BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated, Mon., April 27, 3 p.m.: It’s Saturday night and I’m watching Erik Bottcher play guitar.
There are 70 others online and we’re all playing “name that tune” as a leading candidate to succeed Corey Johnson in the City Council is strumming pop and folk songs. He’s admittedly a beginner but, hey, he’s not half-bad.
I’m first to guess a few songs right: “Creep,” “Let It Be,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”
(Full disclosure: I’ve been playing “Creep” myself on guitar for the past week, along with other songs, as I fill up the hours…and hours…and hours…during the coronavirus lockdown.)
Erik has to abruptly sign off when he gets a warning from Facebook while playing Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” — suggested by none other than Nightlife Mayor Ariel Palitz — that he was playing “copyrighted” material. Apparently, Facebook can play “name that tune,” too. Seriously? I guess with Facebook, anything is believable.
You have to wonder how the other Council contenders, Arthur Schwartz and Marni Halasa, will top this. For his part, Arthur is putting out a daily newsletter with a lot of good info.
Earlier this evening, after the 7 p.m. clapping for healthcare workers and other essential workers, my block turned into a 15-minute street party. It was complete with a musical medley that the guy in Apartment 4A in my building blares out of his window every night. People love it.
A guy in an inflatable dinosaur costume — don’t ask me why — is often there. One night he was joined by a woman in a — why not? — panda outfit and they salsa danced together — at least six feet away from each other — to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente.” Tonight neither one was there — but there was a snowman with a top hat and carrot nose. So we did have our quota of at least one whacky costumed character.
People wave American flags. The DJ blows a vuvuzela. People toot whistles.
The maestro always ends it with Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” People do chorus-line kicks to it. For a while, I was keeping a list of all the songs he played — “I Feel Good,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “Living on a Prayer,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Highway to Hell,” “Mambo No. 5,” “Macarena,” “YMCA” — of course, people have fun making the letters with their arms.
One of the snippets he plays is from Alan Merrill’s “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll.” Merrill, 69, tragically died on March 29 at Mount Sinai Hospital. He often hung out and played in the East Village, including at Otto’s Shrunken Head and, for around the past 10 summers, at 6B Garden.
“A very kind and down to earth soul,” his friend East Village rocker Joff Wilson told me. “It was a treat to hear him play ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ on his acoustic 12 string.”
I’m glad the DJ is playing Merrill’s Arrows version and not Joan Jett’s, hopefully in Merrill’s honor, knowing he was a victim of this terrible plague.
My friend Sharon sent me a photo from Lenox Health Greenwich Village tonight and it looks like the same dinosaur was down there at 7 p.m. He really gets around. Every night local firefighters stop by L.H.G.V. and also play “New York, New York.”
The other night, three mounted police stopped by our block at 7 p.m. To everyone’s delight, they had their horses, lined up side by side, sashay to the left, then back to the right, then circled the dinosaur several times. It was fun, I was smiling under my mask.
“Dancing horses! Why aren’t we getting them?” Sharon e-mailed me.
Tonight not three but six cops on horseback showed up. All wearing blue masks, this time they just sat on their horses at the end of the block. Word has it they’re from the Central Park Precinct.
As “Do the Conga” played, a healthcare worker in blue scrubs leaving the hospital walked down the middle of the street. As he filmed the scene on his phone, everyone cheered him.
My super — who is originally from Montenegro and is loving this stuff — said someone did call police to complain before, but the cops said the event was short, so wasn’t a big deal. If I’m down on the street when it’s happening, though, I definitely keep my distance from people.
I can’t really endorse the event. But there’s an eruv over my block, so — who knows? — it might be kosher.
Meanwhile, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmember Carlina Rivera are pushing to close up to 75 miles of streets to cars and open them up to pedestrians and bikes during the pandemic. But do we have enough dinosaurs for that?
Seriously, we have to take a really hard look at whether that’s a good idea — or necessary to do — right now.
