New York entered ‘phrase two’ of reopening last week, which means that clothing stores, outdoor eateries and grooming facilities began a slow, hopeful crawl out from four months of hibernation. That this is happening despite the fact that there is no vaccine means the last time I ventured out for anything but food, I was left a heaving panicking mess. (Someone sneezed near me, I freaked out, they ran: it was a whole thing.)
Last Monday I realized that I could either accept the pandemic was a reality and work to conquer my fear, OR I could do the sane thing, lock my door, expand until I become the morbidly obese speed-eater that lives within, and then spend my remaining years in isolation wearing loose fitting clothing before an inevitable cat-related death – an end that spares me the indignation of witnessing myself airlifted out of the window by a building crane because my left tit couldn’t fit through the door.
My therapist, however, insisted otherwise.
So I put on my mask, strapped on my gloves, shoved a bottle of disinfectant anywhere I could and walked out into the apocalypse to test phase two. Luckily the first person I saw was a white woman standing by the building entrance checking her phone but not wearing a mask. Shouting at her with the feral anger of a wronged deity helped calm my nerves immeasurably. By the time I walked by her close enough to see the tears stream down her N-95, I already had a spring in my step.
The streets were fuller but still empty. Restaurants can’t serve indoors so had set up outdoor patios well into the empty streets, giving the whole place a quasi European cafe feel, albeit circa 1942. The only thing between me and my office in Brooklyn was seven blocks of sidewalks infested with pedestrians and the subway (infested with everything else) both of which I navigated with the calmness, humility and grace of a rectal exam. The subway smelled like bleach, a scent now universally considered an aphrodisiac in the post-Covid world. I even stopped to get a sandwich from the recently opened cafe on the way, and by the time I opened the door to my office, I felt that sense of confidence defeating your demons can inspire.
Luckily the first person I saw was a white woman standing by the building entrance checking her phone but not wearing a mask. Shouting at her with the feral anger of a wronged deity helped calm my nerves immeasurably. By the time I walked by her close enough to see the tears stream down her N-95, I already had a spring in my step
This lasted about forty minutes until I needed to pee, which is when things got weird. In all my planning, scheduling and visualizing the one thing that never occurred to me is what I would do if I needed to use the facilities outside my home. This has, in truth, been a lifelong phobia. I had it in school when no one thought to explain to me how to use a squat toilet, which I thought was just a sad sink for my first eight years. I had it when I was sent to summer classes at a community center at around 12 and refused to use the cubicle that felt more like a viewing platform. And I definitely had it when I went camping in Chitral for ten days but only used the loo in Lahore on the eleventh day because I wasn’t trained to use a river that way.
I reasoned that if I wore protective gear and avoided touching too many surfaces I should be fine, so I did just that. I put on my mask, gloves and even a pair of plastic goggles, walked to the entrance of the men’s room, and kicked the door open with aggressive zeal, which is when I heard a scream and a sneeze. I froze. Had I imagined it? The soft groan of a man inside said “no”.
I went camping in Chitral for ten days but only used the loo in Lahore on the eleventh day because I wasn’t trained to use a river that way
I hid behind a corner and waited, until eventually an older man came limping out, and we exchanged glances of mutual fear.
Be warned: everything about using a public bathroom in the pandemic is exactly as scary as you think it is. Every door knob and tap is a petrie dish of expectant disease; You have to use your feet to do everything, which although safer also means that other people probably use their feet too. Speaking of: Other People are not your friends. Other People are the zombies in video games of life we all now have to avoid in order to survive level 2020. Avoid them in subway cars, avoid them in apartment buildings and especially avoid them in bathrooms.
Phase three begins next week, which means places with one on one costs like massage parlors and tattoo shops will open. It marks a quasi-pause to the terror that gripped this city in April and May. The terror of overhead choppers, all night sirens, dead bodies so numerous that they were piled onto trucks and into mass graves. As NY emerges from that, other places are just beginning to descend, due in large part to not having been scared enough.
Honestly, its enough to make you book a massage. Oh…wait…
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