It lowered pollution in China. It’s got the MTA actually cleaning trains every 72 hours. God knows how long they were going between cleanings before that. The MTA is cleaning train stations more regularly too. The mall in Jersey City almost reeked of cleaning fluid. And now it’s got people apparently finally cleaning their homes and their hands, given the shortage of soap and hand sanitizer in stores.

Or at least they’re pretending to. I do see a lot of dudes not washing their hands in public bathrooms still. Or just wetting their fingers with water, then wiping their hands on their dirty pants and walking out, like that accomplishes anything. They probably went right out and started putting their dick-fingers on items on the shelves.

Anyway, I was in Jersey City earlier today and both there and on the way back to my Mom’s place in Manhattan I noticed a lot of people wearing masks. I saw some people wearing latex or other types of gloves too. No gas masks or full on respirators, though. It was mostly Asians. I think they’re used to wearing masks because it’s something that’s already common in Asian culture. But I did see a few white people wearing masks too.

I was pretty disappointed that I forgot my mask. I was around a lot of people today in buses and trains. With the number of diagnosed cases jumping so high so quickly in New York City and New York State, I’m going to be worried for a while now.

I wish coronavirus would make wearing masks to prevent getting or spreading illnesses more of a thing in the US. I know health professionals are saying that they don’t work and you shouldn’t wear them if you’re healthy, but I don’t believe that. If that were true, health professionals wouldn’t wear masks either. I’m certain they’re not foolproof, guaranteed protection, but at least they’re something. If viruses are traveling on moisture particles from someone’s nose or mouth, at least they help stop that.

Anyway, the stock market is crashing. The end is nigh. Or at least that’s how it seems from the news. Maybe they’re right. I’ve been wondering how the spread of coronavirus could be stopped in the US considering the political climate and actual limits of government here.

Is it even lawful in this country for the government to forcefully quarantine people? I don’t know. What would that look like? Quarantine camps? Are we going to see trucks spraying weird sanitizing chemicals rolling down Park Avenue? That would be interesting, but considering how poorly the government is doing in even distributing test kits, I can’t imagine them moving on to more aggressive measures like China is undertaking.

Guess I’ll just have to wait and see. If any part of the US turns into a complete disaster from coronavirus, I have complete confidence that it will be New York City. It’s just too dense and poorly managed. But probably nothing serious will happen. Americans have a weird tendency to predict and long for worst case scenarios, like the zombie apocalypse.