This is the coronavirus lockdown and we’re all trying to make it through in one piece. The first two or three weeks was one thing, but now it’s getting tough psychologically — at least, I feel that way.
The dinosaur, panda, dancing police horses and “DJ Apt. 4A” tunes are helping add some levity, and people really like to get out and shake their stuff and exercise a bit.
I know some folks who haven’t been outside at all since this started more than a month ago, and, honestly, I don’t know how they can do it. But I understand: They’re afraid. We all are.
For me, though, I have to get out every day and, at least, walk. Today, I took a long walk, and then just decided to snap on some blue gloves — I guess, in case the handlebars were infected — and hop on a CitiBike and ride around the Central Park loop. It was good exercise and just a mental reset. Doing that big hill at the northern end of the park was a good workout.
I’d say only about 60 percent of people on the park loop — which was pretty crowded — had on masks, despite Governor Cuomo’s saying that everyone should wear one now. I was sporting one, though wasn’t even conscious of having it on. I do think everyone should wear one. I worry that if we don’t get hardcore about coronavirus, we’re not going to beat it and it will linger.
Walking back Downtown along empty Park Ave., I only saw about half a dozen people scattered over 15 blocks. At one point, all I heard were the sparrows in the bushes on the median, their chirping resounding in the empty high-rise canyon.
I took a walk at 2 a.m. the other week — I needed to get outside — and only saw one other pedestrian in 20 blocks. At one point, I heard squeaking — it was the wind flexing a parking sign all the way across the avenue. Normally, you would never hear it amid the city’s cacophony. It felt like being in an Old West ghost town, where the only sound is a lone shutter flapping in the breeze. This is New York City now, I thought to myself.
A friend told me that, in a way, we’re lucky because we’re single and live alone since COVID-19 is mainly spread through close contact in families. That’s one way to look at it. It could definitely be challenging having young kids at a time like this.
A couple of times when I was a kid, my grandma pointed to family photos on the wall at her place at Phipps Plaza and said to me, with a warm smile, “the family tree.” But it looked like a pyramid to me, not a tree. Oh, well.
Anyway, what I do have is a manic little white dog on a terrace across the street from me that barks constantly and piercingly. Its owners seem oblivious to the fact that this dog is making our quarantine even worse than it has to be. I haven’t yelled anything at them…yet…not wanting to be that guy, the Grinch of the block.
But another guy is starting to snap.
“Shut that dog up!!!” he yelled at them today a couple of times. “Shut up your dog!!!” Thankfully, he is being that guy. … The resistance is starting.
Yes, of course, it’s cute that the pooch comes out on the terrace at 7 p.m. to bark along with everyone for the healthcare workers. But, c’mon…it’s always barking anyway, it doesn’t need an excuse.
Some relatives of mine that I really haven’t spoken to enough over the years have called and I’ve really enjoyed the conversations. I’ve learned things about them that I didn’t know, like that my aunt in Seattle is a big reader and enjoys period books about France.
A friend from Australia has messaged me a few times on Facebook. Everyone wants to know how we’re bearing up in New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. In that way, it’s similar to 9/11, when the world turned its focus onto our stricken city.
My birthday was a few weeks ago. Using WhatsApp on our smartphones, a friend and I shared dinner together. Then she sang me “Happy Birthday” and held out a virtual birthday cake for me. It was really sweet, I appreciated it.
That friend also suggested I watch the “Saturday Night Seder,” which was a sort of showbizzy Passover Seder hosted by “Seinfeld”’s Jason Alexander. It raised $3 million for the Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund of the Centers for Disease and Control Foundation.
That was nice for my Jewish half. My Swedish-background half maybe is falling back on genetic memories of getting through those long, isolated Nordic winters to help get through this springtime lockdown.
Of course, like everybody on the planet, I’m washing my hands — a lot. Lately, when I shop, I’ve been wearing blue gloves that I got on Amazon. I definitely try to avoid using Amazon — I mean, why give Bezos any more money? But I didn’t know where else to get them. I got masks from overseas on Amazon, too, that allegedly filter 90 percent of the bad stuff, whereas the medical-grade ones filter 95 percent. Better than nothing, I guess.
