It’s been five weeks and while parts of my routine have shrunk to accommodate the plague, the deafening quiet of this city remains a terrifying companion. Noise was like a roommate in New York no matter where you lived, but overnight COVID-19 made the near-constant chorus of police sirens, fire trucks and traffic jams fall mute. In their place now stands a solid, pervasive, radiating silence. The are no fog horns from turning trucks, no irate honks from turbaned taxi drivers, no squeals of laughter from passing pedestrians.
Except at seven. At seven p.m. every evening people in their apartments around the city begin clapping as a sign of gratitude to the medical and other workers fighting the virus so we can stay quarantined. What begins as a smattering of claps at 6:59 pm grows within seconds to a cacophony of cheers, shouts, pot-banging and hoots. If you lean out your window to watch the deserted streets, it feels like the buildings themselves are applauding to remind you that you are not alone. Sometimes I can see noses pressed up against distant windows, or else a flash of hand. Some days these are the only signs that people are still living around me.
A few weeks ago someone a street over began climbing out onto their fire escape to play the US national anthem on an electric guitar. I think they liked the response because now its a daily thing, even Sundays. Part of me thinks its counter-productive to be nationalist right now, and I confess that every time I hear those first few chords, I think about how badly the US is doing right now. To be fair our feelings of helplessness and frustration with leadership all over the world aren’t great and living in this center of the pandemic doesn’t make you wake up farting rainbows, but still.
The fear of my own stupidity has changed the way I look at my habits. Whether, for example, I want to be in a population-dense city ever again
Nothing, and I mean no single thing, has so completely exposed the difference betweens America’s aspirational image and its actual shortcomings as this virus did within weeks. The world now sees in full, unflattering spotlight the severe limitations that capitalism as the sole philosophy behind nation-building can cause. It changed overnight the conversation around universal healthcare in a place where the term was synonymous with socialist spies for the better part of 50 years. It changed overnight the perception that the US is the leader during a world crisis. It, well, if not changed, then exacerbated overnight the level of real and present danger that comes when a morally bankrupt reality TV star is in charge of the government. It had also shown how many other dangerous people there are in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump is reelected for anther four years because the one thing this virus didn’t change was how many stupid people live in the world.
Stupidity, like COVID, is everywhere. Stupidity is mass-buying toilet paper but not food. Stupidity is the left-wing academic arguing that because he is pro-Bernie he won’t vote pro-Biden even if that makes him pro-Trump by default. Stupidity is the religious leader in Florida who boasted about how packed his congregation was out of spite for government regulations and then died from the virus three days later. Stupidity is looking at the numbers of infections go down and believe we never needed to socially distance in the first place. Stupidity is religious leaders in Pakistan who think viruses just don’t like mosques that much. Stupidity is when Narendra Modi announced India’s 1.5 billion people lockdown with four hours notice. Stupidity is saying the apocalypse is coming because the Saudis cancelled Haj without wearing a mask first. Or Imran Khan saying that the lock down will be extended except for “key businesses” like construction, artfully using the same logic that says you can actually be just “a little bit pregnant”. Stupidity is spending 70% of our budget on the army but less than 1% on public health. Stupidity is allowing people’s unproven beliefs to decide how to navigate a viral pandemic rather than science. Stupidity is not realizing the even the religious need to live before they can pray.
The fear of my own stupidity has changed the way I look at my habits. Whether, for example, I want to be in a population-dense city ever again. What will, well, anything be like? My short walks around the neighborhood are long enough that I know I am anxious in a crowd now, worried whenever someone is walking toward, paranoid about touching grocery store produce and worried every time I cough. I do not know if these feelings will evaporate once – if – life returns to some kind of normality.
These questions will answer themselves. But at the risk of sounding sentimental, I still open my window every day at seven and lean outside because the one thing that I know for certain is if this is the end, if this is how it is going to go on for the foreseeable future, then I really need to track down that a#3%&*e with the guitar and hang him by his strings.