If I don’t have the gloves on, I just use my elbow to push the elevator button. I’ll be ready for the roller derby after this.
Purell, forget about it, you can’t get it anywhere. I’ve been using some mini bottles of it that my mom mailed me over the years — thanks, mom! — which I always just put aside and never bothered using before. I just noticed, though, that the price sticker on one of them says “Bryants,” probably from a store near Bryant Park when she was living part-time amid racks of fabric samples in a textile showroom on Sixth Ave. So that means it must be, hmm, at least 12 years old. … Nope, not exactly fresh Purell.
My parents both died this past year. Even though my mom was germaphobic, she and my dad both had a good sense of humor, so maybe they would have somehow endured this thing O.K.
I think my sister had COVID-19. She’s a nurse anesthetist in a gastrointestinal clinic. She said she had a cough “deep in her lungs” and a splitting headache. She was very matter of fact about it, which maybe is how you become when you’re a nurse. I’m relieved she’s OK, and I’m glad her clinic was shut down as a nonessential business, which hopefully helped her avoid getting even sicker due to increased exposure — if that makes sense? The idea of viral load? I don’t know. There are so many things we just don’t know about this virus.
A nurse who lives on my floor said she also had coronavirus, shrugging that it wasn’t surprising since she works in a hospital.
About 40 to 50 percent of people in my building are gone. Most split that first week, the day after it became clear this was serious. Many of the tenants living here now are young, and many who evacuated probably are not originally from New York.
But one night “DJ Apt. 4A” flew an Argentinian flag outside his window along with the Stars and Stripes. And the dinosaur guy — I noticed, to my chagrin, through his little peephole — wears a Boston Red Sox cap. So I’m guessing they’re not natives, yet they’re the ones doing their best to keep everyone’s spirits up.
For like two seconds, I had some nutty idea of getting on my 10-speed bike, grabbing a tent I have, and just heading north. But I have to replace my rear tire — the tread is detached — and, well, the plan just didn’t seem too realistic.
I shop at a Gristedes, which seems to have fewer people inside than a trendier supermarket near me, so it’s better for social distancing. I find myself often going there late, just before closing, when it’s pretty empty. I don’t worry about shopping — it doesn’t feel unsafe to me, I just keep my distance. And, yes, I wash my hands afterward.
It was weird to see empty supermarket shelves at first — but they’ve all been restocked, except for Purell and Clorox Wipes. Who the heck is hoarding all that stuff? Why isn’t there an entire aisle of Purell? Washing hands is more effective than Purell, though, as the doctors tell us.
Speaking of stores, while biking through Tompkins Square Park and along Avenue A, I passed by Ray’s Candy Store. Ray has cut back from 24 hours to 12 hours — 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. — during the pandemic. But he’s still open, an essential business, cooking up hamburgers, chicken, fries and, of course — Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian’s favorite — fried Oreos.
Personally, I’m cooking a lot, too, even using my oven — which I haven’t done for years — and eating healthy. Some medication I was on, though, really messed up my guts. The pain was pretty debilitating. I worried it was coronavirus. But I saw a G.I. doctor, in person — though another doctor urged me to use tele-medicine — and it’s likely it was just really bad gastritis. After subsisting on tuna fish, I actually ate an apple the other day, so things are looking up.
So this is what I’ve been dealing with, mundane things — the unhinged, yapping dog; gratitude for tuna fish and Dave’s Killer whole-grain bread. And, of course, just working on The Village Sun, keeping it going, talking to and e-mailing people about stories, writing, editing.
Naturally, at this moment, as New Yorkers, we flash back to other disasters and traumatic moments we’ve gone through, like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, the 2003 blackout. We have so many images, memories and feelings from those events burned into our consciousness.
We survived them all and we recovered.
What will be the lasting images of the coronavirus pandemic? The masks, obviously. The heroic healthcare workers. The refrigerated-trailer morgues and the body bags. Trump talking about the “injection” and the “light” and the “cleaning inside”? Ugh! Help!!! The sound of spoons clinking on pots and pans at 7 p.m. every night.
So I do my work. And I’ve been reading some good books and lots of good New Yorker articles from back issues I didn’t have time to read before, plus current articles on COVID-19, plagues throughout history, Dr. Fauci, the search for a universal virus vaccine.
Like Erik Bottcher, I’m getting into music to help get through this. I’m listening to a lot of songs on YouTube, watching the videos. There are now constant public-service ads on YouTube by so-called “influencers” urging people to stay indoors. I have no clue who these folks are but it’s good they’re telling youth — the ads’ target demographic — to do the right thing and help stop the spread.
One song I’ve been listening to a lot recently is “All Kinds of Time,” by Fountains of Wayne. I learned to play it, four chords — easy enough for a guitar noodler like me. It’s a cool idea: A football announcer’s line that a quarterback has “all kinds of time” as he drops back to pass — and so, he starts to dreamily reflect about his life.
The band’s Adam Schlesinger, 52, who co-wrote the song, died from coronavirus. He met his wife at WXOU Radio Bar in the Village, I found out from reading his obituaries. An Emmy winner, he was super-talented and his songs are catchy, the lyrics clever. His time ran out, like all of our time will someday run out. But his ran out far too soon.
After more than a month of lockdown, there are so many different thoughts and disparate threads. …
Right now, though, it’s really hard to get over the “light inside” and bleach “injections.” God, help us. Just look at Trump’s body language when he was questioned about it. He knows that was one hell of a blooper. Just give up the mike and let Fauci talk, for crying out loud. Update: Trump has now reportedly, thankfully, given up his daily coronavirus briefings. Another update: The mayor and City Council agree to open 40 miles of streets to pedestrians and cars.
As Gloria Gaynor sings in one of the “DJ Apt. 4A” mix songs, “I Will Survive.”
We will survive.
I enjoyed reading this, Lincoln – loping along with you through the avenues outside and inside. It was a leisurely journey that hit many of our cultural signposts. Thanks! it’s encouraging that something as simple as reporting truthfully what in this moment we are all enduring is valuable – plus, you reminded me of the night of the blackout when I was stranded in Long Beach sleeping on the beach huddled with strangers for warmth – an adventure!
Thanks, Kathryn, I know it was a bit long, but I guess I was trying to pack a month or more of experiences and thoughts into it. And there are things that I didn’t get to, or that didn’t fit in here. Kate Walter, I think, has already written three pieces during the pandemic, which maybe is a better way to break it up and approach it, as this experience is proving to be a long slog. But sometimes other things get in the way of writing such pieces. Huddling with strangers? Sounds adventurous!
I just came across this. Yes! That was one of my life’s adventures – the blackout of ’03. It may be the last time I saw the sunrise! leafing through so many stories, and trying to decide which ones to bring to life now … re: the pandemic – I would like to write about 1 of the places that was a casualty that so many miss.
Like Kathryn, I enjoyed the read. You captured that sense I feel that so much is happening all over, and none of it in a straight line. We seem to be heading for who-knows-where, and the vagueness of it all makes it harder to deal with. Once we make it through this, I trust that whatever is left of us when day is done will handle the ‘new normal’ better than we did this round.
(You already had my attention, but you sealed it with the sign from Church of the Covenant, the cozy church where I was married in ’61.)
A lively and empathetic read!
Interesting to read how you are doing and what is happening in your neighborhood, Lincoln. In the far West Village, we don’t have any costumed characters or mounted police coming out at 7pm, but we are clapping and cheering, and I’m ringing a loud bell. This family across the street comes out on their terrace every night and the kids bang drums.
Thanks for the shout out about my writing.
Thanks, Kate. And thanks for your three pieces so far during this lockdown. They’ve been great and readers are loving them. That’s cool you are ringing a bell. That’s one thing I haven’t heard so far in my neck of the woods.